Saturday, April 07, 2012

Boston Underground Film Festival 2012.01 (29 March): John Dies at the End

Ugh, nothing like getting the first review from a film festival out nearly a week after the festival ends. And things are only going to get slower!

Opening night was fun, and would have been even more fun if it hadn't been ridiculously cold. Believe it or not, there was beautiful spring-like weather in Boston a couple of weeks ago, but it was not like that as we wound up waiting outside for a sold-out 8pm show for quite a while. Also mildly amusing was the chicken-and-egg situation we found ourselves in at first: No entry into the theater without a ticket, no tickets without passes, and the passes are in the theater. It got resolved easily enough, but, hey, that's what runs through my mind as I'm waiting in line.

I was waiting for a pass from having contributed on Kickstarter, which cost the same as getting it elsewhere, but does sort of make one feel a bit more like part of a community. On the one hand, it's kind of unfortunate that a festival with BUFF's history and reputation has to go looking for donations, but I think that that sense of ownership is good for a festival. If only there were a way to get it without it feeling imperiled.

Still, the movie's the really important part, and John was a fun opener. I've got no idea how well it will play to a general audience, or if the fans of the book will wind up embracing it. I'd kind of like to see Magnet pick it up and book it as midnights and get it on VOD as they are wont to do, although director Don Coscarelli used to be able to get something like this into regular theaters.

Speaking of...

Don Coscarelli & company, Producer (whose name I didn't write down), Don Coscarelli, Kevin Monahan
(A producer whose name I forget a week later, writer/director/producer/editor Don Coscarelli, and BUFF's Kevin Monahan)

Coscarelli was a friendly, likable guy, talking about the challenges of adapting the book and the parts he would have liked to included. He mentioned that the dog's name was changed because "Bark Lee" was the name of the dog they had playing the part, and this made it much easier. He also said they got very lucky there - about a week after filming, Bark Lee had a skin problem which caused hair to fall out, and while a studio will often have doubles for animal roles, they were awful close to being in big trouble.

One other thing from the Q&A: Folks appear to really dig Phantasm; a lot of questions/statements from the audience were preceded by some reference to it.

John Dies at the End

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

According to the post-film Q&A (and others I've talked to), John Dies at the End is a cult novel that barely had time to gain a reputation as unfilmable before going before the cameras. Director and screenwriter Don Coscarelli dealt with this by (mostly) sticking to the (relatively) linear first third of the book, but make no mistake - this is still quite the odd story, and the telling is nearly as peculiar.

David Wong (Chase Williamson) and his friend John (Rob Mayes) may seem like nothing more than slackers, but they're actually the go-to guys for handling the frequent incursions of the paranormal on their small Illinois town. How did they get started? Well, as as Dave tells reporter Arnie (Paul Giamatti), there was this guy (Tai Bennett) handing out this drug called "the soy sauce", which fundamentally alters ones perception of space and time in a way that others only claim to. The morning after, everybody who took it is either missing or dead, and Dave has to figure out what's going on while avoiding a detective (Glynn Turman) and fielding weird telephone calls from John, when all he really wants to do is get together with Amy (Fabianne therese), the cute girl looking for the dog that turned up next to his car..

That description makes John sound almost sane, like an action movie with a vaguely science-fictional premise. It's not. It starts out weird and piles new types of strangeness on at points when other movies might be trying to simplify things, leaving large chunks unexplained and papering over the rest with something akin to "hey, the soy sauce, man". Somehow, though, it holds together - Coscarelli has extracted a plot that follows something akin to internal logic without often getting bogged down. He does occasionally drop a little too much of the book in verbatim, although it's hard to blame him - the narration sounds like the sort of text that would be great fun to read.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: