Thursday, March 30, 2006

Boston Underground Film Festival: Day 4

Saturday wound up being a pretty long day at the festival, since the 9:15pm showing of Let The Eat Rock! sold out, but they added a second show at 10:45. The bad news was that the short that was advertised didn't run with it, and we apparently just got the director rather than the band; the good news was that we got to see it in the HFA's main auditorium rather than room B04, which is not bad for a classroom used for screening, but not on the same level as the main room.

Sometime at the start of "Distress Management", I started to feel like I had had enough unpleasant stuff. 7pm had the choice of two nasty-sounding ones, and I wasn't originally going to see Let Them Eat Rock; it just suddenly seemed more appealing than Neighborhood Watch, which had a neat premise but a trailer that promised nastiness. Just got to be enough, you know? It seemed like all the narrative features were like that at a certain point.

The Barn

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Underground Film Festival)

The Barn is an answer to the question "what's the most movie you can make with almost no resources?" For most of its eighty minutes, it gets by with two actors (who also wrote the script), one set, and one sheep. It is, therefore, a pretty fair accomplishment when the movie maintains the audience's interest, keeping the focus on escaping from the barn, as opposed to the theater.

We are trapped in the barn with two unnamed Americans, one skinny and excitable with curly brown hair (Jake Broder), the other bald and wearing glasses (Adam Long). They came to deliver a briefcase to two English gangsters (Gerard Kelly and Mel Radio). Displeased with the contents, the thugs get the drop on the couriers, locking them in the barn where the exchange took place and drive off, saying something vague about coming back to shoot them later. When the skinny one regains his senses, he becomes aware that the barn is solid brick, the door is locked, the windows are barred, and once you get past the dirt and hay, the floor is solid cement. How a sheep later appears while they sleep is a perplexity.

Read the rest at HBS.

Shorts Program 5: Just For Laughs

Seen 25 March 2006 at the Harvard Film Archive Room B04 (Boston Underground Film Festival)

"Baby Pepper" - * ¾ - Oooh, you're so underground and edgy, you make jokes about pepper-spraying babies! If you'd made it funny, that'd be one thing, but for this, you're just a jerk.

"Monkey Walken" - * * - The form used (a monkey puppet with CGI eyes and mouth added) is kind of off-putting, and all the idea is amusing, the guy doing Monkey Walken's voice comes closer to Chris Rock than Christopher Walken.

"Fancy" - * * * ½ - Heh. This one's got a raunchy set-up: A young woman recounting her first visit to a scuzzy new male gynecologist to her roommate, and while it builds to a crude and funny punchline, it's better than a one-joke short, getting a lot of extra laughs in its quick four minute run-time.

"Frozen Food Section" - * * ¾ - The second Bukowski-inspired short of the festival (and better than "A Kind of Screaming"), it's pretty funny in its over-the-top reaction to a man groping a woman's bottom in the supermarket, although it only gets a laugh, rather than the guffaw something this broad is aiming for.

"Amateur" - * * * - A twenty minute short that could be expanded to feature length. The best part of this story about a guy who meets disaster trying to shoot a porn movie in Vegas is the NAME, the actress playing his little sister who fronts him her bat mitzvah money and clearly intimidates the heck out of her screw-up brother.

"Nick Price: Photobooth Detective" - * * * - A flagrantly silly bit showing a fedora'd detective beating a bunch of pulp villains in four photobooth shots each. Yeah, those stories really were that straightforward.

"Atomic Spitballs" - * * * ¼ - There's not a whole lot of milage to be gotten from spoofing 1950s sci-fi movies, but this one does a pretty good job by getting in and out within fifteen minutes, putting in funny visuals such as the girl who prefers a pipe to cigarettes, and having some pretty snazzy visual effects. I'm curious to see what director Brett Ansty could do with feature-type resources, even if the movie does sort of disintegrate at the end.

"Uso Justo" - * * * ½ - Frequently hilarious film made entirely with subtitling and editing. Coleman Miller takes a 1950s Spanish melodrama and remakes it as a story about a town looking forward to the shooting of an experimental film in their neighborhood, only to discover that they're merely found footage.

Shorts Program 4: Distress Management

Seen 25 March 2006 at the Harvard Film Archive (Boston Underground Film Festival)

"Pretty Kitty" - * * - Have you ever watched a movie and gotten the idea that it's just looking to be generally unpleasant without really giving the audience anything to chew on. That, yeah, it makes a certain kind of sense, but why would you watch this for entertainment? This is like that, only it becomes almost completely nonsensical toward the end.

"Disposer" - * * * - Lots of times, trying to get funny from gory just doesn't work, but this one does because one of the characters is able to go from being vaguely creepy and pathetic to being a good straight man.

"Dead" - * * ¾ - A stylish music-video type short that chronicles a bullet passing through a man's brain in super amazing ultra slow back-and-forth cutting motion. I imagine there is a lot of second-guessing during that split-second.

"Slice of Heaven" - * * * - Is this movie trying to say something? Probably. Damned if I know what, but the contrast of the lush, beautifully green plants and happy domesticity and the creepy secret beneath it is a bit unnerving.

"Laundromancer" - * * ¼ - Wait... No... Let me guess... The guy talking to his sister on the phone about the girl he sees at the laundermat every night is more sinister than he appears!

"Blackout" - * * - Ah, weird "was there a crime or is he being messed with" short subjects. What would a film festival be without them.

"Legion: The Word Made Flesh" - * * * ¼ - A pretty complete miniature horror movie, complete with a prologue and a finale that leaves stuff open for a sequel. Solid exorcism-and-possession stuff, with good characters and a genuinely creepy feel.

"The Working Stiff" - * * * - Nifty little zombie movie with a slightly humorous hook - another corpse at the crematorium is walking around - that darkens up nicely as it goes along.

"Tea Break" - * ¾ - Ooh, I get it! We're combining grotesque violence with utter mundanity! How droll!

"Monsters" - * * * - Creepy kids. Nothing makes a body uneasy like kids with real, unvarnished hostility.

Let Them Eat Rock

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2006 at the Harvard Film Archive (Boston Underground Film Festival)

How can you tell that Boston/Cambridge is an academically-oriented town? Well, there's the way the population swells by around half a million people when school is in session, but how many other places would give rise to a band like The Upper Crust - a serviceable enough group of hard rockers that take the stage in pantaloons, make-up, and powdered wigs to sing about the travails of being idle English gentlemen in the mid-eighteenth century? You get novelty acts everywhere, but seldom ones as relatively popular and nerdy.

We meet the band in 1995, as they're just starting to break out. At the moment, they're playing venues like The Middle East in Cambridge, but in a few weeks they're booked for an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The middle section deliberately recalls A Hard Day's Night, as the band members get ready for their big show. But first, we've got to get to know the members, and they're an interestingly diverse group.

Read the rest at HBS.

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