<p>&quot;People, Places, Things&quot;</p>

"People, Places, Things"

Credit: Sundance

Review: Jemaine Clement, Regina Hall lift sitcom-y 'People, Places, Things'

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
Jessica Williams and Stephanie Allynne also get some laughs

PARK CITY. Jim Strouse's "People, Places, Things" plays like an 86 minute pilot for an HBO comedy series and even in this age of "TV and Movies Have Achieved Parity," I doubt that's what anybody wants to hear. But if you know me, you know I mean it largely as a compliment. 

And what does that mean?

Well, not too much happens in "People, Places, Things." It's a low-incident narrative that's supposed to be about emotional truth mixed with humor, but a lot of the comedic beats are being played rather broadly.  It feels as if the basic plot elements and, particularly, characters are in place at the end of the film for an ongoing storyline that might be amusing. Give me this cast and some of these characters on a weekly basis for 10 or 13 half-hour episodes per season and I could grow to really like them.

And speaking of growth, if you do a few episodes of a TV comedy and you don't quite nail the tone, but you show potential, generous critics such as myself will write, "Well, sometimes it takes comedies a while to find themselves" and then you get the benefit of the doubt. If you do an 86 minute feature comedy that doesn't quite nail the tone, but shows potential, the most generous critics such as myself will write is, "Well, some of it works, but it really could have used a bit more fleshing out so that I was left with more in the end."

Why wouldn't everybody want to just make TV? Show potential. Get the opportunity to develop your characters. Make sure that you aren't just relying on cuteness and comic timing, because those can't always yield depth immediately.

"People, Places, Things" has cuteness and comic timing in abundance, but if we assume that Strouse isn't really going to turn around and sell this to HBO, it doesn't amount to much.

More after the break...

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<p>Stanley Tucci of &quot;Fortitude&quot;</p>

Stanley Tucci of "Fortitude"

Credit: Pivot

Interview: 'Fortitude' creator Simon Donald discusses his chilling Pivot mystery

Is the story supernatural? Was Stanley Tucci nearly Scottish? And more...

On Thursday (January 29), Pivot premieres the intriguing new Arctic Circle mystery "Fortitude."

Now you have the better part of the day to figure out where Pivot is hiding on your TV dial.

"Fortitude" is set in a chilly and alien world in which both the characters and the ice hide secrets.

Featuring a strong cast led by Richard Dormer, Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Jessica Raine and Sienna Guillory, "Fortitude" was created by scribe Simon Donald, whose credits include the original incarnation of "Low Winter Sun."

At TCA Press Tour earlier this month, Donald and I sat down over a couple pints and discussed "Fortitude," starting with its brutal opening scene. We talked about the decision not to have Tucci do a Scottish accent, the drama's environmental message and the hints at horror or supernatural elements.

It's a good conversation about a good show.

Check out the Q&A...

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<p>Patrick Wilson</p>

Patrick Wilson

Patrick Wilson teases his 'Fargo' Season 2 accent and more

In the rain from Sundance, Patrick Wilson discusses his inner Keith Carradine

PARK CITY. That moment when you do an interview about a movie you haven't seen to get the chance to briefly talk about a TV show that has barely begun production. 

So it was that on Tuesday (January 27) afternoon, I found myself standing on a balcony off of Park City's Main Street chatting with Patrick Wilson about the sex-themed political thriller "Zipper," which wouldn't premiere until Tuesday night. 

Wilson's an interesting actor and "Zipper" has such a strong cast that I was more than happy to chat with its lead, as well as Dianna Agron, Richard Dreyfuss and director/co-writer Mora Stephens. But I'd be lying if I said that the chance to chat with Wilson after his first week of production on FX's "Fargo" wasn't a big inducement. 

"Fargo" was my favorite TV show of 2014 and Wilson is joining the new ensemble cast playing Lou Solverson, the younger version of Keith Carradine's character from the first season. 

Pushing Wilson for spoilers probably wouldn't have accomplished anything, but as rain began to fall, we were able to talk about channelling his inner Carradine, the elements that convinced him to take the role and the amount of Minnesota accent he'll be attempting. 

It's just basic stuff, but he seemed excited to talk a little about it, so check out that interview chunk above. 

The "Zipper" stuff will post in the next day or two.

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<p>&quot;Dreamcatcher&quot;</p>

"Dreamcatcher"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'Dreamcatcher' is a harrowing, but inspirational journey

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
Former prostitute Brenda Myers-Powell survived the worst, helps people to the best

PARK CITY. The breakout hit of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, Lee Daniels' "Precious" was an intriguing tightrope act on the threshold of misery audiences could withstand in a movie that was still fundamentally meant to be life-affirming. 

