5/25/2001 FRI. Day one. Got my full series pass with no hassles and am raring to go. 24 days and counting.
(Jean-Jacques Beineix - France)
Beineix is one of my favoite directors: he has the moxie and style of a Carax without that director's tendency to overdo it. This film is particularly sensitive and touching. Olivier Martinez has never been more magnetic (never a great actor, he still combines star quality with rare masculine sensitivity); and Yves Montand gives a great final performance. I was enthralled and moved. *** 1/2.
(DeMane Davis/Streeter - USA)
Lift is an American indie production which combines black middle class materialism with gangsta bad assism, all told from a woman's point of view. It was reasonably well made and well acted; but the plot had several holes, which left many in the audience grasping for explanations from the directors in the Q&A afterwards. It wasn't boring and gets points for style. ** 1/2.
TULIPS (Silvio Soldini - Italy)
This film is that rarity, a comedy where the laughs come from the recognition of a unique spin on the human condition, in other words, wonderful writing, acting and direction. Especially notable was actress Licia Maglietta, whose development from bored housewife to adventuress anchors the film. Only a tendency for predictableness kept this from being a great film. It remains a tender, mature love story combined with a fine comic character study. Very enjoyable; and one of the best uses of a realistic and photogenic Venice ever. *** 1/4.
LOST SOULS (Takashi Miiki - Japan)
I decided to skip this one. The same director's film last year, AUDITION, literally made me sick to my stomach from its feminist hyperviolence. Nevertheless it was a highly satisfying first day of the festival.
THE TESTIMONY OF TALIESIN JONES (Martin Duffy - Wales)
A small film, ostensibly a kid's film, about a 12 year old boy in a crisis of faith. I found it quite moving and surprisingly effective, with some beautifully nuanced performances, especially John Paul MacLeod as the boy, Alan Delon lookalike Matthew Rhys as his older brother, and Ian Bannon in his final performance. ***
DIARY OF A
(Luis Buñiel - France)
Typical Buñiel, skewering just about everybody in the decadent rural town except for Jeanne Moreau's relatively pure chambermaid. It did feel oddly truncated at the end, as if a reel of so was missing. Anyway, a beautful wide screen b&w print, and a classic: but certainly not my favorite Buñiel. ** 3/4
(Takeshi Kitano - Japan)
What can I say? Just when you thought Takeshi Kitano couldn't take the violence any further, he manages to do so...in a stylish way which somehow avoids being lurid, but still feels over-the-top. The film has some narrative problems; it feels chopped up and is hard to follow at times. And Kitano's mythologizing of the Italian mafia at the expense of the Yukaza tradition is a little strange. The film (like the recent Ken Loach) makes wonderful non-traditional use of L.A. as a symbol of the multi-racial modern world. Beat Takeshi is, as usual, a fantastic and inscrutable anti-hero. I find the gratuitous highly stylized gunplay a little much; but as an L.A. native, I did feel relief that so many local punks were rubbed out. Not Kitano's best. ** 3/4
ORGASM (Julie Davis - USA)
Why is it that an attractive, smart woman actor/director can get away with a blatant ego-tripping, self-involved, masturbatory fantasy while a male like Eric Schaeffer, who plays in the same territory, is a walking disaster? If you can answer that, you're halfway to understanding how a movie like this, even presented in the worst film to video transfer ever made (the director is $50,000 short of a film finish and still dithering in her mind about the final cut and even the ending of the film), can work so fantastically well as comedy and trenchant modern social commentary. In addition to the flawless central self-directed performance of Davis, she's managed to elicit a true starmaking turn from magnetic, sexy leading man Nick Chinlund; and an even more astounding supporting performance from stand-up comedian Jeff Cesario as a confessional priest whom Jewish Davis is using as a substitute psychotherapist. Very funny, very audience pleasing, this is one of the surprise hits of the
festival...and deserves those finishing funds and distribution. *** 1/4.
BEHIND THE SUN (Allison Anders - USA)
O was a complete sellout (I chose a good dinner over standing in line for an hour), so I managed to get into this at the last minute. Anders has left her rock star milieu for a much more deeply felt story of a damaged female singer-songwriter (played convincingly by Kim Dickens) who was irredeemably injured by a childhood rape; and the music journalist (in a sensitive, subtle performance by Gabriel Mann) out to tell her story, who not so coincidentally had personal involvement in the sordid rape several years before. Don Cheadle does his usual fine performance, too. Yet the film drags at times; and several people walked out during the extended sex and rape scenes. I liked the film; it resonated with me. But, all in all, it doesn't quite work. ** 1/2.
(Barbet Schroeder - France)
Once again, I flaked out on the midnight movie. This one I really wanted to see; but sleep is getting to be a real problem at this festival. I'm already feeling sleep deprived; so who knows how long I'm going to be able to stick with my schedule.
Secret Festival #1
My lips are sealed. However, this minor studio project from a major indy director is a mess, virtually unreleasable. *
THE GUY (Julie Davis - USA)
Unlike Amy's Orgasm, the other film in the fest directed by major talent Julie Davis, this film is really by actor/writer Dan Bucatinsky, who had the smarts to make a deeply personal film from his play and get a sympathetic director to bring his vision to the screen. Hopefully this film will break out of the gay film genre...it is genuinely funny, well made, mostly well acted film about dating and relationships gay & straight, and a tremendous audience flick. It skirts but overcomes the self-indulgent hyphenate crap by virtue of having a separate director to open up the story's point of view. Bucatinsky is portraying my kind of neurotic Jewish guppy, so maybe I'm predisposed to love the film. *** 1/4
(Tim Blake Nelson - USA) [Golden Space Needle award:
On paper this sounds like it could be a disaster: another teenage Shakespeare adaptation (this time the tragedy Othello), a high school shooting story about a basketball team. So tricky it can't possibly come off well. But it mostly does, due to some deft direction by Nelson (much more sophisticated than he comes off in O Brother), and a script by Brad Kaaya in modern language which mostly holds together. This one has been kicking around since 1998 when the Columbine shooting gave Miramax a major attack of cowardice. Now Lion's Gate has come to the rescue, and the film might just find its audience with its fine cast of young stars: Mekhi Phifer, effective especially in the basketball scenes as O; Josh Hartnett showing signs that he can really act as Hugo (Iago); Julia Stiles as a convincing Des; and Andrew Kegan doing fine work as the Cassio avatar. ** 3/4
OF NEW YORK (Ed Burns - USA)
Yet another whiny hyphenate loser movie from this director? Well no. Actually it's his best film, made on film for less than $1M (Burns said that digital doesn't interest him as long as he can keep to budgets as low as this). This is Burns doing super low-budget Woody Allen...a semi-documentary faintly harking to Husbands and Wives, but with a really wonderful, sensitive personal gloss by a very underrated director, imo. It has a great cast, especially notable David Krumholtz, Stanley Tucci, Heather Graham, Brittany Murphy and Burns himself (he seems from his films and this Q&A to be a genuinely nice guy). The structure and comedy really work here. This could be Burns' biggest hit yet. *** 1/2 (really).
DESTINY (Olivier Assayas - France)
A surprising 3 hour epic from this great director. It covers about 40 years of the early 20th century and has a truly great performance by my favorite actor, Charles Berling. It is a flawless evocation of time and place, and very novelistically involved with processes, such as the making of Limoges porcelain, which many will feel is padding to an overlong movie. Even though it was at the end of a long day of films, I was never bored. Assayas is that good a director. Of course, any film with Emmanuelle Beart is easy on the eyes. *** 1/2
5/28 MON. Four days into a 25 day festival and I already have severe sleep deprivation. And last night I had a run-in with a waitress at a Greek restaurant in the heart of the festival area. Seattle is a very laid back town; and she seemed to be unable to cope with the kind of type-A festival goer on a strict schedule who asks for reasonably prompt service. She was deeply offended at this heinous breaking of her routine, and responded by slamming down every plate and refusing to talk or look at me. At the end of the meal, I tried an apology and explanation; but she wasn't having any of it. "I was offended for all the other diners in this busy restaurant...you're old enough to know you're not the only person on the planet," was typical of her angry rhetoric. She demanded I not leave a tip and never return on her shift, and offered that anyway she wasn't going to have this job much longer. Oh, well, I debated with myself and then left a zero tip for the first time ever. This lady needs a vacation.
