Support the Boston Underground Film Festival in Their 15th Year

The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF to their friends) has been carrying the torch for subversive, groundbreaking cinema for the past 15 years. It's an astounding feat considering most of their selections are huge artistic risks taken by some of the most innovative and provocative independent filmmakers out there. Boston audiences starving for original and daring cinema need look no further than a short trek to our very own Brattle Theatre March 27 - March 31.

It's always exciting when BUFF reveals their latest selections, and this year's offerings finds them pushing the envelope to the point of bursting. Their first round of announcements include opening film I Declare War (a favorite at TIFF and Fantastic Fest), BUFF alum Zach Clark's (Modern Love is Automatic) Christmas-themed shocker White Reindeer, and E.L. Katz's thriller Cheap Thrills. 

Other selections include Kristina Buozyte's emotionally-charged romantic sci-fi film Vanishing Waves, the documentary A Band Called Death about little-known Detroit proto-punk band Death, and Kim Ki-duk's crime-laden story of redemption Pieta. This small sample doesn't include all the wonderful short films, music videos, animations and other brazen works of cinematic art trumpeted by the hardworking folks at BUFF.

BUFF is also celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Jim VanBebber's astonishing The Manson Family (along with his new short film Gator Green). The graphic and controversial film was rarely seen during its initial run, and is getting a proper treatment for Boston filmgoers.

Your support is needed for BUFF's final push. Here are a few trailers to convince you, as if you needed it:

I Declare War Trailer

Vanishing Waves Trailer

A Band Called Death Trailer

The Manson Family Trailer


JOHN DIES AT THE END: A Not-So-Dynamic Duo Saves the World


John Dies at the End (2012)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writer: Don Coscarelli (screenwriter), David Wong (original story)
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamattil, Clancy Brown, Fabianne Therese
Website: John Dies at the End Official Site

No genre filmmaker had a better pedigree to pull off the earnest weirdness of David Wong's John Dies at the End than Don Coscarelli.  The book reads like a hyperactive 80's monster movie mashed up with Buckaroo Banzai if written by Fear & Loathing era Hunter Thompson. Coscarelli, the madman behind Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, is no stranger to bringing bold and bizarre visions to the big screen. His skill lies in keeping the chaos controlled and fluid, yet complimentary to Wong's (in real life Jason Pargin) charming metaphysical disorder.


David Wong (Chase Williamson) sits down in a Chinese joint to chat with journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamiatti) about his experience with a drug called soy sauce. The oozing black substance - a dose taken accidentally by  David - has given him and his buddy John (Rob Mayes) the phenomenal ability to read thoughts and transcend space and time, which is kind of a big deal for a couple of slacker college drop-outs. The unfortunate side effect is that it opens up doors for inter-dimensional monsters to wreak havoc in this world. David and John - together with the support of a lovely cast of misfits - become unwitting saviors destined to save the world from a monstrous entity called Korrok. That is, if they can get their shit together.


John Dies at the End is a triumph of cohesion over pandemonium. It was quite a feat to wrangle the basic concept of Wong's story while retaining all the offbeat, genre-meshing elements that made it so extraordinary. For all its multi-tentacled reaching, Coscarelli keeps everything grounded with a couple of very likable anti-heroes, and a semblance of a blueprint to keep the mania together and moving with a distinguishable purpose. Coscarelli serves up mutant worms, meat monsters, and parallel worlds as if they are minor inconveniences to John and Dave's (mostly John's) partying, rocking out, and girl-chasing. It's all strung together with an infectious reverence for the material, as well as the desire for the audience to have a shitload of fun.


Coscarelli's film is brazenly humorous and surreal but also serves as an amusing allegory for drug culture. David remarks that the immediate side effects of the soy sauce may wear off, but the effects of the drug will be with him forever. A terrifying scene of the aftermath of the mass overdose of a group of teens downplays the more playful aspects of the film. The film, however, never gets weighed down by some of the heavier elements that could be applied to the narrative. Instead, Coscarelli's work is a trippy funhouse ride punctuated with some genuine moments of dread, plenty of inventive gruesomeness, and quick-witted dialogue that honors Wong's voice from the book.


Coscarelli overcomes limitations in some arenas with genius casting of cult icons, including Clancy Brown as celebrity medium Albert Marconi, Paul Giamatti as the perplexed journalist Arnie, and a wonderful cameo by Angus Scrimm portraying a priest with therapeutic advice for David. Every member of the cast embraces the material, and delivers their roles with aplomb. Their inclusion and solid commitment is a testament to the effort put forth by Coscarelli to make John Dies work for everyone. Acclaimed Special Makeup Effects artist Robert Kurtzman populates the world(s) around them with creepy, slimy, long-limbed and toothsome beasts that would feel right at home alongside some of the 1980's most innovative creatures.


David - though his exterior is that of a skeptic - remarks that the sauce chose him because his mind was open. That's exactly how audiences should approach John Dies at the End. Not everyone will leave understanding what's transpired onscreen, and that's ok. Much like the lovable team of losers portrayed in the film, viewers should just succumb to Coscarelli's kooky apocalyptic vision. Fans trusting in his dose of  cinematic soy sauce will have them clamoring for more mind-shattering adventures with David and John.

