Thursday, January 21, 2016

Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day #05: Magnetic, "Laugh Track", 20 Years of Madness, Der Samurai, and Goodnight Mommy

Full-length day, even with a slightly more spread-out schedule and without late shows, which means the only lateness is this post and its mammoth table of contents.

I've got a theory about the movies that play film festivals at around noon on Sunday. They're not things the programmers want to hide, but they're often unusual things where the filmmakers have a lot of friends in the area who will show up even if they were at the party the night before, or niches-within-niches like the anime that often plays that hour at Fantasia. Not bad, but not so great that the folks outside its core need to see it and it will therfore be showcased accordingly.

This is the second year in a row that a film by Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola - shown with (I think) Catherine Capozzi, who worked with them on the music, and star Alix Mortis - has occupied that spot at BUFF, and it's not surprising. They rightfully have a lot of friends in Boston's indie/underground filmmaking community and the music community as well, and if their features are not as polished as some of the things playing the later hours, they do well with what they've got and have some storytelling ambition. Clearly, they are better with a camera than I am

Still, I might sleep in if they nab that slot in 2016. Their thing is not my thing, and Cacciola's comment that everything was analog because she gets mad when she sees a cell phone in a movie may be the silliest thing I've ever heard coming from the stage at one of these Q&As. Seriously, if you can't handle people making use of common, useful technology in contemporary or futuristic settings, you should perhaps be making westerns. (Yes, I realize this movie is 90% metaphorical, but sci-fi-as-nostalgia is a pet peeve. Hey, I said their thing was not my thing!)

(Eight-month delay in finishing this entry)

There were also guests during the block of comedy shorts, but my notes as to who is who is in a notebook that was lost before I moved, and the picture seems to be gone as well. Sorry, guys.

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The final guest of the festival, then, was 20 Years of Madness director Jeremy Royce (l), who like a lot of folks who find their regional-interest film playing outside its home territory, was fairly excited to find an audience that got it without needing first-hand experience with its subject.

After that, two German films, one of which would become Austria's submission for the foreign-language film Oscar and get a noticeable release, which is kind of unusual for stuff that plays this particular festival.

And now, gads, only two months away from the next one. Where did the time go this year, right?


* * (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

If I were writing this within a month or two of watching the film, I'd probably light into it harder and more specifically, but animosity fades, and the fact that there are images that have stuck in my head for purposes other than ridicule indicates that filmmakers Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola have done something right. There's undeniable skill visible in their lo-fi production, and lead actress Alix Mortis can carry things quite well. The music (also, I believe, supplied by Mortis) is strong.

And, heck, it's not aggressively boring like it could have been, but it can be pretty darn dull. It posits the end of the world but does so without any particular emotion - not desperation, not resignation, barely even melancholy. The plot is a puzzle box without much motivation to solve it, serving a gimmick that is meant to register as clever (and clearly is trying to say something about loneliness and solitude) but doesn't provide real satisfaction when the pieces are in place.

In that way, it's kind of like the filmmakers' previous feature, Ten, which was also formally ambitious but could itself have sacrificed some of its attempted cleverness for clarity and just getting what it wanted to say and feel out there. I like this a little more, and who knows, maybe I'll like the vampire thing they've got coming up a little more than that.

Laugh Track

Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Being as it's been so long, I'm going to have to see which ones are online link to those. Well, except for "Crow Hand!!!", the first one, which I recall not liking much more strongly because it popped up again at Fantasia.

* "There's Something About Carrie": I don't think it mentioned being a 48 Hour Film Project thing during the fetival, but it's not surprising; it has the feel of the random ideas that pop up within a short time period with certain restrictions set. Fortunately, the folks making it are funny enough that even the bits which aren't really great zip by quickly and the ones which probably could be expanded (mostly, the bachelor party that gets weird and uncomfortable) don't feel underdeveloped.

* "Queso Flameado": A kind of amusing little thing about two women hiring a hit man who is, to say the least, eccentric. For better or worse, that's all it is, a chance for Corey sullivan to deliver odd lines with a weird voice and cadence. It's amusing, but when it hits the end, it really feels like it should be dropped into something bigger.

* "En Plein Air": Not going to be the reason I join Fandor, but if you're a member, here it is.

* "Salad Days": It's a weird little thing where a couple of naked people have a picnic, reminiscing upon past encounters with decidedly different perspectives. It's got a pretty good bit or three, especially in how it uses a sort of bland sequence to set up a filthily funny one, although it can't quite harness that randomness for an ending that's much more

* "Money Shot": A pretty cute comedy about high school kids facing the AV club shutting down, with one member's porn obsession both the cause and solution to their problems. Almost a little too sweet, like it's trying to be naughty but finds the real thing has lapped them. Still, it's got a cute and funny leading lady in Sigrid Owen, who is pretty great at hitting the note that the movie needs.

* "Career Day": Broad slapstick as a couple of really inept cops give a couple little girls the lowdown on how they became inept cops. The "story doesn't match events happening" is fun, and director Brian Knight keeps things moving at a quick pace, precisely aware of how ridiculous each second is and pretty good at getting it just right.

* "Open 24 Hours" - Looks like another site where you need a subscription to watch.

