Tuesday, June 19, 2007

WWSFF #6: And the awards go to...

The Worldwide Short Film Festival handed out its awards on Sunday night, and the winners were as follows:

Best Canadian Short: After All (dir: Alexis Fortier)

Best Emerging Canadian Filmmaker: Nicolas Roy (Sunday)

Best Animated Short: Madame Tutli Putli (dir: Chris Lavis, Maciek Szczerbowski)

Best Live-Action Short: Soft (dir: Simon Ellis)

Best Experimental Short: The Nautical Education (dir: Christian Laurence)

Best Cinematography (Canadian shorts only): Alex Fortier (After All)

Best Documentary Short: Farewell Packets of Ten (dir: Ken Wardrop)

Special Jury Distinction Prize: Fair Trade (dir: Michael Dreher)

Audience Award: It’s My Turn Now (dir: Jörgen Hjerdt)

Monday, June 18, 2007

SIFF #16 - My final thoughts... whew!

Whew! When SIFF says they are the biggest and longest film festival in the country, they aren't kidding!

This year the festival featured 405 films over 25 days--there were 211 narrative features, 61 feature-length documentaries, 12 archival films, four "secret festival" offerings and 117 short films.

And here is my tally: 34 films (including Severance, which I saw during SIFF, but not actually at a SIFF screening) plus one indirect SIFF event, the Girls Rock! showcase at Chop Suey (because I was unable to go to the actual doc... drat!). So that's 35! I admit my total surprises me, as today, Day One Post-SIFF, I was mumbling to co-workers that I thought I saw 31 or 32. This is surprisingly close to my all-time tally of 42 (when I was unemployed). Pretty good for someone who works 40 hours a week (and I'm not talkin' about the 'Pie!). Out of the 25 days, there were only 6 days where I did not go to any movies. Holy crap.


Best and most obvious double-feature:
* The Fever of '57 and In the Shadow of the Moon.
These two stellar space-race movie were both educational, informative, wildly entertaining, and showed us things that even the biggest space buff (i.e. my brother) have never seen before.

Best events:

* An Evening with Lisa Gerrard - I was enthralled by her words and her presence. Plus her impromptu singing lesson that involved the whole audience dropping their chins to their chests and letting out a primal "aaahhhh" was a surprise treat.

* Kinski performs Berlin: Symphony of a City - Sure, getting into the Triple Door was a chore, but the film was great, the drinks were good, and Kinski rocked!

* Girls Rock! event at Chop Suey - Not really an official SIFF event, but since I missed the documentary, I was delighted to be able to see girls holler into the microphone, "Are you ready to rock, SEATTLE!" and then actually ROCK! The whole event had me and my friend grinning from ear to ear.

Best performances:
* Brenda Blethyn in Introducing the Dwights - So masterfully nuanced, she took an overbearingly protective and cruel mother and made her sympathetic and complex.

* The ensemble cast of women in I Really Hate My Job gave me hope for women's roles in a male-centric film industry.

* The ensemble cast in Eytan Fox's The Bubble humanized the very complex political and cultural tension in Israel and Palestine.

Delightful documentaries:
* I loved the exuberant music of Gypsy Caravan and the super-personal family portrait Red Without Blue.

Best screenplay:
* Rocket Science had a dry, odd humor that I loved, and you should run out and see it when it is released this summer.

Most fun to be had at a screening:
* Hands down, the screening of Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls. There was glitz, glamour, and tattoos. The atmosphere inside the theater was electric. Half of the audience was onscreen, so it was like being at the biggest home movie screening with the coolest kids on the block.

Of course, I "only" attended 35 SIFF events out of almost 300 features, so my depth was rather limited. But what can you do? I'd love to hear what others liked at SIFF! Feel free to post comments, and I'll see you all next year!

Official SIFF 2007 - And the winners are...!

(As voted on by the audience...)

Best Director
Daniel Waters - Sex & Death 101 (USA)
Eytan Fox - The Bubble (Israel)
Frank Oz - Death at a Funeral (UK/USA)
Olivier Dahan - La vie en Rose (France)
John Jeffcoat - Outsourced (USA)

Best Actor
Daniel Brühl - Salvador (Spain)
Hugh Dancy - Evening (USA)
François Cluzet - Tell No One (France)
Mads Mikkelson - Prague (Denmark)
Simon Baker - Sex & Death 101 (USA)

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard - La vie en Rose
Jordis Triebel - Emma's Bliss (Germany)
Hannah Herzprung - Four Minutes (Germany)
Claire Danes - Evening (USA)
Parker Posey - Broken English (USA)

Best Film
Outsourced, directed by John Jeffcoat
Vitus, directed by Fredi Murer (Switzerland)
La vie en Rose, directed by Olivier Dahan (France)
The Bubble, directed by Eytan Fox (Israel)
Sex & Death 101, directed by Daniel Waters (USA)

Best Documentary
For the Bible Tells Me So, directed by Daniel Karslake
King of Kong, directed by Seth Gordon (USA)
In the Shadow of the Moon, directed by David Sington (UK)
The Devil Came on Horseback, directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (USA)
Doubletime, directed by Stephanie Johnes (USA)

Best Short Film
Pierre, directed by Dan Brown
Fortune Hunters, directed by Thom Harp (USA)
High Maintenance, directed by Phillip Van (USA/Germany)
Tommy the Kid, directed by Stuart Klegg (Australia)
The Job, directed by Jonathan Browning (USA)

Lena Sharpe Award: Annie Sundberg & Ricki Stern, The Devil Came on Horseback (USA)


New Director Award
Grand Jury Prize - Sons, Directed by Eric Richter Strand (Norway)
Special Jury Prize to actress Valerie Donzelli for her performance in the film 7 Years
directed by Jean-Pascal Hattu (France)

New American Cinema Award
Grand Jury Prize - Shotgun Stories, written & directed by Jeff Nichols
Special Jury Prize: Lovely By Surprise, directed by Kirt Gunn

Best Documentary
Grand Jury Prize - Out of Time, directed by Harald Friedl (Austria)
Special Jury Prize: Angels in the Dust, directed by Louise Hogarth (USA)

Short Film Awards
Narrative Short

Grand Jury Prize - Wigald, directed by Timon Modersohn (Germany)
Special Jury Award: Looks Sharp, directed by Amy Gebhardt (Australia)
Special Jury Prize: Pick Up, directed by Manuel Schapira (France)

Animated Short
Grand Jury Prize - Everything Will Be Ok, directed by Don Hertzfeldt (USA)
Honorable Mention: The Girl Who Swallowed Bees, directed by Paul McDermott (Australia)

Documentary Short
Grand Jury Prize - Chocolate Country, directed by Robin Blotnick (Dominican Republic/USA)
Special Jury Prize: Freeheld, directed by Cynthia Wade (USA)

Heineken Red Star Award - Kyrill Mikhanovsky, Fish Dreams (Brazil)

FutureWave Awards
WaveMaker Award for Excellence in Youth Filmmaking

Jewmacian, directed by Melinda Tenenzapf
FutureWave Audience Award
Laundry, directed by Darrow Stettes, Allex Bullard and Hanna Overman

SIFF #15 - Closing Night, and missed parties

If you read SIFF #14, you may note that I filled up my dance card with four movies, ending around midnight, on the last day of SIFF. As usual, I did not actually attend the Closing Night film (or party, despite the invite, which was tempting for the booze). So this post is rather after-the-fact, especially considering I saw this film at SIFF's press launch way back in early May (man! this is a long festival). So if you are curious about the Closing Night film (as opposed to the event), here you go:

Have you ever noticed that lighthearted costume-comedies are always described as being a "delightful romp". Maybe it is the puffy shirts and shiny buckled boots, or the corsets and big wigs, but there seems to always be a requirement to go skipping through a sun-lit field in these kind of movies whilst spouting witticisms. Molière (6/8), SIFF's Closing Night film, is no different. It stars Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espagnole, Russian Dolls) in the titular role as the young playwright who is tired of the lighthearted fluff comedies he performs with his travelling troupe. He decides to take a job offer from Monsieur Jourdain (the comically dorky Fabrice Luchini) who would like acting lessons to seduce the beguiling debutante Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier). This is despite the fact that there is already a Madame Jourdain (Laura Morante)! Molière falls for Madame, and a romantic comedy of errors ensues. If you enjoyed movies like Shakespeare in Love and Much Ado About Nothing, you will for sure enjoy Molière. It is fluffy, sexy, and fun, with of course a twinge of French melancholy. The gorgeous Laura Morante is particularly good, once again proving that we should take cues from the Europeans on how to cast women over 40.

Next, my final thoughts on SIFF 2007...

SIFF #14 - Going out with a bang (and a hangover)

Damn those librarian archivists and their home-brews! I took Saturday off from SIFF'n, because frankly, I was exhausted. In fact, I ended up taking no less than THREE naps on Saturday before partying with the friendly library school kids. For me, good conversation with beer at hand can easily equate to simply too much beer. This morning I felt all puffy and blechy, and unfortunately it could not be attributed to FPE or any other fest-related ailment.

