Sundance 2014 Review: Roger Ebert Doc 'Life Itself' A Profoundly Moving Story About One Of Cinema’s Greatest Superheroes


Note: This review was originally written and posted for Indiewire’s The Playlist. Please click on this link and support their site. 

Without question, Roger Ebert is the most recognizable figure in American film criticism, possibly even international criticism, and deservingly so. Ebert helped curious minds alive today better understand movies and what they were trying to say, moving past the obvious and always finding something deeper. “Life Itself” is based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name, but the film goes far beyond the book’s last page. This documentary actually started shooting months before Ebert knew he was going to die, and the bulk of the focus is on his many relentless and rigorous battles to stay alive, as well as highs and lows in his life — there’s no soft-pedalling here. One very admirable trait about Ebert — when he learned he was going to die, and very soon, he wanted the show to go on.

Like the showboat he deservingly was, Ebert had acclaimed director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters”) take charge and tell the story of his life, but with a bit of guidance from Ebert. James tells this unapologetic story with little sympathy, as per Ebert’s wishes, and a lot of passion — he wants the audience to really know who Roger Ebert was, and understand the importance of his work. The film’s highlights include a look at the enormous troubles Ebert had to overcome, mostly his fondness for booze and women, as well as the battle he faced every day until his last breath — the cancer that reduced him to a shadow of his former self, and eventually killed him.

A big nod goes to his devoted wife, Chaz, who has been his biggest cheerleader since the day they fell in love. Without her, Ebert freely admits he never could have faced his demons. As taxing as it is spending days with a loved one who is dying, Chaz never gave up on Roger and the film makes it clear she’s an important part of Ebert’s work. A large portion of the film takes place in the hospital during Ebert’s last act in life. James gets up close and personal, showing the audience how much Ebert smiled through his tough, final days and managed to still enjoy his life. It’s devastating and beautiful, sad and poetic, all at the same time, exactly what Ebert wanted.

Fans of Gene Siskel will be very pleased to see a healthy tribute to him in the film. Nothing is held back as the audience watches Siskel and Ebert fight, insult and laugh at each other as they talk about movies — passive aggressiveness was never a part of their language and they just went straight for the jugular. But it’s clear that they loved each other, but didn’t always know how to say it — too proud, perhaps.

If you’ve read Ebert’s book of the same title, you’ll appreciate how remarkably well James constructed the film. It’s impossible to discuss every detail of Ebert’s memoir, so James deliberately bounces around the book, letting the audience know what chapter is being dissected and where Roger was at in his life — even though some of the years are a bit out of order, it’s still a smooth transition. To help better understand Roger’s feelings, James provides voiceover quotes from the book, and then shows archived and new footage, or talking heads of the ones closest to him finish out the chapter.

There was a thunder in Ebert’s heart, and that was his love for movies, and he wanted to tell the world about films, both big ones and small. James should be high-fived every day of his life for telling the real story of Roger Ebert — a writer, a former alcoholic, a showboat, a hero, a lover, a man who changed from an uncouth kind of a dick to one who was unfailingly witty and kind. Last but certainly not least, Roger Ebert was a movie lover, and this is the kind of movie he would have loved.

My Favorite Films of 2013 I Saw After I Made My Favorite Films of 2013 List.


I made a Favorite Films of 2013 list, then saw more movies. Here are my Favorite Films of 2013 I Saw After I Made My Favorite Films of 2013 List. And don’t worry, if I can, I’ll make My Favorite Films of 2013 I Saw After I Made Two Previous Favorite Films of 2013 Lists list. 

In no particular order: 























Movies You've Never Seen But Should: TV JUNKIE


This year — based on the suggestion of my pal Nathan Rabin — I watched a documentary from 2006 that that I’ve never heard of called TV JUNKIE. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (in 2006) and won the Special Jury Prize for documentary (and was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize). Then it disappeared after the festival ended. Until now.

I’m not sure why this never got a proper theatrical or DVD release - it’s one of the most compelling documentaries I’ve ever seen in my life. It was never sold to a film distributor and was shelved until the digital age made it slightly easier to get the film out into the world. 

In this poignant and heartbreaking story, Rick Kirkham, an INSIDE EDITION Reporter, is obsessed with filming every aspect of his life. This includes fighting  with his exhausted-but-supportive wife, filming his excessive drug abuse, and shooting over 3,000 hours into his descent into madness. You can feel his tremor of something - sadness, loss, anger - vibrate through him. And we are watching it all happen as cowards cringing while he self-destructs.

Rick loved shooting and filmed everything - he held nothing back and I admire is determination. You see, dear reader, Kirkham’s tragic story he hoped  would to lead him to fame and glory pushed him so far down the rabbit hole recovering seemed inconceivable.

TV JUNKIE was carefully edited with candor and compassion by the films’ directors Michael Cain (fellow Dallasite!) and Matt Radecki. Please do yourself a kindness and see this film. 

TV JUNKIE is still currently unavailable on DVD, but you can rent or buy it on iTunes by clicking HERE. I highly suggest you do this.

Sundance 2013 Review: David Gordon Green's PRINCE AVALANCHE


Breathe easy everyone, King David Gordon Green has returned to making good movies again. It’s been four films since the former indie auteur has made a solid one, and three of those were not under studio restraints. After The Sitter shit on everything Green worked so hard for, I worried we’d never get back the man so many of us movie geeks once adored for his Sundance hits All the Real Girls and Snow Angels, and the dystopian future we read about in the Bible was on its way.

Since science or logic will never be able to comprehend or understand what was going through Green’s mind when he made Your Highness and The Sitter, and he’ll probably never explain or defend these films, we’re going to pretend they never, ever happened. Pineapple Express was a wacky and humorous attempt at mixing comedians with hard violence and drugs, and though sub-par, it was at least enjoyable.

