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Sundance Review: Rick Alverson’s ‘Entertainment’ Is A Twisted, Existential Comedic Masterwork

13 hours ago

Filmmaker Rick Alverson has made some absorbing and intimate indie works. "The Builder" is a terrifically underrated gem, and “New Jerusalem” coaxes another strong lead performance by musician Will Oldham. But it's Alverson’s provocative and pointed collaborations with comedian Tim Heidecker that have proven to be layered and rich next-level works. The deeply misunderstood “The Comedy” — a hilariously confrontational, but also alarming examination of the age of ironic distance — is an incendiary piece de resistance. But Alverson may have outdone himself with “Entertainment,” an even more abrasive, alienating, and nightmarish masterwork about the cruel futility of connection, performance, and existence. Comedian Gregg Turkington stars as Neill, essentially playing a loose riff on the actor's alter ego Neill Hamburger (the world’s worst, most insufferable comedian). An aging, inept stand-up with no discernible talents or skills, he tours the wastelands of »

- Rodrigo Perez

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Sundance Review: 'Ten Thousand Saints' Starring Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield & Hailee Steinfeld

16 hours ago

It’s great to see married director duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini back at Sundance, the location of their breakout film “American Splendor.” While they’ve put in great work in the meantime, their latest, the excellent “Ten Thousand Saints,” is a roaring return to the fest that made their name. Adapted from the debut novel by Eleanor Henderson, “Ten Thousand Saints” is a melancholy yet sweet and hopeful coming of age story that explores every aspect of life’s complications. Though funny and full of heart, it’s no quirky and lighthearted flick, as a rich vein of darkness and reality courses through the film’s style and content. Set in the late 1980s, “Ten Thousand Saints” is the story of teenage Jude (Asa Butterfield), stuck in Vermont with his hippie mom Harriet (Julianne Nicholson), huffing chemicals for kicks with his best friend Teddy (Avan Jogia). Things »

- Katie Walsh

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Sundance Review: The Exquisite Holy Terror Of ‘The Witch’ Will Chill Your Bones & Haunt Your Soul

17 hours ago

In cinema, witches are traditionally drawn as campy, melodramatic cartoons. They sport wicked noses, grotesque make-up, and shrill cackling voices. But if one were to subtract all elements of broad humor and clichéd corniness and distill the frightening concept of witchcraft, evil, and wickedness to their base essentials, a chilling picture begins to emerge. And such is Parts & Labor’s “The Witch” a spellbinding, absolutely nightmarish picture that will genuinely disturb you and make your blood run cold. Set in 1630 New England, a devout Christian family is about to be excommunicated from their village thanks to the prideful and arrogant father. The puritan family then makes their own pilgrimage to a set of nearby woods, decamps, and builds their own self-sustaining farm next to a beautiful, but coldly unforgiving landscape. The brief utopia doesn’t last. The woods breathe with a chilly portent and the children are told the area is off limits. »

- Rodrigo Perez

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Sundance Review: James Ponsoldt’s ‘The End Of The Tour’ Starring Jason Segel & Jesse Eisenberg

18 hours ago

Recreating a special moment in time, and the essence of momentous occasions in one’s life, is a difficult task. Capturing what’s supposed to be a special, life-changing five-day conversation between two men, artists and writers, secondhand (thirdhand, even) is even tougher. James Ponsoldt’s “The End Of The Tour” — a film about a Rolling Stone journalist shadowing author David Foster Wallace for a profile piece on the renowned writer — doesn’t seem like much of a movie on paper. In fact, it feels like a play. At first, the unassuming picture doesn’t seem like it has enough compelling reasons to justify its existence. But as it begins to open up, build a head full of steam, and really click the way the two protagonists do, “The End Of The Tour” becomes and incredibly winning and engaging portrait of friendship, lasting connection, mutual understanding, and much more. In »

- Rodrigo Perez

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Sundance Review: ‘Stockholm, Pennsylvania’ Starring Saoirse Ronan & Cynthia Nixon

21 hours ago

Like a caged celebrity unprepared for the spotlight of fame, Leanne is a deer in headlights when newscasters and reporters swarm the squad car that has returned her home. But the notion of “home” is a deeply foreign, even abstract idea, and Leanne is about to begin decompressing into an ordeal arguably much more difficult than the one she has already survived and endured. Abducted 17 years ago, Leanne has been found and returned, her captor has been jailed, and her once-devastated parents are in a mix of shock and jubilation. But what should be a joyful reunion is anything but, and Leanne’s reappearance into the real world is like a child being thrown into the woods. Instead of finally reclaiming their long-lost daughter, Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and Glen (David Warshofsky) encounter a complete stranger named Leia (Saoirse Ronan). She remembers nothing of her childhood, is estranged from these guardians »

