The Firm Land (Iran) - Ignore the country of origin being Iran. That's just about the film financing. A fable set in India, told as a story in a story. A village is beset by a series of deaths and the villagers send a contingent of six men to the city to ask for help from the government. The simple travelers are faced with adversity, from the dishonest "helpers" they meet to the uncaring government bureaucracy. This isn't a film that just lays out it's meanings with a bow - though the on the surface narrative is straightforward. I enjoyed this very much while I was watching it and do recommend seeing it if the chance presents itself.
The Merry Gentleman (USA) - Michael Keaton as a hitman (and 1st time director) who meets a younger woman on the run from an abusive marriage. I didn't find anything especially memorable here (even the a hitman can be good theme I'm sure I've seen several times). Performances were fine but I wasn't particularly interested in understanding their relationship (or their loneliness) better. Not at all bad, but a lot of more compelling choices floating around.
World of Possibilities - Shorts Package - Not nearly as good as the opening night grouping. Last film of the group, "Ten for Grandpa" was the best of the lot for me.
When it comes to shorts my tastes run pretty similar to that of feature length films - cute, romantic, funny, witty, etc. Less interested in seeing horror fantasy or the horrors that can make up real life - unless they show something unbelievably brilliant along some cinematic dimension. So not surprising my favorites from this batch were Herd (a cute, short one about a deer who has insinuated itself into a herd of cows - narrated by the farmer who's afraid she'll rile up the herd), Photograph of Jesus (a description of some of the funnier requests that have come into the Getty photo archives), and Post it Love (photo above - about coworkers courting via post-it's). I particularly loved the last one.
Less enjoyable was Love which I've been told has a lot of award buzz. It's about a very sad and serious topic and visually well done but felt like (to totally steal my friend Scott's phrase) a "maudlin piece of pathos porn." I would have said it looked nice but reminded me of high school lit journals where every piece seemed to be about death and/or suicide. But his expression captures it better. I'm sure some folks will love it - but it doesn't meet my personal bar of showing me something special/new if I have to watch something that reminds me that life can seriously suck at times.
Here's a list of the packages throughout the weekend. I'm not hardcore enough to go to all of them, but I'm going to try and catch 3-4 over the next couple of days.
The two kids are great together, the story kept me interested and the film makers played effectively with the visual presentation of the material. There's also some solid music mixed in as the younger boy Dylan is introduced by some of the people they meet to the music of the singer of the same name. Overall, I do recommend this one. Just be aware that though it is about pre-teen kids it is not a film for them. Unless you're OK with the swearing, frank sexual discussions (as the MPAA would probably say), dark themes of kids in peril and a run through a strip club thrown in for good measure.
As I'd written on subtitling on the past I thought this film deserved a special mention. Even though the characters all speak English they do so with an accent (though personally I didn't think it was too hard to follow). The first section of the film was subtitled. But at some point the subtitling was dropped, I'm assuming to drop the visual distraction once folks got used to the accents. It's a clever idea and one I'd wished for in the past on films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, etc. Though I do always find it a little funny when the translation with drop a swear word - which in this case was particularly hard to miss as they were speaking English.
So in short it's the sweetest most charming moving about child abuse ever. Not 100% accurate desc, but still... I did quite like it all considered. Plays again Sunday at 6:30 if you're interested in catching it at SIFF.
$9.99 (Israel) - Claymation story/fable addressing "happiness" and what it means to different people. I wasn't expecting much but after seeing it I think this could make my top 10 for the festival. Nothing earth shattering in terms of message but felt delightful (mostly) to watch and for me the animation just slid into the background as I became unaware of it pretty quickly.
Mothers and Daughters (Canada) - movie about relationships between mothers and daughters. I'm likely not the target demographic here - so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I spoke to others who were and they clearly enjoyed it more than I did. Not horrible for me - just wasn't especially interested most of the way through.
