Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Boston Film Festival 2010 Day 01: To Be Friends, Locked In

I try to be nice to the Boston Film Festival every year. I come in thinking that this year, I'll bite my tongue, go into movies with a positive attitude, hand out business cards and make a good enough impression that they'll actually put me on the mailing list next year. And for what seems like every year under the current management, I've failed. Something about the attitude just rubs me the wrong way, and even before the festival starts, I'm annoyed.

For instance, when clicking on the "festival" tab of their website brings you to the party schedule, and there's a line there that says
Get your exclusive party pass now, these are the biggest events of the entire festival! Don't miss out!

... then someone like me who thinks that the films should be considered the festival's biggest events starts to grind teeth. I always feel like this particular festival is built from the parties outwards, and that's no way to make an excellent festival.

It's not all the festival directors. Take opening night. I was already in a foul mood when I got there because of issues printing off my tickets and staying at work late on a Friday afternoon - I couldn't print at the office or get an internet connection at home, so I only had my ticket for To Be Friends. Naturally, the folks at the BFF table didn't have any way to check/print off a ticket, referring me to the box office, who initially tried to refer me back to the BFF folks (aside: how do you not have a laptop or something set up so that you can check this, but have three volunteers sitting at a table to hand out passes?) before handing me a pass. The Stuart Street Playhouse people were great.

Anyway, that frustration may have led to me initially giving it a slightly higher star rating than it really merited; there was a weird overcompensating for my bad mood going on, as well as trying to separate the film itself from the remarks director James Eckhart made before and after the screening - someone saying to "let the film wash over you", or something similar, tends to set off my pretentiousness alarms, but the work itself shouldn't be judged on that. It was also a weird Q&A session, mostly filled with Emerson College students who tended to introduce themselves as such and by name before each question, maybe hoping Aaron Eckhart or someone else would remember them.

Okay, that's needlessly cynical. Not so much so is a tweet about the "sold-out crowd" for the second feature of the night, Locked In. I suspect it was "sold out" in that there were people who bought passes and packages that included both opening night films and wound up going to the opening night party rather than seeing a movie.

(deep breath)

OK, for those of you who dig filmmakers on stage doing Q&As:

Left to right, Joelle Carter (who I didn't realize was Ava Crowder from Justified until IMDBing her), Todd Stashwick (between them, the entire cast), writer/director James Lawrence Eckhart, and his brother, executive producer Aaron Eckhart. Todd and James did most of the talking, with Joelle agreeing and Aaron confirming that his involvement in the picture was mostly limited to "writing a check".

And now, reviews!

To Be Friends

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010)

To Be Friends is beautiful in so many ways - it is exquisitely shot and scored. The acting by Joelle Carter and Todd Stashwick is true and emotional, and director James Lawrence Eckhart lets the story unfold at the right pace. The thing is, while the dialog is unquestionably artful, it's also the case where beauty may or may not be in the eye of the beholder.

A man (Todd Stashwick) and a woman (Joelle Carter) are driving to a cabin in a beautiful, secluded spot on the California coast. They are longtime friends, and she wishes that they were more; he has of late been wary of any romantic relationship, much less one with his best friend. They speak about it in aphorisms and riddles before addressing it directly, but also just spend a weekend enjoying each other's company and playing music together (he plays cello, she violin) before confronting the reason why they came to this place at this time.

There are certain expectations for the dialog in a modern movie, particularly one like To Be Friends that is, by and large, two people discussing the nature of friendship and romance, and where their relationship is situated on that spectrum. The usual inclination is to make it sound real, or at the very least, make it sound real plus two on the clever scale (how people wish they talked). Eckhart doesn't go for this; instead, he opts for a very theatrical mode of speech. Carter and Stashwick are not shouting to be heard in the balconies, but the words coming out of their mouths are, simultaneously, very declarative, laying the characters' feelings out there very directly, and very artificial. Nobody talks like this for very long, and watching it will likely bring to mind a one-act play taken off the stage and shot on location. It feels very different from even other talky films, and while some may enjoy the stylization, others (like myself, much of the time), will find the artificiality distancing.

Full review at EFC.

Locked In

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010)

Locked In is a pretty terrible movie, although one where the audience might be willing to make allowances for budget, or at least give some of its off-seeming moments a conditional pass, just in case the all-but-inevitable twist ending explains them. It defaults on that loaned good will, of course, but by then it already has your money and your time, and what can you do about it besides give it a one-star review on your blog?

To put it mildly, Josh (Ben Barnes) has an uncanny ability to destroy holidays. The film opens with him driving his family home, Christmas tree tied to the top of the car, and having a bizarre, apparently self-inflicted accident that somehow leaves him and wife Emma (Sarah Roemer) more or less unharmed but four-year-old daughter Brooke (Abby & Helen Steinman) in a "locked in" state - technically conscious and aware of her surroundings but unable to more or acknowledge them. To twist the knife a little more, this was an attempt at a reconciliation for Josh and Emma - on Halloween, Josh turned stepping out to pick up more candy into going into a bar, having a few drinks, and hooking up with old flame Renee (Eliza Dushku). Now, Ben's receiving mysterious phone calls that sound like Brooke and seeing other clues that lead him to believe that Renee ran them off the road. He also gets into contact with Frank (Clarke Peters), a guru who apparently can help them reach Brooke and bring her out of her unresponsive state.

The movie starts off with an absolutely bizarre car crash, a scene that feels as though director Suri Krishnamma knew the story needed a car crash but had no actual money for a stunt driver, so it's cobbled together with distorted shots of one of Boston's tunnels and sped-up footage. It's odd-looking enough that it may temporarily either blind the audience to how the scene makes no sense, or give them the mistaken impression that it's just a flawed bit of execution, rather than a character just doing something for no reason other than the plot outline demanding it - with neither Josh nor Emma remembering any particulars because the movie would fall apart if they did.

Full review at EFC.

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