- Rodrigo Perez

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Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock'

21 hours ago

Is Keanu Reeves becoming the face of sharp, smart, genre fare? Let's hope. Last fall, he starred in the underrated, popcorn-bag-full-of-fun, "John Wick," one of the most satisfying action movies of 2014. And now he's headed to Sundance leading Eli Roth's midnight movie, "Knock Knock," and the first teaser promises something playfully wicked. Co-starring Lorenza Izzo, Ana De Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, and Colleen Camp, the film centers on a very successful man, with a loving wife and family, whose life gets turned way upside down when he embarks on a dalliance with two beautiful women. Here's the official synopsis:  Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) is living the dream. Just look at his beautiful, successful wife, his two wonderful kids, and his truly stunning house—which he designed himself. Of course he did. Things are going so well, Evan doesn't even mind spending Father's Day alone while the rest of »

- Kevin Jagernauth

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Sundance Review: Vibrant, Electrifying Narco Wars Documentary 'Cartel Land'

21 hours ago

Director Matthew Heineman’s first feature documentary (co-directed with Susan Froemke) was the incendiary and illuminating health care reform piece “Escape Fire.” His second feature, “Cartel Land,” solo-directed this time, focuses on a much different issue, and takes a more action-oriented, on-the-ground approach, and is even more fiery than the first. With unprecedented access to vigilante groups both north and south of the U.S./Mexico border, the film captures unforgettable footage from the front lines of the narco wars, and provides a new dimension and perspective on the issue. The film opens with a sequence that is essentially "Breaking Bad: The Documentary." A team of masked Mexican meth cooks unload their supplies from a truck in the the desert in the dead of night, and proceed to cook the crystal under the harsh glare of the camera’s spotlight. Their spokesperson is both articulate and contrite, admitting their knowledge »

- Katie Walsh

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Sundance Review: 'True Story' Starring James Franco, Jonah Hill & Felicity Jones

21 hours ago

True Story” feels especially well-timed in its release, due to how it grapples with the kinds of issues that were collectively struggled with last fall in the form of the Serial podcast and Rolling Stone magazine's Uva debacle, such as questions of who to believe, what constitutes the truth, and how to present the facts of a horrifying situation. These ideas drive “True Story,” and the result is a chilling film that, despite its craft and best efforts, still struggles to overcome its star power. While that is what gets films like this made (and producer Brad Pitt made an appearance during its introduction at Sundance), in the case of a true crime tale such as this, it serves as a bit of a distraction. "True Story" is a two-hander between Jonah Hill and James Franco, in a vastly different mode than any of their previous times sharing the screen. »

- Katie Walsh

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Sundance Review: ‘James White’ Starring Christopher Abbot & Cynthia Nixon Is A Bruising Portrait Of Self-Destruction

23 hours ago

Dark stories of self-destruction and suffering with miserablist leanings tend to be the narrative bread and butter of Sundance. They’ve become such a cliché that some wary audiences’ hackles tend to rise at the slightest sign of despairing stories that are anything but the feel-good hit of the year. Producer-turned-director Josh Mond navigates some of these familiar and potentially off-putting terrains in his feature-length debut, “James White.” The results are mixed, but thanks to a strong visual eye and a terrific cast, this anguished, but intimate coming of age tale tends to (mostly) recompense for some of the darker and more despondent elements that will test some resolves. Opening in a dank, sweaty club, the titular James White dances with such wild, feral abandon it suggests catharsis and some kind of spiritual exorcism. It turns out to be the eve of his father’s wake and the troubled 20-something »

- Rodrigo Perez

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Review: Peter Strickland's 'The Duke of Burgundy' Is The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

23 January 2015 3:05 PM, PST

Blue is a masochistic color in Peter Strickland’s sumptuous, surreal, serenading, and audaciously superb film, “The Duke of Burgundy.” It’s a masochism that loves to tease and toy with gratuity, but never steps over the line, and one that is underlined by a bottomless depth of love between two women, not entirely unlike Abdelatif Kechiche’s ground-shaking Palme d’Or winner, "Blue is the Warmest Color." Where the two films diametrically diverge, however, is in the spirited style and boundless freedom to indulge. Following up on the critically praised “Berberian Sound Studio,” Strickland stirs his love of Giallo cinema and sinister atmospherics in a cauldron containing the tastiest potions available in cinema, and creates a spell that had us hypnotized, immersed, and still awestruck. It’s the kind of movie that has us falling in love with movies all over again. The film begins with a tease. During the brief opening moments, »

