Monday, May 28, 2007

SIFF 2007, day 2

Red Road- United Kingdom, Thriller

I learned at this screening that Red Road is the first of a trilogy of Advance Party films. This is a project in which films from different filmmakers will follow characters originated by Scherfig and Jensen. It sounds like a great project just to see how different filmmakers re-imagine these same characters in two more films. But anyway... onto the first of the trilogy, Red Road.

Red Road is a debut feature from director, Andrea Arnold. It is set in Scotland and follows Jackie (Kate Dickie). Jackie spends her days watching the CCTV monitors, watching for signs of trouble or illegal activity. I had to look up the use of CCTV in the UK to determine how widespread it really is, because I was wondering whether Jackie's job was a bit of paranoid, big brother science fiction, but it turns out that it is estimated that there are around 4,000,000 CCTV cameras all over the UK and that people, like Jackie, watch for suspicious activity 24 hours a day. That is a little creepy to say the least, but I digress. Jackie gets caught up in the activities of some of the people she watches, even going out of her way to bump into them on the street from time to time. Otherwise her life is fairly empty. Her relationship with her family appears strained, her husband is dead, and she meets a coworker for a scheduled, non-romantic sexual interlude.

This is until she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on a monitor one day and is suprised that he has been released from prison. She becomes obsessed with his movements, watching him closely at work and then stalking him. At this point, the Red Road becomes very mysterious and tense since we are only given clues as to why Jackie is so interested in Clyde. And the tension only builds as she gets closer to him. Is he violent? Does he know who Jackie is?

The conclusion of the film is satisfying and a really unusual, dark and overtly sexual pathway for a character to take to find emotional healing. Damn good film.

Monster Camp- USA, Documentary

Monster Camp is a locally produced documentary about live-action role playing games. Specifically, the movie documented the live games of a group of LARPers in western Washington (NERO). My attraction to the movie was a curiosity about the draw of role playing games in general and because the documentary looked amusing.

As it turns out, this documentary was neither amusing enough or informative enough to recommend. All I got out of the experience was that boffing people dressed in silly costumes while claiming to be an undead lizard looked like fun, but not too much fun to watch really. Probably something I'd prefer to do without trying to throw packets of bird seed and chanting spells, but that's just me.

The director, Cullen Hoback, was in attendance and has the fun of being asked why he would make a documentary about a bunch of immature assholes. I have much the same question although I suspect the problem wasn't the subject matter or the LARPers, but the inability of the filmmaker to get his point across in any compelling or even entertaining fashion.

Monkey Warfare- Canada, Comedy

Dan (Don McKellar) and Linda (Tracy Wright) are roommates who pay the rent by sorting though other people's garbage for treasures to sell on ebay. In this way, they scrape by making enough to survive while in keeping with their counter-culture values, i.e. without working for the man and keeping a low profile to hopefully keep their past quiet. They also make enough to pay for their monthly pot habit, supplied by the young and idealistic Susan (Nadia Litz), whom eventually turns to Dan to help keep her in working bicycles and to give her history lessons in the ways to challenging the authorities.

While Monkey Warfare was not a riotously funny comedy, it was a highly enjoyable film and might even be a little inspirational for those who also want to fight the SUV drivers of today and have values far to the left of the mainstream. At the festival screening, we were even privy to the clip after the credits that was censored in Canada. The clip involved a how to on the making of a molotov cocktail, although I personally wouldn't follow their recipe. The results were less then impressive. Amusing regardless... and the music was pretty cool too. Enjoyable flick.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

SIFF 2007, day 1

The Aerial- Argentina, SciFi

I have a history of seeing memorable silent films at the northwest film forum, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the first movie attended at SIFF 2007 would be a silent film at the northwest film forum. As with all of the other silent films, I was charmed. There is something inherently appealing in silent films that modern movies don't contain. There is a special aesthetic appeal of old black+white film and a simplicity to the story telling necessitated by the pause in action cut with the titles. Guy Maddin is known for making very quirky, modern silent films and The Aerial is another, modern silent film, although there is sound in the film, it is the story that keeps the characters silent.

The setting is a place where Mr. TV is in control and the people have lost their voices. There is one woman, The Voice, who has a voice, but otherwise, all inhabitants of the city communicate through reading lips and the view is given subtitles for all of the dialog which is beautifully framed with actions and mise un scene punctuating the words. Mr. TV is no longer happy with just keeping the city silent for his own gain, but now threatens to take even more from them. Just as suggested in the character names, The Aerial is a satire very relevant for today with themes of fascism and using very familiar symbols borrowed from Nazi Germany.

The Eyes of Edward James, Canada, horror, short

This 15 minute short film played before Them as part of the Midnight Adrenalin series. This is a pretty cool short film where the film captures what Edward James would have seen on the night of his wife's murder during a regression therapy session. The therapist controls where Edward is the in story, so it is revealed early on that a murder is at the end of the story, but the details are only slowly revealed as Edward describes coming home from work, having dinner with his wife and then, moving through the house in search of the source of a strange noise. The result is a rather tense 15 minutes as the details accumulate and I became less convinced that I knew what exactly Edward experienced in the attic or even what the purpose of the therapy session was. Did these events that Edward is describing happen or is it a recurring nightmare? This was a tense and intriguing short that I wouldn't mind seeing again. Maybe it will turn up on-line someday.

Them- France, horror

Clementine and Lucas are French expatriates living in Bucharest, Romania. One night they wake to mysterious noises. They receive some strange phone calls and their car is stolen. Then they believe someone is in the house and they attempt to barricade themselves into the bedroom. Them progresses into a chilling cat and mouse game miles away from help.

At the end, Them claims to be inspired by actual events. I have not been able to find much evidence other than what is at the movie's official web site, but the events that transpose are at least plausible. And a bit unnerving. This was a very jumpy and scary movie that I enjoyed. Them has planned distribution in Europe, but no news of a US release, but if you enjoy a good suspenseful horror flick without the graphic violence or even much in the way of blood, this is a good one. And due to the genre, there is little dialog, so very few subtitles to remember to pay attention to.