Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hole In The Head 2007 - Day 2 (Preview)

SFIndieFest's 2007 [Another] Hole In The Head continues at the Roxie in San Francisco. I've been fortunate enough this year to have access to previews of nearly the entire festival (since I'm in Atlanta, now), and I'll be posting 'previews' two days in advance of each day's screenings. Woo hoo!

Saturday, June 2, is Day 2 of the SFIndieFest's Another Hole in the Head festival and features an exceptionally strong line up of screenings! If I were in town, I'd check in at 3:00 pm for "Animation Program 1" of animated shorts (none of which I've seen, but I would if I could!) and snuggle up for the rest of the day, and not leave until way past 1:00 a.m. after "Forbidden Zone"!

After the animated shorts is the animated feature, "Aachi & Ssipak" (dir. Joe Bum-Jin, Korea, 2006, 90 mins.). The setting is in the future where human excrement is used as an energy source and people are rewarded with an addictive treat for supplying more than their share of excrement. Thus, a new 'mafia' of mutants has developed in order to control these treats. Needless to say, I LOVED this! Not only was the subject wonderfully sophomoric, but the animation is a technical marvel and the artwork had some truly beautiful moments! Admittedly, the script is a mixed bag, as it feels a bit too episodic at points, as if it were a series compilation. I was not bored, but it does feel a bit long. Yet, each sequence does have an extraordinary climax of one sort or another. I'd love it if it WERE a series!

A really nifty transition from an afternoon of animation to later pieces of horror is "Small Town Folk" (dir. Peter Stanley-Ward, UK, 2007, 90 mins.). Peter Stanley-Ward has created a truly original piece! A group of unrelated individuals come across 'Beesley Manor', in an apparently remote English countryside. There is a set of self-identified brothers and their field workers who are on the hunt to continue the family lineage. The setting is nearly surreal enough that the film considers itself a 'fantasy/horror' flick. Stanley-Ward's cinematography has such an eerie gloss about it, aided as well by the green-screen effects, that the unusual combination of settings (an English manor, a forest and a cornfield?) seem perfectly natural for the world he takes us into. The production design is deceptively simple and warrants closer viewing to appreciate the detail that helps suspend the disbelief of such a 'world'.

The script has such inspired moments of humor, it continued to keep me off balance as I watched. These moments are nearly minute, though they popped out at me like little diamonds! Once I started to get into the rhythm of the script, I began to spot more gems from the subtle, underplayed performances. The performances never wink at the audience, nor do they veer off into camp. At one point, I felt that the cast wasn't even in on the 'joke'. However, the cast and crew are credited with 'extra dialogue', so perhaps those inspired jabs were ad-libs?

The horror is plentiful as death-by-scythe always gives me the willies! A scythe is just such a flexible murder weapon that I never know quite HOW it is going to be used! It can gut, behead, dismember, stab, etc. And I am usually easily suckered into a chase scene in a corn field. The killings are fairly violent and graphic enough, without being cheap and cheesy, to please any horror fan.

And underscoring all of this is a marvelous score by David James Nielsen! He provides a little boost of unguarded whimsy throughout! I'd love to get a copy of it! Perhaps because I had NO expectations for this, but "Small Town Folk" (the title is actually a punchline during one of those moments I LOVED!) may well be my favorite pick of the fest!

Until I had seen "Small Town Folk", I would have claimed "Blood Car" (dir. Alex Orr, US, 2006, 75 mins.) to be my favorite pick of the fest, if just for its utter JOY in the filmmaking process! I was able to see it at the Atlanta Film Festival this spring and I will just repost/requote myself here: "Blood Car" has all the ingredients of an instant B-Flick classic! Even a tag line: "Save Gas, Drive Bloodcar!" It is the near future, "maybe only two weeks from now", and gas is $32.33/gallon. Only the untouchable wealthy can afford to drive a car. So our little vegan kindergarten teacher is devising a machine that runs on wheatgrass juice. That is until he accidentally cuts himself and some blood gets in the mix. In a twisted and nearly inspired mix of "Christine" meets "Little Shop of Horrors", the machine must be fed in order for our hero to get laid! It's cheap (only a $25,000 budget), it's racous, it's bloody and bloodier! I laughed out loud more than a few times and LOVED it! "Toss 'em in!" should be it's battle cry! Woo hoo!

