Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
To read Mike's introduction to the Seattle Film Festival, click HERE .
We are in the midst of our first heat wave here in Seattle, so the festival couldn’t have come at a better time. The air conditioned venues are a welcome relief to the sun scorched sidewalks where we attendees wait until allowed into the next screening. I have now seen twenty-five films, but that’s nothing compared to some who have already knocked back fifty! As we head into the second week of this nearly month-long festival, it is truly beginning to take shape as one of the better fests I’ve covered, as the quality of the films here is quite remarkable. The question is always whether or not many of the movies you see will get distribution. In fact, most of the people attending the fest would rather see the films that don’t have any distribution yet, just in case they are never to be heard from again. Here’s hoping some of these films make it to a theatre near you sometime soon…..
Slipstream dir. Anthony Hopkins (U.S.A.)
In his third directorial effort, Anthony Hopkins goes all David Lynch on us with very mixed results. Combining daydreams and movies-within-movies while having way too much fun in the editing room, Hopkins certainly hasn’t decided to play it safe here, but he simply doesn’t have the narrative or the artistic skill of Lynch to draw us into his wild story. Credit does have to be given to Hopkins for casting himself in the role of a writer who seems to be in a constant state of confusion and disorientation. I guess we can call Hopkins the anti-Mel Gibson for giving himself such an unflattering role in his own film. With a huge Hollywood cast that includes Christian Slater, John Turturro, Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Clarke Duncan, Slipstream tries its best to be avant garde but while offering a few laughs here and there aimed at the film biz it ultimately ends up being a grand failure, both illogical and empty.
Manufactured Landscapes dir. Jennifer Baichwal (Canada)
Still photographer Edward Burtynsky has traveled the globe taking pictures of industrial landscapes in the hopes of showing the world how man is constantly changing his environment. Manufactured Landscapes focuses on his trip to Asia where he filmed the workers at a plastics factory while also shooting various landscapes around China where the industrial revolution is in full swing. We see him setting up his shots and taking his pictures while director Baichwal interviews some of the residents who are displaced in order to allow for “progress” as well as the workers who aid in displacing them. The most striking thing about Burtynsky’s photos is how they are at once gorgeous and grotesque, which is exactly what they intend to be. Progress is indeed important but at what cost to mankind do we continue to allow it?
Fido dir. Andew Currie ( Canada)
Here is a zombie movie that is so cheerful and upbeat that we can’t help but like it. Yes we now have zombie comedies which are indeed intentionally funny and Fido is often much more than that. The film is set in the near future but looks a lot like the 1950s where housewives were supposed to listen to their husbands and the communist scare was in full force. In Fido however it’s not communists but zombies that are all the rage. We learn that when people die they become zombies, unless they have the dough for a funeral where their heads can be cut off and buried as well. In order to control zombie behavior of eating flesh, a corporation known as “Zomcon” has invented a collar which makes the zombies into productive – albeit verbally challenged – servants. While the screenplay isn’t nearly as inventive as it could have been, Fido still has some classic lines that had the late-night audience I saw it with laughing all the way through. Billy Connolly is deadpan perfection as the title character, a zombie with a heart and a libido as well. With no dialogue Connolly must use eyes and facial expressions to convey his thoughts and the result is a performance that will certainly give him a shot to win best actor at the festival.
Grimm Love dir. Martin Weisz (Germany/U.S.A.)
Here is a grisly little item that will have many people leaving the theatre about halfway through. This isn’t to say that Grimm Love is a bad film, because it’s not. But, it certainly isn’t enjoyable, not in the least. Based on a true story about Oliver Hartwin, who slaughtered and ate Simon Grombeck back in the late 90s (if you have to go back and read that line again it’s ok), it is not intended to play as a horror film but more as a dark psychological study, and for the most part it succeeds. When the film focuses on Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann) and his willing victim Grombeck (Thomas Huber) and their deadly encounter it works at developing a chilling atmosphere of loneliness and dread that stays with us long after the film is done. However the framing device involving a graduate student played by Keri Russell who is investigating the event is a huge unnecessary distraction to the "meat" of the story, if you will. It’s as if the director Martin Weisz felt that we needed a break from the darkness at the heart of the film. At that heart is a haunting story about obsession and while it’s certainly a more extreme obsession than most it is consistent with any other obsession in that no matter how much one satisfies their hunger the want for more grows stronger and stronger.
The Fever of ’57 dir. David Hoffman (U.S.A.)
It was the fall of 1957 and while the United States claimed world dominance, it was the Soviet Union that was able to launch the Sputnik, After that, all hell broke loose, mainly because then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson decided that if the USSR could do that, they could also kill us with missile attacks. What was the U.S. to do? This powerful documentary takes us back to that time and makes us think about a few things while doing it. Such as what if George W. Bush were president and not the level-headed Dwight Eisenhower, who never allowed the situation to escalate to nuclear war. It’s also quite obvious that we are still suffering from that Fever in 2007 and we wonder if it will ever really break.
Rocket Science dir. Jeffrey Blitz (U.S.A.)
The winner of the Best Director award at the 2007 Sundance fest, Rocket Science is about a New Jersey high school student who is trying to overcome his stuttering problem in order to join the debate team. With a Wes Anderson-like quality, the film is never predictable, and just like its main character it sort of starts, stops and tries to find a different way to finish its thoughts. That is not a criticism but a welcome relief from the sameness that we get from most coming of age films.
Fair Play dir. Lionel Bailliu (France)
The world of office politics played out entirely outdoors through games of “friendly” competition. We watch the CEO cut down one of his employees while playing racquetball, the owner cut down the CEO during a game of golf and one employee blackmail another into helping destroy a co-worker during a run through the woods. The climax takes place during a corporate “unity” outing where all of the petty grievances are exposed and a life and death competition ensues. We may need to suspend our belief a bit to buy into the fact that these despicable people actually want to be near – let alone play games – with each other, but the clever milieu and the dead-on dialogue make it all worthwhile.
Ghosts of Cite Soleil dir. Asger Leth (Denmark/U.S.A)
This stunning documentary follows a group of gang leaders or “chimeres” through a Haitian city in 2004 during the time leading up to the ousting of President Aristide. The film is a very intimate look at how two brothers, both leaders of the gang, spend their days either fighting each other and others for power. Used as pawns by Aristide to create havoc and to give him more power over the people, these brothers first seem like violent thugs yet as we get to know them we see that they may not have much of a choice and can be classified as victims of a dictator just like their starving brothers and sisters. Director Asger Leth gets a little too close for comfort, certainly putting himself and his crew in harms way but the result is an up close and personal look at a society in ruins. Mesmerizing and intense.