Saturday, June 1, 2013

SIFF 2013 Batch #1

As we enter the 17th day of this year's Seattle International Film Festival, I present to you some quick observations of movies I've screened so far. Whether it's been our careful selection of what we chose to attend, or the overall quality of festival entries, most of what I've sat through has been very entertaining.

A few notes about the scoring system this time:

> 5 : worth seeing
= 5 : take it or leave it
< 5 : don't bother

ScoreTitleWhat's it about?
5/10A Gun In Each HandMiddle-aged men, most of whom have been through a divorce, lack the ability to communicate with their spouses or even other men. It feels like a series of dramatic shorts, tied together by everyone ending up at the same dinner party toward the film's conclusion.
6/10After LuciaAfter her mother's tragic death, a teenage girl moves to Mexico City and enrolls in a new high school. Her father, still riddled with grief, attempts to start a new job as a chef. Neither endeavor goes well. The father quits, and the daughter is abused by her "friends" after a video of her having sex with one of the other students is uploaded to the Internet. She is beaten, raped, urinated on, and force fed a disgusting birthday cake by her sadistic classmates.
6/10Atraco!In mid-50s Madrid, loyalists of exiled Argentinean president Juan Peron try raising money for his relocation to Spain by pawning the jewelry of the president's late spouse Evita. When Franco's wife falls in love with gems, Peron's men are obliged to steal the jewelry back before Carmen can add them to her collection. Bumbling antics ensue.
5/10ByzantiumA luke warm story about 2 female vampires (mother and daughter) who are bored out of their minds after living for only 200 years. They are pursued by a male brotherhood of blood suckers who intend to punish the women for their violations against the vampire code of conduct. Apparently it's not okay to make a female vampire, and definitely not okay for a vampire to have children.
7/10Ernest & CelestineMice are the tooth fairies who a steal everyone's deciduous teeth in this charming, off-beat, French tale about tolerance, art and a bear that commits a series of heinous crimes.
5/10Forbidden VoicesFemale bloggers from Cuba, Iran and China speak out about the totalitarian regimes that control their countries. Their reward is physical beating, arrest, and imprisonment. But these women, often the only eyes and ears on the ground, are helping to draw attention from western powers and place pressure on repressive governments to change.
6/10Goltzius and the Pelican CompanyAn unapologetically pretentious film from director Peter Greenaway about a troupe of writer-actors who take to the stage to re-enact six of the sexual taboos from the Christian Old Testament. If you have any aversion to strong language, nudity or bodily function, you might want to skip this movie. Otherwise, the visuals are incredible, so enjoy!
5/10I Declare WarWar is not a democracy, there are rules of engagement, and there is a chain of command that must be followed. In the woods behind their houses, a group of young teens have been playing long running games of capture the flag for quite some time. The latest battle turns into a bloody coup when one army's general is murdered by a soldier under his own command. And then their's the new girl, who seems to have an agenda completely detached from the game's actual objective. The movie is original, whimsical and humorous. Everything is make-believe, except for the guns; They do give the kids real machine guns so that they don't have to go around saying "bang-bang".
6/10In a World...In a world of movie trailers and voice overs, Don Lafontaine was the king. Since Don's passing, no one has used the phrase "In a world..." to introduce a film, but all of that is about to change. It's a pro-feminist flick.
7/10In the FogThis is the story of three men: a saint, a doubter, and a villain. Set in western Russia during World War II occupation by Germany, a group of railroad workers sabotage the tracks of a passenger train and are hanged for their crime. One member of the group (the saint) is set free by the Germans, thus painting him a collaborator and traitor. The saint is being used as bait to draw out the resistance.
6/10JinJin is a Kurdish freedom fighter and she's tired of fighting. One night in the mountains of Turkey, she hugs a female comrade goodbye and disappears into the night, abandoning her unit and heading for civilization, perhaps to visit her uncle. Director Reha Erdem is known for visually stunning films, and this is no exception. What is disturbing to me about this story is that almost every man Jin encounters tries to rape her. Civilized people are more barbaric than wild animals, but that shouldn't be a surprise.
