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From Nessie and Piaf to Calcutta
The Boston Film Festival celebrates its 20th

Settling into middle age as it reaches 20, the Boston Film Festival seems to have forgone all ambition to emulate its peers in New York, Montreal, and Toronto. There’s no red carpet at the BFF, no juries of industry superstars and internationally recognized critics to hand out coveted prizes, and few celebrities worthy of being sighted. What we get instead is a sneak preview of some of the studios’ major fall offerings along with a few dark horses and the always intriguing packages of short films. All of which is not to be sniffed at: last year, Sue Brooks’s Japanese Story, Lone Scherfig’s Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself, Isabel Coixet’s My Life Without Me, Robert Altman’s The Company, Sylvain Chomet’s Les triplettes de Belleville, Errol Morris’s The Fog of War, and Billy Ray’s Shattered Glass screened at the festival. And this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award is going to Annette Bening, who’ll be in town on Monday to collect it at the first screening of her Being Julia. Here’s the line-up for the festival’s first week.


***A Phoenix Pick***


Screenwriter Zak Penn has made a fortune writing screenplays for appliance-sized blockbusters like X2, but early in this problematic documentary, he says he wants to make a movie that will give him credibility. It might be the only true statement in the film. Ostensibly the account of Werner Herzog’s investigation into the crypto-zoological mystery of the title, Penn’s directorial debut meanders among genres, from a documentary about a traumatic film production like Burden of Dreams to a fraudumentary like The Blair Witch Project to a mockumentary like Waiting for Guffman. The tension among these competing approaches might provide the film’s greatest pleasure next to the great Herzog himself extolling "ecstatic truth" as embodied in one’s belief in Nessie and dismissing such side issues as globalization and whether the monster actually does exists as "television." You’ll smell a rat long before Herzog does; by the end, Incident is neither truth nor television but something in between. (94 minutes) Screens tonight at 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. and tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. at the Boston Common. Zak Penn will be present at tonight’s 7:15 p.m. show.

— Peter Keough

***A Phoenix Pick***


Shane Carruth’s tightly wound conundrum requires more than one viewing to follow, but I haven’t decided whether I’ll be accepting that invitation. For one thing, it’s not very easy on the eyes or the ears: set mostly in a garage and an industrial park, and edited with jarring jump cuts and ellipses, the dialogue overlapping à la Robert Altman, Primer doesn’t make the job of comprehension especially pleasant. A group of young entrepreneurial engineers are developing some new invention, but they aren’t sure what it is or what it does or what its application might be. Is it an anti-gravitational device? A fungus incubator? A time machine? Eventually, two of the team discover a function that affords them virtual omnipotence but with grave existential and metaphysical consequences. A Back to the Future without special effects or a Donnie Darko without innocence, Primer is the minimalist 2001 for the post–Bill Gates generation. (78 minutes) Screens tonight at 8 and 10 p.m. at the Boston Common. Shane Carruth will be present at the 8 p.m. show.

— Peter Keough

***A Phoenix Pick***


Without much in the way of dialogue, plot, or commentary, Ferenc Tóth’s accomplished debut follows the Job-like trials of Ellison (Carl Louis), a fresh-faced Harlem teenager of average means and prospects. He has a stable and resourceful girlfriend, a hardworking and understanding dad, a few raffish friends, and not much ambition beyond having enough pocket money to keep his girl entertained. But when his father dies suddenly of a heart attack, the city evicts him from his apartment, and Ellison finds himself first crashing with his diminishing network of friends, then checking into a shelter, and finally sleeping on the streets. He decides to cross the line and work for Ezekiel (Postell Pringle), the local gangsta whose black SUV appears at key moments like an angel of death. Tóth’s bleak, poignant portrayal of urban realities creates a contemporary counterpart to the great novel Invisible Man by his hero’s namesake, Ralph Ellison. His refusal to preach or sentimentalize gives conviction to the film’s fleeting moments of hope and lyricism. (78 minutes) Screens tonight at 7 and 9:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 1 and 3 p.m. at the Copley Place. Ferenc Tóth will be present at tonight’s 7 p.m. show.

— Peter Keough



The Almost Guys is an almost movie, agreeable, largely forgettable, a decent debut for director/star Eric Fleming, but mostly a reminder of the class of septuagenarian actor Robert Culp. Fleming plays repo man Rick Murphy, a good guy but a negligent dad and a pitiful ex-husband. His luck and that of his doddering partner the Colonel (Culp) seem to change when they repossess a car with a kidnapped major-league baseball pitcher (James Edson) in the trunk. In a series of twists too tiresome to relate, Rick and the Colonel involve Rick’s neglected son in a scheme to collect a bundle from the pitcher’s team, which needs his services in the upcoming World Series. All this is the long way around the block so Rick can bond again with his young boy and learn lessons in perseverance, karma, and the dubious value of running gags (i.e., they don’t always get funnier with repetition). (98 minutes) Screens tonight at 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. and tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Boston Common. Eric Fleming will be present at tonight’s 7:15 p.m. show.

— Peter Keough


I’d be tempted to say that this rare festival foray into children’s animation lays an egg, but it offers a few agreeable tunes, some amusing poultry puns, and enough allusions to Dante’s Inferno to go over easy. Plus it boasts an impressive cast of voices. Local author John Michael Williams, who adapts his own children’s book of the same title and provides the music, must have some clout with Hollywood, since the credits mention Will Ferrell, Brooke Shields, and Joe Pantoliano (too bad they don’t say who voices whom). The story takes place in Egg Town, where bunnies and chickens live in harmony and every year manufacture the contents of the Easter baskets that, we presume, the Easter Bunny will deliver on Easter Sunday (it’s ambiguous). As in The Village, though, evildoers dwell outside, renegade chickens called the "Take Its" who steal the eggs. Will this state of affairs give "Boring Benedict Bunny" the chance to prove his mettle and win the heart of the spinster schoolmarm? As befits a non-religious film about Christianity’s most important holiday, self-sacrifice, redemption, and sung platitudes triumph. Too bad looking at the sub-par animation is like watching a painted Easter egg dry. Screens today at 1 p.m. and tomorrow at 2:15 p.m. at the Boston Common. Nancy Kerrigan and Joe Pantoliano will be present at today’s show.

— Peter Keough


I can’t remember hearing the word "slut" in this mildly amusing comedy about female discontent, but I think that’s the implication of the title. Unless it’s the attitude of first-time director Jane Weinstock toward the film’s tougher issues and emotions. Jamie (Marguerite Moreau) can’t say no to whatever jerk offers a semblance of love or security. Otherwise, she seems pretty well off with her career of naming oddball products (this gives the cast opportunities to wear funny headgear and play with toys) while accepting advice from her acupuncturist and her sister and some woman in a neck brace (for me, the film’s redeeming touch). Then along comes John (hunky Naveen Andrews), the sexy former teacher and very bad poet, and Mick (Brian F. O’Byrne), the vaguely creepy Irish guy from the comedy channel. Which one will win Jamie’s heart by allowing his to be won by her? Can she halt her self-destructive pattern of promiscuity and learn to trust someone? How does this relate to her mother’s suicide many years before? Easy is the kind of film that balances such matters with cute shots of copulating pet turtles and a subplot about a cheery lesbian mother. (99 minutes) Screens tonight at 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the Copley Place. Jane Weinstock will be present at tonight’s show.

— Peter Keough

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Issue Date: September 10 - 16, 2004
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