'Digging For Fire' director Joe Swanberg says he's already made a superhero movie

'Digging For Fire' director Joe Swanberg says he's already made a superhero movie

Swanberg, Jake Johnson and Rosemarie DeWitt talk maturation and Jude Swanberg

"Digging For Fire," the new film from indie relationship dramedy favorite Joe Swanberg, premiered on Monday (January 26) evening at the Sundance Film Festival.

You can check out my review of the star-studded film here.

Bright and early on Wednesday, I caught up with the sleep-deprived Swanberg, co-writer and star Jake Johnson and star Rosemarie DeWitt to talk about "Digging For Fire."

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<p>&quot;Digging For Fire&quot;</p>

"Digging For Fire"

Credit: Sundance

Review: Jake Johnson, Rosemary DeWitt charm and mature in 'Digging For Fire'

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Joe Swanberg's latest is heavy on aging metaphors

Joe Swanberg is 33. I don't know whether to be amazed by how high or low that number is. 

On one hand, that's ridiculously young for a filmmaker who broke out back in 2006 and 2007 with "LOL" and "Hannah Takes The Stairs" and has been absurdly prolific since then.

On the other hand, though, the filmmaker who made his name -- and, depending on your generosity, made a genre -- chronicling the dramatically limited foibles of recent college graduates has reached the "thirtysomething" phase of his career. The erratic and misdirected youths at the center of Swanberg's earlier films have become the pesky nubiles who show up to make Swanberg's new leads feel either old or optimistically mature.

It's a transition that has been in the works for a little while. Last year's Swanberg Sundance entry "Happy Christmas" featured the director and Melanie Lynskey as a grown-up, responsible couple whose house nearly burns down when they welcome flighty Jenny (Anna Kendrick) into their home. Jenny would have been the star of an early Swanberg film (probably played by Greta Gerwig), but in "Happy Christmas," whatever temporary rejuvenating powers she has for the central characters, she's the one constantly passing out and unable to find herself. They're the ones with the house, the love and the gigantic toddler.

Swanberg's latest feature, the Sundance out-of-competition premiere "Digging for Fire," cements either the director's maturation or else his commitment to wallowing in a different phase of life, again depending on your generosity. Simultaneously more plot-driven than most of Swanberg's early films -- There's a freaking gun found in the opening scene, instigating something that resembles a mystery -- and also more submerged in extended metaphor and symbolism, "Digging For Fire" is a messy movie, but it's also full of terrific little moments and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble cast at Sundance this year.

[More after the break...]

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<p>Colorado City, Arizona</p>

Colorado City, Arizona

Credit: AP

Review: Disappointing 'Prophet's Prey' offers nothing new on Warren Jeffs

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The polygamous cult leader is in jail, but now what?

It's been around 150 years since we gave much respect to Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle's so-called Great Man Theory of history. While there are unquestionable great men and great women who helped shape culture and history, the number of great men and women who made impacts that are worth studying outside of the context of their society is virtually nil. It's not an interesting or accurate way to view history and, as a result, we don't give credence to people who try it. 

It's even less informative to view tragedy through an Awful Man Theory. It's almost inconceivable to imagine an interpretation of World War II, for example, that said, "So Germany was just going along fine and then Hitler came and ruined everything." As monstrous as Hitler was, you'd never write a story of Nazi atrocities in which you reached the end and said, "And it was all Hitler's fault." It's a total dead-end when it comes to ongoing conversation.

Amy Berg's disappointing "Prophet's Prey" isn't looking at anything as wide-reaching as pre-WWII Germany or the crimes of the Nazis, but she still offers up an almost absurdly one-dimensional Awful Man Theory when it comes to last decade's scandal in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church), a scandal which, in Berg's hands, can be boiled down to: Warren Jeffs is an evil monster. 

And I think we can mostly agree on this one. When you're sentenced to Life+20 for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old and the world agrees that that's only the tip of the horrifying iceberg of things that you probably could have been charged with, then the vast majority of people will probably co-sign the "monster" accusation.

But the Warren Jeffs case wasn't a case that the media ignored. It was covered very adequately by the most mainstream of organizations and was the subject of various cable specials and whatnot. Ample evidence was given and disseminated that reenforced the monster narrative, which is part of why Warren Jeffs is -- SPOILER ALERT -- in prison today.

