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Watch: Mary Elizabeth Winstead talks getting 'Smashed' at Sundance

Alcoholic dramedy is a career highlight for the 'Scott Pilgrim' star
With movies like "Sky High," "Death Proof" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," Mary Elizabeth Winstead secured her status as a fanboy favorite years ago. 
 
The 27-year-old actress' career may be on the verge of a big shift in the aftermath of her new dramedy "Smashed," which premiered earlier this week at the Sundance Film Festival.
 
In "Smashed," Winstead plays Kate, a fun-loving woman with a particular love for alcohol, imbibed at any hour of the day. After hitting bottom multiple times, Kate decides to sober up, only to discover that working The Steps isn't nearly as easy or as enjoyable as her former life.
 
Although the supporting cast for "Smashed" includes Emmy winners Aaron Paul and Megan Mullally, newly minted Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer and the incomparable Nick Offerman, the movie belongs to Winstead, who's in practically every shot and gets to mine both pathos and a surprising amount of comedy, all while dodging any sort of Hollywood It Girl glamour. 
 
It's a role Winstead actively pursued and when the cast and crew of "Smashed" came to the front of the theater for a post-showing Q&A, she was visibly moved, brushing away tears.
 
In an interview the next morning, Winstead discussed her emotional Sundance experience and the most challenging role of her career.
 
Check it out...
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<p>&quot;For a Good Time, Call...&quot;</p>
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"For a Good Time, Call..."

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'For a Good Time, Call...'

HitFix
B
Readers
A+
Raunchy phone sex comedy has big laughs and real commercial potential
Five minutes into the Sundance comedy "For a Good Time, Call..." I was cringing.
 
My notes read like this:
 
"Wow. This is... broad."
 
"Geez. REALLY broad."
 
"Neither leading lady introduced with any subtlety."
 
"Guess we're not downplaying the coarseness, eh?"
 
[Yes. My notes are often designed to be read with a slight Canadian accent.]
 
It was not an encouraging start for the Sundance Premieres entry from director Jamie Travis and writers Lauren Anne Miller and Katie Anne Naylon.
 
Then a funny thing started happening. Or, more literally, funny things started happening. "For a Good Time, Call..." never exactly became subtle, but under what circumstances is a story of two college enemies who bond and become friends when they start a phone sex line designed to be understated?
 
Yes, "For a Good Time, Call..." is broad. And yes, it's coarse. It also produced more laugh-out-loud moments than any comedy I've seen at Sundance thus far.
 
Driven by stars Ari Graynor and Miller, plus a slew of memorable supporting performances and a handful of exceptional cameos I'd hate to spoil, "For a Good Time, Call..." is unapologetically raunchy and rude, which should only be an asset in our post-"Bridesmaids" era.
 
Full review after the break...
 
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<p>&quot;The Imposter&quot;</p>
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"The Imposter"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'The Imposter'

HitFix
A-
Readers
n/a
Fact is stranger than fiction in this tale of a missing kid and an opportunistic con-man
Bart Layton's "The Imposter" is a gripping true-crime documentary that removes a key element of the mystery from the equation with its title.
 
In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing in San Antonio. More than three years later, a young man surfaced in a remote village in Spain, claiming to be Nicholas. Overjoyed, the Barclay family welcomed Nicholas back into their life, ignoring or accepting that in his missing years, Nicholas had gone through a series of traumatizing events that transformed him into a different person.
 
Literally.
 
The young man who returned from Spain was not, in fact, Nicholas Barclay. 
 
Layton isn't interested in taking the audience on an "Is He or Isn't He?" journey. The movie is called "The Imposter" and the movie has barely begun before the interview subject with the thick French accent, dark eyes and ethnically ambiguous olive skin begins his explanation of how he came to be confused with a much younger American boy with blonde hair, blue eyes and a light complexion. 
 
And what an explanation it is.
 
