Tag: film festival

IFF BOSTON: Down Terrace (2009)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)

Combining elements of crime thrillers, dysfunctional family dramas, and satirical comedies, Down Terrace is a sharp look at the inner workings of a family engaged in criminal dealings, involving multiple Spaced alumni. When father Bill (Robert Hill) and son Karl (Robin Hill) get out of prison for an unspecified crime, Bill investigates the members of his inner circle for a potential informant, moving through various dangerous former allies.

Meanwhile, Karl soon learns his girlfriend Valda (Kerry Peacock) became pregnant shortly before he was arrested, and they plan to get married as soon as possible. His mother (Julia Deakin) and father have manipulated him into living with them and working for them since he was young, and they see Valda as a threat to their considerable influence on his life. The situation becomes more serious as many of their associates meet with violent deaths.

With a script that’s as brutal as it is funny, Down Terrace is a darkly enjoyable film with several stand-out performances. There is little focus on the specifics of the family’s business or significant crimes, instead shifting attention almost solely to the dynamics of this twisted family. The conversations are confrontational and often insulting, and generally hilarious. The writing is sharp and clever, but I think the story itself doesn’t quite ride the line between comedy and crime drama effectively. The film is pegged as primarily a comedy, but there are some truly serious moments to the plot, and they don’t always fit in seamlessly amongst the humor, or sometimes the humor will be out of place.

The cast is top-notch, with real-life father and son Robin and Robert Hill sporting a satisfyingly realistic chemistry through a series of telling arguments and calmer interactions. I was surprised by Julia Deakin, whom I knew only from her role as the slacker alcoholic Marsha in Spaced, as she turned in a performance both touching and terrifying as a caring mother with a sinister edge. Most of the action takes place in a small apartment, and Wheatley uses its claustrophobic interiors to full effect with a lot of close, cropped shots and tight blocking that serve to expose the discomfort of the close-knit family.

Down Terrace is at once hilarious, violent, dramatic, and unexpected, with a great cast and sharp writing. I liked it a lot, but I think the mix of comedy and drama isn’t always blended well.


Further Reading:
Down Terrace official site
Down Terrace Facebook page
Down Terrace wins the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature

IFF BOSTON: Machotaildrop (2009)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)

The Brattle Theatre graciously hosted Friday’s Midnight Movie, Machotaildrop: the strangest skateboarding comedy you’re likely to ever see. Co-writers and co-directors Corey Adams and Alex Craig weave a tale of jealousy, glory, XTREME sports, anachronistic outfits, circus performers, and gang fights into a highly surreal and funny film. Young wannabe skateboarder Walter Rhum (Anthony Amedori) sees his long-time dream realized when he is accepted as a member of the Machotaildrop team, a prestigious and influential sponsor that runs a restrictive boarding house/training camp for its athletes.

The Baron (James Faulkner), its founder, pushes Walter into stardom as the new face of the company, replacing his idol Blair Stanley (Rick McCrank). Blair’s wounded ego soon takes a back seat to a high-concept skate park the Baron envisions, involving an abandoned amusement park and staged fights with local skateboarding gang the Manwolfs, who aren’t ready to cede their territory to the corporate bigwigs. Meanwhile, the estate’s gymnastic librarian (Vanessa Guide) tries to show Walter the dark truth about Machotaildrop.

Machotaildrop is… very strange, but in an awesome way. On imdb it was compared to The Prisoner, and I definitely see the parallels. It’s filled with ambiguities and never apologizes for its own weirdness, thrusting the audience into this surreal world and holding nothing back. A lot of the humor is a product of this unquestioned silliness and unexpected shenanigans, as the setting is inundated with wacky costumes and odd props (fake noses, stuffed horses, tons of plasticine heads, etc). There are some really great locations that add an air of grandeur to the proceedings.

Most of the cast is wonderfully dedicated to the off-kilter atmosphere of the film, with James Faulkner, Rick McCrank, John Mackey, and Luk√°cs Bicskey all turning in hilarious and enthusiastic performances. I loved Mackey especially for his unique and pumped-up line delivery as he gives uplifting, often nonsensical speeches to his Manwolf clan. I think the weakest link here is Anthony Amedori, who really isn’t strong enough to carry the movie. He’s just not very convincing as an actor, and indeed this is his first (and so far only) starring role in a film, and his strength remains as a skateboarder. He seems unsure of how to play the character of Walter and makes him flat and a little boring. The sheer glee with which so many of his supporting cast members perform is noticeably absent, and it does take away from the film as a whole.

It’s got some hilarious characters, an enticing story, and enough weirdness to satisfy people like me, but Machotaildrop falls slightly short of its entertainment value due to a less-than-adept lead actor and a few meandering plot points. Regardless of these factors, with the addition of a good crowd and some Mrs Fields cookies, it made for a really fun midnight movie, so kudos to the IFF organizers!


