The Complete Sundance Reports #7 – “It was weird. But I knocked (on the bathroom door). I think that was a sign that I was polite.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 22, 2010

Sundance – Day #7

As I was sitting in the theatre waiting for my first screening of the day to begin, my new indie film community nemesis approached me saying, “Hey man, you know I was kidding, right? I was just kidding.”

Hmmm… Kidding about chanting “Fuck John Wildman” repeatedly during some Hate Karaoke (which, frankly I had never heard of, but in a big picture sense kind of admire, actually). Or kidding when he said that he didn’t want to move on, let bygones be bygone, blah, blah, blah, indie film non-partisans, blah because “It was more fun.” not to do so?

Curious. An interesting move obviously to soften me up enough to buy time for him to concoct some elaborate plan of nefarious doings – like trying to convince the Artistic Director of the DALLAS International Film Festival that having me be their PR guy is a mistake again.

And so the dance between adversaries continues…

COUNTDOWN TO ZERO

Lucy Walker’s COUNTDOWN TO ZERO takes up the cause regarding an issue that gets very little play in politics or the public’s consciousness today because frankly one side of the political spectrum (Republicans/Conservatives) can’t make any great hay about it since the other side, led by President Obama has long held this as a major concern and directive. And that is the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose if they get in the wrong hands.

But, to be fair to Walker’s very comprehensive and impressive documentary (produced by Lawrence Bender by the way), the film not only lays out the history leading to our current situation, but provides some truly frightening historical footnotes that are not public knowledge as well as illustrating quite simply and clearly what a nuclear blast really WOULD do and how far the destruction would spread.

Talking heads like Valerie Plame Wilson, Howard Baker, the late Robert McNamera and President Carter all give the soundbites you would expect along the lines of nuclear weapons being bad and scary and we really need to get rid of them. In fact, the most significant thing about this part of the film is the number of people and the caliber of the people willing to go before Walker’s camera.

Among the stuff that really gets you are the details of how lax security is in Russia when it comes to guarding the highly enriched uranium which is the key building block for the bombs, or the sheer impossibility to guard against the import of the stuff 100% (there are suggestions that the best way to sneak it in is to hide it in either a shipment of kitty litter or marijuana – think about that one awhile). Then there are the accidents and near misses; a bomb that fell on South Carolina in the early 60’s (five out of six safeguards failed with one standing in the way of catastrophe), a very near miss in 1995 (the world’s collective ass was saved by Boris Yeltsin not being trigger happy), etc.

Throughout, Walker gives us a birds’ eye view of what a five mile radius of destruction would cover in cities like Paris, New York, Moscow, London and throws in details of how that blast would do its damage on both the landscape of the city as well as the landscape of the human body.

I will admit (and I can’t think that I am unique in the least in this regard) that I went into this viewing with a pre-conceived notion that the topic and necessity of nuclear disarmament was somewhat also ran. Consider that opinion corrected. Whew.

SUNDANCE FEVER: It’s a call to action documentary. Always good here.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not a “sexy” doc per se, but it’s a slickly produced one. I think it could see some play.

Next up were a couple of interviews. The first one being with the star and director of ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS, Angela Bettis and Tim Rutili as well as Angela’s co-sat and boyfriend Kevin Ford (who also served as one of the film’s editors). And the interview turned up some facts that may have surpassed the fun strangeness of the film itself.

JW: Let’s start with the obvious question. What comes first, the music or the movie?

Tim: The music. By that much (holding his fingers very close together). Most of it was song that we had completed; we recorded the album about a month prior to filming.

JW: You’ve done music videos and smaller projects before. Why a feature at this point?

Tim: It just seemed like the right batch of songs and the right story.

JW: Angela is such a key for this film, the fulcrum for the story. How did you convince her to become involved?

Tim: I went to her house and Kevin (her boyfriend) was there and he wouldn’t let me talk to her. So then I sat outside the house. I was in a rented car and I sat outside for three days straight. I had juice, I had cigarettes…

JW: So you were on a stakeout?

