[Seventh Annual SFFSFF]

This weekend was the Seventh Annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Film Festival, which is definitely one of the cooler things about being a film fan in Seattle. And being a film fan in Seattle is pretty cool already.

SFFSFF is a celebration of nerdery, four hours of short films in the beautiful Cinerama theater with a sold-out (always in advance) crowd of devotees. And yet, even though I am an epic nerd, this is only the third festival I’ve attended, mostly because it’s a bit too much for me on my own. SFFSFF requires a posse. Posses are particularly helpful when a film is really appalling and yet the audience seems to love it. It’s nice to have validation. And on the bright side, even if a film is appalling, it’s a short! It’ll be over soon!

This year, most of the second half was appalling. However, the first block was awesome! Here are some film-specific thoughts:

Favorites:

“Time Freak” is the obvious favorite. It’s the only film in the festival that was nominated for an Oscar, and it had charmed me earlier this year when I saw it at Best of SIFF. It’s about a guy who does exactly what I would do if I had a time machine: attempt to get things right, and fail. It won a juried prize and the Audience award, for which I am very relieved.

“Dead Happy” is the short I voted for as Audience Favorite. It’s a cute film about a grim reaper, and though it is a bit in the spirit of Dead Like Me, it definitely brings its own style. It also had, hands down, the best line of the whole evening. Let’s just say it involves the Catholics & leave it at that.

In voting, I had been torn between “Dead Happy” and “Oliver Bump’s Birthday”, which was also pretty damn adorable. Oliver is the youngest of four children, all of whom died when they turned 13. Now it’s his 13th birthday, and he wants to make the most of it in his own way. Nice story & design, and as a bonus, totally sweet kids.

“Terminus” got a juried award as well as an award for effects, which was absolutely deserved. It looked like a film straight out of the seventies, but a film from a creepy alternate seventies where megaliths of varying composition started following people around. Very cool concept for a short.

“Carte a Julia” is the sort of film that keeps me coming back, being basically a no-budget film from another country. It was such a relief to get to it, placed as it was towards the end of the awful second half. It’s a Spanish film about a retired couple. The husband comes back from his morning walk with a matter-of-fact story about their surprising new neighbors in the countryside.

Also neat:

“Matter Fisher” was beautiful, “Dolls Factory” was just as weird and cool as when I saw it at MIFFF, “Decapoda Shock” was probably the most surprising, and “Protoparticulas” had a great concept & vintage look.

Ones I wish had been better:

“Chorebot”, the story of a bot and his dog and the human who owns them, was a great concept, but the effects were just a bit disappointing, as was a distracting continuity issue. Major bonus points for the widescreen formatting, though!

“The Comet Chronicles”, which was terrible, but if done well would have been totally up my alley: outer space noir! With ladies! Unfortunately, the ladies couldn’t act. And the script was mediocre. Sigh.

…and it’s not fair to “Birdboy” really to put it here, but it fits here best. Maybe I wish *I* had been better for “Birdboy”. If I read the graphic novel would I follow it better? The animation, however, was utterly gorgeous.

And finally, the appalling ones:

“The Dungeon Master”, which was Rider Strong & Warren from Buffy being assholes. That’s it. I hated it.

“The Epiphany”, which was only a regular degree of disappointing until the Q&A where the director revealed that, until she got permission to adapt a Jonathan Letham short story, she had planned a short about an 80s lady superhero. A LADY SUPERHERO. FROM THE 80s. I would much rather have seen that. But instead we saw yet another forgettable short about a stupid angsty white boy. Ugh.

“The Captivus” was by far the most upsetting film, so of course the director is expanding it into a feature. The frustrating thing about it was that, on a broad level at least, it had an interesting concept. Two guys have been on a mission in deep space, and one of them is nearing the end of his tour. But the twist is that they’re actually in prison, and the mission has been a coping mechanism. Interesting, right? Except that the short is disgustingly homophobic. Also, even before it got that far I was ready to leave because the sound design was so over-stimulating.

…and then the whole thing ended with two more blows to the ladies: “Madam Perrault’s Bluebeard” and “The Hunter & the Swan Discuss Their Meeting”. Ugh. Guys, I know that scifi & fantasy were not traditionally lady-friendly. But it’s 2012. Knock that shit off.

The best part of “Bluebeard” was the cinematography, & the best part of “The Hunter” was the other couple they’re having dinner with, especially the other lady. But they were still both aggravating.

…that’s kind of a low note to end on. Sorry! The festival is fun! The first half was great! I enjoyed the streaming Twitter feed of the hashtag at halftime! Yay nerds! Go hunt down my favorite films!

Were you there? Which ones did you like best? How cute was the kid who played Oliver? Freckles & Melancholy! (tm Joy)

[MIFFF: Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival 2011]

This is the first year I attended the Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival, a weekend-long festival highlighting genres that don’t tend to be selected for more traditional programs.

