Posted by Deliverator on 16th June 2009
SIFF 2009 is a wrap and I thought I would excise some of my thoughts on the festival this year and the films I saw.
There were a number of poor presentation issues with this year’s festival. The Egyptian Theater had a speaker in the left rear of the auditorium which was loose in its cabinet, had a busted cone or something which caused it the buzz loudly through a number of films during the later half of the festival.
One film, “The Yes Men Fix The World” appeared to have been transfered to a used DV tape or something for show at the Neptune. The system lost tracking many times during the film and there was bleed through of content from whatever was recorded previously, anamolous noises and video glitches throughout. It was borderline unwatchable. I’ve never asked for my money refunded on a film before, but I was tempted.
Several films had poor focus or lost focus or had unusually low or loud audio levels. How about have a projectionist actually doing their job?
Hearing the same pre-movie schpeel and same pre-movie clips 20+ times got old, real, real fast and you could tell that pretty much everyone in the audience had heard the pitch many, many times.
Despite giving the same tired 35 club pitch many many times (to be followed by a videos blurb for the same), not a single volunteer I spoke with made an even half rational, convincing argument to me in person when I spoke with them about why SIFF really needs an expanded physical presence at Seattle Center, what good it does for the public or why the Alki room is the specific space they need and why it should cost $3+ million dollars.
Some of the Films I Saw/Didn’t See:
I Sell the Dead – An enjoyable if somewhat predictable tale of a english grave digger recounting his many misdeads.
Yes Men Fix the World – Very funny romp covering some of the many hoaxes perpetrated by the comedic duo The Yes Men against
some of the more unlikeable corporate and governmental entities around the world. The Yes Men seem to be doing some, if not a lot, good by bringing greater public attention to some ghestalts that deserve a bit more of our daily portion of rage.
The Immaculate Conception of Little Drizzle – I missed this one but it is going to be coming back as part of the limited “Best of SIFF” and will try and see it then.
We Live in Public – I found this part bio-pic documentary / part exploration of the diminution of privacy in the digital age to be very interesting. It was very well produced and edited and the wealth of footage and interviews used to construct the overall narrative was pretty exceptional compared to the patchwork construction of most documentaries. I think the director doesn’t give enough credit to the youth who have grown up in the social networking era in being able to map their own destinies and create their own preferred blurred blending of private and public spheres. I know some people that take personal information management/information exposure to near secret agent levels.
The Third Man – I’ve seen this classic a number of times on TV, but never on the silver screen. The pre-film talk by Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osborne did a lot to enrich my enjoyment of the film. This was also my first time seeing this particular cut of the film, which included different narration during the first few minutes of the film and about 10 minutes more footage throughout. Orson Welles’ cucko clock line still resonates with me every time and has to be one of the best speeches in film history.
The Answer Man – Enjoyable but ultimately forgetable dramedy. I still have a thing for Lauren Graham and would like to see her in more
California Company Town – I found this film to be dull as dirt and none too informative. The basic format of the movie has the creator doing a couple dry monotone voice-overs about various company towns in California to static, generally uninteresting shots on grainy 16mm film. I’ve been to a number of the towns in California featured in the film and found the film didn’t really provide much information about them. The overarching anti-corporate bent of the film was decidedly one sided and not intellectually engaging.
Moon – I really enjoyed this low budget, character driven scifi film which has Sam Rockwell as the lone human caretaker on an isolated mining base on the far side of the moon. The interaction between Rockwell’s character, the station’s computer “Gertie” (voice by Kevin Spacey) and…well…himself was well deserving of his best actor win at SIFF. I also look forward to seeing what else comes from and I look forward to following writer/director Duncan Jones who delivered an excellent story and script driven scifi film without needing to resort to expensive special effects, aliens, explosions or undiscovered particles. Scifi films which can do this are rare gems and Moon reminds me a lot of 2004’s “Primer” in that regard.
The Beast Stalker – Uneven but quite ambitious Cop vs Criminal piece from Hong Kong. I found the uneven pacing and use of a variety of visual styles/special effects quite off- putting. Also, the one appropriate use of a flashback in cinema is a character recollection, not “lets just cut to something we think the audience should know now.” Also, the scene where the little girl comes back to life because of the long impassioned speech by the cop rather than his half- hearted attempts at CPR frankly pissed me off. I tighter cut of this movie with fewer special effects, gimmicky film cuts and a true to life ending could have made The Beast Stalker into a crime epic on par with “Heat.” It could have had something meaningful about the human cost of crime for criminals, cops and the public at large, but ultimately falls short.
