Monday, March 30, 2015

Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day 01: "Moped Knights" & The Editor

Film festivals are crazy events, logistically. I can't even begin to fathom what goes o on behind the scenes, although it seems that way from the outside, too. Consider that the average theater is built to move things along - tickets and snacks purchased and delivered quickly, go to the proper screen, which is ready to seat when the majority of viewers arrive, walk away when the credits roll, and then go home. Festivals muck that up, especially on the first day, when people are getting in line to pick up the passes that will let them get in line to pick up tickets that will let them get into line to get into the theater. After that, people hang around after one show to chat and/or make a loop back. BUFF and the Brattle handle this as well as anybody, especially with the theater's tiny lobby, but it can be a fairly confusing situation, especially when folks arrive just after the announcements have been made.

Fortunately, I'm pretty well used to this fairly particular brand of chaos by now, and got seated with relative ease. It wasn't long before this group was on stage:

Left to right, that is the festival's Bryan McKay (in the darkness), The Editor producer Jerry Wasserman, writer/director/producer/star/visual effects guy/editor Adam Brooks, and the festival's Kevin Monaghan and Nicole McContraversy. Kevin mentioned that they were committed to getting all of Astron-6 to come to the festival, even if it was one at a time (other members of the filmmaking collective came for Manborg a couple years ago). I'm pretty sure that this is a subset of the folks who were in Austin six months ago, although it was still a fairly lively Q&A, with Brooks talking about how their response to having an order of magnitude more money to work with was to blow through it quickly and then wind up spring on a shoestring anyway, how Udo Kier is a great but eccentric guy to have on your set, and the like.

This first night did illustrate a theme that would recur for me through much of the festival: It is much easier to see a movie at 7:30pm than midnight. That's why there's a full review here, rather than back when I saw it at Fantastic Fest; not falling asleep mid-film helps with that immensely.

Speaking of things I'd already seen at midnight, I bailed on Gone With the Pope and hit the comic shop instead. It may have been the only thing playing the festival on 35mm, and re-reading my review actually makes me a little more curious about it, but I remember it as very much a "once is enough and then some" movie.

"Moped Knights"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Directors Mike Pecci & Tony Fernandez described "Moped Knights" as a sort of pilot presentation for Adult Swim, which may have skewed how I saw it, making me wonder just how it would work as a week-to-week thing as opposed to just a one-off. I don't know if I'd like this goofy-but-gross thing more if it were presented that way, but it's interesting to ponder.

As pastiches go, it's fun, even if it's the sort of thing that is entirely built out of other movies, from the credits that use John Carpenter's favorite font to the action that seems quite reminiscent of The Warriors to an ending that doubles down on the absurdity of the gang running around on mopeds rather than more masculine motorcycles. It's an amusing imitation, but it would have been nice if there was something more its own to it.

The Editor

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

During the post-film Q&A, the director jokingly (I think) suggested it was better to make straight horror films rather than horror-comedies like The Editor, if only for the relative difficulty in securing distribution. That's not quite the reaction I've had to it and the other movies I've seen by Canadian filmmaking team Astron-6, but I have wondered what they would accomplish if they stopped making spoofs. They clearly know what made these movies work, and they might make the leap from impressive to great, even if they tweak cult movies with love rather than malice.

The genre in this case is giallo, with much of the action actually taking place on the set of one of of those lurid Italian thrillers. Someone is killing the cast, with the latest discovery leaving lead actress Margarit (Sheila Campbell) with hysterical blindness, which has her husband, Inspector Peter Porfiry (Matthew Kennedy), freaked out. Suspicion naturally falling upon editor Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks), as the fingers of the corpses are severed, just like the ones he lost trying to cut a film that put him in a mental hospital; he is also torn between sweet assistant editor Bella (Samantha Hill) and his shrewish, former scream-queen wife Josephine (Paz de la Huerta). There's also co-star Cal Konitz (Conor Sweeney), who sees a chance for his role to be beefed up.

That's not a bad mystery if directors Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy (and co-writer Conor Sweeney) were to play it straight, but that's clearly not the case. You can expect a lot of broad Italian accents, sometimes not quite synced with the soundtrack, and some odd turns of phrase. The frequently gratuitous nudity, violence, and other crassness is given the slight extra push it needs to be absurd, and while it's often funny, it's a rather targeted humor. A running gag or two are kind of repulsive out of context, and while the group by and large does a decent job of using the genre's tropes to give their weird characters things to do, there are certainly moments when what they are doing is far less satire than mimicry.

They are gifted mimics, at least, and for the first time they are working with the sort of modest budget that let's them build some sizable sets and fill every corner. The movie looks and sounds great, authentically shabby in some ways but detailed and thought out a as opposed to just throwing what 1970s & 1980s props that they could find around. The soundtrack is just as good as the visuals, and when the time comes for the movie to get trippy, the team potshots themselves, creating surreal world's and intrusions that impress whether one knows the budget or the sources of inspiration. One of the things that impressed me about their previous feature Manborg was that where many people making this sort of movie just home in on the things that can be exaggerated for a laugh, these guys spot the elements that, while seeming dated or ripe for parody, can still work when someone commits to them ironically, and there are enough examples of that in the last act to make The Editor genuinely exciting, both in term of suspense and seeing talented people do nifty things.

Many of the same people are both begins and in front of the camera, and they can at least be said to be working to their comedic strengths. Kennedy may have the best part as Porfiry, as he gets to be kind of dumb and ridiculous outside of any responsibility for making the mystery believable, and he does not hold back with it. Brooks does a fair job of not being over-matched when needing to be both legitimately and parodically melodramatic, while Sweeney gets a fair number of laughs despite not having the goody facial hair to help him be funny just standing there. The ladies aren't quite so well-served - Samantha Hill's Bella is ready to like and Paz de la Huerta's Jasmine easy to hate, with Sheila Campbell and the rest more typically getting lost in between. Udo Kier shows up to play the Udo Kier role, and he's pretty good at that.

Everyone involved is pretty good at what they are doing, and though none of it is easy, there is the occasional sense that the filmmakers are using familiarity as a crutch rather than a starting point. They have made a good movie, one that those familiar with its inspirations should especially enjoy, and that's something that can't be said about many who try this sort of joking homage.

(Dead) link to the review on EFC.

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