Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sydney Pollack--and more SIFF


Sydney Pollack died earlier this week. He directed a lot of movies that became part of our shared popular culture over the past few decades, films like They Shoot Horses, Don't They, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, and Out of Africa. He's made many more, but these are a few good ones to start with.

And meanwhile, in Seattle, it's seven days down, eighteen days to go at SIFF. TVOR has had a good time in the theater recently, with many more hits than misses. Here are some thoughts:

Still Life tells the stories of some of the people whose lives are affected by the Three Gorges project. It's a very well-done narrative film that is a nice accompaniment to the documentary Up the Yangtze.

For pure pleasure, you can't beat Sita Sings the Blues, an animated musical version of the Indian epic, the Ramayana--using the music of 1920's blues vocalist Annette Hanshaw. Oh, and there's a contemporary story too. Plus some unscripted discussion. It's hard to describe this movie, but take it from TVOR--you should see it. It'll get released, so watch for it.

TVOR also liked A Man's Job, a Norwegian film about an unemployed family man who posts an ad to provide handyman work and ends up providing other "services" to women.

Breakfast With Scot was a lightweight but pleasant comedy--a closeted gay couple take in very fey pre-teen. No surprises here, except that the film got the cooperation of the National Hockey League. (Half of the gay couple is an ex-professional hockey player.) Only in Canada.

Mongol was a very enjoyable big Russian-made epic about Ghengis Khan. Apparently he wasn't such a bad guy.

TVOR liked the Norwegian film The Art of Negative Thinking. She probably would have liked it even more if the reels had been screened in the proper order. It's about a support group for the disabled that is hijacked by an angry accident victim who is not in the mood to think about the bright side of things.

Good Food is a documentary about organic food, sustainable farming, eating locally--all that sort of thing. Not bad, but sort of like a PBS documentary.

California Dreamin' (Endless) is one of the best things TVOR has seen at SIFF this year. It's a Romanian film made by Cristian Nemescu, who died in an automobile accident at age 27, before the film was finished. In it, an American-led NATO group transporting some equipment by train is held up in a tiny town in Romania during the war in Kosovo. We'll never know how Nemescu would have finished the film, or what other work he would have produced. Too bad.

Katyn is a very well-done Polish film about the murder of Polish army officers by the Russian army in 1940, which was denied (and blamed on the Nazis) for decades.

You can skip Summer Heat, a Dutch erotic thriller which is neither very erotic nor very thrilling. The people are very pretty, but unfortunately, not very bright.

Monday, May 26, 2008

SIFF Update #1--plus some video suggestions


Four days down, 21 to go.

TVOR liked most of what she saw the first few days of SIFF 2008.

She enjoyed the Russian film Mermaid (but don't go in thinking it's all that Amelie-like, no matter what you hear).

She also liked The Pope's Toilet (maybe the best title in the fest), the story of a poor Uruguayan village's attempt to profit from the visit of the pope.

Ballast, an American indie, is another winner, about the aftermath of a suicide.

Boy A is an excellent film from the U.K. about a juvenile offender after his release from prison.

In Elegy, Ben Kingsley is very good as a man resisting falling in love. Dennis Hopper plays his friend, and it's nice to see him playing a character that's not a psycho.

And Up the Yangtze is a fascinating, sort of sad, sort of horrifying, sort of amazing documentary about the effects of the Three Gorges dam on the people who live in the area. The director described it as Love Boat meets Apocalypse Now. Now that's a snappy tag line.

She was less impressed with The Last Mistress by the French director Catherine Breillat, the queen of graphic sex and dysfunctional love. The Last Mistress is a period piece, with great costumes, less sex, and all of the dysfunction we have come to expect.

Transsiberian was a waste of talent and interesting locations, with unbelievably stupid characters. Don't be lured by the cast.

Video Notes:

For those not in film festival mode right now, here are some films from recent months now available on video. TVOR thought these were all worth checking out, and she blogged about them on the dates shown.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2/15/08)
Caramel (2/2/08)
Starting Out in the Evening (1/5/08)
King Corn (2/20/08)
There Will Be Blood (1/20/08)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (1/5/08)
Charlie Wilson's War (12/20/07)
Juno (1/8/08)

Also check out My Life Without Me, an earlier film by Isabel Coixet, the director of Elegy. Sarah Polley plays a young mother with terminal cancer, a subject that may make you want to run screaming from the room. Don't--the film is very nicely done.

Friday, May 23, 2008

SIFF 2008


First of all, apologies to those not in Seattle, as this entry is Seattle-centric.

The 2008 Seattle International Film Festival began last night with a screening of Stuart Townsend's Battle in Seattle. That film will never play to such a large and appreciative audience again. Much of the audience had witnessed or maybe even participated in the events surrounding the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle. TVOR had an excellent vantage point of the goings-on in 1999 since her office was next door to the Convention Center, the epicenter of the event. (An aside--it's very disconcerting to see a police officer, in full riot gear, standing in line at the local espresso emporium, ordering a grande vanilla latte with whip. It makes you lose some of your respect for authority.)

Opening night is over, though, and now it's time for 24 more days of SIFF and hundreds of films. TVOR has seen some of these already, at press screenings and other film festivals. Here are some brief thoughts on what she's seen so far, in no particular order.

