Monday, April 30, 2007

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2007 Sunday

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2007 Sunday: Twisted: A Balloonamentary, Strange Culture, Comrades in Dreams, On Broadway

Was hoping to add it before it ran yesterday, but I ran out of time: Review of Monkey Warfare

I didn't intend for Sunday to be almost all documentaries, but it worked out that way because I foolishly opted to wait for the bus between Coolidge Corner and Harvard Square - the time I waited plus a more direct route minus traffic meant I could have made it to the Brattle on foot in time for Day Night Day Night; instead I headed to Somerville just in time to catch Strange Culture. Maybe if I'd waited fifteen or thirty minutes, one of the other things playing would have been better nad not left me with a big gap before Comrades in Dreams on a chilly day.

Glad I got to Twisted, though - it's a fun little doc and I made a balloon dog. It's also worth noting that the balloon twisters were out in force all weekend. It's normal for these special-interest docs to bring out an audience of enthusiasts (and the Coolidge's main screen was packed), but all Friday and Saturday, there were people twisting balloons in front of the Somerville and Brattle (and probably the Coolidge, but yesterday was the first time I made it out there), and the Somerville had a balloon "sculpture" up and balloons perched in odd places. I hope someone picks this up.

Today's plan: Work, then if I can bolt early enough, Time and Tide at the Coolidge and Rumbo a la Grandes Lignes in Somerville. Probably just the latter, though, since Big Papi is rumored to be there with the Sox having an off-day. I want to make sure I get there and I was a little late to work.

Twisted: A Baloonamentary

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2007 at the Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Making a balloon dog is pretty easy - it took about a minute for a whole theater full of us to learn how after watching Twisted. Sure, it will take me some practice to learn how to do it well or quickly enough to amuse my niece at her birthday party, but there's just a few basic maneuvers to master. That's part of what the film's tag of "once you can make a balloon dog, you can do anything" means, although it's obviously meant to imply much more.

That tagline looks corny on the poster and threatens to be even more so when it shows up in the movie, but it's delivered by Vera Stalker, who can get away with it because she's not trying to be inspirational. The directors mentioned in the Q&A that she wasn't even going to be in the movie except for their cameraman having a crush on her - then they (and we) learned about the neighbor in the trailer park who loaned her sixty dollars to take a class, the pitching her services to family restaurants from the age of sixteen, the success there that has put her through college and will hopefully do the same for medical school. What's particularly endearing is that Vera acts like this is nothing particularly special - it's something anyone can learn to do, and after that it's just a matter of doing it.

Twister David Grist is similarly low-key about how he started out and achieved success, although almost everyone interviewed holds him in something just short of awe - the jovial, roly-poly Englishman is one of the acknowledged masters of the art, with many twisters introduced as his students. John, a born-again Christian "gospel twister" and James, an African-American clown from Atlanta, are more cognizant of their good fortune, and much of their efforts go toward trying to uplift the people around them.

Full review at HBS.

Strange Culture

* * (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2007 at the Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

I can't speak for "real" critics who get paid and all, but this is the kind of movie I hate reviewing the most. It's a documentary with its heart in the right place, and a subject of genuine import. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem to make the wrong decision at every conceivable point. They manage to make me dislike their protagonist, they go off on tangents, and they manage to get up to a whole seventy-five minutes of running time in part by self-congratulatory fourth-wall breaking.

The story of David Kurtz is a good one, which the public probably needs to know about; it touches on both worries about bad science and law enforcement's abuse of powers. Unfortunately, the story deserves a much better movie than this one.

Full review at HBS.

Comrades in Dreams

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2007 at the Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Comrades in Dreams, meanwhile, is somewhat lightweight but at least not inept like Strange Cultures. A German production about cinema operators in rural America, Burkina Faso, North Korea, and India, it's a nice, pleasant portrait of a subject that's of some interest to festival-goers. It's also the fourth-longest documentary at the festival despite not really having 102 minutes of substance.

What's kind of frustrating for me is that it really doesn't deliver either of the things I really like to get from documentaries: There's not a lot to satisfy my process-junkie leanings about what needs to be done to run a theater under these circumstances, nor is there a really interesting narrative arc. There are tantalizing glimpses of both, but in a way that only makes it more frustrating.

Still, North Korea remains fascinating. It's like a cult that has the status of a sovereign nation. Someday, hopefully someday soon, that last bit of the Iron Curtain is going to fall and there's going to be massive culture shock.

Full review at HBS.

On Broadway

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2007 at the Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

I'll review this more fully later on, but for now, a few observations:

* I'll bet Joey McIntyre is really good on-stage, but he really doesn't seem suited to film.

* I don't drink, but I've been in the Skellig with co-workers. It's in Waltham, not Jamaica Plain. That said, I was pleased when a shot of McIntyre exiting the Copley T station was actually followed up by a shot of him in Copley Square and not, oh, Toronto, or even Southie. Having the geography of one's hometown screwed up is so expected when seeing a movie set there that seeing people get it right is a pleasant surprise.

* Writer/director Dave McLaughlin is lucky to know Will Arnett - there's about five spots in this movie where Arnett makes the scene roughly ten times funnier than it would be otherwise.

Full review at HBS.


Shauna said...

Apparently Dave McLaughlin gave Arnett free reign in his scenes, allowing him to ad lib.

For more on the mighty man, check out the Will Arnett Research Project at

Anonymous said...

Glad I came across your blog and coverage - I covered the IFF as well, but we seem to have chosen films by different criteria, since I didn't end up seeing most of the films you did, for whatever reason (either logistics or choice). So yeah, good to read in depth what I missed...

I did have the misfortune of seeing On Broadway, though, at the first screening on Thursday (which was just beyond chaotic), and aside from the all too brief cameos by Arnett and Amy Poehler, thought the film woefully amatuerish (which, I guess could be complementary, given it is about an amateur play), unambitiously mediocre, and at times,painfully forced. Curious as to why you accorded it such a high rating - look forward to reading your full length review.

Jake (