Friday, May 4, 2007

Sean Goes to the Independent Film Festival of Boston

Oh! the plans people make. Am I right? Sure I am. The saying goes: You know how to make God laugh? Make a plan. Well, going into this year I had it in my head to watch the shit out of both the Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF) and the Independent Film Festival of Boston(IFFBoston). For one reason or another they pretty much piggyback each other, BUFF hitting the end of March and IFFBoston the end of April. BUFF always catches me unawares and unprepared. The first day of the festival (BUFF is pretty much over with in one weekend) I almost volunteered for some opening night duties through a last minute fluke on an internet chat site. It was an 8pm to midnight gig if I recall correct. The hours and some other less productive plans won out, but I made a plan that night to go all out on the IFFBoston.

The regular Boston Film Festival still exists, in name and theory anyway (man, even their website craps the bed). About ten years ago it was still a happening gig. Buzzing movies and the accompanying names in both indie and mainstream movies would show up. I believe 2004 was the last year the Boston Film Festival even made a whimper about its presence in town. That was about the same time the IFFBoston made its presence known as being, “Oh, for Chirst's [sic] sake, suck it up. This is THE film fest for the year in this area. If you're down for anything tonight, let me know.”

Well, let it be known that I didn’t suck anything up and only made it to three movies this year. This is a big notch down from me trying to get Paddy to buy a Chrome Pass with me to get unlimited access to the fest and it’s corresponding parties and speaking engagements for a whopping $160 (at the time). Then there was the flirting with the 10 movie pass for $80. Cut to me at the bar with Paddy and Special Fellow, stupid drunk after watching the IFFBoston’s opening night movie Fay Grimm and wanting to strangle Paddy a la Bart via Homer Simpson and tossing all ideas of covering this thing in any proper manner out the window.

But I digress. Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim is a nice step forward after the shrug-inducing The Girl From Monday. And it’s a fun return to Amatuer’s quasi-action movie playfulness. Though I have my fears that both Hartley and David Lynch are stuck upon DV and not looking back, it’s even more of shame with Mr. Hartley, as putting a digital camera in his hands pretty much means he’s going to give you a dutch angle for one reason or another. Granted, these are still well framed dutch angles, but nevertheless that shit can still wear thin quick.

But again, let me say for the record that Fay Grimm’s prequel, Henry Fool is one of my favorites of Mr. Hartley’s. I like to think of it as his epic. And that was before I knew he was planning on turning into a trilogy (I’m guessing). At any rate, this, his first sequel, follows, for the most part, Henry’s wife Fay (Parker Posey). She’s since taken back her maiden name after Henry fled the country and has tried her best raising Ned on her own though we rejoin her at her wits end, with Ned getting kicked out of school for passing around a gift he’s received from his missing father.

This gift and the exact whereabouts and the question of Henry’s existence make for some very memorable moments for those of us who are eager to drop back into the world of these characters. Jeff Goldblum shows up as FBI Agent Fulbright and tells Fay she’s to be recruited to help America track down the government secrets in Henry’s "Confessions", work only she can do. In a deal that brings Simon Grim out of prison (for being found guilty of getting Henry out of the country in a funny flashback) Fay jumps into the espionage duties in grand fashion. James Bond’s slept with just about every counter agent, no?

I swear I’ll one day write an entire diatribe on the wasted uses of Leo Fitzpatrick in major motion pictures. But for now, he plays the badgered assistant to Goldblum quite well with the little screen time he’s given. I know, there are those that like Goldblum and there are those that don’t. I say, there are those that have been in David Cronenberg movies and there are those that haven’t. You can say all the bad things you want about Goldblum, Irons, Ironside, Woods, Weller, or Spader, but I’ll hear none of it. For they have already spoken to me in weird and wonderful ways.

Hartley’s deadpan humor is in good form here. It seems he’s interested in taking the scope of his movies further and further away from the small Long Island stories of the early 90s mini-masterpieces Trust and Simple Men, but he’s able to keep his focus here, moving forward at a good pace while getting in some good digs at the insanity of the modern political landscape. While he’s able to skate along for a good part of this movie on the simple fun of watching these characters again, and while I’d love to see him return to Lindenhurst with some cans of warm celluloid and Martin Donovan for a nice 4 person story, he gets more laughs and more things right in this movie than in most of his recent efforts. Nice show, Mr. Hartley.

But the night was long. We got off to an early start before the movie at Redbones, a BBQ/beer bar joint around the corner. I had a too many 8% beers while waiting for our third member to show up. The pulled pork sandwich was good, but not enough to last me the night, which included unnecessarily snuck in whiskey from Paddy (who knew the Somerville Theater actually started serving beer?) and a couple of bitter nightcaps had over baseless, drunken arguments.

So waking up the next morning with only leftover spite and crippling dehydration, I was ready to call the whole thing off. If this was how it was going to be I’d rather return to my neglected Netflix queue. But after two days of recuperation and reading some good notices about the movie, we met up in Coolidge Corner for A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.

Interesting movie, this Pervert’s Guide. This is Slavoj Zizek’s guide to interpreting the subtext in some of his and our favorite movies. Mostly Hitchcock, Lynch and Chaplin – but there’s a good sprinkling of something from every corner of film. It’s broken down into three 45 minute or so pieces (yeah, it’s a bit on the long side), starting with perception and “reality”, the id and ego and whatnot, and ending with how sex and fantasy relate differently with men and women and the truth behind illusion. The point being that we get to see how these topics (and many more) are represented in cinema by showing entire scenes of the movies he’s referring to. The gimmick of the movie being that with the help of some nice lighting work Zizek places himself in the actual locations that some of these movies were shot, and in some situations, make it appear that he’s actually sitting in the sidelines while the scene is being played.

