Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.04 (Saturday 28 April 2012): Time Zero, Knuckleball!, Think of Me, and Booster

I planned for this to be the crazy marathon day and maybe the fact that it wasn't that kind of gauntlet wound up being for the best - watching six films doesn't sound like a whole lot more "work" than four, but running from one theater to another means not eating real food, keeping one part of the brain running hot while the rest idles, with little exercise... It's surprisingly grinding.

But let's get started with the first opportunity for Horrible Photography:

IMAG0073, IFFBoston's Nancy Campbell and "Time Zero" director Grant Hamilton

I appreciate the bow tie. It's snazzy, and I do like it when filmmakers dress up a bit for their film to play a festival. I'm going to have to buy a new suit for my cousin's wedding this June because I left my only suit in a hotel room of the last wedding I went to (several summers ago), so it's not like I feel they should be worn often, but guys - you're doing something special and representing not just your own work, but that of your cast and crew - shave and look nice!

I must admit, though, that though I mostly liked Time Zero, a fairly prevalent theme in the first half hour or so rubbed me the wrong way. As much as I dig the way these cameras create "instant artifacts", the pity for the poor kids who won't grow up with shoeboxes full of Polaroids is just kind of annoyingly myopic - both in how horrible it is that the next generation won't have the exact same childhood we did any more than our exactly replicated our forebears' (where's the wailing over the loss of the daguerreotype? You had to sit for twenty minutes and there's silver in it, so it's even more precious than your pre-digital photographs!) and how laughable the notion that today's kids won't have the same level of access to memories because of it. To be honest, I suspect that they'll have rather the opposite problem - it's not like my brothers are taking baby pictures down from Facebook and Instagram as their daughters grow older!

Despite that, I did enjoy the movie. I do wish it had started on time - it was delayed about a half hour to accommodate a 1pm (rather than 12:30pm) showtime that somehow got spread, which meant that by the time it was done, there was no way I was getting to Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. Too bad, it might have been fun to do back-to-back reviews of movies about instant photography and highly time-consuming and involved photography.

IMAG0074, "Knuckleball!" directors Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, producer Christine Schomer, and sportswriter Tony Maserotti

There were a lot of other chances to double up on movies this year, though: Two Detroit docs, two photography docs, two Chinese activist docs, two with Lauren Ambrose (see below), quite a few musician docs... and two baseball documentaries. I liked both, although in some ways Knuckleball! had a more immediate connection, as I was at a game or two featured in the movie (feel free to page through "This Week In Tickets" posts to figure out which ones)... although we weren't really celebrating the knuckler as the quest for 200 wins dragged on.

I won't be doing a full review of this one right away, as it's got weird embargo rules - no reviews until its Boston opening, although the Q&A implied it would be going straight to DVD and the MLB Network, with maybe a special event screening or two this summer (likely with Tim Wakefield present). And embargo without an embargo date is just weird on top of the usual "since I was given a press pass to represent EFC, I can't post about it, but if I'd bought my own ticket and not known about the embargo, it would be fair game, even though I'd write the same 6-8 paragraphs" that goes hand-in-hand with festival-related embargoes.

That said, I kind of get why there's not a real major release planned - I'm not sure how this plays to an audience that's not full of Red Sox or Mets fans. Your team vs. ballplayers in general is the difference between there being all-out cheering during the baseball footage in the movie or just polite attention.

IMAG0076, "Think of Me" writer/director Bryan Wizemann

Think of Me - pretty good movie, nice director, with a fair amount of talk about which elements were autobiographical. I probably could have made it to the Brattle and back for 2 Days in New York with Julie Delpy doing a Q&A instead, but the Red Line was unpredictable this weekend, and, besides, that will be getting a release and I don't know about Think of Me.

IMAG0078, "Booster" director Matt Ruskin and stars Nico Stone & Adam DuPaul

Not pictured - Adam Roffman taking control of the Q&A so that the lady behind me didn't ruin it. Not that her being a really annoying disruption was entirely her fault - I heard her assuring the people sitting next to her that she wasn't high but had a neurological issue. My initial reaction was "suuuuuure!", but I think even people who aren't all there will generally notice that they're the only one not being cool and dial it back, but she had this overreaction to everything that really got uncomfortable after a while. Then, during the Q&A, she stood up and thanked the filmmakers for acknowledging that everything in Boston has to go through the Asian Mob first (what?). Pretty soon the Q&A became sort of rapid fire, as Adam was pointing to the next person immediately after each question was answered so there wouldn't be a space where people could insert themselves.

Kind of a shame that the session really couldn't be relaxed, because director Matt Ruskin and stars Nico Stone and Adam DuPaul were likable folks with great stories of shooting a movie in Boston with no money but a ton of passion, and there were a lot of local folks there.

It still went on long enough for me to miss Beyond the Black Rainbow at the Brattle, but that's okay - it's on the new calendar and I was dragging, and while I want to give it another look, it did have me drifting during the afternoon when I saw it at Fantasia; who knows how much I could have handled at 11:30pm!

Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Instant photography is pretty darn cool, both as concept and technology, and most of the core audience for Time Zero: The Last Year of Polaroid Film probably already feels that rather strongly. The rest of the people who might watch it also aren't likely to need a whole lot of convincing. It's a bit less than ideal, then, that director Grant Hamilton spends so much of the film on saying so, because there is much more interesting material to come.

As many of the photographers and enthusiasts interviewed for the film lament, younger people might not recognize that Polaroid was until recently not just a generic electronics & imaging brand, but one synonymous with self-developing film and the collapsible cameras that took those pictures. In February of 2008, they quietly let it be known that they would be ending production of their signature product, leading to initial despair and then an audacious plan to purchase a Polaroid facility in the Netherlands and produce new instant film within a year - a plan so unlikely that it was called "The Impossible Project".

The Impossible Project changed the nature of Time Zero; what started as a eulogy suddenly had the potential for an actual story with a triumphant conclusion of sorts. Without that, it seems likely that the length of a short would have been better-suited to this topic than that of a feature; the opening half hour that focuses on the upcoming end of an era already contains a fair amount of repetition and filler - as peculiar as the guy described as Polaroid inventor/founder Edwin Land's bodyguard is, including him really brings nothing to the movie.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

A lot of reviews of sports movies will start out with the writer saying something like "Knuckleball! isn't really about baseball", but let's be honest: Knuckleball! is about baseball. Following R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield and their peculiar pitch is about as baseball-specific as you can get, and while you can find a more general message (say, that it's possible to thrive even if you do things a different way), that's in part because we humans are built to search for that sort of relevance. There's still a lot of baseball.

And that's cool, because baseball is fantastic, and directors Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg shoot the game nicely, using the knuckler's unnatural sort of motion as both transition and punctuation. They've got a pair of genial main subjects in Wakefield and Dickey, along with access to plenty of other colorful characters filling out the fraternity of knuckleball pitchers.

I'll recommend Knuckleball! to people when I can post a real review, but it's made for a niche audience, no question. Baseball is in the foreground here, and players on northeastern teams in particular. You've got to be down for that, although those who are will find it pretty entertaining.

Think of Me

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Lauren Ambrose has been building a solid body of work since her teens, mostly as part of quality ensembles. Here she's got a lead role, and while it's not likely to be the one that makes her a household name - the movie's too small and the character's not an obvious heroine - it certainly doesn't bring her average down. And though she's in every scene, she's far from alone in delivering the goods here.

She plays Angela, a single mother in the less flashy part of Las Vegas whose call-center job just barely makes ends meet. Her daughter Sunny (Audrey Scott) is just about to turn eight and is falling behind the other students in her class with a possible reading disability. At work, she commiserates with Max (Dylan Baker), the guy in the next cube, and learns of an investment opportunity from her boss (David Conrad). It's not the kind that sets one up for life but it would give her a bit of a cushion. Of course, she's not the type for whom this sort of thing goes smoothly.

Yes, Angela is more than a bit of a screw-up, but she's a walking disaster as the movie begins rather than a crashing one, and not completely unsympathetic. We're not given much of a sense of what her circumstances were like when Sunny was born, but somehow she's managed to get this far without everything falling apart. Writer Bryan Wizemann presents her as someone who has made grudging, minimal concessions to being a responsible adult and parent - she knows she has to have a job, but also blows it off very easily when she doesn't feel like working. She's dressed like someone who can afford to be a lot more carefree and provocative, for that matter.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Booster doesn't do a whole lot; it could almost survive with its plot removed. It's the sort of independent film that comes across as authentic to those from its neighborhood and has a sharp enough read on its characters to work for those outside. Filmmaker Matt Ruskin doesn't have the resources for a lot of criminal activity, but observes well enough to make up for it.

Simon (Nico Stone) is a shoplifter who has honed his craft well; he can boost items large and small without getting caught, even if they've got an anti-theft tag on them, and while the operation is small - his friend Paul (Adam DuPaul) gives him a "shopping list" and moves the results - it works. To be fair, he is spotted lifting some perfume by a girl that works at the drug store, but Megan (Kristin Dougherty) winds up more interested in getting to know him than reporting him. The trouble is, Simon's brother Sean (Brian McGrail) tends to go for bigger game and has been pinched for armed robbery. He's looking at a long stretch unless Simon pulls a few jobs with the same M.O.

Though there are scenes of Simon casing shops and crime is a part of nearly every conversation, even in a nursing home, Booster is not a caper story with a lot of complex moving parts. Neither brother is pulling especially elaborate jobs, to the extent that Simon lining a bag with aluminum foil to fool anti-theft devices is about as tricky a plan as these guys go in for. There are occasional reminders that Simon had better get started robbing laundromats if he doesn't want his brother to go to jail, but they could almost be notes to the writer/director - didn't he sell this to us as a crime film?

Full review at EFC.

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