<p>&quot;A Walk in the Woods&quot;</p>

"A Walk in the Woods"

Credit: Sundance

Review: Bland 'A Walk in the Woods' is 'Grumpy Old Outdoorsmen'

If you only see one movie where Robert Redford faces nature, don't see this one

Maybe if "Wild" hadn't done such a solid and visually rich job of portraying one woman's determination to restart her life by hiking 2000 miles, the banal platitudes and strange visual monotony of two older guys' determination to restart their lives by hiking 2000 miles in "A Walk in the Woods" wouldn't seem so subpar.

Maybe if Robert Redford hadn't done such harrowing, committed and honest work as a man battling nature in "All Is Lost," Robert Redford's lax, barely engaged work as a man meandering through nature in "A Walk in the Woods" wouldn't seem so subpar.

Maybe if "A Walk in the Woods" weren't having its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, a venue that doesn't always demand artistic or narrative experimentation but certainly rewards the work of risk-taking, it's bland and peculiar artistic and narrative flatness wouldn't seem so subpar.

But here we are in Park City, where "A Walk in the Woods" had a soft-premiere on Friday (January 23) morning before a gala launch in Salt Lake City, where presumably the distance from Sundance may make its innocuous nothingness feel less disappointing.

Surely there's an audience out there in the world for "Grumpy Old Outdoorsmen," even if Robert Redford & Nick Nolte are no Matthau & Lemmon. 

But there's absolutely no way to shake the certainty that were one of its stars not the Founder & Grand Poobah of The Festival, Sundance never would have glanced in the direction of a film as mediocre as "A Walk in the Woods."

[More after the break...]

Read Full Post
<p>&quot;Finders Keepers&quot;</p>

"Finders Keepers"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'Finders Keepers' blends sensationalistic story, sensational characters

Foot-in-a-grill documentary is surprisingly humane in addition to being wacky

Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel's US Documentary Competition entry "Finders Keepers" has one of the most salacious loglines of any film at Sundance this year.

"Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction."

It's a synopsis with a review blurb practically built in, because Sundance is often a haven for the quirky and absurd and, at least on the surface, "Finders Keepers" has the sort of plot that no screenwriter in his or her right mind would ever dream up.

And were "Finders Keepers" just the story of a couple of North Carolina bumpkins bickering over a mummified leg that one of them lost in a tragic plane accident and the other purchased in a storage locker auction, it would be fun and sensationalistic and probably ultimately condescending, but we wouldn't care about that because of the fun inherent in giggling at rednecks. 

And "Finders Keepers" isn't that at all. 

The reason why Carberry and Tweel's film works is practically the opposite of its stranger-than-fiction freak show trappings. Despite a very reasonable running time of under 90 minutes, "Finders Keepers" digs underneath its initial craziness and finds two very real, damaged humans at the center. "Finders Keepers" may, indeed, be stranger-than-fiction, but it's finally significantly less strange and far more relatable than you would initially guess or perhaps fear. 

The reason "Finders Keepers" will probably be better than most of the narrative films at Sundance this year isn't that no screenwriter could ever make up a story this wacky, but that no screenwriter would be able to craft characters as layered as John Wood and Shannon Whisnant.

Read Full Post
<p>&quot;How To Change The World&quot;</p>

"How To Change The World"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'How To Change The World' looks at the birth of Greenpeace with some stumbles

Jerry Rothwell's Sundance documentary is structurally frustrating

There are good ideas aplenty in Jerry Rothwell's "How To Change The World," which earned an Opening Night slot at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and will be part of the World Documentary Competition.

Although its heroes are the founders of Greenpeace and pioneers of the modern environmental movement, "How To Change The World" isn't a blindly unquestioning piece of hero-worship. It's a warts-and-all look at idealism realized, idealism diverted and the fallibility of people with those highest of ideals.

