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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 31, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies



SIFF-ting through cinema: Wrap party!

By Dennis Hartley



The 40th Seattle International Film Festival is entering its final week, so this will be my wrap-up report. Hopefully, some of these will be coming soon to a theater near you…




















Lucky Them- This wry, bittersweet road movie/romantic comedy from Seattle-based director Megan Griffiths benefits greatly from the pairing of Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church, playing a rock journalist and first-time documentarian (respectively). They team up to search for a celebrated local singer-songwriter who mysteriously disappeared. What they find may not be what they were initially seeking. It reminded me of the 1998 UK rock 'n' roll comedy Still Crazy. And for dessert, there's a surprise cameo!


(Presentation dates have already past)






Abuse of Weakness- In this semi-autobiographical drama from writer-director Catherine Breillat, Isabelle Huppert plays a director who becomes partially paralyzed after a stroke. As she's recovering, she brainstorms her next project. She is transfixed by (an allegedly) reformed con man (Kool Shen) appearing on a TV chat show. She decides he will star in her movie. The charismatic hustler happily ingratiates himself into Huppert's life...with less than noble intentions. A psychological thriller recalling the films of Claude Chabrol.


(Plays June 5 and 8)





Blind Dates - Is there a level of humor below "deadpan"? If so, I'd say that this film from Georgian director Levan Koguashvili has it in spades. A minimalist meditation on the state of modern love in Tbilisi (in case you'd been wondering), the story focuses on the romantic travails of a sad sack Everyman named Sandro (Andro Sakhvarelidze), a 40-ish schoolteacher who still lives with his parents. Sandro and his best bud (Archil Kikodze) spend their spare time arranging double dates via singles websites, with underwhelming results. Then it happens...Sandro meets his dream woman (Ia Sukhitashvili). There's a mutual attraction, but one catch. Her husband's getting out of jail...very soon. This is one of those films that sneaks up on you; archly funny, and surprisingly poetic. Here's a gauge: if you're a huge fan of Jim Jarmusch (or his idol, Aki Kaurismaki), you'll love this.


(Plays June 4 and 8)





African Metropolis- This omnibus of six short multi-genre stories provides a showcase for the talents of a half dozen emerging African filmmakers. The only connecting thread between the shorts is that each one is set against a modern urban backdrop (in the cities of Abidjan, Cairo, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi). The collection is somewhat hit and miss; for me it was an even 50/50 split, with half of the vignettes not really going anywhere. The most absorbing piece is called To Repel Ghosts, by Ivory Coast filmmaker Philippe Lacote. It's a haunting, impressionistic speculation based on a 1988 visit to Abidjan made by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, shortly before his untimely death at age 27.


(Plays June 3 and 4)

















This May Be the Last Time- Did you know that the eponymous Rolling Stones song shares the same roots with a venerable Native-American tribal hymn, that is still sung in Seminole and Muscogee churches to this day? While that's far from the main thrust of Sterlin Harjo's documentary, it's but one of its surprises. This is really two films in one. On a very personal level (similar in tone to a 2013 SIFF documentary selection, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell), Harjo investigates a family story concerning the disappearance of his Oklahoman Seminole grandfather in 1962. After a perfunctory search by local authorities turned up nothing, tribal members pooled their resources and continued to look. Some members of the search party kept up spirits by singing traditional Seminole and Muscogee hymns...which inform the second level of Harjo's film. Through interviews with tribal members and ethnomusicologists, he traces the roots of this unique genre, connecting the dots between the hymns, African-American spirituals, Scottish and Appalachian music. It is both a revelatory history lesson, and a moving personal journey.


(Plays June 1)




The Stunt Man- “How tall was King Kong?” That’s the $64,000 question, posed several times by Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole), the larger-than-life director of the film-within-the-film in Richard Rush’s 1980 drama. Once you discover that King Kong was but “3 foot, six inches tall”, it becomes clear that the fictional director’s query is actually code for a much bigger question: “What is reality?” That is the question to ponder as you take this wild ride through the Dream Factory. Because from the moment our protagonist, a fugitive on the run from the cops (Steve Railsback) tumbles ass over teakettle onto Mr. Cross’s set, where he is in the midst of filming an art-house flavored WW I action adventure, his (and the audience’s) concept of what is real and what isn’t becomes hazy, to say the least. O’Toole chews major scenery, ably supported by a cast that includes Barbara Hershey and Allen Garfield. Despite lukewarm critical reception upon original release, it's now considered a classic. There's a unique Seattle tie-in; a legendary 43-week run at the Guild 45th Theatre is credited for cementing the film’s cult status (and for reviving O'Toole's then-flagging career). This is a movie for people who love the movies.


(Plays June 1; director Richard Rush is scheduled to attend)



The Pawnbroker- SIFF has secured a newly-struck print for the 50th anniversary of this Sidney Lumet film. Rod Steiger delivers a searing performance as a Holocaust survivor, suffering from (what we now know as) PTSD. Hostile, paranoid and insular, Steiger’s character is a walking powder keg, needled daily not only by haunting memories of the concentration camp, but by the fear and dread permeating the tough, crime-ridden NYC neighborhood where his pawnshop is located. When he finally comes face-to-face with the darkest parts of his soul, and the inevitable breakdown ensues, it’s expressed in a literal “silent scream” that is arguably the most astonishing moment in Steiger’s impressive canon of work. Morton S. Fine and David Friedkin adapted their screenplay from Edward Lewis Wallant’s novel. Lumet's intense character study is a prime example of the move toward “social realism” in American film that flourished in the early 1960s.


(Plays June 3)


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