THE ROCK-AFIRE EXPLOSION: Finally, the story of the beloved animatronic puppet rock band.
If it's alienation from the mainstream you're feeling, you're in good company for this year's Boston Underground Film Festival,where the theme of isolation reigns supreme amid its dizzying eight-day blitzkrieg of fringe cinema.
|Boston Underground Film Festival | Brattle Theatre + Kendall Square Cinema: March 19-26|
First up is BUFF's throbbing flagship, BAD BIOLOGY (Kendall Square: March 19 at 7:30 pm; March 23 at 9:45 pm). A team-up between director Frank Henenlotter (Frankenhooker) and rapper R.A. the Rugged Man, this film tells the story of two lonely souls endowed with freakish anatomies. Jennifer (Charlee Danielson) has seven clits, an insatiable sex drive, and a hyperactive womb; her foil is Batz (Anthony Sneed), a wild-eyed recluse tormented by his drug-addled, sentient manhood. If you're delighted by the idea of a movie that offers both a gigantic veiny dick ramming its way rapeward through floorboards and cameo appearances from hip-hop luminaries Prince Paul and Reef the Lost Cauze, see this.
Less titillating is Zach Clark's darkly funny MODERN LOVE IS AUTOMATIC (2009; Kendall Square: March 21 at 7:15 pm; March 23 at 7:45 pm), which follows two roommates who find themselves trawling the seamy underbelly of employment. Lorraine (Melodie Sisk) is a nurse who starts moonlighting as a dominatrix, where her seeming disdain for humanity comes in handy for whipping toilet-scrubbing gimps. Adrian (Maggie Ross), meanwhile, is a desperate model who winds up at Luxury Mattress, where sex sells Sealy Posturepedics. The movie drifts off unsatisfyingly at the end, but its strange, Chuck Palahniuk–reminiscent storyline captivates.
Raising the loneliness motif to the power of three are BUFF's two feature-length triptychs, ANYWHERE USA (2008; Kendall Square: March 22 at 8 pm; March 26 at 9:45 pm) and MORRIS COUNTY (2009; Kendall Square: March 21 at 9:45 pm; March 24 at 9:45 pm). Boasting fawning kudos from Quentin Tarantino and a Special Jury Prize from Sundance, Anywhere USA offers us a story of redneck love gone sour, a defiant orphan's visit from the Truth Fairy, and a daffy yuppie's quixotic mission to make some black friends. Tarantino's rave review is overkill, but Anywhere USA has its charms, like tanning-bed queen Molly (Molly Surrett) and her husky, hypnotic drawl.
The more morose, less adroit Morris County rocks the kind of suburban malaise that befits its New Jersey setting. First-time director Matthew Garnett's days as a Troma intern shine through, these somewhat ham-fisted stories of isolation and despair being punctuated with bloodshed and one superbly gross decomposing corpse.
On the documentary tip, THE ROCK-AFIRE EXPLOSION (2008; Kendall Square: March 22 at 12:30 pm; March 24 at 7:45 pm) details the genesis, downfall, and resurrection of the animatronic puppet rock band who presided over the Chuck E. Cheese–esque ShowBiz Pizza until its 1990 collapse. In 2007, collectors started rebuilding these mechanical musicians in their own homes, even hacking them to perform new songs. It's ideal indie-doc fodder, but The Rock-afire Explosion's emphasis on its characters' solitude holds it back. We explore a now-rotting robot workshop and meet a heartbreakingly earnest superfan with a back-yard ShowBiz shrine, but we never learn how millions have enjoyed Rock-afire devotees' creations on YouTube. The on-line convergence of otherwise-isolated fans is what inspired the documentary; the omission of that hopeful undercurrent mars an otherwise great film.