Friday, August 4, 2017

The Little Hours

Aubrey Plaza is as vile and rude in person as one might expect. Or maybe she just enjoys channeling a 14th century degenerate nun with tendencies toward pagan sacrifice, drunken cursing, and torture of innocent mutes. Either way, she will make you feel as uncomfortable on screen as she made me in person.

The substance of The Little Hours, inspired by selections from Boccaccio’s Black Plague-era classic The Decameron and shot on location in the rustic hills of northwest Tuscany, illustrates the huge gap between how we perceive the clergy of the Middle Ages today compared to what actually took place.

But what does the title "Little Hours" mean? Plaza explained that they are the fixed daytime hours of prayer at the convent, or in the Divine Office of Christians. They're "little" due to their shorter and simpler structure compared to the "Night Hours". Much of this post is plagiarized from the film's production notes.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2017
Country: USA
Language: English
Genres: Comedy
Rating: 7/10

SIFF
IMDB

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Ghost Story

A singer-songwriter (Casey Affleck) dies and becomes a ghost. Instead of crossing over to wherever a ghost should go, he chooses to return home and haunt the house where he and his wife (Rooney Mara) once lived. He really liked that house even though it was a rental, and regularly fought with Rooney about whether they would someday move.

Actually, I don't know whether the couple was married or not. I don't even remember their names, and neither IMDB nor the film's official web site feel the need to disclose that information at this time.

Frankly, it doesn't matter though. This is a quiet film without much dialogue in which a person wearing a white bed sheet (it really is Casey under the sheet) stands around watching time pass and all traces of his existence slip away. Time passes first in seconds, then in days, then months, years, and eventually centuries -- not always in the forward direction. There are skyscrapers and indians, covered wagons and arrow-riddled settlers. Because the ghost isn't able (or possibly willing) to move from its physical location, changes in time are what provide us changes in scenery.

And then there's the 5 minute continuous shot of Rooney Mara eating a pie. If you choose to watch this movie, and you should, try to hang in there until at least shortly after the pie scene without giving up and changing the channel.

This is not a horror film, though the director did consider that option. This is not a comedy, though there are a couple of really funny moments. I did not give away the entire plot in this synopsis, because there really isn't much of a plot (the script was only about 30 pages). This is an experience and opportunity to reflect on the ideas presented, not so much a story.

Side note: The movie's musical score and songs are very good.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2017
Country: USA
Language: English
Genres: Drama, Fantasy?
Rating: 7/10

SIFF
IMDB

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Odyssey

In June of 1979, Phillippe Cousteau died during a high speed taxi of his PBY sea plane, the Calypso II. His death is one of the opening scenes of this film. After that, things rewind to Phillippe's childhood, and we follow his life until the inevitable funeral.

It's likely that many of the people reading this blog don't even know who Jacque Cousteau is. That's one of the problems with history, how quickly people are forgotten. But this movie is full of history that you probably never knew!

Never knew, that is, unless you've seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The Life Aquatic was a comedy written and directed by Wes Anderson, starring Bill Murray and the whole gang, and was released in 2004. The Odyssey is a "serious" version of that previously "funny" film. The Odyssey does not make fun of Jacque Cousteau's catering to investors, or his obsession with churning out underwater films at a staggering rate, or his high volume of womanizing, or his forcing the Calypso's crew to wear red, stocking hats all of the time.

Amélie plays Jacque's wife, and she's bitter.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2017
Country: France
Language: French
Genres: Drama, Biopic
Rating: 7/10

SIFF
IMDB

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Weirdos

Set in 1976 on the 4th of July, this is possibly Canada's re-interpretation of Midnight Cowboy. The film opens with a 15 year old boy named Kit packing a small suitcase and setting out from a small town in Novia Scotia. With his girlfriend Alice in tow, the goal is to hitchhike to Sydney and take up residence with his estranged mother. And she is pretty strange when we finally get to meet her. Actually, she's a very depressed, alcoholic, artist who needs quite a bit of help, highly unstable and not someone that would make a good parent (we're guessing that's why Kit's parents are divorced).

I haven't given away the whole plot yet, but it's not hard to see what's coming. For example, when your 15 year old girl friend keeps complaining that the two of you haven't gotten around to having sex yet, and glares at you when you talk to cute boys that seem to fascinate you, well... you get the picture. In terms of a teen coming of age film, it's quite good and I wouldn't be surprised if it takes the festival's audience award this year. The two leads are played by Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone. Oh, and then there's Kit's imaginary "spirit animal" guide who gives Kit advice during this odyssey.
The guide is played by Andy Warhol.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2017
Country: Canada
Language: English
Genres: Drama, Comedy, Gay, Coming of Age
Rating: 7/10

SIFF
IMDB
Holdfast Pictures

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

This year, we're returning to core values -- only short, decisive synopses of a film's most important attributes. No more drunk history about a movie's genesis, no more gushing all over an actress's blouse and achievements. Just the cold, hard facts.

