Saturday, August 17, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.02: Them That Follow & The Death of Dick Long

So very late. Mostly because I've been busy with fun things, sure, and because I was trying to catch up with the previous festival, but also because the plan of doing quick write-ups on Letterboxd while waiting in line apparently didn't happen with these two, which just had star ratings. You'd think I'd have had time on the T ride I had to take after each one, but maybe the app was buggy. So this gets posted the day after Them That Follow closes in/around Boston.

A shame, because I liked the movie, and it was fun having one of the two directors (Daniel Savage, on the left) there for interrogation. One of the main topics of discussion was, of course, the cast; IIRC, Alice Elgort, probably the least-known of the main cast, was actually who they started with and built around, which surprised me a bit.

One thing that kind of amused me and once again reminded me that it's good for us to get out of our silos sometimes is the number of people who only recognized Olivia Colman in that cast and came for her. Blew my mind, it did, because these people clearly need to watch Justified to get good and familiar with Walton Goggins, who was admittedly the reason I came. Start with Season 2, which also features co-star Kaitlyn Dever and Margo Martindale, if you must. It also seems like more likely to pull people into this sort of movie than The Crown, but, again, silos.

Speaking of Dever, she's amassed an awfully impressive "holy cow, that's the same person?" career growing up, between Justified, Short Term 10, Them That Follow, and Booksmart. I've loved all of those and I think I maybe recognized her as being the same person in Justified and Them That Follow because the context was a bit closer. She's great and hopefully will soon be written off that Tim Allen thing as being away at college so that she can do more good stuff.

Two stops down, BUFF & IFFBoston teamed for The Death of Dick Long, which I think was the first movie to surprise me by having a studio logo in front of it at the festival. I generally try and choose what I see at festivals by what seems least likely to show up on the same screens again later, and this seems like a prime candidate for that, but apparently A24 is putting it out in September. I wonder if that's the inevitable future of second-tier festivals like IFFBoston - Amazon/Netflix/A24 are slurping up so much at Sundance and SXSW that these festivals become preview screenings with guests and local showcases. Which are both good things to have, and it's probably better that things get bought quickly rather than linger in uncertainty.

Anyway, here's writer Billy Chew, director Daniel Scheinert, and critic Jason Gorber, who wanted to lead the Q&A as a fan of the film. There was a lot of talk about The Thing That Happens but I don't recall it being much more than an attempt to push the envelope. Scheinert also assured us that "Daniels" wasn't broken up, but just doing separate projects.

Next up.... Probably day #5, as two movies from that have opened recently.

Them That Follow

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Movies like Them That Follow often have a hard time finding the right balance of respect and alarm in regard to the fringes of society where their characters exist, and in this case filmmakers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage maybe veer too far toward the respectful. They've got too fine a cast to not make a good movie, but the naturally soapy elements get a bit blunted by not wanting to be insensitive and exploitative where its snake-handling community is concerned.

Lemuel (Walton Goggins) is the preacher for that community, seemingly sincere in his beliefs but also experienced enough with how the outside world reacts to them to lay low. He's got a daughter, Mara (Alice Englert), who has been expected to marry his deacon Garret (Lewis Pullman) for some time, though she's really got eyes for Augie (Thomas Mann); his parents Hope (Olivia Colman) and Zeke (Jim Gaffigan) are part of Lemuel's flock, but he doesn't attend. It's a situation that is only likely to become more tense as Lemuel takes in Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever), an impressionable young teen whose parents have abandoned her; a parishioner is bitten during services; and Mara misses a period.

There's not a whole lot of clutter to this film, which is likely part of the point. Though law enforcement is mentioned and some shuffling goes on to avoid Lemuel being charged with any injuries or deaths that occur at his services, they're not seen directly very often; Dilly's junkie mother is most noted for her absence and the mess she leaves behind. Maybe it's just summer, but there's no sign that Dilly is attending school, and though Augie clearly has things going on outside of this community, that side is similarly seldom glimpsed. It's an arrangement that can often diminish how cult-like this group seems, which should lead to a bigger impact when the more extreme facets of their faith become important, but more often just makes it feel like this story could take place in any community built around faith. The broad strokes apply to so many cases that this one could use being more specific at times.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Death of Dick Long

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Just enough time passed between my seeing The Death of Dick Long and getting around to fleshing my notes out into a full review that it took me a while moment to remember exactly what about it made it stand out among "dumb person crime" movies, and I'm not entirely sure whether that speaks well of it or not. One the one hand, it's an entertaining dark comedy even without the twist, but on the other, I've got to wonder what it says that the filmmakers couldn't get that image lodged in my brain. Of course, maybe it says something about me.

It opens with Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbot Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), and Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert) wrapping up a garage session - their band Pink Freud doesn't play many gigs, but that's not exactly the point of getting together to jam - before one says "let's get weird" and they proceed to get messed up on something stronger than beer. We don't see how the night ends, but the next morning begins with Dick dead, Earl ready to cut and run, and Zeke having no idea how to get all the blood out of his car's back seat before driving daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham) to school. It gets worse - Cynthia's teacher (Jess Weixler) is Dick's wife, and the body that is soon brought to the attention of Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) is in rather alarming condition.

A big part of what makes this sort of movie fun - and makes the good ones work - is how they split naturally in two, with one half of the film covering how a couple of guys who aren't that bright and aren't exactly criminals by nature try to dig their way out of the mess they find themselves in while the other covers how the small-town cops try to reluctantly dig their way into it, and how a film handles that second part can make or break it - if this is dull in comparison to the hijinks, or makes the very idea of right and wrong look too foolish, or too fully turns the audience against the hapless guys they're chasing, it can be a real mess. That Janelle Cochrane and especially Sarah Baker are so good as the local constabulary thus becomes one of the best parts of the film. It's easy to map Cochrane's Sheriff Spenser as the equivalent of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo, although she's a little less casually good at her job and a little more jaded at her own position even if what's happened to this difficult-to-identify body still has her rattled. As much as she often seems like the only reasonable adult in this town, there's a bit of a weight to how people don't respect the authority of women in their fifties even if they radiate experience. She's also quite wary of "Duds" Dudley's enthusiasm, and it's understandable, but Dudley and Baker's take on her are a great complement - she's enthusiastic but not exactly a natural crime-solver, and the way she's often a half-step behind Spenser but also less intimidated by what they're getting into makes her a fun comedic foil. It also makes her very sympathetic; the viewer occasionally laughs at her but also identifies with how she's learning, and how in some ways she's not far off from the dopey guys in the other half even if her trajectory is different.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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