Monday, June 16, 2008

SIFF #18 - And then there's the Moviepie awards...

Some overall comments about SIFF 2008. Maybe it was just me, but were the films actually better this year? I know that SIFF was tightening its belt--for the first time there weren't "more movies than ever on the planet, all in three weeks!" (although, don't get me wrong, several hundred is still plenty). Perhaps the 50 less movies were actually the stinkiest ones that the programmers thankfully cut for our benefit.

There was less schwag for sale (no lunchboxes, stickers, tote bags, etc.), and there were less parties. With this streamlining, especially with the venues mainly limited to the Uptown, SIFF Cinema, Pacific Place, Egyptian, and Harvard Exit, I found the fest much easier and less stressful to get around. I only used my car twice (for films that got out past 11pm), and actually rode the Monorail twice as well! Otherwise, I just did fine on foot and bus. All in all (counting carefully), I saw 33 (I just recounted!) movies and/or SIFF-related events. Not as many as last year, but I liked most of what I saw this time!

My faves of the fest:
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (narrative), Man on Wire (documentary)

Breakout performances:
Tannishtha Chatterjee of Brick Lane, Andrew Garfield of Boy A

The Ponette award for making tiny children "act" by threatening to stone them:
Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame

A trend of "real-life" documentaries that blur the line of reality and drama:
American Teen, Up the Yangtze

Surprisingly not stinky (not GREAT, but not stinky!):
Battle in Seattle

Favorite short film:
OK, I only went to one shorts compilation, but LOVED the twisted and funny The Pearce Sisters (unsurprisingly from Aardman Animation). I was delighted to see it won a jury prize!

Fabulous archival presentations:
In the Land of the Headhunters, Sunrise w/ The Album Leaf, Alexander Nevsky w/Seattle Symphony

Hottest actors of the fest who showed up in person:
Real-life couple Sophie Hilbrand and Waldemar Torenstra of Summer Heat

If you can't get a good film, don't bother with the Gay-La:
Kiss the Bride

Random acts of kindness:
To prove that I needn't waffle on the last evening of flicks, a kind fellow gave me his extra ticket to Timecrimes for free, and a woman offered (literally one second too late!) to sell me her discounted ticket for my last film, The Wrecking Crew.

Most fun to be had during SIFF:
OK, alright, alright, I'm cheating here... but I'll have to say, sneaking away from the fest the second weekend to go have cocktails with a pack of friends and see the Sex and the City movie. I have no shame!

And finally, weirdest Capitol Hill postering during fest:
The "orange level" lice epidemic posters all over Pine Street, supposedly courtesy of the Seattle Health Department (turned out it was a hoax, at least as far as health officials were concerned)

(To see my ratings of all my SIFF 2008 movies in one place, go here.)

So! Until next year... [checking pockets, looking at watch, whistling to pass the time, thinking I should be somewhere], see you at SIFF Cinema!

SIFF #17 - SIFF 2008 Golden Space Needle Audience Awards

Best Film Golden Space Needle Award:
Cherry Blossoms – Hanami, directed by Doris Dörrie (Germany)

The remaining top ten audience favorites (in order)
Frozen River, directed by Courtney Hunt (USA)
Fugitive Pieces, directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Canada)
Captain Abu Raed, directed by Amin Matalqa (Jordan)
The Drummer, directed by Kenneth Bi (Hong Kong)
Summer Heat, directed by Monique van de Ven (the Netherlands)
Letting Go of God, directed by Julia Sweeney (USA)
Late Bloomers, directed by Bettina Oberli (Switzerland)
Bliss, directed by Abdullah Oguz (Turkey)
Michou d’Auber, directed by Thomas Gilou (France)

Best Documentary Golden Space Needle Award:
The Wrecking Crew, directed by Denny Tedesco (USA)

The remaining top ten audience favorites (in order)
Great Speeches From a Dying World, directed by Linas Phillips (USA)
Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh (UK)
Accelerating America, directed by Timothy Hotchner (USA)
Creative Nature, directed by John Andres (USA)
Emmanuel Jal: War Child, directed by C. Karim Chrobog (USA)
Trouble the Water, directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (USA)
Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains, directed by Gonzalo Arijon (France)
Good Food, directed by Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin (USA)
They Killed Sister Dorothy, directed by Daniel Junge (USA)

Best Director Golden Space Needle Award:
Amin Matalqa, for Captain Abu Raed (Jordan)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Courtney Hunt, for Frozen River (USA)
Nina Paley, for Sita Sings the Blues (USA)
Dorota Kedzierzawska, for Time to Die (Poland)
Nic Balthazar, for Ben X (Belgium)

Best Actor Golden Space Needle Award:
Alan Rickman, for Bottle Shock (USA)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)

Nadim Sawalha, for Captain Abu Raed (Jordan)
Andrew Garfield, for Boy A (UK)
Zdenerk Sverák, for Empties (Czech Republic)
Greg Timmermans, for Ben X (Belgium)

Best Actress Golden Space Needle Award:

Jessica Chastain, for Jolene (USA)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Catinca Untaru, for The Fall (USA)
Melissa Leo, for Frozen River (USA)
Danuta Szaflarska, for Time to Die (Poland)
Melanie Diaz, for American Son (USA)

Best Short Film Golden Space Needle Award:
Felix, directed by Andreas Utta (Germany)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Sleeping Betty, directed by Claude Cloutier (Canada)
Bailey-Boushay House: A Living History, directed by Terence Brown (USA)
, directed by Nicole Mitchell (USA)
Spider, directed by Nash Edgerton (Australia)

Lena Sharpe Award:
Frozen River, director Courtney Hunt (USA)
This award is given to the film by a woman director that receives the most votes from the public.

SIFF #16 - Cramming on the last day...

Whooeee! I do always get that last-day panic at SIFF, don't you? You know, the monster fest is coming to an end, and heck, what if you missed what turned out to be your favorite movie, because you decided to call it a night early?