John Dies at the End Trailer


Paul Davis' HIM INDOORS: Caught in the Act


Him Indoors (2012)
Director: Paul Davis
Writer: Paul Davis
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Pollyanna McIntosh
Website: Him Indoors Official Site

I have my friend Matt Garrett to thank for directing me toward Paul Davis'  Him Indoors. It's a hilarious reverse of the Sigourney Weaver serial killer vehicle Copycat (1995). Instead of Weaver's sympathetic phobic, however, we find a psycho afraid to leave his own home. It's a playful, but dark film that is available to watch for free on FearNet.

Reece Shearsmith (Shaun of the Dead) portrays Gregory, a man meek in appearance, but harboring a monster inside that kidnaps and kills hapless victims lured to his apartment. His life confined to his home makes murder a challenge, but alleviates his crushing agoraphobia. Enter Lizzie (Pollyanna McIntosh), Gregory's intrusive neighbor, who unknowingly barges in on his freshest kill. She cavorts around Gregory's pad none-the-wiser despite evidence of foul play.


Pollyanna McIntosh, fresh off a wave of tremendous success with Lucky McKee's The Woman gets to show off her versatility with impressive comedic chops. Her performance is the perfect foil to Shearsmith's squirrely Gregory. The two have tremendous chemistry, and really give the simple premise the punch it needed to overcome any limitations in budget or location.

Paul Davis' screenplay and direction is focused, and every component needed to make an effective short is on display here. The blend of horror and comedic awkwardness is an effective way to capitalize on the success of similarly formatted situation comedies, but with that demented touch horror fans embrace. Him Indoors is an impressive treat, and evidence that this trio should work together again.

Him Indoors Trailer


Michael Haneke's AMOUR: Tragically Enduring Love


Amour (2012)
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert
Website: Amour Official Site

Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) loads his films with such crushing despair, it's surprising he hasn't suffocated most of his fans in utter misery. The auteur has been forcing the highbrow art house crowd to face their own mortality throughout his varied career with powerful, bleak films like Cache and Time of the Wolf. He's taken to that task quite literally in his latest offering Amour, a precision-perfect snapshot of love strained in the face of impending death. Haneke, often criticized for a "cold" and "emotionless" body of work removes those descriptors from the conversation by delivering a heartfelt - though no-less-provocative - piece examining the paralyzing frustration of witnessing a loved one suffer. Perhaps in response to his detractors, he handles it with a gentleness uncharacteristic of the man responsible for the desolate Funny Games.


Amour is the story of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an aging couple content in their lifelong commitment to one another. Both have led successful lives as music instructors, and have a well-adjusted daughter named Eva (Isabelle Huppert), a professional musician.Their bond is tested when Anne suffers a stroke, and succumbs to degenerative health conditions spurred by her advanced age. The film focuses on Georges' efforts to give Anne dignity in her decline. It's a task that becomes increasingly more challenging as Georges contends with the intervention of doctors, nurses, and his own family, all of whom are very removed from the worst of Anne's daily physical and psychological anguish.


Audiences familiar with Haneke's filmography are aware that he rarely uses a music soundtrack to invoke or manipulate emotional responses to scenes in his films. Never is the exclusion more apparent than in Amour. Though the film revolves around the music rich lives of its central characters, any accompaniment is incidental. Amour is the most emotionally raw and affecting of all his films. This is primarily because Georges and Anne are such sympathetic and relatable characters. Audiences of all ages can identify with Georges' efforts to make Anne more comfortable in her state. Conversely, we're stricken by Anne's struggle to maintain control over her mind and body. Trintignant and Riva are so wholly convincing in their portrayals that viewers will feel they are intruding on profound moments of intimacy shared between genuine people. 


Haneke, always game for subverting convention, keeps his narrative fairly straightforward. There are no excessive long takes or characters breaking the fourth wall, so any accusations of gimmickry aren't applicable here. Instead, Haneke relies solely on the power of his actors, framed beautifully by cinematographer Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris). As usual, Haneke tells his tale with stunning compositions that squeeze profundity from the most mundane acts. One distressing scene, for example, takes place during an innocuous moment of two people sharing tea. It's a pivotal moment in the film, and the viewer is caught totally off guard.

Though Haneke denies the inclusion of pigeons in the film as holding any symbolic significance, the once domesticated bird pops up in several important scenes. One instance shows Georges helplessly chasing a stray pigeon around the apartment before covering the pigeon with a blanket. His next act can be construed as either cradling or smothering the hapless bird, but Georges' action - much like Haneke's film - remains ambiguous. The same can be said of the climax that leaves itself open to interpretation despite an apparent finality.


From the outset, Georges' efforts to care for Anne, though futile, are powered by his unwavering love. Not one moment is spent in self-pity.  He is steadfast in honoring Anne's request to remain home and out of hospitals. It's a responsibility very few would take on, particularly when Anne reverts to an infant-like state. Georges' outbursts of cruelty - though inexcusable - are at least somewhat justifiable. Even a severe final act elicits not horror, but understanding delivered with Haneke's trademark merciless honesty.