Already acquired by the extremely busy folks at Showtime, this year's Sundance World Documentary Competition entry "Dreamcatcher" is another test for that precarious balance. 

Full of moments that are sure to cause cringing and wincing, sure to push some viewers to an empathetic breaking point, "Dreamcatcher" does, indeed, manage to unfold with a consistent sense of uplift thanks to Brenda Myers-Powell, its featured subject. Because of Brenda Myers-Powell, Kim Longinotto's film is finally quite inspirational, though the journey is through such muck as to make you question the darkness of human nature entire. 

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'Digging For Fire' director Joe Swanberg says he's already made a superhero movie

'Digging For Fire' director Joe Swanberg says he's already made a superhero movie

Swanberg, Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt talk maturation and Jude Swanberg

"Digging For Fire," the new film from indie relationship dramedy favorite Joe Swanberg, premiered on Monday (January 26) evening at the Sundance Film Festival.

You can check out my review of the star-studded film here.

Bright and early on Wednesday, I caught up with the sleep-deprived Swanberg, co-writer and star Jake Johnson and star Rosemarie DeWitt to talk about "Digging For Fire."

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<p>&quot;Digging For Fire&quot;</p>

"Digging For Fire"

Credit: Sundance

Review: Jake Johnson, Rosemary DeWitt charm and mature in 'Digging For Fire'

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
Joe Swanberg's latest is heavy on aging metaphors

Joe Swanberg is 33. I don't know whether to be amazed by how high or low that number is. 

On one hand, that's ridiculously young for a filmmaker who broke out back in 2006 and 2007 with "LOL" and "Hannah Takes The Stairs" and has been absurdly prolific since then.

On the other hand, though, the filmmaker who made his name -- and, depending on your generosity, made a genre -- chronicling the dramatically limited foibles of recent college graduates has reached the "thirtysomething" phase of his career. The erratic and misdirected youths at the center of Swanberg's earlier films have become the pesky nubiles who show up to make Swanberg's new leads feel either old or optimistically mature.

It's a transition that has been in the works for a little while. Last year's Swanberg Sundance entry "Happy Christmas" featured the director and Melanie Lynskey as a grown-up, responsible couple whose house nearly burns down when they welcome flighty Jenny (Anna Kendrick) into their home. Jenny would have been the star of an early Swanberg film (probably played by Greta Gerwig), but in "Happy Christmas," whatever temporary rejuvenating powers she has for the central characters, she's the one constantly passing out and unable to find herself. They're the ones with the house, the love and the gigantic toddler.

Swanberg's latest feature, the Sundance out-of-competition premiere "Digging for Fire," cements either the director's maturation or else his commitment to wallowing in a different phase of life, again depending on your generosity. Simultaneously more plot-driven than most of Swanberg's early films -- There's a freaking gun found in the opening scene, instigating something that resembles a mystery -- and also more submerged in extended metaphor and symbolism, "Digging For Fire" is a messy movie, but it's also full of terrific little moments and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble cast at Sundance this year.

[More after the break...]

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<p>Colorado City, Arizona</p>

Colorado City, Arizona

Credit: AP

Review: Disappointing 'Prophet's Prey' offers nothing new on Warren Jeffs

HitFix
D+
Readers
n/a
The polygamous cult leader is in jail, but now what?

It's been around 150 years since we gave much respect to Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle's so-called Great Man Theory of history. While there are unquestionable great men and great women who helped shape culture and history, the number of great men and women who made impacts that are worth studying outside of the context of their society is virtually nil. It's not an interesting or accurate way to view history and, as a result, we don't give credence to people who try it. 

It's even less informative to view tragedy through an Awful Man Theory. It's almost inconceivable to imagine an interpretation of World War II, for example, that said, "So Germany was just going along fine and then Hitler came and ruined everything." As monstrous as Hitler was, you'd never write a story of Nazi atrocities in which you reached the end and said, "And it was all Hitler's fault." It's a total dead-end when it comes to ongoing conversation.

Amy Berg's disappointing "Prophet's Prey" isn't looking at anything as wide-reaching as pre-WWII Germany or the crimes of the Nazis, but she still offers up an almost absurdly one-dimensional Awful Man Theory when it comes to last decade's scandal in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church), a scandal which, in Berg's hands, can be boiled down to: Warren Jeffs is an evil monster. 

And I think we can mostly agree on this one. When you're sentenced to Life+20 for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old and the world agrees that that's only the tip of the horrifying iceberg of things that you probably could have been charged with, then the vast majority of people will probably co-sign the "monster" accusation.

But the Warren Jeffs case wasn't a case that the media ignored. It was covered very adequately by the most mainstream of organizations and was the subject of various cable specials and whatnot. Ample evidence was given and disseminated that reenforced the monster narrative, which is part of why Warren Jeffs is -- SPOILER ALERT -- in prison today.

