Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer movies

August 1, 2013

In mid-June, after several weeks of immersive viewing during SIFF 2013, TVOR’s movie-watching dropped precipitously.  This was a good thing, and she enjoyed spending much of the summer participating in the real world.  And it’s not like she was missing a whole lot, as Hollywood was not offering much of interest.  She does want to alert you to a few things worth coming inside to see, though.  Some of this summer’s earlier releases are still floating around--if you haven’t seen Much Ado About Nothing or 20 Feet From Stardom yet, do so if you can.

There are some newer options too--

Fruitvale Station:  This film’s release, coming as it does on the heels of the George Zimmerman trial, is another example of a young, unarmed black man being shot by a white man who obviously could not be trusted with a firearm.  It tells the real-life story of Oscar Grant, shot on the platform of a BART station early in the morning on January 1, 2009.  The film, covering the last day of his life, is a beautifully done portrait of an imperfect, but loved, and loving, man who did not deserve to die.  If you think you don’t want to see this because it will be too depressing, think again.  Yes, you know the ending of this film, and yes, it’s tragic.  But the film itself is wonderful and absolutely worth it.

The Way Way Back:  There’s no new ground broken in this coming-of-age story about a kid with a distracted mom, a nasty prospective step-dad, and too much time on his hands.  But the story of how he finds a place for himself working at a run-down water park makes for a nice time at the movies.  Toni Collette and Steve Carrell are the parental figures, and Sam Rockwell and co-writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are among the water park employees.  Allison Janney is wonderful, as always, as a neighbor who enjoys a cocktail.

Crystal Fairy:  Chilean director Sebastian Silva’s new film is about tourists so obnoxious--including one in particular, played by Michael Cera--that you wonder why any people in other countries can tolerate us at all.  Granted, they’re drug tourists, so they’re not always operating with clear minds, but still.  This is a well-made film, but be warned: you may find these folks tough to spend time with, especially if you like to think you’re a good tourist.  Gaby Hoffman plays the title character.

The Act of Killing:  This is not your ordinary documentary.  In the 1960’s, Indonesian pro-government death squads killed more than a million people suspected of being Communists.  Fifty years later, the perpetrators are still powerful.  And in this film, these same murderers re-enact their crimes (although they wouldn't characterize them as such) in the style of American movies, and generally seem quite proud of their actions.  This is a film that really gets under your skin--it’s appalling and amazing.

Finally, a couple of TVOR’s favorite documentaries from this year’s SIFF are available on TV.  Yes, you do not have to leave your couch to see two very fine films.

Our Nixon:  This film is made entirely of found footage, including Super 8 movies (shot by White House aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin), news footage, and the Nixon tapes.  Although the details are fuzzy, it’s amazing and mind-blowing, even if you already knew a lot about that crazy era.  And if you don’t know much about those times, maybe you’ll understand why the rest of us are kind of warped.  CNN is broadcasting Our Nixon on Thursday, August 1st at 9:00 pm, and a few more times thereafter.  Turn it on or fire up your preferred video recording system.

The Crash Reel:  TVOR was at first put off by the title of this film, but she got over it.  Be assured, it’s not just a series of horrendous wipe-outs, although the story begins with one of those.  The film tells the story of Kevin Pearce, a top U.S. snowboarder, and his family.  After Kevin suffered a severe brain injury in a devastating accident, he and they have worked to try to put back together his life in a way that is satisfying and safe for him.  It’s engrossing and very well-done, and you don’t have to be a sports fan to care deeply about the people in the film.  The Crash Reel is available on demand for HBO subscribers--the rest of you will have to wait a while.

Video notes:

The Maid:  Sebastian Silva’s 2009 film tells the story of a maid trying to hold onto her position in a changing household.  A black comedy that keeps the viewer guessing where it’s headed, this film is a winner.

The Descendants:  Before Nat Faxon and Jim Rash made The Way Way Back, they collaborated with Alexander Payne on the script of his film The Descendants.  If you haven’t seen it, you need to, and if you have, you may need to see it again.  Not even George Clooney looks good running in flip-flops.

