Allistair Pinsof

Review: Don Jon

Sep 27 // Allistair Pinsof
Don JonDirector: Joseph Gordon-LevittRating: NRRelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival), March 11, 2013 (SXSW) Jon lives in an era of the transparency of porn. Hard cocks and jiggling boobs are shown in detail and freely available every waking hour on the internet. Sexual suggestion is now reserved for TV ads of a girl in tank top eating a cheeseburger while almost but not quite having an orgasm. Don Jon is a tool, a Guido, a chump, to be dismissed on first glance. Yet, Gordon-Levitt makes him a likeable guy and a sympathetic victim of his environment. Jon would fit right in with the cast of Jersey Shore, but somehow his machismo is endearing, calling to mind John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or Rocky. He`s self-centered but not without heart. Wanting to discover a new plateau in his sex life (excluding porn), Jon courts ("long-term game") Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), an inarguable "diamond" according to Jon. Though he can`t see the point of romantic films any better than his older female friend (Julianne Moore) can see the point of him watching porn, Jon surprises himself with the lengths he goes to win this girl over. In the end, the sex is just sex -- a far cry from his coveted porn collection. Gordon-Levitt gives Don Jon a repetitive rhythmic pace in both editing and scripting. Sequences of porn browsing, club encounters, and road rage repeat throughout the film, mirroring the loud energetic but ultimately monotonous music blaring at the clubs Jon frequents. The camera work is also accelerated, often circling around scenes with great speed. The persistent use of music paints a strange mood around the film, blending hyper club anthems with a traditional string score and electronic glitch effects. Don Jon is a familiar love story that never feels like one. After all, it's a film about a narcissistic macho man who falls in love with sex. What makes Don Jon so great is the personality Gordon-Levitt brings to his material in both direction and performance. Undeterred, Gordon-Levitt examines porn's effect on society while keeping the film innocent and insightful. Geoff Henao: Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his writing/directorial debut with the fascinating Don Jon. While still fundamentally a romantic comedy, Gordon-Levitt touches on much deeper themes, such as the "stereotypical" portrayal of masculinity and how men feel as if they have to live up to such expectations, as well as a look at unrealistic depictions of sex in porn and how "real" sex is nowhere like the fantasy sex displayed online. However, Gordon-Levitt uses comedy and humor to address these issues. What results is a smart (probably the smartest) rom-com that isn't heavy-handed. Sometimes, the move from being in front of the camera to behind the camera can be hard, but with Gordon-Levitt's many years in the business, the transition was fine-tuned. From the editing to the acting to the script, Don Jon just feels like a labor of love. I hope and pray Gordon-Levitt acts for the rest of his life, but if he ever does decide to permanently move behind the camera, Don Jon is proof that he'll be perfectly fine in the director's seat. 85 -- Exceptional
Don Jon Review photo
That's some good jerkin'
Our rabid consumption of media informs our lives and habits as much as our upbringing. For Jon, that media obsession is porn. When he isn't debating what number to rate a girl at the club, he is masturbating three times a day...

Tribeca Review: V/H/S/2

Apr 15 // Allistair Pinsof
V/H/S/2 (S-VHS)Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Edúardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason EisenerRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: June 6, 2013 (VOD); July 12th (theatrical) V/H/S is a film that I said doesn't need a sequel and S-VHS doesn't do much to change that opinion. That position wasn't based on growing tired of the concept so much as feeling that the creative forces behind the first exhausted their options in prime material. S-VHS has a different group of directors, some with films you heard of (Blair Witch Project) and some of which you'll here about soon (You're Next). They bring their own unique take to the horror compilation, but even with new blood it's clear that creative minds are being strained to not retread on familiar ground. After some setup, S-VHS (thanks for not making me type those slashes, guys!) opens with a rather straight forward haunted house story with a twist. The twist being that we see through a man's robotic camera eye; the same eye that now permits this unfortunate host to see ghosts in his home. It's nothing all that shocking but the delivery is perfect, getting my blood running over something I thought stopped scarring me long ago. Like the first film, S-VHS is full of clever lines, timing, and details that make all the difference in the genre of horror. Though this opener is uninspired, it contains one of those rare horror moments where I felt like laughing and crying out at the same time. Nailing dark comedy and horror at the same time is something that S-VHS' directors constantly aim for but not always with success. The following four shorts are more camp than scary, focusing on aliens, devil babies, evil cults, and other subjects that one can't take seriously so the directors don't bother all that much trying to either. Instead, these frameworks are used to get to ridiculous places that I dare not discuss here because spoilers (and I don't want to throw up my lunch.) All these films contain shocking and shockingly hilarious scenes but they don't always work as a whole. Despite having a larger budget, the special effects often get in the way of creative writing. No where is this clearer than the final short that starts as a charming story about brothers spooking their sister, but then becomes an alien hunt full of nothing but flashing lights and sirens. Also, the acting is hit-and-miss which I never felt about the first. GoCams, doggy cams, surveillance cameras, eye cameras, spy cameras -- I can't deny that the directors of S-VHS made the most of the material, crafting a better looking sequel. Then again, it's a sequel that needs it because it can't always rely on the strength of its performances and script. Don't let this discourage you from seeking out S-VHS. It might be a step down from the original but it's still a skyscraper above other found footage films. Not to mention, this is a film where a man literally fucks away a ghost. It kind of sells itself, doesn't it? Allistair's Score: 74 Alec Kubas-Meyer: I don't really like seeing horror movies in theaters. I'm kind of a wimp sometimes, and I'd rather not freak out in front of a whole bunch of strangers (let alone other critics) over basically nothing. So I'm glad that I saw the original V/H/S on a TV after its VOD release, because it actually made me jump once or twice, and doing that in front of my friends was embarrassing enough. For the same reason, I'm glad that V/H/S/2 isn't a straight horror film. It's more of a horror-comedy, following in the footsteps of sequels like The Evil Dead 2 andThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as they turned to humor after their scare-centric starts. Fortunately, V/H/S/2 is also consistently stronger than its predecessor. The stories all play with found footage in interesting ways (although the shakiness of Jason Eisener's segment was too distracting), and Safe Haven, the short by Gareth Evans (director of The Raid) and Timo Tjahjanto, is by far the best part of either film. That short alone is worth the price of admission, and everything else is really just extra. Really awesome extra. 84 -- Great Hubert Vigilla: When working with the found-footage genre, I sometimes wonder why people don't just drop the camera, But if the story's involving, I'm willing to suspend disbelief and go with it. What makes V/H/S/2 so much fun is the way the various shorts address the issue. For more the most part, there are in-story reasons why the camera wouldn't be dropped, and they're played with to mostly good effect. The result is a really enjoyable and inventive horror-comedy anthology (even though the framing/connecting narrative, almost by necessity, isn't too strong). The two standouts of V/H/S/2 are right in the middle. A Ride in the Park by Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez uses the conceit of a helmet cam to great effect, and the laughs in this segment consistently connect. The best of the anthology by far is Safe Haven by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, which begins with the necessary slow burn until it goes absolutely bananas. The other two entries -- Adam Wingard's Clinical Trials and Jason Eisener's Alien Abduction Slumber Party -- are solid enough to round out the film. It all makes me wonder what this anthology series has in store for the next installment. On a related note, I'm disappointed they changed the title from S-VHS to V/H/S/2. It makes sense from a marketing and brand recognition standpoint, but I was really looking forward to Laserdisc (or maybe LD), VCD, or Beta Max as sequel titles. 76 -- Good
V/H/S/2 Review photo
A monster of a sequel
In the original V/H/S, numerous tapes littered the apartment of the film's depraved gang of psychos, leaving the viewer to wonder what else those cassettes contained and whether the viewer can stomach to watch any more. S-VHS...

Sundance Review: Before Midnight

Apr 15 // Allistair Pinsof
Before MidnightDirector: Richard LinklaterRating: RRelease Date: May 24, 2013Nearly a decade has passed since Before Sunset and even more since Before Sunrise, which contains the chance meeting in Vienna between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julia Delpy) that started the unlikely trilogy. The passing of time won't be lost on audiences. Hawke and Delpy wear it on their faces. The red of Jesse's beard is gone. He now sports a protruding bulbous gut. Celine has gained weight too, as it often happens after giving birth to two children (twin girls). Now in their forties, Jesse and Celine are no longer the faces of young, passionate romance that they once were. Now, they are the perfect parents. Something to aspire but not something to be labeled romantic or sexy. Before Midnight opens with Jesse saying goodbye to his son, the one he left behind in Chicago after divorcing his first wife for Celine. It's a touching portrait of a father who can't bear to see his son go, and the effect this moment has on him doesn't fade away throughout the film (as it is with life). The camera then follows Jesse to a car parked outside the airport, where Celine and their two daughters await. The remainder of the film goes something like: car ride, sitting, lunch, walking, more sitting, and then some real high-stakes sitting to bring the film to a climax. As with Sunset and Sunrise, Midnight remains a compelling film despite no actual conflict until the last act, one filled with tension that never graced the previous two films. There is a lack of action but never a lack of compelling beauty, which comes from the gorgeous countryside of Greece and the genuine chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. As much as I loved Delpy's interaction with Adam Goldberg and Chris Rock in her 2 Days in Paris and New York, the relationship she has with Hawke is profound and uncanny in its realism. I've never seen a film where a couple arguing half-naked appeared so genuine. In the film's darker moments, I felt like an unwanted voyeur. In the film's lighter moments, Jesse and Celine are dear friends that I can almost reach out and touch. Such is the naturalism in performance and direction contained within Before Midnight. Richard Linklater gives Before Midnight larger, composed images to complement the wider scale of emotion in this entry. Celine and Jesse don't simply live for each other, in this film. The world is bigger than their love. Linklater opens the door to new characters that reflect on their relationship. Widows mourn their old flames and a young couple hints at what Before Sunrise may have been if Jesse and Celine lived in the era of Skype. The 30 or so minute middle of the film that finds Celine and Jesse having lunch at a gorgeous, historic estate brings so much to the entirety of Before Midnight. German cinematographer Walter Lassally, playing the role of the estate's host, gives one of the warmest performances I've ever seen. I love this man. Long after the film ended, one of the many brilliant monologues stuck with me. Jesse, evaluating parenthood, reflects back on his teenage years, concluding that he wanted life to speed up so he could move out of his parents' house. Now, he only wants life to slow down so he can enjoy the years with his wife and children that seem to slide right past him. His son (of a previous marriage) is now mature enough to not need Jesse's omnipresence and old enough to offer his dad advice back. This isn't just an observation of Jesse's; it's a truth about life that fills every moment of Before Midnight. It's a film about accepting the flaws of the life we chose, finding happiness where we can, and enjoying the passing minutes that fill the day. Jesse and Celine may not be quite as beautiful and young as they once where, but that was never what made them an envious couple. It's the rapid imagination they share: The private performances they put on for each other, the elaborate theories that they entertain, and the always conscious conversations that march instead of wander. Maybe a decade ago I wanted a romance like Jesse and Celine's, but now I want to be their son.
Before Midnight Review photo
From dawn to dusk
There is an ebb and flow to the laughter between the men and women of my theater, during Before Midnight. As Jesse makes a salient point about the manic nature of women, the men laugh. When Celine talks about the self-serv...