Perhaps The Sitter dropping a bomb at the box office was a wake up call. Or maybe it was the broken hearts of Green admirers from all over. But Prince Avalanche, a remake of the Icelandic film Either Way, marks Green’s triumphant return to compelling independent film storytelling.

Prince Avalanche stars Paul Rudd as Alvin and Emile Hirsch as Lance. They work together in the middle of a wooded nowhere as highway road workers after a 1987 disaster. Their job is to rebuild what the fire destroyed. They spend their days spraying yellow lines on the street and hammering-in posts. They dress in the same blue jean overalls Kurt Russell wears in Big Trouble in Little China, except they don’t look nearly as awesome or fit as him. After work is done, they fix up a tent, cook their food, and diddle daddle until it’s time for sleep. For the adventurous, it sounds like an awesome gig. But the problem here is, well, Alvin hates Lance. A whole lot. Like the road they’re fixing, their friendship is a one way street. They constantly fight, bicker, and throw tools at each other.

But why does Alvin hate Lance so much? For starters, Lance has no sense of decorum. All he wants to do is talk about sex (“man-squeezed” is what he proudly coins it) and blast rock music on the boombox. Alvin’s favorite pastime is listening to Rosetta Stone-esque cassette tapes that teach him how to speak German. Before he brought on Lance, this construction job offered him something of immeasurable value: solitude. But Lance is Alvin’s girlfriend’s little brother, so he sucked it up, and gave this ding dong a summer job with him. Alvin sacrificed his sanity and much wanted detachment from the real world for love. Oof.

No matter if it’s comedy or drama, Paul Rudd can crank the charm in every role he does. He’s proven time and time again that he’s a very funny guy, but when the role needs it, he can project maturity and sincerity. This is what makes Rudd one of today’s most in-demand actors. Green uses Rudd’s charisma as a tool to give this story a face. Green shows us the more righteous side of Rudd. Smart move for both Green and Rudd too, because this performance is outstanding.

“How did Emile Hirsch keep up with the charismatic Paul Rudd?” you probably want to know. The simple answer is this: playing dumb. Hirsch broke from the teenage movie career phase, focused on more serious leading roles (Into the Wild being the most notable), and took a sharp left turn into Supporting Character Goontown with his last two films. The result? Utter brilliance. In Killer Joe, he plays an ignorant redneck with his eye on the prize: money. The results end very bad for him. In Prince Avalanche, he’s a stubborn hillbilly who refuses to grow up. To quote Alvin, Lance “quite realistically cannot amount to anything.” Playing a goon comes natural to Hirsch, which only means he’s good at convincing people. He’s a real actor.

There are plenty of laughs in Prince Avalanche, especially when Alvin and Lance are screaming obscenities at each other, but this story goes deeper than the conventional story of an unlikely friendship. Even though they see the world through different perspectives, there’s no denying these two have a level of intimacy between them. What makes this a compelling film is how these characters grow together, while being one another’s only source of companionship.

I applaud Green so much for leaving the studio system to make a film on his own merit and terms. Prince Avalanche was made in secret and nobody knew a thing about it until after production wrapped. Small stories with a heart is what Green is good at telling, and that’s exactly what Prince Avalanche is – a little story with a big beating heart. Welcome back, dude.

Sundance 2013 Review: THE RAMBLER Wanders Into Disorientation And Madness


If David Lynch and David Cronenberg teamed up with Werner Herzog early in their careers and made a movie together, it would have been Calvin Reeder’s The Rambler. Wherever you stand with these three auteurs, that’s either a big, big compliment, or it’s quite the opposite. I proudly stand on the former side of the fence, so this review is going to say some flattering things about The Rambler, a mixture of unhinged brilliance, idiocy, unsettling confusion, and a whole lot of chaos.

The Rambler opens with its titular character (Dermot Mulroney) being released from jail. We’re not sure why he was in jail, and it definitely wasn’t to ride ponies, but from the look of his welcome home party — full of miscreants — it’s safe to assume he did something pretty moronic to get in. Well, somebody in Hell still likes him, because he has a run-down mobile home, a good-for-nothing girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne) who loves booze as much as she loves him, and a shit job at the local pawn shop waiting for him. Despite his “good” fortune, The Rambler decides to hit the road to make his way to his brother’s ranch, where’s he’s promised a good job and healthy life. That is, if he can make it to the ranch.

The Rambler is a movie that lives by its own rules, and it works on its own terms. You have to accept the world Reeder has created for The Rambler, or chances are you won’t like it. It’s a narrative and there’s a plot, but a lot built inside this movie is batshit crazy. Along The Rambler’s odyssey to Oregon, he meets a mad scientist who thinks he’s discovered how to capture dreams by way of VHS, a doomed girl simply named The Girl (Lindsay Pulsipher, The Oregonian) who comes and goes in every new place he winds up, and a cab driver who just wants to see the movie Frankenstein remade in color. This is quite a concoction of animated characters.

Picking Mulroney as the lead was an odd, but great choice. Most roles we’ve seen him play are lovable hunks in conventional rom-coms. In The Rambler, he plays a man who’s drifting in and out of consciousness as he gallivants aimlessly to his brother’s ranch in Oregon. The Rambler accepts all the oddities he comes across through his journey like it ain’t no thing. It’s fun watching Mulroney break from his normal routine and star in something, well, colorful. I don’t think this movie would have been as effective without him, since most of the characters he’s known for playing are straight-laced, handsome, and have a good heart. As The Rambler, he’s an ignorant, worthless human being who only exists because he still breathes life. That’s the only quality he has. Everything else he duly notes and disregards.

I haven’t seen Reeder’s first film, The Oregonian, so I can’t compare The Rambler to it, but I can say unconventional storytelling is what he’s here to do. Whether it makes sense or not, he’s wants to take you on a bonkers journey of madness. I can’t tell you what Lynch’s Mulhulland Dr. is about, but I can say that I love it, and not because it’s a Lynch film, but because it challenges the human psyche — it breaks the rules of reality. That’s exactly what The Rambler does. It’s a 90-minute psychotic journey through fucking madness. If you ever wondered what it’s like to live in Hell on Earth, The Rambler will be your Huckleberry.

(Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.)

Sundance 2013 Review: AFTERNOON DELIGHT Captures the Challenges of Seeking Love, Happiness, and Peace


Poor Rachel (Kathryn Hahn). Although she’s married to the man of her dreams, Jeff (Josh Radnor), leads a really nice lifestyle, and has a healthy son, she’s bored as hell as a stay-at-home housewife. Her friends are starting to suck, because they all have day jobs and/or do normal mom things. And Jeff never wants to have sex. They high five in passing more often than they copulate, and Jeff even has an unspoken “no sex tonight” safe phrase when they’re going to bed.

In an attempt to spice up their sex life, she, along with Jeff and some of their friends, go to a strip club. Here’s where it gets, well, a bit odd. After getting a lap dance from a young stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple), Rachel’s curiosity and boredom get the best of her, and she takes it upon herself to help McKenna out of her current unhealthy lifestyle. Things will go one of two ways: 1) Genius. 2) Stupidly bad.

Afternoon Delight explores the off-kilter world of Silver Lake, a highly hip neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, full of highly hip (and crazy) people. This will probably go unnoticed by folks who don’t live in L.A., but it sure hits home for those of us who do. But don’t worry, there’s enough delightful entertainment packed into this movie, you don’t need to be a native to enjoy. There is, however, one thing you should know about Los Angeles — everyone here has a therapist. Even therapists have therapists. 

Afternoon Delight is writer/director Jill Soloway’s feature film debut, and she’s brought together a lovely cast. Kathryn Hahn branded herself in small-but-memorable roles on TV and in films (Parks and RecAnchormanStep Brothers), but she takes the lead as Rachel and knocks it out of the park. She’s fierce, vulnerable, crazy, and courageous, all at the same time. Josh Radnor, who is better known as playing the hopeless romantic in long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother, steps out of the norm in this film, but still manages to play a man with a gentle heart. Radnor is a very likable guy, and will always get a thumbs up from me for playing characters who wear their heart on their sleeve. 

We also get a few scenes with the great Jane Lynch as Rachel’s therapist, who mostly talks about her problems rather than listen to Rachel. Lynch is proof that a cinematic God exists. Without Lynch, sharp deadpan comedy with a splash of ignorance would not be as fun. Her presence is never a letdown. She makes every moment memorable in every movie she’s in, and Afternoon Delight is no exception.

We also get yet another raunchy, white trash performance out of Juno Temple (Dirty GirlKiller JoeKaboom). I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen her in a movie with her clothes on. Yes, she’s nice to look at, but she’s also very talented, so it would be great not to see her as the naked bimbo-in-distress for once. However, Temple differentiates this character by stripping away the adult dancer cliché and playing McKenna with a lot of heart. Temple makes McKenna lovable in an eerily fitting way.

What’s especially delightful is that Soloway’s confident direction maintains a steady balance between witty comedy and heavy drama. There are moments where you will laugh out loud, and there are moments where you will think to yourself, “better Rachel than me.” And as cliche as it may be, that’s life — it’s full of funny little moments, full of heartbreak and sadness, and full of love. Love, happiness, and finding peace take a little time. Afternoon Delight captures these feelings in the most sincere way possible.
(Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.)

Sundance 2013 Review: UPSTREAM COLOR


It’s been nine years since elusive filmmaker Shane Carruth blew everyone’s minds with his super-low budget time travel movie, Primer. He took home some awards at Sundance in 2004 and had Hollywood swinging from his nut sack on gold threads. But, Carruth somewhat vanished from the film scene and didn’t make another movie until now.

His sophomore feature is Upstream Color. I would tell you what it’s about, but your guess is as good as mine and I’ve seen it. What I can tell you is that it’s definitely a movie, actors are in it, and there’s a plot — I’m just not too sure what it is.

Upstream Color is a movie that needs to be seen completely blind — don’t watch the trailers, don’t read the synopsis, and maybe stop reading here. I’m going to be as vague as possible from what I’ve gathered, so this review won’t give away much.

The protagonist is Kris (Amy Seimetz). She’s an editor at a film company. One night she’s robbed and tasered by a hoodlum. He injects a worm inside of her, for reasons we do not know, and soon after, her life starts to feel like a really bad acid trip that would make Hunter S. Thompson smile from ear to ear.

Casting Amy Seimetz as the lead couldn’t have been better. This indie darling is constantly working on abstract films and can play the delirious character very calmly and cool. Seimetz has a personable essence to her, which makes her relatable and home-y. As Kris, we’re not sure if we’re supposed to feel sorry for her or be on her side — we just know she’s being put through the ringer as punishment or for redemption. Perhaps this is what Carruth wants the audience to decide.

Upstream Color is a very layered and complex movie. But it’s also rich and beautiful and I expect nothing less from the crowded and radiant mind of Carruth. But it’s difficult to express how much I admire this film without writing a whole lot of positive things to say. You will not know what you’re watching until the very, very end, and even then, chances are high that you still will not know what you just saw.

What makes this a compelling piece of work is the discussions with your friends that will take place after seeing Upstream Color. Theories are endless and chances are none of them are wrong. There are so many moving parts in Upstream Color — it’s a well-oiled machine. Just a very confusing well-oiled machine.

