Thursday, April 01, 2010

BUFF Day 4: "Ignorance is Strength", Playing Columbine, The Death of Alice Blue, and Amer

2:00 - "Ignorance is Strength" (95 minutes)
4:00 - Playing Columbine (94 minutes + 12 minue short + Q&A)
6:15 - The Death of Alice Blue (86 minutes + 8 minute short)
8:00 - Amer (90 minutes)

When one looks at a schedule like that, you've got two choices: Miss something you're looking forward to or accept that you're going to be claiming that popcorn is a meal at some point. Although, to be fair, even a "small" popcorn will fill a body up for hours. And it's probably more vegetables than I eat in a week.

My trick to actually having vaguely satisfying and not wallet-draining meals this year: Hot dogs. Yeah, I know, not really good for you, but at 11:30pm I don't want to take the time to cook much or take in a lot of sugar that will keep me up. Franks cook in the microwave in about a minute, and one or two is just enough that I can get to sleep without my stomach growling.

(Although, if I do this in Montreal, shoot me. Then again, considering how much they like their burgers and fries there, they might make un hot-dog très bon)

Also: Playing Columbine is a pretty darn good movie, but I suspect that no matter when it played this weekend, the turnout would have been crushed by PAXEast.

"Ignorance Is Strength"

Seen 28 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

I probably could have gotten to a couple more shorts programs this year, but I made a semi-conscious decision not to, in that I likely would have been semi-conscious if I tried to get to the ones running at around 12pm on Saturday and Sunday. Plus, although BUFF had much less that left me wanting to walk out because I was squeamish this year, the shorts programs tend to be loaded with that. This one looked to have the most fun sci-fi/satire stuff, and it was showing at a good time.

"Attackazoids, Deploy!" - * * * - Cute live action short about about getting people to buy bonds and turn in their scrap metal to build military robots. Plenty cute, with fun robots, but the usual retro-kitsch sometimes goes a little far (like almost always).

"Skylight" - * * * * - Saw this last year, at Fantasia as part of Zappin Party. It's a very funny bit about the ozone hole frying penguins.

"How Not to be Stupid" - * * * - Lots of talking heads telling us the difference between critical thinking and wishful thinking. Funny, but occasionally condescending. Although, let's face it, certain folks deserve condescending to.

"This is My Show" - * * * ¾ - At first, this pastiche of HGTV looks like a simple parody of how things like perfectly manicured lawns and the like are the opposite of loving nature, but then the host just starts talking about other things that have nothing to do with what the camera shows, and that's kind of hilarious, between what she's saying being funny and the sheer incongruity.

"A Tax on Pochsy" - * * - I gather Karen Hines's Pochsy character is something she does on stage. It's the sort of character Sarah Silverman makes her living on, self-centered and wide-eyed, and not the sort of thing I tend to find terribly amusing. Here, she just goes on and on, without much of a sting to make it work. Nice black & white photography, though.

"CannibAlien" - * ½ - Aaaand, here's the gross one, which is naturally the longest one in the program at 33 minutes. It's nasty, and it extends way past the point where it's clever or amusing satire. It just goes on and on, and the CGI animation is very distracting.

"Born to Be Alive"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

This one amused me quite a bit: A guy get sneezed on on the bus and decides to take his revenge. Alexander Felsing's 12-minute short really manages to hit a sweet spot precisely, as it's quirky but not ostentatiously so, a little mean but nowhere near grotesque, and doesn't make the audience feel bad about letting their mean side come out a bit.

Playing Columbine

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

It's not that I didn't think much of video games as an art form before seeing Playing Columbine; I just tended to think of them as more of an abstract art form. I would respond to complaints from my brother that a game was disappointing because of its plot with the argument that any plot more than "I love dots; they're delicious!" was extraneous. Playing Columbine is an eye-opener on that front, as much for what it does poorly as for what it does well.

