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.