Sundance 2013 Review: THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN is the Unnecessary Death of a Potentially Good Movie

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman is perhaps the worst film I’ve seen in a very, very long time. It stars Shia LaBeouf as the possibly-doomed titular role. Charlie just watched his mother (Melissa George, in the most tragically underused role possible) die at the hospital. After taking some painkillers to deal with his anxiety of what he just witnessed, he has an imaginary conversation with her, and she tells him to go on a trip to really start living life. It’s supposed to be a coming-of-age love story, but it winds up being more of a coming-of-enrage story for us, the audience.
When Charlie is on the plane to his new destination, he converses with an aggressively gregarious passenger. This passenger tells him about his daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood, with the most unconvincing Romanian accent ever), and makes it clear she’s the only thing meaningful in his life. While still on the plane, the passenger dies in his sleep and Charlie takes it upon himself to talk to Gabi about her father’s final moments. When Charlie sees her, he immediately falls in love and begins to chase her around the city, getting into trouble everywhere he goes as he finds out more about her troubled past. 
As the film opens, Charlie hangs upside down over a dam, bloody and beaten to shit. A narrator talks some jargon about real love and why it’s the reason Charlie must die. This voice-over sounds like something you’d hear in a bad Tim Burton movie - it’s hazardous to the ears and takes you completely out of the movie.
What’s unfortunate is that Shia gives ones of the best performances in his career. He truly gives it his all here and he’s so damn good that you want to like this movie based on his character’s commendable determination to make a connection with the troubled Gabi. But he’s overshadowed by a love story that’s incoherent and unqualified to be loved. It’s stylish and shot pretty, no arguing with that, but style doesn’t always translate to good quality. It appears that director Fredrik Bond spent more of his time trying to make the film look good than actually be good. 
The most aggravating thing about Charlie Countryman is Bond’s use of music. He camouflages the deeply flawed film with entrancing music from Sigur Rós and M83. The music is used so much, it feels like one long music video, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. When you hear Sigur Rós for a scene in a movie — take Cafe de Floré for example — this music is supposed to propel your emotions into a whole new dimension. In Charlie Countryman, it’s shockingly annoying. I kept thinking, “OK, we get it - you want us to feel sad here or inspired there,” but it’s mostly just a lot of Shia running in slow motion, partying with buffoons (Harry Potter's Rupert Grint and The Inbetweeners' James Buckley), and trying to get a foreign girl in a foreign land to love him when they just met. Somewhere along the way, The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman forgot to be a movie.
Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.

Sundance 2013 Review: C.O.G. Paints a Riveting Portrait of Self-Discovery


Have you ever wanted to unplug from the world? I mean, really, really unplug. Not for a day, or a week, but for as long as you can possibly can. Or even better, what about giving life a change and doing something completely out of your comfort zone? I have this fantasy that one day I’ll disappear from the online world and years later you’ll find me working on a boat, gutting fish in a long beard and looking tough. But let’s be honest, that’ll never happen. I’m not brave enough to step outside of what I know best. But you know who was? David Sedaris. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re aware of who the highly celebrated Sedaris is from his acclaimed essays and books. And you may also know that Sedaris has never given any filmmaker his blessing to make one of his deeply personal and unapologetic stories into a feature film. Many directors have tried, but he has shot them down. That is, until now — he finally gave one man a chance, 29-year-old filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez.  

At 25, Alvarez made his first feature called Easier with Practice, which earned him the Someone to Watch award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards in 2010, and deservedly so. This film is arresting in every way possible and looks like it was made by a Hollywood veteran. Easier with Practice was adapted from an article Alvarez found in GQ. He took a very short essay and turned it into a poignant and touching feature film. So it’s a no-brainer as to why Sedaris gave Alvarez his blessing, which brings us to C.O.G. 

C.O.G. (pronounced “see-oh-gee”) is based on Sedaris’ short essay of the same name, and takes place at a time in his life when he left his family and friends behind to go work on an apple farm. Instead of getting his Ph.D., he opted for a change of pace to get his hands a little dirty. Stepping outside his comfort zone, if you will. He tells people he’s “just taking some time off,” but it’s more of a “fuck you” to his family since they’re currently not speaking. We’re not sure why, we just know he desperately wanted to get away. And he did. 

When we first meet David (Jonathan Groff), err, Samuel … let’s go back a step — David doesn’t want people to know his name is David, so he goes by Samuel (not Sam - formality is important to him). He’s on a bus to his new paradise but already losing his mind. He un-lucked out and took the bus that carries the most insane passengers imaginable. We laugh as we watch them nag at him, but it surely sucks for him. Samuel has a sharp tongue and when one of the passengers persistently tells him to put down the book he’s reading and pick up the Bible, he tells the persistent traveler that the sacred book he really wants him to read is “poorly written.” This well-educated young man is a brash smart-ass and feeds off it.

When he arrives on the farm, he calls his mother and leaves her a voicemail. “Maybe you’ll hear from me, but you probably won’t,” he says, right before hanging up. His adventure begins on this apple farm, but his journey takes crazy and unexpected turns, and he winds up becoming an clock-making apprentice to Jon (Denis O’Hare), a man who lives and breathes by that aforementioned Book Samuel once called poorly written. They are polar opposites, and they will either bond, or they won’t. It all depends on whether or not Samuel is a true C.O.G. — Child of God.  

C.O.G. has some really spectacular performances. Jonathan Groff is widely known from Glee, but C.O.G. will surely make him one of the breakout stars of 2013. Unsure where he’ll end up, Samuel hits the ground running and makes every situation he’s in work. Groff helps Samuel find his feet with natural presence of determination and curiosity. And casting Denis O’Hare as the nutty Jesus freak was a smart choice. O’Hare fits right in with the Michael Shannons and John Hawkeses of Hollywood — he might not be the prettiest boy of the ball, but he’s unmistakably one of the most magnetic actors working in Hollywood. Alvarez gives him plenty of room to show that here. 

These two performances really shine, but the movie soars based on Alvarez’ ability to tell this particular story. C.O.G. has a lot of heart in it, and that’s due to his careful direction and steadfast faithfulness to Sedaris’ creation, as well as the additional flavors he adds to keep it delicious. C.O.G. starts out as a journey of wanted changes, and turns into an compelling movie about finding yourself through that often unpleasant and unexpected crazy little thing we call “life.” Alvarez turns a personal account from Sedaris into his own story. C.O.G. is marvelous.   

