Before I get into the films, a moment of editorial content... Maybe it's just me, but I feel it'd be a great time for SIFF to upgrade their website. It's getting a bit difficult to get a sense as to what's coming up. Each time I browse over there and poke through the calendar I get the feeling it's entirely possible I'm going to miss something really exciting that just shows up suddenly. I love the dynamism that's being brought to the programming, but it's easy to miss something. Not that I needed to plan two weeks in advance to see Human Centipede 2 (thank you very much, I was at the US premiere party early because I skipped the film at Fantastic Fest). But it still seems like it takes more digging than less nutty film fans may be willing to put in. The old style of site was totally fine for one engagement per week and the festival. But they may have outgrown the current design.
That said there are a lot of really interesting things showing up over the next few weeks. I've pulled out what I hope is a mostly complete list below. Personally I'm very excited to see The Swell Season, the documentary that follows the couple from Once. That was so even before Three Imaginary Girls gave it an absolute rave. Now it's on my must see list before it leaves town on 11/23. Also very intrigued by Le Havre which will be there through Nov. 24th.
This weekend you can catch one of those two, one of several Italian Festival films, or the Sundance award winning documentary Hell and Back Again. It sounds fairly interesting - here's a short description;
"From his embed with US Marines Echo Company in Afghanistan, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis reveals the devastating impact a Taliban machine-gun bullet has on the life of 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris. The film seamlessly transitions from stunning war reportage to an intimate portrait of one man’s personal struggle at home in North Carolina, where Harris confronts the physical and emotional difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life with the love and support of his wife, Ashley. Masterfully contrasting the intensity of the frontline with the unsettling normalcy of home, HELL AND BACK AGAIN lays bare the true cost of war."Maybe less than humble as far as the description goes. But as the documentary was just put officially on the short list for this year's Oscar in the documentary category I suppose I'll let it slide.
I have seen a few of the films already. For some I'll come back with fuller reviews, but here are some quick thoughts on ones I've had a chance to screen.
- Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Brazil) - One of my top films from Fantastic Fest 2011. In short - I really dug this one. Smart, intense and a view of Brazil only hinted at in Fast Five. I liked the earlier Elite Squad too - but maybe this one more. The action/thriller aspect of it was top notch. And the real world political underpinnings of it were fascinating. Not to mention scary as heck. I heard folks after comparing it to The Wire. The two do feel very different to me (outside of corruption) but I think the quality and realism made the same connection for me at some stages of the film. Do ... not ... miss ... it!
- London Boulevard - I really enjoyed this gangster version of Notting Hill starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. But really starring Colin Farrel. Farrell is a recently released ex-con whose "friends" keep trying to drag him into something dirty. He just wants to be left alone. Somehow he stumbles into a handyman/bodyguard gig for a reclusive famous movie star. Add in a sense of justice, some nasty London gangsters, an out there sister, David Thewlis and a knack for violence and it's gonna be an entertaining ride. The whole film was a pleasure, but as Farrel explains to Ray Winstone who keeps trying to pull him into a life of crime - "You don't want me to be a gangster. I couldn't stop if I started. So you get it?" I realized he should just play this role in every film. Not going to be an Academy Award contender but a quality popcorn flick.
- The Weird World of Blowfly - Documentary about Clarence Reid, an accomplished musician who wrote and produced many significant soul/R&B songs and acts of the 60's and 70's. At the same time he was living a double life through his alter-ego named Blowfly. That Blowfly cat we're told may be one of the true original rappers. He's also the dirtiest version of Weird Al this writer has ever heard. Able to turn almost anything into a filthy, filthy tune he inspired a generation of musicians/rappers. It's partially a sad story as Reid sold his now lucrative rights to his not X-rated songs for a pittance. He now gets by on a limited income while having some success with his Blowfly persona. I'm hoping to have the energy to do a full review before it hits SIFF Cinema. It's an interesting film - though top-heavy. Once I learned a bit about his music my interest tended to fade as the film follows him on tour. And when I say filthy lyrics - if you don't believe me feel free to have a listen to "Let Me Cum in Your Mouth" or "Rap Dirty." Personally I don't know that it's "must see" - but it's certainly something I didn't know before, so I don't regret checking it out.
