[SIFF Weekend One]

Nevermind the backlog, here’s the SIFF capsules. That is, if I don’t skip everything else and post about SIFF now, I might as well just give up. Obligatory background: this is my 14th year attending, I’m only planning on about 30 films*, and I currently have tickets to about 20, including the Secret. Let’s get this party started!

One of the things I look forward to most about the festival is the opportunity to see Asian film. First up, the Hong Kong/Taiwan film Prince of Tears is understandably indulgent, being a composite of memories from the director’s childhood, but is all-around gorgeous: cinematography, costumes, and the cast are all beautiful. The perspective is that of a fairy tale, the traditional kind containing true horror, as beloved adults surrounding two sisters are arrested & accused of being communist spies. I’m looking forward to seeing star Joseph Chang later in the festival in Au Revoir Taipei.

I believe From Time to Time is my only Films 4 Families selection this year. Adapted from a novel & directed by Julian Fellowes, it’s a charming fantasy/ghost story. It’s very mildly cheesy in spots, an effect of being a children’s film, but even though you know more or less how it’s going to end, it’s a lovely ride getting there. Maggie Smith is delightful as ever as the grandmother, and Dominic West is a classic, sneering villain as the evil butler from the past. Also, I have to say, it was solid Jaci-bait, what with the present of the film being the end of WWII, and the past being Age of Sail/early Regency. I would very much like to read the original series.

Holy Rollers was my first totally crazy over-sold screening of the festival, and even starting a half hour late (on an already late screening) it was a great time. I have yet to meet a Jesse Eisenberg film that I do not enjoy. Here his character is a Hasidic Jew who gets caught up in an ecstasy smuggling ring. Based on a true story, and definitely my recommended feature of the weekend. I don’t know why the current IMDb rating is so low. Save it to your queues!

All I will say about Secret #1 is that it was full of failures of communication. Also that I enjoyed it. Shhhh. This is my second year doing the Secret Festival, and I only wish I had started sooner. It is absolutely the only time that I can have the experience of viewing a film with zero preconceptions. Such a unique thing, and very much worth getting up for an 11am Sunday screening.

We’ve been excited about On the Town for weeks, and deservedly so. Musicals on the big screen are such a fabulous treat. I am looking forward to the Grease sing-along (and still think SIFF missed a chance — a sing-along Everyone Says I Love You would have been a great addition to the Ed Norton tribute series. I know at least two people who would have gone. Um. Including me.)

The weekend finished off with a Northwest Connections feature, The Penitent Man. It’s a low-budget time travel piece in the tradition of Primer (which is far and away the better film, so if you haven’t seen that, please do.) I found it to be a great example of the importance of casting; the film is largely conversation, so much that the concept would have been better served by the novella format rather than a feature film. However, Lance Henriksen was great, elevating the material he had to work with. Bonus: street scenes shot in my neighborhood. See my supermarket & my walk home immortalized on film! Or, I suppose, on digital.

* Not very many, I know, in a festival of 250 features. But I am poor. So it goes.

[Quick hits]

* Whip It is more or less your standard coming of age story. It’s a formula, but a formula that works, and this time came with a bonus: roller derby. Charming as hell, and much better than I expected it to be. If you’ve never been to derby, though, be advised that’s what derby was like when it started. Derby is changing fast, has been cleaned up a lot, and the odds are your local league is flat track. The passion for the the sport, though, you’ll recognize anywhere.

* Bright Star is a heartbreakingly beautiful film. Abbie Cornish is luminous, Ben Whishaw’s Keats is darned pretty himself, and Paul Schneider’s Brown is well aware of both of them. If this isn’t a Yuletide fandom I’ll eat my non-existent hat. Here’s the thing, though. As exquisitely crafted as it was, flawlessly written, acted, and shot, there was something missing, some note of why she chose to tell this story. It’s a hard thing to pin down when it’s there, and harder still when it isn’t, but when I can’t find it, it makes it a tough film for me to love. One thing I did particularly want to note, though, was the attention given to Fanny’s sewing. It’s the one area in her life where she could funnel her passion and creativity, and I am glad it got the screen time it deserved.

* Johnny Cash in San Quentin wasn’t quite what I expected, but that actually was an improvement. Part of the Film Forum’s 69 series, it included performance footage as well as interviews with inmates. It’s a BBC documentary, and it opens with some unexpected footage — a bit on the myth of the American West, with reenactments that leave much to be desired, but once it gets into the show (intercut with prisoner interviews) you wish it would keep going. 60 minutes was far too short!

* Toy Story & Toy Story 2 were recently rereleased in 3D. It was a lot of fun. The first is cleverer than I had remembered, and I had never seen the second one at all. I am coming round a little bit on 3D. It worked well here, unlike in Coraline where I found it distracting. I mentioned this last time I saw Toy Story, but I do love that it’s a single parent family and, in a rare feat for Disney, it’s a single mother. It doesn’t make up for their typically appalling record on female characters, but it helps. (Also, just because I thought to look it up now, according to Wikipedia, the font of True Facts, passenger side airbags were first offered as an option on the 95 model Volvo and were standard after that. For those who were concerned about the baby seat in the front. You know who you are.)

* Finally, Singin’ In the Rain was this week’s Metro Classics offering, so of course I had to go. My TV isn’t nearly as big as the theater screen, and it’s a little awkward in my living room when I’m the only one applauding for the “Make ’em Laugh” sequence. Fantastic, of course, and I have to say, if you don’t like this movie? I am quietly judging you. Also, I think this is the first time I’ve seen it since I watched the extras on Rififi and learned how kind and generous Kelly was to Jules Dassin, particularly when Dassin was being snubbed by the Hollywood community at Cannes. It makes it that much better to know that Kelly was a fantastic human being.

In the next week I’m seeing A Serious Man, two Hitchcocks, Where the Wild Things Are, and Precious. It’s fall movie season, kids, and I couldn’t be more excited. I should probably take a look at the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival schedule too, but so much gay film is crap I generally have trouble getting around to it.

In the world of things that are interesting only to me, this means that by the end of next week I’ll have met my film-in-the-theater record from 2007, and that with two and a half months of 2009 to go. Oh my giddy aunt!