Sundance 2013 Review: THE WAY, WAY BACK Wants You to Laugh as Hard as You Can. And You Will.

Being the awkward kid is the worst. Making friends is hard; everyone thinks you’re one with the freaks, and contact with the opposite sex is pretty much non-existent. Since lack of confidence is always going to be an uphill battle and the Pretenders will not always be around to “…Stand By You,” something needs to happen to balance out the suck — a strange and wonderful friendship, perhaps?
If you agree, keep reading, because this is the story of The Way, Way Back: a way charming, way honest, and way, way funny movie about an unlikely friendship.
Way, Way opens with Duncan (Liam James) being asked by his mother’s boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) to rate himself from 1-10. At first we think Trent means well and is being funny, but we quickly learn he’s kind of a really big dick when he tells Duncan he’s a three, adding more insult to injury. It’s safe to say these two don’t see eye to eye. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in Trent’s family. His daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) is arguably more cruel to Duncan than Trent. The four are heading to Trent’s beach house for some sun and fun, but it kind of sucks for Duncan because Trent and his daughter clearly hate him, and the only person who understands him is his pushover mother, Pam (Toni Collette), who kneels to Trent as he pleases.
Where they’re heading isn’t much of a place for kids — especially kids with no friends — but more of a “spring break for adults,” with drinking, drinking, and, well, more drinking. So like any awkward kid celebrating nothing to do in a foreign land, Duncan spends a lot of time eyeballing Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), who lives next door, and riding the tiny pink cruiser he found in Trent’s garage. Good luck comes to rescue his boredom, however, when he meets the manager of the local water park, Owen (Sam Rockwell). Owen gives him a job at the park, and Duncan’s adventure of real fun begins. 
Let’s kick this off and talk about the Infallible Sam Rockwell. His performance as Owen is the funniest I’ve ever seen him and perhaps his best performance to date. There’s no question that he’s fluent in “awesome,” but here, he will make you laugh until you hurt. He really goes for it. His comedic timing is flawless and he owns every second you see him — from the first glimpse we see him grinning as he passes Duncan and his family, to, well, every word that comes out of his mouth for the rest of the film. Owen is flippant and lives and breathes by telling jokes only he appreciates more than everyone else, and he loves it. Every line Rockwell delivers is hilarious. And Owen’s banter with Duncan will make you love him, no matter how much of a meatball he is. If lots of acclaim doesn’t come Rockwell’s way when this film releases, there will be blood.  
500 words in and I haven’t even gotten to Allison Janney yet. She plays Betty, Trent’s long time next door neighbor who’s off the wagon (again). Sloshing her way through her scenes with a drink always in her hand, Betty is the woman who dresses just as inappropriately as she speaks. Janney makes every one of her scenes count and eats it up as this sloppy woman. Betty is that mom you knew in high school who wanted to hear all the gossip and hang out with her kid and their friends. Janney is notable for some profound dramatic performances (see Life During Wartime), but here she has a field day as the boneheaded Betty, cuts loose, and is just as bonkers as Owen. Maya Rudolph and Rob Corddry also co-star and deliver their sharp wit. Watching this ensemble is paradise.
Besides remarkable performances from Rockwell and Janney, big, big credit goes to the filmmakers, Nat Faxon (that guy in Broken Lizard movies who co-wrote The Descendants) and Jim Rash (that guy on Community who also co-wrote The Descendants). These two make a slick writing duo. The Way, Way Back is tightly polished and there’s not one dull moment in the film — there are so many scenes and so many characters (Faxon and Rash included) that will make you laugh out loud, and hard. 
It’s quite possible I’m boldly going where no film critic is supposed to go and calling this film a perfect comedy. OK, yeah, it’s a perfect comedy. You’ll be adding this to your collection of favorite “summer vacation” movies. Trust me. The Way, Way Back is everything you want in a laugh out loud, crowd-pleasing, coming-of-age movie. 
P.S.: Yes, there is a Sam Rockwell dance scene.
(Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.)

Sundance Interview: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore & Tony Danza Talk Porn & The Sexy 'Don Jon's Addiction'


Porn. Masturbation. Scarlett Johansson acting sexier than ever. A pot-smoking Julianne MooreTony Fucking Danza. Sex. Sex. Sex. Everything you’ve always wanted in the directorial debut of Boy Wonder Joseph Gordon-Levitt is here, and it’s called “Don Jon’s Addiction.”

The film tells the story of himbo Don Jon (Gordon-Levitt in the titular role), who only cares about a small number of things in his life: his body, his pad, his ride (classic SS Camaro), his bros, going to church (seriously), fucking as many women as he can, and most importantly, masturbating to porn roughly 15-20 times a week. Yeah, it gets weird. But it’s also sexy, hilarious, and awesome. Read our review of the movie here.

The film premiered for the world just a few days ago at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, was quickly picked up by Relativity Media for a summer release and shortly after, we sat down with Gordon-Levitt, Moore, and Danza to talk about the film. And porn. We definitely talked about porn.


Hey, what’s up man? 

Chase Whale! Good to see you, man!

Good to see you too! 

You guys are..the website is…is the website Gordon and Whale no longer? 

Yeah, I shut that down last August. 

Right on. 

So now I’m writing for Twitch and freelancing.

Cool! Well, I liked that website. 

Thank you very much! I did too. But, finances were getting less and less.

Onwards and upwards. 

Yeah, so on to better things. But it was fun while it lasted. 

Yeah, right on. You guys were one of the first supporters of hitRECord. Maybe the first movie blogs that was like, “This is a cool thing this guy is doing!” I really appreciated that. 

Oh wow, that’s awesome! Thank you for saying that….

