"Sundance has upped its documentary quotient this year by starting a non-competition Documentary Premieres section for veteran directors," noted Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times just as the festival was opening. "Among the best in this category is Liz Garbus's Bobby Fischer Against the World, a drop-dead fascinating examination of how the American chess genius triumphed against the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky, then lost his mind."
"Fischer's troubled genius infuses the film, and yet Garbus's portrait also feels quite human," writes John Lopez for Vanity Fair. "Shots of Fischer on a park bench prepping for an interview, friends' tales of him hiding in New York before the games, and, of course, the anti-Semitic rants of those last years in exile: Garbus combines them all to paint a sad, touching portrait of a wounded, lonely soul whose greatest gift was also his tragic flaw. Bobby Fischer's epic story is both Greek and Shakespearean on many levels, and fully deserving of the engrossing cinematic treatment that Garbus's documentary gives him." More from Mark Adams (Screen) and Nathan Rabin (AV Club, B-). Interviews with Garbus: Mary Anderson Casavant (Filmmaker) and Dylan Loeb McClain (New York Times). On a related note, Salon's Laura Miller reviews Frank Brady's book, Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall — From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness, which "presents Fischer's story with an almost Olympian evenhandedness that ends up making it far more absorbing than any sensationalized account."
"You can't help but like this guy," begins Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter. "Chaz Bono was a male trapped in a female body since birth and endured years of anguish and gender confusion. As if that wasn't debilitating enough, Chaz was the offspring and of Sonny and Cher and paraded around their national primetime hit as their adorable blond-haired daughter… Becoming Chaz has been selected by Oprah Winfrey to kick-off a documentary component of her new network… Above all, Becoming Chaz is a story of personal hero-ism, the valiant struggle of a sensitive individual to become who he really is." The story is told "with finesse, compassion and wit by filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato." More from Jenni Miller (Cinematical).
For the Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber, "one of the most unique" docs this year was Pamela Yates's Granito. "This is because the film is not just an investigation of social injustice but a commentary on the documentary filmmaker's role in the events he or she chronicles… In 1982, Yates went to Guatemala to make a movie about the civil war roiling that country; the resulting documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, was shown at the very first Sundance Film Festival in 1984. At the time she made that film, guerrillas — including student protestors and indigenous Mayan people — were fighting the country's repressive military government, but the outcome of the conflict was uncertain. After she stopped shooting, tens of thousands of rebels disappeared, and it was believed that they were the victims of governmental genocide. More than 20 years later, after a change in the government of Guatemala, the country began to investigate the slaughter of the Mayan people, and a war crimes tribunal in Spain even set out to prepare a case to indict the former leaders of the country. Yates realized that excerpts and outtakes from her earlier film might aid the prosecution, and this case forced her to look back and question the role she played as a neutral observer."
"Granito is strongly personal and clearly supportive of the Guatemalan Mayans," writes Stewart Nusbaumer for Filmmaker (also featuring a brief interview with Yates). "Part investigation, part reflection, and part memoire, Granito slips smoothly across time and space to Guatemala in the past and in the present, to Spain for building a legal case against those responsible for the genocide back in Central America, and to New York to contemplate the case in Spain and the horror in Guatemala. There is hope and there is despair, but always Yates persists."
"Morgan Spurlock, the director of Super Size Me and Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?, returned to Sundance to premiere his third documentary," blogs the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "It's called The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, and in it, rather shamelessly, Spurlock races around the country in pursuit of corporate sponsorship. He does so under the guise of exposing both the evils of product placement in movies, television, public transportation, and everywhere else and the omnipresence and insidious omniscience of advertising. And while Spurlock rounds up the likes of Mark Crispin Miller, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader to speak doomily on the subject, for most of the film Spurlock meets higher-ups at willing companies interested in placing their products in his movie. That's pretty much it: meetings and montages."
