The popular perception of Sundance films involves seriousness: gritty dramas, documentaries about urgent issues, etc. But the festival is sometimes at its best when it goes a little nuts.
In any truly nuts movie, there comes a point where the truly-nuts-ness might start to get wearying; it’s a success to the extent that you can roll with the extent to which it pushes its “what the hell, let’s try this” attitude. Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of the cult Internet serial John Dies at the End starts off with its crazy meter at 10, and only dials it up from there. The framing narrative finds a guy named David Wong (Chase Williamson) meeting with a journalist (Paul Giamatti) to reveal the unbelievable chain of events that turned David and his pal John (Rob Mayes) from everyday slackers to warriors against the threat of extra-dimensional invasion with precognitive powers as a result of a mysterious drug. The tone is gleefully funny-gross from literally the opening shot, and from there segues neatly into scenes that involve a woman’s face exploding into a pile of snakes, a guy’s moustache tearing itself free from his face and flying around the room, a psychic Jamaican and a dog that can drive a car. It’s generally great fun in spite of B-grade performances by everyone but the wonderfully game Giamatti, and the only real problem is that 108 minutes is way too long for something that needs to be light on its feet. But after the dragged-out climax, even the epilogue offers laughs that any comedy should aspire too—even ones where doorknobs don’t turn into penises.
If it is true, as I believe, that a work of art were only really interesting if it inspires a wildly contrarian analysis, then Rodney Ascher's Room 237 has demonstrated that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining may be the most interesting movie ever made. Ascher interviews five individuals whose various wild interpretations of the film—as assessment of the genocide of Native American Indians; as Holocaust allegory; as confession that Kubrick was involved in staging moon-landing footage—are scattered across the Internet, offering “close readings” that start to make a demented sort of sense the more freeze-framed snippets of footage you watch. The interviewees never appear on screen, their ideas simply illustrated by The Shining itself and various other film clips (mostly from other Kubrick movies) that make it clear Ascher is poking a bit of fun at these crackpot ideas. Yet he’s also providing a wonderfully entertaining primer on the way extra-textuality inevitably sneaks its way into criticism, and how you’ll almost always find what you’re looking for if you’re willing to spend enough time staring. When is a continuity error just a continuity error—and when is it a fascinating insight into the mind of the person who notices it?