SIFF Days 7 and 8 (Slipstream, Eagle Vs Shark)

June 24th, 2007

This was beginning of the downturn, for the next week damn near everything was mediocre to bad, which sucked after seeing quite a few films I actively liked early on.

I read a bit about Anthony Hopkins’ directorial debut Slipstream online before the screening and everything I found used the term “self-indulgent”. Sadly none them were wrong. Hopkins tries his best to channel Lynch in an unconventional film that is actually surprisingly conventional. I was mostly bored, then kind of irritated. When I got to work the next day, a co-worker asked what I thought of it, and I gave him my two word review: “Shit Stream”. Yes, my amps go to 11 as well.

Then the next day Eagle vs Shark brought together every stereotype from every quirky indie comedy of the last ten years and made them all suck. It was almost enough to make me wish that Wes Anderson had never made Rushmore, the movie I blame for kick-starting this whole lovable loser genre. There is nothing unique in this movie, half the characters are actively hateful, and I did not laugh once. Sadly the audience seemed to be eating the shit up. I’m glad to see its release appears to be going nowhere, otherwise I might be forced to listen to every asshole in the world quoting it for the next decade.

SIFF Day 6 (Manufactured Landscapes, The Year Of Living Dangerously, I Dot The Eye Shorts Program)

June 23rd, 2007

I made a conscious decision this year to avoid “issue” documentaries. No killing in Darfur, no climate change is going to kill us all, no the rants about how the government is going to hell. I know all about this stuff, I know it sucks, I’m sick of hearing about it frankly. Especially in a liberal city like Seattle, this shit is in your face constantly. So I was a little reluctant about Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary Manufactured Landscapes, which follows photographer Edward Burtynsky whose work involves the ways modern manufacturing techniques affect the world around us. Thankfully the film was great. The photos are stunnnig, gigantic otherworldly images of a world that is often barely recognizable. There was a particularly unreal section which dealt with a beach in Bangladesh where they purposely beach oil tankers after they can’t be operated anymore. The locals, many of them children, break the ships apart for scrap, in the process cleaning out the sludge and god knows what poisonous sludge is left behind.

Baichwal mostly just follows Burtynsky around and lets his images tell the story, along with some commentary by the photographer. This could have easily turned into a manifesto on the evils of a global economy, but thankfully it largely refrains from any outward accusations of good or evil. Instead it invites the viewer to think about their lives and the things they buy, about what it take to allow you to buy a $10 iron at Target. He even admits that he himself is a part of the problem, driving around in his jeep with his metal camera and the silver that enables his film to exist. I found this refreshing and I really appreciated the opportunity to let my mind wander and consider all these truly mindblowing scenes. The only bummer is that the latter third of the movie focuses a bit too much on China, but I can hardly blame it given that such an enormous percentage of the world’s manufacturing is done their these days. Great stuff, it is coming out soon.

This day had a series of incredibly tight transitions between movies, and this was the first trying to haul from Pacific Place to Harvard Exit in approximately 25 minutes. This might not sound so bad, until you ponder the problems of parking in Capitol Hill around 6:00. I was trying to talk Roya into just putting the car in a lot, when she came upon literally the perfect parking spot. You could not have a spot any closer to the theatre’s exit than this one. It was amazing.

This put is in a good spot in line for The Year Of Living Dangerously. Every SIFF you kind of have to balance whether or not to attend archival presentations, especially for things like this which are well available on DVD. I had always heard good things about it though, and I’ve liked all Peter Weir’s other films, so I decided to go. Good decision there Greg, this film is awesome. It was amazing watching a young Mel Gibson who had not yet become an anti-seimitic whackjob and could actually you know … act. Linda Hunt’s performance was something that words are hard to describe. I had no idea this was a woman being a man, to the point that when I saw Linda Hunt’s name in the credit, I thought to myself “Wow that is weird that that dude is named Linda. Must be a bummer.” I liked the photography theme flowing through from Manufactured Landscapes to this.