Tengri: Blue Heavens (Kyrgyzstan) - Man runs off with woman, her husband who seems to be employed fighting in Afghanistan chases them. Great immersion in a different culture - very interesting at times visually. I was very tired and dozed. Don't think it was the film's fault. Though the parts I was awake for didn't make me think I needed to go back and see it again.
Rembrandt's J'Acccuse (Netherlands) - A documentary about a painting? Yes - and for me the film was more or less able to cash the checks fest hype has been writing (though perhaps not the slightly that of the breathless programmer intro). Rembrandt's "Night Watch" gets the murder mystery movie treatment as the film explains the hidden story of the painting. Occasionally a touch of "The da Vinci Code" except really good and without the bizarre Hanks haircut. Part of the film's premise is that we're visually illiterate - afterwards it's hard not to cede the point. Even if I'm not sure of the veracity of everything said it was still interesting to watch and think about. If you're not a student of painting it'll surely get you to look at your next art exhibit differently
Oh - and you'll be glad to know that even 400+ years back everyone could appreciate the value of impugning another man's penis. Some humor is truly ageless.
Buick Riviera (Croatia/Bosnia and Herzegovina) - Bosnian immigrant to US deals with the cold of the plains, painful memories, marital problems and a love affair with America embodied by his Buick. He's a non practicing Muslim. When he meets a transplanted Serb more problems rise up. Quietly acted, a bit confusing at times but watcheable (at least for me). With the possible interpretation that hate springs eternal this one is growing on me a day or two later. Mild recommend.
Stella (France) - coming of age film. Very pleasant. Girl in France from working class background goes to a somewhat more upper class public school. Will she fit in, make friends, pass her classes? You can probably get the gist. I liked it notwithstanding dozing off due to getting up too early. So if I missed a part involving alien invaders that ruins if for you - apologies.
A French writer is a student of a mysterious Japanese crime author. He writes his own novel as an homage - and goes to Japan as part of the promotional tour. He wants to meet the reclusive author and intentionally provokes him a bit to try to get such a meeting. Things go a bit farther than he expected and the game is afoot. Twists, turns and atmosphere aplenty follow. In the Japanese author's work that forms the structure of this story "Evil triumphs while goodness and love end up lying in a pool of blood on the floor." Whether this story will end that way or with the triumph of good is the underlying tension of this film. And if evil does triumph can this movie make you enjoy it against your more moral judgment (in the same the way folks don't generally take the side of Icarus). Doesn't take itself overly seriously which is ultimately what made it work for me.
Don't like the thriller genre with a slight edge of black comedy? Also good for those who want a touch of kinky sex involving a smidge of pain and the occasional bit of explicit toe sucking.
Almost forgot - at its heart this is an educational film. A good reminder about how if you're threatened by a potentially homicidal maniac it's not a DIY situation. Call the police. Even if you are a french speaking mystery writer. Sort of in the movie related advice for would be Bond villains. If you catch Mr. Bond, shoot him immediately. Then if you must, explain your grand plan to the still warm corpse. Just saying...
One point that I do think it true but is easy to miss is how even if you don't volunteer to be filmed 24/7 the digital footprint nature of the net does mean more of your life is online than most people over the age of 14 are probably comfortable with. Video is largely besides the point for most folks.
Unfair film note: on the way out someone tried to sell me a shirt to promote their film. In the lingo of the kids - WTF?
Alright - if it got me this torqued up it's probably worth seeing. ;-)
Laila's Birthday (Palestine) - my favorite film of the day. A judge is invited back to the Palestinian territories. Once there the job falls through so he drives a taxi while he patiently comes to the ministry of justice each day to check on things (as they work on other issues such as changing ministers and curtains). We follow what appears to be a mostly typical day in his life. Other than it's his beloved daughter's birthday and he needs to home by 8. Preferably with a cake and gift. Understated simplicity, interesting and entertaining.
