Tag Archives: SIFF Reviews

SIFF 2021: Waikiki (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i1.wp.com/s3.amazonaws.com/nightjarprod/content/uploads/sites/118/2020/09/13152101/WAIKIKI-high-res_2-1024x403.jpg?resize=1024%2C403&ssl=1

Trouble in paradise. This intense, shattering psychological drama is about a young native Hawaiian woman (Danielle Zalopany, in an extraordinary performance) who is at a crossroads in her life. She suffers PTSD from an abusive relationship. She is temporarily homeless and living in her van. She juggles several part-time jobs, including bartending and teaching hula. One night, upset and distracted following an altercation with her ex, she hits a homeless man with her van. From this point the film makes a tonal shift that demands your total attention. A tour-de-force for Christopher Kahunahana, who served as writer, producer, director, and editor.

SIFF 2021: Too Late (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i1.wp.com/www.siff.net/images/FESTIVAL/2021/Films/Features/T/TooLate.jpg?ssl=1

I am not a big fan of gore movies, but despite my initial trepidation I ended up enjoying D.W. Thomas’ horror comedy. The Los Angeles stand-up scene provides the backdrop for this tale about a long-suffering talent booker and P.A. (Alyssa Limperis) who works for a demanding variety show host (Ron Lynch) who owns his own comedy club. He’s a real monster. No, seriously (I’ll leave it at that). Tom Becker (who is the director’s husband) wrote the frequently hilarious screenplay, which doubles as a clever metaphor for the dog-eat-dog world of stand up. As a former comedian, I have to admit they had me at “club owner who is a real monster”.

SIFF 2021: Strawberry Mansion (**1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i0.wp.com/variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/next_StrawberryMansion_still1-1.jpg?ssl=1

This sci-fi tale depicts a dystopian near-future where the government has figured a way to collect taxes on the unconscious. A hangdog tax man (Kentucker Audely, who co-wrote with director Albert Birney) who specializes in auditing people’s dreams calls on an aging, free-spirited artist (Penny Fuller) to paw through her dusty collection of dream archives, which are housed on VHS tapes.

As the glum bureaucrat watches her dreams, he finds that he can interact with her younger self, with whom he begins to fall in love (Brainstorm meets Harold and Maude). There’s also a subplot about a virus that invades your dreams with product placements (similar to the “blipverts” in the Max Headroom series). The movie has a few inspired scenes but feels too derivative of films like The Lathe of Heaven, Paprika, and Dreamscape.

SIFF 2021: Ladies of Steel (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/www.siff.net/images/FESTIVAL/2021/Films/Features/L/LadiesofSteel.jpg?ssl=1

Finnish humor is not for everybody, as it leans toward deadpan (think Jim Jarmusch, who cites Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki as an influence). This road movie/dramedy from director Pamela Tola (co-written with Aleksi Bardy) is a kind of a geriatric take on Thelma and Louise.

Fearing that she has killed her husband after beaning him with a frying pan during an argument, a 70-ish woman named Inkeri (Leena Uotila) panics and hits the road with her two older sisters in tow. Misadventures ensue…including sexual, which is not something you see onscreen very often with actors of “a certain age”. Truth be told…there is something actually quite wonderful and liberating about it.

SIFF 2021: Heist of the Century (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/festivalkontoret.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/filmbilder/2020/_articleFullWidth/The-Heist-of-the-Century.jpg?ssl=1

A stoner heist comedy based on a true story? Stranger things have happened. In 2006, a team of robbers hit the Banco Rio in Acassuso, Argentina. They took hostages, stole $8 million in valuables and cash and escaped in a boat despite being surrounded by 200 police. They ordered pizza and soda for the hostages, sang happy birthday to one of them, and left behind toy guns and a note saying they stole “money, not love.” If that isn’t a film begging to be made, I don’t know what is. Director Ariel Winograd and screenwriters Alex Zito and Fernando Araujo have fashioned one of the most entertaining genre entries Elmore Leonard never wrote. My festival favorite so far.

