Sundance Film Festival: A British soldier stuck deep in IRA territory in taut “71”


The tense thriller “71” is basically “Judgment Night” in Belfast, and I mean that as a mostly good thing.
While it’s set in Belfast at the height of the “Troubles” between Catholic and Protestants, Yann DeMange’s film most backgrounds the politics in favor of suspense, you-are-there verisimilitude and strong characterizations. Rather than take sides, the film presents Northern Ireland as a place where nobody’s hands are clean, and the most a good person can hope to do is survive.

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Sundance Film Festival: “Tig” shows that God doesn’t give us any more stand-up material than we can handle

Planned Parenthood Federation Of America's 2014 Gala Awards Dinner

I expected the documentary “Tig” to be a well-deserved victory lap for comedian Tig Notaro. Notaro famously took a barrage of personal tragedy (a debilitating digestive illness, the death of her mother, and breast cancer) and turned it into a historic live comedy show at Los Angeles’ Largo nightclub.

But “Tig” is much more honest and revealing than that. A 25-minute stand-up set did not solve all her problems, and though she is in complete remission thanks to a double mastectomy, there’s still a life to be lived for Notaro, in all its ups and downs.

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Sundance Film Festival: Fall down the rabbit hole of Guy Maddin’s “The Forbidden Room”


Can’t get into too many movies at this year’s Sundance Film Festival? Make time for Guy Maddin’s latest film, the wonderfully dense and strange “The Forbidden Room.” It’s like 20 movies in one, all put one inside the other like a series of Russian nesting dolls — dolls that have been binge-watching Turner Classic Movies all winter.

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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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