IFFBoston 2016: ‘The Hollars,’ ‘The Peacemaker,’ and ‘The Eyes of My Mother’

iffboston 16

I always get unreasonably excited when Independent Film Festival Boston rolls around every April. Executive Director Brian Tamm and Program Director Nancy Campbell bring their A-game every year, having scoured fest after fest for the cream of the crop to show to a rowdy Boston crowd. This year’s theme, “Make it yours,” couldn’t be any closer to the truth. The films I’ve already seen in the first few days are creative extensions of the filmmakers, all to different returns, of course.

Check back at UTG over the next week to read my thoughts on all of the stuff I have seen or will be seeing at Independent Film Festival Boston 2016.

the hollars

Film: The Hollars
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Anna Kendrick

Hometown boy John Krasinski seems to be trying to make good on starring in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi by making The Hollars, a beat-for-beat crowdpleaser about a dysfunctional family going through a tough time. Unfortunately, Krasinski’s directing and writing chops make the safe material banal, forcing his actors to almost parody the kind of selfish fluff that Zach Braff makes. Nothing’s natural here—all very cold and calculated moments filled with characters that must have some kind of mental tic. Any kind of ingenuity gets slashed in the face by convention, before finally arriving at as many endings as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

New York City workaholic John Hollar (Krasinski) learns that his mother, Sally (Margo Martindale), has grown ill and rushes home to his middle America hometown. What awaits him there is a neurotic father on the edge of bankruptcy (Richard Jenkins), a creepy, schizo brother who can’t handle his recent divorce (Sharlto Copley), and a slew of old high school people seemingly determined to derail his idyllic life. Watch as John navigates through his dysfunctional family to achieve. Despair at the tough choices he has to make, like not hooking up with his ex and being a good boyfriend to his pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick).

The worst thing about The Hollars is that it’s just bad. It’s an extremely safe and generic movie made with the daftest of hands. There’s no signifying difference here to separate it from the pack. It’s not actively bad, it just misunderstands how humanism works. Every character needs to have some fatal flaw that seems dangerous at first but then becomes cutesy when fully revealed. Take Sharlto Copley’s character for instance: He regularly spies on his ex-wife even though he was the one who wanted a divorce. He climbs through the window of his old house to see his kids, not seeing the stigma to come of his actions.

The Hollars deals in misplaced things—misplaced drama, misplaced comedy, misplaced farce, and even misplaced Anna Kendrick. It’s a crushing tide of inept parts coming together, sinking the talented people with it.


the peacemaker

Film: The Peacemaker
Directed by: James Demo

Documentaries are the only films I kind of feel powerless in criticizing. For me, it’s about how they go about getting to the truth, not about the truth itself. If your film has an interesting main subject, then chances are you’ll keep me invested. That’s exactly the case with The Peacemaker, a film about international peacekeeper Padraig O’Malley.

We meet Padraig later in life, kind of beaten and worn down by the lack of salvation he’s been able to find in the world. Many years of avoiding his own personal problems has taken a toll and now that he’s older, he’s starting to forget all of the good he’s caused. The Peacemaker is more invested in telling the story of Padraig instead of telling the stories of Padraig. There’s a clear demarcation between Padraig’s real life and the many things he’s gotten done as a peacekeeper, and director James Demo is committed to the former, to a fault.

Here’s a man who’s written books upon books about the art of negotiation and the audience gets a little pigeonholed into focusing on one aspect of his life that has nothing to do with his professional career. His philanthropy spanning worldwide gets overshadowed by his own flaws.

A colleague and I had a conversation after the movie. I said, “The Peacemaker makes me want to learn more about Padraig, but I don’t know if that’s an endorsement.” “No, Sam, it’s really not,” he replied.


the eyes of my mother

Film: The Eyes of My Mother
Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Kika Magalhaes, Paul Nazak, Will Brill

It’s no coincidence that Boston Underground Film Festival sponsored the screening of The Eyes of My Mother. It’s a downright nasty genre pic that forcefeeds its unpleasantness down your throat until you choke on it. It’s incredibly well-directed but in the service of something that will make you sick. Does that make it a good movie? Not really. The sickness succumbs to the many narrative issues the film has. The grossness is a really good cover for something the viewer isn’t really led to care about.

At a young age, Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) witnessed the brutal murder of her mother by a perverse psychopath named Charlie (Will Brill). Her father (Paul Nazak) tied Charlie up in the garage to be tortured for years. Flashforward to a decade later: Francisca is mourning the loss of her father, keeping his dead body like an heirloom in her Midwestern farm home. Charlie is still alive, too. His eyes and tongue cut out to make way for complete obedience. Without her father, Francisca feels lonely and without power. That is until she stumbles upon a woman and her baby; now she sees a reason to live again.

Nicolas Pesce’s direction is really damn assured, though. He successfully used black and white cinematography to make something truly disquieting and uncomfortable. Pesce seems very fascinated with the opaque morality of the story and that comes across in the aesthetics. You can gauge your interest in the film with how much you care about how depraved the story gets. There’s a “further down the rabbit hole” conceit tied to Francisca’s murderous paranoia and extremism. She speaks to her dead mother as if she were God, looking for constant guidance in the world. Everything she comes upon must be a sign from above. The topic of religious extremism is never addressed, making way for the sloppy scare tactics to take the forefront. The environment is there, now where is the rest of the movie?


Sam Cohen
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