Thursday, April 07, 2011

Boston Underground Film Festival 2011 Day 3: Frankie in Blunderland, The Corridor, Luster, Cold Fish & Helldriver

It's a little bit fitting that it seems to have taken me roughly forever to get this write-up of BUFF finished. I've had a lousy luck finding time to write - between the end of last week and the beginning of this week, I wound up taking the train to Alewife, just missing the bus, and taking the train back to work from home four days out of five, and since most of my writing gets done on the bus ride... Well, there you go. Things just kept going wrong.

Which was sort of a theme for the day - I don't think I've ever been to a festival that had so many projction problems in a single day. If I had been in more of a note-taking mood that day, I would have marked down every time it happened (I would also have made notes about names for Helldriver and Cold Fish, too). It's annoying enough that the start of almost every movie involved seeing the controls for the projector pop up, with big ol' messages about zooming and aspect ratio right in the middle of the screen, but you know that thing where a DVD freezes up, and you have to restart it, jump to the right chapter, and then try to fast forward over the moment where your lousy piece-of-crap player chokes every damn time? That happened all day. It was especially bad with the shorts, but even the features weren't immune. Heck, we missed the last bit of Luster entirely, because the player just would not go any further.

I think that just amounted to a few seconds, but it made me unsure whether I should write a review of that one. After all, I didn't see the whole movie, and considering that I get a little snippy (in my head at least) when I see film-critic friends of mine on Twitter mention that they were going to watch the rest of a screener later (how can you judge a movie's pacing, really, if you don't see it in one sitting?), I do feel like a bit of a hypocrite. And, actually, the first three movies of the day were all described as being in line for a little touch-up, so perhaps all three should be taken with a grain of salt. I did review them, though, and don't feel that bad about it - the folks from The Corridor at least seemed to appreciate it - though, granted, they got the positive review. And I did have to laugh/shake my head at the predictable comments Frankie in Blunderland and my review got on eFilmCritic - the people who love it for its rough edges, and the people certain that I didn't get it. Guys - I got it just fine. I just didn't like it.

The projection issues were a genuine problem, though. I tend to forgive BUFF because it's generally run well by great people - and hey, it's "underground", so this sort of thing helps the atmosphere - whereas the exact same incidents at, say, the Boston Film Festival in September would lead to sheer hate. Of course, the BUFF folks were very good about communicating with us and solving problems quickly, giving actual reasons. As a viewer, I don't really care that the filmmakers just recompressed their file the day before and didn't have time to test it, but just knowing there is a reason is helpful.

I must admit, I'm kind of surprised that these sort of screw-ups don't happen more often with digital projection. I suspect that the systems in the multiplexes are a lot more standardized - low (if any) compression, a path from the hard drive to the deck's memory, well-tested codecs, much more processing power than necessary, and I suspect they only have to test on one model of machine running one version of software. At festivals - well, it's whatever computer running a software DVD player or video playback software is available. Who knows what can happen.

Frankie in Blunderland

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

It's not uncommon for critics to rate films they see at a festival a little higher than those they see elsewhere, in part because the discussions with the filmmakers afterward help forge a personal connection and often cast the film's shortcomings as things that just couldn't be avoided. In the case of Frankie in Blunderland, however, I found the opposite happening - director Caleb Emerson said "I don't know" so much that the bits that did work started to seem like random accidents.

Frankie (Aramis Sartorio) seems like an inoffensive enough sort of guy, if a bit quick to tears and slow on the uptake. His wife Katie (Thea Martin) does nothing but sit on the couch watching Spanish-language soap operas while hurling insults at him, and his "friend" Spioch (Brett Hundley) has overstayed his intentions to crash on their couch for a couple days by a couple years. One particularly angry morning, Frankie snaps, clouting Spioch but good; dude looks dead. Later, though, Katie and Spioch are gone, a note left implying they've run off together when in fact Spioch has kidnapped Katie. So Frankie heads out to win her back, or rescue her, or, well, something. The characters frequently state that "today is stupid", and they aren't wrong.

There's all manner of other strangeness in the movie - an android girl, a Mormon with the odd tendency to use the phrase "Earth wife", a butterfly with a human body - with writer Marta Estirado basing the cast on her old friends from high school. They enter and exit almost completely randomly, and while some of these characters could be interesting if dropped into an actual story, they're just in a mess here. Nobody does anything for an actual reason, and while to a certain extent that's commentary on the arbitrary and disappointing nature of life (with cruelty to others being the only way to release that aggravation), it makes for a disjointed, nonsensical story.

Full review at EFC.

The Corridor

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

In most horror movies, insanity encroaches slowly, chipping away at the seemingly normal world that the filmmakers had built up at the start. To say that director Evan Kelly and writer Josh MacDonald go the opposite route with The Corridor would not be entirely true, but they do invert expectations enough at the beginning to keep us guessing at the end.

The opening, after all, shows Tyler Crawley (Stephen Chambers) brandishing a knife, his mother Pauline (Mary-Colin Chisholm) on the floor, and his friends Everett (James Gilbert) and Chris (David Flemming) scarred when they try to subdue him. It's a nightmare, but months pass. It's determined that Tyler inherited the same sort of mental illness his mother had, and seeing her overdose caused him to snap, but he's on medication now, well enough to leave the hospital. He, Everett, and Chris head out to Pauline's cabin to reminisce, with a couple other friends joining them - "Bobcat" (Matthew Amyotte), Chris's blading ex-jock cousin, and Jim (Glen Matthews), who's been living in another province with his wife. And when Tyler goes to scatter Pauline's ashes, he sees a strange corridor of light, where the snow and wind stop but voices start whispering to him.

