FILMS GONE WILD: SUNDANCE 2011 – ROUND THREE, “WHY DID YOU BURY YOURSELF IN THE BACKYARD?”

Day #3 and the jittery non-sleep symptoms are kicking in. I’m at the Library for my first screening and Miranda July and her teeny tininess walks in just ahead of me. A volunteer usher asks her handler whether or not the filmmaker will want to go into the greenroom when they get there, literally looking up and past Miranda like she’s a kid with the grown ups. The handler points out that the filmmaker is standing right there. Helpful.

During Miranda’s intro she says, “Who got up the earliest? Go ahead and raise your hand if you think it’s you. Anyone can go to a 6:15PM screening. But you people are the ones that will sit there thinking, ‘Okay, was it worth it?’”

THE FUTURE

July’s 2nd film since YOU AND ME AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, this one follows a couple as they attempt to change their lives radically during a 30 day wait period before they can take home a stray cat they’re adopting. And those changes include quitting their jobs, disconnecting their internet service and looking for signs the universe will throw their way to lead them to more complete and fulfilling directions.

Partially narrated by the cat in waiting, we witness the fits and starts and struggles of the couple separately and together as he tries his hand at selling trees door-to-door and she finds herself embarking on a very personal You Tube dance project and an awkward affair with a single father. And all of the uncertainty and discovery and oftentimes – hurt is done in simple pursuit of a good day.

It wouldn’t be fair to describe THE FUTURE as magical realism, though there are magical and fanciful elements throughout the film, such as the boyfriend’s ability to stop time and speak with the moon, not to mention…talking cat. But that doesn’t mean it’s a happy film. In fact, THE FUTURE is anything but.

While I was enthralled by the film, it almost serves as a counterbalance to July’s first film. While there is her ever-present hope, that hope seems hopelessly (and I use that word with purpose) overmatched against sadness and regret.

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: Sundance has been waiting for this film ever since July’s first one left town. She sits in a prime spot on this festival’s mantelpiece and THE FUTURE will not disappoint them. In “the real world”, those not already in the Miranda July camp might find the film difficult to embrace. But I’m sure those people can find solace with the latest Jennifer Aniston romcom panacea or Liam Neesom politely kicks ass revenge movie – you know, something easier for those people to follow.

Not Fun Q&A Part 1: The audience asks the actors an inordinate number of questions as if they were personally in control of their actions throughout the movie.

Example: “Why did you bury yourself in the backyard?” or “What was the dad thinking when Miranda did her shirt dance?”

Each Actor (after looking at Miranda July as if she might flash them the bunt sign) “I uhmmm..think she felt…” or “He, I think…he…uhmm..thought that…”

I make it back to the house and find that DALLAS IFF Executive Director Tanya Foster has made a flawless egg casserole – proving she brings home the movie bacon AND fries it up in a pan.

I’m still suffering waves of sadness thanks to Miranda July. Thanks for the existential life and love wake up nudge, Miranda. I call my wife because I have thoughts of impulsively jumping in a cab and catching a flight home now so I can hug her that much faster. There’s only one solution: Go see the Roger Corman documentary. Hopefully, that will snap me out of it.

In line, I chat with Drew McWeeny of Hit Fix. We compare notes on what we’ve seen. He is all over BELLFLOWER. Crap, now I have to try and fit it in the schedule. He also clues me in on a liar’s “tell” that he and Shawn Levy caught by Columbia Professor Herb Terrace, the real-life villain of PROJECT NIM. He’s totally right and now I want to re-watch the film.

Inside the theater, I run into Film Threat gadfly and filmmaker, Don Lewis, and we check in about plans to watch football tomorrow. Always a dilemma on Sundance Sunday: movies vs. football. That’s a lie – football always wins.

CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL

Alex Stapleton’s look at the career of Roger Corman, his promotion and influence upon a veritable army of filmmakers and the personality of the man himself, could not have a more in-the-pocket audience than me. I will freely admit that. And I’ll follow that by saying, this film is flat-out fun, from start to finish.

Intercutting clips from his countless films with testimonials and interviews from several co-horts and protégés; Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Mary Woronov, Joe Dante, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Pam Grier, Peter Bogdanovich, Polly Platt, Julie Corman and Jack Nicholson, among them.

We also see Roger at work on his latest film, watch him receiving his honorary Oscar and get his viewpoint and insights on the career that was and is. Is anything groundbreaking or surprising here? No. And why would you even think that might happen? But it IS absolutely entertaining and delightful. Stories abound about his legendary penny pinching. The most illuminating thing the film achieves is putting on display the absolutely sincere gratitude and affection all of these people have for the man. In fact, the film’s home run moment comes when Nicholson actually breaks down in full-on tears talking about just that. It’s startling to watch that.

Favorite moment: Julie Corman talking about her confusion and dismay when Roger neglected to call her for a week when he left to film in the Philippines immediately after asking her to marry him. When she finally did speak to him, she asked if they were still getting married and not only did he say “yes”, he wanted to do it sooner than later. She then realized that since he was in the Philippines that he would’ve had to make a long-distance call – and that never would have occurred to him.

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: Either at Sundance or in a multi-plex, if you know who Roger Corman is (and if you don’t, I’ll bet this whole motion pictures phenomenon with photographs that actually talk and move on that really big screen is just blowing your mind) will want to see this film and have a ball with it.

After the screening, I meet up with filmmaker and comedienne, Joy Gohring (DateAHuman.com) and we do a little exploring in the vaunted Sundance Swag-land. I have a friend at Puma so I decide to use that “in” to see what’s up. As we walk into the tent John Hawkes is exiting, I spot E!’s Ben Lyons and we catch up a little as Jess Weixler finishes up at the Puma kiosk. After she makes her exit, the Puma people take me through the same process the celebrities go through. I try on a pair of shoes and pick out a color and fill out a form with my address. And yes, I will actually get a free pair of shoes now. So, yes – let’s be clear about that. Johnny got some shoes.