Let's just say that my favorite movie was most definitely not Bottle Shock (4/8), one of those lazy, typical, pleasant-but dull American movies that SIFF often uses as an opening or closing film. But apparently there is an audience for these films, because SIFF's Closing Night (on Saturday for the first time!) audience voted Alan Rickman Best Actor for his role as a Brit expatriate wine merchant in Paris who invites over the scrappy vintners from Napa in California in the 1970s to compete in a taste test with--yes--the French. Based on a true story, the scrappy kids took almost all (if not all) the major awards, including Chateau Montelena, run by Jim (Bill Pullman, as usual, pleasant but bland) and his son Bo (Chris Pine, with the most gawd-awful 70s shag wig I've ever seen). There is a token girl that only shows up to sleep with the two young men in the story (for no reason at all)... except that the OTHER one is Freddy Rodriguez, who is the film's only saving grace. Alas, his earnest performance as a 2nd generation Mexican-American who wants to be a master vintner isn't enough to recommend this flick.

I knew that I would have better luck with Alexander Nevsky (6/8), Sergei Eisenstein's "lost" film from 1938, depicting a fantastic battle between the Russians (led by Prince Alexander) and the German Teutonic invaders in the 13th century. Alexander, play by blond pretty-boy Nikolai Cherkasov, pulls together a ragtag army of peasants to defend Novgorod, with the fantastic culminating battle taking place on a frozen lake. The special presentation took place at the Seattle Symphony's home of Benaroya Hall, with the symphony performing Sergei Prokofiev's original score live, accompanied by a choir and soprano! I wasn't the only one surprised that it wasn't actually a silent film. During dialogue, the musicians would sit patiently, then be pulled in to create the impressive, sweeping soundtrack mainly for montage scenes of Russian majesty, with the regular folks banding together to fight the enemy. The soundtrack was BIG to say the least. The film was very good, but the live soundtrack experience was fabulous and memorable.

I didn't have tickets for the rest of the final afternoon, so decided to wing it. Last year I took the opportunity to catch the announced award winners when they filled the remaining TBA slots. I had already seen one of the films (see next entry, with list of winners), so instead caught, rather spontaneously, the Spanish sci-fi thriller Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes) (6/8). It is a tight, fun little time-travel film, which treats the accidental jumping back of a couple hours as just a scientific accident that this unsuspecting fellow Hector falls into. I don't want to give anything away, because getting there is all the fun (and you have to pay close attention, like in Memento). And, unsurprisingly, apparently Timecrimes has already been optioned for an American remake. Go figure.

So, what does one do when it is 9:00 on the last night of the fest? Why, race across town to SIFF Cinema for just... one... more. My last film of the fest was the charming documentary The Wrecking Crew (6/8), which profiled a group of session musicians in the 1960s Los Angeles pop music scene who created the studio recordings for a stupendous amount of hit songs. For instance, did you know that the Beach Boys did not play on the majority of their records? Song after song is revealed (the Righteous Brothers "You've Lost that Loving Feeling," the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'," etc.)--and all were performed by the same go-to studio musicians. Crazy! The film includes interviews with many of the musicians (the most famous of these studio guys was Glen Campbell, before he went solo), as well as big names like Cher, Herb Albert, Dick Clark, and Nancy Sinatra. The film is warm and friendly, as it was made by Denny Tedesco, whose late father Tommy Tedesco was one of the Crew. This doc ended up winning the Golden Space Needle for documentary, and was a nice, foot-tappin' film for the end of my festing.

WSFF 2008 Award Winners

Ah, at last. The WSFF has announced all of its award winners, a list that includes a number of films I saw.

Because I'm a little blogged out, allow me to simply redirect you to the official announcement from the fest.

See you at TIFF...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

WSFF 2008 #5: Going Out With a Bang...of Thunder!

As I stood at the northwest corner of Bloor and Avenue Rd., waiting to cross the street and head to the Cumberland, I looked north along Avenue and saw a giant wall of darkness approaching overhead. To my right, sunshine and blue skies...but to my left, and just at the cusp of Bloor, was an endless expanse of black, rumbling clouds. Before I finished crossing the street, the area was already dropping slowly into the menacing shadow of a big, fat thunderstorm.

Then some wicked, nasty weather hit.

Thankfully, by the time it did, I was already sitting in the theater, waiting for my first screening of the day, the Film School Spotlight: Universidad del Cine, a collection of shorts from the UDC in Buenos Aires. They were all technically strong and well-made, but only two truly impressed me:

* Crummy Café (7/8), a clever, one-location story about what would happen if two renowned composers debated their merits – and their music – at a run-down little bar. Smartly written and nicely acted, it made me smile.


* Amancay (6/8), a moody, languid, atmospheric character study (or, perhaps, location study) about a despondent young woman (Carolina Presno, left) who returns to a remote cabin where she lost a lover. Come to think of it, I don’t think there was any dialogue at all save for the main character shouting her boyfriend’s name at one point.

Immediately after the closing credits on the last Argentinian short rolled, I hopped next door to catch Official Selection 9: Father’s Day, a series of shorts relating to dads...appropriate, given the day. Even though this screening was kind of a last-minute addition for me, and I wasn’t particularly excited to go, I was pleasantly surprised by the offerings.

In fact, one brilliant short -- Boar Attack (8/8) -- might just be my favorite film of the fest. Much sweeter than its title would suggest, it made me tear up...even though it’s less than 4 minutes long.

Also impressive, and just as touching, was New Boy (7/8), a slice-of-life drama about a nine-year-old boy adjusting to life in a new school in a new country...and reflecting on the life he left behind in Africa. Again, choked me up.

Two honorable mentions for performance go to a pair of actresses in two other shorts screened as part of this programme: little Marie-Felixe Allard (right), the bespectacled, foul-mouthed and completely charming tot in Gilles’ Lili; and veteran Canadian thespian Mimi Kuzyk for churning out some impressive, emotional work in the war-vet tale, Homecoming. Well done, ladies!

And that’s a wrap on the alarmingly Myrocia-free WSFF 2008. The award winners were announced earlier tonight, but I can’t seem to find the results anywhere. I’ll post ‘em when I get ‘em.

