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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Sunday, May 22, 2011

 
Sunday Morning At The Movies


SIFFting through cinema, Pt. 1

By Dennis Hartley

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 441 films over 25 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 17.6 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!
















Even though I could glean from frame one that The First Grader (this year’s SIFF opening night selection) was one of those “triumph of the human spirit over insurmountable socio-economic and/or political odds in a post-colonial African nation” dramas expressly engineered to tug mercilessly at the strings of my big ol’ pinko-commie, anti-imperialist, bleeding softie lib’rul heart, I nonetheless loved every minute of it. Produced by the BBC and beautifully directed by Justin Chadwick, the film dramatizes the true story of an illiterate 84 year-old Kikuyu tribesman (Oliver Litando) who, fired up by a 2002 Kenyan law that guaranteed free education for all citizens, shows up out of the blue at his local one-room schoolhouse one day, eager to hit the books. Bemusement from the school officials (who initially turn him away) turns to respect for the aging gentleman’s quietly persistent determination to realize his life-long dream, especially from the school’s compassionate principal (Naomie Harris). As you may have already guessed, there is much more to the protagonist’s story; through flashbacks we learn that he was a freedom fighter against the ruling British during the nearly decade-long Mau-Mau uprising that took place in Kenya in the 1950s. Through these carefully interspersed flashbacks, the full sacrifice he made and personal tragedy he suffered comes slowly and deliberately into focus; resulting in a denouement that packs a powerful, bittersweet emotional gut punch a la Sophie's Choice).















With his new film, 3 (aka “Drei”) German director Tom Tykwer finally answers that age-old question: What would happen if a bio-ethicist (Sophie Rois) and an art engineer (Sebastian Schipper), who have been involved in a loving, 20-year long relationship should suddenly find themselves falling head-over-heels in love with (unbeknownst to each other) the same genetics research scientist (Devid Streisow)? It gets interesting. Whether or not it gets interesting enough to hold your attention for 2 hours…well, that depends. Although he can’t resist tossing in a few of his patented art-house flourishes (thankfully, he only flirts with that annoying split-screen gimmick this time), this is a relatively low-key effort from a director who has built his rep on delivering stylized kinetics (Run Lola Run, The International). If you can visualize Woody Allen directing The Unbearable Lightness of Being-then you’ll find Tykwer’s surprisingly conventional romantic romp about an unconventional love triangle amongst the Berlin intelligentsia to be playful, erotic and smart. And if there is a message, it’s surely imbedded within the film’s most quotable line: “Say goodbye to your deterministic understanding of biology.”
















“J. H. Mascis on a Popsicle stick,” I thought to myself about 20 minutes into Hit So Hard, a new alt-rock doc about Hole drummer Patty Schemel “this isn’t going to be another one of those glorified episodes of VH-1’s Behind the Music…is it?” But once I realized that VH-1 doesn’t hold a patent on rags-to-riches-to-rags stories about rock musicians who sabotage their own careers through self-destructive substance abuse, I relaxed and went with it. Writer-director P. David Ebersole has rendered a candid and revealing portrait not only of his subject (a feisty, outspoken yet endearingly self-effacing woman who is sort of a punk-rock version of Tatum O’Neal) but of the fertile Seattle grunge scene that exploded in the early 90s. As she was a close family friend of that scene’s power couple-we also get an intimate glimpse at the home life of the two-headed beast that was Kurt and Courtney (and more than enough of the post-Kurt Courtney-who comes off as dangerously insane, per usual). There are unexpectedly moving moments as well; particularly when Patty’s mom recalls the moment her daughter came out to her at age 17. And in case the suspense is killing you? Yes-Patty is very much alive, and sober!

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