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

"The Wolfpack"

Credit: Sundance

Review: Cinema and hope reign in the unique documentary 'The Wolfpack'

HitFix
A-
Readers
n/a
Crystal Moselle's competition doc has an unbelievable story

PARK CITY. Serendipity always plays a major role in Sundance scheduling. Yes, we have an elaborate Excel doc with all of our screenings and interviews and naps and meals programmed, but the best Sundance moments are often when you have a two hour block and duck into the yet-to-premiere Ozarks mystery featuring the girl from "The Bill Engvall," or when you trust the buzz from the night before and trudge a mile through a blizzard to see an indescribable drama starring a little kid named "Quvenzhané."

As the Yiddish proverb goes, Der mentsh trakht Sundance un got lakht or "Man plans Sundance, God laughs." [Anybody who attempts to correct my Yiddish gets blocked.]

So on Sunday night, I went to the far-flung Temple Theater for an evening screening, only to discover a totally different movie was playing and there was no chance I could get to the correct theater in time to see the movie I intended to see. 

Instead, thanks to The Fates (and a friendly publicist with an available ticket), I caught the world premiere of Crystal Moselle's US Documentary Competition entry "The Wolfpack," which surely will be among my more memorable movies of Sunday 2015. And don't know "memorable" as the highest of praise, since I had to look at my notebook to remember anything about the two movies I saw on Sunday morning and I kinda liked both of them.

Like "Finders Keepers," another of my early Sundance favorites, "The Wolfpack" is the kind of story that would lend itself to sensationalism and exploitation, but ends up with a core of human emotion that largely (but not entirely) supersedes the shock of its premise.

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<p>&quot;Unexpected&quot;</p>

"Unexpected"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'Unexpected' is slight, but Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean shine

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
Kris Swanberg's maternity dramedy is in the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance

The "How I Met Your Mother" Redemption Tour is in full effect at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Jason Segel has received the best reviews of his career for his gimmick-free performance as David Foster Wallace in "The End of The Tour."

Cobie Smulders is proving her mettle as a leading lady in "Unexpected."

And Josh Radnor is nowhere to be seen with a follow-up to "Liberal Arts."

[Sorry. Easy punchline. I actually thought "Happythankyoumoreplease" was a perfectly respectable sign of Radnor's potential as a writer-director.]

Meanwhile, Neil Patrick Harris has been too busy winning Tonys and preparing to host the Oscars to be in anything Sundance-y this year, while Alyson Hannigan remains chronically underused.

Smulders also stars in "Results," which premieres at Sundance on Tuesday, but at least her Festival got off to a solid start with "Unexpected."

Directed by Kris Swanberg, who co-wrote with Megan Mercier, "Unexpected" is a very slight movie, almost absurdly short on incident even with a running time of under 90 minutes, but it's also sweet and funny, giving a female-centric take on pregnancy through two very different perspectives.

Oh and give "Unexpected" bonus points for bringing Elizabeth McGovern back to the genre of Chicago-set dramedies about women having babies.

[More after the break...]

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<p>&quot;Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief</p>

"Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Credit: Sundance

Review: ''Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' isn't going to make Xenu happy

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
Tom Cruise, John Travolta and David Miscavige won't love Alex Gibney's documentary either

PARK CITY. If the bursting-at-the-seams crowd at Sunday's (January 25) world premiere of "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" was any indication, the film festival world (and probably the subsequent HBO world) has been waiting impatiently for a cinematic pulling back of the curtain from the Church of Scientology. 

And when you absolutely, positively have to get informed on a subject in a reasonably smart, reasonably all-encompassing, reasonably passionate (without succumbing to sloppy outrage), narratively tight 120-minutes, it's hard to imagine a more reliable tour guide than director Alex Gibney. 

The absurdly prolific filmmaker can be counted on to deliver a comprehensive rendering of difficult issues and that's exactly what "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" is.

If you've read Lawrence Wright's book -- I have not -- or any of the recent string of tangential Scientology exposes -- including Wright's profile of Paul Haggis, which I did read -- only some of the things in "Going Clear" are likely to be new. In fact, the number of interview clips from various TV networks featuring the various key interviewees from the documentary makes it  obvious that most of the people who Gibney was able to talk to were the same people, mostly formerly high-ranking offices who ran afoul of David Miscavige, who have been on an anti-Scientology crusade for years. But Gibney is a master of synthesizing information and that's what he does here as well. 

[I find that I like Gibney more when he's exposing something of himself, as in something like "Catching Hell" or "The Armstrong Lie," but that mostly doesn't seem to be what he's in this for.]

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