SIFF #15 - Heat and ice

I present to you two of the hottest humans that I've ever seen in person:

Ah, yes, the extreme physical beauty of the two stars of Summer Heat (Zomerhitte) (6/8) graced the presence of the pale and pasty SIFF audience on this weekend matinee, along with the charming director Monique van der Ven, who has been a SIFF favorite as an actress in past years. Van der Ven brought her directorial debut to the fest, and it is an enjoyable summer thriller, taking place entirely on a vacation island in the Netherlands. A hot photographer (both figuratively and literally) named Bob (Waldemar Torenstra) is on assignment, taking pics of the local wildlife, and finds himself smitten with a lovely lass whom we first meet emerging from the waves stark naked. Beautiful Kathleen (Sophie Hilbrand) works at a bar, but mixes with some shifty gangster types who are involved in some shifty drug business. In the tradition of many thrillers past, the mix of a curious guy with a camera, plus lots of sexual tension, tends to get everyone in deep trouble. The film has the sexy feel of early Paul Verhoeven (whom Van der Ven collaborated with previously) or better Brian de Palma, and it truly sizzles with the fine chemistry of its lead actors who are, of course, a real-life couple. A funny note about the screening: Several audience members praised Monique van der Ven's past work as an actress, lamenting that some of her films were very very hard to find here. She said, "Well, I'll bring some of my DVDs next time, and give them to Scarecrow Video!" Of course, everyone loved that!

My next film of the day, the American indie Frozen River (7/8) has probably garnered the most buzz of the fest. I've heard people murmuring about this film left and right, and the first screening sold out. So I sacrificed the first sunny afternoon in weeks to check it out, and indeed, it is a fine film. Two women, a white woman and a Mohawk Indian, live on opposite sides of the reservation border. Because of their own independent desperate need for money (one to buy a double-wide after her husband took off to gamble the family's savings, another to reclaim her infant child being raised by well-meaning relatives) they begrudgingly becomes partners in a smuggling racket. They drive across the U.S.-Canada border over a frozen river to pick up illegal immigrants--a highly dangerous job, not just for the legal reasons, but because of the dangerous ice and conditions. It is an intimate drama of two women, who may not be so different, resorting to desperate measures for their families. It is extremely well-acted, especially Melissa Leo's fierce performance as a woman trying to keep her promises to her disgruntled kids who think she is going to work at the dollar store. Luckily, this film has been picked up for distribution.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

WSFF 2008 #4: Kids’ Flicks Never Disappoint

Before we chat about the annual Shorts for Shorties collection of short films geared towards kids – which was excellent, as usual – can we talk for a moment about what seems to be an unsettling trend among filmmakers at this year’s fest: killing dogs. Good grief, it’s like someone put out a memo requesting more canine deaths in film. Today, two more films featured dogs dying in unpleasant ways. Thankfully, though, unlike Death of Shula, neither of today’s victims were actually harmed during filming.

But I digress...

First up today were the kids’ shorts – hooray! I don’t know why, but filmmakers catering to a younger set are always much, much better at making short films that are both short and films. They’re usually under five minutes, often animated and almost always great – smart, funny, vibrant and able to hold the attention of audience members under 12. Today’s collection contained 18 films, and I’m having a hard time narrowing down my favorites. Most memorable were the trio of Shaun the Sheep shorts (7/8 for them all) -- Stick With Me, Hiccups and The Snore Worn Shaun. Aardman Animation (home of Wallace & Gromit) are masters at their craft, so it’s no surprise that these three films were by far the most popular today.

Also extra-good were:

* My Happy End (7/8), a black-and-white story about an animated dog who finds a best friend in his hind quarters

* the South African tale Jungle Beat 2: Because You’re Gorgeous (7/8), in which a self-absorbed warthog learns the perils of vanity.


* Rebelle (7/8), about a note that decides to shake things up within its piece of classical music.

I ducked out after the last film and quickly got back in line for Official Selection 4: Creatures Great and Small, a programme containing films that somehow relate to nature, wildlife, animals or pets. I picked this screening largely because of one film: actor Paddy Considine’s directorial effort, Dog Altogether (6/8), which was not only written and directed by one of my favorite UK talents, but which stars Peter Mullan...whom I’d like to just read me stories with his deep, gravelly voice.

Dog... was good, but didn’t wow me as much as I thought it would. Mullan stars as Joseph, a rage-aholic who’s unable to control his temper (the film opens with repeatedly kicking his dog, whom he later puts out of its mortal-wound misery), and I actually wanted to see more of this particular story because it ended at a various interesting point. Alas.

I also enjoyed:

* Hot Dog (7/8), animator Bill Plympton’s offering about a bulldog who wants to be part of a fire department


* the eco-centric Journey to the Forest (7/8), an experimental film examining the issue of clear-cutting.

And then I called it a day. Tomorrow’s the last day of the fest, and I think I only have one screening...maybe two if I can squeeze a second one in. And STILL no Myrocia. This makes me sad.

Total films screened today: 27.

SIFF #14 - Heavy metal and silent drama

I had a night off from SIFF, but I also happened to have a DVD screener at home of a movie that played the fest earlier in the schedule, so I'm sneaking this one in: Heavy Metal in Baghdad (6/8). Headbanger band Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpions”) are more than a bit unique in the heavy metal world: they are young Iraqi musicians that have doggedly been covering their most adored favorite bands (like Metallica and Slip Knot) and creating their own original songs, first under the shadow of Saddam Hussein's regime, and more recently in the middle of civil war and foreign occupation. These young men are smart, articulate, and love the universal glory of rock and roll. But in six years of existence, the band had only 5 gigs, including one put on by the filmmakers who had discovered them via long-distance communication. To see about 100 young men with black foreign metal-band t-shirts (that could get them arrested) gather to hear Acrassicauda in a hotel lobby (where the power goes out multiple times) is truly inspiring. Apparently the devil horns are universal, as is the headbanging--though these guys lament that they are not allowed to grow their hair long. Where the film hits hard though is after the guys leave Iraq one by one to Damascus, Syria for refuge. They get to see a close to final cut of the film, and their sadness turns to anger. In the film's final moments, the foreign filmmakers, who play quite a large role in the film, are humbly put into their place by these artists whose home has turned into a violent hellhole. Heavy Metal in Baghdad has a rock-n-roll casualness in its filmmaking, almost like a home video, but it is still thoughtful and interesting, especially if you are a music fan of any sort.