Melodrama Habbibi (France) - The Stranger describes it as a French/Lebanese version of 'Lost in Translation.' Which is a stretch beyond it involving an entertainer past his prime and having some attraction to a younger woman. But this one doesn't have Scarlet in it. Oh - and the stories are completely different. The wife of a wealthy food businessman loves the one hit of a French crooner. He's imported (well past his prime) for her birthday party. Then stuff happens - mainly of the melodramatic variety. Hard to dislike strongly it didn't make a huge impression beyond a few parts. Thankfully the song they sing over and over isn't hard to listen to - at least not if you like the sound of French.
Opium War (Afghanistan) - American soldiers found by a bunch of boys that seem to be growing poppy fields (badly) with a smattering of adults around. Sort of a version of Lord of the Flies mixed with some sort of commentary on American military intervention. Not much seemed to happen and what happen I didn't much understand. I believe it's been listed under black comedy both at SIFF and Palm Springs. I didn't get it - so if the message is Americans are stupid they may have a point. Be warned there a good number of fans of this film so your mileage may vary.
About Elly (Iran) - one of the better films I've seen at the festival so far. A group of upper class Iranians head off on vacation. The married couples bring along a young woman they're trying to setup with a single member of their long standing group. Some things go terribly wrong and a variety of lies and related deceits come to the forefront. I believe this won a best film prize at Tribeca this year - which is not unreasonable. Like many Iranian films it seems like it probably works at other levels as well.
Bluebeard (France) - I hadn't really intended to see this but due to the Folklife festival I couldn't get anywhere near the uptown to see Rumba (at least not with the tight transition after About Elly). Didn't much care for this stylized, artistic take on the Bluebeard tale. I'm not super fond of the director and have been liking each of her film's a bit less than the last. As always technically and visually proficient - just not my cup of tea.
Welcome (France) - illegal immigration related story. A boy arrives in France from Iraq with the goal of getting to London to meet up with his love. He tries without success to make the illegal crossing into England (with others seeking work there). Stuck back in France he hits upon the idea of swimming the English channel. Taking lessons at what appears to be an equivalent of the Y he develops a friendship with his instructor. The film is both a story of friendship/love/choices but also provides a window into the mixed feelings on immigration within France. I was pulled in enough to care about the characters. Didn't completely fall in love with the film - but was a solid effort in my book.
My Dear Enemy (South Korea) - This is the film to see if you'd always wanted a full length treatment from the point of the paperboy in Better Off Dead. A woman shows up and demands payment for a year old loan from a guy she used to see. In full and immediately. He doesn't have it and she insists on staying with him until she gets it. Their road trip around town takes up the rest of the film as he tries to borrow the money he owes her from others. I won't say much else other than don't expect them to move too quickly through a conventional plot. I liked watching the relationships and issues unfold as we learned more about the characters. A nice piece of film making and one I think it would be fun to discuss afterwards with friends. If one has any who've actually seen this film. ;-)
Film IST. A girl & a gun (Austria) - experimental cinema, and it ain't kidding. Made from "found footage" which seems to fall into one of three categories being war, pornographic, and nature footage (sometimes covering two of the three groups). Divided into 5 groups, starting with "Genesis" the festival guide suggests it tells the story of the age old battle between men and women through film. I see the battle part - and it is made up of some very artistic editing. I'm just not one with the credentials to judge this. But since it's unlikely to hit your multiplex anytime soon it's probably not as though my recommendation or lack thereof is going to make a difference. I'm glad I tried it, though about 2/3 of the way through I realized it wasn't going to grok the point and I was pretty tired. So home I went...
California Company Town (USA) - interesting to look at. Not sure what to make of it beyond there are a bunch of dead towns in CA. Some because big companies set them up (probably both to be up and running quickly in remote spots with the bonus ability to do evil). Others because of failed experiments in either utopian thinking or business ventures. I guess experimental documentary means you have to figure the point out yourself. No freaking clue what the final reference to Silicon Valley was about.
