[Final weekend. Still more woe!]

* Crossing Hennessy was a charming little romantic comedy from Hong Kong. The couple is being set up by their respective families, never mind that neither of them are interested and both in fact have romantic interests already. Cute, a little slow, but worth it for the organic development of the characters. Wei Tang (best known for Lust, Caution) was particularly great as Oi Lin, and Loy’s family was comedy gold.

* At the End of Daybreak was surprisingly low-key for most of the film, considering its ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter. A 23 year old guy is in a relationship with a 15 year old girl, and when her family finds out they demand payment rather than taking it to court. His impoverished mother (the utterly fantastic Kara Hui), scrapes it together, only to have the girl’s family change their mind about prosecuting. Hard to connect with at the beginning, and hard to watch at the end.

* I had a rather stupid amount of fun at the Grease singalong. It’s one of those movies that holds up, in case you were wondering, in its goofy, candy-colored way. I didn’t see it all the way through until it was rereleased when I was in college (though I had seen almost all of it in bits and pieces) and it still totally worked. The singalong works too; it’s a gorgeous print, and the subtitles for the lyrics are animated and hilarious. Good times! It’s getting a proper release in July. Dinah Manoff (Marty Maraschino) was at our screening, but I didn’t get to stay for the Q&A because I had to haul on up the hill for Howl. She was charming at the intro, though, and I heard she was quite impressed by the Seattle audience’s enthusiasm. As well she should be!

* Howl is one of those movies I would typically try to hold off on since it has distribution, but I don’t think it’s coming out until the fall, and I was tired of waiting. It’s rather brilliant, I think, in that it’s really a movie about the poem rather than being yet another biopic. It takes us through the poem on four tracks: Ginsberg performing “Howl” in 1955, animation of the poem, interviews with Ginsberg about poetry in general and ways in which it was informed by his life in particular, and the obscenity trial. It’s basically porn for English majors.

Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw James Franco play a straight guy. Which is a-ok by me. This, Milk, and then of course the Spider-Man franchise. Wait, Harry wasn’t supposed to be in love with Peter Parker? And what about Saul & Dale in Pineapple Express? No? Ah well. My bad.

* I really enjoyed Secret #4. This has been a strong series, and I am looking forward to next year. I have trouble remembering the titles of 3 of the 4, though, so that makes keeping it Secret all that much easier!

* A late addition to the festival, Thunder Soul was a great selection to end with. It’s a documentary about the Kashmere Stage Band, a high school band from Texas whose teacher turned them into a world class funk band. Now they’re reforming over 30 years later for a benefit concert. Total crowd pleaser documentary, and if you’re not at least a little teary-eyed at the end you have no soul. Erm. No pun intended.

* And yet, it wasn’t the end, because after my final volunteer shift I slipped into the screening of RoboGeisha, which was hilarious and awesome, and I think we should have seen the midnight of it instead of Splice.

[Final week. Woe!]

* Au Revoir Taipei was exactly what I needed to kick off the last week of the festival: an unashamed bit of fluff. It’s one of those movies where a bunch of disparate characters interact over the course of an evening: a young guy who means to fly off to Paris the next day to win back a girl, a bookshop clerk, a gangster & a bunch of wannabe baby gangsters, and a few basically inept cops. It maintains an even keel throughout, doesn’t draw itself out past its natural conclusion, and manages to have a dance sequence that doesn’t make me want to punch things (Imma lookin’ at you, (500) Days of Summer.)

* I only watched half of Perfect 10, and then I decided that instead of spending any more time with those characters I would rather go out to the lobby and knit. So I did. I felt some guilt, because the directors seemed like lovely people, but I really did not like their movie, and I had already sat through one poorly-acted local feature already this festival, and at least *it* hadn’t been offensive. So it goes.

* Turn It Loose was a lot of fun, a documentary on b-boys, specifically following the 2007 Red Bull BC One competition in South Africa. I particularly liked the understated political aspect of it. We’re given profiles of competitors from all over the world (Ben-J from Senegal is totally my favorite), and title cards relating to their battles, but no voiceover, which is great.

In one particular sequence, Lilou, an Algerian dancer living in France wears a keffiyeh to mark his solidarity with the Arab world while battling against Roxrite, an American dancer who, to Lilou & to other competitors, represents all of American imperialism, wealth, and power. However, we then get a profile of Roxrite and learn that he’s an immigrant from Mexico, that he and his family experienced homelessness when he was younger, and that he’s still struggling to get by, but dance is what has kept him alive. It’s all in the editing, showing everything these guys have in common with each other whether they realize it or not.

* Live scores to silent movies just seem to get better every year, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was no exception. Written by Stephin Merritt & performed by him, Daniel Handler, Johnny Blood, & David Hegarty on the organ, it’s part score, part script, part musical, part MST3K. It put me back in mind of Utopia in Four Movements, actually, in terms of being a film experience that can only happen within that moment of time and space. Also, I still have the theme tune stuck in my head; it was earwormy enough to replace Bran Nue Dae‘s theme tune!