(Andrew Dominik - Australia)
This one has already been given a limited release; but I wanted to see it anyway. I almost didn't since the festival changed venues for this screening without advance warning; and I only found out that I was waiting in the wrong line because of incidental conversation with a couple of fellow pass holders in line with me. Anyway, I'm glad I made the fast 7 block run to the other theater because this was a fun film in a very warped way. It's a biopic "with liberties" about a violent, but rather charming, sociopath who spends his life mostly in prison. The acting throughout was superb, and the film is tight and well made, if hyperviolent. But I guess I'm getting desensitized to violence and blood. ***
FAIRIES (Released 2002 as HIS SECRET
LIFE) (Ferzan Ozpetek - Italy/Turkey)
I really loved Ozpetek's first feature, Steam: The Turkish Bath, so I was looking forward to this one and it delivered in spades. Actually, I've seen this basic story before (it was vaguely reminiscent of a terrible Spanish film, Second Skin.) But this film was so infinitely superior. Ozpetek creates a large number of memorable characters with remarkable economy; and the leads (Margherita Buy and Stephano Accorsi) have a magical chemistry. I have a feeling that my reaction to this film may be skewed by resonances I found here to my own life. But, for me, it will be hard for this festival to deliver a superior film. *** 1/2.
(Tony Gatlif - France)
A movie based on Asturian clan vengeance and gypsy flamenco singing. The music was great, even if it badly needed a stronger editor to cut away the excessive takes. The story was slight. There was a fine performance by a main character (Orestes Villasan Rodriguez) with cerebral palsy (I'm assuming he was acting, it was flawless). It was a mood piece, and I wasn't in the mood. * 1/2 for the film; but *** for the music.
TIBET (Xie Fei - China)
A surprisingly effective old couple's love story told mostly in flashbacks. The photography was beautiful, the acting adequate, the story a heart-tugger for the unjaded (which I still have the ability to be.) A lovely little film. Of course I'm suspicious of the politics of how the Chinese liberated the peasants; but no big whoop. I almost skipped it after my fight with the waitress and almost sleeping through Vengo; but I'm glad I went. ***
5/29 TUE Sorry. I'm late with this update and emotionally drained from just having watched one of the great tennis matches of all time, where my man Andy Roddick, cramping and in great pain for two sets, managed to pull out a 7-5 5th set victory over Michael Chang...payback for Chang's equally thrilling cramping victory in 1989 over Ivan Lendl (in a match I'll never forget.) I guess tennis is more important to me even than movies. I'll have to revise my Friday schedule to watch Roddick-Hewett in the AM.
(Rebel Penfold-Russell - Australia)
This screwball ghost story from Australia was just annoying. It was sort of amusing seeing C. Thomas Howell try to do Tom Cruise's character from Magnolia; but he didn't quite make it. Very retro film, and oh, so predictable. * 1/2
(Susan Seidelman - USA)
Seidelman is one of my favorite directors...she made my all-time favorite short film, The Dutch Master. This film has a very nice ensemble of actors, led by Judy Davis doing her usual strong, original character. Marcia Gay Hardin, fresh from her Oscar, is playing a pre-op transsexual and she is flawless (how she managed to be just that slightly over the top super-female while exhibiting male tranny physicality is a wonder of body control.) And Lily Taylor and Juliette Lewis also excel in this paean to gender busting. Still, despite the best use of Barcelona as a setting ever (beating Whit Stillman by a mile), the film was fairly predictable and overlong. But amusing, and a fun lark, too. ** 3/4.
A MATTER OF TASTE (Bernard
Just yesterday I was saying that it would be hard to surpass Ignorant Fairies as my favorite of the festival...but this one easily did. I've been finding most movies here to be enjoyable, but predictable. Here we have a truly original, absolutely unpredictable story played so well by Bernard Giraudeau and Jean-Pierre Lorit (who is playing in Richard Gere's American Gigolo territory) as to send chills up the spine. I got totally involved with the characters: two men trying to merge identities and tastes, one slave, one master...or which is which? The story dripped with sublimated homoeroticism. Only the ambiguous ending struck a slightly false note; but the film still left me intellectually satisfied in addition to giving the pleasure of trying to decode its underlying meaning. It fairly drips with atmosphere of French high living: one can almost taste the haute cuisine and smell the fabulous wines and cognacs. I'll get the Region 2 DVD and watch it just for the sensory pleasures. Anyway, objectively *** 1/2. For me ****.
(Lindsay Anderson - England)
For much of the film it is as good as I remember. I was curious to see if that 1968 anarchy, so true to the Zeitgeist of that era, would translate into the year 2001; and sadly it doesn't. Or maybe the ending is made all the more relevant by its prescience. The mood of the scenes in the fascistic English prep school is still unsurpassed for suppressed sadism. The film remains jarring and upsetting; but I was strangely turned off to it by the end. Part of it was due to a lousy projectionist, who managed to deliver 1/2 a reel (and a vital part at that) without sound. Part is due to a script which confuses reality and fantasy in ways which were trendy in 1968, but seem somehow wrongly envisioned now. Still, it's a fine print with splendid color fidelity, and a classic well worth revisiting. ***
(Philippe Le Guay - France)
This one could have been called: With a Friend Like Fred. It's a working class story of personal strife on the assembly line of a French bottling manufacturer during the night shift (and interesting parallel is to be found with the industrial documentary style scenes here and those Limogean scenes that Assayas used in Les Destinées Sentimentales.) The hero, a sympathetic family man, tries to befriend the shift bully. I could tell that the audience was not relating. But the film won me over with its strong developing central characterizations and a fine resolution to the plot. ***
5/30 WED Some days it doesn't pay to waste the gas going to the fest. I almost snoozed through the first two films, before the third film at least provided enough diversion to keep me awake.
A BANQUET AT
TETLAPAYAC (Olivier Debroise - Mexico Doc.)
This was a last minute impulse change; and I sure wish I hadn't. This is a documentary about the making of Sergei Eisenstein's unfinished film Que Viva Mexico! which mixes styles: using actor re-creations, scenes from the original film, and a dizzying myriad of montage tricks to tell its story. I found it hopelessly arty and pretentious; and even worse, confusing and unfocused. Maybe I'm just not pseudo-intellectual enough to get it. *
MORI (Min Kyu-Dong/Kim Tae-Yong - S. Korea)
Another confusing, overly arty film: this one a sort of lesbian If... set in a modern day Korean girl's high school. For the first half of the film I had trouble distinguishing the characters, the actresses failed to establish their identities (at least for me.) I think this was supposed to be a horror genre film; but it was so artless that it never really established a tone. Still, it did have a visual flair, so it wasn't a complete waste of celluloid. **
(Henrique Goldman - Italy)
This Italian film about the lives of several transvestite prostitutes in Milan had one major strike against it: every other reel was printed a couple of seconds out of sync, which led to some odd transpositions of dialog (fortunately this isn't as disorienting in a sub-titled film as it would have been in a film in English.) Yet, in spite of its raw, unprofessional look and tone (or maybe because of it), the film had real power and was effective at limning its strange demimonde. The central character, a Brazilian pre-op played very sweetly and laid back by Ingrid De Souza, was easy to like. And Cesar Bocci was excellent as the straight man who falls for her so self-destructively. Some films just work despite everything; and this was one of them. ** 3/4.
LEFT SIDE OF THE FRIDGE (Philippe Falardeau - Canada)
Sometimes it pays to come to a film tabula rasa. If you want to enjoy this film even more, skip to the next paragraph (major spoiler ahead).
On the surface this is a documentary with an unpromising subject: a roommate decides to shoot a digital video doc of his unemployed mechanical engineer roommate's search for a new job. Christophe (who is the spitting image of a young Roman Polanski with a brash outgoing personality) has his ups and downs, mostly the latter, looking for a satisfactory job. His roommate, filmmaker and part time theatrical actor Stephane, has an agenda somewhat like Michael Moore in Roger And Me: to skewer the businessmen that Christophe is trying to impress. Needless to say, the documentary gets in the way of the job search. What is amazing is that this entire thing is scripted and acted, which isn't clear until the final titles roll. I've been fooled before by a faked documentary (a serious simulation as opposed to a mockumentary which is more obviously satirical); but this one was so well done that it takes the art form to another level. *** 1/4
(Joao Pedro Rodrigues - Portugal)
How to approach this film? In a way, I was sorry I saw it at a press screening, rather than as the Saturday date night midnight movie. What are the unprepared burghers of Seattle going to make of a hard-core gay fetishistic porn film? Well, it is hard core (defined by erect frontal nudity with insertion); but is it a porn film? All I know is that the film, at least until a strange, absolutely disastrous break in the narrative coherence 3/4 of the way through, did engage my brain (as well as other parts of my voyeuristic gay male body). The young lead actor, Ricardo Meneses, is both brave to undergo real degradation on screen (playing variations on sexual predator and phantom stalker and self-identifying as a dog at times) , and perfect physically for this exercise in onanistic fetishism. The director was brave to not pull back from a serious examination of sexual perversity. Ultimately, the film falls apart and goes nowhere; but for most of its length I found it magnetically engaging. Straight males with hangups should stay away from this movie at all costs (for that matter so should gay males with reasonably good taste in movies)! For this audience of one it was a blast. * (objectively); but I liked it a hell of a lot more.
