Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Golf Monster Sundance Preview/Review 2013 Edition!

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival just blew through the area, and left just before a massive snowstorm that's threatening to make life for all of us here in the city very uncomfortable for a few days. For a film lover like yours truly, it's a great opportunity to see some awesome films months and months before anyone else gets to. It's also a great chance to see some really shitty films months before Rotten Tomatoes gets to pile dirt on them. I tend to find, it's usually one or the other. There's rarely a film that plays at this festival where I come out thinking, "meh, it's all right, I guess." And that risk folks makes the $15.00 tickets worth it. You're really on the edge of your seat. I also tend to limit myself to screenings only within walking distance from my condo as parking's a mess this time of year, but as luck would have it, all the Salt Lake City venues fit the bill. I also tend to gravitate towards the films that don't get a ton of mainstream play, so it's pretty rare to have the random celebrity sighting, but once in awhile I get lucky. Here's what I saw this year!

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
Man Chili makes for a pasty complexion.
Official Sundance Synopsis:  A seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the Parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank rules the roost with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris and Rose are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. The most important task the girls face is putting meat on the table— but not the kind that can be found at the local supermarket. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years.

My Quick Review:  Pretty solid way to kick off the festival this year! This film started off with a vaguely familiar looking lady, Mrs. Parker, puking up a ton of bile and drowning in a large puddle. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that was actually one of the two only really recognizable "stars" in the cast, Kelly McGillis! It was then that I realized that Top Gun came out 27 goddamn years ago and I started to cry. GETTING OLD SUCKS! Anyway, this one had a creepy as hell atmosphere and was also graced by a solid performance from Tarantino film mainstay Michael Parks.  I was also impressed by the performances from the two female leads, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner. They were incredibly composed given the cannibalistic subject matter, and played the part of scared children of a religious nut well. This one had a great, WHAT IN THE BLUE HELL DID I JUST SEE ending to it. It has been picked up and I'm sure it'll play at a horror festival or two.  It'll probably see an autumn release at some point. Just in time for Halloween.  RATING: 7 Shovels to the back of the skull out of 10  

THE SUMMIT
LOOK AT THAT GODDAMN THING! YOU GOTTA BE NUTS!
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Although K2 is only the second-highest peak in the world, it is renowned as the most dangerous and revered by mountaineers as their ultimate challenge. In August 2008, 18 of 24 climbers reached the summit of K2. Forty-eight hours later, 11 people were dead. What happened on that fateful day has never been resolved.

Utilizing found footage, interviews with survivors, and seamlessly realistic reenactments, The Summit zigzags back and forth in time, interweaving multiple narrative threads and piecing together events, hoping to solve the mystery of what actually happened on that day—the deadliest in mountain-climbing history. At the heart of the mystery is the story of Ger McDonnell, one extraordinary man who chose to risk his own life to save others. With the help of breathtaking cinematography by Robbie Ryan and Stephen O’Reilly, director Nick Ryan creates a tension-filled, experiential film that will have viewers on the edge of their seats. The Summit pits Man against Mother Nature in her most majestic and terrifying extreme.

Had to sit way too close for this one
My Quick Review:  There's a thing with seeing documentaries in these days of the internet. You can do a ton of research of the subject matter and get one part of the story. But it takes true talent to take what is the given story that everyone seems to agree upon of a subject and flip it on its head. Nick Ryan's The Summit did that very well. I remember the stories of the disastrous 2008 K2 expedition. But had no idea the depth of the heroism involved in that tragic Summer. I still have no idea whatsoever why anyone would want to try to do something like climb a 28,000 foot high deathtrap. But I do have a little greater understanding of the rush that these adrenaline junkies are constantly chasing. One thing I do have is great appreciation of true heroism, and the guys that kept going up into the "Death Zone" to try to rescue people have that in spades. I had the opportunity to meet one of these guys, Pemba Gyalje Sherpa after the screening. He's easily the biggest badass I've ever met in person. If you want to see what true heroism is, check this documentary out. 

