Tag Archives: 2011 Reviews

SIFF 2011: Drei ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 22, 2011)

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With his new film, 3 (aka Drei) German director Tom Tykwer finally answers that age-old question: What would happen if a bio-ethicist (Sophie Rois) and an art engineer (Sebastian Schipper), who have been involved in a loving, 20-year long relationship should suddenly (unbeknownst to each other) find themselves falling head-over-heels in love with the same genetics research scientist (Devid Streisow)? It gets interesting. Whether or not it gets interesting enough to hold your attention …well, that depends.

Although he can’t resist tossing in a few of his patented art-house flourishes (thankfully, he only flirts with that annoying split-screen gimmick this time), this is a relatively low-key effort from a director who has built his rep on delivering stylized kinetics (Run Lola Run, The International). If you can visualize Woody Allen directing The Unbearable Lightness of Beingthen you’ll find Tykwer’s surprisingly conventional romantic romp about an unconventional love triangle amongst the Berlin intelligentsia  playful, erotic and smart. And if there is a message, it’s  imbedded within the film’s most quotable line: “Say goodbye to your deterministic understanding of biology.”

SIFF 2011: The First Grader ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 22, 2011)

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Even though I could glean from frame one that The First Grader (this year’s SIFF opening night selection) was one of those dramas expressly engineered to tug mercilessly at the strings of my big ol’ pinko-commie, anti-imperialist, bleeding softie lib’rul heart, I nonetheless loved every minute of it. Produced by the BBC and beautifully directed by Justin Chadwick, the film dramatizes the true story of an illiterate 84 year-old Kikuyu tribesman (Oliver Litando) who, fired up by a 2002 Kenyan law that guaranteed free education for all citizens, makes a beeline for his local one-room schoolhouse, eager to hit the books.

Bemusement from the school officials (who initially balk) turns to respect for the aging gentleman’s quiet determination to realize his life-long dream, especially from the school’s compassionate principal (Naomie Harris). As you may have already guessed, there is much more to the protagonist’s story; through flashbacks we learn that he was a freedom fighter against the ruling British during the nearly decade-long Mau-Mau uprising that took place in Kenya in the 1950s. The full sacrifice he made and personal tragedy he suffered comes slowly and deliberately into focus; resulting in a denouement that packs a powerfully emotional gut punch.

SIFF 2011: Trollhunter ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2011)

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Like previous entries in horror’s “found footage” sub-genre,  Trollhunter features an unremarkable, no-name cast; but then again you don’t really require the services of an Olivier when most of the dialog is along the lines of “Where ARE you!?”, “Jesus, look at the size of that fucking thing!”, “RUN!!!” or the ever popular “AieEEE!”.

Seriously, though- what I like about Andre Ovredal’s film (aside from the surprisingly convincing monsters) is the way he cleverly weaves wry commentary on religion and politics into his narrative. The story concerns three Norwegian film students who initially set off to do an expose on illegal bear poaching, but become embroiled with a clandestine government program to rid Norway of some nasty trolls who have been terrorizing the remote areas of the country (you’ll have to suspend your disbelief as to how the government has been able to “cover up” 200 foot tall monsters rampaging about). The “trollhunter” himself is quite a character. And always remember: while hunting trolls…it’s best to leave the Christians at home!

SIFF 2011: Killing Bono ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2011)

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Killing Bono is a darkly funny, bittersweet and thoroughly engaging rock ‘n’ roll fable from the UK, based on a true story. A cross between Anvil: The Story of Anvil and I Shot Andy Warhol, it revisits familiar territory: the trials and tribulations of the “almost famous”.

Dublin-based writer/aspiring rock star Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes) co-founds a band called Yeah! Yeah! with his brother Ivan (Robert Sheehan) right about the same time that their school chum Paul Hewson puts together a quartet who call themselves The Hype. The two outfits engage in a friendly race to see who can get signed to a label first. Eventually, the Hype change their name to U2, Hewson reinvents himself as “Bono” and-well, you know.

