So the promos (and the beginning of the show) promise that things are going to get ugly on this episode of "American Idol" as the tensions between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj reach the boiling point. I'm sure Dan Fienberg would much rather be recapping this than watching movies at Sundance (and he'll be back next week, don't worry), but we can still have fun, right?
Richard Jenkins and Catherine O'Hara shine in divorce comedy
As a critic, I've been known to call certain films "sitcom-y" and probably nine times out of 10, I mean it as a pejorative.
I'm not sure why that is. There are good sitcoms out there. Lots of good sitcoms. In fact, for my money, there are more good TV sitcoms than there are good motion picture comedies and that's by a wide margin.
"Sitcom-y" usually refers to a certain broadness that many TV comedies have, but it could just as easily refer to the rhythm and structure that TV comedies have to develop in order to work in a 22-minute window.
I'm not saying that I'd ever call a comedy that I out-and-out loved "sitcom-y." Judd Apatow has definitely made movies that owe everything to a style he developed working on TV, though I'm not sure I'd always call his movies "sitcom-y," but sometimes they are. "In the Loop" is basically "The Thick of It" in feature form, but I probably wouldn't call Armando Ianucci's film "sitcom-y."
So it's a matter of situation.
Stu Zicherman's dreadfully titled "A.C.O.D." premiered on Wednesday (January 23) night at the Sundance Film Festival and... it's sitcom-y. But it isn't sitcom-y in a way that I consider necessarily negative. Zicherman is making his feature directing debut, but most of his recent writing credits have been on the small screen, including FX's very fine "Lights Out." He wrote the script with "The Daily Show" veteran Ben Karlin. His "A.C.O.D." cast includes the stars of "Parks and Recreation," plus actors currently appearing on "30 Rock" and "The Office."
So, in this instance, when I say that "A.C.O.D." is sitcom-y, it means that it's a neatly arced comedy with a steady stream of jokes, delivered by a professional troupe of performers who know how to efficiently hit every punchline. "A.C.O.D." is very rarely surprising and Zicherman's directing M.O. is mostly to get out of the way of his cast, but that's just smart business.
And speaking of business, while I don't consider it my business to speculate on future commercial fortunes, even at film market like Sundance, "A.C.O.D." is an ultra-accessible, easy-to-laugh-at comedy with some brains, so it may end up looking even better outside of Park City.
[Full review after the break...]
Star earned raves for last season's 'The Debate' episode
PARK CITY, UTAH - Amy Poehler's new big screen comedy "A.C.O.D." premiered on Wednesday (January 23) night at the Sundance Film Festival.
HitFix was on the red carpet for the dysfunctional family comedy, which also features Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O'Hara and Jessica Alba.
At the end of the interview, I asked Poehler if her work on last season's acclaimed "Parks and Recreation" episode "The Debate" had changed her perspective on all manner of work going forward. The episode, which Poehler wrote and directed, was one of the show's most acclaimed episodes.
In her answer, Poehler said that she would be directing on "Parks and Recreation" again this season. That got my ears tingling, because while Poehler has said repeatedly that she *wanted* to direct again -- and why wouldn't she, given how well that first episode turned out -- this was the first time I'd heard her say that she was locked in to return behind the camera.
Sources close to the show confirm that Poehler is, indeed, formally set to direct the season's 19th episode. Story details are still pending. I'm pretty sure nobody else has this info, but I'm hesitant to call it an "exclusive," even if it is.
Stick around for the full interview, in which Poehler talks about "A.C.O.D." and her Golden Globes experience in the next couple days.
Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj really get into it in North Carolina - sort of
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's porn-fueled biopic premieres at Sundance
Under the name Linda Lovelace, Linda Boreman starred in "Deep Throat," the most successful hard-core sex film ever made, as well as a handful of less successful and less legitimate adult ventures. For a brief period in the 1970s, Lovelace was a public figure with a high degree of fame and notoriety.
In less than a decade, she had become an aggressive anti-porn advocate, writing multiple books about the evils of the industry that quite literally gave her her name.
For years, Hollywood has tried to tell Lovelace's story, with numerous writers and directors and stars circling and abandoning different projects, perhaps recognizing the difficulties of adequately depicting a woman mostly famous for her aptitude with blowjobs and then her subsequent disgust at said aptitude.
It's a tale that finally had its premiere on Tuesday (January 22) night at the Sundance Film Festival with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Lovelace."
