Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Giant SFFilm Fest Roundup post

I don't think I've done one of these round-ups for the past two years (here are 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011).

From roughly 'definitely see' to 'skip', here's what I saw (shorts at the end). And this is after a couple of weeks ruminating; rather than my instant star reactions. All the films below can be found on this list:

It's perhaps not surprising that the two best things I saw were my two classic screenings:
Man with a Movie Camera
This was delightful, and DeVotchKa's accompaniment was perfect.

Citizen Kane
It's true! It *is* terrific!

God's Own Country
In the continuing theme of gay romances kicking heteronormative ass. (My one quibble is that Alec Secareaunu is too perfect. Also, he looks like Oscar Isaac.)

A Dragon Arrives
I'm not entirely sure how to describe this film. It starts out as a 1960s thriller/genre film about a secret policeman investigating the possible suicide of a political prisoner in exile on an island. On which there may or may not be a dragon. Then it pulls back and becomes a documentary ("documentary") mystery about how the filmmaker came to be in possession of the footage and whether or not he can piece together what "actually" happened. The whole thing is a fun mystery/thriller pretzel and it's beautiful.

El Mar la Mar
I loved this. It's a tone poem about the Sonoran Desert. The stories from those out in the deserts (often immigrants or those living out there who encounter those crossing the border) are never presented in frame which, as the fest guide pointed out, gives the impression of stories being told around a campfire.

Lady Macbeth
This was introduced as a modern feminist victorian chamber piece, and I think that's right.

Casting Jon Benet
I liked this much more than I was expecting to. Director Kitty Green cleverly takes the format of auditioning and uses it to explore a notorious unsolved crime had on a community.

I wasn't 100% sold on this immediately, for a few reasons, but it's the film I've thought the most about since watching it. And not just because of how pretty young Rupert Graves is:
I mean, goddamn.
It is also *hilarious* to me that they initially try to hide him in the background like an extra. There's no hiding someone that pretty.
I think it's because I was expecting a slightly different film. My understanding of it going in was that it was a love story between two students, and for one it's a phase and for the other it isn't. And that's not really accurate. [Spoilers] I don't think Clive is ever really in love with Maurice, if anything, he strikes me as aesexual. Plus, I was confused during the University part of the storyline; I thought the filmmakers were being chaste and keeping their physical relationship offscreen, I misunderstood that they truly didn't have one (that becomes very clear once Alec shows up). Plus, it was hard not to compare that section to Brideshead (which was better; and I maintain that the pacing during the university section of the film is a little odd). My other issue was that I didn't really like Maurice for most of the film, and I think it's because he doesn't become a fully realized person until he embraces his homosexuality. Anyways, it's very well done, the second part is fantastic, I'm looking forward to seeing it again, I kind of want to go on a Merchant Ivory binge, and it's easily the best thing Hugh Grant has ever done. 

Let it Fall: L.A. 1982-1992
This is another very cleverly constructed documentary. I probably wouldn't have chosen to go see a documentary about the LA riots (it was one of the secret screenings), but I'm so glad I saw this. John Ridley did an amazing job talking a diverse array of community members and simply giving them space to tell their stories.

Another one that I may have skipped were it not a secret screening, but it was enormously well done. It's about the lengths a father will go to in order to secure his daughter's future in a corrupt society.

I'm always suspicious of feel-good documentaries, but this one was SO FEEL GOOD. Ostensibly about a step competition, it's more about educating young black women, and their trials and tribulations on the way to becoming the first members of their families to attend college.

It's a sweet old man who walks around with his donkey! What's not to like?

Buster's Mal Heart
So it turns out that Rami Malek is eminently watchable.

The Force
A fly on the wall documentary on the Oakland police force. What started out as a film about reforms to get out from under federal oversight, happened to capture the department as the Black Lives Matter movement started and then the sex scandal broke.

The Green Fog
This was Guy Maddin and his collaborators roughly recreating the plot of vertigo using found footage of San Francisco, with an original composition played live by the Kronos Quartet. I love watching shots of San Francisco from the past, so it worked for me, but I fully expect it wouldn't have been anyone else's cup of tea. It didn't really hang together. But hey! San Francisco! My city is so great.

