[ BEST FILM (SUNDANCE): ] “Pi” This beatifully shot black and white film proves intelligent science fiction can be achieved as an independent film. (Actually the title of the film is the “Pi” symbol but we couldn’t find it on the computer. Where is it?)
[ BEST FILM (SLAMDANCE): ] “Six String Samurai” – See review below.
[ BEST FILM (SLAM DUNK): ] “Groupies” – The story of a nutty fan who assembles the old cast of his favorite 70s sitcom and forces them to act in a new episode. Stars Ally Sheedy, Brian O’Halloran and Justin Henry (the boy from “Kramer vs. Kramer” and the youngest person ever nominated for an Academy Award).
[ BEST FILM IN PARK CITY (INCLUDES ALL FESTIVALS COMBINED): ] “Six String Samurai” – What can we say except that a new era of independent filmmaking seems to have emerged. And that is the “Commerical” independent film. Finally, someone has made an independent film in a genre other than “twentysomethings-in-a-room-making-pop-culture-references.”
[ BEST NEW FESTIVAL: ] Slam Dunk – With a line-up that included guests like Ken Burns of PBS acclaim, cinematographer Adam Holender and George Hickenlooper, this festival was no joke.
[ BEST NEW ACTOR: ] Randall Slavin of “Burn”. Slavin has the intensity of Kevin Spacey combined with the engaging character of Steve Buscemi all wrapped up with the good looks of Brad Pitt. Let us be the first to predict that Randall Slavin will be a new star.
[ BEST NEW ACTRESS: ] Eddie Adams of “Central Standard Time”. Constantly rising above the material, this hot young actress is just looking for the right vehicle to take her to the top.
[ BEST MUSIC: ] The Red Elvises from the film “Six String Samurai”. Their bizarre blend of surf and rock-a-billy gives “SSS” its original flavor. And as a live band they rock the house hard as well as put on a show.
[ BEST PARTY: (Tie) ] The indieWire party and the Slamdance awards presentation party. Both had the same problem; no shortage of alcohol and partygoers who refused to leave even after the lights came on. Thanks guys! Invite us back next year.
SUNDANCE FILM REVIEWS ^ SOME NUDITY REQUIRED ^ (Directed by Odette Springer) ^ * 1/2 ^ This confused personal documentary by Odette Springer, a former Roger Corman employee, explores the world of scream queens and the actresses who would bare more than their soul to be maimed in schlock Corman flicks. The film follows the scream queens on their quest for respect as well as revealing Odette Springer’s personal journey while working for Corman as a music composer for these B-movies. Springer learns that she was molested as a child. Sequences of the film are intercut with 8mm films of Springer as a three year-old doing her own brand of nude dancing. The frequent use of herself as an innocent naked child borders on exploitation itself. Neither story is successfully told — the scream queens’ or Springer’s alleged molestation leaving a less than satisfying experience for viewers. (And that’s really hard to do in a film that features so many bare breasts!)
WILD MAN BLUES ^ (Directed by Barbara Kopple) ^ * * * 1/2 ^ Director Barbara Kopple follows Woody Allen on his European tour with his jazz band. Kopple filmed Allen 14 hours a day for 23 days and viewers gain insight into Woody’s relationship with Soon Yi — she is not as innocent as she seems. While there is no surprise upon discovering that Woody has a lot of problems, it’s the meeting with his parents at the film’s finale that provides the shocker. His mother just wishes he’d found a nice Jewish girl and dad thinks being a pharmacist may have been a better career path. Yikes.
MODULATIONS ^ * * * 1/2 ^ (Directed by Lara Lee) ^ The world of raves, techno and electronic music is revealed with whirlwind style and flair. Lara Lee provides startling information going back to the origins of electronic music in the early 1900s. In a fast-paced style, she mixes interviews, commentary and insight with the hottest names in techno. It’s the documentary you can dance to!
SLAMDANCE FILM REVIEWS ^ SURRENDER DOROTHY ^ (Written, Edited, Directed by Kevin Di Novis) ^ * * * * 1/2 ^ “Surrender Dorothy” is the most disturbing film of the 1990s. Viewers at the festival even complained of having nightmares after seeing this one.
