Tuesday, April 26, 2005

IFFB Day One: Stolen, Childstar, and White Skin

Well, Day One for me, since I didn't manage to catch the opening night film. Amazing that that huge main theater in Somerville sold out. Still, if there's only one showing, I think it's fair to call that "Day Zero".

Anyway, I think that it's fair to say that a good line-up of midnight shows is crucial to my enjoying the IFFB. I know horror-type movies aren't really supposed to make you feel comfortable, but after a documentary without a really solid conclusion and a movie that tries to go off in a dozen different directions, a high-quality genre movie is exactly what I need. The guy making something like White Skin or, even more so, like Dead Birds is trying to achieve something very basic. Every scene is about either freaking the audience out or building up to freaking the audience out. The simplicity appeals to me.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2005 at Somerville Theater #2 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Someday, a great movie will be made about the Gardner Museum robbery. There's just too many classic elements and characters for it not to happen; the story would include a daring heist of well-known paintings, a scarred and obsessed detective, connections to fugitive Boston mob boss (and FBI informant) Whitey Bulger and the Irish Republican Army, a five million dollar reward, a newspaper reporter given a tantalizing glimpse, a former crook with conspiracty theories, and more. There's only one thing that great movie would need missing: An ending.

At approximately 1:20am on 18 March 1990, two men dressed as Boston Police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, overpowered the guards on duty, and made off with a dozen pieces, including five by Degas, three by Rembrandt, one by Manet, and one Vermeer ("The Concert", currently considered among the most valuable stolen pieces of art in the world). Suspicion fell upon notorious (and imprisoned) New England art thief Myles Connor as the mastermind, but he denied involvement. The two men he suggested were involved, Bobby Donati and David Houghton, would be dead within two years. In 1997, another associate of Connor's, William Youngworth, contacted Boston Herald reporter Tom Mashberg and took him on a drive to see what appeared to be one of the Rembrandts, giving him some paint chips to analyze. Youngworth claims the paintings could be returned "in thirty minutes" if he was given amnesty.

Read the rest at HBS.


* * (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2005 at Somerville Theater #2 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Don McKellar goes for easy targets in Childstar, ones which should be easy to skewer and whose mocking should be especially appreciated by a festival audience: Pampered child actors! Irresponsible stage mothers! Crappy, inane, faux-patriotic Hollywood movies! Arrogant Americans condescending to sincere Canadians! Obsessive celebrity news! This should be shooting fish in a barrel, but McKellar often gives the frustrating impression that he can't tell fish and barrels apart.

Part of the reason why may be that McKellar is making a movie based on other peoples' horror stories. Despite a fifteen-year career as an actor in Toronto, he doesn't appear to have ever wound up cast in a Hollywood production; even eXistenZ was a local production. This means that instead of drawing on the experience of being a Canadian indie filmmaker/actor on the set of an American runaway production, he's pretty much regurgitating the same anti-Hollywood clichés that the audience has seen a million times before (early on, he even has the young movie star blithely ask who the director is). The end result is a movie that feels overly familiar, when it should have some sort of insider knowledge.

Read the rest at HBS.

White Skin (La Peau Blanche)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2005 at Somerville Theater #5 (Independent Film Festival of Boston: IFFB After Dark)

White Skin is the best kind of creepy movie. It's the kind where a sense of wrongness builds gradually enough that you don't feel the director trying to convince the audience, but quickly enough to leave you shocked. It doesn't rely on money shots, elaborate prosthetics, or set-pieces. It doesn't really want the audience to scream. Screaming, you see, is too easy a release.

Thierry's friend Henri (Frédéric Pierre) decides to treat his roommate, a sweet guy from rural Québec (they are both students in Montréal), to a hooker for his birthday. Thierry (Marc Paquet) is grateful but tells his girl that they don't have to actually do anything. She thinks it's because he'd rather be with Henri's paid companion, but that's not it at all. After all, Henri chose a redhead and Thierry finds them stomach-turning. It's not the hair, he says, so much as the pale skin; it's sickly-looking and you can see the veins if you get too close.

Read the rest at HBS.

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