Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Boston Film Festival 2010 Day 06/07: Black, White and Blues, The 5th Quarter, Iron Cross

And thus we finish up with BFF 2010. As festivals go, it was a somewhat dispiriting experience, and in some days, Wednesday night is the best example of why.

The theater was dead for Black, White, and Blue. The program implied some guests - if you look through the program, some names are boldfaced; in general, that corresponds well with the guest list, but I don't think it ever specifically states that those people will be there. Thus, when something like Black, White, and Blue runs without Mario Van Peebles, Luke Perry, or Morgan Simpson showing up, that $10 ticket wasn't sold under false pretenses.

And it is pretty amazing how thoroughly guest-dependent things could be. As I said, almost nobody showed up for the first show of the evening, in part because it was unusually early (6:30pm, making it a tight thing for me to get there from Waltham after work), but, geez, you'd think a movie with Duncan and Perry, directed by Van Peebles, and also just happening to be pretty good, would get a little attention.

Folks did show up for The 5th Quarter, though. It was easy to see why in some cases, specifically the guys wearing the Wake Forest sweatshirts. It's a crying shame, though, because they got a pretty poor movie, one which poured the syrup on so thick as to be ridiculous. I imagine a fair number enjoyed it - some folks do like their inspirational sports movies to leave no room for doubt, but I found it pretty painful: Ten or fifteen minutes in, I could see how overdone it was, and just had that sinking feeling that it wasn't going to improve. It was also kind of weird that during the montage of Wake Forest winning a bunch of games, we almost never saw the main character directly involved in the action, which may be accurate, but weird for a movie. Also, for something that's apparently been in the can for a couple of years, it was surprising to see the occasional boom mike in the frame. It can't cost that much to have someone remove those digitally these days, especially with no rush on.

I think it does indicate a characteristic of the festival which I'm not sure should be properly categorized as a strength or a weakness - not many people seem to look at it as one big event. The Wake Forest football movie got people interested in the Wake Forest football movie, the Eliza Dushku movie got her fans (though she wound up not showing, despite the boldfaced name in the schedule), but you saw very few of the same faces over the course of the festival. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but it almost seems like promotion was put onto the backs of the individual filmmakers, with very little push to come see a variety of good movies that might not screen elsewhere.

Then, on Thursday, we saw Iron Cross, which was an even worse movie, but also called "extraordinary" during the introduction. I'm beginning to think that "extraordinary" is code for "not very good". Of course, around that, both in the introductions and the Q&A, there were repeated reminders to go to the closing night party, because that's what this festival is all about.

Obligatory photos of people who were there:
The 5th Quarter star Ryan Merriman and writer/director Rick Bieber

They made a bad movie, but were nice folks, so I don't really hold it against Bieber and Merriman. They had the Abbate parents with them as well, watching from the back of the theater, so even more than usual, my desire to ask "at what point did you realize that you were making a bad movie?" was inappropriate.

Iron Cross co-star Alexander Newton, Hollywood Reporter and CNN reporter Martin Grove, and Iron Cross writer/producer/director/editor Joshua Newton

For one show a year, the BFF brings in a professional to lob softball questions at the guests. I suppose I can't criticize both that and the lackluster job the hosts do at the same task. Still, you'd think someone like Martin Grove, a guy with "entertainment journalist" on his business card, would ask about the Variety screening series situation, as it is (IMHO) the most interesting thing about this movie.

For those who don't remember, Iron Cross actually had a small theatrical premiere in New York and Los Angeles in late 2009 and appeared in the Variety screening series around the same time, as apparently someone at the company convinced the producers that it might be an awards contender. The producers spent significant money to have post-production finished in time, only to be met with a bad review in Variety from a freelancer who saw it during its initial run. The producers complained, saying that the movie shouldn't be judged by seeing it in that environment, the paper took the review out of their online archive, people speculated on whether this was because the filmmakers had paid them to be part of their screening series (where, apparently, they stuck out like a sore thumb), the producers sued...

There's a great book in there, and an interesting look at how Hollywood sometimes works behind the scenes. Instead, we got a lot of boilerplate about how nice Scheider was, and how Newton edited it in his bedroom - which isn't as crazy and low-budget as it sounds; digital editing systems are pretty compact, and I've read a 40-year-old pulp novel that centered around editing a feature being done in a rented apartment, and that was using a moviola. I did ask whether they'd done any work on the movie since the whole kerfuffle, which got a "we're suing them" and not much else.

Well, that's the Boston Film Festival for another year. I'd like to be able to say that I'm making a principled stand and won't be back next year, but anybody reading this blog regularly knows that I am weak where that sort of thing is concerned. Give me movies that are even vaguely interesting that I might not have another chance to see, and I'll come. Of course, I've probably shot any chance to get a media pass any time soon, but I'm okay with that.

Black, White and Blues

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010)

The name of Black, White and Blues is technically accurate, inasmuch as there's a black guy and a white guy in it, and they both wind up listening to a fair amount of the blues. The implication of that name, of course, is that race is at some point an issue, and aside from maybe one or two comments about the characters' musical preferences, this fairly entertaining road drama avoids that issue almost completely.

