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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 25, 2013

 

Saturday Night at the Movies


SIFFting through cinema, pt. 2

By Dennis Hartley

The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so I'm continuing to share highlights with you this week. 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…




"

Oi! Zombies!" This may be "damning with faint praise" but Matthias Hoene's "splatter comedy"
Cockneys vs. Zombies pretty much delivers all that its title implies. In a setup reminiscent of the British sci-fi classic Quatermass and the Pit (although any similarities abruptly end there) London construction workers inadvertently stir up an ancient crypt best left undisturbed...sparking a zombie apocalypse in the East End. Although I enjoyed this much more when it was called Shaun of the Dead, it does have its moments. The funniest bit has an elderly gent with a walker handily outdistancing his zombie "pursuer".





Adapting first-person narratives like Marlen Haushofer's dystopian novel Die Wand (The Wall) for the screen can be a tricky affair. Consider Julian Roman Polsler's film, wherein our heroine (Martina Gedeck) wakes up one morning and finds that an invisible, encircling “wall” has confined her within the perimeter of an Alpine lodge, with only a dog, a cow and woodland animals for company. As she adapts to her Robinson Crusoe lifestyle, she begins keeping a journal. Since she has no one to converse with, we get voice over narration. A lot of voice over narration. Gedeck (a skilled actress) is left with little to do but stare into space. There's a lot of staring into space. Atmospheric, nicely shot, but ultimately it is little more than a picture postcard-festooned exercise in tedium.



I’ve always found dinner parties to be a fascinating microcosm of human behavior; ditto genre films like The Anniversary Party, The Boys in the Band, and my all-time favorite Don’s Party (my review). Mutual Friends (a SIFF World Premiere) is the feature film debut for director Matthew Watts. Sort of an indie take on Love, Actually, this no-budget charmer centers on a group of neurotic New Yorkers (is that redundant?) converging for a surprise party. In accordance with the Strict Rules of Dinner Party Narratives, logistics go awry, misunderstandings abound, unexpected romance ensues, and friendships are sorely tested. Despite formulaic trappings, the film is buoyed by clever writing, an engaging ensemble, and cheerful reassurance that your Soul Mate really is out there...somewhere...





When you think "road trip!" you usually don't envision trekking through the nation formerly known as Yugoslavia while schlepping along the mummified remains of Marshal Tito (or a facsimile thereof). That is apparently what Swedish underground comic artists Max Andersson and Lars Sjunneesson did, to promote their book Bosnian Flat Dog at an alternative comic convention in Sarajevo. For his documentary Tito on Ice, Andersson and co-director Helena Ahonen mix Super8 footage from the trip with cardboard cutout stop-motion to create an offbeat (if occasionally scattershot) pastiche about art and politics that works best whenever focus shifts from the artists to the  recollections of people who came of age in the midst of the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s. This aspect recalls the 2007 animated film Persepolis, which was based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel memoir about growing up during the Iranian Revolution.




Salma (from UK director Kim Longinotto) profiles a Tamil poet named Salma (now 45) who spent her first 25 years sequestered at home. Her family was adhering to a strict "unwritten law” forbidding pubescent girls from venturing outside the house (even to attend school) until they are married off. Longinotto documents Salma as she visits her family for the first time in years; she points out the tiny window that provided her sole portal to the outside world. She found ways to smuggle her early work out of the house, eventually becoming renowned throughout India. While its subject is compelling, it pains me to say that the film, while meant to inspire, is flat and dull, with no poetry in its soul.







Here's a concept: In the Utopian future, cities will be designed at the behest of urban dwellers, as opposed to urban "planners". In case you hadn't noticed, most cities cramp our style with tightly-packed high-rises and dense noisy traffic, which doesn't leave much space for the traditional "town square". In his documentary  The Human Scale, Danish director Andreas M. Dalsgaard examines the work of architect Jan Gehl, who posits that the fatal flaw of modern urban design lies in its ignorance of cultural anthropology. This results in cities blighted by social isolation and alienation. After conducting his own study over several decades, Gehl concluded that humans are happiest in a low-rise cityscape, enhanced with open public spaces (it's rumored that we're social creatures). Copenhagen is shown as one example of a city that has become more sustainable and people-centric.  A fascinating, refreshingly optimistic look at creating a new paradigm.


This year’s revival presentation is a newly restored print of the classic silent 1923 Harold Lloyd vehicle, Safety Last! (a Criterion Blu-ray edition is slated for mid-June release) Yes, this is the one featuring Lloyd’s iconic “hanging off the clock” routine. He plays a bumpkin from Great Bend who moves to the big city, promising to send for his sweetheart and marry her once he has found his fortune. When she pops by for a surprise visit, Lloyd scrambles to cover up that he’s still making peanuts as a lowly clerk in a department store. When he learns that the manager will pay $1000 for a winning marketing idea to bring in more customers, Lloyd cooks up a “human fly” publicity stunt,  sparking one of the most hilarious, inventive and thrilling daredevil sequences ever filmed. Even by modern filmmaking standards, it boggles the mind as to how they did it.

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