SIFF: The Landing

Sat, Jun. 10th, 2017 07:53 am
scarlettina: (Default)
Last night's SIFF film: The Landing, a faux documentary about Apollo 18, the last moon mission. (Actually, Apollo 18 never happened. It was cancelled.) The film posits an unplanned landing not in the Pacific Ocean, but in China, and explores the question of how two of the three astronauts died. Was it the result of accidental poisoning, or were they murdered?

The filmmakers did a terrific job of nearly convincing me that all of this actually happened, of portraying what happens when mystery clouds an event, and how conspiracy theories are born. Some of the narrative was downright eerie, given talk of silent collusion with the Russians and putting people in charge who don't know what they're doing.

What adds verisimilitude is that the film started out as a short about the murder that was made 20 years ago. The filmmakers took that short, got all the actors together in the last two years and shot the documentary footage. What that means is that you've got the actors when they were young acting out the moon shot, and the actors when they're older talking about the shot as if it actually happened. It's incredibly clever.

The directors and some of the actors were on hand after the film to answer questions and they talked about their process. One of the two directors talked about his discomfort with the timing of the film's release given all the talk of fake news in the media these days. He talked about the ease with which they were able to make false things look true. They discussed how they made all the documentation--hours of photoshop. And they discussed how much of the more recent footage was improvised--no scripts, just the actors finding the characters again and talking about what happened all those years ago.

I don't know if this film will get a wide release, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It had the feel of one of those conspiracy theory docs you see on History Channel. At the end, when the director polled the audience, the group was split between those who thought the surviving astronaut was a murderer and those who thought he didn't do it. If you get a chance to see it, I recommend it. Lots of fun.

------------

Note: I have two other SIFF films that I've yet to review. I'm skipping those for the moment because this one is still so fresh in my mind. Will get to those later. And I have one more film to see tomorrow before the festival ends.
scarlettina: (Default)
The Odyssey: A French biopic about inventor/explorer Jacques Cousteau. Nicely shot, well-paced, with some beautiful underwater photography, the film concentrates almost more on Cousteau's personal life than it does on his career, which makes for an interesting personal take on his story. I learned things I didn't know about Cousteau, as well as about his son Philippe, an award-winning cinematographer. Good film; glad I saw it.

Divine Divas: A documentary about eight groundbreaking drag stars in Brazil, their lives, their careers, and their return to the Rival Theater, where they got started, for the venue's 50th anniversary. Directed by the theater's owner, Leandra Leal, an actress and star in her own right, the film includes stories of her growing up in the theater and her memories of these performers in their youth. The movie has a certain sweetness about it. I admit, however, that I found it about 20-30 minutes too long, and some of the subtitles clearly lost something in translation which made this, for me, a little bit of a jumble. SIFF's description of the film describes it as an award-winner, so perhaps different eyes will see it differently.

SIFF 2017 so far

Mon, May. 29th, 2017 09:02 am
scarlettina: (Default)
Here are reviews of the films I've seen so far (links go to the SIFF listing and trailers as available), and then a request for opinions of possible film choices after:

MENASHE, about a Hassidic widower who is so bereft that even after a year he just can't get his life together. His year of mourning is ending, he's having trouble keeping his job, he hasn't been able to bring himself to find another wife, and his son's being cared for my his late wife's family who don't think much of him. He's fighting to keep his son and needs to find a way to prove to everyone around him that he's a capable father and can live up to the standards of his community. It's a bittersweet story, filmed entirely in Yiddish, and really beautifully done. I recognized just enough of the language to know that the subtitles were covering the basics, but that some nuances were lost. Even with those lost nuances of dialog, the actors' faces are so eloquent that the words almost weren't necessary. I found myself understanding Menashe's pain and feeling very sad about his choices in the end, even though they were the only choices he could make and ultimately were the right ones. A very effective film and very much worth seeing. A good way to start the festival.

BYE BYE GERMANY, starring Moritz Bleibtreu, whom I've seen in other films shown at SIFF and whom I like quite a bit. Based on true events, the story follows David Bermann, a cool, smartly-dressed and ever-so-smooth linen salesman, in Frankfurt after WWII. He's survived a concentration camp, lost his family, and is trying to move on. When he applies for a business license, he finds himself being interrogated about how he survived. At times funny, at times deeply grim, I ultimately found the film very satisfying. Bleibtreu, as always, is terrific, and it was interesting to learn another untold story of the Holocaust.