(Djordje Milosavljevic - Serbia)
I'm late this morning, heavy tennis match on the tube (and my man Andy was carried out on his shield with a muscle strain)...so I think I'll hold on to further comments until tomorrow and get to todays festivities. To be continued...So now it's the next morning, and all I have to say about this film is "oh, those wacky Serbs!" Not that this is a comedy. The war seems to have imbued the Serb filmmaking community with a collective guilt trip which leads to some depressing footage coming out of that country. This story of a psycho assassin is full of gratuitous violence and gunplay. Yet it was done with such style (almost Kitano country) that it sort of works. I'm not recommending it; but the acting and direction are good enough for cinephiles to watch for it. ** 3/4
BLISS (Joe Maggio - USA)
This film proves, once again as if it needs proof, that if a film works it hardly matters how primitively it is made. In years past this film might have been done on super 8mm and never seen the light of day. Now, with digital tape and projection, a film like this made with almost no budget and with mostly amateur actors, can be seen (though chances are nobody will ever buy it for release, even on video). And it is worth seeing. Virgil is just getting out of prison after spending most of his life institutionalized and naive about the real world. He is determined that this time he'll survive in the world; but he gets involved with a loser in the half-way house and then falls head over heels in love with a heroin addicted street hooker: not exactly the route for success. The film indicts society for its treatment of released prisoners; but it isn't preachy, since the politics is implied in the plot and never pushed overtly. The story just works, despite all obstacles (shaky hand held camera, terrible sound with a loud hum for most of the movie etc.). ** 3/4+
LOVES (Sandra Werneck - Brazil)
Usually, when a country tries to out-Hollywood Hollywood at its own lush, high concept game, it falls on its face. Maybe Brazil is different. This is a brainy, fabulously well made love story about three possible outcomes 15 years later of a boy being stood up by a girl on a movie date. I can just see the inevitable Hollywood remake with Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts (though friends who have seen it are convinced that Hollywood would never dare to go where this film goes with the gay subplot). After all, Hollywood is doing this with a previous movie which had similar hallmarks (Open Your Eyes soon to become Vanilla Sky). In the meantime, Murilo Benicio (a dreamboat with impressive acting chops) and Carolina Ferraz will have to do. The movie diverges from that date into three cross-cut separate stories with the same actors (amazingly enough, one acquaintance claims to not have realized that the stories were about the same characters played by the same actors...which is indicative of how well these actors managed to play differently in each sub-story.) It sounds like tricky hokum; but in the hands of a very competent director, and with a brilliantly original script, the film works. It also plays with sexual politics, mostly from the woman's point of view (you can tell when many of the laughs are almost obviously from the women in the audience.) I thought the film was going over amazingly well with this oversold audience (not the first time at this festival that people literally had to be turned away after entry to the theater and no seats or aisle space was to be found). Yet, no applause at the end, which mystifies me. Maybe it didn't work for an audience as well as it did for me. I thought while watching it that this was surely the next foreign language smash hit in the U.S. But maybe I was seriously put off track by my adoration for the male lead who was stunning and marvelously soulful. I guess time will tell. *** 1/4.
STARTUP.COM (Chris Hegedus/Jehane Noujaim - USA Doc.)
This one has already engendered a lot of press since its big city release. It's a very well made documentary about the trials and tribulations of a failing startup dot.com and the people involved. I'm not going to say much about it except that I was vaguely disappointed that it didn't quite live up to its rep. Still it was fascinating, and I cared about the people while it was happening, which is an indication that it was working. ***
AND THE DEAD (Robert Pulcini/Shari Berman - USA Doc.)
Another documentary, this time with the unlikely subject matter of a bunch of Missourians who move to L.A. and buy a run-down Hollywood cemetery (home to many past luminaries such as Rudolph Valentino), recondition it and turn it into a 21st century model of technology influenced burials (offering taped tributes to the deceased which are put on the internet etc.) The leader, Tyler Cassedy, is truly charismatic: movie star good looks (a la James Dean), an attractive personality. The doc itself is fascinating and illuminating in parts...but slightly overlong so that it's ultimate impact is diminished. This cemetery is only 3 blocks from my office; but I had no idea all this was going on (last time I visited it it was overgrown and rundown.) I think the filmmakers might have started out to satirize the whole affair...it's an easy target. But somehow it got turned into a tribute and puff piece for the cemetery and its operators...mostly because these are genuinely good people driven by admirable ambitions. I was surprised how much I liked this film. *** 1/2
DINER (Jan Egleson - USA)
Some films have admirable ambitions and are well enough made, and just don't engage me. This was one of them. Its the story of some latino people in Boston and their lives and loves. I slept through part of the middle section; but the audience seemed to enjoy it. So don't take my word. ** (it had enough going for it to be not a complete waste of film.)
DELIRIOUS (Léa Pool - Canada)
It must be rolling around in the Zeitgeist: this is the exact same plot more or less, as Memento Mori. Lesbian hi-jinks and angst in a private prep school, this time in Canada. This one was much more effective for me, since the characters actually differentiated and the film held together, even if it was a lot more conventional filmically. The acting was quite good. I'd probably have skipped this when it gets its inevitable art house release (it's definitely a candidate for a break-out hit.) But I would have missed out. OK, maybe it's a little too obvious and overwrought. It more or less worked for me, which is impressive considering my innate prejudices. ***
TEETH (Gabriele Salvatores - Italy)
Not exactly your everyday flick. This one is a black comedy about a neurotic Italian man's tribulations with his oversized front teeth. Much of it takes place in flashbacks, in a complex filmic structure which uses every trick of montage in the book and then invents some new ones. Also, much of the film takes place in dentist chairs...which elicited horrible groans from the audience (including me) when some gut wrenching images of dentists at work hit the screen. Yet, despite all those obstacles, the film is charming and inventive and has something new to say about the human condition. Sergio Rubini overacts a bit in the lead; but that might just be chalked up to his being such a typical Italian male: husband, father, lover, dental victim. ***
(Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan)
A double bill from this prolific young Japanese filmmaker (Seance was run immediately after and Kurosawa was in attendance for a well translated Q&A). Cure was made in 1997, and is an atmospheric thriller/horror/slasher serial killer movie made with style and intelligence. I must admit that I found a lot of it inscrutable...but the director's explanation (as far as it went) in the Q&A helped explain a lot. I wonder about audiences not privileged to see it annotated by the director...will they be equally at sea with the resolution of the plot? The director is a master of the use of ambient sounds to signal a mood of dread. But even after explanations and much reflection, I don't think the plot holds water. Sometimes a puzzle is just infuriatingly opaque rather than solvable and satisfying. Anyway, the filmmaking raises this one to ***, even though I didn't like it very much as a movie.
(Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Japan)
This one is much more approachable than Cure. It also stars Koji Yakusho (so memorable as the bus driver in Eureka), this time as a sound man who, with his psychic wife, gets involved in an intricate kidnapping and murder plot. Once again, Kurosawa is a master of mood and oblique terror. He is so good at avoiding the pitfalls of genre filmmaking, his sights are set much higher: examining the human psyche in modern Japan. Still, these two films make a depressing double bill. *** 1/4
DANSE (Gérard Corbiau - France)
I had high expectations of this movie. First of all it stars one of my favorite actors, Benoit Magimel as Louis XIV. Secondly, the director has made some memorable movies (Farinelli and The Music Teacher), which I've enjoyed in the past. Here Corbiau is visiting the same territory that Vatel stumbled in, the court of Louis XIV. Like Vatel it gets mired in spectacle at the expense of story. And what story it has (centered on J-B Lully as court musician and J-B Moliere as court playwright) doesn't engage...mainly because the main character Lully is portrayed as such a scoundrel that it seriously handicaps the emotional resonance of the story. Still, the movie is splendid to look at and has enough going for it (another fine performance from Magimel, for one) to be worth a look. ** 1/2
(RADD - USA Doc)
This is an amusing and well made video documentary about several guys who exhibit their all on internet webcam sites for a porn industry offshoot company run by dot com entrepreneur ANT. The boys and men have compelling stories to tell; and the filmmakers have managed to put it all together in a fast paced, well edited film which really works. Even better was the lengthy Q&A afterwards, where ANT proved to be a very effective at stand-up improvised comedy (one of his other professions in addition to tv series actor.) The package made for a very entertaining segment and a good ending for another day of film. Ten down, and only 15 more days to the fest and I'm still full of energy and raring for more. *** 1/2
6/03 Sun. Today my eyes hurt. No, not with fatigue...maybe just a little eye strain from so many movies (by 6:PM Sunday evening, I'd seen 42 movies at the festival. Can I really get through 14 more days at this pace?) I decided to take the evening off and enjoy a real meal with my friend David Morgan, who watched Borstal Boy with me. We drove to the International District and had a great Chinese meal (ginger crab, chinese broccoli and scallops, oyster pepper pot.) I have to get ready for my first morning film at 10 AM Monday.
