Monday, May 28, 2012

#SIFF2012 Days 2 & 3 - Snows of Kilimanjaro, Wonder Women! Law In These Parts, ____, Crown Jewels.

Upon the completion of my third day of movies (and sun!) at the Seattle International Film Festival I can happily and surprisingly-to-no-one announce how much I'd love to add this to my yearly slate of festival visits.

Yesterday, Sunday, was a two-movie day. No need to take my temperature. I'm feeling fine. It is, I've learned, completely acceptable to see only two movies in one day at a film festival. I did it, and the world did not end.

The first movie I cannot tell you about. Wait, what? Dor, being discreet? It's not in my nature, no. But, they have this awesome thing in Seattle called the Secret Film Festival which lasts four Sundays and comes with a separate ($45) pass. They show movies they cannot tell you about, for whatever reason. Movies they aren't supposed to show for some reason, or movies they don't want announced, before during or after they play. But wait, what about Twitter? I know. Believe me, I know. But Secret at SIFF actually means secret! I saw this Sunday's film with a crowd of hundreds of early-rising, chance-taking citizens of Seattle and not single one of them filled their followers in on the movie after the fact. As such I have no intention of being the first. I'll mention that I liked the movie and I love the whole idea of a secret fest.

Next on my list was The Law In These Parts, which has for some reason been on my "eh no I don't really need to see that" list from the other film festivals it has played. But boy am I glad I gave in and got a ticket because it was some movie. It concerned a subject on which I am ill-informed, and that is the Israel occupation of Palestinian territories. Even more than that, the movie chose to focus on solely the laws that were enacted and have been applied to citizens of those territories since the late 60's until today. I feel like you have a particularly vested interest in the topic (not so much) or a general passion for documentary film to go for this film. You can imagine which one describes me. Anyway, this one wins major points in my book for the director's laments at the beginning and the end about the nature and inherent bias of the medium of documentary film. So, so glad I saw it!

Memorial Day is a day off for me, which is the reason I even decided to travel this weekend in the first place. It typically falls right around my birthday (which is Wednesday this year, the 30th) so I equate this three-day weekend with indulgence. Who am I kidding - I equate every weekend (and most weekdays) with indulgence.

Anyway, I spent this day doing what I do best and that's sitting alone in a dark room watching movies. The day began with a French film called The Snows of Kilimanjaro which I frankly loved. I'd missed it at Rendezvous with French Cinema, not because it wasn't on my radar but because I had tickets and was too tired to go to more than the 13,263 films I'd already seen in that series. Luckily SIFF had my back and I could see this moving (if a bit heavy-handed) lament on family, forgiveness, poverty, marriage and class. I don't think the title represents the film well at all. I hope it gets a decent US release, because I enjoyed it a great deal.

Next was possibly my least favorite of SIFF and that is called Crown Jewels. It's not often I see a Swedish film that's less than very good. Even good would be unexpected. This one really pushed my limits of belief, patience, and understanding. And it was two sodding hours! Why!! I don't even have the energy to type out what I didn't like, but if anyone's seen it I'd love to chat with you but I feel like all I'd be doing is shaking my head and having false start after false start, like that comedian that Fred Armisen plays on Weekend Update sometimes who tries to read the news and just says "I mean, but really now, and when you think about it, but the thing I really hated, and I say this objectively..."

After that, I was able to salvage the day (actually more than salvage it) with a documentary - always a safe bet for me and one that usually tips the scales in favor of a good movie day. And how could I go wrong with an inside look at pop culture + feminism + comic books? I learned a bit, I giggled, I was inspired and I had hope for a new generation. Might sound a bit cheesy but Wonder Women! was all that and more. I couldn't help but think my friend Jason would be all over this movie. I also couldn't help but compare it to another documentary I saw this year that centered on the comic book universe, and this one blew it out of the water in terms of accessibility to a non-comic book audience. Not that I disliked the Spurlock.

At any rate, it's been a great SIFF so far. I may or may not see more movies while I am in town. If I do, I may or may not write about them, since my flight leaves at midnight, and then I land in NYC, go straight to work, and then go straight to my birthday party. It's a tough life.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

#SIFF2012 Day One - The sun is shining, but not on the characters in the movies I've chosen.

The Seattle Film Festival - or my brief four-day stint anyway - has arrived. Because I desperately wanted a vacation and because film festivals are typically far from relaxing in any sense, I am taking this one a little easy. Of course you can hardly not take SIFF easy considering movies don't start before 11 AM and virtually nothing is sold out. That said, my first day of movies will be my busiest, with four. I may leave this town with only ten films under my belt. And that's... okay....? Right?

So far SIFF has brought three movies into my life I would not have otherwise seen.


Turkish, which I couldn't figure out until the credits. (Embarrassing.) Honor, family, responsibility, blood, desperation, karma. All factor in quite nicely to this confusing-on-purpose Sundance award-winning drama. Not in the least bit predictable, and quite touching in ways one wouldn't expect. See it... if you CAN!



