Day 6: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Posted January 24, 2008 in
After a refreshing nights sleep up in Park City, I was ready to hit the town early to take in some films. First up, Wesley Willis' Joyride at Slamdance (see writer Jimmy Martin's review); the film was phenomenally done, documenting the life and art of Wesley Willis through extensive footage, interviews, and photographs. An idiot savant of sorts, Wesley's art is brilliantly displayed in this engaging drama of a documentary. Additionally, the film is an intimate look at the battle with paranoid schizophrenia and leukemia. It is not often a rock documentary brings an audience to tears.

After the film, I stopped by the Filmmakers and Press Cocktail reception at Shabu, a classy Japanese themed restaurant in the Park City Main Street Mall. Immediately, I realized I was one of only a few members of the press attending the party, as a slew of blue-badges encountered me and pitched their films for a review. It seemed ... really backwards. Regardless, this was a great opportunity to talk to some of the directors and producers about their perception of the festival. One producer (who wished to remain anonomyous), commented that she could 'not wait until the festival was over so she could go home' and that the entire ordeal 'was really a waste of time, as good films will get picked up regardless'. This was an interesting perspective, but in my opinion, most great directors have to put in the dues at Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto to beef up their street cred necessary to get a film backed by a studio.

Next on the agenda was the Slamdance happy hour hosted by our friends Evil Twin Booking and Steaz. Scott Beiban and Steaz have been aggressively marketing their organic sodas for a few years now, a friend and I were even abducted by the vegetable oil Steaz bus and driven up and down main street while M1 from Dead Prez cracked jokes and handed out product to passers-by. The Slamdance happy hour was casual – a lot of the filmmakers from Slamdance were present, and the Dos Equis was flowing freely. I was able to get a quick interview with Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston, the stars of Paranormal Activity. A couple in real life, the Micah and Katie were able to take some of their experiences and add them to the film, producing the life-like couple bickering. Additionally, the film was shot in less than 3 weeks – with 12-14 hour days of shooting. Their first appearance in any of the ****dance festivals, they hope to return next year with another film.

(Photo Caption: Happy faces at Slamdance's Happy Hour)

Afterwards, we made the trip to the New Frontiers to catch the Doug Aitken exhibit. Simultaneously, the New Frontiers was presenting the best of the web – a collection of Youtube clips that are redefining short film and humor. The idea sounded great, but was poorly planned and even more poorly executed. With a short list of films that everyone has probably already seen, the group was left with extra time in which the audience was asked to make suggestions – luckily Fluffy yelled out "Bert and Ernie go Brutal", and the audience got to watch a re-edited version of a Sesame Street clip synced to grindcore. My dominating thoughts throughout the presentation were... "are we actually watching Youtube at Sundance?".

(Photo Caption: youtube smoozetube)

After this so-so experience – it was time for another film, Hell Ride. Produced by Quentin Tarantino, I got the feeling the director was trying to hard to mimic the style, and the film came off as a Kill Bill rip-off. A motorcycle revenge film with a 70's aesthetic, the campy dialogue and violence is trying to hard for the cult classic image, and seems slightly disingenuine as a result. The stars are all there, but the final package is a bit weak. Perhaps a re-edit can help the film move along a bit better. However, the short before the film, the Rambler was amazing – see below.

After the film, I stopped by the Producers Guild of America party at the Stella Artois tent. DJ Logic was spinning a great set of dub-step and reggae on all vinyl – which is a rarity these days. However, turns out producers are a dreadfully boring class of individuals, and it was all I could do to choke down my Stella and peace the fuck out. In my attempt to leave Park City, I was interrupted by a group of friends, and ended up shooting Courvosieur with M1.

The last item on our agenda was the X-dance closing party, held in Salt Lake at The Depot. Turns out that cognac pushed me a bit behind schedule, and it was 1:00 A.M. before we made it to the party, which was most definitely over. The DJ, Villains, was totally killing it, although the club was absolutely empty. Seems like too many ***dances, not enough people.