My favorite new SIFF tradition (can you call two years in a row a tradition?), is the commissioning of local rock band to do a new original score to a classic silent film. Last year Kinski created an ear-shattering score to Berlin: Symphony of a City, and this year Sub Pop's The Album Leaf (a new band to me) scored one of my favorite silent films ever, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (8/8). These events are cool not only because the music and movie, but because they take place at the Triple Door, a dinner-theater club that usually hosts music and/or cabaret. We enjoyed fancy cocktails and a bunch of small pan-Asian style plates while The Album Leaf played their moody, gauzy soundtrack for the story of a country man tempted by a City Woman to do away with his saintly wife to run off with the vixen. It's a fabulous film, of course, and the score gave it a more spooky surreal feel than the first time I saw it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

WSFF 2008 #3: Half-Hearted at the Halfway Mark

If I were a Telus representative attending the WSFF, I think I’d be kind of peeved.

Today was the third day (not including opening night) of the festival, and Telus is a presenting sponsor – so their ads play before each screening and their logo is slapped on each audience-choice ballot, for starters – yet it seems that no one involved in the fest has bothered to find out what the Telus Mobile Experience is...yet they plug it every single day. Before every screening I’ve attended so far, I’ve heard the exact same half-hearted, confused “pitch” for this Mobile Experience from the person handling the introductory announcements (“Mobile Experience? I have no idea what that is, so somebody please check it out and tell me!”), and it’s starting to get old.

Shouldn’t someone have bothered to find out what this is by now? Given that Telus is obviously handing over a big chunk of change, and the faux-anti-establishment vibe that (intentionally or not) comes across during these pre-film announcements about their product seems more irritating than irreverent on the part of the fest?

I mean, it would take, what?, one quick phone call to someone in the marketing department at Telus? Could it have anything to do with this initiative, announced last year, which I found after three seconds of Googling? Come on. This shouldn’t be difficult. [Note: I am somewhat tempted to believe, or perhaps hope, that this "we don't know what this thing is!" schtick is actually an act, done on purpose to *drive* people to check it out for themselves...but I'm not 100% convinced this is the case. Or, if it is, that it's working.]


I only hit two screenings today, the first of which was largely forgettable. I didn’t really adore Official Selection 10: I Want to Be Adored, a collection of films related to fame, celebrity and entertainment. Honestly, none of them stood out to me, good or bad, and my mind started to wander at some point during each one. The only short that left any kind of impression was Zietek (5/8), a creepy Polish film about an old man who's spent his life carving life-sized pin-up models out of wood...which I thought was fiction but which (I learned afterward when I checked the program book) was a documentary. Um. Yipes.

Thankfully, my second screening of the day – Official Selection 12: Watch What You Eat -- was fantastic. Almost all the films in this collection were great, and the ones that weren’t amazing were still quite good.

I loved Le Grand Content (8/8), an Austrian look at society’s foibles as demonstrated through animated charts and graphs. You can watch the film on YouTube! Other highlights in this grouping were:

* Personal Spectator (6/8), Emmanuel Jespers’ tale of discovering self-worth through the eyes of another. (Note: let me go on the record now as saying that I expect actor Tom Harper to hit Hollywood hard in the future.)

* The Sweetest Sound (6/8), a darky twisted story about the perils of reconnecting with someone you dumped.

* The Frozen City (7/8), a documentary about Winnipeg, MB – the Slurpee Capital of the World. Seriously, these people lurrrrrrrve their frozen beverages!


* No Coke (7/8), a hilarious little Scottish film about a British tourist, a broken vending machine in Norway and an apathetic hotel clerk. So fun!

Tomorrow, one of my favorite programmes every year: the kids’ collection, Shorts for Shorties! This year’s set features three Shaun the Sheep entries. :-D

And STILL no Myrocia sightings. I am starting to have Roger Ebert at TIFF déjà vu...

Total films screened today: 17

Thursday, June 12, 2008

WSFF 2008 #2: Dying Dogs and Depressing Dramas

Know what’s super-fun? Sitting in a screening and realizing, to your horror, that the big, cuddly dog dying onscreen is actually dying. That was part of how I spent my afternoon on day two of the fest. (Note to anyone who isn’t clear: the aforementioned incident was decidedly *not* fun.)

My first screening of the day was Official Selection 6: Teenland, which was supposedly a collection of films relating to being a teenager, but a few reeeeeally stretched that classification. Most of the films were meh, and seriously depressing, but two stood out:

* Mats Grorud’s claymation tale My Grandmother Beijing (7/8), a sweet story that, on the surface, seems like a man reflecting on his love for his late grandmother, but which in fact contains more than a little political commentary buried within the titular character’s wrinkles.


* Death of Shula (4/8), a depressing and ultimately frustrating drama (?) about a family’s disconnect as reflected through the death of the family dog. This film bothered me for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the fact that, as mentioned, we’re forced to watch – in a lengthy, static close-up – a dog being euthanized...right down to its last gasps of breath. That same dog can be seen here in an earlier scene, where it is clearly in distress (if you’re sensitive to these sorts of things, you might want to skip watching). Filmmaker Asaf Korman obviously shot the canine footage via a veterinarian preparing to put a dog to sleep...and then inserted that footage into the film. At no point are any of the actors (Korman’s actual family) shown with the dog, and dialogue has been looped onto the euthanasia footage. It all felt very cold and exploitative, and the camera holds way too long on the lifeless body, in my opinion. But equally frustrating is Korman’s decision to leave the camera running at the end of his film after he (off-camera) yells “cut.” It completely voided the emotional impact of his story, and took me right out of the action. Too bad. Another example of a crappy ending ruining a movie.

Then came the supremely awkward post-screening Q&A session. I understand that it’s great to have filmmakers or members of the production team on hand, but when it’s obvious they have nothing to say or are perhaps not really wanting to talk about their work (as was the case with a pair of filmmakers at this screening), why not just scrap it? And, if you’re a filmmaker who agrees to take part in a Q&A session, try to at least pretend to be interested in your own project or marginally aware of your own work so that you can answer questions when they’re asked instead of giving the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. My moviegoing pal and I actually had to leave because it was that painful to watch.

Next up was the Celebrity Shorts package, which is always a blend of really great and really self-indulgent filmmaking, and this year was no exception. Falling into the latter category were Kate Hudson’s directorial effort, Cutlass (5/8), which seems to equate love for your kids with buying them expensive things, and Occupations (4/8), director Lars von Trier’s bizarre and ultimately grotesque look at dealing with a chatty Cathy in a movie theater. Oh, and then there was the short that seemed to be funded by the Church of Scientology, given the fact that its entire cast was made up of B-list Scientologists. Kind of creepy.

