Sunday, May 08, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Night #3: Green, Submarine, and The Catechism Cataclysm

I had the uncharitable thought, toward the beginning of Green, of hoping that this was one of those movies where one of the people in the opening scene gets killed, not just for the reason of that meaning there would be less of them, but because it would at least give the rest something to complain about. And, hey, if one of them had actually murdered the other, then we've got a story.

Fortunately, Green, at least, makes itself into something fairly interesting quickly enough, but the other movies in the festival that gave me the same sort of first aggravated impression (Submarine and The Future) didn't have the the same ability to redeem themselves. It's an odd thing - as I've grown older and more aware of how fortunate I am, I've made attempts to not complain about minor things. I inevitably backslide, but my annoyance with movie characters who do so only accumulates.

Which makes a nice segue into my annoyance with the festival schedule this year, I guess. I love the folks at IFFBoston, but as soon as it came out, my first impression was "man, that's a lot of documentaries, specifically performer-related docs." I don't blame festival programmers for loading up on those - from a purely pragmatic point of view, they bring their own audience who might be convinced to stick around for the rest of the festival; from a personal perspective, folks who are drawn to the arts enough to run (and attend) a film festival are going to be drawn to films about artists and performers.

Still, that leads scheduling dilemmas like Friday night, when I look at the schedule for the 9-10pm slot, realize that while I may get to the Brattle in time to see The Troll Hunter, I likely wouldn't be able to get back to Somerville in time for The Catechism Cataclysm (even not knowing until later that Troll Hunter would start late). At that point, my thought process is basically "documentary about a musician I don't care about (Last Days Here), documentary about a musician I don't care about (Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story), documentary about a skateboarder I don't care about (Dragonslayer), so, Submarine it is, even if the program does compare it to Rushmore". Followed by "wait, I liked Rushmore; have Wes Anderson's crappy later movies really soured me retroactively on his earlier ones?"

Maybe I would have been better off going to The Troll Hunter anyway, but then I would have missed The Catechism Cataclysm, which isn't perfect by a long shot, but has its moments. And I have to admit, I found myself mentally marking it up a notch when director Todd Rohal mentioned that some of the stuff from the end was lifted pretty directly from Funky Forest: The First Contact, and I love me some Funky Forest.

And now, the terrible photography and reviews:

Sheil, Levine, Takal
Green's Kate Lyn Shiel, Lawrence Michael Levine, and Sophia Takal

Sophia Takal
Green's Sophia Takal. I've spent a lot of time in movie theaters as both a customer and an employee, and I don't think I'd even consider going barefoot in one. Although, granted, I don't like going barefoot for the ten feet between my bedroom and bathroom in the morning.

Todd Rohal
The Catechism Cataclysm's Todd Rohal


* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #2 (IFFBoston 2011)

Ignore the first scene of this movie; it sets a tone and a theme that winds up being a relatively minor part of what follows. The remaining hour or so turns into something much more interesting than the conversational one-upmanship that starts Green, and while uneven, it's at least an interesting and focused look at something that can be a cliché.

Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine) and Genevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil) have been together for four years before they rent a house in Virginia. The idea is that Sebastian will make an attempt at farming and blog about it, and since they are New Yorkers rather than people used to living off the land, hilarity will ensue. On their first morning in the rented house, they find Robin (Sophia Takal) passed out on the front lawn; the owner of the place keeps a spare set of keys there for her. After that, Robin's always around, which isn't so bad at first - she's friendly, and while not part of the sophisticated crowd from back home, Genny finds it nice to have someone to hang around with, what with all the time on her hands. At least, until one day at the swimming hole, when it seems like everyone's getting a little close.

Green takes a major turn there, and having come into the film cold, I'm a little loath to say exactly what the change is, although it is almost impossible to discuss the film's merits and faults without doing so. At first, the change in tone seems like a fatal flaw in the film; it's sudden, unmotivated, and irrational, and when it appears as an incidental occurrence in a movie, the filmmakers usually deserve every bit of ripping they get for it. Here, writer/director/editor Takal doesn't explain causes, basically just inviting us to look at the two halves of the film, compare them, and consider whether or not we engage in this sort of ridiculous destructive behavior.

Full review at EFC.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston 2011)

Watching Submarine, I wondered about director Richard Ayoade's youth, speculating that he'd spent his time in the cinema, watching French movies rather than hanging out with other kids. There's an argument to be made that one is better off that way, at least until trying to make a movie about a teenager and winding up with a bunch of characters who only barely seem human, even once the thick crust of quirk is pulled back.

