The Modern Allegory 2013-11-07T20:08:53Z Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: Gangster Squad (2013)]]> 2013-11-07T19:48:37Z 2013-02-05T00:13:31Z Gangster Squad is a fairly enjoyable, oftentimes brashly violent, genre piece with a star-studded, albeit largely wasted, ensemble cast. Unfortunately, it is a prime example of style over substance & glossing over compelling history to make an accessible, fast-paced but pretty predictable, campy run-of-the-mill action flick.

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Director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad was originally scheduled for release in October 2012, but it was delayed until January 2013 due to the July 20, 2012 theater shootingin Aurora, Colorado.  The studio pulled its trailers and decided to re-shoot (no pun intended) a climactic shootout scene in which the antagonists shoot at a theater crowd.  Nonetheless, the re-shoots did

not improve what turned out to be a disappointing film anyway.  To be fair, it is not the absolutely awful movie many critics and viewers have made it out to be. Gangster Squad is a fairly enjoyable, oftentimes brashly violent, genre piece with a star-studded, albeit largely wasted, ensemble cast.  Unfortunately, it is a prime example of Hollywood prioritizing style over substance and glossing over compelling history to make an accessible, fast-paced but pretty predictable, campy run-of-the-mill action flick.


Although the story is “inspired by true events,” the movie’s historicity is far from accurate apart from the fact that Mickey Cohen was a leading gangster in post-WWII era Lost Angeles.  This particular story centers around the incorruptible sergeant John O’Mara and his secretive “gangster squad,” or a small crew of fellow good cops.  Their purpose: eradicate Cohen’s crime syndicate and drive him out of town, with any and all means possible.

Indeed, the comparisons to The Untouchables (1987) and to a somewhat lesser extent L.A. Confidential (1997) are very fitting, but beyond its plot and tone Gangster Squad fails to deliver an equally compelling crime saga.  Rather, it feels like a cheap, cliché-ridden rip-off of these and other films.  The emotional beats are there but most of them never resonate; they are usually just glossed over in order to get to the next shock and awe violent plot moment.  Nevertheless, for genre fans, this should be an enjoyable experience as it delivers the action goodies such viewers look for; just do not expect anything terribly unique or awe-inspiring even in terms of a genre piece.


Director Fleischer has yet to live up to the promise shown in his feature-film directorial debut Zombieland (2009).  His sophomore effort 30 Minutes or Less (2011) was amusing but largely a let-down.  While Gangster Squad is a bit more accessible and entertaining than his last movie, it is still a step below his first feature.  It simply lacks a heart.

Instead, it concentrates more on its style and cinematography, which is actually kind of distracting and counter-productive to the tone it sets and weakens

its homage to its forefathers.  Although director of photography Dion Beebe has painted a vivid and lavish portrait of late 1940s L.A., it comes off as a bit cartoonish (too glossy) and self-aware, which may take some viewers out of the picture a bit (pun intended).   Juxtaposed to the almost animated look of the film and wild violence at times is the uber-serious original musical score by Steve Jablonsky; this is suitably epic but overblown for this feature.  In short, the overall product is extravagant and overstated, which undermines the story’s compelling nature – then again, this is certainly a studio product that hopefully for their sake was not meant to be a serious film but rather an entertaining action movie. 


Nonetheless, with the stellar cast assembled, audiences could not help but want more out of it.  Josh Brolin turns in a dedicated but serviceable heroic performance as O’Mara.  Sean Penn, with loads of somewhat distracting prosthetics and makeup, chews the scenery/hams it up as Cohen; he leaves a solid impression as an over-the-top evil gangster.  Ryan Gosling raises his voice an octave for a noir feel but his character, sergeant Jerry Wooters, is thinly written, though Gosling does his best to humanize him (but he is a pretty stock character).  His chemistry with the beautiful and talented Emma Stone is still evident (after first appearing together in the hilarious and touching rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love.), but she is almost completely wasted beyond her looks in this picture; her character is little more than a damsel in distress as the gangster’s heart-of-gold love interest.  Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, and Robert Patrick are all game in various “fun” roles as members of O’Mara’s gangster squad, but they have little time to leave a lasting impression.  Nick Nolte makes a short appearance beyond a simple cameo as Chief of Police Parker, who commissions O’Mara and his clandestine crew.

Overall, Gangster Squad is entertaining, but it is nowhere near the classic it perhaps sets out to be and certainly could have been with the caliber of the cast and crew.  While its delayed release into January definitely hurt its box office results, this probably would not have fared all that much better in the heat of the summer; a late summer release seems more fitting for this genre piece.  Parts are “cool” and much of it can be deemed “exciting,” replete with slick imagery and slow-mo shootouts, but it is a temporary high for what turned out to be an unremarkable, largely forgettable flick.  If interested, see it as a matinee at most; otherwise a VOD/rental release is more suitable.


Gangster Squad – 6/10






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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: Amour (2012)]]> 2013-11-07T19:49:48Z 2013-02-04T05:59:26Z Amour is a methodically-paced, astutely harrowing film with incredible performances that is relentlessly heartbreaking in its simplicity; it is no escapist fare, to be sure.

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If one could describe writer-director Michael Haneke’s style in one word, then it would be “deliberate.”  His latest work Amour (2012), which won the coveted Palm D’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, certainly fits within the mold and yet breaks through in terms of emotion.  His previous films tend to be emotionally detached, but this film is anything but, given its topic.  Yet, he does not pull any punches or add any unnecessary flair or sentimentality; instead, he lets tragic story tell itself.  Amour is a methodically-paced, astutely harrowing film with incredible performances that is relentlessly heartbreaking in its simplicity; it is no escapist fare, to be sure.


The film chronicles the slow deterioration of Anne and her loving husband Georges’ painful attempts to care for her.  Her death is inevitable, as the opening scene shows the police discovering her dead body.  The film then flashes back in time to just before Anne has a mild stroke, which she unwillingly undergoes a surgical procedure to prevent future, more debilitating strokes.  However, her surgery is a failure, resulting in the paralysis of the right side of her body.  Georges decides to try and care for her instead of placing her in a nursing home, but he finds it increasingly difficult both physically and emotionally to carry out his promise; it is a true test of love and endurance.

The highlight and centerpiece of the film are its exceptional lead performances, which are hauntingly natural.  Emmanuelle Riva totally deserves her Oscar nomination as Anne (by the way, she is the oldest Oscar nominee, as she will turn 86 on Oscar night; as opposed to fellow nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest nominee at 9).  It is not only an emotionally draining role but also a physically demanding one, given the character’s debilitating medical ailments.  Likewise, Jean-Louis Trintignant is equally astonishing as Georges.  He more than sufficiently conveys the myriad of emotions anyone would feel and experience in such a devastating situation.  They both simultaneously make the film hard to watch and impossible to look away from.  Isabelle Huppert is the only other cast member who makes more than one appearance, as she plays Anne and Georges’ grieving daughter Eva who comes to visit every so often; she also makes a solid impression.


Technically-speaking, the film is quite minimalistic, to say the least (no pun intended).  Like with almost all of Haneke’s productions, the film contains virtually all static shots with countless long-takes, oftentimes without an actor in frame.  It definitely sets the tone and drains the audience, but intentionally so – we are drawn into the Parisian apartment (where almost all of the film takes place) and are meant to feel closed up in it and the distressing situation along with Georges.  While a few digetic musical pieces play here and there, no cinematic flair is added, nor is it really needed, lest it become a manipulative, sentimental movie a la The Notebook.  Rather, Amour is a focused reflective and naturalistic piece that relies on its amazing actors and down-to-earth, albeit depressing, story to wow the audience.

The major issue, though a deliberate and purposeful/effective choice, is regarding the pacing.  It is a drawn-out film with portions that drag (i.e. paintings sequence).  Again, though, this effectively conveys the tone and relates Georges’ prolonged struggle with the audience.  Still, it will test even the most ardent film fans patience at times, and there is a intense/graphic scene late in the film (as well as a quietly upsetting nightmare scene); so beware.


Amour is not an easy film by any standards.  It is a beautifully heartbreaking portrait of true love, as the title is simply apt, particularly in the midst of one’s final days.  It is a tragic piece that will absorb patient viewers and take them down a depressing path and never let go.  Any viewer can relate to the story as the film is a completely naturalistic piece, yet it rises above the ordinary or unassuming nature and becomes indelible or impossible to forget.  Amour may be simple but it is extremely compelling and even profound in its simplicity; indeed, it is a masterful work that deserves to be seen even if it will break your heart.


Amour – 9/10



OPCC_01_AMOUR_8.14_Layout 1



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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)]]> 2013-03-13T08:13:45Z 2013-01-16T03:34:18Z Despite the questions of accuracy (as with any movie based on history) and its controversy, Zero Dark Thirty is a first-class thriller, a captivating and concentrated character study, and a fascinating account of history – its selection as one of 2012’s best pictures is certainly deserved.

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a monumental film, if not for its brilliant craftsmanship at least for its historic subject matter.  Fortunately, it is a riveting blend of history and drama.  The last time director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal teamed up for a film regarding the War on Terror, they made the white-knuckle thriller The Hurt Locker (2010), which went on to win six Oscars that included Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.  This was poised to make a similar push at this year’s Oscars before many viewers sparked a controversy surrounding torture, though the film actually portrays it in a balanced manner.  Despite the questions of accuracy (as with any movie based on history) and its controversy, Zero Dark Thirty is a first-class thriller, a captivating and concentrated character study, and a fascinating account of history – its selection as one of 2012’s best pictures is certainly deserved.


The film opens with several haunting sound recordings of desperate calls for help or to relatives from victims on September 11.  After that, the film finds its lead in CIA Agent Maya, who has begun her field work in the Middle East at an undisclosed Black Site where she observes the torturous interrogation of Ammar, one of Al Qaeda’s members.  In short, the plot follows Maya as she determinedly hunts down Osama bin Laden over the course of ten years; it is a tight chronicle of events that transpire during the decade leading up to and including the infamous raid in Pakistan.

Even though we all know how the story ends, few know much about the decade-long manhunt itself – thus, Zero Dark Thirty is a thoroughly engrossing piece of cinema and history.  Viewers will likely question the veracity of some facts, but this is not a documentary; it is a dramatization based on actual events (sorry conspiracy theorists).  Bigelow and Boal even consulted the Administration and other sources while constructing the project, which was actually in development prior to the raid and death of bin Laden (in that story, the end showed how he was still at large).  Therefore, this is likely going to be the most accurate non-documentary portrayal of the manhunt.  Bigelow and cinematographer Greig Fraser employ a docu-drama camera style (handheld shots) throughout much of the film, but it never feels overdone and nauseating; rather, it somewhat helps to bring the audience into the reality.


Also, Bigelow and Boal wisely chose to steer clear of politics in the film, and that includes the torture issue, which is actually quite balanced here.  Like The Hurt Locker, this film does not get into the motivations or morality of the war. Instead, it focuses on one woman’s determined pursuit of bin Laden, at all costs including utilizing torture.  Bush is only briefly seen on a television in the background, and Obama is also seen on a television during an interview regarding torture, but neither are in the film to build or belittle one administration over the other.  This is a story about the countless agents, mainly Maya, who tirelessly worked to accomplish a mission and the costs of achieving it.