Have fun at the movies!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Best of SIFF--and more


Whew.  After 25 days of maniacal movie-going, TVOR is taking a break for a few days to reintroduce herself into the real world.  Which is very nice, actually, although she does miss those dark movie theaters.

Fortunately, although SIFF is over, Best of SIFF is just beginning.  A number of jury award winners and audience favorites will be playing at SIFF’s Uptown Theater.  Some of these films will be distributed and show up at various theaters around the country in the coming months, but some will be harder to find.  Seattleites might want to take advantage of the opportunity to see them while they can.  Here’s TVOR’s take on the offerings--

Fanie Fourie’s Lobola:  This romantic comedy from South Africa won the Golden Space Needle audience award for Best Film, and that’s no surprise.  The film is a delight, and we root for this couple to overcome the genre-required obstacles and get together.  And since he’s an Afrikaans boy and she’s a Zulu girl, there are quite a few obstacles.  Distribution has not been firmed up on this film yet, so see it while you can.

Our Nixon:  It turns out that Richard Nixon’s top aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin were making home movies of their time in the White House.  They were having a great time--or more accurately, they were having a great time until they started having a very bad time.  Our Nixon consists entirely of found footage, including the Super 8 footage shot by the three aides, news coverage, and subsequent interviews, with extra audio supplied by the Nixon tapes.  This is by no means a full account of the man or the presidency, but it’s an eye-opener, and very entertaining.  TVOR assumes the film will be available for viewing at some point, but doesn’t know when or where.  It’s another one you should grab the opportunity to see while you can.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks:  Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning documentarian (for Taxi to the Dark Side--he also made Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, among others) has done it again with this fascinating story about Wikileaks, and the people involved with it.  Neither Julian Assange nor Bradley Manning were interviewed for the film (Gibney and Assange could not agree on terms, and Bradley Manning is locked up) but the portraits that emerge from their writings, already existing film, and interviews with those that know them, are complex and may challenge any opinions you already have about them.  The film also gives a number of people the chance to speak their minds on the subjects of secrecy, leaking, and the consequences of both.  TVOR found much of what they have to say troubling if not downright appalling.  This is one to see, and you’ll have opportunities, as the film is in distribution now.

20 Feet From Stardom:  This documentary about backup singers will please anybody who loves the music these talented but largely unheralded artists help create.  There are interviews with ex-Raylettes, Ikettes, and singers who have worked with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and others, along with the artists they supported.  And there’s lots of music.  This is another film that is being distributed, so see it in a theater with a good sound system!

7 Boxes:  A low-budget, fast-paced Paraguayan film about a young delivery boy who is tasked with delivering seven boxes from point A to point B in a busy public market. This film has great chase scenes involving hand carts.

Populaire:  A silly but entertaining French romantic comedy set in the late 50’s, with great costumes and art direction, and a plot revolving around a typing competition.  TVOR hasn’t heard anything about distribution on this one, so this could be your last chance...

Key of Life:  A Japanese comedy in which a total loser of a guy gets mistaken for a sophisticated assassin.  TVOR was less enamored than most with this film.  She really got to like the assassin and found the loser quite irritating.

C.O.G.:  This film, which many enjoyed, is based on an essay by David Sedaris.  It’s a well put-together film, with good acting, but TVOR would have preferred to have spent her time reading Mr. Sedaris’ work.

Decoding Annie Parker:  This film tells about the discovery of the BRCA “breast cancer” gene, and one woman who had it.  The film is certainly timely, but TVOR can’t really recommend it.  There is some wonderful acting, especially by Samantha Morton, as the woman battling both cancer and a medical establishment which refuses to believe that there could be a genetic aspect to it, but the film doesn’t really hold together--at least in TVOR’s opinion.  Many disagreed.

Fortunately, there are some other interesting movies that are opening around the country, films that can provide an alternative to the big summer blockbusters, or act as a palate cleanser between those mega-movies.

