Friday, May 27, 2011

SIFF--one week in


SIFF continues, as does the parade of good movies. Granted, there have been a few not-so-good ones too, but TVOR will try to steer you away from those if she can. And let's face it, we don't all have the same taste, so my big dud can be someone else's favorite. Although that person would be wrong.

Here are some films with upcoming screenings:

Small Town Murder Songs--one of TVOR's favorites of the festival so far. A little gem, a story of a flawed man trying to be a better man. And it has a wonderful soundtrack. See it.

Page One: Inside the New York Times--the documentarians were in the newsroom of the New York Times for a year, spending most of their time on the Media desk. If you're interested in how we get information and the quality and accuracy of that information, you should see this. Fascinating and very well done.

Steam of Life--another good documentary, this one from Finland. It's basically a lot of naked Finnish men of various shapes and sizes sitting in saunas of various shapes and sizes, talking about a lot of personal stuff. Amazingly, it's interesting and affecting and worth a look.

Killing Bono--first of all, no Bonos were injured during the making of this film. It's not a documentary--it's a narrative film based on the real story of a guy who went to school with Bono, and then spent years trying to have his (Bono's) life. Which is not easy if you have a knack for seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. Amusing and entertaining.

Treatment--fairly amusing Hollywood satire of the mumblecore genre. As most of us have no trouble believing that Hollywood is an insane place, there aren't a lot of surprises here. But it's not a bad way to spend 84 minutes.

Lesson Plan--a documentary about an experiment done in a Palo Alto high school in the 1960's, which basically turned a classroom of kids into fascists in less than a week. Not a great film, but an interesting subject. Worth a look.

Letters from the Big Man--the story of a girl, a sasquatch, and the forests of Oregon. First of all, TVOR must fess up: against all odds, she kind of liked this movie. Many others didn't. It's ridiculous in many ways--there's a guy in a furry suit after all--but for some reason TVOR enjoyed watching it. Even though it's not a particularly good movie. The scenery is nice, however.

The Rescuers--a documentary about a number of diplomats who saved Jews from the Nazis, often against the official policies of their countries. Not a good film, though--there's a Rwanda story which doesn't really fit in the structure of the movie, there are bad recreations of events, and an irritating score. If you can get past the film itself and focus on the information, it's interesting, though.

Viva Riva!--a movie from the Congo that may convince you (if you weren't already convinced) that things are a mess in the Congo, crime and corruption are rampant, there's little hope for progress, and you never want to go there. It's actually a fairly well put-together film, but it's filled with bad people doing bad things to each other. Be warned.

Now go to the movies!

Monday, May 23, 2011

SIFF 2011 opening weekend


It's been a good first few days at SIFF 2011. Opening night was great fun, and although reactions on the opening night film (The First Grader) were mixed, the accompanying party got universal raves. TVOR had approximately 15 seconds of fame, appearing in the background of a red carpet photo of a person in a giant panda suit interacting with a television personality that appeared in the Seattle Times. Yes, it's true, Kung Fu Panda was the biggest celebrity in town for the event.

Once the festival got seriously underway, TVOR saw some very good films, and no people in panda suits. Here are some brief thoughts:

How to Die in Oregon--a documentary about Oregon's Death with Dignity law, telling the stories of people who made the choice to take some control over their deaths. This is not for everyone, but it's suprisingly watchable, filled with humanity and humor. It's very well made, and definitely worth seeing. It will show up on HBO shortly, so watch for it.

Submarine--the coming of age genre gets a bad rap these days, but this British take on it, with excellent performances and lots of deadpan humor, is a good one.

The Trip--Michael Winterbottom directs Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalized versions of themselves on a restaurant tour of northern England. It's not Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, but it's pretty darned funny. TVOR laughed a lot.

The Future--Miranda July, who directed Me and You and Everyone We Know, has made another odd yet appealing (at least to TVOR) film. This is in spite of the fact that it's narrated by a cat, which TVOR was surprised to find that she didn't hate.

Beginners--Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer in Mike Mills' lovely film about fathers and sons and families and love. There's even an excellent performance by a dog. See it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 2011--time to go back to the movies


TVOR has been away from her keyboard for a very long time. She didn't really plan it that way, but after frenetic movie-going (and blogging) during last year's Seattle International Film Festival, she spent the summer recovering and interacting with real people in the real world. The summer movies were, in general, a pretty sorry lot, so time spent away from them was especially appreciated. There were a few exceptions (like The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone, Cyrus, Get Low, and a few others), but they were few and far between.

