Josh Strawberry is a long-time, trusted friend, and when he asked me if I would like some reviews of films playing at Sundance, I jumped at the chance. I had wanted to go this year, but it didn’t work out, so it’s nice to get a little insight into some of the films playing in Park City this January. Josh has had the good sense to write up the movies that most interest us here at CHUD – the new David Gordon Green film, for instance, and Son of Rambow, a movie Edgar Wright has called brilliant. So without further ado, here is Mr. Strawberry…
Movies about feelings can be great. Movies that are about feelings and not much else generally, in my opinion, are boring. The first two thirds of David Gordon Green’s "Snow Angels" are just that: a bunch of feelings and little else. I might sound like some redneck yokel who thinks Armageddon is the pinnacle of cinema, and that is correct in some sense. But I also love a great human drama or love story or relationship tale. This just didn’t work as any of those.
Snow Angels deals with a lot of relationships. First we have a recently divorced couple with a toddler. Then we have….. another divorced couple, this one with a teenage son. This son has a new girlfriend at school. We have yet another couple with a philandering husband. Not only do we have to keep tabs on the status of these four couples, but how they all mix and match with each other. There is so much time spent telling us how these couples connect that by the end of the first act I didn’t give a shit about any of them. By the time the last act rolls around and the shit starts hitting the fan, I didn’t care what happened. I was not invested in the characters and I was definitely not seeing anything I hadn’t seen many times before in many different movies.
There were some interesting parts I guess, but they only lasted for one shot most of the time. The acting was fine, the material wasn’t. Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale had great performances, but nothing could save the script from itself. I had a few laughs at some of the dialogue, mostly from Amy Sedaris. The opening monologue by the band teacher was funny, too bad that is the only screen time he gets. The problem here is that there was just not anything original. The visuals were nothing new. The dialogue was nothing new. The situations were nothing new. The characters were nothing new. This movie has been made a million times, why make it again?
I hate musicals. I mean I really fucking hate musicals. I’d rather stick a red hot skewer up my dickhole than watch something like Chicago or Moulin Rouge or Dreamgirls. Up until now the only musical I liked was the South Park movie because it had songs about fucking your uncle and things like that. But here was "Once" from Irish writer and director John Carney. I knew nothing of this coming in and was blown away with how much I truly enjoyed it. There are so many amazing things about this movie, most notably the performances by the leads Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Both are musicians, not actors. The only acting experience between them was Hansard’s portrayal of the guitar player in "The Commitments" fifteen years ago. These two are musicians, and that is key to this movie.
Hansard plays a street musician in Dublin barely getting by. Irglova happens upon his playing one night and strikes up a conversation. They begin hanging out, playing music together and developing a friendship. This sounds like the standard stupid Hollywood romance bullshit, and would be if not for the unique way music is blended into the story. I think there was more singing than talking, and it was never corny. The music always fits within reality and the world of the movie. You can tell that they performed the songs live and didn’t overdub later. This adds a legitimacy to the performances that Hollywood could never achieve. The story never gets stupid, either. The way the relationship develops and changes is refreshingly realistic. It doesn’t dumb itself down to make you feel good.
This film was shot in seventeen days on the streets of Dublin and that looseness and non-cinematic quality creates an even deeper level of realism with regard to the visuals. It feels like something that really happened. Hansard is a well known musician in Ireland, a "rock star" according to the director. His band "The Frames" is huge. When shooting, Irglova said that it was difficult to do some scenes because there were throngs of teenage girls crowding around and screaming at Glen. But she pulled it off. In fact, I liked her performance better than Hansard’s. But that doesn’t diminish his work. They both are so perfect in this movie that it’s hard to find fault.
The Q&A after the screening was the most enjoyable one I have been to. The director and two leads were ridiculously charming and warm as they fielded questions. Hansard and Irglova then picked up a guitar and played a couple songs from the movie to roaring applause. Even more amazing was this morning when I was walking up Main St in Park City to find some swag and what the fuck? It’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova standing on the sidewalk playing songs. Nobody knew who they were. Only about ten people stood around listening. They played a couple songs and then walked away. It was fucking great.
I’m not sure if this movie has been picked up yet but I will be shocked if it hasn’t. It’s gonna be huge and I will be first in line if either of these musicians decides to act again.
Son Of Rambow
I arrived in Park City not knowing jack shit about anything playing (other than the horse fucker movie). So when I stumbled upon the description for "Son Of Rambow", I was naturally excited. In 1981 a sheltered ten year old boy accidentally sees his first movie and it’s "First Blood". OK I’m interested. He and his new friend decide to make their own Rambo film with a camcorder. OK that sounds fucking great. They steal props to create flying dogs and evil scarecrows and enlist local kids and a faux-homo new wave French exchange student to star. All right. That sounds like the best movie ever. And it pretty much is.
