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Interview

Meet the Zombie Comedienne

The ‘Parks and Recreation’ star opens up about her hilarious turn as a zombie girlfriend in ‘Life After Beth,’ which premiered at Sundance, her Mexico getaway with BFF Anna Kendrick, and a potential ‘Daria’ movie in the works (!).

Aubrey Plaza isn’t just the fresh princess of snark anymore. After seducing small screen viewers on the NBC series Park and Recreation with her indelible brand of deadpan humor—bored eyes, monotone voice, and all—the 29-year-old actress has seamlessly transitioned to indie leading lady. 

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Giulio Marcocchi/Sipa

The opening salvo came two years ago with Safety Not Guaranteed, where she played a greenhorn reporter tasked with probing a small town oddball who wishes to travel back through time. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, taking home the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. And last year’s turn as a naïve high schooler exploring her sexuality in The To-Do List saw the actress receive top billing for the first time. Now, Plaza is back at Sundance with a hilarious performance as a raging zombie girlfriend in the black comedy Life After Beth.

Written and directed by Jeff Baena, the film centers on Zach Orfman (Dane Dehaan), who is grieving the death of his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Plaza), who died after being bitten by a rattlesnake on a hike. He mourns with Beth’s parents, played by John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, and wishes he could have been a better boyfriend. There’s just one little problem: Beth isn’t really dead. Well, she is … but she’s a zombie. And a very needy one at that.

Sundance

Fassbender In A Papier-Mâché Head

One of the stranger films so far at Sundance is ‘Frank,’ about an avant-garde indie rock band fronted by Michael Fassbender as an oddball who never takes off his papier-mâché head.

There’s a scene in the film X-Men: First Class where electromagnetic puppeteer Erik Lensherr, played by Michael Fassbender, criticizes shape-shifter Raven Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence) for feeling unwelcome in her own skin.

“You want society to accept you,” he says, “but you can’t even accept yourself.” 

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Frank

In Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, which made its debut at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Fassbender should have heeded his own advice. He plays the titular rocker, a 30-something curiosity who is never caught without his large, spherical papier-mâché head, which has an innocuous face painted over it like a Max Fleischer cartoon. He has an undescribed “medical condition,” and even feeds himself by sucking up a food substitute through a straw under his mask. Frank is the front man of a very avant-garde indie rock band (think Liars crossed with Blonde Redhead) that also includes his muse, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who sports a bowl cut and shoulder pads a la Karen O; their suicidal manager, Don (Scott McNairy), who “used to fuck mannequins”; aloof French bassist Baraque (Francois Civil); and drummer Nana (Carla Azar). This pack of weirdos forms the (unpronounceable) band Soronprfbs.

When their keyboardist tries to commit suicide, a 20-something English bloke named Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is randomly recruited to join the gang. Jon is a poseur of the highest order; a suburban rich kid who still lives with his parents and wants to be a rock star, despite an incredible lack of musical talent. He’s emblematic of the oversharing generation—a self-absorbed whiner who treats his Twitter feed like an 11-year-old girl’s diary, replete with the lengthiest hashtags imaginable. Despite this, the genial, soft-spoken Frank takes a liking to Jon, and what begins as a backup keyboardist gig transforms into a bizarre, yearlong journey to record a debut album at a rented cabin on the Irish coast.

‘After Tiller’

Abortion’s Last Four Standing

‘After Tiller,’ the Sundance documentary named after the physician gunned down in 2009, follows the four doctors in America who still perform third-trimester abortions. Marlow Stern speaks with three of the doctors about the abortion battle, and their fanatical foes.

We’re 40 years after Roe v. Wade, and the women in America are in worse shape than they were 40 years ago. Their rights are being trampled in the street.

After Tiller

A scene from "After Tiller." (Yes and No Productions)

These are the words of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. A former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Carhart is one of only four doctors in the entire country who publicly perform late-term abortions, loosely defined as those in the third trimester of pregnancy (25 weeks) and beyond.

Carhart, along with Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella, were protégés of Dr. George Tiller—a late-term abortion provider who was shot in the head and killed by an anti-abortion activist in 2009 while serving as an usher during Sunday morning mass in Wichita, Kansas. He was the eighth abortion provider to be murdered in the wake of Roe v. Wade. This trio, along with Dr. Warren Hern, a contemporary of Tiller’s who has been performing abortions since 1973 and was even present during the arguing of Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court, are the subjects of Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, a controversial documentary that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

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The Daily Beast’s Sundance Awards

Park City Kudos

‘Fruitvale’ Wins Big at Sundance

‘Fruitvale’ Wins Big at Sundance Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

“Spectacular Now” and “Pussy Riot” also claim prizes.

