Sunday, February 12, 2012

GMMM-Sundance 2012 Part 2: A Wacky Doc, Homemade Surgery and A Couple Shorts!

Here we go with the next batch of reviews from The 2012 Sundance Film Festival! If you haven't read the first batch, click HERE. Today, I'm going to review two features and two shorts. Away we go!

ROOM 237

Directed by: Rodney Ascher

The best part about Sundance, is the wide variety of documentaries that play every year at the festival. In a given year anywhere from fifteen to thirty documentaries play, so there's a better than average chance that no matter what you are into, you are probably going to find something that piques your interest. With the special access to the directors through the normal post-screening Q&A sessions, you can get even deeper into the subject at hand than even what's on the screen.

I've been getting into Stanley Kubrick a lot lately. The guy had a fascinating career which lasted 48 years, but yielded only thirteen feature films before his passing in 1999. With incredible, sometimes bizarre imagery, experimental camera angles and bombastic storytelling, I almost look at all of his films as a work of art. Even Eyes Wide Shut. Hey, it was still nice to look at. The man built a reputation as a man with such incredible attention to detail, that almost nothing that ended up in his films was the result of an accident.

Such a reputation can lead one to almost see things that might or might not even be there, and almost nowhere in Kubrick's cannon outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey raises as many questions as his interpretation of Stephen King's classic tale of a family's descent into crazytown, The Shining. That's the subject of Rodney Ascher's documentary Room 237. He interviewed five Shining conspiracy theorists and weaved their story together in nine chapters. It was an exhaustive film to watch, but fascinating as well. Probably not for the reasons you're thinking, though. I'll expand on that a little later though.

One theory put forth is since there's a ton of Native American imagery in the film (anything from paintings on the wall, an abundance of Calumet baking powder in the pantry, various rugs and the fact that the famed Overlook hotel was supposedly built on a burial ground) and yet no actual Native American characters, then The Shining is merely a commentary on the American government's marginalization and mistreatment of the Native American people. Yet another keeps seeing the number "42" everywhere and also noticed Jack's typewriter was made by Adler, a German manufacturer. He posits that the film was a commentary on Nazi Germany and the holocaust.

The most bizarre theory though was posited by a guy named Jay who insisted that The Shining was Kubrick's way of confessing to the world that the United States faked the moon landing, and he shot the footage himself! He posits that they changed the name of the evil room from the book's 217 to 237 because the moon is 237,000 miles from earth (it's actually closer to 239,000, but don't let that stop you, Jay). He also notices that the carpet outside Room 237 where Danny is playing with his trucks looks like the Cape Canaveral launch complex. And of course, when Danny stands up, he's wearing an Apollo 11 knit sweater. I don't know about you, but I'm convinced.

When I see carpet like that I think either sex, or the Nyquil finally kicked in!
Other things thrown out there include the foreshadowing of Jack's horrific necrophiliac sex scene because the carpet of Room 237 resembles weens and vajeens. Another lady sees minotaurs around every corner. And of course, the only one that make even a lick of sense, that all the changes from the book that Kubrick brought to The Shining film was all pretty much a big "fuck you" to Stephen King. I'm a huge fan of famous people pissing matches.

To me though, the 800 pound gorilla in the room and the subject that wasn't even touched in the Q&A (I didn't get to ask my question) is the fact that this isn't a film about The Shining. This is a movie about obsession. The folks interviewed for this film are more obsessed with it than I've been obsessed with anything in my life. Listening to all of these interviews, it seemed obvious to me that all of these people are at least one taco short of a combination plate. Ascher said that all of his content was gained through phone interviews and emails. We never actually meet or see any of the subjects and I'm pretty sure if we had, just about everyone else would've come up with the same conclusion that I did. These are all crazy people. But in a way, I'm kinda glad that the documentary let me come to that conclusion on my own. Like The Shining, I guess it's all up to interpretation. If you like The Shining, you'll like this flick. And if you read Psychology Today, you'll like this flick. ~ Rating:  7 Heeeere's Johnny's out of 10

LAZAROV:  In Soviet Russia, dead, skinned chicken shocked back to life peck YOU! What a country!


Directed By: Richard Bates Jr.

Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Malcolm McDowell, John Waters, Marlee Matlin

Whoa! This one was fun. The night kicked off with the director, Richard Bates Jr. asking the audience to sing "Happy Birthday" to his producer. Then he gave the entire audience one of those Red Lobster cheese biscuits. Some real bigwigs must have been in the crowd for the midnight screening on the second to the last day of the festival to warrant that kind of bribery! He excitedly introduced the film and we got started.

This flick centers around a semi-frumpy high school girl named Pauline. Pauline is a little different from the other kids at school. She has these bloody, bizarre sexual daydreams that she discusses with her therapist/priest, played by John Waters. She asks weird questions in her sex-ed class and has a very antagonistic relationship with her math teacher, played by Malcolm McDowell. In fact, she doesn't really treat anybody, save for her sick sister Grace, with any respect at all. Kind of reminded me of the kid in Bobcat Goldthwait's instant classic, World's Greatest Dad.


That being said, Pauline doesn't exactly get a very nurturing environment at home. Her mother, Phyllis, played by former porn starlet Traci Lords, in what could be a career defining role (if all that other stuff didn't define her career first), is the very definition of your stereotypical right-wing, ultrachristian, domineering mother that roams your nightmares. She completely dominates her husband, played meekly by Hostel II's Roger Bart. Phyllis is so driven to make Pauline into a "proper lady" that she results in pushing her further and further down the proverbial rabbit hole. Pauline's behavior got progressively more bizarre as the film went on, resulting in a climax that was so strange, that it must be seen to be believed. I can't even begin to describe it. Just think of four words, "surgery in the garage."

One of the things I wrote in my notes as the film progressed was that every known actor, save for Malcolm McDowell, seemed to be playing against type. AnnaLynne McCord looks nothing like a 90210 princess. John Waters as a priest? Yeesh! And then there's Traci Lords who is an absolute tour de force here. Very reminiscent of one of my favorite horror flick performances ever, that being Piper Laurie in Carrie. Hopefully, this will open some doors for her, because, believe it or not, she is a pretty capable actress. This movie was fun and some of the images will stick with you.  ~ Rating:  7 Red Wings out of 10

Kind of wish the filmmaker had had taken the hint.

ONCE IT STARTED IT COULD NOT END OTHERWISE:  Bunch of high school yearbook photos superimposed over pictures of what looks like an abandoned mental hospital zoom across the screen while creepy synth music plays. Kinda sucked.

I'll wrap up my Sundance coverage in a couple days!  Let me know what you think!

The Golf Monster's 2012 End Of The World Movie Rankings:
6. Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise*
5. Lazarov*
4. Black Rock
3. Excision
2. Room 237
1. V/H/S

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Golf Monster Movie Madness: 2012 Sundance Reviews Part 1

Welcome to Hollywood folks!  The 2012 Sundance Film Festival blew through Salt Lick, Park City and Ogden of all places last week, bringing with it swarms of Ugg boots, extra long lines at the coffee house and a traffic nightmare in Park City (more than five cars on the road). It also brought our first decent snowstorm of the year. This resulted in plenty of extra time off for your humble Golf Monster to watch a metric shitload of independent films, some of which, might wind up at a multiplex near you in the next year.

When the dust cleared, my buddy VodkaRob and I saw seven feature films and two shorts, nearly doubling the number of films we saw last year. The films ran the gamut from straight up horror to abstract art-house fare, with a wacky documentary thrown in for good measure. Since we saw so many, I'm going to split my reviews up into two or three parts to make them a little easier to digest. I'll give a little review and rate it for you. Hopefully ya'll get the chance to see some of these down the road. As always, THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

Starring:  Katie Aselton, Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson, Will Bouvier

Directed by: Katie Aselton

DAMMIT! I hate it when I build something up to be better than it actually ends up being. Only to have it disappoint. When tickets first went on sale to the general public, this one was completely sold out. VodkaRob and I are huge fans of the incredibly raunchy FX show The League, about a bunch of whackaloons that play fantasy football and bust each other's balls. It's a lot funnier than that particular description would make you think, trust me. Anyway, Black Rock was written and directed by two of that show's stars, Katie Aselton and her husband Mark Duplass, who also happen to the two of the standard-bearers of the "mumblecore" indie film movement, so this was definitely a hot ticket. I decided that we had to see this flick, so I dragged my ass out of bed at 6:00AM the day of the show to be at the ticket office when it opened at 8:00 for a shot at some "last chance" tickets that typically get opened up that day. Evidently, half of this town had the same idea because the line snaked its way throughout the Trolley Square mall. Awesome, I love lines. After a solid three hour wait, I managed to snag two of the last tickets to the show. This ought to be good!

