Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Boston Film Festival 2010 Day 04: Cherry, The Last Harbor

I didn't have this thought at the time I was watching it, but a day or so later, while I was writing my review for It's Kind of a Funny Story, I did sort of idly wonder if I could take my review of that movie and modify it to be one of Cherry. The two aren't really that similar, but they've got some basic pieces in common - smart kid in a math-oriented field who really loves to draw, one parent pushy and one pushed, tossed alone into an environment where most everyone is older than him, a couple pretty girls attracted to him...

They are, in fact, fairly different, but once I had the similarities in my head, it was awfully difficult to get them out!

Obligatory photos of people who were there:

Cherry writer/director Jeffrey Fine and brother/producer Matthew Fine

The Last Harbor writer/director Paul Epstein, star Wade Williams, and producer Karl Richards

I feel bad about describing the shortcomings of some of these films, because all of the folks pictured seemed like pretty cool folks. The Fines were hanging out in the theater lobby before their movie, and I imagine any of the audience members who would have enjoyed some one-on-one time with them would have been able to get it. I'm pretty hard on Wade Williams (which I'd rather not be, because I liked him on Prison Break, a show that knew how to use him), but he was a genial, friendly guy with a big smile that you don't much see in his on-screen roles.

In other words, seeing a bad movie at a festival stinks, not just because it's a bad movie, or you're paying more, or it often means you sacrificed a rare chance to see a better movie for this piece of crud. Disliking a thing doesn't really feel bad, but feeling sorry for someone because you dislike it kind of stinks.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010)

By festival-schedule happenstance, I saw Cherry roughly 24 hours after It's Kind of a Funny Story, which has a fair amount of surface similarities once you correct for their different settings. Cherry isn't nearly as polished, but it's willing to make the audience squirm a little and occasionally go for the big laugh, which is worth something.

Aaron (Kyle Gallner) is a gifted student who comes from a long line of engineers, bright enough to be starting college at an Ivy League university a year early, and like many prodigies, somewhat awkward socially, which his new roommate "Wild" Bill (D.C. Pierson) takes advantage of. Still, despite the pressure put upon him by his sponsoring professor (Matt Walsh), he manages to attract interest from three different ladies: Darcy (Zosia Mamet), the nice girl on his floor who's also a target of Bill's hazing; Linda (Laura Allen), a "resumed ed" student in her early thirties that he meets in an art class; and Beth (Britt Robertson), her fourteen-year-old daughter. That's complicated, even before you factor in Linda's current boyfriend, Wes (Esai Morales), a cop who doesn't impress Beth much at all.

When writer/director Jeffrey Fine focuses on the mechanics of the college comedy, the result is fairly bland: The suffocating mother, hazing, gross-out jokes, and academic competition with a scholarship on the line, complete with villainous faculty member, all arrive right on time, and of course Aaron is going to discover that art is what he truly loves despite his parents' prodding (just once, I'd like to see hippie parents fretting over how much their kid likes math, and the film ascribing nobility to interest in science). As college movies go, it's not bad - the material with Aaron and Bill is actually pretty decent - but more than a little rote.

Full review at EFC.

The Last Harbor

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010)

I suspect that The Last Harbor will eventually show up on a cable channel rather than in theaters, and might be cheap and successful enough to get a follow-up or two. Mystery series have been built on less than "former big-city cop solves crimes in picturesque harbor town", but it works best with a more interesting sleuth than Ian Martin.

Ian (Wade Williams) is a drunk, and his latest outburst of behavior that gets stuff thrown out of court has him about to be drummed out of the Boston P.D. His captain offers him an alternative: The sheriff in his old hometown is looking for a promotion to a state job - why doesn't Ian transfer over there and while away the years until retirement in a two-person department in a town where nothing happens? It'll give him a chance to reconnect with his daughter Leanne (Austin Highsmith). One thing has crossed the desk, though - a girl who hasn't been seen in a couple of days. Ian starts digging and finds more than he bargained for.

As mystery stories go, The Last Harbor actually isn't bad at all. There's a full set of suspects who are all believably up to something, red herrings that don't feel like a complete waste of time when they're revealed, and motives that don't seem outlandish when finally revealed. Director Paul Epstein and co-writer Rand Marsh more or less plays fair with the audience, both in terms of not holding back clues that only the sleuth gets to see or having him do stuff behind our backs. With the right lead, this is a satisfyingly competent murder mystery.

Full review at EFC.

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