Tag Archives: 2021

366 UNDERGROUND: 5000 SPACE ALIENS (2021)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Scott Bateman

FEATURING: 5,000 individuals, new and old

PLOT: None.

COMMENTS: Before diving into a brief review, let me say that this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen this year.

Wow.

Now, removing my fanboy hat, let me don my critical reviewer cap. Expanding on his 600 Space Aliens short from 2016, Scott Batemen enters “feature length” territory with this barrage of rotoscoped, scrapbooked, distorted, pigmented, animated images of 5,000 individuals1. According to the brief introduction, all entities on display have been determined to be “space aliens” according to the “Space Alien Commission” (which receives a special thank-you in the closing credits). Bateman advises us to “[w]atch carefully. Memorize all 5000 space aliens. After viewing, please dispose of this film by eating it.”

The introduction’s playful tone is maintained throughout the eighty-three-and-a-half minute run-time. (For our “physical and mental safety, each alien is shown for only one second.”) Each clip is altered in one way or another, sometimes simply (blurry black-and-white), sometimes elaborately (intricate underlays behind a stylized rotoscoping of the “alien” in the foreground). Random textual blurbs are scattered throughout in the form of three-to-six word phrases cropping up somewhere on the screen (a couple of my favorites being, “give thanks to our fetishes” and “science brain parts”).  A pulsing, power-pop synth score composed by the filmmaker drives the whole shebang, making 5000 Space Aliens an absolute must for your post-COVID art-dance house party.

Of the dozens (hundreds?) of word blasts, the most pertinent may be “text book on embalming.” I feel it distills the nature of this smilingly cryptic project. The torrent of humanity and movement Bateman captured is hypnotic; it isn’t often that I happily sit through over an hour of random images. The effect was pleasantly disorienting, so much so that when an un-doctored image of a young woman appeared, I was seriously thrown for a loop. (Mind you, the solid blocks of vermilion red streaming up from her coffee mug were probably added in post-production).

And on the topic of post-production, I shudder to think how long that took Scott (mind if I call you “Scott”?) to compile this. Every single second is bursting with life from his augmentations, be it kinetic line-o-grams or the overtly -esque animations utilizing black-and-white photographs of older “space aliens.” The second thank-you in the credits went to his cowdfunding backers, and with my brain joyfully glazed over by his efforts, I wish I could have helped him out myself. When you next have five-thousand seconds to kill, I advise you take up the challenge of observing and memorizing this barrage of human space-alien cinematographical wonderment.

OFFICIAL SITE:

5,000 Space Aliens – Official website providing plenty of  information (screening times, contact links, “About the Filmmakers”, etc.) as well as a sample from the soundtrack

366 UNDERGROUND: THE MAN WITH NO PANTS (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Matthew A. Peters

FEATURING: Stephanie Ward, Ryan Santiago, Joe Cappelli

PLOT: Trinix Spade, junior space detective, has no fear; Colt Cory, outlaw, has no pants. Together they must win a series of death matches to apprehend the Shogun.

Still from Man with no Pants (2021)

COMMENTS: Some viewers might ask of The Man With No Pants, “Why?” I’m more inclined to ask, “Why not?” I have a simple challenge I put to every movie I review: does this entertain? If yes, I can be forgiving. The Man With No Pants, as the title suggests, is intentional nonsense. It’s anti-hero, Colt Cory, channels the traditions of “The Man With No Name,” but moreso his less known counterpart, the Stranger. Trinix Spade captures the enthusiasm of the Indominatable Female Reporter archetype. And the Shogun—well, for some reason I couldn’t help but think of Vampire Burt, whose “serenade” I found simultaneously inept and amusing. Half of this brief movie is combat between unlikely goons: “Master Manchu”, a foppish black fighter with a streak-blond wig, and “El Gatito con Zapatos Azules”, a luchador, being the standouts. But alas, this simple set-up is executed with, to be blunt, imperfect technique.

