Tag Archives: SIFF Reviews

SIFF 2012: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With My Pants On **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 2, 2012)

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I am chagrined to learn via Mr. Google that I did not invent the phrase “emo road trip”, but I wish that it be noted that I came up with it on my own while watching The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had with My Pants On. So anyway, this EMO ROAD TRIP movie, (making its world premiere at SIFF) is from first time director Drew Denny (a member of L.A. indie pop band Big Whup). Denny casts herself as a free-spirited young woman who drags her uptight BFF (Sarah Hagen) along to help scatter her father’s ashes between L.A. and Austin (I’m surprised the film wasn’t premiered at SXSW). There are some lovely moments between Denny and Hagen, who are natural and convincing as childhood friends still in the process of defining themselves as adults. It’s sort of Thelma and Louise meets HBO’s Girls. I felt the film could have used tightening, but overall an impressive debut, beautifully photographed (it’s hard to mess up those inherently cinematic American Southwest vistas).

SIFF 2012: Polisse ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 2, 2012)

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Polisse is a docudrama style police procedural in the tradition of Jules Dassin’s Naked City and the now-defunct TV series Homicide. You do have to pay very close attention, however, because it seems like there are about 8 million stories (and just as many characters) crammed into the 127 minutes of French director Maiwenn’s complex film. Using a clever “hall of mirrors” device, the director casts herself in the role of a “fly on the wall” photojournalist (that’s her in the lower left of the photo above), and it is through this character’s lens that we observe the dedicated men and women who work in the Child Protective Unit arm of the French police.

As you can imagine, these folks are dealing with the absolute lowest of the already lowest criminal element of society, day in and day out, and it does take its psychic toll on them. Still, there’s a surprising amount of levity sprinkled throughout Maiwenn’s dense screenplay (co-written by Emmanuelle Bercot), which helps temper the heartbreak of seeing children in situations that children would never have to suffer through in a just world. It fizzles a bit at the end, and keeping track of all the story lines is a challenge, but it’s worthwhile, with remarkable performances from the ensemble (likely explaining the Jury Prize win at Cannes in 2011).

SIFF 2012: Tatsumi **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 2, 2012)

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It’s a toss-up. Tatsumi wins the trophy for either the worst date movie at SIFF this year…or the most depressing one. In his first animated feature, Singapore-based director Eric Khoo weaves biopic with omnibus to tell the life story and showcase the work of Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who was instrumental in the creation of an adult-themed sub-genre known as gekiga. Five of Tatsumi’s nihilistic (and unrelentingly misogynistic) gekiga tales are featured, broken up by vignettes adapted from his memoir, A Drifting Life. I was previously unaware of Tatsumi’s oeuvre, but his visual and narrative style reminded me of Creepy magazine (I went through a phase when I was 12). I assume that gekiga fans will enjoy, but otherwise…abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

SIFF 2012: Robot and Frank **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 2, 2012)

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Robot and Frank, a lightweight crowd pleaser from first-time director Jake Schreier, opens with a screen crawl informing us that it’s “the near future” (code for “we’re not budgeted for CGI, so you’ll have to take our word for it”). The story centers on an aging ex-cat burglar named Frank (Frank Langella). Concerned about Frank’s increasing forgetfulness, his son presents him with a “caregiver” robot. Initially, Frank reacts with crankiness and hostility toward his metallic Man Friday (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) but warms up considerably after he gleans that the robot is a wiz at picking locks and cracking safes. You can likely guess what happens next (think Going in Style meets the classic Ray Bradbury-penned Twilight Zone episode, “I Sing the Body Electric”). Not exactly groundbreaking sci-fi (the A-I theme is pretty dusty) but buoyed considerably by Christopher Ford’s affable screenplay, Langella’s engaging performance and the always-welcome presence of Susan Sarandon.

SIFF 2012: The Atomic States of America ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 26, 2012)

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Remember the “No Nukes” movement that gained momentum in the mid to late 70s and then fizzed after Chernobyl proved that those DFHs may have been on to something after all? Good times. Lots of (irradiated) water passed under the bridge. Everyone got distracted by their iPhones. Fast-forward to the announcement in 2010 that the U.S. was going forward with construction of the first nuclear power plant in three decades; corporate America swooned over the “Nuclear Renaissance” (short memories). Then, as if on cue, Fukushima happened in 2011. The Atomic States of America is a timely eco-doc that could serve as a perfect wake-up call for anyone who may have failed to connect those dots (i.e., the jury is still out on the “safety” of this energy source).

Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce build their case with a certain  sense of urgency, reviewing the industry’s past sins and spotlighting present day travails suffered by communities adjacent to nuclear plants (like “cancer clusters”). Most importantly, the filmmakers boldly tackle the $64,000 question: How in the fuck did we get to this Bizzarro World scenario wherein the Atomic Energy Commission finds itself kowtowing to the nuclear power industry…instead of vice versa? Essential viewing.

SIFF 2012: God Bless America ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 26, 2012)

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I predict that standup comic turned writer-director “Bobcat” Goldthwait will one day be mentioned in the same breath as Godard and Bunuel as one of cinema’s great agent provocateurs. OK, maybe not. But it does take a filmmaker with a unique talent for pushing buttons to kick off a “comedy” by skeet-shooting a baby. Now, before I get walkouts, let me say that in context of what follows in God Bless America, it fits. In this surprisingly sharp satire, Goldthwait takes (literal) aim at The United States of Stupid. His disenfranchised antihero Frank (Joel Murray) is like Ignatius J. Reilly, railing against all who offend his sense of taste and decency (armed with an AK-47).

Already stewing over his ex-wife’s impending marriage, his little daughter’s detachment, his inconsiderate neighbors and his observation that most of his co-workers are obsessed with reality TV, Frank is pushed over the edge when he loses his job and is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Frank’s first target is an obnoxious reality TV star, but his hit list expands to include wing nut pundits, Teabaggers, Westboro Baptist Church-types…and the worst of the worst: people who yak on their cell phones in movie theaters and smug Yuppies who deliberately take up two parking spaces. Along the way, he is aided and abetted by a 16-year old girl (Tara Lynne Barr, in a scene-stealing performance) who “loves” what he’s doing. One more prediction: Decades from now, the American zeitgeist of the early 21st century will be neatly encapsulated by this money quote: “I don’t want my Daddy…I want an iPhone!!!”

SIFF 2012: Four Suns ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 26, 2012)

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Four Suns is a film that Mike Leigh might make, if he was Czech. I don’t have any other reference point because I’m relatively unacquainted with contemporary Czech cinema. Of course, that’s why we attend film festivals…to learn about people from other lands (as our Geography teacher used to tell us). And you know, they really aren’t different from us, as director Bohdan Slama reveals in his mix of kitchen-sink drama and wry social commentary.

A working class ne’er-do-well named Jara (Jaroslav Piesi) gets himself fired for smoking weed on the job. This is straining his credibility, both as a dad (he’s been admonishing his 16 year-old son about getting high with his friends instead of learning a trade) and as a husband (his wife has been giving him the cold shoulder). His only solace is hanging out with his best bud/fellow man child, the Zen-like Karel (Karel Roden), who has a more tolerant spouse (she doesn’t seem to mind that Karel eschews job-hunting for walkabouts to communicate with rocks and shrubs). At some point however, even a 37 year-old has to grow up, and that’s never a pretty thing to watch…with or without subtitles. Leisurely paced, but worthwhile.

SIFF 2012: Fat Kid Rules the World **

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 26, 2012)

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Fat Kid Rules the World marks the directorial debut for Matthew Lillard (who surprised many by revealing previously untapped depth as an actor in The Descendants last year). Lillard’s film, a sort of Gen Y take on Boudou Saved From Drowning (with a touch of Times Square) centers on a socially awkward high-school student named Troy (Jacob Wysocki) who lives in a cramped Seattle apartment with his ex-jarhead dad (Billy Campbell) and snotty younger brother.

One day, our glum hero is seized by a suicidal impulse and throws himself in front of a bus. He is saved by guitarist/street kid/Oxy junkie Marcus (Matt O’Leary), who demands $20 for the “service”. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, with Marcus playing a punk rock Henry Higgins to the arrhythmic Troy’s Eliza Doolittle, encouraging him to locate his inner Cobain and learn to play the drums so they can storm the Seattle music scene. Marcus falls in love with a cute alternachick at school. He discovers rhythm. Life lessons are learned. Director and cast have their hearts in the right place, but it all sinks into a morass of After School Special clichés.

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.