So I say "Thank God!" for the elixir that is espresso... the nectar of the gods that is a double-tall iced latte... the glorious drug that is the blessing and bane of my existence. On my way to my first event, I got myself said cuppa, and from the first swig through the straw, I could feel the cotton in my head slowly dissipating and the dull thud in my brain beginning to quiet.

I had rearranged my last day of SIFF once, twice, three times... Finally I settled on a 1:00 and 4:00 film, with room for flexibility afterwards. My first film of the final day of SIFF was Introducing the Dwights (6/8) from Australia. Formerly the film was called Clubland, and though the new title isn't much better, Clubland certainly would be misleading for anyone expecting a hip disco rave-athon type movie (which it is not). This dysfunctional family comedy/drama stars Brenda Blethyn as Jane, a comedy nightclub act who is popular among retirees hanging out in casinos, but is otherwise past her prime. She has two adult sons at home: Tim (Khan Chittenden, in the straight man role) who has just found himself with his first real girlfriend, and Mark (the scene-stealing Richard Wilson), the older brother who is developmentally disabled and is basically quarantined at home. Jane is smotheringly overprotective, lashing out at her son Tim as he takes his first steps towards independence, and making his girlfriend's life miserable. The film has some of the same tone as another Aussie comedy, Muriel's Wedding, with laughter mixed with tears. Blethyn is unsurprisingly fantastic. Her Jane is fierce and funny, but worst of all is incredibly cruel when she is cornered. Though it ends on a high note, the film made me all weepy and melancholy. I had to go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood to clear my head before sitting down for the next flick.

Note to filmmakers: When introducing your feature, don't tell the audience to go home and "spread the blog love" about your movie because "there's been a lot of blog hate". Hm. Are you intentionally forewarning the audience of your film's suckage? In the case of Cthulhu (2/8), the answer is unfortunately yes. The theater was packed, probably because this film had local roots, so everyone involved in the film was probably there, along with their friends, spouses, and maybe even some rollergirls. They also had impressive guerilla marketing, pasting Cthulhu stickers all over town, on stop signs, windows, parking meters, etc. So, yes, we were all curious and excited. Then the movie started. Hm. I hate to cut the film down, but there is a major problem when your lead character (Jason Cottle as Russ) answers a phone in the first scene, and it is immediately evident that he is not the strongest of actors. Eeep. Then you notice, as other characters are introduced, that none of the people are particularly strong. Part of it is the writing. And, oh, the directing. Russ, a professor in Seattle, goes home to Astoria... I mean Rivermouth, Oregon when he hears of his mother's death. We meet his family, and they are all freaky. We meet his old best friend, the hunky Mike (Scott Green) to throw in some gay tension. We follow Russ around town with awkward transitions as he investigates an old fisherman's pier with cult tracings on the floor, and chases a spooky kid through a labyrinth basement, and sees a bunch of weird alien babies in stacks against the wall. When Tori Spelling shows up to rape (!) Russ, it is strangely welcome, because at least she has the skills to bring on the camp. I'm afraid I can only give Cthulhu two slices: One for Tori Spelling (the audience almost seemed relieved when she showed up), and one for the cinematography, which was really quite good. But otherwise, sorry, thumbs down.

I had to admit, I was checking my watch for other reasons. As soon as the closing credits started, I lept from my seat and fled the theater, ran to my car, and darted over to the Harvard Exit to see the audience-award-winning documentary For the Bible Tells Me So (5/8). I had heard good buzz throughout the fest about this film, so wasn't really surprised that it won the Golden Space Needle, plus turned out to be the most-liked doc by the Fool Serious passholders. The doc is about how the religious right in America (of both Christian and Jewish denominations) have used the Bible to condemn homosexuality as immoral ("it's in the book!" they holler). Several families with gay members are portrayed, including, impressively, politician Dick Gephardt and his lesbian daughter, and as expected, you will be shedding some tears at their stories. Part of me felt that the focus strayed to general issues (like an cutesy animation about whether homosexuality was natural, etc.) to get its point across, rather than sticking specifically to the topic of religion. The movie was good, but I've seen many docs about gayness and families that I felt like I'd seen it before.

The doc let out around 8:15 pm, and I made a rash, last-minute decision. Heck, why not one more? Blinking wildly, and with trembling hands, I bought a ticket at the Egyptian for a 9:30 screening of the just-announced Golden Space Needle winner Outsourced (7/8). The theater was almost full (on short notice!), and both the audience and the award-winning director John Jeffcoat were delighted to be there in each other's presence for one last hurrah on the last night of SIFF. As soon as the film got rolling, with its opening shots of Seattle's skyline gloriously on the big screen, I could see why it won over SIFF's audiences. Outsourced is a charming fish-out-of-water film about a Seattle call-center manager whose department is laid off, and he is sent to the new, cheaper call center in India to train the new employees. Josh Hamilton is charming in a winning performance as Todd (called "Mr. Toad" by the locals in the Indian town)... when he first arrives in India and is suffering from the travel, time change, and gastronomical issues, he was noticeably green and sickly looking. He has the usual culture clash issues, with hilarious but never cruel results. The Indian cast is equally fabulous, and Ayesha Dharker is a fine, smart romantic foil as Asha, his star call-center employee. The film is warm and funny, and won over the hearts of Seattleites, despite the fact that so many of us have been laid off due to outsourcing.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

WWSFF #5: We've only just begun...and now we're finished.

The WWSFF is now over. Done. Finito.

And, even though it only lasted five days, I’m nonetheless wiped. It’s tough trying to cram in as many daily screenings as possible while still working (sorta). But my fest was great, and it was chock full of excellent little flicks.

I wanted to hold off posting my last WWSFF Diary entry until I could get my hands (or eyes, as it were) on the list of award winners. I’ve been checking and rechecking my email and the official fest site but, so far, nuthin’. I’ll post them in a festival epilogue tomorrow, along with my own personal faves. In the meantime, today’s movies...

Weary from several nights of not-nearly-enough sleep, I only managed two programmes today before packing it in. First up was Shorts for Shorties 2, followed by Official Selection 12: Honey I Screwed Up the Kids, a collection of shorts dealing with parenting, children, teens and the like. [A quick aside to Lois, who asked how films wind up as part of an “official selection” programme: all the filmmakers submit their work the same way, and then the programmers decide which films go where.]

Maybe it was my fatigue, but I found a number of the films to be decidedly meh today. I found myself sliding lower and lower into my seat and my eyelids getting heavier and heavier. The only ones I loved were the pair of Aardman Animation offerings, Purple and Brown (7/8) and Pib and Pog: Peter’s Room (7/8). But, really, what’s not to love? They’re adorable and funny. If you don’t believe me, have a look for yourselves! (God bless the internet!)

not the Pib and Pog short I saw today, but still good

a whole whack of Purple and Brown!

A number of the shorts in the ...Screwed Up the Kids pack were rather sombre. Drug overdoses, suicide, school shootings. Not exactly feel-good material, so it was hard to find one about which to rave...until Christmas in Huddersfield (7/8) hit the screen. It’s a doc about a 1977 Christmas concert in the titular Yorkshire town...when the Sex Pistols decided to perform for children. It was fantastic, and it blends archival video footage of the event with the recollections of the (now-adult) kids who were in attendance. Seeing Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, grinning widely, slicing cake and goofing around with pre-teens was unexpectedly sweet.

After the screening, I filled in my final audience ballot, hopped on the bus and came home to collapse on the couch. Kudos, as always, to the WWSFF staff for putting on another delightful, virtually glitch-free festival! It remains one of the most relaxed, publicly accessible and affordable tickets in town. See you next year!

(Or, if TIFF smartens up, perhaps I’ll see some of you in September!)

Total shorts screened today: 18

Total shorts screened at the WWSFF 2007 by me: 109!

WWSFF #4: It's the thought that counts

Tossing new ideas and elements into a festival that’s 13 years old is usually a good idea, but sometimes things don’t work out quite as planned. My first screening today was a prime example of this.

This year, the WWSFF introduced two new programmes of films called Shorts for Shorties, which feature shorts geared specifically towards children. Today was programme one (for kids aged six to nine) and tomorrow is programme two (kids nine to 12). I figured, being a Saturday, the screening would likely be quite full, so I got to the Cumberland at 1pm for the 1:30pm show.

There was no one there.

I mean, no one. No volunteers, no patrons, nobody. Even the standard “ticket holders” sign was nowhere to be seen out front. Had the festival unexpectedly ended? I checked my watch – surely they couldn’t have let in already, could they? I went inside and found a theater staffer who said, no, no one had yet been admitted to the cinema. Huh. Weird. I went back outside and waited. Eventually, a FOHA arrived and dragged out the ticket-holders sign. I stood behind it. Alone. A few more people joined the “line,” but there were literally only a dozen of us by the time we were ushered inside.

