Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Boston Underground Film Festival 2014.2: Animation for Adults, My Name Is Jonah, Why Don't You Play in Hell?

Thursday being the day when folks in my department are encouraged to work from home may not be a big deal for me because of its stated purpose (saving gas), but it certainly does come in useful on occasion, such as when a festival's shorts program starts at five-thirty. No way I'm making that starting from Burlington, but from a house fifteen minutes from the Brattle on foot? Eminently doable.

That program, "Animation for Adults", wound up being fairly impressive, too, which isn't always a given. Sure, the Spike & Mike "Sick & Twisted" program (if that's still a thing) will often supply what it says on the ticket, but often wind up rather short on any accompanying wit. This may have been a gleefully R-rating-worthy program, but it was an impressively solid one.

After that, though, things went a bit ooff the rails in one of the most truly impressive examples of a festival's listed start times being a rather optimistic plan rather than something you can make plans around. My Name Is Jonah was scheduled for 7:30, and while folks just starting to get to their seats by that time is to be expected, it wasn't long before we were given a projected start time of 8:30, as that was apparently how long it would take for the DCP system to "ingest" the digital file. I must admit to being kind of shocked by this; you'd think that when deciding on a system to be the standard for theatrical projection for the foreseeable future, exhibitors would go for something as plug-and-play as possible. Apparently, this is not always the case.

"My Name Is Jonah" filmmakers

So, what to do? Well, one option is to do the Q&A before the film. That is, I believe, filmmakers Phil Healy, JB Sapienza, and Jon Caron, in some order. The audience was full of people who either worked on the film or were friends who followed its production, what worth them being local, so there actually were some questions about the making of the movie to go along with the jokes and questions about Jonah himself (apparently, his Myspace page and whatever followed it are one of those internet big deals that it is actually rather easy to never hear of).

Jonah of "My Name Is Jonah%quot;

Jonah himself was on hand in the balcony, waving and playing some harmonica when asked. I half-wonder if he would have been part of the Q&A had things played out in a more customary manner; as much as the filmmakers seemed to be genuinely fond of him, there were comments afterwards from some in the audience about this being one of the saddest things they had ever seen, so that might have gotten awkward. Or not, as the BUFF crowd, for all the love of gross, dark things, is pretty friendly.

(This is probably more "spoilers" than the filmmakers would like - they actually contacted me when the review went up on EFC about dialing some things back - but sometimes you can't write your thoughts about something without talking about the whole thing, and this is especially true with documentaries.)

It wasn't a bad movie, but it ran too long to begin with, and I really hope the delay in getting started didn't dissuade too many people from sticking around for Why Don't You Play in Hell?. That was one of the best of the festival, but it started an hour late and ran until after the T shut down, and I certainly was grumbling that if Jonah's delay had me falling asleep during the movie I really wanted to see, I was going to be pretty angry. Fortunately, that didn't happen, so the night ended pretty well.

Animation for Adults

Seen 27 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

As mentioned, a pretty strong program, but one plagued by some technical issues (story of the evening, I guess), so I'll stick to some mostly-quick thoughts.

"Keep Your Head Down" - A music video for the band Bury Me Standing's song by director Ruth Lingford, with some interesting bits of things changing into other things.

"American Waste" - I'm as anti-war and skeptical of the military as anybody, so while I like the animation of Michael Hadley, I must admit that the story was a bit hammer-ish.

"Lady and the Tooth" - A creepy little story by Shaun Clark, which is plenty creative but pushed a bit far for my tastes - without dialogue, the story seems more vague than necessary, which makes the weirdness not exactly the fun sort of unsettling.

"Little Vulvah and Her Clitoral Awareness" - A really disarmingly cute bit from Sara Koppel, one that follows one of the oldest cartoon templates (cute girl wandering a morphing dreamworld) but slips in occasional reminders that such dreams can often have an erotic component. It's actually pretty neat, because the "cute" part is still earnestly enjoyable, while the inclusion of bare lady-parts seldom feels dirty, even if it can often be jarring.

"Domestika, Chapter 3: Le Petit Mort" - Well, that's something. I don't know how much continuity there is to Jennifer Linton's series, but it's a genuinely peculiar bit of paper-cut animation that makes me at least a little curious about the rest.

"Trusts & Estates" - One of those things where an animator (in this case, Jeanette Bonds) takes a real conversation and gives its participants a distinct visual style, with the intriguing result that it feels different than it might in live-action. There's still a bunch of hot-shot lawyer smarm here, but it feels surreal as much as obnoxious. It's a neat effect, and a fairly funny bit to boot.

