Chattanooga Film Festival 2016: Day 3

aipposterBy and large, the third day of the festival (see here for all my Chattanooga Film Festival posts) was a more subdued affair, with less horror and less intensity across the board. In fact, most of our day today ended up in documentaries, starting off with It Was a Colossal Teenage Movie Machine!, which discussed the rise and fall of AIP, a famous – or infamous – studio responsible for a slew of B-movies ranging from I Was a Teenage Werewolf to Frankie Valli beach party movies to Roger Corman’s Poe pictures. By and large, I is a talking head documentary, letting various people narrate the story of the studio and its various players, but it’s all done in a great style and with an energy that both fits the material and keeps the film moving at a rapid pace. It doesn’t hurt that the film has access to such a great selection of archives – when you can illustrate all of your points with footage from films like this, you’re going to have good results. The end product is a lot of fun; it’s nice to see a documentary that has its own sense of style and a good pace, and while there’s not a lot of new information here if you know much about the studio, it’s still well-told and has a lot of great stories. Moreover, as the director pointed out, it’s nice to have a film that tries to look at both men in the partnership and, in his words, “right a historical wrong” and give one some of the credit he deserves. If you’re not into the B-movie and exploitation scene, though, your mileage may vary. Rating: ****

too-muchNext up was Too Late, a neo-noir film with one heck of a gimmick: it’s told in five 22-minute acts, each composed of a single, unbroken take. (The reason for 22 minutes, by the way: it’s the length of a reel of 35mm film, a medium director Dennis Hauck truly loves, to the point where he’s not even releasing the film to theaters in a digital format.) Of course, even without that gimmick, the cast of the film is a big draw: John Hawkes as a private detective, and Natalie Zea, Robert Forster, and more in supporting roles. The biggest issue with Too Late, though, isn’t whether the gimmick succeeds – it’s fascinating to watch the scenes unfold, and the unbroken shots leads to some amazing tension – but whether it’s really necessary or adds much to the film. The choice to do five acts works well from a plot perspective, allowing the film to play out in non-chronological order, and giving some reveals an effective punch. But it also makes for an uneven film, one with a few great acts and a few much weaker ones, a connection that often depends on which characters are featured in each act, since Hawkes is the only constant. Luckily, he’s fantastic, delivering some great hard-boiled banter and bringing a lot of depth to every scene he’s in. That particularly pays off in the second act, which in some ways is the climax of the plot, and features some of the best dialogue, pacing, and acting of the film. Too Late is uneven (and it doesn’t help that the first act is definitely the weakest), and ultimately feels like it could lose one plot thread and be even better (I’m looking at you, pair of local “colorful” drug dealers); for all of that, though, the parts of the film that work are really, really solid, engaging, and fantastic. And I can’t really fault a film too much for being as confident and ambitious as this one tries to be on a technical level. Rating: *** ½

the_invitation_poster-final-691x1024Meanwhile, The Invitation, a suspense/horror/drama hybrid, could do with being a little more ambitious – or maybe just more inventive in the end. Opening with a group of friends reuniting for a dinner party after what seems to be a lengthy time apart, The Invitation plays its cards close to its chest for most of its running time, letting the characters breathe and talk for a long time before starting to turn the screws. It helps that that talk is so interesting and engaging, and so thematically rich; ultimately, The Invitation is a film about grief and loss, and it’s to the film’s credit that it engages with that theme seriously, thoughtfully,  and with nuance. Indeed, much of the film’s drama – and unease – comes as people question the ways in which other people are choosing to grieve and move on (or not) from a deep trauma. And as the dinner party continues, people start acting more and more strangely, allowing the film to mine tension from a simple question: is what we’re seeing the result of trauma, or is it something more sinister? As with so many films, though, the question ends up being far less interesting than the answer, which ends up being a) unsurprising and b) unfolds in a way that feels a bit bland and uninvolving (though there’s a hint of the much weirder film that could have been near the very end). That final act aside, though, The Invitation is surprisingly complex and emotionally rich, and the suspense it builds is pretty great; that final act is such a whimper, though, that the film as a whole feels less successful than it should. Rating: *** ½