“This isn’t basketball. This is the movies,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt said at the Sundance Film Festival awards ceremony, which he hosted Saturday night. “There are no winners and losers. This is art.” Still, prizes were handed out. This year’s big winner was Fruitvale, about the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, which won the both the Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. Also taking home honors were Pussy Riot—A Punk Prayer, which won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award, and The Special Jury Prize for acting went to Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley for their work in the coming-of-age romance The Spectacular Now.

Read it at The Hollywood Reporter

IMMIGRATION

My ‘Dayani Cristal’ Journey

In his new documentary ‘Who Is Dayani Cristal?’ the Mexican actor illustrates the tragic toll of the trek to the U.S., those left behind, and the people who struggle to get them home.

In an early scene from Who Is Dayani Cristal?, I am sitting on a bus speaking with a man who is making his journey north to the border. He is older, a gardener by trade, and intends to cross into Texas. He is resigned to the fact that he may well get apprehended and deported, but he is also optimistic that whatever happens, he will make it to the “promised land.” He says that final part with a little irony.

Who is Dayani Cristal?

A scene from “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” (Marc Silver)

This man is under no illusions about what he will go through to get there and what his life will be like on the other side. Yet his knowledge that this is the path toward a better life for himself and those he loves is the force that drives him. During this scene, you hear me say in the voice-over a line that came to me that day: “This is the oldest story, the very first book. The one that begins with an adventure. In it, we all play the main characters. We carry our hopes and virtues as our baggage ... while never forgetting what we left behind. Always longing for the place we came from.” This was the story I wanted to tell.

Right now across the Americas and around the world, we are discussing the issues of immigration and migration. We have come to view these issues as simply policy discussions, debates, and problems of globalization. But the urge to move, tied to the desire to survive, to prosper, and to seek a better future, has always existed. It is rooted in what makes us human. It is “the oldest story.”

Defiance

The Best Documentary at Sundance

The film, which just debuted at Park City, chronicles the rise of the Russian feminist punk-rock collective, their outspoken defiance of Putin, and shocking imprisonment.

“Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

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The documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer opens with this quote by the futurist Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. It couldn’t be more fitting. Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the film traces the history of the feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot. Formed in August 2011, on the day Vladimir Putin returned to Russian presidential politics, the group is comprised of 11 rotating female members who don colorful balaclavas and stage guerrilla-style protest performances in very public sites around their native Moscow and post videos of them to YouTube. The balaclavas are an ode to the punk group Guerrilla Girls, but also from the paintings of Kazimir Malevich, whose later Suprematist works are in colorful shapes. The ladies’ frenetic, lo-fi, riot grrrl punk anthems touch on feminism, gay rights, and anti-Putin obloquies. The chorus to their tune “Kill All Sexists” goes: KILL ALL SEXISTS! KILL ALL EXTREMISTS! KILL ALL PUTINITES!

On Feb. 21, 2012, five Pussy Riot members staged an unauthorized performance on the soleas of Cathedral of Christ the Savior, an Orthodox church in Moscow. The gig, which consisted of the women mock-praying and taking swipes at Putin, lasted all of 40 seconds before it was broken up by security officers. A music video of the performance was uploaded to YouTube with the title, “Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!"

‘VERY GOOD GIRLS’

Sundance’s It Girls

The film festival’s regulars return in filmmaker Naomi Foner’s directorial debut, starring as a pair of teenage friends hoping to lose their virginity before heading off to college. The actresses dish about their real-life “gang,” first times, upcoming projects—including Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’—and more.

Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen are no strangers to Sundance.

Fanning was the talk of the fest back in 2007, when her film Hounddog, which contained a rape scene featuring the then-12-year-old actress, premiered. She returned in 2010, starring as Cherie Currie in the underrated rock biopic The Runaways. Olsen, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in 2011, starring in Martha Marcy May Marlene, earning numerous critical accolades for playing a young woman indoctrinated into a cult, and the horror flick Silent House.

Despite their age difference—Olsen is 23; Fanning 18—the two are real-life pals, and both graduated from Campbell Hall School in North Hollywood, California. They’ve returned to Sundance in Very Good Girls. Marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Naomi Foner (also known as the mother of Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal), the film follows Lilly (Fanning) and Gerry (Olsen), two N.Y.C. teens who hope to lose their virginity during the last summer before they head off to college. Things get messy when they fall for the same guy—dreamy photographer David (Boyd Holbrook).