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<p>&quot;The Wolfpack&quot;</p>

"The Wolfpack"

Credit: Sundance

Review: Cinema and hope reign in the unique documentary 'The Wolfpack'

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Crystal Moselle's competition doc has an unbelievable story

PARK CITY. Serendipity always plays a major role in Sundance scheduling. Yes, we have an elaborate Excel doc with all of our screenings and interviews and naps and meals programmed, but the best Sundance moments are often when you have a two hour block and duck into the yet-to-premiere Ozarks mystery featuring the girl from "The Bill Engvall," or when you trust the buzz from the night before and trudge a mile through a blizzard to see an indescribable drama starring a little kid named "Quvenzhané."

As the Yiddish proverb goes, Der mentsh trakht Sundance un got lakht or "Man plans Sundance, God laughs." [Anybody who attempts to correct my Yiddish gets blocked.]

So on Sunday night, I went to the far-flung Temple Theater for an evening screening, only to discover a totally different movie was playing and there was no chance I could get to the correct theater in time to see the movie I intended to see. 

Instead, thanks to The Fates (and a friendly publicist with an available ticket), I caught the world premiere of Crystal Moselle's US Documentary Competition entry "The Wolfpack," which surely will be among my more memorable movies of Sunday 2015. And don't know "memorable" as the highest of praise, since I had to look at my notebook to remember anything about the two movies I saw on Sunday morning and I kinda liked both of them.

Like "Finders Keepers," another of my early Sundance favorites, "The Wolfpack" is the kind of story that would lend itself to sensationalism and exploitation, but ends up with a core of human emotion that largely (but not entirely) supersedes the shock of its premise.

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<p>&quot;Unexpected&quot;</p>

"Unexpected"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'Unexpected' is slight, but Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean shine

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Kris Swanberg's maternity dramedy is in the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance

The "How I Met Your Mother" Redemption Tour is in full effect at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Jason Segel has received the best reviews of his career for his gimmick-free performance as David Foster Wallace in "The End of The Tour."

Cobie Smulders is proving her mettle as a leading lady in "Unexpected."

And Josh Radnor is nowhere to be seen with a follow-up to "Liberal Arts."

[Sorry. Easy punchline. I actually thought "Happythankyoumoreplease" was a perfectly respectable sign of Radnor's potential as a writer-director.]

Meanwhile, Neil Patrick Harris has been too busy winning Tonys and preparing to host the Oscars to be in anything Sundance-y this year, while Alyson Hannigan remains chronically underused.

Smulders also stars in "Results," which premieres at Sundance on Tuesday, but at least her Festival got off to a solid start with "Unexpected."

Directed by Kris Swanberg, who co-wrote with Megan Mercier, "Unexpected" is a very slight movie, almost absurdly short on incident even with a running time of under 90 minutes, but it's also sweet and funny, giving a female-centric take on pregnancy through two very different perspectives.

Oh and give "Unexpected" bonus points for bringing Elizabeth McGovern back to the genre of Chicago-set dramedies about women having babies.

[More after the break...]

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<p>&quot;Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief</p>

"Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Credit: Sundance

Review: ''Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' isn't going to make Xenu happy

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Tom Cruise, John Travolta and David Miscavige won't love Alex Gibney's documentary either

PARK CITY. If the bursting-at-the-seams crowd at Sunday's (January 25) world premiere of "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" was any indication, the film festival world (and probably the subsequent HBO world) has been waiting impatiently for a cinematic pulling back of the curtain from the Church of Scientology. 

And when you absolutely, positively have to get informed on a subject in a reasonably smart, reasonably all-encompassing, reasonably passionate (without succumbing to sloppy outrage), narratively tight 120-minutes, it's hard to imagine a more reliable tour guide than director Alex Gibney. 

The absurdly prolific filmmaker can be counted on to deliver a comprehensive rendering of difficult issues and that's exactly what "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" is.

If you've read Lawrence Wright's book -- I have not -- or any of the recent string of tangential Scientology exposes -- including Wright's profile of Paul Haggis, which I did read -- only some of the things in "Going Clear" are likely to be new. In fact, the number of interview clips from various TV networks featuring the various key interviewees from the documentary makes it  obvious that most of the people who Gibney was able to talk to were the same people, mostly formerly high-ranking offices who ran afoul of David Miscavige, who have been on an anti-Scientology crusade for years. But Gibney is a master of synthesizing information and that's what he does here as well. 

[I find that I like Gibney more when he's exposing something of himself, as in something like "Catching Hell" or "The Armstrong Lie," but that mostly doesn't seem to be what he's in this for.]

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<p>&quot;Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck&quot;</p>

"Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck"

Credit: HBO

Review: 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck' definitively doesn't define the Nirvana icon

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Brett Morgen's documentary is full of previously unheard and unseen moments

The legacy of Kurt Cobain is one of maddening genius, maddening potential and the maddening disappointment and betrayal of how much of that potential went unfulfilled when he took his own life at 27.

