04 June 2009

IFF-y Movies

There used to be a small independent theater in McMinnville, a short half-hour drive from my house. This is where I went to see movies like Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" on the big screen because the multi-cine-whatever-plex down the street didn't show movies like that. Then, right before "Science of Sleep" was released, they closed. I can remember being rather unhappy about this because I had really wanted to see that movie, but would have had to somehow get up to Portland to do so. (Funny story - I still haven't seen that movie. I guess I should probably do that at some point.) Eventually, I learned that going up to Portland was the only option for seeing independent or limited release films that no one in my hometown cared about. I forget just how many movies I saw up there or which ones, but I know that "Smart People" was among them.

When I moved to Boston, I realized that my movie-watching horizons were suddenly ridiculously open. AMC Lowes and Regal own a lot of theaters in the Boston area, and there are at least three that are accessible by the T from MIT (Harvard Square, Boston Common and Fenway). There are also a number of smaller, independent theaters (though the large corporate ones do a good job of showing a wide variety of movies most of the time) in the Cambridge area (Kendall Square, Somerville Theater in Davis Square, and the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square).

By April, all the movies I had seen (that weren't put on by LSC) had been at the AMC theater at Boston Common. Thanks to the wonderful properties of Twitter, however, I soon discovered that Boston has a film festival, meaning more opportunities to see good movies! The Independent Film Festival (IFF) of Boston was primarily located at the Somerville Theater, with a few films at the Institute for Contemporary Art. After figuring out my schedule, I promptly bought tickets online for three films: "500 Days of Summer", "Upstream Battle" and "Art & Copy". I wish that I could have fit "The Brothers Bloom" in, but I had p-sets due, so I guess I'll see it sometime this summer.

(500) Days of Summer
One of my favorite movies of all time is "Brick", a modern-day film noir set in a California high school, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When I heard that he was in "(500) Days of Summer" I instantly knew that I'd be seeing it at some point. It was featured at IFF, but it's official release date is July 17th (yep, the same weekend as Harry Potter 6). To be perfectly honest, I can't recommend this movie enough.

Zooey Deschanel costars, and the acting is superb. It's definitely a quirky movie, which I suppose means that some people won't like it. It chronicles a break-up, and bounces around between different days of the 500 days Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in love with Summer (Zooey Deschanel). While I felt that the concept of the film not progressing chronologically was annoying, it actually proved to be fantastic in practice. By switching the date between the early days of their relationship and the later dates, the overall emotion of the film would change instantly, but rather than be obnoxious it created comedy. Despite the fact that this was a break-up movie, I was laughing the entire time. I thought it was hilarious.

Basically, you should go see this movie. Oh, and don't be late; right before the movie began, there was a short disclaimer similar to an "author's note" that was worth seeing because it's hilarious.

Upstream Battle
Focusing on the Native American tribes living in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon/northern California, Ben Kempas's documentary follows their battle with the local power corporation. They're not complaining about prices, they're complaining about fish. The PacifiCorp power company operates four dams on the river, generating electricity for Oregon and California. Unfortunately, the dams are responsible for massive die-offs in the local salmon population. The tribes along the river rely on the salmon, that return to the river to spawn, for food. The ecology of the dams and the salmon population can get fairly complex, but the documentary did an amazing job of presenting it in an understandable way. The film is an eye-opening glimpse into the cultures of the tribes, as well as how large corporations respond to whistle-blowing. Also, we learn that Warren Buffett apparently doesn't care about salmon.

I'm not sure about release dates; the film seems to be hitting the festival circuit. Check out the website for screening information.

Art & Copy
In high school I was involved in several FFA contests that involved advertisement design and marketing, so I thought that a documentary focusing on some of the most well-known ad campaigns would be incredibly interesting. I was right in my assumption that it would be interesting, but I can't say that it was my favorite of the three films I saw at IFF. They covered the history of notable ads (e.g. Apple's 1984 ad, Nike's "Just Do It" campaign), and they also followed a man who posts billboards for a living, and the launching of communications sattelites. To be perfectly honest, I think they should have left out the latter two story lines. The film seemed to jump around a lot, and histories were fragmented in such a way that it was a little difficult to follow at a couple of points. No details were given about the sattelites, and all that was shown was a series of shots of a shuttle slowly creeping toward the launch pad. In the end, I think it's worth seeing, mostly because the history of such recognizable advertisements and icons in our society is fascinating.

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