"As a conceptual stunt, this might age well," suggests Karina Longworth in the Voice. "[I]t's certainly a time capsule of what is possibly the television commercial's final moment of dominance before television itself completes its transition into a fully on-demand experience. But it's not cinema, and to sell it as such is more offensive than any of the corporate strategies that Spurlock breathlessly reveals."
More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Christopher Campbell (Cinematical), David D'Arcy (Screen), Kirk Honeycutt (THR), Drew McWeeney (HitFix), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, B-) and Brendan Walsh (Screen Crave). Interviews with Spurlock: James Rocchi, Filmmaker and David Poland (video, 26'39"). The AV Club's Sean O'Neal reports that "Houston-based duo The Art Guys has accused Spurlock of plagiarizing its late-90s project SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man, a performance piece that found the two traversing the US convincing companies to purchase advertising space on their Todd Oldham suits a la race car drivers — in other words, a markedly similar concept to Spurlock's film (and subsequent promotional appearances), which also finds him wearing a suit adorned with corporate logos... We got in touch with Spurlock, who had this to say: 'It's preposterous. I never even heard of these guys until today, and all of their claims are baseless. Looks like we both had an idea to mimic what's been happening in stock racing for the last 40 years. And last time I checked, merely having appeared on the same television network at some point in its broadcast history is not exactly an argument for plagiarism.'"
"For his most ambitious documentary since Hoop Dreams, Steve James spent a year following a group of Chicago activists who work under the banner of Cease Fire to reach at-risk kids and to 'interrupt' violent conflicts before they escalate." The AV Club's Noel Murray: "Their advantage? Nearly all of the interrupters are ex-cons, and many are legends in the Chicago gangs… The Interrupters runs almost three hours, and probably doesn't need to. Even though a lot happens over the course of the year, James moves from one emotionally wrenching scene to another without ever finding much of a narrative — because the kinds of situations that the interrupters handle from day to day don't vary much. Then again, that's partly the point of the movie."
In the Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore suggests that "the subject is rich enough to sustain a multi-part television presentation that would allow James and [editor Aaron] Wickenden to weave even more on-the-street footage into the stories of these gutsy campaigners. Given what they show us here — like the breathtaking scene in which a teen returns to the scene of one of his crimes, offering a sincere apology and stoically accepting the heart-wrenching response — one imagines they left plenty of good material in the cutting room." More from Christopher Campbell (Cinematical) and Eric Kohn (indieWIRE). Filmmaker gets a few words with James.
"With Magic Trip, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and his longtime editor Alison Ellwood have cut together a rich piece of 60s history using archive video and audio of the iconic literary figures on the famous cross-country Magic Bus trip recounted by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." In Anne Thompson's multi-part video interview, "Gibney talks about how Ken Kesey created the original footage that he uses in Magic Trip. 'It's archival cinema verité,' Gibney says. 'I wanted more of an immersion experience… it's like the origin story of the 60s.'"
"Although any cinephile worth his salt knows that movie watching is but a fleeting experience, few comprehend that it may be one they won't be able to repeat," writes Mary Anderson Casavant, introducing an interview at Filmmaker. "The studios who produce films aren't museums — they're in the business of protecting their own assets, not our cinematic history. Without intervention, scenes, moments and entire back catalogues might be lost to the inevitabilities of decay. Sundance newcomers Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton's These Amazing Shadows tells the story of the National Film Registry, a government-appointed body that each year adds another 25 films it deems 'culturally, historically or aesthetically significant' to the Library of Congress. Through interviews with board members and notable filmmakers, they explore not only the films we love but how they shaped us."
Update, 2/9: "The impact of 9/11 on the United States has been filtering through our movies for nearly a decade now and will undoubtedly continue on into the next century," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "At this point in time though, few if any have measured with more clear-eyed optimism and compassion the journey of those most immediately connected to the event than Jim Whitaker's Rebirth." And Filmmaker gets a few words with Whitaker.