Screenwriter Andy Bellin has solved many of the contradictions in Lovelace's life by ignoring them entirely. "Lovelace" is a flat and superficially arced film that relies on a little linear trickery to create the illusion of complexities that are sorely lacking. The resulting film is superficial and flat and wastes a transformative, gung-ho performance by leading lady Amanda Seyfried and an amusing supporting cast that seems to be appearing in four or five different movies.
When Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita" was released in 1962, it drummed up curiosity with the tagline "How did they ever make a movie of 'Lolita'?" I suspect a similar tactic could be used to generate initial interest in "Lovelace" before audiences discover the answer to the question "How did they ever make a movie about Linda Lovelace?" is "As blandly as possible."
More after the break...
TV veteran also wrote, produced and stars in the voice-over comedy
Although she's worked steadily and bounced freely between comedy and drama, Hollywood has occasionally struggled to figure out how to properly use Lake Bell.
Fortunately for Lake Bell, there is a writer-director with the good sense to get the most out of Lake Bell. That writer-director's name? Lake Bell, of course.
The "Surface" and "Childrens Hospital" star is making her feature debut as a writer-producer-director-star with the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition entry "In a World..." And the results are encouraging. While Bell definitely shows some first-timer growing pains behind the camera, she's got a snappy ear for dialogue, a smart eye for casting and she's given Lake Bell what may be her best part ever.
As a fully realized film, "In a World..." is clever and sweet and while it may not linger permanently in my mind, it has me genuinely intrigued by Bell's potential as a multi-hyphenate.
More after the break...
Lengthy documentary will air on PBS later this year
For the most part, the proper length for a Sundance Film Festival documentary is between 80 and 95 minutes. There is almost literally no subject matter that I don't have an hour-and-a-half of interest in. I just watched "The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear," a 97-minute documentary from Georgia -- the former Soviet republic, not the home of the Falcons -- in which nothing at all happened, but it was still worthy, because it offered a series of vignettes from a national and a culture that are totally foreign to me. The same is equally true of docs about cows, killer whales and several variations on economic inequality themes.
"American Promise," already set to air on PBS' "POV," has a running time of just over 140 minutes. It isn't just the longest documentary in either the US or World competition, but it's the only doc in either competition to top two hours.
"American Promise" has many lessons -- It runs an intellectual gamut -- but its biggest lesson is probably that there actually isn't a "proper" length for any documentary. Spanning over a decade in the lives of two kids and two families, "American Promise" is substantive and emotionally epic, one of the most thoughtful and nourishing films I've seen for this year's Festival.
Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson's documentary breaks the peculiar B-range grading logjam I've been in since hitting Sundance. It's a film that should have people talking, both in Park City and, in a few months, in living rooms and classrooms.
[More after the break...]
Earnest documentary will air on HBO
Few documentary subgenres are more enticing than the "Fact is stranger than fiction" model that was embodied at last year's Sundance Film Festival by Bart Layton's terrific "The Imposter." That film had more than a few viewers walking out going, "I wouldn't believe a second of that, except that it was all true."
Another parallel subgenre, though, is the "Yeah, it's true, but if we just sexy-ed things up with a little fiction, this might be terrific" documentary. HBO, for example, bought the 2011 Sundance doc "Knuckle" with the intention of turning the Irish gypsy boxing saga into a scripted series.
The 2013 Sundance competition doc "Gideon's Army" falls into the latter category. Director Dawn Porter has made a worthy and aspirational documentary populated by interesting characters and if somebody could just get this film to Shonda Rhimes, I'm betting that she could have a lot of fun with this backdrop and these people on a weekly TV series.
That shouldn't be taken as a slam against "Gideon's Army," which is nourishing and right-minded, but I think we can all agree that sometimes real life needs just a little more sizzle.
Already headed for HBO, "Gideon's Army" is guaranteed to get exposure, which will be a boon for its important subject matter. And if Shonda Rhimes just happens to watch it? All the better...
More after the break...
HBO doc features many of the analysts on Bin Laden's tail
It was Saturation Sunday at Sundance's MARC Theater as the film festival saw the premieres of a pair of documentaries with the potential to have viewers shrugging at oft-repeated stories.
I've already reviewed Evan Leong's "Linsanity," which adds Jeremy Lin's voice to an underdog story most sports fans hear ad nauseaum last spring.
