See the First Trailer for James Ponsoldt’s ‘The Spectacular Now’

Director James Ponsoldt’s first feature Smashed, the adult coming-of-age story about a woman’s struggle with alcoholism, struck a chord with us back in the fall. The raw and humanistic film that amalgamated tender emotion with the comedy inherent in the foibles of everyday life established Ponsoldt as a filmmaker to be excited for. And with his second film The Spectacluar Now—which premiered to rave reviews at Sundance—he seems to be swimming through very similar thematic tones and emotional textures as his first feature with an honest and witty look at the the flawed beauty in everyday life.   

Based on the novel of the same title by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now is a collaboration between Ponsoldt and the film’s writers Michael H. Weber Scott Neustadter (the dudes that brought you 500 Days of Summer) and stars promising newcomers Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, alongside the wonderful Brie Larson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. A coming-of-age story once again, this time Ponsoldt tackles the teen arena with the story of a hapless high school senior with an affinity for strong booze, who, after a break up with his popular ideal girlfriend, meets the shy and lovingly sweet girl next door.    In speaking with the director for Smashed, he told me that:

 The stories that I like the best are ones that are about really flawed, screwed up people who want to try to fix themselves or make themselves better and it doesn’t matter whether they’re doing it for the right reasons or the wrong reasons or whether they’re total fools and struggling to try to make themselves whole. There’s something very human and hopeful about that—and not in succeeding, because I don’t know what success means, but it’s like trying to love yourself more so you can love other people better and just be decent to the people around you. 

And now, the first trailer for the film has been released, giving you a pretty solid taste of the film, which is set to premiere August 2nd. Take a look below.  

Get More: 

Even Without Its Namesake, Ebertfest Goes On

Although Chicago readily and enthusiastically claims Roger Ebert as one of its favorite sons, the late, great film critic spent most of his formative years in the bustling university metropolis of Champaign, Illinois. For years, Champaign has played home to Ebertfest, an annual hometown celebration where he selects several of his favorite under-the-radar films from recent years to be screened for the locals at the historic Virginia Theatre. And although this is the first Ebertfest without the man, the show will go on as planned. 

If you live in Champaign by some chance, or Chicago, or some other Midwestern city within easy driving distance and by the grace of God the weather isn’t abysmal where you are, you may want to get yourself in your car or on a bus or something and spend an afternoon at the movies. The remaining festival schedule includes Tilda Swinton in Julia tonight, the brilliant guru-skewering doc Kumare tomorrow, Randy Moore’s guerrilla-Disney film Escape From Tomorrow, and James Ponsoldt’s teens-in-love story The Spectacular Now. It’s a nice mix of fare, and after the week we’ve all had, it might be nice to escape to the movies for a while, don’t you think? 

The Best of the Sundance Early Reviews

Reviews can be dangerous. Personally, I tend not to read too many of them until after I’ve seen a film—and even then, only after I’ve processed my own thoughts. What’s the point in seeing a film if you’re just going to walk out of the theater and think, Well that was a disaster, but I know I’m supposed to love it or being profoundly moved by something but knowing that critics felt just the opposite so, I’ll keep this absolute joy to myself. Come on, now. If there’s a discussion to be had about the film before its release, it’s always more interesting to learn about the person or people behind the film and how that person made this specific piece of art and what it meant for them, so you can at least learn the intentions behind the work.

But when it comes to festivals, reviews can really make or break a long-waited anticipation—they can squash the thrill of those nine years of waiting to see if one couple gets together or elate you to know that a director whose first feature you loved didn’t fall flat in their sophomore effort. And for the movies debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, most theatrical releases are still unsettled, so a long-lead review may not have the ability to hinder your perception as powerfully as it might if you knew you were seeing the film tomorrow. So for those you not in Park City this week, check out a collection of snippets from this weekend’s reviews, covering some of the most anticipated films of the festival from Linklater’s Before Midnight  to David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche.

Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

"It’s a brave, creative decision on the trio’s part, and it’ll be interesting to see how civilians in the real world react to the film. Falling in love is easy. Sustaining love with the complicated burden of life on top of it all is hard. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight isn’t the most digestible picture, but its challenging, funny, painful, very present and alive depiction of relationships at 40 is so honest and real that we wouldn’t have it any other way."—Indiewire

"The previous films’ manufactured deadlines—a train departure, a trip to the airport—are no longer with us; the pair are now together until they decide not to be. Turns out, that’s as dramatic as a ticking clock."—The Hollywood Reporter

"Delivering vanity-free turns in which no apparent effort has been made to disguise wrinkles or sagging eyelids, the actors have melded so completely with their roles as to seem incapable of a false note; rewardingly, Hawke for the first time seems to truly match Delpy in emotional stature. The lightly self-reflexive script includes more than a few references to and examples of role play, reminding viewers of the artificiality of two characters who couldn’t seem more authentic."—Variety

"Physical time has to pass for both the stories and the audience, and the resulting authenticity gives the trilogy its magic. It makes the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight unlike anything in cinema history… Every moment with the couple feels true but never overbearing. Jesse and Celine have never been symbols for all relationships; their love story stands on its own, and becomes fully fleshed out through the strength of the filmmaking and performances. These characters have never been blank slates you project your own experiences onto."—Collider

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery

"Ain’t Them Bodies Saints maintains a strong linear approach that makes the collage of cinematic trickery more philosophically engaging than in his previous work… Lowery doesn’t leave everything up to the imagination: The tense climax, involving a superbly choreographed nighttime pursuit, breaches the subdued rhythm with supreme calculation. It’s easy to figure where Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is heading shortly after all the pieces are put in place, but the surprises of how they get there arrive in every scene." —Indiewire

"Ain’t Them Bodies Saints recalls Malick’s outlaw-lovers drama Badlands and the open-sky beauty of the fable-like Days Of Heaven. (There is, however, no voiceover in Lowery’s film.) Lowery is hardly the first filmmaker to crib Malick’s poetic aesthetic, but his clear confidence in aspiring to the same sort of enrapturing experience is undeniably impressive. When the results are this cohesive and affecting, one begrudgingly acquiesces rather than complains…In tune with the movie’s lyrical style, the performances have an elemental power that’s understated but resonant."—Screen Daily

"The film is a lovely thing to experience and possesses a measure of real power. Emerging cinematographer Bradford Young does his most impressive work yet, combining with Lowery, production designer Jade Healy and costume designer Malgosia Turzanska to deliver a kind of timeless look that feels equal parts Old West, Depression-era Texas and the slow-to-arrive modern age."— THR

The East, Zal Batmanglij

"The second picture in a fascinating collaboration with producer-writer-star Brit Marling, this clever, involving spy drama builds to a terrific level of intrigue before losing some steam in its second half. Still, the appreciable growth in filmmaking confidence here should translate into a fine return on Fox Searchlight’s investment, and generate good word-of-mouth buzz among smart thrill-seekers."—Variety

"The East is a terrific companion piece for anyone who enjoyed Sound Of My Voice… Though the script (by Batmanglij and Marling) could’ve used another polish, as a filmmaker, Batmanglij is still at the head of the class of up-and-coming directors. It’s great seeing him able to paint on a larger canvas here and provide Marling an opportunity to turn in another beguiling performance."—Indiewire

"[Batmanglij] has serious directorial chops. It’s a piece full of tension and intrigue..There isn’t enough properly at stake for the film to earn its facile pro-coporaterrorism ideas, in my opinion, and motivations feel questionable throughout. Nevertheless, I look forward to this guy’s career. He knows how to get a reaction out of an audience."—HitFix

The Look of Love, Michael Winterbottom

 "Before its measure of gravity kicks in, some viewers may find it depressing in its soulless, kitschy period portrayal of immediate gratification… Though all the performances are very good, much of Look‘s entertainment value comes from an impressive tech package that captures the shifting fashions of swinger-favored pop-culture garishness over the pic’s roughly 25-year period… While it’s seldom lingered on, the large amount of fairly graphic sexual imagery may prove a ratings challenge in some territories."—Variety

"Shockingly, for all of the topless women, the movie is surprisingly bland. Raymond is always entranced by a comely naked lady, so it’s doubtful that Winterbottom was trying to show the decline of his protagonist’s libido. More effort is put into the dangers of cocaine than any thoughtful exploration of Paul Raymond’s personality."—Collider

"The script’s biggest failing is not creating a full-bodied character out of Debbie.Loaded with music—albeit some surprisingly obvious choices from the director who made 24 Hour Party People – the film is absorbing on a scene-by-scene basis. But it connects the dots of Raymond’s life in a perfunctory way, without locating a fluid through-line or gaining emotional access to its elusive subject."—THR

