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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 18, 2013

 
Saturday Night 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 sharing highlights with you. SIFF is showing 272 films over 26 days. Navigating such an event is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. Yet, I trudge on (cue the world’s tiniest violin). Hopefully, some of these films will be coming soon to a theater near you…



















In Our Nixon, director Penny Lane strives to construct an arch portrait of The Tricky One by sneaking in through the back door. It seems some of the president's men were home movie buffs. A treasure trove of Super8 footage taken by H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin during their White House tenure recently surfaced. Lane blends choice snippets of the aforementioned with archival news footage, interviews with the three aides and excerpts from the infamous secret Oval Office recordings. It's the Nixon administration retooled as an episode of Entourage. No new revelations or insight for political junkies, but for viewers of a "certain age", it sustains an oddly nostalgic tone.
















Forbidden Voices (from Swiss director Barbara Miller) is an excellent doc profiling three influential "cyber-feminists" who bravely soldier on in the blogosphere whilst running a daily gauntlet of intimidation from their respective governments, including (but not limited to) overt surveillance, petty legal harassment and even physical beatings. Despite the odds, Yoani Sanchez (Cuba), Farnez Seifi (Iran, currently exiled in Germany) and Zeng Jinyan (China) are affecting change (if only baby steps). In an interesting (and disturbing) bit of kismet, a day after I saw this, the DOJ/AP phone records scandal broke.



Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton is an aptly entitled profile of the free-spirited poet, playwright and filmmaker (1913-1999) who was part of the "San Francisco Renaissance" (pre-cursors to The Beats). Stephen Silha's documentary is as playful and provocative as his subject, who emerges here as one of those fascinating, Zelig-like figures who managed to remain relevant to and in simpatico with nearly every major counter-culture arts/social movement from the Beats and the hippies to gay liberation and beyond. I admit being previously unfamiliar with Broughton, but this film made me a fan.























Canadian actress Sarah Polley has quietly made a name for herself as a feature film director in recent years (Away from Her, Take This Waltz). Now she turns the camera inward, for her documentary Stories We Tell. Polley uses her film as a sort of family therapy session, seeking to uncover the truth regarding her late mother's rumored dalliances outside the marriage. Polley was 11 when her mother (also an actress) died of cancer. As Polley gently grills her father (a retired actor), siblings and long-time family friends, secrets, lies and unbelievable truths slowly burble to the surface, Rashomon-style. It teeters toward the navel-gazing side, but it unravels like a good mystery should.






















My favorite Emo Philips joke goes: A man came to my door and said "I'd like to read your gas meter." I said, "Whatever happened to the classics?" A breezy documentary called Out of Print takes that rhetorical question to the next level: Whatever happened to reading? That is, “reading” in the traditional sense…as in holding a book and turning pages? Director Vivienne Roumani examines the impact of digital media on the world of publishing, with a variety of industry mavens weighing in with their take on the central question: “Is the book dead?” The issues raised mirror the economic, legal and aesthetic hysteria stirred up by the advent of music file sharing back in the late 90s. Absorbing, if not essential (and at 54 minutes long, it’s surely destined for PBS). Meryl Streep narrates.






















The Horde is an historical epic from director Andrey Proshkin based on a relatively obscure event (well, outside of Russia) that occurred in the 14th century, when the Metropolitan of Moscow (a monk also known as St. Alexius) saved his city from destruction by the Mongolian Golden Horde by “healing” the Khan’s mother, who had been stricken blind. The first half is involving, with royal intrigue and (literal) backstabbing amongst squabbling members of the Khanate, but once the story shifts to the endless suffering of St. Alexius as he wends his way home (we get it…he’s a saint) the film suffers too. Lavish production design and fine acting helps makes up the deficit.





















The Rocket could prove to be one of this year’s sleepers. Aussie writer-director Kim Mordaunt tells the story of Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe, in a remarkable performance), a 10-year old Laotian boy who can’t catch a break. In rapid succession, a member of his family dies in a freak accident and then the surviving members are forced to relocate after their village gets earmarked for razing to make way for a hydroelectric project. Ahlo’s dour grandma labels him as a “bad luck charm”. Determined to redeem his standing, Ahlo sets out to win an annual Rocket Competition. Mourdaunt has a Terrence Malick-like penchant for gorgeous “magic hour” composition; perfectly capturing the dichotomy of UXBs and battle-scarred ruins as they contrast with Laos’ lush, rugged natural beauty.


Note: You may or may not have noticed that the site I have been using for the past year or so to archive my reviews, Clipboard.com has put up a notice on their home page advising that they will be going dark at the end of June (I know..."So whaddya expect for free?"). I'm currently scrambling to find a similar site that I can port the archives over to.





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