SIFF Roundup: “Healing”, “Night Moves” (#SIFF2014)

Poster for
Healing
Directed by Craig Monahan, written by Monahan and Alison Nisselle

As an American, I found two unfamiliar things at work in Healing. The first is the character of prison guard Matt Perry, played by Hugo Weaving. This is the first non-elven character I’ve seen Weaving play that could be called “nice,” and the first of any kind with his native Aussie accent. The second is an unfamiliar narrative – that of the “nice prison film”. The film takes place at an Aussie minimum security prison that’s also a working outback farm (although it’s unclear what, if anything, is grown or raised there). Not only is it low-security, but it’s apparently designed to prepare inmates for release and reintroduction into society. We learn that inmates must have had a spotless behavioral record for four years at harsher facilities to qualify, and that any missteps can get them sent right back. The Brown Mile, if you will.

But this film isn’t interested in the harsh realities of the Aussie prison system, such as they might be. Instead, it features a variety of inmates whose crimes range all the way up to manslaughter and murder, and the committed guards and social workers who are clearly interested in helping them adjust to their impending freedom. I haven’t even reached the on-the-nose metaphor of raptor rehabilitation that’s at the center of this film, and already, it seems like an incredibly rosy picture of prison life. But then, the only comparison I can make is to other prison films (and MSNBC exposés), which (at least in the US) seem committed to delivering an entertaining and lurid level of menace and violence. This picture of prison life as a torturous crucible which only prepares criminals for further criminality is the only version that seems credible, even if the only data I have to back it up is the occasional well-publicized abuse. Healing made me realize one inescapable truth – prison movies tend to be depressing. And there’s certainly room in cinema for an upbeat prison story, even if, as Red might say, prison is no fairy-tale world.

The film centers around Viktor Khadem (Don Hany), an Iranian man in prison for a murder 16 years prior. When Perry leads Viktor’s work detail out to the fenceline, they come across an injured wedge-tailed eagle that has become entangled in the barbed wire – apparently a common occurrence. When the local bird sanctuary is unable to help, Perry puts the inmates to work building a makeshift aviary, and assigns each of them a wounded bird to look after. Naturally, Viktor is assigned the eagle, whom he names Yasmine. Indeed, each of the inmates ends up being assigned a bird that is a remarkable match for their personality – the stoic and solitary Viktor gets the eagle, a more skittish inmate receives a shy owl, and so forth.

Still from

This all sounds very neat and tidy, and that’s because it is. I had to fight my cynicism at every step of the way initially, before it became clear that the film was aware that not all of these inmates can be “fixed” so neatly. One inmate is targeted for mistreatment by his fellow inmates because he was convicted of the accidental (drug-induced) killing of his own child – at least, we hear that’s what’s happening to him, even if we never see much of it onscreen. Another of the inmates, Warren (Anthony Hayes), is clearly running a jailhouse criminal enterprise of some sort. And he’s really the least believable part of the film. The guards are clearly aware of his malfeasance and do very little to stop it, leaving the character seemingly only present to provoke unwarranted conflict. Given how easily the character is dispensed with in the third act, he could easily have been cut from the film entirely. The resulting film would be just as progressive and slight, but wouldn’t spend nearly as much time on a narrative dead-end.

Hany’s performance is stellar as Viktor proceeds to rehabilitate Yasmine – a powerful raptor seemingly named after his late wife, who died while he was in prison. He also delivers some serviceable emotional moments as he attempts to salvage his relationship with his son, although these scenes feel a bit rushed relative to their intended weight. Weaving makes for a stern, but forgiving authority figure, dealing with similar issues of loss and regret to many of the inmates, even if his issues remain vague and take a backseat to those in his charge. Xavier Samuel and Mark Leonard Winter add some interesting depth to the supporting inmates, even if we know rather little about them. Every bit of praise I have for this film comes with strings attached, and when it comes down to it, this film does feel a bit like a progressive after-school special. It’s extremely slight, but it’s also just…very nice. The outback scenery and raptors look gorgeous, and the film dabbles in a few headier issues than its simple and optimistic premise would require.

