Tuesday, May 03, 2011

IFFBoston 2011: more of what I've seen...

[I'm gonna list the movies I've seen since my last post and try to fill in with rambles/reviews over the next couple days. I'll lead with a rating (all the films I saw after ELMO were up for prizes, so all audience members were given ballots with which to rate films on a scale of 1 to 5). The first piece will be spoiler-free, but after the *SPOILERS* marker, I'm likely to drop plot bombs or descriptions of cool bits or plot twists, partly to explain something I liked or didn't, but probably just as much so that I can remember, too, so beware.]

day 4.
3/ 5. A great midnight movie. Unfortunately, I caught it at 10pm. =) Two best friends who are just a little bit obsessed with the post-apocalyptic vision of MAD MAX spend their days modding muscle cars and assembling flamethrowers in anticipation of ruling the wasteland and their nights drinking and attempting to hook up. When one of them falls head-over-wheels for Milly, a girl who smiles sadly as she warns/promises that she'll only hurt him, the apocalypse arrives in a way neither expected. Wacky fun ensues.

I gotta say, the two leads create a great rapport between Woodrow (also the director) and Aidan, and the cast overall is pretty strong for a B-movie. The courtship of Milly is sweet and mumble-ish, with quiet guy Woodrow charming the wild child with his bouquet of roadside wildflowers and his ROAD WARRIOR dreams, y'know? The rest is almost determined by dice-rolls: the trouble in paradise, the crack-ups, the violence, the cops?

Don't look too hard for logic. That was my mistake. Just go with the smartmouth, dirty, sexy, sweet, dark, and combustible flow. When things get chaotic, think fever dream, and it'll all work.


I know I advised just above to let go of the idea of the story as something real-ish in favor of a more dreamlike/nightmare experience. Here, tho, I'm gonna pick at it as if it should have been more straightforward, cuz that's how the film begins and how I felt it should have followed through.

The film is divided into chapters, which sort of work, but don't seem to know or care anything for the passage of time. The chapter divisons could've gone a decent way toward reining the storytelling into a more coherent A-to-C-back-to-B-to-D narrative. It's difficult to get a feel for just how much time passes between key events. If you track the construction of the boys' flamethrowing machinery, it's days, but how long does it take for Milly to start cohabitating with Woodrow? How long is Woodrow in the hospital? To make it work in my head, I have to write off a lot of events as fantasy. I think the filmmakers, maybe in part due to the limitations of the footage they shot, play fast and loose with reality in order to use the best of what they have on their hard drives (the writer-actor-director Evan Glodell talked about building the cameras they used, to be featured in a POPULAR MECHANICS write-up soon... nerds. =).

There's one explicit moment that we can read as a reset/restart point, when Woodrow is sitting across from the box of "Milly's Shit." We see it first before he decides to go and confront Milly, and her live-in whatever, and then after a whole lot of violent, deadly, stuff goes down, we snap back to it and move forward again. However, it's not clear that we're seeing anything different, just moments that we weren't shown before that fit under a new chapter title. Confusing? Yeah, I guess I'm writing this more for me to remember how I tried to stitch this thing into a cause-and-effect flowing narrative when really, after a certain point, it's a bitter, hate-and-diesel fueled romant-apocalypt-ic fever dream.

With a muscle car with afterburners named Medusa. =)

5 / 5. Still awesome. (Caught this for the first time at TIFF =)


The reaction from the crowd to the vamp-bombs was thoroughly satisfying. I'd forgotten one thing (THE one thing?) that bugged me action-wise about the film: the final confrontation with the cult's big bad. Non-optimal lighting and camerawork make the final blow (and the assist) almost impossible to actually see. I only sussed out the physical blows after the fact based on the reaction and result. Both times I saw it. Looking back at my quick write-up from TIFF, I'm pretty certain that was the "nit" I mentioned.

day 5.
3 / 5. When three boys from an isolated Alaskan town head out on the ice for a seal hunt, a disagreement turns violent, leading to a tragic accident. Accident or not, each of the surviving best friends, Qalli and Aivaaq, has his reasons to cover up the details, so the two conspire to sell a lie about what happened. Each lie leads to another, and the guilt each feels grows and grows. With their futures on the line, can the boys live with their secret. And can they trust the other to?

Within the first couple of minutes, I felt a WINTER'S BONE vibe, the potential for a dark noirish journey set in a niche subculture and environment of America. Unfortunately, about halfway thru, that vibe fades. Don't get me wrong, the film is good, beautiful in its isolated setting, but there was the possibility of exellence in it that alas, isn't realized.

The leads are solid and likeable. Aivaaq is a charming screw-up doing a poor job of hiding a bad habit. Qalli is something of a kind lug, the dependable college-bound good son. Qalli's father is somehow instantly wise and correct. The boys' secret and the father's job as the leader of the local search and rescue team sets them on a collision course, but that course turns out to be disappointingly predictable and drawn out.


There's a beautiful shot in the opening credits of a snow-coated cemetary. We see the white cross headstones receding from foreground to back, and just beyond, satellite dishes. An easy, but striking juxtaposition. Dishes and crosses are given equal importance.

The film opens with the two boys performing a traditional dance at their high school and then follows them to an after-party where together they perform some original hip-hop, with Qalli on the beats and Aivaaq on the mic. These seemingly polar pursuits and passions of the boys hint at something special unfolding. As the story unfolds, the introduction of a drug element in the shadows of this small community promises some extra menace, too. Unfortunately, these all drop away into the background pretty quickly and the boys' guilt and paranoia-driven descent offers only one surprise and plays out a bit tiresomely, as demonstrated by Qalli's repeated interrogation-and-lie confrontations with his father. The one surprise, that in the end Aivaaq steps up for himself, and incidentally, for Qalli. His logic is moment-of-clarity crisp.

