All posts by Dennis Hartley

SIFF 2024: Scala!!! (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2024)

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Lester Bangs defined ‘punk’ as “…a fundamental and age-old Utopian dream: that if you give people the license to be as outrageous as they want in absolutely any fashion they can dream up, they’ll be creative about it…and do something good besides.” That philosophy informed the programming for Scala cinema, where the audience was as outrageously transgressive as the film fare. Ditto Jane Giles and Ali Catterall’s documentary, which earns a 3 “Fuck off” rating!

SIFF 2024: Resynator (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2024)

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[shakes fist] “Curse you, Robert Moog!” They say history is written by the winners. Director Alison Tavel’s documentary may reinforce that adage. For as long as she can remember, Alison has been told that it was, in fact, her dad (who passed away when she was 2 months old) who was the “true” inventor of the synthesizer; namely, a prototype he dubbed as “the Resynator”. While not a musician herself, Tavel has pursued a career in the business as a roadie (currently for Grace Potter), which put her in a position to pull a few strings and do some detective work. Her subsequent journey to discover (and document) the truth of the matter is at once a fascinating glimpse into the fickle nature of the music biz and a genuinely touching story of a young woman finally “meeting” the father she never got to know.

SIFF 2024: The New Boy (**)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2024)

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Writer-director Warwick Thornton’s drama stars Cate Blanchett as a nun in the Outback charged with schooling a young, taciturn Aboriginal orphan who may harbor supernatural powers. The story is set in the early 1940s, at a monastery where Aboriginal children are cared for until deemed old enough (16?) to get packed off to earn their own keep. The students are largely portrayed by non-professional actors, lending the film a naturalistic feel. Despite an interesting premise (Western religious dogma vs. Indigenous mysticism) the film gets bogged down by its draggy pacing and an uneven narrative that vacillates somewhere between Peter Weir’s The Last Wave and (thanks to Blanchett’s over-the-top antics) Ken Russell’s The Devils.

SIFF 2024: Luther: Never Too Much (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2024)

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I confess entering Dawn Porter’s Luther Vandross profile knowing little about the late singer beyond his association with David Bowie and a string of smooth groove hits I recall spinning on the AC radio station I worked at from 1983-1991. I emerged from this documentary with a new-found respect for the artist, learning that he also wrote and/or co-wrote a number of them (including hits for artists like Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Cheryl Lynn). Porter weaves a generous portion of archival performance clips and interviews with present-day recollections by creative collaborators and music mavens. An engaging, inspiring and ultimately moving portrait of an immensely talented artist who was not without his personal demons.

SIFF 2024: Solitude (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

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Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ninna Pálmadóttir’s quiet drama concerns an unassuming farmer named Gunnar (Thröstur Leó Gunnarsson) who reluctantly sells his beloved horses and relocates to Reykjavik after getting pushed off his land by a hydroelectric project. He has received a generous settlement, which enables him to offer cash for a condo.

For Gunnar, moving to the city is tantamount to getting drop-kicked into the 21st Century; he is overwhelmed by the stimuli. He strikes up a sweet friendship with a bubbly 10-year-old paperboy named Ari. The boy’s parents are separated. While they try to share equal time with their son, squabbles arise over scheduling conflicts, frequently leaving Ari in the lurch. As a result, Gunnar becomes his de facto babysitter. Gunnar’s naivety eventually leads to a misunderstanding that could have serious consequences for him. A beautifully acted treatise on the singularly destructive power of “assumption”. 

SIFF 2024: Saturn Return (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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The unsolved mysteries of romantic relationships and musical partnerships are commensurate.  For example, what drives two or more musicians to form a band? What sparks the attraction? Why does the band/creative partnership often break up? Why do human relationships in general almost seem engineered to fail? Is the culprit self-sabotage; i.e., does a fear of success and a fear of romantic intimacy represent two sides of the same coin? And most importantly, why are there so many songs written about failed relationships? Such questions form the crux of Isaki Lacuesta and Pol Rodríguez’s nonfiction drama, inspired by the Spanish indie band Los Planetas.

The story focuses on the creation of the band’s third album (1998’s Una Semana en el Motor de un Autobús); a period when the band was in turmoil. The female bassist has recently quit to pursue her interest in another field, the guitarist is struggling with substance abuse, and the lead singer has a creative block. To add to the pressure, they’ve been invited to record their next album in New York with a notable producer. The directors take a similar tack to Gus Van Sant’s Last Days; painting an intimate and impressionistic portrait. Excellent performances by all, accompanied by an atmospheric psychedelia soundtrack.

SIFF 2024: The Missing(***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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Writer-director Carl Joseph Papa uses a combination of rotoscoping and hand-drawn animation for this semi-autobiographical drama (the Philippines’ first animated Oscars submission for Best International Feature). A young gay animator who has been mute since childhood suffers a break from reality after discovering his uncle’s body during a wellness check. As the young man comes to grips with suppressed memories, what ensues is an honest, raw, and emotional look at the effects of childhood trauma.

SIFF 2024: I Told You So (**1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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Set in Rome during a freakish January heatwave, writer-director Ginevra Elkann’s network narrative (reminiscent of P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia) follows the travails of several characters in crisis: an alcoholic mother who has lost custody of her little girl, a faded 80s porn actress coming to grips with her mortality, a bulimic young woman who provides elder care for a woman with a shopping addiction, and an American ex-pat priest struggling with his junkie past. As the heat rises, so does the angst.  Episodic; despite a fine cast and some nicely played scenes, the narrative threads never quite gelled for me.

SIFF 2024: In Our Day (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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Look in the dictionary under “quiet observation”, and you’ll find a print of auteur Hong Sang-soo’s character study of two artists (a 40-ish actress and an aging poet), each at a crossroads in their creative journey. Sang-soo’s beautifully constructed narrative chugs along at the speed of life; I understand that this may induce drowsiness with some viewers-but the devil is in the details, and those who pay close attention to them will be richly rewarded.

SIFF 2024: Hitchcock’s Pro-Nazi Film? (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 11, 2024)

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I’ve always considered Alfred Hitchcock’s1944 war drama Lifeboat (about a small group of passengers who survive the sinking of their vessel by a U-boat) as a sharply observed microcosm of the human condition. However, Daphné Baiwir’s documentary sheds a different light, recalling a critical backlash from some who condemned the film as pro-German (an aspect I had never really considered before). A fascinating look at Hollywood in the 1940s, and the effects of war hysteria.