Two comedies won me over, though. CTRL Z (6/8), features Tony Hale as a frustrated office worker who thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, and FCU: Fact Checkers Unit (7/8), which follows a pair of dedicated magazine staffers trying to check one final fact about Bill Murray (who co-stars as himself). You can actually watch the film in its entirety here. And one animated film, Descendants (6/8), proved surprisingly moving. It’s the story of two forest flowers (one voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and the need for love vs. revenge. I got a little choked up at the end.

As an aside: where is Myrocia Watamaniuk??? Five screenings so far and nary a sighting. Alas.

That was it for the day. Tomorrow: humidity and thunderstorms. Drat.

Total films screened today: 16

SIFF #13 - Two countries collapse in shame

Taking a step back, I can see that my two film choices for the day has similar themes, despite wildly different situations. Both films portrayed disenfranchised people, kept in their place by those in power. But both films had central characters that fight back, even as all odds seem to be against them. One film took place in America, the other in Taliban-run Afghanistan. Surprising, eh?

My Hurricane Katrina story was that I flew out of the country hours before the monster storm hit the Gulf Coast (hearing bad news in the international press, and even worse news when I got home). I remember watching the airport news, with images out thousands upon thousands of red taillights of cars as New Orleans evacuated in advance. But not all who wanted to leave could. One of the great shames of that city, and this nation was that no public transportation was provided for those that had no way to leave the city.

Trouble the Water (6/8) is a fascinating account of a makeshift family, headed by the fierce and strong Kimberley Roberts, who not only weathered the storm in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans (which was flooded when the levees broke), but took care of her own in the aftermath. Kim had just bought a video camera for $20 the week before the storm, so had amazing first-person footage as her family and a handful of neighbors retreated to the attic of her house as raging water reached as high as a stop sign down the street. No one came to help. No one. Her brother Larry (a hero if I ever saw one), carried survivors one by one to a neighboring house that had a safer second floor. Their saga is interspersed with images from the media, that watched rather agog, and frantic (and haunting) 911 calls from people trapped in their houses with rising water, who are told, "No one is coming." The second half of the film can only suffer in comparison to the footage from the storm and its immediate aftermath, as Kim gathers survivors and goes north, but Trouble the Water is still an important and scathing document profiling just a few of the thousands of people that the U.S. Government abandoned in a time of their greatest need.

I had heard positive buzz about Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Buda as sharm foru rikht) (8/8), but honestly thought that it was a documentary. Boy, was I surprised to find an intimate dramatic (and at times sweetly funny) story about one little girl named Baktay who just really really wants to go to school like the neighbor boy, her friend Abbas. Taking place in the gaping wound in the cliff side where the Buddhas of Bamyan once stood, the story is told entirely from the children's point of view (and these are LITTLE kids... Baktay looks to be 5 or 6 years old). Each task in her day is an epic journey: buy a notebook, survive horrific torment from Taliban-influenced boys "playing" war, and simply find the school for girls. All of the children are great, and little Nikbakht Noruz who plays Baktay, has created the most natural performance by a young tot since they tortured that little French girl Ponette onscreen (who cried big wet tears when her movie parents died). How do they make children act? Astonishingly, director Hana Makhmalbaf was 18 when she made the film! It's helps that she had the genes of a master filmmaker in her, but still, this film was amazing.

As a postscript to my evening, as I was walking down Capitol Hill from the Egyptian to downtown, I passed by several posters tacked onto telephone poles. The Seattle Health Department, by law, is required to tell the public that a Code Orange level warning has been issued for a LICE EPIDEMIC. What the f...?!?!?! These notices were conspicuously posted on Pine Street, in the area of lots of clubs, cafes and bars. Is the lice infecting club kids? SIFF-ers who have been sitting in too-close proximity to each other for a month? People who frequent coffee houses? Is this for real? Weird. (scratch scratch scratch)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

WSFF 2008 #1: Monologues, Monoliths and Mangled Children!

Okay, so I almost missed the first day of the 2008 Worldwide Short Film Festival.

For some reason, I woke up this morning – and spent the first half of the day – thinking it was June 10th. So, in my mind, the only WSFF screening on the docket would be the opening-night gala. Imagine my shock and awe when, around noon, I realized that, no, it’s June 11th...and the fest would be in full swing...and I had three screenings earmarked for the afternoon...and I hadn’t even picked up my press pass yet.


Some scurrying around and rescheduling ensued, and I made it to all my planned shows.

First up was Official Selection 1: I Have a Dream, a collection of seven films relating to dreams, sleep, imagination and goals. Of the pack, only two really stood out for me:

* Frankie (6/8), Darren Thornton’s curious drama that exposes the inner monologue (spoken outwardly) of a 15-year-old Irish delinquent who’s about to become a father.


* Debora Diniz’s fascinating documentary Alone and Anonymous (6/8), which follows a nameless old man who’s trying to starve himself to death. It was at once heartbreaking and really weird...especially given its surprising final few minutes.

I hopped outside and immediately back in line for Official Selection 2: Crime & Punishment, which featured eight shorts relating to, well, crime and/or punishment. While a number of these films started off really strong, more than a few left me feeling meh as they ended because they lacked endings...they just kind of faded out. I dunno, I understand leaving the audience guessing, but in the 10+ years that I’ve been going to the WSFF I find that many short filmmakers seem to just end their films rather than giving them endings. That is to say, they just peter out or stop abruptly. If these were short stories, readers would feel cheated. Viewers of short films should be no exception.

Two prime examples of this in this particular programme were Chief (6/8), the story of a Samoan chief-turned-taxi driver in Hawaii, which probably would have received at least seven slices had it had an ending, and Tomboy (5/8), which “ends” with a strange and half-hearted whimper that seems to imply murder is okay if you get to kiss a boy for the first time.

Thankfully, two wonderfully clever films in this set more than made up for what the others may have lacked:

* Trevor Cawood’s brilliant Terminus (7/8), which is a visually impressive little gem that seeeeeamlessly blends CGI with live action in a story about a persistent stone monolith following a hapless office worker. It was terrific and I literally sat there trying to figure out HOW they created some of the images onscreen.


* How Much Do You Love Me? (7/8), a hilarious Australian offering from directors Nick Ball and Gus Johnston, which centers on a the perils of a young couple putting quantitative values on a relationship. So good!