At the end of the day, gaze upon the cloying image in the poster above, and accept that what you see is exactly what you get with this film. If you can bring yourself to be inspired by it, you’ll do fine.

FilmWonk rating: 6 out of 10


Poster for
Night Moves
Directed by Kelly Reichardt, written by Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond

Night Moves – a film centering around an environmental extremist plot to blow up an Oregon dam – is a marvelous and understated thriller, so in the interests of preserving suspense, this review will be light on plot details. The film centers around a couple (who may or may not be romantically involved?), Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning), who team up with an ex-Marine, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) to assist with their explosive plot. Much of the suspense revolves Reichardt’s meticulous depiction of the actual process – how they plan to physically build a bomb and transport it to the site without getting caught. Gone are the days of Fight Club obfuscating bomb recipes in order to protect the public – this film could easily function as a how-to guide for crafting a compact fertilizer bomb, even if it makes it clear that the substances required are controlled for bulk purchase.

In fact, it is this detail that leads to one of the film’s finest scenes, in which Dena is sent into a farm and feed store, under the auspices of an unassuming local farm girl, to purchase what should rightfully be regarded as a suspicious quantity of ammonium nitrate. Dakota Fanning is unquestionably the MVP of this trio, portraying Dena as an idealistic rich girl who seems quite capable of the extreme actions she’s pursuing, but is ultimately just reveling in the process without really considering the consequences. And as the full scope and implications of the plan become clear during the course of the film, Fanning plays Dena’s gradual breakdown in a remarkably understated manner. Never overplaying it, but never underestimating the psychological toll that such a plan would take upon a person. Eisenberg and Sarsgaard are also strong, but we certainly end up knowing the least about them overall. The audience is forced to infer much of their character from their actions and reactions over the course of the film – always showing, but never telling.

Still - Dakota Fanning in

In his memoir, retired FBI profiler John Douglas once related a conversation he had about his work (classifying serial killers). He was asked if, knowing all that he knew about offenders and law enforcement, could he get away with murder? His answer, after a brief pause to consider all of the implications, was no. His “post-offense behavior” would certainly give him away. This is a tense film, and its tension continues even as the third act obfuscates any sense of where the plot might be headed. Some viewers might consider this third of the film to be a bit meandering, and while there were certainly moments where I felt this way, the film’s thought-provoking ending certainly justified its ambiguous diversions. It’s impossible to know exactly how you’ll behave following an act of criminality that is unprecedented in your life. And really, that’s what makes this final act interesting. The characters no longer have a plan. They’re just reacting to what they’ve become.

FilmWonk rating: 8 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #49 – “Age of Uprising”, “Fish & Cat”, ” Remote Control” (#SIFF2014)

Poster for "Fish & Cat"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel return to the Seattle International Film Festival to take on a trio of international selections. They start in 16th century feudal France, to watch Mads Mikkelsen lead a shockingly boring peasant uprising, then head over to Iran to watch some of the most technically and narratively innovative filmmaking they’ve seen this year, and finish up on the rooftops of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We keep the spoilers light in this episode, and at least one of these films – seemingly shot in a continuous two-hour take, is well worth seeking out (37:26).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk ratings:

  • Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas: 3/10
  • Fish & Cat: 9/10
  • Remote Control: 6/10

Show notes:

  • (00:00): Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas
  • (11:46): Fish & Cat
  • (28:30): Remote Control
  • Due to the accelerated production schedule for our SIFF reviews and relative obscurity of these films, there is no music in tonight’s episode.
  • Apologies in advance for all name pronunciations. We think we did well with the French, okay with the Iranians, and terrible with the Mongolians. If anyone knows for sure, shoot us an email.
  • Read more about the awesome sport of kite fighting here.
  • The cinematographer behind Fish & Cat, Mahmoud Kalari, also shot the brilliant Iranian film A Separation, which we reviewed on the podcast, and highly recommend.
  • CORRECTION: We mentioned the party-rewind sequence from the 2002 film, The Rules of Attraction, but mistakenly referred to the character of Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek) as a younger version of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) from American Psycho – the two characters are actually brothers. The sequence we mentioned is not available on YouTube, but the film also featured an innovative use of split-screen and motion-control rig technology – that sequence is available here.
  • We mentioned our upcoming SIFF screening of Alex of Venice, which is neither Italian nor French, but rather is an American film directed by and starring Chris Messina (alongside Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the title character). This film is Messina’s directorial debut, and as far as we know, it takes place in the United States.

