SUNDANCE 2016: Capone looks at the midnighters Kevin Smith's YOGA HOSERS, Rob Zombie's 31, and THE GREASY STRANGLER!!!
Published at: Jan. 28, 2016, 9:23 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Park City, Utah once again attending the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Here are reviews of some of the higher-profile midnight titles I caught in the last week…
The weird thing about writer-director Kevin Smith’s followup to TUSK is that I get what he’s going for, even if he doesn’t quite get there, and that makes it all the more frustrating a watch. YOGA HOSERS (which is tangentially connected to TUSK as well as his next film, MOOSE JAWS) concerns the two teenage female Canadian convenience store clerks from TUSK (both named Colleen, played again by Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp.
Unlike Smith’s first film about clerks, these girls are especially interested in having in-depth conversations about sex and all manner of geeky topic. The Colleens have effectively checked out from the world around them by burying their faces in their cell phones and making caddy (and not especially funny) comments about everyone they come into contact with. What’s strange about the performances is that in the few scenes where the girls do engage with others in somewhat pleasant ways, they’re far more interesting. But it feels like they simply get tired faster when they’re nice, so they immediately snap back to cynicism and social media.
As bizarre as it might sound, the plot of YOGA HOSERS involves a string of killings in this small corner of Winnipeg that seem to involve tiny creatures burrowing their way into the asses of their victims, who turn out to have something in common. In fact, the intended victims of these murder are critics—art critics to be specifics—but I will admit that the killing of critics felt a little…ominous, even if the end goal of our heroes (the girls and returning sleuth Guy Lapointe, played by Johnny Depp in heavy makeup, which includes moles that move around his face with each new camera angle) is to stop these critics from their untimely deaths.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about YOGA HOSERS is that it finds Smith attempting something resembling family film mode. I’m fairly certain this movie could get a PG-13 rating, which means those who turn up for Smith’s films to hear characters practically invent to curse words are in for cold water to the face. Instead we get insults from the girls like “basic,” which doesn’t carry quite the punch as a typical piece of dialogue from Jason Mewes.
I liked the seemingly random inclusion of real-life Canadian führer Adrien Arcand (Haley Joel Osment) as a jumping off point for this story of creatures known as Brat-zis (all played by Kevin Smith). But for every somewhat inspired idea like that, we get three or four cliche-riddled elements and performance from the likes of Natasha Lyonne and Tony Hale as Depp’s parents. Admittedly, I did giggle a bit at some of the names of yoga poses dreamed up by the girls’ guru, Yogi Bayer (Justin Long)…get it?
There’s a free-floating, chaotic tone to YOGA HOSERS that you almost wish Smith has taken just a little more time to have the film make a modicum of sense. Characters appear and disappear with randomness that feels more like random plot elements drawn out of hat (the inclusion of two older boys, Austin Butler and Tyler Posey, in this story is such a time suck) and actor Ralph Garman’s German villain who also does impressions goes on for roughly a month; his impression as good, but don’t qualify as funny.
As someone who likes almost all of TUSK—with the exception of every drawn-out second that the elder Depp was one screen—it was particularly disheartening to see that his role has been expanded in YOGA HOSERS. Lapointe is now the worst character in two movies, so there’s that. Of course there are laughs; Smith can write snappy, funny, even clever dialogue when he sets his mind to it. But YOGA HOSERS feels like a half-baked script (which may not be far from the truth). And while the two young leads certainly have a personable quality that may serve them well if they choose to pursue acting in the years to come, they aren’t there yet, and their work here feel flat
The latest terrorfest from writer-director Rob Zombie has a terrific opening, with a static shot of a shadowy figure approaching the camera, getting right up close to the lens with his cracked, painted face and crooked teeth and talking a truly menacing tone about how he’s about to kill us. It’s a lasting image that is rarely matched in terms of anxiety- and terror-inducing thrills. 31 is Zombie’s return to the fringe entertainment circuit, this time tackling the modern wave of carnies who are forced into a deadly survival game by a group of foppish members of the upper crust, led by the fancy man known as Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell).
The overall structure of the film is a group of five road-weary carnies (including Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, and Jeff Daniel Phillips) driving on Halloween day circa 1976. They’re a great deal of rabble-rousing happening in their RV, but it’s mostly harmless fun. There are few things less interesting in film than watching other people party, but Zombie seems to enjoy it, and he manages to capture a bit of the loose vibe that he did in what remains his bets work, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. But before long, the group are captured by agents of this order led by Father Murder and forced to take part in a murder game called 31, in which they must see how many—if any—can survive 31 hours in a environment fully loaded with freaky killers of all shapes and sizes, such as little people, chainsaw-swings maniac brothers, and a rather flexible lady killer (E.G. Daily) named Sex-Head.