Entering the Cumberland 4, I felt sad: at the front of the venue sat instruments and sound equipment (OMG, a pre-show show!), and women in huge, technicolor skirts were in the process of dropping things (I couldn’t see what) into random cupholders, like tiny little surprises for the audience members lucky enough to sit in those seats. But they were “hiding” a LOT of little things, and I thought, “I wonder if they know that this screening is going to be empty.”

Sure enough, despite waiting an extra 10 minutes after the scheduled start time to get the proceedings underway in the hopes of filling more seats with latecomers, there were only perhaps 40 people (total) in the theater...and only SEVEN children. Exactly seven. I counted. Now, in order for any kind of children’s-themed entertainment to be a hit, you kind of need children in the crowd. There were very few in attendance this afternoon, and I could feel the performers’ unease and disappointment as they emerged from the back and realized they’d be playing to adults who were, for the most part, more interested in seeing films than participating in a sing-along.

Our pre-show entertainment was courtesy of Sir Jerry, his band and his “ga-ga dancers” (the aforementioned poofy-skirt-clad women). They tried soooooo hard to maintain their energy, but it was obvious that they were kind of wishing they could just scrap the gig. Jerry et al. at least had a great, self-deprecating sense of humor about the whole thing; he made subtle jokes about the technical glitches they were experiencing (e.g., referring to the “bouncy bass” only to have the speakers for the bass guitar not work) and to the fact that they knew this was going awry (“this is a song about what happens when things go wrong...”).

Nonetheless, they made a valiant effort and soldiered on despite the scarcity of their target audience. And, really, it was a nice idea to add some live entertainment to the event. I’m not sure why the screening was so poorly attended overall, or why so few parents decided to bring their kids, but there you have it. A lesson learned for next fest.

But here’s the super curious, coincidental thing...Sir Jerry (aka Jerry Levitan) the performer is the guy who, as a 14-year-old boy, interviewed John Lennon for the audio tape that provided the soundtrack for the short film I Met the Walrus, which I saw at the fest the other day and really liked. How freaky is that??? This Jerry was that Jerry! No one pointed that out at the screening today, so I’m not sure if it’s because fest organizers didn’t know or because they figured it wasn’t relevant...but I nearly spat out my water when I went to Sir Jerry’s website and made the connection. It’s like the cinematic circle of life all at the same film fest!

Anyway, on to the films today...

In addition to Shorts for Shorties 1, I also went to Sci-Fi: Out There (which was PACKED TO THE RAFTERS – they even had to break out several sets of folding chairs to accommodate the crowd!) and Official Selection 8: Animal Instincts. My top picks for the day:

* I loved ALL the Shorties shorts – for some reason, the kids’ flicks always tend to be of a higher calibre – but the standout great ones were: At Home With Mrs. Hen (7/8), about a mother bird and her two chicks; Aardman Animation’s Shaun the Sheep: Still Life (7/8), about a painting project gone awry; and The Parish Letter (8/8), a brilliant Irish gem about a snowy town and an empty church.

* Mathieu Fontaine’s wonderfully inventive sci-fi “thriller” Terror on the 3918 (8/8) may wind up being my absolute fave of the entire fest. I smiled all the way through and was hugely impressed.

* Impressive for another reason – namely, because it looks like it cost several million to make and is breathtakingly stunning to look at – was the German offering, D-I-M: Deus in Machina (7/8). Bonus points for its cheeky ending. Visit the film's equally impressive website and watch the trailer to see for yourself -- it's astounding.

* Sleeping Betty (8/8), another animated short I loved, that puts a hilarious, modern-day spin on a classic fairy tale.

* Spencer Maybee’s L’oiseau mort (6/8) was an ethereal, and beautifully shot, examination of isolation in the life of grief-stricken young girl.

* My Life at 40 (6/8), in which the filmmaker uses an essay he wrote at 12 (about what he hoped his life would be like in the future) as the narrative for an animated tale of what could have been.

Tomorrow: OMG! Pib and Pog!!!! I love those two!

Total shorts screened today: 30

Saturday, June 16, 2007

SIFF #13 - Sex, Death, and Berlin

Everyone loves the movie Heathers. And I'm sure all the fans of that movie wonder what happened to the sharp screenwriter that made one of the most viciously quotable teen movies ever. Well, in his introduction to his new movie Sex and Death 101, writer/director Daniel Waters pretty much admitted that he had sold his soul to The Man, and it has taken him this long to finally create a follow-up that he wasn't embarassed about. Sex and Death 101 (4/8) is about a good-looking and wildly successful businessman name Roderick Blank (Simon Baker). On the verge of finally settling down to get married, he gets a mysterious email list of 101 women. Strangely, he recognizes the first 29 names as being all the women he's ever has sex with, in chronological order up to his fiancée. Some mysterious and friendly Matrix-y type fellows wearing sharp suits and lounging in a white room tell him that a master computer sent him the list by mistake, and he should destroy it immediately. But would any sane man detroy a list that guarantees he will get laid another 70-some times in his life? The movie definitely has its funny moments, including a crowd-pleasing edge-of-very-wrong scene about necrophilia, but to me it felt a bit like a one-joke movie overstaying its welcome (especially when you find yourself counting the names on the long list, just like the character). Winona Ryder has a side-plot as a mysterious seductress who puts men into comas, but that storyline crosses paths with Roderick too little too late. Plus, considering the tone of the movie, the ending sucked (how do you say: Cop out!). My cohort S and I stayed a bit for the Q&A with Waters and Simon Baker afterwards, enough to hear that Waters himself seems to be as freaky/funny as his scripts, but we had to hop a bus to our next event...

The line stretched down the sidewalk at the Triple Door nightclub, where we arrived to see a sold-out event with the rock band Kinski doing a live score to a silent film. We were actually quite pleased with our Metro efficiency, arriving at the dinner theater a good 20 minutes early. Hooray for public transit! We hopped into line, and then... stood there. The line did not move. A man behind me griped, "If I knew I'd be standing outside this long, I would have brought cigarettes..." (for your non-local readers, we just had our first anniversary of the indoor smoking ban in Washington state). A harried Triple Door employee, that was an adorable taller version of Elijah Wood (swoon!), tried his best to keep order, but the natives were restless. With the help of a short line jump to join our friends J and D, we finally got seated inside the fancy venue.

The Triple Door is impressively Vegas-y, with cosy booths and dim lighting, and a small stage for performers. We all ordered drinks with phancy names and prepared to enjoy Kinski's musical stylings. First, one of early German director Walther Ruttmann's short films was shown (didn't catch the title). It was animated, with squishy blobs and pointy, thrusting, toothy triangles, and was frankly a little bit baffling. Kinski's score was quite and mellow, which only emphasized the scraping of cutlery on dinner plates as people ate. In my mind, the dinner clanking served as the equivalent of someone awkwardly clearing their throat at a performance. Luckily, the feature film, Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a City (Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt) (7/8) was awesome. Kinski created a quiet to thundering wall-of-sound guitar score to this fascinating 1927 silent film that is a collage of the day in the life of a city. I knew it was going to be good when early on a big, butch locomotive emerged from a station, and Kinski blew our hair back with unexpected blast of electric noise. I leaned over to my friend and yelled, "You hear that music? That means that train is a BADASS!" Kinski got rousing applause at the end, and we all agreed the the event was great fun for a Friday night.

WWSFF #3: Beware strangers bearing samples!

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy a free sample. Seeing an apron-clad Starbucks staffer standing outside their store with a tray full of micro-sized, perfectly assembled Frappucinos – you know, with the wee straws and tiny dollops of whipped cream – makes my heart smile, especially if I happen upon one while heading from one film screening to another on a hot summer day.

Today, however, I made a grave sampling error.

I was walking west along Bloor between Bay and University. At the southeast corner of Bloor and St. Thomas sits some kind of chi-chi new coffee place. Or sandwich place. Or both. I have no idea; I always just walk past because it looks pretentious and expensive. So, imagine my delight when, today, I spotted someone outside with a sample tray – I could taste the pricey wares without having to pay for any of it. Cool!

Now, in hindsight, perhaps I should have done a better job of heeding the warning signs that were all over this situation. First of all, the shop employee manning the tray of small paper cups was just kind of leaning against the wall of the building with all the enthusiasm of a high-schooler stuck in detention. Secondly, she still had at least a half dozen cups on her tray. Odd, given the level of foot traffic on the street at the time. She also made no effort to entice me or even greet me. She just kind of stood there. “You can’t fool me!” I thought, foolishly. “If you’re not going to offer me a free beverage, I’m going to walk right up to you and ask for one.”

So I did. “Can I take one of those off your hands?” I asked with a smile, peering down into the cups and almost immediately regretting my request.

“Sure,” said Bored Betty. “It’s our iced green tea.”

I took one of the cups, thanked her and continued westward. As soon as I picked up the cup I could tell the “iced” portion of this drink had long since gone. She must have been standing outside for a while because the paper, and its contents, were warm. Nonetheless, just as I reached the opposite side of St. Thomas, I took a sip.