Listen above, or download: SIFF International Roundup (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

SIFF Roundup: “The Case Against 8″, “Desert Cathedral”, “In Order of Disappearance”

Poster for "The Case Against 8"
The Case Against 8
Directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White (documentary)

The Case Against 8 is a riveting chronicle of the court battle following the 2008 passage of California’s Proposition 8, which legally defined marriage as a one-man-one-woman institution in the state. The story spans nearly five years, starting from the November 2008 election, and ending with the 2013 Supreme Court double-whammy court decisions which invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act and effectively terminated Proposition 8. Just a warning for the approximately 46% of you who statistically might oppose same-sex marriage at this point…this film makes no pretense of “equal time for both sides”. It focuses entirely on the behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering of the opponents of Prop 8 (and supporters of marriage equality). So don’t go into this film expecting a fair and balanced hearing on whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to get married. The film simply takes this point as a given, and chronicles the legal and constitutional battle that ensued.

First and foremost, The Case Against 8 is a stunningly executed legal and political procedural. Speaking as someone who has been mainlining episodes of The Good Wife for the past year or so, I was definitely the target audience for all of the judicial details. In order for this lawsuit to go forward, a number of things had to be executed perfectly. The right set of plaintiffs had to be recruited – two same-sex couples – one male-male, one female-female. Both submitted to being investigated to track down any dirt that might damage the lawsuit in the court of public opinion. And most interestingly, both couples submitted to becoming media personalities. The lawyers are equally fascinating – the unlikely team-up of conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, best known for being opposite sides of the 2000 Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore (a fact that the film points out in great detail), and the film provides a staggering degree of access behind-the-scenes as they prepare for their legal fight. I can’t overstate how much I came away admiring Olson and Boies both for the fight they took on, and for the legal and practical risk they took by allowing cameras behind the scenes during ongoing litigation. And for the public-facing aspect of the case, their clashing politics and personal friendship serve effectively to project the idea that same-sex marriage should not be a partisan issue.

Interlaced with the procedural details, this film is a deeply affecting personal drama. The two couples - Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, and Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier – are forced into the difficult position of having to defend the merits of their respective relationships in open court. Both couples – especially Perry and Stier – provide a staggering degree of access into their families and homes, which in the case of the latter couple, includes their four sons. The film highlights the staggering contrast between an ordinary family trying to live and provide for their children, and the dystopian nightmare of Perry and Stier receiving a government letter in the mail explaining that their 2004 marriage had been legally invalidated. As a fellow who has been married for nearly two years now, I found this moment deeply disturbing - and the couple’s courage and steadfastness in the face of such a societal betrayal was inspiring to say the least.

I try not to be overtly political when discussing film, but I expect my own politics on this issue should be fairly obvious by this point. When I got married in 2012, I shifted from being merely okay with same-sex marriage to being actively interested in making it happen. I phone-banked for the campaign for Washington’s Referendum 74 that same year, and was elated to see it pass. That’s the positive spin. Here’s the sad fact that precedes it – back in 2004, when Kristin and Sandy first married in San Francisco, I opposed their legal right to do so. Given the shift in public perspective on this issue over the past decade (which the film also highlights), I can’t imagine that my story is unique. But it also illustrates the value of a film like this in putting a public face on those who are still being denied their freedom to marry. And that’s the third great strength of The Case Against 8 - it is a stunningly effective treatise on the purpose and value of marriage. It is an affirmation of American family values. It is, I daresay, a bastion of conservative ideals in the 21st century. And that’s exactly what this issue needed.

FilmWonk rating: 9 out of 10

The Case Against 8 is being distributed by HBO Films. It will have a limited theatrical release on June 6th and premiere on HBO on June 23rd. 


Still from "Desert Cathedral"
Desert Cathedral
Written and directed by Travis Gutiérrez Senger

Desert Cathedral is a deeply sad film, owing not only to its subject matter, but to the choices that it makes between fantasy and reality. The film is based on the true story of a real estate developer who left behind his wife and child and disappeared into the Southwestern desert in 1992. Peter Collins (Lee Tergesen) makes his suicidal intentions clear by way of a trail of VHS-taped breadcrumbs recorded as he takes this impromptu roadtrip – he quits his job and drives off into the desert to find a suitable place to die.

The most obviously fantastical note is that of private investigator Durin Palouse (Chaske Spencer), hired by Collins’ wife Annah (Petra Wright) to track him down. This character caught me off-guard, first because I realized this is one of very few non-Caucasian hard-boiled detectives I’ve ever seen (a racial casting bias that hadn’t occurred to me until this film) – and second, because his voice is a near perfect ringer for the Southern drawl of Matthew McConaughey. Spencer gives a fine performance, but the character never quite feels like more than a construct. In the later acts of the film, we learn a few personal details about him, but due to his incognito role, it’s never quite clear which details are real and which are not. Spencer and Tergesen’s interactions are interesting, but they struck me as the most overtly fictitious parts of the film – frantic, retroactive attempts to rewrite history and pull Collins back from the brink of a terrible, sad, and ultimately selfish decision.

Tergesen’s own performance, however, is nicely layered. The film never attempts to ennoble Collins’ suicidal intentions, but neither does it shy away from them. At times, he seems right on the verge of giving the whole thing up and heading back home to rejoin his family and face his demons. He takes diversions to drink, drive, light off fireworks, take in a pretty desert vista, and, most tellingly, reveal (on video) a few more details of the problems that drove him to his decision. The result is a film that falls somewhere between mystery, tragedy, and travelogue, with a sufficiently interesting character at the center of it.

It turns out I’ve seen director Travis Gutiérrez Senger‘s prior short film, White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug, which was a verité postmortem on a drug-dealing hip-hop DJ. Junebug and Collins aren’t perfect analogues, but they certainly both succeeded in making me sympathize with them more than I initially expected. The film’s soundtrack provides a nice mix of dour, atmospheric country and blues, as well as simple, mood-setting acoustic pieces – reminiscent of composer Nathan Johnson‘s understated work in Brick. Atop Senger’s mostly effective handling of the subject matter, the cinematography – with what appears to be central/eastern Washington State standing in for the California and Nevada deserts – is gorgeous.

FilmWonk rating: 7 out of 10


Poster for "In Order of Disappearance"

 

In Order of Disappearance
Directed by Hans Petter Moland, written by Kim Fupz Aakeson

I’ll be brief, because there’s not a lot to say about this movie – if you want to see Stellan Skarsgård as Nils Dickman, a snowplow driver on a Norse-bound mafioso revenge-killing spree, this is the film for you. This film is darkly hilarious, brutal, and absolutely riddled with the cheapness of human life. The comparisons to Fargo (my second-to-least favorite Coen Bros film) are warranted. The lead villains are effective and memorable, including an eccentric vegan known as “The Count” (Pål Sverre Hagen), and an old-school Serbian just called Papa (Bruno Ganz). The Count is clearly the most dangerous wildcard of the bunch, while Papa, also out for revenge after a fashion, actually ends up striking some interesting parallels with Dickman himself. The bloody shootout at the film’s end is obligatory (and nothing special, heavy equipment notwithstanding), but this film was an entertaining ride nonetheless.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering – Dickman is a funny name in Norwegian too.

