Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.05: Nothing Is Truer Than Truth, We The Animals, The Third Murder, and Beast

It would have been a pretty easy day to just plop down at one venue, arriving at the Brattle by 1pm and getting back on the Red Line at ten-thirty or so, but I'm not going to lie: I had no interest in seeing the third movie about the Grey Gardens sisters. Haven't seen that, haven't seen the one made from its deleted footage, not going to see this one built out of a documentary that never came together but inspired the later one. I will own that gap in my canonical film knowledge.

So what did I catch?

Well, Nothing Is Truer than Truth, which had a bunch of . Left to right, we have Shakespeare/Oxford Theory expert Alex McNeil, editor Zimo "Mike" Huang (I think I heard them call him Mike), post-production supervisor Brianna Costa (please correct; my notes stink), producer Vicki Oleskey, director Cheryl Eagan-Donovan, and Erin Trahan, leading the Q&A.

Not exactly the movie I was expecting; not knowing much about alternative-authorship theories where Shakespeare is concerned, I somehow read the synopsis and thought it would be something that was a little bit more background on the conventional than "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare". Overall, a pretty likable group, but like the science doc the previous day, it was a crowd of people who were already pretty familiar with the material, so it was a very friendly Q&A.

The rest of the day was stuff that had distribution and no guests, so it was show up, watch, move on. It was fun to connect with a bunch of folks I don't see very often at The Third Murder, although kind of ironic, given what I wound up writing about it - it's a decent movie that will get a bit of a release because Hirokazu Kore-eda has become a sort of a brand name in the art-house world, so it shows up here despite the Japanese movie industry's utter indifference in exporting anything. These friends are Kore-eda fans and have been for some time, so that's the film in the festival that they make for while sort of shrugging shoulders as I talk about how Yoshihiro Nakamura films only showing up at genre festivals if the folks attending are lucky.

Ah, well. Hopefully my choice to see Beast rather than Hot Summer Nights won't backfire on me, since the first had a quick release and the second may or may not come and go while I'm at Fantasia, especially since that's the one I really wanted to see more (although Jessie Buckley is pretty great in Beast).

Nothing Is Truer than Truth

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Filmmaker Cheryl Eagan-Donovan presents an interesting argument for Edward de Vere as the true author of the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare in Nothing Is Truer than Truth, enough that the viewer cannot necessarily dismiss it completely out of hand. The trouble is, an interesting case is not enough, especially on this subject: When the simplest explanation is as plain as "the plays of William Shakespeare were written by William Shakespeare", the case against must be compelling or overwhelming, and that is not the case here.

De Vere is an intriguing subject even without that hypothesis. The 17th Earl of Oxford - that he was the true author of the works is thus called "The Oxfordian Theory" - he grew up an only child, was a popular courtier, and traveled extensively in Europe, spending a particular amount of time in Venice. He had a good literary reputation but a tumultuous personal life, even beyond being a gambler and a spendthrift who would fritter away his entire inheritance.

His European travels are the primary evidence offered as to his authorship; not only were many of Shakespeare's plays set in Venice and the other principalities through which de Vere traveled, but Eagan-Donovan notes that there was someone very much akin to Shylock of The Merchant of Venice in said city at the time, as well as spotting architectural details that would seem more likely to show up in the work of someone who had seen them first-hand than someone who had not. It's fun historical tourism and good background whether you're able to buy into the Oxfordian Theory or not. The interviews supporting it are decent, if rough - Mark Rylance kind of looks like the ambushed him on the way to pick up his paycheck at the theater, while Derek Jacobi is charming and, if not convincing, seemingly convinced. Many of the less-famous people are harder reads, not quite having the gravitas to elevate the material above being a fringe theory - especially toward the end, when they are parsing epitaphs on gravestones for clues as to who is really buried in which tomb, sounding like very erudite conspiracy nuts.

Full review on EFC

We the Animals

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Though coming-of-age stories often seek to tap into some sort of universal sort of experience, the best ones are often the most specific, and We the Animals is very specific indeed. It's an intriguing, well-observed story of growing up different in just about every way, heightening how very alone a kid can find himself feeling.

