Sunday, May 15, 2016

Post-festival guests: 3rd Street Blackout and Love & Friendship

Ugh - just no time to write, so not only is this "post-festival" post going up before any of three festivals I've attended this year are getting completed write-ups, but the idea was to write about 3rd Street Breakup while it was still at the Somerville Theatre. Failure. Looking at the last year-plus, it might be time to just abandon trying to get everything down, maybe use Letterboxd more or something.

Jeremy Greenleaf & Negin Farsad of 3RD STREET BLACKOUT

One part horrible photography, one part Jeremy Greenleaf should have been warned that wearing a cap in those rooms makes it almost impossible to see your face. I am now idly wondering if the festival or theater has a list of these sort of things that they advise guests.

Very funny folks, as you might expect given that it's literally their job. Negin Farsad especially has a very quick wit, and that this is her first feature after a couple of documentaries makes her a bit more interesting as a filmmaker. She mentioned that she did wind up in the middle of romantic shenanigans during the post-Sandy blackout, although not exactly this sort.

She also mentioned that they were in Green Room upstairs during the movie and that it was really intense. I've got to catch that sometime.

Whit Stillman hosting LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

Just a couple days later, it was time for another Q&A, with IFFBoston hosting Whit Stillman and Love & Friendship just a few days after concluding their main event for the year. Someone saw me writing before the film and asked if I was a fan, and I said that it was tough to really be that - his early run was when I was just starting to be able to see independent film regularly, and then he had a long period of not getting stuff off the ground before Damsels in Distress, and then it's been another seven years. I've liked all of his stuff that I've seen (unfortunately, Amazon isn't streaming the Cosmopolitans pilot, with the weird reason that their agreement with the content provider doesn't allow it, despite that being them), though.

As always, he's a lot of fun to see discuss his movie; he's both very detailed and irreverent (and he doesn't mind saying "uh, no" when someone advances their own theories. His best story, in this case, was that while editing, they kind of fell in love with a temp track, but it had been used in Barry Lyndon, so they went with another classical piece, only to find out it was the music that was used in A Clockwork Orange. Stillman, it turns out, isn't much of a Kubrick fan beyond Lyndon, and so didn't realize.

He also mentioned that they had Stephen Fry for just one day, and while that was a huge deal - getting him legitimized the project in many ways, and he's generally terrific - but it does explain why it felt like they could have done more with him; for all that Susan and Alicia complain that he's horrible, Fry doesn't really get a chance to play it that big.

3rd Street Blackout

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

I don't think 3rd Street Blackout made it to theaters (well, a few theaters) before anything with a more somber take on Hurricane Sandy, but this goofy little thing coming along at about the same time is sort of appropriate - while it was a mess that caused a lot of upheaval, it's also something where people just went about their business as best they could afterward, and that business was occasionally shenanigans, and amusing ones at that.

In this case, Mina Shamkhali (Negin Farsad) has barely arrived home at the apartment she shares with boyfriend Rudy Higgins (Jeremy Redleaf) from giving a TED Talk when the power goes out in Manhattan, and as highly-connected twenty-first century people, that's thrown them a little more than maybe it would have their parents. The party they have to finish off their perishable food on the second night of the blackout has an unexpected guest - Nathan Blonket (Ed Weeks), a venture capitalist who offered Mina a lot more than research funding, driving Rudy to bail for Brooklyn with his hacker friends Ari (Jordan Carlos) and Christina (Katie Hartman).

3rd Street Blackout may not be the nerdiest movie you'll ever see, but it's authentically so, full of people who are often awkward and bizarre but well-meaning rather than typical romantic leads with some atypical references sprinkled into the dialogue. It's the modern-day form of nerdery that's loud and confident, full of trash-talk and often joyfully vulgar because the folks involved don't have to worry about how they look outside their tribe.

Full review on EFC.

Love & Friendship

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 May 2016 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (IFFBoston Presents, DCP)

Period comedies are relatively rare productions, which means that since first gaining attention in things like Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, Cold Comfort Farm, and a television adaptation of Emma, Kate Beckinsale has spent much of the rest of her career doing things that she was less suited for, even if they were occasionally lucrative. It's easy to forget just how good she is at stuff like this, and reuniting her with The Last Days of Disco filmmaker Whit Stillman is close to an ideal way for her to get back to this sort of material.

She plays Lady Susan Vernon, a widow at around the turn of the 19th Century with no property, little income, and a bad reputation that has chased her from the home of Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin). Staying in London with her best friend Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) is not an option, as her husband (Stephen Fry) has threatened to move to Connecticut to oversee their holdings there should she and Susan have any contact. So she settles on the home of her late husband's brother, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), though his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell) is wary. As well she should be; Susan sets her sights on Catherine's brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), while also trying to set up her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) with the very wealthy - but deeply stupid - Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).

It's easy to think of this sort of story as somewhat generic, especially from a distance; their plots do not necessarily reflect larger changes going on in the world, and the rules governing this sort of upper-class society are rigid enough that there's not much visible room for subversion. That can also be wonderfully focusing - it forces the creators to align all the moving parts and pepper each available moment with clever lines. This, happily, is something that Stillman has always excelled at, both giving his characters clever things to say as a writer and making sure that they are delivered without calling attention to how witty they are but giving the audience a chance to react. He does have a few moments when the story trips him up a bit, especially toward the end, when fairly important things happen off-screen. It may be related to the source material - Jane Austen's original novella "Lady Susan" was not only in the form of letters which could set a scene in the first paragraphs, but was apparently not considered strong enough to be published in her lifetime - but he's frequently had movies key on abrupt shifts.

Full review on EFC.

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