Many viewers, including some U.S. Senators, criticized the film for its alleged sanctioning of torture, as there is the implication that one “enhanced interrogation” of a detainee may have gleaned important information and given the fact that they did find bin Laden in the end.  However, we never see a buy viagra online detainee give up truthful or any substantial information while being tortured; if any leads come about it is from a more traditional interrogation or through painstaking research.  Furthermore, since the film focuses on Maya, her character arc gives insight into how the film tackles torture – these scenes show how she develops a thick skin to almost becoming soulless all in an effort to catch and kill bin Laden.  So, really the film presents a slightly anti-torture view in portraying such scenes in a no-hands barred kind of way and how it negatively affects those carrying out the torture.  Besides, to leave out the fact that they tortured detainees (at least early on in the war on terror) would be disingenuous to reality.  Bigelow put it perfectly: “depiction is not endorsement” – in short, viewers need not worry that the film glorifies or defends torture; if anything, they will still feel it is a dirty, inhumane tactic if not more so after watching the movie, despite a “victory” that really feels more disheartening than cathartic (indeed, where does one go after all that?).


Like the rest of Bigelow’s work, and especially her last effort, Zero Dark Thirty is a prime example of pure craftsmanship.  It is a cold, calculated film deliberately constructed with a great deal of momentum; even though much of the movie takes place in offices, viewers will be on the edge of their seats through most of it.  Moreover, several moments will genuinely shock viewers in how abrupt or violent an attack is; the film immediately grips viewers and never lets go until the end.  Alexandre Desplat’s riveting score, which is actually used in a minimalistic, background/underscore manner instead of overwhelming the audience and taking center stage, also keeps the viewer engaged and tense.

The raid sequence itself is worth the price of admission alone.  It is masterfully directed to fully immerse viewers into the seals’ mission, as it virtually plays out in real-time and without any distracting stylish or cinematic add-ons, like music – it blends third-person perspectives with night-vision point of views.  We may all know about the raid and how it went down, but witnessing it on the big-screen is entirely different and endlessly exciting.  Perhaps my only issue with this part is that it is almost too dimly lit and may have some viewers straining to comprehend parts, but this is a minor issue with a nearly perfect portrayal of the raid.  Also, do not expect to get a full glimpse of bin Laden’s kill-shot, as it is quick and somewhat off-screen or obstructed, but no less intense or powerful.


The film has a slew of great performances, ranging from cameo-short to traditional supporting roles.  However, it is Jessica Chastain’s resolute, sometimes breathtaking performance as the unwavering Maya that has garnered everyone’s attention, justifiably so.  Like her character, she puts her heart, mind and soul into the role that is quite forceful; one of her standout scenes includes a heated argument with her station chief boss Joseph Bradley, played by a solid Kyle Chandler.  She is deservedly one of the front-runners for Best Actress, (alongside Jennifer Lawrence).  Jason Clarke turns in another great, gritty performance as CIA enforcer agent Dan.  Jennifer Ehle has a significant part to play as Jessica, a fellow CIA agent and the closest thing to a friend for Maya (even though they disagree on several occasions).  Reda Kateb gives a moving turn as detainee Ammar, as he goes through the wringer of interrogations in the first half.  Mark Strong, James Gandolfini, Harold Perrineau, Edgar Ramirez, and even Mark Duplass all make small appearances as other agents or officials (Gandolfini being Leon Panetta but only referred to as CIA Director in the credits).  Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt are the most recognizable faces and they somewhat lead the Seal Team Six outfit, with other notables Frank Grillo and Taylor Kinney to a lesser extent.  Everyone does an excellent job with whatever their roles task them to do, which helps to create or enhance the film’s authentic and tense atmosphere. 


Is Zero Dark Thirty really the Best Picture of 2012?  Perhaps not, but it is definitely amongst the best.  For such an important film, the dynamic duo of Bigelow/Boal is probably the ideal choice to craft this thriller, and they succeed on almost every level.  Imagining how the cast and crew accomplished the making of the film itself is extraordinary, given the film’s subject matter and filming in the Middle East (this should have been a surefire director nomination for Bigelow at the Oscars).  Although the movie is not as moving as other nominees this year, but it is not meant to be an emotional, inspiring or cathartic experience – viewers will feel frustrated on more than one occasion, especially halfway through, but that is the point as the decade-long manhunt included many dead-ends.  Of course, almost all the names have been changed for security sake and some people or events could have been condensed to make this a 2.5-hour movie (which briskly completes).  In the end, Zero Dark Thirty is not an epic or flashy shoot-em-up action piece; still, it is an artistic yet exhilarating, detailed cinematic experience that entertains as much as it informs.


Zero Dark Thirty – 9/10







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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[2013 Sundance Film Festival Preview]]> 2013-04-26T18:14:11Z 2013-01-15T03:30:48Z Check out my tentative schedule of films to see at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival!

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Last year’s Sundance Film Festival was an amazing experience in which I saw 22 films in one week; you can read my complete 2012 Sundance Film Festival Wrap-Up article here.  This year, our group shall be there for a few more days to get in almost the entire festival (Jan. 17-27).  The 2013 Program Guide features countless promising films and panel discussions.  It should be another wonderful, albeit cold and sleep-deprived, experience in Park City, Utah.  Keep an eye on The Modern Allegory’s Twitter account and/or Facebook page for brief updates throughout the festival, and eventually a 2013 Wrap-Up article and reviews for each screening will be posted.

I divided up this wrap-up article into two main sections: 1) my tentative schedule, and 2) other notable films – the second section is on PAGE 2.  In the first section, I pre-ranked the films I plan to see, then I list out my tentative schedule with brief synopses and reviews.  The listings have links to the film’s Sundance page and its IMDB page (the title link sends you to the film’s IMDB page; the Sundance link will be provided at the end of each review snippet). I haven’t heard or read much about the World Cinema or Documentary categories, so most of my tentative schedule is with U.S. Dramatic Competition films, Premieres, Short Film Programs, and Midnight at Park City movies (I’m sure by the middle of the Festival we’ll hear about what international and documentary features are buzzing and worth seeing).


Pre-Festival Rankings of Tentatively Scheduled Films

(*asterisked films purchased in advance via package or advanced tickets)

  1. Stoker
  2. Don Jon’s Addiction*
  3. Upstream Color*
  4. Before Midnight
  5. The Way, Way Back
  6. Breathe In
  7. Afternoon Delight
  8. S-VHS*
  9. The East
  10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
  11. jOBS*
  12. A.C.O.D.*
  13. The Spectacular Now
  14. Once Upon a Quantum Symmetry: Science and Cinema
  15. The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman*
  16. Sweetwater*
  17. Virtually Heroes*
  18. In a World…*
  19. The Lifeguard*
  20. Kill Your Darlings
  21. In Fear*
  22. Touchy Feely*
  23. Mud
  24. Toy’s House*
  25. Prince Avalanche*
  26. The Rambler*
  27. Magic Magic*
  28. Very Good Girls
  29. Shorts Program IV*
  30. Sightseers
  31. Metro Manila*
  32. Hell Baby
  33. Blue Caprice
  34. Shorts Program I

Tentative Schedule

*Asterisked films already purchased – others will be bought at Festival if available*


Friday, January 18



Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Chris wants to finally show sheltered Tina the world, and he wants to do it his way—on a journey through the British Isles in his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan, visiting such illustrious sites as the National Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Cumberland Pencil Museum, and the rolling countryside in between. But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, noisy teenagers, and prebooked caravan sites soon conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him the wrong way, over a very jagged edge.

Sundance Category: Spotlight

Director: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe

Sundance review snippet:

  • Heralding a bold new voice in British genre filmmaking, Ben Wheatley’s third feature continues his recent tear of pitch-black comedies full of violent repercussions (Kill List, Down Terrace). Sightseers premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight program and remains one of our favorite comedies of the year. [Sundance Page]




The Spectacular Now

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified 7UP cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky hovering over him. Not a member of the cool crowd, she’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She does have dreams, while Sutter lives in a world of impressive self-delusion. And yet they’re drawn to each other.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: James Ponsoldt

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk, Miles Teller,

Sundance review snippet:

  • Adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, The Spectacular Now captures the insecurity and confusion of adolescence without looking for tidy truths. Young actors rarely portray teens with the maturity that Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley display, and they are phenomenal together. Funny, compassionate, and poignant, James Ponsoldt’s third feature again demonstrates his ability to lay bare the souls of his characters. [Sundance Page]




Shorts Program I

Release Date: N/A

Sundance Category: Shorts Competition


–       The tale of Elmer Modlin, who, after appearing in Rosemary’s Baby, fled with his family to a far-off country and shut himself away in a dark apartment for 30 years.

–       A guilt-ridden, but well-intentioned, yuppie goes to great lengths to prove she is a decent person.

–       When two young men photograph a gigantic fish leaping from the sea, their small town becomes a tourist attraction in this story about the old and the new.

–       A mysterious and disturbing suburban narrative about a listless young mother who is torn between family duty and self-serving fantasies.

–       An aspiring drummer enters an elite conservatory’s top jazz orchestra.




Saturday, January 19


Blue Caprice

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Blue Caprice is inspired by the Beltway sniper attacks during which two men, John Muhammed and Lee Malvo, conducted a siege of terror on the Washington, D.C. area. Their method: a series of random shootings in public places. Their weapon: a sniper rifle, fired from the trunk of a blue Chevrolet Caprice. The film investigates the genesis of those horrific events from the point of view of the two shooters, whose distorted father-son relationship facilitated their long and bloody journey across America.

Sundance Category: NEXT

Director: Alexandre Moors

Stars: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson, Al Sapienza

Sundance review snippet:

  • Marked by captivating performances, lyrical camerawork, and a fractured structure, Blue Caprice documents the mechanisms that lead its subjects to embrace physical violence. Eschewing the conventional approach familiar to the genre, director Alexandre Moors utilizes a formidable cinematic lexicon to concoct a harrowing psychological exploration of the two cold-blooded killers that will make a forceful impact on audiences that remains long after the lights come up. [Sundance Page]




Breathe In


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: As summer turns to fall, music teacher Keith Reynolds privately reminisces about his days as a starving artist in the city. While his wife, Megan, and daughter, Lauren, look forward to Lauren’s final year of high school, Keith clings to those evenings he’s asked to sub as a cellist with a prestigious Manhattan symphony. When Megan decides the family should host foreign exchange student Sophie, the British high school senior soon rekindles an impetuous aspect of Keith’s personality.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Drake Doremus

Stars: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Kyle MacLachlan, Amy Ryan

Sundance review snippet:

  • Drake Doremus, winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Like Crazy, reunites with actress Felicity Jones and cowriter Ben York Jones for this passionate ensemble drama of family dysfunction. Ditching the hand-held aesthetic of his past works, Doremus conceives a grander story of love and heartache, only heightened by his lead character’s symphonic avocation, while maintaining his keen eye for intimate performance. [Sundance Page]






Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Ellis and Neckbone are best friends approaching the twilight of their youth. While exploring, they stumble upon the hiding place of charismatic outlaw Mud (played with controlled charm by a well-cast Matthew McConaughey), who takes a quick liking to the boys and recruits them to his cause: the search for true love and a clean getaway.

