Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Vengeance Wears an Eyepatch: Father's Day and The FP

This past Sunday, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of two hidden cinematic gems at the Metro Gallery’s monthly Filmish Fantasmagorium double feature: The FP and Father’s Day.

The FP went first and of the two it’s the film that continues to take up significant real estate in my brain. It posits a post apocalyptic world in which gangs battle for control of the titular town of Frazier Point through the hallowed sport of Dance Dance Revolution (here called Beat Beat Revelation). First time filmmakers the Trost Bros. star as JTRO and BTRO, the brothers that form the heart of the heroic gang The 248. In the prologue BTRO is killed (somehow?) during an intense dance battle with the bombastic leader of rival gang The 245 (“OMEGA GANGSTA MODE!” the game blares) . Holding the hand of his inexplicably dead brother, JTRO screams to the heavens “I’LL NEVER PLAY BEAT BEAT REVELATION AGAIN!” and thus begins his 90 minute or so journey to redemption and revenge.

You might have gotten a taste of it just from the paragraph above, but one of the great pleasures of The FP is the way that language is chopped and screwed to the point where the people of Frazier Point seem to have learned English from N’ Sync’s No Strings Attached. The movie is at its best when it plays it straight, letting the actors luxuriate in the ridiculous dialogue, as in this early scene where BTRO gives his eyepatched brother JTRO a pep talk. Check a look:

A lot of the comic and atmospheric heavy lifting of the film is done by the costume design, (by the director’s sister and former Project Runway contestant Sarah Trost), which is delightfully batshit throughout. Especially noticeable is an odd Civil War motif where the good guys of the 248 wear lots of blue and stars and bars patterns, while the bad guys of the 245 wear ridiculous amounts of gold and Confederate flags.

Like the costumes, the film itself is a grab bag of 80s and 90s homages and influences. The sports-movie structure owes a lot to the later era Rocky films, especially in the multiple(!) training montages. The romance subplot, where JTRO struggles to rescue punked out Beat Beat groupie Stacey from her abusive father, is weirdly reminiscent of 8-Mile. Towering over all of the other influences, though, is the 1980s work of John Carpenter. JTRO’s eyepatch is a good place to start, directly referencing Snake Plissken from Escape From New York, but when you consider the gritty production values, the use of blues and fog during indoor scenes, the larger than life braggadocio of the characters, the awesome synth-heavy soundtrack, and the predilection towards odd, They Live style one liners (“How’s a motherfucker supposed to sort himself out without ducks, JTRO?!?”), its clear that Carpenter’s style is baked right into the fabric of the film.

John Carpenter also casts a long shadow across the second film of the evening, the Troma-produced horror/comedy Fathers Day. The Carpenter eyepatch is here too of course, as well as a gritty lo-fi feel and a soundtrack that sounds like it was ripped right out of Halloween. A Carpenter-esque sense of dark humor is here too, though the frequent see-saws between silly buddy comedy and shockingly graphic scenes of rape and mutilation result in a movie that comes off as jarringly schizophrenic. This trailer gives a feel for the horror and grindhouse aesthetic they went for, while unfortunately not even hinting at the humor:

The plot has a fallen preist Father Sullivan, teenage hooker Twink, and eyepatched gun-toting badass Ahab on a quest for revenge against the serial killer that raped and killed all of their fathers. This is an unlikely setup for a buddy comedy, but that is basically what we are dealing with here as the three men get to know and like each other through clever banter and a desert drug trip scene involving the consumption of a lot of bad berries. This is intercut with scenes of the demonic serial killer literally biting men's genitals off and playing around in their dismembered corpses. I know a lot of people, especially Troma fans, eat this stuff up (ugh), but I found the violence to be disturbingly over the top, leaving me closing my eyes and waiting for the movie to turn back into a comedy again. Your mileage may vary.

Next month (August 12) the Filmish Fantasmagorium will be screening two films with decidedly less genital mutilation: the classic 1940 fantasy The Thief of Baghdad and the very awesome looking 1960s euro-action parody Italian Spiderman. I'll be there to check a look, for reals.

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