Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi Talk WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, Deciding on Which Jokes to Use, Their Writing Process, and More at Sundance

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One of the many great movies to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was writer-director Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows.  The mockumentary is about a group of a group of vampires who live together in Wellington, New Zealand.  Unlike some vampire movies that focus on young love, What We Do in the Shadows has the roommates struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts.  Trust me, it’s extremely funny and I’m confident someone will purchase domestic rights so hopefully you’ll be able to see it sometime this year.  The film stars Clement, Waititi, Jonathon Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford and Rhys Darby.

The day after the premiere, I landed an exclusive video interview with Clement and Waititi.  They talked about how they wanted to premiere the film at the Transylvania Film Festival but they couldn’t finish it in time, how they got financing, being at Sundance, deciding on which jokes to use (since they did a lot of improvisation), filming on location and dealing with fans, why they used the RED camera, if they’re considering an extended cut on Blu-ray, deleted scenes, their writing process, the way they worked on set, future projects, and more.  Hit the jump to watch.

Simon Barrett Talks THE GUEST, the Pressure of Following Up YOU’RE NEXT, the Non-Stop Action Movie They Almost Made First, and More at Sundance 2014

by     Posted 281 days ago

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One of my favorite films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was The Guest.  Directed and written by the team behind You’re Next (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, respectively), The Guest is fantastic and as Matt said in his review, it “feels like a lost John Carpenter film from the director’s golden age.  The picture effortlessly moves between a nerve-wracking mystery to a gleefully dark comedy, and at its best it even mixes the two together.”   The story revolves around a soldier that befriends the family of a fallen comrade and becomes a threat to everyone around him when he may not be who he says he is.  Trust me, it’s a film you should be excited to see and I’m sure it’ll be released sometime this year.  The Guest stars Dan Stevens (in an amazingly dark turn), Maika MonroeLeland OrserLance ReddickChase Williamson, and Brendan Meyer.

Shortly after the premiere, I landed an exclusive video interview with screenwriter Simon Barrett.   He talked about the pressure and challenge of following up You’re Next, how much the project changed from inception to the final cut, the other movie they almost made instead of The Guest (a Korea-set action movie that would have been a non-stop chase scene for the entirety of the film), Stevens’ physical transformation, why they didn’t make cameos, and more.  He also revealed that he and Wingard already have their next two projects lined up, with the first set to shoot this year. Hit the jump to watch.

Sundance 2014: THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL Review

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Sports are entertainment featuring athletic achievement, but too often they’re treated as a precious gemstone requiring constant polishing from sanctimonious sportswriters, an unremarkable commodity for owners, or both.  The notion that the sport should be fun isn’t unimportant, but it does fall through the cracks. Chapman and Maclain Way’s documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a potent reminder that sports can be fun and freewheeling while remaining respectable and financially successful.  The film provides not only a series of enjoyable anecdotes, but also a celebration of playing for the love of the game.

Anne Hathaway and Mary Steenburgen Talk SONG ONE, Bringing the Cast Together, Changes from Page to Screen, and More at Sundance 2014

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One of the many films to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Song One, the directorial debut of Kate Barker-Froyland.  The film stars Anne Hathaway as a young woman who returns home after her brother is injured (Ben Rosenfield) and romantically connects with his favorite musician (Johnny Flynn).  Set against the backdrop of the Brooklyn music scene, Song One also stars Mary Steenburgen as Hathaway’s mom, which is perfect casting.   The film also features original music by Jenny Lewis & Johnathan Rice.

The day after the premiere, I landed an exclusive video interview with Hathaway and Steenburgen.  They talked about why they wanted to be involved in the project, how the cast came together, what changed from the page to the screen, Sundance, and more.  In addition, Song One is the first film Hathaway has produced, so she also talked about her producing duties.  Hit the jump to watch.