The Spectacular Now, James Ponsoldt

"Ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others, The Spectacular Now benefits from an exceptional feel for its main characters on the parts of the director and lead actors…Looking plain, even homely and singularly unadorned, Woodley is world away from the svelte little hottie she portrayed two years ago in The Descendents but again is entirely terrific. By contrast, most of the other kids are more recognizably superficial and stereotyped. The adults, particularly Chandler as the jaw-droppingly irresponsible father, are uniformly excellent."—THR

"Ponsoldt’s picture is self-possessed, mature and deeply patient, but it’s perhaps not at the exact pace some audiences are accustomed to…Don’t be surprised if the film is sold like (500) Days Of Summer (or a similar film) when it eventually makes its way to theaters, but this picture is particularly darker, sadder and pained. The Spectacular Now is wise beyond its years, charismatic, measured and authentic in its depiction of the pains, confusions and insecurities of the teenage experience, and while its deliberate rhythm may prove to be a harder sell among the teen crowd, it’s a valuable and honest film that’s worth the investment."—Indiewire

Stoker, Park Chan-Wook

"This being a Park movie—albeit one scripted by actor Wenwtworth Miller—depraved urges and grotesque outbursts linger around every turn, but Park’s formalism positions the mayhem within an alluring cinematic tapestry… Stoker may not break new ground, but it stands firmly on an effective toolbox right through its zany finale. Ultimately a subversive take on family bonds, the movie puts a wry twist on the coming-of-age mold."—Indiewire

"…delivers what the South Korean auteur does best: moody mise-en-scene with intense moments of ultra-violence. This is a dark, dark story, yet somehow Park is able to impart a safeness that allows the audience to sit back and enjoy the thrill ride."—Twitch

"Park’s regular d.p. Chung-hoon Chung appears to be channeling photographer Gregory Crewdson’s eerily high-key Americana in his lighting schemes, while Clint Mansell’s characteristically rich, modernist score is embellished with haunting piano duets composed specifically for the film by Philip Glass. The repeated use of the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra number ‘Summer Wine,’ meanwhile, is typical of the director’s cockeyed take on American culture. Long may he continue to explore."—Variety

Breathe In, Drake Doremus

"Doremus doesn’t seem particularly interested in the melodramatic aspects of his story, skipping over the arguments and fallout almost entirely…The film focuses more on states of mind, using Dustin O’Halloran’s rich piano score to amplify the collective agitation, while capturing from each character’s perspective how one can occasionally feel like an outsider even while clearly part of something. Working again with cinematographer John Guleserian, Doremus opts for a cooler palette, rendering these middle-class problems in tony blues and beiges."—Variety

"…it’s the actors who crush these intense moments of desire and longing into something near breathless…Sensuous and plaintive, Dormeus’ camera once again captures that arresting emotional truth that’s marked his relationship dramas thus far, and there’s even some moments of Malick-ian wonder and beauty… "Breathe In" may telegraph where it’s going late in the game and these irrational decisions might make for some frustrated viewers, but it is without a doubt one of the most emotionally poignant and heartbreaking movies of the festival thus far."

"If the film does have a flaw it’s that the storyline follows a fairly predictable path, but the raw performances and Doremus’ inspiring direction are so effective at getting you invested in these characters that this minor quibble is quickly rendered insignificant by the film’s haunting closing sequence. The key is in the execution, and that’s where Breathe In excels."—Collider

Don Jon’s Addiction, Joseph-Gordon Levitt

"Again, Gordon-Levitt’s confident direction stops the film from going off the rails, but the plot strains trying to make Jon becomes a mature adult… When it comes to the protagonist’s inability to achieve intimacy, Don Jon’s Addiction feels like Shame but with jokes and Tony Danza."—Collider

"…here’s a heavy testosterone-driven pushiness, rather than a deeply felt sex drive as an elemental force of nature that’s crucial to this man’s self-expressiveness, that soon becomes obnoxious, and a lack of self-reflection that leaves Jon, and the film with him, frustratingly one-dimensional.Both as a director and actor, Gordon-Levitt is switched on all the time, offering little shading or nuance."—THR

