Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IFFB 2010 Night Three: Winter's Bone, Down Terrace, and Machotaildrop

An amusing note: I made my screening plans for Friday night with the idea of grabbing two shows at the Somerville that were on the same screen, operating on the premise that there was no chance of one running too late to get to the other. However, demand for tickets to Winter's Bone was high enough that it got moved to the Somerville Theatre's large main room, while Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work got moved to the not tiny but not expansive screen #5, where I would later be seeing Down Terrace. Now, I wasn't going to switch movies, because keeping a schedule wasn't the primary reason I chose them, but I did find it amusing. And kind of reassuring, actually - it's good to see that at an independent film festival, there is much more demand to see a drama starring unknown actors than a documentary on someone who is famous for being famous (these days, at least; she became famous by being very funny, but that was literally decades ago).

Anyway, a picture of director Debra Granik and co-star John Hawkes can be found on my Facebook page, and from experience, I can say it looks much better than it would have if they were in theater #5.

After that, came Winter's Bone, where the end of the work week started to catch up with me, and I found myself jolted out of a micro-nap by someone getting run down by a car. Fear not, I literally only missed seconds, but they were just enough that I didn't see who it was, and I spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out which character was missing before deciding that it must have just been someone who was just in that scene, which kind of makes it funnier. I think I'm still able to review it fairly.

Then it was back to the Brattle for the late movie, Machotaildrop, and I kind of hope to get letters about my review saying that I don't know what I was talking about and the skateboarding was awesome. Because, quite honestly, I don't know what I'm talking about in regard to skateboarding; I just know that I never really went "wow, that's impressive" when the kids were doing their shredding(*). Kind of a shame, because I think that a stunt show interspersed with the movie's strangeness would have been a lot of fun.

(*) I half-suspect that no actual skateboarding teen/twentysomething actually says "shredding", with it being just a term that relatively old/ignorant people like myself use when trying to sound like they know what we're talking about, only to instead have it serve as a clear indication we should be mocked.

Winter's Bone

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

The music on the soundtrack specifies Missouri, but that's not what's important; it's the mournful single female voice and barely-there accompaniment that tells us what we need to know about the setting for Winter's Bone: It's chilly, there's nothing fancy to be found, but there's love and loyalty there too.

Maybe not right on the surface; getting mushy is a luxury that 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn't have. Her brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson) need looking after, and their mother is practically catatonic. Their father is missing, and even though he's a no-account meth cooker, his absence a big problem: He's out of jail on bond, the family home will be forfeit if he doesn't make his court date, and nobody knows where he is. Ree's got to find him, even though everyone - neighbor Sonya (Shelley Waggener), best friend Gail (Lauren Sweetser), and uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) - advises her to mind her own business.

The Ozarks are an unusual location for a film noir, and Ree isn't the typical hero, but Winter's Bone feels like something from that genre anyway, with plenty of hints given in the form of "you should leave it alone and definitely not look here", as well as a situation that exposes more and more rot the further Ree digs. For all that she's aware of the amoral, outside-the-law code her family lives by, there's an impulse other than self-preservation at work. She's got to be her own knight-errant, and there are few shadows to disappear into (instead, the roadless woods become a sort of no-man's land), but it's a classic noir story.

Full review at EFC.

Down Terrace

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #5 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

A lot of gangster movies want you to know that they aren't just about crime, but about family. You can't miss it, they're so formal and insistent that it becomes overbearing. Down Terrace, while it has other flaws, manages to present us with a family that are also a group of criminals, and makes the situation work.

Bill (Robert Hill) sells drugs in a mid-sized English city; he's been doing so for over forty years now and doesn't appreciate that he's just had to spend a few days in court because of it. He figures it was probably Garvey (Tony Way), the manager of his club, who sold him out, so he and his son Karl (Robin Hill) are going to take care of it. The thing is, Bill is really much more interested in drugs than enforcement, and the muscle he brings in, Pringle (Michael Smiley), is distracted by his kid. Speaking of kids, Karl's ex-girlfriend Valda (Kerry Peacock) has just shown up and announced she's pregnant. Bill's wife Maggie (Julia Deakin) just wants all this drama out of her house.

There have been a ton of crime-family comedies, but I have a hard time recalling any that reflect the very ordinariness of family relationships as well as Down Terrace. Nobody lectures each other on what a family does; they just do it, for better or worse. Bill could run a brewery, and it wouldn't change the characters' relationships a great deal, other than the product they enjoy as they kick back in the evening. Every bit of the relationships between Bill, Karl, and Maggie rings true, from Karl's combination of comfort and boredom as Bill repeats a story about the old days, to how Maggie has learned through long experience what her husband needs to do but can't, to how Valda is just not going to ingratiate herself quickly at all (which naturally leads to some nasty arguments).

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2010 at the Brattle Theater (Independent Film Festival of Boston - IFFBoston After Dark)

It seems like a ridiculous thing to say, after having seen the movie, but I initially thought Machotaildrop was a documentary. Skim the description, and the bits about a company with a colorful head recruiting skateboarders looking to go pro to train together doesn't seem out of the realm of the possible, especially if one is relatively ignorant of X-Game sports. Even given how little I know about that world, though, I strongly suspect that a reality show starting from the same premise wouldn't be quite this weird.

There real world likely has teens who love skateboarding as much as Walter Rhum (Anthony Amedori), who practices non-stop so that he'll be good enough to submit a video to the Machotaildrop skateboard company; few hang out at a skateboard-themed bakery. When he finally does make the grade, he's bought to Machotaildrop's headquarters, where he meets the company's eccentric founder, The Baron (James Faulkner), and is able to live and train with other boarders on the rise, including his hero, Blair Stanley (Rick McCrank). He also meets Sophie (Vanessa Guide), a girl who works in the company's archives, and knows some of its secrets. But will that be enough when the Manwolves attack?

Well, not actual Manwolves; a gang that goes by that name which skates in an abandoned amusement park which the Baron intends to level and rebuild as the greatest skateboarding-based activity center ever. It's that kind of movie, the sort where you can replace "headquarters" in the preceding paragraph with "secret underground lair" and perhaps be a little more accurate. Co-writers and directors Corey Adams and Alex Craig have built a world full of low-budget quirk; the ubiquitous cassettes, 8-bit video games, and fashions probably place it somewhere in the late 1980s or early 1990s, although they avoid any references that could specifically date the movie. Besides, it's not the real world at all - I don't remember TV series where skateboarders would host expeditions to find lost skate parks, for instance.

Full review at EFC.

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