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...
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...
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...
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"...
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...
'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...
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.
Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro star in a muddled thriller
The 2012 Sundance Film Festival slogan is "Look Again," a piece of advice that has caused amusement and confusion for members of the press whose headshots are glued onto our badges adjacent only to the word "Again," as if Robert Redford himself were looking at each of us and saying, "Seriously? That guy? Again?"
Cheap juxtapositional humor aside, I gave the "Look Again" banner extra thought after it appeared on the screen following Friday (January 20) night's world premiere of Rodrigo Cortes' "Red Lights."
The follow-up to Cortes' "Buried," a conceptually tricky thriller which went from hot Sundance title to theatrical non-event in record time two years ago, "Red Lights" is a generally infuriating and occasionally intriguing muddle of a movie that spins wildly out of control in its final half-hour, climaxing in a two-minute montage of voiceover and exposition that either does or doesn't turn the rest of the movie upside-down in maddening fashion.
The movie ended. The credits rolled. I was sitting in the back of the Eccles Theatre scratching my head and the words "Look Again" came up on the screen.
Some viewers are definitely going to find "Red Lights" worthy of a second viewing, particularly in the aftermath of that peculiar ending. As for me? Asked to look again, I'm afraid I'm going to take a pass. Like I said, "Red Lights" is occasionally intriguing, but I don't think the things that intrigued me had anything to do with the main text or impact of the movie. That doesn't make them less interesting and I'm pretty sure that "Red Lights" is a fascinating failure -- and possibly an oddball cult film in-the-making -- but a failure none-the-less.
Full review after the break...
It's hard to remain unmoved by this polemic about sexual assaults in the military
A lot of the time, I sit down for Sundance documentaries just itching for a dose of righteous indignation.
I suspect I'm not alone.
But too often, even documentaries with the best of intentions deliver only partially or else fail to deliver at all.
You read the description of the documentary in the Sundance guide and the topic/thesis is one that you agree with passionately, but then you watch in misery as one thing after another goes wrong. The filmmaker stretches their point beyond its breaking point, or comes up short of a full treatise. The filmmaker properly targets a problem, but has no interest in even hinting at a solution. The filmmaker loses faith in the inherent power of the subject matter and resorts to manipulative editing or overbearing music to jerk the audience around like a puppet. Or the filmmaker is so condescending or full of contempt for the alternative viewpoint that their actual point gets lost in facile name-calling.
You'd think it'd be easy to make a film that stirs the emotions of a Sundance audience that's often easily moved, but I've found that it's far simpler to stumble and squander good will.
That why I'm able to resist criticizing Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War" for not being especially artistically adventurous.
Yes, "The Invisible War" is a reasonably straightforward talking head-driven documentary, opened up mainly with stock footage and a couple scenes taking the characters on the road. Dick ("Sick" "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"), an Oscar and Emmy nominee, has made several previous films that more aggressively challenge viewers in terms of formalism or, more frequently, audience identification with off-kilter characters or circumstances.
What Dick has done with "The Invisible War" is make an audience-mobilizing documentary that hits you in the gut in the opening minutes and doesn't let up, but also avoids a great majority of easy pratfalls. "The Invisible War" doesn't overstay its welcome at 90 minutes, nor does it ever lose confidence in the ability of its subjects to be powerful on their own, without anybody putting their thumb on the scale. It finds a way to be ideologically pragmatic, without ever sacrificing its laser focus, and unrelentingly outraged, without forgetting the need to include a call to action.
And perhaps most importantly, "The Invisible War" may depress you and make you cry, but it'll also probably leave you inspired. It's a portrait of courage as much as victimhood.
[More after the break...]
John Cooper and Keri Putnam also share their thoughts on the state of indie film
PARK CITY - The 2012 Sundance Film Festival kicked off on Thursday (January 19) with Robert Redford and his team's traditional opening press conference.
As you may have already heard. Redford kicked things off on a gloomy note, referring to "the hard times we're living in," calling said times "dark and grim." Redford continued, of course, by emphasizing that the Sundance Film Festival isn't going to be dark and grim and that, as Festival Director John Cooper explained, "the independent film community is very healthy."
After the press conference, I attended a series of roundtable interviews with Redford, Cooper and Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam to discuss, in more depth, The State of Sundance, 2012.