Don't count on me to be well-versed in the politics affecting the two Iranian directors who as I hear it have been forced not to make films for the next X years. Similarly don't expect a history lesson on why it fucking sucks ass to live in Iran right now, because as you may or may not know, I am neither learned nor well read. I am well-watched, though, enough to know that I loved Mohammad Rasoulof's last feature called White Meadows. So of course I wasn't going to miss his follow up.

I'm glad I saw it? But I don't think it's for everyone. Dark, dark, dark. In every sense of the word. Well-done? Absolutely. There were a few long shots that I don't even think I blinked during. You do feel you're there with the character, a woman in Tehran who's lost her license to practice law, and has a plan to fix her situation and potentially reunite with her absent husband. There's an undercurrent here that screams of This Is Very Important. And I'm glad that I saw it. I can't say I enjoyed it or would recommend it to many, though.


Why did I pick this one? I imagine because the description contained the word "Barcelona." I am such a sucker for Spain. Well, the movie was slight. Very, very, very slight. And with a script I'd call anything but well-written, or sensical even. People laughed. People around me and behind me - people I don't know, so I cannot even attempt to suppose what about these tinny characters and familiar journey they found the least bit funny. I will say that the ending was so satisfying (if unearned) and just plain sweet (IF COMPLETELY UNBELIEVABLE) that on some level the movie was salvaged in my mind, though only a little.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Miscellaneous movie-related ramblings: Polisse, The Avengers, Hitchcock, SIFF, etc.

Since returning from Hot Docs a couple of weeks ago, my movie-going has been light, from a volume perspective.

A few things I did want to note, though.

This weekend alone, I've had a diverse film intake consisting of a Rooftop Films short program,  The Avengers, the 1935 Hitchcock spy drama The 39 Steps and then this morning Polisse.

It was my first Rooftop Films program of the year, and I ventured all the way to east 23rd Street for it. Which if you know me, is quite a distance for this staunch west-sider (sad, I know). These shorts were not for me.  Maybe it was the obnoxious people chit-chatting behind me, or the unexpectedly cool air causing my teeth to chatter. But, I think it was more the quality of the shorts.  Bizarre, pointless, anti-climactic. Maybe I'm a philistine.  But... I left early to catch The Avengers finally at Kips Bay.

I know I see a lot of littler movies but I have absolutely nothing against a blockbuster like this.  Spiderman, X-Men - I love these movies.  And their sequels (though never the third for some reason). Though I don't have any emotional connection to the comic books, that is, I didn't grow up to with these characters, I can still find something to enjoy in a good superhero movie.  I am perfectly happy to call The Avengers a good superhero movie.  Glad I saw it, wish I hadn't fallen asleep through about twenty minutes in the middle, won't probably buy the DVD, will certainly see the sequel. <shrug> No complaints.

The next morning was The 39 Steps, which is my fourth time seeing a (new to me) Hitchcock film at the IFC Center this month.   To say a movie is my least favorite, out of Pyscho, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief is not a very powerful statement because of course it was still pretty awesome. I am really loving this series the IFC Center is doing.  It's a bummer that I will miss Vertigo next weekend while I am in Seattle.

I may not have mentioned that I've booked four days in Seattle for the Seattle International Film Festival.  It's not technically my first time at SIFF since I did take in one screening of Bartleby (with Crispin Glover) maybe ten years ago. Nevertheless I'll feel like a total newbie and am looking forward to seeing movies AND discovering a few good bars, restaurants, crafty gifty type stores, coffee shops, etc.  I am staying in Belltown and I have a car so, the sky is the limit in terms of adventure times.  Should be fun.

The best thing I have seen this weekend (and probably one of the best things I've seen this year) is a French police drama called Polisse.  Wow, y'all.  It follows the child protection unit of a French police force as they go about the gritty, often devastating, sometimes astonishing and funny, always gripping work of these very human social servants. You can absolutely tell it was based on actual case files.  There were so many chances to push the story into melodrama territory, and some might say it went there, but I think the script towed a very subtle line and made the right decisions at every turn.  I don't know if I could watch it again but I would very highly recommend it.   Oh - and so many of the actors were familiar, mostly from movies I saw at Rendezvous with French Cinema 2012 also at the IFC Center.  Except for one of the leads, Joey Starr, who played a very different character in Sleepless Night.  And is apparently a French rapper.

Worth mentioning here, while I'm rambling, is a super annoying thing that happened this morning at the IFC Center. I arrived at 10:50 for my 10:55 AM movie and when I went in to grab a seat, I found the lights off, and a movie playing. Subtitles and all. I came back out to the lobby and said "did you tell me the wrong theater? There's already a movie playing there." The usher said no, that's where Polisse was showing, and it must be the trailers. So I went back in, took a seat, and was like that's weird, it's in French, and showing a cop and a kid. Sounds like Polisse, but that isn't meant to start for another five minutes. I go back out and again they tried to tell me it was the pre-show. I went back in one more time and was even more convinced.  I finally went out a third time and they agreed that they'd started the movie early accidentally, and they re-started it. 

