Sundance Film Festival: “Life Itself” says farewell to Roger Ebert


“For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.” — Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was a great film writer for many reasons, but one of them was that he wasn’t just writing about movies when he was writing about movies. Read through his reviews, and you’ll find political arguments, philosophical musings, remembrances of his boyhood in Champaign-Urbana. He believed that the beauty and the power of a great movie didn’t stop at the concession stand, but extended out the front doors into — life itself.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Song One” hits a lot of familiar notes


Even for a film that’s literally about the healing power of music, “Song One” is awfully hokey. The drama from first-time writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland boasts a great soundtrack, featuring original songs by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice and cameos by Sharon Van Etten, Dan Deacon and the Felice Brothers. Music in some form or another informs almost every scene in the film.

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Sundance Film Festival: Quirky “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” goes on an epic quest, you betcha


“I’m like a Spanish conquistador,” Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) says at one point in “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter.” “Looking for treasure deep in the Americas.”

Only Kumiko’s quest doesn’t take her to South America, but to wintry Minneapolis in the quirky and lovely new comedy from Austin’s David and Nathan Zellner. And no, the treasure isn’t at the Mall of America.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Boyhood” took 12 years to make, and is worth every second

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You could rate Richard Linklater’s new film “Boyhood” strictly on degree of difficulty, like it was an Olympic diver. Linklater has been making “Boyhood” since 1991, visiting the same group of actors each summer, adding more scenes as they grew older.

Ellar Coltrane was six when he was hired, Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s daughter) was eight. The film is built around Ellar, and Linklater had no way of knowing what kind of actor he’d grow up to be. Embarking on such a project was a tremendous leap of faith for all parties.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Ivory Tower” gives explaining higher ed woes the old college try

Ivory Tower , Sundance Film Festival 2014

If a university built the so-called “ivory tower” today, it would have a climbing wall, plasma TVs on every floor, and penthouse apartments for all the rich out-of-state kids.

That’s the takeaway from documentary filmmaker Andrew Rossi’s strong “Ivory Tower,” which looks at the many complicated and interconnected woes bringing higher education to a crisis point — rising tuition costs, mounting student debt, mounting university debt, and a seeming emphasis on being the most prestigious school in your conference, with the biggest stadium and most lavish student center.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Infinitely Polar Bear” a warm and wonderful film


I’m guessing the ads for “Infinitely Polar Bear” won’t say “From the writer of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3: Dog Days’!” But Maya Forbes did write that film, along with “Monsters vs. Aliens” and a bunch of other Hollywood films that one wouldn’t exactly call personal.

But Forbes dug deep into her family history for her debut as a writer-director, and “Polar Bear” is a beautiful story, warm and generous of spirit. Family dramas often ask the audience to pick sides, or conjure up a villain. Here’s a story about a family who loves each other just . . . coping . . . with some difficult circumstances, and it’s wonderful filmmaking.

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Sundance Film Festival: “The Girl From Nagasaki” is one cray-cray Madame Butterfly


What was the craziest thing I saw in “The Girl From Nagasaki”? Was it the modern sequences featuring women trussed up and hanging from cocoons in the ceiling, dripping gory red paint? Was it the slow motion 3D mushroom clouds that filled the screen? Or was it when the main character visits the American consulate in Japan, and the consul is played by legendary, leathery ‘70s film producer Robert Evans?

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