The festival itself was in its third year, and while I believe previous years tended more towards the horror side of things at least as far as features went, this year included strong features without gore. Which worked out much better for me, because splatter-splatter type horror generally is not my thing.

The opening night film was Midnight Son, which I think could best be called a mumblecore vampire movie. Despite that description, I quite enjoyed it.

It’s about a young man who has structured his life around his rare skin condition which means he cannot be exposed to sunlight. He lives in a basement apartment & works as a night watchman. Of course, just as his condition starts to grow more complex and demanding (hello, coffee cup full of blood!), he meets a young woman with a few problems of her own.

It was a treat to see a vampire movie so removed from traditional mythology, and the low budget style was a good match for Jacob’s underground life, even though it went ever-so-slightly over the top at the end. It is hard to resist some traditional gore!

::

Boy Wonder was a strong thriller about a boy whose mother was killed in front of him during a carjacking when he was small. Now a teenager living with his recovering alcoholic father, he continues to obsess over finding her killer as well as stalking the city at night as a gritty take on real life superheroes.

He has interesting relationships with the cops at the local precinct, particularly with the outgoing cop who worked on his mother’s case & the lady cop who comes in to fill the retiree’s spot.

The script is tight, the film is very well cast (Bill Sage as the father is particularly effective, I think because I know him best from Mysterious Skin & Precious, both of which bring a clear ick factor), and all threads are brought back together in a satisfying ending.

::

The poster on the IMDb page for Absentia sells it as totally the sort of movie it isn’t, which is unfortunate, because it was definitely my favorite feature of the festival for its concept, its subtle creep factor, its use of fairy tale, and most of all for its neat inversion of some expected gender roles.

Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years, and her sister Callie has come to support her as she puts through the paperwork to have him declared dead in absentia.

Once the papers are signed, though, Tricia starts seeing her husband again. Is he still alive? Where has he been? Is she dreaming? What is the deal with the creepy tunnel at the end of the block?

I loved that it starred ladies, that the primary missing characters were men (including the always-creepy Doug Jones) rather than the typical white-girls-in-jeopardy, and that not *once* did someone blame Tricia’s pregnancy for the things she was seeing and feeling. That in particular was a huge thing for me; I kept waiting for someone to blame her visions of her missing husband on hormones, and it never happened.

I strongly recommend it. I raved about it on Twitter immediately afterwards and I still hold to that.

::

I saw the trailer for The Selling lots during the festival, and it made me giggle every time, which I felt was a good sign.

Richard Scarry (yes, he tells us, like the children’s book author) is a real estate agent who only wants the best for his clients, even if that means talking them out of houses they can’t actually afford. He needs money for his sick mother’s medical bills, though, so he goes along with his friend’s plan to buy & flip a house for profit.

Trouble is, the house is haunted.

The horror-comedy concept works for about 2/3 of the movie, though it gets a little ridiculous at the end. It’s probably worth it, though, just for Richard & Dave’s initial forays into the house, their challenges renovating, and definitely for the open house. It occurs to me now that it might actually have worked better tightened up into a short.

::

Speaking of shorts, I saw the science fiction and fantasy shorts packages. I was excited about how many of the films were not from the United States. Like at the Sci Fi & Fantasy Shorts Festival, I really enjoy seeing the speculative fiction of other cultures, and often a short is the best length of time to play out an idea.

Best of SciFi: Vorgon’s Lonesome Raid (it isn’t easy being a giant monster), Status (getting a Facebook chip in your wrist doesn’t seem that far away), & Earthship (does the world get better or worse after you’ve been hiding from it for years?).

Best of Fantasy: The Astronaut on the Roof (a meta road movie, which allllmost goes too far with the concept but reins itself in at the last minute), Employee of the Month (finding new jobs for genre characters is challenging, but pole dancing is always an option), Dolls Factory (life *can* be too automated), & The Hollow Man’s Tragedy (what if you had no heart at all?)

I am particularly sorry that I missed the animated shorts package, but my knees can only take so many hours, so I had to miss a few things. Do any of you have favorites from that or the horror set that I should seek out? What did you think of The Melancholy Fantastic?

[The Works of Danny Boyle]

I haven’t written about the other National Theatre Live broadcasts I’ve seen this year — they may be shown at the cinema, but they aren’t films — but I did want to mention Frankenstein. SIFF Cinema made a weekend of it, showing three days of double features from Danny Boyle as well as both filmed versions of the play.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller & Benedict Cumberbatch, switching the roles of Victor and the Creature from night to night, Frankenstein has been an extremely popular production both at the National and in broadcast around the world. There are plenty of reviews all over the web from people who know far more about theatre than I do, but I will say that I thought the device of telling the story from the point of view of the Creature was quite effective.

The first version I saw had Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, but Cumberbatch was quite obvious casting after his success with “Sherlock Holmes”*. Both characters are men who fancy themselves gods. Miller is also a more physical actor, so he was a more natural choice for the Creature.

