Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dissecting SIFF 2011 - Part 1

I'm really late with these posts. By like almost 2 weeks. In fact, I had every intention of posting same-day reviews of each film that I saw during the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), but obviously I was too lazy for that.

This year I saw 21 movies during the 3 week long festival. And unlike previous years, I didn't have to cram these viewings into weekends where I force myself to see 4 movies in one day. Because I was out on FMLA recovering from surgery, I had a lot of free time on my hands. And sitting in a movie theater was easy to do and didn't require a lot of exertion that would bust my stitches open.
Anyway, this was an interesting SIFF for me because I didn't see many films from Spain. I usually end up seeing at least 4 Spanish films (I guess I like them?) but this year I only saw two. In fact, this was the first SIFF where I ended up seeing more American films than foreign films. A definite first. And I saw a lot of comedies which I usually avoid at SIFF.
Here's the first rundown of what I saw this year. I'm throwing it out randomly but also sort of in viewing date order.

First, I'll lump together the documentaries that I saw, all produced from the United States:

Page One: Documentarian Andrew Rossi set up his cameras for one year inside the New York Times’ newsroom, with unprecedented access and insight into the paper’s operations. The doc show not only how new media is impacting the Times, but also how the paper reports on its own industry’s demise is a frank way. Everyone in the theater with me LOVED this film but I kind of didn't feeel that it was that great. Maybe I was just in a bad mood.

The Interrupters: From the guy that did Hoop Dreams, this doc told the story of inner city and gang violence in Chicago; focusing on three kids who are trying to make a difference. I won't lie, I cried like a baby in parts of this. Really well done, but you have to be in a certain mood to enjoy it I think.

Being Elmo: I saw this documentary on the last day of the festival, at the last minute, literally deciding to go 10 minutes before the show started because I happen to be driving by the theater it was showing in on my way home from dinner. I had purposely avoided the other showings that the film had had because I really really really hate Elmo. But you know what? I'm sort of in love with Kevin Clash, Elmo's famed "Muppeteer". The movie is an in-depth portrait of Clash and how he came to be one of  the most famous puppeteers of all time. Charming.

  • High Road U.S. - Matt Walsh is one of my favorite comedians. And I really wish he had acted in this film that he acted and directed. I really enjoyed the story and a lot of the performances, but there were part of it where it was really obvious that the dialogue was entirely improvised. Someone like Rob Riggle or Ed Helms is going to kill it, but other actors made some of the scenes really drag. Newcomer Zach Woods was kind of awesome as the 16 yr old kid that is one of the centers of the film.
  • Womb Germany - Oh boy. This movie was so messed up. I mean it was well crafted; but such a mind-fuck. Starring an entirely British cast, including Eva Green (Casino Royale) and Matt Smith (Dr. Who), if there was any SIFF film this year that I definitely would NOT see again it would be this one. Again, it was well acted and beautifully shot, but boy is the story creepy.
  • Crying Out Canada (Quebec) - This was the first of two films I saw at SIFF out of Quebec, and dang, it's right what they say about the Quebecquois being radically different from the rest of Canada. This is a film about MEN, and men's EMOTIONS, and it is dark. So dark. It's about 3 generations of men who are struggling with various problems, including the protagonist Jo (dad, the middle generation) who is newly widowed and not handling it well, resulting in him committing a series of petty crimes that his adult son and his father try and cover up for him. I really liked the performances of the actors that played the son (Patrick Hivon) and the grampa (Jean Lapointe) and elements of the story are good, but I just couldn't get past how bleak everything was; and I think it was supposed to be a comedy?
  • Beginners U.S. - This was probably the most high profile of the movies I saw this year at SIFF. And this is one of the first to have a major distributor and already be out in theaters. See this film if/when it comes to your town. I loved it. It stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer as a father (Hal) and son (Oliver) dealing with death, illness, and love. The story is told through two intertwining stories: in the present day, Oliver meets Anna, an alluring French actress who captivates him and gives him a way to heal from the recent and devastating loss of  father, which has happened soon after losing his mother to cancer. As Oliver grows closer to Anna, he is still hung up on the deep emotions that erupted when, at age 75, shortly after the death of his wife, Oliver’s dad Hal came out of the closet. The second story we see in flashback as Hal, disregarding his advanced years and a diagnosis of terminal cancer, gleefully embraces his senior bon vivant lifestyle; hitting the clubs, buying a new wardrobe, and, dating a man half his age. Throughout the film, these two narratives subtly illuminate each other, as Oliver strives to learn from his father’s profound lessons on hope, courage, and love. Did I forget to mention that there's also an adorable dog in the movie? A couple of other things - Christopher Plummer is still just as charming and great looking at age 82 as he's ever been. I didn't think it was possible for Goran Visnjic to be unattractive, but he is in this film as Hal's boyfriend. Also, coincidentally Visnjic and Plummer are both going to be in the upcoming US version of The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo which I'm very excited about. Finally, Ewan McGregor and director Mike Mills were at the SIFF screening of Beginners that I went to. McGregor is hot in person y'all.
  • Natural Selection U.S. - This was a funny and entertaining movie, even if it didn't resonate with me that much or surprise me in any way. It stars comedian Rachael Harris as a Linda, a Christian housewife who is struggling to get pregnant who after her husband suffers a stroke, finds out about a secret adult son that her husband fathered. He asks her to track down his this son, a mullet-haired, drug-addled, escape convict named Raymond. The movie turns into a wacky road movie as Linda and Raymond travel back to grant Abe’s final wish. They form a bizarre relationship that changes them both dramatically. Natural Selection took the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s SXSW. And Matt O'Leary as Raymond was kind of a revelation.
  • Jucy Australia -  Oh god, I loved this movie. Director Louise Alton tells a warm-hearted story set in Brisbane about BFFs Jackie and Lucy, (played by newcomers Cindy Nelson and Francesca Gasteen, real-life best friends who created the characters together), aka Jucy. The friendship is chronicled set against a story about them auditioning and putting on a production of Jane Eyre with their local community theater. You guys, this movie is like "AbFab" meets "Muriel's Wedding" for the new millenium. So charming and relatable and fun. I really hope it gets a wide distribution because everyone should get a chance to see it.

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