French Gigolo (France) - some women like sex and don't want to deal with annoying men their own age. Here's a story about one of those women and the tough choices that drive a man to prostitution. Not bad - not the most interesting film of the year. Not even only judging amongst the guys falling into prostitution genre. French though with some amusing rap mixed in. Therefore I sort of enjoyed it - up to a point.
The Anarchist's Wife (Spain) - if you're reading the description of Spanish civil war melodrama and it sounds good then you should go. Love story amidst the fall of Madrid and beyond. It's nothing unexpected but the cinematography, costumes and the female leads (mother and daughter) made it work for me. Did folks really dress so finely during the bombing to go to the beauty salon?
I Sell the Dead (USA) - tough tales of the unsung heroes of the resurrection and body theft trades. Fun, goofy camp. It wasn't quite as amazing as folks have been describing it. But if it sounds good to you won't hate it. More comedy than horror. Well shot for the genre from a filmmaking perspective.
Shrink (USA) - Kevin Spacey plays the stereotypical fucked up shrink. Healing comes or doesn't based on all the character's ability to perfectly overlap each other's life stories. Finds a bit of a stride halfway through. But wasn't especially noteworthy for me. Nice performance (especially perhaps given some of the cliched material by the younger female actress whose name/credits I need to lookup) who plays the healing opportunity for the self medicating shrink.
The Higher Force (Iceland) - dysfunctional Icelandic gangster slice of life tale. Some thought it was slow but I quite enjoyed this often amusing story. Not a hard boiled gangster thing even though Christopher from The Sopronos makes an appearance. Yes - that Christopher. And yes, that's confusing. But it definitely worked for me. Just hard to explain why.
a. See it when you can
b. Try to see it in an under attended screening as the secondary laugh lines are going to be covered by the audience laughing at the main joke.
c. If you watch it on video you'll probably want to try the captioning to avoid missing anything.
I'm going to watch it again when I can take advantage of (c). I laughed hard, and often - and that is sometimes more than enough. Not sure it makes any less than obvious points about screwed up politicians, politics or people. But it does savage I Heart Huckabees and that's just a great bonus. Perhaps won't be your cup of tea if you believe the invasion of Iraq was a well planned, thought through, and impressively executed operation based on well analyzed intelligence. Though they may not show this film in the alternate earth you live in anyway...
Oh yeah - it is amusing how the folks interviewed are very proud of their artistic work/success but are quick to point fingers at unnamed "other" ad people giving their business a bad name. There's probably a documentary to be made on the psychology of that as well...
I got there on the early side as I'd made an additional donation that included a party before and parking. So around 5:30 I shot into the tent next door to the paramount. It was fairly quiet at that point and I snapped the daylight photo featuring a few of the many Rat City Rollergirls in attendance. You can make out the red carpet they'd setup in the background.
Inside the tent there were a variety of alcohol and Dry brand soda choices. Everything was tasty enough and I strung together enough appetizer sized bites to fill up. Especially on their salmon spread one. :-) I took a few bad photos inside the tent - roughly to the left.
Before the film an award was given to Lynn Shelton who made the very good film Humpday that'll be part of the centerpiece gala.
After the movie then the party literally spilled out into the streets. In addition to the "vip" tent they got an entire block set aside for the party. Outdoor bar and food sponsored took over with the huge crowd. I couldn't get near the food for most of the night except back in the VIP tent. Though there seemed to be plenty of food as when the crowd thinned out there was plenty of opportunity to keep eating. I just wasn't interested enough (read hungry) to wait.
They also had a live band called "Boat" - very catchy stuff from what I heard. I took the worst photo of the night of them as they (for some reason) just would not stand still at all.
Sort of late in the evening I finally found "the bubble lounge" setup inside the Paramount behind the screen. To be fair I wasn't looking for it - I'd just forgotten them announcing the theater would stay open through the night No actual bubbles which was slightly disappointing. Though they did have bubble like balloons suspended from the ceiling. They did have cupcakes though! It was warmer in there and the later staying folks all seemed to end up there. It was a great spot to hangout in later in the evening and sounded oddly what I figure my prom would have sounded like (if I'd gone) with a complete 80's soundtrack.
