Wednesday, April 04, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 26 March 2012 - 1 April 2012

Look at all these tickets:

This Week In Tickets!

Yep, festival time, so the weekend was spent on ever-increasing numbers of movies and even a shorts program. Sunday was especially nuts, with five movies in three venues in as many different cities.

It was also a weird day for walkouts. Nothing from Monsieur Lazhar, but a couple of people left Intruders - not totally surprising, as it's a very slow starter - making sure to yell "this movie sucks!" as they did. Can't say I get the point of that; what are they trying to do, convince us all to do a walk-out, demanding our money back from the box office. Geez, you don't like it, fine, but don't mess with anyone else's enjoyment.

Funny part: It got pretty darn good as soon as they left. This is why you stick these things out!

One quick T ride later, I'm back in Cambridge for Gandu at BUFF. It's not a proper Underground Film Festival if something doesn't have people leaving, and this one was a prime instigator of that sort of thing - weird, sexually explicit, and otherwise in-your-face. I arrived a couple minutes late, so I plopped myself down int he back row rather than get in front of anybody, which meant I had a good view of the older gentleman who stood, walked to the front of the theater, and was just about out the door when the sex scene started. At that point, he just stood there and watched, leaving as soon as it was done.

Kind of awkward, honestly. This must be what adult theaters were like - not just watching a sex act on screen, but being acutely aware that there are other people in there with you.

Anyway, since I want to review every one of the twelve shows up there in one way or another, this is going to be a quick lightning-round style recap until I can get back to them in more detail.

EDIT: Here's a quick index of the individual recaps, complete with Horrible Photography:

Day 1 (Thursday, 29 March): John Dies at the End.
Day 2 (Friday, 30 March): "Look at this Fucking Shorts Program", Excision, and Smuggler.
Day 3 (Saturday, 30 March): Manborg and Inside Lara Roxx.
Day 4 (Sunday, 1 April): Gandu, Some Guy Who Kills People, and Klovn.

John Dies at the End

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

The best way I can describe John Dies at the End - a movie adapted from a novel often described as unfilmable - is that it's like an American version of the movies Sushi Typhoon cranks out - a simple but half-incoherent plot, copious gore, and special effects that do what they can to plow through limited resources with pure enthusiasm. It's fun and occasionally frustrating in many of the same ways as those movies, to the point where I half-expect Nikkatsu to release it in Japan under a "Hamburger Tornado" label.

Like a lot of ambitious-but-low budget movies, it's a bit of a mixed bag: Crazy fun and enthusiasm on the one hand, likable enough performances (including and especially an extended cameo by executive producer Paul Giamatti), but an occasionally frustrating tendency to drop large chunks of narration directly from the book into the movie.

But, hey, the dog is awesome.

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)

I wanted to like this one. I really did. It's got a surprisingly terrific cast - Annalynne McCord, Roger Bart, Traci Lords, John Waters, Ray Wise, and more - and does a pretty decent slow burn. It gets into the psyche of its main character very well, and despite being frequently bizarre, never feels false.

But, man, is it ever a short expanded to feature length. There's just not enough happening; there are something like a half-dozen family dinners in the picture, and while the topic of discussion may change, the relationships and dynamics of the conversation don't. A feature should do more than a short; this one feels like it does the same amount over a longer period of time.

Sumagurâ: Omae no mirai o hakobe (Smuggler)

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

New Katsuhito Ishii! Rejoice! And remember to get that DVD of Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl off your shelf and actually watch the darn thing, because that's what everyone is comparing this to, as opposed to Funky Forest or The Taste of Tea (or even Redline, where he did a lot of design work) - a stylish crime movie filled with both shocking violence and whimsy.

Perhaps my favorite thing about it is the way Ishii directs action; there's a huge fight scene in the beginning that feels more like manga than anything else I've seen. Action in manga is a very unusual thing; "battle" manga, for instance, will often devote something like eight twenty-page installments to a fight that takes minutes in real-time, and yet the fighters are so good (sometimes preternaturally so) that it doesn't feel drawn-out; instead, you're getting a look at the split-second responses a master is capable of. That's the sense that Ishii evokes in the scene where Vertebrae and Viscera take out a crime boss; it's done in slow motion, but the assailants don't seem to be slowed down quite as much. Not quite superhuman, but, damn, they're good.

It's a lot of fun besides seeing how master assassins direct nunchucks for maximum damage; Ishii and company build up an entertaining cast of characters and twisty plot without obvious effort, and the dude can make a good-looking movie. It's got a catchy soundtrack, and just generally feels like good action manga come to life.


* * ¼ (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. It's cheap and looks it, embracing a 1980s VHS aesthetic even as the Kostanski and company use digital tools to pile their green-screened actors and stop-motion creations onto one other, with a droll sense of humor that never crosses the line to outright winking parody.

Still, 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.

Inside Lara Roxx

* * * ½ (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 doing docs about it and setting films there. Well, after this one, I suppose.

Director Mia Donovan doesn't make much of a pretense of distance or objectivity where her subject - a young Quebeçoise who performed under the name "Lara Roxx", an had only been doing porn in Los Angeles for a couple of months when she was infected with HIV by another performer - is concerned. It wouldn't work otherwise; as much as she has some exhibitionist tendencies and likes performing, 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.

