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<p>Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of &quot;The Spectacular Now&quot;</p>

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of "The Spectacular Now"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'The Spectacular Now' showcases Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley

'Smashed' helmer and '(500) Days of Summer' scribes deliver teen romance honestly
"The Spectacular Now," showing as part of the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, is a high school movie.
 
The signpost events are all there. 
 
There are booze-filled parties, a prom, a graduation, college applications, generational conflicts and budding love. 
 
Those signposts, though, are purely structural. They're load-bearing plotpoints that are used to support what is actually a revealing and emotional character study and an intense romantic relationship, in which the characters not-coincidentally happen to be teens.
 
When I walked out of "Spectacular Now," I tweeted that in recent Sundance terms, "The Spectacular Now" is "The First Time" meets "Smashed," a compliment that made a lot more sense when I remembered that "The Spectacular Now" was helmed by "Smashed" director James Ponsoldt.
 
In consecutive years, Ponsoldt has now showcased a confident ability to balance humor with emotional pain, which happens to also be a specialty of screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who broke out here a couple years back with "(500) Days of Summer." [Full disclosure requires me to mention that Neustadter and I served as arts section editors together at the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper back in the day.] That combination of amusement and anguish, of genre formula and freshness will leave some people scratching their heads, but it's equally likely to strike an uncomfortable [in a good way], honest chord. 
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>Ben Foster, Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan in &quot;Kill Your Darlings.&quot;</p>

Ben Foster, Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan in "Kill Your Darlings."

Review: Daniel Radcliffe shows no fear in stylish 'Kill Your Darlings'

Michael C. Hall and supporting cast stand out in Beat Generation drama

PARK CITY - The past few years have seen a number of films focus on the writers of the Beat Generation and iconic writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Keroac.  This year's entry to the growing genre is John Krokidas' "Kill Your Darlings" which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Friday afternoon and opens the door to a historical incident which had remain mostly unchronicled for almost 60 years.

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<p>Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in &quot;Don Jon's Addiction.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon's Addiction."

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's limp sex comedy 'Don Jon's Addiction' plays like 'Shame' on Jersey Shore

Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore co-star in light-hearted tale of porn addiction

PARK CITY - Around halfway through "Don Jon's Addiction," a mildly amusing and more-than-mildly smarmy directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, protagonist Jon (Gordon-Levitt himself) takes his newly acquired girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) out to the movies. The film is her choice: a fictitious but unmistakably insipid-looking romantic comedy titled "Special Someone," starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. (Well, their faces, if not their names.) As the movie-within-a-movie ends with the couple driving into the sunset, wedding veil flapping in the breeze, Jon rolls his eyes while Barbara coos with pleasure. Walking out of the cinema, she dimly wonders aloud why real life can't replicate this marshmallow fantasy.

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<p>A$AP Rocky</p>

A$AP Rocky

Will A$AP Rocky live long and prosper atop the Billboard 200 album chart?

New set is one of two slated to enter the Top 10

A$AP Rocky’s “Long.Live.A$AP” will handily top the Billboard 200 album chart next week with projected sales of up to 150,000.

The hip-hop artist’s latest set, which features Kendrick Lamar, Santigold, Drake, 2 Chainz and more, will easily surpass the only other debut in the Top 10, the 865th volume of Kidz Bop Kids, which will come in at No. 2 with up to 70,000 copies. (OK, we admit, it’s only “Kidz Bop 23”).

The rest of the Top 10 is filled with familiar faces: The soundtrack to “Les Miserables” will be at No. 3 with 45,000 units sold, according to Hits Daily Double. Bruno Mars’ “Unorthodox Jukebox,” the soundtrack to “Pitch Perfect,” and Taylor Swift’s “Red” are all too close to call for the Nos. 4, 5, and 6 slots, with each targeted to sell between 35,000 and 40,000.

