Tag Archives: 2013 Reviews

SIFF 2013: Mutual Friends ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 25, 2013)

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I’ve always found dinner parties to be a fascinating microcosm of human behavior; ditto genre films like The Anniversary Party, The Boys in the Band, and my all-time favorite Don’s Party. Mutual Friends (a SIFF World Premiere) is the feature film debut for director Matthew Watts. Sort of an indie take on Love, Actually, this no-budget charmer centers on a group of neurotic New Yorkers (is that redundant?) converging for a surprise party. In accordance with the Strict Rules of Dinner Party Narratives, logistics go awry, misunderstandings abound, unexpected romance ensues, and friendships are sorely tested. Despite formulaic trappings, the film is buoyed by clever writing, an engaging ensemble, and cheerful reassurance that your Soul Mate really is out there…somewhere…

SIFF 2013: Die Wand **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 25, 2013)

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Adapting first-person narratives like Marlen Haushofer’s dystopian novel Die Wand (The Wall) for the screen can be a tricky affair. Consider Julian Roman Polsler’s film, wherein our heroine (Martina Gedeck) wakes up one morning and finds that an invisible, encircling “wall” has confined her within the perimeter of an Alpine lodge, with only a dog, a cow and woodland animals for company. As she adapts to her Robinson Crusoe lifestyle, she begins keeping a journal. Since she has no one to converse with, we get voice over narration. A lot of voice over narration. Gedeck (a skilled actress) is left with little to do but stare into space. There’s a lot of staring into space. Atmospheric, nicely shot, but ultimately it is little more than a picture postcard-festooned exercise in tedium.

SIFF 2013: Cockneys vs. Zombies **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 25, 2013)

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“Oi! Zombies!” This may be “damning with faint praise” but Matthias Hoene’s “splatter comedy” Cockneys vs. Zombies pretty much delivers all that its title implies. In a setup reminiscent of the British sci-fi classic Quatermass and the Pit (although any similarities abruptly end there) London construction workers inadvertently stir up an ancient crypt best left undisturbed…sparking a zombie apocalypse in the East End. Although I liked this much more when it was called Shaun of the Dead, it does have its moments. The funniest bit has an old gent with a walker handily outdistancing a zombie pursuer.

SIFF 2013: The Rocket ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

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The Rocket could prove to be one of this year’s sleepers. Australian writer-director Kim Mordaunt tells the story of Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe, in a remarkable performance), a 10-year old Laotian boy who can’t catch a break. In rapid succession, a member of his family dies in a freak accident and then the surviving members are forced to relocate after their village gets earmarked for razing to make way for a hydroelectric project. Ahlo’s dour grandma labels him as a “bad luck charm”. Determined to redeem his standing, Ahlo sets out to win an annual Rocket Competition. Mourdaunt has a Terrence Malick-like penchant for gorgeous “magic hour” composition; perfectly capturing the dichotomy of UXBs and battle-scarred ruins as they contrast with Laos’ lush, rugged natural beauty.

SIFF 2013: The Horde **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

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The Horde is an historical epic from director Andrey Proshkin based on a relatively obscure event (well, outside of Russia) that occurred in the 14th century, when the Metropolitan of Moscow (a monk also known as St. Alexius) saved his city from destruction by the Mongolian Golden Horde by “healing” the Khan’s mother, who had been stricken blind. The first half is involving, with royal intrigue and (literal) backstabbing among squabbling members of the Khanate, but once the story shifts to the endless suffering of St. Alexius as he wends his way home (we get it…he’s a saint) the film suffers too. Lavish production design and fine acting helps makes up the deficit.

SIFF 2013: Out of Print **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

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My favorite Emo Philips joke goes: A man came to my door and said “I’d like to read your gas meter.” I said, “Whatever happened to the classics?” A breezy documentary called Out of Print takes that rhetorical question to the next level: Whatever happened to reading? That is, “reading” in the traditional sense…as in holding a book and turning pages? Director Vivienne Roumani examines the impact of digital media on the world of publishing, with a variety of industry mavens weighing in with their take on the central question: “Is the book dead?” The issues raised mirror the economic, legal and aesthetic hysteria stirred up by the advent of music file sharing back in the late 90s. Absorbing, if not essential (and at 54 minutes long, it’s surely destined for PBS). Meryl Streep narrates.

SIFF 2013: Stories We Tell **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

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Canadian actress Sarah Polley has quietly made a name for herself as a feature film director in recent years (Away from Her, Take This Waltz). Now she turns the camera inward, for her documentary Stories We Tell. Polley uses her film as a sort of family therapy session, seeking to uncover the truth regarding her late mother’s rumored dalliances outside the marriage. Polley was 11 when her mother (also an actress) died of cancer. As Polley gently grills her father (a retired actor), siblings and long-time family friends, secrets, lies and unbelievable truths slowly burble to the surface, Rashomon-style. It teeters toward the navel-gazing side, but it unravels like a good mystery should.

SIFF 2013: Big Joy ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton is an aptly entitled profile of the free-spirited poet, playwright and filmmaker (1913-1999) who was part of the “San Francisco Renaissance” (pre-cursors to The Beats). Stephen Silha’s documentary is as playful and provocative as his subject, who emerges here as one of those fascinating, Zelig-like figures who managed to remain relevant to and in simpatico with nearly every major counter-culture arts/social movement from the Beats and the hippies to gay liberation and beyond. I admit being previously unfamiliar with Broughton, but this film made me a fan.

SIFF 2013: Forbidden Voices ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

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Forbidden Voices (from Swiss director Barbara Miller) is an excellent doc profiling three influential “cyber-feminists” who bravely soldier on in the blogosphere whilst running a daily gauntlet of intimidation from their respective governments, including (but not limited to) overt surveillance, petty legal harassment and even physical beatings. Despite the odds, Yoani Sanchez (Cuba), Farnez Seifi (Iran, currently exiled in Germany) and Zeng Jinyan (China) are affecting change (if only baby steps). In an interesting (and disturbing) bit of kismet, a day after I saw this, the DOJ/AP phone records scandal broke.

SIFF 2013: Our Nixon ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 18, 2013)

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In Our Nixon, director Penny Lane strives to construct an arch portrait of The Tricky One by sneaking in through the back door. It seems some of the president’s men were home movie buffs. A treasure trove of Super8 footage taken by H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin during their White House tenure recently surfaced. Lane blends choice snippets of the aforementioned with archival news footage, interviews with the three aides and excerpts from the infamous secret Oval Office recordings. It’s the Nixon administration retooled as an episode of Entourage. No new revelations or insight for political junkies, but for viewers of a “certain age”, it sustains an oddly nostalgic tone.