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.

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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.
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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


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