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Tag: Sundance Film Festival (11-20 of 427)

Sundance 2014: In Iran, a schoolgirl shoots for the stars in 'Sepideh'

Danish director Berit Madsen didn’t set out to tell a story about feminism in Iran. She just met a pretty amazing 14-year-old girl who wanted to learn about the stars, and hoped to do justice to her story.

“I’d heard about this place which had an astronomy club going on and this teacher who wanted to build an observatory, and that boys and girls would go out alone to watch the stars,” Madsen, director of the Sundance documentary Sepideh, tells EW. “Even knowing Iran it was  bizarre to me, because you’re not supposed to expect stuff like that to happen.”

Madsen’s film follows the life of the titular teenager, who grows from a young girl obsessed with Albert Einstein into a woman engaged to be married and heading to university to study astronomy.

Sepideh is screening this week at the Sundance Film Festival, and is also being released exclusively on iTunes in the U.S. and Canada, coinciding with its Sundance premiere.

We talked to Madsen about how she connected with Sepideh and how making this film over the past five years has lead her to work on new projects about the Middle East:
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Sundance 2014: Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler give rom coms an 'Airplane!' twist in 'They Came Together'

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If Airplane! and You’ve Got Mail went on a blind date, got liquored up, and had a baby…that baby would look like David Wain’s rom-com spoof They Came Together. Making its world premiere on Friday night at Sundance and adding some star power to the tail end of the festival, the silly send-up of formulaic Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks meet-cute movies and their ilk reunites the gang from Wet Hot American Summer — with some new faces sprinkled in.

Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer had its debut at Sundance 13 years ago. And it’s good to see that Wain hasn’t grown up much since then. They Came Together feels like a movie made by a guy who still thinks like a 13 year old and that rapid-fire Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker sight gags and “Don’t call me Shirley”-style puns are the height of comedy gold. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that some of his old pals have become really famous since his cult summer-camp flick came out in 2001.

The film kicks off in typical genre style with Paul Rudd’s Joel and Amy Poehler’s Molly on a double date with Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper, recounting how they met. Rudd explains how if it were a corny movie he’d be the not overtly Jewish, handsome leading man. Molly adds that she’d be the adorable klutz leading woman. From there, it’s an 82-minute rat-a-tat riff-fest on every cliche you’ve ever seen Nora Ephron and company commit to celluloid.

Molly owns a small-business candy shop with a quirky, punny name (Upper Sweet Side); Joel works for a ruthless candy conglomerate that wants to put her out of business. Molly’s a single mom; Joel’s just been jilted by his icy girlfriend. But when they meet, it’s love-hate at first sight. How could it not be? They’re both dressed like Benjamin Franklin for a Halloween party…and they both like “fiction books”!

Some of Wain and cowriter Michael Showalter’s gags are real groaners. But most mildly land near the target, and a few hit the bullseye. It doesn’t hurt when you have folks like Rudd and Poehler selling them. Plus, when you’re throwing this much spaghetti at the wall, some of it’s gotta stick, right?

With a cast that includes Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Chris Meloni, Max Greenfield, and Michael Ian Black, They Came Together is never quite as laugh-out-loud funny as you want it to be. But if you’re a fan of Wain’s knowing brand of sophomoric slapstick silliness, his “When Joel Met Molly” satire will send you into “I’ll have what she’s having” fits of ecstasy.

Sundance 2014: 'Ping Pong Summer' parties like it's 1985

The mid-’80s are an easy source of comedy. Boomboxes the size of Samsonites. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Pac Man Fever. White teens trying to moonwalk. All of these sonic and visual punchlines get a workout in writer-director Michael Tully’s Ping Pong Summer — a fun-but-slight coming-of-age story about an awkward Maryland teenager who becomes, well, not a man exactly, but a slightly more comfortable teenager, on a family vacation during the magical summer of 1985.

If that description sounds familiar, that’s probably because Ping Pong Summer has the misfortune of coming after two similar — and better — indies: 2009’s Adventureland and last year’s The Way Way Back. But Tully’s film gets by on its quirky charm and time-capsule nostalgia. It’s like an indie film riff on VH1’s I Love the ’80s. And after watching it, you may find yourself with an inexplicable urge to rummage through an old Adidas shoebox full of cracked cassettes looking for your copy of “The Fat Boys Are Back” or attempting to beatbox in the shower.

