‘film:2009’ Category Archives
by jacicita in chenillo mariana, film:2008, film:2009, sjff, zilbermann jean-jacques
I don’t think I’ve ever made it out to the Seattle Jewish Film Festival before, but this year a fellow 3 Dollar Bill volunteer gave me two vouchers, so I was able to check it out. I will definitely be back!
* Nora’s Will intrigued me for the intersection of Mexican & Jewish cultures. The film opens with Nora’s death, and as her ex-husband takes on her funeral arrangements, he challenges her attempts to manipulate the world after she has left it, and discovers that she knew him better than he could ever have hoped to know her. Delightful, subtle, and beautifully acted. Screened with the dark comic short “Banana Bread”. Both recommended.
* He’s My Girl was the film cosponsored by 3 Dollar Bill, which is running it again in next month’s Translations Film Festival. The lead is basically a tool, a musician trying to seduce one young man, while actually being in a secret relationship with a transgender Arab. Complications are kicked up a notch when his ill mother moves in with him and his ex-wife and estranged son reappear. It was more or less Almodovar lite (& French), and I prefer Actual Almodovar. Possibly because when his leads are tools the film acknowledges it and/or manages to make them sympathetic anyway.
by jacicita in film:2009, kent james, maiorca donatella, moreira robert, scott george, slgff 2010, tabakman haim
* Paulista, a Brazilian film about a collection of folks living in the same building in São Paulo never really clicked for me. It was fine. I gave it a 3 out of 5 at the time, but I can’t remember anything about it less than a month later. So it goes.
* Eyes Wide Open is the film I was probably most excited about seeing, and was definitely the best film I saw at the festival. In an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, butcher Aaron extends a kindness to newcomer Ezri, giving him a job and a place to stay. This being the film festival it is, there’s no question where their relationship will end up, of course, but it makes its way there truthfully. A beautiful, internal film from director Haim Tabakman (first feature) and first time screenwriter Merav Doster, it conveys the pain of not fitting into such a restrictive community while still respecting the desire for the benefits of such a society. I look forward to future projects from them both.
* Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna describes the creation and production of Wainwright’s first opera in the standard documentary format, but was satisfying all the same. It’s worth seeing for fans of Wainwright, of course, but also for anyone interested in music, opera, or the creative process in general. It’s always a joy to see people with a passion for their task at work.
* The Purple Sea suffered unfairly in presentation: there were problems with the sound (that kept resolving themselves just as I resolved to go out and speak to someone, only to return later), and the audience was ridiculous, in particular several people playing with phones throughout drove me crazy. Cut that shit out, people! The film itself is an Italian melodrama, beautiful ladies in love in a town full of dark secrets. It’s a throwback sort of lesbian story in a lot of ways, with the twist that eventually one of the ladies is declared to be male. The way that the new gender presentation plays out both in the town and within the relationship made it worth watching.
* I volunteered at the closing night film, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, and was lucky enough to be able to see it. I regret not being able to see The Real Anne Lister earlier in the week. It was a documentary on Lister and her diaries, both on cracking the code of them and also on the content, and would I think have enriched the experience of the film.
The Secret Diaries was a BBC television costume drama rather than a theatrical film, but it was still absorbing watching a character so full of certainty as to who she was and what she wanted. She had no doubt as to the life she deserved, and was lucky enough to be in a financial position to make it happen for herself. Lister was a Yorkshire heiress in the early 19th century, and the film focuses largely on her unhappy early relationship with the married Marianne. I would have liked to know more about her later relationship, her travels, and her business, so now I definitely need to seek out the documentary.
by jacicita in film:2009, maymon sharon, tadmor erez
A charming Israeli movie in the tradition of The Full Monty, A Matter of Size is the story of a group of fat friends who have had enough of body hating diet groups and opt to give the health-at-any-size world of sumo a try.
The world is not all sunshine and roses: sumo is a club for men only, to the disappointment of at least one woman, and though the film is on the whole really good about the gay character and bear culture, there is one pretty upsetting line delivered to him. Aside from that, it’s a pretty by-the-book story about finding your bliss despite the haters, regardless of if the negativity is coming from the world, your friends, your family, or yourself.
I had been nervous going into it — there is a fine line between laughing with people and laughing at them — but I was relieved to see that the film fell on the right side of that line. In a lot of ways it’s a formula movie, but there’s nothing wrong with a formula elegantly executed.
Two cast/crew notes: The reluctant coach is played by Togo Igawa, who just graced SIFF’s screens this spring in the Golden Space Needle Award winner The Hedgehog, which has me wondering just how many languages he speaks.
