Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Raccoon Has Hepatitis: "Local Legends" (2013)


The co-creator of such films as "Don't Let the Riverbeast Get You!", and writer of over 13,000 songs, decides to turn the cameras on himself, with very pleasing results.

Matt Farley writes and directs this quasi-documentary about being a recording artist and film maker in small town Manchester, New Hampshire. He randomly leaves his products around town, where he walks constantly, works a job, lives cheaply, and is able to put out music, films, and books when he isn't doing is so-bad-it's-hilarious stand-up comedy routine. A couple of women show an interest in him, he plays fantasy one-on-one basketball games with his friend Soup, and he deals with an alter ego, also played by Farley, who decides this very film should be used to sell more of his odd music (which he keeps mentioning is available on iTunes, under dozens of different band names).

Obviously a labor of love, this film is much different from the films Farley appears in that are directed by Charles Roxburgh. Farley answers critics like me who don't get his earlier films, and in doing so, makes a better film than his Roxburgh collaborations. This isn't a contest with Roxburgh to see who can make a more appealing movie, this is simply Farley on his own, and the film is nicely directed in black and white, recalling "Stardust Memories" and "8 1/2". There are a ton of familiar faces from Farley's past films here, too, but you won't need to be familiar with them in order to understand what he is getting at. The highlight of the film is a comedy showcase in a basement that did have me laughing. I am hoping this is the beginning of a series of films from Farley dealing with his life outside of his Shock Marathons and monster movie work. He has shown he can branch out into introspective comedy, and he comes up with his best work- a charming effort that I was immediately taken with.

"Local Legends" is good stuff. You can find more information on it at http://www.moternmedia.com (including a link to YouTube, where you can view the entire film for free), or you can call Farley directly at (603) 644-0048. Don't worry, he gives his phone number out in all his music and movies, and according to this film, he would love to hear from you. You might even score a free CD or DVD! (* * * *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Skull Man and His Skull World: "Skull World" (2013)



Justin McConnell finally fills that "eccentric Canadian who wears a skull mask and hits people with cardboard weapons" documentary niche.

Greg Sommer lives in his mother's basement, works at a cemetery, and does freelance video work on the side. He is obsessed with heavy metal music, and his "room" is a giant space filled with big boy toys. He hears about a new competition from Australia that gets him and his friends very excited. Three Aussies have created Box Wars, where competitors dress in armor made of cardboard, and wielding cardboard weapons, beat their fellow soldiers until their armor falls off, and then that competitor is "out". Sommer has created an alter ego, Skull Man, and with his quirky sense of humor and his video work, embraces Box Wars, instigating competitions in his native Canada. What starts out as a few of his friends getting together turns bigger and bigger, and Sommer begins feeling the pressure of running the entire operation himself.

McConnell's film runs one hundred minutes, and in the first half hour, I was wondering why this wasn't a short documentary. A little Sommer goes a long way. McConnell gets into a competition himself, the Box Wars take off, and I couldn't figure out what more could be gleaned from the film. But then Sommer begins relieving stress by doing odd things like taking hallucinogenics, and going UFO hunting. He tries to come off as a wild and crazy guy (a little too much footage involve his friends telling us how wonderful he is), but he is dumping thousands of dollars into these Box Wars with little to no return on his investment. The best segment of the film has Sommer travelling to the home of Box Wars, Australia, and meeting the game's three creators and finding out how they do things Down Under.

McConnell does a great job exposing Sommer's faults as well as his positives. He is close to his subject, but allows some warts to show through. The editing and camerawork is great. Sommer was involved in the film's production, but this doesn't turn into a feature length infomercial for Box Wars. Sommer's weirdness does threaten to sabotage a few efforts to sell Box Wars.

Aside from a few too many glowing testimonials and a film that runs ten minutes too long, "Skull World" is an entertaining documentary that lets the viewer peek into this odd corner of Canada. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Skull World

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gen X Angst: "Saberfrog" (2010)



What starts out as a slacker road comedy turns into a hardcore science fiction allegory that doesn't quite work out.

Josh (J.D. Edmond) finally leaves his dot-com job, and finds out that his favorite sci-fi author has died. He was obsessed with the "Vanguard Epsilon" series, and now Josh is adrift. He decides to track down his friend Terrance (Reuben Tapp), a stereotypical angry black man now comfortably living with his wife. The pair also take up Terrance's ex Laurel (Liz Mariani), who sings in an awful band, and Canadian underground porn obsessed Bert (John Karyus). The group decide to head to their old campus, looking for closure in their lives, only to discover the liberal arts university has changed as well- you know, suicide cults, mind control, and disembodied voices...the usual.

Markham wrote and directed this film, and it is certainly ambitious. The odd science fiction angle in the final act is hard to comprehend, until the viewer realizes Markham is appealing to the geek culture that goes through life in a state of escapism. Kudos to the screenplay for rounding out these characters very well. You may know some people like this, and some individual scenes stand out. Terrance's one man show and the fate of Josh's computer company are highlights. There are a few obviously improvised scenes that had me wincing, however. Markham's direction is mostly hand-held camerawork, luckily the cast seems game. The music and audio are all clean and done well.

I was curious to see where the film would go, but I didn't expect the ending. You get an animated sequence, some special effects, but I never got a solid sense of what the series of books meant to Josh (the film's title is explained here). The climax is sometimes too preachy, and some of the performances suffer.

While I didn't expect the final third, the first hour of the film was solid enough to slightly recommend "Saberfrog." (* * *) out of five stars.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Stuff Nightmares Are Made Of: "Coyote" (2013)



While stories dealing with the warped minds of the psychotically insane are a dime a dozen, Trevor Juenger presents this amazing character study, anchored by the excellent Bill Oberst, Jr.

Juenger jumps right in as Bill (Bill Oberst, Jr.) sits in his new house, paid for by his mother. He works a mundane job with racist Joe (Bill Finkbiner), and the viewer is clued in right away that things are not alright in Bill's head. He suffers from insomnia ("sleep is the enemy"), to the point that his already warped mind kicks out some pretty terrifying hallucinations. After a disastrous fishing trip with Joe, Bill gets another job at a home shopping television network, and hooks up with Jesse (Victoria Mullen). Jesse is a bit of a mess herself, and the relationship furthers Bill's psychosis.

I can't go into too much detail about what happens to Bill, but you might figure out how bad it gets if you've seen this kind of film before. Yes, this story has been told before, but rarely this well. I liked Juenger's previous "Johnny Be Gone", and here he cranks up the tension to disturbing proportions. I would favorably compare this to David Lynch or early Cronenberg. I watch tons of experimental and avant-garde films, and Juenger is a master of the genre. I am not easily shocked or grossed out, but this film had me on edge.

Oberst might look familiar, he has dozens of credits on IMDB. His performance is excellent. His role demands a strong actor, and he delivers. Mullen is believably pitiful and sad as Jesse, grasping at any companionship her character can find, ignoring all the warning signs about Bill.

Technically, everything clicks. The camerawork is imaginative, the special effects aren't obvious, and the music is very ominous. Juenger's direction is astounding. He uses every trick (and lens) he can find, but none of it feels forced or manipulative. The planning that goes into each shot and sequence must have been immense.

"Coyote" is not a popcorn munching good time at the movies. It is dark, dank, and unsettling perfection. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie here!: Coyote