Monday, April 30, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.03 (Friday 27 April 2012): Burn and V/H/S

This Week in Tickets will be taking this week off for a double-shot next week. After all...


... those dates plus the two days at the Coolidge straddle a weekend on the calendar pretty evenly, so it makes sense to let them run together.

As to Friday specifically... In retrospect, this probably should have been the Detroit double feature I'd had as one of the options when sketching out my schedule, and maybe if I weren't attending on a press pass I'd have done that. But while I'm usually pretty good at keeping similar movies seen at festivals separate, I was concerned with Burn and Detropia bleeding together by the time I wrote about them. But, I'd heard nothing but good things about V/H/S from the Austin contingent of Twitter and the picture IFFBoston used for Detropia in the program and slides had a sort of forced eccentricity to it I didn't dig.

Speaking of photos...

IMAG0072, "Burn" directors Brenna Sanchez & Tom Putnam and executive producers Jim Serpico & Dennis Leary at IFFBoston 2012
Directors Brenna Sanchez & Tom Putnam; executive producers Jim Serpico & Dennis Leary.

Leary came out solo to do an introduction before the movie, but the first thing he did was go at the guy from in front of me "is that a motherf---ing tripod? Are you motherf---ing taping this you f---ing pirate motherf---er?" (paraphrased, with the number of cuss-words reduced). No way on Earth I was pulling out my camera to get a few quick snaps after that.

It was a pretty good Q&A; a lot of folks asked questions about the Detroit FD instead of the movie, but the filmmakers handled it all right. Some of the questions about the movie itself were actually fairly interesting - one connection I wouldn't necessarily have made was that Putnam, at least, had a background directing extreme sports events, which turns out to be a good training ground for directing this sort of documentary. Both involve riding herd over a bunch of cameras capturing the same event, getting them to stay out of each other's way while capturing everything, because there's no retakes for a burning building. Also, if there were actually film involved in capturing and projecting this, they would probably be saying it was still wet (we need a new idiom for the digital age), as the final cut was locked not long before they showed at Tribeca the week before. They won the audience award there, and Leary was campaigning to get two in two weeks.

So, I passed on Detropia and headed a few steps down the Red Line to the Brattle for V/H/S. Sadly, the most entertaining part of that was probably Ned Hinkle's introduction, because he still seemed to be shell-shocked from dealing with the audience for the other movie that played there that evening. It was kind of the perfect storm - locally shot flicks bring a more rambunctious audience to film festivals, and the audience for music docs tends to reflect the musicians' fans, so when playing a movie called All Ages: The Boston Hardcore Film... Well, I wasn't surprised to see it clearing out about an hour after when you might expect from the start time and length.

Or that the staff seemed kind of frazzled.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

It's sad to say but true - Detroit has been known for its fires for a long time, and the recent economic tumult which has hit the Motor City especially hard has not slowed that activity down in the least. Burn doesn't sugar-coat what a difficult task the city's firefighters are faced with, but does a fine job of not painting it as hopeless.

The statistics it presents at various points are staggering - though Detroit was a city of 1.8 million in 1950, that population has shrunk to 713,000. As a result, there were 80,000 abandoned buildings when Burn began filming in early 2011. As the number of fires has trended upward, the number of firefighters has stayed roughly the same. A staggering percentage of building fires are arson, because as one veteran puts it, a gallon of gasoline still costs less than a movie ticket. These and other numbers are spread throughout the movie rather than presented as a large chunk of data, but each still has its effect, making sure that the audience grasps the enormity of the situation. The film's subtitle - "One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit" - does not seem like hyperbole.

If this is a war, then directors Brenna Sanchez and Tom Putnam are embedded in Engine Company 50, located in the city's East End. The filmmakers do a good job of introducing the audience to the company as a whole to the extent that they can, although an 80-minute movie doesn't give them enough time to go in-depth with everybody. In fact, as it turns out, only one of the three men whom the film focuses on is stationed there. That's Dave Parnell, a Field Engine Operator with over thirty years of service planning to retire and travel with his wife. Brendan "Doog" Milewski used to work there, but was paralyzed on the job the previous year; we follow his rehabilitation and grappling with a life that has strayed far from his plans for it. Time is also devoted to Donald Austin, the newly-appointed Fire Commissioner who, while Detroit-born, is seen as a suit-wearing outsider from Los Angeles by the rank and file.

Full review at EFC.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston After Dark 2012, digital)

V/H/S is an anthology film with six segments (including the spine), each of which is the product of up-and-coming independent [horror] directors, and each of which makes an attempt to do something interesting with the "found footage" conceit. For a horror movie, it's pretty long, at almost two hours. There should be a lot to say about it, but I find that my thoughts keep getting boiled down to two words: "not scary".

That's not necessarily completely damning; it is on occasion many of the other fine things this sort of movie can be: Funny, gory, surprising, weird, and even exciting. After all, there is a fair amount of talent working on the movie, so it's not likely to be a bore all the way through. Still, what every good horror story has at its center is something genuinely unsettling, and none of the segments have much to offer besides a fairly well-worn story being told using a device that is by now well-worn and which actually obscures the good stuff.

Take Ti West's "Second Honeymoon"; West is pretty great at doing a slow burn with characters whom the audience can get behind, and having Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal in front of the camera is a great boon for that sort of picture. They're tremendously undercut by the format, though - the found-footage conceit means that things stop recording just as it's getting exciting, and that climactic moment is blurry and hard to follow. It's a lot of build-up for nothing. "Tuesday the 17th" by Glenn McQuaid is similar; it's got an amiable cast In Jason Yachanin, Normal Carroll, Jeannie Yoder, and Drew Moerlein, but even though McQuaid does his damnedest to put a distinct spin on the monster in the woods, it's so familiar that most will just acknowledge the quality of its gore effects without being much shaken by them.

Full review at EFC.

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