Rothwell's film has interesting ideas about the power of propaganda and the manufacturing of a political movement. It also has impressive participation from the available principles in the movement, many of whom have changed perspectives intriguingly in the 40 years since the instigating events in the story, events that astoundingly well-documented at the time.

The back-and-forth between the self-representation of the early Greenpeace home movies and Rothwell's contemporary check-in offer both insight and dramatic irony and would seem to provide "How To Change The World" with all the structure it could possibly need.

Somehow, though, Rothwell doesn't realize which things are or aren't holding his film together and he imposes a number of extra, barely motivating devices onto the documentary, resulting in a jumble of tones and structure that leave "How To Change The World" feeling at least an hour longer than its already wearisome 115 minutes.

I liked "How To Change The World" more than I initially thought I might, but less than I probably could have if its focus had lived up to its potential.

[More after the break.]

Read Full Post
<p>&quot;What Happened, Miss Simone?&quot;</p>

"What Happened, Miss Simone?"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' only sings when Nina Simone sings

Liz Garbus' Sundance opener makes great use of performance footage

Liz Garbus' "What Happened, Miss Simone?" begins with footage of Nina Simone taking the stage at the 1976 Montreaux Jazz Festival. It was a performance that simultaneously represented a comeback from self-imposed exile for the iconic chanteuse, but also has been used as an example of the mercurial, erratic and occasionally bizarre work that characterized the middle of Simone's career. 

Simone stands in front of her piano and takes a prolonged bow. She stares into the audience and seemingly off into space. There's almost no way to read  her. Is she embracing the applause? Is she alienated in the spotlight? Is this her dream? Is it her nightmare? 

It's a perfect prelude to the film's title, which comes from a 1970 Redbook piece by Maya Angelou.

That enigmatic opening and the interrogative title lead, somewhat disappointingly, into a rather conventional cradle-to-the-grave documentary.

But even if there's a sense that a woman as uncontainable as Nina Simone deserved a documentary less eager to contain her in easy-to-understand terms, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" remains engaging by virtue of the wealth of archival and concert footage Garbus has assembled.

One of the Opening Night films at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" is screening out-of-competition here and will premiere on Netflix this spring.

[More after the break...]

Read Full Post
<p>Taraji P. Henson of &quot;Empire&quot;</p>

Taraji P. Henson of "Empire"

Credit: FOX

TV Ratings: 'Empire' rises again, 'America Idol' also up for FOX Wednesday

'Criminal Minds,' 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' eye series lows

Fast National ratings for Wednesday, January 21, 2015.

After doing something unprecedented for the season by rising in its second week, FOX's "Empire" did something fairly unprecedented in this writer's memory and also rose in its third airing. With "American Idol" also getting a big bump, FOX dominated Wednesday in all measures.

Per FOX, "The Finder" three years ago actually rose in its second and third weeks as well, but those numbers were on an entirely different scale.

Elsewhere, "Criminal Minds" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" both hit series lows against the "Empire" juggernaut

On to the numbers...

Read Full Post
<p>Jacob Tolliver of &quot;American Idol&quot;</p>

Jacob Tolliver of "American Idol"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'American Idol' Auditions - Minneapolis

Prince's hometown yields very little soul or funk or rock

We've reached that intriguing place in the "Idol" audition schedule that overlaps with Sundance, so there's a distinct chance that between now and next Thursday, a few of the audition episodes may not get recapped. 

Instead? You can expect a lot of reviews for documentaries you've never heard of!


Follow along with my recap for Wednesday (January 21) night's auditions from Minneapolis...

Read Full Post
'Backstrom' star Rainn Wilson discusses returning to TV and killing Dwight

'Backstrom' star Rainn Wilson discusses returning to TV and killing Dwight

'The Office' veteran talks about his prickly new FOX detective

VANCOUVER, BC. The video posted above, captured mid-sentence, has context. 

It's a late October and Rainn Wilson's Backstrom has spent a long afternoon and evening working over a suspect in an interrogation room. 