Film: The Rambler

Director: Calvin Reeder

Venue: Yarrow

4.5 out of 5 vomit covered cowboys

The story of hitchhiking horror has been done to death. However, the unique combination of grotesque special effects, beautiful 35mm imperfections, and humor take this short to the top. Picked up by an over-obvious 'creep' in a labcoat with thick rubber gloves, the cowboy (played by director Calvin Reeder) and his deadpan performance add a great degree of originality to the typical formula. Unmoved by the absolutely hideous and disgusting events that follow, the adventure is not for the weak of stomach, but highly recommended – think 2 girls one cup meets the exorcist.

—Ryan Powers

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Mother Nature must really hate the Sundance Film Festival, because the temperature gauge on my car read two degrees as a drove up from Salt Lake City. Holy shit! That's not "Gee, my hands are kind of numb" cold, it's more like "Why am I pissing slush?"

(Photo Caption: Park City's Main Street)

I was ten minutes late to the screening of Wesley Willis's Joyrides, but due to the wonderful mayhem that film festivals create, I hadn't missed a thing. I have to get one detail off my chest before I proceed. Whoever came up with the seating arrangement for screenings at Slamdance at The Treasure Mountain Inn, at least in the room I was in, should be slapped in the face with a veiny steel dildo. I've never seen filmgoers choose to lie on the floor like 4th graders rather than sit in a chair. It's unbearable. Ok, I'm finished...On to the first review ...

Title: Wesley Willis's Joyrides

Directors: Chris Bagley & Kim Shively

Venue: The Treasure Mountain Inn – Public Screening

Rating: 5 out of 5 Demons in my Head

I was introduced to Wesley Willis by my friend in Los Angeles almost ten years ago with his song Northwest Airlines. As I heard Wesley's words, "While I was in the air, I had fun. The airplane was at an altitude of 35,000 feet. It was a long trip. It was a fun flight," I knew the man was exceptional. It's now 2008, the genius has left us [R.I.P], but his art and music continues to amuse.

(Photo Caption: Director Kim Shively and friend)

What began as a documentary that would only cover the time the filmmakers spent with Wesley, eventually developed into a full portrait of his life after his unfortunate death in 2006. In the beginning, directors Chris Bagley and Kim Shively immerse the audience into Wesley's drawings of Chicago's architecture and crowded streets, revealing the true artistic skill Wesley embodied. From his time growing up in various foster homes to playing concerts in England, the film tells the story of an artist who only wanted to entertain...and money was welcomed too. The audience witnesses his brilliance as he placed commercials within his songs (Taco John's. It's a whole lotta Mexican), and his heartbreaking struggles with schizophrenia. Bagley and Shively have not only created a record of Wesley's life that will educate Wesley Willis newcomers and veterans, but have produced a platform that shines the artistic excellence of a performer that left us too soon. Rock over London! Rock on Chicago!

(Photo Caption: The other Director of the fIlm, Chris Bagley.)

At 5:30pm, I had my first screening located in the Holiday Village Theatres. The great thing about seeing Sundance films in a "real" theatre (Broadway, Trolley Square, Holiday Village, etc...) are the seats. I swear most venues' seats have caused me to develop a severe case of scoliosis. As I walked into the theatre, I should have known something might be awry due to the fact there were only ten other members of the press in attendance...hopefully everyone else was having an early dinner.

Film: Adventures of Power

Director: Ari Gold

Venue: Holiday Village – Press Screening

Rating: 2 out of 5 invisible drum sticks

(Photo Caption: Film Still from Adventures of Power)

My next film, Ari Gold's Adventures of Power, tells the story of Power (Ari Gold) a New Mexican mineworker and his aspiration to become the world's greatest air drummer. The story sounds ludicrous, but sometimes those are the best types of films to reach this Festival. Now, I understand the Park City at Midnight series includes films that tests limits or are so outrageous they're funny, but Adventures of Power misses the beat on 95% of its punchlines.

