Every film is a cultural artifact. As singular works of art, movies are their own self-contained contributions to popular culture, but their often essential inclusion of things like music, fashion, and slang within their own narratives puts them into a unique space – art wrapped around art, culture enveloped in culture. It’s why even bad period-set films are so fun to watch, as seeing canny cultural representations is almost always amusing, if not a bit intriguing. Blame it on nostalgia, shared memory, or even a good old-fashioned affection for otherwise forgotten pop culture snippets, but movies that work hard to accurately depict a time period or an era always have an extra it of built-in entertainment.
2014 Sundance Film Festival
There's a moment in 'Happy Christmas' when Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey and Lena Dunham have a few cocktails in a basement converted to a tiki bar, and that moment quietly strikes gold. The scene – three woman jawing about the balance of work and life – doesn't gear up to be some big emotional breakthrough. It just happens au naturale, unladen with political pamphleteering or, quite frankly, even looking for any solutions. It is a great microcosm of Joe Swanberg's newest film. Insight does occasionally spring from this movie in what looks like an effortless fashion, but the movie as a whole looks like hardly any effort went into it.
Taking a step back from big screen blockbusters for a decidedly more lo-fi affair, Anne Hathaway pulls double duty on Kate Barker-Froyland’s debut feature, ‘Song One,’ both starring in and producing the music-infused drama. Hathaway plays Franny, a PhD candidate unexpectedly called back to New York City (her hometown, and one she has been absent from for far too long) after her younger brother slips into a coma after being hit by a car on familiar Brooklyn streets. Pulled back into the fray of an actually fraying family, Franny and her mother (Mary Steenburgen, who is excellent in her role) attempt to make sense of the tragedy that has befallen them, and Franny takes a personal interest in yanking her brother back into the living world.
Craig Johnson’s ‘The Skeleton Twins’ makes its irreverent and offbeat tone obvious early on – thanks to an opening sequences that centers on a haggard Bill Hader penning a suicide note that begins with impersonal (and darkly amusing) salutation, “To Whom It May Concern.” Hader’s Milo is clearly going through something, but it’s still shocking when he dips into a full bath and blood begins to flow, just off-screen and from the direction of his wrists.
An entire country away, Milo’s estranged twin sister, Maggie (Kristen Wiig), is attempting the same act, though she is standing in her bathroom with a fistful of pills hovering beside her mouth. She’s interrupted by a call from the hospital where Milo has just been admitted – and thus the so-called Skeleton Twins (sadly, their last name is not Skeleton, but the nickname is explained) have to do the thing they fear most. They have to live.
Before he went on to direct four entries in the lovably ludicrous 'Fast and Furious' series, Justin Lin was known for his small, personal film, 'Better Luck Tomorrow' (and, uh, 'Annapolis'). The latest project on his plate looks like it could be a return to the smaller, more character-driven films of his early work: producing a feature adaptation of the acclaimed documentary 'The Battered Bastards of Baseball.'
The first 'Babadook' trailer certainly knows its audience. After all, even the most seasoned horror fan gets creeped out by childish drawings of truly unsettling monsters, and this Australian horror film seems to have that in spades. If you happen to be at the Sundance Film Festival, you have a chance to go see this. Otherwise, you'll just have to make do with the trailer for the moment.
Nobody shoots people through windows quite like Dutch photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn. After coming out of the gate with the splendid Ian Curtis biopic 'Control' and the gorgeous but muted 'The American,' his adaptation of John Le Carre's recent novel, 'A Most Wanted Man,' suffers from his intentional coldness and precision. Recollecting on the film reminds me that it is an interesting yarn, but while watching it I was unable to shake that it was so ... freaking ... slow.
No matter how much we’d like them to be, characters in films don’t always have to be likable. They don’t always have to make good decisions or smart choices. They don’t have to necessarily behave in an entirely believable or relatable manner. They don’t even have to change, no matter what traditional storytelling tells us. But if they are unlikable and unbelievable and stupid and stuck, even the best-intentioned films will fail. And without even good intentions? They’ll simply insult.
Indie auteur Gregg Araki has consistently used his films to explore drugs and dysfunction (with plenty of sex for added sizzle), so it’s natural that he would want to use his trademark point of view to address suburban malaise and a lingering mystery rooted in a bit of madness for his latest outing.
Araki’s ‘White Bird in a Blizzard’ centers on Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley), a seemingly regular teenage girl in 1988 whose world is turned upside down by the sudden disappearance of her mercurial and abusive mother, Eve (Eve Green). Set over the course of three years, ‘White Bird’ tracks the growing mystery surrounding what happened to Eve and how it changes the passionate Kat as she attempts to grow into a young woman. It may sound straightforward enough, but the film tries to twist wholly predictable plot points and trick normal narratives in a misguided attempt to bolster the damningly flat and poorly put-together feature.
There's nothing funny about schizophrenia. 'The Voices' understands this, and shows the horror of the disease. And then has you cracking up anyway. It's this diabolical blend of shock and candy-colored kitsch without mockery that makes this first English-language film from Marjane Satrapi ('Persepolis,' 'Chicken with Plums') so unique and, to be honest, something that will turn most people off.