The Beast Pageant in Boston

About this time last Thursday, I was arriving in Boston. As an actor in The Beast Pageant, I was tagging along with filmmaker Albert and costume designer Vanessa to The Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF). The Beast Pageant's artistic dream-logic metaphor was just barely appropriate for the horror-and-gore territory covered by the festival.

The opening-night screening was Hobo With a Shotgun at The Kendall Square Cinema (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — where all the rest of the films would be screened. I found "Hobo" fantastic — a 1980's action-exploitation film with Rutger Hauer, no less, in the lead role as a hobo trying to make ends meet but cornered into violent action. The bad guys are played with comic-absurd gusto as all parties are supported by a tongue-in-cheek script.

Afterward, that night's part was at T.T. the Bear's Place (10 Brookline Pl., Cambridge, MA), right around the corner from Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub (472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA). There were several bands and The Whore Church was performing live video mixing. Unfortunately it wasn't much of a place to chat (nor was there food) so we went to the Middle East for dinner which was pretty good. We weren't particularly impressed by T.T.'s as service was blasé and drinks were expensive ($2.50 for a soda, really? — but I guess that's Boston for you.) We got the last train on the Red Line to get home around 12:15 a.m.

On Friday we headed to The Gallery Diner (11 P St., South Boston, MA) which was fantastic. We made smalltalk with the friendly owners Paul and Colleen and the food was great. Exploring the Harvard Square area, we stopped at a few record and comic stores and I got an excellent fresh, locally-produced shake at the regional fast-food chain b.good (24 Dunster St., Cambridge, MA).

I checked out the "BUFF Family Values" short film program back at the festival and was pleased with all the films — some disturbing, some powerful, some funny, and some just strange. Later that night, we all saw Machete Maidens Unleashed which was a pretty decent documentary about the Philippine exploitation film industry in the 1970's and 1980's. I opted to see the 1973 film The Twilight People which was made in the Philippines during that era — a terrible film by nearly all counts. I recall listening to the dialog and thinking, "I wish they'd stop talking" and a scene later when they were walking through the jungle, "I wish there was more dialog". It was astounding to me that someone put this film together and decided they were done — continuity, plot, editing, and special effects came second to, well, cost, I guess.

Saturday started with an acceptable breakfast at Mul's Diner (75 W. Broadway, South Boston, MA). From there we went straight to the festival to catch "OMFG LMFAO!" and "Psychedelicinema" — a pair of shorts programs. The first offered a few chuckles but we didn't find it all that funny. The second was, in my opinion, a little better, but it was really abstract films and not psychedelic. We stayed for about half the program, skipping out partway through the 30-minute final film.

Between screenings I met Josh MacDonald, writer of The Corridor. I skipped the "Where the Music's At" music-videos short program, to see Josh's film. It was really excellent: evenly paced and gradually asking for suspended disbelief at the increasingly paranormal activity ensuing on screen. Despite its evenness, it delves into some extremely dark and gruesome territory — I found it highly successful.

We had a break and got to hang out (finally!) with other filmmakers at The Friendly Toast (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA) — and the only event to include free food. [I realize I'm knocking the festival for lackluster treatment of out-of-town guests, but I also know they're running on a shoestring budget and just didn't plan things out very well for us.] We finished the day with a pleasant at-home dinner with friends and family.

Sunday I met with my college friends at The Daily Catch (441 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). In 2002 I went to The Daily Catch (323 Hanover St., Boston, MA) and loved it, so I had to go back. The location in Brookline is bigger so Jan, Griffin, John, Michelle, Rob, Kevin, and myself could comfortably fit. Unfortunately they didn't open until 2 so we dawdled on the street, hanging out at the super cool Irving's Toy and Card Shop (371 Harvard St., Brookline, MA). At lunch I had the pistacio-encrusted swordfish which was fantastic. Everyone had a good meal for sure. We stayed and talked for a couple hours then Kevin and I headed back to the festival.

We got there a bit early and had plenty of time to get into the big event (for us): the screening of The Beast Pageant (and on IMDb). About 40 people showed up to watch it and, as best I can tell, really enjoyed it. It was fun to be part of the question-and-answer panel.

Afterward was the closing night party at Tommy Doyle's Irish Pub and Restaurant (1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA). (The festival runs once during the weekend, and then nearly all the films are repeated during the week, making it possible to actually see every screening.) I had a celebratory shot of 18-year-old Glenlivet scotch — my first alcoholic drink since the beginning of December when I quit (I permit myself a rare taste of something extraordinary, or under truly extraordinary circumstances.) The Beast Pageant won a runner-up "Director's Choice" award for best feature.

On Monday things got amusing. We got up for breakfast and I headed out around 11:05 to get the train back home. We had been averaging 15 minutes to get to the South Station where I was to get the train, but today buses were running on a half-hour schedule rather than every 10 minutes. I called for a taxi around 11:30 and was promised one immediately; I passed on boarding a bus that arrived shortly after. Alas, the cab didn't show up in time. I took the next bus and got to the Amtrak station (Summer St. and Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA) about 20 minutes late — if only I'd have hopped on that 11:30 bus. Alas, I traded my unclaimed ticket for one tomorrow. At least I got to see "Future Imperfect" — the science fiction short film program. It was okay but not great. Kevin was kind enough to let me stay at his place.

That night he and I went out and got dinner at Punjab Palace (109 Brighton Ave., Allston, MA) which really had great Indian cuisine. After that we went to see bands play at Charlie's Kitchen (10 Elliot St., Cambridge, MA). We were disappointed in the first act and headed to The Lizard Lounge (1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA) for an open-mic. That was a blast and we stayed quite late. We got back to his house and I slept on the futon couch.