Jefferson Bailey (Morgan Simpson) has more or less reached the end of the line in Austin. He came out there to start a blues band, but right now, he's behind on rent, freezes up when he goes on stage, and drinks until he blacks out. Plus, he's not only borrowed some money from a local tough (Luke Perry), but he's been sleeping with his wife Jackie (Taryn Manning). Even still, he's not interested in going home when a man (Michael Clarke Duncan) shows up, saying his grandfather died six months ago and he has to collect his inheritance personally. At least, not until Jackie's husband gets wise and decides to extract his pound of flesh - then traveling back to Huntsville, Alabama with this Augy fellow starts to sound real good.

Jefferson likes the blues, while Augy goes for country, and while that's a bit amusing considering their respective skin colors, it's not long before the pair are commenting on how, though the two styles of music have different sounds, they often amount to the same thing. The movie itself plays like the blues and country - a recitation of sorrows set to a simple beat, but with a wry humor and open heart that helps to drive sorrow away. Augy and Bailey have both had troubles with the bottle and some bad luck in love, but this is far from being a movie about sad, irrevocably broken people; it's often funny, with the pair becoming good buddies fairly quickly.

Full review at EFC.

The 5th Quarter

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010)

The 5th Quarter doesn't look like a bad movie. It's well-produced, it has a nice cast, and single scenes taken in isolation look pretty good. Put it all together, though, and it becomes an unending stream of inspirational sport movie clichés that I feel bad about calling laughable, as it seems to be based on the lives of genuinely good people.

Teenager Luke Abbate (Stefan Guy) has everything going for him - loving parents (Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell) and siblings, and he's got the potential to be an even better football player than his older brother Jon (Ryan Merriman), who's a starter at Wake Forest (though, at the time, it's not a nationally renowned program). However, that will all be cut short, as he's involved in a single-car accident due to a friend's reckless driving. His loss leaves a void in his family, although Jon's teammates dedicate their season to him, and begin to defy expectations.

I don't care for football, but I've enjoyed movies centered around the game, from Harold Lloyd's The Freshman (silent comedy genius from start to end) to George Clooney's Leatherheads, so I feel reasonably confident in saying that it's not the game itself that makes me not care for The 5th Quarter. It's that the movie is less a story than an ordered collection of things that happened, laid out in such a way that what writer/director Rick Bieber wants the audience to think and feel is never in even the slightest doubt. Many movies do that, but few do it so obviously as this, and that's before considering the extremely incongruous moments.

Full review at EFC.

Iron Cross

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2010 at the Stuart Street Playhouse (Boston Film Festival 2010 Closing Night)

Under normal circumstances, Iron Cross would probably go direct to video (or maybe cable) without anybody paying attention; it's a bad movie but not egregiously or hilariously so. This one, however, was not only involved in a bizarre series of events involving an awards screening series, a pulled review, and a lawsuit, but also happens to be the last movie that star Roy Scheider made. It's thus an object of curiosity to fans of a good actor and bad blood.

Retired New York cop Joseph (Roy Scheider) is flying to Nuremberg for the first time in decades to see his son Ronnie (Scott Cohen), an actor who lives and works there. It's his first time meeting his daughter-in-law Anna (Calita Rainford) and grandson. He's been away a long time, and barely by now speaks the language, even though he grew up German; as a teenager (Alexander Newton), he barely escaped being rounded up by the Nazis because he was sneaking out to see his gentile neighbor Kashka (Sarah Bolger). Now, he's certain that Ronnie's neighbor, an elderly man by the name of Shrager (Helmut Berger), is the man who killed his family - but as Ronnie points out, Joseph tends to think that every old German is a Nazi. Joseph is undeterred, and his snooping actually leads somewhere.

In addition to being the father of one of the stars, Joshua Newton writes, directs, produces, and edits the film, and it's difficult to think of any job that he does particularly well (producing, I guess - the film got made and doesn't look like any corners were obviously cut). In some ways, the writing is particularly frustrating; he starts from a solid starting point (wondering what his own Holocaust-survivor father would do if confronted with the men who murdered his family), and beyond that, there's a vein of potentially interesting material to mine from how Joseph's relationship with Ronnie parallels that with his own father. Unfortunately, he spends a lot more time concentrating on the mechanics of the plot (which are often ludicrous) than these relationships. Of course, he also writes terrible dialog, so seeing them try to connect might just make things worse.

Full review at EFC.


Anonymous said...

What jealous Jay omitted to mention in his blog that is certainly motivated by a cocktail of envy and anti-semitism is that the $20m (hardly low budget) "Iron Cross" won two awards at the Boston Film Festival and received huge applause from the audience that surrounded him. Joshua Newton was awarded the festival's Visionary Filmmaker Award, while his 18-year old son Alexander Newton won Best Young Actor.

Jason said...

I'd delete this, but I only do that with people trying to get free advertising, not just anonymous cowards implying I'm a bigot for not liking a crappy movie.

As to its performance at the BFF, well, I'll refer you to this previous entry about how the awards at that festival appear to be based more on attendance than merit. Sure, it got applause, but folks at festivals are often polite in general and this one in particular is often filled with people who really want to like the movie.

Seriously, why would I be envious of this thing? It's a bad movie that will only be remembered for the controversy it was involved in and and the other movies its star has appeared in. What in my review makes you think I'd want anything to do with it?

Anonymous said...

Oh so just because Jay didn't praise the film, he must be anti-Semitic or jealous??? Grow up! He's entitled to his considered opinion whether or not the film won an award of ANY kind. Accept that he just didn't like it!!!Awards are over-rated anyway...it's so political.