This starkly shot black and white feature follows Trevor, a 27 year old bus boy, and his 25 year-old, heroin addict roommate Lanh. Their dysfunctional relationship is at the heart of “SD”. Trevor soon turns his affections towards his roommate — buying him dresses to wear while doing household chores and referring to Lanh as “Dorothy.” Trevor’s obsession with Lanh’s makeover is taken to drastic extremes when wigs and dainty underthings prove unsatisfying, forcing him to pursue other transformation methods. (We’re being purposely vague here in an effort not to ruin the film.)
Director Kevin Di Novis also acts in the film as the Lanh/Dorothy character in what has to be independent film’s bravest debut. (You try acting and directing in heels and a short skirt.) The story is engaging, the humor is sick and the performances are rivetting — low budget doesn’t get any better than this.
GOREVILLE, U.S.A. ^ (Directed by Seth Henrikson and Dave Sarno) ^ * * * * ^ This engaging black and white documentary invades the lives of the residents of Goreville, Illinois to discover the reasons and impact of a strange ordinance. Residents are required “by law” to own a handgun. “Goreville, U.S.A.” succeeds by not characterizing these gun enthusiasts and militia men as nutcases. A very smart documentary exploring a hard subject.
NAKED PAVEMENT ^ (Directed by Joshua Tunick) ^ * * * ^ This hilarious and arousing short, black and white documentary enters the world of Spencer Tunick, the famous NYC photographer who casts hundreds of nudes in his pictures. The director (no relation to Spencer) follows Tunick on several photo shoots in an attempt to get the perfect shot while avoiding the law. The logistics of getting a hundred nude people on a New York City street prove challenging making for a fun-filled, voyeuristic ride.
BOWL OF PORK ^ (Directed by Gina Price) ^ * * * ^ Comedian Dave Chapelle stars in this short parody of “Forrest Gump” about a dim-witted black man. We discover that life is “just a bowl of pork” and that he’s responsible for Rodney King, the LA riots and OJ being accused of murder. Fun, four minutes and a good laugh.
20 DATES ^ (Written and directed by Myles Berkowitz) ^ * * * 1/2 ^ This mockumentary begins with a simple premise: filmmaker Berkowitz convinces a producer to give him $60,000 to make a movie in which he will go on 20 dates in LA in search of true love. Sound simple enough?
Berkowitz is hilarious to watch as the film evolves into what can best be described as the world’s first reality-based sitcom. Myles goes on one date with a woman and things are going well, until he breaks it to her that there is a hidden camera in the bushes. Her face goes flush and she storms away upset. In the next scene he is shown fielding a phone call from the woman’s attorney. Myles is shown in constant battles with his producer who wants more “tits and a*s”. When Myles finally dates a woman he likes, he must choose between her and completing the film. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee is shown giving Myles advice on love in the cinema today and the news is grim — modern audiences just don’t like romance. Sad but true.
Although the documentary style is betrayed at times (the film was actually heavily scripted), the humor and yes, heart of the film shines through. “20 Dates” won the audience award at Slamdance and was a festival favorite. Hilarious and a must-see.
SIX STRING SAMURAI ^ (Directed by Lance Mungia) ^ * * * * * ^ In 1957 a nuclear holocaust leaves the world devastated and Elvis is crowned king. Years later, the king dies and the world’s rock n’ roll inhabitants, still stuck in the fifties, travel to Lost Vegas to fight for the throne. Out of the post-apocalypse comes “Buddy” who looks strangely similar to Buddy Holly. With a six string and a sword, he battles his way across the desolate plains on his quest with a young boy in tow.
“Six String Samurai” is pure cinematic enjoyment. Lead actor Jeffrey Falcon has been studying martial arts for 20 years and has been in 17 Hong Kong action films. This isn’t simply a film; it’s a series of films, a cartoon show, a comic book, a line of action figures, a video game, and soon to be a huge franchise. Based on this powerful action film debut, Lance Mungia should be directing Jeffrey Falcon as a Jedi knight in the second Star Wars film prequel. “SSS” definitely was the talk of Slamdance and shows that there is hope. “SSS” won both the cinematography and editing award for Slamdance.