"Filled with heat, emotion, verve and humor, Jon’s journey to sexual fulfillment is certainly not the most obvious rom-com path to redemption we’ve seen on screen in some time. Replete with characters who love to challenge their stereotypes, Don Jon’s Addiction is a beguiling romantic comedy with a heart, soul and pulse that will pleasure you for a full 90 minutes with hardly breaking a sweat."—Indiewire

Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green

"What makes the performances so enjoyable and unexpectedly touching is that the parallel arcs of this twin character study are drawn with such delicacy. Hirsch is impish, abrasive and a little lost, with Lance already seeing himself as ‘fat and old’ compared to the younger, cooler guys on the dance floor. In a nuanced turn that swings from funny to angry to emotionally raw and back again, Rudd draws on stage skills that have been largely untapped in his recent films."—THR

"A somewhat surprising vehicle for smoothly commingling Green’s own seemingly unreconcilable career sides, Prince Avalanche (a title he admits makes no particular sense) has room for both very funny physical comedy and a couple of rapturous, stand-alone, near-experimental montages given superb support by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo’s diverse original rock tracks."—Variety

"So even if Prince Avalanche feels more than a bit wobbly, it does show Green once again trying his hand at the idiosyncratic style of his promising early years, an encouraging sign one hopes isn’t just a passing fancy."—Screen Daily

The Fifteen Most Anticipated Films at This Year’s Sundance Film Festival

Amidst the delirium of award season, the annual Sundance Film Festival creeps up every January to remind us each year that the scope of Hollywood is changing and being infiltrated with a host of new talent and emerging artists from around the world. The festival is a beacon for A-list talent as well as those new to the world of cinema who are getting their first premieres and chance at large-scale recognition. With an enormous slate of films, the festival will commence on Thursday and feature new work from those you already know and worship and those whose names are on the tip of our tongues.

Among the films being shown are sophomore efforts from writer/directors Zal Batmanglij, James Pondsoldt, and Shane Carruth, as well eagerly-awaited follow ups from Richard Linklater and Michael Winterbottom—to hint at the list. In the past few months, we’ve had a chance to see some of the films before their premieres, and it’s safe to say that this year looks to be a truly thrilling one as distributors latch onto films and prepare them to hit theaters later this year. So for those of you not heading to Park City this week, here’s a list of our most anticipated Sundance narrative features for you to get excited about.

1. The EastZal Batmanglij

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

2. Upstream ColorShane Carruth

Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the way, she finds another being—a familiar, who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.

3. CO.G.Kyle Patrick Alvarez

David has it all figured out. His plan—more a Steinbeckian dream—is to spend his summer working on an apple farm in Oregon with his best friend, Jennifer. When she bails out on him, David is left to dirty his hands alone, watched over by Hobbs, the old farm owner and the first in a series of questionable mentors he encounters. First there’s Curly, the friendly forklift operator with a unique hobby, and then Jon, the born-again rock hound who helps David in a time of need. This first film adaptation of David Sedaris’s work tells the story of a prideful young man and what’s left of him after all he believes is chipped away piece by piece.

4. The Spectacular NowJames Ponsoldt

Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified 7UP cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky hovering over him. Not a member of the cool crowd, she’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She does have dreams, while Sutter lives in a world of impressive self-delusion. And yet they’re drawn to each other.

5. Touchy FeelyLynn Sheldon

What happens when a family’s delicate psychic balance suddenly unravels? Abby is a free-spirited massage therapist. Her brother, Paul, an emotional zombie, owns a flagging dental practice, where he enlists the assistance of his equally emotionally stunted daughter, Jenny. Suddenly, transformation touches everyone. Abby develops an uncontrollable aversion to bodily contact, which seriously hinders her chosen profession and the passionate love life she once shared with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, rumors of Paul’s “healing touch” begin to miraculously invigorate his practice. As Abby navigates through an identity crisis, her brother discovers a whole new side of himself.

6. Interior.Leather bar.James Franco/Travis Matthews

The 1980 film Cruising, starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a murder in the New York City gay, leather, bar scene, was plagued with controversy, and its director was forced by the Motion Picture Association of America to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit material. Those 40 minutes have never been screened publicly. Filmmakers James Franco and Travis Mathews set out to reimagine what might have transpired in those lost scenes in this intriguing film about the making of a film.

