Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Micmacs

It's the timeless re-telling of a tale involving two warring crime families who have been pitted against each other by a third party. The third party seeks revenge for the murder of his father and mother. No wait ... that's the plot of Lucky Number Slevin I'm describing. Micmacs is very similar, just substitute "weapons arms manufacturers" for "crime families" and you'll have a good idea of how the story unfolds.

I like some of the sets used in this film which could be described as toy box fantasies for children. Perhaps I was distracted by all of the shiny objects, but the movie's character development seemed shallow and briefly touched upon. One of the actresses, Julie Ferrier, has an onscreen physical presence that I don't often see nowadays. She reminds me a little of Giulietta Masina in the 1954 film La strada. Jean-Pierre Jeunet also directed Amélie and Delicatessen.

My counts may be a little off, but here are some statistics of what you can expect to see:

2+ scenes featuring a mime imitating robot movement
2+ scenes of a contortionist hiding in a refrigerator
2+ scenes involving anti-personnel landmines
lots of A-Team-like stunts in which no one is physically injured

Venue: Egyptian Threatre, Seattle WA
Genre: Crime comedy w/romantic overtones
Mood: Surreal and quirky
Screen size: Any
Language: French w/English subtitles
Rating: 3.0/5

Official Site
IMDB

Friday, June 25, 2010

Soul Kitchen

Zinos Kazantsakis runs a small diner in his Hamburg warehouse. The bags of frozen chicken patties and french fries he serves probably come from a local grocery store or Costco (if they have any of those in Germany). His business model is simple, give the customers what they want. It gave me hope about starting my own restaurant someday, all you need is a microwave, deep fat fryer, and a few big refrigerators! But sanitation conditions aren't good, and the health department is breathing down his neck, demanding bribes or they'll close down his restaurant.

In steps Zinos's ex-con brother who needs a job in order to stay out of prison. Zinos's girlfriend tells him she's moving to China, and he's thrown out his back. No longer able to cook, it looks like the end of the business. It's one problem after another, but despite all of these obstacles I wasn't left feeling hopeless. Go figure.

This is the third film I've seen from Director Faith Akin. It is not at all like the serious dramas of his I've watched in the past, but based on my limited exposure I would characterize him as one of the most promising and original directors working today. His 2007 movie The Edge of Heaven is one of my all time favorites.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Romantic comedy
Mood: Humorous and heartfelt
Screen size: Any
Language: German and Greek w/English subtitles
Rating: 3.5/5

SIFF
IMDB

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cairo Time

Juliette runs a magazine in the U.S. and misses her husband. Tareq owns a coffee shop in Cairo, but used to work for Juliette's husband at the U.N. Juliette hasn't seen her husband in a long time, so she flies to Cairo to spend time with him, however he's off on assignment in another country and she's left to attend embassy functions alone. Juliette seeks out Tareq, who is kind enough to show her the sites. There is no sex, so don't get your hopes up, but you know where all of this is heading.

I heard someone call this a "chick flick" while standing at the bus stop after the movie. I really don't know what a chick flick is, but the phrase offends me. Perhaps it's a slow-paced story with romantic overtones, beautiful cinematography, and not a lot of kick boxing or gun fire? By that definition, I agree it was a chick flick.

This was made on location, and there are lots of exterior shots and panoramas of Cairo (which are beautiful). One of the audience thanked the director for filming it in Egypt. I guess other cities are often substituted for Egypt in movies, partially because it's difficult to get permits and a censor is assigned to each project. The Egyptian government is worried about exposing the filth and poverty of the city to western audiences.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Romantic Drama
Mood: Neutral
Screen size: Bigger is better
Language: English
Rating: 3.75/5

SIFF
IMDB

Cargo

Set in earth's future, a young doctor-type woman hires onto a large cargo ship to earn extra money so she can afford moving to a newly colonized planet where her sister's family awaits. The cargo ship is rickety, weathered, and unremarkable. Its destination is roughly 4 years away at some space station with a high number for a name (25 maybe?). The earth is no longer habitable and humans are working "hard" to colonize other worlds. Everybody lives in dismal conditions on huge, overcrowded, rotating cities that orbit the earth.

For a low-budget outer space flick, it wasn't bad. There was nothing original or compelling in this film though. The premise, characters, plot development and interwoven themes struck me as a collage of other sci-fi works from years past (The Matrix and Wall-E are just a couple that come to mind). The acting was adequate, not phenomenal. The ending was goofy, if not predictable. But for a low-budget outer space flick, ....

Maybe the film is best described by a list of keyword phrases:

sky marshall
secret mission
virtual reality
naive doctor
hyper-sleep
long voyage
misunderstood terrorists
robin hood
environmental disaster
unknown cargo

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Sci-fi suspense thriller
Mood: Suspenseful and sleepy
Screen size: Bigger is better
Language: German w/English subtitles
Rating: 3/5

SIFF
IMDB

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Countdown to Zero

It's a reminder that nuclear weapons are still a threat. Those of us that grew up during the last of the cold war have seen these warnings many times before, but it makes you realize that as long as countries keep refining uranium, there are people who will use it and it will eventually get used. There are lots of short interviews with famous individuals and political leaders. Three possible avenues to detonation of nuclear weapons are contemplated throughout: accident, miscalculation, or madness. Personally, I vote for madness, the other two choices just sound dull.

