The Minneapolis Underground Film Festival (MUFF) has already been in motion for four years and will be unveiling its fifth edition this weekend at the St. Anthony Main Theatre. While the festival has not received much fanfare in past years, perhaps since the festival had been in the dead of winter and located at MCAD, this year feels and looks different; hopefully, film fans will take notice. The move is not much of a surprise, as December is a tough month for filmgoers—mainly due to the hideous weather in the Twin Cities, but also it is usually the month when Hollywood preps its Oscar campaign season and studios want to release their golden derby entries. With MSPIFF's success moving to the friendly locale with plenty of sunshine down by the river, MUFF is poised to make its mark, even with its eclectic program.
There will be over 30 short films and around a dozen feature length documentaries and narratives screening over the three day festival that are sure to offend, frighten, laugh or scream out loud (take your pick), and infuse mixed reactions of either displeasure or delight. The few films that I have had a chance to preview were all solid effort, even if some were less than thrilling but two really grabbed me by the throat and still have me thinking about them weeks later.
The biggest surprise of MUFF is the new film by writer/director/actor Alex Karpovsky (HBO’s Girls and The Hole Story). He premiered his newest hybrid comedy/drama, Red Flag, at the Los Angeles Film Festival this past June. It is also the second film Karpovsky has released this year, after Rubberneck, which screened at MSPIFF in April. For someone familiar with Karpovsky’s work, I’m not sure he qualifies as a filmmaker who is “underground,” at least in Minnesota, but I’m thrilled that Red Flag is screening at MUFF as it could be his most awkward, compelling, and hilarious film to date.
Playing a slightly deranged version of himself, Karpovsky stars as “Alex,” a filmmaker who heads out on the road to promote his second film, Woodpecker, after having his heart broken by his longtime girlfriend. Out on the road, he becomes entangled with an obsessive fan who begins following him across the country and starts to become annoyed with an old friend who reluctantly joins him on tour. Karpovsky’s journey across the U.S. is a beautifully captured odyssey showing the loneliness of the road. The film deals with not only heartbreak but other neuroses in a way that only Karpovsky can: you can't help laughing at his pain. You may not be able to forgive yourself for laughing at him, but thankfully, the humor is never mean-spirited and the film is a perfect blend of satire and disillusionment. Red Flag screens Saturday, August 18 at 6 p.m.
Director Spencer Parsons's newest feature, Saturday Morning Massacre, follows a similar blueprint to, let’s say, a Scooby-Doo episode, but brings enough laughs and gore for an awfully entertaining mash-up. A group of four paranormal experts travel in a van along with their faithful dog (Scooby-Doo is even referenced in the film) trying to debunk paranormal happenings; they begin to think they are way over their heads once they enter a mansion that has been haunted for years and discover there could very well be ghosts haunting the mansion.
After Parsons's previous film, the emotionally stunning 2008 film I’ll Come Running, he completely flips the switch with this follow-up, treading horror/suspense/thriller genres—and it works, for the most part. A surprising revelation catches the characters completely off-guard, which is refreshing to see in a film in a genre where plot points are often telegraphed. Parsons and screenwriters Joey Balsimo, Aaron Leggett, and Jason Wehling keep the laughs coming throughout and present some gruesome gore. With a title like Saturday Morning Massacre, it would have disappointing not to feel the nervous energy of being trapped with no escape in sight and without any bloodshed. As an added bonus, Parsons will be present at the screening taking place Saturday, August 18 at 9:30 p.m.
Dropping his usual screen name of R. Alverson from his two previous features (The Builder and New Jerusalem), co-writer/director, Rick Alverson made some noise at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with his ironically titled third feature The Comedy, featuring the duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim cult show Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and one would think there would be some laughs. Well, if there were, I did not pick up on them—or maybe I could not find myself rooting for anyone in this straight-laced drama.
Heidecker manages to be convincing as Swanson, a Brooklyn slacker, who is independently wealthy thanks to his father, who is on his deathbed. Rather than take any initiative in his life, Swanson would rather get drunk with his buddies (played by Wareheim and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy) as they go through each day the same as the one before. The Comedy had the feeling of someone talking and never finishing their sentence and going off on tangents that reveal very little or nothing at all.
Heidecker is a compelling dramatic actor and I would be interested in seeing him in more dramatic roles; unfortunately, the plot never got started until near the end when Swanson finally decides to try something different in his life, rather than drinking PBR over and over with others who seem to be set-up for life, just like Swanson too. The Comedy makes for an uncomfortable film viewing experience, and can only be compared to being hungover at church and asking yourself, “Why did I drink so much the night before? God, can you forgive me?” The Comedy screens Sunday, August 19 at 7:30 p.m.
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