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!


  1. Well done! I'm definitely wanting to see V/H/S.

  2. I think you're going to like it. I guess the dude that does the Bloody Disgusting website at least partially funded the project. It'll play some more festivals and I imagine it'll at least get an on-demand release if not at least a limited theater run. Fun movie!