You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 28, 2010.

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The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival closed out its fourth annual entry, ending a pretty great eight days of cinema. Attendance might have been stunted due to a plethora of activities in Buffalo, including a Salman Rushdie talk that prevented me from going to opening night and the brief return of Sabres hockey to the playoffs, but that did little to dampen the spirits of organizers, volunteers, or filmmakers. What makes this event uniquely great in comparison to an event like the Toronto International Film Festival is that you don’t have the big name movies coming through, luring you away from the lesser-seen fare where a festival visit could be your only chance to watch. Rather than dismissing an indie feature you’ve heard nothing about in order to check the new Coen Brothers flick that will be coming to a theatre near you in two weeks, you are completely open to seeing work from up-and-comers, art created by a writer and/or director’s own blood, sweat, and tears.

Checking the website online got me into the mindset that some high-profile stars would be coming around for a visit, but unfortunately none panned out for the shows I was able to make. The special guests that did make an appearance, though, trumped any A to B-list actor that could have come—they were the passionate and creative people behind the films which were strung together on a shoe-string budget and for the simple goal of making something personal and resonate. It is one thing to partake in the obligatory clapping for the hard work put into each film once the end credits roll, but a completely different beast when the people you’re cheering are actually in attendance, letting the praise soak in. I would have liked more to get up afterwards and say a few words, perhaps involving the audience in an informal Q&A like some, but I’ll take what I can. The unfortunate negative of attending for reviewing purposes—don’t get me wrong, I love watching movies and would probably opt to see more than leave the theatre for a party anyway—is that I had to miss out on the get-togethers across the street as the Bijou Grille. I’m sure chilling with the talented filmmakers would have been a great time.

Instead, however, I was able to catch twelve features and nine short films during the week run of the festival, by far trumping the previous high of last year’s three full lengths. Allowing for more movies to be shown after 5:00 was the main reasoning for such an increase, giving me no excuse why I couldn’t hop on the 33 to make it for an evening of cinema after the day job’s whistle blew. Heck, I even used Game Two of the Sabres/Bruins series as a reason to see more films. Saturday the 17th was originally going to solewly consist of me watching Yuri Tsapayev’s Contractor’s Routine and possibly attending his after party following, but being downtown for a 1:00 puck drop meant a short ride down Main would bring me to the Market Arcade in time to see most of a Short Film block, as well as the local political comedy Bravo Sierra. Thankful of this happy coincidence, I was able to experience a couple fantastic mini-movies, including a wonderful senior project, St. Gertrude, by Emily Johnson at SCAD—she’s a graduate of my old high school Ken East, so singling out is warranted. And Bravo Sierra, well let’s just say it was an uproarious good time with a pretty packed theatre relative to the other screenings, all having a good time seeing what would soon win Best WNY Film at the award ceremony during closing night.

The rest of my visits saw a couple comedies, a sci-fi faux documentary in Lunopolis that really took me by surprise, a local horror entry in *Cemetery, a throwback 70s car chase thriller in RAGE, and even a pretty informative documentary about the topical debate on vaccine usage with Autism: Made in the U.S.A. For the most part, each film, whether great or just okay, had some redeemable quality to show the talent of those behind their creations. All the local stuff brought with them friends and family to experience the debut on the big screen while others looking for added exposure and press played small but infectious crowds of film-lovers. I do think that a festival like this is more valuable than just the show of audience members, though, because it is a screening to put on the movie’s resume, an opportunity for fans to tell their friends to check something out when it hopefully gets distribution somewhere, and a vehicle to gain some internet buzz that may help spread the word further. In that respect, I do hope my reviews can serve a purpose and be used to push the work and open doors for future endeavors.

And that is the most enjoyable part, for me, of going to this festival each year—meeting filmmakers that are confident in their work and willing to go the extra distance to gain an audience and achieve success. Last year connected me to a talented director named Jeff Orgill with his comedic gem Boppin’ at the Glue Factory, making its way to Netflix soon. Seeing more movies in 2010 meant the possibility of more connections made through the world of Facebook and Twitter. Some were from those unable to attend that saw the reviews—one of which, Jerry Cavallaro, filmed an intro specifically for those at his film Stuck Like Chuck and is perhaps the most tenacious promoter ever as he looks to fund a sequel to film in November—and others who made it in for their screening and the festivities going on in conjunction with the festival. Not only was it great to see David Crabtree and his cast and crew come in to answer questions post-screening of Broken Dreams, but also that they stayed and attended screenings the rest of the week, making new friends and supporting others showing their work. Connecting with Lisa Ford, director of The Teacher, and Jay Pulk, of Copper Penny, was also a bonus—the latter a film I was unable to catch but hopefully will be able to in the future.

