by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
This past weekend, while The Fixer and The Old Sport were checking out the Toronto International Film Festival, I was stuck in rain-drenched Philadelphia. (We got over seven inches of rain this weekend!) But it wasn't really all that terrible because I was afforded the privilege of attending a good portion of the 3rd annual Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival!
For those of you not in the know, PUFF is an alternative festival that spans four days and features "genre" films (mostly focusing on horror, sci-fi and the bizarre) from all over the world. This year, there were eleven recent features from four different countries (each of which preceded by a short) and then four different blocks of short film presentations. On top of all that, they had raffles at each showing giving away movies and movie-related goodies.
The first film I saw was first time writer/director Joe Badon's The God Inside My Ear. It stars Linnea Gregg (a stage actor, who is also new to film) as Elizia, a young woman that goes through a painful breakup with her boyfriend that seems to have totally lost touch with reality. As she copes with her grief and continues about her life working at a shitty boutique and living in a crummy apartment with a nosy neighbor, she starts to experience strange things. A telemarketer starts prying into her life, inanimate objects start speaking to her and she has strange hallucinations. Her friends try to help her through it all, suggesting various specialists she can go to, but nothing seems to help. It all ends with a little bit of a head-scratcher, but there's enough there for everyone to form their own opinions about what it all means.
Linnea was present at the screening and she was able to provide some insights into the making of the film. Reportedly, they shot with a minuscule budget of $8,000 and shot for 13 days in one month's time. This is practically unbelievable. The film looks like it cost a great deal more to make and most of the performances don't give you the feeling that they were under pressure to just churn this out. It's clear that both Badon and Gregg were instrumental in pulling this off, but I think the music is the unsung hero here. It covered a wide range of emotions and settings but it always seemed perfect for the scene. The music at Elizia's job was especially appropriate as it was equal parts annoying and infectious.
TGIME was exceptionally enjoyable on many levels and the comedy was abundant and hit every time. If you're lucky enough to have this coming to you area, go check it out. It's being shown at a number of upcoming festivals which you can check out on the film's website here.
Next up was Rock Steady Row. In it, we witness a freshman that arrives on wasteland of a college campus and immediately gets his bike stolen. He spends the rest of the film battling against the fraternities in charge of the black market bike ring and the school administration that turns a blind eye as long as their palms are greased. Billed as Animal House meets The Warriors, this one could have gone just about anywhere, I wasn't sure what to expect.
In the end, it seems like it's trying to chase after a Turbo Kid feel. It hits that mark in a lot of areas. The performances are all pretty solid and the look is pretty on-point, the fight scenes were OK, but the the music definitely left more to be desired. I'm guessing they shot this hoping that they could license some badass tunes to blast as soon as our hero clicks on his Walkman, but all we are met with is the equivalent of elevator music.
The last act decides that we should have some social commentary on the subjugation of women. I'm all for that as a concept, but here it feels both forced and rushed. It did add to my overall enjoyment of the film, though. I just wished it'd been a little bit more front and center in the storytelling. We spend most of the movie witnessing some pretty terrible treatment of women with little or no comment on it being wrong.
It's got some good homage shots (most notably a tip of the hat to Michael Jackson videos) and Larry Miller as the dean provides an air of 80s/90s authenticity. I'd say this one is still worth checking out, but don't break your neck trying to see it on the big screen. I'm sure it'll be available streaming soon enough.
Then I was treated to The Witch in the Window. I went in with no preconceived notions and I was stunned at how effective this film was. Most of the film is spent showing us a father (Alex Draper) reconnecting with his twelve year old son (Charlie Tacker) after having divorced his mother several years previously. It's loaded with lots of sweet, charming and funny scenes of their relationship growing while they rehabilitate a home that has been left to fall apart for many decades. But the more time they spend in the house, the more they start to notice eerie goings on.
There are a lot of spoilery things that I could talk about, but I'd rather you just go out and see this one. Forget all those movies using the Amityville name. Writer/director Andy Mitton has created a really great film here that feels authentic and that's what really makes the scares work. Speaking of which, there was one scare that I'm surprised the floor didn't collapse underneath of us from the audience all simultaneously jumping from our seats.
I won't say much about Anton C. Santamaria's BuyBust because most of my comments stem from this just not being my type of movie. It's heavy on the action and light on story. What story was there, I did really appreciate. This is all about a drug bust gone bad in the slums of Manila, but it's really highlighting the failures in every aspect of Wars on Drugs. Unfortunately, the lighting is nearly nonexistent and I was on the verge of nodding off several times through the two hour and six minute run-time due to not being able to make out all of the onscreen action. I'm sure this would be more enjoyable to fans of hand-to-hand combat movies.
The last film I checked out was The Queen of Hollywood Blvd. I was really looking forward to this one. How often to you get to see a hyper-stylized revenge picture about a sixty year old woman going after mobsters for taking away her seedy strip club.
First time writer/director Orson Oblowitz cast his mother Rosemary Hochschild in the lead role and nine times out of ten she pulls it off amazingly. When she misses, it's because she's playing the scene heavier than what it calls for instead of dialing it back to drop it once more. But she really brings it in a seem that calls for her to have an emotional reaction. I seriously felt it in my gut at she screams in anguish.
Then there's the look of the film. It goes from being lush to hazy neon and hits several points in between, but it's almost always gorgeous. There was one scene with some simulated catholic rituals at the strip club that was visually stunning but it's the only time that I feel a scene was included purely on its looks. It just didn't fit with its placement in the film.
Otherwise, I feel like the pacing could have used a little tweaking. It's only 92 minutes long, but a little bit more editing would have really made this film pop. So, it didn't quite live up the my hopes, but that would've been damned near impossible. I was just too hyped for this movie. My recommendation is, temper your expectations just go out and watch this thing if for no other reason than it was Michael Parks' final performance in a film.