Now Playing: Nick Lowe--"Marie Prevost"
Every time I get irritated at being mistaken for homeless simply because I use the library computers (that is, when I'm not down on my hands and knees thanking whoever for not being homeless), I'm treated to a spectacle such as two grown men (who I used to see at the Michigan Cinema Guild) indulging in a "shut up-no, you shut up" test of strength. Sometimes life really does give back.
Over Christmas, I came into temporary possession of a few Great Lakes area films, made on microscopic budgets and all of them intriguing in their own ways. Regional, transnational holiday personal film fests are fun.
Death (2005): The first of two short (forty-minute or so) features available involving Ann Arbor band Counter Cosby was made in 2005 by Justin Brewer (using a number of recognizable Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti locations) and tells the story of Bill (Aaron Howard), whose grief over his girlfriend's recent death brings him to question the existence of God, the nature of reality, and the meaning of death. This all comes about through his leaving increasingly angry messages on his pastor's answering machine, extended hallucinations and song-and-dance sequences, and visitations by "angels" (in reality mutant humanoids from the future). The movie is well put together, with a storytelling approach that manages to genuinely convey Bill's grief while remaining unsentimental and hilarious. The songs are a mixed bag, but my favorite was probably Bill's realization that he might be dead, which kicks the film into a high gear it doesn't lose for the rest of its running time.
Asshole Drunkard (2006): Langel Bookbinder of Counter Cosby put together this Hong Kong-style kung fu flick, again using local settings (with a couple of very funny scenes set in the Middle Eastern restaurant Jerusalem Garden, the Vault of Midnight hobby store, and along what looks like the railroad bridge above Washington Street) and taking the merry piss out of kung fu movies in a way that manages to satirize one of the most unspeakably smug towns on Earth (look for a great turn by Death director Justin Brewer during the Jerry Garden scene). Si Feud (Bookbinder) lives with his king fu master's daughter (Anna Chen), who throws him out for his laziness and denies him return until he finishes a number of tasks. Hooking up with Prince Ass of Dingus Province (Aaron Howard again, whose weaselly, sniveling performance really deserves some kind of award), Si Feud shows Ass the "Asshole Drunkard" way in order to build his young student's skill and to best his own archrival, Pak Mei (Drew Schmeiding), whose bitter struggles with Si Feud over a long-ago jar of pickled eggs have hardened into a deadly hatred. A rather more obviously amusing affair than Death, Asshole Drunkard is unforgivably entertaining. Bookbinder does an excellent job of spoofing the braggart heroes of Hong Kong kung fu (and maybe even Japanese films; I was reminded of Toshiro Mifune in The Seven Samurai on occasion), and the supporting cast gives great value, especially Counter Cosby drummer Justin O'Neill as "Hippie Guy," who has a number of scene-stealing moments. Best of all are the authentic sounds used for the various kicks, punches, and slaps of "martial arts," culminating in the final battle with Pak Mei and some pantswettingly funny special effects.
Infest Wisely (2007): As mentioned some time back, my favorite living fiction author is probably Jim Munroe, the Canadian wunderkind whose DIY prowess gave works like Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask (1998) and Angry Young Spaceman (2000) to the world. His multimedia projects are just as interesting, ranging from both print and online zines to the graphic novel Therefore Repent! (2007) and Infest Wisely, a dystopian sci-fi film written by Munroe and directed by himself and six other directors in an episodic format for artound $700. In Toronto of the near-future, a newly-marketed nanotechnology ingested through chewing gum promises to fundamentally alter reality by computerizing the brain. What could possibly go wrong? The spread of the new technology's effects makes itself felt through a now-familiar hipster milieu that only Munroe and, in the US, Andrew Bujalski--and arguably J.J. Abrams at the beginning of Cloverfield--have ever really gotten right. A number of Luddite spoilsports--including a brilliant but socially retarded hacker (Sean Lerner), a hottie lab technician and guitarist (Andrea Battersby), and a smartass grad student (Kevin Hainey)--just don't get it, rising up in various ways against the nanotech onslaught. A cast of both actors and non-actors blends together quite well in a story which I think is a more successful take on issues Munroe examined in his earlier 2002 novel Everyone In Silico (which I found a little too obviously cyberpunk for my taste). Western consumption patterns, advertising, and commercialism take the brunt of some well-deserved satire, with an especially funny subplot concerning hustling artists on the make. Points are made without being hammered, save for a somewhat cartoonish but more-entertaining-for-all-that ad guy (Sean MacMahon). Spaces of time pass between episodes in a peripheral, unobtrusive way, rather refreshing from a narrative standpoint. All in all, Infest Wisely is a fantastic example of thought-provoking, low-budget cinema, and an excellent model for other filmmakers to progress in a similar vein.