This remarkable second day at Hole In The Head ends with a nearly 'gala screening' of "Forbidden Zone" (dir. Richard Elfman, USA, 1980, 74 mins.)! With the promise of director Richard Elfman being present, I can only speculate what a mob scene it SHOULD be to give him a due tribute in honor of this true cult classic fantasy musical. (IF you don't know, the music is by Oingo Boingo, aka Danny Elfman, et al. Danny Elfman, being Richard Elfman's brother. Oh, and Jenna's uncle.) If you have NOT seen "Forbidden Zone" then --- GO SEE THIS AND THEN BUY IT!!! Don't RENT it! That'll just be a waste of a few bucks, because you'll watch it over and over and over...

Maxxxxx says
re "Aachi & Ssipak": "Do a poop! Poopie Bird!"
re "Small Town Folk": "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"
re "Blood Car": "Wooooo!"
re "Forbidden Zone": "Doobie doobie doo-ooo!"

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hole In The Head 2007 - Day 1 (Preview)

SFIndieFest's 2007 [Another] Hole In The Head opens this Friday night. I've been fortunate enough this year to have access to previews of nearly the entire festival (since I'm in Atlanta, now), and I'll be posting 'previews' two days in advance of each day's screenings. Woo hoo!

So. Opening night. Well. Both films for the evening have parties as a setting. However, I think I would have flipped the program, as "Stagknight" is annoying and "Murder Party" is GREAT!!

"Stagknight" (dir. Simon Cathcart, UK, 2007, 90 mins.) is filled with characters that I couldn't wait to see die. I don't mean that in a gleeful way either, but in a 'get that guy off the screen' way. The scenario is a gathering of a bunch of guys, who in the real world would probably never be in the same room together, much less on paintball teams and spending a stag night/birthday party in the woods. Unfortunately for them, but intended for the general glee of the audience, a medieval knight has been resurrected and is on a murder spree. The owner of the lodge where the guys are staying, and her (incredibly hunky though nearly mute) son are on the side of the knight, for reasons that I seemed to have missed as I stopped caring within the first half hour, frankly. The script pushes the performances beyond satire and caricature (re Monty Python, et al), and into just plain idiocy. The thing is just annoying.

However, "Murder Party" (dir. Jeremy Saulnier, USA, 2007, 79 mins.) is a near brilliant mix of genres! It would have been a PERFECT opening night event! It's even got 'party' in the title! I saw this at the Atlanta Film Festival this spring, and I loved it! [I'm just going to quote/repost myself here.] This genre bending little flick is actually a hoot and could very well be a new 'midnight classic'. In mixing art criticism, murder, horror and an outrageous rooftop chase scene, the flick nearly guarantees a non-stop intellectual and visceral joy! Chris Sharp (also producer) plays the hapless victim of accidentally attending a 'murder party' on Halloween that is all too literal. The murder is being staged by performance artists, which is how and why the screenplay allows itself to wander into intellectual terrorities usually unexplored in a horror genre. It is a hoot! FULLY recommended!

Maxxxxx says
re "StagKnight": "oh god..."
re "Murder Party": "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"

CLICK HERE for more...

Monday, May 28, 2007

TLA Releasing releases...

"El Calentito" (dir. Chus Gutiérrez, Spain, 2005, 89 min) is one of the TLA Releasing's summer releases, which the company was gracious enough to give me a preview screener. (Ironically, though it has released on DVD this month, it is also playing at San Francisco's Frameline 31 (aka LGBT Film Festival) on June 18th. ) That said, it released more than a couple of weeks ago and I am late in posting remarks about it. However, the good news is that I LOVED it! (Yes, I know that matters to you! hee hee...) Director Chus Gutiérrez has captured the joy, anger and excitement of early 1980's punk. However, this is set in Spain in 1981, on the eve of a military coup. Using that as a setting, Gutiérrez peoples his story with transgenders, lesbians and a 'stuck up virgin,' through which we witness this microcosm of societal change. I know this sounds like I'm reading a bit too much into this perhaps, but it is a cathartic story for the characters involved.

