Thursday, June 16, 2011

A movie worth putting on 3-D glasses for plus the Best of SIFF


There are some things to be excited about in the world of movies this week, and that doesn't even include the new releases. TVOR can't comment on these, as she's been sequestered in film festival theaters and has been far away from the land of Hollywood and multi-plexes. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The first thing to be excited about is that there is an excellent reason to leave your home, go into a movie theater, don 3-D glasses, and stare at a big screen. And that reason is Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Werner Herzog's documentary about the Chauvet caves in France. These caves were discovered in 1994, after being sealed up and forgotten for 20,000 or so years, and contain the oldest known cave paintings, dating back 32,000 years. Access is extremely limited, as the site can be damaged by things as simple as people's breath, so luckily for all of us, Werner Herzog and a small crew were allowed to go in and film. They went with 3-D cameras, and took lots of footage of the beautiful paintings, which look quite modern and fresh. And because it's Werner Herzog, we listen to his very soothing voice say some pretty interesting, perhaps not-so-soothing things. He's no ordinary documentarian, that's for sure. This is also one instance where the 3-D photography enhances the viewing experience, allowing us to see how the paintings fit with the contours of the cave, and not surprisingly, given the director, it's beautiful. See it in a movie theater if you can.

If you're not familiar with Werner Herzog's documentaries, you're missing out. He directed Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, among others--they're available on video.

A second thing to be excited about (if you're in Seattle) is that this coming weekend, June 17-19, is Best of SIFF 2011, when some of the top jury and audience favorites of this year's festival will be given an extra screening, so people can catch up with what they might have missed earlier. Here's TVOR's take on what she's seen:

Gandu--TVOR hasn't seen it, and can't comment. It won a jury prize but audience reactions were mixed.

Simple Simon--a very enjoyable Swedish film about a teenager with Asperger's who tries to find his brother a new girlfriend.

Best of SIFF shorts--TVOR has seen one of the shorts in this program, Cataplexy, and gives it a thumbs up. Given the high quality of the short films this year, this program is a good bet.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey--the man behind (and inside) Elmo of Sesame Street fame. This is a lovely film about a lovely man, and you don't need to have ever watched Sesame Street to like it.

To Be Heard--a documentary about a writing program in the Bronx and three teenaged participants. We spend quite a bit of time with these kids, at home and at school, and get to know them quite well. Very good.

Tilt--TVOR hasn't seen it, but would like to.

On the Ice--teenagers face some huge moral issues in a story set among native people in Barrow, Alaska. In spite of some inexperienced actors, the film works quite well, and is a look into a world most of us will never see.

Paper Birds--a vaudeville company in post-civil war Spain is the setting of this Golden Space Needle audience award winner. It's definitely a crowd-pleaser. TVOR found it somewhat manipulative and the music was definitely a bit much. She did get sucked in, though.

Circus Dreams--TVOR didn't see it, but the kids in the Films 4 Families jury gave it their top prize. It's a documentary about Circus Smirkus.

How to Die in Oregon--a big thumbs up for this documentary about patients, caregivers, and families, and Oregon's Death with Dignity law. It's not always easy to watch, but you come away with a lot of respect for everyone involved. It also follows a volunteer working to get a similar initiative passed in Washington.

Life in a Day--OK, basically this is the best YouTube video ever. 80,000 people submitted 4500 hours of video, all taken on July 24, 2010, to YouTube. 300 snippets from people in 192 countries were turned into a 90-minute movie. And it works. It's sort of chronological, but other than that, it shows all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. TVOR really liked it.

Old Goats--the story of three old guys who are friends. The script is largely improvised, the actors are inexperienced, and in spite of these things, the film basically works.

King of Devil's Island--this movie follows a group of young men and boys, and their warden and guards, in what was basically a reform school in early 20th century Norway. Hint: this was not a nice place. A very good, very entertaining film.

And finally, you can get excited even if you can't make it out to see any movies, but are an HBO subscriber. Some very good documentaries that that were just playing at SIFF are now available for viewing right in your own home.

Bobby Fischer Against the World--an excellent documentary about the fascinating and sad life of Bobby Fischer. There's a lot of footage available of the chess genius, famous at an early age, and this footage is put together into an excellent film. Check it out.

How to Die in Oregon--you can catch the film on the small screen as well as on the big one.

(FYI, TVOR is not getting paid for this plug.)

Now, go to the movies.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oops--a couple more SIFF movies playing the last weekend


Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians--this documentary is as the title says, a story of a card counting Christian blackjack team. We spend several years with them, and watch them in action as the team grows in size and success, attracting investors along the way--until things start going south. Will they pull things together again? TVOR won't say. We also get interviews from members of the team recounting their methods, the reasons why they do it (apparently they've made peace with God), and their management techniques. Fascinating, and recommended.

The Destiny of Lesser Animals--a drama from Ghana. The plot revolves around a policeman searching for his recently purchased fake passport, but the real story is about his travels through his country and the people he meets. The police procedural aspects are a bit difficult to follow at times, but the ride is worth it. Thumbs up.

Now you can go to the movies.

SIFF's last weekend--and some movies for the rest of the world

It's the last weekend of SIFF now, and Seattle movie nerds are frantically trying to catch as many films as possible before the real world descends once again. Here are some comments on a few movies that will show this weekend:

Sound of Noise--a very hard-to-describe, very entertaining Swedish film about a group of people (musical terrorists? guerrilla percussionists?) on a mission to make music in illegal ways and the policeman who is trying to stop them. Delightful--and a toe-tapper.

To Be Heard--a documentary about a high school writing program in the Bronx, focusing on three of the participants. Very well done, sort of like a less uplifting version relative of Louder than a Bomb.

