Third Annual Montgomery Film Festival

By on 18 July, 2011 in Art, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 2 Comments

On Saturday night we got ourselves over to The Capri, just like last year, to see the third annual installment of the Montgomery Film Festival. It was a great way to spend a Saturday night. First, there’s the fun of going out to The Capri (which is in the middle of a great run of summer movies). Then, there’s the excitement of seeing what movies might be in store this year. The film festival is a bit of a rummage sale, as folks who went last year (or read our review) might recall. Sometimes you get an overlooked antique in mint condition. Other times, you get a misshapen ashtray so ugly not even a mother could love it. But there’s beer, popcorn, and even a smattering of enjoyable heckling from the crowd.

We are still pretty unclear on who, exactly, is putting on the Film Festival. Many of the same people as last year seemed to be representing the organizing committee. Are they a loose conglomeration? A non-profit? An anarcho-syndicalist cinephile commune? One thing is certain: they need to work on their MC skills. The evening began with what could only be a Dadaist exercise called “The Leonard Maltin Game.” This involved some guy getting up with three other guys (the prevalence of guys would be a theme of the evening’s films as well) to totally bore the audience with a convoluted film trivia exchange that seemed kind of like Beavis and Butthead auditioning for bit parts in a Paul Giamatti movie about frat parties.

This went on for far too long. While we are sure this seemed like it would be awesome when the organizers thought it up on their friend’s couch, we must say that it was, in fact, painful. When the banter ended and the first movie finally came on, we were thrilled. Unfortunately, the movie was not good. On the other hand, it was better than “What Would Leonard Maltin Do” or whatever that was.

Before we get to the reviews of the films, let us say that we were happy with the turnout and look forward to next year. There was one more movie this year than last year, and that’s a good thing. And no matter how bad the movies, we are grateful for the organizers and the hosts for adding this enjoyable bit of culture to our city.

Here are our reviews of this year’s films, in the order they were shown:

Enter the Dark – We absolutely love horror movies, but have not seen 2007’s Paranormal Activity, to which this offering was compared. If that popular film is anything like this stinkbomb, we’ll pass. The premise is simple enough: Guy hearing spooky noise in his house investigates (at night!) with (only!) his skeptical friend. And we fully get that it is somewhat scarier to have the whole thing filmed in “night vision,” giving it a sort of shaky camera black-and-white Blair Witch pseudo-realism vibe. But if the premise is that they are using this night vision camera to investigate the spooky hallway noises, shouldn’t there be some kind of explanation as to why the two guys don’t, say, turn the lights on? Are the fuses blown? Do they just like walking around in the dark as creepy circumstances repeatedly present themselves? Doesn’t the refusal to insist on illumination sort of contradict their “let’s be scientific about this” approach to capturing the paranormal activities on tape? Asking questions like these makes you not at all care about the characters trying to solve the mystery, makes you laugh at the wooden acting, and makes you roll your eyes at the “twist” ending. We might have graded this thing higher had it been the work of two or three high school kids from here in town, but when we found out that it had been shown around the country, we just laughed and wondered if it was actually worse than the infamous Spider-Man musical that its title evokes. Grade: D.

“The Unnecessary Man” – One of two films by director Zachary Coker. We were split on this one, which isn’t actually a bad thing. Good movies may well evoke differences of opinion and this one certainly provides enough fodder for reasonable minds to disagree. Stephen found it to be a fairly evocative and well-paced film, with the young actor playing the lead doing a good job of portraying a teenager meeting his father for the first time. The way that the father interjects himself into the family’s life highlights a common story about broken families and the boy’s disillusionment with the father’s numerous glaring shortcomings gives way to a shutting down process. The father is bad without being a cartoon, while the boy’s emotional recoil (over the course of a single evening) plants the seeds for all sorts of suggested psychic damage. Kate, on the other hand, thought it was painfully slow and wondered if Coker got a bulk deal on staring young waifs at central casting, given the similarities between this movie and his other father-issues movie, The Watch. She also thinks it’s pretty lazy to rely on a lot of dialogue that starts with “Look..” or “Hell…”  Stephen’s grade: B; Kate’s grade: C.

“Light Feet” – This is what homemade movies ought to be like. Created by Huntingdon students (Daniel Goslin, Eben Robichaud and Brian Schutwaat) over the course of a summer vacation trip to Maine, this movie is short and simple in the best possible ways. It’s a sports movie evoking King of Kong, but less epic in scope. It’s a simple tale about a simple event (a brief footrace) that the filmmaker happened to capture at random on a special summer adventure. We found ourselves beaming about midway through. This continued until the end of the film, at which point the entire theater burst into applause and cheers as if we had been attending the race ourselves. It’s fleeting, like a great summer, radiating happiness in a way that reminds you of the power of cinema. A room full of people was moved to cheer for a race that happened many months before, run by people we’ve never met, with trivial stakes. Kudos! Grade: A+.