I get that things happen.  Just last weekend, a movie started 30 minutes late. But I don't like that it took me three times to convince them that the movie had started early.  Do I not go there two or three times a week? Should I not clearly know the difference between the pre-show and the actual movie? The lights were off. The door was shut. This is not my first rodeo, folks.  Oh well. 

Later tonight I will see The Dictator, finally.  So ready to laugh after the heaviness of Polisse!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I went to Hot Docs for a quick second and now I am writing some stuff about it.

Here are the docs I saw in my 48 hours in Canada.

Vivan Las Antipodas!
Charles Bradley: Soul of America
There Is No Sexual Rapport
Love Story
Ping Pong
We Are Wisconsin
Call Me Kuchu

By far my favorite was Vivan Las Antipodas! which might be my favorite doc of the year so far, if not top three.  I tweeted something about it having the visual grandeur of Samsara mixed with the emotional intimacy of Life in a Day.  But I failed to mention how desperately it made me want to jump on a plane and go somewhere, anywhere.  Hawaii, really. Oddly.

This fest has been on my "one day I'll go to there" list for a few years now, ever since my dear friend and Toronto cheerleader Alison began a campaign that somehow lambasted me for missing Hot Docs all the while she continued missing Sundance year after year. "But it's so easy!" She'd urge. "If you don't get in to the screening from the rush line, they give you a free ticket to see something else!"  I'm a sucker for a chill film festival. Combine documentaries and the Toronto setting? Done and done.

Vacation days are my currency, folks. Money's nice, but you can always get more, push comes to shove. Vacation days are finite.   Twenty - no more, no less. Christmas trip home to mom and dad, birthday long weekend, TIFF, Sundance, an indulgent week staying long past I should have gone home from SXSW - all of those needs to be crammed in to 20 precious days.

So, Hot Docs had to be a 48 hour sojourn. I am lucky to live an hour's flight from the city. I planned an eight or nine movie weekend and pulled it off.

I saw a nice mix of stuff I'd missed from SXSW, stuff that I'd never heard of before but jumped out at me in the program, and a few that weren't even on my radar til Twitter buzz chained my mind.

How about a bit of a list.

Best film of my 2012 Hot Docs:  Vivan Las Antipodas!

Best festival popcorn: Hot Docs Bloor Cinema popcorn mixed with a handful of M&M's - a Zemell original.

Worst festival venue: The Cumberland.   Sorry. So long.  Crap seats, and their bathrooms? really? The hand dryers had all the strength of an old lady blowing you a kiss from 20 feet away.

Oddest quirk of the festival: The audience award ballots were on the back of your ticket stub.  yeah no. I'm keeping that shit.

Movie Shiri would love the most: Ping Pong.  All about senior citizens from around the globe competing in the 80+ table tennis world championships. Some fierce bitches up in there, folks.

Saddest part: In McCullin, about a war photographer, the part where he met starving children in a Beirut hospital.

# of Days I will try to attend next year: 10.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Embarrassingly untimely Tribeca Film Festival thoughts:

Before I forget about Tribeca entirely I wanted to jot down some of my impressions of this year's fest.

Full list is below, but you'll see that my absolute favorites were YOSSI and TAKE THIS WALTZ.   That latter of course is my favorite EVAHHH OMG. Should I shut up about it for now? Will I ever?

It was a fine year for me and Tribeca. I saw 17 of the 19 movies I planned. I ran out of steam at the end, which is none too surprising considering the challenge of working full time, then movies on nights and weekends, plus a few extra-curriculars.

The year belonged to Alex Karpovsky, who directed Rubberneck, starred in Supporting Characters, and had a guest-starring role on Girls premiering just before Tribeca.

Notable for me was the fact that I really disliked the film that won the Audience Award.  Called ANY DAY NOW. This almost never happens. Jury awards - sure. That's a crapshoot, c'mon.  But the audience? I mean. That's me. Who am I if not the audience.  If anything, I typically find an autience award winner good but overrated. At worst. But this one? Nearly walked out.  I found it sappy and its characters painfully one-dimensional.  I don't begrudge anyone for liking it, because there's no denying it had a good heart. 

All my Tribeca films:

Yossi (9)Rubberneck (6)Supporting Characters (7)Babygirl (5)The Revisionaries (7)A Better Life (6)Jackpot (7)Take This Waltz (10)Sleepless Night (8)Off Label (4)Caroline and Jackie (5)Russian Winter (5)Resolution (8)Side by Side (7)Any Day Now (3)First Winter (8)Down East (7)