THE FARTHEST, a documentary about the Voyager planetary probes, their design, their mission, the people who designed and built them, and what they've achieved thus far. I'm kind of a documentary junkie, and I have to say that this is one of the best docs I've ever seen: moving, exciting, educational and inspiring. It gave me chills listening to scientists talking about their passion, their wonder in this epic project they undertook and reviewing pictures we've all seen now with new eyes and a clearer understanding of the weight of the accomplishment. Look for for this doc on PBS in the coming year. It's well worth seeing.

THE OSIRIS CHILD: SCIENCE FICTION VOLUME ONE, an old-school Australian science fiction movie which starts by giving you the idea that the fate of a world hangs in the balance, but which, in truth, is the story of a father and child caught up in events they can't control. It's Road Warrior meets The Searchers meets a generic convict-with-a-heart-of-gold-on-the-run film. I found it a little uneven but I still enjoyed it. The monsters in the film aren't quite what one expects, the special effects are terrific, especially given the low budget and in the end, there's a nice little twist that makes quite a bit of what came before totally worth the watch. Overall it was a satisfying entertainment.

More to come as I see more festival films. In the meanwhile, I need to shuffle my schedule around a bit and so am looking for comments about the following films, if any of my SIFF cohort here on DW has seen them, specifically:

  • What Lies Upstream

  • Fermented

  • Borders

  • Backpack Full of Cash


TTFN!
scarlettina: (Rainy Day)
Dr. Strange: Saw the movie last night in the company of SA. Absolutely stunning visually. Interesting, compelling origin story. Cumberbatch, Ejiofor, Swinton and Mikkelsen were all terrific. I love Ejiofor's diction and delivery; I could listen to him forever. I also loved--in a peculiar way--the make-up effects used on the eyes of Dormammu's zealots. It was so effective that I found myself rubbing my own eyes after the movie was over to make sure I hadn't somehow assimilated that distressing look. Hated the made-up names Mordo and Dormammu. They are holdovers from the comics and weird attempts to create exotic-sounding names. Something about them bugs the hell out of me. But these are the only things that bugged me about an otherwise entertaining film that is absolutely delicious to the eyes, both in terms of the visual effects and the male leads. Cumberbatch's cheekbones could cut glass.

The holiday season: I'm having trouble assimilating the idea that Thanksgiving is this Thursday. I saw my first Santa Claus of the season yesterday, in context of a mall Santa photo set-up, and it felt anachronistic somehow, as if I were seeing a Santa in the middle of July. But then this whole year has felt bad and wrong, truncated and surreal. No reason the holidays shouldn't as well.

Spoons: A friend observed this weekend that I don't have a lot of spoons lately. She is right. I have been tired, fragile. I am in mourning. I am working hard to resist the urge to quietly cocoon myself away from people and life in general by keeping myself busy-busy-busy. But a lot of things feel hard for me right now, and my tolerance for stress is very, very low. I'm looking forward to the long weekend. I don't have a lot of plans. I may take some time to just sleep.

More on SIFF 2016

Mon, Jun. 6th, 2016 08:07 am
scarlettina: (Movie tix)
You can see trailers for the movies I'm discussing here at the links included. More film reviews to come.

Tanna is a fascinating project. Set and shot entirely on the island of Vanuatu by two directors who have previously specialized in documentary film, and cast with natives who have never even seen a movie, it tells a sort of Romeo-and-Juliet tale. Wawa, a beautiful girl who has just been acknowledged as a marriageable woman, has been promised in marriage to another tribe as a way to settle internecine warfare. But since childhood, she and Dain, the handsome son of her own tribe's chief, have loved each other and wanted to be together. Their love threatens the peace their tribes are trying to forge. The story apparently has some basis in fact, and its ultimate outcome changed the cultural course of tribes on the island. The acting is raw and as such is somehow more genuine. The setting really does feel like a tropical paradise. The two leads are appealing and both could, I think, have film careers if they wanted them. But everyone in the cast does a great job, and the idea that these folks have never seen a movie and yet came to the project with such obvious commitment and openness is an impressive testament to the importance of the story. Art transcends culture, and this is a clear demonstration of that. Kudos to the directors for crossing that bridge so beautifully.

Searchdog is a documentary about Matthew Zarrella, who trains dogs and their human partners in cadaver search and retrieval, and how he goes about doing what he does. The film follows not only the selection of dogs, but their training, as well as discussing some of the cases that Zarrella has worked on. Looking like a young Charleton Heston, this man and his dog do amazing work, both in the field and on the training ground. The director, Mary Healey Jamiel, as well as ubjects Andy Rebman, Dan O'Neil and K9 Ruby, were all on hand to greet the audience and do a Q&A after the film. Jamiel actually walked down the line of patrons waiting to see the film and thanked each one of us personally for attending. Excellent documentary, thoughtful, interesting. If you dig documentaries, this is a good one.

