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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 24, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


SIFF-ting through cinema, Pt. 2

By Dennis Hartley

The Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so over the next couple weeks I'm sharing highlights. There are over 250 films this year; not easy to wade through, even for a dedicated buff. Hopefully, some of these will be coming soon to a theater near you...
















Burt's Buzz- What struck me about Jody Shapiro's portrait of Burt's Bees founder Burt Shavitz was not the story of how the roadside entrepreneur co-created and then ended up signing away ownership of a company now worth $900 million, but the fact that he could care less...as long as he's got his dog and his modest farm. Perhaps it's his philosophy, which goes like this: "It's important to be able to separate one's wants from one's needs."

(Plays May 26 and 27)






















I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story- I kept telling myself "I'm not gonna cry...it's just a documentary about a man who has made a career out of walking around in a silly bird suit. And spreading joy to the world (*sniff*) and...and making millions of (*sniff*) little children so happy (waterworks now fully engaged). Spinney is the man who has been wearing that silly bird suit (and giving life to Oscar the Grouch as well) for over 40 years now. There is so much sweetness and light emanating from the subject of Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker's upbeat profile that he seems too good to be true. But even the film's darkest Behind the Music interlude (a tragic incident when a murdered woman was discovered on his property) has a silver lining. The film left me feeling so positive that I can forgive its one rather distracting drawback: a cloying, overbearing music score.

(Plays May 25, 26 and 27)

















From Neurons to Nirvana: The Great Medicines - Now that medical science has validated the pharmacological benefits of cannabis, it's time to kick it up a notch (pot being the "gateway drug" and all). Turn on, tune in, drop the Prozac...and legalize psychedelics. That's the premise of Oliver Hockenhull's thought-provoking (if somewhat lopsided) documentary, which is a cross between Altered States and What the Bleep Do We (k)now!?. Drawing from an array of scientists, religious scholars, psychiatrists, and practitioners, Hockenhull builds a compelling case for medicinal use. Worth a look, but I have one bone to pick. Any film that tackles this subject, yet neglects to make even a passing acknowledgement of McKenna, Leary or Owsley's significance feels incomplete.

(Plays May 25)





















Kinderwald- If Terrence Malick had directed The Blair Witch Project, it might resemble Lise Raven's naturalistic period drama, set in the backwoods of 1850s Pennsylvania. The story centers on the reaction of a clannish pioneer community after two boys mysteriously vanish from their family's encampment. While one gets a sense that the film was a labor of love for its creator, any noble intentions are undermined by a dull script and stilted acting. On the plus side, it is nicely photographed and imbued with period flavor; however, despite a compelling setup, the narrative itself wanders off and gets lost.

(Plays May 29 and 30)




















Red Knot- Bookended by an enigmatic dissolve as mysterious as love itself (Jesus, I sound like a Hallmark card), Scott Cohen's film focuses on the complexities of human relationships. Newlyweds Peter and Chloe (Vincent Kartheiser and Olivia Thirlby) are honeymooning on a research vessel headed for Antarctica. They're still getting to know each other; there's nothing like being stuck together on a boat to bring latent issues to the fore. Increasingly squally seas become a metaphor for the couple's increasingly tempestuous gulf. Will their love weather this storm, or dash them on the rocks, leaving them stranded, alone in their arctic desolation? Initially, I thought "Lost in Translation meets March of the Penguins", but it's more of a mumblecore take on Letter Never Sent. A meditation on love, nature, and the fact that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Recommended...but be patient, grasshopper.  

(Plays May 31 and June 1)

















1,000 Times Goodnight- Juliette Binoche is magnificent (as she always is) as a fearless photojournalist torn between her addiction to the adrenaline-pumping unpredictability of her work and the grounding reassurance of home life with her family. After she’s nearly blown to bits while embedded in Afghanistan with a group of female suicide bombers, her husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and daughters give her an ultimatum. Erik Poppe’s film is a compassionate, sensitively-acted melodrama in the tradition of Shoot the Moon.

(Plays May 25)














Family United- The lovely Spanish countryside provides an eye-pleasing backdrop for director Daniel Sanchez Arevalo's audience-pleasing romp. Not that there's anything wrong with an audience-pleasing romp (I'm not one of those kind of film snobs...am I?). This lively (if somewhat predictable) family dramedy centers on a wedding. The groom is the youngest of six brothers, who have reunited for the event at their father's country estate (the parents are estranged). Something unexpected happens, postponing the vows. Further complications arise, leading to an acute case of nuptials interruptus. It's a slight but likeable enough mash-up of romantic comedy and telenovela, with a nifty soundtrack.

(Plays May 30, June 2 and 3)














The Boy and the World- Brazilian artist Ale Abreu directs this animated fantasy about a little boy from the countryside making his first foray into the big city, to search for his father. Beginning with just a white screen, Abreu graduates to gentle pastels and simple line drawings, which morphs into an ever-more cacophonous mixed-media assault of sound, color and movement as our protagonist makes his way closer to the sprawling metropolis. In that regard, the film reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi (and seems to be making some of the same points about the price we pay for "progress"). While the film is definitely family-friendly, I have a feeling that it may ultimately prove too frustratingly slow and abstract for the younger kids (especially those who have been weaned on Pixar).

(Plays June 7)











The Servant- One of my all-time favorite British dramas has received a restored print for its 50th anniversary. Joseph Losey’s brooding and decadent class-struggle allegory features the late great Dirk Bogarde in a note-perfect performance as the "manservant" hired by a snobby playboy (James Fox) to help him settle into his upscale London digs. It soon becomes apparent that this butler has a little more on the agenda than just polishing silverware and dusting the mantle. A very young Sara Miles is memorable as Bogarde's "sister" who is hired as the maid. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe's striking chiaroscuro composition and clever use of convex mirrors (which appear to "trap" the images of the principal characters) sustains a stifling, claustrophobic mood throughout. If you're an aficionado of the 60's British folk scene, keep your eyes peeled for a rare, unbilled glimpse of guitarist Davey Graham, in a scene where Fox walks into a coffeehouse. Harold Pinter’s screenplay was adapted from the novel by Robin Maugham.

(Plays May 29)


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