Tim: And I just waited. And I waited for Kevin to leave and he never leaves. But once he left, there was a basement window that I managed to get open. I crawled in through the basement and went upstairs, looked around but didn’t see her anywhere. I found the bathroom and knocked on the door and she was in the bathroom. I was like, “I’ve got this movie idea.” And she was cool about it.

JW: And this was because you’ve never heard of what they call a “casting director”?

Tim: We did not have a casting director. I think we’re heading for a period of time when casting directors won’t be…an issue.

JW: Obviously, if you are willing to do a stakeout at an actress’ home and hen break into the place, it really is all about her. Why were you so inspired that it had to be Angela?

Tim: There was no one else that could do it.

JW: I would agree with that, actually. And Angela, you were convinced.

Angela: Yes.

JW: Why?

Angela: His eyes. He has kind eyes.

Tim: It was weird. But I knocked (on the bathroom door). I think that was a sign that I was polite. It’s weird because most people are dying to do me a favor…

JW: But it was reversed here.

(They both nod.)

JW: Angela, you also have DRONES playing at Slamdance. You have a distinctive persona and presence onscreen. As far as the roles that you choose or end up playing, do you find yourself being sought out? Because, frankly, I don’t know who else falls in your camp, an “Angela Bettis type”. In fact, let’s use DRONES as an example. How did you become involved with that film as opposed to this one?

Angela: It was very similar, actually. They kinda sought me out. So, I guess the answer to your question is that yes, I am sought out.

JW: And Kevin, do you keep her from doing these roles because you’re like her bodyguard too?

Kevin: Yeah, I get really uncomfortable when she’s out of my sight. But Tim wormed his way in and the DRONES people wormed their way in. Because if it was up to me, she’d just not do anything.

Angela: (smiles) He’d just keep me in that bathroom.

Kevin: Tim made up for it. He convinced me that if I played her boyfriend in the movie that it would be alright.

Tim: Kevin also edited the film.

JW: Well, that was good politics right there.

Kevin: He basically bought my permission. That sounds bad, huh?

JW: Angela, besides Tim’s kind eyes there was also a role to play. What about that role got to you?

Angela: First of all, the music. But secondly, there is a universal issue or theme of “letting go” that I felt I could do a little therapy with Tim and these people and myself. Which I did. It kinda worked. With the other people as well.

JW: And there is a different approach to presenting the film. Tim, can you explain what you’re planning to do with it after this?

Tim: Well, the band has been touring and on the tour we play the film and perform a live soundtrack. We’ve been doing that at museums, theaters, and a couple clubs.

After an interview with Lucy Walker, the director of both COUNTDOWN TO ZERO and WASTE LAND (that I’ll add to the next posting) was my attempt to get into a screening of THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. Unfortunately, this one had quite the line. I had heard stories of various press peeps getting bounced from the (relatively) tiny confines of the Holiday Village Theatres but it hadn’t happened to ME yet.

In fact, the guy in front of me complained A LOT to the volunteers about his prior misfortunes. This time, the combination of his haughty accent and indignation worked their magic on the poor volunteer he had singled out for haranguing. He got in.

And he was the last one so I got….shut out. Damn.

But the wait gave me some time to notice one of the volunteers wearing a “Vida” hat. Now, it is most definitely a staple of Sundance to hand out the knit caps promoting your movie or product. For example, the place I’m staying at has one for THE VIOLENT KIND and another that says “I (heart) Café’ Bustelo ” sitting on the dining table right now. But something tells me that the guy wearing his “Vida” hat has no idea that Vida is a high-end sex toy line. My guess is that if he knew, then he’d rather have received one of their products from the pretty street team girls I met earlier this week. Or more to the point, his girlfriend would.

Speaking of THE VIOLENT KIND…  Midnight at the Egyptian (which incidently is my favorite Maria Muldaur song) has always been good luck for me. OLD BOY (the couples movie for my wife and I), 28 DAYS LATER and GRACE were all witnessed for the very first time at this spot, so I was hoping that lightning would strike once again.

However, first was a short titled STILL BIRDS.

STILL BIRDS

Sara Eliassen’s STILL BIRDS was introduced (by her) as “a dance horror movie.” Okay, go for it, I thought. I’m primed and ready for whatever your crazy little Norwegian mind can come up with.

