Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Boston Fantastic Film Festival

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong...

Ned didn't quite apologize for how horror-centric this year's edition of the BFFF was, but it had a lot of horror. He may have been looking directly at me when he mentioned there wasn't much sci--fi to show this year. I think the only stuff that really classified as non-horror was The Muppet Movie and Mindgame, but you get what's available. I'll readily admit reading Ain't It Cool and seeing what sort of nifty stuff Austin's first Fantastic Fest was getting tended to tick me off.

Still, this is a fun festival. It didn't escape my notice that it's shrunk another day since last year, although it still had roughly the same number of movies, with only Marebito, Muppets and Mindgame doubled up. The screenings I went to, especially the Muppet one, at least seemed well-attended, unlike last year's Darklight disaster. Anyway, part of making sure there's a Fourth BFFF is supporting the Brattle, so go to their website, buy stuff, make a donation, or at least check up what's coming up soon.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival)

Stephen King once said, and I'm heavily paraphrasing, that terror is the finest, most exquisite of human emotions, and what he aims to create in his writing - but, when he can't attain that, he'll go for the gross-out. Christopher Smith, the writer/director of Creep, may not have had that exact plan in mind, but it's the path he winds up following.

After an opening with two public works inspectors finding a previously unknown tunnel (and something sinister within), we're introduced to Kate (Franka Potente), a German lass living in London, leaving one party for another by way of the Underground. She rests her eyes for a moment on the platform, and when she wakes up she finds herself locked in until morning. She's not alone, though, which is a rather mixed blessing - the homeless couple is alright, even if they're junkies and not particularly helpful, but the co-worker who seems to have followed her (Jeremy Sheffield) intends rape and the deformed thing on a killing spree (Sean Harris) is even worse.

Read the rest at HBS.

Trapped by the Mormons

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival) (projected video)

I suspect that the dialogue in this 2005 version of Trapped by the Mormons is taken nearly verbatim from the original 1922 film apparently aimed at keeping the Latter-Day Saints out of Britain. I don't know how effective it was as propaganda, but if what I suspect is true, then it was probably an unintentional camp classic. This new edition is trying for the camp effect, but is much more successful than most films that take that route.

The story mirrors that of the original - young Manchester lady Nora Prescott (Emily Riehl-Bedford) is engaged to be married, but sinister Mormon recruiter Isoldi Keane (Johnny Kat) uses his incredible powers of Mesmerism on her, luring her away from her paralytic father with the intent of adding her to his hare - after all, not only is polygamy allowed by Mormonism, it's mandatory, even if Isoldi's wife Sadie (Monique LaForce) is traveling as his sister. But Nora's fiancé Jim (Brent Lowder) hasn't given up, and along with a detective "late of Scotland Yard", plots to rescue her.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival)

The activity of the horror fan is peculiar. They seek out things that frighten them, things that make little sense. It's fun to be scared, they say, but generally what is meant is that it's fun to be scared when you can rest relatively assured that you're safe soon afterward. The protagonist of Marebito is looking for things that scare him, too, but I don't know if he's really having fun.

Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance cameraman who on his way home sees a man commit suicide, plunging a knife into his eye as though he's seen something terrible. Wanting to know what it is, he retraces the man's path through the tunnels underneath Tokyo, going deeper until he finds an underground world with its own mythology and rules. He finds a young girl (Tomomi Miyashita) chained to a wall, naked, and brings her to the surface. He calls her "F", and finds her to be lethargic and unwilling to eat or drink anything - although it turns out he hasn't been trying the right things.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival) (projected video)

Reeker is a genre movie that totally rests on great execution. Fans familiar with the genre will recognize its pieces, its concept, its final twist. Movies like that can feel perfunctory and lackluster, or they can be easygoing, fun, cinematic comfort food. After all, if you know the structure and outline, you can ride along, appreciating the cleverness of the surprises and enjoying the fun details. Reeker is one of the fun ones.

