Saturday Night at the Movies
SIFF-ting through cinema, Pt. 1
By Dennis Hartley
The Seattle International Film Festival kicks off May 19, so over the next several posts I will be sharing highlights with you. SIFF is showing 400 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…
Alone- This extremely weird Korean thriller (is that redundant?) from director Park Hong-min centers on a photographer who inadvertently documents a murder while taking pictures from his balcony, setting off a chain of nightmarish events. What ensues is kind of like Groundhog Day meets Carnival of Souls…in Seoul. Good use of that city’s back alley labyrinths to create a claustrophobic mood (recalling Duvivier’s use of Algiers’ Casbah quarter locales in his 1937 crime drama Pepe le Moko). It gets less involving (and more gruesome) as it proceeds; nonetheless, I am guessing that genre fans will eat it up.
Rating: ** (North American Premiere; Plays May 25 and May 31)
Death by Design- Sue Williams’ eco-doc takes a hard look at what you might call the “iButterfly Effect” that the ceaseless demand for new and improved personal high-tech devices is having on our planet. Granted, your average consumer who lines up at midnight for first crack at the latest smart phone has probably never heard of a suicide net, nor are they tossing and turning at night, haunted by visions of impoverished Third World children picking through chemical-leaching e-waste. But it’s never too late to start.
Rating: *** (Plays May 21 and May 22)
Home Care – The “Kubler-Ross Model” postulates that there are five distinct emotional stages humans experience when brought face-to-face with mortality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. All five are served up with a side of compassion, a dash of low-key anarchy and a large orange soda in this touching dramedy from Czech director Slavek Horak. An empathic, sunny-side-up Moravian home care nurse (Alena Mihulova) is so oriented to taking care of others that when the time comes to deal with her own health crisis, she’s stymied. A deft blend of family melodrama and gentle social satire. Mihulova and Boleslav Polivka (as her husband) make an endearing screen couple.
Rating: ***½ (Plays May 24, May 26, and May 31)
If There’s a Hell Below – For the first two thirds of this conspiracy thriller, which concerns a clandestine meeting between a journalist and a government whistle-blower, writer-director Nathan Williams masterfully utilizes the desolate moonscape of Eastern Washington to create an almost unbearable sense of tension and dread (a la Spielberg’s Duel, or the crop dusting sequence in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest). Unfortunately, he jinxes his streak with a lazily constructed third act. Still, it’s an audacious debut that portends considerable promise for any future endeavors…which I am looking forward to.
Rating: **½ (Plays May 25 and May 26)
Long Way North – Recommended for ages 6+ by SIFF, this adventure tale benefits greatly from its creative pedigree; director Remi Chaye was first AD and head of layout for The Secret of Kells, which remains one of the most beautifully animated feature films of recent years (outside of Studio Ghibli). The story centers on a 15 year-old girl from an aristocratic St. Petersburg family who refuses to write off her missing explorer grandfather, whom the rest of her family believes to be dead. Armed with a copy of her grandfather’s itinerary, an ability to parse navigational charts, and lots of moxie, she slips away from her family’s estate and talks her way aboard a merchant vessel, determined to locate him and his North Pole-bound ship. Exciting and well-made family entertainment.
Rating: *** (Plays May 21, May 22, and May 29)
The Night Stalker – Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths’ speculative chiller is based on serial killer Richard Ramirez. A lawyer (Bellamy Young) is hired to exonerate a Texas death row inmate by extracting a confession from California death row inmate Ramirez (Lou Diamond Phillips), whom the interested parties believe to be the real perp. One complication: When she was a teenager, the lawyer was unhealthily obsessed with the “Night Stalker” murders. A psychological cat-and-mouse game ensues (think Starling vs. Lecter in Silence of the Lambs). Philips delivers an intense, truly unnerving performance.
Rating: *** (World Premiere; Plays June 4 and June 6)
Uncle Howard – Maybe I’m jaded from having seen one too many documentaries about the NYC arts scene; but from the people (the Beats, Warhol’s Factory alums, the Velvets, Patti Smith, the punks, Mapplethorpe, Haring, Basquiat, the Club Kids, etc.) to the haunts (SoHo, TriBeBa, the Chelsea Hotel, CBGB’s, Studio 54, etc.) it seems thoroughly strip mined by filmmakers. Perhaps that’s what brought us to this documentary, about a documentarian, who once made a documentary about William Burroughs. If you’re stuck for an angle…go meta (a credo that has frequently saved my ass). Still, this heartfelt tribute to Burroughs: The Movie director Howard Brookner (who died of AIDS in 1989), by his nephew Aaron Brookner is not wholly unwatchable, and ultimately quite moving.
Rating: **½ (Plays May 25, May 26, and June 1)
Vintage Tomorrows – While it’s tempting to liken Byrd McDonald’s doc about hardcore steam punks to a Portlandia vignette, I won’t. And I’m not adverse to harmless role-playing fun amongst consenting adults. That said-the more out of their way interviewees go to defensively insist they are not just privileged, white Victorian Era nostalgia junkies who dig Jules Verne and love wearing goggles and pith helmets…the more so they seem. Or perhaps I’m just the stick in the mud that can’t see the ball players but for all the corn.
Rating: ** (Plays May 29, June 3, and June 5)
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digby 5/14/2016 05:00:00 PM