Secret Festival #2
Once again my lips are sealed (not that that worked out all that well last week.) I can't even give out any hints...except this is a practically lost three decade old film in English by an acknowledged master of international cinema. I missed it when it first came around (in fact I hardly remember its original release); and it turned out that I was very glad to get another chance to see it. The audience was wildly enthusiastic. 30 years has not dimmed this films luster...it may even have enhanced it. Unfortunately, the negative may be lost.
(Jonathan Parker - USA)
This movie is very roughly based on a Herman Melville novel. I'd prefer not to write about it (a joke if you've seen the movie.) Actually, they've updated it into a sharp satire on office politics in the 21st century. Crispin Glover couldn't be better as Bartleby, the psycho employee of death. And Glenne Headly is wonderful as the office secretary with a world class vocabulary. The other inhabitants of this surrealistic office also shine (David Paymer, Maury Chaykin and Joe Piscopo). I thought the movie was well written and acted; but somehow it didn't involve me as much as it should have. It seemed silly in spots rather than trenchant. But I think mine is a minority opinion. ** 3/4.
(Peter Sheridan - Ireland)
This film was freely adapted from Brendan Behan's novel about an Irish boy sent to Borstal for attempted terrorism in WWII England. Actor turned director Peter Sheridan (his brother Jim directed My Left Foot) does a fine job of evoking the era. He was brave to cast an American, Shawn Hatosy (always an interesting actor) as Irishman Behan. But he really hit a home run with his choice of Danny Dyer as Brendon's gay friend Charlie. Sometimes the accents were too heavy to understand (especially Dyer's cockney). But ultimately I found the coming of age story quite surprisingly moving, considering that there was little suspense because I knew the real history. This one is a keeper; and I suspect it is going to get a release since it carried a Strand Releasing banner. *** 1/4
6/04 Mon. My eyes have been itching from eyestrain (probably from too much watching movies and the computer screen. I bought some Visene eye drops, and it really helps! Note for future festival marathons: bring eye drops.
CRIMSON RIVERS (Mathieu
Kassowitz - France)
Kassowitz is one of my favorite actors; but I get the feeling that he is most comfortable behind the camera...which can't be a bad thing because he is just getting better and better as a director. This is a high budget French serial killer thriller with two, count 'em two rogue, loner cops (played beautifully by Jean Reno and the increasingly wonderful Vincent Cassell) converging on the case. Kassowitz's camera is never stationary; but he is a master at shooting action and evoking moods. An interesting comparison at this festival is between this film and Kurosawa's CURE, which it resembles slightly. Personally, I'm more responsive to Kassowitz's style. It's almost too bad that this plot had to resolve (this sort of story is usually claptrap anyway...and this one is no exception; but the execution is beautiful to behold.) ***
TUNNEL (Jacob & Josh Kornbluth - USA)
I didn't originally schedule this film since it sounded ridiculous in the catalogue; But I'm glad they held a press screening. This is another one of those crazy office comedies (the kind that Mike Judge conquered so memorably in Office Space). In this case, it is an opening up of a comic monologue by Josh Kornbluth (who is very effective on camera as a schlubb legal secretary.) It was funny, pointed, and somehow managed to stay just this side of being overly clever and precious: in short, a very good time at the movies. ***
UNFEASIBLE (Sergio Bianchi - Brazil)
My only walkout at the festival so far. To be fair, I'd probably have sat it out despite my misery and incomprehension; but my new festival filmgoing bud Howard was so annoyed that he left about 3/4 of the way through...and I gladly followed him. Don't ask me what it was about: some hybrid fiction/fake documentary film about the decadence of the Brazilian social fabric, with points made over and over without going anyplace. The come on in the catalog was naked guys performing in a club...but this was only a 1 minute scene (admittedly sort of hot). The rest of the film was literally unwatchable (but then, my other friend here, David, to whom I had recommended another Brazilian film, O Fantasma, just wrote me e-mail that it was the worst movie he'd ever seen with no redeeming features at all. So much for my taste.) W/O
GIRLS (Caroline Vignal - France)
A charming coming of age movie about a 15 year old French girl who is determined to lose her virginity (as had most of her mostly black and Muslim friends already). I really liked the young actress, Julie Leclercq. The film was well observed (the parents and friends are very real types.) It's hard not to admire a little film which manages to be heartfelt without becoming oversentimentalized. ** 3/4
(Stephen Frears - England)
A little film (for TV?) by this world-class director. Liam is a 6 year old stutterer, whose pre-WWII Liverpool working family is beset with economic troubles. His proto-fascist father (magnificently played by Ian Hart) loses his job and the family falls apart. There are some wonderful scenes played in Liam's Catholic school class, where Liam is being prepped for First Communion. This is the best illustration of the genesis of Catholic guilt that I've ever seen portrayed on film. Extremely well written, directed and acted, this little sleeper deserves to be seen. *** 1/4
6/05 Tue. A truncated day,
since I went to my step-grandaughter's 12th birthday party. And
at the evening session of LIVE BLOOD I had my very first encounter at
this fest with talkers in the audience (Seattle festival audiences are
remarkable for their good manners.) This group of 4 women came in
late, sat in front of me and then proceeded to chatter throughout the
entire first half of the film...with me getting increasingly angry and
distracted. Finally I leaned forward and threatened them
with...well, it was a somewhat empty threat, but uttered with such
menace that they never uttered another peep the rest of the film.
I usually suffer such a situation in silence; but when others in the
nearby audience started to look over to these people I decided to take
the law into my own hands.
GHOST WORLD (Terry Zwigoff - USA) [Golden Space Needle Award: best Actress (Thora Birch)]
Originally I hadn't scheduled this film, since on paper it seemed so unlikely (made from a comic book story that, of course I've never seen; teen movie provenance.) But the cast intrigued; and especially I was curious to see how a director that I'd only admired from his documentary, Crumb, would do with a fiction film. Rest assured that this is one of the most interesting films you'll see this year. Thora Birch was absolutely fabulous playing a nerdy girl graduating from high school with a vague depression and no plans. She gets involved with much older, uber-nerd Steve Buscemi, who is equally wonderful, in this his best role ever. The film is directed on downers, deliberately set at a pace which is excruciatingly slowed down. As unlikely as it sounds, this works remarkably well to match the character's existential angst...and somehow turns this film into a comic masterpiece. Brad Renfro has a cameo that he literally walks through zombie like; but it may rank as his most interesting portrayal yet (one hopes his career rebounds from his personal problems.) This movie isn't going to be to everybody's taste...I was surprised that everybody I talked to afterwards confessed to love it, because I wasn't sure it was working for the rest of the audience as well as it was working for me...the pacing was certainly different enough to annoy some people, and I doubt that it will be a commercial success. Still, it remains one of my favorites at this festival. *** 1/2.
PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (Tom Tykwer - Germany)
Tykwer is one filmmaker who never seems to repeat a past formula. This one is a strange, mysterious thriller set mostly in an insane asylum. It features another great performance by Franka Potente, who also resists being pegged in one niche. Equally interesting was the leading man, Benno Furmann. The plot is intricate, based too much on coincidence to make total sense (almost to the point of being supernatural). Yet the film works extremely well as a mood piece. Tykwer is undeniably one of the most interesting and accomplished directors currently making films. He broke new grounds cinematically in Run Lola Run; but this film is more conventional. I don't think I quite got the ending; but the road up to that point was interesting enough to raise this movie to *** 1/4.
LIVE BLOOD (Edoardo Winspeare - Italy)
This one is southern Italian, bleak, and sporadically interesting. It does feature some very nice integrated gypsy folk music (one of the two brothers in the story is very involved in making a professional music group and getting a recording contract.) In some ways this is reminiscent of a French movie at this festival, Vengo, which I also didn't enjoy all that much. I found the plot hard to follow; maybe because I was pissed off at the people in front who never stopped chattering. ** .
6/06 Wed. This day of films was remarkable only for the occasion where the projectionist mixed up two reels towards the climax of a film and it didn't much matter (see below).
(Maria Ripoll - USA)
Usually, American remakes of wonderful foreign films don't work. This one, based on Ang Lee's masterpiece, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (one of my all-time favorite films) is no exception. I ought to amend that with a note that others found this movie charming. I'm still trying to figure out why the film failed for me, despite a fine cast, a good script, and food to die for (on an empty stomach yet.) Certainly it wasn't the idea of transferring the story from a Taiwanese family to a California Mexican one, since sociologically this worked very well. The major downfall is one I'd have to ascribe to the director (and maybe the cinematographer who failed to make the food's deliciousness leap off the screen the way it did in the original.) Ripoll delivered a very static film, and the actors were all just slightly off in their delivery. A story that should have sung with resonances just lay there like a dead fish. Anyway, the biggest hoot was seeing Raquel Welsh, gloriously youthful at 60 (although as plastic looking and dreadful at acting as ever), get her just dessert. ** 1/4
THAN SEX (Jonathan Teplitzky - Australia)
This is a film about intimacy between a man and a woman during a one-night stand which stretched to three nights. I wouldn't have expected to like it...and in fact, I heard nothing but terrible comments from the audience at the end (one lady called it the worst film she'd ever seen.) Yet, the film really worked for me. I found the couple engaging and very realistic, and their interior monologues extremely well written and portrayed. The film was very sexually explicit without crossing the line...in a festival full of heterosexual coupling this one stands out for its exceptionally sympathetic portrayal of two people enjoying the act and doing it well. Oddly enough, in this straightforward chronological film, when the projectionist switched the two penultimate reels by mistake, the mood and comprehension of the story was not compromised. It was soon obvious what had happened; but it didn't really effect the film all that much. Which says something about the story, I guess, although I'm not sure what that is...probably, by that time the major story arc was established and obvious. ***
ROMANTIC (David Kane - England)
Strictly Ballroom crossed with Dirty Dancing and They All Laughed. In other words, nothing original here. Yet this story of three not quite couples and a taxi driver linked by their attendance at a dancing club in modern day London, still had charm to spare. Unfortunately, I was only sporadically charmed...but the stories and actors were good enough to overcome the predictability of the story. My favorite character was the black taxi driver; the others were mostly variations of whining yuppies, though to be fair they were all assorted ages and types. I think that my inability to relate to any of the characters was the major problem of the film for me. ** 1/2
SAND (François Ozon - France)
Yet another departure for this emerging master director...one of my favorites. This one is a serious study of a woman of a certain age (magnificently portrayed by Charlotte Rampling...and I can't praise her highly enough) in deep denial about the mysterious disappearance or possible death of her husband. Any comment about this film is likely to give away too much...so I'll just leave it that it is an outstanding film, an interesting enigma which didn't totally engage me, but left me in awe of the filmmaking talent involved. *** 1/4
L'ARGENT, L'AMOUR (Philip Gröning - Germany)
This one deserves a prize for something...messiest film of the festival, a 136 minute disaster, that nevertheless I loved (ok, second prize to O Fantasma). Actually, it's nothing but a road movie about two irresponsible, immature kids running away to nowhere for no particular reason. The girl survives on her back; and the boy wants to actually work for money to support them both, yet he's so inept that he keeps breaking bones and otherwise self-destructing. Still, both kids were so irrepressibly attractive, and their adventures were so preposterous and unpredictable, that I was just swept along mouth agape for much of their journey. I felt intensely for these misguided kids. The mis en scene was terrible, shaky big screen camera which occasionally induced nausia...protracted double exposures of road scenes stretching interminably (the film could have been an hour shorter...but I was entranced throughout anyway.) Most of the audience stuck it out, even at the end of the long evening (though my friend Howard said sayonara half way through...and I can't blame him if the film wasn't working for him...it was for me!) *** 1/4
6/07 Thu. Two of the best films of the festival today. Energizing to be sure; but I'm starting to feel sleep deprivation again. I wonder if I shouldn't take some time off; but the schedule of upcoming films is so promising that I don't feel I can.
(Semantha Lang - Australia)
Susie Porter, the same actress who was so convincingly heterosexual in Better Than Sex, plays a lesbian here, and equally effectively. She is one hell of an actress, and one of the revelations of this festival for me. This is a better than average private eye mystery movie..very good at mood, but somewhat by the numbers and predictable. Lots of MacGuffens here; but I guessed the killer fairly early. Kelly McGillis plays the lesbian love interest with her usual stolid, opaque lousy acting job; yet, here it works pretty well. ** 3/4
(Pavel Lungin [Lounguine in the credits] - Russia/France)
How can such a wonderful, accomplished, virtually perfect film get through Cannes (2000) and other festivals and arrive here so unheralded? I almost missed it, since it didn't sound all that interesting in the catalog, and I hadn't heard any rumors. Fortunately I didn't miss it, and I was treated to an amazingly paced and photographed comic masterpiece. One must credit the director, Pavel Lungin, for this gem. Eschewing master shots, using a very accomplished hand held camera style and perfectly timed editing, he literally whirls the audience through a frenetic 24 hour wedding process with event piled on top of event in a never less than fascinating progression which mixes drama and farce in a very original way. The actors were flawless: a huge number of characters who all were memorably differentiated. I felt watching this a shot of energy of pure enjoyment. I was reminded of Kusturica at his best (Time of the Gypsies, Black Cat...); but Lungin surpasses that filmmaker with a disciplined script which held together throughout. This is just about the best that cinema can do. ****
LADIES (Y. Thongkongtoon - Thailand)
Enjoyable, based on a true story, gender bending Thai film which held my interest, but was very predictable and not very interesting filmically. From scenes of the real Iron Ladies (a winning Thai volleyball team made up mostly of drag queens) which played over the end credits, I'd say that the casting was very well done to evoke the reality. But the direction was rather plodding. The Seattle audience lapped it up, however. **
COMFORT (Kate Davis - USA Doc.)
A beautifully made, surprisingly moving documentary about several Georgia transsexuals, focusing on three female to male (one of whom, Robert, was dying of ovarian cancer) and one male to female post ops. This one should be required viewing in schools. It makes a strong case for acceptance and inclusion. The people were likable and well spoken; and the filmmaker was just there as witness and recorder and managed to get it down perfectly. This is one hell of an effective documentary. *** 3/4
6/08 Fri Today my body started to rebel. I've been feeling a scratchy throat and the affects of sleep deprivation, so after the 2nd movie on Friday, I decided to go back to Lira's house (a 15 mile one-way daily commute to the festival) to take a nap. That was not a great idea, since Seattle traffic was particularly terrible on a Friday...but I managed to avoid the worst, and got an hour's sleep, getting back to the festival in time for the 5:00 movie. This meant I missed the uncut version of Betty Blue...but I figured that I'd already seen the movie twice, and I'll get to see the new edit sooner or later at another venue. I needed that nap. And now, the next morning after taking a Nyquil at 6AM to try to get more sleep, I've awakened refreshed, not sick, and raring to go (missing The Melancholy Chicken Saturday morning; but what the hell.)
JACK THE DOG
(Bobby Roth - USA)
This film, shot on digital video and then transformed back to a very nice looking film print, started out very ineptly...forced characterizations, cliched dialog, a main character with no redeeming features except that the actor, Nestor Carbonell, has an uncanny resemblance to a young Tyrone Power. Jack's nickname of "the dog" was well earned, since he was relationship resistant and territorial, and simply a heel to the many women he bedded until he met "the one" (very well played by Barbara Williams) whom he married, and who fathered his child. From that point on, the characters started to progress. The pre-teen son, especially, played by Andrew Ferchland (who so resembles a young John Cuzsac that I was certain through the movie that he must be that actor's son), and the assortment of minor characters started to bring the movie alive. About half way through I was amazed by how much I was enjoying the film, considering that I almost walked out after the first reel. This isn't a great film, not even a particularly good one; but it ends up being one of the highlights of the festival anyway, for its heartfelt script which turned out to be director proof. ***
Polish - USA)
I'm one of those who was not impressed by the Polish brothers' Twin Falls Idaho. My reservations were confirmed in spades with this follow-up film, which is boring and pointless to an extreme, despite competent surface elements like fine cinematography. The film inhabits the same world as the first film (the only laugh of the movie was when the main character says that he's going to Jackpot, NV, which is on the road to Twin Falls). It follows the same faded Karaoke trail as the unmemorabe film Duets. The characters, especially the side-kick manager played by Garrett Morris, were annoying rather than simply quirky. This one is a total failure, and a real disappointment. 1/2*
(Hans-Christian Schmid - Germany)
A coming of age film about a partially crippled 16 year old boy who keeps changing schools trying to pass his math course and ends up at an elite mixed-sex boarding school, his first time away from home. This film is an unmitigated delight, filled with good characters (especially the two boys in the lead and the girl who is the object of their mutual affection). Apparently the story is so authentic because it was adapted from a popular German novel by an actual teenager. The movie covers little new ground...except that I've never seen an authentically handicapped actor (Robert Stadlober) play this kind of role so perfectly. This one is a keeper. *** 1/4 NOTE (written 5/25/05): In hindsight, Stadlober is obviously not handicapped. Shows how outstanding he really was in this role!
