Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bulletface! Review and Commentary thoughts

2010 Curnan Pictures
Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Victoria Maurette, Steven Bauer, Scott Paulin and Eddie Velez

"Honey, I am their karma."

Dara Maren is a DEA Agent working dirty, balancing her desire to keep her brother-who is involved in some shady business involving immigrants on the Mexican / California border....and also involves some high level designer drug dealers that use mad science and spinal fluid to hook ravers on.  Dara goes to prison to protect her brother, a Mexican prison that is a nightmare of sexual violence where hope seems to be lost.  While she is gone a cast of bad guys scheme to take over the local drug trade, and her brother is killed by one, the other or all of the scumbags.  When she gets a 60 hour shot out of jail from a DEA contact-well, Dara ain't happy. She needs to find out what is in the weird drug RED EYE, who killed her brother, who really loves her and how far she will go for revenge. 
Pretty damn far... and bodies will pile up.

Bulletface is interesting for lots of different reasons, and knowing in advance this was a movie shot in 5 1/2 days and for under 100,000 dollars I found that it exceeded every expectation I had while loading the disc up in my player.  And, as many films directed by Albert Pyun do, it subverts those same expectations and delivers a well told hard boiled tale of vengeance and spinal fluid. Now, with a title like BULLETFACE, one of the catchiest titles I've ever heard, one might expect action and violence galore.  Not so much, though there is plenty of emotional violence, sexual violence and one wicked spinal tap splat scene-the action quota is low.  The action scenes are well staged, but modest, and are more efficient than exciting.  Every time someone is killed it serves to put a cap in a plot points or drive the characters along in their 60 hour sled ride to hell. This is a good thing.  Bulletface is a film that relies heavily on the mood and ambiance to move the film where a seventeen minute gunfight would in a classic late 80s action film.  Luckily, Pyun is great at exactly this kind of film- and in a strange way, Bulletface plays like a slightly less wacked out version of his earlier film, Deceit. 
Overall, this movie is a solid low budget noir with some very strange elements tossed in to set a weird tone that is unique to the best films of Albert Pyun...and that brings me to how I could really review Bulletface.  While Pyun tends to work in popular genres like cyborg-punk, martial arts, gangstas (remember them?), kickboxers and superheroes-the devil (literally to some, intriguingly to others) is in the details.  So, here are some details about Bulletface that caught my eye... 

Budget: It is hard not to be aware of the budget on a project like Bulletface, but I found it one of the films strengths.  I mentioned Deceit above, and Bulletface has the same appeal.  While it relies on character and mood, the director and filmmakers do not appear to be limited by financial constraints by going for more than they can achieve.  Albert Pyun has shown a great reach with his rather unique imagination over the years, and it is nice to watch him work seemingly within his grasp at all times. While it is always nice to be able to do whatever you would like, this film doesn't feel like there are scenes that are hyper-extended past the means at the creators disposal.  Good planning? Probably, but there is actually not one sequence where I found myself rolling my eyes thinking how much better something probably looked on paper than what I just watched.  The only major splatter effect is excellent-and there is one particular optical (the OD on Red Eye) that I thought was interesting because it was so simple.  Not as simple as claiming to have two nuclear reactors in a pocket, but effective none the less. 

Actors: With the characters of Bulletface being the quirky batch they are, it was essential to the films success, and that five day schedule, that everyone be spot on straight away.  The entire film could have failed miserably without a strong performance from Victoria Maurette, but the right gamble was taken and she knocks the bad girl on the right side of the law gone to the wrong side of the law to beating down all sides of the law woman with an amazing ease and sure handedness I'm actually shocked.  She gets cool as ice, wild as fire and then shows just enough vulnerability when it is called for that she probably not only interpreted the script, but made it much better.  Pyun should be in love with her face, because it is great to both look at in pictures and watch in action.  I thought she was good in Left For Dead, but she pulls the entire movie together and elevates anyone around her that may not be quite as up to the task at hand.  Eddie Velez as the main villain is also excellent, from tough guy to giggling maniac as he watches one of his girls get a spinal fluid injection rejection. Franca Raisa is really good as well, her bisexual prostitute in search of a sapphic (Big) sister works well as a balance for Maurette and the final sequence goes on longer than it has any right to-but the ladies make it work.  Well. 