Elias Plagianos and star Joshua Burrow of The Crimson Mask all made it into Buffalo for their screening, as did the Sandra Feldman of A Touch of Grey, both films solid work worthy of checking out. I won’t lie that it wouldn’t have been cool to see the trio of cast members from closing film Christina, but unfortunately they couldn’t make it as Stephen Lang was busy filming Conan in Bulgaria and Nicki Aycox shooting her show “Dark Blue”. Director Larry Brand and producers were in attendance, though, and luckily too since the film went on to win Best Director, Actor, Actress, and Film a short hour later. Shot with low light, Christina did show one limitation to the Fest being the second venue, the Riviera Theatre and its lack of a strong projector or pitch-black room of the historic building. I overheard Brand himself saying it was way too dark, but being such a character driven work, the film itself wasn’t hurt by the display.

I do wish I could have seen more films, but you can’t fault the festival for including so many that some days made you choose by having two screens going simultaneously. It is great to see that interest continues to grow and along with it the quality of work too. Thankfully some filmmakers, like Greg Kaplan, are kind enough to send me a copy of their film for review, (I’m Not Here (and she’s not there)), a job that I am more than willing to take part in not only to give a written piece that may hopefully promote the work, but also because I’ll take any opportunity to see a movie I missed during the Festival’s initial run. All the work seen was deserving of its place on the schedule, a couple—Contractor’s Routine and Christina—making their way onto my top ten of 2010 now having completed a third of the year. And, if nothing else, I gained a new bank of names to keep tabs on, social media site friends to stay in contact with, and memories of some great cinema that, without Bill Cowell and his staff’s efforts, I never would have had the opportunity to see, let alone know about. Perhaps some of the short films may make their way onto a future issue of Wholphin, allowing me a second viewing, and perhaps the creatives behind each will hit it big the next time out. Thanks to the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival, I’ll be able to say I new it all along, ever since I saw one of their early films years ago.

Reviews:
4/17/10
Laundry Day 5/10
Hens and Chicks 7/10 – winner Acting Honorable Mention, Best Youth Performances, Beatrice Miller and Diego Torrado
St. Gertrude 9/10
Cadillac 8/10
Badfish 5/10 – winner Best Comedy
Bravo Sierra 7/10 – winner Best WNY Film
The Teacher 8/10
Contractor’s Revenge 10/10

4/19/10
Stuck Like Chuck 6/10
The Beneficiary 9/10
RAGE 7/10

4/20/10
The Copper Penny 9/10

4/21/10
Broken Dreams 7/10 – winner Best Supporting Actress, Nicole Gerth
Lunopolis 7/10
Soulmates 6/10
*Cemetery 5/10

4/22/10
Canine Instinct 7/10

4/23/10
I’m Not Here (and she’s not there) 6/10
Sotto il mio giardino [Under My Garden] 9/10 – winner Best Short Film

4/24/10
A Touch of Grey 7/10 – winner Best Canadian Film
The Crimson Mask 7/10
Hot Tamale 5/10

4/25/10
Autism: Made in the U.S.A. 8/10
Christina 9/10 – winner Most Promising Director, Larry Brand; Best Actor, Stephen Lang; Best Actress, Nicki Aycox; Best Film

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photography:
[1] Contractor’s Routine red carpet shot courtesy of the film’s Facebook page.
[2] Bravo Sierra red carpet shot courtesy of the film’s Facebook page.
[3] Andrea Lodovichetti courtesy of Canine Instinct’s Facebook page.
[4] A Touch of Grey red carpet shot courtesy of the film’s Facebook page.

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Can I get away with using a film’s one word hyphenate title as it’s succinct description? Frankly I don’t care what your answer is to that question because, no joke, Kick-Ass kicked ass. This is the epitome of comic book brought to reality. What the new wave of graphic novels contains is ultra-violence, witty banter, and stories that are more than just good guy versus bad. People look to Dark Knight as what a comic based film should be, but on further review, is it really? It might be the best film based on a comic, but not the best comic book movie. Nolan did an amazing job on his Batman films, but they are really just well told dramatic action thrillers with superhero characters as their cast. That pulpy geekdom was still missing due to its realism and dour aesthetic, that splash of fun Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s work has in spades. I was never once taken out of the action as I constantly waited to see what new craziness Dave Lizewski would get into over his head.