It seems clear that Gold must have watched Napoleon Dynamite and Air Guitar Nation in one night and thought it would be clever to fuse the two. It wasn't. There were a handful of gimmicks that made the majority of the audience laugh, but the majority was reduced to small chuckles or uncomfortable silences. Many times it felt as if I was watching an awful SNL sketch, but instead of having to suffer for 10 minutes it was 96. The strongest element to the film was its soundtrack. Who can resist the sounds of Loverboy, Judas Priest, Rush, or Phil Collins? Ok, scratch that last one. It's a shame that Gold's film missed the mark. If executed correctly, I could easily see Hot Topic carrying various merchandising for all the MTV cohorts (right next to the Boondock Saints shirts and Vote for Pedro stickers). Shoot.

Before my next screening, I met up with fellow S.L.U.G. writer, Mr. Ryan Powers. After wasting some time in the Main Street Marketplace Mall's Cell Phone Atrium...fuck, that sounds pretentious, we decided ... is that lady attempting to persuade Dennis Hopper into seeing her no doubt dumbshit short film and he graciously declining? Good job D.H.! On to the Yarrow!

Film: Hell Ride

Director: Larry Bishop

Venue: Yarrow Hotel – Press Screening

Rating: 3 out of 5 Arrows to the Back

There's something about viewing a motorcycle revenge movie paying homage to 60s Westerns that gets my nerves tingling, especially when Quentin Tarantino is Executive Producer. Larry Bishop's Hell Ride is the story of two rivaling motorcycle gangs, the 666ers and the Victors, and the latter's hunt to avenge the death of a fellow rider. As the Victors live by the three Bs...Bikes, Beers, and Booty, in which the film contains more than enough of, Hell Ride exemplifies various characteristics that bring the overall production downhill.

The first thing I noticed about the film were the rich colors the Sony HD Camera captured, which is beautiful, but not for a film honoring the 60s. Where's the nitty gritty grainy film stock? The smooth and rich images don't match the rough and wily characters. But, the main problem with the film was pace. The story doesn't pick up a steady pace until the final 45 minutes, although it's a superb 45 minutes. Michael Madsen as The Gent is the smooth son-of-a-bitch he always plays, and I'll never get tired of him. Dennis Hopper nails the role of Eddie Zero (it was definitely a certified badass moment seeing Hopper back on a motorcycle). The greatest element of the film is Bishop's dialogue. It's witty and comical, yet grim and terrifying.

Any fan of Quentin Tarantino, blood, gratuitous nudity, motorcycles, bar fights...wait, let me start again...Men will enjoy Hell Ride.

See Ya Tomorrow...

—Jimmy Martin

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Sundance really isn't my scene: I have little interest in hobnobbing with celebrities, attending lavish parties sponsored by heartless corporations or trudging through the yuppie infested streets of Park City. Also, I don't like movies. Nevertheless, I found a reason to get excited about the festival this year when I was afforded the opportunity to see the world's foremost practitioners of dirty reggae, The Aggrolites, perform at BMI's Snowball Showcase.

The Kimball Arts Center was filled to capacity when I arrived, so a gaggle of press-types and people on the guest list were huddled by the doors as Steve Smith of Dirty Vegas wrapped his set. Fifteen minutes later, I was no closer to inside when Nick Urata of Devotchka took the stage.

Finally, I was allowed inside, only to be greeted by an unenthusiastic crowd interested primarily in getting drunk and being boring. The small room housing the stage was all but dead: full of people, but totally devoid of energy. Urata looked and sounded a bit like a gypsy version of Morrissey, but it was hard to get into his set because of the disappointing audience and my own excitement to see The Aggrolites. I feared that the apathetic crowd would be as unresponsive to The Aggrolites as they were to Urata, but from the moment the band took the stage and busted into "A.G.G.R.O." the crowd went nuts. Vocalist Jesse Wagner encouraged the people sitting in the back to get up and shake their asses to some funked-up reggae, and those that did were treated to an explosive set where the band's energy was equally matched by the audience's. Particularly of note were The Aggros' cover of The Tempations' classic "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and their always stellar version of The Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down." By the end of the night, the boring drunks watching Nick Urata earlier were driven out by the dirty reggae stylings of The Aggrolites, but it just left more room for those of us who enjoyed it to dance around and get nice and crazy. Maybe Sundance isn't so bad afterall!

—Ricky Vigil