This film did exactly what I had hoped it might: give me more of an appreciation of Psycho, which I'm not super fond of. Really entertaining and informative.

The Transfiguration
My favorite kind of horror film; one in which the premise itself is horrifying.

Incredible Jessica James
It's Jessica Williams dating Chris O'Dowd! With Lakeith Stanfield thrown in for good measure. And Jessica is obsessed with the theater! Basically, it's all very charming.

The Stopover
And it's at about this point where we get into the films I wasn't thrilled with. This one had a climax that really bugged me.

Lost City of Z
This so should have been my film - long languorous shots of the Amazon. But the film managed to make jungle exploration boring. Charlie Hunnam is just not a charismatic lead.

Paris Opera
I really liked seeing these amazing artists at the top of their craft, but I didn't like the construction of the film. It did make me really want to go to the Paris Opera, though - they do crazy innovative things there! Not just the same old ABCs (Aida, Boheme, Carmen).

Score: A film music documentary
Like the above, I liked the material more than the film itself. The best bits are the actual studio sessions (I had no idea that musicians don't get the scores ahead of time to rehearse! They have to sight read all those soon-to-be iconic themes.)

House of Tomorrow
I found this really uneven. Some parts were fabulous, while others fell flat. Mostly a good cast, though, and they use Ellen Burstyn's actual footage with Buckminster Fuller, so that was cool.

Beach Rats
I had such high hopes for this one coming out of Sundance! It's about a closeted Jersey bro, and it just left me cold.

Walking Out
This has some gorgeous scenery, and the actors are good (once Matt Bomer settles into the role/ it stops being weird to see someone as pretty as him as a homesteader.) I just see how the plot would play a lot better as a short story.

Half Life in Fukushima
The problem with watching someone live a half life in a ghost town is that it is boring. I like slow paced films, but this one just wasn't interesting enough to captivate me.

Mister Universo
A loose film built around actual circus performers in Italy. It's pretty unfocused.

The Cinema Travellers
For a film that is supposedly an ode to cinema, this was decidedly uncinematic.

Heaven Sent
Some comedy just does not translate (the film is from Lebanon). This was awful.

A good crop this year! The animated films were particularly strong.
Second to None
It's an Irish black comedy. Of course I loved it.

A Brief History of Princess X
This was a hilarious meditation on the above sculpture.

The History of Magic: Ensueno
I really liked the visuals in this one.

Meaningless Conversations in Beautiful Environments
My final film of the fest! And so apropos!

Everything (online at that link)
I really love David O'Reilly's work (this makes me laugh every time.)

American Paradise
Apparently this is based on an actual story? It's a about a desperate man planning the perfect crime. These trailers are pretty great, too.

Summer Camp Island
Again - I really like Julia Pott's work. This one is more child-focused than some of her other pieces, but I still really enjoyed the sensibility. (Here's a clip:

In the Wake of Ghost Ship
This was a really well done look at the wave of evictions of artist work/live spaces after Ghost Ship, focusing on the punk space Burnt Ramen in Richmond.

Red Apples
This was really well done and really lingers after the fact (trying to be vague and non-spoilery).

Edge of Alchemy
Magical collages of silent film stars!

Victor & Isolina
This was a cute and funny animation about the directors divorced grandparents.

Happy Birthday Mario Woods
A short reflection on Mario by his mother.

A fable romance set in Marseilles. I didn't love all of it, but it is beautifully shot.

Real Artists
What if Pixar... were evil? (This was well executed, but the concept makes me giggle.)

Hot Dog Hands
I didn't like this animation style, but the plot was well-paced.

The story of women political prisoners in East Germany. Really interesting animation.

And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow's Eye
Magical realism. It had some interesting shots, but I didn't love it as a whole.

The Rabbit Hunt
A family hunting rabbits when crops are being razed. That's it.

The Convention
I didn't love the style of this one, but it's an interesting look at an annual conference of (mostly older) transgender women.

[no images that I could find!]
Break of Day
Somewhat formulaic abortion story.

Gut Hack
This dude attempted to change his bacterial lode by himself. I'm really not sure why an NYTimes video was included in the lineup, other than the guy came to speak at the Q&A.

This was about goats. I should have enjoyed it.