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This week:
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Filthy says:
"A for effort!"

It's not easy reviewing a student film. On the one hand, there's this temptation to say, "A for effort!" because they did it for love, not money, and because I really fucking wanted people to say that to me every time I tried super hard and fell short. Nobody ever did, though, and so I stopped trying and took up telling other people they suck.

Even if it's a student film, though, I'm out twenty damn bucks for two tickets (Mrs. Filthy chose this one). Hell, I buy a lot of shit from schools around here and usually two sawbucks go a long way. That gets four haircuts at the cosmetology institute. Or five, if you let the blind girl do it. I can buy forty minutes of massage at the Golden Touch Oriental Institute for the same dough. Twenty if I want "full release." I decline and say, "Stick around. I'll do that part myself." My point is, if I pay full price, I'll get my money's worth in the review.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is a student film, directed by Jessica Oreck when she was one year removed from film school. So, it isn't technically a student film. Close enough, though, in technique and intent. Oreck shot her movie on digital on a skimpy budget provided by her parents and following her own interest in bugs. It's not a movie you're likely to find anywhere. I saw it on a college campus, with about eight other people. The director was in attendance to make awkward jokes about the small turnout and answer questions from the sort of people who see micro-artsy movies in rundown university theaters.

There is no plot and little narrative to Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, a documentary about how the Japanese are bug crazy. It shows shops that sell beetles for hundreds of dollars. There are kits for catching and keeping bugs, and video games where you can virtually catch dragonflies. People gather in fields to photograph and watch fireflies, while others set up floodlights at night to attract bugs. The narration is mostly in Japanese with English subtitles. I have no idea why since the movie is targeted for an American audience and the woman is explaining the role of insects, Zen, Buddhism and rock gardens in Japanese culture. There are many lovely translated quotes, I guess, but they rarely make a cohesive thesis. The use of Japanese and the choice are more representative of a person's first brush with an exotic culture than they are of a strong statement.

When people aren't interacting with bugs, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is made up of artsy shots of Japanese culture. There are parades, people milling about, loads and loads of lights, blurry shots zipping through bamboo, twisting roadways and trains full of people. There may be an attempt to generate an analogy between all of this activity and the life of bugs, but it isn't consistent or cleverly done. Actually, these scenes are less interesting than about a hundred documentaries about Japan. Here, it doesn't rise above a sense of that giddy first encounter with a culture, and the movie gave me a sense of Oreck's excitement in discovering it more than a way for me to admire or marvel at it.

There are loads of bug porn, which may be exciting to entomologists. Bug porn, though, is also readily available on the National Geographic Channel and documentaries narrated by Richard Attenborrough. Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo was done on a shoestring budget with low-tech equipment and, while that's really cool for indie rock bands and mumblecore shit, it's a serious problem when you're trying to do macro filming of moths emerging from chrysalids or cutter ants marching on logs. Really expensive, high-tech, superspeed cameras and a crapload of time to wait for just right the shot pay off. This movie has neither and instead delivers a first-timer's mediocre attempts.

The biggest problem with Oreck's movie is the lack of focus. One could make some sort of shitty, poetic argument that it flits about like a bug. That would be pretty fucking lame, though. Rather, this is formless. Its main point is that Japan likes bugs a lot. That is not supported well because the flick takes such a narrow perspective that I didn't know if bugs were huge with all Japanese or just with the people Oreck chose to follow. Hell, I could film a Star Trek convention and tell the rest of the world the U.S. was batshit insane for everything Kirk. It wouldn't be true, though. Thank God.

Really, everything Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyohas to say could be done quickly with a scene of a kid buying a $60 beetle. That alone tells you they have a different attitude in Japan. Then, maybe a narrative could follow the people who catch the bugs, why they do it, whether it's for money or love, whether there is an underbelly, whether there is a competitive nature among the collectors or buyers to have the biggest and best. What's the most anyone ever paid for a bug? Some of these are lightly touched on, but not in a way that explains them. The scenes are more like what Oreck could conveniently compile, not chase hard to get.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo could have been interesting, but it's not. It's long, shapeless and feels like the student film it is. If you see it at a festival or for free, tell Ms. Oreck, "Good job," and pat her on the back. But don't pay ten bucks. Two fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Shawn Edwards of Fox-TV

Letters to Juliet: "(Four Stars) Loved it! Vanessa Redgrave is sensational and Amanda Seyfried will absolutely steal your heart!"

The Karate Kid is "Sensational!"

A lot of sensational movies out there, apparently.

Filthy's Reading
Jaime Hernandez - Locas II

Listening to
Kraftwerk - The Mix


Raiders of the Lost Ark