The Lumineers’ self-titled set will come in at No. 7, followed by fellow folk rockers Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” at No. 8, Phillip Phillips’ “The World From The Side Of the Moon” at No. 9 and One Direction’s “Take Me Home” at No. 10.  This week’s No. 1 title, Chris Tomlin’s “Burning Lights”  likely falls to No. 11.


 

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<p>&quot;After Tiller&quot;</p>

"After Tiller"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'After Tiller' is a human look at abortion drama

Documentary avoids sensationalism in looking at late-term procedures
In one of those only-at-Sundance double-bills, my Friday (January 18) afternoon featured the back-to-back premieres of Andy Heathcote's "The Moo Man," a World Documentary competition entry about British dairy farmer Stephen Hooks, and Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's "After Tiller," a US Documentary competition entry about the last four doctors in America performing third-trimester abortions.
 
These two films have nothing in common.
 
"The Moo Man" is an understated and simple film about a man and his cows and it ends up being a surprisingly moving story -- or, if you prefer for blurbing purposes, "a surprisingly moo-ving story" -- given that when it comes to subject matter, few viewers will enter the theater with a deep, pre-determined emotional investment. Whether you're a lover of organic, raw milk or you're lactose intolerant, "The Moo Man" probably won't have to work around any prodigious baggage. [I'm going to try to write a fuller review, but time is hard to come by.]
 
The same definitively cannot be said of "After Tiller."
 
[More after the break...]
 
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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Sony Pictures

Jessica Chastain owns the box office in 'Mama,' 'Zero Dark Thirty' during crucial Oscar window

Rare feat could be added fuel in the campaign tank

The story of today isn't quite what's happening in Park City but what's happening at multiplexes across the country. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is leading the charge with the top two films at the box office, Andrés Muschietti's "Mama" and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty." That ought to put to rest any idle speculation that the former, which is decently reviewed, would somehow "Norbit" her Oscar hopes.

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<p>&quot;The Summit&quot;</p>

"The Summit"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: K2 doc 'The Summit' never quite peaks

A terrifying mountain-climbing story becomes a jumbled film
Grad school degree and decade-plus of entertainment journalism aside, there are many film industry jobs that I must confess I don't completely understand.
 
I can tell a gaffer from a grip from a best boy, but I'm not sure I could explicate the role of the "writer" on a documentary film. In some cases, it's simple, I suppose. If there's a voice-over or on-screen text, I get that somebody writes that. I don't know, though, if a writer on a documentary has a role in shaping the storytelling approach. I don't know how a documentary writer comes to be associated with multiple films that aren't connected in subject matter, production or filmmaking team. What makes somebody a good "writer" on a documentary? And what makes somebody a bad writer on a documentary?
 
I suspect it varies and that sometimes a documentary writer is just the guy providing the text that isn't coming from talking heads and that sometimes it's a more involved role. 
 
The nature of the documentary writer is one that I'm musing on today, because I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever noticed the same documentary writer's name recurring in a short span. 
 
Mark Monroe wrote Marc Silver's "Who Is Dayani Cristal?," which I reviewed after its world premiere on Thursday (January 17) night at the Sundance Film Festival. And there was Mark Monroe's name on Nick Ryan's "The Summit," which is also in the World Documentary Competition here at Sundance.
 
Again: I don't know what Mark Monroe actually did on either "The Summit" or "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" Both documentaries are examples of fantastic stories at least somewhat undermined by the storytelling approach, though neither film is undone by voiceover or on-screen text, per se. So I'm guessing that Mark Monroe isn't to blame for anything I disliked in either film, but I still wanted to think out loud on this one, since it's not something I usually notice. [Monroe also was the credited writer on "The Cove," "The Tillman Story" and "Chasing Ice," all docs I put in the "Good story, well told" category. Whatever a writer on a documentary is, Monroe appears to be successful at it.]
 
But anyway... "The Summit." Full review after the break...
 
