[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!

[SIFF09, weekend one]

Apparently all the cool kids are Twittering SIFF reviews, but I hate Twitter with the fire of a thousand suns, so y’all will have to bear with me over here. (Also, I might have to unsubscribe from Publicola for the duration. Retweets are not blogging, you idiots, and they’re certainly not *politics*. Why no one can understand that if we wanted to read tweets we’d be on damned Twitter is beyond me.)

But anyway. I’ve had a slightly weird festival so far, having spent more hours volunteering than seeing movies, at least in the first two days. However, since I *have* seen movies, I am ahead of a lot of the festival staff, who tend to see the first five minutes of a feature and then have to go back to work.

My first movie of the festival was Sunset Boulevard, one of the unfortunately few revival screenings I am going to be able to make. I had never seen it before, which is ridiculous considering what a Wilder fan I am, but so it goes. I loved it, of course. It was part of a TCM festival-within-the-festival, and as such was introduced by Robert Osborne, which was nice. I am a sucker for that sort of thing, as only a girl raised on AMC by Nick Clooney can be.

Second up was my first Secret film ever, which I very much enjoyed. A fast-paced, snappily scripted start to the Secret fest. I’m looking forward to the rest. The big appeal for me is that it’s a film experience that’s impossible the rest of the year, where I know absolutely nothing about a film going into it. I read too much to have that in general, so it’s pretty cool to have it here.

Next was the first film I could actually vote on, Morris: A Life With Bells On. I was initially super annoyed about it, because I found out it was a mockumentary only after I bought my ticket. I, gigantic dork that I am, wanted an actual *documentary* on Morris dance, and if I had realized it earlier I probably wouldn’t have gone. Ah well. It worked out, as this is easily one of the best non-Guest mockumentaries I have seen, and starred quite a range of familiar UK faces, including the pinnacle, Sir Derek Jacobi, and others famous perhaps only to me (Ian Hart, Richard Lumsden who was the father in “Sugar Rush”, Dominique Pinon from City of Lost Children & Delicatessen). It was well-paced & very funny, and the Morris men in the audience were duly appreciative. So, good times.

Monday I was possibly the youngest person in the audience for Gotta Dance, which is unfortunate, as it was an utterly charming movie. If you want to be reductive, it’s Young@Heart but with dance, following the first senior dance team for the Nets. It deals with more body issues and yet fewer health ones than the chorus, which makes sense. I totally loved it, and it was one of those rare films where I realized that I never once wanted to check my watch.

I wound up the long weekend with a late showing of Warlords. If you like Hong Kong historical epics (and I do), then it’s definitely worth seeing. Unfortunately, it fell to the curse of the Egyptian, with botched sound at pretty much every reel switch. (The Egyptian is famous at the festival for … technical difficulties. The worst I remember was 3 Needles, where the first 10 minutes, all English voice-over, played without sound. At least Warlords was subtitled.) Anyway. Of the cast. I suppose you all just know Jet Li, but I was in it for Andy Lau & Takeshi Kaneshiro. Andy Lau is worth seeing in anything. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should rent Infernal Affairs, where he co-stars with my boyfriend Tony Leung.

And that is all for now! Let’s see if I can keep up like this for the rest of the festival. Heh.

[SIFF is coming! Look busy!]

I was doing so well for a while there, but I guess when I wasn’t seeing something every other day I forgot to keep this up. But SIFF is coming — the schedule is out next week! — so this is a good time to clean up this file.

* Putney Swope was another one of those 69 series movies I wouldn’t have seen if I didn’t have the full series pass, so I’m glad I did. It was interesting as a cultural artifact, and I did laugh, but I also spent a lot of time thinking “I see what you did there, but I’d be more interested if the writer-directer wasn’t white.” Maybe that’s just me.

* Sullivan’s Travels, however, was unquestionably great. It’s a meta-picture about the Hollywood system & the Depression (timely, that!), though I must admit a large part of why I wanted to see it is that the film Sully wants to make all through it? O Brother, Where Art Thou.

* The Class was fantastic, and yet another movie to make me Very Bitter that I speak about three words of French. You *know* that the subtitles left out about 90% of the material. It’s a year-in-a-classroom film based on the book by François Bégaudeau, who also plays a version of himself. The setting might make it easy to dismiss, but it’s not just Les Minds Dangereuses. I was particularly interested in the immigrant make-up of the class and the tensions that creates, and I loved how complex François was — he makes mistakes & decisions that could turn the audience against him. Finally, it’s interesting that the entire film takes place within the school, within the year. As an audience you experience the same frustration the staff does of only knowing a fraction of a student’s life.

