Saturday, April 11, 2015

Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day #03: "Home-Grown Horror", I Am a Knife with Legs, and Bloody Knuckles

It's not like I set out to avoid the "Fantasia Underground" selections in Montreal last summer because I figured they might end up here - there was just almost always something else I wanted to see more in those slots - but it's a good thing I did, because I might not have been seeing a while lot new at BUFF otherwise. It might be worth asking Kevin and Nicole what they are thinking of picking up next year, because anything that helps to make decisions easier is welcome!

Before we get to that, though, a table of contents!


The 5:45pm matinee was the annual "Homegrown Horror" show, featuring short movies from throughout New England. It was a bit of an uneven group - I suspect that if quality is the only criterion you want to use for programming a festival, you are much better off trying to find themes among the best submissions after the fact than limiting one show to a certain geographic area - but there are certainly worse users for what might otherwise be a sparsely attended matinee.



From left to right, program curator Chris Hallock, "The October Garden" director Thomas Tosi, "Penta" director Andrea Wolanin, "Penta" star/"One" director Porcelain Dalya, "Tickle" director Corey Norman, "The Horrors of Auto-Correct director Alex DiVincenzo, "Shook" director Ben Swicker, and, uh, two of his friends. (Hey, that's what my notes say!) I don't know if Chris managed to get representatives of each New England state (I seem to recall that there wasn't even a submission from Vermont until very late), but he found some good stuff.

Next up: I Am a Knife with Legs, and do not let it be said that I do not appreciate when a festival does something I've asked for. In this case, that's playing Knife during the 7pm hour, because I was worn out for late shows in both Montreal and Austin. Surprise - deadpan comedy works much better when you are capable of properly processing it rather than falling asleep!



Fun fact: Bennett Jones got his start in the Boston area, and mentioned that he used to be a protectionist at the Harvard Square Cinema (which seems like it closed just yesterday but has been gone for years). I don't know if this was the last stop on t the film festival tour, or how many he's done since August, but ap place you can call home might be a good capper. Still, it's a bit of a shame that this festival is scheduled so tight - for all that I was glad to see the movie at a reasonable hour, the late-night lightheaded-ness and lack of urgency to seat the next show made for some extra-weird in-character Q&A sessions that BUFF's visit from Bené only got three-quarters of the way to.

Which admittedly, is still pretty funny, and probably more so for those who aren't on their third time through.



Last up (for me) was Bloody Knuckles, a thing I completely missed at Fantasia, with director Matt O'Mahoney present for interrogation. It's a pretty funny movie, albeit one where a supporting character up and steals the film to the extent that a spinoff becomes not only desired but necessary. The talk of doing stuff old-school and cheap is always fun, from the impacted of knowing people with access to commercial spaces between tenants to doing the ambulatory severed hand with a green sleeve whenever you can't get clever with the framing - and having a woman play a man's severed hands because you're going to need too build it up with make-up and prosthetics.

And then I went home. It's not that I couldn't have handled Remedy, the BDSM-centered drama playing at midnight in terms of content, but it was the longest movie in the festival, I was tired, and finally seeing all of I Am a Knife with Legs was a bit of a reminder that my capability for endurance isn't quite what it once was.

"Shook"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

I suspect that doing something like "Shook" is probably a rite of passage for many young filmmakers: It's a fake trailer that doesn't really have a particularly new twist on the revenge-slasher plot, quickly becoming a montage of kills that seems to get more seemingly self-aware that this isn't a real movie which needs things other than bloody murders even as they speed up. Most folks in an audience like this have seen this sort of thing before, although they may treat it like going to a basketball game, in that it may not have new surprises, but there's fun in watching the mechanics be executed.

Besides, it's practice. Maybe only one in ten of the people who worked on it ever moves ahead in terms of movie-making being a job or even avocation of any sort, but this sort of imitation builds skills in a way that helps determine if they want to our are able to, a and kind of gets the familiar enough with the tools so that when they do start to work on that original idea, they can do it without stumbling on the basics. As training-ground work, this is pretty good - solid shooting, editing, and effects - and certainly something to build upon.

"The Horrors of Auto-Correct"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

There's a next-level-meta moment in "The Horrors of Auto-Correct" when a character comments on something being a riff on Scream, which certainly didn't hold back from name-dropping the slasher movies that it was referencing. Is that a step too far? I'm not sure, though I tend to fall on the side that says yes.

Curmudgeon tendencies aside, I'm also not exactly sure what to think about this becoming the sort of Saturday Night Live sketch with a funny idea - a slasher trying to come across as menacing is stymied by the limits of texting because his teenage-girl target doesn't pay attention to voice calls - where events don't exactly play out so much as bend toward the premise. It's got enough good lines to make its way through six minutes despite starting to force the joke about halfway through.

(Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, even if it's kind of why I stopped watching SNL many years ago, but it's a style of humor that seems a bit more out of place in a horror block. )

"One"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

Porcelain Dalya has a damn good idea here, one which is frankly too good to be expended on a two-minute short: A ghost trying to deal with her zombie body. I want to send on an adventure, find out if other zombies in this world have their spirits hanging around, and use it as a metaphor for really not being able to let go even as the literal remains of your old life continue to decay and mess things up. I kind of hope that this is kind of a placeholder, a way of saying "mine" while she works on a really good script, raises the money needed to shoot it something close to properly, etc.

Right now, though, it's thin, an idea constricted by a lack of specific events and basic line-down-the-middle effects. It was also projected dark enough to make it tough to really grab the idea that these are two halves of the same person, but I don't know how much of that is technique and how much is blowing something likely optimized for a YouTube window up to a full movie-theater screen. At any rate, I hope she comes back to this when she's got a bit more experience behind the camera and a few more ideas on where to go.

"Buck Savage: City of the Damned"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

Filmmakers Derek R. Brigham & Uke Doiron do a fair job of doing standard zombie action as "Buck Savage" starts - well over the top, but fun for that, with Rick Dalton grunting his way through the movie as the title character, the exact sort of redneck one figures might be able to handle the undead apocalypse. It's the sort of bloody mayhem that can be a little much, but there's fun to it.

Then the twist comes, and it's a decent one, although you can kind of tell that the filmmakers sort of cast for one thing and accepted the other, which isn't crippling, or even necessarily bad. Things do go on a little long after the twist, like the filmmakers just couldn't either let what they started with go or avoid elongating their punchline. They don't beat it to death, though, so the gag works fairly well.

"The October Garden"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

The IMDB listing for this has it as being from 1983, and I believe it despite the director apparently winning an "emerging filmmaker" award in 2008. If it's not thirty years old, it is a pretty flawless recreation of what looks like 8mm backyard filmmaking, and there's not a hint of self-parody to be found. The black and white film is evocative, and for something whose look kind of says "budget", the details are very much on point.

It's also rather creepily sparse, though, which works as well as anything in making it unnerving. Director Thomas Tosi often seems to be leaving something out, whether jumping ahead a bit more than expected, showing detailed backgrounds with nothing in the foreground, or playing out in almost silent fashion. Tosi is impressive at creating that sort of void, whether he did it last year or in the early 1980s.

"Penta"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

Porcelain Dalya was behind the camera earlier in the program, but steps in front for this sci-fi short as the title character, an android purchased by a socially stunted nerd for, well, what you might expect. Of course, when she shows interest in more than just cooking, cleaning, and screwing, he doesn't take it very well.

It's a pretty familiar sort of story, but filmmaker Andrea Wolanin handles it with a fairly deft touch; there aren't a lot of resources at hand, but Wolanin knows what she's doing behind the camera and uses what she has well. She also has a solid cast, with Dalya well-positioned as the newly-activated robot and coming across as human enough to empathize with but different enough to remind you she's different. Shaun Callaghan does just about what he needs to as her owner, and the folks who pop up in the second half are strong as well.

One interesting thing is how Wolanin seems to get torn between two different endings. For much of the movie, it seems like she's going for one pretty clear aim, and as much as it's kind of obvious, there's a horrifying but symbolic ending all teed up. She goes a different way, though, and as much as it's clever in its own way, it's not quite as weighty as it might be.

SPOILERS!

Personally, I thought that the short was going to end with Penta not just having her limbs cut off, but her head (or maybe with the musculature locked in some sort of sex-doll rictus), so that Adam gets what he really wants in a woman - breasts, vagina, and nothing else - and we're horrified because we know her and have seen hints of what she could be. The "she learns what you teach" ending isn't bad, but it's more a gotcha than the crushing culmination of what the film had been doing up until then.

!SRELIOPS

"Tickle"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

Well, I won't be teasing my nieces with "here comes the tickle monster!" for a while.

Like a lot of the shorts in this program, it's basic stuff, but Corey & Haley Norman (director and writer, respectively) do an impressive job of playing its absurd premise straight and not going in for parody of the already-cheesy 1980s movies that seem to be inspiring it. It's mean and gruesome in a way I often don't much like, but there's something to be said for not messing around and not losing sight of how it's supposed to be scary.

Plus, it's got a genuinely twisted final few shots, and I do appreciate a good stinger at the end.

"The Wound"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Homegrown Horror, digital)

There's a lot of things to like about "The Wound", but I think what I like most is that writer/director David Garrett chooses close to exactly the right tone and the right way of going about building it. There's nothing obviously horrific about it when it starts (minus one of those flash-forwards filmmakers like so much these days), but the situation that Annie Dunn (Arianna Ortiz) finds her in is calculated to make the audience feel a little uncomfortable: The decreased mobility, the recent brush with death, the folks willing to help but not quite there... It's not obviously foreboding, but it puts you in a place where even the sudden craziness doesn't jar one out of his or her discomfort zone. It's ridiculous, but surprisingly effective.