Speaking of characters, the performances are filled with the joy and energy the period calls for. Verónica Sánchez as 'Sara' (aka the stuck up virgin) wanders into this world a wide-eyed innocent and predictably rocks out by the end! She is a charming and appealing performer to be the center of the circus of personalities she comes to know and love. Foremost among this group is 'Leo', played by Macarena Gómez, which could most easily be compared to a punk Goldie Hawn. She is a hoot and fills the screen whenever she's on. Nuria González turns in an award winning performance as the transgendered woman who owns the club at which the girls' band plays. She becomes something of a mother figure to 'Sara' and her character arc concerning her son is played without schmaltzy sentiment. The 'lesbian quotient' of the film is filled by Ruth Díaz, who plays 'Carmen' the leader of the band. Sort of surprisingly, or refreshingly depending on your take, her story is not so much part of shock value as just another aspect of the girls lives. The outside, conservative world is almost demonized, which is the only hesitant flaw of the film. However, Sara's mother is not overplayed to extremes, as are the bar's upstairs neighbors who provide something of a deus ex machina, that is unnecessary during the climax.

The video transfer is terrific and so is the sound! The extras are slim, however, providing only a music video from the film (the transfer quality of which PALES in comparison to the feature itself) and trailers of other TLA Releases.

Speaking of OTHER TLA Releases...

"Flirting With Anthony" (dir. Christian Calson, US, 2005, 89 min) This latest release from the director of "Shiner" has the dubious distinction of causing walk outs at last year's SF Frameline 30 (aka LGBT Film Festival). Though the producers and director might want credit this as a reaction to their brutal vision, I would suggest that it may have been due to the sluggish attempt at neo-realism and the nearly pornographic subject matter. Mind you, I of all people have nothing against porn. However, the attempt to frame porn within this dramatic structure only resulted in the drama and porn interrupting each other and not organically or dramatically flow. The director's notes reference "The Brown Bunny" not so much as an influence but as an example of what he did not want to happen within the frame. Photographically, he achieves this. Dramatically, however, "Flirting..." pales to "The Brown Bunny", which given its notoriety, did at least have a minimalistic sexual odyssey. Where as "Flirting With Anthony" is not so much an odyssey, but an experiment in three cinematic styles which feel slapped together, as the plot doesn't necessarily support the character arc.

The characters are... well, let's just say that it is NO SURPRISE that 'Anthony' comes out as gay by the end. I mean, the guy is quite the effeminate heterosexual/bisexual/or whatever throughout the film and why his 'wife' would be shocked to learn that he is in love with a man (who happened to have saved his life from a mob execution YEARS earlier... don't ask!) is completely unbelievable. 'Anthony' has sex with a lot of people during his journey of sexual discovery. A 'discovery' that we are blinded with during the opening credits, by the way. So the wait for him to catch up with us is what bogs the film down and makes the relatively short 90 minutes seem like hours.

Never fear, as TLA Releasing has MORE to come...!

Maxxxxx says
re "ElCalentito": "Doobie doobie doo-ooo!"
re "Flirting With Anthony": "Bad bird! Bad bird!"

CLICK HERE for more...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Whilst I get caught up...

I've been busy slamming together capsules for the SFIndieFest "Hole In The Head", TLA Releasing's latest three vids and soon will start Frameline 31. So, in the meantime, to keep my little space here from overgrowth with weeds...

Sandi Thom's romantic view of 'our generation':
"I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker..."

CLICK HERE for more...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hole In The Head - 2007: preview, picks and pans

Oh yesssss... It's that time of year again for my second or third favorite film fest! Oh, who am I kidding? I love 'em all! The SFIndieFest Hole In The Head independent horror fest! Though I live in Atlanta now, with the generosity of SFIndieFest and Larsen Associates, I have been able to preview a great many of the offerings. With what I've seen, I thought I'd do a quick preview blurb of 'picks and pans' before starting my routine capsule reviews next week. I plan on posting 2-3 days before each screening, to offer something of a detailed preview. Never fear! I NEVER give away spoilers!