Sundance Category: Spotlight

Director: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard

Sundance review snippet:

  • Illustrating a vibrant imagination, sumptuous attention to detail, and a remarkable gift for extracting magnetic performances from a talented ensemble, Nichols hurtles us into the middle of a lush adventure, ensnaring the excitement every youngster feels when trouble lurks everywhere and anything is possible. Steeped in the vanishing myth of the Deep South, a place that Nichols dearly loves, Mud’s handcrafted vision shines through in each richly textured frame and proves a tall tale for the ages. [Sundance Page]




Sunday, January 20


Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic

Director: David Lowery

Stars: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Rami Malek,

Sundance review snippet:

  • The barren landscapes of David Lowery’s debut feature evoke the mythology of westerns and saturate the dramatic space with fatalism and an aching sense of loss. Aided by powerfully restrained performances by Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster, Lowery incorporates an unnerving tension into the film, teetering it at the edge of violence.
  • The beautiful, irreconcilable dilemma of the story is that Ruth—compelled by the responsibilities of motherhood and her evolving relationship with the deputy she shot—remains haunted by her intense feelings for Bob. Each of them longs for some form of peace. Ironically, it’s Bob, the unrepentant criminal trapped in the romantic image of a bygone past, who is driven by an almost righteous sense of clarity. Following in the footsteps of Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde, Lowery’s humanism transcends the genre. [Sundance Page]




The East


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Stars: Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgård, Julia Ormond, Brit Marling, Patricia Clarkson

Sundance review snippet:

  • After the warm reception he received for 2011’s Sound of My Voice, director Zal Batmanglij returns to the Sundance Film Festival with this stunning sophomore effort, which marks his second

    collaboration with the irresistibly alluring, multitalented Brit Marling. Featuring a fantastic supporting cast, including Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Page, and Alexander Skarsgård, The East is a taut and timely thriller that resonates deeply with the complexity of today’s explosive socioeconomic landscape. [Sundance Page]





Release Date: March 1, 2013 (limited)

Sundance Synopsis: After India’s father dies in an auto accident, her Uncle Charlie, whom she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother, Evelyn. Soon after his arrival, India begins to suspect this mysterious, charming man has disturbing ulterior motives, but instead of feeling outrage or horror, the friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Chan-wook Park

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Lucas Till, Jacki Weaver, Alden Ehrenreich

Sundance review snippet:

  • Visionary filmmaker Park Chan-Wook, whose Old Boy and Three…Extremes both played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, returns with another macabre story, one that marks his first venture into English-language cinema. Armed with an inspired script, a world-class cast, and a wickedly playful nature, he subverts audience expectations by employing delightful visual trickery and placing a magnet over the moral compass of the film, giving complex and sympathetic motivations for the characters’ violent actions. Featuring a gasp-inducing performance from Nicole Kidman, Stoker is a haunting, Hitchcockian tale as unsettling as it is stunning. [Sundance Page]




Before Midnight


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: We meet Celine and Jesse nine years after their last rendezvous. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early forties in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Sundance review snippet:

  • Director Richard Linklater continues his enchanting tale of a chance meeting between two strangers, bringing to it a nuanced perspective only gained by years lived. As it does in each film in the series, life carries with it new responsibilities and attitudes, forcing the two dreamers to reassess what they want next. Bolstered by an increasingly refined onscreen chemistry between lead actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight is a fitting third chapter in one of the great love stories of American independent cinema. [Sundance Page]




Monday, January 21


Upstream Color*

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the way, she finds another being—a familiar, who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: Shane Carruth

Stars: Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, Brina Palencia, Mollie Milligan

Sundance review snippet:

  • Shane Carruth’s sensuously directed and much anticipated sophomore effort (his feature debut, Primer, won the Sundance Film Festival 2004 Grand Jury Prize) is a truly remarkable film that lies beyond the power of language to communicate while it delivers a cohesive sensory experience. With its muscular cinematic language rooted in the powerful yearnings felt before words can be formed, Upstream Color is an entirely original, mythic, romantic thriller that goes in search of truths that lie just beyond our reach. [Sundance Page]




The Way, Way Back


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: The Way, Way Back tells the story of 14-year-old Duncan’s awkward, funny, and sometimes painful summer vacation with his mother, Pam, her overbearing boyfriend, Trent, and his daughter, Steph. Although Duncan has a tough time fitting in and finding his place, he does find an unlikely ally and mentor in Owen, a carefree employee at the local water park

where Duncan gets a job. Over the course of the summer, as his mother drifts further away, Duncan—with encouragement from Owen—begins to open up and come into his own.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Stars: Steve Carrell, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Amanda Peet, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Robert Capron, Jim Rash

Sundance review snippet:

  • Mining the caverns of human vulnerability for the humor necessary to make life bearable, first-time directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have transformed their terrific screenplay into a bittersweet comedy that is both charming and insightful. Boasting an extraordinary ensemble of some of the most revered actors working today, as well as a young actor destined to join their ranks, The Way, Way Back brims with nostalgia for the magical time of adolescence, as well as the great coming-of-age films of the 1980s that captured its wide-eyed confusion and wonder. [Sundance Page]




Afternoon Delight

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Rachel is a quick-witted and lovable, yet tightly coiled, thirtysomething steeped in the creative class of Los Angeles’s bohemian, affluent Silver Lake neighborhood. Everything looks just right—chic modernist home, successful husband, adorable child, and a hipster wardrobe. So why is she going out of her gourd with ennui? Plagued by purposelessness, Rachel visits a strip club to spice up her marriage and ends up meeting McKenna, a stripper whom she becomes obsessed with saving. She decides to adopt McKenna as her live-in nanny, and this bold move unleashes unimagined and colorful waves of change into her life and community. It becomes clear that Rachel is feverishly, desperately trying to save her own sense of who she is.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: Jill Soloway

Stars: Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Annie Mumolo

Sundance review snippet:

  • In a perfect storm of hilarious writing, performance, and direction, first-timer Jill Soloway pinpoints the ambivalence of privileged, educated women seduced by an idealized vision of marriage and motherhood, yet deadened by the stultifying realities of preschool auctions, lackluster sex lives, and careers that have gone kaput. Afternoon Delight compassionately revels in the existential trials of a Peter Pan generation battling too many choices, resisting adulthood, and distractedly tapping their iPhones instead of tuning in to what matters. [Sundance Page]




Tuesday, January 22


The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Obeying the last wish of his deceased mother, young American Charlie travels to Eastern Europe with no plans. He lands in a truly unknown place—wilder, weirder, and more foreign than he could have ever imagined. Committed to spontaneous, explosive, and instinctive acts, Charlie now finds himself pursuing an equally lost soul named Gabi, a mysterious Romanian woman unable to shake her dark, violent past.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Fredrik Bond

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Aubrey Plaza, Rupert Grint, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger, Melissa Leo

Sundance review snippet:

  • Fredrik Bond’s stylistically assured debut feature spins a euphoric fable of high-stakes romance, where wearing your heart on your sleeve will leave you a bloody mess. A dynamic lead performance by Shia LaBeouf sees him pummeled at every turn as he desperately fights for the magnetic Evan Rachel Wood. The couple squares off against a dream pairing of movie bad guys: Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger. This gorgeously shot adventure, with a hard-charging score setting its pace, provides a truly unique vision of the pain and ecstasy of love. [Sundance Page]




Once Upon a Quantum Symmetry: Science & Cinema [Panel Discussion]


Release Date: N/A

Sundance Synopsis: Ever since Méliès shot a rocket to the moon, cinema has had a wondrous fascination with science and technology. Movies can show us the working science of today, and with surprising prescience, the science of tomorrow. During our 10-year collaboration with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we’ve traveled from synapses in the brain to distant universes—hitting an infinite number of galaxies along the way, and proving that both scientists and filmmakers are creative, imaginative, speculative, and adventurous.

Sundance Category: Panel Discussion


  • Paula Apsell (moderator), director of the WGBH Science Unit and senior executive producer of the nation’s most watched science series, PBS’s NOVA, has overseen hundreds of acclaimed, award-winning science documentaries, including The Fabric of the Cosmos with Brian Greene.
  • Darren Aronofsky won the 1998 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award for his first feature, Pi. His other films—Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, The Fountain, and Black Swan—have garnered numerous Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Independent Spirit Award nominations and wins.
  • Scott Burns is a screenwriter, director, and producer whose screenplays include Contagion, The Informant!, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Pu-239, which he also directed. He was a producer on the Academy Award–winning An Inconvenient Truth.
  • Dr. André Fenton, professor at New York University’s Center for Neural Science, is a neuroscientist, biomedical engineer, and entrepreneur whose work relates to memory, electrical brain activity, and cognitive dysfunction.
  • Dr. Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University, where she is a Frank J. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science. She is also the author of Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven’s Door and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees.




Very Good Girls


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Best friends—introspective Lilly and free-spirited Gerry—spend their last summer at home in New York City before parting ways for college. The girls meet Brooklyn boy David, whom they both fall for, and Lilly soon begins a secret relationship with him. As Lilly’s home life falls apart after she discovers her father’s affair and Gerry becomes more obsessed with David, Lilly seeks solace in her first romance. However, a tragedy in Gerry’s family catapults Lilly back into reality, and she must face the consequences of her actions.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Naomi Foner

Stars: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Demi Moore, Peter Sarsgaard, Ellen Barkin, Clark Gregg, Richard Dreyfuss

Sundance review snippet:

  • Very Good Girls is a refreshing representation of contemplative, smart, and curious teenage girls, who experience their everyday lives with a sophistication and grace that most of their peers lack. Naomi Foner’s intimate story emanates a raw nostalgia for that painful time when we waver precariously between adolescence and young adulthood. [Sundance Page]




Virtually Heroes*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: A sarcastic, self-aware character in a video game, Sgt. Books, becomes frustrated by the screwy logic of his universe: the pointless battles, superpowerful bosses, and an endless supply of virtual Vietcong. He can’t get the girl who appears at the end of each level, and he can’t get through to his gung-ho partner. To find answers to the questions posed by his odd existence, Books abandons his mission and seeks help from a straight-talking monk, delightfully played by another onscreen hero who also once received words of wisdom from a man in a robe.

Sundance Category: Park City at Midnight

Director: G.J. Echternkamp

Stars: Robert Baker, Brent Chase, Katie Savoy, Mark Hamill

Sundance review snippet:

  • The first Roger Corman production to screen at the Sundance Film Festival, Virtually Heroes is a war picture, a satire of video-game culture, a buddy comedy, and an existential mind trip wrapped up into one outrageous film that works on many surprising levels. Injecting the low-budget/high-concept film with a full dose of razor-sharp wit, director G. J. Ecthernkamp embraces the base and the profound as he seeks to unlock the cheat codes of life. [Sundance Page]




Wednesday, January 23

Magic Magic*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: If Alicia could just get some sleep, everything would be all right. As she and her close friend Sarah make their way through rural Chile with Sarah’s boyfriend, his sister, and their strange American friend Brink, Alicia’s insomnia slowly takes control. The difference between what is happening in reality and what is happening in her own mind becomes less and less clear to her. After she takes a stab at hypnosis to help solve the problem, things only get worse. As her waking nightmare continues, will her “friends” be her salvation or her downfall?

