Monday, September 18, 2006

Boston Film Festival Day 2006, Day Eight: The House of Usher

-- sigh -- I could have been a few blocks away, in Chinatown, watching Stephen Chow in God of Cookery. Or in Somerville, checking out the Chuck Norris Film Festival. Instead, I see this thing, which is just not good. I want to resist being too mean, because the basic idea they're playing with is inherently creepy, it was shot locally, and the screenplay is credited to someone named "Collin Chang"... I knew a lady by that name freshman year of college. I mean, I love when movies that start with my city's skyline. Roughly half the theater, it seemed, was people connected with the production and their families.

But, this is just pretty bad. Lots of flat acting, an ending that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, a timeframe that wasn't communicated at all - in the Q&A, the director and producer said it took place over months rather than what felt like just a couple of weeks. Also, while it will probably look OK on DVD where it will eventually land - I think they mentioned it shooting on HD - sitting up close in the theater, it looked pretty bad.

Speaking of the Q&A - I would have loved to see someone ask Izabella Miko if she wore a bra at any point during filming. It seems like almost every change of clothing put her in something with a pretty darn low-cut neckline. It's the sort of thing you're thankful for in a bad movie, since it gives you something to pay attention to other than the film's badness.

So, what to think about the BFF? Certainly better than last year, although nothing I saw really bowled me over. Also, I think this falls a little short of being worthy of the name "festival"; for that, you need multiple venues or a program which attracts people from out of town. The old BFF had that, even if was just two Loews theaters playing something of a subset of the Toronto program.

Of course, by that definition, the next thing on my festival calendar isn't really a festival - The Bosotn Fantastic Film Festival is pretty much an extra-spiffy Brattle program. But, man, that's at least got something to get excited about.

Catch-up: Review up on HBS for The Hidden Blade. I can't believe no-one else reviewed that.

The House of Usher

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2006 at AMC Boston Common #17 (Boston Film Festival)

Festival movies that don't work for you stink worse than ordinary bad movies, not just because there's a higher expectation of quality, but because you're in the room with the cast and crew, their friends and family, and maybe even their small, adorable children. The guy next to you gives you the stink-eye if you don't applaud, and when Q&A time comes, most of us don't have the guts to ask something like "so, at what point in the process did you realize you weren't making a good movie?"

Then, of course, there's that moment toward the end, when they start with the whole "there's this website called eye-em-dee-bee-dot-com, and all the people in Hollywood read it, so if you post your opinions there it can really help us" deal. It makes them seem like friendly, regular folks, but the truth of the matter is, they're probably not talking to you.

So it is with The House of Usher, a "modern retelling of Poe's classic story from a female perspective". What makes this movie not being very good hurt all the worse is that director Hayley Cloake and writers Collin Chang (screenplay) and Boyd Hancock (story) have hit upon a pretty good way to go about this. Here, the nameless male narrator of Poe's story is replaced by Jill Michaelson (Izabella Miko), a former girlfriend of Roderick Usher (Austin Nichols) who counted his twin sister Madeline as her best friend until both Ushers vanished from her life three years ago. Now, she returns to the titular mansion for Madeline's funeral, and though family retainer Mrs. Thatcher (Beth Grant) makes every effort to send her home quickly, Roderick wants her to at least stay through the weekend, to help him get through the twins' upcoming birthday...

Read the rest at HBS.

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