Before seeing "Linsanity," I caught Greg Barker's US Documentary Competition entry "Manhunt," which follows the Oscar nominated hit "Zero Dark Thirty" (my favorite theatrical release of 2012) and the NatGeo telefilm "Seal Team Six" among recent depictions of the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden.
Both feature-length projects have been preceded by disagreements and controversy, which is a logical factor of a story in which some of the facts are classified, some of the facts are open to interpretation and many of the facts are coming courtesy of variably reliable sources. It's an informational quagmire out there and it's hard to get much consistency.
While "Manhunt," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Seal Team Six" have some overlap, they have somewhat different main focuses, which has prevented Osama bin Laden fatigue from fully settling in. "Seal Team Six," which I'm not actually suggesting you watch, is mostly about the raid on Abbottabad that got Bin Laden. "Zero Dark Thirty" is about the raid, but also the intelligence gathering that led to the raid. And "Manhunt" is about the process that led to the intelligence gathering that led to the raid, but it only gets up to the "Zero Dark Thirty" intelligence gathering in its last quarter and it never gets to the raid at all.
That's my way of saying that while "Manhunt" is, indeed, the latest incarnation of a narrative you've heard before, Barker has a different angle on the story and a different set of sources. That angle and those sources caused me to be simultaneously appreciative and wary of "Manhunt," though I was never uninterested.
More after the break...
Documentary takes Jeremy Lin fans back to last spring
Merely living under a rock last February wouldn't have sheltered you from the pervasive ubiquity of Linsanity.
Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin was all anybody wanted to discuss on sports talk radio. ESPN practically rebranded in his image. Sports Illustrated put him on the cover in consecutive weeks. He was on the cover of Time. He became the most beloved figure in one of the biggest media markets in the world.
New York City is known for creating stars in short order, but with Jeremy Lin, the duration between cult stardom (and mainstream anonymity) and global omnipresence was literally less than a week.
The Grand Narrative of Jeremy Lin was oft-repeated gospel before he had started five games in the NBA. We knew about his Harvard and going undrafted. We knew about his multiple stints in the NBA Development League and about his being waived first by the Warriors and then by the Rockets. We knew he was moments from his third cutting of the season when he blew up in the second half of a game against the Nets. We knew that even as the Knicks went on a long winning streak, he was sleeping on a couch. We knew about his religious devotion, we knew exactly how many puns you could do on his last name and we knew that if you give the media enough time to talk about an Asian-American athlete stupid people who slip into intended and unintended racism before the passing of a single moon.
I sat down for Sunday's (January 20) world premiere of Evan Jackson Leong's predictably titled documentary "Linsanity" with some measure of trepidation, since the last thing I (or Sundance) needed was a hastily turned around Lin documentary regurgitating the same underdog narrative.
It's a relief to report that while Leong's "Linsanity" is a relatively familiar hagiography, the director had begun his focus on Lin before the madness and he was working with Lin's candid cooperation. That means that while none of the facts or linear details in "Linsanity" count as a revelation, Lin's personality is able to shine through. There are some very strange choices and problematic missteps in the storytelling here, but it turns out that I like Jeremy Lin and in a brisk documentary that goes a long way.
More on "Linsanity" after the break...
High school romance premiered at Sundance this weekend
PARK CITY - The Sundance Film Festival offers the opportunity for interview backdrops that you can't get anywhere else. It also offers the chance to conduct an interview under the coldest conditions imaginable.
Case in point: On Saturday (January 19) afternoon, after the sun had dipped and temperatures had plummeted into the single digits, I chatted with "The Spectacular Now" director James Ponsoldt and co-star Brie Larson about premiering their new teen drama at Sundance. It was frigid, but since "The Spectacular Now" is a film I quite like -- Check out my review -- I was grateful that Ponsoldt and Larson were willing to shiver at the base of the Main Street ski lift to talk about the project and how they want to define it, or maybe not-define it.
"They are teenagers, but I think it transcends the usual tropes of a quote-unquote teen film," Ponsoldt says.
And when I asked Larson what normal "teen movie" script get wrong, she quickly responded, "The whole thing. Generally, just the whole thing."
In the video, Larson and Ponsoldt talk about what they hope their film gets right and the challenges of balancing comedy, earnestness and romance under the same cinematic roof.
Enjoy the interview some place warm.