Anyway, here is the cool part of this thing. As part of this promotion of their new lightweight Faas shoes, Puma is donating a box of shoes to underprivileged kids in Jamaica. It’s called Children of Jamaica Outreach (COJO), since world-record sprinter Usain Bolt is their poster boy. So celebs like Weixler (and also here at Sundance; Susa Sarandon, Don Cheadle, Lil’ John, Chaz Bono and One Republic) write and sign these notes of inspiration that are affixed to the thousands (so far) of boxes of shoes that are being sent to the kids.  So – there’s some goodness to go along with the hype.

Joy and I follow that by taking a tour through the Columbia University party. Don’t know anyone there, but pick up a DVD of grad film shorts to hand off to DALLAS IFF’s ace Shorts Programmer and cool girl, Sarah Harris back at the house. Next stop is the Miami International Film Fest get together and weird, there’s James Faust (that guy is everywhere). James and Joy make introductions and we sit and chat with Team Miami for a little while. It’s very pastel and girls are dressed like there isn’t alarming cold and chunky, fluffy snow right outside the door – so I need to bail for the next movie.

VAMPIRE

Directed by Iwai Shunji, VAMPIRE introduces us to a biology teacher with a psychological need to drink blood. His solution is to go on suicidal chat rooms under an assumed name, pair up with a young woman determined to kill herself, let her go first, drain and then drink her blood, store the body in a freezer and move on to the next girl. The young man, played by Kevin Zegers, also must take care of his mother (Amanda Plummer) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Following a misunderstanding with a cop over his method of keeping his mother from wandering and hurting herself, he is soon introduced to the cop’s sister (Rachael Leigh Cook), a young woman with a pathological lack of personal boundaries who fixates on him as her new boyfriend.

It’s a lot to contend with – both onscreen and for the audience watching what’s onscreen. There is also an amusing visit with an underground club full of vampire fetishists and Goth-types and an unfortunate incident with another suicide ambitious crew.

The problems I had with VAMPIRE basically centered on two factors: tone and the lead character. Tonally, the film is almost listless. If you wanted to be kind, you could say it was dream-like. But that WOULD be being kind. And I say that even considering that at a climactic point, we are suddenly introduced to an actual dream-like moment. Unfortunately, much of the film has already taken place by that point so it simply makes it seem unfocused.

Finally, a film like this rests squarely on the shoulders of the main character. And Zegers quiet, subdued to the point of being nearly catatonic young man with a literal taste for blood is a major misfire. Having seen his work last year at exactly this time for FROZEN, I don’t think you can put all the blame at his front doorstep. No, something tells me that Shunji takes that hit. Regardless, it takes the wind out of the entire film.

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: Perhaps there is an audience that projects something onto the film that isn’t really there and it develops a life because of it, but I doubt it. In both cases, I have to think it will prove to be a bewildering head scratcher that will be put in one of those freezers pretty quickly.

As the credits rolled, I heard a little girl’s voice directly behind me…

LITTLE GIRL: “I didn’t get half of it. I didn’t like it.”

ADULT: “Yeah, I think you were too young for it.”

(Inside) MY HEAD: “Do ya’ think?! What is that kid, 10 years, 12 years old?! This thing had nudity, blood AND a rape scene! Were you expecting pretty vampires that sparkled?!”

Then, the fun continued with Not Fun Q&A Part 2: The director had issues with his English and shyness that didn’t make for a great combination to lead his Q&A. Awkward, torturous, and more awkward had me ready to bolt from my seat onto the stage to moderate the damn thing. I finally with great purpose asked a question for each of the actors to answer so that A) they would each get a chance to speak and B) hopefully, they take up enough time that there would be no further questions and the whole ordeal would end.

The plan only partially worked as more questions followed. However, I had zoned out by that time as I was singularly focused on slitting my own wrists by that point.

The final screening of the night was my first foray into the Sundance waitlist experience for this year. But I HAD to see this film, I just HAD to, you hear me?! So off I went to Prospector an hour and a half before the film was due to start and grabbed the 36th spot in line. Not a bad spot at all. The latest issues of Creative Screenwriting. Entertainment Weekly and the Hollywood Reporter later and I was in the door to see…

I SAW THE DEVIL

No one does revenge flicks like the Koreans. No one does revenge flicks like the Koreans. Just keep repeating that to yourself over and over again.

Directed by Kim Jee-woon, I SAW THE DEVIL is yet another film Korean thriller that makes the American alternatives look like after-school specials.

A sociopathic serial killer murders a young pregnant woman he finds stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. Only this woman happens to be the fiancé of a secret service agent and her father is the chief of police. After the father delivers some leads to the agent, he begins a campaign of revenge against the killer.

Pretty basic stuff, right? But, of course, it isn’t because our grieving secret service agent doesn’t just want to kill the psycho, he wants him to suffer in a manner equal to the girl and his other victims. Therefore, he wants him to live, but live painfully for a little while. This decision sets into play an escalating violent and gory tit-for-tat between the two men which leaves countless others dead in their wake before a truly epic showdown.

Breathtaking and sly, I SAW THE DEVIL sits comfortably beside Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy. I can’t possibly give it higher praise than that.

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: Sundance audiences have been looking forward to this film since Toronto. Real world audiences should actually come out for it as well since it has the trappings of the familiar cat-and-mouse scenario. It simply takes it to an ultimate hard core extreme. Delivered properly, it could do well with the general public that needs a violent and bloody “fix”.

And with that, I make the judgment call to actually sleep and write this thing the next day…




Posted on January 24, 2011 in Features, Films Gone Wild by
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