I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of game-style horror films (the SAW films seemed too staged to me and rarely scary beyond the first entry), but Zombie puts a lot of emphasis the images of these killers, which carries a great deal of sway when it comes to how terrifying they are or aren’t. Zombie’s visuals have always been his strength as a director, and I actually thought he was headed in a truly curious and interesting direction with his last work, LORDS OF SALEM. With 31, the horror tropes are in full effect, but Zombie usually finds ways to spruce them up a little and make them that much more grotesque.
But as the film goes on and bodies pile up (on both sides of the killer/victim equation, 31 loses a great deal of its heft and adventurous spirit. Zombie’s films typically exist in a chaotic space, so to condemn him for making a messy and confusing piece doesn’t really work a a criticism doesn’t really hold water since you go in knowing that. Truth be told, 31 is a fairly straight-forward narrative that holds your interest even if it doesn’t pay off in a gratifying way. Even with the Zombie movies I don’t like as much, they always leave me curious about what he’ll be going for next. There are pieces of 31 I quite admired from an aesthetic perspective, so all Zombie needs to do now is fine tune the stories he’s actually telling and worry slightly less about exactly how hillbilly his characters are from movie to movie. daughter Lily-Rose Depp.
THE GREASY STRANGLER
Certainly one of the most talked about and divisive films of the Sundance midnighters (or any film at Sundance this year) was THE GREASY STRANGLER, a film with many objectives but only one true goal: to send audience members out of the theater both entertained and slightly queasy. From the minds of director/co-writer Jim Hosking (who did a segment in THE ABCs OF DEATH 2) and co-writer Toby Harvard, come an L.A. story about a father-son team that is impossible to drive from you mind once you’ve laid eyes on them. In fact, when I saw the actors playing them around Park City in the days after the Sundance premiere (which was bizarrely frequent), I had to avert my eyes or run to the other side of the street for fear of being caught in their greasy grasp.
The elderly, crusty Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) runs a “disco tour” of Los Angeles, in which he takes customers to random houses around the area, claiming that various major disco events happened there or players lived there (we have to assume he’s full of shit, as well as grease). His put-upon son Brayden (Sky Elobar, who I last saw in DON VERDEEN) wants desperately to break free of his insane and fiery-tempered father, but lacks the confidence or social graces to do so for any length of time. Big Ronnie berates Brayden for never having been with a woman, and rubs in his face about all the sex he has. And their screaming sessions are the first line of fire in THE GREASY STRANGLER’s campaign to make you uneasy almost from frame one.
Ronnie is also a serial killer, fueled by greasy foods (and sometimes just vats of lard and the remnants from grease traps). He becomes a murderous creature coated in a thick layer of grease that makes him look like a melting candle, with his massive drippy dong on full display. Tasty. Many of the arguments between father and son center on Brayden not making their meals greasy enough. Once Ronnie has killed, he runs to his local carwash and sends himself through the scrubbers and brushers to scrape off the grease. It’s awful to watch, which of course is the point.
I can say with confidence that THE GREASY STRANGER is not a film you talk about in terms of “liking” or “disliking.” It’s a film to survive. They should hand out t-shirts at the end of every screening declaring “I survived The Greasy Strangler”. It’s an experience you endure; it’s relentless in its assault on your patience, nerves, stomach, ears, and eyes. It’s also a full-on cavalry charge on your definition of entertainment. Lines are chanted over and over under you want to scream at the screen to just fucking stop, but it doesn’t and it won’t. This is a cult film in search of an audience (and I have no doubt it will find one), and it has some of the most ambitious roster of genre producers (including Elijah Wood’s new genre house and Alamo Drafthouse found Tim League) I’ve seen on one project, and they know exactly what they have on their hands.
Probably my favorite character in THE GREASY STRANGLER was Brayden’s girlfriend Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo from “Eastbound & Down”), who is tempted to stray by Big Ronnie’s sheer, volatile presence. Almost from the first scene, Hosking seemed to be channeling old-school John Waters without the social commentary, employing inexperienced actors delivering lines with the same enthusiasm you’d have reading the list of possible side effects or a strong prescription drug. I’m not entirely sure such a drug wasn’t slipped in my drink during this movie.
If you’re having trouble figuring out whether I’m recommending THE GREASY STRANGLER or not, that’s kind of the point, and you’re not alone. I tend to admire films that are demented and aren’t afraid to work your last nerve in the spirit of being something different—good or bad doesn’t really factor in. This is a mind-fuck, face-melt, primal scream of a film that taps away and your brain, daring you not to punch it in its juicy face. This is a film that doesn’t care about consequences, or who it offends or sickens, or whose moral code it violates. There is something for everyone to hate, which isn’t a condemnation at all. You may hate it with every fiber of your being, but you’ll never, ever forget it, and I’m fairly certain the filmmakers will be just fine with that result.