Tag Archives: SIFF Reviews

SIFF 2023: Adolfo (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

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Strangers in the night, exchanging…cactus? Long story. Short story, actually, as writer-director Sofia Auza’s dramedy breezes by at 70 minutes. It’s a “night in the life of” tale concerning two twenty-somethings who meet at a bus stop. He: reserved and dressed for a funeral. She: effervescent and dressed for a party (the Something Wild scenario). With its tight screenplay, snappy repartee, and marvelous performances, it’s hard not to fall in love with this film.

SIFF 2023: The Incredible Shrinking Man ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

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Always remember, never mix your drinks. And, as we learn from Jack Arnold’s 1957 sci-fi classic (one of three special archival presentations at this year’s SIFF), you should never mix radiation exposure with insecticide…because that will make you shrink, little by little, day by day. That’s what happens to Scott Carey (Grant Williams), much to the horror of his wife (Randy Stuart) and his stymied doctors.

Unique for its time in that it deals primarily with the emotional, rather than fantastical aspects of the hapless protagonist’s transformation. To be sure, the film has memorable set-pieces (particularly Scott’s chilling encounters with a spider and his own house cat), but there is more emphasis on how the dynamics of the couple’s relationship changes as Scott becomes more diminutive.  The denouement presages the existential finale of The Quiet Earth.

In the fullness of time, some have gleaned sociopolitical subtext in Richard Matheson’s screenplay; or at least a subtle thumb in the eye of 1950s conformity. Matheson adapted from his novel. He also wrote the popular I Am Legend (adapted for the screen as The Last Man on Earth , The Omega Man  and the eponymous 2007 film).

SIFF 2023: Punderneath it All (**1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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True story: I once got into such an intense pun battle with a co-worker that I literally chased him down the street shouting puns as he drove away. That said, I was today years old when I found out pun “slams” and tournaments are a thing. Abby Hagan’s documentary delves into pun culture. A fun watch (albeit for a niche audience) but may become redundant for some (I bet you’re glad I didn’t say “repundant”).

SIFF 2023: Next Sohee (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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Writer-director July Jung’s outstanding film is reminiscent of Kurosawa’s High and Low, not just in the sense that it is equal parts police procedural and social drama, but that it contains a meticulously layered narrative that has (to paraphrase something Stanley Kubrick once said of his own work) “…a slow start, the start that goes under the audience’s skin and involves them so that they can appreciate grace notes and soft tones and don’t have to be pounded over the head with plot points and suspense hooks.”

The first half of the film tells the story of a high school student who is placed into a mandatory “externship” at a call center by one of her teachers. Suffice it to say her workplace is a prime example as to why labor laws exist (they do have them in South Korea-but exploitative companies always find loopholes).

When the outgoing and headstrong young woman commits suicide, a female police detective is assigned to the case. The trajectory of her investigation takes up the second half of the film. The deeper she digs, the more insidious the implications…and this begins to step on lot of toes, including her superiors in the department. Jung draws parallels between the stories of the student and the detective investigating her death; both are assertive, principled women with the odds stacked against them. Ultimately, they’re  tilting at windmills in a society driven by systemic corruption, predatory capitalism, and a patriarchal hierarchy.

SIFF 2023: L’immensità (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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Emanuele Crialese’s semi-autobiographical drama about a dysfunctional family (set in 1970s Rome) combines the raw emotion of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence with the sense memory of Fellini’s Amarcord. Penélope Cruz portrays a woman in a faltering marriage struggling to hold it together for the sake of her three children, to whom she is fiercely and unconditionally devoted. Her teenage daughter Edri identifies as a boy named “Andrea” (much to the chagrin of her abusive father). Buoyed by naturalistic performances, beautiful cinematography (by Gergely Pohárnok) and a unique 70s Italian pop soundtrack.

SIFF 2023: I Like Movies (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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To call Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), the 17-year-old hero of writer-director Chandler Levack’s coming of age dramedy a “film freak” is an understatement. When his best bud ribs him by exclaiming in mock horror, “I can’t believe you never masturbate!” Lawrence’s responds with a shrug, “I’ve tried to, but…I’d rather watch Goodfellas or something.” Levack’s film (set in the early aughts) abounds with such cringe-inducing honesty; eliciting the kind of nervous chuckles you get from watching, say, Todd Solondz’s Happiness (a film that Lawrence enthusiastically champions to a hapless couple in a video store who can’t decide on what they want to see).

Lawrence, who dresses (and pontificates) like a Canadian version of Ignatius J. Reilly, is obsessed with two things: Paul Thomas Anderson’s oeuvre, and the goal of getting into NYU film school in the fall (despite not even having been accepted yet, and that he’s not likely to save up the $90,000 tuition working as a minimum wage video store clerk over the summer). Wry, observant, and emotionally resonant, with wonderful performances by the entire cast, SIFF’s closing night selection is a real winner.

SIFF 2023: Even Hell Has its Heroes (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13th, 2023)

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(Engaging sheepish mode). I’ve lived in Seattle 30 years…yet the “ambient metal” band Earth (led in numerous iterations by guitarist Dylan Carlson) somehow slipped under my radar. I felt a bit redeemed when I learned in Clyde Petersen’s documentary that they’re more well-known outside of the Northwest. Moody, experimental, and hypnotic (not unlike Earth’s epic drone pieces), Petersen’s film is, at its heart, an elegiac paean to that ephemeral moment Seattle ruled the music world.

SIFF 2023: A Disturbance in the Force (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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I missed “The Star Wars Christmas Special” in 1978…but after seeing Jeremy Coon and Steve Kozak’s documentary, perhaps that’s for the best. Leaving viewers and TV critics aghast, the unintentionally kitschy one-off has since garnered cult status (George Lucas initially OK’d the project but disowned it following the broadcast). The backstory is recounted in a cheeky and entertaining fashion. Warning: this film may trigger nightmares about Bea Arthur tending bar at the Mos Eisley Cantina.

SIFF 2023: Midnight Cowboy (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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Aside from its distinction as being the only X-rated film to ever win Oscars, John Schlesinger’s groundbreaking 1969 character study (one of three special archival presentations at this year’s SIFF) also helped usher in a new era of mature, gritty realism in American film that flourished from the early to mid 1970s.

Dustin Hoffman has seldom matched his character work here as Ratso Rizzo, a homeless New York City con artist who adopts country bumpkin/aspiring male hustler Joe Buck (Jon Voight) as his “protégé”. The two leads are outstanding, as is the supporting cast, which includes John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Barnard Hughes and a teenage Bob Balaban. Also look for cameos from several of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” regulars, who can be spotted milling about here and there in a memorable party scene.

In hindsight, the location filming provides a fascinating historical document of the seedy milieu that was “classic” Times Square (New York “plays itself” very well here). Schlesinger won an Oscar for Best Director, as did Waldo Salt for his screenplay.

SIFF 2023: Lonely Castle in the Mirror (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on May 13, 2023)

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The Breakfast Club meets Alice in Wonderland in Keiichi Hara’s anime, adapted from Mizuki Tsujimura’s novel. Seven middle-school students (all misfits) are given access to a magic castle via their mirrors. Once there, a “wolf girl” informs them the first to find a hidden key will be granted one wish. As they become acquainted, they become less competitive and more empathetic toward each other. Overlong for a simple narrative, but a lovely message for kids.