Monday, May 05, 2008

IFFB 2008: Turn The River

Sunday afternoon, I was IMing Matt and mentioned that Famke Janssen was letting folks take pictures with her and signing autographs after the screening of Turn the River, but I didn't go in for that. I don't remember the exact conversation, but I believe the word "coward" was used.

It's apt; I've long been a fan, apparently since that guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, since I remember being disappointed that she was the bad Bond girl in GoldenEye, rather than the one that got all the screen time. To be fair, I was 18, a big sci-fi fan, and she was aptly cast as the ideal woman. It's not unreasonable that she could have made that sort of impression.

What I say in the first paragraph of the review below is totally true, though - The Brattle's Ivy Moylun gave me the "I know!" reaction when I mentioned it a couple days later, but look at her filmography on IMDB, and try to figure out exactly why we packed it in to see her (and Eigeman). She really has not had big parts in many movies that were both good and high-profile since GoldenEye aside from the X-Men flicks, and people talked about her being sort of wasted there.

Well, okay, there's Deep Rising, which I love unreservedly, but still...

Anyway, Turn the River was one of the things I made my festival plans around, since Janssen and Eigeman are folks I really like and seeing them in person was just too good to pass up.

Bonus festival fun: The line for Turn the River and American Teen was around the block at the Somerville Theater, and was being held up by Paramount Vantage insisting on a bunch of security for American Teen's print (aside - yes, something at the IFFB actually screened on film!), so the line got pretty long. I wound up waiting just around the second corner, and after about ten minutes, my line-mates and I were cracking up laughing every time someone would turn that corner, after having walked from the theater's door, past Mr. Crepe, and down the side of the building only to see that the line just kept going, letting out some "holy crap, are there even this many seats?" or "are we in Arlington yet?" comment. We weren't laughing at you, specifically, guys - just the waves of people making the same comment.

Turn the River

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2008 at Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

When talking to people waiting in line for Turn the River and at other screenings over the weekend, a certain consensus emerged: We loved Famke Janssen, but couldn't name very many movies she was in that were very good or where she was the lead. Chris Eigeman, apparently, was similarly perplexed by this situation after working with her in The Treatment; fortunately, he was able to write and direct Turn the River to remedy that.

The part Eigeman wrote for her is Kailey Sullivan, a small-time Long Island pool and card hustler who hates the city but makes trips in anyway because that's where her son Gully (Jaymie Dornan) lives with his father David (Matt Ross) and stepmother Ellen (Marin Hinkle). Kailey has only recently been a part of Gully's life, and she doesn't like what she's seeing - a private school he hates a domineering, hard-line Catholic grandmother (Lois Smith), and having to communicate with him by dropping letters off at a pool hall owned by Teddy Quinette (Rip Torn). Having been pressured into giving up custody when she and David divorced, there's only one thing Kailey can think of to do - win enough to pay for good papers, grab him, and head to Canada.

Put that way, it doesn't sound like the wisest decision. Kailey is a nomad without the kind of money her paper guy needs, and Gully doesn't exactly seem to be in danger at his home - Grandmother Abigail seems to relish making things uncomfortable and David makes it worse by being suspicious of everything Gully says (the fact that Gully is hiding something in this case makes it no less overbearing), but Ellen does seem to be trying to do well by him in her ineffectual way. There's something about those scenes in Gully's home that makes it seem like a set of pipes ready to burst, but we can't tell where the pressure is being relieved or where the explosion is going to come.

Then there's Kaylie. It was created specifically for Janssen, and unsurprisingly fits her like a glove. Kailey's tough but not quite hard, which is not quite the ideal it sounds like. This is not a lady who tears up, or ever seems to let her guard down, but Janssen still manages to convey her unconditional love for her son in her scenes with Dornan even when she's also looking over her shoulder. There's also this sad but wonderful cockiness to Kailey - as much as we see that she's barely able to keep her head above water, she's able to keep convincing both herself and the audience that she can come out ahead - even though it's pretty clear that she's overreaching, again.

Matt Ross is also quite good as David; the guy has to be both ground-down and a bit menacing, and he covers that divide nicely. Jaymie Dornan is good as Gully, too, especially toward the end. Terry Kinney brings some welcome comic relief as the guy getting fake passports for Kaylie. A couple of the most memorable performances come from veterans playing somewhat against type. Lois Smith, for instance, is quietly vicious as Abigail; she's only in three or four scenes, but makes such an impression in that brief time that the character is able to cast a large shadow over the rest of the movie. Meanwhile, Rip Torn is almost cuddly as Quinette, his growls something more like a protective papa bear than usual.

Chris Eigeman opts to stay mostly behind the camera in his first film as a writer and director, and it looks like he could make a pretty good living there if he chooses to continue. He's not particularly flashy, but he and his cinematographer do a nice job of making the film easy to follow even though a lot of it takes place in dark rooms and alleys. It's also good to see that even though he is known, as an actor, for playing talky, sarcastic roles, he doesn't fall into the trap of trying to get the same thing from his cast. He gives each member of that cast a character to can sink his or her teeth into, though, and the plotting is really nice - I love the last act, where we see just how fragile Kailey's plan is. Getting away with something is tough, after all, and it's in Kailey's nature to push it.

I think this is the first time Janssen's has a bona fide starring role, and it's great to see that she's up to it. And that's not even taking into account what she and Eigeman told us in the double play - that the scene every pool movie has to have was shot in one take, without special effects. That probably doesn't change the quality of the movie any, but as cool bits of trivia goes, it's a nice one.

Also on EFC.

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