Three Films by Ryan Prows

I had planned to wind up MMC!‘s coverage of the Chattanooga Film Festival with an imagined Arrow Video edition of Ryan Prows’s Lowlife (2017) but no sooner had I done my research and began writing did Shout! Factory announce a Blu-ray edition of the film slated for release on August 7. I’m usually pretty stoked to cross any film off my list of potential MMC! subjects as their circulation is far more gratifying than writing about them here, but I’m a little disappointed not to discuss Lowlife at greater length. I have stumped for Lowlife a fair amount already so let’s instead spend some time with three of Prows’s earlier shorts films, all of which seem to be working through some of the themes and concerns at play in Lowlife and all of which should be included as special features on the upcoming Blu-ray edition.

In case you’ve forgotten, here is a quick refresher on Lowlife taken from the film’s press kit.

When a simple organ harvesting caper goes awry, a twist of fate unites three of society’s forgotten and ignored: EL MONSTRUO, a disgraced Mexican wrestler working as hired muscle for a local crime boss. CRYSTAL, a recovering addict desperate enough to arrange a black market kidney transplant to save her husband’s life. And RANDY, a loveable two-strike convict fresh out of prison, cursed with a full-face swastika tattoo and a best friend guilting him into some hair-brained kidnapping scheme.

As the sordid lives of these small-time criminals collide, they must fight tooth and nail to save a pregnant woman from a certain, and surely gruesome, death.

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Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (Bo McGuire, 2017)

Probably the only thing that improves upon Bo McGuire’s astonishing short, Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers (2017), is that the film is available on his website right now to see – click HERE to visit his site and watch! The 15-minute short is an experimental fantasy of some family drama that resists easy description. McGuire labels it on his site as a “lyrical meditation exploring personal family relationships, archetypes and myths through a variety of means & textures” and a rough cut to a feature-length “transgenerational docudrama,” while the Chattanooga Film Festival offered this synopsis – “A failed poet takes up cinematic arms when he returns home to Hokes Bluff, Ala. to find his aunt has locked his drag queen uncle out of the family home.” When asked about his inspiration for the short by Indie Grits, McGuire offered this:

Gail Bryant was a lady from my hometown of Hokes Bluff. She had a tick where she would snap her neck to throw her silver hair to the side. One day Gail was snapping that neck and the next day she was in the ground. That pissed me off. The same thing happened to my Nanny and Papa without the neck snaps and that really pissed me off. Then my Aunt Sharon went behind everyone’s back and tried to sell Nanny and Papa’s house, and Meryl Streep got up on the Oscars hollering, take your broken heart, make it into art.

McGuire, the self-described “queer son of a Waffle House cook and his third-shift waitress on the corner of George Wallace Drive in Gadsden, Alabama,” crafts a Southern Gothic dreamscape that is equal parts John Waters and Terrence Malick. Steeped in corner store pageantry, Socks on Fire veers from scenes of straight documentary to magical realist reveries, with McGuire appearing in oscillating roles of interested relation, impartial chronicler, co-conspirator, and mystical trickster. While often ostentatious and unabashed, McGuire never stoops to exploitation but rather preserves an air of respect and poetic gravity throughout the short. It is McGuire’s greatest success here, creating a kind of cinematic eye dialect from the iconography of slim cigarettes, pick-ups, fireworks, Crimson Tide merchandise, and nature’s damp, inevitable power. It’s a mini-masterpiece and I can’t wait to see Socks on Fire in its full, feature-length glory!

Shout out to the Chattanooga Film Festival and to Bo McGuire! I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Bo (even catch a screening of Rock Steady Row with him) and he’s as affable and charming a guy as you’re likely to find. Bo was definitely a personal and cinematic high point of my CFF experience. Thanks Bo!

SFFF Day 4 – Go Big and Go Home

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day was even more massive than expected. With a packed program and an extra short film (moved from the previous day due to a technical issue), there was little downtime between screenings and the Festival’s final midnight show started late and wrapped well past 2:30 a.m. Those that saw the marathon day of screenings to its bleary end enjoyed without question the SFFF’s best block of films (plus some welcome giveaways for lucky attendees).

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SFFF Day 3 – Actually, They’re All Labyrinths

There’s a running joke in Bill Watterson’s Dave Made a Maze (2017), a film about a man who builds a massive cardboard maze (bigger inside than out) and then gets trapped within it. As Dave’s friend Gordon (Adam Busch) repeatedly points out, the maze is full of traps, making it, in fact, a labyrinth. Day 3 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival offered a disparate collection of films – a comedy recounting a slacker’s epic quest in a DIY fortress; a trippy, coming-of-age, prom night parable; a genre-mixing, science fiction blockbuster; and a dreamy descent into a housewife’s trauma and a cult’s terrifying prophecy. Each offers its own twists and turns, finding new dangers as they progress through corrugated caverns, genre conventions, and layered realities. In fact, they’re all labyrinths in their own ways.

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American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of classic important and contemporary films presents American Movie.

Menomonee Falls may be a long way from Hollywood, but quick-talking filmmaker Mark Borchardt has a cinematic dream and he aims to finance his magnum opus, Northwestern, through a direct-to-market, no-budget horror short titled Coven. Filmmakers Chris Smith and Sarah Price filmed Borchardt and his team of hometown thespians and semi-willing family members through two years of financial crisis and emotional turmoil. The result was a bizarrely heartfelt and hilariously poignant documentary that became the award-winning hit of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and a uniquely arresting portrait of Midwestern eccentricity, determination and character.

Disc Features:

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The Chickening (Nick DenBoer and Davy Force, 2015)

It’s inevitable.  At some point everyday, each of us think back to 2005, to Burger King’s introduction of the TenderCrisp Chicken Bacon Ranch burger, and to David LaChapelle’s “Fantasy Ranch” ad campaign, a trippy, countrified, sweetly perverse TV ad featuring Darius Rucker, Vida Guerra, Brooke Burke, and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.  But as much as we all love this crassly commercial riff on “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” universal questions still get asked – Why isn’t it nightmarish or disgusting?  Why isn’t it Kubrickian in its point of reference?  And where are the references to Tommy Wiseau and The Room (2003)?  Thankfully, Nick DenBoer and Davy Force have answered these questions with The Chickening (2015), a proof of concept pseudo-trailer and your latest masterpiece in “Cinegraffiti” (unless you’re my wife, who hated this and considered it nightmare fuel).

Be sure to read Birth.Movies.Death.‘s exclusive interview with DenBoer and The Chickening‘s press kit.