7. Ain’t Them Bodies SaintsDavid Lowery

Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.

8. Kill Your DarlingsJohn Krokida

While he is attending Columbia University in 1944, the young Allen Ginsberg’s life is turned upside down when he sets eyes on Lucien Carr, an impossibly cool and boyishly handsome classmate. Carr opens Ginsberg up to a bohemian world and introduces him to William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Repelled by rules and conformity in both life and literature, the four agree to tear down tradition and make something new, ultimately formulating the tenets of and giving birth to what became the Beat movement. On the outside, looking in, is David Kammerer, a man in his thirties desperately in love with Carr. When Kammerer is found dead, and Kerouac, Burroughs, and Carr are arrested in conjunction with the murder, the nascent artists’ lives change forever.

9. May in the SummerCherien Dabis

May has it all—a celebrated book, a sophisticated New York life, and a terrific fiancé to match. But when she heads to Amman, Jordan, to arrange her wedding, she lands in a bedlam of family chaos she thought she’d transcended long before. Her headstrong, born-again Christian mother so disapproves of her marrying a Muslim that she threatens to boycott the wedding. Her younger sisters lean on her like children, and her estranged father suddenly comes out of the woodwork. Meanwhile, doubts about her marriage surface, and May’s carefully structured life spins out of control.

10. What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About LoveMousy Surya

At a high school for the visually impaired in Jakarta, Indonesia, the students are like any other teenagers: they attend classes, pursue artistic endeavors, and fall in love. The most privileged of the bunch, Diana, patiently awaits signs of womanhood and humors her mother’s attempts to mold her into the perfect girl. The beautiful Fitri has no shortage of male attention and enters into a passionate affair with, unbeknownst to her, a hearing-impaired punk rocker who is masquerading as a doctor. Meanwhile, Maya, blind since birth, aspires to be an actress and performer. Regardless of physical barriers, the students find ways to communicate and collaborate, enabling them to connect—with each other and to the outside world.

11. Crystal FairySebastian Silv

Jamie is a boorish, insensitive American twentysomething traveling in Chile, who somehow manages to create chaos at every turn. He and his friends are planning on taking a road trip north to experience a legendary shamanistic hallucinogen called the San Pedro cactus. In a fit of drunkenness at a wild party, Jamie invites an eccentric woman—a radical spirit named Crystal Fairy—to come along. What is meant to be a devil-may-care journey becomes a battle of wills as Jamie finds himself locking horns with his new traveling companion. But on a remote, pristine beach at the edge of the desert, the magic brew is finally imbibed, and the true adventure begins. Preconceived notions and judgments fall away, and the ragtag group breaks through to an authentic moment of truth.

12. Il Futuro (The Future), Alisha Scherson

When her parents die in a car accident, adolescent Bianca’s universe is upended. Staying alone in the family’s Rome apartment and entrusted with the care of her younger brother, Tomas, she struggles to hold things together as her place in her surreal new world becomes blurry. Life is further complicated when Tomas’s gym-rat friends invite themselves to stay indefinitely. Using Bianca as a lure for a heist they’ve concocted, they convince her to initiate a sexual relationship with enigmatic blind hermit Maciste, played by Rutger Hauer. But as the two spend time together, Bianca unexpectedly finds normalcy and acceptance in the aging B-movie star and former Mr. Universe’s rococo mansion.

13. The Look of LoveMichael Winterbottom

Welcome to the scandalous world of Paul Raymond, entrepreneur, impresario, and the “king of Soho.” Seeing mediocrity in the smutty sex parlors of London, Raymond unveils his first “gentlemen’s club” in 1958 and gradually builds an empire of clubs and erotic magazines that brings him vast wealth while affronting British sexual mores. It also brings a litany of obscenity charges, a failed marriage, troubled children, and personal tragedy.

14. Before MidnightRichard Linklater

We meet Celine and Jesse nine years after their last rendezvous. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early forties in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.

15. The Necessary Death of Charlie CountrymanFredrik Bond

Obeying the last wish of his deceased mother, young American Charlie travels to Eastern Europe with no plans. He lands in a truly unknown place—wilder, weirder, and more foreign than he could have ever imagined. Committed to spontaneous, explosive, and instinctive acts, Charlie now finds himself pursuing an equally lost soul named Gabi, a mysterious Romanian woman unable to shake her dark, violent past.