PARK CITY - Certain films show up at festivals or in theaters with targets painted on them.
The best example of that this year at Sundance is Zach Braff's long-awaited follow-up to "Garden State," and I can understand why. After all, this is the film that he took to Kickstarter, even as people complained about the idea of a millionaire asking people for hand-outs. Beyond that, though, hating "Garden State" has become a cottage industry. The only thing Braff could possibly do to counter all of the naysayers would be to make a genuinely great movie.
Which, thankfully, is exactly what he did.
PARK CITY - Certain films show up at festivals or in theaters with targets painted on them.
PARK CITY - If John Carpenter made "The Terminator" for Cannon Films in 1987, it would be "The Guest."
And it would rule.
One of the hardest things to do with a film where you decide to wear your influences on your sleeve is making something that feels genuine. I like each half of "Grindhouse" to different degrees, but there's never a moment in the complete assembled 3-hour experience where you're not keenly aware of both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino winking at you. I just recently caught up with "Machete Kills," and it's the same thing. Robert isn't remotely pretending that his film is the real thing. It's a goof. It's fun, but it's also somewhat disposable because of how knowingly ridiculous it is.
PARK CITY - Anyone who reads my work here on the site with any regularity knows that I place a very high priority on my job as a father. Before I had my kids, I would not have predicted the depth of feeling that I have for them. I honestly thought it would be more of a chore than anything. But on the night my first son was born, when they put him into my hands for the first time, something shifted inside me and some part of me opened that I didn't even realize had been closed. I felt such a flood of love and duty in that moment that I was overwhelmed, and I wept. To my enormous surprise, those feelings have only grown in the years since then, and I can honestly say that before I define myself as anything else, I define myself as a father.
There is a dark side to parenthood, though, and there is plenty of despair that comes with the job. There are times where I am mystified by the way my children approach a situation, times where they drive me absolutely crazy, and times where I genuinely wonder when their moral compass and sense of self-preservation will kick in. We've had it easy compared to many parents, of course, and in those moments where I am feeling most frustrated or helpless, I can tell myself how much worse things could be. And now, when I'm really at my wit's end, I can always just think of "The Babadook" and thank god that things will never go this wrong.
PARK CITY - Lynn Shelton has brought four of her films to Sundance, and I've been here for all four of them. Before now, "Your Sister's Sister" was my favorite of her films, while last year's "Touchy Feely" was the one with the most problems. She has rebounded in fine form with "Laggies," the first film she's directed from a script someone else wrote, and I suspect she's looking at her first possible cross-over hit here, due in part to the winning ensemble she put together.
Andrea Seigel's script is one of those tricky pieces of screenwriting where the wrong tone or the wrong cast could have sunk the film completely. Shelton's always had a strong rapport with her actors, though, and she cast this one perfectly. I feel at this point like I owe Keira Knightley some sort of apology. It has taken me a long time to connect to her as a performer, and in some of her early films, she is the ingredient that actively pulled me out. When I saw "Can A Song Save Your Life?" at Toronto last year, I found her enormously winning, though, and in this film, she gives a very smart, deeply felt performance, and she owns the film from start to finish.
PARK CITY - Kristen Stewart's involvement will no doubt bring a certain amount of attention to Peter Sattler's debut feature film, "Camp X-Ray," which is probably the best use she could make of the stardom she seemed so uncomfortable with in the wake of the massive success of the "Twilight" series.
That discomfort, evident in pretty much any interview or red carpet she's ever done, is one of the her assets as a performer, and in the right role, it can be a very compelling thing. She stars as Cole, a young soldier stationed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay eight years after the events of 9/11. The movie unfolds in a very deliberate, experiential way. It actually opens with the smoking World Trade Center on TV. We see that we're in a hotel room. There's a man with several cell phones praying to Mecca. In mid-prayer, he is grabbed, a bag pulled over his head, and then we see a series of images of various people being transferred to Guantanamo. Our last glimpse of him is huddled in a cage, face bloodied and bruised, with armed soldiers all around.
PARK CITY - My whole life, as long as I can remember, I have had the same goals for myself. I have always wanted to write, and I have always wanted my work to be read and seen and shared.
