Friday, April 02, 2010

BUFF Day 5: Asylum Seekers and Stuck!

I debate with myself every year about what I'm going to do with BUFF - whether I should ask for a media pass, just go to a few shows, or pick up a full pass. I generally tend not to ask for a media pass (I was comped one some year, I think) because they make me feel a sense of responsibility - if they're giving you a pass, it's with the understanding that you will see and review as many films as you can. The thing is, I know that BUFF is often going to program a lot that I have no interest in seeing, and I don't want to feel obligated to see it, even if the obligation is all in my head.

Last year, I only went to one night(*), as the fest overlapped SXSW, which I traveled to. That made going with just buying tickets to what I wanted to see easy, and it actually turned out to be a good double feature (the insane Hausu, finally hitting the Brattle on film this spring, and the creepy-as-hell Deadgirl). This year, I hemmed and hawed a bit, but saw enough stuff on the schedule that interested me that it was worth my while to buy a pass. I wound up seeing 17 films plus getting a t-shirt for $100, which isn't bad these days. And, much more than in some previous years, it was generally good stuff.

Except Monday. Monday was a pretty thorough disappointment, even as it turned out to be another themed day (imprisonment). At least it wasn't the gross-out "why did I think I wanted to watch this?" day, just two movies that didn't quite work as well as they perhaps should have. Maybe I would have been better off watching Chloe with the friends who I met for supper, but I figure that will be playing for a week or two more, and who knows when either of these will resurface; BUFF movies often don't show up on video for a while, if ever.

(*) Heh, I see a bit in that article about wanting to flood EFC with more BUFF reviews than they get from SXSW. So far, it's Boston 11, Austin 0, although I suspect nobody was actually at SXSW on an EFC pass. Maybe next year I'll go back again.

"OCD and Me"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

Hey, who'd have thought that this five-minute mix of animation and live-action would be the best thing I would see on the night? Well, hopefully filmmaker (and subject) Kendra Mattozzi; it's always nice to have confidence in one's own work. As she should; she does a nice job here of presenting a condition that is amost always played for laughs or as debilitating into something that, while certainly setting her apart from the crowd as something of an oddball, doesn't make her seem weird. Her energetic stream-of-consciousness actually makes her sound like the reasonable one in most situations.

Asylum Seekers

* * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

It's a hoary old chestnut, but one that has stuck in the English language every since Shakespeare first used it in Hamlet because here's a truth contained in it: "Method to madness." It's not enough to just say that a character is insane and that's a free pass to do anything with him; even for a comedy, it's got to make more sense than what goes on in Asylum Seekers.

Six people are being committed to a local mental hospital, more or less voluntarily: Antoine (Daniel Irizarry), a nymphomaniac virgin; trophy "mousewife" Maud (Pepper Binkley); evangelical nihilist Paul (Lee Wilkof); introverted exhibitionist Miranda (Camille O'Sullivan); cybernetic lolita Alice (Stella Maeve); and gender-bending refugee Alan (Bill Dawes). There is, however, only one bed available, so Nurse Milly (Judith Hawking), on behalf of the mysterious doctor running the facility, will have to test them to see which is most in need of their care.

The easy, politically correct knock on Asylum Seekers is that mental illness is no laughing matter, but while the sentiment isn't wrong, juxtaposing the mad with the supposedly sane can make for great satire. And if you can come up with the right tone and stick to it, broad comedy can work. Writer/director Rania Ajami, however, really doesn't seem to know what tone she wants to take. Several of the characters are just one-note jokes, but others at times have a sense of tragedy and realism to them that doesn't much fit with the others.

Full review at eFilmCritic


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

The thing to realize about Stuck! is that, despite the exclamation point in the title and the meticulous recreation of a genre and style that has fallen out of favor, it is not a parody. Or at least, not a conventional one. Instead of playing up the salacious nature of the women-in-prison movie, it plays things completely straight, with nary a wink in the audience's direction.

Daisy (Starina Johnson) is sent to the slammer for murder. She didn't do it - she tried to wrest the gun from her suicidal mother's hands - but the neighbor who saw it through the window (Karen Black) testified against her, and now she's on death row, her crime considered so heinous that her execution has been bumped ahead of the other residents: Black widow MeMe (Susan Traylor), mentally ill Princess (Jane Wiedlin), Bible-thumper Esther (Mink Stole), butch lesbian Dutch (Pleasant Gehman). The only other contact they have is with a guard they call Amazon (Stacy Cunningham), who delights in giving the prisoners the humiliation she feels they deserve.

Another feature at BUFF, American Grindhouse, had a segment on "educational" exploitation pictures, where informative or socially relevant content was used as a smokescreen to justify the films' actual draw of sex, violence, and nudity. That's the sort of picture that Stuck! is recreating, although it seems to be doing so in reverse: Offering up the promise of shower scenes and a "riot" in order to give the audience a story of abuses of power within prison, the dangers of the death penalty, and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Decidedly not the campy, salacious material one might be expecting.

Full review at eFilmCritic

No comments: