Over Two Dozen SIFF 2012 Movies Reviewed
While the rest of your intrepid SunBreak SIFFters were putting together a lively roundtable about SIFF 2012, yours truly was submerged deeply in the Festival vortex, making up for lost moviegoing time.
I’ve seen 25 movies so far (down a bit from this point last year), and though it’s in my nature to view creative endeavors from a glass-half-full optimistic standpoint, I do have to admit that my SIFF 2012 journey’s been a bit less consistent than last year’s, so far.
One ironic trend I’ve noted: The movies that worked the best have tended to be the less-pretentious formula/genre flicks that honed in on basic storytelling, while some of the bolder experiments in form and content yielded some of the most disappointing results. No, that’s not an exhortation to filmmakers to stop experimenting and pushing the envelope–It’s a resolute plea for them to get their damned ducks in a row before they do.
Enclosed please find rundowns of everything I’ve seen so far, replete with 1 to 5 ratings (I’m a sucker for that stuff). Several of the movies are still playing later tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday, so I’ve also provided links to siff.net for those titles.
Your Sister’s Sister: All hometown bias aside, Lynn Shelton’s dramedy about the complications that arise in the friendship between a rumpled urbanite (Mark Duplass) and his best pal (Emily Blunt) was smart, laugh-out-loud funny, and resonant enough to leap over its Lifetime Movie of the Week contrivances with grace. And Orcas looks gorgeous through Ben Kasulke’s lens. 4/5
Trishna: It’s a Bollywoodized version of Thomas Hardie’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles, directed by Michael Winterbottom–so it’s no spoiler to say that things end on a downbeat note. Freida Pinto is at her most luminous in the title role, but the end result really never involves like it should. 2/5
Citadel: One of the first of SIFF’s Midnight Adrenaline screenings was this Irish chiller about a rundown tenement building overrun by menacing, dirty, hooded children who may be more than just street urchins. Its first two-thirds are undeniably absorbing, with a patina that’s equal parts Don’t Look Now and The Brood. Too bad it makes that fatal horror-movie mistake of feeling like it needs to explain precisely what the hell’s going on–and that the explanation’s ridiculous enough to nearly kneecap the whole works. 3/5
Bad Brains: A Band in DC: This rock doc doesn’t really get inside its legendary DC pioneer subjects like I wanted it to, but it presents a persuasive argument for The Brains’ massive influence over hardcore, and the archival footage of the band in its early ’80′s prime is utterly cauterizing. 3.5/5
John Dies at the End: Director Don Coscarelli does genre pulp with imagination, verve, and (dare I say it?) heart. This hilarious polyglot (Trainspotting, plus David Lynch, times H.P. Lovecraft, divided by Cheech and Chong, carried over Hunter S. Thompson) definitely maintains his standards. Cult adoration is sure to follow. 4.5/5
Paul Williams Still Alive: Stephen Kessler’s doc on one of the Bellbottom Era’s most iconic figures starts out as nostalgia wallowing (it’s as much about Kessler’s fandom as it is about Williams–not always a bad thing). Then it becomes an affecting character study, and an unexpected sorta-buddy movie. 4/5
Game of Werewolves: Juan Martinez Moreno’s horror comedy provides just the right amount of both elements. And its very Spanish feel gives it a flavor distinctive from (and vastly superior to) most other attempts at that fusion. 4/5
V/H/S: Maybe it’s my own bias, but–again–many of the most effective movies I’ve seen this fest have been genre efforts. This omnibus horror opus involves a videotape that contains bits of six different scary stories. It’s uncomfortably misogynistic in places (misogyny in a horror movie? Nahhh…), but it takes the hoary old Blair Witch found-footage trope and expands on it brilliantly. Oh, and it’s hands-down the scariest thing I’ve seen all SIFF (and I’ve been around the horror movie block a few times). 4/5
Keep the Lights On: I really wanted to like Ira Sachs’ romantic drama about a documentary filmmaker’s tumultuous love affair with a crack-addicted literary lawyer. Thure Lindhardt is an oddly-charismatic lead, but neither his nor any of the other characters’ personalities are very well fleshed-out. The tiny peek at the filming of the doc-within-a-film (about Eisenhower-era muscle-magazine photographer Avery Willard) is so interesting, it makes you wish that was where the spotlight stayed. Happily, Sachs is working on one, for reals. 2/5
Keyhole: I’ve fallen hard for many of Guy Maddin’s movies in the past, so it’s a bit of a bummer that this one’s just okay. A great cast plays out this surrealist film noir swaddled in Homeric drag, and Benjamin Kasulke (SIFF 2012′s MVP, given all the movies he’s had a hand in this year) crafts a gorgeous black-and-white palate. In the end, though, it’s neither fish nor fowl: Never surrealistically immersive enough or emotionally affecting enough to rank with Maddin’s best. 2.5/5
Welcome to Doe Bay: All partisan bias aside (I’ve volunteered at Doe Bay for two years), CB Shamah’s and Dan Thornton’s doc on the famous Little Local Festival That Could covers the Festival’s history and genesis effectively, brings up provocative issues about the rise of locally-focused small-scale micro-festivals, and provides a slew of impressively-shot-and-recorded footage of some of this region’s best musical acts. 4/5
