Monday, May 31, 2010

TVOR hearts film festivals


Has TVOR mentioned recently that she loves film festivals? She does. This is how TVOR spent yesterday at SIFF. She started with a "secret" film, one whose title was not announced ahead of time and which cannot be revealed even after the screening (TVOR signed a pledge to this effect), then saw an archival presentation of a classic American film, and then two fascinating documentaries with the directors and subjects participating in Q&A sessions afterward.

This is what film festivals are all about. First, the "secret" screening. There's a special excitement in walking into a theater packed with people who are jazzed about seeing a movie when they don't even know what it will be. It's anticipation of the unknown and it is just plain fun. Sunday's film was excellent (they aren't always) so the place was buzzing afterward too. A great start to the day. Next she went to an archival presentation of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. Leonard Bernstein did the score for the film (it was his only film score) and his daughter Jamie introduced the film and did a Q&A afterward. It was great fun to see this wonderful old film on the big screen, and to focus a bit more on the score and the role it played in the experience of the film. Next was Marwencol, a documentary about a man who, after a terrible beating resulting in serious brain damage, started on an art project (a kind of do-it-yourself art therapy) that has become his life's work. The director was on hand to answer questions afterwards, and the subject (who doesn't travel) consented to be available by phone to answer audience questions. The audience took him up on it. The last film of the day was The Topp Twins, a documentary TVOR has raved about previously. The Topps were there to present the film, and they answered questions, sang, and yodelled. You really can't ask for more.

So that's what a film festival is all about. Yes, it's the movies. In the dark, on the big screen, watching with your fellow humans. But it's also the extras that make up the experience--the film guests and their interaction with the audience, and then the audience interacting among itself.

All that was one day. In the last few days, there has been even more variety, from the outrageous to the hilarious to the quietly affecting.

Cane Toads: The Conquest--in 3D--Sadly, there was only one screening of this documentary at SIFF. TVOR was lucky enough to be there, and she was amazed and amused by this cautionary tale about the perils of introducing species into new parts of the world. The toads are prolific and on the move, and the humans (and other animals) who encounter them are hilarious. Really. The 3D is the icing on the cake. If anyone ever offers you a chance to see a documentary about cane toads in 3D, run, don't walk to the theater and put on your glasses. Even if you're thinking "Huh?" or "I'm not really interested in cane toads.", do it. You will find out that you are interested. And you'll think twice about messing with Mother Nature.

Stolen--Sometimes filmmakers start out making a documentary, and then their plans get hijacked by reality. What started out as a documentary about reuniting families in a refugee camp in North Africa ends up being about something far less happy--modern slavery. Fascinating.

Mao's Last Dancer--Bruce Beresford directed this true story of a young Chinese boy who is taken from his family as a child in the 80's to be trained as a ballet dancer. A crowd-pleaser.

Hideaway--Francois Ozon's latest, a good but not great film about the aftermath of a junkie's death and its affect on his pregnant girlfriend and his brother.

Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar--a portrait of Candy and the whole Warhol scene, the story of a person who created a persona to find herself.

Farewell--an entertaining French cold war spy film with excellent performances by film directors Emir Kusturica and Guillaume Canet.

OK, now it's time for more movies.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

SIFF updates/TVOR tweets!


TVOR, not the most technologically savvy person in the world, accomplished several amazing things in the past few days. She succeeded in: 1) setting up an account on Twitter, 2) tweeting successfully, and 3) linking her Twitter feed to her blog. She is very proud. She learned many things in this endeavor, among them that tweet is both a noun and a verb. The purpose of this exercise is to provide quick updates when she doesn't have the time or the bandwidth to do a blog update, not to give anyone a minute-by-minute account of TVOR's day. Frankly, it's just not that interesting. The Twitter updates show up on the right side of the blog page.

Now for some updates:

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work--fascinating and funny documentary about a comedy icon. If you're a fan, you need to see this film. If you're not a fan, you'll probably become one when you see it.

The Oath--excellent documentary about two brothers-in-law who both worked for Osama bin Laden and ended up in radically different situations. See it.

Imani--a portrait of a group of varied characters over the course of a day in contemporary Uganda. Very good, definitely worth seeing.

Me Too--this Spanish film telling the story of a guy with Down Syndrome falling in love with a "normal" woman sounded like it would be pretty bad, but TVOR was pleasantly surprised. It's actually very good, with interesting, well-developed characters doing and talking about interesting things. See it. Really.

Farsan--a slight but sweet Swedish multicultural comedy.

Like You Know It All--if you have any illusions about film directors, you can put them aside now. This film from Korean director Hong Sang-soo has his protagonist, a critically acclaimed but financially unsuccessful film director, behaving badly in various parts of his home country. Quite funny.

The Actresses--a mockumentary about a group of Korean actresses getting together for a photo shoot. There are lots of in-jokes which non-Koreans probably won't get, but it's still pretty entertaining.

Cairo Time--Patricia Clarkson is wasted in this very pretty film as she spends time in Egypt behaving like an idiot. She has a bad case of Stupid Tourist Syndrome, compounded by an underlying condition of basic dumbness. But that's just TVOR's opinion.

Some Days Are Better Than Others--northwest indie (from Portland) about young people searching. For whatever. You've seen much better, you've seen worse.

Night Catches Us--former Black Panthers in Philadelphia in the 70's. Some very good actors (Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce) are caught in a not-so-good movie. It's not terrible, but it could have been so much better.