After that was over, we had ten minutes to get from Harvard Exit to Northwest Film Forum. We almost didn’t bother, but finally decided to run for it. The fantastic parking job helped us big time as we basically just stepped out the door and into the car. Roya hit all the lights (barely running a couple), and found yet another amazing parking spot right on our first pass. We made our seats with minutes to spare! I was dumbofunded. That is some serious parking mojo.

Sadly our third event, the shorts program I Dot The Eye was not really worthwhile. The first three shorts were pretty experimental and avant-garde, and while I “appreciate” these I don’t really enjoy them. The second set was better being more narrative and story-like, but none of them was particularly great. The best was certainly I’m Keith Hernandez, a satirical look at the life of basbeball player Keith Hernandez from the beginning of his career through his appearance on Seinfeld. While this had great energy and some laughs, it was still pretty slight, although the Q&A afterwards by director Rob Perri was pretty damn entertaining and he’s obviously a bright guy.

It was late when we finally got home, I remember being pretty trashed at work the next day.

SIFF Day 5 (King Of Kong, Murch, Fly Filmmaking Challenge)

June 21st, 2007

I expected to enjoy King Of Kong, a documentary about a Redmond man attempting to break the world record score at Donkey Kong. I did not expect it to be my favorite film of the festival, but it was. Easily. It could have been boring, like every other damn doc that showed this year, but it wasn’t because the filmmakers understood the concept that a documentary is more than a collection of facts. A documentary should tell a story. Stories have a structure – beginning, middle, and end. They have drama and passion, something to root for, someone to love and someone to hate. They engage you emotionally. King Of Kong had all these things, and to top it off the movie even has great production values. This gets a release in a couple months and everyone needs to go.

Murch, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It was 90 minutes of legendary film editor Walter Murch (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient), talking about his craft and his days coming up with Coppola and Lucas. I do not mean to imply that this was not interesting, it was. However aside from a couple of editing tricks the filmmakers took absolutely no advantage of the language of cinema to tell their story. In fact there was no story at all, a story has a beginning and middle and end. This may as well have been an audio book. At the post-screening Q&A, co-director Edie Ichioka (herself one of Murch’s assistants) said that the project got off the ground when she was thinking that not only is Murch a very talented editor, but he’s also very articulate about his craft and that this should be captured for posterity while the opportunity presented itself. I was struck by this because so little of the material is unique, and had already been captured for posterity in in the two excellent books by / about Murch (In The Blink Of An Eye and The Conversations respectively. ) What was the point of this film? Couldn’t a more cinematic and interesting approach have been taken? For instance, Murch could be shown actually … I don’t know … editing??

You’ll be really sick of this rant by the end of the fest, I guarantee it.

Our third program of the day was the results of this year’s Fly Filmmaking Challenge. Every year three local filmmakers are presented with a set of guidelines and given ten days to produce a complete ten minute short film (five days for shooting and five for editing.) This year the filmmakers had to choose a topic out of a hat, and they each had to have some kind of product placement involving a specific festival sponsor. The best of these was by far Dayna Hanson’s Rainbow, a view of three teenagers/young adults whose lives intersect in various ways. It’s really just a slice of life with no real narrative (yes I know I’m contradicting what I just said but come on this is a ten minute short) but it had a real sense of place and mood. I was unsurprised to discover later that Hanson is developing it into a feature. High kudos to her DP Sean Porter, the whole piece looked really great.

I was less into the other two pieces. Matt Daniels’ Numb had the advantage of a unique look and high production values with its integration of animation and live action, but it didn’t gel for me and I couldn’t get into its gothic mood. Still, uniqueness and creativity goes a long way towards me cutting a film slack, and I did in this case. Lisa Hardmeyer’s The Bridge just didn’t hit me at all. The photography was flat, the main performance not thrilling, and the story didn’t grab me in any way whatsoever.

Regardless of the films on display, the Q&A was interesting and lively, with many of the filmmakers recounting their own individual problems and creative solutions. Mad props to SIFF for supporting local filmmaking with this program.

