“Phoenix”: Haunting post-war thriller will have you feeling Vertigo

August .2013 Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

“Phoenix” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 1:38, three and a half stars out of four. I’ll be doing a post-shot chat after the Tuesday 7 p.m. show at Sundance Cinemas.

The title “Phoenix” may evoke images of the mythical bird rising from the ashes, but the Berlin depicted in Christian Petzold’s film is not so much rising as crawling out of the ruins, dazed and guilty. The haunting thriller looks as much at the intimate interior damage wrought upon by World War II as the physical damage.

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Sundance Screening Room returns with “Infinitely Polar Bear,” “Phoenix” and “Uncle John”


After the usual summer break to make room for all those superheroes, Sundance Cinemas will launch its next Screening Room Calendar next week.

The series, for the uninitiated, sets aside Cinema 2 at the theater for a scheduled list of independent, foreign and documentary films. One of the nice things about the calendar is that it locks in some of these smaller films that have less publicity behind them, so you can see them coming and plan accordingly. And, unlike other Sundance offerings, the Screening Room movies are exempt from Sundance’s amenities fees.

Here’s a rundown of what’s coming, starting next week. I’m looking forward to doing post-show chats with a couple of these films — I’ll get back to you soon when I know which one, and when.

Aug. 14 — “Infinitely Polar Bear” — Writer-director Maya Forbes’ warm and personal film is based on her own experiences growing up in a biracial family in 1970s Boston with a bipolar father (wonderfully played here by Mark Ruffalo). Here’s my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Aug. 21 — “Lambert and Stamp” and “Saint Laurent” — A real-life two-fer, one a documentary and the other a biopic. Rockists will enjoy learning how aspiring filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert ended up managing The Who, while fashionistas will want to see how the famous designer Yves St. Laurent transformed style in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, Sundance says they’ll be showing the Jennifer Connelly drama “Aloft” during the week, and have down on their online calendar that James Ponsoldt’s David Foster Wallace biopic “The End of the Tour” also opens this week. Busy!

August .2013  Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

August .2013
mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf
Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold
( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz
Mobil 01723917694

Aug. 28 — “Phoenix” — Director Christian Petzold reteams with “Barbara” star Nina Hoss in this tense World War II drama about a Jewish-German nightclub singer who tries to uncover whether her husband betrayed her to the Nazis.

Sept. 4 — “Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine” — Michael Fassbender is nowhere to be found in documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s look at the world of Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Sept. 11 — “Queen of Earth” — Writer-director Alex Ross Perry reteams with Elisabeth Moss from “Listen Up Philip” in this tale of a grieving woman who falls into delusion and madness.

Sept. 18 — “Uncle John” — I’m really excited that this Wisconsin-made film, about a farmer (Josh Ashton) trying to cover up a deadly crime, is getting a theatrical run in Madison. Here’s an interview with the filmmakers from this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival.

Sept. 25 — “Listen to Me Marlon” — A documentary about Marlon Brando would be interesting enough, but this film draws from a wealth of private audio and video recordings Brando made that have never been shown before.

Oct. 2 — “Testament of Youth” — Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) and Kit Harington (Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones”) star in this luminous World War I drama.


Come talk about “Misery Loves Comedy” at Sundance Cinemas Tuesday


What drives somebody to stand up in front of a roomful of strangers and try to make them laugh? Kevin Pollak’s new documentary “Misery Loves Comedy” asks a whole lot of funny people that question, including Jimmy Fallon, Amy Schumer, Jim Gaffigan, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Lewis Black and many more.

“Misery Loves Comedy” opened Friday at Sundance Cinemas Madison, and although it skates a little lightly over its subject matter (Pollak might have done better to pick 10 comedians and go deeper with them) — it’s a fun, breezy film. Pollak comes across some intriguing insights, especially when he gets the comedians to respond to his central question: Do you have to be miserable to be funny?

Here’s my full review. I’m hosting a post-show chat after the 7:35 p.m. Tuesday show at Sundance Cinemas, 430 N. Midvale Blvd. In a way, I think this fits in with our last two chats after the films “Mr. Turner” and “Seymour: An Introduction,” both of which also looked at the intersection of being an artist and being a human being.