Beware the Slenderman (description but no trailer; I couldn't find one anywhere on line): In 2009, on the internet website creepypasta.com, a user uploaded a couple of photographs of an impossibly tall, impossibly slim figure he called Slenderman, a bogey man who preyed on children, carrying them away to his mansion in the Wisconsin woods. This fabricated fairy tale gained currency online and found its way to two tweens in Waukesha who became convinced he would get them and their families if they didn't demonstrate their loyalty--by murdering a friend. This documentary studies the case of Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, those two girls, and how they became caught up in the Slenderman's tentacles. The film is more true crime than urban legend study. The story is chilling, and the analysis of why and how this fictional villain became the foundation for a factual murder is fascinating and deeply uncomfortable. There were times when I felt the film lingered a little too long in places, when I found myself conscious of the time. But for the most part, it's an interesting, horrifying study. Made by HBO, it will air at some point in the near future. Worth seeing.

SIFF 2016 so far

Sun, May. 22nd, 2016 09:49 pm
scarlettina: (Angel)
For those of you who don't know, the Seattle International Film Festival started this past Friday night, at least for those of us who aren't annual passholders. I've seen three films so far.

Kedi
This documentary is a portrait of the cats of Istanbul, which hold a special place in the hearts and culture of that ancient city. It is as much a love letter to Istanbul as it is to the cats we meet and, by extension, all the cats in town. You can see, in the different types of cats, what a crossroads the city is, given their face and body shapes and colors, not to mention the architecture and the stories. It was a delightful way to spend 80 minutes. The film was preceded by a Simon's Cat short called "A Trip to the Vet," the first Simon's Cat cartoon longer than 60-or-so seconds. It's a gentle thing, full of knowledge of, understanding about and affection for living with cats. Very sweet and very funny.

Slash
A sweet coming-of-age story about a 15 year old boy trying to figure out sexuality, life and social interaction through writing slash fiction. He meets an older girl who digs his writing. She introduces him to the world on online slash and introduces him to convention-going. The rest is the story and I won't spoil it. It's a smart film, with a line on that awkward, awakening awareness of self and others, and while the thing that attracted me to it--the portrayal of slash as such a pop cultury, acknowledged phenomenon--was really kind of the macguffin that got the story rolling, the story itself and the strong performances by the two teenage leads, made the film satisfying and well worth seeing.

Weiner
The documentary is a wry, unvarnished look at Democratic rockstar-turned-public-meltdown-master Anthony Weiner and his attempt at rehabilitation through his run for mayor of the city of New York. It is yet another testament to how a brilliant, narcissistic man can completely self-destruct. He is very much the kid who isn't sorry he stole but terribly sorry he got caught. I believed in Weiner when he was making a real difference in the House of Representatives. His downfall was a huge disappointment. Watching this documentary--both fascinating and cringe-worthy--he reminds me very much of my high school and college boyfriend: so full of his own repulsive awesome that he can't see his own monumental arrogance and stupidity. I definitely recommend it.
scarlettina: (Just Keep Swimming!)
San Francisco trip: I had this idea I was going to finish blogging about the San Francisco trip. Events (and my own laziness) have conspired against me and I have not done so. I'm afraid that a lot of trip detail has been lost in the days intervening between today and my homecoming. I am disappointed with myself in this omission.

Food and me: I had a major binge on Saturday night. It was the first time in a long time that I actually felt completely out of control of my food and eating. While I have gained back much of the weight that I lost several years ago, this was the first time I felt like I was eating obsessively and automatically. I ended the evening by crying myself to sleep, this in the wake of watching the Nebula Awards livestream and wondering what the hell I'm doing with my life. I realized, as if from an objective distance several blocks away, in the midst of this bizarre episode, that I had missed taking my antidepressant for several days running. I was careful to take my medication yesterday and now this morning. I can't let that happen again, because when things go dark for me, things go dark and I go to dangerous places.

Movies and good company: In contrast, I had a perfectly lovely evening with SA last night. We had dinner at his place (pasta with homemade pesto and sauteed vegetables--he really is a good cook), and then we went to see April and the Extraordinary World which, if you haven't seen it, you ought to try. It's a beautiful animated alt-history steampunk adventure from France, completely charming, about a world where scientific advancement has stopped at the age of steam and about the Dangers of Science. In this sense it's old fashioned, but in the very best ways. Our heroine, April, is brave and plucky, diving in where angels fear to tread. Well worth your time for the beautiful visuals, the adventure and, yes, the talking cat.