Then fall and winter rolled around, and the end-of-the-year Oscar bait came along. Some of those were pretty good (The Fighter, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, True Grit, etc.), and some were not (The Black Swan and Inception). Since last year's SIFF, The Millenium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) has been good and gritty fun. There were a few smaller movies that TVOR enjoyed as well--films like Jack Goes Boating, Somewhere, Cedar Rapids, Win Win, Jane Eyre, and Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

But now SIFF 2011 is looming, and TVOR is ready for some serious movie-going. And blogging. And maybe a little tweeting. The 25-day festival starts on May 19th, but press screenings have been going for weeks already. TVOR has caught quite a few of those, and has seen other SIFF 2011 films in other festivals earlier in the year. Here is her take on what she's seen:

Young Goethe in Love—looks very Hollywood-like, all the people are pretty and seem to act in very contemporary ways. A biopic of Goethe that’s basically fluff. Strange.

Everything Will Be Fine—TVOR liked Boe’s first film, Reconstruction, but it’s been downhill from there. This just didn’t do it for her.

Silent Souls—thumbs up on this one. It’s slow, meditative, all sorts of things TVOR usually doesn't like, but this one worked for her.

The Poll Diaries—a historical drama of the not-so-pretty sort, it’s the kind of movie that makes you appreciate your own family. Well done.

Perfect Sense—a good, not great sci-fi love story.

Circumstance—Audience Award winner at Sundance—TVOR thought it was pretty good, but wouldn’t have rated it that high. Interestingly, at Sundance, they called it an American film—at SIFF, they’re calling it an Iranian film. It feels more like an American take on the story, even though it takes place in Iran.

Terri—very entertaining—John C. Reilly is great as usual.

The Bengali Detective—TVOR got a kick out of this one, although it’s not a great movie.

Bobby Fischer Against the World—very well-made and fascinating doc about Bobby Fischer—some of which was shot in Iceland. TVOR kept seeing places she'd been. Chess knowledge and/or interest not necessary.

Magic Trip—TVOR was predisposed to like this movie, and if you’re interested in those folks (Ken Kesey, Neal Cassidy, etc.) and the era, you’ll probably like it too. If not, it may not be for you. The film itself is a bit trippy.

The Off Hours—a pretty decent Northwest film, but not a must-see.

Mondays in the Sun (available on video)—Good actors (Javier Bardem for example), but not a very interesting film, at least to TVOR. Many others disagreed.

Amador--the newest one by the same director as Mondays in the Sun, and TVOR liked it a lot. Contemporary Spanish film about a young immigrant woman taking care of an old man.

Paper Birds--A Spanish Civil War-era historical drama made accessible and audience-friendly. TVOR didn't particularly like it, although some others did.

Win/Win--Pretty decent film about the downside of success in financial markets.

Venice--Yet another World War II drama where it is pointed out that Poland was not a good place to be. TVOR was not impressed.

Something Ventured--Very good documentary about the early (starting in the 1950's) venture capitalists.

The Most Important Thing in Life is Not Being Dead--Very weird movie about an insomniac piano tuner. TVOR liked it.

3--The newest film from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior), 3 tells the story of a love triangle, in his usual fairy-tale-like way. TVOR liked it.

A Barefoot Dream--A typical sports movie, with the ragged underdogs, led by a coach in search of redemption, playing the bigger and better teams, yet triumphing in spite of all odds. The twist is that the film is based on reality, the team is an East Timor youth soccer team, and the coach is Korean. Predictable but fun, and when else are you going to get a glimpse of East Timor?

Dance Town--North Korean woman escapes to the south, but life is still no bowl of cherries. Well done but grim.

Black, White and Blues--TVOR really didn't like this film. The look wasn't horrible, but the script was, and most of the actors, who, to be fair, had nothing to work with, were floundering. Unintentionally funny.

Microphone--TVOR liked this Egyptian film about the underground music scene in pre-Arab Spring Alexandria.

Buck--Very well done documentary about a real-life horse whisperer. Well, he doesn't exactly whisper, but it's the same idea. You don't have to be interested in horses to like this.

Touch--After a very shaky start (inexperienced actors, cheesy look), this film about a Vietnamese American manicurist and a mechanic with dirty hands has some decent moments. It's not too bad if you're feeling benevolent.

An African Election--a very interesting documentary about the 2008 Presidential election in Ghana.

On Tour--Mathieu Almaric is the star, director, and co-writer of this meandering film about an American burlesque troupe touring France. It's probably too long, and acting is not the strong suit of the burlesque artists, but TVOR enjoyed the slice-of-life aspect of the film, not to mention the burlesque. Almaric is very good as the obnoxious, tenacious, yet easily distracted manager. Thumbs up.

That should be enough to get you started. Go to the movies!