Review: Upstream Color

Apr 04 // Allistair Pinsof
Upstream ColorDirector: Shane CarruthRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: April 5, 2013 (New York), additional cities in weeks to follow (For a full list of cities, dates, and theaters, click here.) There are only middles in Upstream Color, no beginnings or ends. As viewers of Shane Carruth`s debut Primer may expect, this mesmerizing followup is esoteric and dense. I feel as if Carruth dug a tunnel through my skull, damaging wiring along the way, and then dumped a bucket of water on my central computer -- once Carruth`s mucking around is over, the sparking of my system does enough self-inflicting damage. Does that sound good? I can't think clearly enough to say. Once decoded, Upstream Color's plot is simple and laughably bizarre, full of gaps and unearned explanations. This conclusion didn't hit me until the day after, however, because decoding Upstream Color is an essential part of the film. Like Primer, major reveals can literally be missed in a blink of an eye. The framing and structure of Upstream Color gives its ridiculous plot credence and weight. In the hands of M. Night Shyamalan, this tale would get as many unintentional chuckles as The Happening. The music throughout the film is comparable to those new age albums that claim to alter your brain's beta and delta waves. At the end of the film, I found myself enter a strange dreamlike state where the world felt less real. I can't say if that's the power of the film or the music manipulating my brain. Whatever the case, it's effective.The visuals and editing complement this sleep state with shallow focus and washed-out color, like that first glimpse of a bedroom upon awakening. The editing continues this emulation, sporadically cutting to black, as if awakening and falling back asleep. Upstream Color feels like a UFO abduction or watching The Tree of Life on sleeping pills. Upstream Color is the dream that haunts you throughout the day. Not a spooky haunt; more like deja vu. After watching the film, something changed and it wasn't my environment. That's powerful. I tell you how Upstream Color feels instead of what it is (an uncertainty that won't be collectively solved by the internet -- sorry, Primer fans.) If this all reads like hyperbole, then let me add that the ongoing uncertainty of the film's plot fights against the tranquility of the filmmaking; and the lack of apparent answers is maddening; and I`m not sure if I enjoyed it. Then again, Upstream Color is a film that hurts my brain to the point where enjoyability is no longer a value it knows. Consider the number below arbitrary and the words above both a warning and an invitation. Hubert Vigilla: Whenever I see a bit of writing that's difficult to decipher, I have an immediate desire to want to try to read that text. It sort of makes sense that the first image in Upstream Color involves some mysterious writing that's been discarded. From the very beginning, I wanted to understand the rhythm, the shape, and the color of the film, and I think a lot of people will be frustrated if they're looking for a straightforward narrative that tells them what to think and what to feel. Instead, Shane Carruth's crafted a moody, manic, gorgeous movie that's felt before it's understood, much like a good piece of music. It's part David Cronenberg, part Terrence Malick, and yet an organism that's entirely Carruth's own. This is on a different scale than Primer because Upstream Color wants get at the core of what it means to be human and alive. It does this by taking an odd shape: a mind-bending, emotionally charged sci-fi misfit love story, heavy on the hobby horses of existentialism, transcendentalism, and the desperate concerns of damaged souls -- free will, control, love, ennui, loneliness, alienation, community, self. A lot of people will leave Upstream Color asking, "What did I just watch?" and will just discount it as nonsense. I can't hold it against them. It's not a movie for everyone, and nothing should be or can be for everyone. That isn't to say there's no sense of universality to Upstream Color. I think it's rife with universality, but just because a movie expresses something human doesn't mean it will express those concerns in a way that everyone will enjoy. It may wind up being the most divisive movie since Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. But Upstream Color isn't nonsense. I won't say that Upstream Color makes perfect sense to me, but it doesn't need to since its metaphors and ideas are left a little open like good metaphors should be. I feel such a strange connection to the movie, as if it expresses things going on in my own head in a way I've never thought of before. I keep turning the story over in my brain and I keep finding new connections and new possibilities, as if charting the night and finding new constellations. I need to watch Upstream Color again, not because I want to decode every symbol, but because I want to experience the strange joy of the film that's hard to express in words. 91 -- Spectacular Geoff Henao: Upstream Color was the first film I screened at SXSW this year, and needless to say, it was definitely a very heavy film to launch this year's SXSW experience with. Like Allistair and Hubert said, the film is very dense and hazy, both metaphorically and literally. There's a mental haze of confusion over exactly what's going on, heightened by the cinematography's penchant for soft saturation. Shane Carruth puts all of himself into his films, and with that comes a natural notion to question everything going on. And really, Upstream Color will have you asking so many questions, not only about what it is you've seen, but whether or not you even liked it. This film will make you think, ponder, wonder, pontificate, and reach for a level of understanding that, maybe, will be unattainable. It's overwhelming and polarizing, much like Allistair mentioned with his reference to Tree of Life. It's not as rooted in science-fiction logic like Carruth's previous film, Primer, but feels like an extension of that film's universe. No matter how you feel about Upstream Color after the credits roll, it'll stick with you for a long, long time. Isn't that what the best films are supposed to do? 80 -- Great Alec Kubas-Meyer: I can't put a number on Upstream Color. There is no single word that embodies my reaction to the film, and I don't even know that my thoughts could be reduced to anything less than a run-on sentence. Were I to make a graph of my investment in the story and the characters, it would look like an incredibly dangerous rollercoaster. Were I to graph my understanding, well, it wouldn't look like much of anything. Here are some things I know about Upstream Color: it's better than the disgustingly bad Leviathan (something I spent several minutes contemplating while the occasionally overbearing audio mix was reveling in a bizarre underwater soundscape), Amy Seimetz looks good with short hair (a rarity among women), there are pigs in it (though I don't really know why, even if I have a vague idea), and Hubert understands it way goddamn better than I do (which I know because we have had several conversations about it). Everything else is honestly kind of up for grabs. I want to see Upstream Color again in a year, and then a year from then, and so on. It would be interesting to see how my reaction to the film changes as I age, both because I will have a better understanding of the film from previous viewings and because I will have had new experiences that could give me some fresh perspective on whatever it is that's going on. I recommend Upstream Color on the basis that I have never seen anything like it and most of the people I've met who have seen it have enjoyed it, but even days after the credits have rolled and I've had plenty of time to talk and think about it (I even know how director Shane Carruth wants the film to be interpreted), I'm just so lost. Words truly can't describe Upstream Color... or at the very least, my words can't.
Upstream Color Review photo
No math required
Part of me wants to wait until I fully understand every facet of Upstream Color before I review it, but a larger part of me suspects I never will. Might as well strike while the iron is hot. Upstream Color is mind-altering,...


Review: Stoker

Feb 28 // Allistair Pinsof
StokerDirector: Chan-Wook Park Rating: RCountry: USARelease Date: March 1, 2013 I feel fairly confident in identifying Park's Korean sensibilities, but only because a Korean friend once identified them for me. He studied and adopted Park's flourishes and fetishes for his own student films: swinging lights, extreme close-ups of eating, lots of bare feet, and a series of plot twists that'd make M. Night's head spin. If these things are what you too look for in Park's films, Stoker will not disappoint. In brief: He's still Korean. Forgive me if I put Stoker's visuals before its story in this review, but it only seems fair for a film that does the very same. Park has a specific vision that benefits greatly from the lavish budget afforded to American films featuring Nicole Kidman. Dutch angles make hillsides otherworldly, domestic violence contains a cartoonish flair that dares me to be excited instead of disgusted, and the editing is full of overlays and freeze frames that belong to another era or maybe just the current era of Korean filmmakers. Stoker is Park's most accomplished film yet, visually-speaking. After India's (Mia Wasikowska) father suffers a fiery death, her father's mysterious, world-traveling brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) moves into her mom's (Nicole Kidman) luxurious estate. For the following hour, India interacts with exaggerated high school bullies, her sweet old granny, and the increasingly awkward relationship developing between Uncle Charlie and mom. Charlie sneaks around the house, follows India to school, and has too kind of a demeanor to be anything other than calculated. The rumors of an exhaustive number of takes on set due to a language barrier between Park and cast is easy to believe with the end result. I don't doubt Park spent a great deal of effort directing his actors, as it takes a great deal of effort for Wasikowska and Kidman to give anything less than a spectacular performance. Everyone in this film appears alien and stilted, which works wonders for the oddball characters (Charlie and India's eccentric grandmother). When truths are finally revealed, it's hard to care. The final act is a roller coaster of twists and gruesome happenings, but it's too little too late. After a painfully dull first hour, I just couldn't invest in the characters beyond their morbid nature. There is a precise moment in the film when somebody does something in a shower and I think to myself, "There's the Chan-wook Park I know!" Unfortunately, he's operating within a script that bounces between outlandish caricatures and grim revelations. This leads to unintentional chuckles and dramatic moments that land about as well as a one-legged gymnast on an oil slick surface. Outside a couple exceptions, only the violence and sexual tension remains unspoiled: the things that Park has and always will succeed at, regardless of language. Overall score: 52 - Average
Stoker Review photo
Stoked?
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2013 Sundance Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.] Some time between being handed a Chinatown bootleg of Oldboy in 200...

Sundance 2013: Top five films of the festival (and more)

Jan 29 // Allistair Pinsof
The Way, Way Back really is a teenage take on Adventureland with the comedy coming before the drama. But, Adventureland is one of my favorite films so how could that ever be a negative? Like that film, The Way, Way Back has a sweetness and nostalgia in its setting and tone. Duncan is still a lifetime away from being the cool kid, at film's end, but such a grand transformation wouldn't suit a comedy so dedicated to getting the little things right. [Read the full review] Magic Magic is anti-horror horror. It's mumblehorror. Violence is dealt with as nonchalantly as Cera delivers his lines: lazily drawn-out with a disregard for theatrics. I can't think of any other film that effectively conveys an ominous tone while frequently providing comic relief, without relying on slapstick or surprise. Most of this is due to Cera, who fits seamlessly into a character that is simultaneously repulsive, pathetic, adorable, and sympathetic. Whenever he is on the screen, I found myself laughing -- maybe out of fear, maybe out of comedic delivery (I can't remember which.) [Read the full review] Impeccably shot, acted, and lit, Kill Your Darlings is a tale of love, murder, and artistic intuition that cuts on more than one layer. Like the group of friends the film portrays, Kill Your Darlings' unlikely cast and crew form the perfect storm, culminating in a specific vision of a time and place we thought we knew well but clearly do not know well enough. Though I suspected the film to go south during the first 20 minutes, the remainder made me expect I'd walk out of the theater with chills running down my spine, in the way that great poetry does, visual or otherwise. [Read the full review] The Spectacular Now is the rare high school drama that is smart, funny, and painfully true in its depiction of alcoholism's effect on youth and how accepting peers can be of a soon-to-be obstacle in life. The Spectacular Now is Ferris Bueller for a new generation, with a scoop of medicine aside the fun. [Read the full review] Richard Linklater gives Before Midnight larger, composed images to complement the wider scale of emotion in this entry. Celine and Jesse don't simply live for each other, in this film. The world is bigger than their love. Linklater opens the door to new characters that reflect on their relationship. Widows mourn their old flames and a young couple hints at what Before Sunrise may have been if Jesse and Celine lived in the era of Skype. The 30 or so minute middle of the film that finds Celine and Jesse having lunch at a gorgeous, historic estate brings so much to the entirety of Before Midnight. German cinematographer Walter Lassally, playing the role of the estate's host, gives one of the warmest performances I've ever seen. [Read the full review] Before Midnight [96] *Editor's Choice*The Spectacular Now [93] *Editor's Choice*Kill Your Darlings [91] *Editor's Choice*Magic Magic [86] *Editor's Choice*The Way, Way Back [84] *Editor's Choice*Don Jon's Addiction [83] *Editor's Choice*Crystal Fairy [82]The World According to Dick Cheney [80]The Gatekeepers [79]Upstream Color [78] *Editor's Choice*The Look of Love [78]Mud [76]We Are What We Are [74]S-VHS [74]Very Good Girls [69]A.C.O.D. [66]Who is Dayani Cristal? [58]Lovelace [54]Stoker [52]Sound City [50]Big Sur [50]Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman [45]The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete [44]Computer Chess [35]Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes [33]Virtually Heroes [18]
Top 5 films of Sundance photo
The best year yet?
Another Sundance, another 27 films reviewed. Though this is only my third year, Sundance 2013 is by far the greatest one I attended yet. Even bolder, I'll say that it may be the greatest in the festival's history. Looking bac...

Sundance Review: The Way, Way Back

Jan 28 // Allistair Pinsof
The Way, Way BackDirector: Nat Faxon, Jim RashRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 21, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Duncan isn't the nerd you identify with. He's the nerd you feel bad for. Displaying a crippling lack of confidence, he can barely summon the words out of his mouth; he walks around with a hunch; and he'll send back a compliment until the end of time, if the other party lets him. Water park entrepreneur Owen (Sam Rockwell) is that rare person who doesn't judge Duncan or pay mind to his sad sack routine. In both tone and plotting, The Way, Way Back is an amalgamation of Youth in Exile and Adventureland. Duncan, on vacation with his mom, her boyfriend, and his sister, is taken outside the safety of his home, where he spends the majority of his time. Trent (Steve Carell), the mom's boyfriend, is a bossy, judgmental force positioned to make Duncan's summer break more miserable than he had planned. Needing an escape from his mom's self-centered vacationing, Duncan wanders the lazy beach side suburb, leading to brushing shoulders with Owen. The tenderness of The Way, Way Back comes from the friendship shared between Duncan and Owen. Owen is a crass, wise cracking boss that doesn't take his job (or his employees) seriously. Most of Owen's jokes are funny, given Rockwell's delivery and writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, (The Descendents), but a lot of Owen's lines land flat with both his audience and the theater. I adore this quality to Rockwell's character, because funny characters in films are only ever funny. Not so in real life. Owen is that guy who thinks he is funny -- a natural born comedian -- but is often an unfunny clown, wasting his and others' time. Likewise, Duncan isn't playing boring, he is boring. These noticeable flaws in character make the rote drama and familiar story of The Way, Way Back effective and refreshing. I don't mean to suggest The Way, Way Back isn't funny. Allison Janney, playing the role of an off-the-rails heavy drinking neighbor, and Rockwell provide some of the biggest laughs that will likely grace a comedy in 2013. Also, Jim Rash takes a step out from behind the camera to play a character almost as outlandish as his role as the principal on NBC's Community -- he doesn't gel well with the rest of the film's cast, but the comedic moments make this forgivable. The only flat performance comes from Carell, who is miscast with no funny lines and a botched attempt at appearing abusive. It's no deal-breaker, but I wonder why Carell took the part in the first place. The Way, Way Back really is a teenage take on Adventureland with the comedy coming before the drama. But, Adventureland is one of my favorite films so how could that ever be a negative? Like that film, The Way, Way Back has a sweetness and nostalgia in its setting and tone. Duncan is still a lifetime away from being the cool kid, at film's end, but such a grand transformation wouldn't suit a comedy so dedicated to getting the little things right.
The Way, Way Back Review photo
Next stop Adventureland
The losers of high school dramas are cooler than me. Anthony Michael Hall and Jesse Eisenberg would be my high school's presidents, not wallflowers. It happens so often: the seemingly hopeless male protagonist, that we are su...

Sundance Review: A.C.O.D.

Jan 28 // Allistair Pinsof
A.C.O.D.Director: Stu ZichermanRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 23, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) A.C.O.D. (or Adult Children of Divorce) follows restaurant owner Carter (Adam Scott), who is in the uncomfortable position of bringing his argumentative parents together for his brother's wedding. When Carter discovers a book his written about the effects his parents' divorce had on him as a child, his reality starts to fall apart and he no longer knows what he wants out of his relationship or his parents, who are suddenly hooking up for sex after years of separation. Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Jane Lynch, Richard Jenkins, Clark Duke, Catherine O'Hara -- A.C.O.D. is full of top-notch comedic talents that seem to have a hard time earning the spotlight in Hollywood. Despite all involved putting their best foot forward here, I don't think A.C.O.D. will help launch any careers. If it does launch any, Scott is most deserving in his lead role played with a collective cool and nuance that makes him pleasing to watch even with lackluster material.
A.C.O.D. Review photo
Arrested Development
No longer just an alternative, divorce is practically inevitable. A.C.O.D. is a feel-good comedy with a cynical stance on marriage. Writer-director Stuart Zicherman doesn't say anything profound in this debut, but a strong comedic cast prop up his limp material.