Five college students get together for a ride share to a rave. They are Trip (Scott Whyte), a fun-loving, irresponsible type who just made off with far more ecstasy than he paid for; Nelson (Derek Richardson), his slightly more grounded friend; Cookie (Arielle Kebbel), a giggly little blonde thing; Gretchen (Tina Illman), the responsible South African girl supplying the car; and Jack (Devon Gummersall), her boyfriend's blind (but sweet) roommate. When Gretchen finds out about the drugs, she turns around to ditch Trip at the diner/hotel they last passed (dropping him by the road in the desert would probably kill him), but it's mysteriously abandoned, they're out of gas, and there's no phone reception. They'll just have to wait out the night, but unfortunately for them, this isn't the kind of movie where such a situation leads to truth-telling and changing relationships; it's the kind where gruesome killings are announced by a foul odor.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Muppet Movie

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival)

There's a moment at the end of The Muppet Movie, as the credits roll, that illustrates the reason for the lasting appeal of these characters (and this film) perfectly. Kermit the Frog, amid all the chaos and popcorn being thrown in the theater during the movie's first screening, walks up to Fozzie Bear and assures him that he was, in fact, funny (Fozzie had been worrying about that before the film started rolling). It's not just that this sort of interaction creates the impression that these obviously artificial characters have an exterior life. What Kermit does is an act of simple kindness and friendship that could easily go unnoticed amidst the gleeful anarchy, but that's always been Jim Henson's way - he had a knack for being decent and gentle without being stodgy or patronizing.

For those who have not seen The Muppet Movie before, it's about a singing, dancing frog (Kermit, performed by Henson) who is told of a studio holding auditions for frogs and decides to make his way to Hollywood to become rich and famous and make people happy. Along the way, he meets up with others who share the same dream - comedian Fozzie Bear (performed by Frank Oz), plumber The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and his chicken girlfriend Camilla, actress/model Miss Piggy (Oz), piano-playing dog Rowlf (Henson), and the Electric Mayhem Band - and is menaced by french-fried frog-leg restaurant entrepreneur Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), who aims to have Kermit as his spokesperson or his lunch.

Read the rest at HBS.

The Collingswood Story

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival) (projected video)

The high concept for The Collingswood Story is obvious - a horror story told completely through the characters' conversations with each other via webcam. This is not, in and of itself, a bad idea - stories told in the form of letters or diary entries have been around for centuries, Orson Welles saw the potential of combining this technique with mass media in his War of the Worlds broadcast, and The Blair Witch Project was a huge hit. Unfortunately, The Collingswood Story doesn't work nearly so well as those other examples.

Part of the problem is that it tries to cross media. Every shot in the movie is of a computer screen, although director Michael Costanze will often remove the faux Windows desktop after a minute or two, "zooming in" on the actual webcast. This makes for very static images, with half (or more) or the visual real estate relegated to a non-changing border, and the actual picture being one person sitting relatively still within the webcam's field of vision. Occasionally, we get an insert of a visual e-mail sent from one character to the other, but those aren't much better, being just shots through the front windshield of her car. This might work if we were actually watching these files on a computer screen, perhaps after hunting them down as in [i]A.I.[/i]'s famous promotional game, but in a theatrical environment (or even in the living room), we expect more dynamic composition and camerawork, rendering the movie inert. The occasional cut to strange, demonic flashes in the last act shakes things up a little, but also breaks form.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival)

Two of the three directors of horror anthology Three...Extremes are relatively well known in the American art-house/cult scene: Takashi Miike has become almost synonymous with Japanese "extreme" cinema with his prodigious output and willingness to put just about anything on screen to shock and disturb the audience; Park Chan-wook has gained critical acclaim for his fantastic JSA and his so-called "vengeance trilogy". As good as their segments are, though, it is the lesser-known Fruit Chan whose film will likely leave the strongest impression.

That film, "Dumplings", leads off the package, and if you can make it through this one, you probably won't have a whole lot of trouble with the other two. During the screening's introduction, we were told that someone passed out during this film's screening at Fantasia. My experience wasn't that extreme, but right around when it first became obvious what was going on, I noticed I was reacting differently than I do to most "horror" movies; rather than twisting my face and looking away, I was hunkering forward, because I may need to purge my stomach contents soon and wouldn't want to get that on the people sitting next to me. I didn't actually throw up, but the last time I movie hit me like that was with Irreversible. That feeling is real horror, not mere fear or disdain.

Read the rest at HBS.


Matt S. said...

I love how the only thing Amazon could find to pair with the last one was the word "Dumplings."

Jason said...

Actually, they suggested the entire works of Park Chan-Wook and Takashi Miike, but "dumplings" was a related search. I thought it would be amusing.

And it's worth a look when it hits town in a week or so, but before bringing the girlfriend, remember: That is one up-fucking movie.

Anonymous said...

I loved THREE... EXTREMES, especially Dumplings, though I would have expected Chanwook Park's or Miike's to be best. Definitely the better than EROS. Phooey on EROS.