What Maisie Knew:  One of the best films TVOR has seen recently, this film, based on the Henry James novel, tells a modern-day story of a little girl who is the pawn of her divorcing parents.  Excellent performances all around, especially Onata Aprile as the little girl, and Julianne Moore as her mother.

Kings of Summer:  A wonderful coming-of-age film about three teenagers who decide to build a house in the woods and live it in over the summer.  Very nicely done, and Nick Offerman is wonderful as one of the parents.

Stories We Tell:  Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley has done it again with this fascinating and very entertaining documentary about her own family (and her own parentage).  Fortunately for us, it’s about much more than that, and there’s something for all of us in it.

Much Ado About Nothing:  Joss Whedon adapted Shakespeare’s comedy, set it in modern times, and shot the whole thing in twelve days in his own home, using actors from his previous projects.  It’s a delight, even for suspicious Shakespeare fans, who don’t like their man to be messed with.  This film could generate a whole new group of Whedonites.

Wish You Were Here:  A gripping Australian film about the aftermath of a vacation gone horribly wrong.  Two couples go to a Cambodian beach town, and only three people come home.  Yikes!

Frances Ha:  Directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Greta Gerwig, this story of a lost twenty-something trying to find her way in New York is so much better than it could have been.  It’s not one of TVOR’s favorite genres, but this is a well-done example.

Dirty Wars:  Journalist Jeremy Scahill takes us on a voyage through U.S. covert military operations, things many of us find appalling, and which are occurring in secrecy.  TVOR thinks this should be required viewing for informed citizens.

The Bling Ring:  Sophia Coppola’s new film is a beautifully made film about an appalling group of teenagers who steal from celebrities--but not celebrities who are famous for having done impressive things.  No, they steal from celebrities who, for the most part, are famous for being famous.  TVOR doesn’t watch reality shows, has stayed relatively ignorant of this world, and didn’t enjoy the film.  And if there was a point, she missed it. Others, however, disagreed.

So that's what TVOR knows about summer movies at this point. Do go play outside, but when you come inside and want to see a movie, you now have some non-mainstream options.

Friday, May 17, 2013

SIFF 2013--the madness begins!

Tvor has been taking a nearly year-long break from her duties, but that must end.  The 2013 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival began Thursday night, and tvor has been watching a few press screenings, perusing the schedule, and generally getting excited about the upcoming 25 days.

Between the press screenings and other festivals she has attended in the past year (the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where she lowered the average age of the attendees, and SXSW, where she raised it), she has seen over 30 of the features that will be presented at SIFF.  Of course, over 250 features will be screened, and an additional 150 or so shorts, so this is just a drop in the bucket.

Here are some quick thoughts on what she’s seen--not full descriptions or reviews, just short impressions.  They’re divided into three groups--Recommended, Pretty Decent, and Not So Hot.  Anything in the top two categories is worth the price of admission, in tvor’s opinion, and those in the third...well, they weren't bad enough to make tvor want to rip her eyes out or anything, but they just didn't work for her.


Much Ado About Nothing--Joss Whedon’s updating of the play had tvor nervous, as she’s a Shakespeare fan, but fortunately, the film is a success and lots of fun.

What Maisie Knew--a contemporary version of the Henry James novel--beautifully done, wonderful acting, and the child actor is amazing.

Doch (The Daughter)--excellent Russian low-key mystery/thriller with a noirish feel.

Our Nixon--did you know Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Chapin were making super-8 movies of their time in the White House?  Neither did tvor.  This documentary consists entirely of found footage and it’s amazing.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion--wonderful Italian film made in 1970 about a police homicide detective leading the investigation of a crime he committed.  This will be screened in a beautiful new restoration.

A Hijacking--exciting Danish film about a ship hijacked by Somali pirates.

The Act of Killing--excellent, horrifying documentary in which perpetrators of mass killings in Indonesia in the 1960’s discuss their crimes on screen--and re-enact them using Hollywood movies as a template.  Surreal.

The Hunt--Mads Mikkelsen as an innocent man accused of child molestation.

Goltzius and the Pelican Company--OK, this is a Peter Greenaway film, so it’s erotic and wild and beautifully shot.

