Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer movies worth going inside for


It has come to TVOR's attention that in much of the northern hemisphere, summer has arrived.  True, it's not official yet, but summer has definitely arrived.  TVOR, however, does not live in a place like that, so she is happy to have been sitting inside in dark movie theaters at the Seattle International Film Festival instead of remaining outside in the cold and damp, complaining about the weather.

In honor of the (in her case theoretical) season, there will be all sorts of big summer movies coming out over the next several weeks, showing up in theaters all over the place.  These films will be full of superheroes, explosions, CGI, and other Hollywood contrivances.  There will also be some smaller, quieter, movies in theaters, and a few of these are actually worth going inside to watch.  Here are a few:

Moonrise Kingdom--Wes Anderson, the director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and others, has come up with a winner.  He has made a film that it is pure pleasure to spend 94 minutes with.  The basic plot revolves around a couple of twelve-year olds who run away together, but the world Anderson creates (the visuals, the music, the sensibility, the writing, the acting, etc.) elevates the film into something that is about way more than that.  A recommendation: don't read too much about this film before you see it.  Just enjoy.  And it's PG-13, and would work for lots of kids as well.

Safety Not Guaranteed--this funny and sweet film was inspired by this actual ad, which appeared in a magazine:

"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me.  This is not a joke.  You'll get paid after we get back.  Must bring your own weapons.  I have only done this once before.  Safety not guaranteed."

The movie's fictional story follows a writer and two interns who investigate the ad and the guy who placed it.  Good writing, acting, direction, etc.--the result is a lot of fun.  

Your Sister's Sister--Lynn Shelton's newest film is another winner.  It's basically a simple film:  one guy, two sisters, complications ensue.  The nice thing is that the characters are intelligent, flawed, human people, a trio you care about and enjoy spending time with.

Headhunters--if you're lucky, this Norwegian corporate thriller/crime movie/dark comedy will play at a theater near you.  Based on a book by the crime writer Jo Nesbo, the movie will take you (along with the protagonist) for quite a ride.  In it, a corporate headhunter/art thief finds that his dual career is a lot more complicated than he bargained for, and the result is a game with increasingly high stakes.  It's funny, scary, bloody, and a lot of fun.

Video notes:

Check out Wes Anderson's earlier films, especially Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Royal Tenenbaums.  They all involve the creation of wonderful worlds populated by interesting people (or animals, in the case of Fantastic Mr. Fox).   

Lynn Shelton's last film, Humpday, is a good place to start if you've never seen her work before.  It's about a couple of straight male buddies who decide to prove how hip and arty they are by making a gay porn film for an amateur porn contest.  It's an hilarious examination of friendship, growing older and probably a few other things.  TVOR also liked an earlier Shelton film, My Effortless Brilliance, about an obnoxious writer reconnecting with an old friend by barging in on his rural home.

Monday, June 4, 2012

SIFF 2012--one week to go


TVOR has been watching movies in Seattle International Film Festival venues pretty much full time for 18 days, and has been in her element.  The films have been generally quite good--there have been a number of delights, and very few disasters.  Now she's on the home stretch, with one week to go.  Many films have come and gone, but here are some brief thoughts and recommendations on films you still have a chance to see:


Coteau Rouge--a lovely French Canadian film, a little slice of life taking place in a Montreal neighborhood.

Hello I Must Be Going--a thirty-something woman ends up living with her parents after her life and marriage fall apart.  A little funny, a little dark, a little sweet.

4 Days in May--at the tail end of WWII, residents of a community on the Baltic coast of Germany wait for the Russians to arrive.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists--very good documentary about computer hackers, focusing on Anonymous and related groups.  Entertaining and informative.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America--good music documentary about an R&B singer "discovered" at age 62.

Earthbound--sweet little flick about a guy who may or may not be space alien and his quest for a human mate.

Guilty, Innocence, The Invader, and Red Road are more good films that have screenings in the upcoming week--TVOR wrote brief blurbs about them in her last post.


Hail--very well made film about a career criminal getting out of jail and starting again in life.  The quality of the filmmaking makes this movie very hard to watch, as the viewer gets in the head of this man, and that is a very unhealthy place to be.  A warning: there were many walk-outs in the screening TVOR attended.  

6 Points About Emma--nicely done Spanish film about a deaf woman whose one strong desire is to be a mother.  Good, not great.

Simon and the Oaks--a crowd-pleaser about life in wartime Sweden.  Many loved it, TVOR had a little less love for it.

My Dad is Baryshnikov--another crowd-pleaser taking place in mid-80's Moscow about a ballet-obsessed fatherless kid who chooses a father (based on no factual information) and proceeds to tell people about it.  Again, TVOR felt a little less love than many.

Mirage--interesting South Korean film about a young writer who returns to his home town to accept an award, and ends up reconnecting with some old friends who informed his work and his life.  One of several films from South Korea in which adolescent bullying is featured, there are some scenes that are difficult to watch.

TVOR wrote about Starbuck and Hunky Dory in her last post--check out those blurbs if you're interested.


Prime Time Soap--a strange Brazilian film that tries to combine a sort of bright and breezy tale of the life and adventures of a call girl in late 1970's Rio de Janeiro with a more realistic story about dictatorship and corruption.  This strange brew did not work for TVOR, and hard-to-read subtitles did nothing to improve the situation.

170 Hz--two deaf teenagers fall in love in this Dutch film.  The filmmaking is very interesting--the problem TVOR had with the film is that she didn't want to spend time with the people in it.  The boy was appalling--the girl was slightly less so, although still pretty obnoxious.