Conducting a little research while watching No Pants unfold, I discovered that writer-director Matthew Peters has been at this for a while now. I was curious as to how much of a neophyte he might be, as something weighed heavily on me from the start. No Pants is very, very silly, but it was obviously made with joy. This goes a long way, but not quite far enough. I was surprised to find that it was good enough that I wished that just a little more care had been taken in its production. Peters could do with a competent sound guy. The audio was often choppy and obscured. (On the plus side, the soundtrack was pitch-perfect). He could also do with tighter fight choreography—particularly if he’s going to feature combat so prominently.

That said… I could see the foundation of a nichely famous B-movie director here. No Pants had enough zingers that I found myself laughing often, particularly with the running gag about Colt Cory lacking pants. With Ryan Santiago’s husky dead-pan, the spite-filled rejoinder, “You know damn well what happened to my pants!” carried more chuckles than could rightfully be hoped for. Seeing as he’s cranked out a dozen or so features as well as smaller projects, I’d like to challenge Matthew Peters to channel all his focus into his next film. He’s got a “vibe” going, as well as a knack for ridiculous dialogue. It remains to be seen if he can hone the good points, improve on the clunkiness, and launch his actors into the zany orbit he’s so obviously striving for.

Man with no Pants can be rented exclusively from Vimeo through links on Mad Angel Films homepage.

SLAMDANCE 2021: THE SHORT BIGS COMPENDIUM

The collection of short reviews for longer, less-weird films.

Slamdance’s entire slate, shorts and features, can be watched online through February 25 for a $10 pass, $5 for students.

Hurrah, We Are Still Alive! (Hura, wciaz zyjemy!; dir. Agnieszka Polska)—Troupe of film actors is adrift and its mysterious director is mysteriously missing and…yawnnnnn. Mm, excuse me. The only way I could potentially pitch this high mumble-drama as exciting would be to provide a couple of out of context remarks like, “Dirk picks up a cat and walks through a cowboy gauntlet”, or “Dirk threatens an exotic fish.” This is the kind of movie that gets a super-solid 5/10, because it is technically well made, technically tells a story, and was technically watchable all the way through. It features pseudo-mysterious plottings, a terrorist organization, an actress with a wig that’s more boyish than her slightly less-boyish actual hairstyle, a semi-charismatic hitman, and, exotic for a New York viewer, smoking inside a disco. (This club, however, is one of the saddest party places I’ve ever seen.) It probably didn’t help that the film burns out its only energy with the exclamation mark in the title.

The Little Broomstick Rider (dir. Matteo Bernardini)—For those of you who want to experience the simple-sophisticated joys of “gekkimation” but don’t want to endure the stomach-turning creativity of more graphic fare, I highly recommend Bernardini’s charming yarn about a 9-year-old boy accused of witchcraft in early 17th-century Bavaria. Darling and detailed drawings for characters and settings, snappy and silly signs for dialogue and exposition, and flute and fife for a rousing soundtrack. Unlike myself, Matteo Bernardini did something productive during his Covid quarantine. (Not to insult my profession, mind you; but one of the perks of being a reviewer is you get a front-row view of talented people. [Not that reviewers aren’t talented people, just… ah, to heck with it. Watch The Little Broomstick Rider!].)

Taipei Suicide Story (安眠旅舍; dir. KEFF)—Well, this was probably the saddest romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, though at least the title prepared me for it. In the greater Taipei area, sometime now-ish, is a discreet little hotel where the guests are allowed only one night’s stay. This typically isn’t problematic, as the facility specializes in giving people a place (and limited assistance) to kill themselves. Zhi-Hao is a young man, and world-weary, which is something to be expected of a concierge at a Continue reading SLAMDANCE 2021: THE SHORT BIGS COMPENDIUM

SLAMDANCE 2021: APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MAN UNDER TABLE (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Noel David Taylor

FEATURING: Noel David Taylor, John Edmund Parcher, Ben Babbitt, Katy Fullan

PLOT: A nameless screenwriter tries to write a movie (the movie we’re watching), while his peers’ careers seem to be taking off faster than his.