Co-director Erez Tadmore also codirected Strangers, a bittersweet romance between an Israeli and a Palestinian who meet in Berlin during the World Cup Finals. It was a selection at SIFF a few years ago.
Verdict: See the original version before the inevitable tone-deaf American remake happens.
by jacicita in beresford bruce, film:2009, mihaileanu radu, short films, siff 2010, walker lucy
* I love short films, but they can be ridiculously hit or miss. The Best of SIFF shorts package was the perfect solution. Every film in it was well-done, regardless of if it was to my taste. Notable to me: Glenn Owen Dodds (with David Wenham playing God as sort of a harried middle manager), Off Season (horror/thriller), and The Little Dragon (stop motion with a Bruce Lee action figure).
* Wasteland was one of my favorite documentaries of the festival, though still falling behind my beloved Marwencol. It follows an artist, Vik Muniz, as he works with the pickers outside of Rio de Janeiro in Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in the world. They collect, sort, and resell the recyclables from the dump, and Muniz organizes some of them for a large scale photography project incorporating the materials they work with. Through it we get to know the pickers/artists, challenging assumptions about the people who do that work and why.
There are problematic elements of it, though I think the film doesn’t shy away from that. Muniz is upfront about how lucky he is to have changed his circumstances; we visit the São Paulo home where he grew up, but he now lives in New York. Also, I think Walker is not entirely comfortable with Muniz’s position of power, and makes the entirely correct decision to focus largely on the pickers themselves, their pasts, their interests, and how their lives are affected by Muniz for better or for worse.
* The Concert was a totally charming fable about a Russian conductor-turned-janitor, a loss of status due to refusing to fire Jewish musicians. 25 years later he intercepts an invitation for the current orchestra to play in Paris, and pulls together the original team to put on a show. Is it improbable? Of course. Do I care? Not a bit.
* Mao’s Last Dancer was a pretty infuriating final SIFF selection. I have no idea how it scored so high among the audience. I spent some time looking up other reviews, trying to figure out what other people saw in it. It didn’t really clarify things. Instead, I came across things like this, from Time Out Sydney: “A scene in which [ballet director Ben] Stevenson, a driven but gentle and nurturing man, has to explain to Li the meaning of a racist term, is quite affecting.” No. Stevenson was a manipulative asshole, and since he didn’t have enough respect for Li to tell him what the term actually meant, he lied. Affecting, I suppose, but certainly not in the way implied. Whatever, people.
Anyway. Based on the memoir by Li Cunxin, Dancer tells the story of how he was removed from his family at the age of 11 to study ballet in Beijing, a chance event that eventually brought him the the United States to dance in Houston. To stay in the country despite the wishes of the Chinese government, he marries fellow dancer Elizabeth (Amanda Schull from Center Stage, still a mediocre actress, in case you were wondering). Elizabeth, by the way, is treated horribly by Li, by the consulate, and by everyone associated with the Houston Ballet, apparently for the crimes of being a) female and b) not a brilliant dancer. So aggravating.
I thought Joan Chen was marvelous as his mother, but then, she’s always fabulous. She deserved better than this role where, in film’s cringe-worthy emotional climax she and Li’s father are brought up on stage to be reunited with Li at the end of a performance. All the more appalling, really, because I’m sure that’s how it actually happened. Because, as aforementioned, Stevenson was a manipulative asshole. I’m getting angry again just thinking about it.
I did appreciate the unashamedly 80s set design & cinematography. Oh, and of course the dancing. (So far as I know, which is not far because I know fuck-all about ballet.) But that’s about it. The rest was overlong, poorly written, heavy-handed, and generally insulting.
(Also, hee. I had totally forgotten that Li had remarried until I read it in another review. So that should give you some idea of how underdeveloped *that* relationship was. If by underdeveloped you mean NOT DEVELOPED AT ALL, and I do.)
I think that the thing I found most frustrating about the whole thing is that the concept should have been right up my alley. A dance film focused on a Chinese guy? As a romantic lead, no less? This never happens. If it had been even slightly effective I would have been all over it, frustrated as I am with the Western media’s inability to see Asian guys as desirable, as well as their inability to make dance films that don’t star blonde girls.
I guess I’m still waiting.
