Thursday, April 09, 2015

Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day #02: "Hoping for Something Else", The World of Kanako, and Excess Flesh

Thursday is my department's regular work-from-home day, making it pretty easy to catch both the features and the shorts program, aside from the past where it rained like crazy right around the time when I had to walk to Harvard Square. Fortunately, that didn't scare many filmmakers away.

BUFF Short Filmmakers

First up, the folks from the "Hoping for Something Else" shorts program: "Punk Bitch!!!" director Nic Collins and his cinematographer whose name I shamefully did not write down, "Tumble Down Low" director Jefferson Stein, festival director Kevin Monahan, and "Barker" director Dave Paige. Good folks making good shorts about growing up (among other things).

BUFF short filmmaker ladies

These three ladies were responsible for the two shorts before Excess Flesh: Actress Diana Porter & director Izzy Lee of "Postpartum" and "Recipe" director Olivia Saperstein. It's always fun to see Izzy's stuff, because she's the only person I know who tweets out stuff while she's making it, which feels a lot different than an advertising campaign.

Excess Flesh (BUFF)

Last but not least, Excess Flesh star Bethany Orr and director Patrick Kennelly. It's a movie that eventually wore out its welcome with me, leading to a meandering sort of Q&A where neither participant was willing to do anything but tap-dance around a seemingly obvious take on the movie until someone asked a question that referenced SPOONERIZED SPOILERS! Kite Flub !SRELIOPS DEZIRENOOPS. It's kind of understandable - you don't want to give a definitive interpretation to your kind-of-ambiguous movie, but it also felt like trying to avoid spoilers in a crowd where you knew everybody had just seen it. Orr actually seemed visibly relieved at this point, like it was hard to talk about her role any other way.

Kennelly, on the other hand, didn't seem quite so excited, and it was kind of funny that he referenced Abel Ferrera and said to get an import version of his Welcome to New York, because while he didn't get semi-antagonistic toward the audience the way Ferrera did during his monster Q&A at Fantasia, I got the same sort of "how do you even make a movie of you're thinking about it in such vague terms?" feeling I did from Ferrara. Not to the same extent - Ferrara made it sounds like he showed up on set and the movie just sort of happened - but maybe that's something to shoot for.

"Tumble Dry Low"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

This was easily my favorite short of this group and not just because it has one cute little moppet at the center. Director Jefferson Stein does a truly impressive job of using imagery to tell the story of this fractured family, from how isolated their trailer is (the lack of a vast reinforcing that yes, their financial situation is pretty dire) to the tellingly scorched family portrait at the end. It's not pointedly dialogue-free, in that people do talk and one never gets the feeling that this is something Stein has actively worked to avoid, but it's a fine job of telling the story with imagery and actions.

It's a simple sorry he tells, a father and daughter both overcome by sadness, one unable to comprehend it and the other all too well-aware of what he's going through. That simplicity is not any sort of mark against it, though, and it's a well-earned bit of emotion.

"Goodbye Casey Trade"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

I'm curious as to whether the makers of "Goodbye Casey Trade" have any ambitions to expand it into a feature, because it's one of those shorts where the twist near the end seems like it would work even better as a hook. Up until that point, it's the sort of thing where I tend to feel bad about calling it familiar - who wants to be blasé about seeing the sort of ostracism and bullying that has a teenager contemplating suicide done well? Especially since the friend she makes is more than obnoxious enough that he's obviously more of a than a solution.

Still, director Amanda Brennan finds a number of great moments in the midst of a story whose structure is fairly well-mapped, and lead actress Chloe Roe is quite impressive in the title role. It's an effective little film, and if it had ended in the expected way, it would be a decent selection. Instead, I'm curious as to what will happen next, and I'm curious as to whether that's something folks are planning to write or if the idea is for it to start a discussion.

"What Doesn't Kill You"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

Rob Grant is a guy who has been pretty interesting over the past few years - Yesterday and Mon Ami were both, at the very least, interesting movies, and I was disappointed when circumstances kept a side project from its scheduled Somerville screening. A new short is welcome, and while I think "What Doesn't Kill You" is a little rough, it does wind up a kind of nifty take on certain horror ideas.