Ugh, it was terrible. Awful. Nasty. Bitter. It tasted like a cup full of chemicals. I made an “I’m thoroughly revolted!” face and then started laughing because this was all my fault in the first place. I had been blinded by the lure of a free icy drink and this was my punishment. I mean, I’m pretty sure that tea isn’t supposed to be gritty. I felt like walking back to the sample girl, returning the cup and saying, “You made this wrong.”

As I continued walking, a very amused security guard who’d been standing outside one of the buildings and who’d clearly witnessed my face-making horror, sort of chuckled and said, “Looks like that didn’t taste so good.”

“No! It was disgusting!” I said, repeating the face and hoping it would keep him from making the same sampling mistake.


I saw two programmes of films today: Official Selection 5: Portraits of an Artist, which featured (sometimes reaching) films by or about “artists” (dancers, filmmakers, animators, etc.), and Irish National Film School Spotlight, comprised of shorts made by grads of the titular institution. Among my faves:

* Mathieu Grondin’s Screen Test: Karen Elkin (6/8), a fictionalized account of an actual encounter between Elkin and a demanding, borderline abusive, director. As an aside, I might have liked this film more had Elkin, who was at the screening, not very obviously opened up her cell phone to check her messages while another short was screening. Tsk, tsk. Manners, people.

* Trouble in Paradise (7/8), a clever little animated gem from Shane Collins, which follows the turf war between a beach-dwelling crab and a coconut. SO cute!

* Likewise, Conor Ryan’s animated short Cold Pursuit (7/8), about a polar bear chasing a bouncy fish, was light-hearted, fun and adorable.

* Ken Wardrop’s poignant doc, Undressing My Mother (7/8), was like a poetic love letter from a son to his mum, from a woman to her husband, and from a woman to the realities of her own body.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, was Radio Kebrle, a freaky and twisted Czech film that I’m fairly certain will give me nightmares. It was a well-made film, but one that – for no reasons other than my own personal tastes – creeped the crap out me. All it was missing were some ventriloquist dummies.

Total shorts screened today: 22

Friday, June 15, 2007

SIFF #12 - Love in a bubble, and Rollergirl mania!

I have found through the years that you usually can't go wrong choosing a film by one of SIFF's featured Emerging Masters. A) Usually the films are good, and B) The director is almost always there for an extended Q&A. I had no problem deciding to see Eytan Fox's The Bubble. A few SIFF's ago I was impressed by his compact and moving Israeli-soldier love story Yossi & Jagger. The Bubble (Habuah) (6/8) is a love story between Noam (Ohad Knoller), a young Israeli man who falls for a Palestinian man named Ashraf (Yousef 'Joe' Sweid). It is almost a Romeo & Juliet story, as the two struggle to be together. In Tel Aviv, Ashraf risks being discovered and sent back to Palestine, and it is even more impossible for Noam, a Jew, to visit Ashraf in his home. In Tel Aviv, Noam and his friends live in a "bubble" of openness, freedom, and acceptance, and try to pull Ashraf into the fold, but the inevitable politics and culture clash intervene. The cast was overall excellent, especially Ohad Knoller as Noam (who played Yossi in Fox's previous film). The relationship between Noam and Ashraf is sweet and almost innocent, and the community of friends is well-developed and warm. But if you've seen Fox's previous films, there is a sense of impending doom.

Director Eytan Fox accepted the Emerging Master prize from more and more sleep-deprived SIFF-director Carl Spence. The Q&A was really interesting, and Fox was a very engaging speaker, telling of the modern youth of Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, plus touching a bit on the political situation. A man right up front in the audience yelled out, "Just say it! Say the word! The word is OCCUPATION!!!" That ruffled Fox a tad, but he managed to steer his comments away from anything too controversial. I would have liked to stay for the whole Q&A to see if there was going to be a fist fight, but I had to dart to my car and rush over to the U-District to the event that turned out to be the hottest and most fun ticket of the festival.

The world premiere of Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls (6/8) had a massive line spilling all the way around the corner and down the street. The box office said Sold Out and there was electric buzz in the air. ALL the cool kids were at this event! I couldn't help but grin while waiting to get into the theater. A red carpet was rolled out under the marquee, and all the gussied-up rollergirls, with their men, their women, their pals, their mothers, and their kids were preening and posing, flashbulbs exploding right and left. Seattle needs to learn: THIS is what a world premiere should look like! (see links to tons of photos here) Once everyone was inside, the vibe was like a rock concert, with energy crackling in the air. Throughout the film, people were applauding the credits, hooting at particular skaters, and roaring in delight at the particularly brutal moves on the track. It was a raucous screening!

The film has wit and sass, plus charm and personality to spare. The interviews with the women are easily the best part of the film, as the girls are, unsurprisingly, sharp, funny, and cool. As a fan of the whole RCRG phenom (which really swept the hipsters in this city out of nowhere the past couple years), I was delighted to find that the girls' personalities are as colorful in real life as they are on the track. A montage of the four teams being described by their foes is particularly hilarious ("They eat children." "They're all lesbians." "They have a high proportion of blonde ponytails.") If one of the rollergirls stands out in the interviews, it is Basket Casey, an intense spitfire from the team Grave Danger. The filmmakers obviously knew they got the goods in her interviews as her eyes would light up with delight when describing the theatrical violence of the sport, like "knocking the snot" out of another skater.

The film itself was very entertaining, though sometimes the timeline is a bit muddy, and it had some occasional ugly technical issues. For instance, no matter how excellent the sound bite, you simply cannot use a clip of an interview where the lighting is basically non-existent, leaving a shadow of a talking head in a dark room. Ooops. Hopefully they'll clean some of the technical issues as Blood on the Flat Track makes the film festival rounds. That said, kudos to whoever did the closing credits of the film... the animated rosters of the rollergirls and their teams were REALLY cool.

Considering how the audience was stacked in the film's favor at this premiere, I have to admit I am VERY curious how it will place in the audience awards at the end of the fest!

WWSFF #2: Audience Etiquette 101

It didn’t take long: fest-goers are starting to annoy me.

The list of pet peeves grows daily, and I feel like now might be a good time to revisit my somewhat-dated list of film festival DOs and DON’Ts. Some items on the list are geared specifically towards TIFF and SIFF and fests screening feature-length films, but the general principles of common courtesy and common sense are applicable anytime there’s a gathering of people in a confined space.

Today, in particular, I was treated to numerous examples of thick-headedness on the part of some of my theatre-mates. For starters, people: it’s dark inside the cinemas, so for the love of all that is sane, please take off your freakin’ sunglasses. They do not make you look cool. They do not make me think you’re an important filmmaker. They do not add an element of je ne sais quoi to you. They look lame. They look especially lame at the Cumberland, where the lights are always low and the need for any sort of protective eyewear indoors is nonexistent.

Similarly, don’t just shut off your cell phone and/or Blackberry, leave it at home. Are you really that important that you need to check your messages between each short film? Or stand up before the screening starts to delete your messages, one after another, so the whole world can see just how many people wanted to talk to you at some point? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Do you irritate the hell out of me when you flip your phone open in the dark – because you somehow believe that you’re encased in an opaque box and no one can see your phone’s astoundingly bright glow – to see if anyone’s called in the last three minutes? The answer to that question is a resounding: YES.


In non-pretentiousness peeves, how about showing up to the screening on time? Would you mind? Would it kill you? I realize you may only want to see the latter half of a particular package of films, but it seriously kills the mood for the rest of us when you and your five friends lumber into the theatre mid-screening and try to find seats together. If you’re 20 minutes late, you can go ahead and sit right up front as far as I’m concerned. By that time, you’ve lost cherry-picking privileges and should just sit your tardy ass down in whatever seat will result in the least amount of search time. Show some manners, fer cryin’ out loud.

ALL of the above peeves manifested themselves at the Celebrity Shorts programme I attended tonight, which boasted a full house but which also featured the shades-wearers, the phone-checkers, HORDES of latecomers and, worst of all, the constant din of voices outside the cinema doors where, presumably, the volunteers and staff were chatting...unaware that those of us at the rear of the theatre could hear them better than we could hear the actual shorts we were watching. I feel like bringing along a “Quiet, Please!” sign and pasting it to the outside of the entrance to the Cumberland 4. (The guy sitting behind me last night was a little more blunt: everytime the doors opened or the crowd outside got particularly loud, he’d heave a sigh of, “What the fuuuuuck?!”)

Griping aside, today’s sets of films were universally solid. Yes, there were some duds (there always are), but the bulk of the shorts I saw ranged from good to great. I went to three programmes – the aforementioned Celebrity Shorts (featuring films made by or starring Hollywood celebs), along with Official Selection 9: Fashion Victims and Official Selection 7: I’m With the Band. The standouts for me were:

* The Brazilian offering Tyger (7/8), which blends animation and puppetry in a dazzling display of light and dark as a giant tiger makes its way through a city at night.

* Bitch (6/8), which Linda reviewed a few days ago at SIFF.

* Josh Raskin’s I Met the Walrus (7/8), which takes an old audio recording of a 14-year-old interviewing John Lennon and drops into a trippy animated format. Tough to describe on paper, but wildly entertaining to watch onscreen.

