Brie Larson and James Ponsoldt discuss getting teens right on 'The Spectacular Now'

Brie Larson and James Ponsoldt discuss getting teens right on 'The Spectacular Now'

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.
 
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<p>&quot;Inequality For All&quot;</p>

"Inequality For All"

Credit: Sundance
B+

Sundance Review: Robert Reich thrives in the 'Inequality For All' spotlight

It's like 'An Inconvenient Truth' only more entertaining in every way
There will be a knee-jerk desire to compare Jacob Kornbluth's "Inequality For All" to Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth."
 
Both Sundance-launched documentaries feature members of the Clinton Administration giving illustrated lectures that attempt to expand issues of vital importance beyond dry liberal talking points.
 
So far be it for me to break from the expected pack: What "An Inconvenient Truth" was for environmental science, "Inequality For All" absolutely is for economic inequality. 
 
For whoever ends up acquiring and distributing "Inequality For All," there are empirical advantages to that comparison. "An Inconvenient Truth" took in nearly $50 million worldwide, making it the most lucrative PowerPoint presentation in history. It also won a Documentary Oscar in a year that featured Amy Berg's "Deliver Us From Evil," as well as "Jesus Camp" and "Iraq in Fragments."
 
That's high achievement for a documentary which, if we're being honest, was admirably persuasive, but fell short of any high level of filmmaking. 
 
"An Inconvenient Truth" was a filmed position paper and it will probably be a valuable classroom aid for years to come, but it's not a good movie. 
 
So while "Inequality For All" may deserve its easy linkages to "An Inconvenient Truth," that may also be selling the new documentary short. I'm not going to get into the relative political values of their arguments, but when it comes to artistic values, this isn't a close one.
 
Kornbluth's documentary is provocative and smart. It's also energetic and fun. It's "An Inconvenient Truth" for economics, but it's also much better. I may with that "Inequality For All" did a bit more, but what it does, it does well.
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of &quot;The Spectacular Now&quot;</p>

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of "The Spectacular Now"

Credit: Sundance
B+

Sundance Review: 'The Spectacular Now' showcases Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley

'Smashed' helmer and '(500) Days of Summer' scribes deliver teen romance honestly
"The Spectacular Now," showing as part of the US Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, is a high school movie.
 
The signpost events are all there. 
 
There are booze-filled parties, a prom, a graduation, college applications, generational conflicts and budding love. 
 
Those signposts, though, are purely structural. They're load-bearing plotpoints that are used to support what is actually a revealing and emotional character study and an intense romantic relationship, in which the characters not-coincidentally happen to be teens.
 
When I walked out of "Spectacular Now," I tweeted that in recent Sundance terms, "The Spectacular Now" is "The First Time" meets "Smashed," a compliment that made a lot more sense when I remembered that "The Spectacular Now" was helmed by "Smashed" director James Ponsoldt.
 
In consecutive years, Ponsoldt has now showcased a confident ability to balance humor with emotional pain, which happens to also be a specialty of screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who broke out here a couple years back with "(500) Days of Summer." [Full disclosure requires me to mention that Neustadter and I served as arts section editors together at the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper back in the day.] That combination of amusement and anguish, of genre formula and freshness will leave some people scratching their heads, but it's equally likely to strike an uncomfortable [in a good way], honest chord. 
 
More after the break...
 
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<p>&quot;After Tiller&quot;</p>

"After Tiller"

Credit: Sundance
B+

Sundance Review: 'After Tiller' is a human look at abortion drama

Documentary avoids sensationalism in looking at late-term procedures
In one of those only-at-Sundance double-bills, my Friday (January 18) afternoon featured the back-to-back premieres of Andy Heathcote's "The Moo Man," a World Documentary competition entry about British dairy farmer Stephen Hooks, and Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's "After Tiller," a US Documentary competition entry about the last four doctors in America performing third-trimester abortions.
 
These two films have nothing in common.
 
