Sunday, April 24, 2011

SFIFF54 Notes: Opening Night & Day 1

Don't take anything below too seriously, these are just notes scrawled after each movie to make sure I remember what I see. But I figure I'd share them in case someone might be interested.

Personal, touching, and small in all the right ways, this is Mike Mills' fictionalized account of his father's coming out at age 75 and all-too-subsequent death of lung cancer. Contrasting with the father's story is a theoretically-lighter one, months after the death, in which our hero falls head-over-heels for a troubled French actress. This more fictional-seeming story can't help but pale in comparison to the main affair, and the cross-cut storytelling makes the film feel longer than it is. Still, a small gem to kick off the festival.

The Good Life
Billed as "Grey Gardens in Danish," this portrait of an aged mother/daughter living in a Portuguese resort town was mostly interesting as an examination of what happens when a documentarian trains a camera on an unchanging subject. Other than that, the length was uncalled-for: this story, of the wealthy unable to manage once their money is gone, would have been just as affecting as a short, and wouldn't have tried the audience's patience (especially with the daughter, who's hard to bear). In short, would have made a good segment on This American Life.

An odd title...sounds German? As it turns out, it's a Greek film. But the title's not Greek, it's a mispronunciation of "Attenborough": the heroine is a big fan of nature documentaries. A unique coming-of-age story, the film has parallels to Beginners, but father/daughter is a much less comfortable dynamic than father/son, which plays in the film's favor. When described in minute detail, as it is by our heroine (aping the nature shows), human sexuality turns out to be quite disturbing. It's hard to recommend, as the odds are high that it'll push some buttons, but if you're up for that (and willing to put up with some silliness), I do recommend it.

The City Below (Unter dir die Stadt)
Pretentious, emotionless crap. TL;DR: investment bankers are evil. Maybe I'll write more about this at some point, but it was not my cup of tea.

Stake Land
Post-apocalypse is still hot, but with each new film in the genre it becomes harder for the newcomers to distinguish themselves. Stake Land's title suggests its twist: zombies that are also vampires. These are not the seductive type: rather, they're zombies that are particularly interested in blood. But the vampirism isn't the most interesting or most dangerous feature of the plot. That title belongs to the Brotherhood, a religious cult gone awry whose unique reaction to the crisis breathes a little fresh air into the well-worn storyline. More than anything, though, this reminded me of the video game Left 4 Dead, itself based on zombie films. And it's rarely a good thing for cinema to make one think of a video game.

I hope to post Saturday's notes tomorrow: it was just about a perfect day of film-festing.

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