Movies postsThursday May 14, 2015
What I'm Seeing at SIFF 2015
Here's a note I got this morning from John Hartl, Seattle's émenince grise of movie reviewing, after I asked him what might be good at the Seattle International Film Festival this year:
I've seen plenty of good stuff, including “Flowers,” “Love & Mercy,” “The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime” and “The Golden Hill.” And some bad stuff too, like “Sleeping With Other People” and “Summer in Provence” and “Seoul Searching.” Take care, and don't watch too much.
I'd already gotten my tickets, of course, and, yes, I'll be watching too much. Here's what I wound up going for, sorted by country, and with superhelpful links to the SIFF site for more info—even if the SIFF site isn't exactly superhelpful (it's slow and not exactly user-friendly):
|Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll||Cambodia||doc on rock history + U.S. Southeast Asia politics|
|Cave of the Spider Women/ Cave of the Silken Web||China||The first is a 1927 Chinese film — before Hollywood united all our tastes and predilections|
|The Connection||France||Jean Dujardin as Gene Hackman|
|Vincent||France||Alt take on superhero mythology|
|The Apu trilogy||India||Because I've never seen it (I hang my head in shame)|
|Theeb||Jordan||Great reviews + I know nothing of Jordan|
|Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains||Kyrgyzstan||Looks beautiful + I know nothing of Kyrgyzstan|
|Love, Theft & Other Entanglements||Palestine||Dark comedy about Middle East + I know nothing of the Middle East|
|Accused||Netherlands||Miscarriage of Dutch justice|
|Meeting Dr. Sun||Taiwan||Looks funny + Taiwan (my old stomping grounds)|
|Mr. Holmes||UK||Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes in retirement? Indubitably!|
|Love & Mercy||USA||On Brian Wilson; someone bring the Barenaked Ladies|
|Slow West||USA||Great buzz from Sundance|
|Being Evel||USA||He's Evel Knievel, damnit!|
A Quick Look at SIFF's 2015 Gala & Party Movies
P and I have the Gala & Party passes for SIFF again, and that'll get us into the following:
- Opening Night: “Spy” (Most commercial opening ever?)
- Centerpiece: “End of the Tour” (Jesse Eisenberg interviews Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace; from the director of “The Spectacular Now”)
- Closing: “The Overnight” (Seattle couple in LA)
- First Saturday: “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (Sundance audience and grand-jury prize winner; 8.4 on IMDb)
- Second Saturday: “People, Places, Things” (Jemaine Clement as comic book artist and single dad)
- Third Saturday: “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” (a biopic by ... ouch ... Peter Greenaway)
- Gay-La: “Tangerine” (“scrappy transgender prostitutes”)
- African Pictures: “Excuse My French” (Egyptian box office smash; 8.0 on IMDb)
Of these, I'm most looking forward to “Me and Earl” and “Excuse My French.” Not a Greenaway fan. “Scrappy transgender prostitutes” sends off alarm bells. Opening and closing seem particularly middle-of-the-road. Fingers crossed on “End of the Tour.”
Anyway that's already eight movies—if I go to them all. But what else looks good?
Here's how I handled it last year, with mixed results.
Maybe I just like coming-of-age stories.
Valentine's Day Movie: The More the Merrier (1943)
Back in the MSNBC days I wrote a piece on the Hollywood kiss, and included classic kissing scenes split into various categories: the desperate kiss (lovers kept apart, then not), the kiss in the rain, the manhandle, the woman takes charge, the wow kiss (the kiss that changes the trajectory of the story).
If I were writing it today I would include this one from George Stevens' “The More the Merrier” starring Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur. It's a combination of wow kiss (Connie changes her mind about Joe) and a manhandle kiss (that takes its sweet time):
My path to the movie: Mark Harris' book, “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” —> which led to the documentary “George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey” by George Stevens, Jr. —> which included the above scene from “The More the Merrier” —> which I rented from Netflix.
Watch it with someone you can't keep your hands off of.
Publicists had trouble coming up with a good poster for “The More the Merrier,” a romantic comedy set during D.C. in wartime, when the girl-guy ratio was 8 to 1. It was director George Stevens' last film before he went to war and filmed the liberation of both Paris and Dachau; he never made a light romantic comedy again.
Anita Ekberg (1931-2015)
I was born three years after “La Dolce Vita,” so my first memory of any Anita Ekberg reference was in SCTV's seminal skit, “Play It Again, Bob,” a takeoff of Woody Allen's “Play It Again, Sam,” in which an “Annie Hall”-era Woody (Rick Moranis) tries to write a movie script for his idol Bob Hope (Dave Thomas):
At around the four-minute mark they talk leading ladies. Hope suggests Joey Heaterton and Woody counters with Diane Keaton:
Hope: That stringbean that was in your movie? ... I need a girl with a build. If I'm gonna fall in love it's gotta be realistic.
Woody: Realistic? I mean, that's exactly what I'm going for. I don't want to mug or go to broad with this thing.
Hope: Well, what's wrong with Anita Ekberg. At least she's .. [cups his hands in front of his chest]. You know.
Woody: What's with the hands? You want an actress with arthritis?
I must've said that last line a thousand times in high school and college.
Eventually I saw “La Dolce Vita” and went “Ohhhhhhh.”
Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain.
Did she do much else? Did I ever see her in anything else? IMDb's ratings of her films have “La Dolce” at 8.1 followed by “Boccaccio '70” (she plays a billboard come to life to taunt a prudish “public decency” crusader) at 7.2. Everything else is below 7.0. More than half are below 6.0.
That “billboard come to life” thing is pretty much it, isn't it? She was often cast as a woman so beautiful and zaftig, so perfectly fitting a certain standard of sexuality, as to be comic.
The New York Times has a nice obit:
Fellini cast Ms. Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita” as a hedonistic American actress visiting Rome. A single moonlit scene — in which she wades into the Trevi Fountain in a strapless evening gown, turns her face ecstatically to the fountain’s waterfall and seductively calls Marcello Mastroianni’s character to join her — established her place in cinema history.
On the Boat to America with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel
My Christmas present to myself this year was “Chaplin's Mutual Comedies: 1916-1917,” which includes both DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as (the clincher), a 63-minute doc, “The Birth of the Tramp,” about his early years.
The restoration on these films is wonderful, the shots of America at the turn of the century amazing. Hats everywhere. But it's all crystal clear.
America, turn of the last century, when being filmed was a new thing.
I saw some of the Mutual comedies at the Grand Illusion theater in Seattle the week the Iraq War started, and absolutely loved them. I remember it being an oasis. Nearly 100-year-old Charlie was a kind of sanity for me in insane times.
In that 63-minute doc, it's mentioned that when Chaplin came over to America in the fall of 1910 as the principal player of Fred Karno's troupe of actors, one of the other actors accompanying him, his understudy, was a kid named Stan Jefferson. Who became Stan Laurel. What are the odds? I guess Karno knew—or knew how to develop—talent.
Chaplin (framed by life preserver) and Laurel (same row, left) on the boat to America.
Laurel and Chaplin (center) in America in 1910, about to get in on the ground floor of a new business.