Sundance Review: Magic Magic

Jan 27 // Allistair Pinsof
Magic MagicDirector: Sebastián SilvaRating: NRCountry: USA/ChileRelease Date: January 22, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) There is an irrelevance that persists throughout Magic Magic; this complete disregard for artistic intent, closure, and consistency is what keeps the film buoyant. It's an oddity deserving of a primarily Spanish-speaking performance from Cera. As with Crystal Fairy, director Sebastián Silva and Cera's other collaboration, Magic Magic follows a group of friends on sabbatical, becoming increasingly distant due to Brink's (Cera) quirks and the presence of a strange girl growing increasingly hostile (Alicia, played by Temple). Trade in horror for Crystal Fairy's psychedelic flirtations and you have something like Magic Magic, a film that is always perplexing but never boring. Alicia is no different than the rest of the group of friends (a mix of native Chileans and Americans abroad), in that she just wants to relax, except she can't due to insomnia. Alicia's anti-social behavior complements Cera's hilariously perverse, obnoxious character, until she becomes an actual threat to the party. Even when Alicia attacks, I found myself laughing, unsure if I was alone or not in doing so. I never found myself rooting for either party, nor did I sympathize with the Chilean friends that just wanted a vacation. Magic Magic's story is one of those train wrecks that elicits morbid curiosity instead of empathy. It's a dark film, but one that feels as if it can be illuminated with the opening of a cellphone. Magic Magic is anti-horror horror. It's mumblehorror. Violence is dealt with as nonchalantly as Cera delivers his lines: lazily drawn-out with a disregard for theatrics. I can't think of any other film that effectively conveys an ominous tone while frequently providing comic relief, without relying on slapstick or surprise. Most of this is due to Cera, who fits seamlessly into a character that is simultaneously repulsive, pathetic, adorable, and sympathetic. Whenever he is on the screen, I found myself laughing -- maybe out of fear, maybe out of comedic delivery (I can't remember which.) Magic Magic's inconclusive end and aimless middle may turn away impatient viewers, but the film's ambiguous nature, carefully walking a line between comedy and horror, thrilled me until its end. A theater sharing one great hearty laugh is great, but I prefer a theater divided -- unsure of whether it's okay to laugh and uneasy with those that do. If you also adore that awkward state, Magic Magic will satisfy. It's a gorgeously shot, strange film that leaves me uncertain of what to label it and happy that I won't have to label it anything at all.
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Mumblehorror
Some laugh at what scares them. This act can be perceived as obnoxious and puzzling to someone else in a theater, but it feels completely natural during Magic Magic: A hypnotizing balancing act between horror and comedy (but ...

Sundance Review: The Gatekeepers

Jan 27 // Allistair Pinsof
The GatekeepersDirector: Dror MorehRating: NRCountry: Israel/Germany/Belgium/FranceRelease Date: February 1, 2013 (New York and Los Angeles) Forget about morality, says a Shin Bet ex-director. Trying to move Palestinians without a home and interrogating suicide bombers with nothing to lose, Shin Bet operators are stuck in a seemingly endless loop of conflict with no foreseeable solution. When peace is made with Palestinians, Hamas and Islamic jihads arise. When the prime minister signs a peace treaty, his own people assassinate him and plan to bomb an Islamic dome. Suppressing value judgements and emotions for decades, Shin Bet's head operators have much to say during the interviews that compose The Gatekeepers. There are parallels to be made with our own government throughout. The vengeance driving the organization after the prime minister's death brings to mind US's blood lust for Osama bin Laden, for example. Things get especially unnerving when remote bombing is discussed. Only through trial-and-error did Shin Bet settle on what is the standard operating procedure for missile strikes on isolated targets, years after bombing 200+ innocents due to bad intel. The Gatekeepers is a parable about how military occupation can give a governing body more than what it bargained for. With Palestinians raging outside their door, the conflict is now a mess of politics, personal vendettas, and religious beliefs that can't be easily separated. Shin Bet's most notable agents announce they are always open to talk to any and all threatening leaders. Force and covert operations haven't been working out, after all. Sound familiar?
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Israel Confidential
In Israel's Shin Bet, I find an intelligence agency not so different from the CIA. In Israel's religious zealots, I find an extremist terrorist group not so different from the Taliban that our government tells us to fear. The...

Sundance Review: Lovelace

Jan 27 // Allistair Pinsof
LovelaceDirector: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey FriedmanRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 22, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Lovelace opens with Linda and her friend sunbathing in her backyard, Linda shy about following her friend's lead when she removes her top. Linda is depicted as a simple, naive girl that is hard to sympathize with, unless she is being beaten by boyfriend/hustler Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard). Without questioning, she agrees to do a porno shoot for her and Chuck's rent. It'd be one thing if she admitted to being content with the role, but the film never addresses how she actually feels. Halfway through the film, it's revealed that Chuck was threatening Linda to do porn and other unsavory things the entire time. It's shocking and hard to watch, but hardly earned. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who only recently made the jump from documentary to narrative features with Howl, never take Linda's side. Linda is never given the room to breath and discuss her situation with other characters, suffocating in a cage much worse than the house arrest her parents subjected her to as a teenager. Lovelace is a lopsided film, leaning on scenes of abuse to tie its story together. Most sickening of all, I got the sense that the actors were having too good of a time on set. James Franco is woefully miscast as Hugh Hefner, Amanda Seyfried goes over the top with her portrayal of Linda (I shudder to imagine Lindsey Lohan's performance, who was originally cast), and Sarsgaard is such a ruthless monster that it's hard to believe there was ever a shred of humanity to his character. Only in the final minutes does Lovelace reach for more inspired material, focusing on the boundaries of a porn star, the contracts that leave porn stars penniless, and how 13 days defined the rest of her life in the public's eye. Instead of highlighting Linda's career as an anti-porn, anti-violence spokesperson and novelist, this key evolution is a footnote in Lovelace, a film more interested in drama and tragedy than the transformative.
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The dark side of porn
Pornography is a dirty business and I'm not strictly speaking about the clean-up crew. One doesn't have to deeply penetrate the industry to dig up tales of manipulation, abuse, and self-destruction. 1972 hit Deep Throat set t...

Sundance Review: The Spectacular Now

Jan 25 // Allistair Pinsof
The Spectacular NowDirector: James PonsoldtRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Sutter Keely is in constant search of a buzz. His relationships aren't only dependent on drinking, they begin and end by the bottle. So it is with good-natured geek Aimee Finicky, who he meets upon waking on her lawn after a party. The two start up an ambiguous friendship that continually left me with a knot in my stomach. She believes in him so much, yet he's still eying his ex- and her new football player boyfriend. I expected harm, but screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber bring the same realism and surprise to this adaptation of a novel that they previously attached to (500) Days of Summer. The Spectacular Now is full of cliches: a father that abandons his kid, a football player that steals a girlfriend, a nerdy girl that never had a boyfriend, etc. Well, high school is full of cliches. It's in the depiction of The Spectacular Now's characters and events that truth and humor is found. Actor Miles Teller has the charm and lines of Feris Bueller, but, in the end of the day, Sutter is just a dumb kid that's going to get himself killed by drinking and driving. The film's memorable opening finds Sutter with his head out the window, shouting, as the jovial brass band soundtrack takes a dark turn, heightening to a buzz saw pitch. Nothing happens, thankfully, but The Spectacular Now has a way of always reminding me that these are real people that real things can happen to. This ain't no John Hughes film. Party monster Sutter and anime fan Aimee (The Descedents' Shailene Woodley is cute as a button in the role) make a pact, after striking up an unlikely romance: each will answer to their mom's unwillingness to let them live the lives they want. For Aimee, her mom won't let her go to college. For Sutter, his mom won't let him see his dad. Watching Sutter and Aimee interact and grow together provides one of the most complex and interesting on-screen relationships to grace a coming-of-age film. Aimee gains confidence, but is not confident enough to admit that Sutter's self-destructive lifestyle affects her. Sutter becomes bolder and happier, but he isn't bold enough to put down the bottle after his boss (Bob Odenkirk) asks him to. Every scene is a tug-of-war between feel-good laughs and heart-tugging emotion. Their relationship is real and complex. Alcoholism is something rarely addressed in teen comedies (even though there is heavy material, the film is funny as hell). The Spectacular Now doesn't offer any grand transformation or answers for Sutter. He takes on the problems of his father, bringing down the girl he loves. His lust for the party leaves him in a perpetual state of forgetting that there is a morning after. Watching this complicated love affair play out is constantly nerve-wracking, elating, and thrilling. As a viewer, I too want them to be together, elaborating on their on-screen chemistry and delivering more quotable lines. And then, like Sutter, I am reminded that there are consequences in being so short-sighted in my desires. The Spectacular Now is both one of the most painful and one of the most funny teenage dramas to ever grace the cinema. Like high school, it appears cliche when you are outside of it but feels intensely real when you are still a kid trapped in a classroom. The question isn't why does Sutter drink all the time. The question is why didn't we all?
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#YOLO
Sutter is the life of the party, and the joke of his high school. He is the embodiment of our YOLO teen culture. The one that turns Kendrick Lamar's lament on teenage alcoholism ("Swimming Pools") into a party anthem. With no...

Sundance Review: Very Good Girls

Jan 25 // Allistair Pinsof
Very Good GirlsDirector: Naomi FonerRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 22, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Right now, I'm struggling with describing Fanning's luscious bum as a white piece of chocolate or an effervescent bar of soap that smells like vanilla. [I am writing this review on an airplane, free of wifi; free of IMDB; free of the ability to look up Fanning's age and make sure I am not suggesting I rub her butt on my face, if that butt belongs to a girl younger than 18, indeed.] I will cherish this bum, because it's one of the few things that will keep most man-bums in the seat, during the duration of Very Good Girls: a film deserving of many adjectives but most deserving of GIRLY.Very Good Girls is a slice of teen girl wish fulfillment, nostalgic for '90s young adult fiction and televised dramas. It's a film with a plot so familiar, cliche, and simplistic that I can't tell if it's a parody, dumb, a botched attempt at deconstructing, or truly naieve. Two attractive, rich New York BFFs, Lily (Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), meet hot ice cream boy David that looks like a J. Crew model. A love triangle ensues. Naturally. It's the details that make Very Good Girls both endearing and laughably idealistic. Whatever the opposite of sexist and male gaze is, is whatever this film is. Ice cream guy has a way of appearing in the driveway, the doorway, or the windowsill at oppurtune moments for Lily. He'd be an unwanted stalker if he weren't so gosh darn good looking. What else we know about him, other than he wants this girl, isn't much. He's an artist, a romantic, and committed: The girl doesn't want more, so why should more be given to the audience?There is a purity to Very Good Girls that makes all of this very endearing. Fanning and Olsen are fantastic in their roles. Expected of Olsen, less expected of Fanning who hasn't had a starring role in some time. Lily -- to add cliche to injury -- witnesses her dad cheating on her mom. Seperation follows, leaving Lily to look after her two younger sisters, as her mom pours wine down her gullet. Gerry envies Lily's life, not for the opulent house and lifestyle but for her family. Lily tells Gerry that "no one laughs" in her house. Gerry fires back, "No one shuts up here." Normal, nice, fun-loving girls aren't roles that stretch Fanning or Olsen's acting muscles, but they are enjoyable to watch here.Debut writer/director Naomi Foner uses this bare framework to show off her exceptional skill with the camera. Very Good Girls looks fantastic, creating intimacy between friends and lovers with frames that aren't afraid to get up close and linger. Foner also has impeccable taste in music. Not only does she coax a great soundtrack out of Jenny Lewis, Foner uses J.K. & Co's "Fly" -- the best song heard by fewer than 100 people (but I guess not anymore). It's easy to make fun of Very Good Girls. It's so optimistic, pure of heart, and simple. I dare to attribute those features as feminine, but there's an angry mob shouting "misogynist" outside my door. But, what's so wrong with feminine and simple anyway? Very Good Girls is a gorgeously shot teen girl fantasy that we don't often get in this day and age. And, for the guys, you get to see Fanning's bum. MORE THAN ONCE!!!
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A mature Fanny
Dakota Fanning is now old enough to play the role of the older sister and it freaks me out. Witnessing a child actor, one much younger than me, mature into a young adult is a monumental event in life. It feels like a sign pos...

Sundance Review: Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes

Jan 25 // Allistair Pinsof
Emanuel and the Truth About FishesDirector: Francesca GregoriniRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Emanuel is not likely to escape comparisons to Lars and the Real Girl (in which a man keeps a blowup doll for a girlfriend, insisting it's real even as others point out it's not) as it is a more dramatic take on Lars' plot. A few (non-notable) alterations, take out charmer Ryan Gosling, and you have a very similar film that is as dull and twice as slow. Instead of a man in love with a blowup doll, Emanuel is centered around middle-aged "mom" Linda (Jessica Biel) with a doll for a daughter. The titular character (played well by Skins' Kaya Scodelario) is a snotty, young girl with clever lines delivered to whoever will listen, mostly her father, step-mom, co-worker, and some boy on the bus she sees everyday. With nothing better to do than be a jerk and dance around to French pop, she picks-up a new job as Linda's baby sitter. After some puzzling scenes that heighten tension around this mysterious baby that is never witnessed, Emanuel finally gets to hold this porcelain doll. Instead of notifying someone, she plays along and embraces Linda's maladjusted reality. Like Lars and the Real Girl, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes stumbles around the same jokes and obstacles for the remainder of the film until the rote emotional climax. Emanuel is a joyless film with a dull finale, outside a neat dream sequence near the end that depicts Emanuel swimming in her house. Yes, the baby isn't real and Linda thinks it is. I'm not sure if that's funny the first time, but it's definitely not funny the fifth or seventh. Maybe Emanuel and Linda unloading their troubled pasts would be cathartic if it weren't so obvious from the start or so cliche when it occurs. This review too is un-noteworthy. What can I say about a film that doesn't stir me one way or another? I look at my notebook that reads: "Emanuel ... Lars and the Real Girl." The rest of the page is empty. And, so it is with the film.
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Blank page
Throughout the entirety of Sundance, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes was the only movie I didn't take any notes on. I guess this is what is implied by "noteworthy," and Emanuel is not. For the life of me, I couldn't pick up my pencil and write anything of note, because something of note would have to exist in the first place.