- Nikola Grozdanovic

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Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis

23 January 2015 1:53 PM, PST

It might be a little while before we get another feature film from Steve McQueen. He's currently at work on his HBO pilot, "Codes Of Conduct," and only after that will he get cracking on his all female heist flick, "Widows." So, perhaps it's time to take another look at "Shame," and this time from a slightly different angle. A new video essay by Kingdom Of Shadows argues that "Shame" is actually a critique of the modern metropolis, and that Michael Fassbender's sexual addiction in the movie is a metaphor for the bigger theme at play. Using clips from film, along with context form Woody Allen's "Manhattan," Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," and interview footage with McQueen, the eight-minute look at the movie is a compelling, well-reasoned alternate theory about the picture. It's sure to spark some debate, so watch below and leave your thoughts in the comments section. »

- Kevin Jagernauth

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Jay And Mark Duplass Sign Four-Picture Deal With Netflix

23 January 2015 1:16 PM, PST

“There are more opportunities for artists. I think TV is advancing faster than filmmaking,” Robert Redford said at the Sundance Film Festival yesterday (via THR). It's a candid admission from the veteran actor and founder of the festival who is clearly seeing, along with everyone else, much more creative pastures right now in the realm of television production than at big studios. And as if to underscore his point, Netflix made a major announcement today. Deadline reports that the streaming giant has inked the prolific Jay and Mark Duplass for a four-picture deal. There's not much else in terms of information, but the basic outline is that Netflix will finance four Duplass Brothers productions, and debut them online, before they go into a limited theatrical run. There's no word if the Duplass duo will just produce, or direct as well. Either way, with so many projects on the go, having »

- Kevin Jagernauth

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Slamdance Review: Sympathetic And Unflinching Documentary 'The Resurrection Of Jake The Snake'

23 January 2015 12:43 PM, PST

In the world of wrestling, there were few figures like Jake "The Snake" Roberts. While the athletes around him tended to have outsized personalities, flashy costumes, and could turn trash talk into a gourmet meal of insults, Jake "The Snake" approached his game from a whole different angle. Where others were outward, he was inward, when others shouted, he almost whispered, and before a fight, if competitors flexed their biceps, Jake "The Snake" used the muscles in his mind to psych out the opposition. He was a champion of distinct charisma, a fearsome opponent who could match any foe in the ring, and if they got in the clutches of his signature Ddt finishing move, there was no chance they were getting up off the mat. He still remains one of the sport's most popular figures, and to any casual observer, not only seeing him on TV, but spun off »

- Kevin Jagernauth

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Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims'

23 January 2015 12:14 PM, PST

Let us never forget that "Fifty Shades Of Grey" started as "Twilight" fan fiction that somehow snowballed into a massive erotic novel sensation, which is now headed to the big screen from a major studio movie. While everyone waits to get all hot 'n bothered by the kinky romance between a businessman and a college graduate (how daring!) it seems there was some stuff that was just too hot to handle. The "tampon scene," as it's referred to, wasn't even under consideration. “It didn’t make it into the movie,” director Sam Taylor-Johnson told Variety. “It was never even discussed.” Why? Well, as you'll read in the excerpt from the book below (via Nylon) the scene is particularly graphic, and let's just say a transition to the multiplex might've been tricky.  "When did you start your period, Anastasia?" he asks out of the blue, gazing down at me. "Err… yesterday, »

- Kevin Jagernauth

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Watch: 'Star Wars: Age Of Vader' Recuts Original 'Star Wars' Trilogy Into 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'-Style Trailer

23 January 2015 11:30 AM, PST

The next trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is expected to be seen in front of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" this spring. So what to do until then? I'm not going to suggest you rewatch the original trilogy, because you've probably done that already — maybe even more than once. But I will encourage you to check out this repurposing of the "Star Wars" trilogy for the modern era. The Unusual Suspect has been busy recutting your favorite "Star Wars" films into a new trailer with the same structure, ominous tone, and fast cutting of the "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" spot. In addition to just being a fun watch, it's a pretty good example of how editing can really change the tone and scope of movie marketing. And I'll say this: I'm glad the original "Star Wars" movies weren't this dark, and I really hope 'The Force Awakens' keeps the »