"The Moo Man" is an understated and simple film about a man and his cows and it ends up being a surprisingly moving story -- or, if you prefer for blurbing purposes, "a surprisingly moo-ving story" -- given that when it comes to subject matter, few viewers will enter the theater with a deep, pre-determined emotional investment. Whether you're a lover of organic, raw milk or you're lactose intolerant, "The Moo Man" probably won't have to work around any prodigious baggage. [I'm going to try to write a fuller review, but time is hard to come by.]
 
The same definitively cannot be said of "After Tiller."
 
[More after the break...]
 
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<p>&quot;The Summit&quot;</p>

"The Summit"

Credit: Sundance

Sundance Review: K2 doc 'The Summit' never quite peaks

A terrifying mountain-climbing story becomes a jumbled film
Grad school degree and decade-plus of entertainment journalism aside, there are many film industry jobs that I must confess I don't completely understand.
 
I can tell a gaffer from a grip from a best boy, but I'm not sure I could explicate the role of the "writer" on a documentary film. In some cases, it's simple, I suppose. If there's a voice-over or on-screen text, I get that somebody writes that. I don't know, though, if a writer on a documentary has a role in shaping the storytelling approach. I don't know how a documentary writer comes to be associated with multiple films that aren't connected in subject matter, production or filmmaking team. What makes somebody a good "writer" on a documentary? And what makes somebody a bad writer on a documentary?
 
I suspect it varies and that sometimes a documentary writer is just the guy providing the text that isn't coming from talking heads and that sometimes it's a more involved role. 
 
The nature of the documentary writer is one that I'm musing on today, because I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever noticed the same documentary writer's name recurring in a short span. 
 
Mark Monroe wrote Marc Silver's "Who Is Dayani Cristal?," which I reviewed after its world premiere on Thursday (January 17) night at the Sundance Film Festival. And there was Mark Monroe's name on Nick Ryan's "The Summit," which is also in the World Documentary Competition here at Sundance.
 
Again: I don't know what Mark Monroe actually did on either "The Summit" or "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" Both documentaries are examples of fantastic stories at least somewhat undermined by the storytelling approach, though neither film is undone by voiceover or on-screen text, per se. So I'm guessing that Mark Monroe isn't to blame for anything I disliked in either film, but I still wanted to think out loud on this one, since it's not something I usually notice. [Monroe also was the credited writer on "The Cove," "The Tillman Story" and "Chasing Ice," all docs I put in the "Good story, well told" category. Whatever a writer on a documentary is, Monroe appears to be successful at it.]
 
But anyway... "The Summit." Full review after the break...
 
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<p>Matthew Macfadyen of &quot;Ripper Street&quot;</p>

Matthew Macfadyen of "Ripper Street"

Credit: BBC America

Matthew Macfadyen talks 'Ripper Street' and 'Anna Karenina'

New BBC America drama premieres on Saturday night
Like many a British thespian, Matthew Macfadyen has reliably bounced back and forth between the big screen and television, whether wooing Elizabeth Bennett in "Pride & Prejudice" or battling international intrigue in "MI-5."
 
Fresh off a well-received supporting turn as Oblonsky in Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" this winter, Macfadyen is back on TV on Saturday (January 19) night fighting crime in Victorian England in BBC America's "Ripper Street."
 
During the Television Critics Association press tour this month, I sat down with MacFadyen to talk about his role as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid on "Ripper Street," which was created by Richard Warlow and co-stars Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg. We also talked a bit about Wright's highly theatrical Tolstoy adaptation, as well as his creative process. 
 
Click through...
 
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<p>&quot;The World According to Dick Cheney&quot;</p>

"The World According to Dick Cheney"

Credit: Sundance
B+

Sundance Review: 'The World According to Dick Cheney' offers no apologies

R.J. Cutler doc will premiere on Showtime this spring
I watched "The World According to Dick Cheney" last week to talk with director R.J. Cutler about the doc, which is set to air on Showtime in March.
 
