Thursday, April 22, 2010

IFFB 2010 Opening Night: The Extra Man

Remember, kids - as I mentioned in my eFilmCritic preview/tutorial, nothing at a film festival starts on time. It's kind of crazy from the outside, but it's a huge endeavor for the people putting the show on. At least for the opening night film this year, we had some spiffy entertainment between the 7:30 time listed in the program and the start of the actual film:

Jon Bernhardt, theremin dude

That's Jon Bernhardt and his theremin, hopefully not butchered too badly by my Droid's decent-for-a-phone camera. (It's only a matter of time before I get a real camera with decent optical zoom, no matter how little I think I'd use it) That proved to be pretty cool music to come in and get seated by, with a lot of movie themes and pop. It never hurts to see a demonstration of just what a cool thing a theremin is, too.

Tufts Bubs

After that, Dan introduced the Tufts Beelzebubs, a college a capella club that puts on a pretty entertaining show.

Then, the IFFBoston crew came out to throw last year's shirts to the audience raffle off the traditional bag-of-merch, Rock Band package, MP3 player, and JetBlue round trip tickets. Then the film, and then the presentation of the award and the Q&A with Kevin Kline (joined by one of the directors of The Extra Man.

The festival did something that was pure brilliance, giving Kline a one-of-a-kind statuette by a local sculptor "Skunk"; it's probably not clear in the picture, but the thing is a rocketship made out of recycled bits of stuff, and the look on Kline's face when he received it was priceless - he's probably got a mantel (or closet) full of very nicely designed pieces of glass and bronze, but likely nothing like this.

The double take he gave Adam on seeing the thing was priceless (as is imperfectly captured here. As you might expect, Kevin Kline is an extremely funny guy, really just a joy to listen to, gracious and patient with every question. I don't do interviews for a number of reasons, but Kline is one of the times I regret not taking an opportunity, even if we likely would have had to talk about The Extra Man, which, well, wasn't great.

But that's just one film at the festival, and I have little doubt that the rest will be more along these lines:

Kevin Kline and his award

And now, to catch the bus to Somerville, Taqwacore, and Cracks.

The Extra Man

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

In general, it's a bad sign when the main character of a movie isn't the first name you see in the credits. That's not a rule you can really rely on, since that sort of thing is often negotiated by agents and studio people, but it is worth noting here: This movie is about Paul Dano's character, but it's Kevin Kline's name we see first.

Kline's Henry Harrison is the "extra man" of the title, a playwright who escorts elderly widows to social occasions. His new flatmate and protege is Louis Ives (Dano), a would-be writer come to Manhattan to "find himself" after being let go from his job teaching English Literature at a Princeton boarding school (there was an incident involving ladies' underwear). Ives soon finds a new job at an environmental journal, where he's soon smitten with co-worker Mary (Katie Holmes), but the combination of her boyfriend and his awkwardness keeps her out of reach.

Characters like Louis Ives are often hard to connect to, and this one is not exception. The things that make him wierd are too big to be quirks, but aren't big enough to make him a full, interesting character. The dream sequence that opens the film, a sort of Great Gatsby pastiche, is probably meant to give us some idea of Ives's self-image and the life he would like to lead, but it comes across as hollow, not even an appealing or well-constructed fantasy. Louis himself comes across as little more that a construct for the movie - a half-baked fantasy with a little cross-dressing and attachment to an old car thrown in.

Full review at EFC.

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