raidersFrom there, it was onto a pair of documentaries. Back in 2008, I got the chance to see a rare screening of Raider of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-for-shot remake of the classic Steven Spielberg film done by a group of kids over the series of several summer vacations. Now comes Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, which tells the story not only of the making of the film, but also of the choice by the group to reunite in the present to film the one sequence they never completed: the Flying V fight. It’s hard to imagine Raiders! being more of a crowd-pleaser, even given that most people haven’t had the chance to see the adaptation; it’s got a great hook, incorporates enough footage to hook you, tells an inspiring (and wonderfully odd) story, and moves along quickly. (Mind you, given how much I really loved that adaptation, I was on board from the get-go.) The packed house I saw it with was absolutely into it, laughing at the antics of the kids and getting genuinely engaged in the effort to finally finish the film all these years later. As a piece of filmmaking, Raiders! is no great shakes, but the story is an absolute joy, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the story of friendship, cinemania, humor, and dreams that the film spins out. And if the room doesn’t get dusty for you when one of the guys talks about his son saying “how proud he is of his daddy for following his dreams,” well, you got no soul, buddy. It’s a blast of a documentary, and if you like it, make the effort to find the adaptation – you won’t be disappointed. Rating: ****

here-come-videofreexOn the other hand, Here Come the Videofreex is a story I knew nothing about: a filmmaking collective from the 1960’s who latched onto video cameras right away and documented the world around them before starting a pirate TV station. As a documentary, Videofreex has a ton of issues – it’s incredibly slow-paced and lethargic, rambles along, loses its threads a few times, and just sort of fizzles out, leaving you with a ton of questions unanswered. And yet, it’s an absolutely fascinating, compelling piece of work as a historical document. Conversations with doctors at Woodstock, giving one of the final interviews with Fred Hampton before his death, debating politics with Abbie Hoffman, watching (and joining) equal rights marches and protests – the Videofreex are there, documenting it all, and the footage remains every bit as vivid, honest, and potent now as it was all those years ago. More than that, it’s honest and unfiltered, wearing its politics on its sleeve but never looking away, giving you a sense of history both as those who lived it and those who lived through it. And by the time the crew sets up their pirate TV station, what I expected to be a fierce act of rebellion turns out to be genuinely sweet, charming, and just wonderful, and reminds you of the ways that people can come together, as the Videofreex end up bonding with a community that wanted no part of a bunch of “dirty hippies.” As a film, Here Come the Videofreex has a ton of issues, but I’m going to be honest and tell you I couldn’t stop watching it, couldn’t be more fascinated by it, and really recommend it, even with its flaws, as a social document and a genuinely heartfelt film. Rating: *** ½ (more or less)

poor_pretty_eddie_posterFinally, we come to the late night screening of a truly scuzzy (and weird) piece of exploitation, Poor Pretty Eddie. A good piece of exploitation has a way of making you feel like you need a shower afterward, and rarely has that been more the case than with Poor Pretty Eddie. Sort of a rape-revenge film, sort of blaxploitation, sort of hixploitation – Poor Pretty Eddie is a little bit of everything and a little bit all its own. Some of the weirdness makes sense as you dig into the film’s backstory – suffice to say that the film was primarily being used as a money laundering scheme for a massive pornographer who also made money with the Mafia – but even that doesn’t explain how weird this thing gets. It starts simply enough, with an African-American singer whose car breaks down in a tiny, backwoods Southern town, and who soon finds herself the unwilling companion of a deranged, violent Elvis impersonator. Oh, and that impersonator already has a wife, played by Oscar-winning actress Shelley Winters. And did I mention that the town sheriff is played by Slim Pickens? And if you think that’s weird, man, just buckle up for a sexual assault intercut with dog mating, or quease-inducing racial politics, or brutal violence out of nowhere…and on and on. Even by 1970’s exploitation standards, this thing is grimy, but it’s also just plain weird, with touches that wouldn’t feel out of place in a David Lynch film. (I’m thinking here of the wedding overseen by a country band that stands mutely in the background as things become a trial before…well, you’ll see.) I certainly can’t say it was good by any means (though I wasn’t one of the several people to walk out), but if you’re a fan of this kind of thing, it’s worth seeing at least once, just for the bizarre experience of it all. (For maximum impact, watch it and then read about the alternate version they made, which makes the psychotic Elvis into a romantic hero and gives him a happy ending.) Rating: “Man, I don’t even have an opinion.”

IMDb: It Was a Colossal Teenage Movie Machine! | Too Late | The Invitation | Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made | Here Come the Videofreex | Poor Pretty Eddie


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