Sundance Review: Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman

Jan 24 // Allistair Pinsof
The Necessary Death of Charlie CountrymanDirector: Fredrik BondRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: September 13, 2013 Once I stopped marveling at how horrendous it must be for Shia LaBeouf to sit under the hot lights on set with an unholy amount of hair gel, I started following Charlie Countryman's plot and unfollowing it, like you do when a friend tells the same story you heard last night to another friend. Keenly aware of its pedestrian plot, the film takes bold strides in peppering its formulaic story with personality: an ambulance driver continues to smoke his hash pipe after an accident, LaBeouf talks to ghosts, and worst of all the film is narrated in the style of a fairy tale -- "Dear ladies and gentlemen" he keeps repeating, to my chagrin. When the camera isn't focusing on LaBeouf's narcotic character sulking or jumping around animatedly (because he's now in love, dear ladies and gentlemen), some alright stuff happens. You get to see Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) almost overdose on Viagra, that hyperactive pervert from The Inbetweeners (James Buckley) makes an appearance, Evan Rachel Wood gets naked, a cool chase happens near the end, and the natural born Bond villains Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger are entertaining. If the end feels particurarly powerful, it's only because M83's "Intro" is playing. A song that is a film unto itself, one far more epic, nuanced, and emotional than this forgetable holiday in Romania.
Charlie Countryman Review photo
Holiday in Romania
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is so forgettable a film that I started forgetting the plot while watching. Never to fear, all I had to do was recall the dozens of other films that cling to their genre tropes as tig...

Sundance Review: Sound City

Jan 24 // Allistair Pinsof
Sound CityDirector: David GrohlRating: PGCountry: USARelease Date: Janruary 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Located in Los Angeles -- a city that birthed many successful bands but few good ones -- Sound City is a run down recording studio that survived from the 1969 to 2012, off the back of the custom Neve 8028 control board (one of four in the world) and the bands it attracted, including Fleetwood Mac, Queens of the Stone Age, and Nirvana. The documentary follows the studio from its origin to the studios closure. The interview subjects are hit-and-miss with some hair metal bands hamming it up like a bad episode of VH1's Behind the Music and others being natural raconteurs. Sound City's schizophrenic structure covers everything from Fleetwood Mac's formation to the specifics of the studio's drum sound that defined hit records. None of these areas are covered in detail and they rarely complement each other. Somewhere along the way, the film suddenly takes an elitist, defensive stance that digital recording is greatly inferior to analog. That it may be, but if there is an argument to be made for it, Sound City doesn't do a good job of presenting it. Somehow Grohl connects analog recording with live band sessions, as if more than one musician can't occupy the same space if a computer is involved. In Sound City's last 20 minutes, Grohl fulfills his dream of jamming with Paul McCartney, leaving me to wonder if this moment was always the end goal for the documentary -- a documentary that doesn't seem to serve any greater purpose. How can you make a documentary about Sound City and not include anecdotes from Weezer and Metallica? How can you praise analog recording and not include Jack White or Phil Elvrum, musicians that have gone to great lengths to preserve the format. It's true that these two never recorded at Sound City, but their inclusion couldn't possibly make the film any less focused.
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Nevermind
An hour into Sound City, the film takes an unexpected detour, suddenly documenting a jam session between David Grohl and friends instead of documenting a notable music studio's history. It's in this transition that my initial suspicions becomes resoundingly clear: Sound City is basically a film Grohl made to justify his purchase of a really expensive soundboard.

Sundance Review: Big Sur

Jan 21 // Allistair Pinsof
Big SurDirector: Michael PolishRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 23, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) In his own words, Kerouac considered himself "bored and jaded" upon entering his forties. The wild life that once drove him across the country is now the one that leaves him bedridden, overtaken to severe alcoholism that his friends judge him for yet continue to support. Insight into Kerouac's personal life end there, with the majority of the film giving way to glamorization of his alcoholism, scenic vistas of his remote life, and read passages that sound brilliant through Jean-Marc Barr's gruff voice (though the rushed delivery often sullies the cadence). Big Sur reeks of film school ambitions and sensibilities that ruin the picture. Throwing on an iTunes playlist of The National is lame, as is having Kerouac deliver a dramatic monologue at the end that feels like a caricature of the spoken passages throughout the film. In the film's stubbornness to not take a side and present Kerouac in a specific light, Big Sur comes across as a flat, unoffensive tribute to a great poet in the throes of life. There is another man that Big Sur pays tribute to: Gus Van Sant and his directing on Kurt Cobain quasi-biopic Last Days. Last Days was a film that didn't offer insight into a revered artist either, but Sant had the good sense to present his subject with the same scale allotted to all humans. Cobain (or the nameless character the represented him) was depicted as a small person in a big world, expansive shots of nature put him in his place. In Sant's hands, he felt insignificant. But, in Big Sur, Kerouac feels like a holy, larger than life figure with friends that live in his shadow. It's great to see a mythical poet on screen, but I was hoping to get a better glimpse at the man behind the words. All I got were the words, making me pine for an audiobook read by Jean-Marc Barr and nothing more. Jean-Marc Barr
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Jack's wild years
It was the public's idolization of Jack Kerouac that spurred him to move to a remote cabin and write Big Sur. It's funny then that this biopic of the same name subjects Kerouac to a similar treatment of worship and tribute th...

Sundance 2013: Day three & four recap

Jan 21 // Allistair Pinsof
Bujalski becomes as bored with the material as I did, going on psychedelic tangents throughout the film`s second half that lead nowhere. Bujalski made a film for himself. It`s a film I can respect but I can never enjoy nor imagine those who would. [35] Read the full review Impeccably shot, acted, and lit, Kill Your Darlings is a tale of love, murder, and artistic intuition that cuts on more than one layer. Like the group of friends the film portrays, Kill Your Darlings' unlikely cast and crew form the perfect storm, culminating in a specific vision of a time and place we thought we knew well but clearly do not know well enough. [91] Read the full review Winterbottom's breezy pace and eccentric touches, such as having Steven Fry supply narrative voiceover in the style of a `60s news program, give a lot of energy to the film that Coogan picks up and carries to the finish line. The `60s and `70s are great fun with this company, but when all of Raymond's ills and mistakes finally catch up to him, I too felt eerily numb on the inside, instead of the emotional catharsis the film wished upon me. [78] Read the full review S-VHS is a frivolous sequel that focuses on gross-out gags, outlandish monsters, and a bloody disgusting take on dark comedy. Yes, you can stomach watching more of these tapes because they aren't as shocking as last year's batch. [74] Read the full review We Are What We Are isn't exactly full of cheer, but it has a tranquil pace and tone that makes the horrific moments go down easier than they should. I felt almost complacent in the acts of violence on display, accepting this murderous man as he accepts himself. I am what I am: a morally bent movie-goer. [74] Read the full review Following Chaney's life, leading up to the pivotal moment when he and America changed on 9/11, is riveting thanks to a quick pace and succinct information. There are many documentaries that go into the various facets of Chaney's years in greater detail: the war in Iraq, homeland security, torture policies, etc. The World According to Dick Chaney may be a documentary for the laymen, but it's a good and (mostly) fair one that leaves it up to the viewer to judge Chaney's character and imagine how things might have been different if he hadn't been such a Dick. [80] Read the full review
Sundance Day 3 & 4 Recap photo
Steve Coogan is watching
This guy is yanking his wiener. Next to me. In the restroom. And on the other side of me is an old guy that keeps farting. And then, right behind me, someone sneaks in and ransacks my Sundance water bottle. True story. Boring computer nerds, a post-Potter winner, and a horror film with slightly more gore than too much. This is Sundance and these are the reviews for day three and four.

Sundance Review: The World According to Dick Cheney

Jan 21 // Allistair Pinsof
The World According to Dick Cheney is a documentary that feels more appropriate for TV than cinema. It's a very competent one, after its rough start. The film opens with Cheney chugging the remains of his Starbucks beverage, and then sad music playing over footage of 9/11, unfairly shifting the scale against him before he's even introduced. Thankfully, the rest of the film is much more even-handed. Occasionally, Cheney's critics will make a character judgement without examples and there are hiccups in the editing (some talking head appears for a second to deliver a not-so-good line and goes away before we even read his name!) I'm woefully uninformed on the Bush administration, despite growing up during its reign. As such, I found a great deal of interesting information in this film that may be pedestrian to someone who's followed the news and political columns over the years. The World According to Dick Cheney presents the veep as a college dropout that became a smart political strategist. He joined Bush junior's cabinet reluctantly, only to take over the White House with his old friends from the Ford and Bush senior years. It's a case of "be careful what you wish for." Following Cheney 's life, leading up to the pivotal moment when he and America changed on 9/11, is riveting thanks to a quick pace and succinct information. There are many documentaries that go into the various facets of Cheney's years in greater detail: the war in Iraq, homeland security, torture policies, etc. The World According to Dick Cheney may be a documentary for the laymen, but it's a good and (mostly) fair one that leaves it up to the viewer to judge Cheney's character and imagine how things might have been different if he hadn't been such a Dick.
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The lonely life of being a Dick
Dick Cheney's influence on America over the past decade is unparalleled. With each successive year of living with bossy TSA guards, unwarranted surveillance, and drones over the Middle East, his efforts as the vice president ...

Sundance Review: We Are What We Are

Jan 21 // Allistair Pinsof
We Are What We AreDirector: Jim MickleRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) A mother walking home from the butcher suddenly has a spasm, hits her head, and drowns in a pool of water, leaving behind two daughters, a young boy, and a husband. He's very fond of doing his own thing in the shed. We Are What We Are isn't exactly full of cheer, but it has a tranquil pace and tone that makes the horrific moments go down easier than they should. I felt almost complacent in the acts of violence on display, accepting this murderous man as he accepts himself. I am what I am: a morally bent movie-goer. The two teenage daughters, Iris and Rose, are mature beyond their years. Rose has the blank stare of a fish, without soul or in search of one. Older sister Iris looks like she wants to scream but can never find the opportunity. Rose is played by Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene) who gives the best performance of the film; who is a growing force to be reckoned with (see: Electrick Children); and who is also a sister of a (Facebook) friend -- so there's your disclaimer, dear reader. While I'm giving shout-outs -- here's a shout-out for her on-screen papa played by Bill Sage (who is not my Facebook friend nor would I ever want him to be [he creeps me the hell out.]) There isn't a weak link in We Are What We Are but it's not a very strong bond to begin with, or more apropo, a sausage chain. Once I knew the nature of the family, the way the story would unfold became fairly obvious. Things play out with much deft and tact from performers and director (Jim Mickle, Stake Land), but the end point is one of a different kind of complacency (the kind that goes, "Here come the credits.") We Are What We Are is a chilling tale that has the audacity to follow a serial killer without making him into a monster, unless he is committing monstrous acts. We hear about families like these in the news and often wonder how they come to be. Though the film doesn't answer that question as well as Sleep Tight, it balances being a thriller and psychological study at the same time.
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Keeping tradition alive, and little girls dead
I can't even pretend to imagine what I'd do or how I'd feel if my father was a serial killer. We Are What We Are does it for me, and though I may not like what I see, the film is compelling because of it.

Sundance Review: The Look of Love

Jan 20 // Allistair Pinsof
The Look of LoveDirector: Michael WinterbottomRating: NRCountry: UKRelease Date: March 8, 2013 (UK) By 1992, Paul Raymond became the richest man in London. On the back of adult clubs, a popular porn magazine (Men`s Only), and numerous shops throughout Soho, he built a dynasty for his kids to inherit -- the very same who he shuns and dismisses throughout life, as he chases the next lavish nude musical and model to bring back to his place (and when he does, without fail, he points out it was once Ringo Starr`s bachelor pad.) Director Michael Winterbottom and star Steve Coogan (who pitched the story to Winterbottom) summon the same verve that made 2002`s 24 Hour Party People such a lively biopic. Look of Love doesn't quite stack up, which is mostly due to a more conventional script and approach that leads to a lackluster third act as Raymond wakes up to the cocaine bummer he built around his family life. The film is at its best when Raymond is at his best. Coogan is charming and funny as he`s ever been, making memorable quotes when he isn't saying others' memorable quotes. Raymond wasn't a lucky man. Like all great entrepreneurs, he made his luck through persistence ("I've never begged for anything," he says to his first wife as she threatens to divorce) and craft (he embraces negative reviews, turning their disgust at his play into a positive ad.) Winterbottom's breezy pace and eccentric touches, such as having Steven Fry supply narrative voiceover in the style of a `60s news program, give a lot of energy to the film that Coogan picks up and carries to the finish line. The `60s and `70s are great fun with this company, but when all of Raymond's ills and mistakes finally catch up to him, I too felt eerily numb on the inside, instead of the emotional catharsis the film wished upon me.
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Boogie Nights in the UK
I can forgive The Look of Love for operating within cliches and stereotypes of the '70s, because porn mogul Paul Raymond is one of the few that set the tone of the decade. Raymond is a man of excess, pushing the moral standar...

