“My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 22, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #3

So I’m getting ready to go out and face the Sundance today and at a certain point I look in the mirror and realize that my turtleneck and sweater layering strategy combined with a new haircut had made me look like ‘Greg Marmalard’ or ‘Niedermeyer’ from ANIMAL HOUSE. I started accosting myself in the mirror, “Where’s your pledge pin!”

Moving on from that, I had a lot of needless internal debate on which film was going to be first on the list for today. The winner was 211: ANNA. The loser was me. And AFI DALLAS programmer Sarah Harris – who also went to the screening. The documentary looks at the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya who had been a strident voice of journalistic dissent against the Russian government’s war and actions of cruelty in Chechnya. A worthy subject to be sure. And potentially riveting along with being informative. Unfortunately, in execution the only thing it truly succeeds in is making you very sleepy tired.

A film we’re trying hard to give a one-way ticket from Sundance to AFI DALLAS is HUMPDAY. And that was a very happy movie number two for me today. The premise is a one line pitch winner: Two former college buddies decide for various reasons of heterosexual one-upmanship to make a gay porn art film with each other. It’s the kind of idea that gets someone a big check to write a script and then comes out of the other side of studio development morphed into a lame toothless comedy (and I’m being generous using that last word) by the numbers starring…oh, let’s say for arguments sake… hmmm…Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Fortunately, this one had Lynn Shelton at the helm and Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard at her service. It’s funny, it feels real, it hits all of the necessary notes and clears all of the hurdles you hope for, all the while genuinely keeping you wondering if we’re going to get the promised “climax”. And whether or not we want to see it in the first place as well. I think one of the age-old clichéd ideas of what a Sundance movie is goes something like this: Two or more people sit in a room talking about their feelings. And the camera never moves. And the truth is, a lot of HUMPDAY is exactly that – only here, those people are talking about the idea of two straight guys having to have sex with one another – and they’re all freaking out about it. Great stuff.

The third film on the day’s schedule was WHITE LIGHTNIN’. The animated short film I LIVE IN THE WOODS (directed by Max Winston) started things off appropriately enough with its candy coated ultra-violence courtesy of a mad hillbilly muppet guy who goes on an unbridled homicidal and graphic rampage. Delightful. Well, to me. Maybe not so much for the two horrified old ladies sitting behind me.

But back to WHITE LIGHTNIN’. Inspired by the life of Jesco White, a tap dancing ex-con hillbilly whose life’s exploits were fueled by his thoughts of gaining revenge on the men that killed his father, the film may be the most vivid portrait of crazy that I’ve seen in recent memory. Jesco says at one point, “My life’s been a party and a joke and a tragedy.” And filmed in extra crispy black and white, director Dominic Murphy shows us all of that and more. He is clearly a man with a plan to push our visceral buttons and loiter in the head of Jesco’s bat-shit crazy. There are certain actors that are “blessed” with that wild-eyed thing that keeps them off of planes and several feet away from children, and Edward Hogg’s got it. And bonus points go to Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the love of his life. Now – let me be clear – I’m not recommending this one for everyone. I don’t think you can acquire this taste. You’ve either got it or you don’t. And the old ladies sitting behind me would back me up on that thought. In fact, their constant carping about the black and white flourishes of gore and crazy reminded me to specify that.

I don’t think they’re sleeping too well tonight.

But I am.