Production on "Backstrom" has been largely restricted to two or three scenes in the Portland police precinct, but those scenes have kept Wilson busy for hours, the price of being first on the call sheet.

Wilson carved out 10 minutes to chat with one small roundtable of reporters, but a second group of reporters has been waiting in the dark corner of a Vancouver stage into the early evening, occasionally getting restless and, at least once, getting silenced by an AD. [To our credit, we were only silenced because Thomas Dekker was instigating lively conversation. And the other group of scribes, befriended by co-star Kristoffer Polaha, was far noisier.]

That at least somewhat explains Wilson greeting the journalists, identified as "bloggers," with the declaration, "You know, I'm kinda a wimpy guy, but I bet versus bloggers, I could probably take out any blogger on the planet."

On my video recording, posted above, it comes across as amusingly threatening, but that's mostly the shadowing at our press table. In person, it was less ominous and more an extension of Wilson's new character.

Read Full Post
<p>The &quot;Survivor: Worlds Apart&quot; cast</p>

The "Survivor: Worlds Apart" cast

Credit: CBS

'Survivor: Worlds Apart' introduces its Blue, White and No Collar tribes

It's a pretty arbitrary set of classifications, but meet the 18 castaways

One day after announcing the cast for the upcoming Blind Date season of "The Amazing Race," CBS has unveiled the cast of the 30th installment of "Survivor."

As was previously announced, the "Survivor: Worlds Apart" cast has the 18 castaways divided into White Collar, Blue Collar and No Collar tribes.

Read Full Post
<p>President Obama</p>

President Obama

Credit: AP

TV Ratings: 'Parks and Recreation,' 'MasterChef Junior' make a State of the Union Tuesday dent

'NCIS' repeat is still Tuesday's most watched show

Fast National ratings for Tuesday, January 19, 2015.

With the State of the Union causing a slew of Tuesday repeats, "MasterChef Junior" and "Parks and Recreation" helped FOX and NBC tie for first among young viewers, though CBS' repeats still led overall.

The return of "The Flash" on The CW was lower than some of its fall numbers, but still helped lead the network into fourth place in the key demo and, in fact, to victory in most young male demos.

Remembering that the State of the Union numbers will shift due to liveness and whatnot, let's get to Tuesday's ratings...

Read Full Post
<p>Eric Andr&eacute; of &quot;Man Seeking Woman&quot;</p>

Eric André of "Man Seeking Woman"

Credit: FXX

Interview: 'Man Seeking Woman' co-star Eric André on getting naked and the evil of 'Love Actually'

'2 Broke Girl' vet discusses improvising with Jay Baruchel

TORONTO, ON. Eric André and I are kindred spirits. 

I don't know if this is actually the case on any sort of global scale, but on a recent visit to the "Man Seeking Woman" set in Toronto, I overhear a fellow reporter asking Andre about his favorite and least favorite romantic comedies.

I no longer remember what André lists as a favorite, but he doesn't hesitate to list "Love Actually" among the worsts. Darn tooting.

André first popped up on my radar as part of the ensemble of the cancelled-too-soon "Don't Trust The B---- in Apartment 23." It was only after his extended run on CBS' watched-too-long "2 Broke Girls" that I made the fairly logical connection between actor/comic Eric André and Adult Swim's "The Eric André Show," which he hosts and created.

The third season of "The Eric André Show" premiered in November, but André now has another sitcom showcase with FXX's "Man Seeking Woman," in which he plays the uber-bro best pal to Jay Baruchel's Josh. 

On the set, we were able to witness some of the interplay between André and Baruchel, who are both comedy writers and are prone to take punchlines rather far afield when given the opportunity for improvisation. Very little of what I heard from their riffing is likely to make it to air even on the lenient FXX and even in the leniently twisted rom-com world of "Man Seeking Woman."

Oh well.

In my interview with André, we briefly discussed the horrors of "Love Actually," but also talked about his "Man Seeking Woman" process and the importance of "The Eric André Show" to his career.

Click through...

Read Full Post