Tag Archives: 2012 Reviews

SIFF 2012: Only Yesterday ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 19, 2012)

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Although I have already seen the Studio Ghibli masterpiece, Only Yesterday several times (I own a PAL DVD copy) I am looking forward to seeing it on the big screen. Originally released in Japan back in 1991, it is finally in U.S. theaters (well, at least on the festival circuit). Written and directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies), this is one of the celebrated Japanese anime studio’s most subtle narratives (as well as one of its most visually breathtaking).

A woman in her late 20s takes a train ride through the countryside and reflects on the choices she has made throughout her life, from childhood onward. It is a poetic and moving humanist study that I would hold up alongside the best work of Ozu. According to the Internet Movie Data Base, although the Walt Disney Company has held domestic distribution rights for some time, they apparently objected to references about menstruation. I envy SIFF attendees discovering this gem for the first time, in its intended presentation.

SIFF 2012 – The Story of Film: an Odyssey ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 19, 2012)

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The Story of Film: an Odyssey is one long-ass movie. Consider the title. It literally is the story of film, from the 1890s through last Tuesday. At 15 hours, it is nearly as epic an undertaking for the viewer as it must have been for director-writer-narrator Mark Cousins. Originally aired as a 15-part TV series in the UK, it has been making the rounds on the festival circuit as a five-part presentation. While the usual suspects are well-represented, Cousins’ choices for in-depth analysis are atypical (e.g. he has a particular predilection for African and Middle-Eastern cinema). That quirkiness is what I found most endearing about this idiosyncratic opus; world cinema enjoys equal time with Hollywood. The film is not without tics. Cousins’ oddly cadenced Irish brogue requires steely acclimation, and he has a tendency to over-use the word “masterpiece”. Of course, he “left out” many directors and films I would have included. Nits aside, this is obviously a labor of love by someone passionate about film, and if you claim to be, you have an obligation to see this.

SIFF 2012: Keyhole **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 19, 2012)

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Immersing yourself in the world of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin is not unlike entering a fever dream you might have after dropping acid and trying to get back to sleep…after waking up inside somebody else’s nightmare. If that sentence made sense to you, you might find Keyhole worth a peek. Any attempt to offer a cogent synopsis of a Guy Maddin film usually ends in tears, but I’ll try:

A Roaring 20s gangster (Jason Patric) comes home after a long absence, schlepping a corpse and a hostage. His gun-toting crew encamps in the living room, and his house is surrounded by coppers. Patric’s primary concern, however, is getting upstairs to reconnect with the wife (Isabella Rossellini). Unfortunately, it takes him 90 minutes to get up the goddamn stairs. Did I mention the protagonist’s name…Ulysses? It’s a Homeric journey, get it?

Reminiscent of Ken Russell’s Gothic, another metaphorical long day’s journey into night via the labyrinth of an old dark house. And, like Russell’s film, Maddin’s is visually intoxicating, but ultimately undermined by an overdose of art house pretension and self-indulgent excess.

SIFF 2012 – Eliminate: Archie Cookson **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 19, 2012)

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy meets Burn After Reading in a sardonic espionage thriller from the UK called Eliminate: Archie Cookson. Archie (Paul Rhys) is a British Intelligence analyst, specializing in Russian translation. His glory days are long over; his workday is divided between clock watching and guzzling wine when he thinks no one is looking. His estranged wife and precociously droll young son are rarely happy to see him. Archie shrugs and drinks some more wine. Suffice it to say, he is not your suave, self-confident 007 type.

When he unknowingly falls into possession of incriminating tapes that could sink the careers of two MI6 bigwigs, he becomes a “loose end” and soon finds himself playing cat and mouse with an old work acquaintance, a former CIA agent now turned freelance hit man. At first resigned to his fate, Archie’s survival instincts rekindle, and he begins to crawl out of his existential malaise, deciding to not only turn the tables on his corrupt superiors, but to win back the love and respect of his wife and son as well. While there are pacing issues, filmmaker Robin Holder has made an impressive debut, displaying a dry wit as a screenwriter and an assured hand as a director.

SIFF 2012 – Paul Williams: Still Alive ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 19, 2012)

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Paul Williams: Still Alive begs the question: “Do I care?” Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I “care” care, but I had enough morbid curiosity to pull me into this update on the oddball singer-songwriter-actor with the pageboy haircut who penned a slew of 70s hits (“We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “An Old-Fashioned Love Song”, “Evergreen”), appeared in  cult movies (The Loved One, Phantom of the Paradise), became a fixture on the TV game show/talk show circuit…then disappeared.