You worked with some of the greatest directors in the world last year. What were some of the biggest takeaways from the ways those guys worked going into directing your first feature?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Great question. Getting the chance to work with and watch Rian [Johnson] and Chris [Nolan] and Steven [Spielberg] all in one year was a big part of why I felt encouraged to go try. One thing I could say that I noticed that all three of those guys had in common, and they’re all three very different filmmakers, but they all have a great sense of balancing their vision, that they’ve done their homework for, and [being ready for] spontaneous things that arrive on the day.

Julianne Moore: That’s a hard thing to do.

JGL: It is, and that I think is right at the crux of what makes a good director: is knowing when to stick to what you thought it was going to be and when to go with what it’s now sort of coming to be. Rian and Chris and Steven are all really good at that, and it was something I sort of cheated on and kept in mind a lot while I was directing. Oftentimes it would be like, “This is one of those moments! I’m being asked right now if we’re going to do it the way I thought we were going to do it or if we’re going to try something new. All right.” Those are the decisions that I think make up a lot of what a director does.

The film focuses on a man addicted to masturbating to porn. What made you want to tell such a gutsy and risky story for your first directorial feature?
JGL : I mean, I’ll tell you how I got to that subject matter. But…I knew that if I was going to make a movie and be in charge then I wanted to do something that I couldn’t do otherwise. You know? I wanted to do something that would probably have not happened if I wasn’t making it happen. So, you know I made a short film that played here at Sundance called “Sparks,” which I really like and I’m really proud of it. It’s an adaptation of an Elmore Leonardshort story and while I think it’s really good, it wasn’t something that could not have happened without me. You know what I mean? If that makes sense.

Tony Danza: [It was] more conventional.

JGL: It was more conventional. I mean, Elmore Leonard is a genre writer that is arguably the best at that crime genre. But I knew if I was going to write and direct a movie I wanted to really try something, and I wanted to try to make a love story. What I’ve noticed about love is what’s always getting in the way — people objectifying each other. Putting expectations on each other that they’ve learned from various places. Whether it’s their family or from friends or from their church or from the media. So I thought a love story about a relationship between a guy who watches too much porn and girl who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies would really bring that theme out. And that was the beginning of it.

TD: You have to wonder what’s harder on relationships, right? Is it the romantic ideal? Or was it the pornography?

JGL: I think it’s really…

TD: Too close to call? [laughing]

How grueling was it watching hours of porn footage to get the right scenes to use for the film?
JGL: It was a grueling process and not as exciting as it sounds [laughing]. Porn can get pretty gross, especially if you watch a lot of it. We were very careful about picking just the right moments, just the right videos, and cropping them just the right way so that it feels like you’re seeing more than you’re actually seeing. You don’t technically see anything that’s not allowed in a rated R movie.

Julianne, you’ve taken some daring roles in your career with up-and-coming directors. How do you decide when it’s just daring enough for you to take?
JM: Oh, that’s a good question! I like that. You know, first-time directors are generally writer-directors, and that’s initially how I make my decision. Because I feel if somebody is able to articulate their vision in the script they’re going to be able to articulate it to me on set as a director and through their shots. It’s been important to me in my career that I have people who are able to do that, and Joseph has been my most successful collaboration.

But, in answer to your question, something just being daring just for being daring is not simply effective. That’s not what I’m looking for — I’m looking for something that is emotionally resonating. And in this case I was reading the script and my character shows up and I had an expectation of what she was going to be and it completely confounded my expectations, and I was really touched by it and surprised. I was like, hey! That was actually a different way. The fact that she is someone who is so unbelievably private and committed to being authentic and unable to be inaunthentic was really, really interesting.


Tony, what’s it like watching Joe grow from a little boy in “Angels In The Outfield” to a leading man who is now a director?
TD: Well, I really loved it when we first met. I felt this certain paternal thing with Joe on “Angels In The Outfield.” So even though we may not see each other I keep my eye on him and it’s just been an amazing evolution, and it’s not surprising I have to tell you. Because even then you could tell he was watching everybody, he was interested in the craft of it right from the beginning. It wasn’t about the superficial stuff it was about the work even then. So I’m not surprised. I am surprised about how good the movie is. [JGL laughs] I’m not kidding! Not that I didn’t think you were going to make a great movie.

JGL: Well I’m glad to hear it.

TD: I just thought that the movie played like gangbusters last night. It’s so sexy! And it’s so like, right there! You know you feel it. And by the way it’s an old story. It’s the same old story we’ve been telling only it uses this device that I think is so prevalent and so problematic in our society.

Absolutely. So talking about your character, what was the best part about playing such a heartless bastard?
TD: Well you get to do something that is totally against type. One of the things that Joe constantly told me was “No, I still like you! I still like you. I want you to get madder.” [they laugh]

JGL: Well and he’s so lovable! Every time you see Tony on screen you just can’t help but smile. So I wanted to…

TD: Break the spell of that….So I think that was the fun of it, was to try see if you could do that without making a caricature out of it. I grew up in a family where if they weren’t yelling, they didn’t care. So that was my favorite archetype.

Joe, you’re kind of a veteran now at Sundance. You’ve acted in films that premieried here and it’s your third year here in collaboration with hitRECord. What’s it like to have the film you directed premier here?
JGL: It’s deeply meaningful. I feel like Sundance is more than just a festival, it’s even more than the institute. It’s a community. I think what Mr. Redford created here is invaluable to people who love movies, in this country especially. Without this community here to encourage each other and let each other know that it’s okay you don’t have to only chase box office, there’s more to movies than that. Sundance is really the epicenter of that sentiment in this country. That’s always resonated with me because I just love movies and love acting and love making things. I would do it whether I was making money doing it or not. And that’s, I think, what people are about here and that’s why I feel so connected to it and why it means so much to have such a great reception for the movie here, especially in Sundance in particular.

"Don Jon’s Addiction" will be released sometime later this summer.

