Saturday, May 7, 2011

IFF Boston 2011: Final Installment

I had grand aspirations for the final days of the festival. There were several interesting movies scheduled, and I intended to see every one. Sadly, 5 successive nights up well beyond my curfew started to do me in. When the dust (and crowds) cleared Thursday morning, I had seen 11 movies, but skipped the final two on my radar, for reasons that can best be described as exhaustion. Sleep deprivation being the primary cause, but emotional exhaustion a close second. This years festival was especially documentary heavy, and after watching film after engrossing film, you approach the natural limits of your attention. Additionally, film festivals are not the place to search for levity, and 'The Trip' notwithstanding, true humor was hard to come by (though many films were certainly uplifting). My final three films were a microcosm of what one expects from a film festival. A documentary, a stylish, low-budget action flick and an offbeat, quirky coming-of-age story. After failing to find any duds in my first 8 films, my luck ran out with a couple here. Here's a quick rundown:

El Bulli - Cooking in Progress - Gereon Wetzel
El Bulli is a world-renowned Spanish restaurant regarded as the hardest reservation on Earth. Head chef Ferran Adria has been hailed as the most innovative and insane chef in the world. Under his watchful eye, El Bulli shuts down for six months every year to prepare their menu for the upcoming year. This documentary tells the story of a year at El Bulli. The preceding synopsis is more supplementary information than you will receive in the entire film. Wetzel throws you instantly into El Bulli's laboratory, where chef-scientist hybrids scratch results into lab notebooks and play with instrumentation seemingly on loan from Merck. Extracting flavors and juices from things that have no business being juiced, the chefs taste their results and distract Adria from his cellphone long enough to offer him a spoonful. Many chefs and Adria himself talk about magic of food, with an enthusiasm you would expect but strain to appreciate. I went into this film truly excited and hoping for something that would validate it, but what I got instead, was a virtually silent thirty-minute opening scene of these chefs vacuuming mushrooms. I understand this is the unsexy R&D side, but this was beyond unsexy, it was boring. Perhaps Wetzel would have been better served if he had spliced in interviews with these characters or food critics to tell us how original and amazing what we were seeing was, but I couldn't see it. As the film progressed and the dishes gained momentum and shape, the documentary picked up steam, but it is never able to dig itself out of the hole the opening scene puts it in. Opening with a brief background of the restaurant and its accolades would give the audience a better appreciation for the research phase and its necessity and maybe make the whole thing go down a little easier. Instead, Wetzel gives us moldy bread and expects us to hang around for dessert.  

Bellflower - Evan Glodell
'The end of a relationship can be apocalyptic"

This was the synopsis for Bellflower in our IFFBoston program. Vague? Yes. Pretentious? Maybe. Intriguing? Very.

Today, five days removed from seeing it, I don't think I could sum it up any better. Ostensibly, its about two 30-ish guys in California, drinking and fornicating their way through life. Not in a depressing way, but in a 'you-should-really-grow-up-and-stop-building-flamethrowers' way. The two men meet a group of women at their local watering hole, and a relationship blossoms between Woodrow (director Glodell himself) and Milly. Woodrow is the quiet, brooding type, and Milly is the 'spit-and-vinegar' type, but they work for a while. And then things turn sour, and the film defies explanation. The story is interesting and engrossing, but it is the spectacular style and assured direction that really keeps the film going and completely ensnares the audience. Filmed using a camera Glodell cobbled together from vintage parts, the shots have a yellow, grimy sheen that adds to the apocalyptic mood. Snatched up by Oscilloscope records and primed for a larger release, Glodell has been taking this film and 'Mother Medusa' (his fire-breathing muscle car) from festival to festival anyway to generate buzz. While Medusa probably won't be in attendance next time Bellflower comes to Boston, the film is loud and bold enough that you won't miss it.

Terri - Azazel Jacobs
Of all these films, Terri is probably the one most primed for a wide(ish) release. It stars John C Reilly as a no-nonsense assistant principal and newcomer Jacob Wysocki as the titular Terri, an aimless high-school student. Terri lives with his sick uncle and has taken to wearing pajamas to school for reasons that are unclear. He gets in trouble in class and meets with Reilly after school for sentencing. The two bond (sort-of), Terri loosens up and makes 'friends' with other misfit students. Azazel aims for charmingly quirky, but decides to ramp up the quirk in the absence of charm and falls short. There are probably stories about misfit teenagers painted on cave walls, so if you really want to add something new to the genre, you can't subscribe to the Napoleon Dynamite school of "Random=Funny" and hope that the rest will take care of itself. John C Reilly is terrific and the only thing here to salvage it from being a total loss, but he can't save scenes he's not in, which is far too many. I haven't seen any of Jacobs' other films (Momma's Man, The Good Times Kid), but I hope Terri was simply a failed experiment and not indicative of his overall canon.

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