* I liked everything about Monogamy except the story. Which… seems like a ridiculous statement, but it’s true. I picked it in the first place for the cast (Chris Messina & Rashida Jones), and they were great. The direction was loose & intimate, and the cinematography was gorgeous. But I knew pretty much where it was going the whole time: there’s a line of dialogue early on that told me how the A plot was going to end, and I knew the end of the B plot from the moment it started, so that big reveal was totally lost on me.

[Sunday: Three Yes Three Movies]

* Secret #3 slayed me. It hit three major buttons. I can’t even be rational about it. I need to own it yesterday.

* Agora was a gorgeous film about the rise of Christianity in Alexandria, and how basically religion destroys everything. It made me think, oddly enough, of the effect of religion in The Tillman Story, where people have an incredibly difficult time processing/accepting the atheism of Pat Tillman (and, I believe, his family). Also, I was surprised to discover that though I can be relatively cool with gore, I felt physically ill when the Christian mob burned the glorious library of Alexandria. Once a librarian English major, always a librarian English major.

There was some awkwardness about halfway through, when the film skipped “a number of years”, but I rolled with it. Also, I developed a lexicon for the film The most important term is “practicing witchcraft”, which means “thinking while female”. Strictly forbidden. And I am quite certain that every time a character asserted that they were as Christian as someone, or that someone was as Christian as them, that there was a definite wink-wink behind that. Mass conversion & public demonstrations of faith are nothing if not political.

La plus ça change!

* All That I Love was a Polish coming-of-age story set in 1981, following a teenager and his punk band, through family, first love, and revolution. I quite liked it. I particularly enjoyed his relationship with his parents; it’s not what you would expect, especially with his father.

[Saturday: Leaves of Grass & Utopia]

* Leaves of Grass is the centerpiece film to the tribute to Edward Norton. Written & directed by Tim Blake Nelson, it’s… let’s see. A pot comedy slash Greek tragedy, maybe? But not a Greek tragedy on the level of Splice (THANK GOD.) Norton plays twins, one of whom is now a classics professor at Brown, while the other is a horticultural genius. No, really. The professor finds himself back in Oklahoma, for reasons that don’t need exploring at this juncture, and hijinks ensue. So to speak. I enjoyed it a lot, and hope it gets distribution soon.

Norton was present for a Q&A after, which was lovely. At the end of it he made a great statement about SIFF: that it was an important festival to support because it’s one of the last that’s actually *for* the audience, for the people living in the town rather than for industry. Which is what I’ve been saying for ages, so it’s nice to have it validated by someone who, you know, actually knows what they’re talking about.

* Utopia in Four Movements was an amazing experience, and I’m thankful to my friend for suggesting it. It’s part slideshow, part film, part lecture, & part concert, a performance piece with two directors (one queuing photos and video clips as well as narrating, and the other queuing music.) The content of it was fascinating; the movements as it were discussed the idea of utopia from the perspectives of the development of Esperanto, 20th century revolutionaries, consumer (but specifically shopping mall) culture, and forensic anthropology. No, really. It totally made sense. I can explain it to you sometime.

It achieved something else, though, which is the impossibility of discussing the film without discussing the form. During the Q&A portion after, a member of the audience suggested that she would have been fine just seeing it as a documentary, without the live bits, and I totally disagree. First off, it’s a piece always in flux (they made adjustments to it as late as 15 minutes before showtime), but also more importantly, live queues can be paced to the rhythm of an audience response, and the audience can connect with a live narrator in a different and more immediate way than with a disembodied voice over.

Furthermore, it brings the experience of the film back to what I’m always going on about: seeing something on the big screen, seeing it without distractions, and seeing it with an audience. You can’t watch a live documentary in one corner of your laptop while you organize your iTunes library in another. You have to be just as present as the filmmakers. It’s awesome. And, in its own way, it’s utopia.

[Friday: Tillman Story & Blessed]

* The Tillman Story is a simple and powerful documentary about how the government and military attempted to manipulate the death of Pat Tillman into a supporting narrative for war in Iraq. It’s a story we’ve all heard in bits and pieces, but to have it all laid out, concise and devastating… it should be required viewing.

* I had intended to see Waiting for Superman after The Tillman Story, but it went on rush before I had a volunteer voucher for it. Instead I jumped on a comp ticket to Blessed, one of the features in the Emerging Masters series. I had been intrigued by it thanks to some of the cast, namely Frances O’Connor and Miranda Otto. The film was developed from a play titled Who’s Afraid of the Working Class, and I am under the impression that it changed quite a bit from the source material, moving from being a strongly political piece to one exploring the relationships between children and their mothers, though still those on the fringe.

Everyone in it was fantastic; Kokkinos is clearly gifted at working with child actors. Reef Ireland in particular struck me as one to watch; he’s like a young Ohad Knoller. Just heartbreaking. And Frances O’Connor is currently my best actress of the festival.

After being destroyed by that, I headed up to the Egyptian to volunteer at the midnight of Fight Club. Because I’m crazy. When I left, Ed Norton was still at the theater, watching the film from the balcony. I had thought seriously about staying for the film — I haven’t seen it since the original release — but in the end I decided that walking home at 3am would probably not be smart. So it goes.