Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Actress Apocalypse

* * (out of four)
Seen 4 December 2004 at Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (Midnight Ass-Kickings)

My strongest obligation Saturday night was to my brother, a theater/cinema major at Northeastern University who had a play to perform. After that was done, there were only a couple of hours to kill until the start of Actress Apocalypse, a film co-written, produced, and starring Garo Nigoghossian, the fellow who programs the "Midnight Ass-Kicking" series as the Coolidge. Now, I don't actually know Garo - I could pick him out of a lineup, but he probably couldn't reciprocate. But anyone who has attended one of his screenings at either the Coolidge or the demolished-and-replaced-by-a-Staples Allston Cinema over the past couple years will recognize his enthusiasm for grindhouse movies of all stripes. And when you're looking at a microscopically-budgeted movie, enthusiasm counts for a lot.

I don't doubt that Garo and company had fun making this movie. I mean, hey, naked girls, and they're working a kind of self-referential vibe that probably makes it easy to deflate anyone on the set who starts getting too full of himself. And with so little discernable acting talent on display, fun had better be part of the equation.

The plot, such as it is, involves a man trying to make a movie with his brother; what we see was supposed to be the making-of documentary. That the director (Nigoghossian) thinks his movie about a woman being terrorized by a big, mulletted Indian will merit supplemental features on its eventual DVD release is indicative about his mindset; he makes grand pronouncements about this being the greatest movie ever made, despite the fact that it is being made in a shed behind his house. The trouble starts on the first day when only one actress shows up for work; disgusted, she doesn't return for a second day, leading the group (which includes a cameraman and a thoroughly incompetent key grip) to argue, regroup, and reconsider the movie. Things get worse during the next round of auditions, when the brother strangles the auditioning actress.

Actress Apocalypse is a more professionally made movie than what it chronicles, though not by a huge order of magnitude. The actresses in the movie were cast, as one might have already suspected, by director Rich Aransky's wife taking a job at a Florida Hooters and recruiting there. The cast, for the most part, does a bit better than just reciting/reading their lines, but not enough so you'd offer them a job doing this. The production values are sub-Troma, and the editing...

Oh, Lord, the editing. The more movies I see that were edited on someone's Mac, the more I appreciate that this may be the hardest part of making a movie. Good editing doesn't stick out the way a nice score, an amazing performance, or a beautifully composed shot does, but bad editing absolutely kills a movie in a way few other elements can. Here, there's just too much editing, with shots of the actresses doing stripteases in what were apparently secret earlier auditions are intercut with scenes of another movie entirely, and bits of text appear for a few frames at random. The line between filling the screen with stuff that will be fun to find when you can pause the DVD and taunting the people who buy a ticket with stuff they can't possibly take in isn't exactly fine, and this movie is on the wrong side of it.

(Admittedly, I'm not sure how many beyond the 53 of us at the Coolidge will ever pay for a ticket.)

So how does it get two whole stars? It's got one trick that it does very, very well - the funny scene transition. Nearly every intertitle basically contradicts the director character's stated hopes at the end of the previous scene, in a positively withering way. This movie is not quite so skilled at it as, say, Arrested Development, but it is nevertheless able to punctuate its chaos with frequent zings. Garo's pretentious and deluded director is also a funny character, if not always a well-acted one.

Movies like Actress Apocalypse are true independent films, even if their ambitions aren't nearly as high-minded as the productions we associate with that label (which are made for mere six- or seven-figure budgets). Thousands probably get made every year, dying when festival programmers and video distributors aren't interested. This one got to play a midnight show at an independant theater and will get a release on DVD via Crash Cinema in 2005, which means it's already more successful than most of its brethren.

And of course, when people look at my 2004 film list, they'll say "you put that above Dogville?"

1 comment:

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