Go to the movies!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

TVOR's pre-SIFF 2012 edition


TVOR has been silent for a while, but now she's fired up and has things to say.  This year's Seattle International Film Festival starts tomorrow, and people in the area will have the opportunity to see hundreds of films from around the world for the next 25 days.  TVOR got a head start on the fest and can help guide overwhelmed folks in navigating through the huge number of offerings.  During her electronic silence she attended a couple of film festivals (Palm Springs and SXSW), and saw quite a few films that will show up at this year's SIFF.  She has also seen some press screenings during the past few weeks that she can comment on as well. 

Here's her take on what she's seen so far--and remember, descriptions of films don't really tell you that much.  It's all about how the story is told.


Las Acacias--a sweet Argentinian road movie, a winner at Cannes.  See it!

Breathing--a kid living in a detention center gets a job in a mortuary in this Austrian film that is nothing like Departures.  Another top pick.

Dreams of a Life--a fascinating documentary about a young woman who dies in her apartment in London--and is not discovered for three years.  One of TVOR's favorite films from SXSW.

The Central Park Effect--an hour-long gem, a documentary about the birds of Central Park and the humans who watch them.

The Do-Deca Pentathlon--an entertaining story of sibling rivalry from the Duplass brothers, shot in their pre-Hollywood days, but just now hitting the festivals.

Elena--a story of the 1%--Russian style--and of some of the 99% who would like to share the wealth.  (Clue: there aren't a lot of good guys in this one.)  From the director of 2003's excellent The Return.

The Invader--a gripping, sometimes disturbing Belgian movie about immigration, race, class, sex, and probably a few other things.  

Guilty--this French movie, based on a true story, tells of legal proceedings gone seriously awry when a man is accused of pedophilia.

Innocence--another movie about an accusation of molestation, only this one is Czech.  Lots of shades of grey in this one.

Killer Joe--an over-the-top, bloody, entertaining black comedy/thriller from William Friedkin.  The script is by Tracy Letts, who won a Pulitzer prize for his play August, Osage County.  Good performances, even from Matthew McConaughy.

Lucky--a South African drama about a young boy who loses his mother to AIDS and an elderly Indian woman who ends up helping him.

Polisse--well-done French film profiling a group of cops who deal with child protection cases.  Let's just say the stress levels are high.  

Ai Wei-Wei: Never Sorry--very good documentary about the Chinese artist and dissident.  Note to Chinese government: It's a bad idea to piss off a guy who's a very heavy Twitter user.

High Ground--affecting documentary about a group of Iran and Afghanistan vets dealing with physical injuries and emotional trauma who climb a Himalayan mountain.  Very good storytelling.

How to Survive a Plague--excellent documentary about the early days of Act Up and its efforts to prod the Reagan administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the drug companies into action to get treatments for AIDS out to people with the disease.  Great use of archival footage.

Red Road--a very good early film of SIFF 2012 Emerging Master Andrea Arnold.  The story unfolds slowly and the tension is high.


The Imposter--TVOR really wanted to like this documentary more, as it's the amazing story of a kid who goes missing, and his reunion with his family several years later.  Except it's not really him, and the guy who returns to the family doesn't even look like him, yet nobody seems very perturbed by that.  So...great setup, but somehow the filmmaking didn't really work for TVOR.  Still, it's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.  

ELIMINATE: Archie Cookson--pretty entertaining at times, but not consistent in tone.  The central performance by Paul Rhys is very good. 

Hunky Dory--a pleasant film set in mid-70's in Wales.  Minnie Driver is a teacher who decides the school play will be a musical version of The Tempest.  Fairly predictable things happen, and you listen to period music while they do.

Starbuck--a French Canadian movie about a 40-something underachiever who finds out he's been spectacularly successful as a sperm donor--and now his hundreds of offspring want to find him.  There are no surprises here, but it's broadly entertaining.

The Intouchables--more broad comedy from the French, in which a Senegalese immigrant helps a quadriplegic rich guy find joy in life.  It sold about a bazillion tickets in France.

Tey--a Senegalese film that is interesting to look at (especially since most of us have never been there) as we follow a man around on the last day of his life.  The problem is that we don't really know why this is happening.  There are undoubtedly cultural references TVOR is clueless about, as well as symbolism, metaphor, and lots of other things that totally went over her head.

Wetlands--terrible things happen to an already dysfunctional family running a farm in Quebec.  And then they make things worse.

Cracks in the Shell--SIFF's blurb compares this to The Black Swan.  The good news is it's better than that.  It's well done, in fact, but the maniacal director character and the screwed-up student actress character can try one's patience.


Fat Kid Rules the World--this is just not a good movie.  There are some pretty good people in it, but they're not at their best, the script is not so good, and the whole thing just looks cheap.  Some of the edits are positively  jarring.

The Woman in the Fifth--a terrible waste of talent.  The cast (Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, etc.) and the director (Pawel Pawlikowski) have done far better work elsewhere.  This attempt at a thriller not only had no thrills, it didn't have much else either.

Trishna--Tess of the d'Urbervilles updated to modern-day India.  So you know it's probably not a light comedy.  It looks pretty, as it should, as it was directed by Michael Winterbottom and stars Freida Pinto.  But the story really doesn't update that well, and TVOR never really believed that the character had so little control over things.

Hemel--this could have been an interesting portrait of a seriously screwed up father-daughter team but they left out the parts where they help us understand why the heck they are so messed up.  Can you say inappropriate behavior?

38 Witnesses--inspired by the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in the mid-60's, this film takes us to modern-day Le Havre, where once again a bunch of witnesses fail to help a woman being murdered right outside their windows.  TVOR just didn't buy the way it plays out in the movie.

So, once again, if you live in or around Seattle, it's time to go to the movies.  And if you can't go  out to the movies, take a look at Red Road or The Return on video.  Or, if you're in the mood to laugh, watch Humpday, directed by Lynn Shelton, whose new film Your Sister's Sister opens the festival on May 17th.