So here's the creme de la creme of the intersection of my film adventures since SIFF 2011 and the offerings of SIFF 2012. I'm gonna dispense with the Venn diagram - but hopefully you get the idea. This will be a big post - but I think it's worth your time if you're a serious SIFF-goer. I've tried to just pull out a list of the best of the best write up front for those in a hurry. Lots and lots more info after the jump.
Here are the films I recommend the most highly in a nutshell (in no particular order). But please do read the descriptions - my taste is .... let's just say ....
- Safety Not Guaranteed
- The Central Park Effect
- Sleepwalk with Me
- Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines
- Las Acacias
- Klown (please, ready my notes below though. seriously)
- The Do-Deca Pentathalon
- Bad Brains: A Band in DC
- My Sucky Teen Romance (as long as you don't have anything against vampires, or teens)
Safety Not Guaranteed - A cryptic classified ad attracts the attention of a reporter at Seattle Magazine:
"Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED."
Whether it's out of genuine interest or desire for a weekend out of town to try and hook up with an old flame he pitches an investigation into the classified listing. Before you know it Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) along with interns Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) are down by the Washington shore staking out a post office box to identify the time traveler in question. It doesn't take long for them to identify Kenneth (Mark Duplass) as he's picking up mail. First Jeff attempts to make contact but things doesn't really click. A more subtle approach by Darius does the trick and she begins the process of becoming his confidant. Jeff deals with the reality of time's impact on his lost love (who is shockingly no longer 18). More of each character is revealed, we learn perhaps Kenneth's motivations and laugh out hilarity ensues. Amongst some sweet and occasionally touching moments.
I think the only people who might not love Safety Not Guaranteed are the publishers of Seattle Weekly whose magazine gets made fun of at times. As a whole it's a dynamite film that's just a ton of fun. It's amusing, it's sweet, and it makes you think about the things you'd want to go back and change in your past. Suspect we've all got a few of those to wrestle with as we go to bed each night.
Oh, and it's about flippin' time travel .... (maybe)
Mike Birbiglia takes us along for a thinly veiled autobiographical ride as he becomes an accomplished performer, plans his wedding, simultaneously contemplates whether he wants to get married and struggles with a remarkably dangerous sleepwalking problem. We're always hearing how great comedy comes from great personal pain. But it's rare for a film to demonstrate it so convincingly. This moving picture that has a lot of bits some of us may feel more than a little uncomfortable with due to self recognition. But it's hilarious and directly shows that process of turning real life trauma into hilarious stand-up. There's a lot more to say about this film - but the main thing is to watch it at the first opportunity that presents itself.
Mark travels back to his mother's house for a birthday celebration after being assured Jeremy won't be there. But as we're watching a movie we'll need Jeremy to crash the festivities. The pair agree to complete the Do-Deca, much to the chagrin of Mark's wife and their mom. Resulting in much of the incredibly complex competition being executed covertly. Or at least they think covertly. With events ranging from a race, to laser-tag and boxing this is one serious athletic endeavor. As well as an event that genuinely must have been crafted by two adolescent brothers. It's the be-all battle for brotherhood supremacy. Or perhaps the saving event of their relationship.
A film created by the Duplass Brothers back when they were still working micro-budget it feels real, and raw. It's surprisingly enjoyable given the seriousness of the film's second half. It totally worked for me - and I think it will for most people. At least most people who are adults and have a brother. Especially if you're pretty sure about having a brother but a little less confident in evaluating yourself as an adult, mentally speaking.
Reelgrrls. Oh, and just a bit about the fascinating originator of Wonder Woman and why she always seems to be tied up in early editions of the comics. Worth seeing by comic fans .... and everyone else. It's funny, it's insightful, it'll make you want to twirl around to see if you become a superhero. Not that I ever tried that as a kid...
In short - See it. If you don't believe me here's a much longer take that basically says the same thing.
mate consumption, and in the end an understated super-compelling film. In keeping with the less is more ethos of the filmmaker I'm just going to say you should buy a ticket. I'll wait...
Haven't yet? - Maybe I have not adequately described how much I really loved this film. This was one of the most beautiful surprises for me at Palm Springs 2012. And I only walked in by mistake because something else was booked. You on the other hand dear reader, have no such excuse. Add it to your schedule now.
The trailers below are very NSFW as is practically everything about the film.
Tatsumi (Singapore) - I don't consider myself especially a fan of manga. As such this animated film described as biographical material about a famous Japanese comic artist seemed like a stretch for me. But I'm glad I decided to give it a try as Tatsumi is a fascinating immersion into a world I didn't really know existed. And isn't that at least some of the time why we go to the movies? Tatsumi is a cinematic adaptation of Tatsumi Hoshihiro's autobiographical book "A Drifting Life." He's a leading figure (and I gathered the originator) of a sub-category of Japanese manga called Gekiga. Which are comics/graphic-novels that are intended for adults. Not because they're full of fornicating octopuses, but because they deal with more serious, often darker subject matter and are drawn in a realistic manner. I'd imagine it's similar to the comic book vs "graphic novel" distinction made here.