Two things really struck me: First, these girls are young - Lara is about 22 when we first meet her, and without her makeup, she both looks used up and not terribly different of the pictures of her from high school and even middle school. Second - and not as related to the first as one might think - is the level of willful ignorance in the industry; a visit to an older man who had been supportive when Lara was first diagnosed and for whom she still has a great deal of affection pulls the rug out from under the audience when he starts rattling off that HIV isn't as easy to catch as people think, and what happened to Lara was just bad luck.

I found myself hoping Lara was doing well as the movie ended, and kind of hope she shows up when the movie inevitably plays Fantasia to accept congratulations. She's not perfect, but she let the world see her at her worst because she thought people needed to see that, and that's worth a little admiration.

Monsieur Lazhar

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)

Canada/Quebec's nominee for best foreign language feature at the recent Oscars is a good one. It's really amazingly low-key for a movie that opens on a moment of genuine horror and could easily become schmaltzy and simple.

One amazing thing is how instantly we know the title character. The camera pans to this Algerian immigrant and the audience likes him immediately, knowing that this guy is sincere and can be trusted with kids. North African performer Fellag is fantastic, but the entire cast is strong, especially the kids. Sophie Nélisse is especially good as Alice; there's a great scene where she grabs her mother for support that doesn't look acted the way a lot of kids' scenes do.

There's not a moment that isn't used to dual purpose, and the whole thing has at least two big themes. Most of the talk at the screening was about bureaucracy versus honesty, but what really struck me was how much it was about respecting kids. Bachir reads to his students from Balzac, and engages them directly about the death of their former teacher. Kids can be surprisingly capable, and it's amazing how well this movie portrays that.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DLP)

It's hard too believe that Intruders is just Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's third feature film; the past decade-plus has been pretty good for Spanish genre filmmakers whether working in their native tongue or English, and Fresnadillo's 2001 film Intacto was creative and atmospheric. And yet, since then he's only directed 28 Weeks Later before this Spanish/English hybrid. It's puzzling, because he makes good, creepy movies, even if his latest takes a while to get going.

Although their parents dutifully inform them that there are no such things as monsters, two children - Juan (Izán Corchero) in Madrid and Mia (Ella Purnell) in the London suburbs - are about to learn different. A wandering cat leads each of them to encounters with "Hollowface", a formless creature that attempts to steal the faces of children. While Juan's mother Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala) turns to handsome young priest Father Antonio (Daniel Brühl) for help, Mia's working-class father John (Clive Owen) tries to take matters into his own hands, even as her mother Susanna (Carice van Houten) finds herself terrified.

Fresnadillo doesn't mind taking his time to set a movie up; even a sequel like 28 Weeks Later gives the audience a little time to let its concept sink in. That's a double-edged sword here; while the deliberate opening gives the film plenty of time to build atmosphere, introduce storytelling as an important factor in how Hollowface takes shape and becomes a threat, and establish strong parent-child relationships, the split between England and Spain means that everything is, to a certain extent, being done twice, and that does tend to make things seem slower than they actually are. Fresnadillo and screenwriters Nicolás Casariego & Jaime Marquesl also introduce a (literal) mystery box very early on but seem to ignore it for far too long, perhaps because there just aren't enough layers of mystery to it to peel them away slowly.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Gandu is almost more interesting for what it is - an "anti-Bollywood" movie - than as a movie with characters and story and all. Shot in stark black-and-white, and musically propelled by hard-edged Tamil rap, it focuses on the everyday life of its title character (whose nickname is actually a nasty insult) rather than a strong plot or story. It's not likely to be similar to any Indian movie the audience has seen before.

And as a result, it kind of runs out of story halfway through, getting weirdly self-referential before throwing in an explicit sex scene that got little more than polite attention.and kicking up a number of other bits that seemed to have very little to do do with how the movie started. It's a weird thing, but as soon as things started happening, the movie got much less exciting.

Some Guy Who Kills People

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

I've actually had a festival screener for this movie since Fantasia in July/August, but had not found time to actually watch much in that pile in the seven months since. My loss, obviously, because this is hilarious. Ironically, given the title, it would be a pretty darn entertaining movie even without all the murder.

Why? Well, in large part, because of the terrific supporting cast. Barry Bostwick, for instance, has been playing puffed-up doofs for years, but his sheriff is a masterpiece of the form. Karen Black makes the mean mom character funny as opposed to just nasty, and Ariel Gade as the daughter the main character had never seen is everything that's wonderful about kids while still showing us the character hurting.

It's almost enough to overshadow Kevin Corrigan as the... well, not sane center that the craziness revolves around, but the guy whose issues are at the middle of the story. Corrigan's low-key enough to almost get swallowed up by the rest of the movie, but it's a good enough performance that when his character does talk from the heart, even plainly, it manages to tie everything together.

Klovn: The Movie

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Speaking of Fantasia, I saw this last July and nearly busted a gut laughing.

It holds up to a second viewing, even when one is somewhat prepared for just where Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen are willing to go.

Someone, get the TV series on Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-ray, because this is hilarious.

Full review at EFC.

The Hunger GamesBoston Underground Film FestivalJohn Dies at the EndLook at this Fucking Shorts ProgramExcisionSmugglerManborgInside Lara RoxxMonsier LazharIntrudersGanduSome Guy who Kills PeopleKlovn: The Movie

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