[SIFF Capsule Reviews: Batch 1]

Here, have some capsule reviews from SIFF! Maybe this will be the year I post more than one batch! Maaaaaybe.

Things I liked that should be easy to find:

* The festival opened with Paul Feig’s Spy, which on one hand almost felt like a joke to me when first announced, but on the other hand I definitely applaud elevating the work of a guy putting his money where his mouth is to change the narrative around women in Hollywood. Here it was a joy to see everything from an inversion of women-in-refrigerators, to clear examples of the causes & consequences of imposter syndrome, to women supporting each other in a way that is true and earned, not sappy.

Also, the movie was great fun, as you’d expect. It’s an homage, not a spoof, and I’ll definitely be seeing it again.

* I’ll See You in My Dreams is a quiet gem of a film, cast to perfection with actors we all wish we saw more often. It stars Blythe Danner as a long-time widow whose routine gets shaken up a bit by Sam Elliott & Martin Starr. It’s sweet and gentle, funny and romantic, & if you’re surprised by Martin Starr in it, clearly you haven’t seen Amira & Sam. Fix that.

* Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is one of those movies where I am like, “Yes, I see all of those points of criticism, and you’re right, and yet I kind of don’t give a shit.” I don’t mean to be dismissive — yes of course the character of Earl is a problem, for example, a problem I saw right from the trailer, but it’s also true that this is a story filtered quite firmly from the POV of a high school senior, so of course he is the center of his own world. Teen boys, man, they’re assholes. And Rachel isn’t even given a name in the title, which is a terrible sign, but she also refuses to be inspirational. And maybe it is pandering, a little, that our lead is a Herzog fan, but if you really think that the key to mass audience appeal is a teenage boy doing Herzog voiceover for his own life, well, you live in an interesting world.

It’s such a cinematic story that I’m curious to read the book, and I was pleased to find that it was a friendship film and not a romance film. They’re too fucking rare.

Things I liked that might be harder to find:

* The Boss: Anatomy of a Crime is a film from Argentina based on a true story about a barely-literate man in Buenos Aires who finds himself working in a butcher shop for a corrupt, connected, manipulative boss, and when the man is arrested for murder, a public defender chooses to look deeper into his case. Includes horrifying behind-the-scenes looks at a butcher shop perpetually in violation, but it also feels, contra Snow on the Blades (below) completely lived in and true.

* Liza the Fox-Fairy is a little bit Anderson, a little bit Tati, and a little bit nuts. It’s compared to Amelie in the program, but What it reminded me of most, really, were the films of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (L’Iceberg, Rumba, The Fairy), except that those are pure Tati, essentially silent films, & Liza has a little musical DNA in it. It’s a Hungarian film about a single woman who begins to suspect she’s a fox-fairy, killing off every man who shows an interest in her. David Sakurai steals the show as the ghost of Tony Tani, always at hand with a musical number.

* The New Girlfriend is one of those movies where I had to dramatically adjust my expectations during the course of watching it. From what information I had I was expecting some kind of Hitchcockian thriller — a little bit Laura, a little bit Vertigo — but instead it turned out to be a thoughtful & sympathetic meditation on grief, gender, and sexuality. I like it more the more I think about it, which is always a good sign.

* I also really liked three of the Secret movies, but they are definitely harder to find on account of how I can’t tell you what they are. The second one was the best movie I saw at the festival. Sorry. That’s just a fact.

Thing I liked that you might not like:

* Goodnight Mommy is one of my festival favorites, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Ostensibly the story of twin brothers revolting against their mother when she returns home to recover from plastic surgery, it’s a slow burn of a creeper and then almost too much to handle at the end. It’s no surprise, I think, to admit that there’s a twist, but personally I think the sooner you consider the possibility of that twist, the more intense it makes the film. Very stylish & well acted, and in terms of being at least partially about, at the very least, maternal apathy, it reminded me of 2014 festival favorite The Babadook.

Things I thought were just okay:

* Snow on the Blades. Granted, I have no great knowledge of the samurai ouvre, but this hit all the expected story beats. It was beautiful to look at, though it felt very much like a stage play, not lived in.

* Mr Holmes. Elderly Sherlock, one last case, starring Ian McKellan who obviously is always great. Very Masterpiece Theatre. I called it “Mr Holmes Ruins Womens Lives Through A Total Lack of Understanding.” My friend says that’s fine because it’s historically accurate. But it’s true: there are three key women in the movie (plus, briefly, Frances de la Tour being amazing because SHE IS) and Holmes makes bad calls affecting each of their lives. It’s incredibly frustrating.