That HD Look:  Yes, Bulletface is shot on HD Video and has the crystal clear look that can be maddening for a lot of film watchers.  I've seen a lot of films done this way, and Bulletface proves that while it is impossible to really hide the origin of the format, when a good director and DP get ahold of the chance to not only work in full scope, but then also can present it to viewers that way, it is a viable way to go. Without taking this option you end up with lots of obviously mismatched stock and frankly, if you are going to shoot quick and dirty, why not have the film actually look clean?  I've seen some of Pyun's films in scope and it really does make a difference. Now, you get to see it the way it was laid out. 
That does bring me to one of the drawbacks of HD, and it is on show in Bulletface, is how difficult it can be to block out action scenes when everything looks so hyper real.  Adding effects such as muzzle flash is much more difficult and things can look a little flat.

What isn't flat is the use of cigarette smoke. I'm not a smoker and don't particularly find it attractive, but the clean image really can enhance a good bunch of characters fogging things up orally. While that sounds like a Japanese porn reference, it is a compliment.  That smoke brings me to...

The Music: Tony Riparetti is one of my favorite composers. He compliments the movies he works on very well, but with Albert Pyun, he creates all the sound in a relationship that reminds me of Bo-Arne Vibenius and Ralph Lundsten (more on that later). Sometimes Riparetti pumps up a scene with pounding beats-enhancing the on screen action and managing to trick my ears into becoming surrogate eyes and sparking my imagination. Yeesh, no..I'm not a critic, but I've noticed this in a lot of Pyun/Riparetti collaborations. Sue me if it sounds artsy.  I listened to the Bulletface soundtrack before seeing the movie and I wonder if my subconscious was a little more open to the film because of it as well. This score is much like all that smoke, it lays down a nearly constant hum that elevates to the tension that the Dara Marren character is feeling.  So, it works to see the directors vision of his character getting melancholy with a bottle and a cigarette surrounded by Riparetti's music quite well...and all for less than it probably costs to cater 1 hour of the Academy Awards pre-show on  Great stuff-I need as many of these sets to contain Riparetti discs, because I want 'em all.  There is a sample of Nemesis songs that I just love-now I need them remastered and in my Zune and Car CD Player...pronto.

The Ever Roving Pyunondrome...the Director / Designer:  Some love him, so hate him, some dismiss him and some wonder where the hell he gets his shots from.  I think the more unique he goes, the better the films become. Bulletface splits screens. Sometimes the characters are in the same room, sometimes they aren't, but it keeps the viewers eye moving and gives me reason to return to the film.  Don't like Steven Bauer's haircut? Watch Victoria Maurette react instead. I bet you know where I was looking.  Also, the freeze frames...ah, I love them. Seriously, the way he uses both the freezes and the caption updates (or choosing to run subtitles on one side of the frame) is why I watch Bulletface and not Remains of the Day. A cross between spaghetti western and 60s Eurocomics, I like the motion.  Many don't, I get it...but for me, the less flourishes, the less PyunAtronic the movie is.

I don't want to watch Merchant Ivory movies, but if Albert Pyun makes a movie that features an elderly butler and a rich woman I bet there will be cyborgs drinking bone marrow cocktails in the background. I'd watch that...I'll even hope for a little kickboxing!