Major props to Arianna Ortiz, too - the role she's got here as a sort of conduit is tough; a lot of actresses have been tripped up trying to play a decent person with evil acting through them, but she nails the part pretty well. Her horror really keeps things grounded even during the moments that are gruesomely funny, and that's an important asset for a short horror film to have.

"Manicorn"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

That's just... I mean... The heck was that?

This is certainly one of the weirder "hey, let's go all-in on crazy" shorts I've seen at the festival, with filmmakers Jim McDonough & Robert McVarish starting from stating that it is dangerous to mix daytime and nighttime cold medicine and winding up on the outer edges of the galaxy. Things just get trippier and trippier, and somehow the opposing forces of cheap effects and tall tales works here.

It doesn't seem like something repeatable, but it doesn't have to be. It's zany in just the way it that will allow it to work.

I Am a Knife with Legs

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

This review has been a long time coming, as BUFF is the third festival I've attended to play I Am a Knife with Legs. I've watched the film at all three, but it's the sort of weird movie that tends to play midnights, and I fear I'm reaching the age where deadpan humor and late hours do not mix, so it took this festival playing it at 7:45pm for me to feel like I've actually seen the thing. Clearly, it's me and not the film - Bennett Jones's movie is very funny, making me glad I didn't give up.

Jones plays Bené, an international pop star who recently just missed being killed by a suicide bomber, although his backup singer and girlfriend Baguette was not so lucky. Now there's apparently a fatwa out on him, so he has holed up in a run-down L.A. apartment with his manager/bodyguard Beefy (Will Crest), hoping they can wait this thing out.

Bennett Jones is a veritable a veritable Swiss Army Knife with legs for all the jobs he did on this movie - he writes, produces, directs, stars, edits, and is responsible for both the score and songs. That's after honing the character of Bené as a stand-up comedian, and that's perhaps the most important thing he does. It's one thing, after all, to have this sort of dim-bulb character as a supporting part, but quite another to have him at the center of every scene and narrating besides. That he manages to give this guy an actual personality and makes darn near every line funny is impressive.

Full review on EFC.

"Speed-F*cking"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Well... At least that title doesn't promise any hint of class that the picture will not deliver.

Because, let's be clear, when I say that this thing is tacky as hell, I mean that it is the sort of bad taste that clearly means to punish someone in a way that is disproportionate to their actual sins. It's vulgar, gross, and plays on stereotypes, but it's also undeniably funny, in the French style of just not caring how crass something is; Ralph Tilman's character may be ironically credited as "The Hero", but made up to look like scum from a highly-exaggerated bande dessinee - and that's probably not far off, as portions are animated - and the movie revels in his grotesquerie, laughing at how awful he is and feeling no need to counter the disdain of Ursula Kautto's bartender.

It's the sort of mean French comedy that wears its welcome out pretty quickly, but at about 12 minutes, its demolition of the desires for instant sexual gratification is a fine bit of anarchy.

Bloody Knuckles

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

If Bloody Knuckles filmmaker Matt O'Mahoney knows one thing, it's that measured calls for free speech are kind of missing the point. You can't just say that offensive media has value, you have to demonstrate it, so it's a good thing that his movie is crude, rude, and entertaining.

After an opening bit that shows just what disgustingly lethal things the rich and powerful can get away with, we meet Travis (Adam Boys), an underground cartoonist being profiled by alternate weekly writer Amy (Gabrielle Giraud). His comic has recently taken to targeting Chinese gangster Leonard Fong (Kasey Ryne Mazak), and Fong doesn't take it well, sending his men to assault Travis and cutting off his hand. It works - Travis becomes a cowed, drunk wreck - but the hazardous chemicals dumped by Fong somehow revive Travis's discarded hand, and it certainly hasn't lost its zeal for speaking truth to power through its drawings.

It's pretty easy to disdain Travis from the start; he may be idealistic but he's the sort of bomb-thrower who doesn't much care about the chaos his words may lead to and cocky besides, while Amy seems a bit more measured. He's a sort of dilettante, a middle-class white guy whose activism focuses on things that aren't at the core of his life, so it's not a huge surprise that his zeal all seems to wind up in his hand, drained from him when it's cut off. He's got to relearn not just expressing himself but actually feeling outrage without his main tool, and it's kind of impressive how well O'Mahoney works this story in through the comedy; it's a thing that many more serious movies would make seem too pat because they put it up front.

Full review on EFC.

1 comment:

Alex DiVincenzo said...

Hey Jay, I wrote and directed The Horrors of AutoCorrect. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to review it. I'm glad you enjoyed it to some extent, but hopefully you like my next short even more. Keep an eye out for Trouser Snake later this year!