SIFF Day 4 (Secret Fest #1, In The Shadow Of The Moon, Rescue Dawn)

June 18th, 2007

So I have pledged that I am going to go through and day by day reconstruct SIFF as if it were still going on until done. This is my pledge to you my reader!

So today was our first film of Secret Fest, and it was probably my least favorite of the four. I will not spoil anything about it, except to say that it was wayyyyy too loud. I almost pulled the earplugs out of my bag, it was that loud. This turned out to be quite commonplace at Egyptian screenings throughout the festival. Even though this was my least favorite of the secrets, I did like a couple of the performances and it held my interest throughout.

Next we joined socialretard for In The Shadow Of The Moon, a documentary about the Apollo program and America’s quest to land a man on the moon. I was somewhat skeptical of this, we’ve all heard this story a hundred times, but I’m interested in the topic so I checked it out. I’m glad I did too because this is extremely well done. At its core it is just a talking heads doc, but it had some fantastic production values including a pile of never-before-seen footage that the production team wrangled out of NASA’s vaults as NASA was preparing to digitally encode it in HD. Much of this footage was somewhat rough, but director David Sington chose not to clean it up. As he said in the Q&A aftyerwards, “Those scratches were made by moon dust! That’s what it was like up there! I’m not cleaning that stuff up.” I agree with this decision. The one noteworthy thing about the film is that Neil Armstrong does not appear, as he is apprently somewhat reclusive and almost never gives interviews. This is kind of cool though, if he had actually appeared in the film he would have overshadowed everyone else whereas now everyone gets their chance to shine.

If there is one negative, its the end of the film in which some of the astronauts go off on a tangent about the current state of affairs in America and trying to make some environmental points. I don’t begrudge them their right to say this stuff, but I made a conscious decision to avoid “issue docs” this year and I was a little peeved to have this stuff pushed in a doc about the moon landings. Even this had a bright side though, as a couple other astronauts were shown discussing their faith and how belief in god drives their life, so at least the choice to include the environmental stuff wasn’t simple liberal kneejerkism on the part of the director. I wish I could say the same about the audience, who actually hissed out loud during stock footage of Richard Nixon giving a speech. Man I really fucking hate Seattle audiences sometimes.

Our final film of the day was one of my most anticipated of the festival, Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. I had been seriously looking forward to this every since reading an incredibly entertaining article about its filming in The New Yorker (sadly not available online.) Rescue Dawn is probably the closest thing we’ll ever see to a big budget Hollywood film from Herzog, a fictionalized remake of his documentary Little Dieter Needs To Fly starring Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. The film looks great, in typical Herzog fashion he dragged his entire crew into the jungles of Thailand, and you can really feel the atmosphere gushing from every frame. Bale and Zahn are both great as well. However I was not a fan at all of the ending, which was just… I won’t say it was wrong, but it really didn’t ring well for me. Especially the final scene was so rah-rah and over the top that it felt like we were watching Independence Day or something. I found it hard to believe this was a Herzog film, it was pretty much the polar opposite to what you would expect from him. It is still worth seeing, but I was prepared to be blown away and was not. <foreshadowing>This is a feeling I would get very used to by the end of SIFF</foreshadowing>

SIFF Day 3 (Waiter, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox, Paris Je T’Aime)

June 3rd, 2007

The day started out badly with Waiter from Denmark, a shoddy entry into the “character in a script comes to life” genre. Lesson From SIFF: When a movie’s description draws a comparison to Charlie Kaufman, stay away. This whole thing has been done to death in the last few years, and far better than this. It is cute the first time but after the fifth time the character bursts into the screenwriter’s apartment yelling about how shitty his life is, I had had enough. This was the first but sadly not the last time I seriously considered walking out on a screening this year. The audience was howling, at what I have no idea. I even had one of those people behind me who would yell “OH NO!” whenever you could see that something was coming. A total waste.