BLOOD CAR and MURDER PARTY played at the Atlanta Film Festival and I HIGHLY recommend BOTH of them! Their 180 degrees apart in style, but I LOVED them!

Of the features that I was able to screen via Larsen Associates (and on my home projector, so I do get as nearly a cinematic experience as being at Landmark's Opera Plaza), I HIGHLY Recommend these:

Aachi & Ssipak (part of the animation sidebar - obscene and beautiful!)
El Muerto (possibly the most complete package of script, direction and performance of the bunch)
Hazard (almost early Fellini-esque in its depth of characterizations)
Unearthed (technically the most stunning of the group!)

Recommended, but don't blame me if you hate it. ;)
ID (totally twisted, gross and hallucinagenic. In other words, I couldn't stop watching!)
Last House In The Woods (Classic Italian horror, i.e. BUCKETS of BLOOD!! Literally turns the house into a bloody slip-n-slide! But the screenplay is a bit complicated...)

NOT recommended, but please go ahead and give it a try yourself:
Driller (compared to other DIY classics like "Bad Taste" it doesn't hold a candle to them)
Race (in the animation sidebar: a Star Wars wannabe)
Stagknight (HATED the collection of goofy/quirky/assholes of characters waiting to be killed off)
The Thirst (I just got bored)

Of the short subjects, I only got to see two:
Grace, which plays like a trailer of the hoped-to-be feature, but still really liked it!
Of Darkness started off a bit weak in the performances, but the direction took me into TOTAL CREEPSVILLE!! LOVED IT!

As I said, I (and Maxxxxx!) will do full capsules (a contradiction in terms?) closer to the opening of the festival and in screening order.

CLICK HERE for more...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Now Playing: "Into Great Silence" and "Boy Culture"

Now playing in Atlanta are a pair of films I saw last year at festivals in San Francisco.

First, "Into Great Silence" ("die grosse stille") (dir. Philip Groening, Germany, 2005, 164 mins.), which I saw at the SFIFF last year and really appreciated and could have LOVED had that annoying old man stopped chomping his gum! As I said, it would be a difficult one to choose to see again. However, I may just do a matinee, where there will be nearly no one and I can meditate with the screen. It is a gorgeously photographed film and the pacing is nearly religious, which at 3 hours means I MUST be in the mood!

Secondly, "BOY CULTURE" (dir Q. Allan Brocka 2006 USA 87 min) which I saw at last year's SF LGBT film fest, aka Frameline 30. I definitely need to give this a second view as I seemed to have liked it, though I can tell it was crammed in the midst of a very busy day at the festival. I do have some prejudice against extensive narration, though. However I still remember loving Patrick Bauchau's performance. Maxxxxx's comment seems to indicate that it was filled with 'pretty'! Also, due to some personal life changes, I think I might have a new perspective. ;)

As a reminder, Maxxxxx said
re "Into Great Silence": "QUIET!!"
re "Boy Culture": "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"

CLICK HERE for more...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Commercial Catch-Up: Year of the Dog

Though I intended to do a double feature today, including "Hot Fuzz", I was so effected by "Year of the Dog" (dir. Mike White, USA, 2007, 97 mins.) and Molly Shannon's performance that I decided to stop there. Molly Shannon plays a woman who is dealing with life after the death of her dog, an adorable beagle called 'Pencil'. The character arc that director and writer Mike White has given Shannon's character is extraordinary. She begins the tale as a meek, if not nearly invisible member of the world. She is the 'listener' to a range of characters, including Josh Pais, who delivers a performances as her long-term boss that is a Dilbert character come to life, and Laura Dern, as a self-absorbed mother of two, that is so satirical yet honest and believable, she treads a line between being hysterical and hateful. Dern literally took my breath away as each protective and politically correct move for the sake of her children became nearly monstrous. Regina King glows as Shannon's best friend at work, in a subplot that doesn't really give her anywhere to go, but her personality just lights up every scene she is in. Peter Sarsgaard appears as something of a love interest and he has never seemed more adorable! John C. Reilly also has an odd role as her nemesis. I can't explain it without giving away spoilers, but Reilly's character is possibly the most forced aspect of the film.