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<p>Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner star as sisters with a dark secret in Jim Mickle's 'We Are What We Are'</p>

Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner star as sisters with a dark secret in Jim Mickle's 'We Are What We Are'

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Dark family secrets drive the stylish and moody 'We Are What We Are' at Sundance midnights

Remake of a recent Mexican film plays it serious and offers strong work

Nick Damici and Jim Mickle have been working together for several films now, co-writing the films that Mickle directs, and they seem to be honing their aesthetic from film to film.  Sometimes you see a filmmaker arrive fully formed and sometimes you see a filmmaker grow from movie to movie.  In those cases, sometimes even if you don't love the movies, the growth is what's interesting, and "We Are What We Are" represents the best thing they've done together so far, no doubt about it.

From "Mulberry Street" to "Stake Land" to this latest effort, what's obvious is that they take genre seriously, and they ground the outlandish elements with an emphasis on character that one might argue is a requirement of a low budget, but that these filmmakers embrace as a virtue.  They like the slow fuse, and they are happy to save up the most shocking things in their films for a few moments instead of trying to just wear the audience down with non-stop sensation.

I haven't seen the original Mexican film, "Somos Lo Que Hay," which was released in 2010, but as I understand it, the films take the same basic idea and dramatize it in very different ways.  The Mexican film was about the father of a family who drops dead, leaving the teenage children of the family to carry on the primary responsibility of their particular family, the capture and preparation of a very particular kind of meat.  Jorge Michel Grau's film was set in the city, evidently, and that was a big part of the tension of the film.

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<p>From &quot;Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer&quot;</p>

From "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer"

'Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer': Freed band member tackles Q&A at Sundance

Don't hold your breath for a Pussy Riot album

PARK CITY, UTAH -- "A Punk Prayer" from Russian band Pussy Riot has been in circulation for months as a rallying cry for feminism and political protest in Russia and worldwide. "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer," the documentary on the phenomenon, only bowed last night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Katia Samutsevich, Nadia Tolokonikovoy and Maria "Macha" Alyokhina were arrested in March 2012 for their feral punk performance in a church, a musical plea to remove Vladimir Putin from power. Under charges of hooliganism, they were put in prison, though just this fall, Samutsevich's sentence was suspended, though the other two arrested women are carrying out their terms. Two other Pussy Riot members escaped from the incident and have thumbed their noses at Russian authorities from hiding.

This seemingly small strife made waves in the music community in America and elsewhere, as a cry for equality and freedom of expression. Acts like Madonna (in a big way) and Bjork made public stances against Pussy Riot's imprisonment, and came out in support of a lenient sentencing, if not having the charges dropped altogether.

Only three days ago, a judge refused Alyokhina's request to postpone her sentence, so the two remain in a criminal facility. But things have freed up for Samutsevich, who answered Sundance audiences' questions via Skype from Russia after the documentary debuted.

Co-director Maxim Pozdorovkin translated her answers to burning questions from fans and newswatchers:

While she was in prison, did she know about the global awareness the band's imprisonment was raising?

We did know that there was some sort of global awareness going on and we heard about it and as it got bigger and bigger, and with Madonna's performance and all these other things, we felt like there were other things coming our way.

Was there any resentment felt from the other two women who remained imprisoned, after Katia's sentence was suspended?

There wasn't really any feelings. And even til the 10th, we were all certain we were going into a penal colony together. As I remembered it, they were all very happy for me. I went to visit them the day after I got out, so I don't think there's hard feelings.

Are you afraid, or is the band afraid of any dangerous backlash?

No, I don't fear any specific backlash from the religious community because part of that was a mass campaign against them... and that was just mostly words and threats. In terms of the government response, [I] think that we're probably on several black lists and some extremism lists, and it may be in the future when we continue to do performances, we may have [charges pressed against us] for smaller things, smaller actions.

Does Katia have any hope that the other two girls' sentences will also be suspended?

There's hope and not all legal means have been used up, so they will continue to fighting so that all opportunities will be used up.

Have they ever released an album officially, and do they have plans to?

No, we reject commercialism of any sort, and we have no plans to release anything commercial... we will never commodify our art.

Right now in Russia, how much is still going on in regards to Pussy Riot?

