Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

Sundance 2013: championing Campion

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For more Sundance 2013 reports, go here, here, here, and here.

Easily the greatest screening event at this year's Sundance Film Festival was Jane Campion's multi-part miniseries Top of the Lake, a co-production of the Sundance Channel, BBC Two, and UKTV in Australia and New Zealand.

Though it was made for TV, this 353-minute, Twin Peaks (1990) meets Silence of the Lambs (1991) extravaganza was shown on the big screen, which gave it even more impact. Not that it needed much help: when intermission came at the end of the third episode, audience members filed out for lunch with similar (stunned, shocked, obliterated) expressions on their faces.

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Sundance 2013: what's NEXT?

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Earlier fest reports here, here, and here.

At Sundance 2013, no other category could compete with the NEXT programming. NEXT was initiated in 2010; its aim is to highlight "pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity proves the films selected in this section will inform a 'greater' next wave in American cinema."

Matthew Porterfield's I Used to Be Darker showcases Ned Oldham (brother of indie fave Will Oldham) as a father-husband-musician whose teenage daughter starts to drift away as his marriage dissolves. Wonderfully awkward and trying moments arise from every suburban-hipster angle, making Darker not only a disturbing blueprint of divorce among the indie-rock generation, but — with three fully performed songs — a reminder of why so much music from this time period remains utterly relatable. (Clearly, not everyone agrees; I overheard a group of SLC locals calling Darker their "least favorite movie of all time.")

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Sundance 2013: the way of the gun

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Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his third report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals. Read his first two reports here and here.

British filmmaker Sean Ellis' Philippines-set Metro Manila took home the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic at Sundance. It's a gritty, neo-realist journey into Manila's Catch 22'd slums that's every bit as shocking as it is hypnotic. When I saw it, the entire audience (myself included) was left gasping for air while wiping their tears — it's ruthlessly realistic, insanely inspired, and a taut thriller to boot.

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Sundance (and Slamdance) 2013: 'Dirties' talk

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Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his second report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals. Check out his first report here.

The most controversial and inspired film amid this year's Utah fests actually screened at the Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Sparky Award for a Narrative Feature. The Dirties, by 28-year-old Canadian writer-director-star Matthew Johnson, is an utterly brilliant, unstoppably hilarious found footage entry that follows two high school cinephiles as they try and make a documentary about "bullying," while they themselves continue to get uncomfortably bullied at their own school.

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Sundance 2013: Viva Silva!

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Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his first report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals.

This year's Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals were both outstanding, so I did my best to pack my schedule as full as humanly possible (sacrificing sleep in the process). With close to 50 programs achieved, I can assure you it's gonna be one helluva year for cinema. Make sure to mark some of these titles down for 2013.

Filmmaker Sebastián Silva brought two new entries to Sundance, and they both happened to be two of my most cherished experiences. Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic were filmed in Chile at the same time, and showcase the almighty Michael Cera — who learned Spanish just for these projects. If you are able to avoid the countless spoiler-heavy reviews (this isn't one of them) and enter these films at your own risk, you will be treated to Silva's masterful, even transcendental, slow burn.

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Ficks' picks

YEAR IN FILM 2012: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' top films and performances of the year 

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1. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Portugal/Italy) During the five times I watched this brilliantly slow-burning, transcendental flick, I saw dozens of audience members fall asleep, walk out early, and complain all the way down the corridor of the Embarcadero Center Cinema hallways. I had to watch it that many times (plus read the book and have countless late-night discussions) just to try and wrap my brain around this era-defining exploration of what it means to be a (hu)man in the Y2Ks. Read more »

TIFF happens, part three! Plus top films of the fest

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Read Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' first and second reports from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

Dial M For Murder 3D Remastered (Alfred Hitchcock, US) The digitally remastered re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's only 3D production was introduced by none other than film historian David Bordwell, whose introductory textbooks Film Art (1979) and Film History (1994) have shaped countless film students. After an insightful Hitchcock introduction that left me feeling as if I had downloaded an entire book to my central nervous system in only 12 minutes, the 4K, 3D digital restoration began.