It may move a little too fast for its own good, though. Grant sketches his teenage characters very quickly before running their car over a cliff before having the two that seem to have recovered without a scratch debate what to do with the third, who is pretty severely hurt - kill him so he can recover like them, or let him be? They skip the "hey, how do you know this will work for everyone?" argument almost entirely, and that seems like it would be the motor of the story, even if what is actually about is something else. It is, after all, a pretty dead-on look at how even young people at a low ebb can find themselves feeling practically indestructible only to realize that they perhaps don't really know anything.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

"Barker" is fairly impressive in how it almost had to be a sort of bait-and-switch movie - its characters aren't exactly doing enough to have their actions amount to a whole lot of consequence - but manages it in a way that has the audience along for the ride. It shows a trio of hungover roommates having a lazy day before another night out, and in doing so let's the viewer see just enough of them to keep them interested, even if it's not quite a group that earns immediate attachment or devotion. It could be the start of something, but what, precisely, is kept close to the vest.

It's the kind of thing I often find slight - why should I watch a movie about people killing time? - and I really admit to feeling a bit of impatience here. It's put together well, and the cast never comes across as anything less than genuine, and it ends on an emotional note, so the idea behind the movie wound up being a lot sticker than expected afterward, and that's worth some praise.

"Punk Bitch!!!"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

This entry was probably the most generally grimy selection in a block about losing illusions, but you can't deny the craft involved. Director Nic Collins starts at a point where title character Alice's life is already fairly low and then build the movie in a way that emphasizes the circulatory of it - the story is tips or of strict chronological order but there's a sense that it doesn't have to be. A downward spiral give you the same view repeatedly, just from a little let down each time.

Audrey Nilssen also gives a nice performance as Alice, not entirely reliant on her being the protagonist in gaining the audience's sympathy but not afraid to be a little abrasive, either. It's not always an easy performance to watch, but it does a good job of getting under a viewer's skin, helping to boost his or her estimation of Alice even as the story grins her down.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

Ryen McPherson has delivered a film which falls squarely into the "man, I hope that didn't happen to you (or anyone)" category, with the first part a fascinatingly tense situation, built around a family visit and dinner involving a young man, the cold he fathered out of wedlock, and his foster parents, with the father the sort of preacher much more interested in the parts of the Bible that reference hellfire and brimstone than forgiveness and charity. It's the sort of thing that's horrifying to watch for any reason other than confirming that one's decision to reject religion is the correct one, but that horror is honest and fascinating, especially since the cast makes it so specific to these characters - rather than just being an example of twisted principles, it's a real family conflict.

And then something happens and one starts to wonder if maybe this short film's script was taken from that of an intended feature. The scene shifts, there's not enough time to establish the new situation, and while this is a story that doesn't completely require resolution, it's a bit past the point where we can see that an important transition has been made. I'd be down with watching a movie that continues from here, though - McPherson implies a new sort of unnerving vibe, so I've got no doubt he can tell the whole story.

"Waiting Games"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Hoping for Something Else, digital)

I'm a poor fatalist; when presented with stories like "Waiting Games", I tend to run through a dozen rounds of what-about/you've-gotta-try/maybe-if, completely missing the point that the teller is trying to make or feeling she is trying to evoke, not totally buying into it even once I accept that is a necessary presumption. So, yes, I had a bit of trouble responding to this one in the way it was intended, but I like it nonetheless.

Why? In part, I like its attitude toward sibling relationships, which seems to be that one you strip out the competitiveness that can often hijack people like the sisters we follow here, the fact that you have such similar biology and personal history almost gives you more common ground than you know what to do with. Sure, a situation that can eliminate that much friction is obviously extreme, but the is something very beautiful about how this pair barely needs to speak, able to return to an innocent time without doing it alone.

Director Anastasia Cazaban does a nice job in choosing ways to tell the story as well. She leans on some familiar trappings - a newscast/emergency services broadcast filing in just enough information to sketch out the setting without giving optimists like me much to nitpick with, quick cuts to and from something ghastly to remind the audience that the odds are very high that this doesn't end well - but with enough skill that they don't feel to much like clichés. I'm still not sure I can buy into the premise, but this is an interesting close-up view of it told well.


