Yesterday’s PFF/CF: Advertising, Mystical Sex, Dominican Baseballers and Death by Hubcap

March 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm 4 comments

So, I was going to say that film festivaling is easier with a bike, but not when the wind blows at 30 mph. Come on, intelligent designer.

The advertising documentary Art & Copy (C), from Doug Pray (Scratch, Surfwise), takes an, um, original stance on its subject, namely that it’s not an evil and grossly manipulative pox on humanity, but instead an art form. Pray sits down with many of its biggest practitioners, and their elaborations on their methods prove predictably fascinating. But when it comes time to judge them from an ethical standpoint, A&C is comically feeble. When some point out that the ads that helped re-elect Reagan were so fantasy-America they made even Reagan balk, the subjects uniformly distance themselves from it, without any follow-up from Pray about how what they do isn’t any better. If the rather immodest claims made by the ad guys — and the dude who came up with the infamous 1984 Apple ad (see above) essentially claims credit for the 21st century — are to be believed, these are the most diabolical puppet masters the world has yet seen. Pray sporadically throws in terrifying factoids about how much is spent on advertising or the price tag of an ad on American Idol or the Super Bowl, but is far too in awe of his subjects’ mad skills. So he’s the one.

Don't Look Down

Surely (hopefully) the WTF of the festival’s wares, the Argetine Don’t Look Down (B) is officially “hot stuff” and definitely deserves a spot on this list. After claiming to be visited by his dead father’s ghost, a young man with sleepwalking problems (Hugo Arana) enters into a sexual relationship with the neighborhood hottie (Anotella Costa), a spiritual-mystical type who’s all too willing to be his guide through the Kama Sutra, as well as to teach him how to hold in his wad past 81 thrusts. Eventually, Arana discovers he can materialize in far-off lands when he bones — as though sex were the spice from Dune. (Sample post-coital line: “Venice is incredible!”) This, mind you, is basically played for giggles, with writer-director Eliseo Subiela maintaining a gentle dreamy-absurdist tone that feels like Buñuel minus the anticlericalism (if that makes any sense). Cheerfully inscrutable, with a deftly sustained, calmly deranged performance from Costa, it unfortunately can’t figure out an ending and so just stops. There’s a sexual metaphor for that condition, right? (Plays again: Tues., March 31, 9:45, Ritz 5 and Wed., April 1, 2:15pm, Ritz 5.)

Can the makers of Half Nelson function without the terrific actors? Having directed three of the best performances in recent memory, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck go with non-pros for Sugar (B-), and the answer is: sorta. Concerning the life of Dominican baseball players as they’re fed into the American baseball machine, it’s largely beholden to its subject, with a lead character (played by Alegnis Perez Soto) who’s generally likable but mostly a cipher. Boden and Fleck retain the herky-jerky/long lens cinematography, but their camerawork was far more interesting when trying to bottle up the Method stylings of Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps and Anthony Mackie. It’s a generally “good” film and valuable, but even with a topic that rarely gets coverage it still feels cookie-cutter.

Plague Town

Lastly, the British Danger After Dark entry Plague Town (C+) overcomes unusually shitty video, truly heinous acting and a couple frankly pathetic gore effects to reveal a set-up that unravels itself slowly and mostly satisfyingly. An American family stranded overnight in nowhere Ireland are beset upon by a bunch of freaky-faced kids who beat victims with hubcaps and tree branches, plus a chick who’s apparently a doll come to life. It’s not clear where this is going even in the final minutes, and unpredictability is all this one’s got. (Plays again: Fri., April 3, 4:45pm, I-House.)

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What You Should/n’t See at the Film Festival: Monday, 30 March Go See (or Don’t!) These Fest Films: Tuesday, March 31

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