The film chronicles several pivotal pubescent weeks in the life of Radford Miracle (played by newcomer — and young Roger Federer lookalike — Marcello Conte). Radford’s friends call him “Rad”, but since he doesn’t really have any friends to speak of, it’s sort of a moot point. With his glum, goth older sister and his parents (John Hannah and Leah Thompson, another of the film’s nods to the Reagan era), he packs up his beloved red parachute pants and prized ping pong paddle for a summer in a shabby rental in Ocean City. There, he makes quick friends with an eager, Jheri-curled wannabe rapper named Teddy, crushes on a Cabriolet-driving Pop Rocks-addict dream girl, and runs afoul of the local preppy bully, who he will eventually put in his place over an epic game of table tennis at the local video arcade thanks to the tutelage of a wise, mysterious neighbor (Susan Sarandon, reprising her zen sensei schtick from Bull Durham).

If you didn’t live through the ’80s, my guess is that Ping Pong Summer will feel like a ridiculous trip to an alien planet — an alien planet where there’s “no parking on the dance floor”. But if you did (guilty as charged), then the film is guaranteed to make you smile and possibly overlook its corny thinness. It doesn’t hurt that the message of Ping Pong Summer — the importance of appreciating the most awesome moment of your life as its happening — is as timeless as Mr. Mister’s pop anthem “Broken Wings”.

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As a footnote, I’d like to echo my colleague Owen Gleiberman’s take on two of the best films at Sundance this year: Steve James’ documentary Life Itself, about the life and legacy of film critic Roger Ebert, and Damien Chazelle’s electrifying jazzworld drama Whiplash.

Life Itself is an inspiring, heartbreaking portrait of a complex man who has always, unfairly,  been best known for his thumb. James takes the cartoonish curmudgeon in the owlish glasses and humanizes him for better and worse. Mostly better. The film is a testament to passion that drives us, the resilience that sustains us, and the love that makes life something worth fighting to hold onto.

Whiplash is, hands down, the best film I’ve seen so far at this year’s festival. Miles Teller gives one of the most impressive and fully-realized performances I’ve seen in my decade and a half covering Sundance as a gifted jazz drummer who’s put through the wringer by his drill-sergeant conservatory teacher (a feral and ferocious J.K. Simmons). Walking out of last night’s screening, I felt as if my nerve endings were on fire and that I had witnessed something truly original and special. Not only is Whiplash a great Sundance film, it’s a great film period. If it had come out last year, it would have easily been one of my 10 Best.

Sundance 2014: South Central L.A. is the Wild West in 'Imperial Dreams' -- EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS

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It’s hard to believe that John Singleton’s generation-defining film Boyz n the Hood came out 23 years ago, in 1991, introducing audiences to a part of Los Angeles that’s a world away from Hollywood. It’s even harder to believe that South Central is still just as hard a place to live and thrive now as it was then. Malik Vitthal’s first feature, Imperial Dreams, which grew out of a Sundance Lab project and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, aims to tell a modern story of hope amidst the gang-ridden streets of Watts, and it largely succeeds. It’s received standing ovations at screenings and the praise keeps mounting for its star, 21-year-old British actor John Boyega (Attack the Block).

“There’s always going to be poverty,” the film’s producer Jonathan Schwartz, who has also been behind Sundance hits in previous years including Like Crazy and Smashed, tells EW. “We wanted to make a film that’s socially important, but not preachy and not cliché.”

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Sundance 2014: What happened at Penn State was not anomalous at all, says 'Happy Valley' director

The passion for college football in certain parts of our country almost resembles a cult in its intensity. And perhaps no team had a more devoted following than Joe Paterno’s Penn State program, which proudly won “the right way” on and off the field ever since he became head coach in 1966. His reputation was nonpareil in the sports world — until former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted in Nov. 2011 for molesting young boys on the Penn State campus. Paterno, then 85 years old, was fired, along with three other top University administrators, rocking the Penn State community, a.k.a. Happy Valley, to its core.

Into that storm came filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story). Happy Valley, which premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival, captures the pain, the outrage, and the conflicting passions of people caught in the maelstrom. With interviews with State College locals, Penn State students, the Paterno family, and Sandusky’s adopted son, Matt, the film paints a complicated portrait of a community still recovering. There are powerful scenes in which an artist paints over Sandusky in a Penn State mural, adds a halo to Paterno’s portrait… and then takes it off as more sad news breaks. There is another sequence where a man protests by standing near the stadium’s Paterno statue with a sign calling the coach an enabler, and the angry reaction it elicits from loyal fans who drove miles to pay homage to their hero is all you need to know about the town’s torn soul.

