FILMS GONE WILD: SUNDANCE 2011 – THE FINAL ROUND (FOR ME), “I KNEW A GUY THAT TIED FLAMING TENNIS BALLS TO CATS’ TAILS AND LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. I THINK HE’S A COP NOW.”

Day #4 and I decide to sleep in for a whole extra hour of sleep and skip the 8AM/9AM screenings for the first time. Feeling guilty the entire time for not cramming every single film I possibly can during the time I’m here, I seize upon the fact that I saw a film playing here because it’s also playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s NY Jewish Film Festival in a few days. AND I happened to love the film. So, while I take a moment to enjoy a huge-ass egg and cheddar omelet with a ton of bacon here are my thoughts on CRIME AFTER CRIME:

 
CRIME AFTER CRIME

A documentary written, directed and edited by Yoav Potash, CRIME AFTER CRIME tells the story of Deborah Peagler, a woman who received a 25-year sentence for her connection to the murder of her brutally abusive boyfriend.

Twenty years after her sentencing, a new California law was passed allowing the reopening of cases in which the convicted woman was the victim of domestic abuse. Enter a pair of young land-use attorneys that take on the pro-bono case and begin a ten-year ordeal to free Peagler for a crime that by law should have only sentenced her for 5 years.

The film is similar to WITCH HUNT, which also made a huge film fest splash before airing on MSNBC, in which the levels of corruption, ineptitude and absolute disregard for the wronged person (or people) in question inspires you to want to take up pitchforks and torches and storm the gates of the legal system.

In this case, the culprits are the Steve Cooley of the LA District Attorney’s office and Lael Rubin, who was also (big surprise) a principal player in the equally criminal justice gone wrong McMartin case. These two individuals are as close to being the poster children for benign evil as you will see.

However, as fired up as that gets me, we’ve seen that before. What really sets this story apart is Peagler’s sincere transformation to being a rock of support to the other women behind bars – even as she is disappointed time and time again by the black holes of humanity that were callously pulling the strings to keep her behind bars simply to avoid admitting their own wrong doing. Along with that, the sincere dedication and emotion of the two attorneys as they form a true bond with her as they refuse to let her case AND her cause go, is both inspiring and heartbreaking.

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: This one works across the board. Sundance audiences LOVE tales of injustice like this – so, there are guaranteed sobbing parties in the lobby following the screenings in Park City. Something tells me that CRIME AFTER CRIME goes to TV versus the multi-plex, but regardless – it WILL get to anyone that doesn’t have icy (and possibly racially-tinged) Crime and Punishment blood coursing through their veins.

And with that, I’m on to my first actual screening of the day…

TERRI

Azazel Jacobs’ TERRI is a charming, low key portrait of an outcast overweight high schooler, orphaned to an ailing uncle, teased unmercifully by his schoolmates and adrift in a world lacking the remotest of inspiration to even change out of his pajamas each day.

He soon gets singled out by an assistant principal played by John C. Reilly, who works to coax Terri out of his shell and lethargy. Unfortunately, but actually, really fortunately for both mentor and protégé, is that Terri is observant enough (since he has presumably spent his short life on the sidelines just watching the behavior of others) that he can call bullshit when he sees it. And he sees a lot of it in Reilly’s character’s routine.

But he also sees the kindness and genuine friendship being extended to him. And that’s what makes this film special to me. Whether it be that relationship or Terri’s reflexive friendship to a couple other similarly outcast kids, there is an unforced but earned connection between the central characters in TERRI. We get numbed to really poor depictions of these kinds of scenarios by what is commonly produced on television and studio films that either by design or outright laziness take shortcuts with this stuff. It makes a film like this just that more special (and worth your time to seek it out).

My favorite line comes from Reilly’s character, as he tries to make a point about our perception of ourselves as acceptable enough for everyone else: “I knew a guy that tied flaming tennis balls to cats’ tails and loved every minute of it. I think he’s a cop now.”

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: There are no stars to speak of cast-wise, so Sundance audiences will pick up on this one via word-of-mouth or because they were fan’s of Jacob’s last film. As far as the multi-plex is concerned, I don’t know that it makes it there. Again, no stars. Also – no outlandish gimmicks. Maybe a cable channel snaps it up for some high quality low-key programming. Fingers crossed.

I make my way up to the DALLAS IFF house for some football accompanied by fellow Film Threat journalist Don Lewis. Walking down Main Street, we run into my friend Pollyanna McIntosh who has her big midnight premiere of Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN coming up tonight. It’s a fun connection as last year, Don got to experience Sundance from the other side of the fence as a producer with his film THE VIOLENT KIND. This year, Pollyanna, who has worked with legendary film publicist Mickey Cottrell, gets to have a big moment in the Sun(dance) as the star of a film premiering here. I’m very happy for her as she is a smart, striking woman who was always great to work with and I have no doubt at all, she’ll be great in this thing.