It’s got a pretty good soundtrack, too!
Willow Tree“- Chad VanGaalen
Bye Bye Bye“- Plants and Animals (this is the song from the trailer)

Further Reading:
Machotaildrop official site (which is essentially just the trailer but maybe it’ll be updated later)
Machotaildrop Facebook page (more informative)

IFF BOSTON: I’m Dangerous With Love (2009)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)

Knowing very little about I’m Dangerous With Love before entering the screening may have been a bad idea. The film, directed by Michel Negroponte, deals with the effects of ibogaine, an illegal hallucinogenic which helps drug addicts overcome their addictions. As a rather squeamish person, I had some trouble watching parts of the movie, but I’ll do my best to separate my personal experience from my opinion of it as a movie.

Negroponte sets his camera on Dmitri, a former addict who now travels around North America performing personal ibogaine treatments for those in need. The drug causes users to become lost in a trance-like stupor, returning a few days later without their addictions. It is a taxing process, but less harrowing than conventional detox, and generally with long-term results. Negroponte follows Dmitri as he administers several ibogaine treatments, discusses his own experiences with drugs, and eventually travels to Gabon to meet with an indigenous tribe whose people use ibogaine in the religious practices of Bwiti.

The premise is certainly an intriguing one: an underground illegal drug dealer committed to helping others overcome serious addictions? Perfect fodder for a seemingly paradoxical character study. And Dmitri does indeed make for an interesting subject, with a charismatic air and admirable dedication to an unpredictable but humanitarian line of work. The ibogaine treatments are dangerous and Negroponte doesn’t hold back from showing us how serious the effects can be. For Dmitri they’re all risks worth taking.

I came into I’m Dangerous With Love thinking it would be more of a study about ibogaine itself- its effects, its history, its usage today- but really the film is completely about Dmitri’s personal experience with the drug and his extreme belief in it as a revelatory savior. I found this approach a little less interesting. While I liked learning about Dmitri’s history and outlook, he eventually became repetitive and exaggerated in his remarks, and I wanted to know more about the drug in other contexts.

The major failings of the film lie in its style and editing. Negroponte himself does the voiceover, and I’m sorry to say he really isn’t up to it. His voice just doesn’t fit the film at all, to the point of being distracting. There’s also an over-usage of slow-motion footage, text fading in and out, and ambiguously trippy imagery. Add the fact that about 75% of the shots are in extreme close-up, and you have a film that can be a little difficult to watch at times.

I’m Dangerous With Love has a great subject, but doesn’t explore it in the most interesting way, and its stylization is often overdone and unnecessary. It’s definitely informative, though, and I’m glad Negroponte chose to focus on something that so few people know about.


Further Reading:
I’m Dangerous With Love official site

IFF BOSTON: Winter’s Bone (2010)

This review is part of my coverage of Boston’s Independent Film Festival, 2010. (official site)

With a crowd so large the organizers had to move us into a larger theater, Winter’s Bone was set to be a huge success at IFF. Director Debra Granik adapts Daniel Woodrell’s titular novel into a stunning example of gritty neo-realism, with a story that focuses solely on Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence). She is 17 and completely responsible for her two younger siblings, mentally ill mother, and a collection of pets assembled in their small home in chilly rural Missouri.

Her drug-dealing father is missing with a pending court appearance, and if he doesn’t turn up in a few days Ree’s already-struggling family will lose their house as part of government payment. She takes it upon herself to dig up a range of vicious and unhelpful relatives, desperately hoping one of them has an idea of her father’s whereabouts. Her search sparks brutal confrontations and leads to few answers, but she manages to receive some assistance from her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), whose guilty conscience gets the better of him.

With a sharp eye for detail and fearless approach to storytelling, Granik has forged an interesting depiction of the Ozarks as well as an intelligent character study of an admirably determined girl. The visuals are bleak and intensely realistic, bluntly communicating the cold, sparse lifestyle of the area’s residents as well as the quiet power of their woodland surroundings. Most of the characters exhibit enough spark and severity to match this environment, with Ree relying on her remarkably tough skin to protect and provide for her still-innocent young siblings.

The story is gripping, gradually and subtly exposing the incredible darkness residing within the Dolly family. Most of the film consists of interactions between Ree and various family members, with explosive dialogue and several acts of shocking violence. Ree is a fascinating character, and I absolutely loved Jennifer Lawrence in the role. Her strength and resolve shine through effortlessly in a very compelling and very real performance- if you’re interested in “strong female lead” look no further than Ree Dolly, who is one of the toughest I’ve ever seen. The whole cast is quite exemplary, especially John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, but Lawrence pulls everything together.

Winter’s Bone is honestly just riveting, for its smart script, gritty locations, and exceptional lead female character. It is at times very intense, but not gratuitous. Once in a while the story drags slightly, and sometimes I didn’t pick up on the slang terms being used, but really there are very few drawbacks to it as a film. Go see it!


Further Reading:
Winter’s Bone Facebook Page
Wuzzon? recounts Debra Granik’s and John Hawkes’s Q&A (I caught some of it but had to leave for the next movie)