There have been and will be documentaries at this Sundance Film Festival that espouse more admirable messages or that exhibit more confident artistry than "The Imposter" does, but it's hard to imagine any film, narrative or doc, unspooling a more gripping, twisted yarn.
 
Imagine "F For Fake" mixed in with a bit of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," only theoretically all true and you have a good sense of the appeal of "The Imposter."
 
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Watch: Aaron Paul talks 'Breaking Bad' from Sundance

The 'Smashed' star discusses letting his AMC hit end on its own terms
PARK CITY, UTAH - Aaron Paul can't really sneak up on viewers anymore, or at least he can't sneak up on fans of AMC's "Breaking Bad." That's one of the problems with giving what is frequently the best performance on TV.
 
Over four seasons, Paul's "Breaking Bad" character has gone through enough roller-coasters to fill a Six Flags, tracing a believable, scary and sometimes heartbreaking path of addiction, redemption, backsliding and recovery. He has a well-deserved Emmy to show for it.
 
The ending of "Breaking Bad" isn't near, but it's on the horizon with only 16 episodes remaining.
 
Paul was up in Park City this week for the premiere of "Smashed," a quirky indie dramedy in which he plays a very different kind of substance abuser, a fun-loving alcoholic who shares his addictions with his wife (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), until she decides to go sober.
 
In the longer chunk of this interview, posting in the next day or two, Paul discusses what attracted him to "Smashed" and the different approach to playing Jesse Pinkman versus this new character. 
 
But just to whet your appetites, here's our brief interview-ending conversation about "Breaking Bad" and approaching the remaining episodes. It contains some very limited spoilers for past seasons...
 
Check it out. And stick around for the "Smashed" interview...
 
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<p>&quot;Slavery By Another Name&quot;</p>
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"Slavery By Another Name"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'Slavery By Another Name'

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
Post-Reconstruction doc is more informative than artistic
Adapting literary works of fiction for narrative movies and television is always a challenge, but in many ways, adapting literary non-fiction works as documentaries is even more complicated. 
 
Much of the authorship in documentary filmmaking comes from an almost journalistic approach to storytelling and more than a few popular non-fictiom tomes have been poorly adapted as documentaries because with a preponderance of research already done and on the page, the directors have been unable to transfer that research to the new medium in a fresh way.
 
In "Slavery By Another Name," playing in the US Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival, director Sam Pollard struggles with how to make Douglas A. Blackmon's Pulitzer Prize-winning book into something cinematic. At every turn, you can sense and appreciate Pollard's efforts, but he's still too reliant on talking head historians in general, and Blackmon's own insights in specific, to really open "Slavery By Another Name" up as a film.
 
Intellectually, "Slavery By Another Name" is sturdy and well-researched stuff and it will play well when it airs on PBS next month and it should play well in the future in classrooms, but as a film festival entry, it isn't nearly confident enough in its artistry. There's no harm in a dry history lesson, but Pollard may have hoped to achieve more than that.
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>&quot;Love Free or Die&quot;</p>
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"Love Free or Die"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'Love Free or Die'

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
With Bishop Gene Robinson at the forefront, faith and gay rights are on the agenda
Macky Alston's "Love Free or Die," playing in the US Documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival, begins as a portrait of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church.
 
Even if "Love Free or Die" had been content to just remain focused on "the most controversial Christian in the world," it would have had a solid story to tell. Despite facing death threats and opposition within his own church, Robinson is a sensitive, funny and altogether inspirational subject.
 
The thing that elevates "Love Free or Die" -- which I will eventually type as "Love Free or Die Hard" in this review -- is that in its final act, the documentary leaves Robinson almost entirely and, without belaboring its point, it becomes the story of change, a moving look at how even a rigid church with centuries of entrenched methodology can begin a slow shift towards inclusiveness and equality. 
 
"Love Free or Die" is the latest in one of Sundance's most enduring genres, one represented by dozens of films each year: The preaching-to-the-choir documentary. But by underplaying its undeniably emotional high points and smartly avoiding the demonization of opposition points of view, "Love Free or Die" could plausibly play to audiences outside of the choir.
 