THE KING IS ALIVE (Kristian
Levring - Denmark)
Dogma #4...this one in English with a bunch of fine actors, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer, and Bruce Davison. I've been partial to all the Dogma 95 films up to now...concentrating on characterization and plot instead of surface cinema tricks has worked very well for me in the past. But this story about a group of adults lost in the desert who try restaging King Lear in a desparate attempt to remain civilized, just failed for me. ** 1/4
(Campbell Scott - USA)
I changed my plans to watch this film when I heard that Campbell Scott was going to do a Q&A afterwards. I'm glad I did. Dennis Leary gives the dramatic performance of a lifetime. The film is an interesting enigma (Scott and his screenwriter have obviously been influenced by David Mammet), sort of soft science fiction. Very low budget, shot on digital video, it's probably going straight to video. ***
STRANGLED LIVES (Ricky Tognazzi - Italy)
A well made thriller about a vicious loan shark who, with the cooperation of corrupt bankers, ruins and steals legitimate businesses. As well done as the film was, and as much in sympathy as I found myself with the victims (who admittedly were somewhat dumb to get so easily bilked), I just didn't feel like sticking through the movie at the risk of being late to my next film. So I bailed early...not officially a walkout, because the film was too good for that. However, I'll forego rating it anyway. The director is obviously very talented. I'm viewing his most recent movie on Sunday.
PERFECT SON (Leonard Farlinger - Canada)
This is the most realistic film I've ever seen about somebody dying from AIDS (I know from experience as a caregiver for a dying lover myself). It's told from the point of view of the straight brother who learns that his older brother is both gay and dying right after their father's funeral (and 10 years into the elder brother's illness.) The story hit very close to home, which may have added to its powerful emotional impact. But there's no doubt that the two actors who played the brothers, Colm Feore and David Cubitt, did an excellent job. The film was beautifully lit, stark lights and shadows enhanced the action and mood. Yes, it's a depressing film; but it raises important issues and does it extremely well. *** 1/4
MISTER (Christine Lahti - USA)
A high budget, high gloss film about a friendship between a fuddy-duddy older man (played wryly by Albert Brooks) and an alienated, goth teenager (Leelee Sobieski). It's manipulative and changes tone completely half way through in an artificial way that Hollywood movies often do. Yet the film was also well acted and directed...Lahti shows great skill at defining her characters and telling her story. I liked this film a lot, more than it deserved, which is a tribute to the talents involved. ** 1/2
LOVE (Pierre-Paul Renders - Belgium)
The surprise of the festival: the most innovative filmmaking since Run Lola Run, the most fun in a movie theater I've had in ages. There's never been a film like this. We never see the hero, only hear him in voice-over as he relates to the world entirely through his video screen. Thomas is an agoraphobe (afraid to leave his house or let anybody else enter) in a future world where technology allows and embraces such a disability. His adventures with cyber-sex are the most effective use of computer animation yet. I don't think I'm overpraising this film; but it hit me hard in my pleasure zone and never stopped. Long stretches of this film I watched mouth agape in wonder at what the medium can achieve. I suppose it won't be to everybody's taste, it is strange and different. But for me: *** 3/4.
Secret Festival #3
This film shall remain nameless, of course; but it is a wonderful new romantic comedy by a first time director, a major new talent. The director wanted it to play at an "audience festival" such as SIFF; but the releasing company was so desirous that the film get into industry favorite Toronto that they only allowed it here on the proviso that the TIFF organizers never hear that it already had played at SIFF: thus the secret festival. *** 1/4
INVERSO -MAKING LOVE (Ricky Tognazzi - Italy)
This one is a major disappointment. Lushly photographed with a high gloss and in English, this pre-WWII clone of The Red Violin nevertheless suffered from oversentimentalization and a weak, predictable plot. Tognazzi is a talented, hard boiled director who goes really soft when essaying his first international production. Very unfortunate. ** 1/4
CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTER (Alexander Proshkin -
One can only imagine what an epic masterpiece this might have been, if only the SIFF presentation hadn't skipped one 20 minute reel about 2/3 of the way through the film. It did interrupt the narrative, making it difficult to follow what happened; but it didn't change the cumulative impression that this adaptation of a Pushkin novel about an abortive rebellion in the time of Catherine the Great, was an affecting and lush spectacle. It helped that leading actor Mateusz Damiecki is incredibly beautiful and stoically effective in the role of Lieutenant Grinyov. ***
(Jordan Melamed - USA)
This is a near masterpiece, a little film about troubled teenagers confined in a psychiatric facility. It centers around a boy (extremely well played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has anger management problems and the therapist (in another amazingly effective portrayal by Don Cheadle who seems to be unable to give a mediocre performance) who leads the various kids in group therapy. Here is an example of an effective use of digital video transformed to film...roving hand held camera focusing documentary-style on fast moving action and giving an uncanny intimacy with the characters. The film is hard hitting and difficult to take at times; but I, for one, became very involved with these troubled kids and their progress during the course of the film. Just an outstanding little film. *** 1/2
WATER (Katheryn Bigelow - USA)
An uneasy combination of two genres: the historical costume drama and contemporary intellectuals on a boat movie...like combining Dead Calm with The Scarlett Letter. It didn't work very well. Even Sean Penn seems to walk through his role without passion, and Sarah Polley in the historical story just seems catatonic and drab, reprising exactly her role in The Sweet Hereafter. I've always liked Bigelow in the past for her hard hitting direction; but this one is a failure on nearly every level. **
6/11 Mon. A strenuous day, with a tight schedule and films in widely spaced venues. No time between films to eat, just rush rush rush to the next film (and try to find parking when on a tight schedule in Seattle!) But I managed to make it in time to all of them, and four out of five of the films rank at or near the top of this festival, so the day is well worth while.
A WOMAN IS A
HELLUVA THING (Karen Leigh Hopkins - USA)
This film fails at so many levels that it is almost breathtaking. First of all the plot, the taming of a male Chauvinist, is pat and predictable and sidetracked by the fact that we care nothing for the characters. Well that's problem number two, also. Then the direction of the actors is horrible...everybody (and there is some real talent here, e.g. Paul Dooley, Ann-Margaret and Mary Kaye Place, who actually is the only good thing in the movie) is allowed to overact. Especially egregious is the male lead, Angus MacFadyen whose career may not survive this fiasco. Finally, the movie is really offensive in the way it dumbs down the inevitable sexual politics of its central story. The woman next to me walked out; and I really can't blame her. I'd expect more walkouts in the public screenings to come. *
Carlson - USA doc.)
I almost gave this documentary a miss; but the night before I happened to see that Scott Tobias had rated it an A after seeing it at Sundance, and I was intrigued enough to change my schedule to see it. And boy, was I glad that I did. This just may be the best documentary of the year, and one I'm hoping to see nominated for the Oscar. The director may be the luckiest filmmaker on the face of the earth...everything went just right in real life to enhance the drama of his story of a high school football team in the world capital of high school football, Massilon, Ohio the year he decided to shoot a film about it. But let's face it, the success of this film is also about the editing skill of the director, who culled 300 hours of digital video into 104 minutes of dynamite. It all comes together here: a town obsessed with football and embroiled in a political controversy about a property tax levy to support the schools, and a team of football players whose personal stories were compelling and who collectively had a most memorable season. Maybe it helps to have a modicum of interest in football; but even for the sports hater, the film is so enlightening about the human condition that I think it would affect just about anybody. ****
(Li-Kung Hsu/Chi Yin - Taiwan)
This is a film about pre-WWII China, centered around a Chinese opera company whose star player is gay. It is also a Jules and Jim kind of triangle which includes a young couple, she the daughter of wealthy parents, he the scion of a banking family returned from being educated in America and interested mostly in his cello, and despite all cultural conditioning in love with the opera player. With ravishingly beautiful cinematography and a very sensitive, attractive cast, the film easily overcomes some cultural oddness and is truly moving. One of the surprises of the festival. *** 1/4
ADVENTURES OF FELIX (Olivier Ducastel/ Jacques Martineau
A road movie about a young gay man, a sort of Candide-like character with AIDS, who sets off on a hitch-hiking trip from Normandy to Marseilles to seek the father that he'd never known. Yet this isn't a gay movie. Nor is it an AIDS movie. Somehow this gentle and picaresque comedy manages to encompass all of humanity in its odyssey through France. The film reminded me of Western, which had the same structure. But this one goes deeper and further than that outstanding movie. Powerful, moving, well observed, funny, knowing, loving, beautiful...I could go on and on with the adjectives and never do the film justice.
