Picks for Week 1 of SIFF 2008

Elegy (at IMDB)

How many films have you seen about a romantic relationship between a Professor and one of his students? or from another perspective, between an older man and a younger woman? So many that I’ve lost count. This adaptation of a Philip Roth novel explorers how its characters face mortality by examining their insecurities and…oh hell, it’s a great movie, go see it.

Mermaid (at IMDB)

A Russian movie, complete with Russian sailors. It reminds me a lot of Amélie, The Fifth Element, and The Science of Sleep, but as a coming of age tale. Alisa doesn’t have a strong grasp of reality, but does it matter? As a giant cell phone and pint of beer is how she roams the streets of Moscow working her “day” job. She wants to be a ballerina. She kills off her ice cream craving grandmother in comical fashion. This will be one of my favorites at this year’s festival.

Vexille (at IMDB)

Set in the mid 21st century, Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world and embarked on creating an ultra high tech society. There are sand worm made of metal, wastelands and walls around cities, and a navy strike force sent in by the Americans to expose a rising threat. The biggest problem I had with this anime was the melodramatic relationships between some of its characters, they detracted from the script and movie as a whole. Also, I’m not used to fluid CGI animation, I grew up watching drawn stuff. If you can get past those elements, it’s well worth seeing.

Ballast (at IMDB)

How much do you disclose about a film in a review? There are a couple of subtle facts which evade the audience for quite some time in this movie. It’s about a brother and wife dealing with suicide in a very small town. In fact, I would not call it a town, it’s just a zip code. It’s minimalistic and slow, very slow, but well worth seeing. I hear that it played at Berlin and Sundance, so take that into account.

The Edge of Heaven

Fatih Akin’s new film is part of this year’s Emerging Masters series at the film festival. I saw one of his works “Head-On” at last year’s festival and really enjoyed it. He has a knack for weaving together parallel story lines in a way that doesn’t seem unbelievable, and surprises me even when it shouldn’t. Have you ever crossed paths with an acquaintance at a distant airport somewhere, as you’re hurrying to change planes? It might be someone you haven’t seen in years, or someone you live two blocks from. I think it’s those kind of real life experiences that add plausibility to his screenplays.

Most of the movie felt like it was in English, but I don’t think it was (just felt that way, not sure why). This was Germany’s official submission for the 2008 Academy Awards. In addition to its German backdrop, much of the film takes place in Turkey.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Country: Turkey, Germany, Italy
Language: German, Turkish, English
Genres: Drama

Official site

The Wackness

The first time I saw Ben Kingsley, he was wearing a white robe and in his late 30’s. The movie was of course was Gandhi. That was only the second film I’d ever been to that had an intermission. The first being Reds, which approached the grueling 200 minute mark and had me squirming in my seat, desperately wishing for an end to the damn revolution. What can I say, I was in high school at the time, and accustomed to those 90 minute action hero masterpieces and goofball comedies that serve to lobotomize suburban audiences. Still, Reds is way too long.

But Wackness wasn’t like that. At 110 minutes, I wasn’t feeling the least bit drowsy. Kingsley’s performances are always entertaining, yet perplexing at the same time. I’ve not seen many other actors with his range. From one film to the next, I often don’t even recognize him by the characters he plays–I mean that literally, I had trouble convincing myself that he was the one playing the drug addicted psychiatrist (perhaps I just need glasses).

Set in summertime Manhattan of the mid-90’s, it gives the feeling that change is inevitable if not hard to swallow. Swallow it, you’ll be glad you did. The look and feel, as well as much of the musical score, is hip-hop. The river of drugs that flows throughout this film reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Country: UK, USA
Language: English
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

The Wackness (official site)

Or, go see a great documentary about Hunter S. Thompson in which Johnny Depp sits at a bar and reads from the journalist’s works (118 minutes): Gonzo