"The comedy Cedar Rapids centers on a cretinously ingenuous Midwest insurance agent, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms, of The Hangover), who is morally and sexually upended during a convention in the wild-and-crazy Iowa metropolis that gives the movie its title. Directed by Miguel Arteta from a script by Phil Johnston, the film is largely a series of juvenile jabs at midwestern piety, which is always a cover for corruption and sexual degeneracy, and it might have seemed fresh around 1978, when Animal House came out." Even so, New York's David Edelstein is "charmed," particularly by John C Reilly and "two boss femmes: expert straight-man Sigourney Weaver as Tim's former seventh-grade teacher and now patient lover (he's very clingy), and Anne Heche as the dizzy practical joker who makes nerdy guys sink to their knees and pray to be sexually harassed."
For the AV Club's Nathan Rabin, on the other hand, "Helms's overgrown boy scout bears a close enough resemblance to [Steve] Carell's middle-aged abstainer in The 40 Year Old Virgin to suffer by comparison. The film follows suit." C+. More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Kimberly Chun (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Manohla Dargis (New York Times), David Fear (Time Out New York, 3/5), J Hoberman (Voice), Anthony Kaufman (Screen), Eric Kohn (iW) Drew McWeeney (HitFix), David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter), Matt Singer (IFC), Ella Taylor (NPR), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B) Bill Weber (Slant, 2/4) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 5/10). Video interviews with Helms: Alex Billington for FirstShowing (16'11") and Elvis Mitchell for Movieline (1'56"). Stephen Saito talks with Arteta for IFC; so does Filmmaker (video, 3'15"). Cedar Rapids opens wide on Friday.
"The Convincer calls to mind a fusion of Fargo and The Usual Suspects, an interesting conceit that develops engine trouble midway through," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "Directed by Jill Sprecher (Clockwatchers), the movie features an echt Sundance cast: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup. The problem is that there's no one to like in the entire movie, starting with Kinnear's greedy, mean-spirited Midwestern insurance broker, a cad who's an equal-opportunity offender. The character comes across a valuable violin in the house of old codger Arkin and sets up a complicated scam that just as complicatedly comes undone. At times, Convincer plays like a live-action Road Runner cartoon, and it bumps along with pleasant nastiness until Crudup turns up as a psychotic locksmith, at which point the tone darkens radically and blood gets spilt. Some twisty last-minute plotting almost saves the movie, but by that point your interest and patience have been frittered away. It's a classic high-end Sundance feature from its players to its jokey, shallow nihilism."
For David D'Arcy, writing in Screen, the "surprise in The Convincer is the punchiness of the writing and the darkness of the imagination, a new direction from the Sprecher's earlier collaborations on Clockwatchers and Thirteen Conversations About One Thing." More from Ethan Anderton (FirstShowing) and Kirk Honeycutt (THR). Filmmaker interviews Sprecher.
"Jacob Aaron Estes, whose powerful debut feature Mean Creek premiered at Sundance 2004, sets up a particular challenge for himself with his ambitious follow-up The Details," writes Anthony Kaufman in Screen. "In making a movie about a selfish, lying, cheating prick (a Seattle doctor played by Tobey Maguire), director Estes risks alienating his audience for much of the film."
Maguire and Elizabeth Banks play Jeff and Nealy, "an upper-middle-class couple in Seattle whose 10-year marriage has lost its spark amidst the upbringing of their young son and the renovation of their already idyllic home," writes Stephen Saito at IFC.com. All in all, it's quite the cast here, playing characters such as "a slightly off neighbor (a wonderfully mercurial Laura Linney)" and "the couple's closest married friends (Kerry Washington and Ray Liotta). Although he finds it in his heart to help out a basketball buddy (Dennis Haysbert) first with a job and then with a kidney transplant, Jeff's preoccupation with plotting out a perfect life without thinking about any of the fallout it wreaks on others or even himself causes considerable headaches when he starts putting poison on his lawn to rid it of raccoons and the results end up far more toxic. Though there are cheeky allusions to other films about domestic frustration (Jeff's cell phone ringtone sound an awful lot like Thomas Newman's chimes for American Beauty), The Details separates itself by placing the onus on its main character's self-delusion rather than the typical suspect of suffocation by his environment, giving Maguire the room for one of his darkest and most mischievous performances since his all-too-short appearance in Steven Soderbergh's The Good German."