* The touching (read: made Vickie cry!) German memoir One or Two Things (7/8), in which a woman recounts her childhood with her now-deceased mother.

* Room 10 (6/8), which Linda reviewed at SIFF and which (as she noted) features yet another stirring performance from Robin Wright Penn, who consistently makes interesting film choices. And her co-star, Kris Kristofferson gives an impressively understated performance that, not surprisingly, also made me cry.

I also really liked the music used in James Griffiths’ The One and Only Herb McGwyer Plays Wallis Island (6/8), a British comedy about a rock star hired to play the world’s smallest gig. Seriously, if there was a soundtrack to this 24-minute film, I’d buy it.

One final note for the day: the weather was gorgeous! Still a tiny bit on the warm side (80F), but sunny, breezy and dry. It’s amazing what a difference it makes!

Total shorts screened today: 24

Thursday, June 14, 2007

SIFF #11 - Ohmygosh! A feature starring all women!

There is some sort of FilmFestivalPalooza going on here at Moviepie Musings! Lest you all get confused, here's a clarification of the chaos:

Linda and Jennifer have been writing about SIFF (The Seattle International Film Festival) and BIFF (The Bellevue International Film Festival)... which are actually the same thing. Bellevue, for those of you not from these parts, is in the suburbs, and SIFF is treatin' those Eastsiders with fest screenings. Vickie, however, is now simultaneously reporting from WWSFF (The Worldwide Short Film Festival), which is in Toronto, and is scheduled to finish this Sunday the 17th with a bang, at the very same time as SIFF! Don't worry, you are not the only one wiping your furrowed brow with confusion...

Back to SIFF... My strange case of FPE may have cleared up, but the screening of Stealth (Comme des voleurs (A l'est)) (4/8) had me wanting to rub my eyes again in fatigue because if its strangely erratic nature. The film itself was a mostly watchable, respectable road-trip movie between a young gay man named Lionel and his sister Lucie. Lionel has just found out that his Swiss family has a Polish ancestor, and this obsesses him to the point of wanting to marry a cute Polish immigrant (a woman... whoops!) and break up with his longtime boyfriend. Sister Lucie is fed-up with his irrational behavior, so abducts him for a road trip where they encounter the usual obstacles until they arrive in Warsaw and perhaps get to the bottom of their family lore. That's all fine and dandy, but this movie had the most weirdly inappropriate soundtrack that I've ever heard in a film. You know how sometimes you are sitting at a multiplex, watching a tear-jerking drama, and you hear the completely unrelated Pirates score booming through the wall from the neighboring screen? Stealth, a modern road movie with humor and family strife, had a score like a fully-orchestrated Douglas Sirk melodrama from the 50s. Wholly distracting and completely baffling. Plus I have no idea what the title of this film meant in relation to the story. Anyone care to explain?

I grabbed a delicious vegan hot dog from Cyber Dogs (I'm tiring of slices of pizza), then ran up the hill to the Egyptian. I don't know what it is about this last week especially, but I have been consistently getting to the theaters just as they are about to slam the door to stragglers. I find myself tripping through the dark to find a seat, or sitting down in a sweat, just as the lights go down. I'm afraid I've become one of Those People.

Luckily my next film turned out to be delightful. Just the other day, Vickie was lamenting about the lack of good roles for women in the movies. Then here comes I Really Hate My Job (6/8), a breezy little comedy that takes place in one evening within the confines of one restaurant. It is an ensemble comedy with great performances all around by Shirley Henderson, Alexandra Maria Lara, Neve Campbell, Anna Maxwell Martin, and Oana Pellea. There is chaos in the kitchen as Alice (Henderson) has to fill in for the chef, and there is chaos out on the floor as Abi (Campbell) is having a 30th birthday meltdown. In the meantime, there is a dinner reservation for a movie star, and the anticipation of this brush-with-greatness is putting them all on edge. The writing is sharp, fast, and funny, and Henderson and Oana Pellea (as the dish washer) are particularly hilarious in their claustrophobic kitchen interplay. Neve's character's drama-queen-ness does get a bit tiring, but overall the film was highly enjoyable. And for those of you curious about such things, I'm letting you know right now that Neve Campbell will be in the running for Moviepie's annual Breast Performance award this year. The rest I'll leave to your imagination.

WWSFF #1: Vickie? Myrocia. Myrocia? Vickie.

It’s freakin’ hot.

Why must every single Toronto-based film festival inevitably take place during some kind of weird heat wave? It happens every year at TIFF. It happened earlier this month at Toronto’s Inside/Out fest. It’s happened at the WWSFF before and it’s happening again now. If it’s not immediately and inherently apparent: film fest-ing in scorching temperatures makes for decidedly sweaty, musty audiences and uncomfortable pre-screening line-ups.


I’m thrilled to say that I discovered late last week my accreditation for the fest had been approved, so it was with a heart overflowing with glee that I skipped (okay, not really, but I was skipping on the inside) over to the Manulife Centre to pick up my media package this afternoon en route to my first screening at the Cumberland. Imagine my horror when I arrived and was told, “Um, we don’t have those.”


I will spare you the lengthy and likely tedious details of the organizational snafu that sent me jogging through the noon-day heat from one venue to another in search of my press pass, because I eventually did get my hands on it (a few hours later) and because, honestly, I doubt you will find any of it remotely interesting. What you may find interesting, though, is the fact that the aforementioned snag in the fabric of my day resulted in what can only be described as a serendipitous encounter with Myrocia Watamaniuk. That’s right people -- the kick-ass programmer and Q&A moderator whose skills in front of a fest crowd led me to found MWAS at the end of this year’s HotDocs. Heck, I even extolled her virtues way back in 2005.

Well, today we met (she was my ticket into the first set of films while my pass made its way downtown) and it turns out...she’s read the ‘Pie. She knew about MWAS. And so did several of her colleagues. Thankfully, I wasn’t immediately stripped of my accreditation and escorted out of the building. Why? Because I’m right. She is a great mod and everybody there knows it, so fest folks were quite pleased with the praise. Official MWAS membership forms will be circulated shortly.

After MW (as she will be known from here on in because, let’s face it, it’s much faster to type and we at the ‘Pie do love our acronyms) shepherded me into the theatre, it was time for the first programme of a half-dozen films: Laughing at Americans: New Voices of American Comedy. It started off really well, and ended really well, but the middle films left a lot to be desired.

Kidney Thieves (6/8) by Toby Wilkins was a smartly written comedy about an American (Ethan Embry) who wakes up in a ratty Mexican...hotel? hostel? prison? doesn’t matter...to discover his kidneys are gone. But not the way he thinks. I loved the dialogue, the macabre humour and the delivery from co-stars Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins. Though I was a bit taken aback by Ethan Embry's bloat -- he's doubled in size since Empire Records and That Thing You Do!

Even better was the programme’s closer, I.A.S.: A Search For Hope (7/8), a brilliant little mocumentary about a rehab program for “real” actors who lose their artistic way once they hit Hollywood and fall victim to I.A.S. (Idiot Actors Syndrome). Timely, wry and with a laugh-out-loud performance from writer-director Paul Bartholomew, it was easily my fave of this set. Plus: Rainn Wilson!

As an aside: I was really, really loving The Fifth -- one of the other films in this programme, about a weekly poker game where one of the regulars happens to be a serial killer – until it veered off the rails by needlessly inserting some rather graphic dialogue (“raping her with her own face”) and imagery (a woman having her head slammed into a table over and over and over again until she’d been beaten to death, then stabbed, accompanied by degrading commentary). Both immediately yanked me right out of the humour by slapping me across the face with unnecessary vulgarity in an otherwise funny dark comedy. Too bad.

Next up was Official Selection 3: Love You Like Crazy, an impressive series of nine shorts themed around love. None of these shorts slapped me across the face with anything, save for some warm, fuzzy feelings. My favourites were:

* Osbert Parker’s animated homage to old film-noir capers, Yours Truly (6/8), which was a dizzying combo of archival footage, stop-motion animation and digital effects.

* Manual Schapira’s Pick-Up (7/8), a French character study about a lonely, seemingly agoraphobic woman, who tries to connect with people by calling a phone booth outside her apartment and chatting with whomever picks up the receiver. It co-stars Jacky Ido, whom I loved in The White Masai back at TIFF 2005.


*Please Stand By (6/8), a twisted (in a good way) Canadian comedy from writer-director Chris Nash that tracks the final moments in the life of a dejected guy waiting to be killed by giant marauding lobsters. Seriously.

And that was it for today. I realized mid-afternoon that I’d neglected to properly prep this diary – and Linda, who’s busy concurrently SIFFing while I’m WWSFFing – so I opted to head home to get things in order.

Tomorrow: more international offerings and a pile of celebrity shorts!

Total shorts screened today: 15

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Worldwide Short Film Festival (June 12th - 17th, 2007) -- Let's go!

Ah, the Worldwide Short Film Festival!