Sundance Review: Kill Your Darlings

Jan 20 // Allistair Pinsof
Kill Your DarlingsDirector: John KrokidasRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) I keep thinking back on all the parts where I suspected Kill Your Darlings would take a wrong turn, because it really is the type of film you expect to take a wrong turn. The opening title card that flashes KILL YOUR DARLINGS across the screen, temporarily pausing a conversation as the words hit the screen like bullets. Or, a sort of heist scene in the middle of the film where TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" comes on -- an odd choice that goes against the film's established score of hauntingly warped piano (wonderfully composed by Nico Muhly) and era appropriate jazz. It's in the confidence of vision that precedes and follows these moments that dictates whether they are pretentious or brilliant. And Kill Your Darlings is only ever brilliant. Kill Your Darlings follows the life of Allen Ginsberg (played to perfection by a post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe) before the world read Howl, or were even capable of conceiving his unique style of poetry. Allen takes off to Columbia University, leaving behind his reluctant father -- played by David Cross, who you may also mistake for Paul Giamatti due to his stature but mostly due to his convincingly downtrodden presence -- and schizophrenic mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Though Allen is keen about writing, he doesn't call himself a writer. Or at least he doesn't upon meeting classmate Lucien Carr. Allen is immediately infatuated with Lucien, though his intentions for their relationship are as unclear to the audience as they are to Lucien. Lucien thrusts Allen into bohemian society on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. There's William Borroughs huffing gas in a bathtub at a party and over there is Jack Kerouac throwing a football at a painting on his apartment wall (a wall that his increasingly frustrated wife shares.) With such bold icons of literature, there is a lot that can go wrong with characterizing them according to their works later in life. Yet, Kill Your Darlings does an incredible job of turning each of these legendary writers into ambitious young men angry at their families, society, and the institutionalization of literature that dictates what is tasteful and what is not. Their everyday speech is a form of poetry but not one that reflects what goes on the page. These are smart men that believe themselves to be creative geniuses, even when others doubt. Kill Your Darlings opens and ends with the murder of Lucien's "guardian angel," a creepy lover that Lucien can't seem to shake off (Michael C. Hall plays the role with the quiet menace we've come to love him for on Dexter). Instead of forcing this pivotal moment that would change the lives of these young men into the plot, the script gives the characters room to convincingly bond and set the rules for the beat generation they would inspire. By the time the killing happens, the act has deeper threads to all those involved, making it a spiritual decline for all involved more than an act of savagery. World War II has ended but a new battle arrives right outside Allen's door. Impeccably shot, acted, and lit, Kill Your Darlings is a tale of love, murder, and artistic intuition that cuts on more than one layer. Like the group of friends the film portrays, Kill Your Darlings' unlikely cast and crew form the perfect storm, culminating in a specific vision of a time and place we thought we knew well but clearly do not know well enough. Though I suspected the film to go south during the first 20 minutes, the remainder made me expect I'd walk out of the theater with chills running down my spine, in the way that great poetry does, visual or otherwise.
Kill Your Darlings Review photo
Kill Your Potters
I'm always grateful when a film reminds me of that unmistakable feeling of being attached to a seat cushion, physically changed by the film's end. My gut sinks, my vision narrows, and I lose myself in thought, while the audie...

Sundance Review: Computer Chess

Jan 20 // Allistair Pinsof
Computer ChessDirector: Andrew BujalskiRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 21, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Computer Chess follows a group of computer programmers, most of which come from ivy league schools, that gather at a highway hotel for a competition (in 1980) that will pit their chess programs against each other, culminating with a match between the reigning program and chess wiz Pat Henderson. Bujalski savors the pedestrian details of human interaction and often does it well, best evidenced in Mutual Appreciation (2005). With a goofy setup and a more straightforward attempt at comedy, I expected Computer Chess to be Bujalski`s most accessible film yet. Instead, Computer Chess is an indulgent, insular letdown. I have to admire the film`s commitment to its concept, presenting the story as a faux-documentary shot in 4:3 black and white on PortaPak cameras from the '70s (and yet the audio is crystal clear.) With such a promising concept, there is a lot of wasted comedic potential. And yet, Bujalski`s script plays it straight, opening the film with a mind numbing group debate on the future of computer chess. There is humor to anti-social programmers who take their work seriously and never realize how silly their jargon sounds but that humor only goes so far. Bujalski becomes as bored with the material as I did, going on psychedelic tangents throughout the film`s second half that lead nowhere. Bujalski made a film for himself. It`s a film I can respect but I can never enjoy nor imagine those who would.
Computer Chess Review photo
Wasted potential
I share Computer Chess director Andrew Bujalski`s fetish for early electronics: the computer towers that rise to your waist, the cumbersome consumer cameras, and the analog synths with more knobs and switches than keys. Like me, Bujalski doesn't know how to translate this adornment into a cohesive film that puts its audience before its pretensions.

Sundance 2013: Day one & two recap

Jan 19 // Allistair Pinsof
Cera and Silva are kindred spirits. The same creative spark that tells Cera to give that one random look is the very same spark that tells Silva to have Cera drink coffee in a desert while an orchestra swells up, heightening tensions for no apparent reason. It's frivolous but these little touches throughout the film, that range from shocking to disturbing, give Crystal Fairy personality and surprise. [82] Read the full review In the extended cut of The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the film ends with a sack of puppies being beaten by a baseball bat and then set aflame. Director George Tillman, Jr. (Men of Honor, Notorious) doesn't exactly display a great amount of subtlety or kindness to his characters throughout the film's two hours of misery. [44] Read the full review Mud never becomes a story of innocence lost or innocence saved by hanging out and rescuing some weirdo that lives in a boat suspended by tree branches. The purity of Nichols' vision steers Mud's plot lines away from well-weathered territory while still ending in a familiar place. [76] Read the full review From the publicity stills, description, and cast, it was always certain that Virtually Heroes would be awful. I just needed to find out whether it’d be fun-awful or awful-awful. Somewhere between flashing “Achievement Unlocked: Teabag That Ho” on screen and the main characters (two male soldiers) being awarded a “No-Homo Bonus” after settling a dispute, it became very clear where Virtually Heroes sits and that I wish I was sitting anywhere outside the theater. [18] Read the full review Who is Dayani Cristal? unravels the tale of one man who represents the 100+ migrants that die every year trying to cross the border. In hearing his story, a surprising revelation is made: Americans and migrants seem to agree that money is worth more than a migrant's life. We both do what we do and feel how we feel because we value money over life. That's a powerful idea that is buried under sloppy editing. [58] Read the full review
Sundance Day 1 & 2 Recap photo
teabagging ha ha ha
Videogame soldiers teabagging each other, Micheal Cera on drugs, and crazy, homeless McConaughey. This is Sundance and these are the reviews for day one and two.

Sundance Review: Virtually Heroes

Jan 19 // Allistair Pinsof
Virtually HeroesDirector: G. J. EchternkampRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)If anyone is wondering why the Spike Video Game Awards were kinda awful instead of very awful, this year, it might be due to the writing staff disembarking to ghostwrite Virtually Heroes. It’s a theory I’m working on. From the publicity stills, description, and cast, it was always certain that Virtually Heroes would be awful. I just needed to find out whether it’d be fun-awful or awful-awful. Somewhere between flashing “Achievement Unlocked: Teabag That Ho” on screen and the main characters (two male soldiers) being awarded a “No-Homo Bonus” after settling a dispute, it became very clear where Virtually Heroes sits and that I wish I was sitting anywhere outside the theater. No, this isn’t a film where a soldier teabags a corpse. Virtually Heroes is a film where a soldier teabags a corpse five times. So, yes, awful-awful. The film uses its concept of two soldiers trapped in a videogame, which resembles something between Contra and Call of Duty, to supply an endless series of videogame jokes. Here’s a brief list of topics covered: Enemies that look identical Using bandages to recover health Not having to reload a rocket launcher Glitches, invisible walls, and broken A.I. Carrying 10+ guns Just when you think every possible game trope has been covered, Virtually Heroes comes up with a boat that steers like Pac-Man (okay, that bit is actually funny.) This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a worthwhile plot and funny characters to support the endless parade of on-the-nose parodies. Instead, we have two meatheads: One on a quest to save "sexy newsreporter girl," and the other on a quest to find the mythical Enchanted Forest, where naked girls await. I can see talented writers making something of Virtually Heroes concept. Videogames are ripe and ready for parody, and there is something interesting about following two meathead soldiers that discover they are in an endless loop of violence and explosions within a videogame. Virtually Heroes does have its moments, like when one soldier says to the other that he thinks they are stuck in a bad videogame, which would explain the dumb A.I. enemies and NPCs that run into walls, or when something resembling a midi track from Doom blares over the soldiers gunning down droves of Vietcong. These are literally seconds within a 84 minute film. A film that neither entertains game enthusiasts (viz. me) nor presents a story that would remotely make sense to those who never picked up a controller. Virtually Heroes makes me embarrassed to like videogames. It suggests to audiences that this is what entertains us and that this is what games are all about. And then Mark Hamill shows up, ruining the entirety of my childhood in one swift swoop. How'd we go from Indie Game: The Movie to this, Sundance?
Virtually Heroes Review photo
Lulz or GTFO, n00bz
There was once a time when videogame enthusiasts were happy to see the presence of games represented on the big screen, anyway they could have it. Yes, the Super Mario Bros. film is terrible but -- shit man, it`s Mario! Maybe in those halcyon years there would be some small sect of people that would embrace Virtually Heroes' crass and obvious parodies of videogame tropes.

Sundance Review: Mud

Jan 19 // Allistair Pinsof
MudDirector: Jeff NicholsRating: PG-13Country: USARelease Date: April 17, 2013 About halfway through Mud, it hit me: this is E.T. Instead of an alien, two kids harbor a fugitive on the run from the law (and more seedy characters). Like E.T., Mud is as much about a kid's maturation as it is about helping a seemingly innocent stranger make a clean brake from the authorities that just don't seem to get it. Ellis and Neckbone are two middle schoolers who are in search of a place to call their own. That place is a ship that is lodged between a tree's branches after a flood. This will be the place that Ellis will go to when his parents argue. It will also be the place that Neckbone goes to when he gets tired of his uncle's shenanigans -- Michael Shannon for once inspires laughter instead of dread. But, a place of refuge never comes to pass because there is now a stranger in their little makeshift tree house. Michael McConaughey is a wild man. Even in the softest romantic comedy, he has a look about him that says, "I'm one crazy mother fucker." It's also a look that says, "But I won't hurt you, so come over here and let me tell you some stuff about the Illumanti." And so it is with Mud, a man that is to be busy being a threat to himself to be a threat to anyone else, least of all two boys that seem to think they are invincible (Ellis has a habit of running up and wailing on adults three times his size.) Mud doesn't want to phone home and Ellis isn't interest in teaching Mud the magic of mass processed candy. Regardless, let me strain this E.T. connection. Ellis is at a fragile age where his optimism is starting to give way to pragmatism. Things like: Love isn't real, couples don't stay together, and life is hard and miserable. Reuniting Mud with his boo ("She's like a dream you don't want to awake from," Mud tells the boys) and helping Mud escape from the clutches of the law is Eliss' last attempt of holding on to his naive ideals. Nichols' never makes the bond between fugitive and boy explicit, instead favoring a gentler approach that highlights his careful eye as a director. The way Nichols frames and Stone lights up an island at night, or a lake at day, turns Mississippi into a mystical place. Nichols' previous films, Shotgun Stories and Taking Shelter, were claustrophobic, drowning in tension. Mud is a much looser film that handles comedy well -- that is if you find Michael Shannon having sex in a scuba suit, McConaughey getting excited over a can of Beanie Weenie, and kids bringing a fugitive wanted for murder a self-help book funny. Mud never becomes a story of innocence lost or innocence saved by hanging out and rescuing some weirdo that lives in a boat suspended by tree branches. The purity of Nichols' vision steers Mud's plot lines away from well-weathered territory while still ending in a familiar place. This is a story we've seen before -- and, yeah, there probably are better comparisons than E.T. -- but Nichols brings a grace and style that makes it feel refreshed. Nichols' puts his trust in the sleepy bayous and modest boathouses of Mississippi, letting them guide his story and characters. It's quiet. It's scenic. It's a good kind of boring that tempts me to fall asleep, yet I never do.
Mud Review photo
A clean break
Jeff Nichols' films pay homage to a part of the south rarely represented in film. The small towns of Arkansas and Mississippi, where oysters are still delivered door-to-door daily and the local supermarket is called The Piggl...

Sundance Review: Who is Dayani Cristal?

Jan 19 // Allistair Pinsof
Who is Dayani Cristal? Director: Marc SilverRating: NRCountry: UKRelease Date: January 17, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) It's easy to have sympathy for those who have less than you, yet it's hard to have sympathy with those we imagine to have nothing. Immigration is a hard issue to discuss and it's one that Who is Dayani Cristal? handles with the grace of an armless football player. Luckily, the presented argument of opening borders to Central American immigrants plays second fiddle to a much more engrossing presentation of how an migrant gets from over there to right here. It's a journey of death and fear, but one of hope and adventure, as well. Dayani Cristal? is one-half documentary, one-half fictional drama that follows Gael García Bernal as he interacts what seem to be non-actors. While both could be fine full length features on their own, it's the dramatic storytelling that kept my interest. The idea behind blending these two methods is that they complement each other (which they do) but they don't flow well. A lot of this has to do with editing. Hearing interviews from the dead migrant's family and friends conveys who he was in life. Then we cut to Bernal, who is retracing his journey, showing that death was around every corner: falling off a train, gun down by a gang, dehydration, hypothermia, mugged and shot at gun point for his $1,500 reserved for a border smuggler, etc. Learning about the 50+ day trek that an migrant goes through is fascinating. The filmmaking and Bernal's presence really make it feel real. The documentary side suffers from lingering a bit too long on subjects. At first, it seems like the camera is admiring this migrant's simple life back home -- a life where he was loved and respected -- but then it seems to just pity him. The documentary part also follows the people searching for and documenting dead migrants in Arizona. Their work is  interesting, but why include their stances on immigration that confuses the whole direction of the film? Instead of being about what one man sacrifices, it temporarily shifts focus to why and how we should treat our border. It's subject matter that could suit a full-fledged documentary, but sandwiched in here, it comes across as shallow  and disrespectful to the man that the film is paying tribute to. I got some food for thought out of Who is Dayani Cristal, but I'm still not sure what it wanted me to get out of it.
Dayani Cristal Review photo
The invisible man
Black Adidas, beige khakis, and a Spanish prayer in pocket. Another immigrant lays dead in the Sonora Desert -- the 20 minute drive turned deadly walk that separates Arizona from the southern border. Who is Dayani Cristal? un...