Tabloid--another fascinating documentary by Errol Morris (The Fog of War), this one providing the details of a 1978 tabloid story about a kidnapped Mormon missionary. Stranger than fiction, sad and funny and amazing all at the same time.

--a eco-sci-fi tale which demonstrates once again that you shouldn't mess with Mother Nature. Simultaneously predictable and incomprehensible. Very skippable, it felt longer than its 52 minutes.

All Your Dead Ones--very good Colombian movie about a farmer who finds a pile of bodies in his field. Dealing with this is no small task. Absurdist, a little surreal, and definitely worth seeing.

The Life of Fish--a thirtyish Chilean man at a party with friends from his youth, friends he hasn't seen for a while. It's not bad, but TVOR got tired of everybody and their problems and just wished he'd leave the party.

Por El Camino--a lovely road trip movie through Uruguay. A young Argentinian man gives a young Belgian woman a ride and the narrative unfolds. Very enjoyable, and it made TVOR want to go to Uruguay.

Spud--taking place in 1990 at a south African boarding school, this film chronicles the adventures of Spud, a kid with a weird family and a body that isn't maturing fast enough to suit him. TVOR wanted to like this more than she did, especially since John Cleese plays the English teacher.

Third Star--a very nicely done film about a group of longtime friends, one of whom is dying, who go on a camping trip. Not surprisingly, things do not go smoothly. Surprisingly, the movie avoids bathos and has some genuine humor along with the drama. The acting is good, too--thumbs up.

It has also come to TVOR's attention that not everyone is in a city where a film festival is happening. Fortunately for them, there are some good movies out in the rest of the world right now. Here are a few TVOR recommends:

Written and directed by Mike Mills

This gets TVOR's vote as the movie to see right now. Beginners tells two stories. One is about Ewan McGregor as a guy whose 70-something father (Christopher Plummer) comes out as a gay man. The second follows a blossoming relationship between the McGregor character and an actress, played by Melanie Laurent. There is also a dog whose thoughts are indicated with subtitles, a gimmick which really shouldn't work but somehow does. This is a lovely, sweet film. Watching McGregor and Plummer together is bliss.

Directed and co-written by Richard Ayoade

Submarine is a coming of age film about a 15 year old British boy who has two main concerns--trying to get himself laid, and saving his parents' marriage. He's a very busy guy. We really get a sense of the main character's world view and a very entertaining one it is.

Win Win
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy

If by chance this film is hanging around in a theater near you, and you haven't seen it yet, go. It's another film by the writer-director of The Station Agent and The Visitor. Paul Giamatti plays a wrestling coach, with Amy Ryan as his wife, and Bobby Cannavale as his friend. You really don't need to know anything else.

Jane Eyre
Directed by Cary Fukunaga

This could also still be lurking in theaters, and it's another good one, even if you've seen every version of Jane Eyre out there. (And there are many.) Mia Wasikowska plays Jane, Michael Fassbender plays Rochester, and both are true to the characters as written in the book (although better-looking, of course). Fukunaga is two for two as a director. His first film, Sin Nombre, was a beautifully done film about people trying to get from Mexico and points south into the US, and was entirely in Spanish. That's what TVOR calls range.

Now, go to the movies!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fifteen days down, ten to go for SIFF 2011


There are ten days left in SIFF 2011, and many interesting movies to check out. Here are some of them:

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey--the man behind (or maybe TVOR should say inside) Elmo of Sesame Street fame. You don't have to have ever seen Elmo in action to love this movie. And get a little misty. The director, as well as Kevin Clash, Elmo's human part, will be in attendance at SIFF!

The Importance of Being Earnest--an HD recording of a live performance of the Oscar Wilde play, currently running on Broadway. Brian Bedford is superb as Lady Bracknell (yes, that's right), and the rest of the cast rises to his level. If you can't go to New York and see it, plant yourself at SIFF Cinema. These things tend not to ever show up on video.

Jucy--a womance about a couple of twenty-something BFFs in Australia. Tons of fun.

Kinshasa Symphony--a documentary about exactly that. These are not professional musicians, these are people who come together and make music, in spite of incredible difficulties. (They live in Kinshasa, after all, no bed of roses.) We meet several of the musicians, and learn about their lives. Very well done.

A Thousand Times Stronger--a Swedish film about young teen kids at school--the various cliques, who runs the school (the boys, FYI), etc.--and how that gets disrupted when a new student arrives. Entertaining for adults, good for kids as well. (Not tiny ones, as there are subtitles and some swearing.)

Sushi: The Global Catch--this movie makes you want sushi, then discusses some of the sustainability issues that you knew were coming. Well presented, thought-provoking.

The Empire of Mid-South--excellent documentary about Vietnam since the colonial era using amazing archival footage, and first-person narratives from various sources including the Vietnamese and the various people who have come through the country and attempted to run things. From the director who made Winged Migration.

The Names of Love--a French comedy that's actually funny, with some heart as well. TVOR liked it.

Norman--pretty good teen drama, shot in Spokane, WA of all places. The ending is a bit too tidy, but the acting and script are good. All in all a thumbs up.

Hot Coffee--you know how that lady got a huge award after spilling MacDonald's coffee on herself, that incident that became a poster child for the tort reform issue? This film tells the other side of the story. This is definitely a film with a point of view, and is good food for thought.

Flying Fish--TVOR liked this film, though it's not for everybody. It's a beautifully shot film from Sri Lanka (and when have you ever seen anything from Sri Lanka?), telling several stories happening in a small community. The downside is that it's hard to figure out the various stories, as there are few closeups, and sometimes it's hard to tell who things are happening to. The upside is that it does all come together in the end. And it definitely is beautiful.

Grandma, A Thousand Times--a documentary about the filmmaker's Lebanese grandmother, this film is a delight.

Now, go to the movies!