In this long awaited remake of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, John Lithgow plays an unscrupulous real estate developer. One who believes that the death of our world is inevitable, that we should embrace self annihilation and live life to its fullest, by kicking octopuses up and down the pier until they're dead, and make no apologies.

Beatriz, played by Salma Hayek, is a practitioner of alternative medicines. She's a Californian nowadays, but is originally from some place in Mexico that I can't even spell or pronounce. She works in a clinic, primarily with cancer patients. Her life is a futile war against suffering and death, and she literally can feel a person's pain.

This is an unsettling and depressing film. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the hinted-at history that ties Lithgow and Hayek to one another. There are unexplained goat fatalities. See it for the acting and not the answers, which are missing.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2017
Country: USA
Language: English
Genres: Drama
Rating: 6/10

SIFF
IMDB
Roadside Attractions

Saturday, May 30, 2015

SIFF 2015 Batch #1

Paris of the North

Iceland, 2/5
An unremarkable Icelandic film about a primary school teacher on his summer vacation. The film's main message seems to be "Get the hell out of Iceland while you still can." Trying to cope with recent abandonment by a girlfriend, Hugi spends his ample free time either jogging down deserted streets or attending a member-run substance abuse support group.

Flowers

Spain, 3/5
Flowers are given on many occasions and for only one reason. When words are not possible, people give flowers. Whether to express desire, remembrance or painful regret, beautiful bouquets fill this film with vibrant color and communicate the characters' thoughts and feelings. Even beyond the grave, a person's memory coupled with pretty flora can bring together complete strangers to build unlikely human relationships.

Margarita with a Straw

India, 4/5
This girl from India with cerebral palsy will make you feel like a complaining, lazy, sack of potatoes. Parallel to her studies, she's the lyricist for a band from school. But Laila wants to study abroad, and ends up attending NYU where she takes a girlfriend, discovers she's bisexual, and eventually gets hooked on margaritas.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tracks

I expected this to be the story of a young girl feverish with idealism and countless flashbacks of events and experiences that drove her to flee civilization in favor of desolation. Not so much though.

Before the story even begins, Robyn's family has fallen apart. After her mother's suicide, Robyn's father is deemed unable to care for her. After subsequent isolation by time spent in boarding school, Robyn gives little explanation for her plans to cross the Australian Outback on foot. We know that her father explored the African continent during the 20's and 30's, and surely his stories fired a child's curiosity and sense of adventure. The screenplay doesn't portray Robyn's endeavor as a rash decision, but instead as a lengthy process of training feral camels and preparing for the trip.

Based on a best selling memoir by the same name, "Tracks" follows real-life Robyn Davidson's 9 month, 1700 mile journey from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. In 1977, she set out with funding from National Geographic ($4000) and help from a photo journalist named Rick Smolan. According to Robyn, sponsorship felt unnatural but she really needed the money for the walkabout to succeed. As for the trip itself, National Geographic influenced the route -- The magazine wanted a beginning, middle and end, not items high on Robyn's list of importance. But maybe part of "succeeding" in life is realizing that you need to make compromises. In an interview, she noted that one of her goals in going to the desert was "to try to understand some aspects of Aboriginal culture". For a part of her trek, she's accompanied by one of the tribal elders as she crosses through sacred areas.

Given this is a mostly historical account, we know that Robyn completes the trip. The photographer (played by Adam Driver) sent by National Geographic to document the journey first strikes me as bit annoying and manipulative. But then we get to know him a little better, and he's both a passionate and supportive cohort. By the the end of the film he seems more invested in Robyn's success than she is, going thousands of miles out of his way to deliver water cans along her trek through the desert.

More interesting than anything else is what this film taught me about feral camels in Australia. I had no idea there were so many. Thousands of dromedary camels were imported from India and other eastern countries during the period of 1870 to 1900. They were mostly used for riding and heavy work during the colonization of central and western Australia, however when automobiles arrived at the beginning of the 20th century, many were released into the wild. Today there are thought to be about 300,000 roaming the country.

The cinematography is the first and foremost reason to see this film, but acting is a close second. Mia Wasikowska was Robyn's first choice for the actress to portray her. I'm also impressed with the screen writing, it doesn't play at all like a true story. Somewhere out there is a forgotten, May 1978 issue of National Geographic sitting on someone's bookshelf, with photos taken by Rick and an article written by Robyn.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2014
Country: Australia
Language: English
Genres: Drama
Rating: 7/10

SIFF
Official Site
IMDB
Production Notes