Sundance Review: The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete

Jan 18 // Allistair Pinsof
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and PeteDirector: George Tillman, Jr.Rating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Mister and Pete follows two boys in the ghetto, who need to live on their own for a summer after their mothers choose crack addiction over parenting (never the right choice, people!) The projects of Brooklyn are even worse than Yelp reviews suggest. There are the given thugs who bully and steal your TVs, but here are some unsavory characters you may not have heard about: The creepy old lady next door that molests you, the emotionless cops that act as boogeymen with the ability magically appear, the crazy homeless that yell and threaten, and, last but not least, the grocery store clerk that puts a 14-year-old into a choke hold in daylight in the middle of the street for no good reason. It's a scary place, that Brooklyn, especially when a Spike Lee curated soundtrack isn't in effect. What turns Mister and Pete's endless series of tragedies into something of a farce is the heavy handedness in representing the ghetto. The never-ending hostility is hard to believe. I can believe in this mother that talks to her son as she shoots up. What I can't believe is that some mystery man at a family restaurant will nod to her across the room and then she'd go and give him a blowjob in the restroom. Mister and Pete is full of moments like this that take something believable and real, then push things to extremes that defy reasoning. All of these awful things might happen, but only in a Todd Solondz black comedy would I accecpt them happening in sequence. And then, there are the characters and actions that magically appear or happen to service the film's message that you need to lean on your neighbor in the ghetto and not turn down help when you need it. This message is strange because the film is about two kids who are left with no one to lean on, besides an old tenant who now lives in a downtown highrise and sporadically appears outside Mister's home for no apparent reason. Then there is the cop who suddenly resembles something like a human, only to give the cheesiest line of the film. I'd continue and say the young, quiet Asian boy that plays Pete acts like how I imagine a 14-year-old that has been water-boarded for two weeks would act, but after two hours of watching horrendous things happen to kids, I just can't aim my crosshair at anything other than the director and writer of the film. They not only do a poor job representing the ghetto and the everyday struggles of life, they also marginalize Pete, turning him into something like an Asian sidekick along for the laughs and occasional moments of empathy. If only the film's message were as clear as the heavy handed methods used; clear like the one-dimenional villainous characters and the sappy piano played during monologue.
Mister & Pete Review photo
No hope kids
In the extended cut of The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the film ends with a sack of puppies being beaten by a baseball bat and then set aflame. Director George Tillman, Jr. (Men of Honor, Notorious) doesn't exactly display a great amount of subtlety or kindness to his characters throughout the film's two hours of misery.

Sundance Review: Crystal Fairy

Jan 18 // Allistair Pinsof
Crystal FairyDirector: Sebastián SilvaRating: NRCountry: ChileRelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival) Let's pretend I managed to sum up the films of the Duplass brothers and Lynn Shelton into a catchy phrase that is not "mumblecore" and that Crystal Fairy is a much more vivid, colorful take on said phrase (or it's mumblecore with day-glo colors instead of sepia tones -- there I said it!) After appropriately psychedelic animated credits -- that presents the film's full title as "Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus & 2012" -- the film abruptly opens with Jamie (Michael Cera) at a party. First comes cocaine then hookers, but somehow it all feels innocuous with Cera involved. Not just Cera but also Silva's script that manages to present cliches while finding the truth and humor in them along the way and the supporting cast of mostly Chilean actors that bring a relaxed tone to a trip that often pits Jamie's manic eccentricities against them. I often got a sense that these Chilean dudes only stuck with him out of some sort of obligation that not even they understand, or maybe the novelty of having a white American friend is good enough. It's just too bad that this White American friend is pushy, superficial, judgmental, and doesn't know when enough cocaine is enough. Cera, a master of mumble(core) unto himself, is the type of forever young actor that I can't help but find endearing, regardless of role and circumstance. Even as a bossy burnout that says, without irony, he is entering a "mescaline stage of his life," Cera remains as fresh faced, naive, and laugh-out-loud funny as he was in Arrested Development and Superbad. In many ways, this is his breakout role that proves he can do drama, except doing drama when you are Michael Cera just means doing a different type of comedy. His shifty eyes, stubble, and goofy mannerisms bring life to the character and film. His bizarre facial looks and muffled vocal delivery often makes me think, this is what Tim Heidecker would have been like ten years ago. Cera and Silva are kindred spirits. The same creative spark that tells Cera to give that one random look is the very same spark that tells Silva to have Cera drink coffee in a desert while an orchestra swells up, heightening tensions for no apparent reason. It's frivolous but these little touches throughout the film, that range from shocking to disturbing, give Crystal Fairy personality and surprise. Much of these elements come from the titular character that joins the group, an obnoxious, free-spirited girl that is a caricature for the group of friends to laugh at along with the audience -- it'd be cruel if she weren't such an easy target, talking about healing crystals and parading around nude (more than once). Though great comedic moments are had, having such an exaggerated, unlikable female in a car full of believable, likeable guys comes across as sexist, and an unearned final act that tries to give depth to this Crystal Fairy only makes things more uncomfortable. It's worth pointing out that this Crystal Fairy is a white American, like Jamie. He a stereotype of American excess. She a clueless optimist that thinks believing makes things real. Opposites attract and yadda yadda -- that's not really the interesting part of Crystal Fairy. In fact, it's the worst part and it leads to an aimless third act and confusing finale. Crystal Fairy is about the journey, not the destination, and all the crazy ass random shit that passes along the way.  Micheal Cera starring in two Sundance films by Chilean director Sebastian Silva strikes me as pretty random. It then makes perfect sense that Crystal Fairy is a film full of random shit (the other film being Magic Magic which hasn't shown as of this writing.) Crystal Fair is about a road trip to a beach wherein a group of friends will take mescaline, and it doesn't ever get much more complicated than that. What keeps the film exciting, aside from Cera's performance that manages to make a loathsome character lovable, is Silva's idiosynchratic tendencies to tease and shock the audience.Let's pretend I managed to sum up the films of the Duplass brothers and Lynn Shelton into a catchy phrase that is not "mumblecore" and that Crystal Fairy is a much more vivid, colorful take on said phrase (or it's mumblecore with day-glo colors instead of sepia tones -- there I said it!) After approrpiately psychedelic animated credits -- that claims the film to be called "Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus & 2012" -- the film abruptly opens with Jamie at party. First comes cocaine then hookers, but somehow it all feels innocous with Cera invovled. Not just Cera but also Silva's script that manages to present cliches while finding the truth and humor in them along the way, and the supporting cast of mostly Chilean actors that bring a relaxed tone.Cera, a master of mumble(core) unto himself, is the type of forever young actor that I can't describe without first labeling him endearing. Even as a bossy burnout that says, without irony, he is entering a mescaline stage of his life, Cera remains as freshfaced, naieve, and laugh-out-loud funny as he was in Arrested Development and Superbad. In many ways, this is his breakout role that proves he can do drama, except doing drama when you are Michael Cera just means doing a different type of comedy. His shifty eyes, stubble, and goofy mannerisms bring life to the character and film.Cera and Silva are kindred spirits. That same creative spark that tells Cera to give that one random look is the very same spark that tells Silva to have Cera drink coffee in a desert while an orchestra swells up, heightening tensions for no apparent reason. It's frivilous but these little touches throughout the film that range from shocking to disturing give Crystal Fairy personality and surprise. Much of these elements come from the titular character that joins the group, an obnoxious, free-spirited girl that is a caricature for the group of friends to laugh at along with the audience -- it'd be cruel if she weren't such an easy target, talking about healing crystals and parading around nude (more than once).It's worth pointing out that this Crystal Fairy is white American, like Jamie. He a stereotype of American excess. She a clueless optimist that thinks believing makes things real. Opposites attract and yadda yadda -- that's not really the intersting part of Crystal Fairy. In fact, it's the worst part is it leads down the road to an aimless third act and confusing finale. It's about the journey, not the destination, and all the crazy ass random shit that passes along the way. 
Crystal Fairy Review photo
This is Michael Cera on drugs
Micheal Cera starring in two Sundance films by Chilean director Sebastian Silva strikes me as pretty random. It then makes perfect sense that Crystal Fairy is a film prone to random flights of fancy (Silva's other film being ...

Sundance 2013: Top ten most anticipated films of the fest

Jan 17 // Allistair Pinsof
10) Shane Carruth is one of those directors I occasionally remember exists and do a IMDB search on. In 2004, he brought his debut film Primer to Sundance to much acclaim. Though it has aged, it remains one of -- if not THE -- most influential films on cinema over the past decade. It was the first film to show that you can make something great with less than $10,000, that sci-fi can be smart and mature, and that a captivating film can be shot on digital. With his follow-up, Carruth is entering into a new age of cinema, where low-budget sci-fi and digitally shot films are common. With a vague plot description and decade of preparation, Upstream Color should get viewers talking even if it doesn't send shock waves throughout the filmmaking community. 9) Before the weed jokes and Hollywood comedy leads, David Gordon Green was Sundance's golden son. The kind of son that let critics flex their Terrence Malick rhetoric when Malick wasn't around for them. The kind whose films go from festival to Criterion release in record time. After a solid run of low key Southern dramas, Green went on to direct Pineapple Express and several other amusing but forgettable comedies. Prince Avalanche seems to be a return to form, focusing on a smaller story about friendship, soundtracked by old stand-by Explosions in the Sky. Stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch help paint the lane from Hollywood back to Sundance. 8) Park Chan-Wook is a name you might have come across, even if you aren't a Korean film fanatic. Like John Woo and Wong Kar Wai before him, Park became an internationally recognized director that influenced American cinema aside Asian. Stoker is his English debut, adopting Hollywood's stars yet staying true to his grim narrative themes and dark sense of humor. Stoker tells the story of a mysterious uncle appearing and moving into the home of a mom and daughter. Expect twisted reveals and displays of incest, Park wouldn't have it any other way, in the USA or anywhere. 7) Virtually Heroes is on this list not because I think it will be good but that it will be so bad that it will rightfully qualify as must-see. This directorial debut tells the story of a military videogame hero that becomes self-aware, seeking answers about the endless Vietcong hordes that spawn around him. I'm hoping the film embraces its camp nature, channeling Duke Nukem rather than The Truman Show. Regardless of its nature, I just can't ignore this one. 6) Upon awarding handheld camera horror compilation V/H/S the fifth best film of Sundance 2012, I wrote, “It revives the found footage concept only to bury it for good.” I was mistaken, thankfully. I had no doubt that the filmmakers of V/H/S brought their A-game, and instead of coming back to bring their B- and C-game, it’s now time for seven new filmmakers to shock and awe audiences while limited to minimal resources. Featuring the directors of yet-to-be-released festival hit You’re Next and the ones who kickstarted it all with Blair Witch Project, there is good reason to be optimistic for this follow-up that I didn’t ask for but definitely still want. 5) The plot of The Way, Way Back reads almost like a combination of Youth in Revolt and Adventureland, two of my favorite coming of age stories (at least in Revolt’s original novel form). I have a soft spot for coming-of-age films, especially one about a kid who finds sanctuary and happiness at a water park. Helmed by the writers of The Descendants and starring Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, The Way, Way Back may dip into that pool of misty-eyed nostalgia instead of plopping into the pit of forced saccharine that often plagues coming-of-age films. 4) When Computer Chess star Wiley Wiggins told me about his upcoming film at one of Austin’s Juegos Rancheros events, I nearly picked up his steak and slapped him with it out of excitement. I’d say good thing I didn’t but it probably would have been a pretty memorable moment for the both of us if I had. '70s and '80s computer history and culture is a subject that fascinates me. Books like The Cuckoo’s Egg and Masters of Deception give me an entryway into this world, but film never has. Don’t you dare mention -- though I do love it -- Hackers! I’m a fan of director/writer Andrew Bujalski’s low-key indie rock drama Mutual Appreciation, and I think he’ll finally give this material the widescreen treatment it deserves. 3) It’s going to be a good year for the Jack Kerouac estate. Alongside the adaptations of On the Road and biopic of writing Big Sur (the film, which shares the novel's title, also premieres at Sundance), Kill Your Darlings will bring the beat generation’s poster boy to the forefront of cinema. Unlike the other two, Kill Your Darlings keeps Kerouac in the periphery, instead focusing on a true murder that changed the lives of iconic bohemian authors Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Along with altering our image of these icons of literature, Kill Your Darlings may also display Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe in a new light as he takes on the role of a young, insecure Ginsberg. 2) I love Steve Coogan. I love his dry wit, his deadpan facial expressions, and that knowingly cynical voice. Though I love Coogan, he just hasn’t been as electric as he was in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People. A lot of that has to do with role and director. Scatterbrain music mogul Tony Wilson was a role that forced Coogan to strain his wit to 100 mph, roughly the pace that Winterbottom kept throughout the film (an exceptional biopic on the highly influential Factory Records that made people fans and turned fans into super-fans.) Look of Love brings these distinct, but hardly consistent, artists back together for a biopic of porn king Paul Raymond. After the cute but slight The Trip, Look of Love may rekindle what these two had together in 2002 and that’s something to get excited about. 1) Richard Linklater’s sensual ‘90s romance Before Sunrise became an unlikely series with Before Sunset, and now it’s on the way to become a trilogy with Before Midnight. Each entry is separated by nearly decade, making Linklater’s series an idealized version of the Up documentary series. A fantasy in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy remain as gorgeous, charming and warm as ever, separated only by circumstance and a lack of commitment that led to theaters full of broken hearts at the end of each film -- the verdict is still out on whether Before Sunrise and Sunset are the best or worst first date movies; whatever the case, they are fantastic films to watch before, during, or after a one night stand. They are films that embody a romance with all the raw complications, longing, and moments of joy. Even if I only manage to hook up with myself, I sense that a night with Linklater’s latest will be a good one.
Most Anticipated Sundance photo
Can't hardly wait
Going through the catalog of Sundance films feels a bit like Christmas. Discovering the latest actor-turned-director debut, long awaited sophomore effort, and film description too bizarre to pass up almost makes scheduling th...

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Sundance 2013: We're here and freezing


Here we go
Jan 17
// Allistair Pinsof
One year, one poorly packed suitcase, and one regretful purchase of one $200 coat at American Apparel later, Sundance is here again and here I am in it, freezing and happy. 2012 was my first year as honest-to-goodness press...

