The 6th annual Arizona Underground Film Festival wrapped up on Saturday night after a week of thrills, spills, and chills. While I wasn't able to attend every screening, I caught a few flicks of note. Check it out.
Truth or Dare (directed by Jessica Cameron): Normally, I'm not a fan of the "torture" genre. Save for a few (Cannibal Holocaust, Eli Roth's wickedly, subversively fun Hostel 2), the thought of watching a bunch of bozos getting their eyelids sliced off slowly with a rusty razor-blade makes me yawn. Truth or Dare is a cut above the rest, mainly due to the gonzo performance by Ryan Kiser. I haven't seen unhinged acting like that since the glory days of Steve Railsback. Kiser plays Derik B. Smith, an obsessed, crazed fan of an online "reality" game show called Truth or Dare. When he finds out that the show's games aren't as real as he'd like, he decides to up the stakes when he forces the show's cast to play for keeps. I counted at least three people walking out of the movie's gorier moments, and it sounded like somebody passed out and hit the deck a few rows behind me at one point. Consider it a standing ovation, Ms. Cameron.
See You Next Tuesday (directed by Drew Tobia): If quirky indie-film maven Hal Hartley had some balls, he might make a movie like this one day, but I'm not counting on it. This is director Tobia's first feature film, and it's made a nice, snug spot on my Top 10 films of the year so far. Eleanore Pienta plays Mona, a ready-to-burst pregnant supermarket clerk in Brooklyn. There's no father in the picture, no friends and not a lot of hope for Mona. She tries to find some solace with mommy May (Dana Eskelson, who deserves an Oscar), but her mom is too wrapped up in her AA group's gossip and her own psychosis to properly deal with her. Mona turns to her sister Jordan (Molly Plunk), a punk rock lesbian who is mooching off her feminist, African-American, science-fiction author ("It's like bell hooks meets H.P. Lovecraft") girlfriend, Sylve (Keisha Zollar). Mona and Jordan don't exactly get along, and Jordan doesn't speak to their mother. Together they try to find peace with each other and work out their family's issues, but... things don't work out exactly as everybody would like. It's a smart, snappy and often-times hilarious film about a grim situation.
I Am Divine (directed by Jeffrey Schwartz): To quote Gary Numan: "I admit, I cried." I Am Divine is a poignant portrait of Harris Glenn Milstead, aka the best drag queen of them all, Divine. There's interviews galore with the cast that surrounded Divine during his illustrious career. Of note are John Waters, who brought Divine to fame with his early films Multiple Maniancs, Mondo Trasho and the notorious Pink Flamingos; actress Mink Stole, another Waters luminary; Andy Warhol's favorite transvestite Holly Woodlawn; and Divine's mother, who didn't speak to her only child for decades after finding out about his alter-ego. I'm glad equal attention was paid to Divine's brief music career, it's some of the best electronic disco with punk rock vocals you'll ever hear. A heart attack took Divine just when he was embarking on achieving mainstream acceptance. After Waters' Hairspray was a runaway hit, Divine found new popularity and received roles that didn't require him to wear a dress and put on makeup. Sadly, he died before those roles could pan out. This doc captures each moment with grace and treats it's subject with the utmost awe and respect. Here's to ya, Divine.
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (directed by Sophie Huber): Harry Dean Stanton is straight out of a Hemingway novel. He says little, but when he does, it's profound. His hangdog face is a road-map of his life, in each wrinkle and crater there's a million stories to be told. This isn't your usual narrative doc, instead it's an intimate piece on a man who's mostly played second fiddle in films. Stanton talks about lost loves, regrets and the power of music. You see him lounging comfortably at home, singing old cowboy songs and in what has to be the best five minutes of any film this year, he sings a beautiful version of Harry Nillson's "Everybody's Talkin'" from Midnight Cowboy. David Lynch stops by to drink coffee and chain-smoke along with Stanton, and Kris Kristofferson comes by to talk about all the hell-raising they did on Sam Peckinpah's film sets. Various clips from Stanton movies are played, but most attention is paid to Wim Wender's stark 1984 film Paris, Texas. It's one of the few movies Stanton played lead in, and one comes to the conclusion that Stanton's character isn't that far removed from the man himself.
You can check that out a full list of the festival's winners here.