There’s a lot to be said for how movies can change dramatically when the color is taken away. Most famously Frank Darabont unleashed a black and white version of “The Mist” which many fans insist amped up the film’s inherent terror, and folks have also testified that “Dawn of the Dead” is much scarier in black and white like its big brother “Night of the Living Dead.” To date there are four editions of “Mad Max: Fury Road” in what is a now ever expanding series of movies and merchandise for the George Miller apocalyptic franchise. Not that I’m complaining minde you, but the studios know where the money is, and people still love “Fury Road.”
I’ll admit I wish I’d known more about filmmaker Nico Raineau sooner, as he’s managed to deliver some really interesting short films lately. “Mother’s Day” is a complete departure from the bone crunching action drama of “Brix and the Bitch” and it’s a fine drama comedy that I wanted more from. And you know you’re watching a great short film when you could have sat through two hours of the characters barely noticing the time pass. Lauren Schacher (who co-writes with Raineau) plays Mara, a young clubber who awakens in the house of the man she spent the night with one morning.
Based on the ultra-violent underground comic book of the same name, “The Mask” is a perfect vehicle for Jim Carrey at the peak of his career. In 1994, star Jim Carrey was capable of being in anything he wanted, and “The Mask” propelled him in to the image of an actor who could transform in to a living cartoon. “The Mask” is not at all faithful to the source material, aiming more toward the PG crowd, while dropping enough adult overtones to appeal to a broader audience. Much in the way Looney Tunes and MGM cartoon shorts once did. Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a normal banker who lives alone with his dog Milo and disappears in to his love for classic cartoons on his spare time. After a bad night at a local night club, he finds a mysterious mask floating in the ocean and takes it home.
In the eighties if it was popular it had to have a tie in to something that involved merchandise. It didn’t matter what it was, whether it was Rubiks Cubes, Mad Balls, or even the Garbage Pail Kids, companies were always thinking about new ways to squeeze as much money out of their products as possible. In the eighties, My Pet Monster was a very popular kids toy that was simple in premise. It was a cute horned monster with plastic cuffs that kept its claws secure. The monster was gross enough for kids that loved monsters, but cute enough to warrant being a bed time toy. So naturally Hi Tops gave us an animated series for “My Pet Monster” and a much derided straight to video movie that reeks of a cash grab.
Richard Benjamin’s movie is one without an audience. It’s too adult for kids, and too childish for the adult crowds. It tries very hard to pass itself off as a latter day “Splash” with aliens in place of mermaids, but the problem is Dan Akroyd was never really Tom Hanks, and the writers push the child element on the film so much, “My Stepmother is an Alien” ceases to become an out of this world romance comedy. It’s instead more about accepting your parents have to move on, with the central character being a very young Alyson Hanigan rather than, oh, the adults. Kim Basinger plays an alien named Celeste, from a seemingly big planet of hot aliens who comes to Earth to study an unnatural occurrence on her planet.
John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven” is such a pitch perfect example of how to accomplish a remake. And Sturges has his work cut out for him as “The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” Kurosawa’s film was already considered a classic by 1960, and was a juggernaut of foreign cinema that influenced filmmakers and studios worldwide. Even today its influence over cinema is immense. So it’s no small feat that “The Magnificent Seven” is just as good as the original and can stand side by side with it as another version of the tale that is as compelling and action packed. In fact Kurosawa loved it so much he allegedly sent Sturges a ceremonial sword as a bid a token of approval for his version.
A couple with some big issues buy a brand new, state of the art, highly intelligent car. While thee husband is away on business, the wife grows suspicious and decides to drive this new vehicle across the desert to go join or confront him with their toddler son in tow. After an accident on an unused desert road, she finds herself locked out of her fancy car with her son locked in.
A conspiracy theorist living in a small North Eastern town removes himself from society more and more after having a visit from aliens on his government job. As he lives his life as best he can following the loss of his job and of his marriage, he gives talks about aliens to dwindling crowds. After meeting an actress, he decides to make a film about his life with her and his only friend left.
Co-writers/co-directors Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec work very well together, building a film laced with the lead’s paranoia and showing three sides of what he has to deal with: friendly people who want to help; people wanting to use him as s how; and people who have complete condescension for him. They build a world where the audience feels for him while understanding where others come from on how they deal with him. They build a character study of a man who may have lost his mind or not, a man with an absolute conviction in his belief that is unbreakable even if he is. The way they construct the characters and story pulls the viewer in even if alien conspiracy is not their thing like this reviewer.
The cast of course helps a lot. George Basil does a phenomenal job in the part of Willem Koda, the alien conspiracy theory at the center of the film. The way he embodies the character makes him so human and believable. His portrayal makes Willem the town kook that everyone wants to know more about and care about. As the actress Willem takes an interest in, Flossie Ferguson, actress Pamela Fila shows that interest and care, bringing the viewer in further as she becomes their stand-in in his life. The conflict she shows in parts of the film looks genuine like her interest. Rounding out the great lead cast is Andy Rocco as Todd Muckle, Willem’s best and only friend who stands by him no matter what, even when they don’t agree on everything. His performance is also spot-on and creates a character everyone can care for and who is a little goofy but with his heart in the right place.
Man Underground is a carefully planned and made film that makes more than the most of its small budget. From the production design by Amber Cicardo to the art direction she did with costume designer Alexandra Lopez to the music by Zach De Sorbo to the cinematography by Maximilian Lewing, everything looks and sounds like a bigger budget film. It’s a testament to the talent of all involved and to the importance of choosing a great team to work with and stretch your dollars.
Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine craft a great film about a man who wants to be believed, who needs to be believed, a character study of a conspiracy theorist and whose beliefs have affected his life. Their film is touching while giving a glimpse into the life of someone considered crazy without turning it into a satire or a comedy at the expense of this man.
Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.