I found the film to be informative and compulsively infuriating in intriguing ways. And in the 15 minutes I chatted with Cutler -- that interview will run closer to the Showtime premiere -- it became very, very, very clear that the fascination I felt with "The World According to Dick Cheney" wasn't, in any particular way, in synch with Cutler's perception of his own movie. This doesn't bother me. An artist creates work and puts it out there for interpretation. I've often interviewed filmmakers about projects I actively disliked and that they thought were brilliant, or at least they professed to at the time. This isn't that sort of thing. In fact, I mostly mention the discordance here because it's somewhat less frequent that I get into disagreements with filmmakers over the nature of something that I quite liked.
 
Realistically, "The World According to Dick Cheney" is, as you might guess, designed to be a litmus test sorta movie and many reactions are going to hinge on your position on the political spectrum and your interpretation of what Cutler was or wasn't able to get from Dick Cheney. 
 
I rewatched "The World According to Dick Cheney" at its premiere on Friday (January 19) afternoon at the Sundance Film Festival and even watching with Cutler's words in my head -- not necessarily something a critic should normally try to do -- I came away with my opinion -- still positive -- and my perception still intact.
 
Your perception, like R.J. Cutler's perception, may vary. [Note that Greg Finton is also credited as director on "The World According to Dick Cheney," though it's still called "an R.J. Cutler film."]
 
Full review after the break...
 
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<p>&quot;Who Is Dayani Cristal?&quot;</p>

"Who Is Dayani Cristal?"

Credit: Sundance
B-

Sundance Review: 'Who Is Dayani Cristal?' strands Gael Garcia Bernal in the desert

Beautifully shot border documentary has key structural flaws
From Rory Kennedy's documentary short "The Fence" to Cary Fukunaga's bracing-yet-lyrical "Sin Nombre," the border experience and America's immigration failures have been reliable Sundance staples in recent years, so it was fitting to have Marc Silver and Gael Garcia Bernal's "Who Is Dayani Cristal?" kicking off the 2013 Festival on Thursday (January 17) night.
 
"Who Is Dayani Cristal?" takes the familiar backdrop and attempts to present it in a complicated way, creating a well-intentioned documentary that makes admirable intellectual sense on paper, but becomes an occasional semiotic nightmare in execution. 
 
On one hand, had this been yet another straight-ahead story about "The Corridor of Death" in the Arizona desert across the Mexican border, I'd have probably complained at its lack of inspiration. On the other hand, if the inspiration becomes frustrating and obfuscating more than illuminating... Well, that's a struggle. 
 
More after the break on "Who Is Dayani Cristal?," which is playing in the World Documentary Competition at Sundance...
 
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"American Idol"

 "American Idol"

Credit: Fox

Recap: 'American Idol' Season 12 Live-Blog - Chicago Auditions

Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj take their ongoing squabble to a new locale

Yet again, I do want to reassure everyone that Dan is fine. He will be back to recap "American Idol" very soon, and he's just asked me to help out this week and next week, as he's very busy in Park City, Utah. I do hope he gets to see some of these early episodes, though, just so I know I'm not hallucinating these Mariah vs. Nicki encounters, which don't always make much sense (I blame editing) but thankfully don't seem too heated. Yet. 

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"American Idol"

 "American Idol"

Credit: Fox

Recap: 'American Idol' Season 12 Premiere Blog - New York Auditions

Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban join the judges' table

First off, Dan is fine. He was planning to be with all of you today, but alas, it was not to be. He called me shortly after he landed in Park City, Utah (where he's on deck to cover Sundance) and asked me to pinch hit, as the wi-fi there was on the fritz. There are very few things that can keep Dan from his appointed rounds (he's like a postal carrier that way), but an inability to actually file a story will take any reporter down at the knees. To complicate matters, I was in Santa Clarita visiting the set of "Vegas" at the time, so I'm also coming to the party a little late (thus, the lack of live blogging). My apologies in advance if this seems a little harried because, well... it is. So let's get on with the show!

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