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Sundance Review || "Mississippi Grind"

There are some people who just can't help but roll the dice. No matter how far ahead or behind they are, they just need to have one more go at the "big win". And as any longtime gambler knows, the win is incomparable elation. Though in the long run, this mentality always loses. Statically, a lifetime of gambling is bankrupting. It leads to broken relationships, distrust and disquieting desperation. With some, the influence to bet it all becomes a certifiable addiction the likes of crack or caffeine or Lost. Those able to delude themselves blindly forgo the notion that the odds are never in their favor. The house always wins.

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Sundance Review || "The End of the Tour"


To put a pin in the beauty of The End of the Tour is a philosophical venture potentially as challenging as James Ponsoldt's latest accomplishment. Detailing a three-day exchange between Rolling Stones journalist David Lipsky and rock star author David Foster Wallace, Ponsoldt's film is talky and emotionally whirling, thick with dry-mouthed moments and cemented with a kind of human earnestness that cannot be bought or bartered for.

Ponsoldt's again adapts from the page - this time working from memoirs penned by Lipsky following Wallace's suicide at 46. Unlike most, he biopics like a pro - offering a detailed potrait of a series of days that succeeds at trying to sum up the two men at its center as they undergo a short but massively influential union of minds.

Taking us 12 years back in time to the tail end of a book tour, David Foster Wallace is an overnight celebrity, lionized for his best-selling existential novel, "Infinite Jest", but uncomfortable in accepting his new VIP status. Infatuated by Wallace's work and hunting for a hot story, David Lipsky - then a Rolling Stones writer still cutting his teeth - takes off to do a profile on the celebrated writer and quickly finds a human counterpart in Wallace's nervous energy and racing mind.

Jason Segel one-ups himself as Wallace, delivering a performance well beyond any potential he's shown before. Breathy and withdrawn, he feels so desperately real. Though quiet, Segel's performance is orchestral; singing in shades and colors that traverse the whole human spectrums. Willing to bear for all his foibles in intimate and profound strokes, he's the kind of tortured human soul that we can all relate to on one level or another. Jesse Eisenberg is equally good, driving home the harsh realities to balance out Wallace's raw pontificating. Eisenberg is so tapped into the minutia of shifts in emotional atmosphere that he can communicate volumes with the faintest flicker of his eyelid. Neither has ever been better.

They verbally spar; intellectual gladiators playing a game of one-upmanship. Unsure if they're best friends or worst enemies, the profile turns to each trying to cut to the heart of why being a human is just so downright hard. As they charge through raw, bookish dialogues, Ponsoldt's intention to craft a love letter to conversation is crystalline.


The End of the Tour has been likened to Richard Linklater's masterful Before series and for good reason. Ponsoldt trades in Linklater's picturesque ambles through European landscapes for the snowy purgatory of middle America (namely Minnesonalopis). His tour takes us to crummy bookstores, down blistery cruvaces and to the national heritage site that is the Mall of America - a literal monument to the glory of consumerism.

As such, his film makes for a pressing portrait of our nation, its values and its populace. But even more importantly, it welcomes us with open arms to this imitate portrait of two brooding, depressive beings.

As a college student, I wrote my senior thesis on "the Meaning of Life" through the lens of Nietzche's "Thus Spake Zarathurstra". It was a wordy but personally meaningful dissection of individual value systems and was my best attempt to cut to the bone of why we do what we do. Classic philosophy student fare. Ponsoldt handles his material with the weight of a philosopher, presenting ideas that feel like they've always been on the tip of our tongue in such an entrancing, elegant manner that they land like hammer strikes to the sternum. He guides us through the human experience with the virtuosity of a never-to-be-forgotten college professor, going for broke and leaving you  unequivocally emotionally drip-dried.

Danny Elfman drives the whole thing home with a score that elevates Ponsoldt's emotional arches with heartfelt panache. The result is a soaring independent drama; a Socratic wax on existence itself. Both life-affirming, deeply-affecting and willing to play a dangerous game of bringing you to the brink of tears, The End of the Tour is essential watching - a lovely, beautiful tragedy that will shake you to the bone.


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Sundance Review || "The Stanford Prison Experiment"

Things came in twos at this year's Sundance Film Festival with a pair of Cobie Smulders' features competing against one another for the Dramatic Competition prize, a set of unexpected pregnancy comedy/dramas, Tye Sheridans (who actually was showcased in three films: Last Days in the Desert, Entertainment and this film we're in the midst of reviewing) and, most notably, a duo of 1960-70s social psychology experiment films. One of which, The Experimenter told the story of Stanley Milgram, administer of increasing electrical shocks and student of peer pressure. The feature starred Peter Sarsgaard and was met with middling reviews.

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Sundance Review: "A Walk in the Woods"

Robert Redford's adaptation of Bill Bryson's popular 1998 memoir A Walk In the Woods is an unremarkable journey with a short sprinkling of low-key chuckles and a heaving dose of schmaltzy sentiment. As Redford's travel companion, co-star Nick Nolte manages to give this low-percolating buddy comedy/road-movie-on-foot at least some minor footing, but its not enough to balance the overwrought equilibrium. Mining the material for all its geriatric sitcom worth, director Ken Kwapis' internal clock ticks with the fervor of a retiree, as he fails to charge the material with any sense of driving momentum. As much as Nolte's character drags his feet, it's Kwapis who lags most. For a film all about the journey forward, that presents a major problem.

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