There have been points in my life where I've had people comment how nice it must be to have such a clear sense of purpose, and when people say that, I try to smile and take it in the spirit it is intended. The truth, though, is that having that strong a drive to do something is a double-edged sword. Yes, when you know what you want from this world, it can be an advantage because you can work towards it and you can stay focused on it. But the other side of that is the gnawing fear that you will not accomplish what you want to accomplish, and that all the work in the world cannot guarantee you an audience. Just because I write every single day does not mean that my work will be read or seen or shared. Beyond that, just because I write every day does not mean that my work deserves to be read or seen or shared, and that thought terrifies me.
Perhaps the greatest mystery that remains by the end of "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is why anyone thought this movie needed to be made.
I get it in the general business sense. After all, Tom Clancy has been a major part of Paramount's story over the last 30 years, starting with "The Hunt For Red October," and they've managed to recast him enough times that they probably felt confident that, as with James Bond, the character is big enough that he can withstand whatever reboots the company decides are necessary.
But from a story sense, Clancy's work feels like it is very much of a certain era, an era that has passed, and simply moving Jack Ryan to a new time frame doesn't seem like it makes much sense thematically or narratively. It's not like he, as a character, has developed a skill set that makes him stand apart from other characters in any significant way. There's nothing about Jack Ryan, at least as he's been imagined on film so far, that lends any urgency to this reboot.
While I'm not sure I'd ever accuse Ice Cube of having any significant dramatic range as an actor, I like his presence on-screen, and I've enjoyed several of the action comedies he's starred in. I think "All About The Benjamins" is just plain fun, and Eva Mendes gives a fantastic comic performance in it. Cube's had several on-screen comic foils, and I'd say Chris Tucker in the first "Friday" remains the gold standard. That film worked as well as it did because the entire cast was strong and funny and worked perfectly off of one another, whether it's Tiny Lister or John Witherspoon or Faizon Love. It was also an incredibly simple concept, played out for all it was worth.
I was hoping "Ride Along" would be an equally strong endeavor. It's a good comic premise: a guy wants to impress his brother-in-law to-be, a cop, and goes on a ride along with him where the cop intentionally exposes him to the craziest stuff possible. I like comedy ideas where you get the premise in one sentence because a good film can then play with character and twist the joke and really milk that premise in a dozen different ways. As it is, I would love to look at the various drafts by Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi just to see who contributed what to the film as it exists now. At some point, this became an Ice Cube/Kevin Hart film, and how much you enjoy it probably depends largely on how funny you think Kevin Hart is when he yells.
We are fifteen days into 2014, and I have already had at least three conversations with people about the possibility of a home video release of the "Batman" television series from the '60s, and until a half-hour ago, I would have said that the odds were slim to none that we would ever get it, much less that we would get it this year.
However, according to Conan O'Brien's announcement (which is being confirmed by home video sites including TVShowsOnDVD and which incorporated a pretty great Adam West joke), Warner Bros Home Entertainment has officially slated the series for a release this year, ending what has got to be one of the longest and most contentious legal rights tussles I've ever seen.
You would think this would have been a no-brainer for all involved years ago when everyone was putting out box sets of every TV show, but there's been a brutal legal battle going on between Warner and Fox over who had the specific rights to put the show out. Character rights, licensing rights regarding the Batmobile, actor likeness rights… everything complicated the process, and as a result, the show has been largely out of circulation even as the DVD sales market peaked and started to ebb.
It is the responsibility of the working film critic to not only offer opinion and context for the newest releases, but also to constantly champion and curate the films that matter, especially if they were misunderstood or poorly released or somehow handled badly the first time around.
Critics should take it upon themselves to rehabilitate the under-loved, to defend the wrongly-maligned, and rehab the films that need it; it is the only way film as a whole can be healthy.
It's easy to be a Jeff Bridges fan today.
After all, Bridges has passed into the "national treasure" phase of his career now, where he is celebrated simply for the majesty of being Jeff Goddamn Bridges. As he should be, certainly, but this is often the era in an actor's career where I am less excited by the work they're doing. Johnny Depp is in this same phase of things, although at a very different point in his life, and in many ways, the two men are similar right now. They both alternate between good performances that prove why they are who they are and vicious self-parody so raw that you wonder if they're enjoying any of it.