* I haven’t seen Rear Window in years, so I was pleased about the opportunity to see it on the big screen in a full theater. It’s still a great movie. Obviously. And now I will use my icon of Kris Marshall in the Rear Window episode of “My Life in Film.”

In other news, due to total calendar reading fail, I missed Fellini’s Satyricon & The Damned. I am totally bitter about this, which is ridiculous in the grand scheme of things.

[Rest of February in film]

I’m about to dive into another run of movies this week, so let’s finish off Noir City, etc, before that happens and I get even more behind!

* Chicago Deadline suffered from the fact that I had had a very long day, but is worth checking out if only for Donna Reed as a fallen woman. Ace!

* While the City Sleeps was a great alcohol-soaked flick, with Vincent Price as the son of a deceased media magnate, manipulating all his employees to make the most of a serial killer story, and Dana Andrews as the ace reporter.

* The series finished off with Alias Nick Beal & Night Editor. The first was a Faust story, worth it for Ray Milland’s crazy eyes as well as breathtaking cinematography, particularly when Beal appears from and disappears into the fog. The second was unapologetically trashy, and required viewing for anyone who thinks that the Golden Age of Hollywood was a time of great moral purity.

* Back in the 21st century, we saw Coraline in 3D, and I am not sure if that helped or hurt my experience of it. Would I have felt more connected to the story if there wasn’t an extra layer of technology? Or was that extra zing to the visuals required? I do not know. I do know that I recommend seeing it in the theater, because it is beautiful, but I wonder if I would have liked it better in 2D.

* Medicine for Melancholy is a terrible title for a great movie. I had pretty much no interest in seeing it based on the title alone, but luckily elements of Seattle media (by which I mostly mean the Slog) went on and on about it, so I gave in. At this rate, I really should get a membership to the Northwest Film Forum in addition to my SIFF one.

But! The movie! It’s about a couple spending the day together after a one night stand. It’s also about San Francisco, and a few other things I won’t tell you. Just see it, if you have the opportunity. It’s funny and awkward and true, and a beautifully shot, desaturated, unromanticized view of the city. Plus, the soundtrack is awesome. And the director is cute. Hey, all of these things are important.

[Long weekend]

Friday Deadline USA & Scandal Sheet kicked off the third Noir City series down at SIFF Cinema. I preferred the first for its several great women, particularly the reporter, but the second is the closest to straight-up noir. Both made for an awesome start to the festival.

Saturday I was eaten by the Madrona Fiber Arts Festival & didn’t make it back to the city in time for any noir. Woe. (I watched a little Dexter season 2, which certainly has its elements of noir. Well-lit, neo-noir maybe.)

Sunday brought Ace in the Hole, which was easily one of the most cynical movies I have ever seen. It certainly lived up to its billing. If it were released today, the script could be essentially unchanged, except maybe tidying up the portrayal of Native Americans (though, really, that was very much another point criticizing the majority) and the addition of a Twitter hashtag for Leo. Very good, unsurprising as it’s Billy Wilder, but I don’t need to see it again any time soon.

If Cry of the Hunted, the B reel, were to be released today, it would instantly have a LiveJournal community and a ficathon, and I would be on the sidelines of fandom complaining about how there weren’t enough stories about the women. It was basically on crack, but a lot of fun.

Sunday night I took a little break from noir, crime, and the freezing SIFF Cinema. Wendy and Lucy was picked up by the Northwest Film Forum for a week after its original Seattle run ended, so taken were they with it. And deservedly so. Michelle Williams (a criminally underrated actress, in my opinion) plays Wendy, a woman traveling from Indiana to Alaska with her dog Lucy. We meet her in Oregon, where things start falling apart. Some people are helpful. Some people are assholes. It’s a beautiful slice-of-life film, heartbreaking & true. I need to put other work by the director in my Netflix queue now.

First up on Monday was The Big Clock, which was great. It’s a pretty traditional noir, with an innocent person getting caught up in someone else’s nefarious plot or sleazy circumstances. It was also the second film in this series with Sherman Potter Harry Morgan (ahaha IMDb pulls up “Dexter” stories on his page). He was a cigar-chomping photographer in Scandal Sheet, but here he was a heavy with no lines at all, which is interesting for an actor with such a distinctive voice. Anyway, The Big Clock is available on DVD and definitely worth a watch for Charles Laughton’s twitchy media mogul & Elsa Lanchester as a totally loopy artist.

It was followed by Strange Triangle, which I have nothing to say about at all. It was very formulaic and it’s been a long weekend. So be it.