What was most exciting about this often-dismissed Hitchcock flick (aside from the highly effective 3D itself) was recognizing how incorrect critics in 1954 had been when they complained about how pathetic the 3D was utilized. Re-evaluating Dial M For Murder in the present 3D age, it is overwhelmingly clear that Hitchcock understood the complexity of his technique; instead of overusing the "in your face" gimmick he directed his attention toward utilizing the depth of the sets and perfectly placed props near the camera. Fifty-eight years later, even one of Hitchcock's "lesser" films (even according to himself) is still paving the road for future films and filmmakers.

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TIFF happens, part two!

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Read Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' first report from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival here.

In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) This highly enjoyable Éric Rohmer-esque vehicle for Isabelle Huppert continues Hong's tradition as being the Korean Woody Allen by making a highly personal comedies. Huppert is masterful bouncing in and out of each random-yet-interconnected sequence, but Yu Jun-sang steals the show as the local lifeguard who hilariously channels Roberto Benigni (circa Jim Jarmusch's 1986 Down By Law). It's one of the funniest comic performances of 2012.

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TIFF happens! Toronto fest picks, part one

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This year's Toronto International Film Festival showcased 289 films. I attended 32. Mark down any titles that sound interesting, because this upcoming year is gonna be one to remember.

Outrage Beyond (Takeshi Kitano, Japan) The sequel to Takeshi Kitano's return-to-gangster-form Outrage (2010) sports the same no-nonsense editing that matches extreme violence with perfectly primed pauses. Kitano's knack for offbeat crime films began almost 25 years ago with his nasty neo-noir classic Violent Cop (1989). Since then, he's found a perfect blend of humor and artistry over the years, with such masterpieces as Sonatine (1993) and Hana-Bi (1997). Even his more eccentric deliveries, such as the sentimental Kikujiro (1999) and Brother (2000) —  his American crossover, co-starring Omar Epps — have the power to make fans out of first-time Takeshi viewers. Outrage Beyond methodically introduces (then destroys) main characters, creates tons of twists and turns that mangle the melodrama, and will either hypnotize you to all its inverted genre glory or leave you completely cold, confused, and unaffected. Either way, Takeshi is his own boss and I will watch everything he touches.

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Talking with 'Compliance' director Craig Zobel: a spoiler-free interview!

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No film at this year's Sundance Film Festival festival encountered as much controversy as Craig Zobel's Compliance. At the first public screening, an all-out shouting match erupted, with an audience member yelling "Sundance can do better!" You can't buy that kind of publicity. Every screening that followed was jam-packed with people hoping to experience the most shocking film at Sundance, and the film does not disappoint. (Beware: every review I have happened upon has unnecessarily spoiled major plots in the film, which is based on true events.)

Compliance aims to confront a society filled with people who are trained to follow rules without questioning them. Magnolia Pictures, which previously collaborated with Zobel on his debut film Great World of Sound (which premiered at Sundance in 2007), picked up the film for theatrical release (it comes out Fri/24 in Bay Area theaters); if you dare to check it out, prepare to be traumatized as well as intellectualized. You'll be screaming all the way home about one of the most audacious movies of 2012 — and that's exactly why the film is so brilliant.

San Francisco Bay Guardian I have attended Sundance since I was 11 years old, and there have been a handful of particularly volatile screenings in which audience members passed out, threw up, stormed out of the theater, or berated the filmmakers during the Q&A: Bryan Singer's Public Access and Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel's Man Bites Dog in 1993; Mary Harron's American Psycho and Kim Ki-Duk's The Isle in 2000; Gaspar Noe's Irreversible in 2002; and Johan Renck's Downloading Nancy in 2008. Now, you've joined the ranks of the infamous Sundance elite. Were you prepared for how vulnerable your film Compliance was going to make audience members?

Craig Zobel Absolutely not. It really caught me off guard.

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