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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 18, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


A nest of intrigue: Flight of the Storks

By Dennis Hartley
















Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Roger Corman's The Raven aside, I can't name too many mystery thrillers with an ornithological twist (no, The Maltese Falcon doesn't count, because as Sidney Greenstreet once pointed out, "It's fake! It's a phony!"). So how do you feel about storks? I'm a little ambivalent about them myself; haven't given them much thought. I do appreciate that they deliver the babies, but between you, me, and the fencepost...I have long harbored a suspicion that it might be some kind of an urban myth.

Nonetheless, storks do figure somewhat prominently in a new thriller called (wait for it) Flight of the Storks. The 2012 French made-for-television film, directed by Jan Koun and co-adapted by Jean-Christophe (from his own 1994 novel) and Denis McGrath, is currently wending around the U.S. as a 3-hour theatrical presentation (SIFF is bringing it to Seattle January 31 for a one-week run). A bit tough to pigeonhole (sorry!), it is best described as a whacked-out cross between Winged Migration and The Boys from Brazil.

Harry Treadaway stars as Jonathan, a young English researcher working as an assistant to a self-styled amateur ornithologist named Max (Danny Keogh) who is conducting a study on the migratory habits of storks who fly from Switzerland to Africa and back. It seems that the number of returnees has been dwindling; Max wants to literally follow the storks along their route and see if he can figure out why. Unfortunately, he’ll never get a chance to solve that mystery, because within the opening five minutes of the film, Jonathan discovers Max’s partially devoured body atop a stork’s nest at his home. Jonathan decides to carry on with Max’s planned journey solo, after reluctantly promising to keep an oddly creepy Swiss detective (Clemens Schick) apprised of his location at all times.

Jonathan’s itinerary seems to follow the migratory habits of 007, as opposed to the storks. One day he’s partying in a nightclub in Bulgaria, a few days later he’s traipsing around Istanbul, next thing we know he’s bedding down with a hot Israeli babe on a kibbutz. Then, it’s off to the Congo. Oh, and along the way, he’s shadowed by assorted shady characters trying to kill him, usually not long after he discovers yet another one of Max’s associates has turned up dead (who knew bird-watching was such an exciting vocation?).

I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say that the closer Jonathan gets to the Congo (where he lived as a child with his late parents, who were both doctors) the more he begins to ponder some previously dormant, now niggling mysteries regarding his own past. I can say no more (no, he wasn’t delivered by a stork). While the plot feels gratuitously byzantine at times, I was hooked until the end by the central mystery…which I suppose makes it a successful genre entry. Treadaway gives a compelling performance, which helps hold your interest (along with the lovely photography and exotic locales). It was an unexpected treat to see the always entertaining Rutger Hauer pop up toward the end (where the hell has he been?). I do have to a bone to pick regarding the lack of subtitles, which I found mildly irritating. The dialog is predominately in English, but there are several exchanges (in several different languages) that I felt were lengthy enough to warrant them. That aside…you could do worse with three hours of your time.

…and one more thing…

Seattle readers might want to take note that SIFF is presenting their 2014 Women in Cinema mini-festival, January 22 through the 26, celebrating notable new works by women filmmakers. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to preview any of this year’s selections, but several look intriguing. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a documentary from director Chiemi Karasawa profiling the legendary Broadway performer, still going strong at age 87. The always interesting Melissa Leo stars in Enid Zentelis’ Bottled Up, a drama about the “heart-wrenching struggle of loving an addict.” From writer-director Shana Betz, the 1970s period piece Free Ride stars Anna Paquin as a single mother caught up in the Florida drug trade (possible shades of Weeds). From Kenya, Judy Kibinge’s Something Necessary promises to be “an uplifting parable about atonement”, set during the violent wake of that country’s 2007 elections. For more information about these films, the additional selections, and tickets, check out SIFF’s Women in Cinema page.

Saturday Night at the Movies review archives



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