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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 01, 2013

 
Saturday Night at the Movies

SIFF 2013: Wrap party

By Dennis Hartley

By the time the Seattle International Film Festival winds down next weekend, 272 feature films will have played over 26 days. After screening and reviewing 19 festival selections over the past three weeks, I’m officially tired now, so this will be my wrap for SIFF 2013. Hopefully, some of these releases will be coming soon to a theater near you!

















For his incredibly timely political doc We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, director Alex Gibney sets out not only to construct a “people’s history” of the whistleblowing website, but ambitiously aims to deconstruct the Sphinx that is founder Julian Assange. As to the first goal, Gibney scores, on count two, not so much; Assange remains a bit of a cypher. Still, Assange is only half the equation here. The real heart and soul of the film is the story of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked 700,000 government documents and pieces of classified military information to the site (his court martial begins Monday; although you wouldn’t know it from watching CNN, who are otherwise abuzz with all their pre-game coverage of the Zimmerman trial). While he was unable to interview Manning, Gibney weaves in transcripts of email exchanges Manning had with hacker Adrian Lamo to paint a very moving, human portrait of this young man who (like Assange) is hero to some, “traitor” to others. Regardless of where you stand on that issue, this is essential viewing and could be the most important American film of 2013.












Furever is a mildly engaging look at the peculiarly American obsession with memorializing pets once they have passed on. I say “mildly engaging” because this ground has been pretty well covered (no pun intended), most notably in Errol Morris’ classic 1978 documentary Gates of Heaven. Still, director Amy Finkel takes a fairly comprehensive approach, interviewing bereaved pet owners, psychologists and of course the people in the industry who make some pretty good coin off of other people’s grief (yeah, I know…I’m a cynical bastard). The film runs out of steam when you realize that it’s making the same point over and over, but inevitably piques morbid interest when it focuses on the extreme examples (like folks who have their dead “loved ones” stuffed).

















Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is pure nirvana for power pop fans. Founded in 1971 by singer-guitarist Chris Bell and ex-Box Tops lead singer/guitarist Alex Chilton, the Beatle-esque Big Star was a musical anomaly in their hometown of Memphis, which was only the first of many hurdles this talented band was to face during their brief, tumultuous career. Now considered one of the seminal influences on the genre, the band was largely ignored by record buyers during their heyday (despite critical acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone). Then, in the mid-1980s, a cult following steadily began to build around the long-defunct outfit after college radio darlings like R.E.M., the Dbs and the Replacements began lauding them as an inspiration. Director Drew DeNicola also tracks the lives of the four members long beyond the 1974 breakup, which is the most riveting (and heart wrenching) part of the tale. This is an outstanding (and tuneful) rockumentary.




Teddy Bears is an ensemble dramedy best described as The Big Chill for Millennials. A twentysomething Californian, desperate to heal the debilitating grief he is suffering over his mother’s death, gathers up his girlfriend and rents a house for a weekend retreat in Joshua Tree, inviting two other couples along for emotional support. Once all of his friends have arrived, he makes an unusual request that throws the group for a loop (there is also a touch of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice). It’s a perceptive look at friendship, love and how everyone deals with grief in their own way. Well-acted all round and nicely written and directed by husband and wife team Rebecca Fishman and Thomas Beatty (son of veteran character actor Ned Beatty, who has a cameo as an eccentric neighbor).




















Eduard Cortes’ Atraco! is an entertaining (if at times uneven) heist caper from Spain, based a true story. Set in mid-1950s Madrid, it centers on an “inside job” conducted by loyalists to the former president of Argentina, Juan Peron to steal back priceless jewels that they had pawned in order to help finance Peron’s exile (the jewels had originally belonged to his late wife, Evita). The film is largely buoyed by two strong central performances from “odd couple” Guillermo Francella (as a veteran Peronista operative) and Nicolas Cabre (as his bumbling neophyte partner in crime, a young aspiring actor). Part Rififi, part The Conformist, and part telenovela, the film suffers a bit from jarring tonal shifts (as if Cortes can’t decide if he’s making a caper comedy or a heavy political drama) but the colorful locations, convincing period detail and performances win the day.

Previous posts with related themes:



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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