Writer/Director Jeff Baena Talks LIFE AFTER BETH, Using the Zombie Genre to Tell a Relationship Story, the Music, and More at Sundance

by     Posted 282 days ago

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It’s hard to do something new with the zombie genre.  Zombies have become a staple of our modern culture, and we’ve now seen everything from a “zom-rom-com” like Shaun of the Dead to a weekly television series about battling the undead.  First time director Jeff Baena tackles the zombie movie with a different kind of twist in Life After Beth, and the result is a comedy that mixes in dramatic elements alongside the impending zombie apocalypse.  Baena also wrote the script for Beth, which revolves around a guy (Dane DeHaan) who must reexamine his relationship with his girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) when she unexpectedly comes back from the dead.  The filmmaker put together a stellar ensemble cast that includes comedy pros like John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, and Paul Reiser, and welcome appearances by Cheryl Hines, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Anna Kendrick.

Shortly after the film’s world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, I was able to sit down with Baena to discuss Life After Beth.  The writer/director talked about first-time director challenges, trying to do something new with the zombie genre, creating new rules for the undead, putting together his cast, his specific visual approach, nabbing the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club to do the score, and much more.  Hit the jump to read the full interview, and click here to read my interview with Plaza and DeHaan.

Sundance 2014: KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER Review

by     Posted 282 days ago

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If the words “true story” precedes a movie, it’s always misleading.  To tell an audience that something is based on a true story is to provide it with greater authenticity; it’s a short cut to making the fictional feel more factual.  Of course, not even documentaries are “true stories” since it’s always from a point of view, and just becomes something’s real, that doesn’t make it honest.  David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter thoughtfully examines why we need stories to be “true” even though we also crave the fantastical.  Unfortunately, the protagonist’s detached nature and baffling choices leave the picture colder than a Minnesota winter.

Sundance 2014 Acquisitions: THE SKELETON TWINS, GOD’S POCKET, and COLD IN JULY

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A few more films from the Sundance Film Festival have been acquired for distribution.

  • Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions will release the darkly comedic drama The Skeleton Twins, starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig.  It was one of my favorite films from the festival, and you can read my review here.
  • IFC Films has picked up the feature directorial debut of Mad Men star John Slattery, God’s Pocket.  The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks, and you can read Matt’s review here.
  • Per Deadline, IFC Films has also picked up the genre-hopping crime film Cold in July, starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson.  Read Matt’s review here.

Hit the jump to read the press releases for Skeleton Twins and God’s Pocket, and click here to catch up on all of our Sundance 2014 coverage.

Sundance 2014: THE VOICES Review

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The Voices is an insane movie about insanity.  That’s not me being hyperbolic; this movie is joyously, unabashedly out of its mind.  Director Marjane Satrapi, who previously helmed the coming-of-age animated pic Persepolis, takes audiences inside the mind of a psychopath in The Voices to wonderful results.  Ryan Reynolds fearlessly plays Jerry, a psychopath who converses with his dog, cat, and other disembodied parts in his droll apartment.  Through Satrapi’s twisted vision, we’re given a skewed and darkly comic view of the world through Jerry’s eyes.  It’s a wholly unique film that, while becoming a bit more conventional in its third act, is still gleefully violent, wickedly funny, and oddly charming.  Read my full review after the jump.

Sundance 2014: THE RAID 2 Review

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When Gareth EvansThe Raid premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, audiences were floored.  It was as if someone had smacked us in the face about 800 times, and showed us that the action being churned out by Hollywood wasn’t half as effective as it could be.  No amount of CGI could ever pack the punch of a perfectly choreographed, perfectly shot, and perfectly edited fight scene.  The original’s barebones plot allowed the movie to mainline the action and get the adrenaline pumping.  It also created high expectations for The Raid 2.  Whereas the first movie was mean and lean, the sequel is epic and explosive with a twisting crime drama serving as the backdrop for some of the best action scenes you’ll ever see.  The violence is brutal; the set pieces are brilliant; and the movie hits so hard that your grandchildren will have bruises.