All the same, it was interesting to see that switched up two days later, with a more poetic Creature & a more physical Victor. I’m glad I got the chance to see both. The rest of the cast was also marvelous, particularly Naomie Harris as Elizabeth.

All of this was a great excuse to have a weekend of Danny Boyle films, and the perfect opportunity use up my last batch of SIFF Cinema vouchers. Win win!

Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Shallow Grave I have all seen before on DVD, but it was great to see them all again on the big screen. 28 Days Later in particular benefited from being shown in the theater; the epic shots of an empty London deserve the big screen.

Sunshine is the only selection I’ve seen in the theater before, and is one of the very few scifi films that I love. I was disappointed that the presentation was on Blu-ray rather on film; the image pixelated in some scenes, which is one of the many ways that digital projection drives me up a wall. All the same, it’s better to see Sunshine on Blu-ray in the theater than at home on my 32 inch TV. So it goes.

Millions is the only feature I hadn’t seen before, though I have read the book. It’s Boyle’s family film and is just ridiculously charming. So is the book ūüôā (Also, it was charming in spite of the fact that I recently saw James Nesbitt in “Jekyll”, and so he makes me a little nervous.)

They also ran two of Boyle’s short films, which was a treat even in low resolution. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise stars Timothy Spall as a vacuum cleaner salesman / force of nature, and Strumpet is a magical, a modern fairy tale starring Christopher Eccleston and Genna G as two talented people who find greater scope for their art in each other, only to clash with the forces of the music industry.

*I didn’t actually like “Sherlock Holmes”, though that is a post for another day and perhaps another blog.

[Pickups: February (Oscars)]

The biggest benefit of participating in the Oscars Death Race this year was that it forced me to make the effort to see a few more in the theater that I might otherwise have pushed to DVD.

* Black Swan wasn’t one of those, since I’d seen it in 2010, but it was booked at the Cinerama, and I couldn’t resist going again. Still one of my favorites of last year, it really rewards a second viewing. The first time you see it, you’re trapped in Nina’s point of view, but the second time around you can free yourself from that

* Biutiful. Historically it seems that I have wanted to love I√Ī√°rritu films more than I actually have; they are well-crafted, but I failed to fully connect with them. In contrast, Biutiful broke my damn heart. Well-played, sir.

* Oscar Nominated Short Films (Animated) Strong package this year! “Day & Night” is the one everyone saw, as it was this year’s Pixar entry. Also, it is fantastic. “Madagascar, carnet de voyage” was probably my favorite, with its variety of animation styles. I could have watched a much longer version of it. The winner, “The Lost Thing”, was dreamy & original; I’m pleasantly surprised that it won.

* Oscar Nominated Short Films (Live Action) This was probably the most depressing live action package I’ve seen in years. Kids killing people, kids dying, Burundi in 1994… man. The winner was, I guess, the least-depressing in the group, the story of a Brooklyn guy who becomes Cupid. More or less.

* I’m so glad Barney’s Version got a nomination, if only for makeup, because then I made the effort for it in spite of the mixed reviews. I loved it. Loved. And I got a kick out of all the Canadian cameos. Now I need to read the book.

* Another Year was magnificent. At the center of it is that most unusual of things on film: a stable married couple, played beautifully by Jim Broadbent & Ruth Sheen. It’s a perfect small film, a year in the life, and would actually be a pretty great double feature with the sprawling biopic nature of Barney’s Version now that I think of it.

[SciFi and Fantasy Short Film Festival 2011]

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t made it out for the SciFi shorts since the very first year they did it, which is pretty appalling. This is their sixth year, running two feature-length sessions full of short films at the Cinerama, and combo tickets for the evening sold out ten days in advance. Hooray Seattle!

Aside from the films, it’s just a fun environment, the Cinerama full of nerds ready for four hours of film. Also, in an excellent show of knowing one’s audience, they put the hashtag for the festival in the program and streamed tweets on the screen in between sessions.

Shorts can be a really mixed bag, but the selection this year was pretty good. Of the 21 shorts, these were some of my favorites:

* “Denmark”, conceived as a music video for The Portland Cello Project, a charming puppetry piece about a crustacean who dreams of the stars. Viewable on YouTube.

* “All the Time in the World“, where Bill discovers a way to rewind time.

* “TUB”, about a man who accidentally impregnates his bathtub. Some people (with delicate sensibilities) complained to the programmers, but I thought it was great. The cast had perfect comic timing. Trailer (yes, a trailer for a short) over here. Probably NSFW.

* “Televisnu”, a woman working in a call center in India tries to fix her computer & falls into another world. Trailer here. In general, I appreciated the non-American films, and would like to see more of that.

Bonus: “The Necronomicon” ad & trailer for “Pok√©mon Apok√©lypse“.

Fiber art bonus: “Zero“.