Wednesday, May 12, 2010

IFFB 2010 Night Six: Tiny Furniture and Animated Shorts

Monday night is, effectively, the extra day added to the festival's schedule this year - the ICA day and Coolidge Corner closing film got pushed back a day, and this one was a little sparse - nine shows, two of them encores of features, three encores of short packages, nothing at the Brattle.

It was also a kind of drizzly, gloomy day, and that's part of why I went for Tiny Furniture instead of Cairo Time - the staff were letting folks into that first, if only by a few minutes. It had nothing to do with the other film presented by Chlotrudis being I Am Love on Saturday (I'm not that fickle) or having read the day before that star Patricia Clarkson was being a real source of aggravation for an art-house theater in Manhattan. The other factor was that Cairo Time had an August theatrical release date scheduled, and Tiny Furniture didn't. This may have been a mistake - I can't say I was a big fan of Tiny Furniture - but I doubt it will get much of a release, so this is a way to see two on the big screen rather than one.

The goal was to be able to work Shorts Package 3 in, anyway - that's the one that contained the new Don Hertzfeldt short in, and while it may seem silly to build a festival schedule around a crudely-animated (or apparently so) five-minute short, Hertzfeldt has yet to do something I don't find really impressive, and "Wisdom Teeth" is no exception.

Tiny Furniture

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

I'm often not quite sure where I land on movies like Tiny Furniture. They spend a lot of their time annoying me, quite honestly, with their characters' awkward quirks and selfishness, and I'm never quite able to figure out whether I've just watched a filmmaker do a terrible job of presenting sympathetic characters or a note-perfect depiction of flawed human beings. And then I decide that the filmmaker's intentions don't matter; I was only mildly entertained and not particularly enriched by the experience, so that makes it a mediocre movie in my book.

We start with Aura (writer/director Lena Dunham) returning home to New York from college out in Ohio. Her mother Siri (Laurie Simmons) and sister Nadine (Grace Dunham) barely look up as she arrives, and on her first night back, she's at a party held where she meets her best friend from high school, Charlotte (Jemima Kirke), and is introduced to Jed (Alex Karpovsky), a YouTube performer in New York to discuss projects who is soon crashing on the sofa when Nadine and Siri go visit colleges. Charlotte gets her a job as a day hostess at a nearby restaurant, where she meets handsome chef Keith (David Call).

That doesn't sound so bad, right? And it's not, except we're seeing this through Aura's eyes. The film spends a fair amount of time as portraying her as being unappreciated and crapped on, and based on what we see, that's not inaccurate. It would be a lot easier to sympathize with her, though, if she at any point made some sort of positive contribution to the world around her. She's not uniquely selfish, but in a lot of ways she's the worst of a petty lot: Nadine's a bratty teenager, so it works as sibling rivalry, and Jed is hissably dickish, but Aura? She just acts entitled and inconsiderate, and doesn't mature much over the course of the movie.

Full review at EFC.

Shorts Package 3: Animation

Seen 26 April 2010 at the Somerville Theater #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston)

All of the shorts were collected into six packages this year, while previously some would play alongside features. I suspect that this makes things easier all around - you don't wind up confusing audiences with two ballots for the audience award, if filmmakers are in town, there's no awkwardness of when to have the Q&A, just one disc to keep track of in the booth. There were two for documentaries, two for drama, one for comedy, and one for animation, which is the one which fit my plans (and desires) best.

"One Square Mile of Earth" - * * ¾ - Fairly amusing with anthropomorphic animals meeting in a bar and lounge, talking about the things that people who meet up in bars do. It's frequently funny, although the art style isn't a particular favorite of mine; it's distorted and flattened in a way that distracts.

"Invisible Loneliness" - * * * * - Very cool little stop-motion bit where a little girl, given a key by her father, must go on a quest in her imagination to re-acquire it when it's lost. Director Lin Jung-hsien has a great design sense, has her characters communicate well without words, and the finale is very grand indeed, the sort of spectacle that I wish could have been shot in 3-D, as it uses depth so well.

"Sebastian's Voodoo" - * * * ¾ - Another great little short with a simple premise - that voodoo dolls are alive and suffer the same consequences of being stuck with those pins as the people they're tied to. In this adventure on a table-top, one tries to save his friends. It's a clever concept, the digital animation is very nice, and the film earns an emotional conclusion in very few minutes.

"Junko's Shamisen" - * * * - An interesting mesh of live action and various animation techniques, dressing up a familiar tale of murder and vengeance with plenty of style. Not bad, but not lodging in my memory like the others.

"Varmints" - * * * ½ - At 24 minutes, this one is just the right length to be a TV special, and I hope someone picks it up. It's obviously a story with a message - a forest is razed in order to erect a city that seems run-down almost immediately - but it's a beautifully told one, with whimsically designed creatures, a sweet little love story, and an impressively rendered finale.

"Wisdom Teeth" - * * * * - Don Hertzfeldt takes a break from his frequently dark "Everything Will Be OK" trilogy for his first flat-out crazy comedy since 2003's Animation Show bumpers. It's as simple as Hertzfeldt's stick figures - guy allows friend to pull the stitches from his dental surgery out, only to have one be much longer than it should, and connected to something so that pulling it out causes massive pain. It's viciously funny, with excellent comic timing and gags which get stranger and funnier as the film goes on.

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