<p>One of the Texas auditioners on Thursday night's &quot;American Idol&quot;</p>
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One of the Texas auditioners on Thursday night's "American Idol"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'American Idol' Texas Auditions - Live-Blog

Were the stars tonight big and bright deep in the heart of Texas?

So what have I missed, y'all? It seems like a dozen months ago that I recapped the "American Idol" premiere and then the Sundance Film Festival began.

I assume you've been keeping up with Liane Bonin Starr's "Idol" recaps in my absence, while also keeping up with all of my Sundance coverage... 

Right?

I know I'm live-blogging on West Coast Time tonight, but let's get going with Thursday's (Jan. 26) auditions from Texas...

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Watch: Aaron Paul talks 'Smashed' at Sundance

How is this substance abuser different from his 'Breaking Bad' substance abuser?
The other day, I posted the chunk of my conversation with Aaron Paul that focused more on his Emmy-winning AMC dramedy "Breaking Bad" than on his well-regarded Sundance dramedy "Smashed."
 
Today, I'm posting the longer portion of the interview focusing on "Smashed." You'll discover pretty quickly that it's almost impossible to talk "Smashed" with Aaron Paul without also discussing "Breaking Bad."
 
In "Smashed," Paul plays a jovial alcoholic who proves to be an emotional liability for his equally booze-loving wife (the excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead) when she decides to go clean.
 
Other than a focus on addiction, Paul's "Smashed" character has little in common with Jesse Pinkman, but "addiction" isn't exactly a tiny similarity. 
 
In our chat, Paul discusses the difficulties finding feature scripts that live up to the standards set by "Breaking Bad," his reservations about returning to addiction and his very different approach to his "Smashed" character.
 
Check it out...
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<p>&quot;Grabbers&quot;</p>
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"Grabbers"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: 'Grabbers'

HitFix
C+
Readers
n/a
Midnight creature featured needed to be better... or worse
Over the years, I've found that in the wacky world of Sundance Midnight Movies, there's a strange and counter-intuitive logic of quality.
 
"Good" always means "good." But sometimes "bad" means "good" and sometimes it just means "bad," an evaluation that has to be made on a case-by-case and person-by-person basis, because one man's crap is another man's camp.
 
Yes, quality is fungible when it comes to Midnight movies, but one thing I know for sure: There's absolutely nothing worse for a Midnight movie than being "OK."
 
In an ideal world, Jon Wright's "Grabbers" could stand to be a lot better, but I'd just as soon see it be a lot worse. In its current form, "Grabbers" is just plain average.
 
And where's the fun in that?
 
Full review of "Grabbers" after the break...
 
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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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