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The Playlist

Sundance Review: 'Lay The Favorite' A Comedy That's An Empty Bet

  • By John Lichman
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  • January 23, 2012 8:11 AM
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  • 3 Comments
“You can't blame Stephen Frears for trying” seems to be the mantra for "Lay the Favorite," a mild romp through the T&A world of Las Vegas, gambling and literary adaptation. After all, "High Fidelity" is an iconic film to obsessive nerds (Need proof? See: every listicle on the Internet) and Frears is no slouch to crafting strong and/or sexy female characters (Tamara Drew, Cherí, The Queen). But what happens when he tries to mash them up and form the unholy love child of a stat geek and a bubbly idiot savant who used to be a stripper?

Sundance Review: 'Simon Killer' Loses That Lovin' Feeling On The Streets Of Paris

  • By William Goss
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  • January 23, 2012 7:32 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Simon (Brady Corbet) is lost. After being dumped by his high school sweetheart after a relationship that ran the length of their college years, the newly graduated, newly single American flees to Paris to get away from it all and find himself. Of course, the problem with undertaking such a journey of self-discovery is assuming that one will like what they find…

Sundance Review: Less 'Wrong' Than Bad, Quentin Dupieux's Followup To 'Rubber' Proves Him To Be A Half-Hit Wonder

  • By James Rocchi
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  • January 23, 2012 7:10 AM
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  • 3 Comments
Received at film fests and among cult cinema fans with the giddy glee of an inside joke, Quentin Dupieux's "Rubber" was a film more celebrated than ultimately worthy of celebration. Dupieux's piss-take on '70s killer-car horror (and, by extension, all cinema) as a psychic rubber tire self-motivated itself through the American West, sporadically killing people telekinetically, felt to me like a short film larded up with unrequired bulk -- or, as I may have tweeted at the time, " 'Rubber' rolls along for a while, starts wobbling, then goes flat." "Wrong," premiering at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, was a chance to see what Dupieux could really do. And what he can really do is not direct.

Sundance Review: Spike Lee Reconnects With His Artistic Voice With The Emotionally Devastating 'Red Hook Summer'

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 23, 2012 6:55 AM
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  • 2 Comments
It’s hard to say how long it’s been since Spike Lee was as ambitious, and as focused, as he is on “Red Hook Summer.” Telling a story that evokes “Crooklyn” in its depiction of children coming of age, filtered through two subsequent decades of his professional successes and failures, not to mention an era of black cinema dominated by the iconography of filmmakers like Tyler Perry, Lee’s latest film is a return to the incendiary form that made his name in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, as it examines life in a Brooklyn housing project through the eyes of a preteen who’s forced to spend the summer with his ministerial grandfather. Overlong but consequently understated – perhaps more so than in any film he’s ever made - as its didactic and yet discursive tale builds to a devastating emotional crescendo, “Red Hook Summer” is not just Spike Lee’s most authentically “Spike Lee” film in more than a decade, but a remarkable display of a filmmaker reconnecting with his artistic voice.

Sundance Review: Mark Webber's 'The End of Love' Moves With Minor-Key Moments & Undersold Skill

  • By James Rocchi
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  • January 22, 2012 11:21 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Written, directed by and starring Mark Webber -- whose acting filmography runs from "Kids" to "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" -- "The End of Love" is hardly a work of revelation. At the same time, it's surprisingly well-executed, nicely performed and manages to combine a warm and gentle sense of the rhythms of life with a cold and bright-eyed look at the world and its lead's flaws and character. Following his earlier directorial effort, "Explicit Ills," Webber plays Mark, an aspiring actor and successful fuck-up. We see him woken by his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Isaac (Isaac Love). Mark asks Isaac what he wants for breakfast -- cereal? Isaac is intent: "Oatmeal." Mark shoots him an askance glance: "But oatmeal takes longer than cereal, buddy.…"

Sundance Review: 'Indie Game: The Movie' Is A Big-Hearted Celebration Of Artistic Spirit

  • By Mark Zhuravsky
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  • January 22, 2012 11:13 AM
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  • 0 Comments
The most profoundly moving moment of “Indie Game: The Movie” arrives an hour and twenty minutes into this terrific documentary. As designer Edmund McMillen watches YouTube videos of people spurting out expletives while playing his game Super Meat Boy, the kind-faced man breaks into a glowing smile. He’s made that connection, reached out to people and has been reaffirmed by their love for his brainchild. It’s the glimpse of a blinding sun at the end of a long, cold road, and 'Indie Game,' directed by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, is filled with moments that lay bare the emotional stakes of game design and development, an art that remains vastly underrated by the mainstream. Possibly the most mature look at video games yet, and a fine documentary in its own right, “Indie Game: The Movie” serves not only to erase the image of the programmer as a pimple-anointed malcontent recluse, but levels the playing field, serving as a powerful document for why games deserve consideration as a legitimate artform.

Sundance Review: 'The Comedy' A Compelling, Layered Look At A Hipster Adrift In Brooklyn

  • By Christopher Bell
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  • January 22, 2012 12:09 AM
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  • 9 Comments
With "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" and Rick Alverson's "The Comedy" (starring Tim Heidecker) both playing at the Sundance Film Festival, it'd be easy to simply peg the former as your standard bizarre T&E affair and the latter as a dramatic art house effort. But that's simply much too reductive for Alverson's current character study, a film uniquely weird in its own right and filled with enough of the duo's humor to make their followers happy -- to a point.

Sundance Review: Good Performances & Narrative Tapestry Can't Save Emotionally Distant 'The Words'

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 21, 2012 5:02 PM
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  • 3 Comments
A combination of shopworn literary clichés combined with an “Inception”-worthy daisy chain of White People Problems, “The Words” fails to surpass dramatically the bland lack of specificity in its title while still offering a solid roundup of performances from its talented ensemble cast. Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, who received story credit for “TRON: Legacy” (a film this writer liked a lot), wrote and directed this flashback-laden tale of a novelist coming to terms with his life and work by writing a book about a novelist coming to terms with his life and work.

Sundance Review: 'The Raid' Is A Triumph Of Kicks, Punches & Unrelenting Thrills

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 21, 2012 11:26 AM
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  • 7 Comments
If you ever wanted a feature-length version of the scene from Tony Jaa’s “The Protector” where in one shot he literally fights his way up to the roof of a building filled with baddies, then “The Raid” is the movie for you. Although his two previous films failed to make an impression outside of Indonesia, writer-director Gareth Evans crafts a relentless – and relentlessly exciting -- onslaught of visceral entertainment with his tale of a SWAT team that’s ambushed after being assigned to invade a drug kingpin’s heavily-fortified stronghold. Featuring fight sequences almost literally from start to finish, “The Raid” is an action-lover’s dream, precisely because it pitches the choreography at a thrilling but believable level that prevents viewers from succumbing to an overdose of kicks and punches.

Sundance Review: 'West Of Memphis' An Exhausting & Exhaustive Chronicle Of Justice

  • By William Goss
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  • January 21, 2012 11:06 AM
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  • 0 Comments
"West of Memphis" doesn’t ignore the fact that filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have already crafted a trilogy of documentaries concerning the perceived injustice of the West Memphis Three, three Arkansas teens convicted in 1994 of murdering three young boys in 1993. In their small town, the threat of satanic cults made the juvenile delinquents ripe for persecution, but over the two decades since, conflicting testimonies and newly uncovered evidence have caused many to reach out and champion their cause of innocence.

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