More from Ethan Anderton (FirstShowing), Cory Everett (Playlist) and James Greenberg (THR). Filmmaker has a brief bit from Estes.
"Tired of those run-of-the-mill biopics and staid Iraq war dramas that avoid sensationalism out of respect for their subjects?" asks Jen Yamato at Movieline. "Want a peek into the orgiastic, debauched, ultra-violent underbelly of Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Director Lee Tamahori brought all that and more to an unsuspecting audience… with The Devil's Double, the guiltiest thrill of Sundance 2011. Based very, very loosely on the life of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi lieutenant enlisted to double for Saddam's out-of-control elder son Uday, The Devil's Double stars Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia!) in a bravura dual performance as both the monster and his innocent stand-in."
"Undeniably fascinating as a visit to a world you'd never have wanted to have come near in real life," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, "the film falls crucially short by not providing a window into the mind of the man who was coerced into acting as his double. Dominic Cooper's riveting double performance and the lurid, beyond-Scarface sensationalism are the main selling points." More from keelsetter (TCM), Anthony Kaufman (Screen) and John Lopez (Vanity Fair). Screening in the Panorama program at the Berlinale.
"Rob Minkoff's first independent production following a string of successful family-oriented studio pictures, heist comedy Flypaper represents a favorable transition, although it's not without a few speed bumps along the way," writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. "Long in gestation project from The Hangover co-writers Scott Moore and Jon Lucas has moments of hilarity, but overall the script evinces neither the inspired comedic mayhem nor the intricately disciplined structure of 2009's smash hit." In Screen, David D'Arcy finds that "Minkoff (The Lion King) indulges the farce's cartoonish side, staging the comedy of errors as if it were theater, with character after improbable character rushing in from the wings to propel the action ahead." For Christopher Campbell, writing at Cinematical, it "may not be well executed, too broad for a script that obviously wants to be a very profane and twisted black comedy, but it's not without a silly charm."
"In I Melt With You, the male getaway lost weekend genre now has its epic," writes David D'Arcy in Screen. "But this one also suffers from epic-style dysfunction. Despite its cast [Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay], I Melt With You, with all its explosive tactility, doesn't offer much that you won't get from watching anything by Danny Boyle, who seems one of its stylistic roadmaps."
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy: "Intensely centered on four 44-year-old best buds from college days who get together once a year for a week's worth of extreme male bonding, Glenn Porter's script has the basic contours of countless stage dramas in which several friends or relatives, with the help of endless amounts of booze and/or other ingestible incitements, move from preliminary bonhomie and jokiness to vicious truth-telling and soul-baring. But the ante is upped here, as the quantity of spirits, white powder and multi-colored pills consumed makes the intake in plays like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Boys in the Band look like that at a school librarians' social by comparison."
For HitFix's Daniel Fienberg, who interviews director Mark Pellington and Piven, "I Melt With You is over two hours of cocaine-snorting, pill-popping, alcohol-swilling middle-age crisis montages, punctuated periodically with The Whining of the Dispossessed Upper-Middle Class White Male."
"Last year, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Kevin Macdonald (in conjunction with The Sundance Institute) invited amateur filmmakers from around the world to document the same day, whether there was something special happening to them or not," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Life in a Day compiles the thousands of hours of footage — submitted via YouTube — into 90 minutes of people sleeping, waking, eating, peeing, washing, crying, loving, dying and living… The broader the movie gets, the more banal it is. But it also features moments of real emotional power and subtle dignity."
