A LIFE IN WAVES (USA, dir. Brett Whitcomb)
Even if you don’t know the name Suzanne Ciani, you’ve almost certainly heard her work. Ciani worked with synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla at the start of her career, and in the ’70s and ’80s she brought the synthesizer into the spotlight by scoring countless iconic advertising campaigns. A LIFE IN WAVES follows Ciani in the present day as she looks back on her amazing career and finds herself surprised by a new generation of enthusiastic fans. Director Brett Whitcomb’s previous feature documentaries include THE ROCK-A-FIRE EXPLOSION and GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING, and A LIFE IN WAVES sits comfortably alongside them as a thoughtful portrait of a fascinating subject. Like Tyler Hubby’s TONY CONRAD: COMPLETELY IN THE PRESENT last year, much of the pleasure of watching this film comes from simply spending time with Ciani and listening to her thoughtful musings on life, her art, and her career. If it feels a little too short, it’s probably mostly because she’s so fun to hang out with and listen to.
HIDDEN RESERVES (Austria/Germany, dir. Valentin Hitz)
Vincent Baumann (Clemens Schick) is a death insurance salesman. He lives in a future where rich and poor are rigidly segregated, and technology allows companies to mine people’s bodies for resources after they die by putting them into a permanent vegetative state while they “work off” their debts. Lisa (Lena Lauzemis) is the daughter of one of the pioneers of this technology, and she has dedicated her life to fighting the system with a group of activists who perform assisted suicides allowing people to die on their own terms. Baumann is enlisted by his employer to infiltrate the resistance, but will Lisa be able to turn him in time to execute a plan to bring down the whole system? HIDDEN RESERVES is a cold but gorgeous sci-fi noir that recalls the dystopian futures of MINORITY REPORT and BRAZIL, and its distinctive look and tone are reminiscent of Alex Proyas’s DARK CITY. That’s not to say it’s overly derivative of those films, but rather that it fits in well in that lofty company. Some of the aspects of its world are a little underdeveloped, but its elaborate intrigues and impressive style make that feel like a minor complaint. This is probably going to end up being one of the best sci-fi films of the year; it’s hard to imagine there being many others that come close.
DAVE MADE A MAZE (USA, dir. Bill Watterson)
Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns from a business trip to find her frustrated artist boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) has built a cardboard labyrinth in their living room. He claims to be lost and asks Annie to call his friend Gordon (Adam Busch) to help. Gordon invites a bunch of their mutual friends including documentary filmmaker Harry (James Urbaniak) and his crew, who are making a documentary on Dave’s maze. When they finally enter the maze itself, instead of a couple of cardboard boxes stuck together they find an elaborate, sprawling space complete with booby traps and a Minotaur (John Hennigan). DAVE MADE A MAZE is a surreal comedy/horror film with a great cast, but the real star here is the maze itself. All of the sets and effects are made out of countless pieces of cardboard and other stuff you might find laying around the house, including the “gore”—red yarn and silly string–when people are unlucky enough to end up in a trap. That kind of handmade aesthetic can often come off as simple whimsy, but here it’s so exaggerated it becomes unsettling. It’s still funny, and debut feature director Watterson gives the film an anarchic playfulness that makes it refreshingly unpredictable.
In addition to the new features (which also included MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND, this year’s big winner at SXSW, Massachusetts video artist Skip Shea’s TRINITY, and closing night feature BITCH by Marianna Palka), this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival included a repertory screening of Richard Kelly’s bizarro sci-fi epic SOUTHLAND TALES, over 80 shorts and music videos in programs and paired with features, the return of the “Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party” curated by film writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse, and the festival’s first secret screening. Stay tuned to the official festival site and count the days until BUFF 2018, because this fest keeps getting better every year.
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Tags: Austria, Bill Watterson, Boston, Boston Underground Film Festival, Brett Whitcomb, Don Buchla, Film Festivals, Germany, Horror, Kier-La Janisse, Minotaurs, Richard Kelly, Suzanne Ciani, The 1970s, The 1980s, Urbaniak, Valentin Hitz