Bathroom renovation: The bathroom reno starts on Tuesday. I spent a good portion of this weekend cleaning out the room, rearranging the adjacent room for a staging area, and trying not to be anxious about strangers coming and going in my place for the next few weeks. I'm not done with the work yet, but I'm mostly there. As much as I'm looking forward to this, I'm also feeling aversion to the tumult and disruption. I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be the least restful I've had in quite some time.
scarlettina: (Angel)
I wonder this every time the months change: How did it get to be February, March, April? Simple answer: one day at a time.

And what have I been doing as the days fly by? Let's see:

Norwescon: I attended Norwescon as a fan this year, a novel experience. I got to attend panels I wasn't on, which almost never happens, and in each case brought its own rewards. I was especially taken with the panel on characters bearing witness to tragedy or bad things in general. Good discussion, invaluable food for thought for character building. I came home with two new pieces of art and a lovely, handthrown pot with Gallifreyan heiroglyphs on it for the renovated bathroom. I also got to do some figure drawing, which I haven't done in years. It felt good. Best treats of the weekend: getting to see [livejournal.com profile] davidlevine, in costume, rap-filk about his forthcoming novel (by way of a Hamilton filk) (but generally seeing DD is always good for me), seeing BK and meeting his wife KK, having excellent meals with friends. It's all about the people; it always is.

Work: The day job continues alternately interesting and frustrating. It helps that I like my coworkers. They're generally smart, capable people, and they're what make the frustration bearable. I'm trying to find ways to demonstrate the value I add, as well as leadership qualities and a strategic approach in the hopes that someone will figure out that I'm more than just a knowledgable pair of hands for building web pages. I've gotten to do some writing and editing lately, which has helped, and got to do some problem cracking as we deployed some new code earlier this week. There's got to be more, though.

Bathroom renovation: I finally have a start date for the bathroom renovation. It's not until next month, but it's finally scheduled. I can't wait.

State of me: Weirdly, I seem to be becoming an introvert, spending a lot of time by myself and missing all of my friends. I don't like it, not a bit. I have spoken to my doctor about adjusting my depression medication, because I find myself watching TV more and creating less (no writing, little jewelry making, little photography--it's bad). I can't even find it in me to make plans for movies or theater or anything. We've made a change but it has yet to kick in. We'll see. I'm trying to be more mindful about food and hydration, and trying to walk a bit more. I turn on my happy light when I remember to. The sun's slow return is definitely helping.

Midnight Special: I did manage to make one plan this week, which was to see this film at The Egyptian last night with [livejournal.com profile] oldmangrumpus. It's a quiet, understated, well-made movie about an extraordinary child and the efforts of his parents to get him back to where he belongs. The script is minimal, allowing actors to do what they do best, and they all bring it. Recommended.

Last of SIFF

Wed, Jun. 10th, 2015 07:14 am
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
The Seattle International Film Festival ended this past Sunday. I had four more films scheduled from last Thursday through Sunday. I saw only three of them. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was well and truly done with sitting inside movie theaters on some of the first truly warm and beautiful days this spring. So here are notes on the last films I saw.

Love Among the Ruins: A mockumentary about the discovery of a legendary, long-lost Italian silent film. The director got some major names in film scholarship (including Serge Bromberg, whom I mentioned in my notes about Saved from the Flames) to comment on this film-that-never-was, and then shot said film with actors local to the Italian village where the story was set. I suspect that were I more literate in silent film, its scholarship and community, there might have been more in it for me to appreciate. Nevertheless, I found it a fun, clever project, a pleasant diversion for a Thursday night.

In Utero: A documentary that examines how life before birth affects life after birth. Discussing the latest research and current theories of physiological and psychological development, the doc posits that life before birth is a chemical and emotional journey linked to the mother's experiences and the environment around her as well as the environment she creates in the womb. The stresses she experiences, the happiness, and so on, are transmitted chemically to the fetus, influencing from the earliest days of development who that bundle of cells will be when it develops into a fetus, is born, and grows into an adult. While there was some interesting commentary, I also occasionally felt like the director was reaching a little bit, like some of the experts were pushing too hard on making their points. Still, there was some fascinating discussion, especially from Gabor Mate, who is apparently one of the front-running thinkers in this area. Thought-provoking stuff. Here's a link to the film's official website for further reading, if you're so inclined. The director was present with a number of experts for a panel discussion afterward, but I couldn't stay because I had another film to catch.