…and that’s it, kids! 50 SIFF films. Back to the real world of movie going soon: I saw Cyrus last week & Toy Story 3 this weekend, and am planning on Ondine this week. Fair warning!
by jacicita in film:2008, film:2009, film:2010, monzón daniel, pooley leanne, siff 2010, stanton karen, taylor-wood sam, todorovskiy valeriy
* The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls is that film we always wanted and never knew we needed: a documentary about yodeling lesbian twins from New Zealand. If you think that sounds intriguing, you’ll love it. Which I did. If it makes you want to claw your ears off, that is fair. Not all the movies are for you.
* Later in the day, I overheard a conversation regarding Ginny Ruffner: A Not So Still Life, where they said that Ginny was clearly more talented than the filmmakers telling her story, and I do think that is true. It couldn’t quite decide what sort of a documentary it wanted to be, and I feel like there is a lot more to know about Ruffner, but I appreciated the opportunity, such as it was, to peek into her world.
* Hipsters was just a crazy lot of fun, a candy-colored musical with plenty of painfully pretty young people rebelling against the conformity of Soviet Russia. I loved it, from the costumes to the cinematography to the choreography, and the 125 minute running time flew past. A++ would boogie again.
* Continuing the musical theme (more or less) next up was Nowhere Boy, the early days of John Lennon biopic. Which was fine, solid stuff, but after sex & drugs & rock & roll I’m finding myself with less patience for the solid biopic. But it is what it is. Aaron Johnson is excellent as Lennon, though there is something Casey Affleck-y about his facial structure that was distracting. Also, seriously. Thomas Sangster (Paul McCartney) is allegedly 20? But he’s looked 11, tops, in everything (Doctor Who, Bright Star, etc). Someday he’ll grow up properly and I won’t recognize him anymore. Hell of an actor, though the best part of this movie was definitely the women in Lennon’s life: his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) & his estranged mother (Anne-Marie Duff). They were fantastic.
* Cell 211 was the last film of the night and the best film of the day. Winner of several Goya awards, it’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller set during a prison riot. A newly-hired guard is touring the prison the day before his first day of work when the riot breaks out, and due to an injury moments before, he’s left behind when all the other guards escape. He poses as a new prisoner and has some good ideas of his own that help earn what little trust the leader Malamadre has to give. It’s a complex web of motivations (of guard & prisoner alike), and the cast is amazing. Definitely earned its place in the best of festival.
by jacicita in film:2009, lankosz borys, lee hae-jun, siff 2010
* The Reverse was… interesting. Poland’s official submission in the foreign language category of the most recent Academy Awards, it is the first feature from director Borys Lankosz. It’s a story about three generations of women living together in 1950s Warsaw, and how their lives change when the youngest encounters a rough & attractive fellow (Marcin Dorocinski). It contained one of the most traumatic death scenes I have ever seen, which overwrote any other thoughts I might have had about it. Also, I found the score really intrusive, but that might just be me. The acting was fabulous, though, particularly Dorocinski.
* By the end of the first weekend of the festival, I was already kicking myself for missing Castaway on the Moon, so I was pretty excited that it was included in the Best of. Kim decides he is going to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into the Han river, but instead is washed up on a small island in the center. He tries and fails to get the attention of anyone passing by, supposes he can always die later, and begins creating a life for himself on this deserted island in the heart of the city. He’s spotted eventually by a girl living as a shut-in in one of the high rise apartment buildings across the river, and they slowly develop an odd yet powerful long distance relationship, as it were. It was one of my favorites of the festival, a commentary on isolation and technology, while also being a charming fairy tale of a story. It’s the second feature by Lee Hae-jun, the first being a film about a transgender teenager, which I intend to seek out at Scarecrow. Judging from Castaway, I expect it is well-handled.
The last two films for Friday were The Hedgehog (which I had just seen) and Leaves of Grass (which I strongly considered seeing again, but I thought I would be better served going home before my five movie day. Does that qualify as an adult decision?)
by jacicita in achache mona, film:2009, koppelman brian, levien david, siff 2010
About a half an hour into Solitary Man, Michael Douglas’s character does something unforgivable. He is suffering from manpain ™, we cannot begin to fathom how difficult his life is as a rich straight white guy, and clearly we should feel great sympathy as his world collapses around him. Except, he’s an asshole bringing shit down on himself, and I don’t really care *what* happens to him. His motivation is bullshit. Clearly not all the movies are made for me. More’s the pity.
It does have quite the supporting cast, including Susan Sarandon as his exwife, Mary-Louise Parker* as his current-ish fling, Danny DeVito as an old friend who is far too kind to him, Jesse Eisenberg** as an impressionable young college student, and Jenna Fischer as his far-too-patient daughter. Which was enough to keep me from just leaving, so there you go. But I probably would have been better served just going home and watching Wonder Boys instead.