Up until my hardcore Hot Doc-ing earlier this year, the WWSFF was my second-favourite film festival in Toronto. It’s in its 13th year now, and I’ve been queuing up to get into their shorts for ten of those 13 years. I’ve watched it grow from a barely attended event that unspooled whatever short films landed on its director’s desk (seriously, some were inconceivably horrible) to a showcase for some of the most astoundingly wonderful short films from around the planet.

This year, the fest will screen more than 250 films from 30 countries at a number of venues around town (though, not the Bader, which is a bummer) and – drumroll please – like HotDocs, this will be the first year that I attend as an officially accredited member of the media! Hooray!

I last covered the WWSFF for the ‘Pie back in 2005, when I offered a post-fest wrap-up of my fave flicks. This year, press pass strung proudly around my neck on the world’s longest lanyard (my media pass hangs precisely at crotch-level), I’ll be blogging daily. I won’t, however, be reviewing every short I see – with an average of 20 a day, there’s no way I’d have time to discuss them all. So, instead, highlights, lowlights and random nonsense as it unfolds.

It’s go time!

SIFF #10 - The mysterious case of FPE

One thing that I can say for sure about The Man of My Life (L'homme de sa vie) (5/8) is that it sure it pretty. If this film doesn't make you want to pick up and move to the south of France for a lifelong holiday, I don't know what will. You know, where the wheat ripples in the wind, where there are fields of sunflowers, where you eat dinner outside every night at a table with a dozen people, where a swimming pool's water is dark blue and inviting. Unfortunately, the film itself is both intriguing and baffling. Frédéric (the handsomely bald Bernard Campan) has a beautiful wife, cute son, and rambunctious extended family. Hugo (Charles Berling), a sort of vaguely creepy love-'em and leave-'em gay, lives next door to the brood. Frédéric and Hugo form a friendship based around jogging, sharing occasional group meals, and one long night of conversation (which is returned to again and again in flashback through the film). It seems that as their friendship develops, Frédéric becomes more and more unhappy with his supposed perfect life. His wife starts to freak out, and Hugo seems to... wait. Unfortunately we wait as well, then the movie ends. What? I felt that their should have been another half hour of resolution, but we are just left hanging. Is about male friendship? Is it about homosexual repression? Is it about not realizing your dreams? All or none of the above?

My next film had some buzz... but maybe I should have listened more carefully to what the buzz was buzzing about. I had assumed the early murmurs were good, but to see the audience squirming throughout the film, maybe people were talking simply because The Art of Crying (Kunsten at græde i kor) (4/8) was controversial. Taking place in early 1970s rural South Jutland in Denmark, the film follows a highly dysfunctional family. Dad (Jesper Asholt), the town milkman, cries himself to sleep, constantly threatening to kill himself. Mom is basically unconscious from sleeping pills. And it is the teen daughter's job to "comfort" dad on the couch (ewwwww). But the star of the show is young Allen (Jannik Lorenzen), who looks just like Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story, but is strangely sinister. For fun, he prays for the death of people he doesn't like (sometimes getting his wish), and is so devoted to his dad, that he orders his sister to do her part to stop him from crying (even though Allen doesn't quite understand the implications of the deed). The first half of the film went well, and I found myself actually enjoying the really really dark humor. But then any lightness in the film just left, and it was a really grim, ick-worthy family drama. I suppose if you get off on squirm-inducing movies like Todd Solondz's Happiness, this would be the film for you. For me, I just wanted to go home and scrub myself clean. [AFTERTHOUGHT: Later, I went online to read early reviews, and found two, count 'em TWO reputable sites refer to this as a "Dutch" film. IDIOTS! Danes live in Denmark, not freakin' DUTCH! This never fails to get the Viking in me all riled up. Arrrgghh!]

At this point I must tell about a strange ailment that hit me towards the end of The Art of Crying. When there was about 15 minutes of the film left, I found myself rubbing my eye. No, I wasn't practicing the art of crying, but I found that it was a little irritated, and just needed a good rub. Mmmmmm. Still kinda itchy... rub again. Rub harder. Ahhhh. Temporary relief. Leave the theater, walk to the car. Eye is kinda weepy. Rub again. Feels good, but starting to get uncomfortable. In the car, I pull down the mirror and see that eyelid has gotten weird and puffy, as well as glands in corner of eye. Blinky all the way home. By the time I got through my front door, I felt like I had a Mask of Zorro of Puffy across the top half of my face. Disappointingly, it didn't look TOO bad, but I was wondering if I had a mild allergic reaction to something at the theater. I've decided to call this mysterious new disease Festival Puffy Eye (FPE). After lying in bed with a cold, wet watchcloth across my eyes, it felt a little better, but a milder case of FPE continued to the next day...

I was looking forward to Delirious (5/8) because it was directed by Tom DiCillo, who has made movies like Living in Oblivion and Box of Moonlight, which I enjoyed very much. But I was also a little apprehensive, because those movies were from 10 years ago, and I haven't seen anything since. Delirious stars Steve Buscemi in the Steve Buscemi role of Les, a weaselly paparazzi in NYC. He has oily dyed-black hair and his only friends are other lowly photographers whom he doesn't really like. One day, he crosses paths with a homeless kid named Toby (Michael Pitt), whom he ends up taking under his wing as an assistant. The early parts of the movie work best, as Les and Toby negotiate their living arrangements as well as stalk famous people, including pop diva K'Harma (Alison Lohman). The film plays on the nature of celebrity from both the inside and the outside, as Toby gets a love connection with K'Harma and ends up in her inner circle, almost by accident. But by this time, I couldn't help but feel that I'd seen it all before, in films ranging from the recent Music and Lyrics, American Dreamz, the indie Surviving Eden, and even DiCillo's own earlier films. Unsurprisingly, the best scene-stealer in the film is the always luscious Gina Gershon, who rips into her scenes hilariously as a talent agent who is after Toby. If only the other actors tore into their scenes as much as Gershon, perhaps the film would have been funnier.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

SIFF #9 - Over the halfway hump, with a longing sigh

After taking a day off, I had only one film for Thursday night, Spider Lilies (Ci-Qing) (5/8) from Taiwan. Once again, like Eternal Summer, I selected this film on the basis of having previously seen a lovely gay Taiwanese movie in the past. Spider Lilies is the story of Takeko (Isabella Leong), a lonely tattoo artist who keeps to herself, and only seems to have social contact with her withdrawn adult brother who is stunted in childlike mentality after seeing their father die in an earthquake. After the earthquake, even though she was a teen, Takeko got her arm tattooed just like her dead father, thinking this was the only way to communicate with her little brother. However, that tattoo, of the vine-like spider-lily flower which supposedly lines the path to Hell, seems to bring nothing but heartache. As an adult, Takeko is reunited with Jade (Rainie Yang) a young woman from her past who wants the same tattoo emblazoned on her own arm, to remind her of a past love. The past love, is of course, with Takeko herself... when they were young and lived in the countryside. Jade, at the time only 9 (!), fell for the older Takeko, and later as teens they had a relationship. With arty flashbacks and other imagery, it is implied that everything went to hell when the earthquake happened, and Takeko retreated. Jade is now a web-cam girl on a sex-site, but hopes her rediscovery of Takeko in her urban tattoo parlor may change their lives. Or something. Spider Lilies has a dreamy quality that sometimes worked, and sometimes was just a little odd. Jade's baby-doll sexy-girl online persona was a bit creepy, and it was always a little unclear as to how old her character was compared to Takeko. The character of Takeko is quite passive, but still she managed to be mysteriously intriguing. There is lots of longing, and not much action. However, though Spider Lilies doesn't always work, it is certainly watchable.

Here's my next admission: I took Friday and Saturday off from SIFF. Yes, its true! Normally in the past, I've had a week or weekend vacation during the festival, where I've gone out of town, but this year that wasn't the case. Schedule-wise though, maybe subconciously I looked at the listings for the weekend and didn't find much to be intriguing, deep inside knowing by this point I'd be wiped out. The weather turned out to be super-crappy on Saturday, but it was a nice day to do errands and then spend the rest of the day all cozy at home, resting and recuperating.

Sunday, it was back to SIFF'n! I'm at the point of the festival where I'm just looking at my tickets on the day-of, and figuring out where I have to be. I see a movie title on a ticket, and honestly have no idea what it is, or why I chose it. This was the case for The Paper Will Be Blue (Hîrtia va fi albastrã) (5/8). This Romanian film takes place in one night, during the revolution in December 1989 when the national TV station has been overtaken (by terrorists?), and dictator Ceauşescu is on the run. A solider in the militia, bored by simply being on patrol away from the action, abadons post and runs toward the TV station, hoping to join the fight with the people. Costi (Paul Ipate) gets into more trouble that he bargained for, and as far as his abandoned compatriots, they spend the rest of the night looking for him, to try to keep him out of trouble. The film is well made, and conveys the chaos of a night of revolution (who's in charge? the Army? the people?). There is really nothing wrong with the film, but I felt bad that I thought I could walk out at any time and not really regret it. Maybe my building apathy is simply due to film-festival fatigue.

