Bill Frisell: A Portrait
– He doesn’t “shred” or do windmills on stage. In fact, he looks more like a college professor who drives a 1972 Volvo than a peer-revered guitar slinger that most people have never heard of. I will confess that even I (an alleged music geek) couldn’t name one Bill Frisell song. Yet, this unassuming Seattle-based virtuoso has 35 solo albums and scores of sessions with more well-known artists to his credit. He’s also tough to nail down; All Music Guide files him under a dozen genres, including Modern Creative, Post-Bop, New Acoustic, World Fusion, and Progressive Folk. Emma Franz’s film, while perhaps just a smidge overlong for anyone but a super-fan, nicely conveys the joy of creating, and as its title infers-delivers an amiable portrait of a an inventive player.
Rating: *** (Plays May 24, May 25 & June 1)
– Any film that opens with a suicide attempt makes me wary; because let’s face it, they can’t all be Harold and Maude
(but oh, they try…how they do try!). This Canadian mumblecore dramedy (directed by Jason James) stars Thomas Middleditch as a (wait for it) depressed divorcee who finds out his parents adopted but then quickly gave up a baby girl after a surprise pregnancy. And so this “only child” sets off on a quest to find and connect with the almost-sister that he never had. Very droll. It’s engaging enough to hold your interest, but marred by a certain amount of predictability.
Rating: **½ (World Premiere; Plays May 20 and May 24)
The Fabulous Allan Carr
– If you learn one thing about the business we call “show” from Jeffrey Schwarz’s profile of late movie producer Allan Carr, it’s this: For every Grease
, there’s a Grease 2
. Yes, the same man produced both films. But there was a lot more to this flamboyant showman, who first demonstrated his inherent genius for turning lemons into lemonade when he secured domestic distribution for a no-budget Mexican exploitation flick about the Uruguayan rugby team plane crash survivors who kept alive by gnawing on their less fortunate teammates (you remember Survive!
). He produced some huge hits…and probably more misses. But his hits were big enough to sustain a hedonistic lifestyle, which included legendarily over-the-top parties. An entertaining paean to a special type of excess that flourished from the mid-1970s thru the early 1980s.
Rating: *** (World Premiere; Plays May 20)
– Some of my fondest childhood memories are of being plunked in front of the TV, transfixed by the reassuring visage of Walter Cronkite, with the familiar backdrop of the Cape Canaveral launch pad. Remember when NASA spaceflights were an exciting, all-day news event? We seem to have lost that collective feeling of wonder and curiosity about mankind’s plunge into the cosmos (people are too busy looking down at their goddam phones to stargaze anymore). Emer Reynolds’ beautifully made documentary about the twin Voyager space probes rekindles that excitement for any of us who dare to look up. And if the footage of Carl Sagan’s eloquent musings regarding the “pale blue dot” that we call home fails to bring you to tears, then surely you have no soul.
Rating: **** (Plays May 20 and May 24)
– Peter Nicks’ documentary examines the rocky relationship between Oakland’s police department and its communities of color. The force has been under federal oversight since 2002, due to myriad misconduct cases. Nicks utilizes the same cinema verite techniques that made his film The Waiting Room
so compelling (my review
). It’s like a real-life Joseph Wambaugh novel (The Choirboys comes to mind). The film offers no easy answers-but delivers an intimate, insightful glimpse at both sides.
Rating: *** (Plays May 20 and May 24)
– It’s not your imagination…”Nordic noir” is a thing (e.g. Scandinavian TV series like The Bridge, Wallande
r, and the Millennium trilogy). One of the progenitors was Erik Skjoldbjærg’s critically acclaimed 1997 thriller Insomnia
(not to be confused with Christopher Nolan’s 2002 remake). The Norwegian director returns with this somewhat glacially-paced but nonetheless involving drama about the son of a fire chief who goes on a fire setting spree. The troubled protagonist’s psychosexual issues reminded me of the lead character in Equus. Beautifully photographed by Gosta Reiland.
Rating: *** (Plays May 20, 22, & 31)
– Well, if you (like me) have completely missed out on the web series concerning “…the deranged comedic adventures of Seattle’s little-known protectors, The Department of Municipal Rocketry”, have I got news for you. It’s now been distilled into a handy feature film. The result? A feature film that looks like a web series. On film. As someone who loves cheesy 50s sci-fi and the old Republic serials, I “get” what writer-director-animator Webster Crowell was going for here; his cast is obviously having fun, and his self-animated special effects are cleverly interwoven, but-it never quite takes off.
Rating: ** (World Premiere; Plays May 25, May 28, & June 5)
– Director Deepak Rauniyar uses the family row that ensues when a Maoist rebel returns to his isolated mountain village for his Royalist father’s funeral as an allegory for the political woes that have divided and ravaged his home country of Nepal. Naturalistic performances and rugged location shooting greatly enhance a story that beautifully illustrates how a country’s people, like members of an estranged family, must strive to rediscover common ground before meaningful healing can begin.
Rating: *** (Plays May 22 & May 30)
Previous posts with related themes:
2017 SIFF Preview
More reviews at Den of Cinema