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Got another list of movies from a friend. Cross referencing with my earlier post I realized I'd missed these recommendations
Also noticed I have some experience with a bunch of the films thanks to my trip to Palm Springs. The ones I've found so far include.
The Method - didn't see this one myself. But everyone I know who did really seemed to like it. I believe the title was slightly different when it screened at the other festival.
Some other films I did watch in California that I've found (so far) in the Seattle list:
Kamataki - I really liked this. There's some detail on the film in an earlier post.
C.R.A.Z.Y. - I enjoyed watching this one at the time. Afterwards I felt it was really two films smooshed together. During the Q&A I learned there were two writers (or maybe two directors) who each brought the different pieces of the story together. Because of this it did drag on a bit at times. But if you identify with one of the two core themes in the description you'll probably get something out of it.
Shanghai Dreams - Interesting for the historical aspect of it. I didn't feel too attached to the characters beyond agreeing with the raw deal they were experiencing.
Expiration Date - A very light black comedy. The director spoke to our group at Palm Springs and was truly interesting. Very entertaining in the Q&A as well. Enjoyed the film as one of many - wouldn't make it my core pic of the festival (ie. nice to break up things if you're a passholder)
What a Wonderful Place - Described a bit below. Probably worth checking out - but you might want to read my description to make sure it's your cup of tea.
Last night I went to the annual members preview for SIFF. They showed the new pre-film festival ads and a bunch of trailers. The highlight was the lists of films that each programmer suggested checking out.
By the end of the night I'd learned that screenings will feature the newest film with Guy Pearce playing a character badly in need of a bath.
Perhaps more importantly I captured the following suggestions. Some are just phonetic as I haven't looked them up yet.
I've tried to preserve the groupings of recommendations but I'm sure I'm off in some places.
General (meaning I forgot the category)
- The Century of Self
- The Power of Nightmares
- A Soap
- Conversations with Other Women
- Frostbite (Swedish Vampire flick)
- Sneak Midnight Movie
- The Road to Guantanamo
- Another Gay Movie
- Gitmo: The New Rules of War
- Beyond Hatred
- The World According to Sesame Street
- I For India
- TV Junkie
- The Refugee All Stars
- Worldly Desires
- Starfish Hotel
- Shaymol Chhaya
- Three Times
Middle East - Eastern Europe
- Close to Home
- The First People on the Moon
- My Nikifor
- Awakening from the Dead
Shorts (I think I missed a bunch here)
- Black Sea
- A Difficult Case
- Terkel in Trouble
- The District!
This morning I watched Allegro (Denmark) in press screenings. I'm still thinking it through and expect to hae some more thoughts later. First impression was that I liked it. A bit surreal and thought provoking. Possible could have actually been a little more mysterious through - I think it was a little too quick to lead you along the path with an all-knowing narrator. I can say though that I'm starting to develop a fondness for the Danish style of filmmaking that's being showcased so far.
Allegro, directed by Christoffer Boe (Denmark) In order to recover a secret from his past, a perfectionist piano maestro must enter "The Zone," a mysterious section of Copenhagen where lost memories take on tangible shape. Christoffer Boe's (RECONSTRUCTION) visually stunning, narratively crooked fantasy is a real trip, in every sense of the word.
Going to see Art School Confidential tonight at a Seattle film screening. This is the new film from Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes. Big fan of their work with Ghost World so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Update: Drats - stood in line but didn't get in. Turns out this wasn't just for SIFF members. In cases like that it seems that the publicist blanket the city in order to ensure a sold out house. Two women behind me described finding their invitations in the street in Magnolia. Guess maybe they wanted to see the movie more than I did.
Guess throwing invites out of an airplane worked. The line was still around the block when the theater was completely packed. Oh well - looks like I'm paying if I want to see this one.
Last Update: I went to watch the movie yesterday afternoon. I probably would have seen it even if I'd read this NY Times review beforehand. I just so wanted these guys to make another Ghost World. Just not to be. The trailer makes this out to be a comedy. I'd rather pretend the intent was to make a deep/scathing commentary on the state of the art world. Because that would at least forgive the fact it wasn't particularly amusing. It starts out with high promise - and for a (sadly) short moment I thought I was settling in to watch the Animal House of the art world. All I can really say is - not so much. There are some laughs here and there but none particularly sustained. Highly recommend skipping this until it enters it's daily rotation on HBO. And even then ...