Click through for more...
 
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<p>Victoria Justice and Dylan O'Brien of &quot;The First Time&quot;</p>
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Victoria Justice and Dylan O'Brien of "The First Time"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: Jonathan Kasdan's 'The First Time'

HitFix
B
Readers
n/a
Britt Robertson and Dylan O'Brien star in an appealing coming-of-age film
It's easy to pitch "The First Time" in terms that aren't going to make it sound appetizing to most of the snooty film fans up in Park City for the Sundance Film Festival.
 
Jonathan Kasdan's coming-of-age dramedy features a cast led by stars of "The Secret Circle," MTV's "Teen Wolf" and "Victorious" and plays more like a 90-minute episode of "Dawson's Creek" than like the John Hughes classics that inspired The WB drama.
 
There's something very "TV" about "The First Time," which sounds like it ought to be pejorative, but really isn't. It just happens that when you have a writer-director who cut his teeth working for the small screen and you bring in an ensemble of actors who honed their craft on the small screen, the result is sometimes a little more polished than what you might get from an art school grad making the leap from short films and working with a cast of unknowns he or she started using back in college.
 
"The First Time" doesn't look or feel like a Sundance competition entry, but if you overlook it due to that television pedigree, you'll miss out on an effectively sweet, frequently clever offering buoyed by an attractive group of stars who aren't really newcomers, but will seem like newcomers to most festival audiences. 
 
Click through for my full review of "The First Time"...
 
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<p>Chris Crocker of &quot;Me @ The Zoo&quot;</p>
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Chris Crocker of "Me @ The Zoo"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'Me @ The Zoo' exposes Chris Crocker

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
When you gaze long into the YouTube abyss, the YouTube abyss gazes into you
We credit Socrates with the observation that the unexamined life is not worth living, but for an entire generation, that's no longer particularly apt. For thousands or millions of people accustomed to posting their every thought on Twitter, their every photographed moment on Facebook and their every vocalizable emotion on YouTube, the truth is that the unexposed life is not worth living. Leave the examination for other people.
 
Why be self-aware, when you can make other people aware of you?
 
Introspection is so pre-2005, when a YouTube co-founder posted a video of himself at the zoo. 
 
Extrospection is the new introspection. 
 
Few people better illustrate the evolving nature of celebrity and the blurring between fame and notoriety better than Chris Crocker. Best known as The "Leave Britney Alone!" Guy, Crocker's YouTube videos have been viewed hundreds of millions of times, but among those viewers, the ratio of hate-to-love or annoyance-to-appreciation likely tips to the negative.
 
Sometimes flamboyant and shrill, but occasionally exhibiting the flair of a natural improv comedian, Crocker has milked his Internet persona well beyond any logical lifespan, seemingly never breaking character.
 
Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch's "Me @ The Zoo," playing in the US Documentary competition at Sundance, emphasizes either Crocker's dedication to the "Chris Crocker" persona, or confirms that the what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature of Crocker's performance art. While biographic details and psychological motivations are implied, "Me @ The Zoo" is enlightening precisely for how unenlightening it is. The documentary doesn't get inside the Chris Crocker phenomenon so much as it becomes another facet of the phenomenon.
 
Of course, the bottom line with any film focusing on this sort of cult of personality is whether or not it will play to viewers who exist outside of the cult. Crocker's fans will probably appreciate the additional context and some people on the fence will admire Crocker's confidence and his commitment to this long-running bit, but if you don't care for Chris Crocker, "Me @ The Zoo" is an awful lot of Chris Crocker. While it's never uninteresting, "Me @ The Zoo" often feels like a feature film based around the most annoying sketch character in "Saturday Night Live" history. It's not quite "Superstar," but it's not "Wayne's World" either.
 
Full review after the break...
 