The Great Alone: Winner of SIFF's Grand Jury Prize this year, this documentary about second-generation, four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey was a fascinating glimpse into what, for me, is a completely alien life and experience. Chronicling his 2013 attempt at the race, it also told his story from rebellious kid to cancer survivor to racing phenomenon. The documentarian did a terrific job using home movies, news footage, and fresh film of that 2013 race to weave it all together into a compelling experience. Mackey has lived a life so different from mine--little schooling, an almost primal relationship with his dogs, a life lived more outdoors than inside, and an almost obsessive drive to participate in, and win, the Iditarod. This is why I go to SIFF and see documentaries--for views into totally different lives and experiences. After the film, the director, Mackey, his mother, and one of his dogs were present to answer questions and do a meet-and-greet. When Mackey walked into the room, he received a standing ovation--and it was for him, not just for the film. I stood, too, because I had to respect someone so driven, so completely at the top of his field of endeavor--especially having seen what it takes to get there--and, as it turned out, so completely down to earth and genuine.

Final thoughts for SIFF 2015
The Great Alone was terrific, one of the films that the programmers could not stop talking about at the member preview event last month. After that, I had one more film on my schedule--The Muses of Bashevis Singer--a documentary about the great Jewish writer. But, as noted above, I was tired of spending beautiful days inside in the dark. Since The Great Alone was so good, I decided to end the festival there, on a high note. It was exactly the right thing to do. Interesting to me was that this year, though everyone was talking about Phoenix, the post-Holocaust drama--there didn't seem to be a consensus among the regular attendees about which fiction films were particular stand-outs until much later in the festival than usual--at least, that was my perception. People did talk about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which went on to win a Golden Space Needle and already has distribution. It looks like a number of the other films I particularly wanted to see will be turning up at SIFF Cinema later this year, which makes me happy; I'd like a chance to see them. Good festival this year overall. As ever, so glad I went.

SIFF: Henri Henri

Thu, Jun. 4th, 2015 07:12 am
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
Henri has spent his entire life in a French-Canadian orphanage, learning from the nuns who run the place, and maintaining the light fixtures throughout the property. When the building is sold, Henri learns that he must leave and navigate a world for which he is unprepared. By following the signs, he finds himself a job at a lighting store and a small, unlikely group of friends. His next great adventure: winning the heart of the winsome--and blind--Helene (whose name means "light"--yes, it's a theme). It's one of those "naif encounters the world" movies that could have been either cloying or just sweetly engaging; this film is definitely the latter and was clearly a crowd pleaser. Its cinematography and production design create an other-worldly 1960s feel. Henri is a charming character for whom you can't help but root in his search for life, love and home. Delightful.
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
A program of some of the earliest silent films, Saved from the Flames was hosted by film archivist Serge Bromberg, an entertaining and knowledgeable Frenchman who founded Lobster Films, which preserves the silents as they're found. The films included before and after footage of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, a beautiful hand-tinted version of the complete Georges Melies "A Trip to the Moon," and a showing of the early animated short, "Gertie the Trained Dinosaur," animated by Windsor McKay. Bromberg offered historical context, demonstrated just how flamable and therefore vulnerable nitrate film is, and played piano accompaniment to many of the films he showed. Delightful and educational evening, which I got to share with [livejournal.com profile] oldmangrumpus, [livejournal.com profile] varina8 and [livejournal.com profile] ironymaiden. So pleased to have such excellent company; part of what made it such a fine evening.
scarlettina: (Five)
SIFF films
Saturday morning: The Primary Instinct had its world premier at SIFF. It's actor Stephen Tobolowsky's concert film. Tobolowsky--whom you may know as Ned Ryerson in "Groundhog Day" or Sandy Ryerson (distant cousin?) in "Glee" or any one of a number of character roles--is a terrific storyteller, and this movie is a record of a show he did in Seattle last year, telling the stories that have made his podcast "The Tobolowsky Files" (which I highly recommend) so popular. This guy tells a story like nobody's business. He's engaging and insightful. The monologue he offers here has, at its core, the question of what we seek as human beings--what's our primary instinct, but he starts by asking the question "What is a story?" It's great question for an actor or a writer--or a human. And he riffs on it from there, telling story after story to get to his main point, offering thoughtful commentary and laughter along the way. This was a terrific hour-and-a-half, and the Q&A with Tobolowsky and David Chen, the film's director, afterward was very good indeed. I recommend both the movie and the podcast. Possibly my best experience of the festival so far.

Sunday afteroon: I thought, for some reason, that Paper Planes was a documentary, not a fiction movie. Turns out it was the latter, an Australian film for families about a boy who enters an international paper plane folding contest. It was actually quite a sweet thing--not what I was expecting but, as the description on the SIFF site says, a crowd pleaser and a pleasant first film of two for the day.