I saw Water Thursday night after the press screenings. This film wasn't part of the 2006 festival. It was one of the many free preview screening that have come along with SIFF membership in recent years. The free films make the membership one of the great bargains of Seattle. A casual check showed me with around 37 invites (for two) in less than a year for $100. Do the math - it ain't bad. ;-)
Set in 1938 Colonial India, against Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, WATER begins when 8-year-old Chuyia is widowed and sent to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. Chuyia's feisty presence deeply affects the lives of the other residents, including a young widow, who falls for a Gandhian idealist.
Of the three films I'd seen that day this one was far and away my favorite. It's not a fun story and it fit into the day's unofficial theme of tragedy. It's still very watchable though truly heartbreaking at the end.
For more a more professional take you can checkout this review at the NY Times.
Crossing the Bridge - The Sound of Istanbul (Germany) is a German film, though it's squarely set in Istanbul. It's only German in the sense that the film-maker and narrator are German. It takes a tour through a variety of musical styles/scenes in Istanbul. There are a good number of diverse performances by talented performers. Anyone interested in sampling the sounds of the city won't be disappointed. For more details on the music in the film you can checkout the official website.
Unfortunately, I was pretty under whelmed. I'm coming in with a bias against anything that smacks of being a concert film. I've never really enjoyed the form regardless of the talent of those involved. I like live performances for the raw energy and recordings for the personal relationship you have with the music. Film usually leaves me somewhere in-between. So for a film about music to score I feel it's got to take me inside the lives of those involved or teach me something interesting. On this tougher scale the film didn't deliver.
Crossing the Bridge - The Sound of Istanbul, directed by Faith Aiken (Germany, 90 min.)
Filmmaker Fatih Akin (HEAD-ON) and musician Alexander Hacke explore the diverse musical landscape of Istanbul, finding everything from traditional Turkish music to modern hip hop and electronic music. Includes performances from maverick rocker Erkin Koray, digital dervish Mercan Dede, the "Elvis of Arabesque" Orhan Gencebay, and many others.
My take (continued):
The first 30 minutes of the film were promising. There was a general introduction to the history of the city and how music influences are being melded. I'm not particularly shocked to learn hip-hop, rock, etc. have made their way there and are being adopted and adapted by the areas talented musicians. And for some reason once you've seen kids break dancing by a subway in Japan you're not going to be surprised to see kids anywhere breakdancing.
Some of the rap performances are truly impressive in terms of the speed and melodic composition they deliver even in a language I can't understand. There's even a brief explanation as to how Turkish music differs from Western rhythms. I thought this was fascinating - but too quick. I'm sure if I was even an amateur musician I would have caught the explanation but for me most of it went over my head.
The narrator/musician really didn't work for me with the film. He played with many of the bands profiled which did lead some nice continuity to the scenes. There was something about his narration though that just got under my skin. I'm not sure if it's because he reminded me of someone or just of poor documentary narration.
The quality of the music for me really picked up at the end. That's when they started to showcase more traditional forms. If listening to Turkish music is your goal it might be worth a viewing. Though I'm sure with a little looking around you can own such recordings for the price of admission.
Nothing horrible - certainly better than the least interesting documentary I've seen in the last year ("The Last Mogul"). I won't even provide an IMDB link for that one.
Festival Description:Keld is a struggling plumber whose wife of more than 25 years leaves him unexpectedly. On one of his nightly visits to a Chinese take-out joint, the owner makes him a business proposal that has results far beyond his wildest dreams, in this sweet and sour tale of love when it's least expected. *Part of Spotlight on Denmark.
Reasonable film, though nothing struck me as making it a must see. Glad I saw it but I wouldn't recommend running out to catch it. It's a pretty depressing tale, at least at the start. Keld isn't so much struggling as has given up on life. He doesn't make it to any appointments and barely acknowledges his wife's presence. She tells him she's leaving which seems to wake him up briefly, but then seems to fall back into an even deeper funk. The tale of love that develops is sweet and sour. I'm tempted to call it a tragedy, but by the end Keld seems to have a better than even chance of enjoying the rest of his days. The Chinese family Keld meets through his nightly visits to the restaurant lend some much needed life to the film keeping it from completely grinding down the viewer.
The acting from the two main characters are quite good. Keld manages to be both extremely depressed yet someone you want to be happy. Vivian Wu as Ling conveys her changing feelings without really being able to communicate with the Danish characters.