The surprise movie at Wednesday’s SIFF volunteer appreciation party, The Hedgehog, was a slight disappointment because it’s showing as part of Best of SIFF this weekend, and I bought a pass for that. I had been hoping for Get Low, since the year before they showed the closing night film***.
On the other hand, it might be nice not watching three films in a row Friday night, and Wednesday was a fine evening for morbid (& creative!) French pre-teens, crotchety apartment managers, and adorable Japanese gentlemen. I quite enjoyed it, and can see why, with its rich cast of quirky-but-not-too-quirky characters, it won the audience award this year.
It’s beautifully shot; the action takes place almost entirely within the confines of a five unit luxury apartment building, and a chunk of it is filmed ostensibly by Paloma, an 11 year old girl who has decided to kill herself on her 12th birthday, and is passing the time until then by recording all the goings-on around her, on film and through other fabulous creative pursuits.
* Dear creative team: MLP is thin as a rail and smokin’ hot, and trying to insinuate that she might be “thick”, I believe the term was, or in any other way physically less attractive than some fit coed is cue for me to PUNCH YOU IN THE NOSE. Beware.
** I suspect that Jesse Eisenberg is always basically Jesse Eisenberg, but I would definitely rather watch him be that than watch Michael Cera be Michael Cera.
*** OSS-117: Lost in Rio, and BY THE WAY I do not understand how someone *cough*Roger Ebert*cough* thinks that IT is offensive, but stuff like Hot Tub Time Machine is perfectly acceptable. I have no experience with the early non-satire films or the pre-Bond books upon which they are based, and while it is true that there is a lot of offensive stuff in the new OSS movies, they are indiscriminate, being offensive to pretty much every population, and! Furthermore! The joke is *always* on Hubert for being so ignorant in the first place, and for being oblivious whenever his companion is horrified by him. Whereas in HTTM, if it’s a satire, it’s a failed one. We’re expected to *identify* with the leads, while they are in the throes of gay panic and/or delivering endless rape jokes. Um. No. Also, not funny.
by jacicita in epstein rob, film:1970s, film:2009, film:2010, friedman jeffrey, ho ivy, ho yuhang, iguchi noboru, kleiser randal, landsman mark, siff 2010
* Crossing Hennessy was a charming little romantic comedy from Hong Kong. The couple is being set up by their respective families, never mind that neither of them are interested and both in fact have romantic interests already. Cute, a little slow, but worth it for the organic development of the characters. Wei Tang (best known for Lust, Caution) was particularly great as Oi Lin, and Loy’s family was comedy gold.
* At the End of Daybreak was surprisingly low-key for most of the film, considering its ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter. A 23 year old guy is in a relationship with a 15 year old girl, and when her family finds out they demand payment rather than taking it to court. His impoverished mother (the utterly fantastic Kara Hui), scrapes it together, only to have the girl’s family change their mind about prosecuting. Hard to connect with at the beginning, and hard to watch at the end.
* I had a rather stupid amount of fun at the Grease singalong. It’s one of those movies that holds up, in case you were wondering, in its goofy, candy-colored way. I didn’t see it all the way through until it was rereleased when I was in college (though I had seen almost all of it in bits and pieces) and it still totally worked. The singalong works too; it’s a gorgeous print, and the subtitles for the lyrics are animated and hilarious. Good times! It’s getting a proper release in July. Dinah Manoff (Marty Maraschino) was at our screening, but I didn’t get to stay for the Q&A because I had to haul on up the hill for Howl. She was charming at the intro, though, and I heard she was quite impressed by the Seattle audience’s enthusiasm. As well she should be!
* Howl is one of those movies I would typically try to hold off on since it has distribution, but I don’t think it’s coming out until the fall, and I was tired of waiting. It’s rather brilliant, I think, in that it’s really a movie about the poem rather than being yet another biopic. It takes us through the poem on four tracks: Ginsberg performing “Howl” in 1955, animation of the poem, interviews with Ginsberg about poetry in general and ways in which it was informed by his life in particular, and the obscenity trial. It’s basically porn for English majors.
Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw James Franco play a straight guy. Which is a-ok by me. This, Milk, and then of course the Spider-Man franchise. Wait, Harry wasn’t supposed to be in love with Peter Parker? And what about Saul & Dale in Pineapple Express? No? Ah well. My bad.
* I really enjoyed Secret #4. This has been a strong series, and I am looking forward to next year. I have trouble remembering the titles of 3 of the 4, though, so that makes keeping it Secret all that much easier!
