Monday, March 31, 2014

Boston Underground Film Festival 2014.1: All Cheerleaders Die, School of the Holy Beast

Someday, the first day of BUFF will be held on a day when you can tell that spring started a week ago, because the sun is shining and it's unexpectedly warm, especially in comparison to the winter that we just endured. 2014, however, was not that year; instead, it's one where it's maybe not a great idea to arrive at the Brattle somewhat early in time to beat the crowds to pick up the passes you purchased on Kickstarter, because you're just going to wind up standing in another line waiting for the box office to open while your fingers get kind of numb, and of course it won't be open at the half hour before the screening that you might expect.

That is the way of the festival, and two movies after a full day of work and a stop at the Million Year Picnic for the week's comics (a heavy load, as apparently every publisher was trying to boost their profits and the end of the quarter) left me kind of drained by the time the second feature started. I got through School of the Holy Beast following the story, which is better than I sometimes do on my last movie of the night, but I kind of wondered where various characters went. Which was maybe better than All Cheerleaders Die, where I was alert enough to see it jumping the rails.

"Psychic Cheerleaders: Dawn of the New Age"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

The short that played before All Cheerleaders Die is an obvious companion piece, with two cheerleaders with magical items that let them do impossible things. It's a goofy bit with a satanic frat party, that mostly works because of goofy non-sequiters, like corn being something illicit. It's probably a little more self-consciously silly for my tastes, the sort of short that acts like its eccentric premise is self-evident, but it's an amiable enough nine minutes.

Watch it here

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

All Cheerleaders Die is a notably sub-par exploitation movie, but I will probably end up discussing it more than many of the better films that played the festival because the way it goes about being disappointing is just absolutely maddening. There's enough talent and ambition here for the movie to become a smarter-than-it-looks delight, and yet the movie they actually make, while energetic, seems to aggressively dispose of the film's early wit and insight. You would think the filmmakers would have this sort of thing figured out, seeing as it's the second time they have made this movie.

It starts with AV-club girl Mäddy Killian (Caitlin Stasey) doing a video segment on her friend Alexis Anderson (Felisha Cooper), only to have the bit end with Alexis dying in a horrific cheerleading accident. Three months later, senior year is about to begin, and Alexis's best friend Tracy (Brooke Butler) has taken both her position as head cheerleader and her boyfriend Terry (Tom Williamson), and a glammed-up Mäddy tried out the squad, saying she wants to see what Alexis loved about it. In reality, she's looking to ruin their lives from the inside, but when she miscalculates... Well, it's a good thing gothy ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) is around to bail out Mäddy, Tracy, and sisters Martha & Hannah Poklin (Reanin Johannik & Amanda Grace Cooper). Well, at least it seems like a good thing...

There's a supernatural twist early enough on to be mentioned without it really being a spoiler but which is is a good enough jolt to keep somewhat under wraps. What actually happens isn't that important, but the way the movie shifts as a result is: Up until that point, what was going was kind of interesting character-wise, with the audience sort of in Mäddy's corner by default only to see that while Tracy may be kind of shallow, she is intriguingly human. After things get weird, though, the interplay between Mäddy, Leena, and Tracy (and the boys) becomes less about them than plot devices. Even the part of the story that gets more interesting as a result - the sibling rivalry between Hannah and Martha - eventually fizzles out. That could have been its own movie, but gets played out too fast, and the characters involved are just some more generic pieces of a horror movie rapidly losing the subtext that makes it interesting.

Full review at EFC

Seiju Gakuen (School of the Holy Beast)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, 35mm)

Dang, but this is a horrible time to drift off during the late movie, because the odds that I'll get another chance to see this sort of pinky violence movie on screen and on film any time soon are fairly low, let alone this particular one. That's a genuine shame, because for a movie whose purpose is to get a bunch of naked flesh on a cinema screen, it's good-looking and highly watchable for a number of other reasons.

The plot isn't much, but it gets the job done - Maya Takigawa (Yumi Takigawa) is a likable enough twenty-year-old libertine who joins a convent because she wants to dig up the truth on what happened to her mother. There are priggish nuns and ones who are there more or less against their will and are happy to cause trouble, and while none of them are really great actors, they've got charm to go with their sex appeal and can handle the tasks they are given.

It's kinky enough fun, with just enough story to keep it from feeling like just nude scenes strung together (although I did notice characters coming or going). It's also kind of weird to think that Toei, a studio which is much more respectable these days (I gather that their animated features tend to be the most family-friendly), was once known for this sort of exploitation.

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