I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I went to the Palm Springs Film Festival this January. It's just like SIFF except much sunnier, seriously nicer theaters and a largely retirement age population. It was pretty laid back. Though I was pretty sure the first screening I went to was going to include a fistfight at no extra charge. Ringing sell phones, calls to shut it off, calls to stop calling for the shutoff, etc. For a moment it brought back the memory of practically every movie I saw growing up in Brooklyn. Which is weird seeing as how cell phones really weren't around then. I went with the SIFF program SIFF-a-go-go. Definitely worth checking out for next year, or this fall in Vancouver. Makes a nice vacation all you really need to do is write a check and then show up.
Over the 5 days I caught a little over 25 films. Overall quality was high. Ones I'd definitely check out included (in no particular order),
The Bow (Korea) - listed as Hwal on IMDB. Directed by Ki-duk Kim who also did 3-Iron. I really enjoyed this - though I'd be hard pressed to explain it. I'm waiting for more friends to see it as it's definitely going to be a discussion driver. Very beautiful to watch, a bit surreal and a sort of disturbing storyline behind it. It's set entirely on an old fishing boat. The boat seems to serve as a destination for sport fishermen. It's run by an older man assisted by a young girl. We learn that the man "found" the girl when she was a child and has been raising her. He plans on marrying her as soon as she turns 16. Oh yeah - did I mention the girl hasn't been off the boat since she joined him? Adding to the creep factor is that nearly every group of fishermen are chased violently off the boat after groping the young woman (with the Bow of the title). As things progress she learns more about the modern world and questions her role in his life. Much like 3-Iron there's an ending that will leave you wondering, and probably talking. I suspect this one is going to be a love/hate/shaking your head in bewilderment sort of flick.
Kamataki (Canada / Japan) - For this one I actually don't recall what the official festival blurbs say. I can say it's well worth watching, especially if you have any interest in traditional Japanese crafts. Someone described it to me as a very focused on the sex between the younger male lead and one of the older characters. But I think he was watching a completely different film. It's about how a kid with a rough start in life visits his uncle in Japan and learns how to slow down and appreciate both life in general and the beauty of doing one thing extremely well.
Bal-Can-Can (Macedonia / Italy) - Dark comedy and hilarious. Guy marries girl. Has problems with the mother in-law. Mother in law ends up dead (innocently). Mother in-law ends up in carpet. Carpet ends up stolen. Protagonist and friend take a tour through the Balkan underworld to recover. This was the unexpected surprise that makes festival going worth it. Small warning - it's pretty dark. Someone pointed out to me that the average dark comedy stops short of machine gunning kids in the finale. All I can say is that it made sense at the time...
Swindled (Spain) - Out on video now. A fun grifter/con type film. Not the best of all time but the twists just keep coming.
Cowboy Del Amor (US / Mexico) - A documentary about a cowboy who runs a business to fix American men up with Mexican wives. He's a hoot to watch on film, though I suspect it would get pretty old pretty fast in person. It follows a few of his clients on trips to Mexico to try to make a match. Successes and failures are shown. I'm not sure it leaves my gender looking too good at the end but it's definitely not dull.
What a Wonderful Place (Israel) - Actually this one isn't so much a recommendation (though I thought it was pretty decent) as an example of the danger of relying entirely on the short description in festival guides. The description I'd seen painted a picture of the complex working and loving relationships between Palestinians and their Israeli employers. I was a little surprised to be watching a pretty rough depiction of sex trafficking and violence at 9AM. Looking around there were a lot of folks who clearly hadn't read the longer description either.
Evil Aliens (UK): My general rule of thumb is that when people are walking out of a screening in disgust that's more likely to be a good sign than not. I've actually been surprised at how well that simple heuristic works (even covers my experience with Four Weddings and a Funeral). At the very least the film is going to be a memorable one. So when someone walked out less than two minutes into the film I knew I had to stick around for the rest of the show. I can't bring myself to call this truly good - but it certainly was fun in its own way.
Directed by Jake West. The visitors have finally landed and they've got a penchant for probing. The glop flows freely throughout this hardcore E.T./zombie/cannibal/reality TV mashup set in the Welsh countryside. This cheeky, often hilarious ride, is assured of cult status from frame one.
