Friday, April 25, 2008

IFFBoston - Days 1 & 2

Forgive me Time Crimes for taking the night off tonight and getting some much needed rest. Since you already have a remake in the works I'm sure I'll be catching up with you later on down the road.

The Boston Independent Film Festival festivities began on Wednesday night to a packed theater for hometown film guy Brad Anderson's new picture Transsiberian. Right off the bat I knew that this year was going to be different than last. When I strolled up to the Somerville Theater after work there was already a line up to the Davis Sq. T entrance to buy tickets for a movie that wasn't starting for another 3 hours. Something about me doesn't like to buy tickets through the internet if I don't have to -- even when there's on service charge as is the case with the IFFBoston online set-up. Last year I was able to get a nice 2 dollar discount with my Harpoon card but after getting the cold shoulder by the IFFBoston email help line and being unable to locate my Harpoon card nowadays I've now pre-ordered the rest of my films starting tomorrow.

So once the ticket window opened (a half hour late - my enthusiasm waning by the minute after standing there for over 45 minutes) and I secured my entrance there was a whole other line that almost completely wrapped around the building come show time. Yes, there wasn't any of this last year -- even with The Ten, by far the most popular movie then and which despite the assurances of the ushers, surpassed the attendance of Transsiberian. But let's get to the movie itself, eh?

What we have with Transsiberian is a decent train movie that shoulda, coulda been a great train movie. It doesn't quite have the strengths of its convictions like the great train movies such as Runaway Train, Emperor of the North or Narrow Margin (a close cousin).

What we have is Woody Harrelson somewhat surprisingly going back to Woody on Cheers mode in playing a naive husband to a wife with a troubled past played by Emily Mortimer. Ben Kingsley continues on his recent path of playing jarringly unstable accented characters with his Russian police officer Grinko who's looking for some missing drugs. The husband and wife befriend an automatically suspicious couple sharing their compartment and not before long someone's dead and the couple and the missing drugs and Grinko are all shacked up together.

There's some pacing problems and there's not much to be surprised by in the movie but it's not a bad movie by any means. Transsiberia is a good movie in everyone's resume but it doesn't do much to improve upon all the people involved. Brad Anderson did better work in The Machinist, Woody in Prairie Home Companion, Kingsley in Sexy Beast, Emily Mortimer in some of my favorite "30 Rock" episodes... These are all whathaveyous but really the problem with Transsiberia is that there's nothing exciting going on. You've seen all these people in much more interesting rolls and we're not given anything new to be excited about. The movie plugs along towards the end and hits some good notes to keep you interested but after all that's said the IFFBoston only got off to an OK start. Certainly better than BUFF's start though.

So the next day, Thursday, I tried to avoid the whole waiting 45 minutes in line thing by showing up at 5:30. I guess this wasn't the best way to go about things since the tickets for Mister Lonely sold out about 5 people in front of me. It was the old rush line for me if I wanted to see Harmony Korine's return to cinema. Seems a 45 minute wait in line was unavoidable for me in these first couple of days. But it worked out. I got my ticket and took my place at the front row next to the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns. Yes, Paddy's favorite movie critic and me got stuck in the oppressive front row and kind of off to the right too. But it didn't matter, in a movie filled with such visually amazing scenes as Mister Lonely is, no matter where you're sitting this movie can't fail to impress you.

Mister Lonely is all about the moments. In the bizarre Q&A that followed Harmony Korine explained that his movies are all about stringing together as many transcendental moments as he can. And there's a good amount of them on display here. The story is simply a Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) impersonator's journey to a commune where other impersonators try to live out an ideal life. They live in a castle on the highlands in Scotland, tend to sheep and chickens and work on building a stage where they'll put on the "greatest fucking show in the world" as Charlie Chaplin puts it. Yes, there's Chaplin, the 3 Stooges, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), the Pope (James Fox), the Queen, Madonna, Little Red Riding Hood, James Dean, Sammy Davis Jr., Buckwheat, and Monroe and Chaplin's child, Shirley Temple. At first life does seem pretty idyllic for these lost souls but when Marilyn brought Michael to the commune she stirred up jealousy in her husband Charlie and when the sheep come down with an incurable disease the household really begins to get dysfunctional. Will their efforts to put on the greatest fucking show in the world keep them together? Oh, and there's some sky diving nuns piloted by Werner Herzog.

The amazing, striking shots start with the very first image of a slow motion Michael Jackson riding a mini motorcycle with a flying monkey attached while Bobby Vinton croons "Mister Lonely". With all the controversy that surrounds Korine it's easy to forget how adept he is at matching the perfectly chosen song with an amazingly photographed scene. There's an abundance of such scenes in this movie as well as some terrific performances by Luna, Morton, Denis Lavant who plays the jealous Charlie Chaplin and an unhinged Richard Strange who plays the foul mouthed patriarch of the commune, Abraham Lincoln.

There are some moments in the movie that have you checking your watch but these are far outnumbered by the transcendental moments that Korine strives for. The moment of the first flying nun as she plummets towards the earth, Michael Jackson dancing atop a cliff, the Three Stooges cutting down the infected heard of sheep, the Pope at the head of the table giving a toast to the misfit family, these all are strikingly original and instantly memorable scenes.

The Q&A that followed was suitably bizarre, prompting Korine to ask whether or not he was in some sort of Candid Camera scenario. Someone possibly unstable who knew him from earlier years showed up and was constantly chiming in the entire time and causing him to awkwardly cut sort some of his answers. At first this was pretty confusing but Korine quickly got into the anarchic spirit that the Q&A turned into and got a spring into his step. A long haired guy desperately wanted to give him something to look at, presumably some sort of movie he'd made. Others wanted to pin down concrete answers to questions like the connection between the commune and the flying nuns. Many of his answers brought out these stories that were at once almost unbelievable but so detailed that they had to be true; like the final question that had him describing how he got motivated to get back into movie making. In summary, it involved him down in Panama hunting some near extinct beast with a local tribe that some Japanese business man was willing to spend millions to obtain. He had a falling out with the leader of the hunting party and in disillusionment he returned to the US. Upon his departure the autstic wife of the leader gave him the leash to her invisible dog which he hung in his basement apartment (his other houses had burned down). The next morning after hanging up the leash a dog suddenly shows up. He knew he had to make another movie.

On the way out of the theater I commented to Sean Burns that my friend would be disappointed if I didn't ask him what he thought of the movie, did he like it? He did like it. But he seemed more concerned about the safety of Korine after the show with these fans of his.


Padraic said...

If you had told me that you went to a movie and sat next to Sean Burns, and that this *wasn't* the highlight of the movie I would not have believed you.

But between the movie and the Q&A it sounds like quite a night. I really want to see Mr. Lonely now, but it might be one of those films whose execution can't possibly live up to the description.

Sean said...

I think you'd love Mr Lonely and it should be getting European distribution as I'm sure it will play better over there than here. I don't think there's one scene shot in America -- it's all Paris and Scotland.

Burnsy and I were some of the few people cracking up whenever Herzog's priest popped up -- especially his manic instructions to his nuns on how and when they should drop food to the villages below which felt like a play on how his behind the camera directing can be. He also gives a great Herzogian monologue "...we are all but tramps in the gutter!..." towards the end.

If you see it playing at a theater near you, don't hesitate.