by M. Faust
Should you go home again?
Buffalo Bushido is the best film made in the city we call home since Buffalo ’66.
That may strike some of you as faint praise, certainly if you didn’t like Vincent Gallo’s 1998 movie. (I like it a lot.) What robs the statement of steam is that despite the growth of no-budget technology, Buffalo has yet to spawn much in the way of homegrown product. (That Hollywood has yet to discover Western New York as a motherlode of interesting people and beautiful locations is another story.) I’ve watched enough movies where I’ve struggled to find something good to say about them not to have a twinge of dread when faced with another local production.
So let me rephrase my opening: Buffalo Bushido, written and directed by Peter McGennis (the fellow who has been shooting Vivica A. Fox around town this week for his next movie, Queen City) is the work of a real filmmaker, one with an eye for interesting locations and an ability to tell a complex story in cinematic terms.
McGennis stars as Davis, a bedraggled, unshaven, haunted-looking figure we first seeing on a bus approaching Buffalo. He has been away for a long time, 15 years, and recalls his childhood as he revisits his old Delaware district neighborhood: his friends Sadie and Shawn, his younger brother Brendan, the local bully Torchy.
He seeks out his old friends, all of whom are surprised to see him: Shawn (played as an adult by Law and Order star and Buffalo native Jesse L. Martin), now a high school teacher, and Sadie (Leila Arcieri), a nurse. What gradually becomes clear is that Davis’ past troubles have stayed with him through an adulthood that has landed him in prison, and that he has returned to try to put his demons to rest.
Will he succeed in his quest? Here’s a clue: The hotel where he stays during his visit (the Hotel Lenox, playing itself) bears a distinct resemblance to the Overlook Hotel, at least to the barroom as Stanley Kubrick visualized it in The Shining.
It was probably not intended by McGennis, but Buffalo Bushido has a lot in common with Buffalo ’66. Both movies are about coming back here to settle old scores, and both feature characters who fit no one’s idea of a hero. The primary difference is in tone: Gallo’s film was a dark comedy, while Bushido is a complex drama.
The deliberate pacing may be slow for some tastes, but McGennis doesn’t want to reveal any more about his tortured character than he has to until it suits his story. And the multiple threads of that story tend to hold your interest even at times when you might wish it was moving a little faster.
Martin has received most of the advance attention, but Buffalo Bushido has a notable cast. You may remember veteran character actor Bruce Glover for his roles in Chinatown and Diamonds Are Forever (and if you don’t, you’ll certainly spot the family resemblance to his son Crispin): As a figure who haunts Davis in several guises, he lends the film some of its warped humor. John Savage is a bit over the top as Davis’ sleazy parole officer. Lord Jamar (of the HBO series Oz) contributes the best performance as the adult Torchy, while porn star Lezley Zen makes hilarious use of a Twinkie. And wrestling legend Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka appears as himself in Davis’s fantasies about being a wrestling hero.
Buffalo Bushido is not without roughnesses that you would expect from a project with a small budget and a long germination (most of the photography took place in 2006). Still, I don’t see how anyone who grew up here can’t have a least a little love for a movie in which one of the first questions a returning characters asks is, “What happened to the Your Host?” I am very much looking forward to Queen City, which I hope we won’t have to wait four years to see.
Writer-director Peter McGennis will host the premiere of Buffalo Bushido this Friday at 8pm at the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, followed by a post-screening Q&A. The film will play at regular hours for the remainder of the week.
Watch the trailer for Buffalo Bushido
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