Sundance 2013 Review: THE SPECTACULAR NOW is an Important Coming-of-Age Movie About Teens for Adults

The late John Hughes was the man in Hollywood who understood teenagers and teen angst better than anyone else in the industry. He knew how to tell beautiful stories about how sometimes being young can be weird and confusing, and brought this to life on film flawlessly. The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles are timeless classics, not only because they’re good storytelling and star Molly Ringwald, but because their depiction of high school life is still accurate to this very day. The older the audience is, the more the films become relatable. This brings me to James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, which is perhaps the most important adult-oriented film about the victories and woes of high school life in the last decade.
Free spirited closet-alcoholic high schooler Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) has many talents, but making good decisions is not one of them. At the near-end of his senior year in high school, his really hot girlfriend dumps him for a silly reason (and possibly for another guy). Like any other recently dumped closet-alcoholic who lives on a steady diet of whiskey, he pursues exciting opportunities in the field of getting piss drunk and waking up dazed and confused on strangers’ front lawns. Standing over him during his latest outing is Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), who stops on her morning paper route to check to see if he’s dead. After collecting his thoughts, she helps him find his car, which he somehow lost during his drunken slumber the night before. 
Aimee’s not the most popular kid in school. In fact, she goes unnoticed by even the uncoolest of uncool kids, and the closest she’s had to a guy flirting with her is when he asked if she’d tutor him in Math (it was Sutter, the day after they first met). Seeing something special in her, Sutter begins an unlikely friendship with Aimee, which takes them on a journey of something much deeper and more satisfying than both originally imagined. 
Sutter and Aimee’s chemistry is dynamic and they hit it off immediately. What helps is Sutter’s fearless resolve to live in the now, which in turn helps Aimee loosen up to embellish her life a little bit.
Director James Ponsoldt really knows how to bring out the spectacular wow in his actors. Last year, in his sophomore feature, Smashed, he gave Mary Elizabeth Winstead room to shine in a career-defining performance. After seeing her poignant and courageous performance of a struggling alcoholic, I will forever be a part of the MEW fan club. MEW, by the way, peeks briefly into this film.
The lead in Ponsoldt’s latest is Teller. He had a very small role in John Cameron Mitchell’sRabbit Hole, and his little screen time showed he had a lot of bite in him. In The Spectacular Now, he chews up every scene he’s in. His performance as the cool Sutter is effortless and the most entrancing portrayal of a calm but persevering high schooler I’ve seen in years. Sutter really winds around the heart - his pizzazz is surprisingly unassuming, which makes every guy want to be him. He’s so adventurous, he even commits the unspeakable crime of falling in love with the school dork. He lives how he wants to live and that’s in the now - right in this moment. But remember, he’s heavy on the sauce, so a lot of hard life lessons lie ahead of him. No matter how daring you are, life will still suck the proverbial donkey dick when it wants to. 
Shailene Woodley co-starred in last year’s hit, The Descendants. She’s not even 21 and already on her way to leading lady status. She may play the harmless loser here, but Aimee’s determination to win at life is incredibly endearing. This is due to Woodley’s onscreen charisma. Big things are coming her way. There’s also a great cameo from Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s deadbeat father. His screen time is short, but it’s one of the best performances he’s ever given. 
The Spectacular Now is adapted from the novel of the same name by (500) Days of Summerscribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. These two gents clearly know a thing or two about heartache. They say a movie will never be as good as the book, but perhaps they’ve broken that trend with the aid of Ponsoldt. I haven’t read the book, but when I left the theater, I felt like I was punched in the heart and strangely enough, loved it. 
There are dozens of teen films that stop being appreciated at a certain age. I can’t remember the last time I watched Drive Me Crazy for its profound and important underlying messages. Films like Drive Me Crazy are fun when you’re 16, but lose their appeal when you’ve grown up and realize the only cool thing was the soundtrack, which now sucks. The Spectacular Now will be remembered as a high school movie with a determined message - that living in the now is a constant change, whether we’re ready or not. This is the most important coming-of-age movie you’ll see this year. It’s so beautiful it hurts my feelings. 
Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.