Sundance Category: Park City at Midnight

Director: Sebastián Silva

Stars: Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Emily Browning, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Agustín Silva

Sundance review snippet:

  • Writer/director Sebastián Silva crafts an unsettling film that examines sexual repression and the fear of loss. With vivid characters in conflict, evocative landscapes, and Christopher Doyle and Glenn Kaplan’s fluid cinematography, Silva shows how the smallest choices we make can have significant and insurmountable consequences. [Sundance Page]




In a World…*

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Carol Solomon is a struggling vocal coach. Propelled by the hubris of her father, Sam Sotto, the reigning king of movie-trailer voice-over artists, Carol musters the courage to pursue her secret aspiration to be a voice-over star. Her fiery sister, Dani, becomes a trusted confidante, and Carol engages the skills of a charming sound techie named Louis. Armed with renewed confidence, Carol lands her first voice-over gig—a primo spot—nabbing the job from industry bad boy Gustav Warner. And then the real trouble begins. Carol becomes entangled in a web of dysfunction, sexism, unmitigated ego, and pride.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: Lake Bell

Stars: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman, Geena Davis, Jeff Garlin

Sundance review snippet:

  • Lake Bell returns (her short film Worst Enemy played at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) with her enchanting feature directorial debut. The multitalented Bell also wrote and stars in this hilarious comedy. With the help of a captivating ensemble cast that includes Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, and Rob Corddry, In A World… brings its viewer into an idiosyncratic world where one woman fights the odds and finally finds her voice. [Sundance Page]






Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Carter has spent much of his life mediating fights between his acrimoniously divorced, ill-behaved mother and father and taking on the role of designated authority figure to his carefree younger brother, Trey. Inspired by Trey’s sudden engagement, Carter resolves to negotiate a truce between his parents, a process that nearly unhinges him. Adding insult to injury, a frantic sprint back to his childhood therapist, Dr. Judith, reveals he was a prime subject in her self-help book on the “least-parented, least-nurtured generation” ever. Dr. Judith may not be able to help him, but she’s delighted he’s come back and inspired a sequel.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Stu Zicherman

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jessica Alba, Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Jane Lynch, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Clark Duke

Sundance review snippet:

  • Adam Scott’s increasingly befuddled everyman is flanked by vivacious comic performances from Catherine O’Hara and Amy Poehler as his stubborn mom and sassy stepmom, respectively. Stuart Zicherman’s charming feature debut explores the joys and frustrations of life in a modern family, allowing that romance is never impossible, even for a hopelessly scarred adult child of divorce. [Sundance Page]




Shorts Program IV*

Release Date: N/A

Sundance Category: Shorts Competition


–       A man wakes up with a hangover, only to discover the consequences of his actions.

–       This dialogue-free film about an execution describes what happens when the system becomes more important than human life.

–       An African family, lost in America, travels to a Louisiana church to find a cure for its problem child.

–       After a career spent mining his music from the shadows, one fan creates a chain reaction for the lead singer of a black metal band.

–       A man arrives in beautiful Jeju Island and pays a woman to act as his partner while he visits his ill father in this tale of beauty among base human acts.

  • GUN (17 minutes)

–       Roy purchases a handgun to protect his wife and newborn baby after a terrifying home invasion. The newfound sense of power Roy feels carrying the weapon becomes an obsession, leading him down a reckless path that may have tragic consequences.

–       Fatine has ventured far from the village to meet her older lover. When a small boy catches her, all she wants to do is go home.




In Fear*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: In Jeremy Lovering’s chilling debut, a young couple fights to survive one night-turned-nightmare. Driving to a music festival, Tom and Lucy have plans to stay at a countryside hotel. But with hotel signs leading them in circles and darkness falling, they soon become lost in a maze of country roads…and the target of an unknown tormentor.

Sundance Category:

Director: Jeremy Lovering

Stars: Alice Englert, Allen Leech, Iain De Caestecker

Sundance review snippet:

  • Reminiscent of vintage psychological thrillers and bolstered by newcomers Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert in its main roles, In Fear plays out in real time and hinges on a claustrophobic, unrelentingly tense visual style. Looking to shed pretense and genuinely scare his actors, Lovering withheld the script and often concealed what was about to happen to the characters. Add a dark forest, and the fear became real.
  • Though propelled by visceral thrills, the film transcends genre and offers a study in fear itself, creating a cerebral fable in which fear—of the dark, of the unknown, of ourselves—governs our nature, compels our choices, and may well seal Tom and Lucy’s fate. [Sundance Page]




Thursday, January 24


Prince Avalanche*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: An odd couple of sorts, meditative and stern Alvin and his girlfriend’s brother, Lance, dopey and insecure, leave the city behind to spend the summer in solitude repainting traffic lines down the center of a country highway ravaged by wildfire. As they sink into their job in the remarkable landscape, they learn more than they want to about each other and their own limitations. An unlikely friendship develops through humor and nasty exchanges, leading to surprising affection.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: David Gordon Green

Stars: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault

Sundance review snippet:

  • Adapted from Icelandic film Either Way, Prince Avalanche is driven by wonderful performances by Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, and Lance LeGault. Writer/director David Gordon Green gets back to his independent roots with this character study, which shows his knack for realistically capturing people and finding meaning in their lives and dreams. With a soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo and gorgeous cinematography by Tim Orr, Prince Avalanche bucks convention by exploring male bonding in a refreshingly genuine way. [Sundance Page]




Toy’s House*

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Joe Toy, on the verge of adolescence, finds himself increasingly frustrated by his single father, Frank’s, attempts to manage his life. Declaring his freedom once and for all, he escapes to a clearing in the woods with his best friend, Patrick, and a strange kid named Biaggio and announces that they are going to build a house there—free from responsibility and parents. Once their makeshift abode is finished, the three young men find themselves masters of their own destiny, alone in the woods.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Stars: Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Nick Robinson

Sundance review snippet:

  • Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of the short Successful Alcoholics, which screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, returns with a feature film debut fueled by teenage angst and childlike imagination. Anchored by the comedic performances of newcomers Nick Robinson, Moises Arias, and Gabriel Basso, Vogt-Roberts and screenwriter Chris Galletta create a humorous coming-of-age tale that deftly combines moments of heartfelt rebellion and complete lunacy. [Sundance Page]






Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static—white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil.

Sundance Category: Park City at Midnight

Sundance review snippet:

  • From the demented minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes S-VHS, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. This follow-up ventures even further down the demented path blazed by its predecessor, discovering new and terrifying territory in the genre. This is modern horror at its most inventive, shrewdly subverting our expectations about viral videos in ways that are just as satisfying as they are sadistic. The result is the rarest of all tapes—a second generation with no loss of quality. [Sundance Page]




Touchy Feely*

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: What happens when a family’s delicate psychic balance suddenly unravels? Abby is a free-spirited massage therapist. Her brother, Paul, an emotional zombie, owns a flagging dental practice, where he enlists the assistance of his equally emotionally stunted daughter, Jenny. Suddenly, transformation touches everyone. Abby develops an uncontrollable aversion to bodily contact, which seriously hinders her chosen profession and the passionate love life she once shared with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, rumors of Paul’s “healing touch” begin to miraculously invigorate his practice. As Abby navigates through an identity crisis, her brother discovers a whole new side of himself.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: Lynn Shelton

Stars: Ellen Page, Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Scoot McNairy, Ron Livingston, Josh Pais

Sundance review snippet:

  • Boasting superb performances from an ensemble cast that includes Rosemarie DeWitt, Josh Pais, Ellen Page, Scoot McNairy, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, and newcomer Tomo Nakayama, Touchy Feely is about learning to live in your own skin—literally and figuratively. Written and directed by talented Sundance alumnus Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister), Touchy Feely bristles with originality, coupled with Shelton’s trademark sensitivity to the foibles of human nature. [Sundance Page]




The Rambler*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Upon release from prison, a solitary man known only as “the Rambler” embarks on a mysterious journey en route to reconnecting with his long-lost brother. Traversing treacherous back roads, lost highways, and isolated small towns, he unearths a multitude of bizarre and wickedly depraved slices of Americana.

Sundance Category: Park City at Midnight

Director: Calvin Reeder

Stars: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne

Sundance review snippet:

  • In this expansion of his short film of the same name, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, writer/director Calvin Lee Reeder absorbs the audience into his surreal universe, complete with a rich visual palette and an immersive soundscape. Anchored by Dermot Mulroney’s brilliantly laconic lead performance, The Rambler is a seminal road movie, filled with bizarre supernatural hallucinations, shocking episodes of violence, and enough dark humor that some twisted minds may even call it a comedy. No matter how you attempt to categorize this film, you’re not likely to find anything quite like it for miles around. [Sundance Page]




Friday, January 25




Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Against the backdrop of the American Old West, newlyweds Miguel and Sarah struggle to make a living cultivating their small patch of land. Soon a much bigger struggle arises as powerful landowner and community preacher Prophet Josiah makes a play for their property. As he launches his diabolical plot to take their land, an eccentric big-city sheriff comes to town. Things soon go from bad to worse, culminating in a jaw-dropping, hell-hath-no-fury showdown.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Logan Miller

Stars: Vic Browder, Chad Brummett, Jenny Gabrielle, Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs, January Jones,

Sundance review snippet:

  • Sweetwater boldly establishes its own identity while remaining true to the tenets of the western genre. Wonderfully cinematic, this expressive tale is superbly directed by the Miller brothers, who extract strong performances from the ensemble cast. Ed Harris is especially striking in a bravura role as the sheriff. With the magnificent New Mexico countryside as their canvas, the Miller brothers imaginatively stroke their cinematic brush across an intense but humorous film. [Sundance Page]




The Lifeguard*

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Leigh, a whip-smart former valedictorian on the verge of 30, is living a seemingly perfect life in New York. When her work aspirations and love life suddenly come crashing down, she hightails it back to the cocoon of the Connecticut suburb where she grew up. Picking up right where her teen halcyon days left off, she moves into her old room with her parents, reunites with her bosom buddies who never left town, and steps back into her high school job as a condo-complex lifeguard. As she takes a transgressive journey back to adolescence, including entering into a forbidden affair, Leigh’s bold flirtation with disaster triggers a ripple effect all around her.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: Liz W. Garcia

Stars: Kristen Bell, Martin Starr, Mamie Gummer, Amy Madigan

Sundance review snippet:

  • Wry, sexy, entertaining, and bittersweet, The Lifeguard revels in the fantasy of reverting to a responsibility-free time and cleverly coaxes its characters into the realization that safety can sometimes be a trap. With her witty, emotionally persuasive script, first-time director Liz Garcia invents a delectable coming-of-age story for our times. [Sundance Page]




Kill Your Darlings

Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: While he is attending Columbia University in 1944, the young Allen Ginsberg’s life is turned upside down when he sets eyes on Lucien Carr, an impossibly cool and boyishly handsome classmate. Carr opens Ginsberg up to a bohemian world and introduces him to William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Repelled by rules and conformity in both life and literature, the four agree to tear down tradition and make something new, ultimately formulating the tenets of and giving birth to what became the Beat movement. On the outside, looking in, is David Kammerer, a man in his thirties desperately in love with Carr. When Kammerer is found dead, and Kerouac, Burroughs, and Carr are arrested in conjunction with the murder, the nascent artists’ lives change forever.