“Comedy” will have more laughs, though. Hope to see you there!

“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”: You really have come a long way, baby


“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:27, three stars out of four.

During the civil rights movement, scores of women stood up for what was right. And, after that, they weren’t inclined to sit back down again when it came to their own rights.

Mary Dore’s illuminating documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” looks at the feminist movement of the 1960s, celebrating what was achieved but also being pretty frank about where it fell short. Dore could have done more to connect the struggle to the ongoing battles for women’s rights today, as well to so-called “third wave” feminism. But as a galvanizing document of its time, “Angry” hits the mark.

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“Wild Tales”: Argentine anthology film appeals to our animal instincts


“Wild Tales” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:55, three stars out of four.

The six short films that make up Argentine writer-director Damian Szifron’s anthology “Wild Tales” might be episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” with their macabre overtones, twist endings and explorations of the dark side of the human condition. But here, the “twilight zone” the characters pass through isn’t some supernatural no man’s land, but the thin line between civilized and savage behavior. And many characters don’t just pass through — they happily leap through.

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See “Walking the Camino” director Lydia Smith at Sundance this weekend


I favorably reviewed “Walking the Camino” here on the blog, and over at 77 Square I did an interview with its director, Lydia B. Smith. The film is a  lovely documentary following six people walking the 500-mile Camino el Santiago in the north of Spain.

Smith was an interesting interview — while the film is very internal and spiritual minded, the road to make it was a labored and physical one. She spent three frustrating years with 300 hours of good footage she had shot in Spain, and no funds to turn it into a film, let alone distribute it. Eventually, she reached out to enough people who could donate, including high school friends she hadn’t seen in years, to finish the film. It’s become one of the top grossing documentaries of 2014, despite the fact that it doesn’t have a distributor like Sony Pictures Classics or Sundance Selects backing it up.

Smith is in Madison all weekend, and will host post-show Q&As after the 6:55 p.m. screening Saturday night and 1:50 p.m., 4:20 p.m., and 6:55 p.m. screenings on Sunday. With its gorgeous scenery, it’s a film well worth seeing on the big screen.

Read the interview here.


Come talk about “The Invisible Woman” next Tuesday at Sundance


The next two Sundance Cinemas post-show chats I’m hosting have been set, and both films deal with some rather complicated love affairs.

On Tuesday, April 29, we’ll talk about “The Invisible Woman,” which was directed by and stars Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens,and Felicity Jones as the young actress he carried a clandestine 13-year affair with. The talk will take place after the 7:10 p.m. show (so it will start around 9:15 p.m. or so) in the Overflow Bar at Sundance, located on the first floor across from the box office. The movie cost $10, but the talk is free.

Then come back on Tuesday, May 12 to talk about “Le Week-End,” the Wisconsin Film Festival favorite about a late-middle-aged British couple, played by the wonderful Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, re-evaluating their long marriage while on a 30th anniversary trip to Paris. I’ll have more details on that talk in a couple of weeks.

We had a good discussion about “Stranger By The Lake” last month, so please join us!


Chat about “Stranger by the Lake” at Sundance Tuesday night


It’s still a pretty cold March in Wisconsin. Wouldn’t you rather spend a couple of hours on a French lakeside beach, with the sun, and the sand, and the . . . murder?

“Stranger by the Lake” has all this and more — and by “more,” I mean “explicit sex scenes.” So the faint of heart might want to skip this one. But for those who aren’t deterred, “Stranger by the Lake,” set at a secluded sliver of beach frequented by gay men, is an engrossing and chilling psychological drama about desire and self-destruction. My full review is here. 

I’m hosting a post-show chat after the 7:05 p.m. show on Tuesday, March 25 at Sundance Cinemas, 430 N. Midvale Blvd. We had a lot of fun talking about “The Great Beauty” last month and I’ m thinking “Stranger” will foster some interesting convo as well. Just attend the screening and meet me in Sundance’s Overflow Bar (across from the box office) afterward — probably around 8:45 p.m.  Hope to see you there!