Initially, Williams vacillates on whether he wants to be the subject of a “fly on the wall” study, but filmmaker (and professed super fan) Steven Kessler ingratiates himself after the men bond over a mutual love of squid. What results is an alternately hilarious and sobering look at the ups and downs of this business we call “show”.

Real life imitates Ishtar when the Woody Allen-esque Kessler reluctantly joins Williams as he travels overseas for a gig in the Philippines that includes a long bus ride through jungles (allegedly) chock-a-block with Islamic terrorists. Kessler is on the verge of a panic attack for the entire trip; Williams remains quietly bemused.

That’s show biz…

SIFF 2012: Your Sister’s Sister ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 19, 2012)

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This “love triangle” dramedy from Humpday writer-director Lynn Shelton was SIFF’s 2012 Opening Night pick. In my experience, the film selections for the annual kickoff soiree are not always (how should I put this delicately)…well-advised, so I usually approach with trepidation. This year, however, I think they made a really good call. It was not only filmed in and around Seattle, by a Seattle filmmaker, but (most importantly) it’s vastly entertaining (locally produced and/or filmed doesn’t necessarily equate “perfect choice”, as 2008’s anemic Festival opener, Battle in Seattle demonstrated).

The film (reminiscent of Chasing Amy) is a talky but thoroughly engaging look at the complexities of modern relationships, centering on a slacker man-child (Mark Duplass) his deceased brother’s girlfriend (Emily Blunt) and her sister (Rosemarie Dewitt), who  bumble into an unplanned “encounter weekend” together at a remote family cabin. Funny, insightful and well-directed, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year.

VHS only: One Night Stand ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 14, 2012)

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An early effort from eclectic filmmaker John Duigan (Winter of Our Dreams, The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Sirens, etc.). This 1984 sleeper is a worthwhile entry amidst the flurry of nuclear paranoia-themed movies that proliferated throughout the Reagan era. Through circumstance, four young people (three Australians and an American sailor who has jumped ship) get holed up in an otherwise empty Sydney Opera House on the eve of escalating nuclear tension between the superpowers in Eastern Europe. In a concerted effort to deflect their collective anxiety over increasingly ominous news bulletins droning on from the radio, they find creative ways to keep their spirits up.

The film is uneven at times, but for the most part Duigan capably juggles the busy mashup of romantic comedy, apocalyptic thriller and anti-war statement. There are several striking set pieces; particularly an eerily affecting scene where the quartet watch Fritz Langs’s Metropolis as the Easybeats hit “Friday on My Mind” is juxtaposed over its orchestral score. Midnight Oil performs in a scene where the two women attend a concert. The bittersweet denouement (in an underground tube station) is quite powerful.

 

Play oddball: Top 10 off-the-wall sports films

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 4, 2012)

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Okay, so maybe you’re not particularly in the mood for the inspirational locker room speech, the decisive last minute rally or to cheer for the underdog. Perhaps your tastes lean more towards the cultish and the offbeat? No worries, I’ve got all your, um, bases covered this evening. Here are my quick picks for the Top 10 Most Off-the-Wall Sports Films:

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All the Marbles-A droll sleeper with Peter Falk as the manager of a female wrestling tag team. This was director Robert Aldrich’s final film (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen).

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The Big Lebowski– I will admit that I am not quite as enamored as the cultish devotees, but this is THE sports film for those who sure as shit do not fucking roll on Shabbos.

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Bite the Bullet-Out of his myriad films, Gene Hackman has declared this unique western about a long-distance horse race to be his personal favorite. Who am I to say neigh?

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Caddyshack– I know a lot of people who worship this movie. A tad overrated, IMHO, but Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Ted Knight are all aces.

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Cockfighter– Regretfully, I cannot guarantee that no animals were harmed in the making of this film, but it features a career-best performance by the late, great Warren Oates.

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Death Race 2000 (1975)- God, I miss Paul Bartel. Avoid the 2008 remake at all costs.

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The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters-An amazing documentary about some very obsessed video game competitors. You truly could not make these characters up. See it.

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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-You know the rules. Two men enter…

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The Seventh Seal-Don’t give me that look. Chess counts as a sport.

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Shaolin Soccer-Shaolin monks apply their martial arts prowess on the soccer field. This could only come from the mind of Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle). It’s tons o’ fun!