Tuesday, May 11, 2010

IFFB 2010 Day Five: The Parking Lot Movie, NY Export: Opus Jazz, Hipsters, and The Killer Inside Me

I'm now at the two week mark, so it's getting hard to remember the specifics of this Sunday. The main thing to remember is that it was a pretty upbeat afternoon - start off with the thoroughly entertaining Parking Lot Movie, a little down-time before the ballet, exit straight from that and into Hipsters (cutting it closer than I would usually advise when making a schedule)... And then you get out of the Russian musical and get hit with the pitch-black The Killer Inside Me.

The Parking Lot Movie

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Most documentary features that get any sort of play beyond local public television do because not only are they generally well-made, but they have important subject matter; someone programming a film festival or a boutique movie house decides you need to see this. That's fine, although if you haven't cursed out a programmer for an unwatchable movie about a worthy topic, it's just a matter of time. So The Parking Lot Movie is worth a shot if it shows up in a theater near you. I mean, do the math; how entertaining must it be to get booked when it is so aggressively, delightfully trivial?

It is not, after all, a look at parking lots as a phenomenon. You won't hear commentary on how parking lots are asphalt hot spots that create strange weather on a micro scale, or how the demand for parking has pushed white collar jobs out of the inner city and into the suburbs. No, this is a film about a specific parking lot, the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, a triangular piece of land tucked between a few bars and railroad tracks. A likable fellow by the name of Chris Farina has owned and operated it for the past twenty-odd years, with the staff mostly coming from the nearby university. At the time of filming, it mostly seemed to be faculty and grad students from the philosophy department, as employees tend to bring their friends in as soon as a spot opens up.

They do this because the Corner Parking Lot appears to be one of those spots that is a delight to work at so long as you accept it for what it is: A parking lot. The hours are flexible, the pay is enough for a student to scrape by on, and there are long periods that can either be used for studying or goofing around with friends, so long as the work gets done. From what we see in the film, the Lot has a history of hiring folks who are clever and witty.

Full review at EFC.

NY Export: Opus Jazz

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

Is ballet the least-appreciated major art form in America? To perform it demands the physical fitness and training of a professional athlete and the skills a professional actor. The music is often lively, and the choreography is intricate, able to communicate emotion without language. And for this, it is widely derided. Part of the reason for this is that the stories told in the medium are often presented as fantasies, period pieces, or artsy abstractions; something as contemporary as NY Export: Opus Jazz is a rarity.

Though a product of the 1950s, with a score by Robert Prince and choreography by Jerome Robbins (perhaps best known for the choreography of West Side Story), this film version is done in modern street clothes. It has five movements, shot on location around New York City, with teenage characters romancing, fighting, and challenging each other. Those five segments are connected with brief narrative snippets tying them together (though not using dialogue to do it).

I cannot comment on the ballet aspects of NY Export: Opus Jazz in much detail or really with any expertise; I'm as guilty of ignorance where dance is concerned as anyone. I can say that I came to regret that while watching this movie; I was thoroughly drawn in by the recreated choreography of Robbins and the energetic performances of the New York City Ballet. The cinematography is excellent; a scene featuring two dancers overlooking the city is one of the most beautiful of the year. The locations are well-chosen; empty and sometimes a little run-down, suggesting that the characters are at best on the lower side of middle-class, but giving the characters plenty of room to move and jump.

Full review at EFC.

Stilyagi (Hipsters)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

It seems like every time I've seen western culture sneaking behind the iron curtain, it's been about The Beatles. Of course, youth chafing at authority existed well before the Fab Four, and represents more than mere fandom. So let's take a look at 1950s Moscow, where despite the monolithic image presented to the west, a subculture of youngsters goes against the gray orthodoxy of the Soviet Union. They're called stilyagi, or "hipsters".

(Doesn't that sound like great fodder for a musical? Good, because that's what director Valeriy Todorovskiy has for us.)

We see the garishly-dressed hipsters at a party, but it's not going to last long - a group of young Communist Party members led by the severe Katya (Evgeniya Khirivskaya) are coming to break it up, forcibly giving haircuts to the long-hairs. Some bolt over a wall, and star athlete Mels (Anton Shagin) gives chase - but when he finally catches up to one, it's Polza (Oksana Akinshina), and he's instantly smitten. He not only lets her get away, but asks Boris (Igor Voynarovskiy), a former classmate who goes by "Bob" when hanging out with other hipsters, how to get in the group and get close to her. But can he compete with "Fred" (Maksim Matveev), a handsome hipster whose well-connected father brings him a lot of privileges?

I don't know whether any of the architects of glasnost and perestroika were hipsters in their youth. It doesn't matter as far as the movie is concerned; in fact, it makes things a little more poignant - we know that the place they live in will either punish them or force them to conform, just as we know that the West that they are trying to emulate in many ways only exists in their heads. The Soviet Union is a gray, paranoid, joyless place, and just wearing bright colors or playing the saxophone is seen as a challenge to the the State, even if the people doing so are good Communists otherwise. Hipsters is a coming-of-age story, but that can be a grimmer thing than American audiences are used to; adulthood does not offer autonomy to balance responsibility; the fathers who smile at their sons' indulgences know this.

Full review at EFC.

The Killer Inside Me

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #1 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

The Killer Inside Me is getting a certain amount of notice for its violence, which is a little surprising to me, in a strict "well, I've seen worse" sense. But I suspect the filmmakers will be fine with that. It gets people talking about thei rmovie and maybe buying a ticket. It's a little unfortunate that saying Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, and Kate Hudson turn in better work than many think them capable of won't get people into theaters, but that one beats the crap out of the others will, but it's also nice to know that cinematic violence can still shock people.

Affleck plays Lou Ford, a county sheriff's deputy whose office covers a lot of ground in west Texas. He's seeing a sweet young waitress, Amy (Kate Hudson), people seem fond of him despite that trouble with his foster brother, and both the local labor union's lawyer, Joe Rothman (Elias Koteas), and the area's most prominent businessman, Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), can count on him to bend the law so that everything runs smoothly. The sheriff has had him scope out Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a single young woman supporting herself well with no source of income but her body, and then Conway engages him to be the go-between between him and her. It seems that Joyce is blackmailing Conway's son Elmer (Jay R. Ferguson), and what the Conways don't know is that Lou and Joyce have started a twisted relationship of their own. When things go wrong, Lou's attempts to remove himself from suspicion threaten to bring his violent nature into public view.

Lou is our narrator, and both in voice-over and on-camera, Affleck nails a sort of casual monstrousness. His voice breaks in a certain way that makes him sound almost frail, a humble country boy respecting his neighbors and betters, at least without context. Once one gets a peek at what he's capable of, it's something different, flat, without empathy, good manners covering for his sociopathy. There's a cunning intelligence to Lou Ford, but not quite so much as he thinks, and Affleck gives us just the right impression of him - mostly dead inside, but with just the right amount of contempt for his pursuers and arrogance that it will take the rest of the characters a little while to see his true nature.

Full review at EFC.

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