Sundance Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Director: John Krokidas

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Elizabeth Olsen, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Dane DeHaan, Jack Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyra Sedgwick, David Cross

Sundance review snippet:

  • Daniel Radcliffe fearlessly takes on the role of the young Ginsberg on a journey of discovery—to find his sexuality and his voice as a writer. Cowriter/director John Krokidas takes on this less-explored early chapter of the Beats and captures the period with visual flair, kinetic energy, and imagination. Kill Your Darlings is the riveting true story of a crime, a friendship, and the nexus that spawned a cultural movement. [Sundance Page]




Metro Manila*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Seeking a brighter future in megacity Manila, Oscar Ramirez and his family flee their impoverished life in the rice fields of the northern Philippines. But the sweltering capital’s bustling intensity quickly overwhelms them, and they fall prey to the rampant manipulations of its hardened locals. Oscar catches a lucky break when he’s offered steady work for an armored truck company and gregarious senior officer Ong takes him under his wing. Soon, though, the reality of his work’s mortality rate and the murky motives of his new partner force Oscar to confront the perils he faces in his new job and life.

Sundance Category: World Dramatic Competition

Director: Sean Ellis

Stars: Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega, John Arcilla

Sundance review snippet:

  • Director Sean Ellis’s return (The Broken premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival) vividly captures the desperation of life amongst the squalid Manila slums, then ratchets up the tension, creating an intense thriller with a poignant humanity and palpable dramatic stakes. In the role of Oscar, Jake Macapagal brings emotional depth to the wrenching choices he must make to sustain his family. [Sundance Page]




Saturday, January 26



Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: In 1976, college dropout Steve Jobs heralded a revolution within the confines of his parents’ garage. Jobs, along with friend and technical wizard Steve Wozniak, unleashed the “homebrew” Apple 1 personal computer kit onto an unsuspecting public, producing 200 units by hand and shipping each one themselves (monitor and keyboard not included). Apple Inc. was born, and the world would never be the same. Today hundreds of millions of users around the world remain tethered to the remarkable products that Jobs championed—his impact on the world of technology was undoubtedly colossal, but his effect on our culture was simply immeasurable.

Sundance Category: PremieresClosing Night Film

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, James Woods, Matthew Modine, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons

Sundance review snippet:

  • Although the road that Jobs traveled to become CEO of the company he cofounded was a tumultuous one, director Joshua Michael Stern unfurls his story with relative ease, and Ashton Kutcher’s highly nuanced portrayal of the technology icon adroitly captures the essence of a man who changed the way we live. [Sundance Page]




Don Jon’s Addiction*


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Jon Martello objectifies everything in his life: his apartment, his car, his family, his church, and, of course, women. His buddies even call him Don Jon because of his ability to pull “10s” every weekend without fail. Yet even the finest flings don’t compare to the transcendent bliss he achieves alone in front of the computer watching pornography. Dissatisfied, he embarks on a journey to find a more gratifying sex life, but ends up learning larger lessons of life and love through relationships with two very different women.

Sundance Category: Premieres

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Tony Danza

Sundance review snippet:

  • Crass, funny, and startlingly sincere, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction resonates with its utterly authentic realization of people and place, transcending New Jersey stereotypes by infusing its characters with tantalizing complexities. Gordon-Levitt’s chemistry with costars Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore ignites the screen with heat and emotion. With abundant charm and formidable wit, Don Jon’s Addiction marks the evolution of an incredibly talented actor into a truly gifted writer/director. [Sundance Page]




Hell Baby


Release Date: TBA

Sundance Synopsis: Expectant couple Jack and Vanessa move into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans—a house with a deadly demonic curse. When things soon spiral out of control, it’ll take the help of Vanessa’s Wiccan sister, a nosey “neighbor” who lives in their crawl space, two local detectives, and a pair of elite Vatican exorcists to save them—or is it already too late?

Sundance Category: Park City at Midnight

Director: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon

Stars: Thomas Lennon, Leslie Bibb, Rob Corddry

Sundance review snippet:

  • Revered as two of the minds behind the hilarious sketch television shows Reno 911!, The State, and Viva Variety and the screenwriters of big-budget comedies like the Night at the Museum films, comedians Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant finally unleash their codirectorial debut. Featuring a seasoned comedic ensemble, including scene stealers Leslie Bibb and Keegan Michael Key, this raucous horror spoof sics the devilish humor of its creators on the most sacred of genre conventions: the haunted house, an exorcism, and one pissy demon child. [Sundance Page]






Thanks for reading. 2013 Sundance Film Festival Preview is a post from The Modern Allegory

Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: Django Unchained (2012)]]> 2013-06-07T20:17:24Z 2013-01-14T05:59:26Z Viewers may debate where it stands amongst Tarantino’s filmography, but Django Unchained is definitely one of the top films of 2012 – it is an audacious piece of exhilarating cinema, one that is certainly not for everyone due to intense violence and prolific profanity...

Thanks for reading. Film Review: Django Unchained (2012) is a post from The Modern Allegory

As one of 2012’s most anticipated films, Quentin Tarantino’s latest piece of cinema Django Unchained hardly disappoints.  In fact, many claim it is his most accomplished and entertaining work to date, which is certainly saying something from the man who has made such classics as Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Ficiton (1994), and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Kill Bill (2003-2004).  With this film, he has finally made his spaghetti western, though like any of his movies it does not simply conform to the genre and all of its trappings; it is also a rather hilarious dark comedy, tense revenge tale, and even a thought-provoking period piece.  Viewers may debate where it stands amongst Tarantino’s filmography, but Django Unchained is definitely one of the top films of 2012 – it is an audacious piece of exhilarating cinema, one that is certainly not for everyone due to intense violence and prolific profanity (though its gratuitousness is sharply meaningful, to an extent, in shedding light on a dark part of the American history).


The story occurs just a couple years before the beginning of the Civil War as a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz tracks down and frees Django.  Schultz needs him to identify three criminals he has been hunting, but their working relationship does not stop there; they partner up for the duration of the winter to hunt for several bounties.  Once spring arrives, Schultz makes good on his deal to help Django find and free Django’s wife, Broomhilda.  Eventually they discover she is a house slave in “Candie-land” – the nickname of the vast plantation owned by the colorful but vicious slave owner Calvin J. Candie.  Scultz and Django devise an elaborate ruse to good in Candie’s good graces so they may be invited to his plantation and “meet” and free Broomhilda.

Before going into what makes the film so entertaining and interesting, a note of criticism should be addressed regarding the plot.  Some have pointed out that Schultz and Django’s plan is too complicated; they ask, why not just approach Candie with an absurd offer for Broomhilda instead of being sneaky about it?  To be fair, as Tarantino himself said, this plan fits each character in that Schultz is very theatrical and Candie may not have played along without the theatrics either – Tarantino addressed this issue after one critic called him out on the issue, which can be read here, and concedes the critic may have a point but sticks to his guns (no pun intended).  Nevertheless, the plan is quite amusing, but when the entire plot hinges upon a squeaky point, some viewers may take issue with it.


Furthermore, several critics and viewers have also indicated a slight pacing issue in the narrative.  At a lengthy 165-minute (2 hours, 45 minute) runtime, the film contains some fatty areas that could have been trimmed for an even tighter story, though many people believe this is Tarantino’s most focused film to date (perhaps they’re right in the straightforward narrative sense but Reservoir probably takes the cake as tightest, everything considered).  Two particular portions of the story stand out as slightly excessive: the middle-third after Schultz and Django meet and begin traveling into Candie-land and the uneven third act.  While every bit of the film is endlessly entertaining, these stretches either drag out the plot or feel tacked-on.  In particular, the scene in which Tarantino himself makes a short, explosive appearance is a wedge in the narrative thrust that sucks some of the momentum out of the story and what follows feels less gloriously fulfilling, even if it is pretty awesome.

Nonetheless, these relatively minor issues aside, Django Unchained delivers everything one would expect from a Tarantino film and then some.  It is action-packed and outrageously violent, especially given the movie’s spaghetti western roots/inspiration.  Moreover, Tarantino shows he is still great at making such violence so excessive or absurd at times that it becomes hilarious, such as the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta’s character accidentally shoots another character in the backseat (seen here) – indeed, there are many similar instances of this darkly hilarity happening in Django, especially in the wild shootout at the end of the second act.  In addition to the fierce action, Tarantino comes through once again with another sharp and witty script worthy of awards recognition. 


Of course, the script and violence are hot-button issues with regard to this film or any Tarantino movie.  In this case, the film unabashedly uses the N-word hundreds of times, and the gore is quite excessive.  Sure, it is amusing but viewers must remember to take a step back from laughing at the insane amount of blood to recognize yes it is gratuitous (perhaps that is why it is humorous) and also realize the meaning behind making it so extreme – here, both the language and violence may be exaggerated in order to illustrate the nastiness and brutality of the Old South, though Tarantino and others may argue the reality was far worse.  Still, the issue of excess is always worth mentioning when covering a Tarantino film, and with Django Unchained it is hardly different; in fact, it is perhaps his wildest, most exploitative feature to date, right up there with Kill Bill.  Nevertheless, those going to see this movie likely know what they are getting into and will enjoy all of its indulgence and find the film awesome regardless.

Indeed, it is, as expected, a first-rate production with remarkable technical detail.  Robert Richardson’s cinematography is gorgeous, particularly the beautiful vista/landscape shots.  The production design, art direction, makeup and costumes are likewise excellent.  Also, Tarantino’s eclectic, offbeat soundtrack is quite enjoyable, even if it is not his most memorable one; it splendidly uses old western themes throughout (only one jarring song was the inclusion of a rap song about midway through).  Perhaps not having his usual editor Sally Menke, who died in 2010, complicated the pacing issues a bit, though Fred Raskin who served as an additional or assistant editor on other Tarantino films (and main editor on other movies), is quite capable and especially shows off his editing talents in the tense scenes in the Candie big house.  Overall, the technical aspects of this film are top-notch and help make it all the more cinematic.


At the core of the film, as is the case in every great Tarantino movie, is a set of incredible performances leading performances.  Although Jamie Foxx may not have been everyone’s top choice to play Django, he inhabits the role nearly perfectly; after seeing the movie, it is hard to imagine anyone else playing him.  Christoph Waltz has yet to find firm footing in Hollywood after his first Tarantino collaboration, the amazing Inglorious Basterds (2009), but his reunion with the director is a welcome one to say the least – Waltz is an absolute joy as Schultz, who is very much like Col. Hans Landa except that the former is “good” and not evil and completely opportunistic, apart from the nasty bounty hunting profession; this is evidenced by his Schultz’s surprisingly traditional character arc and disbelief/repugnance in slavery.

Then there is Leonardo DiCaprio in a role we have never seen before: the villainous one – he is astonishingly great as Candie, exuding both the fantastic flamboyance and the intense darkness of the character.  He is certain to garner a supporting actor nomination, though winning is up for debate given the crowded competition; however, this is arguably his best performance to date.  Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson has not been this great in years; he is perfect and steals the show as head slave/Candie’s right-hand man Stephen, who is perhaps the vilest character of them all.  Furthermore, DiCaprio and Jackson’s chemistry is wonderful; their banter is some of the best in any of Tarantino’s movies (i.e. the hilarious / dark dinner scene where Stephen repeats everything Candie says).


The ensemble cast and many cameos also add to the film and viewer’s pleasure.  Kerry Washington is very good as Broomhilda, though her character only has so much to work with in the damsel in distress role.  Walton Goggins is dependably despicable as Billy Crash, one of Candie’s thugs.  Dennis Christopher is pretty funny as Candie’s quirky, lap dog-like lawyer Leonide Moguy.  Laura Cayouette turns in a serviceable performance as the “nice” yet repulsive sister Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly (repulsive in the sense of enabling and carrying out the slavery).  Don Johnson has an amusing part as “Big Daddy,” another plantation owner.  Recognizable faces and character actors James Russo, M.C. Gainey, Bruce Dern, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, Nichole Galicia, and James Remar all make solid turns in their respective roles.  Even Franco Nero – the “original” Django in the 1966 western Django, which has an entirely different plot – makes an extended cameo appearance as the “Bar Patron” and Candie’s Mandingo fight competitor.  Lastly, as referred to before, Tarantino makes an appearance as well as one of the Lequint Dickey Mining Co. employees; his appearance is distracting more than anything (at least for those who recognize him), especially given his characters (weakly executed) Aussie accent.


In the two decades of feature-filmmaking, Tarantino has thrust himself amongst the cream of the crop despite only making eight features, this one included.  Django Unchained is yet another rousing love-letter to cinema with countless homages.  Tarantino has mentioned that Django Unchained is the second in an unofficial trilogy of sorts, along with the similarly revisionist-themed Inglorious Basterds (which I somewhat preferred); if that is the case, then he has made a solid middle-entry.  It is hilarious at times, action-packed, extremely well-acted and crafted, and cialis online overall stimulating.  Fans will debate where it ranks and if it is indeed Tarantino’s best, but even if it’s not, it is still an excellent film worth seeing, at least for those willing to stomach the violence and profanity (and even brief nudity).

Django Unchained – 9/10




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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: The Impossible (2012)]]> 2013-06-07T21:18:26Z 2013-01-14T05:59:11Z Despite its occasional manipulative nature, The Impossible is a traumatic but life-affirming film with excellent performances from its cast. It is a sobering tale of survival and humanity above special effects and cheap thrills.

Thanks for reading. Film Review: The Impossible (2012) is a post from The Modern Allegory

Making a film centering on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami heartfelt but not overly sentimental is no easy task, but The Impossible (2012) does an admirable job doing so.  It is a harrowing disaster movie but not of the consumerist buy an essay paper big-budget, action-packed studio-produced blockbuster type; rather it is a sobering tale of survival and humanity above special effects and cheap thrills.  Although the filmmakers changed the main characters from Spanish to British vacationers, the “based on a true story” helps ground the film’s more mawkish moments.  Despite its occasional manipulative nature, The Impossible is a traumatic but life-affirming film with excellent performances from its cast.


The film is a fictionalized account of one family’s struggle to survive and reunite after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.  The parents, Maria and Henry start off bickering here and there with a humdrum life, but when the disaster hits, those issues disappear.  She is severely wounded in the tsunami, so one of their sons Lucas must help care for her as they seek higher ground and medical attention.  Her health rapidly deteriorates (particularly from a gruesome leg injury) while Lucas looks to help others in need.  Henry and their other two sons Thomas and Simon are spared severe injuries but are hurt and separated nonetheless; he sends them off for help while he stays behind to look for Lucas and Maria.

Some people will be upset that the filmmakers made the family a privileged British one instead of sticking to the family the screenplay was based on (a Spanish one).  Nevertheless, this was simply a window into the story, and the fact it was based on a true one is sufficient detail to help audiences connect to the film and its characters.  If this were a totally fictional depiction, viewers would not be so quick to suspend their disbelief when overly-sentimental plot points occur through manipulative techniques (i.e. hospital scene near the end).


With such amazingly grounded performances, audiences have more reason to relate to the characters and their situation(s).  Naomi Watts’ Oscar nomination is warranted with her raw, vulnerable performance as Maria.  Ewan McGregor is great as Henry as well, particularly in a scene where he breaks down in a call to relatives at home.  The real find of the film, though, is young Tom Holland who makes his feature-film debut as Lucas; he totally carries the film and conveys all the necessary emotions that sweep the audience away.  Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast give admirable turns as younger sons/brothers Thomas and Simon.

Of course, the massive production and set design alongside a solid special effects team makes for an impressive scale and harrowing viewing experience.  This could have easily been bumped up to an R-rating for the intensity during the tsunami scenes and brief bursts of violent injuries.  Furthermore, the desperation after the initial waves makes for an even more sobering viewing experience, but it is an inspirational tale of survival and love.  Still, it is not as rosy-cheeked as many other disaster movies that come out of Hollywood; the film never forgets that despite this family’s impossible struggle to survive is fairly happy, many families have forever been destroyed and still feel broken to this day – centering the story of the tsunami on one family’s account is a brave choice for a production company but a wise one as it grounds the incredible reality of the situation and relates it to the audience.


Director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) has indeed crafted a worthwhile film regarding the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that is equal parts thrilling and emotional.  Although it can be a bit too sentimental at times, it has its heart in the right place as it conveys the complexity of the situation in a tasteful manner.  Furthermore, Watts, McGregor and especially Holland really help to bring the audience into the incredible story.  The Impossible is not for the faint of heart but it is a solid, life-affirming account of the devastating tsunami that has claimed the lives of almost a quarter of a million and untold millions of those unborn.

The Impossible – 8/10




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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: Les Misérables (2012)]]> 2013-11-07T19:52:00Z 2013-01-05T21:07:19Z As long as you do not despise musicals and can enjoy a good piece of filmmaking, you will at the very least appreciate if not love Les Misérables for its grand ambition, impressive technical artistry (i.e. striking imagery), marvelous performances and the story’s emotional resonance.

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Victor Hugo’s masterful novel Les Misérables has been adapted into countless productions across several media, perhaps most notably with the musical sensation that arrived in the 1980s.  Since then, Hollywood has looked to find a way to make a feature musical film – thankfully for fans of it and cinema-lovers everywhere, director Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (2012) is as good as an adaption one will get from the musical source material.  It is a bold, painstakingly designed production with outstanding performances, most notably from Hugh Jackman and a never-better Anne Hathaway.  Although it oversteps its majestic scope and becomes grandiose at times, one should not fault the film for unabashedly wearing its heart on both sleeves.  Indeed, it is an emotionally raw and intimate portrayal of the story thanks to numerous close-ups and magnificent musical numbers.  As long as you do not despise musicals and can enjoy a good piece of filmmaking, you will at the very least appreciate if not love Les Misérables for its grand ambition, impressive technical artistry (i.e. striking imagery), marvelous performances and the story’s emotional resonance.



This adaptation covers all the major beats of Hugo’s novel and the musical that inspired the production.  As such, it is briskly-moving, even at a bloated runtime – as such, it will simultaneously feel a bit overlong (unless you love every second of the singing and want more of it) and too short as it skims over many parts of the story, hitting primarily only the main parts instead.  With so many musical numbers and a decade-spanning story, the stripped-down narrative is a necessity and one that Hugo purists may be upset by.  Nonetheless, with such an elegantly crafted translation to the big-screen, such viewers can still find many things to like about the film.

For the uninitiated, the story follows convict Jean Valjean as he is freed (on parole) and seeking redemption all his life while evading capture from his obsessed adversary Officer/Inspector Javert. – (For the sake of brevity and hiding spoilers from those unaware of the story’s many twists and turns, I will keep the rest of the synopsis brief and broadly described) – He comes across Fantine, a single mother working as a prostitute to send child support to the innkeepers looking after her daughter Cosette.  He promises to care for her.  After raising her into a young adult, she becomes in love with a young revolutionary boy, all the while Valjean must repeatedly evade Javert.


Suffice to say, the story is quite extensive, but the film manages to strip it down and successfully bring it to life.  The production design is incredible.  Danny Cohen, who worked with Hooper on 2010’s Best Picture The King's Speech, captures the heart of the story with impressive set pieces as well as many intimate close-ups.  However, one major gripe is the choppy editing at times and always-moving camera, particularly during the scenes in which the entire cast (of that particular scene) sings – while it adds energy to the film, it may take viewers out of the story.  Thankfully, the camera rests and editing slows when individuals sing, in order to paint a more personal picture.  Overall, the pacing of the story may be inconsistent, but the rest of the production is rather impressive.

Of course, the musical numbers are fantastic.  Hooper employed the fresh technique of live, on-set singing instead of in-studio recordings and lip-syncing (this means the actors would lead the piano or instrument on-set).  Its effect is by and large a big success as the actors have the opportunity/ability to act during their singing instead of trying to keep up with a recording.  Not all of the stage musical’s pieces are used here, but the highlights are.  Again, if musicals are not your thing, then I’d advise you prepare yourself to be open-minded if you want to see this movie – it rarely has even a simple line of dialogue that isn’t sung or recited to a tone or swelling music in the background.


As mentioned before, Jackman and Hathaway are excellent.  He is an ideal choice to play the long-suffering Valjean.  Better yet, he is more than capable of belting out the many songs his part requires of him.  The sole original song of the production (not from the musical) “Suddenly” will likely garner an Oscar nomination for Best Song – a testament to Jackman’s singing ability.  And then there is Hathaway, who gives the performance of her career despite being relegated to a surprisingly short, albeit significant, supporting role as Fantine.  She seriously elevates the film to soaring heights whenever she is on-screen.  Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” is absolutely breathtaking in how much raw emotion comes through – it is her Oscar-defining moment and makes the entire film worth seeing.  If you cannot connect to all of the emotional beats of this production, this scene is one sure to capture everyone’s heart.


The rest of the cast is also quite good, to varying degrees.  Many people have criticized Russell Crowe’s singing ability, and while it is not on par with the others or this production he still does an admirable job (in fact, I personally felt it was pretty good overall).  Moreover, he does a dependable job making Javert antagonizing without turning him into a truly despicable and cartoonish villain (indeed, it is an understated, non-flashy role).  Amanda Seyfried turns in a serviceable performance as a grown-up Cosette, a character who is less inherently less interesting than those around her, such as Eddie Redmayne’s revolutionary leader Marius.  He makes a big jump in status and rises to the occasion and production with a very good performance.  Samantha Barks, who appeared in the London stage musical, reprises her role as Éponine, the daughter of the innkeepers.  She smoothly transitions from stage to the screen with perhaps the second best female performance of the film; her voice is expectedly beautiful, but her acting ability is likewise remarkable.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter add a great amount of levity as her dirty and cunning innkeeper parents Thenardier and his wife.  While their singing abilities are not the best of the bunch, they do their best and do not really take away from the film given their cheeky characters’ behaviors anyway.  Child actors Daniel Huttlestone and Isabelle Allen are great finds as Gavroche and young Cosette, both quite capable of acting and singing their parts.  Aaron Tveit is solid as Marius’ fellow revolutionary Enjolras.  Numerous actors who played parts in previous stage and filmic versions appear here and there, including Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop (he played Valjean in the “original” version).


In short, Les Misérables is a fantastic musical production with wonderful performances, striking cinematography, and a huge heart.  Occasionally it becomes too bombastic for its own good, and the sentimental nature seeps in too much.  Also, the choppy, brisk editing may take viewers out of the intimate moments.  Nonetheless, the story and message(s) are worthwhile and impressively captured.  It is definitely an emotional ride, at least for those who can accept the musical aspect.  In all, Les Misérables is one of the most impressive productions of 2012 and a worthy adaptation of the beloved novel and musical.  Whether or not this is the definitive adaptation of Hugo’s novel is another question (the 1998 non-musical version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush is quite good as well), but one worth discovering for yourself by seeing it on the big-screen with great audio.

Les Misérables – 8.5/10


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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)]]> 2013-11-07T19:53:42Z 2013-01-05T21:06:51Z An Unexpected Journey is still a technically advanced, fabulously enjoyable and faithful (to a fault) return to Middle-Earth, despite its narrative shortcomings.

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Nearly ten years after the conclusion to the incredible Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy,  Peter Jackson invites audiences back into the fantastic world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth via The Hobbit: Un Unexpected Journey (2012), which is just part one of three based on the novel The Hobbit.  It is a wonderfully nostalgic and expectedly spectacular adventure, but much of the magic that made the LOTR so exceptional is missing or less apparent here.  In particular, the movie suffers from a bloated runtime and admittedly lighter and weaker source material, among a few other criticisms.  Nonetheless, An Unexpected Journey is still a technically advanced, fabulously enjoyable and faithful (to a fault) return to Middle-Earth, despite its narrative shortcomings.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The film opens with events that occur just before the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring as Bilbo begins writing his tale, which begins with Gandalf asking/coercing him to join him on an adventure.  Pretty soon he is off on a journey with the Grey wizard and thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (heir to the dwarf kingdom), in order to reclaim their fallen kingdom and its vast riches deep inside the Lonely Mountain, which is guarded by the terrible dragon known as Smaug (a short prologue recounts the fateful desolation of Smaug).  Bilbo is the company’s burglar; he will sneak into the mountain and hopefully steal the prized riches out from underneath Smaug’s fiery nose, if the dragon is still alive as he has not been seen for many years.  Bilbo is quite hesitant to go on and continue with the adventure, but he must go forward confidently if he ever hopes to return to the Shire again, as they face many perils ahead.

The studio/filmmakers’ decision to split the roughly 270-page book into three (originally just two) parts is a blessing to some but a curse to many others.  This installment covers only about 100 pages, yet it is still almost three hours long.  As a result, Tolkien’s story is almost fully fleshed out (and then some), but the pacing is long-winded, especially early on.  Indeed, as many critics have pointed out, the theatrical version actually feels more like an extended edition with many scenes lingering too long or even extraneous to the plot.  Even with adding in other material from Tolkien’s other books and appendices, the story feels stretched and neuters some of the magic.  Sure, it does justice to the source material, but doing so does not automatically justify a swollen runtime.


Take The Fellowship of the Ring for contrasts sake – it is 400 pages but they fit all of it into one three-hour (and solid four-hour extended edition) film without upsetting too many Tolkien purists, as the movie is absolutely spectacular (and they only got better in the LOTR trilogy).  Thus, splitting The Hobbit into two films seemed like an acceptable choice as we all cherish the LOTR and don’t mind spending more time in Middle-Earth, but by splitting it into three-films the studio has limited the film’s chances of being as great.  Even some more prudent trimming of this nearly three-hour installment would have helped a great deal.  Nevertheless, fans of the first trilogy and most moviegoers won’t complain too much while watching this still rather enjoyable blockbuster.

However, it is subject to the prequel curse – because we already know that Biblo and Gandalf live to tell the tale, some of the suspense disappears.  We definitely get caught up in the moment of fast-paced action, but we know he must find the ring and carry it home so he can pass it on to Frodo.  Nevertheless, with such great imagery and a well-crafted production, going along for the journey is still a joy, despite knowing its basic end as far as characters go.


The other major problem is not from the film, per se – rather, it is the audience’s expectations.  This is by no means on the same level as the LOTR trilogy; the source material itself is more flawed and less engaging.  Instead of a plot to save the world from evil, it is about Bilbo helping the dwarves gain riches and reclaim their homeland.  While the latter is admirable and the stakes are high as they try to accomplish such goals, the world is largely unaffected.  On the other hand, many viewers will wholeheartedly relate to their troubles and root for them, as the nostalgia kicks in and the spectacle overwhelms.  Yet, investing in this particular plight is not as an immediate and relevant one.  Besides, The Hobbit is more like children’s fare than it is serious and adult-oriented, as the LOTR seems to be in contrast (though this film has its moments and hints at an approaching doom with an “ancient enemy”).  It is quite cheeky at times with more slapstick and silly humor than perhaps the entire LOTR combined, but by the end the film does manage to build a breakneck pace with more gravitas.  In short, managing one’s expectations going into the movie is essential, unless you are a diehard LOTR/Tolkien fanatic in which you will most likely love it – for the rest of us and probably the majority of moviegoers, it is simply a good film with a few great moments.


On its own merits, An Unexpected Journey is a mighty accomplishment in production terms.  Once again, Jackson and his sleep-deprived cast and crew have crafted an almost unparalleled immersive experience, at least in terms of technical details.  The production design, cinematography (apart from the new format and use of 3D), score and so forth are largely consistent with that of the LOTR trilogy, meaning the production value is excellent.  In particular, Andrew Lesnie’s visuals are colorful and beautifully rendered (though personally it seems a bit too colorful and “clean” at times as I prefer the dirty look of LOTR), and Howard Shore reprises his role as composer with yet another first-rate original score, though it may not be as unforgettable as the pieces from LOTR (parts of which are hinted at or re-used at times here).  Also, as a side note, the score is a bit too reminiscent of his one for Hugo (2011) and threw me off at times, but the casual viewer should not have problem and ought to enjoy the quality musical composition.

Speaking of technical aspects, the issue of the new high frame rate (HFR) of 48 frames-per-second (FPS) is a debate worth discussing.  The new format, in which Jackson filmed in, certainly aids the 3D, as it helps to limit the motion-blur and brightens the picture with a hyper-real look.  However, in “quieter” scenes, the look is a bit distracting; it looks like one is watching a sports game on an HDTV or some BBC television show – the soap opera effect occurs at times (it is less noticeable in the bigger scenes).  After a while, though, one adjusts to the HFR.  However, whether one wants to is another question – it simply does not look/feel as cinematic and hopefully will not catch on with every film.  In fact, I saw this in the old-fashioned “2D”/regular 24fps format, and it looked just as grand if not a bit more realistic, as our eyes more closely match this format.  Besides, the LOTR did not have this at its disposal, and yet it was amazing anyway.  Then again, the advancements in technology have allowed viewers to feel “closer” to the characters on-screen with clearer images and crisper special effects; indeed, the film is a joy to watch.


Although the cast is not as filled with recognizable faces as the LOTR trilogy, it still features solid performances all-around.  Martin Freeman is an ideal choice to play the swashbuckling yet quietly heroic Bilbo Baggins; he does a fair job carrying the film here and will likely only become stronger as this new trilogy continues on.  Richard Armitage is stellar as the brooding and brave Thorin Oakenshield, even if he is a notch less charismatic than Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn; viewers will invest in Thorin’s plight as they discover more about his past and true, upstanding self despite the cold exterior.  Unfortunately, the rest of the dwarves do not have enough time to fully distinguish themselves, but each actor puts forth earnest performances.  Sylvester McCoy puts in a decent turn as the loopy Radagast the Brown, one of the other wizards of Middle-Earth.  Lee Pace very briefly appears as the self-serving elf king Thranduil, whom we shall see much of in the next two installments.  Barry Humphries “plays” the Great Goblin, or at least voices him; his character epitomizes the inconsistent tone of the film that somewhat threw me off – his lines are goofy at times which lessens the direness of the situation.

Several notable members of the original LOTR trilogy reprise their roles to varying capacities.  Ian McKellen has immortalized the Gandalf role, in which he seems to be having a blast and it shows for the better.  Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee all make short cameos as old Bilbo, Frodo, Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel, and Saruman the White, all of whom put forth quality turns in such small roles; (however, it is sad to see a now 90-year-old Lee continue acting as his age clearly has caught up with him).


It is Andy Serkis who steals the entire show, reprising his role as Gollum.  First, the updated special effects have made the lovably pitiful character even more realistic; he looks awesome. Serkis is fantastic to watch as Gollum/Smeagol, though Gollum is clearly the dominating one here.  This “riddles in the dark” set piece is perhaps the best part of the film, as Bilbo and Gollum battle each other with riddles.

Tolkien’s works in Middle-Earth are thinly veiled, exaggerated tales of good vs. evil (LOTR more so than this).  In An Unexpected Journey, the themes are obviously still present, such as Gandalf’s assertion that “true courage is not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare it” (in reference to Gollum, whom we know is essential to Frodo’s journey in LOTR).  However, the messages become a bit preachy at times, such as the scene in which he speaks with Lady Galadriel – Gandalf virtually stares into the camera as he gives his sermon about what staves off evil.  While these messages are worthwhile, this film is less clever in conveying them.


In the end, An Unexpected Journey may feel more accomplished when the Hobbit trilogy is complete (Desolation of Smaug in Dec. 2013 and There and Back Again in July 2014), but for now it is incomplete and feels a bit overstuffed.  Of course, it is an enjoyable adventure to go on, despite its slower pace, thanks to wonderfully artistry, committed performances and the most powerful tool at Jackson’s disposal: nostalgia.  Beyond the feeling of “seeing an old friend again,” this film is not nearly as emotionally-involving as the roller-coaster rides of LOTR are; it’s not hard to imagine many viewers hoped to feel a bit more from this movie.  While it is not exactly fair to compare it to the LOTR trilogy, it is inevitable and the expectations are not exceeded, which leads to some disappointment; at best, they are satisfied but not overwhelmed (indeed, this is not even close to Fellowship, which now seems like the weakest of the LOTR, the whole of which is greatly elevated by the slight disappointment here; re-watch LOTR after this and you will be astonished all over again) – hopefully the new trilogy raises the stakes and becomes great, but for now it is merely good and for many that may not be quite enough.  Still, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is definitely worth seeing in theaters and on multiple formats (at least for the experience), as it is one of the better productions and more enjoyable films of 2012.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 8/10


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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: This Is 40 (2012)]]> 2013-06-07T21:02:12Z 2013-01-05T21:06:21Z Despite the overlong runtime and its inherent issue of trying to make viewers sympathize with a struggling upper-middle class family, This Is 40 is a largely sincere and humorous, albeit quite raunchy, slice of familial life picture that almost any family can relate to given the fairly universal problems the characters face.

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Judd Apatow has written and produced many comedies in recent years, but he has surprisingly directed only three features prior to This Is 40 (2012), including its quasi-prequel and his sophomore effort Knocked Up (2007).  Since then, he has shown some development as a writer-director, and this film is certainly his most personal and honest one, even if it is not the most funny (though it is quite hilarious at times).  Despite the overlong runtime and its inherent issue of trying to make viewers sympathize with a struggling upper-middle class family, This Is 40 is a largely sincere and humorous, albeit quite raunchy, slice of familial life picture that almost any family can relate to given the fairly universal problems the characters face.