Last up was a program I was very much excited to see, and it did not disappoint: Accidentally Funny: Order is Restored, a collection of instructional and educational films from the 1940s-‘70s which, when viewed now, are hysterically funny. Unfortunately, this particular program isn’t repeating during the fest, which is a shame because it’s so much fun and more people should get to see it. My faves of these ten shorts were:

* Making a Decision (6/8), a 1957 NFB film about a high-school girl forced to decide between a date with a boy and a family obligation.

* I’m a Mammal and So Are You (6/8), a musical explanation of mammals from 1972, with a very catchy tune.


* The Finish Line (7/8), a 1977 UK film – which was intended for schools but was promptly pulled from circulation for its completely twisted and surreal content...which, of course, makes it that much more entertaining now. It was meant to be a cautionary tale about playing on or near train tracks and is, instead, this freakishly demented story of kids being killed one after another. Best part of the whole movie? A wide shot where a girl playing one of the young “corpses” sits up among her fellow bodies (clearly forgetting she’s supposed to play dead!), looks around and readjusts herself. Priceless!

A full day. Tomorrow: movies about teens and the annual celebrity-shorts program!

Total films screened today: 25

SIFF #12 - Land of dancing bears and severed heads

Yep, I took another couple days off from SIFF. I must not be the only one suffering from film fatigue because SIFF was offering their members a 2-for-1 ticket deal for any screening between Sunday and Tuesday! Hopefully they were able to fill up some of those empty seats. I always feel bad for visiting filmmakers when there is only a sparse audience for their screening.

That said, the special presentation The Land of the Head Hunters (6/8) at the vast old Moore Theater was packed. This was truly a special presentation, as Edward S. Curtis' film originally had its world premiere at The Moore in 1914 (how cool is that??). Apparently there were only two surviving copies of the film remaining, both in bad condition, when the restoration began. The best of the surviving footage was taken from both copies, and when a piece was beyond saving, still images (both from the film, and from Curtis' famous photos) were inserted. This worked surprisingly well, though sometimes had unintended comic effect--specifically a moment where two warriors were wrestling atop a cliff, getting closer and closer to the edge. Then there was an abrupt cut to a still shot of one lone warrior peering down to the rocks below, supposedly at the carcass of the loser. This caused giggles in the audience.

The basic plot of the film is a love story ripped apart by warring tribes. The son of a chief loves the young woman in the next village. They decide to marry, despite the fact that she has been promised to the creepy Sorcerer. Our hero has an elaborate wedding party, highlighted by fantastic images of majestic canoes landing in the village, each with a dancer at the front of the canoe: an Eagle, a Bear, a Raven. But drat! The Sorcerer rounds up his own warriors, hops in a war canoe to the wedding (violently killing unsuspecting fisherman and clammers that happen to be in the way), and grab the girl. Don't worry though... the bride does manage to get rescued by her one true love by the end. And lots of severed heads are waved around triumphantly (the heads, by the way, looked like the size of coconuts with lots of shaggy hair... I couldn't help but think of that line from Jerry Maguire "Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds?")

The rest of the evening was warmly hosted by members of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation from Alert Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Their dancers, many of whom are descended from tribe members featured in the film (the audience audibly cooed when it was pointed on that one man was the grandson of Naida, the bride from the film), performed several numbers accompanied by thundering drumming and chanting. Their gorgeous costumes (I coveted the women's beautiful robes), dances, and fantastic wood masks (especially the clacking beak of the huge Raven mask) delighted the audience. I was reminded of what a great venue The Moore was, as a lone female singer's unamplified voice filled the air all the way up to the balconies. The Moore may be a little rickety compared to the lovingly restored Paramount Theater, but it is still a great place to see a show.

(For more information on the background of the film:

Sunday, June 08, 2008

SIFF #11 - Man on Wire, Lives halved

I have to say, this has been a great year for interesting docs at SIFF, and the captivating and inspiring documentary Man on Wire (7/8) is no exception. The film profiles confident, bold, and more than a bit crazy French acrobat Philippe Petit who strung a wire between New York City's barely-finished World Trade Center towers in 1974 and tightrope-walked between them (over 1350 feet, or 100+ stories above the street) as a sort of guerrilla artistic statement. The unbelievable story captivated the city and became front-page news across the world, in large part because of his group of friends (including French, Americans, and an Australian) who helped him secretly set up the stunt, and also carefully documented not only the event, but a huge amount of the preparation. The band of pranksters is interviewed in present time (they all now look to be in their 50s or 60s), and they recount their stories with bright-eyed enthusiasm like it was yesterday. It is a crazy, exciting story... one where the law was clearly broken, but no one got hurt, and the worst offense they could slap Petit with was criminal trespassing. It is a fabulous, inspiring documentary, and very uplifting.

My follow-up film for the afternoon was the indie Half-Life (5/8) which was a noble, though a bit wobbly attempt at dysfunctional family drama combined with a dash of sci-fi. It takes place in a perhaps not-so-distant future where coastal cities are flooded, solar flares cause curious electrical disturbances, and the local news is rife with violent stories (which is actually not really that different from our present reality). Mom Saura Wu (Julia Nickson-Soul) is seeing a younger man who also has designs on her adult daughter Pam (Sanoe Lake), with Pam's little brother Tim (Alexander Agate) caught in the middle. There is also a side story with Pam's friend Scott coming out to his parents, which overlaps with the Wu family's own drama. The film suffers from uneven acting, mainly on the adult male side. The women are all strong and more interesting characters, but it is really the performance of young Alexander Agate as Tim that stands out. He absorbs the drama around him, and escapes via fantasies that appear as animation in the film. His performance is quite lovely. It is also a great-looking film, and may get distribution after the film festival circuit.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

SIFF #10 - Autocracy and alarms

On Friday, I decided to nix the idea of seeing three movies in a row, starting at 4:30 (after yesterday's sleepy incident). This meant I could sleep in a bit, and allow myself to get some kibble before my first movie at 6:30pm.