Later Sunday afternoon: Admission: I don't really read The New Yorker; I read it occasionally, in bits and pieces. But I always look at the cartoons. So when I saw that Very Semi-Serious, a documentary about The New Yorker, its cartoon editor and its cartoonists, was going to be at SIFF, I didn't have to think twice. Turns out that it's not a documentary so much as an examination of the art of the single-panel comic, with thoughts and insights provided by David Mankoff, the editor, and many of the artists who contribute. Fun, thoughtful stuff, lots of New York images and the kind of humor that has always appealed to me. I found myself thinking about the New York Times documentary, Page One, that ran at SIFF back in 2011. Though they are very different films in focus and sensibility, yet they share that ineffable New York-ness that makes them both of a piece in some way. Good movie, well worth seeing.

Books
Finished reading Mary Robinette Kowal's "Of Noble Family" this weekend--one gets a lot of reading done waiting in line at SIFF. The fifth and final book in her Glamourist Histories series, it takes our heroine Jane and her husband Vincent to Antigua to get Vincent's late father's estate in order. They are not prepared for what they encounter--which includes a legacy of slavery, the fallout of abuse, and Jane's welcome but awkwardly-timed pregnancy. It is by far the darkest of the books in the series, but it nevertheless still brings some of the fun and interest that Mary always brings to her storytelling. I found it a satisfying conclusion to the cycle and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Started reading "Old Man's War" by John Scalzi. Breezy and fairly lightweight, as Scalzi's work tends to be, it's science fiction of the Old Skool: colonial armed forces off to make the universe a safer place for humanity--but with a twist. As ever, Scalzi's narrative voice is strong and appealing, and I'm enjoying the reading. While I understand that the Sad/Rabid Puppy crowd dislike Scalzi for his politics, I don't think they understand what they're missing by not reading his fiction. It's exactly the sort of thing they claim to prefer. But I think there's as much professional jealousy in their expressed hatred--especially given his new book deal--as there is political difference. Their loss. Scalzi's work is fast and fun, and I'm enjoying this one.

SIFF: Mr. Holmes

Sun, May. 31st, 2015 08:25 am
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
Saw "Mr. Holmes" on Friday night. Starring Ian McKellan as the eponymous detective in his senior years, it is a charming, sometimes tough but mostly gentle film. It was a delight to watch McKellan bring Sherlock to life, and to bring a warmth and thoughtfulness to the character. The film is more meditative than action-oriented (as one might expect with a senior at its center), and less about solving mysteries (though there are one or two) than it is about solving problems of the human heart. I liked it that much more for it. It's getting a wide release (as one might expect with a film starring McKellan and Laura Linney), so go see it. I recommend it.
scarlettina: (Movie tix)
Went to a not-SIFF movie on Thursday evening with a group of friends, many of whom are science fiction writers, all of whom are SF readers; we call ourselves the Ladies of the Movies. We get together once a month or so for dinner and a film. Ex Machina was Thursday night's movie, about a young guy--Caleb--who wins an employee contest to go and work for a week with his high-tech employer's reclusive genius CEO. It's like getting an instant all-access pass to Mark Zuckerberg (whom I suspect was one of the models for the character). Turns out that Nathan, the CEO in question, is working on a new, secret project, an artificially intelligent female android. Caleb is there to administer the Turing test (a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human). But Nathan is a dishonest operator and his creepiness factor is pretty high. Trouble ensues.

The film is stylishly made, the effects quite fine, and the performances right on the mark. None o the actors are well-known, which was nice for me; their identities didn't interfere with the film's universe, which I thought was a plus. But the plot holes are many and obvious, especially to a group of women who read, write and edit SF for a living. That said, we're still discussing the issues the film brought up. My question, which we're hashing through, has been: if part of being human is displaying empathy, and an AI's creator is an empathetic human, why would said creator make an artificial intelligence, knowing that it will understand its limitations and possibly be driven crazy by them? Where is the compassion in such an act?

So it's not a terrible film, just a not-great one. But it's provoked some interesting discussion.
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
In this Swiss/Belgian/French film inspired by a true story, Eddy, a lovable if clueless small time crook convinces his friend, Osman, a man in dire straights, to steal the corpse of recently-deceased Charlie Chaplin for ransom. Between the planning and the execution of the heist, we follow Eddy as he takes care of Osman's daughter Samira while Osman tries to earn enough money to pay for an operation for his wife.

If it weren't based on actual events, the story would be too wild to be believed. But a couple of crooks did, in fact, steal Chaplin's coffin in an attempt to extort money from the Chaplin family. The film takes that story, adds a lush Michel Legrand score, and a genuine sweetness to the characters, and then departs from actual history in plot developments and portrayals that are practically tributes to the Little Tramp himself. There were moments when the director let a scene stretch a bit too long, and times when that delicious Legrand score didn't seem quite the right thing against the events that it accompanied. But the performances--every one--were appealing and the film ultimately satisfying if perhaps a little too good to be true in the end.