But Kick-Ass isn’t truly about its titular character; the main plot deals with an ex-cop who was framed and thrown in jail when he chose not to be on mobster Frank D’Amico’s payroll. Damon Macready helplessly had to hear about his wife’s inability to deal with being pregnant and about to have a child alone, soon devoting the rest of his time in prison to become a lethal killing machine, biding time until he can meet his daughter and enlist her into the life of revenge that consumes him. Everything after release leads to the moment when he can face D’Amico and retrieve his pound of flesh; knowing it won’t bring back his wife, but also accepting the fact it will surely make him happy. Seeing the fervor for which young Mindy takes to the life of weaponry and violence is a bit jarring, but then you remember it’s a comic. She is a fictional character with the skill and precision of an accomplished assassin. Looking about twelve years old only gives her more of an advantage—the innate quality to disarm any opponent before they even know a fight has begun.

While Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are the real heroes—well maybe antiheroes since they are killing and maiming without regard for the sanctity of life, despite the victims’ checkered pasts and affiliations—they are nothing without Dave’s creation of Kick-Ass, the phenomenon that allowed them to get out into the world and begin their quest, turning practice into action. A normal high schooler—the kind of kid that goes about his business unnoticed, besides an oft-mugging, with friends as irrelevant to the other students as himself—Dave decides one day that he’s had enough. Ordering a costume online and going out to find trouble commences the chain of events to follow. It’s not your run-of-the-mill superhero exposition, however, it is definitely as harsh and authentic of an origin story you’ll get. He’s an untrained geek who’s never been in a fight before because he’s too quick to give up whatever the bullies desire, so the outcome of his first ‘mission’ is soberly pitch-perfect. And the fact that each instance afterwards shows shades of that same failure, using him as the reason normal people don’t become superheroes, you are more willing to believe in the father/daughter duo as they are far from sane.

Along with the revenge story and the hyper-stylized action sequences to satisfy any fan looking for well-choreographed fight scenes, come some uniquely approachable characters. Vaughn said in an interview that he spent hours trying to find the right actor to play the film’s namesake, never thinking that a Brit with a fake American accent would be the one to do it. Aaron Johnson is absolutely fantastic in this role, playing the kid in way too deep to perfection. He is so awkward and nervous that he pretends to be gay in order to get close with the girl of his dreams, but even when wearing the costume he shows a false sense of courage only goes so far. Not the guy to run into a burning building from selflessness or have the stomach to commit murder without provocation, his inability to be super is crucial to the film’s success. The real psycho killers aren’t without their own human ticks either, though. Chloe Moretz’s Hit-Girl may be more mature and intelligent than her age reveals, yet she still keeps a sense of childish humor beneath that hardened exterior, asking for a cuddly puppy as a birthday gift. Nicholas Cage’s reaction to that joke is priceless too, as well as his portrayal of Big Daddy front to back. Becoming a vigilante was a necessity for him, but he does it well. Pulling a robotic William Shatner once the mask is on shows how detail-oriented he is, breaking up his words to not allow for speech pattern recognition.

Mark Strong’s string of villainy continues with D’Amico, allowing for some humor in his deadpan delivery when interacting with employees and his son. Being that Chris is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, wanting nothing more than to be trusted with the ‘family business’, only adds to the whole tough guy Dad with an asthmatic dork as a son cliché. But that’s okay because it’s a comic book film meant to entertain, utilizing all the common tropes integrated with a real world environment. The juxtaposition of a little girl jumping, flipping, juggling knives, firing guns, and destroying any human being standing in her way is done for fun, not to spark controversy and enrage a prudish public who think their young children will want to follow suit. Kick-Ass is an R-rated film, and for good reason. This isn’t a kid’s movie; it’s an action flick full of carnage and tempo changing battles in close quarters with rock music blaring in the background. Moretz’s killer instinct is unrivaled and Cage too takes part in some well-orchestrated dances of death. There is teenage angst, familial tragedy—how great is Dave’s mother’s death—comedic friends, absurd eccentrics roaming about, and an effectively constructed story of crime, justice, and revenge. Throw in a bazooka and a jetpack, (admittedly one of the aspects preventing me from giving the movie a perfect score), and you’ll see this is pure, unadulterated, bloody fun. I can’t wait to see it again.

Kick-Ass 9/10

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photography:
[1] Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) and Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) in KICK-ASS. Photo credit: Dan Smith
[2] Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, left) and Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, right) in KICK-ASS. Photo credit: Dan Smith

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