By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

‘Dancing With The Wildman

Sundance – Day 6

“I should’ve known that if a guy like me talked to a girl like that, someone would end up dead.”

Before I start with today’s films, here are my thoughts about Gone To The Dogs and Armless which I saw a few days ago but never got around to writing about for one reason or another.

GONE TO THE DOGS

Liz Tuccillo’s Gone To The Dogs is a short film that follows two tried and true approaches to a short film: Deal with a very specific social “issue” and do it at a dinner table, lunch table, breakfast – whatever – just keep all the action at the one table and no one gets hurt, nor spends a lot of money making the damn thing.

And this one does very well for itself. The “issue” is the importance some people place on their pet dogs; treating them like people, spending exorbitant amounts of money on their medical problems, and emotionally substituting them for the children they can’t or haven’t had.

In this case, a small dinner party of friends is disrupted when one of the guests (played by Martha Plympton) insists on bringing her little lap dog with her and to the table AND proceeds to let it eat off her plate. It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but when she is asked to put the dog in another room, she sulks and inspires everyone else to bring their issues to the table.

It’s a thorough and fun treatment that doesn’t wear out its welcome. Nice.

ARMLESS

Habib Azar’s Armless is a film about a man who has finally gathered enough courage to act on his desire to have his arms chopped off in order to (so-to-speak) feel complete. Starring Daniel London as the man and Janel Maloney as his wife who is forced to deal with this sudden revelation and realization, Armlessis a comedy that isn’t funny or a drama that isn’t compelling – you make the call.

As I was watching the excruciatingly drawn out machinations (I mean, it seemed like it was going to take the entire film for London’s character to just say out loud that he wanted to have his arms cut off), you could feel the audience becoming more and more frustrated with the proceedings. And what is meant to be a funny admission, “I want nubbins.” just doesn’t cut it. (And yes, I meant that.)

Anyway, he goes to the city to find a doctor that a chat room discussion has led him to believe will do the surgery (since among other hurdles, it would be illegal to do). Maloney’s character finds out where he has gone and enlists his “colorful” mother character to help her find him and confront him after he has left her a message saying he’s never coming back home. The doctor turns out to be a plastic surgeon that simply shares the same name as the doctor he is looking for, who also happens to have a very sassy receptionist….and hilarity ensues? No. How about light whimsical farce? No, not that either. A fascinating look at a very real condition (body integrity identity disorder)? I’ll have to pass on that as well.

Can I say something nice? As a matter of fact I can. Zoe Lister Jones, who plays the sassy receptionist, does her level best to add some snap to this thing. Unfortunately, I think that’s because she believed she was in a different movie than the one Azar was directing. I would have much rather have seen THAT movie. Because you couldn’t even say this one was “unfunny”. You’d have to describe it as “undroll”. In fact, the best way to describe it would be to say it plays like an interminably bad scene in an acting class: earnest performances misfiring in the service of ill-wrought material.

SUNDANCE FEVER: I think it’s one of those cross off the list experiences you get here.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not a chance in the world. As a curiosity, it could hit cable at some point.

And (as they would say on Monty Python) now for something completely different…

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL

Eli Craig’s Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil is about as one-note, high concept as it gets: Two hillbillies heading to their “fixer-upper” cabin for a getaway encounter a group of vacationing college kids. The kids stereotyping them as backwoods lunatics manage to start killing themselves off one by one in an effort to attack Tucker and Dale and rescue one of their own.

This one starts off great, pulling off a pitch perfect homage to the iconic Easy Rider drive by and doesn’t let up. Tucker and Dale’s cabin was obviously home to a lunatic that actually did murder several people years ago (complete with newspaper clippings of the missing that the guys are oblivious of since they also spy one that has a fast food discount on it). And yes, the entire thing could not be more obvious or telegraphed (Tucker cuts into a tree stump with a bees nest and in running away from the scene with his chainsaw…well, I think you probably get it). Each misunderstanding leads to a gory conclusion.

But the thing making this work beyond a basic string of set-piece gags are Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. As Tucker and Dale, they don’t just give us characters whose reality as “nice” and “sweet” guys that can speak in complete sentences runs counter to the stereotype. They (and great credit to Craig’s script and direction as well) score with the oftentimes hilarious (given the setting) emotional support and friendship they display toward one another. It’s nice to watch a comedy where the players know what they need to work hard at for the funny versus what will easily take care of itself (I’m looking at you, any film called “Something Movie”).

SUNDANCE FEVER: Laughs are hard to come by at Sundance. But not with this movie.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Oh yeah. It should be out there. Easily.

My final screening of the evening was to be one of the New Frontiers “experimental” screenings. And this was a film that not only had been required viewing according to a good friend of mine, but it also would include a live music performance. So – c’mon, you don’t get that everyday – and it didn’t disappoint.

ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS

Directed by Tim Rutili, the principal songwriter and singer for Red Red Meat and Califone, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers stars Angela Bettis as a psychic advisor facing an upheaval in her life when the numerous ghosts and spirits that reside under her roof demand to leave and go to their final resting place.

Those ghosts also happen to include the members of Rutili’s band, Califone and the music that dominates the film doesn’t just add a soundtrack, it frequently acts as a driving force or counterpoint to the dramatic actions of the characters.

The other central focus is Bettis herself. An actress that is so distinctive that she defines the term “focus pull,” the film’s energy rides with her character’s moods and takes its cues not just from her actions but also seemingly from her intentions. It’s kinda like she’s a next generation ‘Carrie’ with no need for that overwrought telekinesis nonsense.

Now, to be sure, this movie won’t be for everyone. It is an experience. It is not an Adam Sandler movie or a mad dad played by Mel Gibson getting revenge on bad guys that done his daughter wrong movie. So, if you need your shit spelled out for you – then steer clear. However, if you want to try something very much by design off the beaten path then by all means check this out. AND if it happens to come to town with the band playing live, so much the better – because that just multiplies the immediacy and energy the film gives off.

SUNDANCE FEVER: Even at Sundance, it’s a personal taste thing. So people that want to see it will seek it out and enjoy it. The others won’t understand the fuss.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: No, this one is an event kind of experience. They’ll likely do some kind of special tour combining performances by the band with the film.

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John Wildman is the former Head of Press and Public Relations for the American Film Institute. He is noted for innovating film festival public relations through his work as the Director of PR for film festivals such as AFI FEST, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles).

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