Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Independent Film Festival Boston 2013 Day 06: Some Girl(s) and Willow Creek

15 days behind, for those keeping track.

It took me a bit of time to get to the theater on Monday, for reasons I don't quite remember. The festival folks announced fairly early on that Willow Creek would be moving to the Somerville Theatre's main auditorium to accommodate the demand, but something odd was going on with the line for the 7pm-hour shows too. I was sort of up in the air on which one to see then anyway - I made Blackfish and Touchy Feely lower priorities because they already had distribution, and then sort of found myself choosing between Some Girl(s) and The Beautiful Game pretty much on-the-spot, figuring the one that started earlier would be less likely to bump up against the Willow Creek at 9:30. They also did the lines a bit differently than usual, and I think were letting things in in an unusual order.

So, of course, Some Girl(s) started late and had a Q&A I hadn't been expecting afterward:

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It was executive producer Nick Horbaczewski, and producer Q&As are kind of weird. They're seldom the people you really want to talk to; and even though there are often a number of things where they may have better knowledge of the process - casting, locations - it always feels like you're getting second-hand information even when they answer a question on their area of expertise. Still, he did seem to be the right guy to talk about how they were able to get a lot of name actors for a tiny production because of how much they wanted to be in a movie based on one of Neil LaBute's plays.

I was getting a bit antsy by the end; I didn't particularly like the movie but the auditorium was full of theater people who knew a great deal about the play or had acted in it and were thus full of specific questions and observations. Apparently the sequence with Zoe Kazan's character is often cut when it's performed; partly for length and partly for ick. Other fun trivia was that LaBute was involved but hands-off; apparently director Daisy von Scherler cut a lot out of the text because it's a long play, but the only thing LaBute asked to be re-instated was one character saying "yes." No, I don't know where. There was also a fair amount of discussion about music, which sort of left me in "yeah, whatever, if you say so" territory. I don't know a lot about music.

And then I was able to get out and duck into screen #1 which was already seating for Willow Creek. It meant I was sitting up front by necessity as much as choice, but that was good for getting pictures.

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Bobcat Goldthwait is kind of awesome, and he seems to be pretty fond of this festival, giving Boston the World Premiere even though he probably could have done Tribeca if he wanted to. It's his third time here, after World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America, and he mentioned being really pleased with how supportive IFFBoston is to people who work outside the system. And despite being a fairly recognizable name, that's what Godthwait is - he's made a movie with a crew he found on Craigslist, and this one flew so far under the radar that it didn't have an IMDB entry until just a week or so before the festival.

And you can't say he's not committed; his introduction to the movie was kind of odd; he had apparently had spinal surgery the previous Friday and was still taking some painkillers ("Is the mike cutting in and out, or is that me?").

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After the film, he brought up stars Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson, who were pretty much the entire cast aside from the real-life locals. Both had worked with Goldthwait before, and that familiarity is probably huge for a project like this, which is mostly improvised and shot way out in the middle of the woods, where you might not have to deal with Bigfoot, but there's bears, mountain lions, the other sort of bobcat, and "river people".

As anyone who's seen the film will probably imagine, they spent a fair amount of time talking about the big centerpiece scene, which rather than being an elaborate set-piece was one 19-minute take of Gilmore & Johnson inside a tent as strange noises, shadows, and pokes at the fabric go on in the background. He said they shot it three times, using the second (the other two might make killer DVD extras, IMHO), while he was actually outside, running around the tent and making noises for his cast to react to. I'm trying to remember if I've ever heard of another movie being filmed that way, with the director just trusting letting the cast run for what's an important scene not just in terms of being scary but in terms of character. He had pretty tremendous praise for his cast in that scene, and I can't say I blame him; that thing is really impressive.

(Here's a video of at least some of the Q&A)

Bobcat stuck around for the closing night screening on Tuesday, which was pretty cool, as it's always fun to see a festival's guests enjoying the event rather than just treating it as promotion. The guys right behind me were talking about having a bad movie night with the Bobcat Goldthwait Collection, and I wanted to turn around and say "dude, he's right over there and can probably hear you!". He makes weird and oftentimes-uncomfortable movies, but I've certainly liked what I've seen from him.

Some Girl(s)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston, digital)

Based upon Daisy von Scherler Mayer's film version, Some Girl(s) is a play with a rather tortured premise, and I suspect that actors who like a challenge are drawn to it for that. Sure, Neil LaBute gives them all the words they could want, but it's ultimately on them to make it work. It's a fairly daunting challenge, and one that may work better on stage than screen.

The premise involves a writer (Adam Brody) who is about to get married flying across the country to visit a number of old girlfriends before the big day. They include high-school sweetheart Sam (Jennifer Morrison), no-strings-attached lover Tyler (Mia Maestro), one-time teacher Lindsay (Emily Watson), best friend's kid sister Reggie (Zoe Kazan), and Bobbi (Kristen Bell), who may be the one who got away. He means to make some apologies, but these things may be better off not revisited.

This is an obviously stupid idea. Well, in real life it is; for a play, it's a potentially nifty device to set up five of the sort of extended one-on-one scenes that are what that medium does best. The trouble is, once the meeting with Sam is an awkward disaster, most reasonably intelligent people would recognize it was a bad idea and give up on it; doing the same thing five times without offering any sort of explanation until the end is the sort of thing that can try an audience's patience if the individual scenes aren't riveting enough to overpower the basically silly premise. And while the explanation that does come has been foreshadowed, it's the kind of thing that feels more like a writerly quirk than something particularly telling.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Willow Creek

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2013 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston After Dark, digital)

Ever since The Blair Witch Project kickstarted the boom in found-footage horror a decade and a half ago, there's been a tendency to make the form ever more elaborate, until the likes of Cloverfield and Trollhunter are basically special effects blockbusters in disguise. Every once in a while, though, someone strips the form back down to its roots, and Bobcat Goldthwait does a damn good job of it with Willow Creek.

Willow Creek, as those who know their cryptozoology will tell you, is the town closest to Bluff Creek, where the famed Patterson-Gimlin film of Bigfoot was shot in 1967. Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a firm believer that there are Sasquatches in the woods; his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) is not. She's a good sport, though, so when Jim wants to spend a weekend camping in those woods, the city girl goes along, helping him shoot video of both the town and the wilderness.

Goldthwait appears to be a genuine Bigfoot enthusiast, which may explain why the people of Willow Creek (where Bigfoot is a cottage industry much like UFOs are in Roswell, New Mexico) were generally willing to play along, with Gilmore and Johnson the only actors playing roles as Kelly and Jim wander around town, meeting up with local "experts" and eccentrics. It gets the audience that doesn't know anything about the legend up to speed in a manner that is respectful and irreverent - the believers are given their due, with Kelly's willingness to crack a joke a fun complement to Jim's unbridled enthusiasm.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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