"Initially it's easy to compare the film to Godfrey Reggio's 'Qatsi' trilogy (especially the first, Koyaanisqatsi), and I've already dubbed this YouTubisqatsi," writes Christopher Campbell at Cinematical. "Technically it's the latest documentary classifiable as crowd-source or user-generated cinema (like last year's election day documentary 11-4-08), yet this ultimately feels more like a single person's vision than a collaborative effort. The many 'filmmakers' involved are really just multiple second-unit camerapersons who've captured shots and sequences for Macdonald to fit into his own subjective view of humanity, as consistent or diverse as it may seem through the eyes and actions of different individuals."
More from David D'Arcy (Screen), Kirk Honeycutt (THR) and keelsetter (TCM). Screening in the Panorama program at the Berlinale.
"Margin Call, a first film by JC Chandor, is set over one night and within a Wall Street dealing room," writes Nick Fraser in the Guardian. "In order to avoid going under, the partners of a firm swindle their clients by unloading their worthless derivatives. Demi Moore does sterling work as a dim, treacherous, about-to-be-fired exec, and a cadaverous Jeremy Irons hilariously impersonates a haggard, cynical Brit at the top of this syndicate of thieves. In places the film sounds like a Marxist tract from the Depression, but one's interest is held by a brilliantly weary performance by a braces-wearing Kevin Spacey, urging his staff on as he prepares to sack them."
"Middle manager Eric (Stanley Tucci) discovers a potential for serious projected losses shortly before being fired," explains Karina Longworth in the Voice. "[O]n the way out the door, he passes his findings to Peter (Zachary Quinto), a 28 year-old rookie/actual rocket scientist slumming it at the firm for money… If Margin Call has a virtue, it's its cast, which, with its careful mix of TV stars (Simon Baker, Penn Badgley) indie stalwarts (Tucci, Paul Bettany) and genuine movie stars (Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey), seems designed for optimum value on a VOD menu. Most of these people would be reasonably watchable doing just about anything, but it would be nice if Margin Call gave anything of them something to do other than glower and make portentous speeches."
More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), David D'Arcy (Screen), Stephen Farber (THR) and Jeremy Kay (Guardian). For HitFix, Katie Hasty talks with the bulk of the cast. Margin Call is actually screening in Competition of this year's Berlinale.
"Based on a true story and an essay titled 'The Last Hippie' by neurologist Oliver Sacks, The Music Never Stopped is an effectively emotional look at the power of music therapy to trigger memories lost after brain surgery," writes James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter. "Using abundant songs from the 60s by Bob Dylan, the Beatles and especially the Grateful Dead to bridge the generation gap between a father and son estranged by time and a severe medical condition, the sentimental pull of the film is hard to resist." More from Daniel Fienberg (HitFix) and Sean Glass (ioncinema). Filmmaker interviews director Jim Kohlberg; Daniel Miller talks with producer Peter Newman for Reuters.
"The cast of [Jesse Peretz's] My Idiot Brother is so overstuffed with talent it almost seems unfair, like the film should be subject to some kind of comedy handicap," writes Alison Willmore at IFC.com. "Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel play a trio of sisters leading lives of various complications in New York City. Steve Coogan, Adam Scott and Rashida Jones appear as their various love interests, Shirley Knight, Kathryn Hahn and others turn up in smaller roles. And, of course, there's Paul Rudd as the title character, more commonly known as Ned, a farmer of organic produce and pot who in a mixture of stupidity and naive generosity gifts some of his contraband to a uniformed officer who claims to be in need because he's having a tough week, and who then busts him."
