WEB EXCLUSIVE: Independent films, a healthy antidote to Hollywood’s summer drivel

Sean Ammerman

Documentaries dominate summer movie scene

Once again this summer, megaplexes were dominated by remakes and comic book adaptations.

The only way to avoid typical Hollywood regurgitations was to check out what the independent filmmakers had to offer.

Unfortunately, there was no indie sleeper hit this summer like there has been in the past (Lost in Translation, Napoleon Dynamite), but there were a few films lucky enough to break into the mainstream.

MTV Films, perhaps in an effort to rekindle the success it had with Dynamite, picked up two independents, Hustle & Flow and Murderball.

Not surprisingly, both films were winners of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in their respected genres (Dramatic and Documentary).

Ironically, the winners of the Grand Jury Prize have yet to see widespread release.

Writer/director Craig Brewer’s debut effort, Hustle & Flow, concerns a soft-hearted pimp with dreams of making it as a rapper. The subject matter of hookers and johns may put off some viewers, but believe it or not, this is a feel-good movie where it’s least expected. The pimp’s struggle to overcome his mid-life crisis is ultimately a story of redemption and perseverance.

Despite a predictable ending, this film manages to entertain and uplift.

Another indie that found a big distributor was Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, the horror sequel to 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses. The film’s throw-back nature to old-school slashers like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes was well done, and the southern-rock soundtrack featuring The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd was an interesting touch — and put to great use in the final scene, with “Free Bird” blaring as the murderous heroes are shot to pieces.

Because of its thin plot, ridiculous dialogue and characters with bad teeth, pass on The Devil’s Rejects and stick to the films that inspired it.

Independent documentaries, spearheaded by recent moneymakers Fahrenheit 9/11 and Supersize Me, are becoming more popular than ever.

With films like March of the Penguins, Murderball, Mad Hot Ballroom, The Aristocrats and Grizzly Man generating buzz, it seems that the real artistic development for independent films may be in nonfiction.

One of these films, March of the Penguins, became one of the highest grossing documentaries ever by appealing to families and younger audiences. Not your typical National Geographic film, it tells the little-known story of the penguins’ journey to raise their chicks in the harshest weather in the world. The filmmakers did an excellent job making this story easy to relate to by portraying these animals as passionate, loving creatures.

Who would have thought the world’s greatest date movie would be about penguins?

For those who enjoy a more testosterone fueled documentary, Murderball is the film to watch. The film documents the incredibly competitive and under-reported sport of quad rugby, and the lives of the quadriplegics involved. Also distributed by MTV films, it features the kinetic editing and loud soundtrack often associated with the channel.

Revealing that a true competitive spirit does not die with injuries, Murderball is as inspiring as it is exciting.

The best film idea of the summer should go to The Aristocrats. With its premise based solely on a dirty vaudeville joke, it is simply one comic after another doing their own interpretation of the joke on cheap camcorders. By featuring memorable renditions by the likes of Bob Saget, George Carlin and Gilbert Gottfried, there is no way this film can miss.

The antithesis of Penguins, this would be a good date film if you find scatological and incest humor romantic.

For the most part, the summer’s independent films were successful, and with the Grand Jury Prize winners (Why We Fight and Forty Shades of Blue) still set for release, we can expect the best is yet to come.

Contact ALL reporter Sean Ammerman at [email protected].