Review: The Comedy

Nov 09 // Allistair Pinsof
[embed]207509:37932[/embed] The ComedyDirector: Rick AlversonRating: NRRelease Date: November 9, 2012 (Los Angeles, additional limited engagements through November) The Comedy opens with privileged Williamsburg resident Swanson (Tim & Eric's Tim Heidecker) partying with his friends. More specifically, trying to pour beer down each others' underwear as a slow-jam plays in the background. It's the kind of foolish jackass antic that keeps Swanson and his friends entertained throughout the day. Beer, jokes, and pointless activities seem to be the only constants in his life. When Swanson isn't engaging with his friends -- ironically celebrating the chemistry of their friendship and clean bathrooms -- he is making the world his stage for his own brand of dark comedy. In one early scene, he pretends to be a gardener on a rich estate. He walks around with his beer gut out and tells the owners that he has been letting the other gardeners swim in their pool. After getting no reaction from the owners, he walks away bored and disappointed. He isn't performing for laughs. It is resentment he craves. Swanson would be a very likable person if he weren't such a cold, detached asshole. His boldness and comedic instincts are admirable, but he treats everyone around him like shit. He ridicules the nurse who changes his father's bedpan, unaffectedly watches others' misery, and finds new ways to desecrate a church. He is a wonderful conversationalist and Heidecker is a very exciting actor to watch. Whether he is talking about Hitler as a role model or hobo dicks, Swanson is a character that gives us enough reasons to stick around and watch his foolish antics play out. The Comedy doesn't make any grand messages about its character. It just presents a collection of moments in his life that let us discover who he is and what he represents. The film is very much an attack on the mythological hipster. Pabst Blue Ribbon, fixed-gear bikes, and ironically self-aware humor. We know this guy and it's a testament to The Comedy that we like him at all. By the end of the film, I even felt a bit sorry for him. Even with all his money, friends, and natural talents, he can't make sense of the world around him. He wants so badly to connect to something that feels real, but he can't help but push it away through his ironic humor and bitterness. The Comedy may be a challenging film, but it's one of the few character studies that has a clear focus and entertaining hook that will keep you invested. Heidecker was the perfect actor for this project. When he looks past his surroundings, you believe him. Sometimes making a joke is all you can do in a bad situation. For Swanson, life in its entirety is a bad situation. If you ever shouted, "DIE! HIPSTER SCUM! DIE!" This is a film for you and, maybe, even about you.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage for this year's South by Southwest Film 2012. It has been re-posted to coincide with the film's wider release.] Hipster is a word that means nothing ...

Review: This Must Be the Place

Nov 01 // Allistair Pinsof
[embed]206636:37718[/embed]This Must Be the PlaceDirector: Paolo SorrentinoRating: RRelease Date: November 2nd, 2012 (limited)Pre-judging the film by its synopsis and wonderfully cut trailer, I felt pretty sure that the film was either a slice of genius or a mess that was somehow molded into a nice teaser. Even now that I know the entire plot of the film and my feelings toward it, I have a difficult time explaining it any better than those promotional materials. The film would be better served by explaining its impact on me than its wonderfully bent characters and comedic sense.The film opens with a slow first act that brings us into the world of Cheyenne, a retired rock star with the muffled speech and gloomy yet elegant attire of Robert Smith and David Lynch's esoteric qualities that often find himself spouting words of wisdom that surprises even himself. Cheyenne is the heart of the film and what a big heart it is. Sean Penn brings the character to life, living through nuanced mannerism but still managing to maintain the mystery and depth of rock's all-time greats. His offbeat performance can be compared to Jon Heder in Napoleon Dynamite at times, but there is a heart and wit to Cheyenne that makes him into the warm, quirky androgynous man-mom we all wish we had. Cheyenne lives in a large Dublin estate with his asexual goth daughter, sporty wife (Frances McDormand) who fights fires for a living when she isn't beating Cheyenne's ass at handball, and dog. It's probably not what Robert Smith's life is like, but it's the one we like to imagine in our heads. Less Osbounes, more Addams Family. Cheyenne cares little for the superficial and regrets his days chasing the billboards with his pop band, or so he confesses to David Byrne in the film. And, yes, Byrne plays himself! How we go from these opening scenes of a picturesque family life to Cheyenne hunting a nazi war criminal in America can not be so easily explained. In many ways, This Must Be a Place recalls The Big Lebowski in the boldness of its artistic vision and characters. Every character has an awe-inspired performance, even when they are only present for a couple minutes of comedic levity. Every scene has its own warped tone that shrouds the viewer in mystery, while keeping the tone lighthearted. The specificity in the dialog, direction, and performances is unlike anything I've seen in a long time. This is a singular vision brought to life through wonderful character actors given a wealth of quotable lines ("She left me lonely like the last panda standing.") Cheyenne's character is often played for laughs, but over time we grow to accept this is who he is as a person. As we learn his faults, his regrets, and his history, he suddenly turns into a wonderfully realized character that makes for a memorable guide on this crazy transcontinental nazi hunt. What starts as a quirky adventure turns into a touching meditation on living life and getting along with the ones who love us and never will. The film sneaks in some monologues near the end that hit me harder than anything I saw in 2011. All of them are highlighted through excellent camera work and lighting.I kept asking myself throughout This Must Be the Place, "Whose mind did this come from?" The humor, mood, and visuals of this film are arresting in their originality. For those who buy into the strange world Italian filmmakers Paolo Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello have built, there are many perplexing scenes and lines that will be discussed after the big moments fade into familiar memories. This Must Be the Place will be labeled pretentious and dull by some, but it will be championed as an all-time favorite by others. It's a weird thing that doesn't happen that often at the cinema these days, but that's just how great art works.
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Sean Penn is like an offbeat Robert Smith by way of David Lynch
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Sundance Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of the film.] While waiting to enter the theater for a Sundance press ...

Review: The Sessions

Oct 19 // Allistair Pinsof
The Surrogate (The Sessions)Director: Ben LewinRating: RRelease Date: October 19 As Tropic Thunder poked fun at, there is no easier way to gain recognition as an actor than to play a character with a disability. Immediately, we give these characters our heart: pity, fear, and gratitude pour out of us as we look at these characters and think, "Thank God, that's not me!" The actor only needs to not screw up, as most of the work is already done. I admit this is an awfully reductive and cynical way to look at film's like My Left Foot and I Am Sam, but I also recognize there is nothing wrong with these films. I want to see stories that say something about the human condition while presenting an original perspective. In The Surrogate, that perspective comes from the narrative of Mark O'Brien, a whip-smart poet and journalist with a mind as active as his body is not. He goes to sleep every night as an iron lung pushes 16 pounds of pressure onto his skinny shape. The film opens with archive footage of Brien's college graduation in the '70s. The film could easily open with an intro showing Brien's childhood spent walking or narration explaining his struggles, but this brief archive clip speaks volumes and makes us immediately understand what type of person he is. He's the type of person who wants to be a part of society, while knowing fully well he can never be recognized as normal. He graduates like the rest of the class, but he does so horizontally from a gurney. The Surrogate is driven primarily by John Hawkes' performances to the point that a script for the stage wouldn't need much adjustments. We spend the majority of the time with Brien talking to his cat at night, visiting his neighborhood priest (William H. Macy) for guidance, and experiencing a sexual awakening through sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt). Brien is now near forty and wants some change in his life, so he contacts Cheryl. As a sexual surrogate, Cheryl explains and has intercourse with Brien. It's a bizarre job, and the film doesn't shy away from showing the repercussions this has on her private life. There is an ease and heart to Hunt that makes her good intentions always clear. Brien lives in his head, through necessity, but displays so much life and warmth in in his daily interactions. Hawkes lights up the theater every time he is on screen; it's a career-defining performance lifted to greater heights through the subtle comedy with Macy and emotional moments with Hunt. The script balances Brien's interactions with these characters perfectly and it ends right where it should -- something that rarely happens these days. Unlike similar films about a teaching and helping an impaired student, The Surrogate never lays on the cheese or drama. It's clear that Brien is suffering over his sexual anxiety and heartbreak, but it's all in Hawkes' subtle, Oscar-worthy performance. He speaks beautiful words with a voice that sounds like Bukowski without the edge -- the sound lulls me to sleep, while the intricate wordplay keeps me wide awake. I've rarely seen a script and actor form such a tight bond to deliver a performance as powerful as this one. The pitfalls of its subject matter are dodged through The Surrogate's delicate, lighthearted tone. Brien is a man his friends love to spend time with. By the film's end, you felt like you were right by his side. There is no overwrought freak-out scene, no unnecessary archive news footage to set the tone of the era, or other cliches that have plagued similar dramas. This is the film I wanted The King's Speech to be. It's a one-of-a-kind biopic that charms, enlightens, and uplifts without any cheap tricks or bombast. You can be sure that you'll hear more about The Surrogate when the 2013 Oscars rear their head.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of Sundance Film Festival 2012. It has been reposted to coincide with its theatrical release. The film's title has since been changed from The Surrogat...

Review: Butter

Oct 05 // Allistair Pinsof
ButterDirector: Jim Field SmithRating: RCountry: USAButter is written by a first-time writer Jason Micallef, who -- judging by looks -- is fresh out of film school. This is worth mentioning because Butter is drenched in that kind of cliche film school humor you come across in, well, film school films. You know: awkward characters, post-teenage suburban angst, and a final act that eagerly wants to pull the audience’s heartstrings.I have another film school cliche for you: The film begins in media res. In the world of Butter, Bob Pickler and wife Laura Pickler are superstars in their community due to Bob's (played by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell) gift for carving statues made of butter. Whether it’s Laura Bush or a giant T-rex eating a little girl, Bob can make it. After creating his magnum opus -- a lifelike monument of The Last Supper with Jesus and pals made of butter -- he is forced into retirement, leaving his controlling, power-hungry wife, played by a spirited Jennifer Garner, to carry-on the Pickler legacy. Butter calls to mind great films like Napoleon Dynamite, Election, and Little Miss Sunshine due it’s offbeat nature and big heart, yet the characters lack depth and the plot is predictable, outside a couple inspired moments. It feels more like a decent Simpsons episode than a film. After being introduced to the Picklers, the film abruptly changes to focus on the life of little orphan Destiny (Yara Shahidi). She travels from home to home, in search of parents that will agree to long-term adoption. Unfortunately, she keeps getting assigned elderly folks who die on her and other weird “crackers.”Soon enough, Destiny discovers a passion for butter carving. With her new adopted family behind her, she signs up for a competition against a Bob Pickler superfan (Kristen Schaal), a hooker who wants money from Mr. Pickler, and a very determined Mrs. Pickler, who says butter carving is all she has left to live for. From this point on, the film becomes a story of greed, blackmail, sex and butter. The film has a stellar cast of comedic performers, but Rob Corddry’s down-to-earth performance as Destiny’s potential-adopted-father steals the show. However, it’s the unreal butter sculptures that save the final act from being a complete bore. Unfortunately, the askew reality of Butter never comes together in the way a Jared Hess film does, and the heavy-hearted ending lands flat, unlike Little Miss Sunshine. The onslaught of jokes and weird, one-dimensional characters makes the story hard to believe and the characters hard to sympathize with. It’s an absurd family comedy at the start, but it wants to be something more by its end.Butter is worth catching for its great cast, including Hugh Jackman as a Jesus-freak stud-muffin, that provide a couple laughs, but the film falls short of its ambitions. Its earnestness and and saccharine nature weigh down all the good that’s in it. You know, kind of like a film school student.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our Austin Film Festival 2011 coverage. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's wider theatrical release.] There are some movies you simply seek-out due to...

Review: V/H/S

Oct 05 // Allistair Pinsof
V/H/SDirectors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam WingardRating: NRRelease Date: TBAV/H/S starts up with a flash of static followed by the calming deep blue screen of a VHS player booting up. What follows is ten minutes of nausea and a stunning display of nihilism. A group of burnouts record themselves sexually assaulting girls, breaking into houses, and vandalizing for the thrill of it. In this dead-end society, this is how they entertain themselves. Thankfully, they are only our connection to the film's five vignettes and not the stars; they are merely our entry point into this bizarre world of Tales from the Crypt-esque tongue-in-cheek, referential horror. Soon they stumble upon a collection of VHS tapes with unspeakable horrors burnt onto their celluloid. After setting expectations low, V/H/S blows them away with its clever short stories. Each story tackles a genre convention with a sense of style. From a she-devil tearing apart a group of over-sexed frat boys to an unabashedly simple yet effective haunted house tale, V/H/S covers all the horror tropes while adding something new that has been missing from the genre in recent year: surprise. Shot with webcams, VHS cameras, and iPhones, each segment has its own unique look and, unlike other found footage films, makes the most of its grainy, low-res quality. Digital artifacts are used as foreshadowing, camera stutter is used for effective jump cuts, and it all makes a strangely watchable film despite its decidedly difficult presentation. When CGI beasts and ghost children rear their ugly head, it's all the more believable because of the grounded reality that came before it. None of this would matter if V/H/S didn't have compelling stories to tell. Fan of Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow will find much to love here. Unlike a Paranormal Activity film that makes you to wait for the good parts at the end, V/H/S is packed with unpleasant surprises and unnervingly tense scenes. Due to its short story format, it's able to dramatically change tone and location as it jumps from location to location. It might be the only found footage, POV film that intelligently uses the format. "Intelligently" may be too strong a word though, because V/H/S is pretty dumb in many other ways. For example, in what world do people film with VHS cameras when iPhones and cheap HD cameras exist? One of these stories take place in 1998, but others are supposedly modern. It's just weird. It was enough to make me lose all hope for the film in its opening 10 minutes, but it soon won me over in a big way. Once you realize the opening isn't representative of the film, you'll see it's easy to let go of silly details within such silly horror stories. Full of dark twists and well earned scares, V/H/S is one of those rare horror films, like Blair Witch Project, that you wish you could experience again for a first time. Each director involved brings a masterful touch of suspense, humor, and horror to their story. As a larger narrative, the stories are perfectly juxtaposed to make one of the most thrilling times I've had in the cinema in years. It's nostalgic and wonderfully progressive at the same time. It revives the found footage concept only to bury it for good. Ti West and crew saw it to its end and gave it the perfect send-off.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our Sundance Film Festival 2012 coverage. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's wider theatrical release.] The found footage horror film is one of th...