FilmWonk rating: 6.5 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #47 – “The Double” (dir. Richard Ayoade) (SIFF)

Poster for "The Double"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel bring the first of many live dispatches from the 40th annual Seattle International Film Festival, starting with Richard Ayoade‘s new film, The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, and Wallace Shawn. (15:10).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 5.5 out of 10

Show notes:

  • It’s festival time! That means we’ll be seeing a lot of films and our SIFF dispatches will be recorded and posted quickly – which unfortunately means the audio quality will be just a bit less polished than usual.

Listen above, or download: The Double (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #11: “Littlerock” (SIFF review)

Poster for "Littlerock"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel head for the Seattle International Film Festival to review Littlerock, the story of a pair of Japanese siblings finding their way through a desert town in California. Glenn’s lovely fiancee Megan jumps in to expound on the nature of a “nice guy” and offer her unique perspective as a fluent Japanese speaker. Click below to listen to our discussion of this surprise cross-cultural gem [may contain some NSFW language] (19:09).

FilmWonk ratings: 8.5/10 (Glenn), 9/10 (Megan), 8.5/10 (Daniel)

Show notes:

  • The actor in attendance at the screening was Ryan Dillon, who plays Brody in the film.
  • Music for this episode is the track “Bramble“, by The Cave Singers, from the film’s original soundtrack.

Listen above, or download: Littlerock (right-click, save as).

SIFF Roundup: “Another Earth”, “Kosmos”


Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Brit Marling and Mike Cahill

Another Earth is an ambitious film, to be sure. It depicts the sudden appearance of another planet, seemingly identical to our own, in perfect view in the skies above New Haven, CT. The planet appears in nearly every outdoor shot of the film, which made me momentarily wonder if a planet that is visibly larger and closer than the moon in geostationary orbit might be catastrophic for our planet’s tides, tectonic plates, continued human existence, and so forth.

While the film doesn’t directly address these issues, it’s possible that similar worries are flowing through the head of Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a 17-year-old student who has recently been accepted to MIT. On the night that Earth Two appears, she is driving under the influence and gazing up at the new planet, and the distraction is sufficient to send her careening into the family station wagon of music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother from “Lost”), putting him into a coma and instantly killing his wife and son. At this point, the film skips ahead 4 years, as Rhoda emerges from prison and gets it into her head to reconnect with John (who has since awoken) to apologize, and because she was a minor at the time of the accident, her name was sealed in the court records, and he has no idea who she is. At this point, the film effectively ditches its sci-fi premise and becomes an exploration of an extremely ill-advised relationship between the two, as well as a study of grief and regret. Earth Two becomes a cipher – an ever-present reminder of what Rhoda has done that could have been replaced with virtually anything else – a photograph? A roadside memorial?

It was in that sense that the film was disappointing. As Rhoda enters a contest with a private space agency (in a nice bit of worldbuilding) for the first commercial flight to Earth Two, we’re meant to believe it’s something she desperately wants for herself, but the film never quite sells this idea. Instead, it just ends up comparing unfavorably to a film like Gattaca, in which the romance of spaceflight and the unrelenting desire to achieve it make up an ever-present and thoroughly convincing backdrop. This film gives us Rhoda’s prior interest in astronomy, as well as the occasional gaze through a telescope (in broad daylight, through a window), but we’re never sure if she really wants to go to Earth Two, or if she simply no longer wishes to live on Earth One, where she’s caused so much pain and suffering.

The film has an undeniably effective sci-fi premise (on-the-nose metaphors notwithstanding), but it never quite succeeded in portraying a world in which such a mindbending event has occurred. All the fascinating bits of hard sci-fi are relegated to momentary snippets from talking heads on radio and TV, and the few everyday people that we meet never quite seem like their lives have been altered significantly. A sudden third-act revelation about the occupants of Earth Two is also not explored in sufficient detail, particularly by those who are considering making the trip.

Nonetheless, Marling and Mapother’s performances are convincing, and effectively sell the increasing stakes of their relationship as Rhoda continues to hide her true identity. While Another Earth doesn’t succeed as a piece of science fiction, it is at least somewhat effective as an exploration of grief and regret.