Strangely enough, I had actually recently re-read the 1981 teen novel The Wave by Todd Strasser. The story of a high-school teacher's experiment with turning his class into basically neo-Nazis was memorably adapted into an After School Special in the early 80s, but this is the first time it has been made into a theatrical film. The Wave (Die Welle) (6/8) adapts the story to the present-day (cell-phone texting, the internet, and all), and changes the setting to Germany (edgy!). Hipster teacher Rainer Wenger, with his leather jacket and Ramones t-shirt, is assigned to teach "autocracy" to students during project week (drat! he wanted anarchy!). To make a dull, retread topic more interesting (after all, haven't all the German kids learned over and over how evil Hitler and the Nazis were?), Herr Wenger decides to turn his class into an exclusive club (see? isn't this fun?). Heck, let's straighten our backs and stand when we speak. "Strength through discipline!" The kids get a buzz, and start to think they are special. They name their movement The Wave, and soon they are ostracizing those not in the group, until things start to turn violent. Let's just say things get out of control, and the ending of this adaptation is harsher (but sadly probably more realistic to modern times) than the original novel and TV version.

The Wave was based on real events in Palo Alto, California in the late 60s, and this screening was immediately made more powerful and fascinating because of the presence of the original teacher, Ron Jones (now retired), and a couple of the students from his class (now, I suppose, in their late-50s), Philip Neel and Mark Hancock. The students remarked how the experiment, gone horribly wrong, was something that they all remember very clearly, like knowing exactly where you were when you heard JFK was shot. One of them said he is making a documentary, having tracked down most (all?) of the original 28 class members. Forty years after the incident, they are all dying to speak about it. I can't wait to see that....

I was excited about my next film, Ferzan Ozpetek's Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro) (5/8). At SIFF a couple years ago, I love Ozpetek's Facing Windows, which not only ended up making me really weepy, but also won the Golden Space Needle audience award. Saturn is about a group of "polysexual" friends (I took that word from the official description), who have frequent dinner parties and are basically each other's surrogate family. But then one day young, handsome Lorenzo passes out at the table, and it turns out has had a severe brain hemorrhage. The film basically revolves around the friends dealing with the tragedy, as they hover around the hospital. I never, sadly, became too emotionally involved. Part of the reason was my hatred for the womanizing character of Antonio... because he was just an extension of the actor's same character in The Last Kiss! Maybe Stefano Accorsi is just too good at playing a conceited man-child.

But, you know, I never found out about how Saturn ends... when there was only about 10 minutes left of the film, the movie stopped, the lights flipped on, and a fire alarm started blaring, with a mechanical voice basically telling everyone to run for the exits. I got to go out the emergency exit, which snaked through a completely unlit hallway behind the screen, and go down stairs and stairs and stairs and stairs, until we all spilled out onto the street. As far as I know, it was a false alarm, but since it was 11pm, I wasn't about to wait around and find out since no one seemed to know what was going on. So I decided to call it a night.

Friday, June 06, 2008

SIFF #9 - I'm just feeling so sreepy...

There is always some point during the festival where your body simply starts to wear out and bone-numbing fatigue sets in. I think I hit that today. Now, I know many of you out there will scoff at the following complaints, but let me say this: I am not a morning person. Several days in a row I have gotten up pre-6am, to get to work by 7:15am, so that I could leave by 3:45pm, so that I could catch a 4:30pm movie. You see, unlike SIFFers out there that flaunt their full series passes and crow about how many films they've already seen so far, I actually have a full-time job, AND am trying to see 30+ shows. I've talked to several folks who've tallied in the upper double-digits how many films they've seen, and for the most part, they are A) Retired, B) Unemployed, C) Press (as in that is their "real" job), or D) On vacation from their "real" job. No such luck for me. What I'm really getting to is this: I fell asleep during my afternoon's first movie. (hanging head in shame)

If you've lived in the Seattle area at all in the 1990s, you'll probably remember the shocking story of the Rafay family in Bellevue, an East Indian family discovered brutally murdered supposedly by their 18-year-old son Atif and his friend Sebastian Burns. The boys were arrested for murder (with the motive to supposedly get insurance money), but they left for Canada. Long story short, almost 10-years later, they were finally put on trial in the US, and convicted on the basis of a secretly videotaped confession by the two, taped by a secret undercover branch of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). The undercover agents are called Mr. Big, but may as well be called Mr. Soprano, in that the RCMP tracks down their #1 suspects, weasels their way into the suspects' lives under the guise of being a hot shot gangster-type, then eventually get the poor fellow to confess. Apparently, innocent men have confessed to crimes they didn't commit, under the fear of threats that Mr. Big made on him, or threats to harm or kill those close to the suspect.

Director Tiffany Burns, who is Sebastian Burns' sister, used to be a reporter for local news stations across the country, and Mr. Big (4/8) has the aura of local-TV reportage, complete with jarringly irritating TV-screen static transition themes (ugh). There is a lot of information in here, and it is fascinating to hear a top dog at the RCMP hem and haw (literally) his way through a phone conversation with Ms. Burns, pretty much incriminating the law enforcement agency with dirty tricks by refusing to talk about it. But the film doesn't have the convincing power of say Paradise Lost or The Thin Blue Line in entirely convincing us of the innocence of Rafay and Burns. It's like, "Look! These other guys were innocent in their Mr. Big sting, so that means Rafay and Burns are, too!" All in all, Mr. Big felt to me like it just scratched the surface of an interesting topic. If anything, it should convince a lot of folks that the crime needs to be re-investigated.

Feeling more perky and, um, well-rested, I attended the packed screening Brick Lane (6/8). There's been buzz around this film, and apparently a chunk of the audience had read the best-selling book by Monica Ali. I however, hadn't... so as a person with no expectations, I thought the film was quite good (I heard a few murmurs that if you read the book in advance, you might be disappointed in the movie). All the credit goes to the lead actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, who plays Nazneen, a Bangladeshi woman who left her small village as a teen to go be the bride of a man in London. After almost 20 years of marriage, her husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik) has lots of ideas, but is not very successful, much to the horrid embarrassment of their British-born daughters. Nazneen, being very traditional, is also very lonely. But when she picks up a job sewing clothes in her own home, she meets the handsome young delivery man Karim (Christopher Simpson) who takes a shine to her. Their illicit romance makes Nazneen blossom, but of course things can never be as easy as that. The film is completely carried by Tannishtha Chatterjee's performance. She is absolutely lovely, sad, wistful, and completely heartbreaking in the performance. You clutch yourself, only wanting the best for her. I was smitten.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

SIFF #8 - Israel's "corn" pulp fiction

I'm sure some of you out-of-town folks read this blog and think to your collective selves: Sheesh, why would a city have a film festival on the cusp of summer? When the sun rises at 5:13 am and finally sets hours and hours later at 9:03 pm? Wouldn't people rather be running around outside, skipping across lawns and running through the sprinklers until the sun went down? Well, kids, the following pretty much explains it all:

Other than the freak heat wave during the first weekend that coincided (gloriously) with the Folklife Festival, bringing hippies and their friends out from the bushes in the hundreds of thousands, and causing SIFF (and Indiana Jones) movie-goers to blink furiously when they emerged from the theaters... well, this has pretty much been the weather pattern. And did I mention that we've really had no spring to speak of this year so far, expect a couple fluke hot days? This blows, and people are getting cranky.