Brotherhood--well-made Danish movie with a somewhat ridiculous premise. Make a note: if you're self-hating homosexuals engaged in a passionate affair, it's probably best not to spend all your time with gay-bashing neo-Nazis. Just a thought.

Now, TVOR is off to the movies.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A quick update from SIFF--and a few video suggestions


Ah, variety. Film festivals have a lot of it. TVOR started the third day of SIFF with a fine family-friendly film and ended it with the latest by the Duplass brothers, the makers of The Puffy Chair (truly a great title and pretty good movie) and Baghead. And here's what she saw--all films have at least one more festival screening.

From Time to Time--Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, and that cute kid from Millions in a British film appropriate for grade school kids that their parents can enjoy too. Most of the action takes place in the waning days of World War II, with occasional forays back a century or so courtesy of some mostly benevolent ghosts.

The Robber--A well-done Austrian film about a guy equally dedicated to marathon running and bank robbing. It's all about the endorphins, TVOR supposes. Based on a true story.

Cyrus--An appealing American indie from the Duplass brothers about the perils of dating people with adult children who won't leave home. John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, and Jonah Hill are in it.

Video notes:

If you're not in Seattle, or don't want to leave the house, here are some of the better movies of 2009 now available on video--a veritable potpourri of cinema. You probably know of or have seen most of them, but there might be a new idea or two.

Crazy Heart
The Young Victoria
An Education
Bright Star
The Messenger
The Informant!
District 9
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Up in the Air
A Serious Man
Precious etc.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The long silence ends


TVOR has really dropped the ball these past few months. She did attend the Sundance and Palm Springs festivals--and saw tons of movies--but decided to wait until people might actually have a chance to see them before posting her comments. In retrospect, perhaps that was not the best plan. She did see a few interesting films in her local theaters, especially A Prophet and Mother, but all in all, it was a less than inspiring winter for moviegoers.

Now it is time for the silence to end. The Seattle International Film Festival, TVOR's hometown extravaganza, opened on May 20th, and her movie-going life as well as her blogging frequency will be picking up. If you're not in Seattle, she apologizes, but don't worry. A number of these films will get released at some point, and many will eventually make their way to DVD.

TVOR's first full day of the festival had a couple of gems in it, and she recommends seeing these in later screenings:

Castaway on the Moon--see it, see it, see it. Sweet and wonderful.

Soul Kitchen--another good Fatih Akin film (and TVOR does like her Fatih Akin films), lighter than his past two, a comedy with some heart.

Because of her festival travels and some time spent in SIFF press screenings, TVOR saw a number of SIFF films before the festival started. Here, briefly, is her take on them, in no particular order (sorry about that):

Bilal’s Stand
Done on a very low budget and a little rough around the edges, this family/coming of age story has a lot of heart, clever graphics, and is a nice little flick. Made by a very young filmmaker, who substituted creativity and community involvement for dollars.

Bran Nue Dae
Australian musical that may make you want to be an aborigine. Entertaining but not spectacular.

Double Take
TVOR missed this at Sundance but caught a good chunk of it at a gallery in New York last year. It was enough to convince her to see it in its entirety at SIFF.

The Dry Land
Ernest, pretty well put-together and acted, but not great movie about Iraq war veterans.

I Am Love
Beautiful, but there’s no there there. Even Tilda Swinton can’t make this film interesting. To be fair, though, a lot of people liked this film, so maybe it’s just TVOR.

Nowhere Boy
Polished, well-done biopic about John Lennon’s early years with wonderful performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff.

The closest you’re likely to get to life in a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan. Very powerful, see it.

Winter’s Bone
Very good—definitely one to see, a highlight of my Sundance.

Beautifully filmed, it doesn’t entirely work, but sort of does. Interesting idea.

My Year Without Sex
Not as good as this director’s earlier film Look Both Ways, TVOR still liked this one.

Mugabe and the White African
Perhaps not the best-made film, but definitely one to see. Fascinating subject matter.

This was one of TVOR’s favorites at Palm Springs. You don’t really know where you’re going until you’re there. Great final scene, with wonderful use of music.

Beautiful, but not really TVOR’s style.

I Killed My Mother
Very good first feature by a young French Canadian filmmaker who wrote, directed and starred in it.

The Topp Twins
A must see! And the actual twins will be at SIFF! A film for everybody—gay, straight, male, female, yodelers and non-yodelers.

This Russian musical is a feast for the eyes and a total hoot.

The French Kissers
Kids being kids in France. Well done, but it made TVOR glad she doesn’t have to be young again.

Way better than it sounds, TVOR actually liked this one. The people in it are intelligent!

Letters to Father Jacob
Pretty predictable, but less goopy than you might fear.

The Concert
TVOR supposes that this one is uplifting, but she found it so preposterous she couldn’t get into the film at all.

Prepare to be confused for a while as you sort out what’s going on, but if you’re like TVOR, you’ll enjoy the way it plays out.

No, no, no. A very long 75 minutes, an homage to/parody of a genre of film TVOR has no intention of ever seeing an actual example of.

When We Leave
Very powerful story of a woman caught between two cultures. Flawed, but worth seeing.

American youth in the early 80’s. TVOR didn’t think this was very well done and didn’t really care about anybody in it. Bad hair, clothing, and music were heavily featured, of course.

TVOR had hoped for more from Neil Jordan but it was not to be.

Countdown to Zero
Nothing new here.

Southern District
This is definitely worth seeing, a wonderful Bolivian film (and how many of those have you seen?). It’s about class and race and social change and human beings.