Well, that is unless what transpires is a mélange of industrial based dread and choreographed nonsense with pale and creepy kids and teens working their way up and down a concrete labyrinth in the service of getting the one kid (a pre-teen girl) to talk into a machine to do some kind of thing to either start something or stop it. I don’t know. I was rooting for her to speak into the machine to say something like, “The End.”

Honestly, the only “horror” I was experiencing was the fact I had to sit through it. When it, indeed, was over, someone seated behind me said, “Seriously, what the fuck?”

THE VIOLENT KIND

The Butcher Brothers’ film THE VIOLENT KIND follows the strange and horrific events that happen following a rough and tumble bikers’ party at a secluded cabin in the woods including some kind of bloody possession of a biker’s girlfriend played by the always reliable Tiffany Shepis. Well, that’s what you would be thinking had you seen or read any of the promo materials and info heading into this screening.

But it’s much more than that. Said bikers and biker babes are “visited” by some eerie/creepy 50s types as well as some kind of Northern Lights shit-storm that would likely be literally tossing everyone to hell in a hand basket if only bikers routinely kept hand baskets in their homes.

Now I can’t say much more than that for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t want to give away any more than I already have. Two, I honestly don’t know or understand exactly what it was that was happening to everyone. I do know that it was all kinds of crazy and weird and bad.

But I do want to take a moment to talk about expectations. Because THE VIOLENT KIND has a whole lot of David Lynchian-style Sci-Fi at its core. So much so that I was almost expecting a Dean Stockwell cameo performance of another Roy Orbison chestnut to be sprung on us at any given moment. My point being that if someone went in expecting a “Who will get out alive?” gore fest, I could easily see them being disappointed. However, if they’re putting their money down for a horror stew of violence, gore, science fiction, and biker movies with some 50s flare, then they’d be exiting with big dazed grins afterward.

SUNDANCE FEVER: It’s all about expectations. And this one is more than just a rough and tumble midnight movie.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Selective. But handled properly people could really get into it and trip out on it on some midnight-type screens.

The Complete Sundance Reports #6 – “I should’ve known that if a guy like me talked to a girl like that, someone would end up dead.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 22, 2010

Sundance – Day #6

Before I start with today’s films, here are my thoughts about GONE TO THE DOGS and ARMLESS which I saw a few days ago but never got around to writing about for one reason or another.

GONE TO THE DOGS

Liz Tuccillo’s GONE TO THE DOGS is a short film that follows two tried and true approaches to a short film: Deal with a very specific social “issue” and do it at a dinner table, lunch table, breakfast – whatever – just keep all the action at the one table and no one gets hurt, nor spends a lot of money making the damn thing.

And this one does very well for itself. The “issue” is the importance some people place on their pet dogs; treating them like people, spending exorbitant amounts of money on their medical problems, and emotionally substituting them for the children they can’t or haven’t had.

In this case, a small dinner party of friends is disrupted when one of the guests (played by Martha Plympton) insists on bringing her little lap dog with her and to the table AND proceeds to let it eat off her plate. It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but when she is asked to put the dog in another room, she sulks and inspires everyone else to bring their issues to the table.

It’s a thorough and fun treatment that doesn’t wear out its welcome. Nice.

ARMLESS

Habib Azar’s ARMLESS is a film about a man who has finally gathered enough courage to act on his desire to have his arms chopped off in order to (so-to-speak) feel complete. Starring Daniel London as the man and Janel Maloney as his wife who is forced to deal with this sudden revelation and realization, ARMLESS is a comedy that isn’t funny or a drama that isn’t compelling – you make the call.

As I was watching the excruciatingly drawn out machinations (I mean, it seemed like it was going to take the entire film for London’s character to just say out loud that he wanted to have his arms cut off), you could feel the audience becoming more and more frustrated with the proceedings. And what is meant to be a funny admission, “I want nubbins.” just doesn’t cut it. (And yes, I meant that.)