As an added feature, I got to the line-up for the screening a little bit late which meant I had to sit in the second row, almost looking straight up at the screen. Usually that sucks, but for a movie like this one where the people onscreen are literally looking out over the edge of the world, that sense of vertigo made if feel a little more real.  RATING:  9 Top of the Worlds out of 10   

HELL BABY
Only still I could find!
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Expectant couple Jack and Vanessa move into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans—a house with a deadly demonic curse. When things soon spiral out of control, it’ll take the help of Vanessa’s Wiccan sister, a nosey “neighbor” who lives in their crawl space, two local detectives, and a pair of elite Vatican exorcists to save them—or is it already too late?

Revered as two of the minds behind the hilarious sketch television shows Reno 911!, The State, and Viva Variety and the screenwriters of big-budget comedies like the Night at the Museum films, comedians Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant finally unleash their codirectorial debut. Featuring a seasoned comedic ensemble, including scene stealers Leslie Bibb and Keegan Michael Key, this raucous horror spoof sics the devilish humor of its creators on the most sacred of genre conventions: the haunted house, an exorcism, and one pissy demon child. 


My Quick Review:  I'm an unapologetic Rob Corddry nutswinger. I think that dude's comic timing is great and he has great range playing everything from the everyman, to the asshole, to the schlub. After Steve Carrell, he's probably my favorite Daily Show correspondent ever. But he rarely gets any feature work in films. He's usually a side character at best. So it was great to see the guy come to the forefront here in this ridiculous sendup of every 70's horror trope known to man. Lennon and Garant manage to get everything right that the vastly inferior Scary Movie series gets wrong. Add in hilarious cameos from just about every current recognizable improv comic on the scene as well as some gratuitous nudity courtesy of folk comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates' Riki Lindhome and we have a winner.  RATING: 10 Domilise's Po-Boy's out of 10.

ASS BACKWARDS
Glad to see John Cryer get some poster time
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Kate and Chloe have been best friends since childhood, when they both tied for dead last in their hometown beauty pageant. Now they are all grown up and living in New York City, where Chloe works as a “girl in a box” at a nightclub and Kate is a CEO…of her own one-woman egg-donor “corporation.” Their past humiliation remains long forgotten until they receive an invitation to the pageant’s milestone anniversary celebration. The unpleasant memories come flooding back, but Kate and Chloe decide to redeem themselves by winning the elusive crown.

Director Chris Nelson takes us on a raucous and wacky road trip that includes a rescued wild rabbit, a feminist wilderness commune, and amateur night at a strip club. Lead actresses June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson have great laugh-out-loud chemistry, and their brand of stiletto-clad physical comedy brings an amusing and unique charm to the female version of the buddy movie.


My Quick Review:  This one is mostly for the ladies out there, as it flips the formula for a typical road trip flick. But it's got plenty of laughs for the fellas as well. This one features two gals that are best friends through thick and thin, but have never quite gotten over their childhood defeat as wannabe pageant queens. And by "haven't gotten over it" I mean to say, are in complete denial about it. But that's not going to stop their good-natured romp back to their hometown. There's plenty of bawdy laughs to be had here. And their Q&A after the screening was goddamn hilarious. RATING:  6 Rehab Stints out of 10.

S-VHS
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static—white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil.

From the demented minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes S-VHS, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. This follow-up ventures even further down the demented path blazed by its predecessor, discovering new and terrifying territory in the genre. This is modern horror at its most inventive, shrewdly subverting our expectations about viral videos in ways that are just as satisfying as they are sadistic. The result is the rarest of all tapes—a second generation with no loss of quality.


