Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SIFF Musings - Final week

Some final thoughts regarding my experience at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

·         It amazes me after all these years that there are people who have lived in Seattle for a while and have still never attended even one film at the festival. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how many folks I meet each year that are attending their first festival. And you can ALWAYS TELL the newbies – they’re the ones that are surprised at the long lines and perturbed that they have to sit in the front row because they didn’t arrive at the venue until 10 minutes before the movie was scheduled to start.

·         My friend Ross and I kept are “Spain streak” alive! For probably the ninth or tenth year in a row I’ve seen at least one film from Spain at the festival. That country almost never disappoints, and this year was no exception; Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed was one of my favorites from this festival’s offerings.

·         I really lucked out this festival or perhaps have developed a more discerning eye because, I ranked almost all of the films I caught this festival with at least a “4”.

·         I didn’t see nearly as many documentaries as I usually do each SIFF [only two]. This doesn’t bode well for me for next year’s Oscar Death Race™.

·         This was also one of the first SIFFs in some time where there were at least 5 movies that I really wanted to see, but was unable to, due to schedule conflicts etc. I’ve been lucky in the past to catch almost everything I wanted. I really hope I’ll get my chance in the coming weeks/months at SIFF Cinema. (I’m looking at you – “Shake The Dust”, Not My Type, Boyhood, Yves Saint Laurent, Family United, and To Fool A Thief)

And the last of my reviews for the year:

A fantastical tale, done in what I call “Forrest Gump” style, where the protagonist unwittingly gets involved with and/or influences various famous events and people in history. This was a fun comedy involving a wily centenarian who through circumstances, accidentally makes off with 50 million in drug money. A hilarious road trip movie featuring a cast of characters like no other. I wasn’t expecting the movie to be narrated in English, but that was a nice touch. 

Boys – Netherlands

This is a very sweet coming-of-age story about first-time summer love. It tells the story of 15 yr old Sieger, who with his best friend Stef is training for the National Relay Track and Field Championships. Their coach sets up Sieger and Stef with his two other best runners, and Sieger struggles with his feelings and emotions once he realizes that he is falling for teammate Marc, a free-spirited outgoing teen who doesn’t hide the fact that he has the same feelings for Sieger. It makes me smile to think that young gay teens have movies like this available to them.

Final Recipe – South Korea, Thailand, Singapore

A story about a Chinese teen who hopes to save his grandfather’s struggling restaurant in Singapore by competing on a popular “Iron Chef-style” televised cooking competition. Starring Korean pop idol Henry Lau in his acting debut. This movie was cheeseball corny and predictable; but so enjoyable that you just didn’t care. I can imagine this coming to Netflix within the next few months, and would recommend it if you want something that cute and great for the whole family.

Creep – USA

I ended this year’s festival with an unnerving but fairly well-done film from multi-hyphenate indie darling Mark Duplass. In it he plays a terminally ill man who puts an ad online looking for someone to film a last testament that he wants to leave for his unborn child. Struggling videographer Aaron answers the ad and heads to the dying man’s remote Northern California cabin where bizarre and nasty surprises await him. Eh, I think I was too tired to actually appreciate this movie fully. And although I did get a chance to make eye contact and smile at Mark Duplass, who was in attendance, I did not stick around for the Q&A afterwards because I was falling asleep and new episodes of Orange Is The New Black were waiting for me at home.




Friday, June 6, 2014

For the Love of... Taylor Kitsch

 In 2006 I was introduced to Taylor Kitsch and his beautiful face (and THAT BODY) on the TV show "Friday Night Lights". Tim Riggins was the best, and although he rarely cracked smiles like the one he's sporting in the photo below, Kitsch's Riggins was one of the most complex characters written for television for that time period when vacuous reality television was exploding and taking over everything in its path.
In interviews Kitsch always comes off as sort of a doof. A Canadian muscle-bound dumdum who is very earnest and sincere but sort of an airhead. I actually think he has "Keanu Reeves disease", where his good looks and sort of stoner goof voice make him seem way dumber than he actually is. I kept waiting for him to land a film role that would show the type of depth that he was able to show on FNL. Instead his muscles and face just kept on getting him action hero roles which was fine. (As an aside - John Carter is totally underrated and is a great action/sci-fi movie)
Well 2014 may just be Taylor's year to shine. First, we get to see his heartrendingly raw and captivating performance as Bruce Niles in HBO's The Normal Heart, Ryan Murphy's well done adaptation of Larry Cramer's famous play. When Kitsch as Bruce tells the story of his boyfriend Albert's horrible death...I cried buckets. Also Kitsch was really made to wear those early 80s power suits.