Oh yeah - during the outside party they had some wandering entertainment. While we were talking The Amazing William just walked up looking oddly like Ricky Jay and pulled out a deck of cards. I'm pretty proud of my "never trust a man who brings his own deck of cards" comment which elicited a nod of agreement. He did some close in card stuff and then circulated. He really was very good I was standing next to him where I could even see the back of his hands and still could see nothing but what he wanted. Not really movie related but still a treat.
So overall a blast. It was still going strong when I left after midnight - so I think I'm not the only one who was enjoying themselves... Great job by SIFF and an army of super helpful volunteers!
Do agree with The Hurt Locker - very good indeed. Some of my picks (based on the limited number I've seen are off to the right of the page. I included my picks from past fests below to the right so you can calibrate yourself to my taste (or lack thereof).
A. His HS best friend and now adult (and rich super geeky) best friend Thomas Lennon who steals the movie for me (the "peacocking" scene out of The Game or the horrible VH-1 reality show had me literally crying for some reason).
B. The bit of self-awareness the writers bring to the genre. When he first convinces his friend he's lost 20 years overnight they pore through "the literature" (mostly comics and fantasy novels), etc.
I didn't find it as fantastic as some reviews suggest. Let's just say it's somewhere south of Big but north of Freaky Friday 3 (or so I'd guess). Probably a rental IMHO.
- What is going on?
- Boy is this interesting looking - but I wonder if there's actually a story here.
- I can tell there are lots of clever homages to famous art/films - but I'm not getting them.
- oh no, falling asleep - try to keep from dozing off (aka I should have had some caffeine before the opening credits)
- WTF? Or was that just me?
- Is it possible that the trailer for this film contained literally EVERY word spoken in the film?
- Well at least it had that character who was always naked.
I did some searching on the 'net reading professional reviews. Even folks who liked it didn't even attempt to explain this "film." I use the quotes because it seemed more like a beautiful photo exhibition than a film with a story. If you're ok with nothing but symbolism, lots of references to other things, and almost no talking then this could well be your dream film. Me? I'm taking a break from Jim Jarmusch's work for a while.
The "story" - follows a quiet man on a mission likely seriously overcomplicated by a series of kabuki like meetings across Spain leading up the event. There's a lot of talk about "using your imagination" - and you will need to. It may work better if you just go in expecting an art film without narrative. Even then you may come out believing everyone is trying a bit too hard.
BTW - Central Cinema does have a lot of other interesting stuff coming up. Including Nerdcore for Life and a double feature including Romeo and Juliet and the potentially superior Tromeo and Juliet. Oh yeah - they've got Casablanca too. :-)
Update: Oops - seems the Tromeo and Juliet double feature was a few weeks back. Darn...
Update: I may have made a mistake seeing this in the press screenings vs. the public showings. Seems there's (not surprisingly) a lot of fan interest. Often a documentary filled with participants or huge fans make the festival experience far better than just seeing the movie on it's own - see Blood on the Flat Track notes for one of the better examples. So if you're going to go see this doc - might want to try for the first showing where I'm guessing the best post film discussion will take place. According to the press screening notes, "Director David Barba is expected to attend the Festival." Not 100% sure that means he'll be at one or both screenings, etc. - and I think all these things are subject to ... life, etc.
"Based on writer-director Justin Kerrigan's childhood, I Know You Know manages to be both a semi-autobiographical homage and an espionage thriller. The poignant tale set in the 1980s Welsh countryside stresses a child's enduring love for his father no matter what the circumstances."It tells the story of what must have been a traumatic childhood. Just think about how you felt when you found out Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, or your college girlfriend's offer of a threesome with her roommate wasn't real. Now consider having to evaluate if Dad really was a secret agent for MI-6. Gotta suck unless your last name is Bond. A tale of unconditional love and serious mental illness puts a different visual spin on what tends to be a pretty consistent story. Nothing wrong with the performances and the movie making style seems solid. It's clearly a very personal from the description and in film dedication. Unfortunately, didn't hold my interest deeply enough to recommend it.