My Quick Review:  This was my most anticipated film of the festival. Horror anthology V/H/S broke some serious ground when it comes to providing big scares and gore on a budget. So the sequel had a lot to live up to. The premise, a couple private investigators bust into a decrepit house looking for a missing college student. He's nowhere to be found, but there are hundreds of VHS tapes strewn all over the apartment. They start popping tapes into an old-school top-loading VCR and are treated to the horror contained on each. Each tape was its own little horror short.  Here's a quick rundown of the four:
Tape #1:  Directed by Adam Wingard and Simon Barret -  A wealthy man, has his right eye replaced after an accident with a robotic one. The catch being that the robotic eye is recording everything he sees. Oh and it gives him the ability to see the myriad of ghosts that inhabit his rather large Hollywood Hills home. This one had some good jump scares, but not a ton of gore.
Tape #2:  Directed by The Blair Witch Project's Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale - A guy spends an afternoon riding a mountain bike through the woods with one of those GoPro cameras strapped to his helmet. He happens upon a screaming lady covered in blood that's running from something. As he tries to assist her, she turns zombie on him and tears a nice chunk out of his neck, leaving him for dead. But he's not dead, he's pretty undead and we get an incredibly gory, slightly comical first hand look at a zombie apocalypse from the other side. Good laughs here.  I rather enjoyed this one.
Tape #3:  Directed by The Raid: Redemption's Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto - A group of TV journalists travel to Indonesia to investigate a Jim Jones-esque cult leader at their compound. While very accommodating at first, the cult soon starts to peel the layers back to reveal a more sinister side. And mayhem ensues. This was my favorite short of the film and it easily could have been its own feature. As an aside, the walls of the cult compound were decorated by hundreds of those creepy-assed Blair Witch dolls. So it was surprising to me that those dudes ended up doing a different short in this film.
Tape #4: Directed by Hobo With A Shotgun's Jason Eisener - This one featured a group of little asshole kids having a slumber party at their lakehouse when their parents were away. They strapped a GoPro (who really should be sponsoring the movie at this point) to a little Shorkie dog. So the entire movie was fromt he POV of the dog.The kids pull pranks on their older siblings and each other until something otherworldly comes out of the lake. Like a more terrifying ET. This segment got most of the critics talking, but I found it inferior to #2 and #3.
Conclusion:  I enjoyed it well enough, but overall it was a bit of a letdown compared to the nice surprise that V/H/S was last year. Although, any flick where the gore onscreen caused a solid fifteen people to just up and leave in the middle of it has to be doing something right.  RATING:  7 Goat Babies out of 10

SWEETWATER
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Against the backdrop of the American Old West, newlyweds Miguel and Sarah struggle to make a living cultivating their small patch of land. Soon a much bigger struggle arises as powerful landowner and community preacher Prophet Josiah makes a play for their property. As he launches his diabolical plot to take their land, an eccentric big-city sheriff comes to town. Things soon go from bad to worse, culminating in a jaw-dropping, hell-hath-no-fury showdown.

Sweetwater boldly establishes its own identity while remaining true to the tenets of the western genre. Wonderfully cinematic, this expressive tale is superbly directed by the Miller brothers, who extract strong performances from the ensemble cast. Ed Harris is especially striking in a bravura role as the sheriff. With the magnificent New Mexico countryside as their canvas, the Miller brothers imaginatively stroke their cinematic brush across an intense but humorous film.


My Quick Review: When done well, I loves me a good Western flick. And this one certainly didn't disappoint. The landscapes were beautifully filmed, with the New Mexico countryside just popping off the screen. Ed Harris was solid as the eccentric Sheriff, trying to get to the bottom of a murder mystery.  Hell, the director even got a competent performance out of January Jones, and she normally can't act her way out of a paper bag! I was hooked by one scene in particular where Harris' Sheriff character explains to the increasingly sinister Prophet Josiah, exactly why geography brought him to this small town. Folks, it was Tarantino-esque.  This one should do pretty well if it gets a decent release.  RATING: 8 Wooden Crosses out of 10   

 
FRUITVALE
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who loved his friends, was generous to strangers, and had a hard time telling the truth to the mother of his beautiful daughter. He was scared and courageous and charming and raw, and as human as the community he was part of. That community paid attention to him, shouted on his behalf, and filmed him with their cell phones when BART officers, who were strong, intimidated, and acting in the way they thought they were supposed to behave around people like Oscar, shot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Director Ryan Coogler makes an extraordinary directorial debut with this soulful account of the real-life event that horrified the nation. Featuring radiant performances by Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan as Grant, a young man whose eyes were an open window into his soul, Fruitvale offers a barometer reading on the state of humanity in American society today.