Garth Jennings brought us the mixed bag of "Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy" not too long ago. As an adaptation it was marginal. As a visual treat it was awesome. This film is a much smaller tale. It deals with simple things like being the nerdy kid in school and finding joy in things that others can’t understand. This is a family film without question but appeals to any age bracket, especially children of the eighties such as myself who loved Stallone and Schwarzenegger action flicks of the time.
The imagination of Jennings shines through with the daydreaming and illustrations of the main character Will. He lives with his family under an Amish-like religious group called "The Bretheren" and spends his time drawing fantastical pictures in the margins of his Bible. The catalyst that turns Will’s world upside down is Lee, the school troublemaker. Once Will visits Lee’s home and sees a bootleg copy of First Blood, his mind explodes with the realization that the things he can imagine also live in the much more vibrant reality of cinema.
Jennings had to have seen the "Raiders Adaptation" when coming up with Rambow. If he hasn’t then it’s a really bizarre coincidence. For those of you not familiar, about 25 years ago some kids from the Midwest decided to remake "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" with their family camcorder. They succeeded despite it taking them nearly seven years. The movie has recently been making the rounds and screening to audiences all over the world. It’s a bunch of kids re-enacting Indiana Jones and doing a surprisingly good job.
The way Jennings works the VHS movie of the two boys into the world of Rambow is unique and refreshing. We see what they see through the camera viewfinder, their eyes and their minds. The three perspectives at times blend together in a very satisfying mesh of fantasy and reality. The movie also never gets too preachy and has a perfect blend of comedy, drama and the childlike wonder that we all lose somewhere along the way. I would not be surprised if they cut out the swearing (there is a bit of it) for the wide release. It would be a god damn shame if kids were prevented from seeing this due to a PG-13 rating because this is the kind of thing that gets a kid chomping at the bit to imagine his or her own world.
It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine.
I didn’t see Cripsin Glover’s first feature film "What Is It?" so I had nothing to base this sequel off. First, let me just say that I am glad I saw this film. I won’t ever feel any burning desire to watch it again, nor any real compulsion to recommend it to anyone. But I am still glad I saw it. Maybe it’s just because I can now say I saw a man with severe cerebral palsey getting a graphic blowjob then fucking a girl and finally strangling her to death. I’ve checked off a few things like that this past year. One of the others was seeing the video of the guy getting fucked by a horse. But I digress.
Everything Is Fine is about Paul. Paul has cerebral palsey. He has it bad. When he speaks, we the audience cannot understand one god damn word he is saying. But the people in the film can. There are also no subtitles so I really don’t know what this guy said at all during the movie. The movie is difficult to endure, at times dragging heavily and assaulting the viewer with stunted acting and out of place overdubs. But it’s an experience. One of those things you are sort of glad you saw even though you mostly couldn’t stand it. Maybe that’s the point, though. I felt the same about "Freddie Got Fingered" if that helps.
Paul likes girls with long hair. He decides to start trying the dating scene and meets up with various ladies. Most of them end up fucking him and then he kills them. This is pretty much your standard thriller movie about a psychopathic sex killer on the loose. Except he has a devastatingly crippling disability and it’s shot in a very intentionally amateurish way. And the acting is horribly stunted and tough to sit through (again, probably intentionally). Oh yeah, and did I mention that there are no subtitles for Paul, the main character? Seriously, it’s like watching a movie with Han Solo and Chewbacca debating the finer points of shuffleboard for ninety minutes.
Steven C Stewart plays Paul. He also wrote the film. So that right there eliminates any accusations of exploitation. According to the directors Crispin Glover and David Brothers, Stewart’s original screenplay involved much more graphic sex and violence but they talked him down. The version they made is plenty graphic, however. We see Stewart fully nude and X-ratedly penetrating shockingly young looking girls more than once then brutally murdering them.
I think a lot of people would wonder why a man with cerebral palsey would want to put himself out there like that. The answer, say Brothers and Glover, is "Why shouldn’t he? Why is he held to higher standards because he has a disability? Non-disabled people play roles like this all the time and are not chastised for misrepresenting all of the able bodied of the world." In that respect I agree. During the Q&A a woman with a disabled arm huffily asked Glover why he wanted to depict Stewart in such a negative and demeaning fashion. She continued to badger him about it and wanted him to explain himself. Glover repeatedly answered "I didn’t write it. Steven did!" He didn’t get flustered and really wanted everybody to know that this was Steven C Stewart’s movie. He wrote it, he starred in it. Stewart could not attend the world premiere screening and speak for himself because he died a month after production wrapped from a collapsed lung. The directors said that Stewart "asked permission to die" in that he wanted to make sure all of the footage was good and they didn’t need any reshoots. This added a bittersweet aspect to the night and the directors took time after almost every question to fondly remember Stewart and what a sweet guy he was. This was just a role. A dark fantasy acted out by a guy who has seen more bullshit thrown in his face than most. So why not let him fuck and kill some chicks on screen? And really, I think a lot of Hollywood actors are mentally retarded anyway so what’s the big whoop with a CP guy playing a controversial role?