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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 30, 2015

 
Saturday Night at the Movies 


SIFF-ting through cinema: Wrap party!

By Dennis Hartley

As the Seattle International Film Festival enters home stretch (it wraps on June 7th) I have a few more highlights for you. SIFF is showing 263 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…

















The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution- If this rote recap of The Black Power Movement feels destined for PBS…it’s because it is. However, that shouldn’t deter you from catching it; it’s an eminently watchable (if not necessarily revelatory) look at an important corollary of the 1960s civil rights movement that, despite its failures and flaws, represents one of the last truly progressive grass roots political awakenings in America. For a fresher perspective, I’d highly recommend The Black Power Mixtape (my review).

Rating: **½   (Plays June 1)
















Liza, the Fox Fairy- If David Lynch had directed Amelie, it might be akin to this dark and whimsical romantic comedy from Hungary (inspired by a Japanese folk tale). The story centers on Liza (Monika Balsa), a somewhat insular young woman who works as an assisted care nurse. Liza is a lonely heart, but tries to stay positive, bolstered by her cheerleader…a Japanese pop singer’s ghost. Poor Liza has a little problem sustaining relationships, because every man she dates dies suddenly…and usually under strange circumstances. It could be coincidence, but Liza suspects she is a “fox fairy”, who sucks the souls from her paramours (and you think you’ve got problems?). Director Karoly Ujj-Meszaros saturates his film in a 70s palette of harvest gold, avocado green and sunflower orange. It’s definitely off-the-wall; but it’s also droll, inventive, and surprisingly sweet.

Rating: ***½   (North American premiere; plays June 3 and 5)
















Challat of Tunis- While this qualifies as a “mockumentary”, there’s nothing “ha-ha” funny about it. That is, unless you consider sexual violence an amusing subject… which it decidedly is not, although (sadly) it is a global scourge that knows no borders. This is precisely the point that writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania is (bravely) making in her film, which is a scathing feminist sendup of the systemic sexism that permeates not only her native Tunisia, but Arab culture (and the Earth). The “Challat” refers to a motorbike-borne, self-anointed crusader who slashes the buttocks of women who dress “immodestly”. As the film opens, a decade has passed since this twisted customer has victimized anyone. An investigative journalist (played by the director) is trying to track him down, so she can get inside his head to see what makes such an odious individual tick. A young man comes forth, who may or may not be the elusive “Challat”. She calls his bluff, and things get interesting. Thought-provoking, yet also disheartening when you contemplate the distressing universality of the misogynist credo: “She was asking for it.”

Rating: ***   (Plays June 4, 6 and 7)
















The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor- If you’ve seen Roland Joffe’s 1984 war drama The Killing Fields, you’ll likely never forget the extraordinarily moving Oscar-winning performance by “non-actor” Dr. Haing S. Ngor. Ngor didn’t need to call on any Actor’s Studio “sense memory” tricks to deliver his utterly convincing turn as a man who somehow survived and escaped from captivity during Cambodian dictator Pol Pot’s unspeakably bloody purge of his own people…he had lived the experience himself. Arthur Dong’s documentary fills us in on what led up to Ngor’s surreal moment in the Hollywood spotlight, and his subsequent second life as a political activist. Unfortunately, despite the late Dr. Ngor’s admirable achievements and Dong’s noble intentions, the workmanlike construct of the film makes it a bit of a slog; it loses focus and runs out of steam about halfway through. Still worth seeing for the simple fact that (Joffe’s film aside), few have expended time and energy to document the worst holocaust since WW2.

Rating: **½     (Plays June 5 and 6)














Rebel Without a Cause- 60 years have passed since the day a 24 year-old rising star named James Dean put the pedal to the metal and “…bought it sight unseen” (as the song goes). At this point in time, the massive cult of personality surrounding him has arguably eclipsed the actual work, so it’s easy to forget that he only starred in three feature films. Two of those films were released posthumously, including this 1955 Nicholas Ray classic, which is being shown at SIFF via a newly restored print presented by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation. Resplendently attired in his now-iconic blue jeans and blood-red jacket, Dean mopes, mumbles and generally masticates all available scenery in an archetypal performance as a “troubled youth” desperately trying to fit in…somewhere. While they have been traditionally stiffed by Dean’s legend, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo deliver equally outstanding and touching performances. Granted, modern audiences may be tempted to snicker at the admittedly dated histrionics and soapy melodrama, but this was pretty powerful stuff for its era, and there’s no denying Dean’s charisma, or the genuine chemistry between the three leads. Ray’s direction is rock solid; Ernest Haller’s cinematography is truly striking, with inspired use of many L.A. locales.

Rating: ****   (Special archival presentation; plays May 31)

  
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