Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Independent Film Festival Boston 2013 Day 02: Tokyo Waka and Wasteland

Both of these films were in The Somerville Theatre's #4 screen, and if you're the sort who tends to take note of these things (or have just paid attention to recurring things on this blog), you know what even-numbered screens there mean - center aisles, no leg room, looking way up if you wind up near the front. During the festival, I'll tend to be one of the first ones in, grab an aisle seat, and then get climbed over right up until the movie starts. Part of it's my fault, but part of it's "why can't you people hit the concession stand and the restroom before taking your seat like I do?"

At least some of that, apparently, is going to be eased in the coming week as they've announced that they're installing new seating with more leg room in screens #2-5 as soon as the festival's done, which will bring tears of joy to regular customers' eyes. I suspect that probably means losing a row or two of seating, but that will likely only really hurt during festival week, but as someone who spent what seems like half ost of the past week in screen #4, I don't mind; I honestly can't imagine what folks larger than my 179cm (5'10") think.

Anyway, enough about the venue - movies!

Kristine Samuelson & John Haptas photo IMAG0350_zps4c5579d1.jpg

No, I don't imagine that the new arrangement will do anything about festival-week Horrible Photography. Hey, it could be worse; John Haptas has a weirdly-shaped head in the pictures taken on my camera rather than my phone. As you can see, he and Kristine Samuelson came to introduce and discuss their movie, although it's short and simple enough that there wasn't a great deal to discuss. They apparently spent some time traveling in southeast Asia, looking for a movie to make, eventually finding both a comfort level and a topic when they hit Tokyo and observed the crows.

One thing Haptas mentioned that I think we all know but tend not to give a lot of thought is that you can make up for not having much in the way of material resources with time. For him, that means sitting on top of a building next to a tree all afternoon if that's what it takes to watch a pair of crows build a nest out of stolen coat-hangers, while other filmmakers can edit until things are just right or render their CGI in great detail because they're not staring at a staked-out release date. Of course, there are other pressures that make time translate into expense, but I suspect they're less onerous than one might think for the truly independent.

One thing I do kind of wish I'd asked during the Q&A was how threatening they intended the crows in their movie to be. I don't know if it's a flaw that they kept finding ways to present them as worrisomely intelligent and adaptable, letting that stew, and then popping up a shot that wouldn't have felt out-of-place in The Birds without ever really paying that tension off - the tension was probably a non-universal and accidental side-effect - but I swear, I spent half of that movie expecting a really horrible attack as opposed to the relatively mild ones they found in their stock footage.

Tokyo Waka

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

It's not uncommon to watch a documentary and say that the scale is in-between the usual levels, neither comprehensive nor truly a broad introduction. Tokyo Waka at times seems to be around those extremes, covering an extremely specific topic but without a great deal of detail. It's often pretty and kind of interesting, and that may be all someone wants from a movie about Tokyo which focuses on its crows.

And Tokyo does have a lot of crows; a city official says that roughly six hundred crow attacks are reported each year, and attempts to reduce that number by capturing and humanely killing them often seem to have the result of making the next generation of these unusually clever birds even smarter. Cities provide them with a dynamic environment for nest-building and scavenging, and an architect suggests a couple of reasons why Tokyo may draw them more than usual: It's a very three-dimensionally-complex city with many nooks and crannies, and the average residential building has a mere thirty-year lifespan, meaning there are always a great deal of construction sites.

The engineer isn't the only person co-directors John Haptas & Kristine Samuelson talk to; there are students, zookeepers, artists, keepers of a Buddhist temple, street-food vendors and a young homeless woman living in the park. Some are experts, some are just people who have encountered crows in their lives, and others just appear to be people that the filmmakers met while living in Tokyo who may have an interesting story to tell. The interviews may not often be particularly revelatory but usually have at least one interesting nugget of information (for instance, I have a hard time imagining a tent city in an American park getting regular mail delivery).

Full review on eFilmCritic.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

What, exactly, is the difference between a crime movie and a caper movie? Scale? The intricacy of the plan? Do the characters being a notch more charming or less working-class change the classification? Or is this just a distinction that vanishingly few people care about? Rowan Athale's Wasteland, you see, is right on the border, centering on the one big score but still getting kind of dirty on the way.

There's a saying that prison gives petty crooks a chance to learn the skills to become career felons, and that may be the case with Harvey (Luke Treadaway), emerging after a year behind bars with a potential business opportunity in Amsterdam and a plan to raise the stake that involves robbing the man who set him up, local gangster Steven Roper (Neil Maskell). He brings in three friends - best mate Dempsey (Iwan Rheon), tradesman Charlie (Gerard Kearns), and hot-headed Dodd (Matthew Lewis) - but while he's learned a thing or two inside, most of them aren't even small time, and maybe not completely sold on packing up and leaving Leeds, let alone England, behind. It may not matter, since a well-bloodied Harvey is explaining everything to a CID detective-inspector (Timothy Spall).

Athale's story is firmly in film noir territory, though it lacks a classic femme fatale (Vanessa Kirby's Nicola is an ex-girlfriend who wants Harvey on the straight and narrow). It's a distinctively English one, though, with regional accents that it might take Americans a few minutes to get used to and a setting that still feels industrial even if industry has by and large been gone for a while. There are areas on Harvey's plans that are actually marked "wasteland" but the empty pubs and industrial spaces where the friends meet tell the story of the place as well as anything. It's not completely barren yet, but it might be on its way.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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