Sundance 2014: THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ Review

by     Posted 283 days ago

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We live in a digital age, but in the grand scheme of things, the Internet is in its infancy.  It’s still relatively new territory where a massive trove of information is at our fingertips, and the world is trying its hardest to catch up.  Aaron Swartz understood that the Internet might not just be a way for us to watch cat videos while waiting for a movie to start; its wealth of knowledge has the power to literally change the world.  In director Brian Knappenberger’s illuminating, infuriating, and ultimately heartbreaking documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, we’re given a look at the life of a young prodigy who put his immense talent to use trying to enact real social and political change.

The film also explores how, in the ever-changing digital age, the government’s desire to “make an example” of Swartz had dire consequences that almost certainly deprived us of further good from this brilliant mind.  Read my full review after the jump.

Sundance 2014: CALVARY Review

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The Catholic Church can give absolution to sinners who feel true repentance.  The Church is a vessel for God’s forgiveness.  But their cover-up of sex abuse was, by the morals of any civilized human being, unforgivable.  John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary is a dark, complex, and demanding meditation on faith, the limits of forgiveness, the necessity of compassion, the possibility of absolution, and inevitable reckonings.  Anchored by yet another incredible performance from Brendan Gleeson, Calvary is the rare film that shows the intricacies of religion without becoming pedantic in the process.

Sundance 2014: LAGGIES Review

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There is certain kind of movie that I would describe as a “Sundance Comedy”.  They’re technically indie films even though they feature movie stars, and they’re almost always fairly tame.  They’re cute at best and forgettable at worst, and Lynn Shelton’s Laggies has the distinction of being both.  What begins as a moderately interesting coming-of-age tale eventually devolves into something so light and airy that it’s on the verge of floating away, especially when the characters’ implausible actions do nothing to keep the story grounded.

Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan Talk LIFE AFTER BETH, Putting a New Spin on the Zombie Genre, the Crazy Cast, and More at Sundance 2014

by     Posted 283 days ago

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Writer/director Jeff Baena’s feature directorial debut Life After Beth puts a different spin on the zombie genre by revolving around a guy (Dane DeHaan) who must reexamine his relationship with his girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) when she unexpectedly comes back from the dead.  The film just had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s a sharply funny spin on the traditional “zombie movie” that blends the genre with a dramatic look at relationships in general; it also features Plaza’s most impressive performance to date.  The supporting cast is made up of a bevy of fantastic comedic actors including John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick, and a host of delightful cameos.

Recently at Sundance, I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the film with its two leads, DeHaan and Plaza. During the course of our conversation, the two discussed the appeal of this non-traditional zombie conceit, working with the insanely talented cast, keeping the different stages of zombie deterioration straight while making the film, and more.  Additionally, Plaza talks about the “love fest” that is the Parks and Recreation cast and DeHaan considers the craziness to come with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Read the full interview after the jump.

Sundance 2014: THE BABADOOK Review

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One of the great things about film festivals is that you can go in cold to almost anything.  There’s been little to no advertising, and you make choices based partially on what’s available at a certain time and partially on word-of-mouth.  Yesterday, I needed to fill in a gap in my schedule, and I remembered two of my friends had seen and liked The Babadook.  I didn’t actually ask them what they liked about it or anything at all about the plot.  My assumption: That’s a funny title, so I bet it will be a funny movie!  And I was oh so very wrong.  Writer-director Jennifer Kent has created a thoroughly creepy, nerve-wracking horror film with old-fashioned scare tactics.  However, Kent does her job so well that eventually The Babadook burns itself out as it keeps trying to claw away at our nerves.

Sundance 2014: BOYHOOD Review

by     Posted 284 days ago

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Boyhood is a miracle.  It is truly unique.  It is a masterpiece.  It is one of the best coming-of-age movies ever made.  These superlatives may seem grandiose or even hyperbolic, but Richard Linklater’s 12-year project is a work of art unlike any other.  More importantly, it’s a work that hits a thoughtful and emotional core.  It is a movie that not only draws us into the lives of the characters, but also causes us to reexamine our own lives.  Boyhood is both intimate and epic, subtle and overwhelming, and an absolute marvel.

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