ANGRY INCH (John Cameron Mitchell - USA)
[Golden Space Needle: best actor(John Cameron Mitchell)]
What is there to say about this film? It's a striking adaptation of a musical theater tour de force by John Cameron Mitchell which remains theatrical, but also is good enough to rank as one of the great rock musical films of all time. Still, as good as the singing and acting were, the story barely existed...so the film fails to have the impact that one would suppose from the elements. It has all the earmarks of another cult classic a la Rocky Horror Picture Show; but I wonder if it has the staying power of that film. Anyway, Mitchell is a wonder doing it all: singing, acting, writing and directing, all outstanding credits...and it's nice to see one of my faves, Michael Pitt (Henry from Dawson's Creek) getting a chance to shine as a rock star, even if as I suspect, his singing was dubbed by another singer. ***
STRICTLY SINATRA (Peter Capaldi - Great Britain)
Despite another effective performance by Ian Hart (this time as an aspiring, but talentless cabaret singer of strictly Sinatra material who gets compromised by the English version of the mob), this film is only sporadically interesting. It wants to have it both ways, gangster thriller and show biz romance...and mostly fails at both. There's a hint of directorial talent here, though, which partially overcomes a lame script. * 3/4
(Yolanda Serrano/J.L. Iborra - Spain)
The Spanish seem to thrive on large cast romantic farces, and this film is no exception. This is the story of 10 or so people scheduled to meet on blind dates for assorted purposes at the Puerto del Sol at noon on a weekday. Everything gets confused and gradually works out for the best. It sounds contrived; but the execution is very deft, the characters memorable and attractive (especially for me, of course, the 3 1/2 gay guys.) There's a sunny, positive, inclusive attitude about human nature which suffuses recent Spanish cinema...and this film exemplifies this feeling. I left the theater with a bounce in my step. *** 1/4
HOME (Zhang Yimou - China)
I'm going to be slightly contrarian here. There's no doubt that this is one of Zhang's best films productionwise (and I need to say here that I consider him to be one of the world's greatest directors). And it contains another of the director's fantastic female performances, this time by Zhang Ziyi, who was so excellent in Crouching Tiger. Still, the film felt like a reprise of Zhang's earlier film, The Story of Qiu Ju; and, while gorgeous to look at and undeniably moving, it also felt manipulative and overly sentimental. A mild disappointment; but one I enjoyed anyway. ** 3/4
(Achem Von Borries - Germany)
On the surface, this dramatic road picture about a man dying a decade later from the lingering effects from being forced into the cleanup after the Chernobyl disaster would seem an unlikely source of heart stopping pathos. Well, maybe that's going a little far; but I was moved by this dark little film...probably because of the outstanding performance by Ivan Shvedoff as Valery, who remains optimistic and focused on his goal of reaching England despite long odds. I don't want to oversell this film, it is bleak and perhaps a tad too long for its slight plot. But it has a subtle power and I'll remember it for a while. ***
Some hit and miss gay shorts here. The 16mm Soda Pop was slight, poorly made and frankly boring. Audit was better, featuring an interestingly subdued performance from Alexis Arquette, but also overly long and fairly pedestrian. This was my second time around for Boychick; and for some reason it worked far better for me this time. Maybe it was just that its fantastic production values (great 35mm photography and fine performances) simply looked better in contrast to the amateurish 16mm films which preceded it. In any case, the overly obvious Yiddishisms didn't seem as off to me this time around. The Australian film In Search of Mike, where the director played the lead character and also his whacked out mother, was just too dark and weird for my tastes. But I thought that Tom Clay Jesus was a delightfully dark examination of relationships among modern, big city, young gay men. It somehow rang very true to me. The final film was the amazingly zany Jeffrey's Hollywood Screen Trick, played with animated dolls a la Todd Haynes' banned Superstar. This one has to be experienced to be believed.
6/13 Wed. This is probably the best day of all that I've spent at this festival. After experiencing literally dozens of wonderful small films here at SIFF it's going to be hard for me to claim that 2001 has been a lousy movie year. Only Hollywood, with its obsession to make costly overstuffed turkeys, seems to be in the creative doldrums. The rest of the world cinema is vibrant and bubbling with appealing films. However, today for the first time, my job obtruded ...I spent a lot of time on the cell phone to L.A., and it looks like I'm going to have to cut the festival short and make a mad dash down the coast to return to work. I'm trying to put off my departure as late as possible; but it looks now like I'll have to leave Sunday afternoon before the end of the festival. Very depressing.
I PREFER THE
SOUND OF THE SEA (Mimmo Calopresti - Italy)
An outstanding, serious drama about an industrialist in northern Italy, a poor southerner who married into wealth and is now involved in a looming corruption scandal; and two boys...one of whom is his spoiled and troubled 16 year old son. The other is a boy he meets on a visit home, an embittered, stubborn southerner, orphaned and troubled, but obviously intelligent and worthy, whom the older man determines to take under his wing and help to get a leg up in life. It's a story which pits opposites in conflict in modern Italy: northern vs. southern; rich vs. poor; religious vs. unbelievers; left vs. right. But it is also a story about mostly good people under incredible social pressure. I found it deeply affecting, and the two boys played by Michele Raso and Paolo Cirio were wonderful. *** 1/2
(Kon Ichikawa - Japan)
I'm not a big fan of samurai movies; but this one was very well made, if overly talky through most of its length. Koji Yakusho made a fitting hero; the swordsmanship was fast paced and well shot, although I've seen better. I just couldn't get interested in this movie, despite its fine production values. ** 1/4
(Jaime Chavarri - Spain)
On the other hand, it's hard to imagine a more engaging film than this one. It's the story of three medical students in 1965 Franco's Spain, who rent a house for serious study and then proceed to get sidetracked by getting involved with some cabaret prostitutes. The lead was played by Eloy Azorin, the son in Almodovar's All About My Mother, whose 'way too early departure from that film was a sore point for me. Here he plays a studious, religious boy who comes of age spectacularly as he progresses to knowing sexual sophisticate. His two friends, initially more knowing, also develop in interesting and non-cliche ways. Even the women are fascinating creatures with a rare inner life. This is another glowing, remarkably entertaining Spanish film. *** 1/2
(Lukas Moodysson - Sweden)
Just when I began to think that nothing can possibly top the films that I've already seen in this festival, one does. This follow-up to the director's wonderful Show Me Love (Fucking Amal) is an entirely different kind of film: the story of a commune of leftists in 1975 Sweden. The film has the look and feel of Dogme 95...but it breaks too many rules to get a certificate. But like the best of those films, it creates an illusion of reality through hand held camera, jump cutting and naturalistic performances. This one is simply one of my all-time favorite films, both entertaining and illuminating, and a serious character study which includes all sorts of people and left me feeling wonderful about the human race. This despite some hard-hitting scenes of child and wife abuse reminiscent of Happiness. It's hard to describe the cumulative effect of this film...but I'm rooting for it to win the Golden Space Needle here. ****
6/14 Thu. Seattle is the only city where one might see an official road sign sporting the words: "BE NICE". Every day on my way to the festival I've passed that sign at the foot of Capital Hill (where most of the venues are); and yesterday I noticed it for the first time. And you know, Seattleites follow that sign to a large extent. Strangers, even in restaurants and on busses, notice the full-series pass I wear around my neck all day and engage me in conversation about movies. The fairly large group of pass holders, often queued up together in our own line awaiting preferential seating, end up nodding aquaintances, and in some cases real friends. I've made several film buddies by this process, among them Howard, Derek, James, Debby, Susan, John and Dave. However, occasionally somebody will be a pill. I happened to be lined up in front of Michael Medved, whom I hadn't recognized at first, for one screening and casually made some remark to him about hurrying up only to wait in line in the rain for a late start...and he rather haughtily cut me cold, not deigning a reply. I guess that's proof that he's not a real Seattleite yet.
[Presque rien] (Sébastien Lifshitz - France)
A serious gay film with very authentic appearing sex and two enormously attractive actors (Jeremie Elkaom, new to me; and Stephane Rideau, so memorable in Wild Reeds and Sitcom). Yet the film failed for me as anything more than a feast for the eyes. First of all, the structure was messy and confusing...sort of a zig-zag mixture of story and flashbacks with no clear deliniation and seemingly random linearity (as if reels were constantly being shifted out of order). And then, the story is frankly depressing...with most of the characters depressed and ennervated and uncommunicative between themselves. Finally, there's that awful translation of the title. I suppose this is a realistic gay film; but it does seem like a throwback to an earlier age when gays were expected to be unhappy. **
OUT OF THE
THE WILLIAM HAINES STORY (Fenton Bailey/Randy Barbado -
A sort of by the numbers TV documentary (with obvious places for commercial breaks). The subject, perhaps the only unabashedly gay number one male Hollywood actor ever, was inherently interesting. But the execution of the documentary was far too dependent on narration for my tastes. I didn't stick around for the 77 minute version of the 1930 camp classic western starring Haines, chosing to have a leisurely dinner with my film bud James instead. ** 1/2
(Miguel Hermoso - Spain)
A last minute change of plans...I've decided that I can't pass up any Spanish films since I seem to always like them so much. This one is the story of a robbery gone wrong, a falling out among the thieves with two of them chasing two of the others who had made off with the loot. It gets very complicated, involving a little girl trying to get reunited with her useless father after being cast off by her prostitute mother. It didn't sound promising in the catalog; but on screen it comes alive and is quite entertaining. ***
(Nick Grosso - Ireland)
A London based slacker romantic comedy. Three gen-Y guys who have nothing much to do except scout for "peaches" (a previous generation called them "birds".) Not particularly funny and the characters progress little if at all. Yet the lead actor, Matthew Rhys (whom I had previously noted with interest as the older brother in the much superior Welsh kid's film Testimony of Jones) has looks and charm to spare...watch for him to become a star. ** 1/4
6/15 Fri. This will be my
final update to this journal until I return to L.A. (making a mad dash
down the coast on Sunday and Monday.)
PARSLEY DAYS (Andrea Dorfman - Canada)
This film exemplifies exactly why I love film festivals. I'd never in a million years have a chance of seeing a little film like this any other way. Shot on super-16 (and blown up rather poorly to 35mm) in Halifax, N.S., with amateur actors (who act like it), and without benefit of accomplished direction, this film nevertheless delivers the goods. It proves, if any proof is needed, that a compelling story with empathetic characterizations can surmount all obstacles. But even at a festival devoted to finding little gems, this one was sparsely attended. Those who did attend were treated to a fresh look at a committed relationship where one partner (the boy, sympathetically and well played by Michael LeBlanc) is more in love than the other (a problematic performance by amateur actress Megan Dulop which was the weakest link in the film.) By the end of the film, I was profoundly moved and felt that I'd experienced something of an epiphany. *** 1/4
AND OTHER MODERN DILEMMAS (Ronan Girre - France)
A fascinating contrast between this and Parsley Days, which immediately preceded it. This film also centers on a relationship...battle of the sexes style. It's French, and the film is a lot more sophisticated than the Canadian film. But it also is a pretentious pile of crap (in my humble opinion), filled with narrative tricks which don't work and inhabited by characters more annoying than interesting. Bruno Putzulu, whom I loved playing gay in Pourquoi pas moi, is totally wasted here. *
LANDING (Marc Fusco - USA)
This American indie is a strange fusion of slacker comedy and heist flick. Its cast includes some of my favorite young actors among them Ethan Embry and Scott Foley. It has an interesting, tricky script which almost works. Almost any description of the film would give away spoilers, so I'll stick to my impressions. I'm not at all sure if this film will find an audience...it's not very well directed, though the actors try hard. But it does have some originality going for it and is probably worth renting the video. ** 1/4
NOWHERE (Jason Bloom - USA)
On the other hand, this black comedy is well worth a look. Starring Daniel Stern in his biggest role as a Kansas motel owner who aspires to be a C&W songwriter, it also has a number of quirky supporting performances, including James Caan as the baddy. The script is filled with surprising turns...the film is constantly changing tone and just gets weirder and funnier as it goes along. It's another tough sell; I'm not sure that it'll reach an appreciative audience. It's going to be too strange for some people; but I really enjoyed it. ***
6/16 Sat. For the first time I actually was shut out of a film that I'm not going to be able to watch on the second screening. I decided to try to grab a bite on the way to the Harvard Exit to see Jala! Jala! (dir. Josef Fares - Sweden); and even though I got to the theater 5 minutes beforehand they had closed the doors and wouldn't let me in. I turned in my "fool serious" ballot and left. What is "fool serious" you ask? It's a non-official group made up of most of the pass holders who rate on a scale of 1-9 all the movies they watch up to the penultimate night; and then by noon of the last day all interested parties are delivered the results including a list of the three other people with whom the computer finds one's tastes most compatible. Hopefully I'll be able to get my computer read-out tomorrow. Supposedly a more serious enumeration is available on a web page someplace; and I hope to find out that URL on Sunday.
DISCO PIGS (Kirsten
Sheridan - Ireland/UK)
One of the most interesting movies of the festival. It starts out with a voice over by a fetus reposing in a womb; then presents a birth scene reminiscent of the opening scene of The Tin Drum; and then proceeds to get seriously strange. Two babies are born in that hospital at the exact same minute and they grow up as next door neighbors and inseparable twins. By the time they're teenagers the boy (played with ferocity by Cillian Murphy) has become seriously psychotic with his burgeoning sexuality and possessiveness. And the girl follows him dreamily into their own private world with its own language and uncontrollable obsessions. It's a film drenched in strange emotionality...with eerily effective music, outstanding acting and direction. The film creeped me out, however. It's bound to be a cult classic eventually, I think. *** 1/4
(Jeff Probst - USA) [Golden Space Needle
award: best picture]
Yes that Jeff Probst, host of Survivor. However this one-set film was written (Probst claims 20 rewrites) and greenlighted before he became famous. With several excellent performances (especially from James Earl Jones, Erik Palladino who was cast against type, and Matthew Lillard mugging shamelessly but winningly), this film avoids most of the pitfalls of its claustrophobic setting with extremely skillful editing, a story with plenty of conflict and nearly flawless ensemble acting. The film does tend to be somewhat theatrical and/or TV in concept and execution Yet it works as a film, which is a tribute to Probst as a promising first-time director. ***
Secret Festival #4
This is another recent film by a famous and controversial international director which can't be mentioned because the producers are afraid that one of the big festivals will not be interested if it had premiered at Seattle. The film is pretty darn great. Enjoy, TIFFers. *** 1/4
(Marcelo Piñeyro - Argentina)
My final film at this fest, and what a way to go! This is an authentic and top flight film noir, set in the '60s and based on a true story. Above all, the two main characters are gay...which sets it apart from other noirs of that era. With two searing performances from Eduardo Noriega (of Open Your Eyes) and Leonardo Sbaraglia (who is headed for international stardom), this is probably my ultimate favorite film of the festival. It's hard hitting, bloody as hell, authentic in every detail, beautifully shot and directed. And without being overtly sexual, it manages to be very romantic, turning the conventions of noir neatly around. Think Clyde and Clyde. A lovely piece of filmmaking and a strong *** 1/2.
FILMS ALREADY SEEN(Ratings out of 4.0 Stars)
MARSHALL TITO'S SPIRIT 2.5
DIVIDED WE FALL 3.5
THE BIG ANIMAL 1.5
EVERYBODY'S FAMOUS 3.25
ALI ZAOUA 3.0
101 REYKJAVIK 3.25
NO PLACE TO GO 1.5
ODD LITTLE MAN 3.0
BEFORE THE STORM 3.5
VERTICAL RAY OF THE SUN 2.5
LITTLE SENEGAL 2.5
A RUN FOR MONEY 3.25
ANITA TAKES A CHANCE 3.0
ANGELS OF THE UNIVERSE 3.5
A PLACE NEARBY 2.75
SUN ALLEY 3.0
BETTY BLUE 3.5
LITTLE CRUMB 1.5
THE CLOSET 2.5
WILD HORSES 3.25
BREAKING THE SILENCE 3.0
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