The Edge of Heaven
TVOR has gone on enough about this one by SIFF 2008 Emerging Master Fatih Akin. It's good.

An earlier Akin film. Also very good. And on video if you can't see it on the big screen.

Seach'd: The Crimson Snowdrop
Nicely photographed, in old Scottish language, but not TVOR's cup of tea.

Stranded: I've Come From a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains
A documentary about the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the early 70's and who resorted to cannibalism while awaiting rescue. TVOR didn't think she'd like this, but was pleasantly surprised. Very well done, with fascinating interviews with the survivors and amazing pictures.

My Effortless Brilliance
A good locally made film by Lynn Shelton. Guys, who are former friends, in the woods.

Emmanuel Jal: War Child
A documentary about a Sudanese child soldier who becomes a hip-hop artist. An interesting subject, but not a great film.

Continental, a Film Without Guns
A film about alienation. Maybe TVOR was feeling too alienated, but she found it forgettable.

The Red Awn
The first film directed by the screenwriter of Shower, which TVOR really liked. Unfortunately, this did not live up to her hopes for it. Beautiful to look at, but the characters weren't quite sketched out enough, she thought.

Bigger Stronger Faster
A documentary about steroid use, this was another film TVOR didn't expect much from, but she really liked it. There's a personal element, plus lots of interviews. A definite recommendation.

Let the Right One In
A Swedish vampire flick. What's not to like? Not too gory and actually kind of sweet. Definitely worth seeing.

Garden Party
No. Just don't do it.

Savage Grace
TVOR was reminded of the first line of Anna Karenina, the one about how happy families are all alike, and unhappy families are unhappy in all sorts of different ways. This family takes many ways of being unhappy and tries to do all of them simultaneously. Pretty well done, with good acting (Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, etc.), but these are not people TVOR wanted to spend time with.

The Girl by the Lake
Italian police procedural. A good one.

The 3 Little Pigs
French Canadian men behaving badly. TVOR was not as amused as she was supposed to be.

Before the Rains
An Indian film with a western feel. No singing, no dancing, no sign of Bollywood anywhere. This takes place during colonial times, but is more from the viewpoint of the Indians than the British. Worth seeing. And beautiful to look at.

The Home Song Stories
TVOR thought this film, telling the story of a troubled immigrant mother in Australia, was very good, with an outstanding performance by Joan Chen.

Jar City
When was the last time you saw an Icelandic crime drama? This one is good.

Mister Foe (also called Hallam Foe)
Jamie Bell is very good in this British sort-of-comedy about a teenager who adopts what might be called an unconventional lifestyle.

One Hundred Nails
This didn't work for TVOR. Maybe she's too shallow.

Games of Love & Chance
A 2003 film from Emerging Master Abdel Kechiche is a contemporary take on the Marivaux play. Very well done. Also on video.

Sexy Beast

Sir Ben Kingsley not looking very Sir-like. He plays a wonderful baddie in this very entertaining crime caper from 2000. Another one that's on video.

And that's just to start. More later.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Finally coming to a theater near you


There are some big movies out now but TVOR has been otherwise engaged. Recently, any time she has spent watching films has been at press screenings for the upcoming Seattle International Film Festival. Instead of superheroes she has been spending time with the usual parade of real people from around the world who populate film festival screens. But more about SIFF in a later entry.

It's always nice when good films, after making the festival rounds for a while, actually get distribution so that more people can see them. This doesn't happen nearly as often as you might wish. A few of TVOR's favorites from the past year can now be seen in theaters.

The Edge of Heaven
Written and directed by Fatih Akin

TVOR saw The Edge of Heaven at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. At that time, it didn't have distribution in the U.S. but justice has finally prevailed and it is opening today in New York, eventually to work its way into at least some of the rest of the country. This is an excellent film, one of the best things out there right now. It's hard to describe it exactly--it's about several characters, Turkish, German, and Turkish-German, whose lives intersect in ways that explore life in contemporary Europe, the lives of immigrants, human nature, etc. TVOR told you it was hard to describe. But it is definitely worth seeing.

Directed and co-written by Joachim Trier

This Norwegian film was playing film festivals a year ago, and is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. As usual, the rest of the country has to wait a bit. Fortunately, it's worth it. Reprise is the story of two young men, friends and aspiring writers, who mail off their manuscripts on the same day. From there, they have very different experiences of success and failure, ups and downs--professionally, personally, and romantically. The filmmaking style is wonderful. This is Trier's first feature and TVOR can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Son of Rambow
Written and directed by Garth Jennings

This entertaining film is the story of two young boys in 80's Britain who are completely taken with Sylvester Stallone and Rambo: First Blood. Their real lives are not too wonderful, and they devote themselves to creating their own version of the Rambo film, complete with various stunts. The movie is about childhood, friendship, and love of movies, and probably some other things too. It was playing festivals a year ago and is now playing all over the U.S.

Video notes:

Fatih Akin's earlier films are available on video, and TVOR highly recommends both Head-On and In July. See the blog entry of 9/19/07 for more information.

A few years ago, Garth Jennings directed The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is very silly but a lot of fun.