Second up was Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Box, a documentary about the life and family of E.H. Bronner, the guy who makes the soap with the wacky one world messages. I had never heard of this soap until Roya told me about this movie. I mean, I had seen it in supermarkets, I just didn’t know that all the words on it were this huge political rant. This was the second of many documentaries so far that, like the Lisa Gerrard film, had interesting characters and reasonably shoddy filmmaking. I am losing patience with this after a half-dozen or so, and I would have hoped SIFF programmers had set the bar a little higher.

Our third film of the day was the omnibus feature Paris Je T’aime, which featured 20 reasonably to seriously famous filmmakers each making a short film about a specific distrcit in Paris. We got there about a half hour early and noticed that the theatre was already half full of passholders. Then when I went upstairs to the bathroom, I noticed a very long line of about 50 more passholders waiting outside to get in. For those who don’t know, the seating hierarchy at SIFF works like this. Platinum Passholders get guaranteed seating for any film, up until showtime. So they are let in first. Then passholders are let in. A specific number of passholder seats are reserved out of the ticket pool for every film. If that allotment is reached, then the leftover passholders have to wait while the ticketed attendees are let in. After that if there are any empty seats left from no-shows, those seats go to waiting passholders, and if there are no waiting passholders then the seats go to the schlubs in the rush line. Now, the reality is that 95% of the time, the people in the rush line get in, and 99.9% of the time the full series passholders all get in. This was the first time I have ever seen the .1% happen. Apparently one of the passholders threw such a shit fit over not getting in that there was almost a fist fight. Keep in mind that this movie got released to the general public one week after this showing took place.

Anyways, back to the film. I enjoyed some segments more than others, and only about 1/4 were really dull. Top of the list, amazingly, was Alexander Payne, which was a shock to me since I so despised Sideways. I also greatly enjoyed Olivier Assayas’ entry which was probably the only one I could have really picked out of a lineup for its auteurial stamp. Possibly also Tom Tykwer who excelled as well. Certainly worth checking out on DVD.

SIFF Day 2 (An Evening With Lisa Gerrard)

June 1st, 2007

Here we are! The first offical day of SIFF (well, the second day of SIFF but the first day for me.) Only one program tonight, Roya and I made our way down to the SIFF Cinema for An Evening With Lisa Gerrard. This involved a talk with Lisa and then a screening of the documentary Sanctuary: Lisa Gerrard, followed by a Q&A. I predicted many showings at SIFF Cinemae, so before the fest started I shelled out $100 for a parking pass, figuring we’d only have to use it 10 times to break even. It’s very handy.

While walking into the theatre we saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with a color-blindness test on it. This entertained me, since I am in fact red/green colorblind and can not actually read whatever number is on that shirt. I need to get one.

So, Lisa comes out and is being interviewed by Ian Hierons, who I know nothing about. The interview is entertaining enough, and I learned a lot about Lisa’s career and how she works, which was cool since I knew almost nothing about her. I was quite struck by how good natured and relaxed she was, spinning stories and telling jokes, yet at the same time obviously very serious about her music. I had expected something much different. Then she gets up and starts giving a demonstration about how she relaxes herself to begin singing, which was totally enthralling. I always love getting an inside look into how people do what they do, and this was seriously fascinating. I could have listened to more of that for another hour or two.

The movie was interesting from an academic level, providing a lot of insight to me about Gerrard’s career and work. As a piece of filmmaking it was not the greatest, put together in a basic way with unimpressive cinematography and shot choices (barring a really interesting bit with Gerrard singing under a freeway and describing the way that her music is similar to the drone of traffic.) Sadly this is a theme of the first week of SIFF – docs with interesting subjects and uninspired filmmaking.

After the film Gerrard came back for some Q&A. She was incredibly gracious, doing a fantastic job dealing with her over-the-top fanbase and their uncontrolled fawning. Between this event and the concert the night before, she has fallen firmly into the strata of artists that I highly respect even though they might not really be my thing. After SIFF is over I’ll have to give another listen to that Dead Can Dance compilation Roya made for me a while back.