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<p>Tony Hawk of &quot;Bones Brigade&quot;</p>
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Tony Hawk of "Bones Brigade"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: Stacy Peralta's 'Bones Brigade: An Autobiography'

HitFix
B+
Readers
A
'Dogtown and Z-Boys' follow-up chronicles Tony Hawk and other '80s stars
It's been over a decade since skateboarding pioneer Stacy Peralta brought his partially autobiographic documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys" to the Sundance Film Festival and walked away with an Audience Award and a prize for his direction.
 
Since then, Peralta has successfully chronicled big wave surfers in "Riding Giants" and street gangs in "Crips and Bloods: Made in America," proving himself to be more than just a one-trick pony as a documentarian, but rather an astute chronicler of men who live extreme lives on the fringes of the mainstream.
 
Peralta returned to Sundance on Saturday (January 21) night for the world premiere of "Bones Brigade: An Autobiography," which isn't exactly a sequel to "Dogtown and Z-Boys," but still follows the next chapter in the filmmaker's life, as well as the next chapter in the history of skateboarding as an athletic pursuit and an art form.
 
As he did on "Dogtown and Z-Boys," Peralta is making a film about himself and about the people who were closest to him, but as was the case with the earlier film, proximity yields refreshing honesty and candidness rather than a self-aggrandizing puff piece. The skaters featured in "Bones Brigade," several so legendary that even I've heard of them, see no purpose in being coy or precious with their memories and reputations. 
 
For purposes of honesty, it helps that the story being told in "Bones Brigade" is almost unnervingly functional. Nobody really has all that much to cover up or be ashamed of and the subjects of the documentary are practically competing to distribute the highest compliments.
 
As you might imagine, all of that admiration and respect isn't always so great for drama and "Bones Brigade" lacks even the traditional spiral of egos that pushed "Dogtown and Z-Boys" to its conclusion. In the place of stakes and tension, Peralta gives us a cast of at least a dozen colorful and often hilarious characters, plus a seemingly bottomless treasure trove of period footage. That was more than enough for this viewer whose interest in the skateboarding milieu is minimal at best.
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>&quot;The Other Dream Team&quot;</p>
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"The Other Dream Team"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'The Other Dream Team'

HitFix
B-
Readers
A
Documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian hoops team could use a bit more focus
In reviewing Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War" yesterday, I mentioned my approval for Sundance documentaries that stoke my sense of righteous indignation. But that doesn't mean that I can't be just as appreciative (or more) of something as seemingly frivolous as a good sports documentary.
 
At my first Sundance in 2009, one of the best films I saw was "Thriller in Manila." The following year, I was able to put aside my general antipathy for the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks to love "Winning Time." And last year, no documentary I saw at Sundance packed the visceral and emotional punch of "Senna."
 
It shouldn't surprise regular readers, then, that one of my most anticipated titles at this year's Festival was "The Other Dream Team," Marius Markevicius' film about the 1992 Lithuanian National Basketball team.
 
I didn't have one of the tie-dyed Lithuania hoops t-shirts, but I sure wanted one. I'm never one to turn down the chance to watch Arvydas Sabonis highlights. And if we're doing amateur genealogy, half of my family considers Lithuania to be "The Old Country." 
 
"The Other Dream Team," playing in the US Documentary competition, may just have been too much in my wheelhouse, in the sense that I had the version of the film that I wanted to see in my head and I was disappointed by the actual film's pacing and focus. 
 
I don't think I've ever done this before, but I'm inclined to quote Roger Ebert's Tweet from last night: "Never ask a person who knows anything about the subject what they think of a documentary." I don't know if I'd say "never ask," but "take with a grain of salt" isn't a bad idea. "The Other Dream Team" wasn't the 1992 Lithuanian Basketball movie that I necessarily wanted, but it could absolutely be the 1992 Lithuanian Basketball movie that you want, assuming you want such a thing.
 
Full review after the break.
 
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