The line to get in to the theater stretched all the way to the end of the block by the time VodkaRob and I arrived. A bunch of us huddled in the cold around the quarter-inch speaker on my phone to listen to the Giants overtime win in the NFC Championship. We finally got into the building at about 8:30 and managed to find a couple seats. Sadly, and this is a first for pretty much every screening I've attended in the last eight years, this particular screening wasn't attended by any of the stars or crew. As I was saying last week, the unique thing about Sundance is the chance to interact with the director and stars. It wouldn't be our first disappointment of the night.

Despite the hoopla surrounding this flick (it was the first major film purchased at the festival this year), it fell pretty flat. The film follows three childhood friends as they reunite in their early 30's for a camping trip to an isolated island off the coast of Maine. Kate Bosworth's character, Sara, brings her old friends Abby (Aselton) and Lou (Bell) together for the first time since the latter two had a major falling out. It felt like they were trying for character development, but the sheer bitchiness of the characters did nothing to make me feel any real empathy towards them. They come across three dudes on the supposedly deserted island and proceed to get shitfaced drunk with them. That's when things get a little uncomfortable and a little rapey with Abby and one of the guys. When she accidentally kills the guy in self defense, his buddies force the ladies into a war of attrition to escape the island.

The movie kinda sucked, so here's a picture of Katie Aselton in a Brian Urlacher jersey to dull the pain.
In reading some interviews, Aselton and Duplass admitted that they wrote the screenplay in "about sixteen hours," and it definitely showed. The whole story felt rushed, the line delivery was wooden and stiff, and what little action there was seemed drawn out and a bit unrealistic. It didn't seem like anyone in this movie really gave a shit, let alone respected the "thriller" genre at all. I really wanted to like this movie, but in the end, it just wasn't very good. Still, it wasn't as bad as The Oregonian.  ~ Rating:  4 Sacko Bowls out of 10

Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard, basically a bunch of people you've never heard of.

Directed by:  David Bruckner, Glen McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Radio Silence (A group of four dudes known for horror shorts on youtube)

A lot has been made in recent years about the "found footage" style of filmmaking. And there's something to be said for movies that can provide the scares of a big-budget horror flick and shoot it on cameras that you can pick up at your local hi-fi shop (do they even have those anymore?). Something about it makes it seem a little more real. And that can be pretty scary stuff. Say what you will about The Blair Witch Project, but they made it for something like ten bucks and scared a good chunk of its audience at the time SHITLESS. It also made millions of dollars despite the small original investment. It was pretty much the most profitable movie since Deep Throat back in the 70's. Others have tried to repeat that formula, and have mostly failed. And there's even been a few big-budget versions such as Cloverfield, and even Paranormal Activity, but rarely are they scary or thrilling, and mostly people just complain about the shaky camera work. That's not to say V/H/S doesn't have plenty of that, but it also has a shitload of genuine scares, thrills and fucked up imagery. That makes this the next great American horror anthology in the tradition of Creepshow, Tales From The Crypt, and Tales From The Darkside.

The film features five shorts loosely held together by a wraparound story. That story features a group of five guys that make mayhem videos and upload them to the internet. "What's a mayhem video?" you may ask. Well it's pretty much what the name implies, they tape themselves breaking into houses, smashing shit up, harassing pedestrians, you name it. Why anyone would want to watch that shit is beyond me. Oh wait, Jackass made millions at the theater, so yeah, I guess there's an audience for that. Anyway, they are hired by an unknown benefactor to break into this shifty looking house and steal a single VHS tape. They aren't told what is on the tape, only that "they'll know it when they see it." When they arrive at the house they find a dead body sitting in a chair, surrounded by static-y televisions, VCR's and hundreds of tapes. Logic would dictate that you grab a garbage bag, stuff all the tapes in it and get the hell outta dodge, but then again, it's plotholes like that that make the wraparound story the weakest part of the anthology in most cases. So they start watching tapes and they get progressively more jacked up the more they watch.

