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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 17, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


SIFF-ting 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 250 films over 25 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…





















Jimi: All is By My Side- John Ridley’s biopic focuses on Jimi Hendrix’s formative "London period", just prior to his superstardom. Outkast guitarist Andre Benjamin uncannily captures Hendrix’s mannerisms, and the Swinging Sixties are recreated with verisimilitude, but it’s more soap than rock opera. Glaring absence of original Hendrix music is a minus (the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights). Adding to the deficit, the movie ends so abruptly that it feels like an unfinished project. Then again, so did Jimi’s journey.

(Opening Night only; presentation date already past)

















Regarding Susan Sontag- There’s much to regard in Nancy Kate’s enlightening documentary about the complex private and public life of the iconic intellectual polymath. Kate is deft at deconstructing, then reassembling all of the “Susan Sontags” (cultural critic, activist, feminist pioneer, provocateur) into a rich portrait. Great archival footage; in my favorite clip Sontag cleans the floor with some wingnut who questions her “patriotism” for her pragmatic essay about the 9/11 attacks (we could sure use her now).

(Plays May 18 and 19)

















#chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator- Not long ago, the MSM relegated social media to kickers about flash mobs, or grandpa’s first tweet. Then, the Arab Spring happened, precipitating the rise of the citizen journalist. Case in point: 19 year-old Ala’a Basatneh, subject of Joe Piscatella’s doc. The Damascus-born Chicagoan is a key player in the Syrian revolution, as in “key stroke”. It’s not just about Ala’a, but her compatriots in Syria, some who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Timely and moving.

(Plays May 18 and 20)


















Fight Church- Man goes in the cage. Cage goes in the arena. Preacher's in the cage. Preacher says a prayer, the two men proceed to pound the holy crap out of each other, and the crowd goes wild. Sunday! SUNday!! SUNDAY!!! Elmer Gantry meets Beyond Thunderdome in this objective and fascinating doc directed by Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel, which profiles several manly men of faith (MMA competitors all) who lead "fight ministries" (a growing trend). But...what about that whole "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek" thing in the Bible, you may ask? Well, if The Legend of Billy Jack has taught us anything, it's this: Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end.

(Plays May 18 and 26)


















Mirage Men- Remember the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where Roy counters the government official's spin with "You can't fool us by agreeing with us"? Life imitates art in John Lundberg's brain-teasing documentary. Along with screenwriter Mark Pilkington, he's assembled a treatise suggesting the government did, in fact, "fool" UFO conspiracy theorists over the years by "agreeing" with them. And if you ask the film's central player, ex-spook Richard C. Doty, he's more than happy to confess that his prime directive as the Air Force's chief liaison with the Roswell believers was two-fold: keep tabs on the higher-profile UFO buffs, whilst feeding them enough tantalizing disinformation to keep the mythology thriving. Unless...that's what he wants us to think (hmm). That's the conundrum that kept me hooked. Fans of The X-Files will dig this one.

(Plays May 20 and 21)





















Monsoon Shootout - Here's another SIFF entry that toys with your perception of reality, albeit within an altogether different genre. Amit Kumar directs this Bollywood crime thriller, a tale of an idealistic rookie Mumbai cop (Vijay Varma) eager to prove his mettle to his partner (Neeraj Kabi), a cynical and world-weary veteran. He gets his chance when he finds himself in a do-or-die face-off with a notoriously slippery assassin nicknamed "The Axe Man". To shoot, or not to shoot...that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer through a drawn out court trial, or to take arms, blow this pain-in-the-ass recidivist away now and get a promotion. Perchance to dream...and that's where the film takes a clunky turn into Run Lola Run/Point Blank territory. Ay, there’s the rub; pedestrian execution of its central conceit puts the damper on an otherwise stylish effort.

(Plays May 19)


















White Shadow- Israeli director Noaz Deshe's impressive, strikingly photographed debut is a character/cultural study about the travails of a young albino Tanzanian. There's also a "ripped from the headlines" element; According to a 2013 U.N. report on human rights, there has been an escalation of horrifying attacks on albinos in Tanzania, because (there's no delicate way to put this) their organs and body parts have become a high-demand commodity for witch doctors (who use them in rituals and potions). Such is the possible fate for Alias (Hamisi Bazili), sent by his mother to live with his uncle (James Gayo) after witnessing his father's brutal murder. As if it wasn't tough enough for bush-dwelling Alias to adjust to life in the big city, his uncle is in heavy debt to gangsters. The film recalls Peter Weir's The Last Wave, in its depiction of a modernized indigenous society struggling to shake off archaic superstitions without losing their sense of cultural identity.

(Plays May 18)
















Bad Hair- This naturalistic drama from Venezuelan writer-director Mariana Rondon concerns a 9 year-old named Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) who lives in the rough-and-tumble tower blocks of Caracas with his mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) and baby brother. Impoverished and recently widowed, Marta scrapes out a meager living cleaning rich people’s homes. She desperately wants her old job back as a security guard, but her sleazebag ex-supervisor will help her get reinstated only if she agrees to sleep with him. Adding to her stress, Junior is becoming obsessed with his hair; he wants it straightened, to emulate his favorite pop singer. Most worrisome to Marta, he’s showing an “unmanly” interest in singing and dancing. The increasing tension between mother and son is about to boil over. Using equal parts character study and kitchen sink drama, Rondon metes out subtle social commentary about slum life, class struggle and machismo in Latin culture.

(Plays May 18 and 22)

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