Sunday, April 29, 2007

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2007 Saturday

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2007 Saturday: Year of the Fish, The Cats of Mirikitani, Row Hard No Excuses, The Ten, and Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell

Heading out the door right now - hopefully I'll be able to post some more later, if I can get the internet stuff on my phone to work. Don't know how likely that is, as I often have a hard time getting the phone stuff on it to work.

Today's plan: Twisted: A Balloonamentary, Day Night Day Night, Comrades in Dreams, and On Broadway

Year of the Fish

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2007 at the Someville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

You can cover a fair amount of limitations with animation. Take Year of the Fish, for instance - its extensive rotoscoping not only lets it stand out from the crowd, but it has practical benefits for the filmmaker (during the Q&A, director David Kaplan mentioned producing an HD master without shooting in HD and not having to worry about tricky lighting setups on location). It also introduces just enough unreality that Kaplan can combine the simplicity of a fairy-tale story with a distinctly modern setting.

Year of the Fish transplants the Ye Xian fable, one of the oldest known versions of the Cinderella story, to contemporary New York City's Chinatown. Ye Xian (An Nguyen) arrives in America with the intention of supporting her ailing father by working in his cousin "Ma" Su's supposed beauty salon - where, of course, massages and happy endings are the actual featured attraction. Ye Xian can't bring herself to give a stranger a blow job, so Mrs. Su (Tsai Chin) makes her do everything else. In other parts of Chinatown, musician Johnny Pan (Ken Leung) is having trouble with his white girlfriend and paying off his bandmates when $50 each becomes $50 for the trio, while fortuneteller/mystic/sweatshop owner Auntie Yaga lurks.

Some of the trappings of a traditional Western version of Cinderella are absent, and the whole thing has been grittied up a bit, but it doesn't take a class in comparative folklore to recognize what is going on. Sure, one of the stepsisters (Corrinne Hong Wu) is significantly less wicked than the other (Hettienne Park), and Prince Charming is not exactly heir to a kingdom, and I don't remember the sketchy massage parlor from the Disney version, but I'm not spoiling too much when I say that the plot doesn't do a major swerve away from what the audience is used to. Kaplan probably stays a lot closer than he really needs to. The film probably could have done away with all the trappings of magic and the special, pretty dress, hiding its fairy-tale origins underneath a story about how people who come to America to find work are often exploited and used sexually, but that could have been cheap in its own way. It takes a much finer touch to let the children's-story origins be seen without giving the audience much chance to snicker at how the adult content is added.

Full review at HBS.

The Cats of Mirikitani

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2007 at the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

When filmmaker Linda Hattendorf met homeless artist Tsumoto "Jimmy" Mirikitani on January 1st, 2001, he was at the start of his ninth decade of living a rough life.

How rough, you ask? He was born in Sacramento, CA, in 1920, though raised in Japan from the age of three. Returning to the United States as a young man because he, as an artist, did not believe in the war, he was placed in the Tule Lake interment camp for his trouble. There, he was separated from his sister, saw the his closest friend in the camp die of dysentery, pushed into renouncing his American citizenship, and used as slave labor. Most of his family in Japan was killed when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. It's little wonder that when Linda's camera captures a jet slamming into the World Trade Center during an interview, he just keeps working on what he was drawing. Nothing has changed, the world still sucks.

Things do change, though, both in what kind of film Linda is making and in Jimmy's life. With the air in Manhattan becoming unbreathable, Linda invites Jimmy to sleep in her home, and rather than just trying to bring attention to Jimmy with her film, hoping that it will inspire the world to help him and others like him, she starts researching how to secure him Social Security benefits, hunting down other possible members of his family, and otherwise getting directly involved in his life. She tries to avoid showing herself on camera - her cat probably gets more screen time - but the relationship between Linda and Jimmy becomes a central part of the film. He worries about her staying out late, she confronts the difficulties of finding good elder care.

Full review at HBS.

Row Hard No Excuses

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2007 at the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

The Atlantic Rowing Challenge is a race for the extremely hard-core: Two people in a rowboat, rowing from the Canary Islands to Barbados. $19,000 to enter, and all entries must supply their own roughly $150,000 kit boat. The only prize is a trophy. If you call the support yacht to leave the race, you're required to burn your boat so that it doesn't clog up the shipping lanes. It's an event for those who crave an adventure and are willing to pay for it - financially, physically, and emotionally.

Row Hard No Excuses primarily follows two middle-aged Americans, Tom Maihot and John Zeigler, as they attempt to win the 2001 edition. Assembled partly from footage they and the other racers took during the race and partly from documentary work on the ground before and after the race, it's alternately beautiful and brutal, as images of the ocean alternate with sights of the sores, sunburn, and other physical tolls taken on the racers, especially guys in their forties and fifties like Tom & John who are somewhat past their prime.

Coming out, the audience is amazed at what's possible, but probably also wonders what the heck is wrong with these people. It's extreme sports in the truest sense of the word.

Full review at HBS.

The Ten

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2007 at the Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Once or twice, while watching The Ten, I wondered if the film started out as sketches about the Ten Commandments, or whether that theme came about as the filmmakers sat around and asked themselves the question: "What would get us the most free publicity of people trying to ban us?" and then seeing a news story about the Commandments being posted in government buildings. Jackpot!

Whatever the process, they came up with something pretty darn funny. Jeff Reigert (Paul Rudd) is our host for the ten sketches, but let's just say that he's not speaking from a position of moral authority, as wife Gretchen (Famke Janssen) will happily inform the audience. The bits start out as fairly ridiculous - "Thou shall not have any gods before me" revolves around a kid (Adam Brody) lodged in the ground after a skydiving accident who becomes a sitcom star - and stay there, ending with "Thou shalt honor the Sabbath", where a group of men skip church to hang around naked and compare '70s easy listening songs. It gets plenty bizarre in the middle, with notable bits about a woman (Winona Ryder) who becomes obsessed with a ventriloquist's dummy, another (Gretchen Mol) who literally finds Jesus (Justin Theroux) while on vacation in Mexico, and one about, uh, prison adultery.

There didn't seem to be much middle ground in the audience's reaction to the film: Those who enjoyed it laughed long and loud; a good number of the rest walked out. Count me in the first group; although I can't claim to have loved every segment, better than half didn't just work, but worked very well indeed. Director David Wain and his co-writer Ken Marino start us off with fourth-wall breaking absurdity even as Jeff is introducing the movie, and it sets a tone that the film only wavers from in degree. They're almost gleeful in their crudity; grinning ever-wider as they seem to ask the audience just who this bit of blasphemy is hurting.

Full review at HBS.

Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2007 at the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival of Boston: IFFB After Dark)

Fair warning - five movies in one day is where I hit the wall, and at times this one didn't amuse me enough to keep me awake. That said, I'd really like to see what Kevin Wheatley can do with an actual good b-movie script, as he's got a Jack Black-like charm that makes his Tex Kennedy character watchable even when the rest of the mess really isn't.

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