The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD is, in most senses, the most traditional of documentaries–talking heads and found footage propel a largely-chronological history of the creation (and absorption into the hippie culture) of the titular drug. It’s still fascinating, though, and rife with tension as Hofmann (interviewed on the eve of his 100th birthday) agonizes over how the initially well-intentioned Timothy Leary fed the drug to young people whose psyches hadn’t had the chance to fully develop. 3.5/5
Kryptonite!: It’s not perfect by any measure, but this Italian coming-of-age story about an awkward kid growing up in Italy in 1973 totally charmed me. It sports just enough sentimentality to thaw Scrooge’s heart, and a great, openhearted Neapolitan sense of humor to boot. Valeria Golino has matured into a screen presence on par with Sophia Loren. 4.5/5
Sin Bin: Another throwback teen comedy a la Superbad, Sin Bin covers the adventures of a high school kid (Michael Heater) who loans out his beater of a van to pals for sexual escapades. It’s a good time–more engaging than laugh out loud funny, with exceptionally appealing leads in the gawky Heater and Emily Meade (who’s like a pint-sized version of Geena Davis). 3/5
Chasing Ice: This National Geographic doc delivers a sobering message about the melting of our world’s glaciers, replete with beautiful (and nightmarish) footage and photography and an absorbing focal point in photographer/man-on-a-mission James Balog. 4/5
Wuthering Heights: Andrea Arnold’s reimagining of the Emily Bronte lit staple gets mad props for its serious attempts to do something different. Arnold makes Heathcliff black, and the film’s first (and best) act boils Bronte’s gothic flourishes down to viscera and bone. But things get numbingly heavy-handed in the last two acts. It also demonstrates one of the odd side-effects of radically rejiggering a literary classic: Potentially killing what made it endure in the first place. Revisionist stripping-away of the characters’ romantic sweep just reduces Heathcliff to a hostile and creepy stalker, while it definitively exposes Cathy as the most shallow bitch in the literary pantheon. 1.5/5
Hunky Dory: If you’ve read the SIFF synopsis, you know exactly what’s up here. It’s GLEE wrapped in a Union Jack, with schoolteacher Minnie Driver taking a class of fresh-faced working-class kids through a musical adaptation of The Tempest. Despite being saccharine enough to kill a clinic full of lab rats, this backstage epic went down surprisingly easy for me–partly because the musical interludes include reasonably effective covers of songs by David Bowie and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. 2.5/5
Unit 7: You’ve got to have at least one gritty, eye-on-the-street foreign cop drama on the SIFF roster, and the one I caught–about a quartet of Spanish drug cops descending a bit far into the wrong side of the law themselves–is damned effective. 4/5
419: If V/H/S gave me hope that the whole found-footage/handheld pseudo-documentary thing wasn’t played-out beyond belief, this thriller took a big ol’ crap on that notion. A self-absorbed prick of a failed actor drags two pals (one a filmmaker, natch) to South Africa, all to track down the scam artist who bilked him out of $30,000. There’s a kernel of an interesting idea here, but the found-footage shtick (and the annoying characters) just irritate in the end. 1.5/5
Recalled is a lean, compact B-movie–and that’s a compliment. This drama about a privileged National Guard lieutenant (Seth Gabel) and a possible AWOL by one of his fellow soldiers (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss) just tells its simple, involving story in a simple, involving fashion. Solid stuff. 3.5/5
The Empty Home follows a young Kyrgyzstan woman as she manufactures her escape from a mean bear of a husband and runs towards the big city (Moscow, in this case). Director Nurbek Egen provides an immersive view of his homeland, but he loses its footing when the film leaves its alien locale for Moscow and France towards the end. 3/5
Easton’s Article: A computer programmer in 1997 discovers his own obituary buried in a corrupted net file, and soon he and his unrequited love are racing to stave off the seemingly inevitable. It’s virtually impossible to outsmart an audience with a movie like this, so it’s to writer/director Tim Connery’s credit that we’re fully invested in the characters, despite the movie giving up its cards a few minutes too early. With his hangdog face, ginger hair, and forlorn aura, lead Chad Meyer makes for an unconventional but incredibly likable hero. 4/5
Gayby: The title pretty much spells it out for this indie comedy in which a straight woman (Jenn Harris) and her gay best friend (Matthew Wilkas) have sex to conceive a child. It’s yet another example of a formula film done properly: Pure froth, but executed with a bare minimum of preaching, effortless chemistry between its leads, and some of the biggest belly-laughs of SIFF 2012. 3.5/5
The Details: A young doctor (Tobey Maguire) takes extreme measures to rid his lawn of an ultra-pesky raccoon, and those measures serve as the preamble to a series of increasingly horrific events. This Seattle-set comedy is so ferociously jet-black in hue for its last half that it traverses film noir turf. I don’t know how general audiences will take to it, but I liked it quite a bit. 3.5/5