FILMS GONE WILD: 2015 SUNDANCE #5

SUNDAY, January 26

REVIEWS INCLUDE:
20 YEARS OF MADNESS
THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE
I AM THOR
FEMALE PERVERT
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE

This year I am co-hosting the Daily Buzz radio show on KCPW, which has added some more movie-watching responsibilities since we have to prepare for filmmaker guests appearing on the show. So, basically after watching that day’s movies each night there is a screener to watch before hitting the sack at 3 or 4 in the morning and then getting up at 7 or so to watch another one before heading off to do the show. So, here are four Slamdance titles that I watched over the past couple of days….

 

20 YEARS OF MADNESS
Jeremy Royce’s 20 YEARS OF MADNESS follows the reunion of a group of friends in Michigan who wrote, directed and acted in a public access show called “30 Minutes of Madness” back when they were teenagers. 20 years later, the leader of the group and driving force of the show, Jerry White Jr. returns after having gone to film school, but not achieving any success as a filmmaker, with an idea to put the band back together and produce another show. What he discovers is that most of the other members of the group, including his best friend and co-creator of the show have either fallen on hard times, struggled with drug addiction or mental illness, or simply lead lives that pale in comparison to their crazy, youthful exploits. Now, the question is if they can all come together one more time to recapture old glories.

20 YEARS OF MADNESS explores a subject that most people can readily tap into: “Can you recapture the magic of your youth?” As Jerry reunites with his former best friend, Joe, and others within the group and they set about the process of filming the show, the challenges are formidable. Old jealousies and insecurities, hurt feelings, unresolved issues, etc. abound and everyone is much older than they were with jobs and family responsibilities that stand in the way of trying to successfully complete filming and make something worth watching. However, working on the new show also energizes them as they see it as a chance to have a moment of redemption and a reminder of what they are capable of. That is, if they can all hang together long enough to finish it. The film is familiar viewing following years of reality TV, but there is a welcome un-performance aspect about it as everyone involved is remarkably guileless and un-polished in front of the camera, making it significantly easier for the viewer to have a stake in the success of their project and more importantly, their ability to achieve some closure.

Expected Real World Reaction:
While charming, this is a modest production, with the expectation likely being a little VOD run.

 

THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE
Steve Yu’s THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE follows the struggle of former professional wrestling star Jake “The Snake” Roberts to overcome years of drug and alcohol abuse so he can resuscitate his career, mend damaged relationships and regain the respect of his family and his legion of fans. With the aid and counsel of his one-time protégé, fellow star, and loyal friend Diamond Dallas Page and joined in the struggle by Tom “Razor Ramon” Hall, Roberts undertakes what may be his last chance to save his life. Each injury, perceived slight, and disappointment brings about the threat of/or an actual relapse, and the group soon discovers that Roberts’ recovery will be a daily struggle with a never-ending series of challenges.

While slickly produced, THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE still manages to provide a somewhat unvarnished look at one man’s battle with his addiction. Filmed over the course of a year-and-a-half, the relapses are plenty, and, seemingly, are not edited to manufacture “drama” at key structural points during the course of the film. While there is a little “sales” quality to the depiction of Diamond Dallas Page’s recovery “system”, the film manages to sidestep the threat of descending into infomercial territory by showing the emotional frailties of these one-time giants and the surprisingly fragile nature of their psyches. The result is to make it pretty easy for the audience to root for Roberts as he works to make his way back and not feel quite as manipulated as a film based on this subject can easily lend itself to.

Expected Real World Reaction:
This one should do quite well on VOD, as the WWF fans will eat it up.

 

I AM THOR
Ryan Wise’s I AM THOR answers the age-old question, “How long could my ability to inflate a hot water bottle to the point where it will actually blow up while dressed as a gladiator sustain a career?” Jon Mikl Thor was a minor 70s/80s entertainment phenomenon – combining glam, performance rock with a peculiar but entertaining show that involved breaking bricks and bending steel, etc. while sporting a muscle bound physique and blonde page boy haircut. Thor (which was the name of the band he fronted, as well) built a small, but loyal following after honing his bodybuilding/rock n’ roll hybrid, but never quite cracked the fame and fortune ceiling before he retired in 1987. However, ten years later, he made a comeback and for the next twenty years, he continued to make repeated attempts to recapture a semblance of his heyday, touring and performing in small clubs throughout the world.

I AM THOR begins as an entertaining look back at the ridiculousness of what a lot of people considered entertainment in the 80s, but Thor’s story transcends the silliness and outrageousness as details emerge about his crazy life. Including a stint as a naked waiter, a hit record, a kidnapping, a brush with fame in films, and a marriage to an adult magazine cover model and editor, it truly has been a long and winding road for the self-styled Nordic rock star. However, the film doesn’t dig too deep or scrutinize its subject, nor does it have any desire to make Thor look bad, choosing instead to be a lark of a journey aimed toward introducing the viewer to an eccentric personality who survived and still hangs on years after his peculiar star shined.