The film progresses through a series of dramas, comedies and a nearly creepy catharsis for Shannon's character. She is willing to deny any vanity, and facially allows herself to appear nearly corpse-like. Some of her more extreme scenarios seemed forced and manufactured. However, the film's resolution seems so logical and real that it validates the craziness that precedes it.

The cinematography by Tim Orr and the production design by Daniel Bradford are deceptively simple and straight forward. Yet the pastels and the head-on close ups only add to the frustration of Shannon's character. Speaking directly into the camera is subconsciously aggressive, in a world that is designed in pastels, is surreal yet disturbing.

It was an experience that had me choked up in the first 10 minutes, laughing in the next 10, gasping in disbelief and eventually feeling absolved of all the anxiety the film led me through. It was an unusually personal experience, and I loved it.

Maxxxxx says
re "Year of the Dog": "Belle! Belle!"

CLICK HERE for more...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Commercial Catch-Up: The Host

Ok. After being distracted by the SF IndieFest, moving to Atlanta, and then the Atlanta Film Festival, I am finally catching up on commercial releases.

"The Host" (dir. Joon-ho Bong, Korea, 2006, 119 mins.) This was playing in San Francisco (not to mention NUMEROUS previews there since most of the digital effects were shopped out to the San Francisco company, The Orphanage) for WEEKS before I left! I have finally seen "Korea's top grossing film", and I LOVED it! There is so much going on in the screenplay alone, that it defies a simple recap or description, though I have read many reviews and releases trying to pitch it in 30 words or less. There are many lessons to be learned in "The Host" and there are many genres being played out, too. The creature itself is an amalgam on a good 3 or 4 monsters, real and imagined. It's a squid-like-Alien-sort-of being with a bunch of mandibles for a jaw! It. Is. NASTY! And it's got an amazingly gymnastic tail! How ever huge and nasty the monster is, the humans that are its prey are played with such strength that I was actually more interested in the people than the monster. That almost never happens!

Ah-sung Ko as the little girl whom the cast is hunting for, ala "The Searchers", is simply terrific. She gives a surprisingly mature performance. Bong has directed any cute girlishness that American audiences might expect out of her. She may as well be Sigourney Weaver fighting an alien. Her screwed up family (father, grandfather, aunt and uncle) are who provide any 'cuteness' through their slapstick during the first hour of their search. However, by the time Bong brings us to a nearly impressionistic climax, they have become heroic and somewhat tragic archetypes. The quirkiness of their characters slightly diminish the impact that Ah-sung Ko achieves, which is actually a pretty crafty direction. The girl is so strongly played, that the audience is as mindful of her predicament as is the family that is journeying to find her.

Visually, the cinematography is stunning at moments. Hyung-ku Kim has shot in so many styles that when he stops the moment for "THE SHOT", it is spectacular! The climax is dreamlike. The music by Byung-woo Lee is also gorgeous at moments. Though there are some odd underscored moments of 'cuteness' that I didn't quite understand. I accepted that it was just to emphasize that we were allowed to laugh at this screwed up family. The waltz, which also plays through out the final credits, is simply lovely! I want it!

The screenplay by Chul-hyun Baek, Joon-ho Bong and Won-jun Ha, is what has probably kept it from being as huge a hit here in the U.S. as it is in Asia. The United States government does not come off as a hero here, which may have scared off distributors as there is a certain resemblance to the current 'misunderstanding' that led us into Iraq... But that could be just me reading something into it. ;)

Maxxxxx says
re "The Host": "Breakfast!"

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Bickel!

The director of "Hollow" graciously offered to send me a copy of the short film, which I LOVED! Thank you, Mr. Bickel!!

CLICK HERE for more...