Then last weekend I had the privilege to see Taylor Kitsch stretch his comedic and romantic lead wings in the great Canadian comedy The Grand Seduction, about the residents of a small Newfoundland fishing town who attempt to hoodwink a hot, young Toronto doctor into moving to their small harbor and setting up a clinic practice so that the town can secure the bid to have a big factory build there and bring needed jobs to their struggling community. This is another SIFF film that I think will get a wider release, or at least be available on demand or dvd soon, and I would highly recommend it. Also? It has Taylor Kitsch in it looking like this:

SIFF 2014 Reflections and Reviews: Week 2 May 27th - May 31st

The middle week of SIFF is always my favorite. I usually am in my groove by this midway point; seeing about a film a day, often recognizing other festival goers/members from other screenings and striking up nice conversations and discussions regarding the films we've enjoyed (or not enjoyed) so far.

This halfway point of the festival is also typically when I find myself attending the festival movies solo. There's something about experiencing these films by myself that becomes a form of therapy. The ultimate "me" time. That's not to say that I don't also love going to SIFF with friends - I was lucky to have both experiences this year.

Starred Up - U.K.
Talk about intense. This powerful and gritty drama is set in a Northern Ireland prison and pits son against father. We meet Eric Love, an angry teen prone to explosive fits of rage set off by the slightest action. He's been transferred or "starred up" to an adult prison and within the first 5 minutes of the movie he's already making shanks out of toothbrushes, expertly hiding them in light fixtures, and setting up his bottles of baby oil on a shelf for the purpose of fighting. Eric also preps for meeting his father (played by the always brilliant Ben Mendelsohn) who has been one of the kings of the prison for over a decade. Things just blow up from there. I felt like I was clutching my gut muscles the entire 100 minutes of this film. Not for folks who can't handle seeing grown men get punched within an inch of their lives, but well worth the watch.

Free Range: Ballad on Approving of the World - Estonia
Omigod, this fucking thing. I HATED THIS MOVIE. This goes down as the only SIFF film that I've ever walked out of; I left with about 20 min left because I couldn't stand this self-indulgent piece of crap any longer. One of the reasons I'm so angry is because I feel like I was duped by the SIFF staff programmers. Just take a look at the description:
This stylish Estonian joy ride follows slacker Fred, who struggles with feelings of nihilism after getting fired for writing an unfavorable review of Terrence Malick’s film Tree of Life. Finland’s official OSCAR® submission for Best Foreign Language Film.
That sounds like it would be a pretty good movie, right? You guys, when I say that nothing happens in the first hour of this turd, except for scenes where this dumbass Fred kid just drinks with his weirdo friends and ignores his dumb girlfriend, I'm actually overstating how engaging it was. IT WAS ANNOYING. And I can't believe that Finland had the nerve to submit this for Oscar consideration. What a joke! There is not one redeemable character in this film. When I finally figured out about 90 min in that the waste-oid loser old man who literally lives in a 300 sq ft space filled entirely with books, who Fred confides in was actually his father, and not some misguided bachelor mentor guy, I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted my money and my time back.

Sam and Amira - USA
Thank god I was able to follow up the bad taste that the Estonian crap-fest left in my mouth with this touching and poignant love story. This film traces the relationship between Sam, an American soldier just back from two tours of duty, and Amira, a young Iraqi illegal immigrant on the brink of deportation. Set in NYC in 2008, we follow these two kindred souls find love and support in each other as their families and the city around them fight them at every turn. This was a really beautiful film. I can't believe it is director Sean Mullin's debut feature. And you guys, Martin Starr, yes THAT Martin Starr, was amazing as Sam. Both Starr and Dina Shihabi who played Amira were at the screening I attended. I got a chance to privately talk to them before the official Q&A and tell them how great I thought they both were in the film. They were both very gracious and sweet. And seemed pretty close, like maybe dating close. I hope that Starr is a big enough name that this movie will get a wide release because everyone should see it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

SIFF Reflections and Reviews Week 1: May 20 - May 26

I've fallen way behind in my SIFF 2014 reviews over these past couple of weeks. I've seen some amazing films and I hope they come your way in a small art-house theater or on Netflix in the near future.