SIFF 2021: Final Exam (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i1.wp.com/www.siff.net/images/FESTIVAL/2021/Films/Features/F/FinalExam.jpg?ssl=1

This character study is about a selfless part-time teacher tenuously close to a nervous breakdown. Between his school duties, taking care of his elderly mother and constantly having to bail his ne’er do-well brother out of trouble, he has his hands full. Deliberately paced; impatient viewers should be advised this one is a slow boiler , but the denouement packs quite an emotional wallop for those who don’t mind the wait. Taiwanese director Chen-ti Kuo co-wrote her screenplay with Joanna Wang.

SIFF 2021: The Earth is Blue as an Orange (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/s3.zff.com/medialibrary/2020/09/THE_EARTH_IS_AS_BLUE_AS_AN_ORANGE_16x9_01.jpg?ssl=1

“Life during wartime” is not all about soldiers, generals, and politicians. The most overlooked participants are those who did not ask to be in the thick of it…the civilians caught in the crossfire. They are not spending time obsessing over borders, strategy, or ideology. They are just trying to keep their heads down and go about with their daily lives. Such is the plight of the Ukrainian family in this one-of-kind documentary.

Filmed near Donbass, Ukraine over a 2½-year period during and after the 2014 war in the region, it chronicles the daily life of a single mother and her four children. The mother is a writer, and one of her daughters is an aspiring film maker. There are times when the conflict intrudes (like when artillery shells explode much too close for comfort), but director Iryna Tsilyk avoids sensationalism and focuses instead on showing us the humanity of her subjects.

SIFF 2021: Caterpillars (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i0.wp.com/www.siff.net/images/FESTIVAL/2021/Films/Features/C/Caterpillars.jpg?ssl=1

This beautifully photographed documentary focuses on two Aka Pygmies who have set up a makeshift outdoor school for the children of their village as a community service. Bereft of funds for proper school supplies, the men take a hiatus from teaching to travel deep into the surrounding forest to harvest caterpillars, which they can easily turn into a marketable delicacy known as makongo.

Arduous as the harvesting is, that’s the easy part…now they have to hoof it to the big city, where they haggle with shady market vendors and deal with the racial discrimination Pygmies unfortunately face from other Central Africans. Director Elvis Sabin Ngaïbino uses a strictly observational approach, resulting in an immersive and fascinating study of a unique aboriginal culture as they struggle with modernization.

SIFF 2021: All Those Small Things (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/www.siff.net/images/FESTIVAL/2021/Films/Features/A/AllThoseSmallThings.jpg?ssl=1

The problems of the rich and famous…we should all be so lucky? meets Green Acres in this portrait of an aging British game show host (James Faulkner) who descends into an existential malaise after hearing of the death of a longtime friend.

Moping through his fan mail, he reads a touching letter that inspires him to travel to America to pay his admirer a surprise visit (and of course, to give himself some time to mull over a life tragically misspent). He ends up in a one-horse burg in Eastern Washington…where unexpected bonds are forged, and Life Lessons are Learned.

Despite teetering on maudlin at times and containing more false endings than The Return of the King, writer-director Andrew Hyatt’s dramedy made me laugh and made me cry.

SIFF 2021: All Sorts (**1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 10, 2021)

https://i1.wp.com/townsquare.media/site/139/files/2021/03/AllSorts.jpg?ssl=1

Writer-director J. Rick Castañeda’s surreal office comedy centers on a 20-something named Diego (Eli Vargas) who lives in his car. He goes to a job interview and is surprised to get hired on the spot by an eccentric supervisor named Vasquez (Luis Deveze) for a data-entry position…despite only being able to type 50-odd WPM. This is the first of many surprises at Data Mart, a company that apparently exists in an alternate universe.

Castañeda’s stylized approach suggests he is of the quirky Spike Jonze-Michel Gondry-Wes Anderson school. I have no problem with “quirky” per se, but it is no substitute for narrative. Vargas and Greena Park (who plays a co-worker Diego falls in love with) are charming together, but an overdose of “quirk” drags the film down.