- Sleeping Beauty (Australia) - to say the least an unusual film. About a young, beautiful and beyond passive young woman who struggles to make ends meet as a student. Numb to life she takes a job through an add through an ad in the school paper. The position ultimately involves being drugged, left in a bed naked to be used by old rich men. Not penetrated she's told repeatedly. But that doesn't make it any less creepy. I liked the spare, elegant style of the picture, full of fixed camera shots and minimalist dialog. Emily Browning as the woman in question delivers a compelling performance and is one heck of a sport for taking on the role. My brain is still processing it though and I'm not exactly sure what I took away from it. Many might view it as a pretentious art-house mess out of Cannes. I'm not quite there, but I understand how one might have that opinion. Like I said, still unraveling it mentally. Perhaps the main issue I'm struggling with is while it's really out there it still felt as though I knew where it was going from the beginning. Perhaps all fairy tales are just like that though.
- Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finland) - either a brilliant tell-all film about the true origins of Father Christmas that the Coca-Cola company never wanted you to see…or a fascinating exploration of what the outcome would have been if darkly quirky Finnish movie types had remade a film originally starring Bruce Willis. It’s likely destined to become a Christmas classic for those who view Bad Santa as just a smidge too sweet for their tastes. Oh - in case you missed it, not a Santa film for little kids.
Near the border with Russia, the Sub-Zero corporation is in the process of trying to unearth the original Santa. Buried long ago in ice, this Santa is more of the “thrash bad children to the point of incapacitation with the occasional boiling them alive to keep things interesting” sort of creature. So of course when he’s pulled out of the ground some bad things are going to happen – at the very least he’s going to be hungry. And you won’t like Santa when he’s hungry.
There are scares, beautiful photography, well acted father/son moments and of course gingerbread. Not to mention copious amounts of blowing shit up. Basically something for everyone. The film skimps somewhat on character development, but it hits the highlights of what most people will be looking for. Namely a bunch of everymen taking up arms against jolly ol’ Saint Nick. In the end the concept and visual execution probably was a little stronger than the plot, but for a bit of anti-holiday cheer in a genre wrapper, it’s almost as much fun as it sounds. Just beware of one full frontal older elf nudity scene taking place in a communal shower. That may be one of the most haunting images you’ll see on screen this year. It can make you flash back to time spent in a YMHA locker room you’ve been trying to forget for 25 years. Or so I’d imagine… (longer review at Three Imaginary Girls)
Edward D. Wood Jr's legendary "so bad it's good classic" is back on the big screen. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a notorious bit of 1950's science fiction/horror exploitation that is just begging for the comedy treatment, and SIFF has teamed up with The People's Republic of Komedy to provide just that--with three hilarious guest commentators.Hope to see everyone at one of the SIFF Cinemas soon. And if you agree with me feel free to pass on some constructive criticism about their website. :-)
Dana Gould is a comedian, writer on The Simpsons, and personal friend of the late Maila Nurmi (aka Vampira). Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu are living legends known for their work on Cinematic Titanic and Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Together they will guide you through this confounding, enticing, ridiculous and exciting tale of grave robbers…from outer space!
Upcoming Films at SIFF Cinemas
- Le Havre (open through 11/24)
- Muppets™, Music & Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy 11/5–22
- Cinema Italian Style 11/16-20
- Public Speaking: Fran Lebowitz (open through 11/22)
- Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) 11/19
- London Boulevard Opens 11/23
- Another Happy Day Opens 11/23
- Elite Squad: The Enemy Within 11/25
- Miss Representation 11/30
- Kinyarwanda 12/2–8
- Dana Gould presents Plan 9 From Outer Space 12/8
- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory 12/9–11
- Tyrannosaur 12/9
- Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale 12/9 & 12/10
- The Princess Bride Quote Along 12/16–18
- In Remembrance 12/16–22
- NT Live: Collaborators 1/9 & 1/15
- The Swell Season (open through 11/23)
- Hell and Back Again (open through 11/23)
- Granito: How to Nail a Dictator 11/25–12/1
- The Weird World of Blowfly 11/25–12/1
- Paul Goodman Changed My Life 12/2–8
- Sleeping Beauty 12/9–15
- Film Craft Commentary: Cinematographer Ben Kasulke 12/13