Expected Real World Reaction:
This one should get some attention on VOD, as some people will be tempted by curiosity to check it out.

 

FEMALE PERVERT
Jiyoung Lee’s FEMALE PERVERT begins as Phoebe tries to coerce her date into playing a musical instrument with first, a dildo, and then his penis. As he flees, unable to handle the special brand of intimacy that she is after, the tone is set for the series of grasping for and yet, missed connections that currently plague her life. She embarks on a new diet and efforts for self-improvement. However, sessions with a therapist provide more opportunity to judge the therapist than provide insight to her own troubles, a book club for literature about perversion doesn’t provide fulfillment and neither do the relationships with the men that cross her path as she struggles to conform to normal society and suppress her perversions.

FEMALE PERVERT is fueled by a droll, slow burn humor spiced with some clever lines. When questioned by her therapist at one point, she replies, “It’s not really superstition by this point. It’s factstition.” Phoebe’s efforts to conform while yearning to find someone that she could truly enjoy being with for more than just the very basic sex act is at turns, amusing and touching. Unfortunately, for all its charms, you’re left wanting more. The practical reason for that is the film’s one- hour running time. The promising reason for that is the character that Lee has created and the entertaining performance of Jennifer Kim in the title role. After that initial scene, Phoebe buries the dildo with a potted daisy over it, hoping to make something nice grow out of it and for fans of Lee’s brand of humor, of which I am, they will be left wanting more as well.

Expected Real World Reaction:
The truncated run time effectively negates theatrical, but it should get some VOD love.

 

On my way back to the Slamdance offices to return some screener DVDs, I pass by Tom Cavanaugh, and then THE OVERNIGHT contingent of Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godréche and Adam Scott, as well as dodging countless video crews with reporters taping their stand ups. However, the big win is when I run into Pumpkin the Owl. Pumpkin is hanging out with Eric McGill from Earthwings.org out on Main Street to get some attention for is organization and I am more than happy to give that attention to them. I even break that reporter/celebrity protocol and ask for a photo of myself with Pumpkin because…uhmm…OWL! I mean, c’mon! He’s a freakin’ owl with huge-ass wings and talons and a head that turns on a pivot and giant yellow eyes that look at you and stuff. And….OWL!

Anyway, back at the house I prepare for an interview with Scott Weiland and his new group the Wildabouts. It’s a day of firsts: picture with an owl, and interview with a rock star. I also work on the final credits for THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE as we rush to deliver the final version of the film to Gravitas Ventures for the May VOD release of the film. It’s our first feature film, so this deliverables process is all new territory for my wife, Justina, the co-writer and one of the producers, and myself. And she is stuck doing much of the heavy lifting since I’m at Sundance. Oh, and did I mention we are moving in a week and she has been dealing with all of that crap while I see movies and interview rock stars? Yeah, I suck. So, it is incumbent on me to make sure I bring her back plenty of gifts and cool stuff as a peace offering upon my return. No pressure though.

The interview goes well with Scott and his band mates although one of the best parts may be the fact that the publicist and her assistant were under the impression that Sarah Harris and Eric were my assistants (which none of us took the time to correct them about). Hilarious. Afterward, I’m off to the Eddie Bauer gifting suite to see what that is all about. Upon my arrival, I try unsuccessfully to get a publicist to show me around and give me the lowdown on what the deal is and what they do when a celebrity walks in the door.

I get fake snowed on as I’m standing too close to a chair lift photo op thing and then get nudged aside so some filmmakers can be taken to a secret back area to get free stuff that will make their trip to Park City worthwhile. People stand expectantly next to a rock-climbing wall that no one is climbing on. This is just as well as I believe I could just jump up to touch the top of it – and my vertical leap is not all that impressive. But, you know…movie stars are really short. REALLY short.

IDPR buddy Liz Mahoney comes in with her client Greta Gerwig and they are quickly whisked into the secret swag land room. Before I bolt, an actor named Hugh Scott introduces himself to me. He’s a fan of Film Threat and he’s also helping promote his girlfriend Emily Tremaine, who is an actress in EXPERIMENTER and is doing Sundance for the first time AND braving it all without a publicist. Good for her and good for him helping her navigate it all.

