Today, on my first full day of SXSW, I learned the importance of picking the right movie. There are so many films playing at any given moment at the festival, that figuring out which direction to head is really the biggest challenge of the whole thing. The problem is, when you pick wrong you can’t go back and change it. If you end up sitting in a bad movie, while you’ve been there you’ve missed your chance to see something better somewhere else.

The question is, how do you choose? You got me. I gave it my best shot today, and ended up with two real stinkers. At least my third film of this Saturday was a winner:

The Ten
If you’ve seen any of the trailers for The Ten, you probably think it’s a poignant and funny multiple connected stories movie in the vein of Crash. It’s not. Instead, it’s 90 minutes of random, really bad sketch comedy from the guys who brought you The State. I’m talking really stupid stuff here, it’s the kind of sketch comedy usually reserved for late-afternoons on Comedy Central. Sorry guys, recycling characters from one sketch to the next doesn’t count as a unifying theme, and it doesn’t make this any more a movie and any less a bunch of half thought out shorts.

So it’s a mystery how they got this cast. The film is loaded with big name, quality stars. Actually if I’m honest, that’s the real reason I was in a seat for it. I’m a huge fan of Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol, and Famke Janssen. I was curious to see what Winona Ryder and Jessica Alba were up to. Winona was apparently there because she has a thing for wood. As for the others, what they were up to was making a montage of shit sketches which, while probably funny when getting stoned on the set, are not at all funny up on screen.

The only thing stitching all the bad sketches together is a barely adhered to premise. Each sketch is supposed to, in some way or another, relate to one of the Ten Commandments. Paul Rudd stands in a blank room with two stone tablets, and introduces the sketches while at the same time dealing with his own problems. It’s a good premise, but they don’t make much use of it. The Ten can’t even manage to follow its own rules. While some of the sketches stick pretty strongly to the commandments things, others are connected only by the slimmest of threads. Rather than try to fix it, the film seems to take perverse delight in the way it makes absolutely no sense. I think it’s supposed to be funny in some strange ironic way that the movie isn’t actually funny and doesn’t really say anything or do anything. But it’s not funny to make a shitty movie guys, it’s just shitty.

The exception to this is a single sketch, in which Gretchen Mol manages to have sex with Jesus. Christ the savior makes love and then rides a Segway while his exploits are narrated in Spanish by a dirty-minded old Mexican. It’s good. It’s genuinely creative, and it’s seriously funny. But that’s one tenth of the film, and not enough to justify The Ten’s existence.

After sitting through The Ten I was ready to see something good. Unfortunately I was also ready to eat, and I’m afraid my stomach got the better of me. I ended up trekking across town to the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar to see Sisters, a film which I’d already skipped once because frankly, it looked suspect. But the Alamo Lamar serves food, and my other choice was at the Paramount which doesn’t. Damn my empty belly.

Sisters is writer/director Douglas Buck’s attempt at revamping the 1973 De Palma horror classic of the same name. It’s the tale of two formerly conjoined twins tortured by a sadistic doctor, and the plucky journalist who tries to save them. But it’s the audience that needs saving.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie this bad. The film fails on every conceivable level. The acting is atrocious. Chloe Sevigny gives the worst performance of her career as the nosy reporter character. Stephen Rae seems to be lost, attempting some sort of bizarre blending of Clark Kent and Dr. Evil with his mad scientist character. And the script is doing them no favors. It’s a bland, lifeless affair full of idiotic and irritatingly stupid logical gaps, of the type a procedural mystery thriller like this can’t afford. Douglas Buck’s direction is so boring and uninspired, that he makes even brutal blood and guts murder scenes utterly uninteresting.

This is a movie so bad it hurts. I came in with a smile, and left with shooting pains behind my eyes. Watching it is like being wrongfully imprisoned, and if I wasn’t my job to sit through it and give the entire thing a fair shake from beginning to end, I’d have grabbed a spoon and started digging my way to China. Sisters is the worst thing I’ve seen at SXSW so far. The good news is that this has to be my festival viewing bottoming out. It can’t get any worse.

After Sisters I really needed a recharge. That’s code for I spilled grease all over my shirt while scarfing down a burger in the dark. So it was back to the hotel and the SXSW scene downtown. My next screening was one I’ve been looking forward to for weeks now. The US premiere of Black Sheep, in a midnight showing at the original Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. The scene around the Alamo was chaotic to say the least. Austin party life was in full swing when I arrived, and I consider my hour standing in line out front watching scantily clad drunk women stumble down the street an hour very well spent.

Black Sheep
It’s already been said by others, but it bears repeating. Black Sheep is this year’s Slither. If you don’t know why that’s a good thing, then read no further. Black Sheep is a lot of fun.

The premise is simple. New Zealand’s sheep are angry. Really angry. A genetically engineered virus is spreading throughout a sheep ranch, and the flocks are ripping people to shreds. It’s up to Oliver Oldfield to stop them. Oliver, unfortunately, has a severe sheep phobia. Oh and his brother is the power mad asshole who came up with the evil sheep virus in the first place.

The film follows Oliver in a race across his brother’s farm, and doesn’t spare the gore while doing it. Most of the best stuff in Black Sheep plays out a lot like the killer rabbit scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Those sheep are dynamite! The effects are fantastically, campy fun. The work of WETA workshop, yeah that WETA workshop, the guys who made Lord of the Rings look so damn cool.

First time writer/director Jonathan King really seems to know what he’s doing. The movie looks sharp, the script is confident and free of all the horrible genre cliché’s that might weigh a campy movie like this down. There’s none of the horror movie stupidity that plagues so many other movies. When a sheep shows up looking angry, people get suspicious and run. They don’t walk up to it and start petting it. The tone is pitch perfect, the cast is brilliantly hilarious. It’s the kind of movie you see with a big group of friends and a few beers. There just aren’t enough of those around anymore. So few filmmakers do this sort of movie right.

Hollywood’s too obsessed with pushing horror toward PG-13 to capture that all powerful teen demographic. King flips PG-13 the bird and fills his movie with all the blood, guts, gore, and insanity he can herd into it. Indie filmmakers are too worried about being taken seriously. King drops his pants and fucks a few sheep for laughs. Black Sheep is a blast, and after a pair of real stinkers today, a little bit of violent shearing turned out to be the perfect way to unwind.

That’s it for Saturday. I need sleep because tomorrow I’m up at the crack of… um… 11am to attend Grindhouse 101, Robert Rodriguez’s panel discussion about his new movie with QT and all things grindhouse. For all of CB’s SXSW 2007 coverage click here.
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