Other quick SIFF notes: I was scheduled to see the documentary "Handmade with Love in France" last weekend. Sadly, I went to the wrong theater on the bus and wasn't able to get to the correct theater in time to see it. I'm still pouting about this; I really wanted to see that doc. Tonight, watching the trailers for upcoming films, I caught one for Henri Henri. After "The Price of Fame" let out, I traded a voucher for a ticket to this new movie and added it to next week's schedule.
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
My first film, as previously noted, was Cuidad Delirio which I enjoyed quite a bit. Next up were:

Virtuosity: The Cliburn Competition is one of the world's most prestigious piano competitions. This documentary follows the 13th competition, the competitors and their stories. I thought the documentary very well made, full of interesting people and exactly the kind of interest and suspense that's wanted from a competition film. The movie, of course, is filled with wonderful music, and you can't help but get involved in each competitor's story, picking and choosing those you want and believe will win. The doc is scheduled to air on PBS; well worth looking for.

The Farewell Party: An Israeli comedy-drama about a group of seniors wrestling with age and infirmity, and their solution: the secret creation of a self-euthanizing machine. Word of the machine's existence gets around their retirement community, and choices must be made. The film had some truly human, truly funny moments, some wonderful characters and some very truthful insights into the challenges of aging and end-of-life issues. But I felt like the movie couldn't decide what it wanted to be: a comedy about the absurdities of being human and getting older or a drama about the agonizing choices we make for our loved ones. In the end, that uncertainty proved the film's great weakness, and we end on a note that is abrupt and poignant rather than celebratory or at least a satisfying resolution. I'm still on the fence about this once. It's complex, but I don't think it's hefty enough to support that complexity.

The Passion of Augustine: In the north outside of Quebec, in the wake of Vatican II, a small convent that specializes in educating girls in music struggles to survive sudden change. Mother Augustine fights a new administration that doesn't love or understand music and must come to terms with her own history, as opened up by the arrival of her niece, a musical prodigy, at the school. Celine Bonnier as Mother Augustine is beautiful in an austere way, smart and independent and admirable. Diane Lavallee as Sister Lise, a nun who has a hard time dealing with change, is excellent; you at once want to dislike her but find yourself sympathizing with her struggle. One of the most poignant (in a good way) sequences in the film is when the sisters must put off their classic black habits and change into their more modern blue-and-white habits. It's not something I ever thought of before, but it's a moving moment. Excellent film. Really enjoyed it and recommend it.

Animation4Adults: This was the adult animated short film program, and I walked out about 2/3 of the way through the program, something I've never done at a SIFF program before. I found almost all the shorts aesthetically ugly and many conceptually predictable (road rage, the mass production and commodification of people and society, and so on). One short--Pop-up Porno: f4m, about a woman dealing with her mastectomy--was frank and cleverly done. Another--Francis, about what happens to a girl on a camping trip, based on a Dave Eggers story--was good looking and creepy. But I walked out because I realized that I wasn't enjoying myself. There was no loveliness here. I felt like there was very little innovation. And I don't need misery in the movie theater given the challenges I'm dealing with myownself.

This morning I've got another documentary. Hoping it can take the bad taste of last night's experience away.
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
My first film of the festival was Ciudad Delirio, a Spanish-language romance with a lot of salsa music and dance. A doctor from Spain goes to Colombia for a world medical conference, meets a beautiful dancer and must win her heart. Despite its reliance on certain cliches that seem inevitable with this sort of film, it is completely charming and I had a marvelous time. (Given that I tend to avid romantic movies, this is a Big Deal.) You can't help but want to get up and dance by the end of the film. It was a great way to start the festival. Looking forward to more!

SIFF 2015

Thu, May. 14th, 2015 07:14 am
scarlettina: (SIFF 2015)
So, after much hemming and hawing, plotting and planning, I've got my schedule figured out for the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival, one of the great annual pleasures of living in this town. As happens every year, there are far more films I want to see than I have time, money, and energy to actually take in. And as usual, figuring out what to see and what to sacrifice was a big freaking deal. In the end, my usual tastes seem to have won out: there are, in this list, a preponderance of documentaries, a couple of French films, at least one major movie that already has wide distribution--but this way, I get to see it for half the usual box office price. Unusually, I find myself with 5 spare tickets. I figure I'll use them either to share with friends or to add films to my schedule as I hear chatter about what's good and what may suit my schedule. In the meanwhile, here's the roster as it currently stands. Almost all of these films were on the programmers' pick list, so I'm feeling pretty confident about the choices. Click the links for trailers and more information.

