Sunday, March 28, 2010

BUFF Days 1-2: American Grindhouse, Pieces, Life and Death of a Porno Gang, and Love Exposure

Two long nights. I was a little disappointed that more people didn't come Thursday, but four hours on Thursday night is a lot. One of the early schedules on the website had a second screening on Sunday afternoon, and it would have been nice, but it looks like the schedule just wound up too packed, which is A Good Thing.

Friday night was very long and could have been longer at the other end; I couldn't get out of work in time to see Impolex. Still, by the end, it wasn't surprising when the guest for The Life and Death of a Porno Gang came to shake the hand of everyone left in the theater for the Q&A. That was about a half-dozen of us; I was sitting fairly close to the front, so I don't know whether it was a mad dash to get home at 2am or whether folks were bailing midway through.

I wouldn't blame them; the movie is intense. Fantasia is doing a series on Serbian films this year, and it seems that a lot of it is cut from this decidedly NC-17, angry cloth. I know I probably won't go for A Serbian Film; the word coming out of SXSW was that even the people with usually strong constitutions thought it was too harsh to see again, to the point of "I'd like to un-see that".

Ai no mukidashi (Love Exposure)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

I saw this at Fantasia last year, and on a second viewing, I liked it maybe even a little more. The parts toward the end that seemed arbitrary fit in much better the second time around.

One thing I did notice was that digital projection appeared to do this film no favors. I recall it looking very nice on film last year. This looked roughly like DVD quality and it made a lot of the film look kind of cheap in spots where I don't necessarily remember it looking low-budget before

"Porn Guide"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

The six-minute short that played in front of American Grindhouse was kind of amusing, although not particularly memorable. Truth be told, the stories about finding the 1970s-era guide to making porn movies and adapting it were probably more entertaining than the final result (though that is, in fact, pretty funny).

American Grindhouse

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

Cinema lovers: Have you spent your time in theaters and at the video store working your way through the Criterion Collection, absorbing the work of international masters, and seeing the most acclaimed films of a century of motion pictures only to come up blank when introduced to another film lover, only to find that you know nothing of exploitation movies? If so, you've got two options, and nobody likes the guy who claims he's too good for something. But, in just an hour and a half, American Grindhouse can give you an introductory course and offer suggestions for further study.

American Grindhouse makes no bones about it - it is Schlock 101, presented in a dozen or so chapters. It starts with "Edison to Freaks" and steps through the history of exploitation film in the twentieth-century to "Porn-o-Copia" and "The Final Grind...Or Is It?" In between, there are bits on the Paramount Decision, beach movies, nudie cuties and "roughies", women in prison, and others.

Robert Forster narrates, and director Elijah Drenner interviews a number of interesting folks, both experts and folks who were involved. These are, for the most part, a blast to watch; for the most part, everyone involved is enthusiastic but also irreverent. John Landis, in particular, frequently has a hard time keeping himself from laughing when discussing old exploitation films. Folks like Joe Dante, David Hess, and Fred Williamson each also contribute great anecdotes, and I strongly suspect that the "Send in the Nazis" segment is there entirely because the story Don Edmonds tells about becoming the director of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is not just an example of how the memorable B-movies are the ones where the filmmakers were as committed as they would be to any more legitimate project, but comes out with great self-deprecating wit.

Full review at eFilmCritic


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

A faux trailer with its tongue in cheek about a slasher movie based on an undead fireman. Plenty of blood and not-bad gore for something so small. It'd be a horrible movie, but a decent enough concept to carry two minutes.

Pieces (Mil gritos tiene la noche)

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival)

It's a shame that there aren't a whole lot of grindhouses left so that the modern day descendants of films like Pieces can be seen in their proper environment. A tasteless, terrible movie in one's living room is just a bad movie; a tasteless, terrible movie in the company of dozens of similarly stunned people is hilarity for the community!

Pieces starts with a flashback to 1942, where a mother discovers her son assembling a jigsaw puzzle of a naked girl. She orders him to stop and throw it away before filth like that makes him... Well, whatever she's afraid of, the ship has sailed on that; he whips out an axe and goes nuts, later fooling the police into thinking it was a burglar. Forty years later, a series of murders begins in a Boston university (though not necessarily Boston University). Something has triggered him to start putting it together again, only this time he'll be using real body parts alongside the puzzle! Can two detectives (Christopher George and Frank BraƱa), an undercover police woman who used to play pro tennis (Lynda Day George), a nosy reporter (Isabel Luque), and the boyfriend (Ian Sera) of one of the slain girls figure out which of the schools multitude of middle-aged men is murderous?

Not likely; they're all pretty dim. In fact, there are moments when it almost seems like the filmmakers are playing into in in a semi-parodic way, like when Jack Taylor's anatomy professor looks witheringly at Christoper George's lead detective who asks if a chainsaw could have caused these injuries. The moments of dryness appear so randomly that it seems more likely that they happened by accident, a perfect storm of bad writing, bad acting and bad direction coming together to form an optical illusion of cleverness.

Full review at eFilmCritic

"Raymond May Have Rabies"

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

Didn't like this much at all; just ugly and not nearly funny enough to get away with it.

Zivot i smrt porno bande (The Life and Death of a Porno Gang)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival)

Well, I can't say that I got anything less than could be expected from that title, can I? It's right there - life, death, people making porn, far more direct than its somewhat more infamous cousin, A Serbian Film. So, if you're squeamish, you've been warned. It may do you some good to check it out anyway, though - it's ugly and raw and depraved, and the occasional reminder that this is the only somewhat amplified reality of everyday life in some parts of the world is kind of healthy.

Marko (Mihajlo Jovanovic) has graduated film school, but is having trouble getting people to finance his sci-fi/horror project. He ekes by doing commercials until he's introduced to pornographer Cane (Srdjan Miletic). Marko gets comfortable in porn, but soon winds up over budget and behind schedule with Cane, and to raise money to pay him back, he and his girlfriend Una (Ana Jovanovic) come up with the idea of live porno cabaret. Cane gets his cop brother to shut them down, so they and a half-dozen friends take the show on the road, making their money back by pitching their tent in various villages - and, on the side, making the occasional snuff film.

This is, in case you haven't guessed, a bleak movie about a bleak place. In the Q&A after the screening, the director of photography mentioned that most of the stories told to demonstrate why characters would volunteer for snuff films to give some small benefit to their family are based on actual events; they are matter-of-fact litanies of horror and despair. Drug use and disease are rampant.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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