Still from Man Under Table (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: This microbudget meta-movie about a nameless screenwriter unabashedly gazes at its navel until that navel becomes a self-contained universe teeming with surrealism and satire.

COMMENTS: Ever since 8 1/2, directors have been making movies about the trials and tribulations of being themselves making a movie. It’s an ambitious undertaking, fraught with pretension, but the subgenre is not tapped out yet. Man Under Table relocates the conceit to a new milieu: the fringes of the indie movie scene, a world which itself exists on the fringes of Hollywood. It’s a purgatory for creatives. Everybody urgently wants rush out a movie about “identity politics” or “fracking” or, preferably, the intersection of the two—but they actually spend most of their time in bars, at parties, or in men’s rooms, talking about their hopefully soon-in-development projects. The film doesn’t really have much of an idea how to end itself, and it plays around with some intriguing possible plot angles (such as the suggestion that another character is the real author of the screenplay) only to abandon them. But that abandonment itself is both a meta-joke and an honest reflection of the script: the movie consistently, from being to end, does not know what it is, and it is all about its own lack of insight.

Such a premise would be insufferable if played straight; it can only work as a comedy. And Man Under Table has a nasty comic bite, with the movie itself, and its screenwriter, as much the target of the satire as the phonies who hang out in this plague-ridden alternate Los Angeles. Our nameless (itself a plot point) antihero is writing a movie, but he spends most of his free time bragging to all his acquaintances about how he’s writing a movie. He’s arrogant, short-tempered, neurotic, presumptuous, whiny, and obviously angry at himself but taking it out on everyone around him. His targets include screenwriting rival Ben (who looks a lot like David Foster Wallace stripped of his bandana), up-and-coming director Jill Custard, a vapid but omnipresent YouTuber, and a pair of buzzword-devouring—producers? Agents? He’s also taking advantage of Gerald, an older man with money who has an idea for a movie but needs help with the “technical part” (i.e., writing it), and who insists that there shouldn’t be any of that “modern movie gay stuff.”  You personally don’t know any characters like this, and characters like this could in fact never exist, yet you believe they are caricatures of real people—or at least, that they’re caricatures of real caricatures.

Man Under Table plays out on minimal sets—a bathroom, a barroom, an apartment, a warehouse, a blank void—and moves from scene to scene with little flow or causality. The order of incidents could be shuffled about without making much difference; it’s set in a netherworld of eternal project development. “This isn’t a movie, it’s just random scenes about some guy,” our screenwriter complains midway through. At one point, he finds himself unwittingly cast in—and cut from—someone else’s project, which breaks out around him as he’s trying to order a beer. The movie also draws attention to its own movieness by introducing deliberate continuity errors (a disappearing drink becomes a running gag).

Where Man Under Table shines, and sometimes becomes laugh-out-loud funny, is in writer/director Taylor’s charmingly obnoxious performance as his own alter-ego, and especially in his ear for cutting dialogue that exposes the shallow ambitions of his characters. His generic pitches to the movie-producing couple are brilliant (he throws the word “content” in at random and their eyes get huge). A parody of a competitor’s production shows a knack for capturing ridiculously poetic indie dialogue (“I always imagined that leaving prison was like being ripped from the womb all over again—you emerge screaming, wet, and pale.”) Other great lines include “I didn’t really want to talk about it either, I was just asking you questions I wanted you to ask me” and “I’d like to be suicidal again, but I can’t even get there with all the garbage you’re saying.” Some of the dialogue even achieves poignancy: “Sometimes I get excited about all the possibilities there are, until I realize none of them are available to me.”

As boorish and self-absorbed as our hero is, you gradually begin to feel for him. He is trapped in an absurd, dystopian world peopled entirely by poseurs, a universe that seemingly exists only to crush his dreams. Oh yeah, and then there’s all the weird stuff that happens to his character in the movie, too.

Man Under Table is currently playing Slamdance (online).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This film is definitely weird.”–Lorry Kitka, Film Threat