* A late addition to the festival, Thunder Soul was a great selection to end with. It’s a documentary about the Kashmere Stage Band, a high school band from Texas whose teacher turned them into a world class funk band. Now they’re reforming over 30 years later for a benefit concert. Total crowd pleaser documentary, and if you’re not at least a little teary-eyed at the end you have no soul. Erm. No pun intended.
* And yet, it wasn’t the end, because after my final volunteer shift I slipped into the screening of RoboGeisha, which was hilarious and awesome, and I think we should have seen the midnight of it instead of Splice.
by jacicita in boustedt kris & lindy, chen arvin, film:1910s, film:2009, film:2010, paton stuart, shapiro dana adam, siddons alastair, siff 2010
* Au Revoir Taipei was exactly what I needed to kick off the last week of the festival: an unashamed bit of fluff. It’s one of those movies where a bunch of disparate characters interact over the course of an evening: a young guy who means to fly off to Paris the next day to win back a girl, a bookshop clerk, a gangster & a bunch of wannabe baby gangsters, and a few basically inept cops. It maintains an even keel throughout, doesn’t draw itself out past its natural conclusion, and manages to have a dance sequence that doesn’t make me want to punch things (Imma lookin’ at you, (500) Days of Summer.)
* I only watched half of Perfect 10, and then I decided that instead of spending any more time with those characters I would rather go out to the lobby and knit. So I did. I felt some guilt, because the directors seemed like lovely people, but I really did not like their movie, and I had already sat through one poorly-acted local feature already this festival, and at least *it* hadn’t been offensive. So it goes.
* Turn It Loose was a lot of fun, a documentary on b-boys, specifically following the 2007 Red Bull BC One competition in South Africa. I particularly liked the understated political aspect of it. We’re given profiles of competitors from all over the world (Ben-J from Senegal is totally my favorite), and title cards relating to their battles, but no voiceover, which is great.
In one particular sequence, Lilou, an Algerian dancer living in France wears a keffiyeh to mark his solidarity with the Arab world while battling against Roxrite, an American dancer who, to Lilou & to other competitors, represents all of American imperialism, wealth, and power. However, we then get a profile of Roxrite and learn that he’s an immigrant from Mexico, that he and his family experienced homelessness when he was younger, and that he’s still struggling to get by, but dance is what has kept him alive. It’s all in the editing, showing everything these guys have in common with each other whether they realize it or not.
* Live scores to silent movies just seem to get better every year, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was no exception. Written by Stephin Merritt & performed by him, Daniel Handler, Johnny Blood, & David Hegarty on the organ, it’s part score, part script, part musical, part MST3K. It put me back in mind of Utopia in Four Movements, actually, in terms of being a film experience that can only happen within that moment of time and space. Also, I still have the theme tune stuck in my head; it was earwormy enough to replace Bran Nue Dae‘s theme tune!
* I liked everything about Monogamy except the story. Which… seems like a ridiculous statement, but it’s true. I picked it in the first place for the cast (Chris Messina & Rashida Jones), and they were great. The direction was loose & intimate, and the cinematography was gorgeous. But I knew pretty much where it was going the whole time: there’s a line of dialogue early on that told me how the A plot was going to end, and I knew the end of the B plot from the moment it started, so that big reveal was totally lost on me.
by jacicita in amenábar alejandro, borcuch jacek, film:2009, film:2010, siff 2010
* Secret #3 slayed me. It hit three major buttons. I can’t even be rational about it. I need to own it yesterday.
* Agora was a gorgeous film about the rise of Christianity in Alexandria, and how basically religion destroys everything. It made me think, oddly enough, of the effect of religion in The Tillman Story, where people have an incredibly difficult time processing/accepting the atheism of Pat Tillman (and, I believe, his family). Also, I was surprised to discover that though I can be relatively cool with gore, I felt physically ill when the Christian mob burned the glorious library of Alexandria. Once a librarian English major, always a librarian English major.
There was some awkwardness about halfway through, when the film skipped “a number of years”, but I rolled with it. Also, I developed a lexicon for the film The most important term is “practicing witchcraft”, which means “thinking while female”. Strictly forbidden. And I am quite certain that every time a character asserted that they were as Christian as someone, or that someone was as Christian as them, that there was a definite wink-wink behind that. Mass conversion & public demonstrations of faith are nothing if not political.
La plus ça change!
* All That I Love was a Polish coming-of-age story set in 1981, following a teenager and his punk band, through family, first love, and revolution. I quite liked it. I particularly enjoyed his relationship with his parents; it’s not what you would expect, especially with his father.