The script:  Details details details...Bulletface is a solid and straight ahead noir story, I noticed in an interview the lead was originally written as a man-but leave it to Pyun to swap that with a bisexual woman. Chasing Spinal Fluid Drug Dealers. With Giant Needles.  Yeah, it is all in the details.  Randall Fontana's script must have been an eye catcher though-I would love to read the original version to compare it to the final product.  Whenever I see the name Randall Fontana I smile though, I was amazed that he wrote a film that had Brion James as a good guy.  THAT is a trick.

And finally...SEX. Self distribution opens the door to upping the ante, and Bulletface goes right for the sleaze gusto in not one, but two rape sequences-one featuring two men and the other two women. Extremely graphic stuff, but also extremely effective as character motivation. While nudity is the ultimate cheap production value (so sayeth Tapeheads)-and there is a lot-the rape scene flashbacks, intercut with Maurette reacting to them, serve an almost identical purpose to the hardcore sex inserts of They Call Her One Eye. Vile and a bit shocking it places the viewer right in the head of the protagonist in the worst possible way.  I'm looking forward to listening to the commentary track (that will be blogged on next I'm sure)-these sequences look a lot like the last bit of mainstream porn that I saw and found really off putting. The current "choke me" rough sex angles that are popular just mind boggling for me-but put to use in this context it makes for a heady brew.  I just wonder if this was shot to look like those films or it is just my own cinematic experience being mirrored.  Either way, it works-but don't think these are your typical R-Rated shenanigans.  
Dara's bisexuality plays a big role in the script-as women and men both promise to fuck her (or fuck her over) at different points and for different reasons.  While that may be somewhat overplayed in my opinion, the equal opportunity debasement of the rapes-and her subsequent reactions to sex are done really well.

So, there you have it...lots of little pieces in such a short film that I really enjoyed. The only other thing that needs mentioning is the way you will find this film.  I've mentioned in this post all the extras, and you are getting a stunning amount of material for very little money, but you are also working with the filmmakers in a sense.  Like another cinematic mayhem maker, Jess Franco, Albert Pyun is trying to work with a little, make the movies he wants to as best as he is able to, and then get them to the audience that wants them, or may want to try something really different.  For me, this is going to be fascinating to watch. In an age of Print On Demand, Video Streams and so much media at our fingertips that our hands would have to evolve in to size 78 oven mitts to hold it all-the chance to actually support someone that I've enjoyed watching for so long and see what they can do...very cool and exciting. 

For me, Bulletface, The Special Edition is far from over...2 more discs to go!


The commentary disc, included separately, is a very good listen-covering not only how Bulletface was shot, but includes lots of interesting facts about shooting on low budgets.  Camera malfunctions (or worse, not equipment that doesn't quite live up to the expectations), the balance between filmmakers and actors and a whole lot more is covered. For anyone that is interested in how a film like Bulletface goes from script to final cut, this is a good chance to find out.  
As I mentioned in my review, I was very curious about how the two rape sequences came to be-and I was not surprised to see these were not shot by Pyun and that he is really not comfortable shooting sex scenes in general, with these being even more extreme than usual.  This brings me back to the comparisons to They Call Her One Eye, with director Bo Arne Vibenius shooting hardcore inserts with different actors (or in his case, Stockholm sex workers!)  The scenes aren't sexy, but plant the audience firmly in the tortured minds of the lead characters with a resounding thud.  Bulletface, like They Call Her One Eye, works around the typical use of sexy women in "sexy" situations in a way that pushes and provokes the audience.  This was the filmmakers intentions and it works.  The two directors certainly have different taste levels (uh...Breaking Point anyone?), but both are unique and special in their own right.
My favorite segment of the commentary track has Pyun contemplating using an actress he has known since she was a child in a rather compromising scene. What is most interesting isn't his reaction to the scene, but the fact that he feels protective of his actors, even when it does not benefit them...or the film!  It is a really honest moment not only for a director, but as a person.  
Worth a listen, you'll learn a bit, look at the film a little differently and get to know who could work on a five day schedule and who had to really work hard to keep up!  Now, someone get me an uncut TICKER commentary!!

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