Maybe that's why my immediate reaction to Brett Morgen's Sundance premiere documentary "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck" was visceral pleasure and appreciation, but a maddening uncertainty about what else I was supposed to take from the film. 

And maybe that's why after five more minutes of contemplating "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," I was able ponder the possibility that Morgen wants his documentary to be definitive exactly be virtue of being so undefinitive. 

An often spectacular piece of multi-media assemblage, takes viewers on a journey at least somewhat into Kurt Cobain's brain and into his life and if that leaves you wanting more... Well, of course it does.

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<p>&quot;Slow West&quot;</p>

"Slow West"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'Slow West' features a gruff Michael Fassbender and absurdist Western violence

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Sundance drama has some beautiful cinematography as well

PARK CITY. This doesn't happen often, but I had to stay after the Sundance Film Festival premiere screening of "Slow West" to listen to the Q&A with director John MacLean to get a sense of what the intended tone was for his World Cinema Dramatic Competition entry. 

Large portions of the second half of the 1870-set Western made me laugh, sometimes fairly hard, but I couldn't quite tell if the aspiration was parody or misgauged sincerity. The answer? Neither. Maclean said he was going for something almost fairy-tale-esque at the bloody climax of "Slow West," which means that something heightened was an aspiration, even if fairy tales very rarely leave me laughing. 

Sometimes you're just not receiving signals on the frequency that a movie is transmitting and I accept that just may be the case, especially since the first questioner praised "Slow West" for its realism.

Realism, eh? The movie I saw was an American Western directed by a Scot, filmed in New Zealand, starring an Aussie as the Scottish main character with an Irish actor as an American outlaw and that's before I get to the giggly heightened climax. Realism and authenticity aren't things I would salute here, though the quirky humor and a few interesting narrative choices still have me within range of a recommendation. 

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<p>&quot;The Amina Profile&quot;</p>

"The Amina Profile"

Credit: Sundance

Review: 'The Amina Profile' finds intrigue in a mystery of online identity

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Sophie Deraspe's doc is more interesting if you don't treat its twist as a twist

The events in "The Amina Profile," playing in Sundance's World Documentary Competition, are not being revealed for the first time in Sophie Deraspe's film.

If you Google Amina Arraf and her A Gay Girl in Damascus blog, the arc of the story plays out on the first search page.

It was a widely reported story, but not universally reported, which makes for a complication in discussing "The Amina Profile." Do I discuss what the actual movie is, even if it means stripping aside some secrecy? Or do I play coy, pretend this documentary is like "The Sixth Sense" and I'd be violating its integrity by revealing too much while, thus, give it only half the intellectual consideration it probably deserves?

I'm going with the former approach, because while obfuscation is cute and fun, "The Amina Profile" is an interesting movie that probably will have a better chance at exposure if I say what it is than if I deny two-thirds of the movie and treat it as something it isn't.

In short, I don't think I'm "spoiling" "The Amina Profile" in this review, but I am going to discuss what the movie is, which I think is more respectful than pretending otherwise. But your results may vary.

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<p>Jameis Winston&nbsp;</p>

Jameis Winston 

Credit: AP

Review: 'The Hunting Ground' give campus sexual assault harrowing Kirby Dick treatment

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Jameis Winston's accuser gives an emotional account

PARK CITY. Documentarian Kirby Dick has done oddball character studies, intellectual biographies and targeted the motion picture ratings system. But if 25 or 50 years from now Dick is most remembered for scathing polemics exposing epidemics of sexual assaults in America's most powerful institutions, well that would be a pretty honorable thing upon which to hang one's hat. 

Targeting the Catholic Church ("Twist of Faith") and the military ("The Invisible War"), Kirby Dick has proven himself a master of visceral polemics that inspire outrage and culminate in aggressive calls to bear witness and take action.

But Dick's approach to institutional sexual abuse isn't just to shine light on a subject and give exposure to victims. 

When "The Invisible War" premiered at Sundance in 2012, I wrote, "'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."

The same is true of Dick's newest institutional condemnation, "The Hunting Ground," in which the filmmaker will surely reduce you to tears with all of the first-person accounts of rape and sexual violence, but it's the heroism in candor and openness that Dick wants to leave you with. Many of the young women here aren't just risking reputation and privacy to tell their stories, they're also leading fights for report on both micro and macro levels. They're turning what is probably the lowest moment of their lives into an act of bravery that could impact thousands or millions of lives.

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