Monday, April 20, 2015

Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day #04: "Two-Way Mirror", We Are Still Here, and Bag Boy Lover Boy

Someday, I'm going to get up early enough on Saturday morning for the festival's first Saturday Morning cartoon show, but not this year, even if I did skip the midnight.

Even skipping out on that and another program, this is a day long enough to require a table of contents:


I got to Harvard Square at about two-thirty for the grown-up animation program, which continued my streak of "something I'd seen at other festivals" with a few entries. It would end on the last day, but it's occasionally fun to recognize good stuff that might not come around again.

I skipped the music video program; twenty-plus songs from bands I probably don't know can be a lot for me. It was a good afternoon to visit Bartley's and then poke around in bookstores before grabbing the night's two features.

WE ARE STILL HERE at BUFF

Nice turnout both at the theater and on-stage for We Are Still Here, and sadly my notes are all but non-existant for the photograph. I think that's special effects supervisor Marcus Koch, hostess Kaila Yesterday, writer/director Ted Geoghegan, Zorah Burress (who played one of the ghosts under a whole bunch of make-up), someone I'm completely drawing a blank on (her dad?), and co-star Kelsea Dakota. Everyone was so enthusiastic that this was the picture with the least blur to it! Lots of fun stories about the movie - everyone was impressed as heck with co-star Monte Markham, a guy who has been acting for fifty years but really hadn't done much independent work in that time, and seemed to wish he had done more when he was younger. He also talked about how they built the film in Lovecraft's universe with certain references, although not adapting any specific story.

No guests for Bag Boy Lover Boy, which surprised me a bit - it's from New York, so it wouldn't be a huge hike to come to Boston. It's another one I missed at Fantasia, although I remember Mitch Davis raving about it. Can't say I liked it nearly as much, myself.

Then I headed home, because I knew I would sleep through the "Trigger Warning" shorts despite being squeamish.

"In Capricious Hands"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

There's something very enjoyably authentic about Stephen Larson's "In Capricious Hands", in that it almost feels like he was experimenting with his little insect robot stuck in a box, trying to figure out how to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. In actual fact, of course, every frame and motion of a CGI cartoon like this is planned, but the genuine feeling of exploration, problem solving, and hope even when the world seems built to frustrate come through.

"Migration"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I do like the imagination behind shorts like "Migration", where Mark Lomond & Johanne Ste-Marie (collectively known as "Fluorescent Hill") come up with a little ecosystem filled with fantastic creatures (bipedal whales here) and follow them around. There are some tricks that they use to make it seem a bit more authentic - the washed-out coloring, for instance - but mostly it's a matter of just creating a world that holds together and has a little bit of wonder.

"It Needs to Eat"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

This short is very brief - two minutes or so - but between its simple paper-cut animation and narration that seems suffused with guilt, director Lauren Flinner does an excellent job of communicating just how people manage to justify things they find abhorrent to themselves. It's an impressive example of how a little abstraction can help communicate a difficult concept.

"Monster"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

This one by Patrick Fatica is of a type that always makes me feel a little odd: It had the feel of a folk tale, but one where I have a hard time pinpointing both the culture and the moral of the film, especially as it's about five girls in peril as a result of being headstrong or other traits that might be considered positive in boys. Of course, it could just be completely made up. It's odd.

Still, it's a neat little short, very moody by being told almost entirely in shadow with eerie music from Jef Shumard, although it's leavened with surprisingly bloody moments which switch the feel up. It makes it a neat combination of horror and folklore.

"Indigo"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I'd like to watch this one again, just to see what else jumps out at me. On the first viewing, I found myself very fond of the steampunk style that meshes well with the stop-motion animation, with walking dolls and creepy spider creatures. There's a feeling of unease as the story progresses, a sense of abandonment and curiosity at what the outside world has become.

There's also a fascinating malleability to the whole thing, as the characters' costumes color schemes change as they go into drastically different environments just next door. Despite not feeling frantic, it moves along just quick (and wordlessly) enough that I had a bit of trouble nailing down exactly what director Amanda Strong and writer Daniel T. Fischer were going for with it, feeling the change but not always the reason for it. Still, they do a good job of getting the feeling of it across, even if the plot may be a bit difficult to tease out

"StormJumper"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I get a real Brandon Graham vibe to the visuals of Malcolm Sutherland's "StormJumper", in which an alien shaman performs a strange rite to flee his planet. It's simply drawn and prone to compressed scale, just sort of throwing the audience into an alien world but treating it as unexceptional. In fact, a great deal of the unease and alien-ness comes from the electronic music, which is an interesting choice, because the astral projection, insect-based tattoos, and general strangeness is pretty trippy by most standards.

That's pretty nifty, and Sutherland makes it feel very atomic despite the lack of context. Impressively simple in some ways, but still giving the feeling of something very strange.

"This Is not a Time to Lie"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I saw this one in Montreal last summer, one of two Lei Lei had in Fantasia's "Outer Limits of Animation" program, and it's kind of interesting to see it under different circumstances - where before, I saw "This Is Not a Time to Lie" in comparison to his other film in the program, it comes off as much more its own thing with a story and idea of its own. It's a pretty terrific story of love and adventure, and I'm actually kind of sad that I won't get to see Lei Lei's visit to the ICA because it's at the same time as IFFBoston.

"Lucky and Finnegan"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Another one I saw at Fantasia last year - the very first thing I saw there, actually - but one I still kind of love. Nifty song, and director Davide Di Saro just piles cool thing on top of cool thing as it plays.

"There's an Octopus on Your Head"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Unlike a lot of the shorts in this program, this is a chatty little short, involving a hyper guy calling himself The Pancake Master making a visit to Satan (not for the first time) to gain knowledge of the universe. It's a frantic thing that careens between dry and screeching on a dime even before you consider its metal soundtrack.

