Wednesday, April 07, 2010

BUFF Day 7: Friends (With Benefits) and Cummings Farm

Last week, when I tweeted that my review of The Life and Death of a Porno Gang was up, my friend Laurel responded with "so, they've got you reviewing porn now, huh?" No, I say, it's just a movie about how screwed up Serbia is; it's cutting edge! And now, a week or so later, what do I finish BUFF off with? A movie whose title and premise (six white folks in their twenties hooking up!) sounds like a '90s porn spoof and something with a really obvious sex pun in its title.

(Although, to be honest, there are times when I think that's the way to go. This has consistently been in EFC's top 50 reviews of the day since it got put up. I have to work a little harder to argue that that one's not porn, but I doubt many of its hits come from people looking for a review of that particular film.)

Anyway, that's the end of the 2010 Boston Underground Film Festival for me, or nearly so (I should be getting back to The Romantic in a week or so). There was one more day, but my schedule lined up so that I had seen everything showing then except for It Came from Kuchar, and I sort of figured that was in the same category as The Beaches of Agnes - no matter how well-made it is, the subject is just not something I'm drawn to. And I was ready to be done Thursday night I just stopped at the comic shop, stumbled home, and dropped.

Next up: Independent Film Festival Boston 2010, where I will go to all 8 days no matter what.

Well, actually, next up was hitting How to Train Your Dragon on Saturday. After a solid week of weird, violent, sexual stuff shot on a shoestring, a glossy IMAX movie for the whole family was exactly what I needed.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

This short seems like it was little more than a group of images that don't make a strong whole. Some are memorable in and of themselves - the girl in bed with the bear, naturally - and director Jessica Stevens does connect them with a somewhat pleasing surreality. Some bits aren't as funny or interestingly strange as one might have hoped, though (the news anchors, for instance), and the feeling when it ends is basically "huh, I guess that happened".

Which, to be fair, could be exactly what Ms. Stevens was going for.

Friends (with Benefits)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

A funny thing happened while I sat in the theater, watching the BUFF screening of Friends (With Benefits): I realized that it was, all told, a pretty conventional romantic comedy - which is probably the last thing I expected to see there. Oh, sure, it's fairly raunchy, but not much more so than what goes on at the multiplex these days, and even the crude bits seem more affectionate than embarrassing.

We start with a group of friends that would make a fine sitcom cast: Owen (Alex Brown) and Chloe (Margaret Laney) are med students, although Chloe's real passion is music and Owen's is writing. Alison (Anne Peterson) is the perfectionist, Jeff does IT for porn sites, Shirley (Lynn Mancinelli) is uninhibited, and Brad (Brendan Bradley) is the smoothie. Unusually for this sort of group, he's actually the only one in a relationship, and the lack of regular loving is starting to get to the rest. Owen proposes obligation-free hookups to Chloe as tension relief, and she decides to go for it. Now, they've been best friends forever, so this is obviously going to be something more than just tension relief. And there's a whole different set of issues waiting when the other four figure that they've got the same problem.

Is this a hackneyed romantic comedy plot? Good lord, yes. It works, though, because director Gorman Bechard and his co-writer Ashley McGarry wisely avoid making their characters stupid. None of the characters are idiots there for the other friends to snicker at, and there's only one moment that seems to hinge on smart people doing stupid things. Yes, it's a big hoary cliché that happens exactly at the predictable time to drive a silly wedge between Owen and Chloe because of an over-reaction. But smart people do occasionally react badly in that situation; it's a mistake we can believe.

Full review at eFilmCritic

"Happily Ever After"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

Another "huh, that happened" short, this one centered around a pair of male friends and their would-be girlfriends at a roller rink. This one bops amiably along until one of the characters says something that should be sort of a buzzkill, but instead the characters just shrug their shoulders and continue on.

Odd. Not badly so, but mostly kind of weird.

Cummings Farm

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital video)

I admit it - when I opened up the IMDB page for Cummings Farm for reference while writing this review, I was kind of shocked to go straight to the film page, rather than a list of this film and a dozen bits of porn. I'm guessing they have some filtering going on, although given the name and the plot description, I sort of figure that this would be flagged as adult entertainment by accident, even though it winds up being pretty much the opposite of that sort of movie.

Three couples are traveling to Cummings Farm for an orgy, hoping to spice up their moribund sex lives. We first meet Alan (Adam Busch) and Yasmine (Yasmine Kittles), who bicker for the whole trip. Then there's Gordon (Jordan Kessler) and Rachel (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick); they're running late because Gordon is drunk again. Already present are Todd (Ted Beck), who came up with the idea, and Tina (Laura Silverman), his wife, whose grandparents owned the farm. Oh, and then there's Larenz (Edrick Browne), delivering some weed to Gordon, who hasn't told the others about the extra guest.

Beck (who wrote the script) and director Andrew Drazek aren't doing much in the way of a bait and switch here; it's clear from the start that this is a pretty bad idea that only roughly half of the participants are actually excited for. So instead of building up a sense of anticipation, the film sets up a feeling of unease. Some of it is forced; the accusations that Larenz is unwelcome because he's black, for instance, manage to feel gratuitous but also don't go far enough to actually be insightful. In almost every other aspect, though, it's note perfect; the filmmakers get the idea across that this isn't going to save any relationships but it doesn't quite feel like a ticking time bomb.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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