After a Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge lunch watching Green Bay send Chicago’s Jay Cutler to a dubious hurt knee bicycle ride to the dismay of the Bears’ fans in the house and commiserate with Don Lewis on the Miller Lite “drink our beer because our mean and bitchy bartender chicks think you should” campaign. I bring up my long held revulsion over the “dickhead” advertising campaigns like this one and Carl’s Jr’s, etc.

Don makes a great point that it may be smart to position your product as the “must have” for bitchy women, dickheads and assholes, because there are a lot of them in the world – therefore maximizing profits. That bastard has a point.

Anyway, I don’t have a dog in the Packers/Bears fight, so I slip out unnoticed to go see another screening.

TROUBADOURS

Using a reunion performance at L.A’s The Troubadour with James Taylor and Carole King as a framing device, Morgan Neville’s TROUBADOURS is a warm and insightful look at the rise of the singer-songwriter phenomenon during the late 60s/early 70s and the impact the club itself had on launching some of the greatest and most famous talents of the period.

The doc intercuts performance footage from the times with talking head stuff from the likes of David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson and naturally, Taylor and King. That is, of course, expected. Maybe, not as expected – and very entertaining are the contributions from Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong, producers Lou Adler and Peter Asher, as well as L.A. Times’ longtime music critic Robert Hilburn, among others.

Fun insights are sprinkled throughout, such as the fact that the “California sound” came (for the most part) from artists not from California (prime example being Joni Mitchell, a Canadian). Another favorite quote: “Laurel Canyon was the bedroom, The Troubadour was the living room, and marijuana was the church.”

One of the surprises for me was a segment on the “making of” Elton John, superstar. The combination of the performance footage with the explanation of how it all went down is invigorating to watch. Moments like that as well as the genuine affection and mutual respect that Tayor and King have for one another really makes the film soar.

It also made me reflect on the difference between this documentary and IT MIGHT GET LOUD. Where that little corporately arranged meet-and-greet between Jack White, Jimmy Page and the Edge was cold, clinical and searching for a reason to even have occurred, TROUBADOURS comes off as both organic and maybe even long overdue.

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: The Sundance crowd should flock to this thing when they need a “happy” break from all the introspective, serious programming aimed at making them think and dig deep into the psyches. Real world audiences will either be happy to indulge in the nostalgia fun of it all or curious to see why mom and dad are making such a big deal about this easy listening nonsense.

Afterwards, I make the judgment call to skip HIGHER GROUND so I could go to the DALLAS Film Society/Austin Film Fest party. Then, following a “scared straight” style hike up some steep road just outside of Main Street I was second guessing that decision. I think one guy in our group fell off into the darkness and we unapologetically left him behind since it was all about party survival by that point (if you are related to that guy and you’re just learning about this here… Uhmm….sorry, but it was really cold and stuff and we needed to schmooze as quickly as we could.)

The party was your basic recreation of the Marx Brothers DUCK SOUP crowded cabin scene but with people dressed for very cold weather. The kind of party where a conversation goes something like this:

FILM FEST BUDDY: So, you moved to New York?
(Two people squeeze between us on way to the bar)
ME: Yeah, it’s great.
(I duck my head around second person whose progress has stopped.)
ME: It will be nice not to travel as…
(They move through but a girl going in the opposite direction blocks us, then moves past.)
ME:..much as I was.
FILM FEST BUDDY: But you’re here…
(More traffic in between us.)
FILM FEST BUDDY: …right?
ME: (laugh) Well, yeah. I’m…
(Guy with plate of food negotiates his way between us.)
ME: here. But, you know, after this.
(Now obscured by girl looking for place to put her coat.)
ME: (to girl) Oh, second floor bedroom.
GIRL: Thanks.
ME: (to Film Fest buddy) So, what’s up with the next film?
FILM FEST BUDDY: Well, I got hired to do this installation thing and then…
(Another guy, sidles up next to us, smiles and we do side-by-side party hug.)
ME: Hey! Good to see you! Do you know…?
OTHER FILM FEST BUDDY: Yeah! Hey!
FILM FEST BUDDY: Hey! We met at Dallas, right?
(Two more people work their way between us and past us.)
OTHER FILM FEST BUDDY Yeah!

Rinse and repeat. Seriously, there was a lot of that. And the usual suspects were there: Richard Linklater, David Lowery, James Johnson, The Zellner Brothers, the DALLAS IFF team (James Faust, Sarah Harris, Michael Cain, Melina McKinnon) and the charming and talented animator/filmmaker Kelly Sears.

After I did three laps and a half dozen chatty stops and business card collect and trade sessions within the two-floor sardine filmmaker jam, I find my coat and scarf and I’m out the door. And I’m off to the final screening of the night and my personal Sundance 2011…

THE WOMAN

Lucky McKee is one of those distinctive filmmakers in the genre world with a very specific vision and aesthetic that deserves the kind of attention non-genre filmmakers are given, yet due to his non-publicity heat seeking personality and the artful direction (as opposed to the exploitative direction) of his films – he flies successfully under the radar.

That could change with this film.

THE WOMAN stars Pollyanna McIntosh as a wild woman who is discovered in the forest by a weekend hunter. The hunter decides that it would be a great idea if he caught the woman, chained her up in the cellar of his barn. There, he and his wife and three kids will set about the task of “civilizing” her.

I’m sure it will be a HUGE surprise without even seeing the film, that this guy is an abusive ass of the highest order, who not only casually delivers a smackdown to the wife whenever she makes the mistake of questioning him in the slightest, but likely has impregnated his own daughter as well. AND to add to the fun, junior is chomping at the bit to follow in dad’s footsteps.

But this wild woman is a feral force practically vibrating with violent and sexual energy and her mere presence is more than enough to not just disrupt, but shatter the very fragile balance this family’s house of cards has been erected on. McIntosh delivers a guttural, clear the room of the weak willed and minded performance that is matched by Sean Bridges’ smooth operator sociopath of a daddy in a true duel to the death matchup that makes your stomach churn with anticipation of how bad it can get.

And it gets really, really bad.

In fact, while gloriously over-the-top, the movie is so intense and harsh and visceral that the people that couldn’t tough it out didn’t simply leave, they were in a hurry to extricate themselves from the premises. One woman was in such a rush to leave that she stumbled and hit her head so hard that she actually needed assistance out of the library.

(Now, allow me to pause for a moment to give the Sundance vs. Real world assessment.)

Sundance audiences vs. Real world audiences: Sundance audiences love them some controversy and I can’t believe I saw that shock to their system (because let’s face it, they’ve totally seen it all and they’re just bored by your pedestrian cinema. Yawn.) If this thing goes multi-plex, it’s strictly midnight movie and it’s probably cut down. A LOT. Like it will be an hour long with those weird blurry things floating on top of Pollyanna like when they show SHOWGIRLS on VH-1. You’ll probably have to Netflix this thing because mommy and daddy and some asinine Family Rights Council think that movies like this were conceived and edited by the devil.

Which brings us back to the fun that took place after the movie ended. So, the spotlight hits the microphone and the theater manager is ready to make the introduction and behind me I hear Lucky McKee saying, “Can we take care of her first?!”

Remember what I said about the woman trying to bail on the viscera-fest? So, theater manager dude says that the staff is taking care of her and he’s trying to coax McKee to the microphone when another guy, standing in McKee’s way, starts accosting the director and yelling various questions and commands along the theme of “What gives you the right to make a film like this?” “This should never be shown again!” “It’s degrading to women AND men!” “Sundance should be ashamed!” Etc., etc., etc….

And then, Drew McWeeney from Hit Fix, who is sitting in that area, stands up and shouts the guy down, saying something along the lines of, “Ask your questions during the Q&A!” Shut up and sit down!” “You don’t treat a filmmaker like this!”

I mean, it’s like the genre version of Roger Ebert leaping to Justin Lin’s defense during the Sundance screening of BETTER LUCK TOMORROW years back. This is unexpected and it’s awesome.

And now the crowd is now into it, yelling at the guy and he decides to sit down and pretend that he’s just a guy texting a friend and nothing else is going on. Unfortunately, the security guards DO know what is really going on because the theater manager kind of told them so now Mr. Movie Morality and the beefy twins are gonna go outside and “talk about it”.

Eventually, McKee and cast and crew begin their Q&A with McKee visibly upset by it all and Pollyanna nearly holding him up throughout. That finishes up and Drew and I and another woman have a long discussion as to McKee’s track record of feminist themes with his previous films and projects (MAY, SICK GIRL, etc.) and how all of us were trying to process the images and movie that we just took in. And as we made our guesses as to what triggered the guy and others exactly, Drew remarks that this discussion is what should’ve happened during the (and what would’ve made for a truly great) Q&A.

Regardless, what a way to end my Sundance!




Posted on January 28, 2011 in Features, Films Gone Wild by
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One Comment on "FILMS GONE WILD: SUNDANCE 2011 – THE FINAL ROUND (FOR ME), “I KNEW A GUY THAT TIED FLAMING TENNIS BALLS TO CATS’ TAILS AND LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. I THINK HE’S A COP NOW.”"

  1. Ernesto on Fri, 28th Jan 2011 11:10 pm 

    For what it’s worth, “Terri” came to the festival with theatrical distribution already in place. I believe it’ll be in theaters this spring. Glad you loved it. I did too.


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