For my second film, I had to dart over to the University District. Luckily, I must have planned well in advance, because I had plenty of time to grab a couple slices of pizza and get a cuppa before heading to the theater. I did not, however, account for the fact that the process of getting a simple cuppa at the coffeeshop right next to the Neptune turned into a torture of slow ineptitude on part of the barista. This is the second time in as many visits that I've had issues with this place. Are these people not trained? How the hell can it take 10 minutes to make a cup of coffee? Especially when the customers can watch what you are doing?

So the film had just started when I got inside the Neptune (just steps away from the dreadfully slow coffeeshop). I plunked myself in the balcony, ready for three hours of Lady Chatterley. Then I got up and moved. Then I got up and moved again. Then I noticed that I wasn't the only one. I saw at least a dozen people prairie-dogging in the balcony. Getting up. Scooting over a couple seats. Sitting down. Looking around. Getting up again. Moving back a couple rows. Sitting down. Craning their necks, and looking around. It was actually kind of hilarous to watch. It also made me realize that the Neptune's entire balcony is at just the wrong slope, making it extremely difficult to see subtitles. Whether someone is 20 rows ahead on the balcony or right in front of you, their head will be smack in the middle of what you are trying to read. Grrr...

It turned out that Lady Chatterley (7/8) was light on dialogue and heavy on the action... err... I mean heavy on pictures of trees and sunlight and dewey plants. This French (!) production actually turned out to be delightful and rather breezy, considering that it was as long as the latest bloated Pirates movie. Fresh-faced and youthful Lady "Connie" (Marina Hands) has a bitter husband, Sir Clifford, who has been in a wheelchair since World War I. After Connie is diagnosed to be suffering from exhaustion at being his nursemaid, an assistant is hired to help her husband full time, and Connie gets to spend her days wandering the vast, lush grounds of their countryside estate. She stumbles upon the hunky gamekeeper washing himself outside his cabin, and thusly begins her sensual awakening. I'd say "sexual", but what I found interesting about this production is that it is her senses as a whole that are revived... Connie spends a lot of time looking at the trees, feeling the sun, running through the forest, and, yes, getting busy with Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, who is like rugged mid-40s Brando). This adaptation is definitely done from Connie's point of view. I've never read the book, so have no comparison, but I'd be curious what fans of the book thought of this version. I thought it was a perfectly pleasant (and yes, sometimes titillating) way to while away a Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

SIFF #8 - Twin/trans-genderism (and chickening out on cannibalism)

OK. I chickened out. I kept thinking about the comment from an unsuspecting stranger that Grimm Love (Rohtenburg) was a snuff film, and it gave me the heebie-jeebies. I'm one who has told many people recently that as I get older, I just don't like violence in films or TV. Do we HAVE to see serial killers glorified? Do we HAVE to see pretty young people brutalized on film for our entertainment? I reached this revelation after watching a string of previews for slasher films just before last summer's The Descent. Maybe I need beasties and aliens in order to tolerate violence. When it is human-on-human violence, I'm just not feeling the love any more.

So why did I grab a ticket for Grimm Love, a fictionalized film based on the (in)famous German cannibal case from a couple years ago? I don't know... curiosity about one of the few true taboos of society... heck, who hasn't been morbidly fascinated by the Donner Party, or the folks from Alive? Oh, and Felicity (aka Keri Russell) is in it. I (heart) Felicity!

I managed to stay half an hour, full of dread. The film was shot in murky light, lending it a constantly dusky feel, combined with flashbacks done in a 70s "home movie" style (replete with the film bleaching in the corners at time). Interesting idea, but the whole thing was so literally... dark. Keri Russell (with heavily kohl-lined eyes and disheveled hair) plays an American grad student doing research in Germany on the vaguely fictionalized cannibal case. Over dinner (meat?) she says to her friends, "Oh, and by the way, did you know that they filmed the whole thing? Only the police have seen the film... but, boy howdy! I'm gonna get my hands on it by the end of the film!" I knew I was in trouble. I was feeling queasy already. Oliver (Thomas Kretschmann), the eater, lives as an adult with his crazy mom whom I feared would be Course One (I didn't stay around to find out). Simon (Thomas Huber) has a nice boyfriend, but sneaks looks online at severed thumbs. Hm. There was a flashback to lonely young Oliver wearing embarrassing traditional German suspenders, then making surprising friends with a gloomy-looking kid. When the kid shows him the butcher's barn at the local farm, then with scary editing bares his pointy teeth... well... I calmly put my stuff back in my backpack, picked up my sweatshirt and iced latte, and fled the theater. Sorry, I just couldn't do it.

[NOTE TO READERS: If you managed to sit through all of Grimm Love, what did you think? Good? Bad? Exploitive with no redeeming qualities? Please post a comment... I'm very curious!]

Since I had a couple of hours to waste, I thought about gentle woodland creatures and soft, fluffy kittens to clear my mind, plus browsed the local record store and book store. I topped off the nice break with a delicious bowl of pho, which looked NOT like a bowl of intestines with slices of human meat stewing in the broth... See? I didn't have that image in my head because I walked out early! I felt quite pro-active and pleased with myself! Plus I got the famous and delicious Than Brothers cream puff to finish off my fast-n-cheap meal!

My second film of the evening was the intriguing documentary Red Without Blue (7/8) about twins, born as boys--but one of them comes out as transgendered later in life. The intimate doc follows three years in the life of Mark and his twin Alex... but when we meet Alex, the young man now passes as Clair, a young woman. Mark has his own issues to deal with: he is gay, but people wonder if he is just not admitting his own transgenderism because of his biological and emotional closeness with Clair. Their divorced parents wonder how such perfect kids grew up so troubled, first getting into drugs, then sex with a predatory older teen, and finally a suicide attempt that sent them off to separate boarding schools with no contact for two years.

What is impressive about the film is that the storyline does not go in expected places, that the "characters" actually evolve in unexpected ways. And through the whole thing, they all open up with such painful honesty on screen. I was quite impressed at the openness of the family (as was the rest of the audience), and I'm sure I'm not the only one to express appreciation for sharing their story. In fact, at the screening I attended, one member of the audience stood up and announce that he was a twin, and a trans male, and this is (unsurprisingly) the first time ever, EVER he had seen that there were others with a story similar to his. And THAT is one of the things I love about film festivals!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

BIFF #2 - It's Not --ah-- Rocket Science

Just two days after my first SIFF experience, I was back in the saddle for Rocket Science. My personal motto is that it's not a party until someone gets sick, so I'm pretty sure I had an AWESOME time.

Before the movie, the Pie Pals convened at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for Happy Hour. I can't think of a more awkward name for a restaurant, but the unofficial (i.e. possibly made up) story is that Ruth was some sort of steak wizard who operated "Ruth's Steakhouse", the most amazing steakhouse in all the land. At the time of her death, her son Chris took over and changed the name to "Chris's Steakhouse". Much to his dismay, everyone was like, "Who the hell is Chris, and why do we want to eat his steak?" Ultimately, he clarified by calling it "Ruth's Chris", and we all dined happily ever after.

This shaky rendition of the restaurant's history is at least slightly more credible than the theory that it was named after Chris North (sic)- the kid who played Dennis the Menace. (I met a woman who was wholly convinced of this!) Regardless of the weird name, the food is pretty fabulous.

We felt very Sex in the City as we sipped our Cosmopolitans, so we worked out which characters we'd be if we were actually on the show. Since their were four of us, it was perfect. Turns out I'm Charlotte, and Linda Moviepie is Miranda. We raised our glasses to Christopher Plummer (whose movie we were missing), then headed over to the theater looking exactly like this:

...you know, more or less.

After finding our seats, Linda was spotted by her friend, and I had the pleasure of meeting a real live Moviepie reader - Shehrry Bobbins of Dutch Dooley fame! (Yay, Shehrry! Thanks for reading!) And then...the movie started!

Rocket Science (7/8) is the delightfully quirky tale of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a high school student with a crippling stutter. Just trying to tell the lunch lady that he prefers pizza over the "general fish" is pure torture, but like so many of us, Hal is "full of retorts". When debate champion Ginny (Anna Kendrick) recruits him for the team, it looks like Hal will finally have a chance to express himself...except that his stutter isn't really getting any better, and she never gives him a chance to talk. Is the girl of his dreams just using him to advance her own quest for world domination?

Hal's world is complicated and confusing, but it seems to him that life shouldn't be rocket science. His father leaves because his mother is difficult, and she quickly takes up with the father of one of Hal's Korean classmates. Awkwardness ensues as the lovebirds force their children to endure their embarrassing displays of affection. Hal's brother is a greasy moron who only calls him by girl's names, and none of this is made any easier by his stutter. Even the special needs counselor at school is of little use - "I just wish you were hyperactive. I'm great with hyperactivity!"

The movie is full of witty lines and interesting characters, but my favorite is Ginny's freaky neighbor boy. He's particularly hilarious as he tells Hal to get off his street.

"It's public property," yells Hal.

"We'll see," growls Freaky Neighbor Boy.

We'll see?! Is that not the most brilliant comeback in all the world? You'd have to use it in the most inarguable and clear-cut of situations, but just think - your landlord tells you your rent is due on Friday: "We'll see!" Ha ha!