It’s hard to criticize a movie like this that actually talks and gets you thinking about movies themselves. The worst you could say would be that it’s too dry – but that’s not the case here – there’s actually quite a bit of funny moments and his gimmick keeps the movie from talking-head-syndrome and provides a good visual presentation. The only problem really is that it is a bit too long, but for the most part when one topic is getting redundant or boring it’s quickly pushed away and we’re moving on to something else. Zizek’s train of thought can be hard to keep up with at times, and more than once I was confused by his thick accent, but for me this is to be expected when watching a 2+ hour movie narrated by a post-modern philosopher. He’s a fun character himself though – when he makes some outlandish statement (and he makes a few) you tend to sit back and enjoy his explanation, and anticipate his next statement, rather than brush him off. I can understand why he’s popular with the kids these days.

I love movies like these. I was reminded of being able to catch Z Channel at the last Boston Film Film festival I went to 3 or 4 years ago. That movie is cinephilia if you’re able to catch it on a big screen – to see clips of all these movies by Peckinpah, Polanski, Fellini, The Sicilian, Overlord, Heaven’s Gate, etc.; I think there’s over 50 different perfect condition scenes shown in that movie, some your familiar with some you want to rush out and find – if you ever get a chance to see Z Channel in a movie theater, you must. Pervert’s isn’t quite as great an experience but it is one of the treats of this movie to be able see excellent quality clips of great movies. Like I said – his focus is pretty narrow but watching clips of The Great Dictator did make me want to get to know my Chaplin better.

The movie did spur some conversation while we walked away from Coolidge Corner. A more moderate amount of beer was consumed over lunch before we separated and I headed over to pick up my date for that night’s showing of The Ten at the Somerville Theater across town.

I have no shame in saying that Wet Hot American Summer is a comedy classic. I will admit that having worked at a summer camp might skew my view but nevertheless, there are moments in that film that stand among the greats. So it was with some high expectations that I came into David Wain & Co.’s follow-up, The Ten. The premise is simple, ten commandments = ten short stories illustrating one of the commandments in a humorous fashion. This movie begs a rating on the scale of 1-10 so I’d give it a strong seven. All the bits had solid laughs but a few of them had trouble getting off the ground, especially the first one – which is funny since it’s about a guy stuck in the ground.

The movie is filled with good actors: Paul Rudd, Liev Shreiber, Oliver Platt(!), Ron Silver(!!), Rob Cordry and yeah, even Winona Ryder gets some good laughs out of her hot and heavy tryst with a ventriloquist’s dummy. Just about everyone from The Sate shows up at one point or another and more than a couple of folks from more recent SNL seasons show up. Rudd plays the narrator who introduces each segment while simultaneously trying to get a grip on his love life (it makes sense once you see it), which inevitably leads up to his own segment at the end. As much as I like Rudd, and I don’t think there’s a movie I’m looking forward to more this year than Knocked Up, some of these bits end up slowing the momentum more than providing any service to the film. My other quibble is that I don’t see the need to make all these stories tie together. It was fun in some instances to see one character pop up here and there but at the end it seemed pretty unnecessary and wore work than what it’s worth. And the rock and roll ending… yeah, that was unfortunate more than ironically funny or whatever it was trying to be.

But I was laughing consistently through out and at moments there were tears from the laughter. These moments occurred during Rob Cordry and Ken Marino in jail doing a spin on the “Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife”. Marino’s been cracking me up lately in his appearances on Veronica Mars and the short-lived Stella show. Enough so that he has me interested in this Diggers movie that he wrote. Other standouts included The Sate vet Joe Lo Tuglio vs. Liev Shreiber showdown as competing neighbors who end up with their family’s walking out on them and their houses full of CAT Scan machines. Gretchen Mol (remember her?) even gets a chance to shine briefly in her own story on being a virgin librarian in Mexico who gets a pretty hilarious Emmanuelle type fling with Jesus. And any Oliver Platt is a treat for me – him as the father of two black teenagers? Even better.

So that was it. Three for three if you ask me. I’m sure there was better movies there, but I got to see the movies I was most anticipating. I’m not all that sure about the voting system they have going on for this festival. Pervert’s had a strong presence with the ballots and getting them returned after the movie – other times I didn’t even see a ballot. But history will show that these were the winners:

GRAND JURY PRIZE
Narrative: DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT
Documentary: THE KING OF KONG
Short Film: POP FOUL

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
Narrative: MONKEY WARFARE
Documentary: KAMP KATRINA
Short Film: SONGBIRD

These two lists do not surprise me – Monkey Warfare and King of Kong were both movies that were on the top of my go-to list and the others were the ones getting the good notices before, during and after the fest.

AUDIENCE AWARD
Narrative: YEAR OF THE FISH
Documentary: DARIUS GOES WEST
Short Film: FREEHELD

These do surprise me as I don’t even remember hearing about these, and I did a lot of studying leading up to this thing. Again, I think they’re whole audience ballot system could use some work. Shame, I just filled out their survey and forgot to mention that. That’s not to say those three films aren’t superb, I’m not trying to say they didn’t deserve their award.

So goes this year’s Independent Film Festival of Boston. Of course I’ll end this by saying, next year I’m going to conquer this thing. Go ahead and laugh. We’ll close this out with some you tube of the three movies. Paddy should be chiming in shortly. Mahalo.





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