Fanning and Olsen sat down with The Daily Beast at a Fresh-hosted brunch during the Sundance Film Festival for a lively chat about their film, their real-life “crew,” first times, and more.

Director James Ponsoldt’s ‘The Spectacular Now,’ about a popular high-school senior whose love affair with a dorky go-getter, played by Shailene Woodley, forces him to confront his hopelessness, is one of the best movies at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Live in the now. This is the modus vivendi of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a gregarious high-school senior whose infectious, life-of-the-party mentality offsets any shortcomings in the looks department. He is beloved by all and, when he’s holding court with his sexy girlfriend (Brie Larson), feels indestructible.

The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller star in “The Spectacular Now.” (Wilford Harewood)

Sutter’s whole world comes crashing down when his partner-in-crime unexpectedly dumps him, sending the boozy teen on an all-night bender. He’s awakened the following morning—lying face down in a neighbor’s yard—by Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a bookish, sci-fi loving classmate whose name he can’t quite recall. Aimee is a breath of fresh, unsullied air for Sutter; someone who, instead of living in the moment without a care for the future, is working diligently to make her dreams become a reality.

The two soon bond over their overbearing mothers and nonexistent fathers—hers died a few years ago and his has long been out of the picture, and eventually fall for one another. Being with Aimee doesn’t make Miles feel invincible, but it makes him feel like a person of substance. She even convinces him to open up the communication lines with his long-lost father (Kyle Chandler), despite his mother’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and older sister’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) protestations.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

WikiLeaks, Assange & Paranoia

The latest film from Oscar winner Alex Gibney is “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,’” about the rise and fall of the controversial publisher. The filmmaker dishes on WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and Lance Armstrong—his next documentary subject.

Alex Gibney is, without question, the most prolific documentary filmmaker working today. And his diverse oeuvre has targeted everything from financial corruption, in the Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, to the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, which examined U.S. war crimes abroad.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Julian Assange in the documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks." (Jo Straube)

His latest subject is WikiLeaks, the controversial nonprofit publishing organization that, thanks to U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, released several caches of classified documents, including the Afghan War Diary, chronicling the war in Afghanistan; the Iraq War logs; and the U.S. State department diplomatic cables. The organization was created by Julian Assange—a suave, Australian ex-hacker who currently is seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in connection with an arrest warrant in Sweden related to a sexual-assault investigation. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks follows the history of the organization, as well as its outspoken figurehead, Assange, and the troubled Army private who put them on the map.

Universal Pictures, under its Focus World banner, commissioned Gibney to make the documentary, and spent about a year and a half working on it. There also is a feature-film version dramatizing the WikiLeaks saga that began filming on Jan. 23. Distributed by Dreamworks, the film is directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), and stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) as Assange.

Big Buzz

Short Films Take Sundance

Documentary auteurs Morgan Spurlock and Albert Maysles tout the joys of the Focus Forward project, a series of 30 three-minute short films presented at the film festival, that could revolutionize the doc-film industry—and change the world.

They were Oscar-winning documentarians, celebrity filmmakers, and some, just amateurs, and they were all given the same directive: create a film about innovation and keep it down to three minutes. So was the Focus Forward project born.

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Morgan Spurlock's documentary short: “You Don't Know Jack.” (Focus Forward Films/Sundance)

Touted with the tagline “Short Films, Big Ideas,” Focus Forward is an endeavor from short-film publisher Cinelan that’s backed by General Electric, with the goal of generating a series of brief documentaries about innovative ideas and people that are, quite simply, changing the world. Cinelan cofounding director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) was a driving force behind the project, which drafted renowned, Oscar-minted filmmakers like Lucy Walker (Waste Land), Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), and Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens) onto the unprecedented roster of directors who contributed the 30 three-minute films.

The final five shorts in the series premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival, and two will compete in the festival’s Shorts Competition. Extending the reach of the project beyond just the filmmaking elite, Cinelan and GE also launched the Focus Forward Filmmaking Challenge in conjunction with the 30-film series. More than 600 films were submitted from more than 69 countries, and 20 were named finalists for the $100,000 Grand Jury Prize that was awarded Tuesday to Rafel Duran Torrent’s Cyborg Foundation, about the world’s first officially recognized cyborg.

Porn Legend

Amanda Seyfried Is Lovelace!

As the porn legend turned activist, Amanda Seyfried takes on her most risqué role to date in “Lovelace,” which premiered at Sundance. The actress tells Marlow Stern about the role, “Mean Girls,” and if she has ever been exploited.