Drinking Buddies--Joe Swanberg’s latest, about a couple of friends who work in a brewery, and who both have significant others--but is there something beyond friendship there?

The Final Member--what’s not to like about a documentary about a phallological museum looking to add that final specimen to its collection--a human penis?

Frances Ha--Noah Baumbach’s new film about a twenty-something trying to find her way in New York.  Not one of tvor’s favorite subjects, but this one works.

Camion--a lovely, quiet French Canadian film about a father reconnecting with his two grown sons.

Sadourni’s Butterflies--visually beautiful and inventive, with a story that is wild and not entirely comprehensible, but tvor liked it anyway.

Paradise: Faith--this Austrian film about a religious fanatic is not for everyone, but tvor found it fascinating, enough so that she’s planning to see the other two films in the series, Paradise: Love and Paradise: Hope.

After Winter, Spring--documentary about farmers in a remote part of France trying to keep with their old ways.

Bwakaw--a sweet Filipino film about an elderly gay man in a small town.

Dirty Wars--one of those documentaries that makes us think about things we don’t like to think about, like the U.S.’s covert wars.  Fascinating and depressing but good.

7 Boxes--a Paraguayan film about a delivery boy who must get seven boxes from point A to point B.  Complications ensue.  Great chase scenes involving hand-pushed carts.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology--documentary dedicated to one strange philosopher’s view of ideology and movies.  Bizarre but interesting.

After Tiller--a documentary about the the U.S.’s four remaining providers of third-trimester abortions--why they do what they do and why people come to them for help.

Pretty decent

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints--it looks good, it has good actors (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster), and tvor would probably have bumped this up a notch, but the mumbly soundtrack made her miss key plot points.  If you go, please let her know why those guys did what they did.

In the Fog--it’s beautifully done, but tvor is much too shallow to fully appreciate this film taking place in the German-occupied USSR in 1942.  It’s war, things are horrible, and there is lots of fog.

Two Lives--a story about woman born of a liaison between a Norwegian woman and a German soldier during WWII.  It takes place after the end of the cold war when the Berlin Wall has come down.  A mix of family drama and spy drama.

Mistaken for Strangers--a documentary about a couple of brothers.  One is an indie rock star.  The other is...still living with his parents.  The non-star makes a film about traveling with his brother’s  band (The National) on tour.  Complications ensue.

Spark: A Burning Man Story--tvor liked it, as she was at Burning Man when the film was shot.  Definitely for Burners, and maybe for other people.  Viewers will get a glimpse of what attendees have so much trouble describing.

Not so hot

The Summit--a documentary about a climbing tragedy on K2, this film suffers from an excessive reliance on recreated scenes, so much that tvor spent much of the film trying to figure out what was real and what was recreated, and ended up distrusting all of the footage.  It also suffered from muddled story-telling.

Una Noche--this film looks good (it was shot in Cuba) but one of the three central characters was so appalling, tvor didn't believe that the others would have anything to do with him.

Putzel --a waste of Melanie Lynskey, this film is probably most appealing to those who live on the Upper West Side.  And even then, tvor is not so sure.

C.O.G.--David Sedaris is a wonderful writer, but the joy of reading his work is his voice (not literally, although hearing him read is great too), not his plots.  Maybe his work is not really meant to be adapted into a narrative film.

Key of Life--part screwball comedy, part crime story, and the two parts never really blended properly as far as tvor was concerned.  The crime story part was interesting, but the screwball comedy part just wasn’t funny, unless you find overacting, mugging, and extreme facial expressions to be amusing.  

So...that’s what tvor knows so far.  She’ll be updating her blog during the festival, and tweeting regularly (only about movies, not detailed coverage of her life).

If you’re in Seattle, go to SIFF early and often.  And if you’re not, here are some video ideas, films tvor enjoyed at last year’s SIFF:

Safety Not Guaranteed
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Your Sister’s Sister
Robot & Frank
Hello I Must Be Going
Sleepwalk With Me
Teddy Bear
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Moonrise Kingdom
I Wish
How to Survive a Plague