It's easy for a Puerto Rican family to feel a little isolated in Utica, New York; their small house is on the outskirts, and as summer vacation is starting, they aren't mixing much with their non-Latino neighbors. Inside that little house, Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah (Evan Rosado) share a bed, though Joel will often retreat underneath when the other two are asleep, drawing constantly even though he doesn't have blank paper to work with. Joel's the baby, with his mother (Sheila Vand) telling him not to grow up. It's a common refrain, but Manny and Joel are becoming more like their father (Raúl Castillo) every day, and as Ma's "dentist emergency" after upsetting Paps on a family outing to a nearby swimming hole suggests, that's not always a positive.

The filmmakers spend just enough of the movie showing the brothers as a single unit to get the audience to think of them that way for a bit; Jonah may be the source of the narration and have his own hobby separate from the others, but the three always in such close proximity, often shirtless in the heat so that logos or designs don't become things a viewer can hook character on. This doesn't last all that long, but it does give one a sense of Jonah beginning to break away, and how attitudes can be passed on through osmosis: Jonah seldom articulates his differences, and Paps never instructs Manny and Joel. Director Jeremiah Zagar and co-writer Daniel Kitrosser this sort of machismo as an illness that seems to jump from father to son, with Jonah's mother trying to inculate him with the imperfect means at her disposal, hoping he's got a tolerance.

Full review on EFC

Sandome no satsujin (The Third Murder)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It's kind of amusing that this sort of movie - a crime thriller that's more complicated than the plot of an hour-long TV show, but not necessarily by that much - is often treated as less impressive or difficult than the less plot-driven movies that filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda usually makes, because he stumbles here. This doesn't mean that the emperor has no clothes and genre work actually more difficult than closely-observed, subtle family drama, just that it's a different skill set, and a guy who is good at the sort of movies that regularly impress critics is not necessarily going to elevate other material when he gives it a try.

The case seems open and shut enough: Suspect Misumi (Koji Yakusho) has confessed to the murder and burning the body. The trouble is, the details of his story keep changing, and former judge Daisuke Settsu (Kotaro Yoshida), who had signed up to handle the plea agreement when it looked simple, wants his partner Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) to take a closer look. As he does, Shigemori starts to realize that the crime has connections to a case his father (Isao Hashizume) tried as a judge in Hokkaido decades ago.

There are more details, of course, with the victim not being particularly much missed and something suspicious about his wife and daughter. It's not that intricate, though, especially to seasoned mystery fans. Kore-eda often seems to fall behind his relatively simple mystery plot, having Shigemori and his assistants spend time pondering and staring right past things the audience sees relatively clearly. The effect is oftne to draw out a story that is never that complicated so that it feels large enough to be presented with an ambiguity that isn't anything that his audience hasn't seen before.

Full review on EFC


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Beast is the sort of movie that figures it can let a serial killer running loose in the community sort of simmer in the background, confident that the psychological drama it's got running up front is more interesting. That's true enough for a while, as the audience gets to know its young woman with an overbearing family and her own dark side, but eventually it's got to start pulling things together, and it's all too clear that neither the crime wave nor boyfriend Pascal is nearly as interesting as Moll is.

That would be Moll Henderson (Jessie Buckley), a nice-enough young woman who helps look after her ailing father between shifts as a tour-bus guide, but who nevertheless walks out of her own birthday party to go dancing. You can't really blame her; it is the sort of party that her domineering mother Hilary (Geraldine James) throws as a social event and that favored sister Polly (Shannon Tarbet) kind of hijacks with her own announcement anyway. Moll meets one guy in the club but likes him less by the time the sun comes up and he's starting to get insistent, but their paths fortunately cross with Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn), out poaching and not averse to using his rifle to scare a guy off. Pascal seems nice enough too, if a bit rougher on the edges, but the cop (Trystan Gravelle) investigating the rape and murder of a number of teenage girls has a thing for Moll, and maybe that's why he's looking at Pascal's criminal record and whereabouts the night of that party (when another girl disappeared) fairly closely.

One may initially read Moll as a teenager, and I wonder if that's deliberate on the part of writer/director Michael Pearce. That first impression of her as limited or immature may have holes punched in it early, but first impressions can be hard to shake, so that even later on, as the audience realizes that there is likely more to Moll than first let on, what she's actually capable of can still surprise a bit, even if Pearce has been giving the audience a window into her darker thoughts and the occasional sharp, defiant line. Moll matures by following through on impulsiveness.

Full review on EFC

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