My Idiot Brother "is about as 'independent' as a premature infant on a respirator," concedes James Rocchi at the Playlist. "It does not introduce new faces and talents, nor does it show us talents we know doing something different. Instead, My Idiot Brother assembles a comedy dream team for a story of family and forgiveness, shows us people trying to be good, trying to be more than themselves, and has amazing comedy bits ranging from huge sight gags and ba-doomp-boomp! punchlines, to razor-sharp sentences that boomerang back after they've whizzed by and silent expressions that convey volumes. It is a clear heir to the Apatovian comedy trend of emotional journeys along roads pocked with potty-talk potholes, and yet it also has as much heart as, if not more than, the best of Apatow's work. It may be slender, but it is also a sheer delight."
More from Ethan Anderton (FirstShowing), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), David D'Arcy (Screen), John DeFore (THR), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix), Eric Kohn (iW) and Steven Zeitchik (Los Angeles Times).
"Poised somewhere between Blindness and Children of Men is David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense, a blithely apocalyptic film about the value of love and intimacy über alles with neither the literary pedigree of the former nor the technical bravura of the latter, its end-times premise hinging on the contagious outbreak of a sense-ravaging disease." Damon Smith in Reverse Shot: "Susan (The Dreamers' luscious Eva Green) is an epidemiologist stung by a recent breakup and cynical about her future prospects. When an inexplicable illness seizes Glasgow's truck drivers (uh...what?) and then the global populace (the afflicted experience profound, inconsolable grief, followed by the permanent loss of smell), she is brought into the orbit of Michael (Ewan McGregor), a chef with a love-'em-and-leave-'em reputation." New symptoms appear, followed by the mass loss, one by one, of more senses. "Perfect Sense is perfect nonsense, but will likely find an audience with those who crushed out on Crash."
"If this sounds silly, it is," David Fear assures us in Time Out New York. "Perfect Sense is also the most sensual dystopia movie you're likely to see, however, which complicates things. Mackenzie has a knack for amping things up and overwhelming you with tricks — color, volume, visual textures — that help emphasize what you miss when they disappear. I can't think of a movie that's balanced the utterly ridiculous and the profound with such panache, or that's inspired me to roll my eyes and dab them simultaneously."
More from Ryland Aldrich (Twitch), Ethan Anderton (FirstShowing), Duane Byrge (THR), Daniel Fienberg (HitFix) and Anthony Kaufman (Screen). Jenni Miller talks with Green for Cinematical.
As you'll have likely heard, but let's hear it again now from James Rocchi, "the biggest kerfuffle this year had to come from Kevin Smith's Red State, his horror film that, prior to Sundance, he stated he would a) not screen for press and b) auction off the rights to in the theater during the Q&A period after its first premiere." But Smith turned the auction "into a 25-minute-long rant on the state of indie film and modern distribution before selling his film to… himself, for $20, announcing plans to release Red State himself with a series of special premium-price Q&A screenings marketed directly to his fans before more conventionally priced screenings play in theaters." Aside from all the debate about that plan (and the other PR stunt that preceded the premiere), as for the movie itself, "the overall consensus seems to be that while it was interesting to see Smith step out of his comedy comfort zone with the horror-thriller Red State, it wasn't an especially well-executed film. While Michael Parks is great as the Fred Phelps-inspired leader of a fundamentalist group who secretly murder and maim, the tone of the film is too scattered and strained for it to work especially well."
Writing for Cinema Scope, Robert Koehler flies in the face of that overall consensus, arguing that Smith "delivered one of the festival's few truly transgressive films, the delirious and deliciously messy Larry Cohen-esque romp Red State. Smith jettisons much of his chatty comedy and attachment to witless slackers with this angry satire of the militarist wing of American Christian fundamentalism, personified in what's certain to go down as one of the year's most ferociously dedicated performances by the great Michael Parks as a loquacious church-cult leader. In fact, Smith methodically kills off the kinds of youngish characters (including one played by a leading young Hollywood face-of-the-moment, Michael Angarano) that would have taken centre stage in his past films, via the cult's methods of torturing suspected enemies (e.g., gays) by stringing them up on crucifixes on Parks's sermon platform, where they moan bloody murder as Parks lectures on divine justice in an epic 20-minute rant that must be heard to be believed. True to the Cohenesque template, Red State only gets more unhinged as it goes along, especially when John Goodman shows up at midpoint as the ATF's local field agent, who has the misfortune of having to face off with Parks's band of well-armed loons."