It's a basic "cabin in the woods" set-up, but the main twist of knowing that one of the characters is mentally unstable going in - and how experience may make him better-equipped to deal with what's coming up, one way or another - is a good one. MacDonald stocks the cabin with plenty of tensions, both from Tyler's episode and going back to when the men were younger (Bob tended to bully Jim in high school), while Kelly and the cast manage to bring out the characters' long friendship. It's a good combination of new and old tensions for this corridor to exacerbate.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

I'm not saying that it should be an ironclad rule that a movie by the name of "Luster", with a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde theme, should go a little more heavy on the sex, but that would have given it a little something. Instead, it just sort of sits there, not awful but not particularly impressive.

Thomas Luster (Andrew Howard) is tired all the time, although he's got plenty of reasons. He's running a small landscaping business that is fairly stressful, considering that his current client Halo Kennedy (Pollyanna Rose) is dragging her feet on approval and payment. His unemployed actor neighbor Travis (Ian Duncan) seems to be flirting with his wife Jennifer (Tess Panzer) a little too much. The closest friend he's got is Les (Tommy Flanagan), a homeless vet who has parked his car behind Tom's shop. One day, Les offers him some sleeping pills, and though he gets a full night's sleep, he soon finds notes telling him to stop taking the pills. Thinking that someone is breaking in, he buys a security system, only to find on examining the recordings that things are stranger than that.

Director Adam Mason (working with regular co-writer Simon Boyes) sets things up well enough, although at some early points it's hard to tell whether the sleeping pills are creating Tom's other side or doing enough to suppress it that "Luster" feels the need to reveal himself and fight back. The second is more logical, although it raises a question of how Luster had gone more or less undetected for so long. Still, this sort of movie is often more about atmosphere than logic, and Mason does a nice job in terms of seeding little things that take on more significance, and by presenting the movie mostly from Tom's perspective, he gives us a good look at just how unnerving this sort of missing time can be, especially when it's clear that one's alter ego is doing some very bad things.

Full review at EFC.

Tsumetai nettaigyo (Cold Fish)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

Clearly, Sion Sono is a guy I'm going to have to pay more attention to going forward. So far, I've seen three of his movies and really liked all three, even though they're frequently the very definition of an acquired taste. Cold Fish, for instance, only seems conventional when compared to Love Exposure, Sono's four-hour epic of teen romance, religion, and kung fu panty photography - it's a mere two and a half hours of tropical fish salesmen, unhappy daughters, and bloody murder.

It starts with the Shamoto family. The father (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish store in a small town off the highway. He has a beautiful young second wife, Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka), which has not gone over well with his teenage daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara). One night, Mitsuko gets caught shoplifting at a department store, but Mr. Murata (Denden), who caught her, talks the manager into letting her go, if she'll work at his tropical fish store. He and his wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) do this for a lot of troubled girls - their "Amazon Gold" fish store even has a dormitory attached - but this doesn't seem to be an attack on Shamoto's store. Murata even proposes a business partnership with Shamoto, acknowledging his greater expertise. However, it's not just breeding rare fish that Murata is involving Shamoto with, but cold-blooded murder.

That's just the start, of course - once things get rolling, Sono and co-writer Yoshiki Takahashi do a great job of keeping the story chugging along, not so much with plot twists but by tightening the screws, bringing the walls in a little tighter on Shamoto. Though Sono is often best known for his twisted characters, bizarre turns of events, and shocking visuals - and there's plenty of both on-hand here, especially once the Muratas drag Shamoto into the bloody process of making murdered people disappear utterly - what's really impressive is just how well he's able to pace a movie. Cold Fish runs 144 minutes, but never feels like an unusually long movie. And though it's a screwy story, it's not until the very end that a character's actions seem strange in context.

Full review at EFC.

Nihon bundan: Heru doraibâ (Helldriver)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

Yoshihiro Nishimura's Helldriver is a Yoshihiro Nishimura film, and he doesn't do things halfway. So how a person reacts to the opening scene (and, I presume, any preview they make for the movie) will likely serve as a pretty good barometer for how they'll feel about the movie as a whole: You're either down for a movie about a schoolgirl who fights horned zombies using a sword with a chainsaw blade powered by the engine that's been grafted to her chest in place of the heart that her mother (who was a cannibal serial killer even before joining the ranks of the undead) ripped out and took for her own, or you're not.

That comes pretty close to covering the movie - an asteroid landed in northern Japan and zombified much of the population, which is only separated from the rest by a wall built across the middle of Honshu. Zombie horns are used to make a new addictive drug, despite the fact that they are really explosive. Kika (Yumiko Hara) and some other criminals are given an opportunity to head north on a Dirty Dozen road trip, where Kika's mother Rikka (Eihi Shiina) awaits.

Believe it or not, when Nishimura was in Montreal last summer promoting another movie he was involved with (Mutant Girls Squad), the Tokyo Gore Police director said that he was aiming to make a more serious movie than some of his other productions with Helldriver. One certainly wouldn't think so to read that description. And yet, credit where credit is due: Nishimura and co-writer Daichi Nagisa do spend a fair amount of time playing with their world beyond finding the shortest distance between gonzo set pieces; a chunk of the plot is driven by a difference of opinion among government ministers about whether or not the zombified have civil rights. And maybe Nishimura didn't intend to talk about poaching horns or equate drugs to an unstable material that will blow up in one's brain, but it certainly feels right. He also does much better than these movies often do in building up suspense (even if, as occasionally happens in this sort of movie, it's not clear exactly where where the opening action scene fits into the story).

Full review at EFC.

No comments: