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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 29, 2010

 
Saturday Night At The Movies


SIFFting through cinema, Pt. 2

By Dennis Hartley














Perrier’s Bounty
: “Quentin fookin’ WHO?”




The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so over the next several weeks I will be bringing you highlights. Navigating a film festival is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. SIFF is presenting 405 films over 24 days. That’s great for independently wealthy types, but for those of us who work for a living (*cough*), it’s tough to find the time and energy that it would take to catch 16.8 films a day (yes-I did the math). I do take consolation from my observation that the ratio of less-than-stellar (too many) to quality offerings (too few) at a film festival differs little from any Friday night crapshoot at the multiplex. The trick lies in developing a sixth sense for films most likely to be up your alley (in my case, embracing my OCD and channeling it like a cinematic divining rod.) Hopefully, some of these will be coming soon to a theater near you. So-let’s go SIFFting!






















No bees, no Van Gogh: Queen of the Sun


I never thought that a documentary about honeybees would make me both laugh and cry-but northwest filmmaker Taggart Siegel’s Queen of the Sun is one such film. Appearing at first glance to be a distressing, hand-wringing examination of Colony Collapse Syndrome, a phenomenon that has puzzled and dismayed beekeepers and scientists alike with its accelerated frequency of occurrences over the past decade, the film becomes a sometimes joyous, sometimes humbling meditation on how essential these seemingly insignificant yet complex social creatures are to the planet’s life cycle. We bipeds might harbor a pretty high opinion of our own place on the evolutionary ladder, but Siegel lays out a convincing case which proves that these “lowly” insects are, in fact, the boss of us.

It turns out that there have been voices in the wilderness over the years (aside from the constant and reassuring hum of our busy little trans-global pollinators) trying to get that message across; although they have been largely ignored (until now, of course-when it’s too late). Albert Einstein once said: “If bees die, man will only have four years of life left.” As early as 1923, Austrian philosopher-scientist-social thinker and biodynamic agriculturalist icon Rudolph Steiner warned that within 100 years, without careful cultivation and continued awareness of the delicate symbiotic relationship we share with them, the honeybees would simply begin to dissipate (silly Rudy). In his film, Siegel documents how, in the 80-odd year interim between Steiner’s dire prediction and the mounting evidence that it is becoming a sad fact, we have plowed ahead in our typically clueless fashion, taking and taking and not giving enough back (I know…familiar story). Siegel rounds up the usual suspects, like mite infestations, pesticides, and the use of domesticated colonies in mechanized industrial pollination (especially in regards to mono-cropping, for which the bees are sometimes fortified with corn syrup, of all things).

While there are a lot of revelations here that are likely to piss you off (and once again make you curse the ubiquitous corporate bottom line) it’s not all gloom and doom, however. Siegel offers up some hope, as well. In countries where toxic pesticides are currently banned, Colony Collapse Syndrome has been virtually non-existent (surprise surprise). There are some delightful interludes with, well, “unique” individuals who have an upbeat, purely philosophical/spiritual perspective on the human-bee connection. And perhaps most importantly, we meet people who are proactively working on solutions; biodynamic beekeepers, organic farmers, and some urban beekeepers in the heart of the Bronx who are risking actual imprisonment for maintaining their rooftop hives (obviously, there are some ridiculous laws that are screaming to be stricken from the books). The film is beautifully photographed, well-paced and features a lovely score by Jami Sieber. I’ll tell you one thing-you’ll never take that jar of honey for granted again.

















The Topp Twins
: Not directed by Christopher Guest, oddly



Sometimes, it’s kind of fun to just throw a dart at the SIFF schedule and see where it lands. I had no clue as to what to expect when the lights went down for the screening of Leanne Pooley’s documentary The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls. All I knew was that it was a film about yodeling lesbian twins. Aside from that, I knew squat. I didn’t even know if it was for real; it sounded like perfect fodder for a mockumentary, to be honest. To my surprise, by the time the lights came up, my faith in humanity had almost returned.

Because you see, it’s hard to be depressed after spending 90 minutes with the film’s subjects. Jools and Linda Topp have to be two of the most charming, down-to-earth, warm-hearted and preternaturally gifted entertainers you’d ever want to meet in a screen profile. As if that weren’t enough, they tell THE funniest goddam lesbian joke I have ever heard in my life…I couldn’t breathe (and I used to work in stand-up comedy). Hugely popular in their native New Zealand, the 52-year old Topps have been bringing audiences their unique blend of music and comedy (oh…and yodeling) since the 1980s.

What most impressed me, however, was their dedication to political activism (in the film, admirer Billy Bragg describes them as “an anarchist variety act”). Over the years, they have campaigned for gay and lesbian rights, participated in protests in support of civil rights for New Zealand’s indigenous Maoris, and worked in support of the anti-nuke movement (to name a few). What’s refreshing about their political work is that there is no grandstanding; you don’t doubt their sincerity for a second (“what you see is what you get” says one of their fans). These are two of the nicest “anarchists” I’ve ever seen. Pooley’s film itself is as upbeat and straightforward as her subjects; and like the Topps, it imparts a pure joy of creating something that manages to both entertain and inspire.

And here’s another one to be on the lookout for. This film has found a U.S. distributor, so as credentialed press I am “embargoed” from sharing copious details at this time…

Perrier’s Bounty-Despite an acute case of Pulp Fiction envy and Guy Ritchie déjà vu, this quirky Irish gangster flick (directed by Ian Fitzgibbon) sucked me in with its outstanding cast, saucy dialog (written by Mark O’Rowe) and dark humor (reminiscent of In Bruges, which I reviewed here). Cillian Murphy stars as a ne’er do well who owes money to a brutal mobster (Brendan Gleeson). After Murphy’s downstairs neighbor (Jodie Whittaker) accidentally kills one of the mob’s bill collectors, the two are forced to go on the run. Along the way, the fugitives are joined by Murphy’s father (Jim Broadbent), who demonstrates that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. It’s a hoot to watch two brilliant character actors like Gleeson and Broadbent going head-to-head, and I found myself laughing out loud, despite the predictability of the narrative.

And one more thing…a mea culpa:

In my review of the excellent film Son of Babylon in last week’s post, I was apparently so enamored with quoting my favorite lines of dialog that I overlooked mentioning the person who gave the actors those wonderful words to speak-screenwriter Jenny Norridge.

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