Philly Fest Report: Ferpect Crime, Only Human, Macked Hammered Slaughtered and Shafted

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

Turns out I wasn;t the only Twitch type at the just concluded Philadelphia Film Festival ... turns out regular reader and sometimes contributor Collin Armstrong was there as well and he's chimed in with a trio of excellent reviews ... et voila:

I took in the last few days of the Philadelphia Film Festival, and it turns out Todd and I ended up seeing a lot of the same pics while there (not sure whether or not we were at the same screenings). Since he's gone into detail on THE PROMISE, SOUNDLESS, SURVIVE STYLE 5+, QUIET AS A MOUSE, CUTIE HONEY, KONTROLL, STRATOSPHERE GIRL, and KARAOKE TERROR, I'll offer up the bulk of my thoughts on the pics I caught that he didn't – the new Alex de la Iglesia offering FERPECT CRIME, blaxploitation documentary MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED, AND SHAFTED, and the Spanish comedy ONLY HUMAN.

First off there was MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED, an examination of the cultural impact of 1970s black exploitation films. A wealth of interviews with performers like Jim Kelly, Jim Brown, Ron O'Neal, and Gloria Hendry as well as writers and directors including Reginald Hudlin, Jamaa Fanaka, and Larry Cohen helped paint a portrait of a group of artists at varying levels of peace and dissatisfaction with the cultural phenomena they helped propagate.

MACKED covered events from roughly 1970 thru 1979, focusing not so much on individual films as the people involved and the meaning behind what happened in response to their work. The intimacy of the interviews, with some (in particular Ron O'Neal) expressing outright anger over how black actors, actresses, and filmmakers were pigeonholed so quickly and given no room to build on the success of their initial work, was eye-opening. Their anger and resentment toward the economics of Hollywood, be it motivated by race (Jim Kelly's dressing down of Chuck Norris being especially memorable) or otherwise, laid bare a people involved in a marginalized group of films still reeling from what could have and should have been.

Clearly assembled on a shoestring, MACKED suffered from some minor tech issues, shifting audio quality and occasionally lax camera work being the main offenders. It was a raw presentation for a raw subject though, and didn't distract.

MACKED director David Walker was in attendance and engaged in a superlative post-screening Q&A, citing THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, MADELINE, COOLEY HIGH, THE MACK, and SUPERFLY as his favorites of the genre. He also commented on the depressing state of affairs concerning preservation of blaxploitation pics, with something like 200 of the 270+ films he cataloged from the era being unavailable (at least without some serious digging).

MACKED was an excellent pic, one I'd recommend fans of films from the genre taking in. I don't know about availability of the title, but I'd say keeping an eye on some of the more thoughtful cable outlets like Sundance and IFC would be smart. Isn't this why we have Tivo? The director's website is here: http://www.badazzmofo.com/home.htm

ONLY HUMAN was the first of two Spanish-language comedies I caught at the fest starring Guillermo Toledo (the other being FERPECT CRIME). Taking most of its cues from MEET THE PARENTS and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, HUMAN follows Palestinian professor Rafa (Toledo, bookish and generally disheveled) and Jewish journalist Leni (Marian Aguilera) through a night of increasingly manic situations on their first evening with Leni's family since meeting each other just over a month ago. Within minutes of arriving Leni tells her mother and belly dancer sister (but not her orthodox brother) about Rafa's potentially troublesome geo-political orientation and Rafa accidentally drops a block of frozen soup from a window, possibly killing someone below – who may or may not be Leni's philandering father. Awkward incidents build (including, in a more outrageous instance, Rafa being stuck inside the bathroom with Leni's blind grandfather), culminating in various parties storming out on one another before everyone coming together for a late-night rally through the city in search of the missing father.

HUMAN isn't the most original of material, but (like SOUNDLESS) it plays everything so expertly and features so many outstanding performances it transcends its more rote components. Toledo, a rising star in Spanish cinema, is great as Rafa. I work around academics, and his approximation of the awkwardness seemingly inherent in people who spend their lives buried in esotery (suppose that describes a lot of us, too) is spot on. Seeing his work in FERPECT CRIME several hours after catching him in this really blew me away – this guy is an outstanding comedic actor.

