8 Sundance Movies Now on Screens
Those who missed January’s Sundance Film Festival but followed news and reviews out of the indie-film showcase can now see a number of the movies they read about.
At least eight buzzy titles that premiered at the festival have hit theaters this summer, with many still on the big screen or the small screen, via video-on-demand or HBO.
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Take a look at which Sundance movies you can now see (and how) as well as highlights from The Hollywood Reporter’s coverage of their Park City premieres:
Ping Pong Summer (available for download on the movie's website)
The ’80s-set film about an awkward 13-year-old who tries to become a master ping-pong player during his summer at the Jersey Shore premiered in Sundance’s NEXT section. Gravitas Ventures later acquired the title, co-starring Susan Sarandon, which is now available for purchase for $12.99 on the movie’s website. In his Sundance review, THR’s Justin Lowe said, “Accessible, amusing and sporting a soundtrack of ’80s rap and soft rock tracks, Ping Pong Summer stands to attract attention from period-film fans and teens perhaps more attuned to their parents’ generation than their own. … If the setup for [writer-director Michael] Tully’s jokey tribute to ’80s teen comedies seems rather formulaic, it’s all in good fun, although the film noticeably lacks the dimensionality of the best material of the period, sometimes playing like a throwback to after-school TV movies.”
The Case Against 8 (airing on HBO)
Ryan White and Ben Cotner’s documentary about the groundbreaking Supreme Court case that overturned Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, received an enthusiastic response including a sustained standing ovation after its premiere at Sundance and won the directing award in the U.S. doc category. The film, which also won the audience award in the festival favorites category at SXSW, received a brief theatrical release in early June before premiering on HBO on June 23, where it’s still airing. The Case Against 8 chronicles the five-year battle to overthrow the law, including the teaming up of Bush v. Gore opponents Ted Olson and David Boies and the personal experiences of plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo. At Sundance, THR’s David Rooney wrote that the filmmakers "distill the dense legal process into a lucid narrative while illuminating the human drama of the plaintiffs, and by extension, the countless gay men and lesbians they represent. That makes for a stirring civil rights film that is both cogent and emotionally charged."
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Obvious Child (in select theaters)
The romantic comedy about a stand-up comedian who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and decides to have an abortion premiered in Sundance’s NEXT section. Shortly thereafter, A24 picked up North American distribution rights and has been rolling out the film in select theaters since June 6. Following its Sundance premiere, THR’s Todd McCarthy wrote, “Raunchy humor laced with gradually revealed vulnerability makes for a winning combination in Obvious Child, a wildly funny and appealing female-centric comedy that launches very promising talent on both sides of the camera. … In other hands, the film's second half could have become too serious, sentimental or agenda-charged, but [writer-director Gillian] Robespierre always keeps authentic emotion and brainy humor in the forefront. Her irrepressibly bawdy take on life notwithstanding, Donna has a good soul underneath it all, which provides the film with a constant and agreeable glow.”
Hellion (in select theaters and on demand)
Aaron Paul stars in and produced this film about the family struggles of an often-absent widower (Paul) and his 13-year-old troublemaker son, a dirt-biking enthusiast who hangs out with a group of vandals, and his younger brother, who begins following in his sibling’s footsteps. The film, which was acquired by Sundance Selects roughly a month after its Park City debut, was written and directed by Kat Candler and stars newcomers Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner as Paul’s sons. At THR’s Sundance video lounge, Paul showed how he was able to make Garner laugh by pretending to poke him, calling the kid’s giggles “the most adorable laugh I’ve ever heard.” The Breaking Bad alum also explained how he quickly signed on to the project, noting that he found the script “so beautifully honest,” with “relatable” characters. “Within 60 seconds of being in [Candler’s] presence I knew I wanted to continue this friendship and this business relationship,” Paul said. Paul, Wiggins and Garner all earned praise for their performances but THR’s David Rooney found the overall film “underdeveloped.” “While the film is absorbing and not without pathos, there's insufficient insight or shape to the screenplay, which drifts between Hollis and Jacob without building momentum,” Rooney wrote. “It's up to the actors to fill in the gaps, with some managing better than others. … Aside from the two lead performances, what the movie has going for it, primarily, is its poignant observation of sibling love and enduring bonds between even the most damaged fathers and sons.” The film received a day-and-date VOD and theatrical release on June 13. Watch the Hellion cast’s video interview below.
The Internet’s Own Boy (in select theaters and on demand)
Brian Knappenberger’s documentary about Internet programming pioneer Aaron Swartz received praise following its Sundance premiere and was subsequently acquired by Participant Media and FilmBuff, which released the movie on demand and in theaters in late June ahead of a fall debut on Participant’s Pivot TV network. The film recounts Swartz’s life through his arrest for allegedly downloading nearly 4 million academic articles from online service JSTOR, which may have contributed to his early death. The film features interviews with Swartz’s family and friends as well as experts like World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig. At Sundance, THR’s John DeFore called the film “all but a must-see for anyone who knows enough to care about the way laws govern information transfer in the digital age … an inspiring account of the life of, and an infuriating chronology of the persecution of, one of the Internet's most impressive prodigies.”
Whitey (in select theaters and on demand)
Joe Berlinger’s documentary about Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is just the latest film to explore the famed crime boss, who inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed and is set to get multiple fictional movie treatments, including one by Johnny Depp in Warner Bros.' Black Mass, set to hit theaters in fall 2015. Magnolia Pictures acquired the doc out of Sundance and released it in theaters and on demand on June 27. The CNN Films presentation will also get a broadcast on the cable network later this year. Despite its intriguing subject, the film received a less-than-stellar review from THR’s John DeFore at Sundance, who wrote, “Sprawling and sometimes a grind at over two hours, the doc is both cinematically uninspired and journalistically jumbled, muddying its potent main arguments — that the Boston FBI is much more to blame for Bulger's reign of terror than the public understands; that the Department of Justice may be turning a blind eye to those failures — by obsessing over family members of Bulger's murder victims and offering much more information than we need on the members of his gang who turned on him in the end.”
They Came Together (in select theaters and on demand)
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler’s romantic comedy parody features a star-studded cast and was co-written and directed by Wet Hot American Summer’s David Wain. THR’s John DeFore didn’t love the movie at Sundance, writing that “winking and straightforward genre rehash, with dialogue baldly stating what each scene is supposed to add to the plot, is practically all the film offers.” But They Came Together has a 69 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating and is still in iTunes’ top 10 movies list more than a week after its release.
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Life Itself (in select theaters and on demand)
The Roger Ebert documentary made a splash when it debuted at Sundance, with THR’s Todd McCarthy calling it “engrossing, unflinching, moving and comprehensive … [a] three-dimensional portrait.” The film, which focuses on the last five months of the famous film critic’s life, was picked up by Magnolia Pictures in early February, with the distributor beating out IFC, Oscilloscope and The Weinstein Co. It was released in theaters and on demand this past Friday.
A number of other hot Sundance films are slated to hit theaters in the next few weeks, including Richard Linklater’s Oscar hopeful Boyhood and Land Ho! (both opening on 7/11); I Origins, Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-financed Wish I Was Here and Alive Inside (all opening on 7/18); and Happy Christmas and A Most Wanted Man (opening on 7/25).