Friday, April 13, 2012

Boston Underground Film Festival 2012.03 (31 March): Manborg and Inside Lara Roxx

Let's have some Horrible Photography!

BUFF: Manborg, BUFF's Nicole McControversy, MANBORG's Steven Kostanski, "The Transmission"'s Brian Lonano, and "Puzzleface"'s Spookey Rubin

That's Manborg's Steve Kostanski along with the directors of the shorts that preceded his movie, both of which were pretty good. They were all united by a sort of lo-fi throwback aesthetic, although expressed in different ways. Brian Lonano (who did last year's BUFF bumper video) made a nicely atmospheric little ghost story in "The Transmission" that's worth seeking out. Spookey Ruben's was a little less my speed; it's apparently one of a series of videos he's done that are built around the band that guest stars, and my roughly zero knowledge of contemporary mainstream music, let alone what's cool enough for an underground film festival, wasn't a lot of help.

I'm a little more sanguine to Manborg winning a festival award than I was when they were announced, as writing about it helped clarify what they did well, which is more than my initial reaction. Looking at these three films, though, I must admit that I'm not quite sure how to approach them at times. The filmmakers exist in a weird position between professional and hobbyist (as much as filmmaking can be a hobby) these days.

Of course, that's not really why Manborg being awarded initially irked me. To admit my own bias, I can't help but wonder what Kostanski and company could have made if their goal was not to replicate every positive and negative attribute of 80s schlock, but to make a movie as good as the ones his predecessors were trying to make. There's enough talent and creativity on display here that they don't need the crutch of "it's supposed to be cheesy", and this kind of tribute always strikes me as a very backhanded compliment. It's got to be a little awkward to be loved as much for what you did poorly or fell short of your ambition and imagination as for where you really nailed it.


And here's Mia Donovan, who just really wouldn't move to a spot where I could snap her on my camera phone without the microphone blocking her! Other than standing in a way inconvenient to a guy second-row-center of the theater, she was very nice, and it was clear that she was genuinely close to "Lara".

One thing I found interesting was the use of Lara's real name - they don't make any particular attempt to hide or edit around when somebody uses it, but never formally identify her by that name. Even in the Q&A, I don't think I remember her Ms. Donovan referring to her subject as anything but Lara, which is interesting to me - as much as they'd clearly become close, that's something that puts her friend at arm's length, but it also perhaps speaks to just how much she has finally put her old life behind her.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

For what it is, Manborg is damn impressive. Director Steve Kostanski estimates that he and his friends made the movie for about a thousand dollars, although I suspect that is the sort of estimate that severely underestimates the value of one's own time. Those who share Kostanski and the Astron-6 team's affection for 1980s VHS are in for an entertaining hour.

In the near future, the forces of Hell are invading Earth, laying waste to human armies. We see one soldier (Matthew Kennedy) make a valiant stand until he's cut down. But! In the less-near future, he emerges from a techno-coffin cybernetically enhanced. He is now... Manborg! Soon hooking up with freedom fighters #1 Man (Ludwig Lee with the voice of Kyle Hebert), Justice (Conor Sweeney), and his somehow less-Australian sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney), they attempt to fight back against the local Baron (Jeremy Gillespie) and Draculon (Adam Brooks), the demon who took Manborg's first life.

Manborg is cheap and looks it, embracing the 1980s VHS aesthetic by shooting actors in front of a green screen at less-than-HD resolution even as Kostanski and company use digital tools to pile their cast and stop-motion creations onto one other. It's actually some fairly impressive work, technically; while many of these throwback movies feel like the filmmakers allowed themselves to get lazy because the original inspiration didn't look that great, Kostanski puts genuine effort into his craft. The individual elements are hand-made, but they are meticulously constructed and composited with great care. Some shots have more layers (which interact well) than expensive blockbusters, clear and well-staged in ways that people with a couple hundred thousand times the resources could learn from.

Full review at EFC.

Inside Lara Roxx

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Hey, festivals, I know all I really want to know about the porn industry. Really, you can stop screening docs about it and films that are set there; folks give me funny looks after I tell them what I saw. Well, after this one, I suppose; it's an impressively personal look at someone who survived it at great cost.

"Lara Roxx" is the stage name of a young QuebeƧoise who made her way to Los Angeles in early 2004 to try to hit porn's big-time after having stripped and done some videos back in Montreal. Like most, she planned to only work for a few years to earn some money, but her plans were cut even shorter when the industry was shut down by positive HIV tests. Lara had performed with patient zero and contracted the virus herself. Soon after she returned home, photographer Mia Donovan (who had done projects featuring Montreal sex workers) contacted her, and they had their first meeting in a mental health facility, where it's clear that Lara has problems other than the disease she contracted, and this project could take a long time if it's to have a happy ending.

Director Mia Donovan doesn't make much of a pretense of distance or objectivity where her subject is concerned. The film wouldn't work otherwise; as much as Lara has some exhibitionist tendencies and is comfortable being on camera, getting this sort of access requires a tremendous amount of trust, which just isn't going to be there if Lara suspects that Mia will sandbag her. That's not just about her talking to Donovan in the first place, but continuing for the next five years, through highs and lows - it's a very delicate balance, as Donovan must back off at difficult times to retain Lara's trust and friendship.

Full review at EFC.

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