For some reason, I am still at Sundance. This is now my 10th day in Park City, Utah and, well, in comparison to earlier this week, it's now a bit of a ghost town. I, too, was supposed to be one of those ghosts. Unfortunately, the combination of ice and airplanes do not mix, so here we are. (Someday I will return to you, New York. I hope. I hope.) But, there are still movies to be seen -- I have now seen 23 in all. So, since the last time I did a movie roundup (and there's the time before that, too, if you are interested) here is the third and (I hope) final installment of capsule reviews for the films I saw at Sundance.
The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now is running neck-and-neck with Fruitvale as my own personal favorite movie of Sundance. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber 0- the team that brought you (500) Days of Summer -- it explores the life of Sutter (Miles Teller), who could not give a shit about anything that doesn't involve this very moment. Also, he's 18 and may already be an alcoholic. Yeah, it's a lot darker than I expected.
I don't want to label (500) Days of Summer as a gimmick because I enjoyed that movie immensely, but there's no getting around the fact that (500) Days did use the gimmick of time shifting to explore a relationship. It's very encouraging to see Neustadter and Weber come back with a more straightforward story that leaves even more of an impact.
The Way, Way Back
Waterslides and Sam Rockwell make an interesting combination. But, first, the most interesting thing about this movie is that Steve Carell plays a dick. Carell's character is dating young Duncan's (Liam James) mother, Pam (Toni Collette) -- but Carell plays him as a boorish prick who has no problem insulting Duncan while simultaneously cheating on Pam. The interesting part is just how well Carell plays a dick, which I didn't think was possible. (Also, it is kind of fun to watch Careel yell the name "Pam" again.)
Rockwell -- playing the manager of a water park -- hires Duncan, which teaches the youngster that there's more to life outside of his shitty family life. The Way, Way Back was co-directed Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the pair own Oscars for co-writing The Descendents, but you probably know them best from, respectively, Ben and Kate and Community) and seems destined to land in "feel good summer hit" territory. (Fox Searchlight picked it up for distribution.)
Did you see Primer? This is the long awaited follow-up film from the director of Primer, Shane Carruth. For me to even attempt to explain the plot of this movie would take at least 1,000 words, so, I'm even not going to attempt to do that for this kind of capsule format. (If you want to ask questions about this movie, feel free to tweet at me and I will do my best to answer them.) Let's just say it involves mind-controlling worms and also pigs that represent the human essence. In other words: this is not Primer. To me, watching Primer was like watching an instructional manual on time travel. But at least it was partially accessible. It feels like Upstream Color was made specifically for film festival attendees who will marvel at the fact that they're watching something so different than anything else they've seen. And this is true. But no normal audience who just wants to watch a movie to take their minds off of whatever is going on in their lives will never pay to see Upstream Color, no matter how genius its director might be.
Brit Marling plays an ex-F.B.I operative who is hired by a large corporation to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group called The East. Along the way she starts to sympathize with the mission of the group.
It's quite possibly the most polished film that I saw at Sundance and the one most ready to be released in theaters (which probably isn't a surprise since Fox Searchlight owned this property even before Sundance began).
Marling is great but, for me, the biggest surprise Is Alexander Skarsgård who finally has been cast in a film role that has him doing more than "looking pretty." (He was great in Melancholia, but his role was mainly "Good Looking Husband.") And, boy, I didn't realize just how haggard Skarsgård can make himself look as he's almost unrecognizable at the beginning of the film.
The world really needs more Nick Offerman. So, the "Toy" in the title refers to Nick Offerman's character's last name, Frank Toy -- a last name that he shares with his son Joe (Nick Robinson). After a series of arguments between the two, Joe and two friends decide to run away from home and live in a makeshift house that they built in the middle of the woods.
Yes, it's another coming of age story. And, just like The Spectacular Now, it's another good coming of age story. The biggest surprise here is just how much screen time that Nick Offerman gets (it's no surprise just how funny every line that he delivers winds up being).
Toy's House will be on my "Best of Sundance" list when I find the time to write a "Best of Sundance" list.
A.C.O.D. (which stands for "Adult Children of Divorce") is a really solid effort for first time director Stuart Zicherman, who also co-wrote the script. Whatever weak links there are in the script -- and there are a few -- are kind of irrelevant because of the fantastic cast he assembled (including Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Richard Jenkins and Catherine O'Hara). Scott plays Carter, a man whose divorced parents (Jenkins and O'Hara) hate each other, which affects his own feelings toward commitment with his current girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Put it this way: with a less talented cast, I'm not sure that this movie hits. To be fair, this can probably be said about every movie -- but the cast really does elevate the material to a new level.
For some reason I had wanted to avoid this movie and I think it had something to do with the stigma of Lindsay Lohan at one time being considered for the lead role of early '70s porn star Linda Lovelace. Lohan's involvement had nothing to do with this project (that movie was titled Inferno) but for some reason the whole "Linda Lovelace biopic" idea just seemed like a fiasco. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Lovelace.
Amanda Seyfried plays the title role in a movie about porn that has very few depictions of actual pornography. (Put it this way: nothing will need to be cut from the film to secure an "R," which is something people are suggesting that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon's Addiction" will have to do.) The film focuses on the relationship between Lovelace and her first husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) -- a quite violent relationship that takes Lovelace into darker territory than what was expected.
Also: It's quite amazing to explore just what a sensation Lovelace's Deep Throat was in 1972. This was a pornography film that grossed over $30 million -- in theaters! In 1972 money!
It's about time that Kathryn Hahn got a starring role of her own. And there's a decent amount of good in here, but there's also a lot of nonsense. The sexless marriage between Hahn's character and Josh Radnor is certainly interesting. There's chemistry between these two actors and I wish the movie had focused more on them than the reclamation of a stripper/prostitute, played by Juno Temple -- which, unfortunately, is most of the movie. If nothing else, I'd like to see Hahn and Radnor try something again -- even with director Jill Soloway, who obviously has a good rapport with these actors -- but with maybe a little less convoluted of a plot.
Blue Caprice explores the relationship between John Muhammed (played by Isaiah Washington) and Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond), who eventually become the Beltway Snipers who terrorized the D.C. area in 2002.
It's a tough subject matter because, to this day, so little is known about these two men. The film follows Muhammed and Malvo from Antigua to Washington state to, finally, Washington D.C. It's a 90-minute film and the two don't arrive in D.C. until 71 minutes into the film. Blue Caprice tries to explore why these to human beings did what they did -- the answers seems to be partly "anger" -- but that might be an impossible task.
If Sony were smart, they would purchase Manhunt -- a documentary that explores the long hunt for Osama bin Laden -- and, after a theatrical run, package it with every upcoming Zero Dark Thirty Blu-ray. The documentary starts with events that occur before even the 1993 World Trade Center attack, but these two films are so intertwined, watching "Manhunt" is like watching the annotations of Zero Dark Thirty. Remember that scene in Zero Dark Thirty involving a doctor who was supposedly going to give up the whereabouts of bin Laden -- which resulted in a disastrous explosion on a CIA camp? That incident is fleshed out here in much more detail, but it's kind of amazing just how accurately Zero Dark Thirty portrayed those events.
Regardless, Manhunt provides a frustrating look at how intelligence was gathered before and after September of 2001 and the animosity between the data collectors in Virginia and the agents in the field. And it presents how congress used the CIA as scapegoats for not putting the dots together, even though most of the members of congress had never heard of bin Laden before 2001.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.