Thursday, April 10, 2014

Boston Underground Film Festival 2014.3: Kept, Homegrown Horror, Doomsdays, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears

I took the day off work so that I could see Kept, and almost didn't make it in time. That is, apparently, just the way I roll when trying to write during festivals or not going to them straight from work.

Anyway, there were plentiful guests on Friday. I didn't get a picture of Marc Walkow introducing Kept because of how late I got there, but I was glad to see him. It's not a real genre/underground festival unless he's there presenting something from Japan, and it was a nifty switch to see him involved with a movie that does not involve a post-film Q&A in a diaper.

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After that came the Homegrown Horror segment, which was plenty of fun, and since it was by definition local, a lot of folks game out to support it. I'm somewhat critical of the movies involved in the rundown, but it's worth noting that "New England" is not a huge pool to draw from, so getting this much good and promising stuff is pretty impressive.

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Is it just me, or does Doomsdays director Eddie Mullins look more at ease with the whole filmmaker Q&A thing than he did last summer? Maybe it was just the situation - primetime slot at BUFF's only screen as opposed to a later slot at Fantasia's secondary venue - but it struck me as looser than before. It is interesting to me that former critic Mullins does tend to talk technically much more than guys who came to filmmaking from a more traditional direction do. He'll talk about hating doing coverage or continuity cutting, where others will use less jargon, saying "it's what works emotionally" or the like. I wonder, a bit, whether it's being much more conscious of what he's doing or being more inclined to articulate it in detail.

After that was done, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears, which knocked me out enough that I can't even fake reviewing it, which meant that the midnight shorts program was right out of the question.

Ra (Kept)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

The folks who made Kept don't usually do this sort of thing; their names usually show up on light-hearted but bloody genre movies. The same lo-fi methods and sensibilities are in place here as Maki Mizui makes her first film as a director, even if the subject matter trends toward real-world horrors.

Those threats don't come with a whole lot of warning; Misasto (Mohoma), a woman in her early twenties, is walking home from work one evening when she is snatched off the street, blindfolded, and taken to a quiet area by an anonymous man who is about the same age (Ken Koba). Misato starts talking to her abductor, whether from nerves or figuring it will make him less likely to do something even more violent, and maybe that's part of why things go the way they do over the next several weeks or months.

Mizui could have followed a number of well-worn paths - the procedural, the revenge thriller, the drama emphasizing others' reactions - but instead half the movie seems to go into a state of shell-shock. It's a thorough enough withdrawal that when new characters are introduced, they almost seem like complete replacements of the previous protagonists, setting up a structure akin to Psycho. It's not quite what Mizui is going for, creating a bit of confusion later on, but it works on other fronts.

Full review at EFC

Homegrown Horror

Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

I kind of hate reviewing this program - one friend put it together, another had a film in it, there's a good chance any short made around Boston or Portland could be friends of friends... And I can be pretty fussy where horror and shorts are concerned. So, please, don't get too upset, guys.

"Vlog" - Kind of a fun premise here, with a self-styled vampire hunter keeping a video blog of his exploits, eventually discovering and clashing with a nemesis both on YouTube and in the real world. It's fairly amusing bit, although while director Arik Beatty mostly sidesteps one of my regular amateur-filmmaking issues, it does occasionally make you wonder about who's holding the camera. Also, do people who aren't filmmakers actually vlog? It seems like something much more likely to be used in movies than real life.

"The Creed" - Kevin James's parody is one of the more actually entertaining horror spoofs you'll see, in large part because it's not just goofing on genre conventions in that one can describe it in a way that doesn't reference them at all. Folks get "woman haunted by her past bad taste in music", and Julie Becker gives a cheerful, funny performance as the lady in question. And while I must admit that I couldn't tell you anything about Creed other than that they are often used as a punchline, you don't actually have to share the filmmakers' taste in music to laugh at the jokes. For something that could have smothered itself under two layers of snobbery, that's a nice trick.

"The Cost of Doing Business" - Not a particular favorite; it's a "turning the tables on someone who worked for a lousy company" story that never hits the right balance between getting the audience behind or repulsed by its viciousness.

"M Is for Mundane" - An ABCs of Death tryout whose title sums it up fairly well. An expected twist given the environment but pretty good gore.

"Syrup" - Nice try, Everett Bunker & Caroline O'Connor, but you're not going to make something as wonderful as maple syrup scary. I mean, just tapping out the words makes me want pancakes. Still, it's a nifty little short that gets enjoyably trippy at times.

"Picket" - Izzy Lee's the filmmaker I know from this, and the thing about her movies is that they're just as direct as she is, and maybe could benefit from being a little more roundabout. Like "Legitimate", her previous outing, this one's a very straight line between someone whose beliefs rightly piss her off and a nasty supernatural punishment, and it could perhaps use a little more irony to go with the impressive demonic makeup job.

"Midnight Mass" - A nifty one from Alex Pucci, which shows that you can do a fine slow build in less than ten minutes, as an altar boy who feels the need to confess and seek help gets the rug pulled out from under him. I'm not sure I wholly buy the twist, but the tension getting there is excellent.

"Telephoto" - The longest piece in the package, this one from Ian Carlsen & Jeff Griecci follows a magazine photographer who finds she has captured more than she bargained for in an insular town where the locals may not necessarily side with an outsider over a local criminal. It's tense, suspenseful, and occasionally kind of funny, a nifty little thriller that could probably survive expansion to a feature without falling apart.

"Mach 9"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, digital)

This sort (playing before Doomsdays), is a weird, tacky-as-heck thing, but also one of the funniest things playing in the festival. Filmmaker Jamie Heinrich pushes a bit too hard when splicing 1980s sitcom theme songs into the movie, but the idea that it doesn't take much (if anything) to mutate a TV comedy's premise into something kind of disturbing. He co-writers (and also co-stars) Jason Carrougher and Sean Fahlen mash a whole ton of these plots into something the length of one sitcom episode, and it's a pretty inspired skewering


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

It's always good to see that comedies hold up on second viewings; they're far from the only types of movies that get heavy mileage out of surprise, but they can be pretty mood-dependent. I loved Doomsdays last July, and was pretty pleased to see it still amused me greatly in March. It's a funny movie not just for how it drops unexpected things on the audience, but for getting into excellent rhythms: The jokes are good in large part because their construction is pretty perfect.

One thing that kind of interested me in the reactions afterward was the people saying it had more than jokes going on. And... Well, sure, I guess, you can find stuff about how a man needs more than either principles or cynicism, or even the two combined, but I don't know as that's meant to make a much bigger impression than the jokes. It gives the movie a place to stop, important in and of itself, especially since I think director Eddie Mullins was playing with the making of a movie as much as anything.

Original Fantasia review at EFC

L'étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears)

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (BUFF 16, DCP)

As much as I loved the previous film by Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet ,Amer, this one just didn't work for me at all. I strongly suspect that 75% of that can be chalked up to it being the fourth screening of the day and just being worn out enough to nod off a few times. That was far more frustrating than usual, though, because while that often leaves me feeling (rightly) like I have missed something, this one made me feel like I had slid back somehow, and I was watching the same scene over and over again and not gleaning anything new. And when you aren't enjoying a movie in this sort of situation, it just never seems to end.

I actually hope this is at Fantasia this summer, maybe showing at 7:30pm or so. It is gorgeous, and much like Amer, it is certainly able to create some atmosphere. Given that the plot is self-consciously surreal and self-referential, it needs more attention than I was able to give it, and I'd like to have a chance to do so on a big screen with an audience (with 35mm being a bonus).

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