The first short, titled "Amateur Night" features the tale of three frat bros doing shit bros do. There might've even been some icing involved. They get the idea to rig up a minicam into a pair of eyeglasses so that one of them can film the evening's exploits completely through his point of view without anyone being the wiser. They pick up a couple ladies at the bar and retire to a local motel where more drunken shennanigans and some sexytime ensues. Sadly the fellas don't realize until it's too late that one of their objects of affection for the evening isn't exactly human and she proceeds to absolutely WRECK THEIR SHIT. This section, along with the beginning of the wraparound story moved a bit slow, but when it hit, it hit HARD. So much so, that when our eyeglass camera wearing buddy suffers a pretty gruesome injury, at least one person at the screening bolted from the theater and hurled all over the lobby.  GOOD TIMES!

After a brief interlude with the wraparound characters, our mayhem loving friends popped in the second tape, titled, "Second Honeymoon." This one featured a newlywed couple road-tripping through Arizona on their honeymoon and for whatever reason, they decided to videotape the whole thing. They film everything from hiking the grand canyon to your typical dude ranch and ghost town touristy shit. The husband even attempted to film a little sexytime back at the motel and as he's being rebuffed, there's a knock at the door. He answers, closes and locks the door and is clearly shaken. He's no longer "in the mood" so they decide to turn the camera off and go to bed. When the camera comes back on in the middle of the night, that's when shit got creepy. Creepy enough to get a collective gasp from the entire theater, and a "Jeezus Christ!" outta me. The twist in this story came straight outta left field, and yes, there was some more blood spilled.

We return to the wraparound story briefly and I noticed something was a little different about the room where they were watching these tapes. They then inserted the third tape titled "Tuesday The 17th" which featured more douchey college kids doing more douchey college kid things in the woods. Christ, I hope I wasn't like that when I was in college. *reads back through some of my "Dorm Days" stories* ahem, forget everything I just said. Anyway, these kids are romping through the woods, smoking grass, skinny dipping and telling scary stories and videotaping it all when they realize they aren't alone out there. But one of them seems to know a little more about what is going on than the others. Then the camera starts to flicker, and people start dying.

"The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger" was the penultimate short in this film and it might've been the most creative of the bunch. According to the director during the after-film Q&A, the entire segment was filmed and recorded with Skype. Pretty cool! This one features an attractive gal named Emily chatting over Skype with her boyfriend who is a couple states away in med-school. As their series of chats goes on, she starts hearing strange noises in her apartment. He can't see what's going on too clearly, but we can. HOLY SHIT CREEPY GHOST KID! For my money, there's nothing creepier than that! I clearly have issues. Anyway, the haunting continues as time goes on, and she starts developing these weird sores on her arm, and slipping more and more into crazytown. That's when things get even weirder, and like all the stories so far, there's a hint of a double-cross in there somewhere. This one was actually funny in parts and pretty chilling as well.

The wraparound story concludes in somewhat predictable fashion and finally we are treated to a final segment, titled "10-31-98." Directed by viral horror video sensations Radio Silence, who Ain't It Cool News described as the Broken Lizard of horror movies. This one follows a group of four guys on Halloween, 1998 (with one of them dressed as a nanny-cam) going to a party. Unfortunately, they take a wrong turn somewhere and end up at a giant house that seems empty, but all the doors are unlocked, and the lights are on. They roam throughout the house, thinking that they're going to stumble on a surprise party of sorts and instead stumble on what appears to be some kind of human sacrifice going on in the attic. At this point, the douchey guys decide to stop being douchey and start being heroes. And then all hell breaks loose. This Radio Silence group is going to do some great work down the road, as they created some pretty incredible effects on a shoestring budget. This flick ended on a high note and was pretty much my favorite horror film that I saw at the festival this year. This is one that definitely will see a wide release later this year. And then we can finally shovel some dirt on the found footage genre, because it's never going to be this good again.  ~ Rating:  8.5 Severed Limbs out of 10

This year, I'll review every film I see in the theater here on the blog and since this is America and we love lists, I'll rank them as time goes on.

The Golf Monster's 2012 End of the World Movie Rankings:
2. Black Rock
1. V/H/S

More Sundance reviews coming up in a couple days!