* "The Hold Up">: A pretty classic scenario (guys planning a hold-up, not agreeing on just how it's going to go down) executed with zippy style and music, plaing a number of variations on the same gag - guys planning a much more complicated heist than necessary - in entertaining fashion. for less than ten minutes, it does a pretty nice job of giving all members of the gang distinct personalities that reflect their plans. It's good stuff.

* "Hellyfish">: It's always a good bit of fun when people spoof goofy monster movies by playing up to the level of what they're spoofing rather than just making cheapness a part of the gag. In this case, filmmakers Patrick Longstreth, Robert McLean, and Kate Fitzpatrick put a great deal of polish on their mutant-jellyfish story, quickly hitting all the notes they might in a feature (which is something they're working on) and if not actually getting a lot of actual jokes out of the material, doing "laugh at the silly/familiar" better than most, especially since the visual effects are a lot more likably slick than you usually find on this sort of short and enjoyably gross more often than not.

20 Years of Madness

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

A couple years ago, IFFBoston played something called "The Parking Lot Movie", and is charm came from being about something so hyper-specific and inconsequential that the pressure one often feels watching a documentary vanished and the viewer could just enjoy the personalities and how the film was put together. 20 Years of Madness is a couple levels above that in terms of import - some of the people involved are in bad places and making a new episode of the public access sketch comedy show they created as teenagers will probably not just bring back good memories - but it is still wide open in the effect it can have, so long as it's told well.

Director/producer/cinematographer/editor Jeremy Royce does tell it well, making himself a fly on the wall, apparently ingratiating himself even with the folks who don't get along with the show's co-creator Jerry White Jr. - also the driving force behind the reunion and the director's film-school classmate - and cutting the footage he gets into something that doesn't feel like anything is left out. He's got some help there, as actually making this new episode has them all staying in a house together, increasing the dramatic potential and meaning he doesn't have to go chasing stories. He probably also knows White just well enough to see that some friction is inevitable; then and now, he's the guy who is just capable enough that his being in charge makes sense, but not the sort of genius or charismatic personality who can make people grateful to be following his lead.

It's about more than White, of course, it's about the difficulty of rebuilding something that probably couldn't last by its nature and how adulthood can be so much tougher than high school - there's no time, and that thing you did pretty well as a kid isn't as impressive; you suddenly need more of both talent and commitment. And that's why, even not knowing a single thing about 30 Minutes of Madness, 20 Years mostly works: It doesn't argue that you can't go home again, but it also shows the limits of what doing so can get you.

Der Samurai

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

There are bits of Der Samurai that seem to be constructed almost randomly, like writer/director Till Kleinert reached into a bag, pulled out "katana" and "cross-dressing", and then dropped that into an already mostly-complete screenplay about a small-town cop whose unspoken wish for the sort of action that would get him some respect is fulfilled in the bloodiest possible way. When it's finished, one might be almost torn - should Kleinert have tightened things up, making sure that bits connect and reflect each other more than they do, or is the very randomness a part of the film's appeal, a way of underlining that the world is full of strange things that combine in chaotic fashion that folks like Jakob can't handle?

There's something kind of unsophisticated about that way of thinking, but Der Samurai is not necessarily a sophisticated film; it's short, bloody, and acted in a way that sometimes seems deliberately sloppy, like it's shorthand for how these guys aren't to be looked up to in any way. It's kind of fun as exploration, though, because Kleinert can embrace the chaos and do anything, or close to it. That freedom means he goes to weird places that are not always as clever as he thinks they are, but which also surprise and excite in unpredictable ways.

Ich seh, ich seh (Goodnight Mommy)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

The climax of Goodnight Mommy is so obvious in retrospect that I completely sympathize with the friend who saw the film and was not impressed because the direction everything was pointing didn't make any sense. But that's the risk a movie like this runs - if the craft isn't good enough, everyone feels that way, and even when it's as meticulously and carefully assembled as it is here, you're going to get some outliers who make the proper connections early. I still recommend it quite highly, even seeing how it can potentially collapse.

The trick, I think, is that the idea at the center - twins (Lukas & Elias Schwarz) find the behavior of their mother (Susanne Wuest) so peculiar and even cruel after she returns from reconstructive surgery with her face covered in bandages that they suspect she has been replaced - is so strange as to be captivating. It makes a great plot for a movie, if nothing else, with kids having to figure out what's going on without adult assistance, so isolated that anything can happen. It's a really superb inversion of the changeling myth, and filmmakers Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala squeeze all the tension available from it, enhancing an already chilly situation by using fairly little incidental music and letting the kids be kind of creepy themselves: As twins, they are unusually in sync and the more paranoid can draw the steadier one down a dangerous road because they trust each other implicitly.

It builds to a finale that is not at all for the squeamish, but as a result is one of the most unforgettable climaxes to hit screens in 2015. It's constructed so well and pulled so taut that it's surprising that this nasty little thriller is Austria's Oscar submission, but if you can't recognize this kind of nail-bitter as a genuinely impressive accomplishment, what sort of genre picture is worthy?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sorry you didn't dig CROW HAND as much as my previous shorts. We shall see if you like my new one.