So, because it's cold and rainy, let's get back to SIFF'n...

One of the many nice things about film fests is that they usually unabashedly include some porny-type films, so why not try to catch a couple, just because you can? At work, since we all don't want to be inappropriate, we refer to this topic as "corn"... so my co-workers' eyebrows raised when I announced I was going to catch a flick about Israeli-Nazi-corn.

Stalags - Holocaust and Pornography in Israel (Stalagim Shoa ve pornographia re’ Israel) (6/8) is a fascinating, weird, and uncomfortable documentary. For a time in 1960s Israel, smutty porn books were available at local newsstands. Well, that is not so strange in and of itself, if you think about it. But these pulp paperbacks, called "stalags" (the Germans' name for "prison camp"), described dominatrix scenarios always with the same basic plot: It is World War II, and an American or British pilot gets shot down over enemy territory. He is captured by the Nazis, who all happens to be buxom, beautiful, severe women with shiny boots, tight pants, and snug Nazi uniforms about to burst. The SS women officers rape and torture their prisoner (which arouses him while causing him pain), then he manages an escape, but not before raping and killing his captors in revenge. Hm. These books were eaten up by the Israeli population, and were the sorts that were passed around sneakily in classrooms by schoolchildren. The readers believed they were written by Americans or English, but they were actually churned out by Israeli-Jew ghost writers. According to the film, this fetishizing was a result of the next-generation's being almost in the dark about the Holocaust, as the older generation (the survivors) absolutely refused to talk about it. As the stalags morphed, becoming more shocking, their distribution ground to a halt with the publication of "I was Colonel Schultz's Private Bitch". When it came to stories of male officers raping women, suddenly it wasn't sexy anymore, and the Israeli government banned the books. Check out more here:

Sunday, June 01, 2008

SIFF #7 - Jocks, nerds, and surfer boys

My screenings this second weekend of SIFF were admittedly light. I have to admit, my emotional energy (and excitement was focused on my Saturday Girls (and Boys) Night Out to eat, drink, then go see the new Sex and the City movie. Adults have to have some fun, too! In the meantime though, I managed to see a couple of teen-centric films at SIFF....

First up was American Teen (7/8), arriving on the wave of its success at Sundance. There were actually studio-types at this Saturday morning screening, wearing silly sheriff's badges hanging around their necks (ooo! scary!), plus we were warned they'd be scanning the audience with night-vision goggles or something during the screening. Whatever. As for the movie, American Teen is pretty fabulous.

Documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein followed a handful of high-school seniors for the last year of school in small-town Warsaw, Indiana. In this one high school town, basketball is king, and the reigning prince is jock Colin, whose family is not as well-off as many in the town, so he's under pressure to play well that year to get a basketball scholarship. Hannah is the alterna-girl freak (to some at least), meaning she is artistic, funny, creative, and wants to break out of town when she graduates. Unfortunately, a boyfriend breaks her hear first, spiralling her into a month of depression and anxiety where she practically drops out of school. Jake is a band-nerd who wants a girlfriend more than anything, though he often shoots himself in the foot with his self-esteem issues. And finally Megan is the princess, and in the film, the mega-bitch. Yikes. Remember the mean girls from high school? Well, that's Megan. The film is funny, cringe-inducing, and occasionally heartbreaking, playing like a real-life re-enactment of The Breakfast Club (with a marketing campaign to match).

Sex and the City Night proved a great success (not that you asked), so I took it down a notch on Sunday and just caught one film. OK, well I actually attempted to see another film, Time to Die (Pora Umierac), which I've heard good things about... but the truth is, I didn't have my butt in gear and got there about 5 minutes too late. I didn't want to be THAT PERSON, coming in late, trying to find a seat in a darkened theater. I learned my lesson last year (see, Vickie?). So instead, I loitered in places like The Gap , Old Navy, and Value Village, touched a lot of things without buying them, then went to a coffee shop for an hour and read a book.

My only film selection today was Newcastle (4/8), a surfer-boy movie from Australia. If you want to look at pretty, tan, muscular white boys with sun-bleached hair, this is the movie for you. If you want to see astonishingly gorgeous photography of surfing, the film has buckets to offer. But if you want to spend your time with a main character and his friends that are almost all a bunch of pricks, well, that's Newcastle for you. Seventeen-year-old Jesse is a self-absorbed and apparently very talented surfer, like his older brother Victor had been, but Victor washed-out, and is now a mean loser. Jesse misses a spot (by one slot) on the local team that would be his ticket to getting discovered in the competitive circuit, and he sure can't seem to accept that the other guys might have been better. On top of that, his goth weakling brother Fergus seems to have a crush on Andy, one of Jesse's pals (perhaps Jesse's only friend who isn't an asshat). Jesse, his pals, and tag-along Fergus go on a beach camping trip for sun, sex, and surf, but when Victor and his thuggish surfer-pals show up to spoil the party, well, something bad happens. It is too bad that the film focused on selfish Jesse, who was almost completely unlikeable. I found sweet Fergus' infatuation with the friendly Andy to be a much more engaging (and less predictable) subplot. Plus, I have no idea who did the actual surfing, but not only was Andy a more pleasant character, but I found his style of surfing to be the most captivatingly gorgeous. Everyone knows that I kinda loved the surfer movie Blue Crush... but let's just say Newcastle is no Blue Crush.

[FYI: Bear with me, readers. I'll be taking a couple days off from SIFF now, you know, to catch up on things, life, and whatnot. But I'll be back, catching more movies later this week! Mark my words!]