That I say Playing Columbine does some things poorly is not a knock on the film. All documentaries, even the best ones, have trouble encapsulating their subjects entirely; the movie screen is a few senses short of reality in even the best of circumstances. Understanding the evolution in games that hit a watershed moment with Super Columbine Massacre RPG! requires an interactive element that film just can't supply; it requires putting oneself in a character's shoes more directly than mere empathy; passively watching people play SCMRPG! cannot do it.

A little background: In 2005, Danny Ledonne used a piece of "game construction set" software to build a role-playing-game that used Columbine high school as an environment and allowed players to play as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, recreating their infamous 1999 killing spree - an even that struck the young Colorado man close to home. Initially placed on the internet anonymously, until Ledonne was identified as the designer, it would later gain fame and notoriety beyond its obvious controversial nature when a college student in Montreal who went on a similar shooting spree cited it as a favorite, and when the Slamdance Festival dropped it from competition without explanation, causing both half the entrants in their gaming competition to drop out, as well as some jury members.

Full review at eFilmCritic

"No Escape"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

The short that played with Alice Blue is one we demoed for the sci-fi festival (there seems to be a certain amount of overlap between the two screening committees), and didn't get chosen there because it really wasn't sci-fi at all, but it is a nifty little thing to get an audience pumped for a feature with. It does what's expected - panic, escalation, twist ending - but does it in a really slick way.

(When some eccentric millionaire decides he wants to get into both the cinema and restaurant business simultaneously and has me convert the Polaroid buildings between Central and Kendall squares into an Alamo-like theater, this is one of the shorts I'll run before features.)

The Death of Alice Blue

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

A couple days after watching it and turning it over in my mind, I can't decide whether The Death of Alice Blue is a sloppy example of vampire soap opera melodrama or a dead-on parody of such things. I'm going to go with the latter, although I'm not sure - the satire is mostly aimed at targets other than the White Wolves and Sookie Stackhouses of the world.

It's Monday, and the second day of Alice Blue's second day working as a creative intern at Raven, a large Toronto advertising agency, is also her twenty-first birthday. It could be going better; though head of Creative Stephen is nice to her, she embarrasses herself at a presentation, but of the rest, the only folks who don't treat her like dirt are a pack of misfits who seem obsessed with blood tests and reflex testing. And she herself is starting to feel kind of strange...

Though it opens with a "chapter one" graphic ("The Bloodsucking Vampires of Advertising"), watching The Death of Alice Blue often feels like jumping into a serial midway through, with subplots already in progress that are not accompanied by explanation. Other times, it feels as though writer/director Park Bench is making stuff up as he goes along. This may very well be deliberate, a gag on how a lot of urban horror/fantasy franchises start out as "a girl in the city...with vampires!" satire and bloat into continuity-choked epics with warring factions, foretold destinies, characters killed off to show the writers mean business, and absolutely every tiny detail connected past the point of absurdity. If that's what he's up to, then well done.

Full review at eFilmCritic


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival)

The most popular phrases being used to describe Amer tend to include the word giallo - it is giallo-inspired, reminiscent of the giallo films of the 1970s, etc., etc. This is true, but also misleading, because such descriptions often serve to subtly warn non-fans of the genre away. Everyone who enjoys good cinema and maybe a good scare should give Amer a chance, though; it's a thrilling, sexy, eye-watering gem.

It is split into three distinct vignettes: In the first, a young girl (Cassandra Forêt)sneaks around in her family's old house, catching glimpses of spooky things (as well as other things that people do at night). In the second, a teenager (Charlotte Eugène-Guibbaud), bored while while her mother visits the hairdresser, wanders off with a young man. In the third, a woman (Marie Bos) returns to her childhood home, now overgrown, but as evening comes, she finds that she may not be alone.

Whether these three are supposed to be the same person at three stages of her life or just represent three stages of life themselves is relatively unimportant; although you can find obvious links between the episodes, what is important is that each features its protagonist confronting sexuality and mortality. In the first, it's glimpses of her parents' lovemaking and an apparently mummified corpse; in the second, we seem to be catching her at the very moment she is blossoming into womanhood, a tipping point between pretty and sexy, with new dangers presenting themselves; and, finally, we see the house itself appearing dead and the lady sexy, but reserved in public.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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