In the meantime, the McCormick brothers go nowhere fast, as the increasingly embittered and obsessed Neil plays Salieri to Bono’s Mozart. There are likely very few people on the planet who know what it feels like to be Pete Best (aside from Pete Best)-but I suspect that one of the players in this particular drama knows that feeling-and my heart goes out to him (no spoilers!). Nick Hamm directs a wonderful cast, which includes a fine swan song performance from the great Pete Postlethwaite (R.I.P.).

SIFF 2011: The Trip ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2011)

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Pared down into feature film length from the 6-episode BBC TV series of the same name, Michael Winterbottom’s film is essentially a highlight reel of that show-which is not to denigrate it, because it is the most genuinely hilarious comedy I’ve seen in many a moon. The levity is due in no small part to Winterbottom’s two stars-Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, basically playing themselves in this mashup of Sideways and My Dinner With Andre.

Coogan is asked by a British newspaper to take a “restaurant tour” of England’s bucolic Lake District, and review the eateries. He initially plans to take his girlfriend along, but since their relationship is going through a rocky period, he asks his pal, fellow actor Brydon, to accompany him. This simple narrative setup is basically an excuse to sit back and enjoy Coogan and Brydon’s brilliant comic riffing (much of it feels improvised) on everything from relationships to the “proper” way to do Michael Caine impressions. There’s some unexpected poignancy-but for the most part, it’s pure comedy gold.

SIFF 2011: Gainsbourg: a Heroic Life *1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2011)

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Well…it was intriguing on paper.

So who was Serge Gainsbourg? He was a so-so painter, questionable poet and inexplicable pop music icon (well, in France). Nonetheless, he apparently was quite the babe magnet (he bedded Bardot and wedded English supermodel Jane Birkin, the latter with with whom he co-created his Greatest Hit-the talented Charlotte Gainsbourg).

His music career was largely built on the success of one tune-“Je t’aime…moi non plus”, featuring Birkin essentially feigning an orgasm at the denouement, over an organ riff suspiciously similar to “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (surely paving the way for future seduction mix tape staples like “Love to Love You Baby” and “Jungle Fever”).

Star Eric Elmosnino bears an uncanny resemblance and chain-smokes Gitanes with conviction, but director Joann Sfar seems more enamored with his own cinematic technique than with his subject; it’s an impressionistic study that barely makes any impression at all.

SIFF 2011: Bruce Lee, My Brother **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2011)

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Co-directors Manfred Wong (who also wrote the screenplay) and Wai Man Yip based this biopic on the memoir of  Bruce Lee’s younger brother Robert (although it is interesting to note the disclaimer in the opening credits that disavows any endorsement by or participation with Lee’s estate). Not that the film necessarily dishes any dirt. In fact, it’s a relatively tame, by-the-numbers affair, recounting young Lee Jun-fan’s formative years growing up in Hong Kong (he was born in San Francisco, but his acting-troupe parents were not U.S. citizens). For a movie about someone who went on to become one of filmdom’s premier action movie superstars, there’s very little action. Still, it’s slick and entertaining (if short on insight) and leading man Aarif Rahman plays his role with verve.

SIFF 2011: Another Earth ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 28, 2011)

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Another Earth is a “sci-fi” film mostly in the academic sense; don’t expect to see CGI aliens in 3-D. Orbiting somewhere in proximity of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, its concerns are more metaphysical than astrophysical. And not unlike a Tarkovsky film, it demands your full and undivided attention.

Writer-director Mike Cahill’s auspicious narrative feature debut concerns an M.I.T.-bound young woman (co-scripter Brit Marling) who makes a fateful decision to get behind the wheel after a few belts. The resultant tragedy kills two people, and leaves the life of the survivor, a music composer (William Mapother) in shambles.After serving prison time, the guilt-wracked young woman, determined to do penance, ingratiates herself into the widower’s life (he doesn’t realize who she is). Complications ensue.

Oh-the “sci-fi” part? On the night of the accident, a duplicate Earth was discovered (doppelgangers!). Assuming “they” discovered “us” (or vice-versa) simultaneously, scientists postulate that synchronicity was broken at that instant. Kind of leaves the door open for second chances-or does it? I’m not telling. See it yourself-and prepare to have your mind blown.