Schedule beneath the cut )

There are a ton of films I want to see that, for one reason or another, don't work with my schedule. I may try to find a way to fit them in anyway, including (but not limited to):

Phoenix: a post-Holocaust drama about a concentration camp survivor--already getting lots of good chatter
Beach Town: A "beach movie of the mind" directed by a former coworker of mine. Trying hard to figure out how I can see it given work hours and schedule conflicts
Slow West (which may get a limited release): A Kiwi-made historical film set in the American West
The Farewell Party: An Israeli comedy about assisted suicide
Love, Theft and Other Entanglements: A Palestinean dark comedy about being in the wrong place at the wrong time
Romeo is Bleeding: Documentary about a San Francisco poet trying to put on a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet
Morbayassa: A Guinean move about a woman trying to escape Guinea for a better life
Liza the Fox Fairy: Comedy about a woman who loves all things Japan and who may be a figure out of Japanese myth
Chatty Catties: A comedy about cats who can talk telepathically to their people; looks incredibly silly
Don't Think I've Forgotten: A documentary about Cambodian rock'n'roll nearly lost in the haze of the Vietnam war.
The Glamour & The Squalor: A documentary about a Seattle DJ who helped to put grunge on the map

There are many others; these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Too many riches, not enough time (or money). ::sigh::

Films that the programmers were excited about but that I have no desire to see: The Wolfpack (documentary that may be too grim for me), Guidance (a comedy certain to get at least a limited release), Wet Bum, Eisenstein in Guanajuato (new Peter Greenaway film that the programmers were frothing over), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (another comedy certain to get a wide release; programmers were fond of this one, too), Gemma Bovary, The Little Death, among others
scarlettina: (Movie tix)
Why? Because it never occurred to me that there would be Clint/Natasha fanfic out there in the universe. What's more: It never occurred to me that people would be creating fantasy movie posters about Black Widow and Hawkeye's time in Budapest. I mean seriously. Look at this one. And this one. I mean, are these awesome, or what? Go google up "Clint Natasha Budapest." The fannish creative instinct is alive and well. How awesome is that?
scarlettina: (Movie tix)
Last night, by the grace of my friend SA, I got to see a press preview of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Short version: It's terrific. If you're anything like me, you will enjoy the hell out of it.

Longer version: Age of Ultron is complex, action-packed, deeper than I would have expected, and just plain fun. At 2.5 hours, it's still a remarkably fast ride, mainly because it's so dense, so well-edited, and so completely engaging.

Whedon's span of control is impressive. He's telling one big story here, interwoven with more substories than I've seen in a film in a very long time. Almost every character gets a story arc, whether large or small, and every arc shows character change and growth in one way or another by the end of the movie. Some interesting questions get addressed, and a romance is added. (I should note that the Stark/Banner romance continues, albeit on a much more intellectual level. They don't flirt with each other like they did in the first film; they egg each other on as fellow braniacs and mad scientists--Stark even uses that term. It's fun to watch them work together.) There are moments when it's clear that this whole thing is a cartoon made by a superlative storyteller--and things blow up while you're busy being involved in an actual story.

James Spader is terrific as Ultron. I found myself sort of fascinated by the movement of the character's mouth, how it was articulated to look like muscle rather than metal; nice special effects design work there. Paul Bettany as The Vision is spectacular, and the character's realization on screen is just gorgeous. And Andy Serkis' appearance is brief but plummy. Whenever Serkis appears in a role, I feel like he's concentrated awesome--he must be doled out judiciously. He's like a rich dessert. I don't think he could ever carry a film by himself, but for those brief, rich character parts, he's like no one else in Hollywood--just delicious.

And every regular character is great. Watching Banner work through his issues as the Hulk, watching Stark deal with his greatest fears, watching Cap inhabit the role he's come to on the team, and watching Black Widow deal with her history and everything it's cost her--all wonderful stuff, and the actors really bring their game.

Can I also just say, on a purely prurient note, that these people are all just gorgeous? Eye candy everywhere. I've got gigantic crushes on almost all of them purely from an aesthetic perspective. They are delicious to my eyes.

So, yeah, if you haven't figured it out, I had a blast. Totally recommend the movie--if this sort of thing floats your boat.

PS--Almost forgot that after the movie was over, as I went back to my car, I noticed that Seattle's own superhero, Phoenix Jones (Picture | Wikipedia), was on site for the event. I had to do a doubletake, but it was him.

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