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

Well, that's a Target ad from Hell, isn't it?

That sounds mean, but I suspect that it's more or less exactly what director Harlan Doolittle was trying to achieve here with his bright colors, fashionable young things, and choices of electronic music that are catchy because they have been engineered to be that above all other things. It's a bright barrage of cute images with maybe a drop or two of funk before he pushes it ever further into weird imagery and sensory assault, to the point where an epilepsy warning is displayed before the movie.

A little much? Maybe, and there's probably not much point in trying to read more than "check this out" into it. ("By going this far, Doolittle shows how the consumerist messages absorbed by young women have reached an intensity that is actually beyond the levels of human endurance. ..") It's a neat, weird little six minutes with a pretty keen soundtrack.

Kawaki (The World of Kanako)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Huh. I remember this being funnier when I saw it at Fantastic Fest. Mean, creepy, and violent, sure, but it seemed like the absurdity was a little more broadly distributed and prominent. I wonder if that is environmental or me being differently fatigued at the point during those festivals when I saw the movie.

Full review on EFC. (From Fantastic Fest)


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

I know Izzy Lee (writer/director) and Chris Hallock (writer), so I probably should just completely recuse myself from saying a damn thing, because it seems like your options are hurt feelings and seeming insincere, while consciously splitting down the middle is probably the worst of both.

Still, it's worth mentioning that Izzy is getting pretty good at this. For a short made with a tiny budget and a tight schedule, it looks nice, is well-paced, and shows that she pretty clearly knows how to deploy the one or two big moments that fit into something like this. On the other hand, I am really story-oriented with a tendency to want to see how things fit together, and really wanted a much more direct link between the one more creepy thing and what the rest of the movie is about.

But that's me, and I know that's just me to a certain extent. It's still a good enough short that anxious to see what these guys are up to next, and not just because they're my friends.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

You probably know that you've seen too many of a certain type of movie when you watch something like this and are tempted to go "oh, spoofing fad diets with cannibalism? what else ya got?"

As it turns out, that pretty much is the gag, and the movie kind of dances around it rather than either diving right in our doing enough misdirection that the audience thinks it's something else. Fortunately, it's a good gag - easy target or not, it works pretty well, especially since the lady keeping her next smoothie chained up in the next room is more "cheerful but easily misled" than "snob who looks down on non-vegans". And filmmaker Olivia Saperstein may not have m much in the way of resources, but she's got style in how she deploys them, with a slow zoom into a blender filed with red particularly memorable.

There's probably a sharper piece to be made with this premise, but this one gets a few laughs in just a few minutes, and that's got too be considered a success.

Excess Flesh

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

Perhaps surprisingly for an underground film festival, a lot of people coming into this show were using the phrase used to describe it in the program - "body horror" - like it was two words that they had never considered concatenating them in such a way. That's fair enough; as much as it's a reasonable description of Excess Flesh, it's not necessarily the usual type of movie that elicits the phrase. The question is, how much does it have beyond the basic concept of a young woman's unhealthy relationship with her physicality.

Los Angeles is the sort of place that can foster that attitude, and it's where Jill (Bethany Orr) is making her home, though she has yet to find a job, which makes for some tension with her roommate Jennifer (Mary Loveless). Jennifer works in the fashion industry and remains a skinny thing despite her tendency to wolf down a big snack after coming home, swinging between being supportive and cruel where Jill is concerned. Still, a nice guy seeks Jill out at one of Jennifer's parties, but when she sees Rob (Wes McGee) making out with Jennifer later...

It gets ugly, safe to say, but it also kind of stalls out. Once the chains come off the refrigerator and onto Jennifer, there's an immediate jolt of tension, but it also limits just how many directions director Patrick Kennelly and his co-writer Sigrid Gilmer can go with it. They find good ways to crank the tension of these two women in a room up a notch or two on occasion, but it's a long enough time in the room that a viewer's mind can start to wander. You start to come up with theories about what's really going on, then start examining every scene to see if it supports that theory more than feeling it. It's far from crippling - you probably won't find yourself groaning for them to get out of the room - but it's a fair amount of the same thing.

Full review on EFC.

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