I'm not typically a fan of horror / gore, etc. I'll make an exception for one with a sense of humor (take Sean of the Dead from last year) but I don't really go in the blood factor. Life's scary enough for me in most cases. ;-) Unfortunately, that probably means I missed out on a lot of the inside jokes from this film. Even I can tell there are a lot of references to other classic films buried throughout this one. Evil Aliens is part of the SIFF Midnight Adrenaline series. Having watched the film it's easy to see why. Here's a link to the film's official site.
The festival description is a pretty good one for this film. Think one of those cheesy Sci-Fi channel invasion movies with better production values and no censor. It's a fun B-movie romp. You've got your set of stereotypes all played in an over the top way, a bit of T&A (human as well as extra-terrestrial) and literally buckets of blood. I found myself wondering how tough it must be to shoot scenes where if you didn't get it right the first time you'd have to shower before you could do a re-take.
I found myself enjoying it in spite of myself, there's definitely a lot to laugh at. Any movie that manages to work in "we're going to need a bigger boat" deserves some appreciation.
Oh - yeah - one final note. If you've been looking for a way to overwrite the visuals from South Park that accompany the term "anal probe" in your brain then this is the film will accomplish that goal. But it's certainly not a kinder, gentler image.
Host & Guest (South Korea)
Host and Guest, directed by Shin Dong-il was definitely my favorite film of the day. I poked around the net looking for some discussion of this film. I was a bit bummed I couldn't find anything - though I guess it's pretty cool to catch a film early in the discussion cycle. At this point I recommend checking it out - though if you're looking for a film that skips over the characters trip to the corner store to buy cigarettes you might look elsewhere.
A cynical, divorced intellectual has a bizarre life-changing (and life-saving) encounter with a stoic evangelist, who turns out to have his own problems. From amusingly varied viewpoints, the two bond and start to take a stand against the oppressing forces in their lives.
I really enjoyed this screening. A quiet film with enough humorous moments to keep it moving along. In a lot of ways it feels like a movie where you watch characters simply moving through life. If that was all there was I think it would have been enjoyable. But what comes along with that is the change between the two main characters as they each fill a void in each other's life with each saving the other.
The movie's timeframe is around the reelection of George W. Bush. At one point during the screening there was a cry of "what's with the Bush bashing?" It's not prevalent enough to steer a supporter away from it - but from what I can tell that's a rapidly dwindling section of the movie going public anyway. There's one related part of the film I'd love to write about but I'd hate to spoil the gag. I may not be able to write as well as the New Yorker - but at least I can avoid giving away the good parts.
The festival description is pretty reasonable for this one. It does tell the story of a somewhat down on his luck film professor and the younger evangelist he begrudgingly befriends. The impact of the evangelist does leave the older man in a much healthier place at the end. As a nice touch the professor's growth is through their friendship and not through his acceptance of the other character's religious beliefs.
And if nothing else it'll definitely make you think twice about ignoring a sticking door around the house.
It's 1914 and World War I is looming, but brothers Andrey and Nikolai have more interest in playing soccer on the streets of St. Petersburg than following current events. When war finally breaks out, their lives take a turn toward turmoil even as their street passion refuses to be quenched.
A nice start to the festival for me. I go back and forth on Russian films - some I really enjoy - some seem to drag a bit for me. This one I'd put in the pleasant but not beloved camp. I think there's a good chance I might have enjoyed it less if I'd seen it with a large batch of other films around it. Once you're seeing a ton of films in a row I've noticed it's easy for a film to miss the opportunity to make an impression. An interesting story - though not in which I felt strongly connected to the characters. One part though really stands out - and that's the visual look of the film. Probably worth seeing just for that. For a good part of the beginning of the film I thought it was monochrome (though more sepia I think than B&W). But as the film went on I realized that it wasn't that clear cut. They were definitely working with a reduced palette of some sort and it lent the film a very beautiful look that meshed well with the story they were telling. You can take a closer gander at the films look at their official website.
This is definitely a film where the short official description does justice to the story. That's a bit of a pet peeve of mind at festivals - I'll probably rant on that in a later post and offer some advice on how to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Today (5/2) I managed to get out of the office and catch the three films that were screening. These included Garpastum (Russia), Host and Guest (South Korea) and Evil Aliens (UK)
Starting this blog is a response to my scary inability to properly answer the simple question "see anything good?" As one might imagine it's pretty tough to keep things straight if you watch 4-6 films a day. Let alone if each one is from a different country. In the past I've kept a list so at least I could remember the names which then triggers my memory. I've noticed veterans keep a log of what they've seen. Seemed like a good idea - hopefully you will agree ...