IFFB | site
5 / 5. Sweet and beautiful and so unlikely but so perfectly real. The other side of the foreign exchange program with LOST IN TRANSLATION.

5 / 5. A w e s o m e . I have not seen everything of his, but I've tried to get to everything that's played in theaters here. Based on that pool, definitely Miike's best since AUDITION and a beautiful and kickass addition to the Japanese samurai film genre.

day 6.
3 / 5.

"All Day Yeah"
4 / 5. A kid skates and wanders away an apparently just-like-every-other day.


If you're paying attention, you see that the one piece of mail he saves from his raid on the mailbox is a postcard coupon for free admission to an amusement park (frack, I've totally spaced on the name of it - Joey's World?), sent to him for his birthday. So, this day that he's been slackerly strangling is his birthday. It's a little bleak, but I really like it. And the final shot of the film, camera pointed at the boy as he ponders, then decides, and hops in the four-by-four to drive away, is pretty ingenious. The camera is mounted in or on the car itself, so you see him start to jog around to the driver's side, hear him get in, find the keys, start the car, and once the engine is going and he puts it into drive, the camera begins moving, tracking the ocean view as the boy makes his getaway. In Q&A the director says he wanted to put the audience somewhere WITH the boy, but not in a position of condoning his choice, so we end up as an unwitting stowaway/passenger, along for the ride. Pretty sweet.

Also love that the title shows up as the tag line on the postcard coupon. =)

"Bob And The Trees"
IFFB | vimeo
5 / 5. There are moments of pure joy in this. Bob teeing off from that hilltop, beer in his back pocket, his post-swing follow-thru and pose... Just perfect. The righteous fury in his pumping and singing along to "Point Of Now Return" almost had me jump to give a standing o. =)

I'm really excited to learn that the director, Diego Ongaro, is developing a feature film based on Bob-ness. =)

"Jupiter Elicius"
4 / 5. Some clever and well-crafted cutout animation set to what sounds like poetry about the life and passion for the storm of a born meteorologist.

"Ice Hockey"
3 / 5. A high school hockey player is having problems w his mojo. This certainly would've resonated more for me if I was a proper hockey fan.


I *really* love the flash of life in the moment before the boy takes his mid-ice slapshots.

I think the film might've been able to expand its appeal by educating us about this Jersey Devils legend of a player, perhaps by letting the boy tell someone about his hockey idol, or maybe show him watching highlights online. Maybe I missed posters in his bedroom or locker...?

2 / 5. The film has a cute premise, and creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere/scenario - a fanciful bedtime tale to lull a nightmare-startled child back to sleep - but I feel like that tale could've or should've been or done more.

"Deeper Than Yesterday"
2 / 5.

"The Strange Ones"
5 / 5.

3 / 5. A simple, naturalistic, short about a father and son who happen upon a rite of passage for the boy. Visually, reminded me of a Wyeth painting in moments. Dad takes his son with him when he goes to do some contracting work. The boy is left on his own to play, fighting imaginary battles, target practice with his air rifle, and exploring the nearby fields and woods. At lunchtime, father and son bond and relate as men typically do: tersely. On the ride home, they come across a pair of wolves, menaces to put down. The father arms the boy with his rifle and charges him with the duty. Good times. I really like the father-son-ness of the pair, established with nothing more than riding in the same truck and reinforced by the very few words they exchange.


After dealing with the animal, we see the boy walking back down the hill to his waiting father and then... BOY. I like that close.

3 / 5. An alternately disturbing and charming stalkerly courtship ritual, with a not-so-hidden layer of vicious consequences, and perhaps vicious intent. When a young woman attempts to thwart a thief's pocketbook-picking attempt, the thief relentlessly stalks her for the rest of the evening. The woman tries to resist the undeniable electricity between them, but in the end has to give in. Or is it she who has captured him? More than the twist in the plot, I think the film's strength is in making the attraction between these two palpable, if more often creepy than romantic.


I kind of wish that the reveal of the woman's behavior wasn't so ambiguous. Does she manipulate the evening so that she can hurt the thief, first for being a thief, and then for having the gall to pursue and harass her after she outs his thievery? I want to believe that that's so, and that she surprises herself by actually not wanting to hurt this man because he's so gentle (she tells him not to look at her "like that," and to be rougher with her, but he doesn't listen to her). It's really smart that the two of them share a look before he's revealed as a miscreant. Establishes the attraction before the crime.

4 / 5. A beautiful portrait of a crack-up. A loving family man seems to have it all. However, one afternoon after swimming in the backyard pool, he wakes from a disturbing dream of dying and begins to see things differently. As the day continues, he becomes increasingly impatient with his wife's completely reasonable suggestions and his daughter's playful, if annoying, behavior. He struggles to keep from taking violent measures to keep his family in line. Will his afternoon nightmare come true? The short's portrayal of the father's descent is creepily crisp and shiny, like a sharpened knife.


I really liked the father's final act of self-immolation was done really well. Seamless effects/post-production work. The way that the daughter's tapping and patting and smacking grates on him is conveyed extremely well by the film. I can't put my finger on specific elements, but their net effect is totally successful. I hafta say, as I was watching, I thought that this might be an Owl Creek scenario and that pops was gonna be poolside, unconscious, lungs full of water, receiving futile CPR, y'know?

Keep on keepin on~

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