Linda Boreman spent only 17 days in the pornography business. She emerged a legend.

Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried stars as Linda Lovelace in the film “Lovelace.” (Dale Robinette)

Her 1972 porn film Deep Throat, which featured her as Linda Lovelace performing the eponymous sex act in the film’s climactic scene, became the highest-grossing porno of all time. Deep Throat netted $600 million and was so mainstream it even scored a review in The New York Times. However, Lovelace entered the porn biz while under the control of her husband-manager, Chuck Traynor, whom she alleges coerced her into porn, got her hooked on drugs, and even pimped her out. She eventually split from Traynor, quit the porn biz, and became an anti-pornography and women’s-rights activist.

Lovelace, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, stars the typically chaste Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables) as the embattled starlet alongside Peter Sarsgaard as Traynor. Following its premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the Weinstein Co. immediately acquired the movie for a cool $3 million.

‘Manhunt’

How We Killed bin Laden

The documentary ‘Manhunt’ chronicles the CIA’s 20-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Three CIA agents featured in the film tell Marlow Stern about ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ torture, Bill Clinton’s culpability, and more.

Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s compendious, riveting film chronicling the CIA’s decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, has received harsh criticism from officials over its veracity.

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“Manhunt: The Search for Osama Bin Laden” (HBO/Sundance)

It’s just a movie, people.

The real investigation into Osama bin Laden began all the way back in 1993, just prior to the first World Trade Center attack. A team of female CIA analysts known as “The Sisterhood” was the first to identify evidence that a terrorist group known as al Qaeda was spreading, and that bin Laden was its leader. In 1995 the CIA formed a small group called Alec Station with the express mission of focusing on al Qaeda. However, as terrorist attacks against the U.S. interests abroad became more frequent in the years leading up to 9/11, “The Sisterhood” became convinced that bin Laden was for real, and that his threats against the U.S. should be taken very seriously. They fell on deaf ears, however. And, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, clueless congressmen blamed the CIA for not being vocal enough.

Feeding Frenzy

Sundance Acquisitions Heat Up!

It took a few days, but distributors are finally opening their wallets at the 2013 film festival. Marlow Stern on the deals starting to roll in—including Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, ‘Don Jon’s Addiction.’

While many of the highly anticipated films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival came in with distributors—including Fox Searchlight’s duo of eco-terrorism thriller The East, co-written by and starring Brit Marling; filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s (Oldboy) stylistic horror film Stoker, featuring Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman; and Alex Gibney’s documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, which will be released by Focus World—a wide variety came to Park City seeking distribution.

The Look of Love

Steve Coogan appears in a scene from "The Look of Love." (Charlie Gray)

Acquisitions had been relatively quiet for the first few days of the fest, but now that everyone’s adjusted to the altitude, the deals are starting to roll in.

Don Jon’s Addiction, about a caddish, porn-obsessed douchebag (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls for a romantic comedy-obsessed Joisey girl (Scarlett Johansson), marks the feature filmmaking debut of Gordon-Levitt. It was acquired by Relativity Media for a fest high $4 million after a serious bidding war that reportedly included a nice bid by the Weinstein Company.

Day 2

Standing Ovation

'After Tiller' Debuts to Raves

'After Tiller' Debuts to Raves

Abortion documentary premieres with tight security.

Trailer Park

Sundance 2013: Fruitvale

Ryan Coogler's film reenacts the days leading up to the real-life New Year’s Day 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old, by a BART police officer in Oakland, Calif.

  1. Sundance 2013: Inequality for All Play

    Sundance 2013: Inequality for All

  2. Sundance 2013: Fill the Void Play

    Sundance 2013: Fill the Void

  3. Sundance 2013: The Summit Play

    Sundance 2013: The Summit

Preview

The Ones to Watch

DJ Kate

DJ Kate

Bloody Good

Fargo’s Breakout Star

Fired Up

Hopelessly Devoted to Hillary

Hot Frenchman

The Wonky Elite’s False Prophet

HELP OR HURT?

Liberals’ Red State Death Wish

Banter With the Beast

An Unlikely Sundance Star

Jim McGreevey’s Simpler Life

Jim McGreevey’s Simpler Life

The New Jersey ex-governor tells Lloyd Grove he’s now focused on family, faith, and working with prison inmates.

Mad, Mad World

Dick Cheney Sounds Off

Dick Cheney’s Mad, Mad ‘World’

Dick Cheney’s Mad, Mad ‘World’

‘The World According to Dick Cheney,’ a documentary premiering at Sundance, features revealing interviews with the former VP.