I liked the cinematography more than anything else. The production quality was good. It was the second film from director Lucy Walker I watched at this year's festival (the first being 'Waste Land'). She also made the 2002 documentary Devil's Playground which I highly recommend.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Documentary
Mood: Worrying
Screen size: Any
Language: English
Rating: 2.5/5

SIFF
IMDB

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hipsters

It's a Russian musical about jazz music and hipster clothing, teenage exploration of alternate lifestyles, general rebellion against the party line, all taking place during the 1950's. This is a really fun film, something I don't believe I've ever said before about a Russian movie. The colorful costumes, swinging music, and characters' energy are emotionally uplifting.

This was winner of the audience award for best Feature Narrative at the 2009 Anchorage International Film Festival, a festival whose motto is "Films worth freezing for". It also looks like it won most of the 2009 Golden Eagle Awards from the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Russia, an organization whose motto could be "Титульная страница" but I can't really tell because their entire web site is in Russian.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Coming of age, musical drama
Mood: Rebellious and colorful
Screen size: Bigger is better
Language: Russian w/English subtitles
Rating: 4/5

SIFF
IMDB

Winter's Bone

You're a 17 year old high school student. Your family is dirt poor, your father has jumped bail and disappeared, your mother is catatonic, and you have two young siblings to take care of. You'd like to run away and join the army, but that ain't gonna happen. If that's not bad enough, everyone in your neighborhood is in the drug trade of manufacturing crank. No, this isn't the slums of a big city, this is the Ozarks. Oh, and did I mention that the bail bond company is about to evict your family from their home?

One of the best entries at this year's SIFF, it's been making rounds at the other big festivals as well (Sundance, Berlin, Palm Beach, SXSW, etc). It's scheduled to get a limited USA release starting on June 11th. According to the Landmark Theaters web site, Los Angeles is the only place it's currently playing.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Thriller
Mood: Tense and bleak
Screen size: Any
Language: English
Rating: 4.5/5

SIFF
IMDB

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Land of the Deaf

A boyfriend's gambling addiction and debt manages to ensnare a young woman in the world of organized crime. Held as collateral while her boyfriend slips out to raise the money he owes the casino, Rita begins regretting her decision to try and help. Moments later, a deaf stripper named Yaya appears to help Rita escape the floating card palace and an unlikely friendship is born. With Yaya as her often untruthful guide, Rita begins exploring new careers in prostitution and informing for deaf gangsters.

Director Valery Todorovsky was on hand to answer questions, but I did not stay for the Q&A. That's not entirely true, I overheard the first question as I was leaving the theater... Question: "Was the time period when this movie takes place the beginning of crime in Russia?" Moderator's response: "I think they had crime before that in Russia."

This film was winner of SIFF’s 1998 New Directors Showcase competition, years before I ever started going to the festival.  Even though it's over a decade old, I can find nowhere to rent or buy the DVD.  This year, director Valeriy Todorovskiy has returned to Seattle with the new musical Hipsters which I highly recommend.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Drama comedy
Mood: Backwards and inside out
Screen size: Any
Language: Russian w/English subtitles
Rating: 3.5/5

SIFF
IMDB

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Apparently, insects are big in Japan. Literally, they're very big. The giant beetles, dragonflies, butterflies and moths in this film are fascinating, whereas the giant hornets are just plain scary.

'Beetle Queen' is part of the SIFF's experimental category. It's more an experience than a recognizable plot. Through visual observation, we learn a little bit about the pet insect market in Japan, and how it's lucrative enough to finance the purchase of a Ferrari. We see how people copy bugs with their helicopters, umbrellas, etc. It made me wonder if bugs aren't better pets than animals with respect to the environment.

The movie's running time needs shortening, perhaps a reduction from 90 to 70 minutes.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Experimental Documentary
Mood: Happy and philosophical
Screen size: Any
Language: Japanese and English w/English subtitles
Rating: 2.5/5

SIFF
IMDB

Waste Land

An artist (Vik Muniz) known for creating portraits out of a variety of materials returns to his native home of Brazil to photograph garbage. Vik hires waste pickers from the world's largest landfill (Jardim Gramacho) to collect artifacts from the dump and lay them out on a warehouse floor so that they can be photographed. The photographs are eventually shown in a local museum and flown to London to be sold at auction.

This film is more about the lives of the pickers than it is about art. The pickers are given a chance to step outside of their unappreciated, low income lives and be part of an artist's creative process.  After Vik leaves to go home, will the pickers be better off?  You'll have to see the film and decide for yourself.

There was a documentary a few years back called 'Manufactured Landscapes' that contained footage of enormous landfills in China.  Viewed from a distance, the color, scale and repetition of the waste was beautiful.  I really wish there were more landfills in the world, and that none of us recycled, because there would be more raw material to use for making art...

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Documentary
Mood: Cautiously positive
Screen size: Bigger is better
Language: Portuguese and English w/English subtitles
Rating: 4/5

SIFF
IMDB

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cell 211

A prison riot traps a new guard inside the cell block with murderers and psychopaths and his only choice is to pretend he's one of the prisoners in order to survive. And somehow, his young pregnant wife (who lives nowhere near the prison) manages to get entangled in all of this--I'm still scratching my head about that "twist".

The plot is predictable and the characters are simple, but I liked it.

Was the movie better because it was spoken in Spanish and had a cast of foreign actors I've never heard of? If 'Cell 211' had been in English with a well known American cast, would I have liked it less? Perhaps we're sometimes more forgiving to foreign films, and perhaps a re-release of Event Horizon dubbed into Italian could be this summer's comedy hit. Afterall, it was pretty funny the first time around (seriously).

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2010
Genre: Action Drama
Mood: Suspenseful
Screen size: Any
Language: Spanish w/English subtitles
Rating: 4/5

SIFF
IMDB