A. California is considerably hotter than Seattle
B. Adventureland ain't bad - though not as great as its soundtrack - which is pretty awesome.
C. Arclight theaters are very cool! Even if they don't include a prize with their super fancy Cracker Jacks.
D. The song "Rock Me Amadeus" becomes no less annoying with the passing of years.
Adventureland has been out for a while so you've probably seen it if you were going to. :-). Billed as a comedy it felt more like a slice of life/coming of age film. I think seen through that prism it generally works, even if it's not necessarily one of my favorites of the genre. When his plans for the summer fall apart due to family financial issues the main character of the film (a recent liberal arts graduate - and therefore amusingly unemployable) finds himself stuck in a less than thrilling summer job at a 2nd tier amusement part. The film is set in 1987 and the team making the movie seem to have had a lot of fun getting the feel just right - from the soundtracks, attitudes, and styles (right down to the black jelly bracelets). Oh - but the plot?, basically the standard coming of age stuff. Maybe he finds friends, love, himself, or all three. A pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. If you were anywhere in the teen to 20's during the 80's you'll probably find enough to smile at even if you don't otherwise get into the story. So overall a relatively safe bet as long as your initial expectations are appropriately calibrated .
Nothing super unexpected to report here. The new Trek film from the guy who did Lost/Alias is a retelling/re-invention of the Star Trek "origin" story. There's some time traveling weirdness, a couple of battle scenes and an extra Spock thrown in for good measure. Most (if not all) of the characters from the original TV series are around and the important parts of the original series (read mini skirted uniforms and Kirk hooking up with women of the green skinned variety) have made it through intact. Oh, there's a story about bad (or at least hurt/angry) aliens vs. the federation, etc. but I don't think plot is the main point. Not sure it really 100% makes sense and I may have dozed during the final hand to hand combat scene, but overall decent enough for what it is (yes - that does mean I went in with supremely low expectations). BTW - no cameo from the dude doing the Priceline commercials. Wonder if some folks can't get along?...
Anyway... Just hoping they'll add some Tribbles into the inevitable sequel.
This is the new film from Lynn Shelton that had a lot of buzz coming out of Sundance. I think I've seen a Shelton film each of the last three years at SIFF. Each one seems to get progressively stronger - though I did really also like My Effortless Brilliance last year. That said I think this one is likely more approachable even given the slightly more in your face subject matter. And the acting is particularly good from all involved though I do want to call out Alycia Delmore who does a great job playing the wife of Mark Duplass. Joshua Leonard plays the other main in the potential onscreen couple - it took IMDB for me to place him. Last saw him in Expecting Love at the Polish film festival. Quite a bit more interesting here.
It's billed as a comedy - and there are funny parts (mostly of the funny uncomfortable variety). Though I think overall the more interesting part is the dynamics of the relationship between the men, and the married couple (of which Duplass is a part) as they all try to reconcile life choices, paths not taken, and how far will two male friends push themselves deeper into an uncomfortable situation. The plot seems a bit implausible at some point in the beginning, but I felt but by the end I largely understood how the characters found themselves in the situations they did. The dialog is interesting, natural feeling and one of the strong elements of the film. It's also the sort of film where you'll probably have some interesting stuff to discuss - if only how Shelton often manages to nail the idiosyncrasies of the male psyche. Though admittedly, we may not be the most subtle of creatures.
One final tip. If your partner calls you and says he's at a party with a bunch of artists who've named they're house "Dionysus, and they mean it," you might want to put down the pork chops to join the festivities to keep an eye on things...
SIFF 2009 Programmer Picks
The full 2009 SIFF website is of course now up. They've extended the tech level a bit with an i-phone app as well as a visual sorting tool you can try online to find movies that fit your interests (small example in the upper left).