Anyway, he goes to the city to find a doctor that a chat room discussion has led him to believe will do the surgery (since among other hurdles, it would be illegal to do). Maloney’s character finds out where he has gone and enlists his “colorful” mother character to help her find him and confront him after he has left her a message saying he’s never coming back home. The doctor turns out to be a plastic surgeon that simply shares the same name as the doctor he is looking for, who also happens to have a very sassy receptionist….and hilarity ensues? No. How about light whimsical farce? No, not that either. A fascinating look at a very real condition (body integrity identity disorder)? I’ll have to pass on that as well.

Can I say something nice? As a matter of fact I can. Zoe Lister Jones, who plays the sassy receptionist, does her level best to add some snap to this thing. Unfortunately, I think that’s because she believed she was in a different movie than the one Azar was directing. I would have much rather have seen THAT movie. Because you couldn’t even say this one was “unfunny”. You’d have to describe it as “undroll”. In fact, the best way to describe it would be to say it plays like an interminably bad scene in an acting class: earnest performances misfiring in the service of ill-wrought material.

SUNDANCE FEVER: I think it’s one of those cross off the list experiences you get here.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not a chance in the world. As a curiosity, it could hit cable at some point.

And (as they would say on Monty Python) now for something completely different…

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL

Eli Craig’s TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL is about as one-note, high concept as it gets: Two hillbillies heading to their “fixer-upper” cabin for a getaway encounter a group of vacationing college kids. The kids stereotyping them as backwoods lunatics manage to start killing themselves off one by one in an effort to attack Tucker and Dale and rescue one of their own.

This one starts off great, pulling off a pitch perfect homage to the iconic EASY RIDER drive by and doesn’t let up. Tucker and Dale’s cabin was obviously home to a lunatic that actually did murder several people years ago (complete with newspaper clippings of the missing that the guys are oblivious of since they also spy one that has a fast food discount on it). And yes, the entire thing could not be more obvious or telegraphed (Tucker cuts into a tree stump with a bees nest and in running away from the scene with his chainsaw…well, I think you probably get it). Each misunderstanding leads to a gory conclusion.

But the thing making this work beyond a basic string of set-piece gags are Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. As Tucker and Dale, they don’t just give us characters whose reality as “nice” and “sweet” guys that can speak in complete sentences runs counter to the stereotype. They (and great credit to Craig’s script and direction as well) score with the oftentimes hilarious (given the setting) emotional support and friendship they display toward one another. It’s nice to watch a comedy where the players know what they need to work hard at for the funny versus what will easily take care of itself (I’m looking at you, any film called “Something Movie”).

SUNDANCE FEVER: Laughs are hard to come by at Sundance. But not with this movie.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Oh yeah. It should be out there. Easily.

My final screening of the evening was to be one of the New Frontiers “experimental” screenings. And this was a film that not only had been required viewing according to a good friend of mine, but it also would include a live music performance. So – c’mon, you don’t get that everyday – and it didn’t disappoint.

ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS

Directed by Tim Rutili, the principal songwriter and singer for Red Red Meat and Califone, ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS stars Angela Bettis as a psychic advisor facing an upheaval in her life when the numerous ghosts and spirits that reside under her roof demand to leave and go to their final resting place.

Those ghosts also happen to include the members of Rutili’s band, Califone and the music that dominates the film doesn’t just add a soundtrack, it frequently acts as a driving force or counterpoint to the dramatic actions of the characters.

The other central focus is Bettis herself. An actress that is so distinctive that she defines the term “focus pull,” the film’s energy rides with her character’s moods and takes its cues not just from her actions but also seemingly from her intentions. It’s kinda like she’s a next generation ‘Carrie’ with no need for that overwrought telekinesis nonsense.

Now, to be sure, this movie won’t be for everyone. It is an experience. It is not an Adam Sandler movie or a mad dad played by Mel Gibson getting revenge on bad guys that done his daughter wrong movie. So, if you need your shit spelled out for you – then steer clear. However, if you want to try something very much by design off the beaten path then by all means check this out. AND if it happens to come to town with the band playing live, so much the better – because that just multiplies the immediacy and energy the film gives off.

SUNDANCE FEVER: Even at Sundance, it’s a personal taste thing. So people that want to see it will seek it out and enjoy it. The others won’t understand the fuss.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: No, this one is an event kind of experience. They’ll likely do some kind of special tour combining performances by the band with the film.