Review: Rec 3: Genesis

Sep 07 // Allistair Pinsof
[embed]207424:37912[/embed][Rec] 3: GenesisDirectors: Paco PlazaRating: NRCountry: Spain[Rec] 3 is more of a side-story than a true prequel. In fact, there is very little here to chew on for fans of the previous films, unlike [Rec] 2 which practically required viewing the original. Far away from the Barcelona apartment of the previous films, [Rec] 3 takes place at a large ballroom where a newlywed couple and family celebrate in the way all good Europeans do: Loudly and drunk as hell.To say [Rec] 3’s opening is long-winded and mind-numbingly dull is to put it lightly. It’s hard to make faux-family videos interesting, but Plaza manages to not only make it dull but also incredibly fake as well. [Rec] opened with a similar, tension-free setup but I didn’t mind because the characters were charming and wonderfully established which informed the horrors to come. Here, the characters are cartoon characters that are either loud, obnoxious, or just boring. One thing they all have in common is that they are one-dimensional cliches, including (but not limited to) the groom who is the knight in shiny armor (he literally wears shiny armor!), the bride who snaps and becomes a zombie ass-kicker, and the fat cameraman who gives up before the fight even begins. If you haven’t read about [Rec] 3 or seen the above trailer yet, you need to know that this sequel largely departs from the series’ found footage roots. After the lengthy opening, shot by a wedding videographer with an HD steadycam, the film abandons the found-footage format with only a few exceptions that feel like unnecessary fan-bait. It’s hard to fault Plaza’s new direction, as there are only so many excuses and gimmicks you can come up with under the constraints of found-footage fiction. Even so, he doesn’t make use of the freedom given. The most spectacular sequence, in which a zombie massacre occurs during the wedding after-party, is shot on handheld. What follows is a mess of zombie films cliche competently shot but hardly interesting.So what cliches are we talking about? We have a zombie in a room with strobe light effect, rushing to open garage doors, gruesome chainsaw kills, and the classic “Oh no, family member X wants to eat me!” Even if [Rec] 3 just turned the franchise into an uninspired zombie flick, it wouldn’t be so bad. The problem is the film’s schizophrenic script, sappy acting, and overbearing soundtrack. I thought [Rec] and its sequel were a wonderfully restrained response to the loud, shock scares of Hollywood horror in the early ‘00s. After [Rec] 3, I have to wonder if those films only turned out that way due to budgetary restraints. If there is one thing [Rec] 3 is not, it’s subtle. Unlike the previous films, there are no scenes where tension slowly builds up. Instead, you have a series of oddball gags and exploitation cinema nods interrupted by cheap and irritating jump scares. This is a film where one of the surviving members of the group is dressed in a costume parodying Spongbob Squarepants. Then there is the scene where the bride tears off her bridal skirt with a chainsaw and starts mowing down zombies. If the film wanted to be stupid, it should have just embraced it. The best moments of [Rec] 3 is when it does just that. Such as a Dead Alive-esque scene where the groom kills a zombie by putting a hand blender to the zombie’s mouth. The crowd cheered, but then it was back to the heavy-handed script and loud, cheesy music (I swear those guitars were ripped out of the mid-’80s!)Even with [Rec] 3 being a terrible sequel and one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen in a while, it shouldn’t effect my memories of [Rec] 1 & 2 … but it does! The only substantial tie to the previous films is that origin of the infection at the wedding is the vet of the sick dog established in [Rec]. The main gripe is the zombies themselves. Now that we see the infected in mass, outside the perspective of found-footage, it’s a lot easier to see how inconsistent they are. Some get infected within seconds, while others take hours. Some run while others walk. It just doesn’t seem well-thought out and only further damages the established fiction built in the previous two films. Are we shooting for reality or a spectacle of violent stupidity? In either case, [Rec] 3 doesn't commit to either and is all the poorer for it.Just as Jaume Balagueró proved himself capable of successfully channeling Hitchcock in last year’s Sleep Tight, Paco Plaza has proved himself incapable of making sense of his various influences in the muddled, brashly composed [Rec] 3. The series is so damaged at this point that Balagueró will need to work miracles in his own upcoming solo sequel [Rec] 4: Apocalypse.
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[This review was originally posted to coincide with our coverage at South by Southwest Film 2012. It has been reposted to coincide with its wider theatrical release.] As a sequel to two of the best found-footage horror f...

Review: The Words

Sep 06 // Allistair Pinsof
The WordsDirector: Brian Klugman, Lee SternthalRating: NRRelease Date: TBAGetting through the creator's wall never becomes easier with age. Actually, it's much easier when you are young and have drive. This isn't Rory's (Bradley Cooper) problem. He has  drive, influence, and a novel to sell, and a pretty good one at that. Not good enough to get a publishing deal, however. So, he wastes away the day at dead-end jobs in New York with his encouraging girlfriend (played by a tender Zoe Saldana) by his side. When all seems hopeless, a fortunate event presents itself. Fortunate but also ethically complicated. Aftering buying an antique attache case, Rory soon discovers a weathered yellow manuscript for a book. He can't put it down and before he knows it, he copies every word, punctuation mark, and typo onto his computer. Once his wife reads it (beliving it is her husband's words) and suggests he sells it, there is no turning back. The lie eventually becomes the truth and every door opens before Rory. He takes another man's words, unaware he also took the author's pain. The Words is classical storytelling in it's ambition and presentation. The way the story unfolds almost like a fairy-tale, driven foward by a tireless voice-over complemented by one of the most overpowering scores I've heard in years. The film sounds like the films characters sit and watch in other films -- yes, these people are watching a film and you know it because it sounds like one, it sounds TOO much like one, in fact. Despite The Words' misguided earnestness, it's a film about a very interesting dilemma that is dealt with in a caring, intimate manner.Eventually, the past catches up to Rory and the original author approaches him. The old man doesn't want the fame and recognition; he just wants Rory to know the story behind the book. This story within a story approach becomes more complicated when you consider Rory's story is part of another man's (Dennis Quaid) novel. Yes, this is some real Inception shit: a story within a story within a story. Yet, it never becomes difficult to follow. In fact, the film is a bit too simple and predictable by its end. It invests too much in its twists, when it would be better served exploring the nature of authorship between the young aspiring writer and the old man whose words were stolen. The Words is at its best during the middle, when it ceases to be about the act of theft and addresses a more universal issue. Rory is part of a generation that live through facsimiles, while the old man was part of a generation that lived stories behind the stories they wrote. His words are the result of his successes, regrets, and pain. This promising avenue of discussion is ignored in the third act, which seems more interested in amping up relationship woes. The momentum and promise grinds to a halt.As a film, The Words appears fake-plastic. It's an aesthetic representing the pristine images behind the ongoing voiced narrative but it's a very boring aesthetic. Even worse is the lifeless, sepia-toned visuals that accompany the old man's story. The Words lives up to its title: It's mostly about the script and the ideas behind it, but when it stumbles there is little else to cling to and enjoy. Getting through the wall can be hard, but sometimes building something on the other side can be even more difficult.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival 2012. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's national release.] Some write for recognition; others write for money; few write ...

Review: Red Hook Summer

Aug 09 // Allistair Pinsof
[embed]206680:38678[/embed] Red Hook SummerDirector: Spike LeeRating: RRelease Date: August 10, 2012 (limited) Red Hook Summer doesn't make a strong first impression. Overbearing gospel music blasts over character dialogue (a problem as persistent as it is amateurish in the film), as we are introduced to Flik, a 13-year-old who views life through the lens of his iPad 2. We later learn that he is an aspiring documentarian which helps make this character trait appear as something more than quirky bullshit. Flik's mother leaves him in the ghetto of Red Hook, Brooklyn for the summer to live with his grandfather, because she doesn't want him playing around their nice, safe Atlanta suburb. If you are thinking, "This makes no sense" then you should stop watching the film because the plot doesn't become any more logical. The world of Red Hook Summer reminds me of old Nick Jr. programming. Despite taking place in a neighborhood filled with gang activity, everyone is a friendly, exuberant character that acts as if they were performing on a stage rather than occupying any kind of reality. I like to think this is a directorial decision, as the performances are so over the top and strange that it's hard to believe otherwise. The two main child actors deliver their lines as if they are reading a teleprompter, while Thomas Jefferson Byrd plays an alcoholic groundskeeper that wouldn't be out of place in Bamboozled. There is an energy and spirit to the performances that makes these odd qualities easy to excuse, but they don't mix well with Clarke Peter's (The Wire, Treme) performance as Flik's grandfather and Red Hook preacher Enoch. Red Hook Summer is like Crooklyn flipped on it's head: instead of being forced into a simpler life in the suburbs, Flik is made to give up his junk food and electronic toys in the city. Enoch believes these things go against his faith, which is all that matters to Enoch. Not a single minute with Enoch on screen goes by without him shouting about Jesus, the devil, or God. It's a powerful performance, but the redundancy and length of the script holds him back from excellence. The plot of Red Hook Summer is contrived and derivative of past Spike films, until we arrive at the jarring, polarizing final act that comes out of nowhere. It's a sort of odd third act that invalidates the majority of what came before it. It's impressive Spike is able to pull of such a tonal shift, but it just makes us care even less about characters we didn't care much for to begin with. It's nice to see Spike Lee back in full-effect, bold and uncompromising. I can appreciate the film's energy and ambition, but the lame characters and muddled plot keep this one from being a true return to form. Not even a cameo from Do the Right Thing's Mookie can save Red Hook Summer's downward spiral to the bottom of Spike's filmography.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Sundance Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of the film.] Out of Hollywood and back to Brooklyn, Red Hook Summer i...

Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Aug 02 // Allistair Pinsof
Celeste and Jesse ForeverDirector: Lee Toland Krieger     Rating: RRelease Date: August 3rd With such a simple, goofy premise and a strong cast of friends and co-workers, Celeste and Jesse seems like prime material for an evening sitcom. Maybe I writer that because it didn't make for a particularly memorable film. The conflict between the two actors is something that could be peppered into a comedy to had drama and variety, but here it's poured into the pot, spoiling the fun these actors could be having if not held back by such uninspired indie fare.Most likely, audiences will flock to the theaters for the main performers, Andy Samberg (of Lonely Island/Saturday Night Live fame)and Rashida Jones (The Office). They won't be disappointed. They also won't be particularly thrilled. The film focuses so much on the post-post-break-up doldrums that it rarely gives the two opportunities to make with the funny. The comedic moments between them are charming, as the actors have a easiness that makes their ambiguous friendship believable. Celeste and Jesse have a special kind of friendship that is formed by a special kind of humor, and it's a joy to see them interact. Jesse is a fun lovin' slacker who isn't so different from Andy Samberg's public persona, calling things "dope" and making dramatic facial gestures for comedic effect. It's never clear what he does, but it's easy to see why Celeste fell for him: Andy -- err, I mean Jesse -- is a funny dude with a ginormous chin. The same can be said for Celeste (not the chin part), though she has an active career that is prominently featured within the plot. When she isn't putting up with Jesse's childish antics or going to yoga, she is a trend newscaster for a PR firm. After putting out her mildly successful Shitegeist, she is moving up in her career while Jesse remains firmly in place.The scenes at her day job aren't particularly interesting and feel mostly like filler. From her sassy and gay Elijah Wood for a boss to her Lady Gaga-like client Riley (Emma Roberts), the characters that surround her day job feel under-developed and not very amusing. They are their to move the plot forward and give the audience a couple laughs. Wood could easily be mistaken for Neil Patrick Harris in his mannerisms and love of singing; it's weird to see him play this character, but he pulls it off. The same can't be said for Emma Roberts who seems miscast, not that anyone could make that character intersting without a script rewrite first. The see-saw dynamics of Celeste and Jesse's relationship never have any stakes involved. The film starts with them being friends and we like that, so what do we care if they are the type of friends that go to sleep together at night? It's a cute setup that gives Jones some humorous pity-party moments reminiscent of last year's Young Adult and Bridesmaids, but the drama morphs the film into a pedestrian indie mopefest arrested in development. The film is at it's best when the drama ushers in character development that lets us explore some new places, characters, and jokes with Celeste (whom the film primarily follows).Seeing Celeste go from outgoing journalist to a cheese-puff-eating stoner that could put Snoop Dogg to shame is pretty funny, mainly because Rashida Jones makes it funny. Once the jokes die down and we have to see Celeste make the predictable romantic-comedy character steps, it reminds us that we're not seeing the movie we thought we were. We're just seeing a mix of indie drama cliches mixed with a Los Anglese star-filled comedy. It's a shame because both Samberg and Jones prove themselves capable of being endearing comedic leads, but they have the spotlight stollen from them in the end for the sake of dull, cliche indie relationship drama. Sometimes we don't need petty drama to go along with our weed and dick jokes. Alex Katz: As a man that married my best friend at a pretty young age, Celeste and Jesse Forever hit me really, really hard. It helps that it's got a hell of a powerhouse cast with Rashida Jones and a startlingly-competent Andy Samberg as the two titular characters. There's a certain amount of authenticity here, with the weird ups and downs of ending a relationship neither party really wants to end, even if it's for the best for all involve. It's an interesting notion that works most of the time, though it occasionally falters. There's a subplot involving a client of Celeste's that could be largely axed without problems (as it really just gives Celeste something funny to do with a CRAZY DIVA POPSTAR GIRL), and it suffers from that third-act drag a lot of romantic comedies fall into, but overall, it's a very enjoyable, exciting effort, and I'm hoping Rashida Jones and her writing partner Will McCormick have more for us. 75- Good
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[This review was originally published as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's national release.] Breaking up is hard, giving in to a fruitless relationship ...


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