The film does not involve the leads from Knocked Up in any way; instead, it centers on Pete and Debbie’s family as they both approach age 40.  Everything seems perfect; they live in a fabulous home, both work in their passion fields, and they have two beautiful young daughters – yet, trouble boils beneath the surface.  With the recession and some poor business choices, they have slowly fallen into financial trouble and their kids are entering hormonal stages and start to fight, almost as much as Pete and Debbie themselves do lately as their marital issues rise to the surface and test their relationship.

One of the main criticisms targeted at the film is in the form of a rhetorical question: “How can we, the audience, care about these fairly rich, upper-middle class people when all they do is bicker about how their lives are falling apart?”  Indeed, millions of other Americans are suffering far worse than these characters do.  However, if viewers can get past the inherent issue of limited sympathy, they will find many of the issues that the family goes through are pretty universal, regardless of financial status.  You will find something in these people’s lives that you can relate to and can feel the honesty and truths that which Apatow and his cast and crew imbue onto/through the film.


Then again, this is Apatow, king of vulgar comedies.  The film is littered with profanity, occasional nudity and so forth.  It can be off-putting to some, though those willing to watch the film will likely not care too much and even find the crudeness hilarious.  Still, it puts up a sort of mean-spirit that does not help the already restrained sympathy for the characters; it feels self-indulgent at times with what appears to be a lot of crude (in both senses) improvisation to elicit laughter.

Furthermore, the movie needed to be trimmed for a tighter, more effective storyline.  Several subplots misfire, though they are humorous.  For example, the cat and mouse game of who stole from Debbie’s boutique shop takes up too much screen time and amounts to little, other than the fact that her business lost some money, which further strains her and Pete’s marriage (though his failing record label and lending of money to his father is probably more to blame).  Several scenes felt more like skits that, while funny and somewhat useful to the story, should have been trimmed, such as the run-in with one of their daughter’s classmates and his feisty mother Catherine (played quite humorously by Melissa McCarthy, who elicits even funnier reactions from Pete and Debbie).  


Indeed, the entire story is a bit episodic.  Nonetheless, this is a slice-of-life kind of film that does not have a major plot.  It shows how one family deals with issues ranging from the everyday kind to some more serious ones.  Some have criticized the fathers’ subplot(s), but they are emotionally involving by the end and important at least to show how the characters came to be – then again, the end does lose its momentum a bit with so many subplots.  The film would have benefited from judicious trimming so it could have focused more fully on just Pete, Debbie, and their two daughters Sadie and Charlotte.

Thus far in the review, This Is 40 seems like a downer and major disappointment rife with problems.  Although it is flawed, it is still rather entertaining, particularly for Apatow’s biting banter and humor, as well as poignant at times with honest truths about troubled familial life and marriage.  Apatow definitely appears to have grown up some as a writer-director, as this is his most personal project; one could easily surmise Paul Rudd is a stand-in for him as Pete, especially considering Apatow’s wife is Leslie Mann who plays Debbie and the characters’ daughters are played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude and Iris.  Likely drawing from he and Mann’s marriage, this film contains many well-drawn scenes that seem realistic oftentimes in a humorously crude way to deal with issues of aging, parenthood, generational

differences (i.e. hilarious debate about Mad Men and Lost, as well as music tastes), etc.  It may be rough in terms of material and somewhat flawed in terms of execution, but the film is still a solid, above-average dramedy with very good writing and earnest performances.


Rudd and Mann reprise their roles from Knocked Up.  This time around, though, they are a bit more jaded and troubled, though they can still show love and affection toward one another on occasion (i.e. hilarious hotel getaway sequence).  Maude and Iris Apatow are capable young actresses playing the hormonal Sadie and affable Charlotte.  Jason Segel also returns as Jason, but his role is merely there for comedic sake (of which he does a reliable job).  Megan Fox has grown up since Transformers but her purpose is mainly for sex-appeal as Desi.  Charlyne Yi plays Fox’s fellow boutique shop worker, the mentally unstable Jodi – a character who is superfluous to the story but ends up giving a rather humorous, albeit over-the-top, looped-out scene (one that may have better fit on a director’s cut).  Albert Brooks and John Lithgow turn in quality performances as Pete and Debbie’s initially unlikable fathers Larry and Oliver (respectively); the former is a mooch, especially since he and his wife have young triplets, and the latter has been absent from Debbie’s entire life basically.  Several other recognizable faces appear, such as rising Apatow stars Chris O'Dowd and Annie Mumolo as Ronnie and Barb.  While the cast is full of veteran comedic actors and then some, a few characters could have been cut from the theatrical version to create a more focused narrative, though each actor

puts forth sincere and/or enjoyable/humorous performances.

Somehow, This Is 40 is for both a limited and wide audience.  It is a bit more serious than most of Apatow’s work, produced or directed, yet it still contains plenty of his trademark humor.  Also, it deals with fairly universal issues any family can relate to, but this particular family is pretty well off and their complaining can seem obnoxious (especially in comparison to tougher struggles many families face today).  Still, it is life and marriage affirming in the end.  It is not a total crowd-pleaser, as the conclusion is a tenuously happy one, but this is simply a window into these people’s lives and not meant to be a tightly-wrapped, plot-driven story; it is a well-written, well-acted character study that fairly blends humor with honest drama.

This Is 40 – 7.5/10




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Luke Smeenk <![CDATA[Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)]]> 2013-11-07T19:56:22Z 2013-01-05T21:05:51Z Silver Linings Playbook is an edgy, captivating and truthful adult romantic dramedy that will charm its way into your heart; indeed, it is one of my favorite films from 2012.

Thanks for reading. Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012) is a post from The Modern Allegory

Looking for an immensely entertaining, emotional and truthful crowd-pleaser?  Look no further than Silver Linings Playbook (2012), director David O. Russell’s follow-up to The Fighter (2010).  With his sensitive yet sharp script, based on Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name, this romantic comedy lives up to its genre title with sincere romance, genuine humor and best of all it handles the drama of mental illness rather gracefully.  Furthermore, the film features one of if not the best all-around ensemble cast of 2012, with each actor putting forth their best effort in years or ever.  Silver Linings Playbook is an edgy, captivating and truthful adult romantic dramedy that will charm its way into your heart; indeed, it is one of my favorite films from 2012.


It begins with undiagnosed bi-polar Pat Solitano coming home from an eighth month stint in a mental hospital after he viciously assaulted the man sleeping with his estranged wife Nikki, who since then has moved out, sold their home and put a restraining order on him.  Despite the obvious signs and a host of family members telling him their relationship is over, he is fully convinced he can win her back.  Along comes Tiffany, a sultry, clever and mentally volatile widow whom he meets through his best friend Ronnie and his bossy wife Veronica.  She agrees to help him sneak a letter to Nikki, so long as he becomes her dance partner in a big competition coming up.  They quickly form a close rapport, one that oftentimes borders on romantic, but make no mistake about Pat’s clear, albeit stubborn, intentions to reunite with his wife (i.e. working out and reading her classroom syllabus so they have more to talk about).  First and foremost, if he wants to reach the silver lining he so often talks about, he must cope with his inner demons, something easier said than done considering so many “crazy” people live around him, particularly his OCD, occasionally temper-bursting sports bookie father Pat Sr. who depends on him for good luck (among other, deeper feelings).

For a film centering around basically two lead characters with mental problems, Silver Linings Playbook is graceful without glossing over harsh truths.  It never feels disingenuous to the subject matter, though towards the end it could have gone a bit darker but opts to turn slightly conventional with tying up the romantic aspect of the story (though it hardly feels cliché or worn-out).  Instead, it manages to poignantly balance the serious drama of mental illness with the romance and comedy, largely thanks to Russell’s biting dialogue and two outstanding lead performances in a great ensemble cast.


Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence show their wide-ranging talents here.  He inhabits Pat perfectly with all of his idiosyncratic ticks and penchant for having no filter as he is often direct to the point of being inconsiderate and rude.  Nevertheless, the audience still sympathizes with him, for the most part.  Likewise, Lawrence rises above her X-Men and Hunger Games blockbuster appeal and once again proves her remarkable acting abilities first seen in Winter's Bone (2010).  For a 22-year old, she plays the part much older, and thus she never seems out of place as a widow.  She nails Tiffany’s sharply intelligent wit/biting humor and volatile vulnerability, not to mention the character’s sensual nature.  Indeed, she is certain to garner an Oscar nomination and possibly win Best Actress, so long as Jessica Chastain doesn’t take it for Zero Dark Thirty.

The supporting cast is in top form as well.  Robert De Niro gives his best performance in at least a decade or two, reminding audiences he was one considered the best actor ever.  He rocks the part of Pat Sr., with all the character’s OCD mannerisms and even showing great vulnerability and care as a father to a troubled son.  Similarly, Jacki Weaver turns in a very good, earnest performance in a motherly role quite unlike her Oscar-nominated one for Animal Kingdom (2010); she is much more supportive and loving, rather than coldly manipulative.  You really feel for both Pat Sr. and Dolores as they watch their son implode.


Other, smaller but still important and well-drawn supporting characters appear as well.  John Ortiz and Julia Stiles are a hoot as Pat’s equally troubled best friend Ronnie and his controlling wife Veronica.  Chris Tucker makes a rare appearance, his first in over a decade that is not dealing with the Rush Hour franchise – he plays Pat’s friend Danny, whom he met in the mental hospital and throughout the film seeks to get out of it.  Tucker is an absolute joy to see back on the big-screen; he is perfect as the quirky friend looking to always help out Pat.  Also, Pat’s seemingly stoic psychiatrist Anupam Kher adds deadpan humor to the proceedings.  Shea Whigham makes a solid appearance as Pat’s older, somewhat more stable brother Jake.  Paul Herman plays another bookie, who is “friends” with the Solitano family insofar as they have opposing favorite teams and are competitive.  Lastly, Pat’s wife Nikki does appear late in the story, and she is played by Brea Bee in a thankless, virtually dialogue-free role.

Russell has made a smooth, largely upbeat and stylish little flick that has great widespread appeal as a crowd-pleaser, though it remains in limited release over its (thus far) two month run.  The combination of Danny Elfman’s tender original musical score and a number of popular song titles, most significantly Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” makes for a fun, emotionally-involving time.  Masanobu Takayangi’s cinematography is not flashy but still engaging and immerses the audience into the story.  Russell is an eclectic but strong director, and this film feels like a mixture of other great indie-based directors, such as Cameron Crowe’s rom-com sincerity, Jason Reitman’s detailed direction, and Alexander Payne’s sharp dialogue – yet this is entirely a Russell film, one that harkens back to his older days rather than The Fighter.  Nonetheless, it might be one of his best and certainly more accessible productions.  Silver Linings Playbook delicately balances the drama with the romantic comedy conventions to provide a truly fresh entry into that genre, thanks in large part to the impressive acting from its leads and notable ensemble cast.  Seek it out, and you won’t be disappointed with this massively entertaining and surprisingly meaningful crowd-pleaser.

Silver Linings Playbook – 9/10


Thanks for reading. Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012) is a post from The Modern Allegory