I left when Kevin went to work, taking the T into the city packed with all the commuters. I found the Banksy graffiti art that Kevin mentioned off Essex Street then went to The South Street Diner (178 Kneeland St., Boston, MA) for breakfast. The staff was friendly and the breakfast burrito was quite good. I hung around and chatted for quite some time, arriving at the train station with plenty of time to spare.

I was happy to be on the train home. I arrived in Albany a little late but had about an hour before it left again, so my parents stopped by and we had a quick and decent Italian dinner at (if I remember right) Rudy's V & R Ristorante (483 Broadway, Rensselaer) across the tracks from the station. I was worried for a bit but got back in time to get back on the train home.

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Star Trek and The Brothers Bloom at the Cinema

Ali, Amber, and I went to The Cinema TheatreMySpace link (957 South Clinton Ave.) to see Star Trek. As you might expect, it's a decent movie and an innovative way to kick-start the franchise once again. Ali and I enjoyed it and I think Amber did too although she had some complaints. Anyway, they left and I stayed for the second feature: a movie I'd heard nothing about called The Brothers Bloom.

Apparently it came-and-went from The Little (240 East Ave.) and possibly corporate screens as well, all with little fanfare. Reviews have been lukewarm at best. My mood was to give it a try at the beginning, and my alternative was to meet Ali out at Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.): a not unattractive option.

Well, I figured I'd hang through the "early days" introduction: two brothers, Stephen and Bloom, had been in-and-out of foster families for quite some time when they stumbled into the notion of playing cons. I didn't know if I was in for a kids movie but I figured I'd linger to the credits. Once the relationship was established, the film heads for 25 years in the future when the brothers are adults, and still con-men.

Ok, so it's hooked me for 10 minutes.

Bloom doesn't want to stick with the game after their last job, but his brother ropes him in it for one more: woo a naive heiress — Penelope — living alone in her parents' estate. She's a handful, though, as she has a surprisingly fierce appetite for adventure (especially considering her apparently self-imposed exile) and she's extremely smart in a myriad of practical and philosophical fields.

Anyway, the movie runs along in a whimsical fairy-tale style. The simple surface conceals a more interesting philosophical bent: is it valuable to plan ahead? As such, the story — largely led by the plan crafted by Stephen — leads Bloom and Penelope on what should be a romantic and bond-forming adventure. But it's only in the fringe deviations from said plan that those things actually occur. I've found it's pretty much the same in life: it's no the planned trip to Chimney Bluffs State Park (7700 Garner Rd., Wolcott) that I remember as much as it is when Lucy ran her hysterical orbits through the muddy waters along the trail. It's the unplanned moments that make things worthwhile.

So … why plan?

And I think that's what The Brothers Bloom is getting at. To speak in music reviewer parlance, it's sort of Hudson Hawk meets Adaptation. meets The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: the lighthearted comedy and uneven production of the first, with the film-as-life-as-film metaphor of the second, and the attention to detail and understanding of fantasy of the third. It's not the best movie ever, but definitely worth a visit … hang in there the few times it really lags, and just have a good time with it.

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Dr. Strangelove and Bridge on the River Kwai at the Dryden

I rushed to get to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It turned out to be quite the popular movie and it wouldn't have mattered if I hurried or not for I just ended up at the end of a long line. I also ran into Rebecca and her boyfriend, so the three of us got together for the film.

I've long enjoyed it as the blackest of the black comedies — I mean, it really doesn't get funnier than "mutually assured destruction" [perhaps save for "mutually assured self-destruction"]. The very idea that one erroneous step in the arms race and kaboom: life would be far different now than it turned out to be.

Last Wednesday I headed there (the Dryden, not nuclear apocalypse) to see The Bridge on the River Kwai. I hadn't seen it before, but Stanley Kubrick blurs the line even further between black comedy, satire, and drama. I mean, can you really do a serious movie about war — or more particularly, the logic of war? It just doesn't make any sense outside its absurd context, as if the rules of life were completely dumped topsy-turvy.

But both films really dismantle the idea of the romantic view of war as some kind of beautiful peak experience. The reality is it's bat-shit fucking crazy. It really gives me, well, strange feelings toward our troops in Iraq.

On the one hand, I genuinely dish out gratitude for their actions. I get confused as to why, exactly. I mean, I'm not glad that they're killing people. And I don't believe that what we're doing is making anything better — short-term unquestionably worse, and long-term unlikely better — at least from my broad, detached, ill-informed [thanks media, government!] view. But then for what? Perhaps that they believe — they believe so much in America that they're willing to go to a far away place where people want to kill them and stand up and say "I'm an American" and shoot anyone who tries to shoot them.

I kind of envy that kind of thinking, for it's not so simple for me. I think the Constitution was a fantastic architecture for a government, and the Bill of Rights is a stupefyingly excellent invention. But the constant attempts to leverage power — oy!, enough already! Maybe it's inevitable human behavior to abuse power, but if so, then why permit authority in the first place?

So then the jingoist asks, "so are you for America or against it?" Let me answer this way: "I am all for my version of America." The one that puts the individual at the head of the pack — not the judge or the President, but the individual. I mean, imagine the difference it would make to hear, "I'm your representative: how can I help you?" rather than "I'm your leader: do what I tell you."

I'm kind of an idealist about the whole thing. I mean, I believe that, given freedom, that people will behave well toward one another. Unfortunately, I'm up against people who believe so strongly otherwise that they will demonstrate behavior counter to my ideal for the purpose of proving it false.

But hey, that's the nature of war.

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