The teen is Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts); he's a smart but self-aware boy who decides he wants Jordana (Yasmin Paige) to be his girlfriend and sets out to make it happen. Since she's just as off-kilter and self-designed as he is, it does, albeit in a formal, self-examined way. There are some things at home which distract Oliver from Jordana, though - his new neighbor Graham (Paddy Considine) is not just a flashy self-help guru but his mother Jill's ex-boyfriend. Oliver is terribly worried that Graham will steal Jill (Sally Hawkins) away from father Lloyd (Noah Taylor), a rather bland marine biologist, so he starts planning.

Oliver is one of those movie kids who not only gives everything he does a lot of thought, but gives those things the same sort of thought as an adult screenwriter. So of course he narrates the film, peppering it with little comments that are meant to sound adult and sophisticated in his head while revealing his actual immaturity to the audience. Unfortunately, the line between "precocious but misguided" and "annoying little snot" can be a fine one, especially when the adult characters aren't particularly nuanced, and Oliver winds up on the obnoxious side on a rather consistent basis. Part of his deal is spying on his parents, and bits about "routine searches" of their bedroom start out kind of funny in their matter-of-fact delivery, but eventually Ayoade can't get the right contrast, and a sequence involving Jordana's dog later in the movie is just utterly misguided.

Full review at EFC.

The Catechism Cataclysm

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (IFFBoston 2011)

There are two distinct types of strange at play in The Catechism Cataclysm - a weird character in a somewhat conventional situation and parts that are just plain bizarre. Some in the audience aren't going to be down for the whole package, but there's enough of each sort of oddity to satisfy most anyone willing to pick the movie up of a shelf.

Father William Smoortser (Steve Little) is a Catholic priest, but not a very good one. His parables are more like bad jokes than biblical illustrations, and he spends a lot of time on the diocese's computer watching YouTube videos. His superior (Wally Dalton) suggests he take a few days off to reassess his relationship with God, which he opts to do by going on a canoe trip with Robbie Shoemaker (Robert Longstreet), the brother of his high school girlfriend. Robbie's music inspired William as a teen, but he's been a little less successful as a musician than William imagined. Still, they head out on that trip, only to get lost with a pair of Japanese girls calling themselves "Tom Sawyer" (Miki Ann Maddox) and "Huckleberry Finn" (Koko Lanham) and their guide "Jim" (Rico).

Steve Little's Father William is a difficult character, to put it one way. There is, perhaps, an interesting drama to be made about this guy or someone like him - a socially stunted outcast who finds himself drawn to the Church's unconditional acceptance, but not really bright enough or good enough with people to do the job despite the utter sincerity of his belief in God and desire to help. Little actually does an impressive job acting the part; we're given little exposition, but Little makes it possible to infer the guy's whole story. Similarly, Longstreet builds his working class opposite number just as solidly; he's the film's straight man, but one whose confusion is real and tempered with curiosity.

Full review at EFC.


Alex said...

I was frustrated that I had to miss Troll Hunter too, it's too bad it was sort of pitted against The Catechism Cataclysm since you really couldn't see both given the lateness of films starting and the distance between the two theaters. Luckily I believe Troll Hunter is getting some sort of theater release.

I thought Submarine was ok, but unoriginal. And you're right, Oliver is way too annoying to really redeem himself. I dug The Catechism Cataclysm a lot though! I couldn't stay for the Q&A, did you?

And yes there seemed to be way too many docs this year.

Jason said...

Yep, Troll Hunter is scheduled to hit Kendall Square in June (the 24th, according to its website), and that was definitely a factor for me skipping it, along with some other movies (13 Assassins, for instance).

The Q&A for Catechism Cataclysm was fun, although I have to admit that it sort of blurred together with the one for Bellflower. It was one of the more enthusiastic of the festival, actually; the director seemed to have a lot of fun making it and had fun seeing an audience enjoying it.

Plus, he mentioned that stuff was lifted from Funky Forest, and I really dug that when I saw it at Fantasia a few years ago. I kind of wished I'd given a "woo!" or deep-voiced "Guitar Brother" when he mentioned it, but I'm apparently not that guy.

And I don't know about too many docs - I liked most of the ones I saw - but I'm really not sure why Last Days Here played twice and I had to choose between three movies I wanted to see on Sunday night. It's uncharitable, but I look at the sheer number of rock docs that play festivals, and I wonder how many times young guys having addiction problems and not handling their money well is supposed to be interesting just because they can play guitar.

msmariah said...

Nice blog. I definitely need to put Submarine on my list.