5/10LastingIt's hard to make a relationship last, especially when you're a college student whose boyfriend has killed a man and you've just found out that you're pregnant. A boy and girl chance to meet and fall in love during one of their summers working on a farm in Spain. We learn how normality can be turned upside down by a single, unforeseen event.
7/10Much Ado About NothingJoss Whedon decided to celebrate completing one of the most successful super-hero movies of all time by filming a movie with his longtime collaborators in his own home. A literal and yet very modern adaptation of the Shakespeare classic, the movie shows off the actors' depth of understanding of the material and expert comedic timing.
7/10PopulaireA romantic comedy about a French girl from a small town during the 50's who dreams of becoming a secretary. Her one qualification, other than good looks, is that she can type. For no reason I can discern, the girl's new boss begins training her to compete in speed typing contests. It's a fun flick, good comedic dialogue and timing, not the least bit heavy.
5/10Putzel Walter Himmelstein (affectionately known as Putzel) plans to take over the family business when his uncle retires, a smoked fish shop that he grew up working in. However, Walter's uncle is experiencing what appears to be a mid-life crisis, so it's unclear for much of the film who the fish shop will actually be sold to. And then there's the bartender that both Walter and his uncle fall in love with. None of these characters are worth caring about.
3/10ShadowedA group of 20-something friends hike into the forest on a two day camping trip and are all murdered, one by one. Go figure. The camera and sound are alright, but the dialog, acting and directing could use some help. This was a Kickstarter project. Hopefully it was a good learning experience for the film makers. Just to make it clear, this is not my least favorite film at this year's festival.
8/10Stories We TellCanadian writer/director Sarah Polley ruthlessly interrogates family and friends to try and uncover the identity of her real father. This film is a documentary, and I jest about her ruthlessness. The story is cleverly constructed using firsthand interviews as well as reenactments of past events by actors filmed with a Super-8 camera.
9/10The Broken Circle BreakdownEven if you can't understand Dutch and don't like reading subtitles, the musical soundtrack in this feature is well worth your time. Basically, it's a boy meets girl story. Elise runs a tattoo shop in a little Belgian town. Didier plays banjo in a bluegrass band and idealizes America. Elise joins Didier's band, the two fall in love and have a little girl. Unfortunately, their daughter becomes extremely ill which causes Elise and Didier's relationship to fall apart.
8/10The DaughterAfter the murder of 6 girls in a small town, Russian police still have no leads on the perpetrator. The story revolves around a young woman named Inna whose new friend Misha falls victim to the killer. Shortly after her friend's death, Inna's father confesses the identity of the murderer to the town priest, but of course the priest is bound by confessional confidentiality and cannot inform the police, even though one of the victims was his own daughter. What a dilemma.
7/10The Fifth SeasonA small farming community gathers together to celebrate the coming end of winter. The townsfolk perform a pagan dance, fabricate an effigy of old man winter, try and convict him, and then place him atop a giant pile of discarded christmas trees that they intend to light on fire. But the wood won't burn. The gods refuse to accept the sacrifice.
7/10The Fruit HuntersThere are more varieties of fruit on this planet than one person could sample in a lifetime, and some of these plants grow only in a sole micro-ecosystem. This is a well rounded documentary that follows the people and organizations who try to preserve fruit species in the face of deforestation and urban sprawl. It also addresses the pitfalls of big business monoculture.
6/10The Spectacular NowSome people aren't able to live in the here and now, but not high school senior Sutter Keely. Sutter's problems are that he has absolutely no plan for the future, and that he's an alcoholic. After being dumped by his steady girlfriend, Sutter awakens the next morning on a stranger's front lawn to find Aimee the neighborhood paper girl staring down on him. Aimee isn't like his last beau, she's geeky and nice. For the remainder of the film, we get to see Sutter's life slowly disintegrate while he helps turn Aimee into a lush.
8/10What Maisie KnewA 7 year old girl is repeatedly forgotten, misplaced and devalued by her narcissistic parents during a bitter divorce battle. Read the full review here.

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