I've included a trailer for the film that shows the graphical motion-comic feel of the picture - usually I'm not big on trailers but in this case the picture equaling a thousand words cliche is apt. The film includes stories that Tatsumi is famous for, as well as a stand-in character that narrates his growth as an artist, and the creation of the Gekiga concept. While I found the biography part interesting it was the five Tatsumi stories adapted to the screen that kept me riveted. They're not light subject matter, and parts could be offensive to some. But they're all incredibly emotionally evocative. In particular a tale of survivor guilt after Hiroshima early in the film around a photograph that didn't necessarily depict the meaning people ascribed to it was incredibly powerful. The look of the work onscreen varies with the themes and timeframe being depicted, but it's consistently sharp and eye catching.
It's impossible to sense anything but deep love by the director Eric Khoo for Tatsumi's work. Even though it's the first time I'd been exposed to the material that affection is plainly clear. The film isn't necessarily going to turn me into a Gekiga reader by itself - but it absolutely opened my mind to the concept and piqued my curiosity in a serious way. Would think hard before skipping this film - knowing what I know now about it. Just saying...
I enjoyed the film which has a bright pop look to it, some amusing dialog and earnest, likable (albeit not super slick) performances populating it. It's not a parody of vampire films, at least not a full on one. Instead it feels more like a tragic romantic comedy that does get some of its laughs at the expense of Twilight and a trial and error process of figuring out which vampire lore applies in the kid's particular situation. With many a nod towards the fact that it's hard out there for the teens...
If you're a mass consumer of vampire pop-culture I'd say My Sucky Teen Romance is definitely worth your time. Certainly more than some other recent efforts (yes, I'm looking at you Vampires Suck and and I Kissed a Vampire). For everyone else I think the urge to catch it may be somewhat less urgent. There's a more comprehensive review lurking in this site's archives if you'd like to read more.
Italy - Love It or Leave It is a bright looking travelogue that's equal parts funny and sad and follows along as directors Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer criss-cross Italy by road. They're a handsome and often adorable couple in the process of an extended debate over leaving Italy for more hospitable climates. Or at least the cheaper rents of Berlin. They seem to agree on the downsides of Berlusconi's Italy but not on the key question of should they stay or should they go. Their argument travels with them as they motor across the nation in a collection of vintage Fiats. It's near impossible to not enjoy the protagonists and their unique spin on the travel documentary mashed up with their take on the Italian dream. A lot of the problems uncovered by the pair are familiar to those paying attention to the world economy the last decade or so. But it's still a very engaging way to spend 75 minutes. You could do worse - for a bit more depth on my thoughts feel free to checkout a more complete review I wrote for SXSW.
How to Steal Two Million (South Africa) - A solid, straight forward (except for the occasional twist) noir piece set in South Africa. Guy leaves prison, gets sucked back into the life and a complex robbery goes bad. And of course there's a woman in the mix. Not as dark and intense as Viva Riva! but certainly worth seeing.
Slackers David and John encounter a mystical drug called Soy Sauce which opens ones eyes to the paranormal, or perhaps other dimensions. And all hell breaks loose. Come to think of it, you should probably just give this one a try. If it makes you feel any better Paul Giamatti is in it as well. It's a bit of a crazy hot mess, although I think a more cohesive one than other examples I'd steer folks away from. Sure, that's confusing - but I'm just trying to get you into the spirit of the film.
Oh - and from the Q&A with the director I learned the film was made in no small measure due to Amazon.com's recommendation algorithm. Apparently director Don Coscarelli learned of the novel due to one of those "people who bought X also bought Y" options. Who said computers can't be responsible for the creation of art?
Even without the speed contributing degree of difficulty there's serious work to be had attempting to follow the involved arguments between the student turned activist main character and everyone else. As he engages in hyper specific Argentine politics, lessons from The Prince and a good bit of sex. I have to admit it was sorta fun. Though I maybe really followed at most 30-40% of what was going on.
And then there are two films I'm a little less positive on...
Bobcat Goldthwait than I did. Judging from what I read online as well as audience reaction. On paper it sound intriguing, "Loveless, jobless, possibly terminally ill, Frank has had enough of the downward spiral of America. With nothing left to lose, Frank takes his gun and offs the stupidest, cruelest, and most repellent members of society." Even after I figured out that the targets of his rage were reality show folks and people who "high-five" I probably could have still gone along for the ride as Frank (Joel Murray) picks up teen Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) for his partner in crime (ok mass murder thrill-kill spree). It's intended I'm pretty sure as the blackest of black comedy. But for me to enjoy a film with fantasy sequences of splattering a baby with a shotgun there's got to be something more leading up to reality show massacre level catharsis. Not saying I didn't laugh from time to time, I did. It's just the whole package that left me uninterested enough that I probably would have skipped out early on it at SXSW if I didn't have to pay my tab at the Alamo Theater first.
I'm convinced I maybe could get into something this twisted - but not this particular film. Well shot visually though a bit too speech making I just couldn't muster whatever minimal emotional connection to Frank's fucked up life to make this work. Dude, I agree with practically everything said in the film about talking in movies, the death of civil discourse, useless TV "journalism" and reality TV. But then again, I also know how to change the channel. At least until something sick, twisted, and engaging appears onscreen. This is not that - at least for me.
M. Night Shyamalan affair. 'nuff said.