Tuesday, May 06, 2008

IFFB 2008: Triangle and Severed Ways

At some point in any festival, unless you're made of sterner stuff than I, you're probably going to hit the wall. There's just a point where the running between theaters (whether in the same building or in three neighboring cities), waiting in line, going through the rigamarole of getting a full house crammed into the room, and sitting through movies which demand a bit more than the usual matinee fare becomes tiring, and you maybe can't write an honest review because there's a very good chance that you napped through fifteen or twenty minutes.

For Triangle, I'm placing the blame solidly on my decision to go home, eat something marginally closer to a balanced meal than Cherry Coke and Twizzlers, and watch the Red Sox postgame show in the time between the Q&A for Turn the River in Somerville and the start of Triangle in Brookline. I must have fooled my body into thinking I was done for the day, when, no, there was still an hour and a half of Hong Kong action to go. For Severed Ways (where I don't think I missed much important), there's still being tired from not getting home until two-thirty-ish, rushing to Somerville, and winding up in a seat so far toward the front that you have to lean back to see the picture, way closer than digital projection was meant to be seen.

I spent the next couple hours really wishing I had waited a bit and gone to see the jump-rope movie instead. People need to be warned about this turd. (Note that the review for Severed Ways contains coarser language than usual - not my usual, but it's the best words for the job.)

Speaking of projection, I must confess that by the time Triangle showed, I was starting to get a little cranky about the first "F" in "IFFB" being kind of inaccurate; I think the opening night showing of Transsiberian was the only thing I saw on actual film rather than digital video up to that point. It kind of surprised me when Triangle wound up not being digital. Apparently the American movies with people in attendence couldn't get a print shipped, but the one from Hong Kong could. It just doesn't figure.

Tie Saam Gok (Triangle)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2008 at the Coolidge Corner Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston After Dark)

I hope to get a chance to see Triangle again sometime soon, because the idea behind it is a lot of fun - getting three big-name action-adventure directors to make one film, handing the reins off to each other, allowing them to change styles to do what they do best... Well, that sounds like a lot of fun, and from the way the credits are arranged, it looks like each director had his own writers, too, and I know that's a lot of fun.

The story starts out as looking like a crime movie, as three down on their luck men are recruited for what initially looks like a robbery but either becomes a treasure hunt or was one all along (my subtitle comprehension does kind of go to heck after midnight). There's complications, of course, with one of the trio's wife having an affair with a corrupt cop who appears to be in on everything.

As it turns out, I think I missed the entire middle segment. I saw most of the set-up which led to the robbery, which is good, gritty crime; it could have been either Ringo Lam or Johnnie To. Then I missed the middle act, picking up for the end, which is much more a caper bit, as the getaway cars break down outside the city, the wife starts acting weird (she may just have one heck of a concussion), and there's a bunch of identical-looking bags, one containing rare coins, one smuggled guns, the other someone's dinner that keep getting mixed up. I'm pretty sure this leg is directed by Tsui Hark, if only because he's the one I most associate with being funny.

Taken on its own, that last act is a lot of goofy fun, but it might not play so well put together with two other acts that I assume are being played more or less straight. Hopefully I'll get a chance to find out soon; Magnolia's "Magnet" label seems to be putting it out sometime later this year.

Of course, they're also listed as distributor for...

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2008 at the Somerville Theater #5 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Believe it or not, Severed Ways was one of the movies I was initially fairly excited about when the IFFB announced their roster of films. How many Viking movies do you get at the typical independent film festival, after all, and the fact that it wasn't banished to the "After Dark" segment of the program held out hope that it might be pretty good. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a miserable enough experience that I would have happily traded Vikings for the documentary about competitive jump-roping next door if I could have.

The text at the beginning sounds enticing - it sets up the backstory from the Vinland Sagas, telling us of a group of Norsemen who by 1007 AD had made a settlement in what is now Canada sending a further expedition south, only to be beset by "Skraelings" (the Abenaki) and driven back home. Two scouts, Orn (Tony Stone) and Volnard (Fiore Tedesco) were left behind and must survive off the land while they try to make their way back north, with hundreds of miles of wilderness, natives, and Christian missionaries between them and their goal.

I wonder if I might have enjoyed this movie a little more had it appeared at the Underground Film Festival rather than the Independent Film Festival. It would seem to fit there better; Severed Ways is very much a backyard film, which Tony Stone shot in Vermont and at Viking ruins in Newfoundland. Stone does practically everything, writing, directing, producing, and editing as well as starring in the picture. Costumes and props do look like they were made in his basement - probably more true to life than something from an elaborate Hollywood production, but still feeling like stuff they cobbled together out of what was lying around. It also feels a little underpopulated, as homemade movies tend to be.

Still, seeing it in a context where I'm more inclined to be generous would not have made it a good movie. Even discounting the question of what those Catholic missionaries are doing in the New World something like five hundred years too early, Stone makes a lot of decisions that maybe seemed to make sense at the time but don't quite work. The heavy metal soundtrack is a good idea, but actually showing Orn headbanging is weird. The actors speak in Greenlandic, apparently the closest thing going to ancient Norse, but it sounds stilted, and the subtitles are in idiomatic twenty-first century English ("we're toast if we stay here!"), further breaking the spell. The overblown chapter titles don't help, either - the small act of mayhem that follows the proclamation of "Conquest" is laughable.

A lot of that can be overcome, but Stone loses his audience pretty decisively early on. There are certain on-screen images you have to earn, and actual shit coming out of your ass is one of them. There was a palpable wave of revulsion that went through the audience at that, and smaller ones when Orn/Stone killed and dressed chickens and fish on-screen, and as much as you can try to defend that by saying it has documentary value, it just feels gratuitous, and no matter how much merit the rest of the film might have, there's no getting over that the audience just doesn't want any part of it any more.

That sort of thing throws the rest of the movie's faults into greater relief. Severed Ways runs nearly two hours but it's generally a slow, introspective 110 minutes, and the audience feels trapped by a performer who mistakenly thinks that every minute detail of his character's actions is just that fascinating. Stone isn't a good enough actor to pull it off, though, and the way he cavorts on screen makes the film seem like a sustained act of egotism. Which is too bad, because there is material for an interesting film here - the idea of being lost that far from home is powerful, as is Volnard's spiritual growth from encountering the Christian monks.

Maybe Stone is a guy to watch, even if his ambition greatly outstrips his resources and skill right now. Someday after working with and learning from the right people, he could become a decent filmmaker. In the meantime, though, I can't think of any good reason for someone to actually watch this movie.

Also on EFC.

No comments: