Monday, April 02, 2007

Boston Underground Film Festival Saturday: When Is Tomorrow?, Urban Explorers, and Viva

Ugh. I meant to get some of this up a week ago. Once I saw I wasn't going to have anything done before heading out to the Eye Opener Sunday morning, I decided to get full reviews written. Then I got hammered at work and started feeling like crap, so that took longer than expected.

I forgot Lesson #1 about Film Festival Screening: Everything Is Always Late. Urban Explorers started very late, so when I got out of it and to the Brattle for The Hamster Cage, I was already fifteen minutes late, so I passed. I knew it was going to be close, anyway, so I was half-expecting it. Of course, when I was in line for Viva later on, I found out it was late because the earlier show had started twenty minutes after its scheduled time...

After seeing Viva, I kind of wondered if I had made a mistake, because it's the kind of painfully self-aware film that drives me nuts, while Fatality was playing down the road at the AMC. Why was I at this when there was a rotoscoped Russian sci-fi movie playing at the same time? Because Viva was on film and had a filmmaker present. By the end, I was justifying it by saying that BUFF's Kevin Monahan and Fantasia's Mitch Davis were obviously comparing notes, so there was a good chance I would see Fatality in Montreal this July.

Here's hoping, anyway.

When Is Tomorrow

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 March 2007 at The Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival IX)

This movie is about as indie as you get. Shot on digital video in Austin, Texas with a small crew (several doing double duty as members of the cast), it maintains a tight focus on its central characters and relationship at all times. It's the kind of story that independent films have no real disadvantage compared to studio projects, and may have an advantage, since dozens of people trying to contribute will probably only hurt it.

When Is Tomorrow has a starting point particularly popular in indie film and theater - two people who haven't seen each other in a while meeting for the first time in years, initially being glad to see each other, but soon being reminded why they parted ways. In this case, Ron (Eddie Steeples) has flown into Austin from New York for his old roommate Jake's wedding. In the five years since they saw each other last, Ron has become a successful poet while Jake (Kevin Ford) is mostly breaking even as a window washer. As bachelor parties go, Jake's desires are modest - hang out with Ron and smoke one of the great joints he used to roll, despite Ron's protests that he doesn't do that any more. But Jake is insistent, and has a way of wearing Ron down.

Many of us either have or have had someone like Jake in our lives. Jake is selfish, irresponsible, and inconsiderate; the likes of Ron put up with it because they don't detect any malice in it and because some small part of them envies the ability to live like that. Ford plays Jake as a guy who has never fully grown up, and there's more than a bit of monster in his man-child. He pushes Ron in ways that initially just seem to come from awkwardness, but eventually seem more calculated. Jake just doesn't get that he causes trouble and breeds resentment, even when he's doing it on purpose.

Read the rest at HBS.

Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 March 2007 at AMC Harvard Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival IX)

We've all wondered, at some point, just what was behind a closed door, especially if we had never seen anyone else use it. We don't really know, of course, since most of those doors say "keep out" and most of us are willing to follow those instructions. Urban explorers are the people who don't, instead seeing a potential adventure in every locked door, abandoned building, or manhole cover.

A montage of news reports about urban explorers who got caught - occasionally spending a few days in jail, since people loitering around abandoned buildings and infrastructure with caving equipment raise a red flag to law enforcement - suggests where Minneapolis-based filmmaker Melody Gilbert became aware of the phenomenon. She initially follows explorers in the Midwest, but soon branches out to other locales, such as Florida and Paris, with a stop at an explorers' convention in Glasgow along the way. The explorers in each area are loosely tied together via the internet, but certain ground rules are nearly universal: Theft and vandalism are frowned upon, and safety is important

Some of the places she takes her camera are very cool indeed. In Minnesota, we get to the tops of abandoned buildings and into sewer tunnels. We also go underground in Paris, to its famous catacombs. Scotland offers castles, churches, and abandoned mental hospitals, while Florida offers Xanadu, an abandoned "home of the future" (which now merely houses a vagrant), and most intriguingly, a former NASA test sight in the Everglades which houses a gigantic rocket engine. We're also given photos of trips that Gilbert didn't take, including a harrowing trip through Minneapolis's sewers where the members of the party nearly pass out from the fumes. Paris is a trip, as explorers camp out underground, run into other groups, and walk around bone-filled crypts.

Full review at HBS.

Viva

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 March 2007 at The Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival IX)

Anna Biller worked hard on Viva, and I must admit to admiring some of what she managed to accomplish. Where most auteurs would be content to write, direct, and star in their movies, Biller also had credits as producer, editor, production designer, and costume designer. It turns out that she's very good at those last two - the visuals are almost always striking. The rest of the work, unfortunately, runs the gamut between dull and excruciating.

Take the opening scene, where married couple Mark (Jared Sanford) and Sheila (Bridget Brno) trade inanities by the pool, guffawing at every uninteresting comment either makes. Their neighbor Barbi (Biller) soon joins them, wearing a dress with an absurd hemline and joining in the fun, commenting on how she and Sheila have better curves than the girls in Playboy and soon posing while Mark flashes away with his new camera. If you demand more from comedy than mocking recreation, this scene will seem to go on roughly forever. Relatively soon, though, Barbi and Sheila are on their own - Mark moves in with his brother and Barbi's husband Rick (Chad England) leaves on a month-long business trip. Soon, the two are involved in a prostitution/matchmaking operation, with Barbi using the name Viva because (dramatic pause) it means "to live" in Italian, and that's what she wants to do with the rest of her life... Live!

Biller's recreation of 1970s California goes beyond detailed to fetishistic. In the Q&A afterward, she said that the art direction was primarily based on advertisements in 1970s Playboy magazines, often posing the actors in such a way as to match the the models from the ads and incorporating the slogans into the dialog. The result is a world that seldom looks real, but does frequently feel familiar and complete. The costumes are similarly outrageous, with bright colors (lots of reds and yellows) and ridiculous cuts.

Full review at HBS.

1 comment:

Aelen said...

An interview with Gregg Schwenk, executive director of the Newport Beach Film Festival. In 2007, the Festival will spotlight over 350 films from around the world including features, shorts, documentaries, and animation that will compete for a series of awards. In addition to film screenings, the Festival will host several premiere galas, and question and answer sessions with filmmakers. The Festival runs from April 19th through April 29th, 2007. The event is expected to attract more than 35,000 film devotees! Come and check it out!