It's funny, though - there's a John K. influence to it that works, even when the absurdity veers a little too far to randomness. It doesn't hold up quite so well when the jokes get mean or dark, but it's generally a win.

"The Master's Voice: Caveirão"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Third one seen at Fantasia 2014, and another that's still pretty spiffy. I don't know if it's quite as astonishingly weird the second time through, but there's plenty of eye-popping stuff and a keen soundtrack.

"Wailing Whale"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Filmmaker Laura Venditti has a nifty idea here - Moby Dick grumbling at a bar - but in a couple minutes, doesn't have a whole lot of time to get a whole lot more than a few decent gags. It's nicely animated, but I kind of wonder how, with how meticulously animation must be pulled off, something which doesn't seem to have gotten that far beyond the idea stage gets produced.

"Eye in Tuna Care"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

In a sort of contrast, "Eye in Tuna Care" seems to be similarly high-concept - a dentist in a place where people's heads are all mouth gets visited by a patient whose head is all eye - but in just four or five minutes, filmmaker John Walter Lustig does an impressive job of creating a set of conflicting tones, characters with personality, and a story. That's a fairly impressive feat - you'll see a fair number of shorts with this sort of visual hook that really don't do much more than that.

"Day 40"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

You know a movie is kind of pushing it when it's making fun of religion and I'm sitting there thinking "you know, maybe that's kind of tacky". That's kind of where I sit with "Day 40", a satirical take on the Noah's Ark story that kind of takes a little while to get me in its corner, because it always seems to be going for the easy joke. That attitude is sort of reinforced by the style, with sprites moving in a not-quite-natural way that feels a bit like details are being overlooked.

Eventually, though, I found myself laughing more. Writer Evan Morgan and director/almost-everything-else Sol Friedman may have jumped ahead to a place to which they maybe should have built up, but eventually their jokes are in weird, downright random territory, and for this movie, that works a lot better than trying to do any sort of jab.

We Are Still Here

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

It's funny which little details will make a movie really work for someone. Take We Are Still Here, for instance; it's quite a well-executed ghost story with a nifty cast, good for a decent star rating even if it does seem to get a little sloppy at points. But where almost every other story like it will have ghosts indicated by cold spots, filmmaker Ted Geoghegan indicates his with heat. It doesn't necessarily change much about the story, but it does indicate that he's not just going with the default settings, and that makes a horror movie much more exciting.

The house in question has just been purchased by the Sacchettis, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig), looking for a change of scenery after their son died in an automobile accident. Even in a new place, though, Anne is sure she can hear him. Then again, their new neighbor, Dave McCabe (Monte Markham), informs then that their house has a history dating back a hundred years or so, a gruesome tale involving the town's undertaker. It makes for a good reason to invite their friends May and Jacob Lewis to visit, though; in addition to being the parents of their son's college roommate, May (Lisa Marie) claims psychic powers, though Jacob (Larry Fessenden) is mostly an old hippie.

Despite a few references that tie the film into what is perhaps horror's largest and most enduring mythos, We Are Still Here is at heart a thriller made up of well-tested pieces, put together in a way that doesn't break new ground but or make the audience dizzy with twists. Heck, there are times when it almost seems like it needed to be bulked up a bit to get to 85 minutes, with a couple of scare sequences feeling like they could be removed without necessarily hurting the plot much at all. It's not quite transparently showing that someone means business while not tipping the main characters off, but it's kind of close.

Full review on EFC.

"Beautiful Meat"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

After writing all those reviews of animated shorts above that pack quite a bit into just a few minutes, there seems to be relatively little to the twenty that "Beautiful Meat" runs. It's not slow or packed with filler or anything, but everything plays out more or less the way one would expect from the moment we meet each of its three or four characters. It's that strange sort of predictability that comes from watching a short film you know to be horror - the bizarre twist is expected from the start.

Still, there are a few impressive things to it, perhaps most notably Renato Ferreira's performance as the student/porn star at the center, seen only in flashback. The character is more than a bit of a jerk, the sort that will often be dismissed or just seen as a stepping stone to the ugly bit of retribution that it's somewhat implied he deserves, but the film actually builds him as an individual of some worth. It's not something that always happens when the point is to shock with what happens to that character, and welcome.

Bag Boy Lover Boy

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

There are times when it almost seems as if Bag Boy Lover Boy is making an argument against its own existence - that weird and difficult art is dangerous in the wrong hands, and not just in the usual way in which that means "disruptive". It's an odd sort of stance to take, and results in a weird sort of snobbery that makes a movie designed to be unpleasant even more so.

The first bit of unpleasantness encountered is the hot dog stand where Albert (Jon Watcher) works - it is, at least during his overnight shifts, not close to sanitary, although this isn't a problem for Albert or Lexy (Adrienne Gori), a woman in the same state of near-homelessness he does, when they want something to eat at the end of the shift. One customer stands up for the place against some yuppies acting outraged, and it turns out that Ivan (Theodore Bouloukos) is a photographer of some renown. He asks Albert to model for a series of photographs, but Albert demands Ivan also teach him to be a photographer.

It's tempting to say that Albert recognizes that it's the guy taking the pictures who gets the money and fame, but to describe him as really not being that bright rather understates the case; he's almost certainly developmentally disabled. There's a point where this becomes frustrating for the audience; when Albert makes the jump from being sadly delusional to violent, it can seem completely random. It blunts the horror somewhat; what he does has neither a horrifying inevitability nor the sort of sudden shock that delivers jolts. We just don't get this guy, so it's hard to have strong feelings about what he does.

Full review on EFC.

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