Father(s) – The high of “Light Feet” slowly faded and was fully supplanted by this tedious and heavy-handed effort. While our sympathies were piqued when the director’s mom introduced the film (guess the director had another obligation and it was nice of his parents to attend), we had absolutely no sympathy for the main character, a young father who was having, we guess, a bad day or something. The things that comprise this “bad day” were so annoying and laughable that we found ourselves wondering if this were actually a live action Family Circus or Cathy film, in which the minor inane travails of suburban life (getting a traffic ticket, missing a sporting event) are treated as if they are epic setbacks. And that’s sort of the point: These stupid inconveniences we are forced to endure with the main character are subsequently “put into perspective” by a relatively casual encounter with genuine tragedy. And then the guy comes to terms with things … or whatever. When the character expresses frustration with his hurdles, he comes across as whiny and petulant. And the pace of the film is so slow that you find yourself hoping that he encounters some sort of crisis instead of his Hallmark moment. The moralizing is overtly Christian, the acting is bad, and we never find out who wins the missed playoff game. Worst football movie ever. Grade: D.

Red Princess Blues” – This was the first of two shorts by Los Angeles-based Alex Ferrari. We should have known something was going to go horribly wrong when, by way of hyping the audience up, the MC told us that the bad guy from Kindergarten Cop was in the movie. Seriously. Evidently he spent $10,000 making this thing, which nobody should describe as a film, since that would imply that it aspires to plot, character, or coherence of any kind. Red Princess Blues is a set piece clearly designed to get some work for the director, who wants to show he can direct butt-kicking action films. Which aspiration seems within reach, since this work has about as much plot, character and coherence as Michael Bay’s reprehensible Transformers movies. Grade: D.

“The Watch” – the second of Zachary Coker’s films, this one is set in a turn of the century coal mining town. Another child actor dealing with his paw paw! We get it: Coker has father issues. Evidently so do most of the directors here, as well as the festival organizers, since four of the nine movies at the festival are about fathers trying to do what’s right. But this is a nice-looking movie that doesn’t overreach or linger too much, a period piece about the working class that doesn’t wave too many muskets and overalls in your face to prove its bona fides. Pretty nice effort. Grade: B

“Through the Woods.” – An unforgivably bad film by Ron Day. While locally made, we are still sort of shocked that this six minute travesty was accepted as film festival worthy. The director’s half-baked introduction to the film (“We, uh, just kind of, uh wondered what would happen if Red Riding Hood met up with Goldilocks”) was about par for the course. What would happen? Well, evidently they’d trade Justin Bieber references and encounter a Monty Python-inspired Big Bad Wolf. Homophobic humor about the Twilight movies ensues, which leads to a fully incomprehensible ending involving a lumberjack dressed as a Secret Service agent. Maybe it was fun to hang out in the woods and make this, but that doesn’t mean other people should be encouraged to view it. Grade: F.

Broken – This is the other Alex Ferrari movie, and it is just awful. Honestly, its silly, quick-cut parade of stereotypes and correspondence school screenwriting tricks makes Red Princess Blues seem like House of Leaves. It was like watching a McBain movie: the scarred villain with the harmonica, the masked ninja, the Rainbow Coalition of baddies plucked from the trash can behind Quentin Tarantino’s house. Insufferable pacing and generally despicable.  Grade: D.

Night of the Punks – While the movie was announced as being in the vein of Sam Raimi’s early horror movies, it actually seems to owe equally as much to Dan O’Bannon’s terrible and enjoyable Return of the Living Dead franchise. There are also some nods to 1987’s “The Gate” and several other such genre classics. The resulting romp is silly nerd trash, with carefree abandon and gleeful gore. The jokes range from funny to near-hilarious and the references (Gwar! Cannibal Corpse!) feel perfect for a supernatural splatter film about the delightful linkages between hardcore punk and hardcore movie making. It’s a fun movie that spends its budget well. Grade: A.

Lessons Learned:

  • The local movie scene is unimpressive but (hopefully) a work in progress. People aren’t going to keep trying to make better and better movies if there isn’t a local film festival that will screen them. As bad as the local stuff was, we hold out hope that folks will continue to refine their crafts and heed a higher calling than simply being able to tell their groupies friends, “Yo, I made a movie.” Shine on, you crazy artist diamonds!
  • The Montgomery Film Festival is in danger of becoming the Montgomery Mens’ Film Festival. Seriously, not a single movie in this lot came close to passing the Bechdel Test. None are by female directors. Four of the movies are about fathers trying to be good fathers (even if it means feeding their friends to demons). With the exception of the “merch girl” in “Night of the Punks,” all of the female characters in the nine films are marginalized mothers, victims, insane, or a caricatured one-line male fantasy superhero type. We don’t know if women aren’t making movies, not being selected, are not on the selection committee, or what, but this is kind of a problem for the film festival. Maybe they can make an effort next year to make it less of a testosterone fest.
  • Making a movie is hard. Everyone has a camera in their phone. Photo cameras are now video cameras. Laptops have cameras and come with editing software. YouTube. And yet, it’s actually not only about having access to the tech. Recording a half-baked idea on your expensive camera isn’t enough. You need a script, which means having plot and characters. Also you need acting.
  • Last year we noted that it was tough to compare movies financed by the Canadian government to those starring Prattville High School students. The same dilemma applied this year, with local films going up against movies made in Los Angeles or bankrolled by UNC. We were happy to see the film festival (as we requested in last year’s post) adding a prize for Alabama films. Hope that continues.
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  1. Dave says:

    While I agree with the majority of your film reviews, I find your comments about the MCs rather snobbish. You must be stiff hard to entertain. Same goes for your first lesson learned. You should learn to lighten up.

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