SIFF Press Screenings

June 1st, 2007

Yes, as per usual I’m a week behind on my SIFF rantings. Will try and get caught up here over the weekend. Anyone looking for ratings of the films I’ve seen can peek at my listology list for a rundown.

One of the nice things about being a passhole is that you get access to all the press screenings, effectively extending the festival by three weeks. Of course, I have a job and stuff so I didn’t get to go to many, but I did sneak off for a couple as listed below.

Big Rig (2007, Doug Pray)

A great documentary about the life of long-haul truckers. Interviews with a wide swath of people, covering all races and backgrounds, all giving their perspective on what it means to be a truck driver and what drew them to the job. It is one of those docs that gives you a new perspective on the people around you as well as educates about a profession I personally knew very little about. The only real drawback was it was a little on the long side with a few truckers overlapping each other too much. Still well worth seeing, and it looks fantastic. Great cinematography and use of graphics. This made me want to go back and check out all of Pray’s docs I’ve passed up on over the years.

This Is England (2006, Shane Meadows)

I first heard of Meadows at SIFF 2005 where I saw his revenge flick Dead Man’s Shoes on a lark as a space filler one afternoon. I loved the first half of the film, which is frenetic and confusing (in a good way), but it lost me in the second half when it falls more into conventional melodrama. This Is England is much better, a coming of age story set in early 80s England. The performances are all top notch, and the story feels very real. I was unsurprised to discover that a great deal of it was based on Meadows’ own experiences. The film also has a great deal to say about the times in which we live, without being preachy or beating you over the head with it. When this was over I couldn’t believe it had been two hours (I keep remembering this later on in the fest, as various crappy 90 minute films feel like they will never end.) Well worth seeking out, it gets a limited release stateside in July.

One really great thing about the press screenings is that the audiences are extremely well behaved for the most part. After seeing two great movies in a half-empty hall amongst a respectful populace, I had very high hopes for the rest of the festival. Stay tuned to find out if those hopes were validated or dashed…

IT’S ON

May 11th, 2007

passhole

Yes, it’s true. This year, I am a passhole.

Dust

May 8th, 2007

This shit is gonna look tight as a mother once its not like… broken and whatnot. New look for SIFF ’07 coming soon. Oh look it was fixed once I made a new post. Still might be up and down while i play wiht it

Satantango (1994, Bela Tarr)

December 7th, 2006

Yeah, my ass did kind of hurt for a couple days afterwards.

But seriously folks, I did really enjoy my viewing of Bela Tarr’s infamously long epic. It was different than I expected in a few ways. First off, I really expected sort of a Hungarian Hou Hisao-hsien or Tsai Ming-liang film, with very long and very static shots. The long shots part is correct, but the film is anything but static. It is in fact very cinematic, with tons fluid beautiful camera movement, and an incredibly expressive soundtrack. You may be following two people walking down the street for five minutes wherein they say absolutely nothing, but it is gorgeous and captivating. Tarr really does a great job allowing you to fall into this semi-hypnotic mood with these long shots, but never making them feel boring or dead as is the problem with a lot of modern Asian art cinema.
I also expected it to be very static plot-wise, however it is crushingly emotional and extremely engaging. It even has actual intrigue and thriller-esque sections. The acting is superb throughout.

There were two directors I was constantly reminded of throughout the viewing. One is Tarkovsky, despite the fact that while both directors establish the same kind of eerie calm, their journeys are quite different. The other is Denmark’s Roy Andersson, whose Songs From The Second Floor was clearly heavily influenced by Tarr.

So despite the ass-numbing and heavy time commitment I am extremely happy to have made the effort for a film that I can’t imaging having half the impact in another environment. There was one viewing-related bummer though. Northwest Film Forum chose to show the film with three intermissions (ten minutes, 45 minutes, ten minutes.) The first ten minute intermission was placed at a HORRIBLE spot (right after the doctor knocks over his bookcase for those interested) which really broke up the mood. The middle one was utterly perfect, I don’t see how you could possibly not take a break there, and the third one was good too falling between chapters. I’m curious how other screenings break up the film.