Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Boston Underground Film Festival 2012.02 (30 March): "Look at this ... Shorts Program", Excision, Smuggler

Hey, that Horrible Photography isn't so bad:

Nicole McControversy & Richard Bates Jr., BUFF's Nicole McControversy and Excision director Richard Bates Jr.
BUFF's Nicole McControversy and Excision director Richard Bates Jr.

Nice guy, who seemed genuinely disappointed to tell someone asking a question that a character died. I must admit that I didn't like his movie that much, even though there were plenty of things about it that I thought were well-done.

It was kind of strange to see studio logos before two movies at an underground film festival. Excision was purchased by Starz/Anchor Bay at an earlier festival, and will likely be out on video later this year, while Smuggler was produced by Warner Brothers's Japan division. Of course, it's likely that if it does reach US shores, it will probably come out via Viz or Kino or one of the other smaller distributors that put out Katsuhito Ishii's other movies. It's a weird thing - major Hollywood studios will produce movies overseas, but apparently don't have a business unit set up to distribute them in the US, so it makes more sense for them to allow smaller companies to buy the rights.

Look at This Fucking Shorts Program

Seen 30 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

This is an entire shorts program dedicated to making fun of hipsters. Which, considering some of the folks in attendance at the festival, could be considered biting the hands that feed them.

It says something that by the time the program was over, I still was not siding with the targets of satire, even though this sort of relentless hammering often changes my sympathies.

Fortunately, most of the bits were pretty funny, even if the longer ones did tend to seem very stretched out.


* * (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Richard Bates Jr.'s Excision is a feature version of his short film, and it's sort of got that feel: More observation than story, strong visuals that exist for their own sake, and one central character that dominates an ensemble. It's occasionally as unsettling as it wants to be, but the slow burn may not be as effective as the concentrated jolt.

Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a high-school student who wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She's not short of motivation - her younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter) has cystic fibrosis, and they're close despite Grace being much more popular, pretty, and well-adjusted - but she's less the buckling-down-and-studying type than the medically-themed-erotic-dreams sort. She's an outsider at school and clashes with her mother (Traci Lords) at home, and counseling sessions with their priest (John Waters) only lead to more hostility. Everyone is certain there's something off about her, but nobody realizes the full extent.

Bates's intention here, perhaps, is to do a slow burn, but where something burning is changing state and composition, Excision spends most of its time smoldering - storing energy and ready to change state with the proper stimulus. The latter is ominous, to be sure, but often less interesting to watch. Pauline is creepy when the movie starts, creepy when it's about to hit its climax, and really doesn't change enough even in degree to make the movie feel like it's moving in some direction or other. There's not even really a progression to her acting out; rank the other things she does how you wish, but skipping school to go to the library seems like it should be toward the beginning of the movie, rather than the end For another example, it feels like there are a half-dozen family dinners in the movie, and they don't feel that different; it's the same attitude from the same people at roughly the same intensity.

Full review at EFC.

Sumagurâ: Omae no mirai o hakobe (Smuggler)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Plenty of movies on both sides of the Pacific are based on comics, but while it's easy enough to take the characters or plot, but capturing the feel of the medium can be a different matter. Katsuhio Ishii's Smuggler can't quite manage that - the two are fundamentally different things, after all - but it comes a lot closer than many other movies.

Ryosuke Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki), an out-of-work young actor, thinks he's found a way to beat the pachinko parlors, only to get caught and saddled with a bunch of debt, although a visit to the yakuza's "banker" Yamaoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki) offers him an opportunity to pay it off by working as part of a transport crew headed up by "smuggler" Joe (Masatoshi Nagase). Meanwhile, two assassins, Vertebrae (Masanobu Ando) and Viscera (Ryushin Tei) slaughter a local gangster and his bodyguards, and when his widow Chiharu (Hikari Mitsushima) not only hires Joe for an unusual transport job but insists on accompanying the crew in the aftermath... Well, one of Kinuta's first jobs could very easily be his last.

Smuggler is based on a manga, and while that's true of a number of Japanese movies across all genres (those comics are not just mainstream but central to pop-culture), it's got a couple of notable advantages that many manga adaptations don't: First, its source material is relatively short as far as popular Japanese comics go - just a single, 200-page-or-so volume - and as a result the movie is not overstuffed with characters, storylines, or memorable scenes, even if relatively little was lost in translation. Second, it's got Katsuhito Ishii at the helm, and with his experience in both animation and conventional movie-making, he's well-positioned to translate hand-drawn style to live action.

Full review at EFC.

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