PARK CITY - Reviewing a new Lars von Trier joint is never exactly a breeze, though it's usually a little easier when you've seen the whole thing. Presented last night as the not-so-secret Secret Screening at the Sundance Film Festival, "Nymphomaniac (Part One)" offers at least a full film's worth of theories, provocations and retina-branding images in its first half -- as well it might, given that its first half is nearly two hours long. But they're cut off cruelly in limbo, with nothing so much as a tidy temporary knot or mini-catharsis to tide us over until Part Two, and I can't feign any insight as to the film's narrative or thematic endgame.
The first part of the erotic epic played as the Secret Screening at Sundance
Don't spoil the secret, well...
PARK CITY - During the Q&A for Charlie McDaniel's "The One I Love," an audience member asked the director and cast how would anyone be able to market this film without giving its big secret away? McDaniel, stars Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss and screenwriter Justin Lader laughed it off, but the same question could also be asked of someone reviewing the film. How do you attempt to review a movie where part of its success is not knowing a major key ingredient to the story? Perhaps that's why the term "spoiler alert" was invented. In any case, we're going to give it the old college try. And, provide an out if you'd like to stay ignorant of the set-up because this is one movie with more surprises than you could ever imagine.
Sing along with your Rosetta Stone handy
One of the most foregone conclusions of this year's Oscar race, probably right up there with Best Visual Effects going to "Gravity," is the Best Original Song Oscar going to "Let It Go" from "Frozen." But maybe Disney doesn't think it's so in the bag, as a music video for the song featuring 25 languages just hit the web.
Check it out below. Your move, "Alone Yet Not Alone."
Also: 'Wolf' producing credits settled and Clooney pranks Damon
Would you be surprised to learn that the Academy's goal of opening up the Oscars to a wider array of films with its expansion of the Best Picture field has hit a brick wall and that the complete obvious has, in fact, been the result? Mark Harris hit it out of the park yesterday with "The Christopher Nolan Effect," an analysis of how that simple rule change a few years ago has yielded, increasingly, the smallest assortment of Oscar nominated films in history. Key quote: "...there’s zero evidence that the expanded field has done anything but dilute the prestige of a nomination." The dilution has been my stance from the beginning but now there's data to back it up. Is it time for the Academy to do away with this dubious little experiment? [Grantland]
Kitsch coming-of-age tale is an oddly tame effort from director Gregg Araki
PARK CITY - Sex, death, neon lights, more sex, body-image statements undercut by the number of perfect torsos on display, new-wave pop, more sex... it looks an awful lot like we're in a Gregg Araki movie. And so we are, though for all those trash-ulous trademarks, "White Bird in a Blizzard" feels less like one than most.
A campily erotic coming-of-age murder-mystery tale -- a pretty conventional genre for Araki, the man behind "Mysterious Skin," "Kaboom" and a host of 90s queer curiosities -- this adaptation of Laura Kasischke's allegedly more stable novel promises some exciting variations to the enfant terrible's freaky formula, not least in its young female perspective. What we get is disappointing: a watered-down bad-taste exercise in which neither Araki's lurid affectations nor the source material's youthful angst do much to enhance each other.
Oh, and about this talented new director Justin Simien...
PARK CITY - I'm not entirely sure when I first met Justin Simien. Actually, correct that. It was four and a half years ago ( found the E-mail introducing him as the new online publicist for Paramount Pictures from 2009). Having worked for the venerable studio one time myself, we immediately had a number of similar acquaintances both socially and professionally. And in my position I ended up talking to him about work related items usually once week. But, as we chatted about more interesting topics than say the latest publicity opportunities for "The Last Airbender" (you poor child) I quickly realized something about this young twentysomething: He was way too smart for the room and he wouldn't be there long. And within two years, he'd moved on to bigger and better things.
So, you like white guys with guitars?
PARK CITY - No matter what the original intent, some movies inherently are made for a specific audience. And it's not the genre we're talking about, either. A horror movie can have broad appeal just as a comedy may only make a select few laugh. Instead, some films will just touch a nerve with a very small, specific audience. Kate Barker-Froyland's directorial debut, "Song One," is one of those films. And it's probably an audience of white-guy-with-a-guitar fans.
The 'Monuments Men' star had a blast collaborating with Christopher Nolan
I sat down with the "Monuments Men" crew last week (more on that film in due time) and, like most bozos, figured a softball "Interstellar" question lobbed Matt Damon's way might produce something interesting. Christopher Nolan always keeps his cast and crew on lockdown when it comes to his projects so it's almost like you have to preface it with "I know you're sworn to secrecy," but you can get interesting nuggets early in the process sometimes. Matthew McConaughey, for instance, had some engrossing things to say about his trepidations going into the project.
John Michael McDonagh's second feature is a challenging comedy of faith
PARK CITY - From the first line of dialogue in John Michael McDonaugh's second feature "Calvary," it's clear we're in for a very compromised comedy indeed: as rural Irish priest Father James (Brendan Gleeson) sits impassively in his dim confession booth, an unseen male parishioner bluntly says, "I first tasted semen when I was seven years old." The words are so ugly, so out of step with their serene surroundings, that a large proportion of the Sundance audience responded with a queasy laugh, as if it were a dirty joke cracked at a funeral. But it's no joke at a holy man's expense; it's an admission, and as its implications become clear, tied to the uncovered legacy of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, silence takes over.
Contenders in animated, live action and documentary ready for their close-up
One of the coolest things to have seen take shape over my years covering the awards beat has been watching the program of Oscar-nominated short films find an outlet to the public through Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures' annual theatrical and, eventually, VOD showcase of the contenders. And they're more accessible than ever as, in addition to theatrical distribution on Jan. 31, they'll be available on things like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and DirecTV.