“What I tried to do is give the audience the puzzle I’ve been working with for 18 months, and turn it around in your head and maybe conclude the same things I did — and maybe different things,” Bar-Lev said after an early screening. In fact, the early reactions to the film were all across the board. Some viewers concluded that Paterno and his superiors were complicit and that our universal obsession with athletics blinded well-intentioned people. But one member of the audience, who identified himself as a relative of Penn State benefactors Louis and Mildred Lasch, walked away with a different impression. “I was very nervous coming into this documentary, but I want to applaud you because I think you did find the truth in what’s a very, very difficult thing,” he said.

The truth. I’m not even sure Bar-Lev would agree that he’s found it. But Happy Valley is a powerful portrait of a wounded community that might not be so different from your own.

The director chatted with EW about his film: READ FULL STORY

RADiUS-TWC acquires worldwide rights to 'The One I Love'

Director Charlie McDowell is starting his feature film career on a good note: RADiUS-TWC nabbed the rights to his debut The One I Love, which premiered at Sundance Tuesday night.

The film focuses on Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), a married couple who go on a retreat to try to sort out some problems. This isn’t an ordinary romantic comedy though: Things get weird. No one knows how weird though, because the film’s cast and crew are keeping the bizarre twist a secret.

Written by Justin Lader, The One I Love is slated for a fourth quarter 2014 release. 

Sundance 2014: Lars von Trier's top-secret screening of 'Nymphomaniac'...and the Aussie chiller 'The Babadook'

I arrived at Sundance early last night, a step ahead of an East Coast blizzard, to take the critic’s baton from my colleague Owen Gleiberman for the second half of the festival. The first words I heard when I arrived in Park City, Utah, were that there would be a top-secret screening Tuesday night of an eagerly anticipated film from a prominent director months before its scheduled release. The guessing games whipped into a full-on tizzy immediately, with the early odds-on favorite that it would be either Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel or Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. But when a sign outside the theater warned that “No one under 18 would be admitted”, it was clear it would be neither. This was going to be something naughty.

We were about to be treated to Lars von Trier’s arthouse sex-addict provocation, Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1.

About halfway through, I would have given anything for it to have been either of the other two.
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Sony Pictures Classics nabs worldwide rights to 'Land Ho!'

Road trip comedy Land Ho! will be coming to a theater near you sometime this year. Sony Pictures Classics acquired worldwide rights to the movie this morning after its Sunday premiere at Sundance. In the film, two retirees (played by Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson) jet off to Iceland to experience a crazy trip as an attempt to feel young again. Directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, Land Ho! is the first movie to be financed by Gamechanger, a new fund specifically made to finance films directed and co-directed by women.

Sundance 2014: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon cut each other up once more in 'The Trip to Italy'

Fifty years ago (on Feb. 7, 1964, to be precise), the Beatles came to America with a sound so blissful and spangly and new that it would have seemed — still seems — counterintuitive to think how much that sound was influenced by America. The four magical mop tops seemed to relish our rock & roll even more than we did (though, of course, they gave it their own incandescent spin). Mind you, I’m not comparing Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, the two brilliantly funny quipster cynics who portray themselves going on a culinary road adventure in The Trip to Italy, to the Beatles (though the barbed cheekiness of these two goes right back to the spirit of the banter in A Hard Day’s Night). But if I can at least make an analogy between comedy and music, Coogan and Brydon, who spend a lot of the film doing their slashing impersonations of Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, Christian Bale, and others, appear to be driven by a heightened fixation on the personalities of Hollywood stars that seems at once peculiar to Britain and, just possibly, even more obsessive than our own. READ FULL STORY

Sundance 2014: Todd Field looks back on the 'Battered Bastards of Baseball' -- EXCLUSIVE

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The Portland Mavericks baseball team were more than just mavericks. They were outlaws. In 1973, Hollywood actor Bing Russell roared into Oregon and established the Mavericks as an independent minor league team, meaning he had to recruit players that the Major Leagues franchises had rejected, a scrap heap that included a fair share of burn-outs, head-cases, and outright degenerates. “Guys were gambling in the back of the bus, there was drugs, there were women everywhere,” says Oscar-nominated director Todd Field (Little Children). “These guys were pirates.”

Field didn’t write or direct the Battered Bastards of Baseball, the documentary about the Mavericks that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 20. But he does play an important role in the doc directed by Russell’s grandsons, Chapman and Maclain Way. Long before he broke into Hollywood, Field was the Mavericks’ wide-eyed 13-year-old bat-boy, watching his heroes act like the Lost Boys of Summer for as long as they possibly could. There was nobody who wasn’t half-baked or out of their mind on that team — in really good ways and in ways that were kind of scary,” he says. “They all played together and they all laughed together and they all fought together and they all got drunk together. And in that way, yes, it was a very Robert Louis Stevenson [Treasure Island] kind of situation for me.” READ FULL STORY

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