I soon escape and make my way through the base of Main Street, which is the epicenter of Sundance swag land. Just as New Yorkers do their best to never pass through Times Square (which by this point could basically be a new Disney attraction, called Creepy Crass Land), movie focused Sundancers avoid this area at all costs as well. People crowd the area hoping to get a glimpse and maybe a photo of someone they actually recognize (I mean, not one of those random filmmakers, but you know, someone they’ve seen in the US Magazine “They’re people just like us!” section).

The next stop is the Killer Films party. A Getty Images photographer sees me and says hello, and compliments me on how I do the red carpets back in New York: “Even the animals (paparazzi) appreciate you.” So, riding on the high of that nice compliment, I see Marcus Hu of Strand Releasing, one of the nicest distributors out there today and he tries to introduce me to another distributor who gives me an “I couldn’t give less of a damn about you” look and cursory nod. I’ll bet he’d change that attitude in an instant if he knew I was best Sundance friends with Pumpkin the Owl.

Back on Main Street, 2 guys jump out of an SUV as it makes a rolling stop so they can run up to a couple of girls giving away free cans of Red Bull. They each take about four cans and run back to the SUV and speed off to what is likely going to be an erratic obnoxious bro party.

At the Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts performance in the ASCAP Lounge, a guy asks the sound engineer when the band will take the stage. He shrugs and says, “We’re at the whim of Scott Weiland.” 15 minutes later – not bad for rock star punctuality, the music begins. This is Sundance, so they are performing in front of a step and repeat banner with a bunch of logos. I like the new stuff and I’m old so I’ll probably actually buy a physical CD. You know, like you can hold and stuff and look at as it plays on your CD player. Anyway, Scott and the band launch into Stone Temple Pilot’s “Vaseline”, throwing some red meat out to everyone in the crowd that’s my age (which is a lot…).

In line for the press screening of THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, I do that thing where you wave back to someone waving at you only to realize they were actually waving at another person standing directly behind you. I should’ve known better since it was someone from AFI (#notmygreatestfans).

 

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of a young girl’s sexual coming-of-age against the backdrop of the countercultural San Francisco of the 1970s, Marielle Heller’s THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL follows the exploits of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley). Minnie’s “diary” consists of R. Crumb-style drawings that illustrate her life as well as the commentary/confessionals she records on a cassette recorder. Those confessions are primarily about the sexual relationship she is having with her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgârd), as well as her excitement over/and experimentation with her newly discovered sexual being. Minnie has to learn the difference between sex and love and learn some hard lessons she is not really ready for as she finds herself in an emotionally perilous triangle with her own mother (Kristin Wiig) and her mother’s boyfriend.

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is a clever and amusing trip through a teenage girl’s mind with an unabashed emphasis on sex. Just as Minnie’s character is given a freedom to have sex and aggressively explore her sexuality, Heller gives herself freedom as the filmmaker to place her in several explicit situations via the setting of the film in a very permissive 1970s San Francisco. It’s an effective choice, combined with the visual flourishes derived from Minnie’s own drawings and art bleeding into her real life via her imagination. Wiig, Skarsgârd, as well as newcomer Powley, and Christopher Meloni as Minnie’s urbane father each deliver fine performances viewed through a warm, honey-toned lens in a very entertaining little nostalgia piece.

Expected Real World Reaction:
You can make an appointment to enjoy this one at you local multi-plex.

 

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Leslye Headland’s SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE follows the relationship of Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudekis), two friends that impulsively lost their virginity to each other in college and then reconnected later in life pointedly eschewing the “benefits” part of the “friends with” equation. As they counsel each other through their relationships with other people, Lainey and Jake try to navigate their way through their dating lives and steer one another way from a mutual tendency toward infidelity and self-sabotage. Naturally, the perfect match for each may just be their friend.

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE is described by Headland as “WHEN HARRY MET SALLY for assholes”, Of course, you would need to add charming, witty assholes for that to be more accurate. The cast includes some comedy sure things such as Sudekis, Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, and Natasha Lyonne, so you’re in pretty sure hands as far as the banter and quipsters are concerned. It’s also important to note that this is “safe” viewing as far as the implied sex in the title is concerned. This is one of those films where women always have sex still wearing their clothes or at least a bra, because that’s how it totally happens in real life (as far as your parents and the ratings board are concerned). Therefore, things may get naughty but you can feel secure that it will never get too blue while you enjoy some laughs.

Expected Real World Reaction:
This one will surely land in fly-over state multi-plexs and then play frequently on cable TV.

 

On the bus back from the screening, a guy tries to explain to a woman something that Jason Sudekis referenced during the Q&A about “how the sausage is made”: “It’s like when you make a film and it’s like grinding meat. But you don’t want to necessarily talk about how the meat goes into the grinder.”

No, you don’t want to necessarily talk about that meat that’s in the grinder and how it winds up becoming a movie. Lessons from Sundance.

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