Sunday, April 14, 2013

Boston Underground Film Festival Closing Day: Los Chidos, Vanishing Waves, and Big Ass Spider!

Ah, at last, the end, two weeks later!

Weird day, beyond what you might expect for an Underground Film Festival. I could have started earlier - remember how last year I said maybe I'd actually stay awake through Mondomanila if I saw it under different circumstances? Well, I could have - it played at 12:30pm - but after staying up late for Samurai Cop, that wasn't going to happen.

Also, it was apparently Easter that Sunday! As a non-religious person, I find that an easy holiday to lose track of, what with it moving around and mainly affecting me in terms of being able to find Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs cheap afterward, but it put a crimp into browsing and finding something to eat between Los Chidos (yes, I could still eat after that) and Vanishing Waves - a lot of people really take this thing seriously!

I'm actually kind of surprised it wasn't played up at the festival more; aside from the easy "perfect day for zombie movie" jokes, their mascot has always been Bacchus the Bunny, and while there was a bunny theme to most of the "no talking/texting" clips, nobody explicitly made the connection to Easter. Going soft, guys?

Big Ass Spider! Q&A photo IMAG0337_zpsbeb10147.jpg

Last bit of Horrible Photography of the festival, with Big Ass Spider! producer Travis Stevens and director Mike Mendez. I recognized Mendez's name from The Gravedancers, which I saw at Fantasia in 2006, and I'm actually very surprised he hasn't done a movie since. That movie was good, darn it, and fun, and while I gather he's worked steadily as an editor since then, there's something wrong with the system when a guy who makes this movies this entertaining can't get work.

I guess that's why he joked about receiving a "Megaspider" script and saying "has it come to this? Yes, apparently it has..." before putting his own mark on it. And, based on Gravedancers, it seems like he did; it's very much the same style and tone. He also spoke pretty highly of Epic, the company that made the movie, saying that they want to be at least a little better than Asylum, both in how they found a little extra money to get some music rights and were working on a theatrical release rather than just going straight to VOD and/or SyFy.

He also mentioned that Grunberg and Boyar improvised a lot of their material, even before being asked. Does that count on your festival Q&A bingo card or not?

At any rate, this was a pretty darn good edition of BUFF, and I'll try to get to the short films soon. Here's hoping it's just as much fun next year!

Los Chidos

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Yes, Los Chidos goes there. Fill whatever twisted thing you want in for "there", and that statement is likely to be true, although in actuality it's not even in answer to a question - it's doing something jaw-droppingly crude and awful before the audience has asked how far writer/director Omar Rodriguez-Lopez intends to push things and will soon enough be moving on to the next. It's impressively energetic in its vulgarity.

On the outskirts of Jalisco, there's a tire shop owned by a long-married couple (Maria de Jesus Canales Ramirez & Manuel Ramos), their kids (Cecilia Guitierrez & Erasmo Rodriguez), and their niece and nephew (Alejandro Rodriguez & Monica Guzman). Well, in theory; in practice they're lazy slobs shooing business away from their run-down shack. That is, until Kim, an American who doesn't speak any Spanish (Kim Stodel), shows up and refuses to take no for an answer, not just actually coming back maƱana, but sticking around with them, even as they rob, berate, and abuse him. It may have something to do with their cute neighbor Alma (Maimuna Achleitner Jimenez), who though married could probably do better, what with her husband tending to drug her and go out wearing her clothes and make-up.

So, yeah, all that happens, and that's really just the set-up for the movie; the actual events that this situation facilitates are even more weird and transgressive. It's a series of gross-outs and people treating each other terribly that will, sooner or later, hit something that causes automatic rejection because you can't joke about that for many, and that's okay. What's surprising is how well Rodriguez-Lopez manages to play with tone and pacing to keep it from happening more often: He'll hit the awful thing quickly and casually enough that it's over before the viewer has the time to work himself or herself into an offended lather. There's also a farcical feel to the whole thing, so that bits that don't really make sense still seem to work in the outsized world he's created. An ironically upbeat narrator adds to the feeling, even when his actual lines aren't that funny.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Aurora (Vanishing Waves)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

I suspect that every film director would like to make a film that takes place inside dreams at some point - it's free reign to create imaginative visuals, dig right into a character's subconscious, and make the occasional narrative leap that skips right over the boring parts. Telling a story that way is trickier than it looks, though, even before you get to the science fiction bits, though Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte and company do quite well here.

We enter the story with Lukas (Marius Jampolskis), one of several scientists working on a mind-reading project. He's the one who will be shaving his head and donning a cap of electrodes to interface with a comatose test subject - a mentally active person would produce too much noise to sift through - and when he does, he's almost immediately plunged into a quite sexual dream with Aurora (Jurga Jutaite). He keeps this secret from the project leader (Vytautas Kaniusonis), the psychologist meant to interpret his findings (Rudolfas Jansonas), and his girlfriend (Martina Jablonskyte), telling them what they want to hear lest the program be halted.

And that, folks, is why an experiment should always have more than one test subject! Well, maybe the team does and we're just not seeing the less-spectacular results they achieved, which wouldn't surprise me, as the film actually seems to do an unusually good job in presenting science to its audience. There are details like Lukas not knowing who the coma patient is initially to prevent his findings from being biased that could easily have been omitted to streamline the story but instead make it feel more solid. Buozyte and co-writer Bruno Samper also fill the team with characters who can butt heads without falling into "intuitive rule-breaker versus petty bureaucrat" traps.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Big Ass Spider!

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Well, there's certainly no denying that Big Ass Spider! delivers what it promises - that is certainly one big-ass spider menacing Los Angeles from the very start. For those that want maybe a little more to their movies, it's at least got a fairly charismatic cast and a crew that both recognizes that monster movies should be fun and is able to reach that goal.

Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is in pest control, and is in fact brilliant at it, though he still winds up in the emergency room with a spider bite after a customer panics. That's fortuitous, though, because an unusually large spider has arrived there inside a corpse, and the administrators put him and janitor Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar) to work finding it. They're soon joined by the army in the persons of Major Braxton Tanner (Ray Wise), Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer), and Lucas (Patrick Bauchau), a scientist who knows that this thing's not going to stop growing at "unusually large".

Well, we know that from the start, which gives us a preview of the last act with pumped-up dramatics and a cool song on the soundtrack before doing the twelve-hours-earlier thing. It more or less lays out what the audience can expect from the next hour and a half: An everyman hero, decent but not incredible special effects, and the filmmakers playing with their genre but not stooping to making fun of it. That's a crucial difference, because Big Ass Spider! is a throwback to the monster movies of the fifties and sixties, and while a fair amount of "homages" to that period come out, most recreate the surface warts and all while making fun of folks doing the best they can with limited resources as opposed to doing the best they can to create the same sort of thrills with modern-day resources.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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