The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Some Thoughts on SIFF 2009

Posted by Deliverator on June 16th, 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.

The Festival:

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.