3 Mile Limit - New Zealand
A sweet film set in 1965 New Zealand that tells the true story of Radio Hauraki, the pirate radio station that was started by a handful of dedicated friends and rock-n-roll fans who fought the New Zealand government who controlled the airwaves with an iron fist at that time. I was totally unfamiliar with this story and found the film quite delightful.

We Are The Best - Sweden
Set in 1982 Stockholm, the awesome coming-of-age story of three teenage outcast girls who form an all-girl punk band and whose friendship bonds them as family. Uplifting and exhilarating; every girl between the age of 12 and 82 should see this movie. The three young leads are amazing.

Mystery Road - Australia
A dark, moody, well done murder mystery, tackling the tough subject of racial tensions in modern-day Queensland. Combining aspects of a classic Western with a police procedural, this tight thriller keeps you engaged. The first of 3 films this festival for me that featured Hugo Weaving in a major role. He's having a good SIFF. Aboriginal actor Aaron Pedersen in the lead role as Detective Jay Swan was a revelation. Where has this tall drink of water been all my life?!

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed - Spain
Hands down, one of my favorite films of this year's festival. This is a heartwarming, lovely comedy set in 1966 southern Spain. It tells the story of Antonio, a high-school English teacher in Madrid who uses lyrics from Beatles' songs to teach his kids and considers himself somewhat of a super-fan. When Antonio finds out that John Lennon is filming a movie in the coastal town of Almeria, Antonio sets out in his little Fiat to meet his hero and tell him just how much his music has made an impact on his students. Along the way he picks up two different hitchhikers, a young pregnant woman, and a runaway teen boy. This is one of those films that sums up why I bother going to SIFF every year - I would never be exposed to a wonderful film like this otherwise. Fingers crossed that Netflix eventually picks it up.

International Male - Various countries
A collection of short films focusing on gay men, ranging in subject, content, genre, and quality. My faves were probably the US "Dragula" featuring an unrecognizable and wonderful Barry Bostwick as an aging LA drag queen, and the Iranian "Aban + Khorsid" a heartbreaking story of a gay couple killed because of their love.

The Turning - Australia
An ambitious, groundbreaking, spectacle - 18 different short stories that are woven together into this staggering piece of work. Featuring pretty much every Australian actor working in the industry today. Hugo Weaving (drink!), Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts...a million others. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. This will definitely be coming to your local art-house theater this summer.

The Amazing Catfish - Mexico
A touching family drama introducing us to Claudia a lonely young woman without any family who is hospitalized for appendicitis and there meets Martha, a single mother of 4 in her mid-forties who is dying of AIDS. A fast friendship and a close maternal bond forms between Martha and Claudia, with Martha recognizing that Claudia needs her family, and that Claudia may be the solution that they need to go on making it as a family after Martha dies. I had a hard time connecting emotionally to this film, although it had all of the ingredients to hook me, it just never did. I'd still recommend it though.

Remote Control - Mongolia
Every year, I try to see at least one SIFF film from a country that I've never seen a film from. This year, one of these entries was this drama about a young man who runs away from his rural village and attempts to eek out an existence in the big city. The description in the SIFF catalog did not at all accurately describe this movie's story. I'm still on the fence about it. My friend Ross really liked it; and we managed to discuss it for like 40 minutes afterwards in a coffee shop, so maybe that's what good film is all about.

I Am Big Bird: The Carrol Spivey Story - USA
Unlike previous years, this SIFF I've only seen 2 documentaries. This one about the puppeteer for Oscar the Grouch and the man who has worn the Big Bird framed costume for almost 5 decades was a real gem. Carroll Spivey attended the screening with his lovely wife and was so entertaining. AND he brought Oscar!! It was so great to see my favorite "Sesame Street" character up close. Yes, of course Oscar the Grouch is my favorite. Have you met me?

The Healing - Australia
Completing my Hugo Weaving SIFF trifecta was this moody little movie about a prisoner who learns about redemption and rehabilitation from taking care of birds at a minimum security prison in Melbourne. Everyone in my audience seemed to enjoy this film more than I did. It wasn't terrible; it was just "fine".