Most of the battle is to get Nadia and Macha out of jail. The punk prayer was deemed extremist and  ordered removed from the internet, so now they're repealing those decisions... it's a tough situation because of the repressive means that were used before, there's less of a drive than there was before for people on the streets.

There were two other people in the band that weren't arrested. What happened with them?

They're fine, they're in Russia (laughter).

What do the people of Russia think of Pussy Riot?

If you take just the average opinion, it tends to be overall negative of [us]. a\And part of the reason for this is because of the way the performance was presented it was considered almost exclusively as a religious act of hooliganism. So that's what most people tend to believe. Whereas the feminist and political aspect of our performance has been largely ignored and this points to the larger problem of cultural education that people don't understand it as a piece of art.

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Watch: 'Don Jon's Addiction' helmer Joseph Gordon-Levitt says rom-coms are porn
Credit: HitFix

Watch: 'Don Jon's Addiction' helmer Joseph Gordon-Levitt says rom-coms are porn

Julianne Moore mum on her character, but likes the sexy, 'intense' material

PARK CITY, UTAH - "Don Jon's Addiction" is just one of several films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival with  firmly sexual scenarios at its center; it joins other films like "Lovelace," "Interior. Leather Bar" and "Kink" in the lineup. But as writer, director and star of "Don Jon's," Joseph Gordon-Levitt told HitFix he had a larger picture in mind, beyond his character's addiction to porn.

"I wanted to tell a story about love... people objectifying each other," he said of his film.

"Don Jon's" boasts other talent like love interest Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, who wished to remain mum on the topic of her character on the red carpet.  But Gordon-Levitt further explains the idea of objectification, and how it turns into a comedy. "My character watches a lot of porn. Scarlett's character watches a lot of romantic Hollywood movies. I think all that stuff is hilarious."

Because to the "Looper" actor, rom-coms  are porn in a way, too.

Moore said the script was "beautifully written," even for subject matter that's "pretty intense,"

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<p>Dave Grohl</p>

Dave Grohl

Credit: HitFix

Stalk talk with Dave Grohl: Nobody said 'no' to Sundance's 'Sound City' - Watch

'Hey, I'm Dave...'

PARK CITY, UTAH -- Nobody says no to Dave Grohl. At least, that was the case when the Foo Fighters frontman started tracking down talking talent for his directorial debut "Sound City," which centers around the California rock studio of the same name.

Grohl corralled artists like Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor and others for sit-down interviews, but also for jam sessions on new originals that would eventually make the soundtrack to "Sound City." To make his dream list, he asked the former Sound City principals to give him a list of who all has laid down tracks in their ugly yet esteemed walls.

"They were like, 'Are you f*cking kidding?'," which fulfills the "too many to name" quandary. But once he had his top talent in mind, it was time for some cold calls.

"Like, 'Hey, I'm Dave, I'm making a movie. And everybody said yes."

Watch the video above, for what spurred Grohl's purchase of Sound City's recording console and its importance to his former band Nirvana's legacy.

"Sound City" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival yesterday (Jan. 18).

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<p>Matthew Macfadyen of &quot;Ripper Street&quot;</p>

Matthew Macfadyen of "Ripper Street"

Credit: BBC America

Matthew Macfadyen talks 'Ripper Street' and 'Anna Karenina'

New BBC America drama premieres on Saturday night
Like many a British thespian, Matthew Macfadyen has reliably bounced back and forth between the big screen and television, whether wooing Elizabeth Bennett in "Pride & Prejudice" or battling international intrigue in "MI-5."
 
Fresh off a well-received supporting turn as Oblonsky in Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" this winter, Macfadyen is back on TV on Saturday (January 19) night fighting crime in Victorian England in BBC America's "Ripper Street."
 
During the Television Critics Association press tour this month, I sat down with MacFadyen to talk about his role as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid on "Ripper Street," which was created by Richard Warlow and co-stars Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg. We also talked a bit about Wright's highly theatrical Tolstoy adaptation, as well as his creative process. 
 
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