Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sundance Yourself To Death!

I've always been a fan of the Sundance Film Festival and independent film in general.  There's this retarded thing in hollywood where a director has a vision and wants to see it fleshed out.  But by the time he brings guys on to finance it, a studio to back it, and a distributor to get it out there, suddenly there are hundreds of people all with a stake in the final product.  Unfortunately, that means all these people have a say in the final product, and what might have once been a good, original idea gets watered down.  So there's something to be said about guys that max out ten credit cards and deal with having to cut back on bloated effects and production values in order to distill their idea down to what matters.  Characterization and story arc.  The Sundance Festival is often times your only chance to see some of these films because more often than not, they're not going to see the inside of your local cineplex.  Sometimes, there's a really good reason for that, but on the flip side, once in awhile, there's some truly great ideas that never get the chance to reach a wide audience.  There's not a whole lot that I like about living in Salt Lake, but I do consider myself lucky to have access to something as great as the Festival every year.  

Four feature films and three shorts this year was by far the most I've ever seen in one Sundance Festival. Sadly, I didn't make the trip to Park City for any of these, instead opting for the screenings within walking distance of my apartment here in Salt Lick. I kinda missed the mountain ambiance (and the $10 beers) of a night in Park City, but on the other hand I discovered a new independent theater, The Broadway Center, that I'm planning on frequenting in the future. I'm even thinking of joining the Salt Lake Film Society as well to support it. Here are my brief reviews of the seven films that I screened at the Festival this year.

First up was a film titled I Saw The Devil. It was directed by Ji-woon Kim, who was also one of the writers for The Uninvited. This movie was in Korean and thankfully had subtitles. Which was nice, because even though at least half of my lesson clients early on in my career were Korean, I still didn't understand a damn thing.  But even if there weren't subtitles, you could still pretty easily figure it out. This movie stars Byung-Hun Lee (who played Storm Shadow in that GI Joe flick last year) as a Korean Secret Service agent whose fiancee falls victim to a serial killer. He then sets off to find the killer and put him through hell, possibly at the cost of his own humanity. 
He could have just nunchucked you right there and you would even have known it!
This movie was fucking violent, as most Korean revenge flicks tend to be, and at times hard to watch. But as gory as it was, psychologically it was even more brutal. Beautifully shot, but might've been a little too long. Good movie though. Afterward, I stopped into the coffee shop next door to the theater to take a piss, and ran into the Byun-hun Lee waiting outside the door to the john. Talked to him about the movie for a few minutes, seemed like a pretty cool guy. My buddy VodkaRob told me I should've tried to fight him for raping our childhoods with GI Joe though.  Good thing I didn't.  Dude would have beaten me about the head and neck with my own severed limbs.
A day later, we tied one on at The Tavernacle and walked down the street to the Broadway for the one we'd been looking forward to the most, Hobo With a Shotgun.  It was preceded by a short film titled The Legend of Beaver Dam.  It was the story of a group of wilderness scouts singing songs around the campfire that according to legend, summons a crazy killer. Chaos ensues in a bloody, vulgar, and musical fashion. As a fan of movies like The Goonies and The Monster Squad, I've got to say that I love kids that curse. It was a fun twelve minutes.
Where you probably won't get I Saw The Devil at your local cineplex, there was actually a legit buzz around the festival circles for Hobo With A Shotgun. What can I say? People seem to like the truth in advertising. This flick stars Rutger Hauer (who seems to have entered the Mickey Rourke zone of guys who you aren't sure they are even acting anymore) as said transient. 
Got any spare change?
He jumps off a train during a stopover in Hopetown, a run-down metropolis that makes Detroit look like Dubai, that is ruled by an evil gangster named The Drake.  Seeing injustice at every turn and meeting the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold (usually they just take your wallet), he forgoes his dream of starting his own lawn mowing business and instead takes his last fifty bucks and turns it into a pawn-shop 12-gauge and a seemingly unlimited amount of ammo.  From there he sets about taking back the streets of this urban hellhole, one shell at a time. This one was a bizarre, bloody and overall batshit crazy exploitation-type flick. If you like those types of movies from the mid-70's you'll enjoy this one. From what I hear, they've sold this movie to a distributor, so come April it'll be in theaters nationwide.

Arguably, the best part of Sundance is the documentaries.  So a few days later, I took my little sister to a screening of Resurrect Dead:  The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.  Before the feature, was a five-minute documentary short titled The High Level Bridge. The film profiled the High-Level Bridge that spans the Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Alberta, its man-made waterfall and its reputation as a local suicide hotspot. The filmmaker sounded clinically depressed himself. One of the ladies on the golf team that I coach is from Edmonton, and when I asked her about all the suicides off the bridge and if it's an accurate representation of her hometown, she said "That's not what we're aboot back home." Touche'.  Here's the film in its entirety:

A very interesting real life mystery is featured in Resurrect Dead...The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Dating back to the early 80's, somebody has been gluing peculiar signs to the streets of Philadelphia with a strange four-line message: 
These tiles fascinated a local layabout named Justin Duerr who began a quest to document all known locations of these tiles (which are found in eight states and three South American capitals) and find the mysterious artist who put them there. He teams up with the filmmaker, John Foy, and two other like-minded individuals to attempt to finally solve the mysteries of who, why and how. It was a fantastic documentary and it was interesting to see how these four guys were able to tie together seemingly unrelated clues into solid leads. I can't quite call Resurrect Dead... the best movie that I saw at the festival, but I can say that it was probably the most enjoyable of the bunch.  

Finally, VodkaRob and I wrapped up our Festival experience last Friday night with a midnight showing of The Oregonian.  Attached to this movie was a short titled The Pact. It features a pair of siblings in the home of their recently deceased mother discussing a secret that they share, something that happened in the basement. This one was genuinely scary, as opposed to the feature it was paired with, which I'll get to in a second. And it brought on those feelings of dread without any typical "payoff."

I went into The Oregonian expecting a grindhouse-y type of horror flick. What I ended up getting was a throwback to those late 60's early 70's psychedelic movies or something reminiscent of those "Coffin Joe" Brazilian horror flicks from the mid 70's. It featured a heaping helping of washed out colors and a horrifyingly brutal sound design that was light on dialogue, but heavy on shrieks, grunts, squeals and insane laughter. It was by far the loudest movie I've ever seen. My ears are still ringing. It lacked any semblance of a plot, or overall narrative other than a bloodied girl (True Blood's Lindsay Pulsipher) wandering in the woods encountering strange scenarios. It did, however, have plenty of horrifying visuals including a creepy old lady breathing hard while grinning from ear to ear, a redneck dude pissing all the colors of the rainbow during a pit-stop, a guy in a furry frog costume jerking off against a window, random hicks drinking pina coladas made with gasoline and some suspect-looking milky liquid, and plenty of people drooling bile while laughing. Read that sentence again. 
Thank god this is a still photo!
Most of it was gross, and none of it was scary. It was marketed as a horror flick and ended up being an arthouse flick. The Oregonian was basically an hour and twenty minute acid trip and I was sorely disappointed. But at least I made it all the way through it, which can't be said about the twenty or so people that walked out in the middle of the screening. It came into the festival with a considerable buzz and left the festival getting absolutely crushed by critics and viewers alike. 
So in a week's span, we saw some pretty good films, and a real stinker.  Like I said, sometimes there's a reason these aren't studio pictures.  But overall it was an awesome experience for any film geek for sure.  You ought to make it out here for the festival at least once in your life.  I guarantee, if you spread it around a little bit, you'll come away seeing something you like.  It literally has it all.   


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