Despite the fact that I developed what I call a Bucket Headache (not to be confused with a Buckethead Ache which is caused by listening to the music of Buckethead) I loved every second of the movie. Thanks to sudden dips in the local barometer, I've been getting a lot of Bucket Headaches lately i.e. sinus headaches so powerful that you'd like to unscrew your head and carry it in a bucket. At a certain point my mouth actually started watering and I had the terrible feeling I was going to hurl. Oh no! What if I have to make a run for the lobby? What if I don't make it?! Do I throw up in my purse? Will the whole audience notice, even though it's so dark in here?

I did my best to stifle these terrible thoughts, and thankfully the feeling passed without incident. I treated my Bucket Headache successfully once I made it home, and when I was safely curled up on the couch, I remembered my own words:

It's not a party til someone gets sick!

And I knew I'd been to a party indeed.

Incidentally, Rocket Science has been picked up by a distributor, and should soon be coming to a theater near you. If you're a fan of movies like Rushmore, if (like me) you think stuttering is the most endearing thing in the world, or if you just want to see a funny, well-written movie, be sure to check it out. And if you're prone to Bucket Headaches, don't forget the Sudafed!

Monday, June 04, 2007

SIFF #7 - Oh, those coming-of-age boy films...

I attended a screening of Black Irish (5/8) on a whim... no, rather on a last minute invite from my pal E who happened to have an extra ticket (and a half of turkey & cranberry sandwich!) to share (thanks, E!). E is the perfect example of someone who sees a healthy chunk of movies at SIFF (in her case, splitting a 20-pack with a pal) and not only chooses completely different movies than me, but often movies that I don't remember reading about (as in the case of this film). Heck, I'm always up for going into a movie cold, so I said, "Sure! I'll skip my earlier movie, and join you for yours!"

Black Irish is a rather typical coming-of-age film about a teenage boy in South Boston. He has a thug of a brother, and his Irish Catholic mum (the dignified Melissa Leo) has just sent his unmarried pregnant sister off to a home to have the baby and give it up for adoption. You'd think this was the 1950s, but it is set in modern times. Brendan Gleeson plays his washout dad who sits around drinking beer, watching baseball, and circles job ads in the paper without acting on them. Pretty much the only thing that prevents this movie from being a snoozer is the fine ensemble of actors, led by young pup Michael Angarano who I enjoyed in the straight-to-video weeper One Last Thing.... Here is a young actor, who is virtually unknown, who has nice range, and can more than hold his own with experienced actors like Gleeson and Michael Rispoli (who plays his boss at a restaurant). Speaking of Gleeson, I thought his character was an Irish immigrant like the boy's mother, but alas late in the film it is implied that he was a local boy... ooops on the accent, Brendan!

I hung out at Pacific Place to catch Eternal Summer (Sheng xia guang nian) (5/8), a Taiwanese gay-boy coming-of-age film that I was quite excited about. I had high hopes for this based on the lovely Taiwanese gay-girl movie Blue Gate Crossing (7/8) that I saw at SIFF a few years back... but a common theme and a common country of orgin don't mean Eternal Summer is a great film by default. Jonathan and Shane are best friends, despite the fact that Jonathan is a brain and Shane is a jock. They both sort of share a friend/girlfriend named Carrie, but Jonathan realizes that it is Shane he is in love with. Carrie knows (female intuition) but does Shane? Is he clueless as he teases his friend, falling asleep shirtless during their study sessions? Is Jonathan ever going to say anything? Joseph Chang as Shane fares best, but Bryant Chang (as Jonathan) emotes by turning his face into a blank slate for the last hour of the film. Many many tears are shed, and sensitive piano music overwhelms the soundtrack, threatening to pound pain into my head. By the time the big revelation happens, it seems rather after-the-fact plot-wise (if you see it, you'll know what I mean). The film is OK, but I expected more.

BUZZ PART ONE: I do have to mention that E saw Anthony Hopkins' directorial debut Slipstream, and inadvertently called it Slipshit, which was I think not entirely by accident. She HATED it, and gave it 1/8 slices. "Pretentious! The only reason I gave it one slice was because Kevin McCarthy was in it!" (For those of you wondering who Kevin McCarthy is, he was in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and is now a thriving character actor in his 90s.) Alas, Sir Tony, maybe you should stick to acting.

BUZZ PART TWO: I was evesdropping on a passholder that I'll call Resonance Man for his booming voice as he chatted up other Fool Series folks in the back of the theater. Apparently he had already seen 89 films by the end of the weekend, and the only true stinker of the lot was for the German cannibal movie Grimm Love, which he called a "snuff film". I have a ticket for Grimm on Tuesday. I'm scared.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

BIFF #1 - Cashback on the Eastside

Well kids, at long last I have been initiated into the world of SIFF. How could I resist when the festival has come to Bellevue - my own backyard?! Ever since my first attempt to attend the festival was thwarted by a random stomach virus that left me with my head in the toilet for the next 12 hours, I've been nervous about the whole thing. Is SIFF to me the movie-going equivalent of syrup of ipecac? Say it isn't so! Thankfully, the whole affair came off without a hitch (save for some confusion at the ticket booth on Thursday).

I must admit: I'm officially hooked.

First my movie buddies and I headed over to the Bellevue Square McDonald's for a little pre-movie treat. As always, I ordered up a girl's Happy Meal, because really, if you're going to give yourself a coronary blockage with all that grease, you're going to want a toy to decorate your hospital room. The boy at the counter interviewed me extensively about the number of McNuggets I would like and the type of beverage I would prefer, but he froze up when I asked what the toy was. I was asking for my movie buddy behind me, who wanted to buy one separately, but he just gestured at a McDonald's bag that was already sitting on the counter.

"Is it a little Shrek guy?" I asked, assuming that the wall-to-wall pictures of Shrek were a good indication.

"No." he replied stone-faced.

Then a girl brought my meal in a Donkey box, with a baby Donkey toy inside - of course. (Note to McDonald's employees: The answer to the question, "Is the Happy Meal toy a little Shrek guy?" is yes. You lost a sale not knowing that one.) I immediately noticed a little speaker on his hindquarters and a switch between his front legs, so I flipped it on, thinking he'd make some sort of noise. Silence. We all thought he was broken, but the instructions revealed that you also have to squeeze his wings together to get him to talk. Hah! I think I've found my new dream job! I used to want to name Cabbage Patch Kids for Coleco, but now I want to be a toy designer at the Happy Meal factory! Can you imagine the proposals for some of these things? All those vestigial buttons that amount to nothing? Sign me up!

We headed over to the movie with about 45 minutes to spare, and already the line was snaking down three flights of stairs. See, Eastsiders love festivals too! If you've never been to Lincoln Square Cinemas, it is truly a sight to behold. The lobby is enormous, and looks more like a flashy Vegas casino than your typical cineplex.

We were shooed into the largest auditorium, and picked out our cushy leather (pleather?) seats. It's first class all the way, though I have no idea when people were supposed to check out the SIFF merchandise, as it had disappeared by the time the movie got out. As if you're going to give up a seat once you've found it or dilly-dally before scoring one. Weird.

But onto the movie itself. Cashback (6/8) is a UK film starring Simon Biggerstaff as Ben, a heartbroken young man who develops a severe case of insomnia after breaking up with his girlfriend. With 8 extra hours to kill every night, he takes a job at a local grocery store where he develops the ability to freeze time. Now, you would think the movie would focus on the time-freezing business, but it is essentially a thoughtful, heartfelt romantic comedy.

The first pleasant surprise is that Simon Biggerstaff is actually Oliver Wood from the Harry Potter movies...The same Oliver Wood who prompted my friend to say, "You know, I feel kind of dirty even saying this, but didn't you think Oliver Wood was cute?" And then I felt a little dirty, because of course I'd noticed that Oliver and his long, dark eyelashes were cute. It's not our fault he was only eighteen!

Cashback finds Simon looking far more legal, and features a nice blend of quirky characters, British wit, and romance. There is also a European amount of nudity in the film, but it's generally presented in a completely non-sexual and inoffensive way. Ben is an artist, and views all forms of the female body as beautiful. All in all, it's quite enjoyable. If you have a chance to catch it at the Neptune on Tuesday - go for it!

I picked up another SIFF guide on my way out, thinking maybe I should add a few movies to my itinerary now that I know how much fun the fest can be. Imagine my horror when I got home and discovered The Man in the Chair playing on Monday afternoon and starring CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER! How could I have missed that? How could my friends (who always point me toward my favorite people) have missed that? Seriously, how many people have an autographed picture of him on their nightstand? Do I need to take my fandom up a notch? Perhaps have a bumper sticker made saying "I Brake For Christopher Plummer" so people can hang their heads out their car windows and tell me when to stop?

I fell into a funk upon realizing that I'd have to get off work, get tickets, and rearrange my Monday evening plans all within 24 hours if I hoped to make the movie, then gave up. I thought about killing myself, but figured I'd get out even less if I'm dead. Next time Christopher, I promise!