More from Ethan Anderton (FirstShowing), Erik Davis (Cinematical), Anthony Kaufman (Screen), Jeremy Kay (Guardian), Eric Kohn (iW), Todd McCarthy (THR), Drew McWeeney (HitFix) and Alison Willmore (IFC). Mary Pols talks with Smith for Time. Listening (95'28"). Marc Maron recently spoke at length with Smith about pretty much everything.
"Well, I suppose you can't end a Sundance film festival without seeing at least one painfully unfunny, needlessly star-studded comedy that traffics in broad stereotypes about people who live between the coasts," sighs Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Writer-director George Ratliff's flip adaptation of Larry Beinhart's mystery-thriller Salvation Boulevard is a misfire of the first order, starting with the way that Ratliff and his co-writer Doug Max Stone turn what by all accounts is a provocative and gripping novel into an over-the-top gaffer."
Anthony Kaufman for Screen: "In this silly, mildly amusing satire about evangelical Christians, Greg Kinnear plays mild-mannered church-goer and reformed Grateful Dead follower Carl Vanderveer, who finds himself in over his head when his megachurch preacher Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) accidently puts an atheist college professor in a coma. With Day about to break ground on his new planned Christian community, Vanderveer becomes the perfect fall guy for the crime… [H]is wife (Jennifer Connelly) won't believe him, his father-in-law (Ciarán Hinds) thinks he's having acid flashbacks, and his good friend, a megachurch cameraman (Jim Gaffigan), decides he must kill him off in the name of the Lord and Pastor Day."
More from Ethan Anderton (FirstShowing) and John DeFore (THR).
"It's strange to think that just a few years ago, Dito Montiel was a Sundance darling whose sharp 2006 debut A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints announced his transition from former punk rocker to refined filmmaker," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "Less bad than boring, Son of No One is possibly the most forgettable movie to feature A-listers in years." And those A-listers would be Channing Tatum, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Ray Liotta and Tracy Morgan. More from John DeFore (THR).
"After The Station Agent and The Visitor, actor-director Tom McCarthy returns to Sundance with Win Win, starring Paul Giamatti as a lawyer and high school wrestling coach who stumbles across both possible ruin and possible redemption in one selfish act." James Rocchi for the Playlist: "The Station Agent was justly acclaimed; The Visitor divided critics and audiences, with some finding it impressive and others finding it patronizing. To repeat an old maxim, I do not object to having my heart warmed; I object to having it microwaved, brought to a semi-warm temperature in the quickest, clumsiest way possible. McCarthy, as a director and storyteller, is interested in a fairly universal question — How is it that we might be happy and good at the same time? — and he has never balanced the heartfelt and the hilarious as well as he has here."
"McCarthy doesn't do anything exceptional with this story," finds Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Everything is terrible for our hero, then it starts to get better, then complications arise — all standard-issue, even with the subtle metaphor of a up-and-down wrestling match guiding the narrative. Plus, outside of Giamatti and [Amy] Ryan, all the characters in Win Win are one-note friends, villains, et cetera… And yet Win Win is hard to dislike, in part because McCarthy knows how to make his stories go down easy, and in even larger part because Giamatti and Ryan are so terrific as two decent, loving partners in over their heads."
More from Christopher Campbell (Spout), Erik Davis (Cinematical), Mali Elfman (Screen Crave), Gregory Ellwood (HitFix), Anthony Kaufman (Screen) and David Rooney (THR). For the Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik talks with McCarthy and producer Michael London. And for Filmmaker, Jamie Stuart shoots an interview with McCarthy and Giamatti (1'30").
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