- Kevin Jagernauth

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Watch: 'Force Majeure' Director Ruben Östlund Digs Into The Criterion Closet

23 January 2015 11:07 AM, PST

Have you ever YouTube’d “Worst man-cry ever”? Not even once? “Force Majeure” writer-director Ruben Östlund has. But he did it as research for a scene in which protagonist Tomas cries. Östlund revealed this and much more while perusing The Criterion Collection’s DVD closet recently, where he discussed not only his own films and inspiration, but his thoughts on many of the titles on the shelf. For example, he really likes Catherine Breillat’s 2001 film, “Fat Girl,” but much prefers the original French title — “À Ma Soeur!” (To My sister) — instead. On the other hand, he was delighted to see that Criterion sells Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” as “Bicycle Thieves,” which Östlund claims is a much better, in fact “the right” title. As for his experiences on set, Östlund recalls a tough decision he met with while shooting a short, “Autobiographical Scene Number 6882” back in 2005. An »

- Zach Hollwedel

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Watch: Mark Webber And Teresa Palmer Are Ready For 'The Ever After' In New Trailer

23 January 2015 10:44 AM, PST

Over the past decade, the way audiences are seeing movies has changed with the advent of VOD and digital streaming. These technological advances have allowed more and more filmmakers to bypass traditional distribution methods completely and go straight to their audience. The latest filmmaker trailblazing with the digital vanguard is actor/director Mark Webber with his third feature, “The Ever After.” Deadline reports that “The Ever After” will be a self-released affair available next month on the film’s site. This seems like the perfect – and most viable – option to reach audiences for such a low-key and intimate film. Co-starring, co-written and co-produced by Webber and his real life wife Teresa Palmer, the film follows a married photographer and actress as they struggle to make sense of their bond with one another. Melissa Leo, Rosario Dawson, Phoebe Tonkin, Joshua Leonard, Moby, and Scott Mescudi co-star, with Moby pulling double duty and scoring the film. »

- Cain Rodriguez

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Slamdance Exclusive: Trailer, Clip And Poster For Horror 'Clinger' Makes A Proposal

23 January 2015 10:02 AM, PST

Some relationships are built on trust, friendship, attraction, and a balance of intangible ingredients between two people that combine to make them one whole. And there are others where the chemistry is out of whack, and things are headed toward a quick end. But in the upcoming Slamdance Film Festival horror pic "Clinger," that latter scenario takes on a whole new dimension. Starring Vincent Martella and Jennifer Laporte, and directed by Michael Steves, the film follows Fern Peterson, whose first relationship is a bit intense for her liking. But when she's about to break up with her boyfriend, he dies in a gruesome accident, and comes back from the dead to reunite with her...forever. And as you'll see in the exclusive trailer, clip, and poster for the film below, this feature is bringing blood, scares, and a few laughs all rolled into one. "Clinger" premieres tomorrow at Slamdance. Watch below. »

- Edward Davis

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Sundance: Get Ready To Dance In Clip From 'Z For Zachariah' With Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, And Chiwetel Ejiofor

23 January 2015 9:39 AM, PST

Since her impressive breakout turn in “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” Margot Robbie has been missing from the big screen with three films set to hit this year, one of which is the Sundance-premiering “Z for Zachariah.” While we won’t have a review until after the screening this weekend, you can make do with a short clip from the post-apocalyptic film, via Hitfix. Running under a minute, the clip centers on an innocent moment between the three survivors of a disaster that wipes out most of the planet. Though it could be billed as a picture in the science-fiction realm, the film is directed by Craig Zobel, whose “Compliance” focused on the ways people can wield power over others. So yeah, expect less gunfights and more exploration of the relationships that develop between strangers in the face of a tragedy. “Z for Zachariah” premieres at the Sundance Film Festival »

- Cain Rodriguez

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The 10 Best Films Of 2004

23 January 2015 9:24 AM, PST

With 2015 upon us, we figured it was a good time to look back on the movies the millennium has brought us. And so we've dug into the archives and are re-running our Best of the 2000s pieces, from way back in 2009 when the Playlist was a little Blogspot site held together with tape and string. Each list runs down the top 10 films of each year (it's possible that, half-a-decade on, we'd put them in a different order and even change some of the movies, but we wanted to preserve the original pieces untouched as far as possible). Check out 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 if you missed them, and today we continue with 2004. The original piece follows below, and thanks to staffers past and present who contributed. Man, if compiling this list was any indication, 2004 was a very peculiar year and one of the weaker ones of the decade. For some years, we were »

- Oliver Lyttelton

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