The film doesn't delve too heavily into the politics of the conflict that, according to just about everyone but themselves, should put Leni and Rafa at odds - but it does address it with humor and a nice sense of hope, something I can't say I've seen done all that often on screen. Compared to a film like, let's say, DIVINE INTERVENTION, ONLY HUMAN forgoes commenting too heavily on politics between (or during) laughs, but still comments in its own simple, effective ways.

Tags for Magnolia Films and 2929 Entertainment preceded the film, which would seem to foretell a US release – but I couldn't dig up any additional information. There's an R2 PAL release from Spain with English subtitles to be had, too.

Shortly after ONLY HUMAN I settled in for another Toledo-starring Spanish comedy, Alex de la Iglesia's FERPECT CRIME. Being a de la Iglesia film, the director's signature flares for the dark and melodramatic took center stage right out of the gate as a group of department store trainees are regaled with stories about the best salesman to pass through their ranks, the suave and driven Rafael (Toledo). When he's passed over for floor manager, Rafael winds up in a scuffle with his new-anointed superior Don Antonio, accidentally killing him. Mousey clerk Lourdes witness the crime and blackmails Rafael into dating and eventually marrying her, drowning his hopes for an “elegant" life and slowly driving him mad (to the point where, in one of the film's best recurring gags, a green and mangled Don Antonio keeps popping up – eventually just hanging out on Rafael's couch). While Rafael hatches an elaborate, deadly plot to escape Lourdes, a lazy-eyed detective closes in on the partners in crime.

I've been a de la Iglesia fan since ACCION MUTANTE and after (IMO) a slight letdown with 800 BULLETS am happy to report he's firing on all cylinders with FERPECT. It's a gorgeous film to look at, shot and cut with pizzazz and filled with pitch-perfect characters and performances. Rafael might be the best de la Iglesia “hero" yet – a complete shitbag of a person, but just cunning and driven enough that it's impossible not to respect and ultimately root for him. The film's a snob-vs.-slobs story when all's said and done (with Rafael towing the line in both directions), but it never stops moving and always engages. The narrative is pretty tight – it does dawdle a little too long while Rafael's in the pits over Lourdes pulling all the strings in his life, and the supporting characters are quickly tossed aside with little thought, with no real effort put forth to develop them past being ciphers.

I keep waiting for something... I don't know, bigger from de la Iglesia. FERPECT is, well, pretty perfect, but by the very nature of how smoothly the film operates, it's clear he's not trying anything too different from what's come before. Don't get me wrong – a world with a few more decades worth of de la Iglesia doing what he does best is fine by me, but it'd be nice to see him stretch a little. FERPECT's charms are so effortless, it actually left me wanting something more. There's already an R2 PAL release from Spain, but it doesn't feature English subs. With a slew of de la Iglesia pics receiving US releases lately, it's a safe bet FERPECT will wind up on these shores sometime soon.

In all, Philly put on another great fest. This was the fourth year I attended, and plan to be back again in '06. It's a great environment for film lovers – unlike say, a Sundance, Philly's less about the business of film than the films themselves. I had a chance to speak briefly with Travis Crawford, who curates the Danger After Dark section, and he said response had been through the roof not only to the more genre-oriented fare but to the festival as a whole, a sign that coming fests should only be bigger and better.

Of the pics I caught synonymous with Todd, I'd say SOUNDLESS topped the ranks – just an amazingly cool, jazzy thriller in the style of genre greats like POINT BLANK. I'm trying to track down the score right now. I was actually a little disappointed with QUIET AS A MOUSE (mainly because it keeps breaking its “documentary" visage by having an unacknowledged third party running camera on Mux and Gerd), and THE PROMISE was perhaps too slight for me (though I still thought Carmen Maura was aces). In all, a pretty great group of films!

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