Wednesday's closing night film Micmacs (replacing James Franco's Saturday Night at the absolute last minute for "legal reasons" that are still unclear), the 8th Independent Film Festival of Boston drew to a close in a packed Coolidge Theater. This year featured more than 100 films, of which I managed to view 8 between my two volunteer ushering shifts and my 25th birthday (!!). The festival itself was an incredible amount of fun, and volunteering allowed me to appreciate even more the amount of work that the 6 founding members of IFFB put in every year to make a mammoth undertaking like this possible. Feel free to check out their website or follow them on Twitter/Facebook to make a donation and to stay informed about their regular film screenings during the year. A 100% volunteer run non-profit, they really are in it for the love of movies. Here are my quick reviews of the last four films I saw at the festival.
The Freebie - Katie Aselton
Stemming from the naive premise that a one-night stand could serve to strengthen a struggling relationship, Katie Aselton directs and stars-in this journey into the emotional, tenuous core of relationships. What could have easily have been another mumblecore, unscripted, cliche snooze-fest, actually goes some interesting places and deftly dances around convention. I was especially impressed with the editing here, with scenes of linear plot development are sandwiched between scenes of the couple in bed, snuggling and joking about the terms of the one-night stand. As the plot careens into darker territory, the contrasting scenes of the loving couple in their marital bed serve to reinforce what a foolhardy decision it was. Aselton also brilliantly uses ambiguity as a tool to build dramatic tension and to share the characters apprehension and shame with the audience.
The Elephant in the Living Room - Mike Webber
The Elephant in the Living Room investigates the rampant and inexplicably LEGAL practice of keeping exotic animals as pets. By exotic I don't mean iguanas and parrots, I mean lions/tigers/bears/OMG. Webber splices newsreel footage of exotic pet escapes/attacks while documenting the day-to-day of Tim Harrison, police officer in Oakwood, Ohio who once raised wild tigers and now spends most of his days tracking and capturing escaped exotic pets. He recounts stories of 20-foot pythons and coming face-to-face with mountain lions, taking the director into the seedy underground of animal auctions and trade shows. Webber also spends a portion of the film profiling Terry Brumfield, the owner of two African lions he loves like his own children. The conflict between Harrison and Brumfield regarding what is best for the animals is central to the story and what makes it so compelling. There are no easy answers here, as we see Harrison lamenting the fact he is both the hero and the villian in his narrative, and that regardless of his efforts, the animals caught in this tug-of-war always lose. I had a chance to speak with Mr. Webber during the festival about his film and how he was able to make what seemed like a one-sided issue so balanced and complex. It is a fascinating and sobering look at something much more prevalent than anyone would like to believe.
Solitary Man - Brian Koppelman and David Levein
In Solitary Man, Michael Douglas plays Ben Kalmen, a pompous car salesman who used the prospect of a health problem nearly seven years ago as an excuse to devolve into a miserable human being. He womanizes shamelessly, can't be bothered to make time for his family, and engages in unsavory business dealings. Of course, these situations come to a head when he sleeps with his girlfriend's teenage daughter, loses his car dealerships and is forced to borrow money from his daughter to pay his rent. This sets him up for a heart-warming redemptive third act, that simply doesn't work. Michael Douglas is a fantastic actor, but by the time this film tries to flip our opinion of him, his character is entirely too far down his shallow, pathetic path to simply show up with a bouquet of flowers and have everything fall back into place. I'm all for redemptive story lines, but this film did too little too late. Or rather, dug itself a such a hole that not even David Mamet could write his way out of it.
MICMACS - Jean Pierre Jeunet
MICMACS or Micmacs a tire-larigot as it is known in France, roughly translates to "A shitload of trouble", which is pretty spot-on. The most recent offering from acclaimed French director Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Delicatessan) after 2004's fantastic A Very Long Engagement. The plot revolves around Bazil (an awesome Dany Boon), a video clerk who is hit with a stray bullet that becomes lodged in his brain. Having been orphaned at a young age when his father was killed by a landmine, Bazil (after being adopted into a rag-tag gang of misfits) makes it his mission to undermine (LOL) the two weapon companies responsible for his tragic life. Visually thrilling and whimsically hilarious, I could best describe Micmacs as Ocean's Eleven reimagined by Michel Gondry starring Charlie Chaplin. It has an incredible blend of slapstick comedy, mischief and heart that is impossible to resist. When you delve into revenge territory in films, you often run the risk of alienating your audience by being too mean-spirited, but Micmacs never approaches that point, and whenever it seems to, it is simply a means to deliver another clever sight gag. I've never been a huge fan of Amelie (it was a bit too cutesy), but Micmacs succeeds in every measurable way. Nearly the best film I saw at the festival, and almost surely better than anything Saturday Night could have brought to the table.