My Quick Review:  I saw this one at a special "locals only" screening. This film won the festival's U.S. Grand Jury Prize. This was a pretty moving film, and you get the sense that this dude was on the cusp of changing his life around when he was struck down at that subway stop. That's not to say that the guy didn't have flaws, I mean, you can't spend the first three years of your daughter's life without some major flaws. But you just get that feeling that with another break or two, he was going to elevate things. Or at least become a productive member of society again. Michael B. Jordan had a moving run as the deeply conflicted Oscar Grant that may put him in line for an award or two in the future. This is probably going to be one of those "important" films that generate major buzz. Sometimes those types of movies (Amour for example) seem self-involved or only for the hoi palloi, but this one was just, plain good. RATING 9 Riots out of 10. 

AFTERNOON DELIGHT
Official Sundance Synopsis:  Rachel is a quick-witted and lovable, yet tightly coiled, thirtysomething steeped in the creative class of Los Angeles’s bohemian, affluent Silver Lake neighborhood. Everything looks just right—chic modernist home, successful husband, adorable child, and a hipster wardrobe. So why is she going out of her gourd with ennui? Plagued by purposelessness, Rachel visits a strip club to spice up her marriage and ends up meeting McKenna, a stripper whom she becomes obsessed with saving. She decides to adopt McKenna as her live-in nanny, and this bold move unleashes unimagined and colorful waves of change into her life and community. It becomes clear that Rachel is feverishly, desperately trying to save her own sense of who she is.

In a perfect storm of hilarious writing, performance, and direction, first-timer Jill Soloway pinpoints the ambivalence of privileged, educated women seduced by an idealized vision of marriage and motherhood, yet deadened by the stultifying realities of preschool auctions, lackluster sex lives, and careers that have gone kaput. Afternoon Delight compassionately revels in the existential trials of a Peter Pan generation battling too many choices, resisting adulthood, and distractedly tapping their iPhones instead of tuning in to what matters.
 


My Quick Review:  Endend up seeing a lot of movies geared toward the ladies this year and this one was no different. Although much like Ass Backwards there were plenty of laughs and entertainment to be had for the fellas as well.  But don't get me wrong, while this was a laugh a minute kind of flick, it wasn't really a comedy.  It was actually a pretty dark film about a family and a mother that are crumbling before our very eyes. Kathryn Hahn was excellent as the wisecracking Rachel, but portrayed the more serious content with aplomb. The film took a daring approach to answering the old question, "How do you save someone that doesn't necessarily want or need saving?" It was an enjoyable end to the festival.  RATING 9 Yentas out of 10.

CONCLUSION:  Once again, the Sundance Film Festival provided a week and a half of ground-breaking, imaginative filmmaking. I feel luckier than hell to have this going on every year, right in my backyard!  Next year, we'll be making the trek up into the mountains to Park City to try and mingle with the upper crust. But for a film junkie, none of that shit really matters. Everybody should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to support independent film making and the people that make it happen!

The Golf Monster's 2013 Film Rankings!
8. We Are What We Are
7. Fruitvale
6. Ass Backwards
5. S-VHS
4. Afternoon Delight
3. Sweetwater
2. The Summit
1. Hell Baby

2 comments:

  1. Well done sir! Really wanting to check out Hell Baby and S-VHS.

    I wish I could come out there sometime for this festival. I've bucket listed it.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks pal! You've got an open invite, any time amigo! Hell, I'd even brave Park City for that!

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