FilmWonk rating: 5.5 out of 10


Written/directed by Reha Erdem

As a general rule, I will not seek out writer/director interviews in order to increase my understanding of a film that I intend to write about. Since this film was followed by a director Q&A, I was not expecting to write a review – but for Kosmos, I will make an exception. First, because there is enough inexplicable weirdness in this film to make David Lynch blush. And second, because the Q&A only illuminated the extent to which a shit-eating grin transcends language barriers, as Erdem’s good-natured amusement at the audience’s befuddled response (and refusal to answer any questions in detail) was apparent even via translator.

The film begins with the titular Kosmos (Sermet Yasil) appearing outside a Turkish mountain village and immediately saving the life of a boy drowning in the river. The boy is ostensibly frozen to death when Kosmos plucks him from the water, but walks away nonetheless, the first of many to be aided by Kosmos’ ability to cure all manner of ailments, both physical and mental. He also speaks in very formal, almost scriptural language, expounding in broad strokes about the nature of God, man, good and evil, and so forth. He also breaks into a cheese shop and steals money from the cash drawer. And he also courts the girl of his dreams, Neptün (Türkü Turan), via a giddy, animalistic call-and-response game, in which the two chase each other around the village while blasting high-pitched, ornithic love-screams.

While Kosmos is a bizarrely fascinating character – equal parts Doctor Who, Jesus Christ, and psychotic hobo – he is but a small component of this densely packed film. Old men in a tea shop debate a petition to open up the border to trade, even as their wary attitudes about outsiders become readily apparent. The army conducts some kind of exercise nearby, giving the town a constant rumble of distant munitions explosions. A satellite is also poised to crash, and we hear snippets of its failing radio signal throughout the film. And what’s more, the townsfolk complain about this as if it’s a common occurrence.

I don’t dare summarize any more plot (I’ve omitted a story lifted wholesale from Weekend at Bernie’s), but suffice to say, there’s a lot going on in this film, and I was completely taken in by it. Kosmos is an incredibly rich (and beautifully shot) experience that I suspect will become even richer on subsequent viewings. While its weirdness for weirdness’ sake wore on my patience a bit by the third act, I’ve still found myself pondering the lives and interactions of this small-town slice of life every day since I saw the film. From the politicos in the tea shop to the random flocks of geese, I would gladly spend more time with all of them – even Kosmos with his migraine-inducing bird calls.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

Seattle’s One-Reel Film Festival 2010 – Saturday Roundup

The One-Reel Film Festival is part of Seattle’s renowned Bumbershoot music and arts festival, which wraps up today. I attended on Saturday, and had the opportunity to see short films from all over the world, ranging from very good to extremely bizarre, some of which can be viewed online (I’ve included links below where applicable). Unfortunately, due to unforeseen will call delays this year, I missed the first two film blocks. I was still able to see the four remaining categories, which I’ve arranged in presentation order below. Bold text means I enjoyed the film, and an asterisk (*) means it was my favorite film of the category. Skip to the bottom for a list of all the films that can be viewed online.


Around the World in 50 Minutes:

Still from "Televisnu".

  1. Miracle Fish (Director: Luke Doolan, Australia, 17 minutes) -
    A slow and rather offensive horror (?) film that is nonetheless effectively creepy. Sound mix seemed occasionally off- managed to make children’s laughter sound extremely grating. Effectively captured the mindset of a lonely child in a scenario that felt almost borrowed from a “Twilight Zone” episode.
    Watch it here.

  2. Superhero (Director: Hanneke Schutte, South Africa, 15 minutes) -
    A man wakes up in the desert dressed as a superhero. What ensues is a sweet little tale of admiration and forgiveness. Beautiful South African desert scenery, slightly hammy acting.
    More info here.