Sundance 2013 Review: DON JON'S ADDICTION Bulks Up the Body and Career of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Warning: the words “cock,” “cum,” and “masturbation” are used in this review. With that out of the way, let’s get filthy.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is constantly on the move, making new projects with his online art collaboration company,, and working as an A-list actor with some of Hollywood’s most prolific directors. The Boy Wonder has now taken his career in a gutsy new direction: writing, directing, and starring in a movie called Don Jon’s Addiction, about a rico suave obsessed with porn. 
And not just your Average Joe (hehe) who likes porn - this guy lusts for porn and watches it while in class, driving, and after having sex with a woman you and I would never ever get a second glance from. He’s so unsatisfied with the sex he’s having with these unreachable-to-the-average-guy women that he sneaks into his living room when they’re asleep and pounds one out to some X-rated goodness before slipping back into bed with them. To him, perfect sex is what a the porn classics show: throat-fucking, ass-spanking, spitting, anal-licking - the whole nine yards. Yeah, it gets weird, but Don Jon’s Addiction is slick, sexy, and hilarious.
When we first meet Don Jon (Gordon-Levitt), he’s masturbating to porn he found on the Internet. Nothing unusual for a typical male. But this guy really wants to satisfy his rabid curiosity about pornography. His masturbation is like a celebration: He sits there naked, watching clip after clip, and never touches his cock until the right one mentally and physically arouses him. And when that happens, he hits the highest euphoria he could ever possibly reach, then tosses the cum-filled tissue into the trashcan. Then repeats. He does this roughly 10-15 times a week. There’s nothing else he’s this passionate about.  
In his public lifestyle, he hangs out with his fellow guido bros who call him “The Mighty Don” because he can take home any girl in the club he wants just by giving her a glance. But, as fate should have it, he meets one who shoots him down, which fucks with his world and masturbation schedule. Her name is Barbara (Scarlett Johansson, in her most bombshell appearance) and she’s not looking for a one night stand - she’s a princess looking for Prince Charming. Since he’s a himbo with not a lot of common sense or concern for anyone’s well-being but his own, he challenges himself to do the unthinkable in the hope of sticking his man part into her woman part: be a gentleman. This means taking her to the movies, pretending to listen to her talk mumbo jumbo, and picking out new curtains for her home. It’s really, really fucking up his masturbation schedule. 
Despite being shockingly graphic (there’s more clips of real porn shown in in this film than a porn itself), Don Jon’s Addiction works on many levels. It’s cheeky, self-mocking, and filled with ridiculously hilarious cameos from today’s biggest stars. Everyone in this film is in on the joke. And while there’s some serious content tackled here, the film focuses on the self-mocking side of addiction, and takes more of a flirtatious look on the issue. For example: Don Jon and his family are devout Catholics. When he goes in for confession, he uses the number of Hail Marys he must do for penance and matches it to his workout routine.This is probably why Don Jon is so ripped - his constant masturbation and sex out-of-wedlock racks up the Hail Marys.
Don Jon’s Addiction is filled with a lot of masturbation, pornography, and the wholesome,  sweet Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he’s never been seen before. He’s all muscled up, acts like a Jersey Shore meathead, and only has one thing on his mind: the next time he’s going to jerk off. The boy you once saw in Angels in the Outfield sat this one out. The JGL we get here is filthy and awesome. This is where I applaud Levitt. He’s the nice next door neighbor, has kept his private life quiet, and is known to be one of the sweetest guys on this planet, but risks his wholesome reputation to try something brash and possibly unwatchable for some of his fans. He does pretend to be masturbating a lot, so that should stimulate the ones who lust for him.  
Buried underneath the cum-filled tissues and talk of blowjobs and X-rated movies is a damn good story about reality versus fantasy. The more a man gets involved with watching pornography, the more skewed his mind will be on how real sex is supposed to be like. It shows how addiction and obsession can and will start to corrupt everyday life. 
Besides Gordon-Levitt dominating every scene he’s in, there are two other great stand outs. Tony Danza returns to the big screen, bossier than ever as Don’s father, the older version of Don Jon. He talks like a sailor and gawks at Don Jon’s girlfriend when he brings her home. The only good quality about him is that he’ll someday die. 
The film really picks up its sweet side when Julianne Moore begins her screen time. At first she seems to be an irritating cretin in Don Jon’s life, but she just might be the loose cannon he needs to regulate his irregular lifestyle. It goes without saying, Moore is a marvelous actress and this role is just another reason to love her. 
It’s clear Gordon-Levitt has jotted down notes from all the directors he’s worked with over the years, and his admiration for thoughtful mise-en-scéne really comes through in key moments in the film. Whenever we see Barbara, she’s well-lit at all times, evoking Hitchcock’s masterful use of lighting on Kim Novak in Vertigo. And there are moments when the score flares up and the camera spins in circles around its two leads as they kiss, feeling like a romantic scene from a 1940s American classic, but more erotic than James Stewart could possibly imagine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes It’s a Wonderful Life look like Tits a Wonderful Life. Brilliant, gutsy, and fantastic. 
Follow Chase Whale on Twitter.

From the GATW Archives: Sundance 2011 Video Interview: BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST director Michael Rapaport


Michael Rapaport has really sweetened his life in Hollywood. I’ve been watching movies he’s co-starred in since junior high. It wasn’t until he headlined in the really underrated dark comedy SPECIAL that he showed the world the talent he carries.

That wasn’t enough for Rapaport as this year he premiered his directorial debut, the documentary BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. No stranger to the hip hop community, Rapaport has worked on albums with Talib Kwali and the High & Mighty, and has appeared in numerous music videos.

Check out the video interview after the break, where we chat about all things BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE, including the pressures of making a faithful documentary about the four guys in A Tribe Called Quest who’ve been through a lot together.


From the GATW Archives: Sundance 2011 Video Interview: TAKE SHELTER writer/director Jeff Nichols


TAKE SHELTER is a powerful film. In his sophomore effort, writer/director Jeff Nichols tackles many problematic topics in our culture - anxiety, paranoia, fear, trust, and family. Oh, and he meshes them with a possible end-of-the-word subplot, too. There’s a lot to this film, trust me. When walking out of the theater, my dear ol’ pal at Cinema BlendKatey Rich, nailed what most people, including me, were thinking: “I don’t think I’m smart enough for this movie.”

I interviewed Nichols shortly after seeing the film. When writing down my questions, I couldn’t stop. For the first time in my career with GATW, I had so much to ask and I wanted to/could talk to Nichols about TAKE SHELTER all day. This film is so thickly layered, chances are high for a head scratch or two when discussing what Nichols was trying to say.

After the break is the video interview, minus the last question (we discuss the final scene in the film). I will post that question at a later date when I get a chance. My review of the film will follow shortly. Enjoy!


From the GATW Archives: Sundance 2011 Video Interview: SUBMARINE co-writer/director Richard Ayoade


I saw Richard Ayoade’s (The IT Crowd) SUBMARINE last year at the Toronto International Film Festival and immediately fell in love with it (my review HERE). SUBMARINE is what HAROLD AND MAUDE  would be like if our rebellious characters met and fell in love in high school. Oh, the teen angst years - I miss them.

When I found out Ayoade would be at Sundance for this film I crossed my tiny chubby fingers that GATW would get some time with him. We did, and you can watch the interview after the break. Ayoade is a very polite, soft-spoken man. He’s the guy who’s soon going to very busy in the feature filmmaking world and will always be very appreciative of all the compliments on his much-deserved success.

Watch as we discuss the prcoess of making  SUBMARINE and who would win in a fight between Doogie Howser and Olive Tate (SUBMARINE’s main character).