J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Man Underground

Geologists ought to be pretty down to earth (so to speak), but Willem Koda is flaky as shale. Even his friends (both of them) will admit he is ragingly paranoid. However, that doesn’t mean “they” aren’t ought to get him in Michael Borowiec & Sam Marine’s Man Underground (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Koda used to be a Federal contractor, but those days are long gone. Now he makes a poor living as a speaker on the nutter circuit. Todd Buckle sort of inherited Koda’s friendship from his late UFO-watcher uncle, maintaining it out of loyalty and loneliness. Koda might have his faults, but he is polite, which impresses Flossie Ferguson, an aspiring actress stuck waiting tables in her sleepy hometown. Oddly enough, she inspires Koda to follow-up on Buckle’s innocent suggestion. The trio will expose the truth by making a microbudget film of Koda’s life.

For a while, this seems almost remotely doable. However, as Buckle steadily falls for Ferguson (despite her jerkheel yuppie boyfriend), Koda finds the personal revelations increasingly painful. Of course, he might not be the only one feeling alarmed by the film’s content, if you know what we mean.

Ostensibly, Underground is an X-Files style sf-conspiracy thriller, but it is actually a wise and sad portrait of a true believer. George Basil has the appropriate hound dog presence for the world weary Koda. He nicely turns some surprisingly poignant moments, as when he realizes how he froze out his long-suffering ex-wife after playing a scene from their ill-fated marriage with Ferguson. As Buckle, Andy Rocco is also amusingly droll in a laidback, unassuming way. Somehow, Pamela Fila just doesn’t feel like she fits in as Ferguson, but its not for a lack of trying.

Underground is definitely a film composed in a minor key, but it has its rustic indie charms. Basil proves you can fully commit to character, without indulging in shtick or histrionics. It is a nice film, but not a revolutionary revelation. Recommended for conspiracy cinema fans, Man Underground screens again next Wednesday (8/3), as part of this year’s Fantasia.

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