  3. Televisnu* (Director: Prithi Gowda, India, 15 minutes) -
    A bizarre, stream-of-consciousness journey through the life of a young Indian girl who is promised into an arranged marriage. Following the introduction at her workplace (a tech support call center), scenes unfold like flipping TV channels with only the slightest connection from one to the next, but there is a fascinating narrative and character arc that runs through it all. The filmmaking reminded me favorably of Michel Gondry, capturing a grand sense of tumbling down the rabbit hole on what was clearly a modest budget. During the outdoor sequences, the Bangalore scenery was gorgeous (miles of rocky hillsides covered in palm trees). The director, Prithi Gowda, was in attendance, and slightly endangered my opinion of the film by veering in a “Lost” direction with her explanation (“I was just trying to make a film with a lot of mysterious elements!”), but did clarify a number of points – namely, that the film is rooted in the myth that the Hindu deity Viṣṇu is dreaming our existence. Televisnu is delightfully bizarre, and was easily my favorite of the category. More info and trailer here.


The Animated Life

Still from "The Incident at Tower 37"


  1. Cat’s Cradle (Director: Ray Rea, USA, 4 minutes) -
    I swear, there’s one of these every year. This was an uncontrolled vomiting of black and white Rorschach blots, photographs, and transparency layers set to some trippy music. Felt about twice as long as it actually was. Not quite as offensive to the senses as That Idiot Stinks from last year, but very nearly. Info here.

  2. Dust Kid (Director: Jung Yumi, South Korea, 10 minutes) -
    A cleaning woman keeps finding dust in the form of a shy little naked girl, and deals with her mercilessly. The animation is done in a very minimalist hand-drawn b&w style. While the motion was a little jerky at times (when characters walked, I thought I was watching South Park) each frame of this film was artfully composed, and the story was delightful. Trailer here.

  3. Humpty Dumpty is Scrambled (Director: Yuriy Sivers, Canada, 3 minutes) -
    A bizarre and slightly incomprehensible music video manifesto. The lyrics may be incoherent, but the anti-war message is clear, and the protagonist is a freaking atom bomb. Worth it for the strange and morbid animation style, which reminded me at times of Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” video – but the music is a upbeat jazz number. Watch it here.

  4. The Incident at Tower 37* (Director: Chris Perry, USA, 11 minutes) -
    The film’s noticeably low-budget CG doesn’t reduce its effectiveness in the least – this is a gripping and poignant environmental allegory with an absolutely beautiful score (from composer Evan Viera). The film’s earnest message is about as over-the-top as “Captain Planet”, but it doesn’t resort to cheap manipulation to showcase it. More info and trailer here (film will eventually be online).

  5. Pivot (Directors: André Bergs, Arno de Grijs, Kevin Megens, Floris Vos; Netherlands, 5 minutes) -
    A fun and adept little chase thriller with a bizarrely polygonal CG aesthetic. Watch it here.

  6. Santa, the Fascist Years (Director: Bill Plympton, USA, 4 minutes) -
    Perhaps the most concise and accurate titular high concept since Snakes on a Plane. This is one extremely simple joke told well and for just long enough. More info and clip here.

  7. Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man (Director: Haipeng Sun, China, 2 minutes) -
    See “Santa, the Fascist Years”, as I could say all of the same things about this film. Cute (and bizarre) little tribute to Bruce Lee in which a meat bun fights a sushi roll. Watch it here. If you liked that, check out Food Fight (D: Stefan Nadelman, USA, 6 minutes), a history of 20th century American warfare as reenacted by pieces of food.

  8. Vive la rose (Director: Bruce Alcock, Canada, 6 minutes) -
    A fascinating mixed media project based on a song by a Newfoundland musician. Features an impressive opening shot which combines full-motion time lapse and stop motion, then delves into an watercolor-animated music video framed artfully with physical media (dirt, rocks, shells, and sticks). More info and clips here.


Best of SIFF 2010 Jury Award Winners

Still from "White Lines and the Fever"


  1. Little Accidents (Director: Sara Colangelo, USA, 18 minutes) -
    One word: classy. I missed the first few minutes of of this, so I don’t have too much to say… This is an odd rehash of Forrest Gump – a sweet simpleton is recruited by his extremely white-trashy girlfriend to steal a pregnancy test for her. And oh yes, there are choc-o-lates. Impressive acting, especially from the female lead (possibly Amanda Fulks). More info here.

