The Playlist

Sundance Review: 'Safety Not Guaranteed' A Grounded, Genuine, Oddly Effective Charmer

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 24, 2012 11:24 PM
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  • 2 Comments
Although at this point there are way too many stories about quirky man-children and the women who love them, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is an oddly effective little charmer. A film that harkens back to the magical-realism adventures of the 1980s rather than the twee dollhouse making of the last decade, Colin Trevorrow’s tale of a trio of journalists who investigate a personals ad from an oddball requesting a partner in a time-travel experiment is far more grounded, genuine, and moving than its conceit suggests. At the same time, there’s little that’s especially new or original about “Safety Not Guaranteed,” but it ekes out a victory over so much of its indie-darling competition simply by following through on the ideas it introduces.

Sundance Review: 'Bachelorette' Is The Movie For Anyone Who Wished 'Bridesmaids' Was More Like 'The Hangover'

  • By Cory Everett
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  • January 24, 2012 10:03 PM
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  • 15 Comments
Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions, "Bachelorette" is the movie for all those people that wished "Bridesmaids" was more like "The Hangover." Three bridesmaids embark on a non-stop parade of debauchery fueled by coke, booze, and pills that make "The Hangover" dudes seem kind of like pussies. Kirsten Dunst plays Queen Bee Regan, leader of the "B-Faces" (short for "bitch faces"), a group of high school friends now in their early '30s scattered across the country in various stages of their lives. This crew includes promiscuous cokehead Gena (Lizzy Caplan), spacey retail worker Katie (Isla Fisher) and Becky ("Bridesmaids" scene stealer Rebel Wilson), a girl who was known as "Pig Face" in high school. Improbably, Becky becomes the first of the group to get engaged, to one of NYC's most wealthy men, and this confuses Regan -- who works with sick kids, keeps a perfect figure, and does everything she thinks she should to be the first one to walk down the aisle -- to no end. She tries (with all the muscles in her face) to remain supportive as she receives the news, but it's painfully clear she is not happy about it.

Sundance Review: Controversial & Upsetting 'Compliance' Is Still Affecting & Real

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 24, 2012 6:59 AM
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  • 2 Comments
If there’s a thin line between presenting unpleasant material to an audience and openly antagonizing them with it, there are going to be a lot of people accusing “Compliance” of the latter, when really what it’s doing is the former. Craig Zobel, the promising writer-director who made “Great World of Sound” in 2007, returns to the big screening with his deeply unsettling second feature, the fictional account of a real incident in which a caller impersonating a police officer contacted a fast food restaurant manager and enlisted her in enacting a sexual assault under the pretense of a criminal investigation. After immediately provoking intense feelings both positive and negative among audience members at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, “Compliance” seems destined to become a lightning rod for controversy, but its success is so great in depicting the damage that can be done through complicity and inaction that the movie’s takeaway message may eventually be confused with the technique used in order to create it.

Sundance Review: 'Black Rock' A Back-To-The-Wilds Slasher With Brains & Bonding Along With The Blood

  • By James Rocchi
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  • January 24, 2012 6:42 AM
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  • 1 Comment
There is, ultimately, something to be said for the pleasures of a simple, sleek and well-shot run-or-kill-or-die thriller where our heroes, trapped in the middle of nowhere and confronted by hostile locals, strike back to survive. And that, at heart, is what "Black Rock," the second directorial effort from Katie Aselton is, no more, no less. If you're hoping for a transcendent reinvention of the form, keep moving. If you're looking for a film like Aselton's erotic, neurotic and superbly acted "The Freebie," pass along. If you're looking for a well-executed example of a sub-genre, not as good as "Deliverance," but far better than a host of similarly-constructed films with bigger budgets and smaller IQs, you'll probably appreciate what "Black Rock" offers with its Y-chromosome inflected plot and script.

Sundance Review: Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Aaron Paul Hit the Bottle, And It Hits Back, In Strong, Stirring 'Smashed'

  • By James Rocchi
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  • January 23, 2012 8:15 PM
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  • 2 Comments
There is a sub-canon of films about alcohol as deep and as dark as a barrel of bourbon, from "Lost Weekend" to "Days of Wine and Roses" to "Trees Lounge." "Smashed," premiering at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, casts Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Charlie and Kate, a married couple in L.A. whose love is strong, full and, more to the point, well-saturated. Charlie and Kate like to drink, and it shows; Kate's mortified to have a hung-over vomiting fit while teaching, apologizing to her 1st graders and answering, falsely, yes when her kids ask if she's pregnant. When Kate is busted by her vice-Principal Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman, in a performance that in a just world would be an Oscar contender), she confesses her lies and he simply notes "That's … not good."

Sundance Review: So Yong Kim’s Stark 'For Ellen' Experiment Is A Grinding & Exhaustive Experience

  • By Simon Abrams
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  • January 23, 2012 7:24 PM
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  • 2 Comments
"For Ellen," Korean-American writer/director So Yong Kim’s third film after breakout indie dramas "In Between Days" and "Treeless Mountain," is shot in the same style of her preceding films. The way she films long uninterrupted takes of Joby (Paul Dano), a self-absorbed young rocker, absent father and "For Ellen" lead protagonist, is fascinating, albeit more in theory than in practice. By making us experience the weight of dead air surrounding virtually every beat in Joby’s dialogue, we grow to feel trapped with him through a series of self-inflicted travails and cascading bleak moments.

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.

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