Sundance Film Festival: Ewan McGregor is Jesus (and the Devil) in beautiful “Last Days in the Desert”

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A movie starring Ewan McGregor as both Jesus and the Devil sounds like a the sort of high-concept bad movie idea you would see in a Hollywood satire, like Ricky Gervais’ “Extras.”And yet “Last Days in the Desert” exists, and is really good.
Rodrigo Garcia’s lovely and humane film avoids Sunday School preaching to present a Jesus who’s kind, questioning, and yet unmistakably the Son of God. He also may be the first cinematic Savior we might like to have a beer with – he may be holy, but he’s not above giggling at a good fart joke.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Ten Thousand Saints” finds familiar teen drama in unfamiliar New York


Ah, the old New York City of the late ’80s. The graffiti, the crime in the streets, the garbage bags piled everywhere, the rent-controlled apartments where even a middling pot dealer can pay rent. Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today.

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s “Ten Thousand Saints” makes this filthy, pre-Guiliani Big Apple its own character — in a climactic scene, two characters wander into the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots, considered the first salvo in the gentrification wars that transformed the city.

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Sundance Film Festival: Real estate crash gets painfully real in “99 Homes”


Ramin Bahrani has made a weird turn as a filmmaker. He started out making elliptical character studies like “Man Push Cart” and “Goodbye Solo.” Now he’s making social-issue dramas with recognizable Hollywood stars that aim to get a few bullet points across along with the drama.

2012’s “At Any Price” tried to show the crisis in modern farming, but was too unfocused and shrill, with dialogue that sounded like people shouting op-eds at each other. But “99 Homes,” which looks at the damage wreaked by the subprime mortgage crisis, is a big improvement.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Sleeping With Other People” doesn’t cheat on honesty or laughs


Everybody’s talking about the bottle scene.

In a Sundance Film Festival where we’ve had a gymnastic sex scene (“The Bronze”) and a James Marsden-Jack Black coupling (“The D Train”), the raunchy scene that seems to be topping them all is in Leslye Headland’s “Sleeping With Other People.”

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Sundance Film Festival: “(T)ERROR” reveals the Keystone Kops of Kounterterrorism


If the consequences weren’t so dire, the ham-fisted FBI “counterterrorism” operation chronicled in the documentary “(T)ERROR” would be comical. You could see the Coen Brothers taking a whack at this sort of material — an FBI informant and would-be cupcake chef with delusions of grandeur (he’s a big fan of “Homeland”) ensnares completely innocent Muslims in terrorism investigations. And lets a documentary crew follow him around for the whole thing.

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Sundance Film Festival: “The End of the Tour” treats David Foster Wallace with compassion and insight


Jason Segel gets David Foster Wallace just right in James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour.” He looks just like the big, shaggy, brilliant author of “Infinite Jest,” and he sounds just like him too, the mix of pithy insights, tangents of self-doubts, and moments of unshakable compassion towards the human condition all tumbling out.

He sounds like him. But he sounds like us, too.

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Sundance Film Festival: Prepare to meet the challenge of the New Frontiers


Take a run in the woods, chased by a dark figure. Cower in terror from giant kaiju monsters terrorizing the city. Or sit on a rock with Reese Witherspoon.

All these experiences and more are at your disposal at the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontiers pavilion on Park City’s Main Street. When I first started checking out New Frontiers in 2010, much of the exhibits had to do with incorporating film projection into art installations.

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