  2. White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug* (Director: Travis Senger, USA, 27 minutes) -
    This slickly edited documentary was a surprise favorite for me. It drew me in immediately despite covering a subject I cared almost nothing about – the 1980s Bronx origins of hip-hop, and a talented up-and-coming DJ therein. The film clearly has a great deal of affection for Junebug, but doesn’t let him off the hook for a moment for his largely self-inflicted downfall. In the end, it’s a compelling character piece and a tragic cautionary tale – an impressive achievement that could likely be stretched into an effective feature. More info here.

  3. The Wonder Hospital (Director: Beomsik Shimbe Shim, USA, 12 minutes) -
    Simply put, there is an absolute abundance of weird shit in this movie – an inflatable doctor and a human centipede, among other things… The visual style is an odd blend of CG (easily the highest quality I saw all day), stereoscopic 3D, and stop motion with some slick handheld-style camera flourishes. Reminded me a bit of Henry Selick’s Coraline, but managed to construct an even stranger world. Definitely worth a look. More info and trailer here.


Love and Marriage and More…

Poster for "The Fortune Writer"


  1. Dear Roommate (Director: Myron Kerstein, USA, 11 minutes) -
    This film started off so promising! We see the story of two roommates (male and female) through a series of passive-aggressive and increasingly hostile notes read as voiceover narration. Their antics become a bit cartoonish, but remain entertaining until the film descends into rom-com silliness at the halfway point. The entire second half of this film could’ve been left on the cutting room floor and the film would’ve been a lot better. Well…perhaps with the final scene included, sans pillow fight. More info here.

  2. Fancy (Director: Chris Olsen, USA, 3 minutes) -
    A short dance number on a minimalist set. Fun for what it is. More info here.

  3. The Fortune Writer* (Director: Eric Gross, USA, 9 minutes) -
    A note to up-and-coming short film directors: a shot of sizzling cabbage is an excellent hook. This film takes place in a Chinese restaurant, where a man sits in the kitchen at a diminutive typewriter typing up the little slips of paper for fortune cookies. As he peers out into the restaurant at the various diners, he tailors each fortune to their respective situations. In a curious narrative choice, we only see one of these fortunes in its entirety. The rest, we have merely to guess based on their effects on the various diners. I went back and forth on whether or not this struck me as lazy writing, but I ultimately sided with the film. For such a brief period to get to know them, each of the diners felt like real people (a testament to their performances), and the exact wording of the fortunes ultimately felt less important than their effects on each diner. And the last diner is no exception, thoroughly justifying this film’s placement in the “Love and Marriage” block. More info, Watch it here!.

  4. Non-Love Song (Director: Erik Gernand, USA, 8 minutes) -
    Two male friends share an extremely awkward goodbye at the end of summer. The result is gay, didactic, and gaily didactic. More info here.

  5. Bedfellows (Director: Pierre Stefanos, USA, 16 minutes) -
    “The course of love never did run smooth… A phrase made all the more true when the lovers in question both have a penis,” intones a sardonic British narrator, as we learn the tale of Bobby and Jonathan, who indulge in a fairly unsentimental one-night stand, then decide to spend the night together. What ensues would be best described as a fairy tale, as Bobby imagines what their future might be like together. What starts out as utter cheese becomes one of the most ambitious short films I’ve ever seen… If shorts attracted nearly the audience of mainstream cinema, I could easily see the headlines this film would provoke… “Propaganda for the Homosexual Agenda!”. While I tend to not have a very high opinion of any flavor of propaganda, it’s to this film’s credit that there were really only one or two lines during this extremely over-the-top sequence that felt particularly soapboxy. All in all, it seems like the film is selling a simple notion of love and imperfect romance, and nearly every moment feels completely honest and heartfelt (including a pretty devastating narrative twist halfway through). The resulting sequence is equal parts 25th Hour and Little Shop of Horrors (think “Suddenly Seymour”) – an earnest and memorable fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. More info and trailer here.


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