Know your Mushrooms – Five to ten minutes on wikipedia would have told me as much or more.
Deadgirl – Disturbing, revolting and (dare I say it) thought provoking. Asks the very fundamental question of what one would really do if there were no consequences to one’s acts and nobody else was looking…
The Maid – I really enjoyed the hyper-real performances in this film about a person who is not quite employee and not quite family. This one had me thinking about borderland relationships for days after seeing it.
The Great Race – I was expecting to watch an original print in all its technicolor glory. Instead, we watched a blocky blown up digital mess with muted colors that had even the sublimely beautiful Natalie Wood looking unappealing. Another case where I might as well have just rented it on DVD and watched it at home due to SIFF’s poor presentation.
The Admiral – What can I say about The Admiral? Like a lot of Russian film, it is long, ponderous, moody and very unevenly paced. I have a hard time watching Russian films in the same mindset in which I would watch a Western narrative flic. Instead, you have to sort of enter a sort of fugue state and take each scene as a semi-disconnected snippet only to be considered as part of an overarching totality. Watching all 8 hours of War and Piece or Russian Ark requires one to embrace a similar mental discipline and leaves one richer for the experience with images burned into the mind’s eye, but The Admiral ultimately leaves very little behind and one is only left with the sense of having watched something akin to a feature length cologne commercial.
Final Arrangements – Funny french film about a musically talented, but career inept 20 something who gets thrown a fiscal lifeline as a sales person for an international death services business, but first he has to intern at the mortuary to learn the business. Situation in which people are tossed into strange jobs head first usually makes for rich comedic material and Final Arrangements is no exception. And yes, as required by government edict, it has Gerard Depardieu in a minor role :)
Finding Bliss – Thematically similar to Final Arrangements in that it has a young 20 something forces into an oddposition. In this case, Lelee Sobieski is a young film school grad struggling to make her way in Hollywood reluctantly takes a job as an editor at an Adult Film company in order to pay the bills and steal time on the film making equipment after hours. Much more “commercial” a film with more unnatural performances, forced jokes and situations than Final Arrangements.
Cold Souls – I really liked this film that is equal parts Being John Malkovitch and Woody Allen (pre-obsession to young women). Paul Giamatti’s performance as his variously soul ensleaved self was especially strong and nuanced. I also really liked David Strathairn in his role as the soul transplanting doctor. I really liked the sets as well. This film got picked up at Sundance and will be seeing limited release (10-20 cities) in August with a wider release potentially to follow if it does well. I will definitely see it again when it comes to Seattle.
500 Days of Summer – I am a total sucker for Zooey Deschanel’s blue peepers and have been following Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career for years. I’ve especially enjoyed him in “Brick” and “The Lookout” and of course his long standing role on 3rd Rock, so I pretty much had to see this one. Overall I liked the film and some of its messages, even if some of it didn’t really ring true for me. The impromptu instant musical in the park is worth the price of admission on its own.
The Conversation – This film classic’s themes of invasive technology, paranoia and emotional isolation still work today. I wonder what form this movie would take if it were shot today. The print was visually good, but the sound was quite uneven and I found myself really struggling to make out lines at times.
Krabat – I missed this one.
Once Upon a Time in the West – I’ve always enjoyed Sergio Leone and his Spaghetti Westerns and own the “Man with No Name” series on DVD. It was a treat seeing Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson on the big screen in this beatifully restored version of the film. Presentation like this is definitely worth the price of admission. I only wish all SIFF films looked this good. I can see why this is considered one of the all time classics of the Western genre. I did find the pacing an interleaving of character story lines a bit too slow for my liking and found the ending/wrapping up of story lines also a bit too anticlimactic, but it didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment of the film.
El General – This film weaves archival footage, audio tapes and photos to paint a picture of the filmaker Natalia Almada’s great grandfather Plutarco Calles, who was one of Mexico’s first post revolutionary presidents, and one of the few to leave office through something other method than a bullet. The film is perhaps even more about the roots of the Mexican present and is not at all complimentary. Scenes and interviews with people eeking out a marginal existence selling crap on the street abound and the film paints a picture of a Mexico that continues to struggle with generations of inequality and oligarchy and has perhaps lost a chance at greatness as a result.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio – This was the SIFF Closing Night Gala and is a sequel to OSS 117: Nest of Spies which was a SIFF favorite from a few years back. The movie had plenty of genuine laughs, but more than a few times I found the audience laughing along to a laugh track that I decidedly wasn’t hearing. In general, I found Nest of Spies to be far funnier than its sequel.