Friday, March 24, 2006

Boston Underground Film Festival: Days 1-2

I think this is my first time at BUFF. It's always been interesting, but located in odd venues and jumping around the calendar. This year, they're partnering with the Brattle and having most of the screenings take place in easy walking distance. All three programs I've seen thus far have been at the little movie house on Brattle Street, but by the time it's over I'll likely hit shows at the Harvard Film Archive and Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

I'll be honest - I don't expect to love a lot of the features I'll be seeing. I'm fairly squeamish and don't have a lot of love for films that are really out to shock. Hence my only seeing one program last night (no way I go to Modify; it just sounds ga-ross). But, there looks to be a lot of good short films - including a program of silent sci-fi horror and what is apparently the U.S. premiere of Guy Maddin's latest. I love shorts and pounce on every chance to see the on the big screen that I can get.

Of course, by the time you read this, some of these won't be viewable again (Shorts Program One is playing Saturday Midnight at the Coolidge), so I've included links where I could find them.

Shorts Program One: Feast of the Bizarre and Insane

Seen 22 March 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Underground Film Festival)

"Christopher Ford Sees a Film" (video) - * * * * - At four minutes, this is a one-joke short. But it's a great joke. It's something we've all wanted to do after a terrible movie, with writer/actor Ford and director Jake Schreier timing everything perfectly, making good use of their cobbled-together props. No dialogue, but ends with a great gesture.

"Don't Fuck With Love" (video) - * * * ¾ - Very funny music video for a song by the Sad Little Stars, done up as an animated pop-up book. Funny cartoon stuff.

"The Fine Art of Poisoning" (video) - * * - An interesting-looking animated short by Bill Domonkos and Jill Tracy. Kind of pretty, but didn't make a great impression on me.

"Over Time" (video) - * * * - A thoroughly creepy CGI movie with a swarm of Kermit-like puppets playing around and mourning their creator in a way. I liked it, although there's something very odd about using CGI to animate pupets, beyond the pupil-less eyes the puppets have.

"Kinetoscope" (16mm) - * * * ½ - Fourth wall obliteration as a projectionist has a gruesome accident and winds up in the middle of the horror movie he's projecting. Lots of great fake-outs.

"Duck Children" (35mm) - * * ½ - Odd and off-putting, as a group of children in duck costumes perform in a school play, with one unable to keep in sync with the others. She notices there's something amiss, and then when a hunter with an eye dangling by a slinky shows up... Weird, and I'm not a big fan of sticking children in something like this.

"A Kind of Screaming" (35mm) - * * - Based on the works of Bukowski, a poet fights writer's block. Artsy, in that "I'm an artist and thus special" way.

"Los ABCs: Que vivan los muertos!" (35mm) - * * ¼ - Flash-animated looking thing as an undead mariachi band recites the alphabet, with each letter representing someone who died horribly. Some amuse, but somewhere around "N", I sort of had the point.

"Flesh" (35mm) - * ½ - I'm not going to be one of the guys who says 9/11 is some way off-limits, but I don't really get where the director's going with this, where planes crash into New York skyscrapers overlaid with naked women. Maybe something about how the city is perceived in to fundamentalist Muslims, but that makes it uncomfortably catchy.

"My Dad Is 100 Years Old" (35mm) - * * * ½ - The newest offering from eccentric Winnipeg director Guy Maddin is written by his Saddest Music In The World star Isabella Rossellini, who also stars as herself, David O. Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin, and Ingrid Bergman as she reminisces about her father Roberto Rossellini. It contains all the usual Maddin flourishes, and the affection Ms. Rossellini has for her father comes through loud and clear. Of course, the way the film talks about prizing reality means I probably won't be interested in his films any time soon.

The French Guy

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Underground Film Festival)

During the Q&A after the movie, filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming said she couldn't watch "icky" films. Which is fine, but it means that she was making The French Guy for reasons other than it being the sort of movie she would like to see. Which leads me to wonder - if someone doesn't particularly like this sort of black comedy as a genre, how are they to know when they've made a really good one?

One way, I suspect, is to ask yourself whether these characters would be entertaining if they were in a less repellent situation. If they're not, then you're probablly confusing shock value with genuine humor, and while there's nothing at all wrong with delivering a jolt, there's a good chance that it won't be as effective because we don't have the personal investment in these characters that would make it really shocking and horrific. That's a big issue for this film; it strings a series of weird and grotesque events together, but doesn't Fleming have the feel for the genre needed to really drive them home.

Read the rest at HBS.

Bill's Dirty Shorts

Seen 23 March 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Underground Film Festival) (projected video)

It's tough to say much about these, since the typical Plympton short is composed of many smaller shorts. He tells a quick joke, executed perfectly with nifty hand-drawn art style.

Sadly, Plympton wasn't able to actually host as had been billed; his 89-year-old father is fighting cancer on the other side of the country. We wish them the best.

"Sex & Violence" - * * * ¾ - A collection of mini-shorts, mostly laugh-out-loud funny. "People Confused About Priorities" is my favorite recurring segment.

"The Exciting Life of a Tree" - * * * * - A tree defends itself against animals, loggers, and the like. Funny stuff, especially the tree which can't change its colors on cue and needs encouragement.

"More Sex and Violence" - * * * - A follow-up which isn't quite as good as the first, but still has several gut-splittingly funny bits.

"Can't Drag Race With Jesus" - * * * - A revival sings about how you can't beat Jesus at drag racin' or rock 'n roll. How Jesus wins is delightfully snort-worthy.

"Eat" - * * * ¼ - Some very beautiful bits, especially the lonely man imagining his date, but it ends on just nasty gross-out stuff.

"Parking" - * * * ¼ - A parking lot attendant fights a blade of grass. Ends on a happier note than most of his cartoons.

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