"King Tigermore in Strawberry Fields" - One of two or three items in the program to really suffer from technical trouble, there was no sound to this, a shame because it seemed like an awesomely odd pastiche of a kids' adventure show, and I've got no idea just how straight or parodically it was being played. It looked neat and creative, like it could work either as a spoof or the thing being spoofed. (Seeing it at the link with its actual soundtrack makes it something else entirely, which is also pretty neat)

"We Are Golden" - One of my absolute favorites of the program, Jonathan Seligson's music video has a great retro look (malleable, rounded figures, Pac-Man eyes, plenty of music and chaos), packs a cool adventure story with polar bears, pirates, and more into four minutes, and doors so with a keen soundtrack. I was just disappointed when it reached the end; I wanted more right away!

"Virtuous Virtuell" - One of the spiffier bits of abstract animation I've seen in a while, with Thomas & Stellmach and Maja Oschmann transforming an opera score into ink-on-paper that avoids personification but always looks striking.

"Cochemare" - A pretty amazing-looking live-action/animation hybrid, which splits its time between an enchanted forest and a space station. Weird, sexy, creepy, and beautiful, I see that there's a 3D version and wish that more festivals were equipped for that.

"Coyotes" - An interesting work by Nick Gibney in how it combines a bunch of different styles smoothly to tell a small but but well-realized story. Not hugely fond of the stroboscopic effects, but it was an interesting change-up from the genuinely muted main style.

"Drunker Than a Skunk" - Another one hurry badly by playback issues. Not only did the sound cut in and out, but the picture stuttered quite a bit, so it was almost impossible to follow. Shame, as it's the new one by Bill Plympton, and it looked like a nifty take on a funny story.

"Invocation" - I saw this one at Fantasia, and didn't mind seeing it a second time at all. Robert Morgan's take on the "animated characters turn the tables" set-up is nifty for how it's done via stop-motion and features some impressively grotesque results, as well as sound design that increases the creepiness.

My Name Is Jonah

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

I wonder where filmmakers start and wind up, in terms of motivation and attitude, when making something like My Name Is Jonah. It seems awfully cynical if the final product is what they envisioned, but if not... Well, there are different ways to look at the end result, even as it drags on long enough to make things seem drearier than they might have been.

Jonah Washnis lives in Greece, a small town in upstate New York, where he plays the harmonica when there's a gig and toils at various working class jobs in between. He's internet-famous, though, for what he posted on MySpace, most notably a series of pulp-inspired holiday cards that he created and posed for over twenty-five years or so. As the film opens, he's had a fairly rough run of it, although he's fairly upbeat - after all, he does and has done things that most guys only dream of!

Well, probably not really; despite having created a hyper-masculine persona online and even before that was a thing, actual acts of badassery are tough to uncover despite how he has a lot of footage of himself. Eventually, what filmmakers Phil Healy, JB Sapienza, and Jon Caron put on display is more sad than anything else: An affably nerdy fellow trying to present himself as The Punisher, boosting about how many Facebook friends he has when he doesn't seem to have that many in the real world, especially now that his dog is gone.

Full review at EFC

Jigoku de Maze Warui (Why Don't You Play in Hell?

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

So it's come to this: The festival program describes Sion Sono's latest as an ode to 35mm cinema, and while "ode" doesn't necessarily mean "requiem", it's often not far off. Fortunately, even if this is a eulogy for making movies on actual film, Sono is not one to look back wistfully and be over-sentimental; he's going to send it off with a bang, and to do so he creates a riotously fun two hours of yakuza mayhem, all captured on film.

It's literally riotous at the start, as a group of teens calling themselves the "Fuck Bombers" are shooting their amateur film when they see youth gangs starting to rumble and not only does their leader Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) decide to capture it, but he starts trying to direct it as well. Sasaki, one of the fighters, winds up coming with them, and it looks like the sky is them limit, even as the wife of a prominent yakuza is dispatching potential assassins across town. Ten years later, not much has changed for the Fuck Bombers, which is starting to really frustrate Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi). A full-blown hang war is threatening to erupt between the clams led by Muto (Jun Kunimura) and Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi), although Muto is more concerned with getting the film debut of teen daughter Michiko (Fumi Nikaido) finished before wife Shizue (Tomochika) is released from jail. Tricky, because she has run off and is next seen with Koji (Gen Hoshino), who is not the filmmaker that Muto believes (and kind of needs) him to be.

Those who a long harangue on 35mm's superiority to digital are likely to be disappointed; as much as Sono has Hirata speak of his love of film, the most direct attack has the older Fuck Bombers watching something on a small TV in the middle of a shuttered theater. Sono likely plays the reference game fairly well, although some of the most interesting is rather self-referential: I'm not sure if people were exactly calling Tak Sakaguchi Japan's answer to Bruce Lee when he first came on the scene ten or fifteen years ago in Versus, but he certainly got a lot of notoriety that his movies haven't quite lived up to. And it may just be coincidence, but one of the most recent movies of the very prolific Sono's to see release and the festival circuit is Bad Film, an only recently completed picture shot when Sono was the same sort of raw, guerrilla-style filmmaker as the Fuck Bombers, and I wonder if finishing that influenced or inspired the making of this one in any way.

Full review at EFC

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