[Arboring Film at Northwest Film Forum]

As a part of their 15th anniversary celebration, last week the Northwest Film Forum ran the Arboring Film series. For $15 I could buy a pass for a week of films that had their roots, as it were, in support provided by the Film Forum. I only made it to six of the fifteen features, but it was very much worth my time.

* Off Your Rocker was described as “rough around the edges” in the series program guide, and here’s the thing. If the Film Forum is describing it that way, it must be *seriously* rough. And it was. A pseudo documentary about an underground club serving as a sort of Make-a-Wish organization for the elderly, it was a fantastic concept limited by a lot of elements in its execution. I’d love to see someone with more resources have a go at a remake, but all the same, the senior stunts that actually appeared in the film — the high speed chase & the go-cart racing — made it worth my time.

* It was followed by Naked Proof, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s an unconventional little story about a PhD candidate with an overdue dissertation and a sudden and strange responsibility for an unknown pregnant woman. The narrator is played by writer August Wilson, in what is probably his only film appearance, and appearances by locals Matt Smith & Charles Mudede make this a clearly Seattle production. Also, scenes in the Lemieux library made me desperately miss some aspects of undergrad. Who knew?

* I’m a sucker for any documentary about a subculture, and though it’s a common subgenre now, Bingo was one of the first. It’s directed by the writer/director behind Outsourced (which is now apparently a sitcom, because the world is very strange), is fun to watch, and does exactly what it says on the tin.

* First Aid for Choking is a feature set in Moscow, Idaho, following the lead’s attempts to either get out of town or at least put her past behind her, neither of which is a simple task with small town ties reeling you back in.

* Brand Upon the Brain is the main reason I bought a pass in the first place. Guy Maddin on the big screen is a must-see, and if you’re going to pay for one film, you might as well get a pass & stretch yourself a bit. That’s my thinking, anyway. It turned out to be one of Maddin’s more accessible features, and of course another mythic story of his childhood. This time, his parents ran a “mom and pop orphanage” in a lighthouse on an island. Like you do. There’s a mystery! Teen detectives! Mad scientists! Lots and lots of references to Twelfth Night, which I am a sucker for. Good times! Someday I’ll actually see a Maddin film with Maddin narrating. And then I will just keel over, dead of awesome. Also, it’s notable that it was a Seattle film, because most (all?) of Maddin’s other work happens in Winnipeg.

* We Go Way Back was the final film of the series. I was a little unsure of it going in, as I am the only person in Seattle who hated Humpday, but I was pleasantly surprised. I think it’s IMDb rating is really unfair. It’s a gentle story of a 23 year old taking a closer look at where her life is going, and what her 13 year old self would have thought of it. At 23 she’s an actress, and the film is set against a production of Hedda Gabler, perfect in local theater awfulness.

The only film I missed that I really wanted to see was Police Beat, but it was showing the same night & time as The Apartment over at the Metro Classics series, and I am only human. Still, it’s most awesome to live in a town where a difficult decision like that even has to be made.

[DVD time]

I reactivated my Netflix account for a month, so let’s take the opportunity to talk about a few things that are out on dvd.

* I put The Station Agent on hold at the library after I saw Wendy and Lucy. I do not know why I don’t own it. It’s a stellar small film, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Which reminds me, you should also see The Visitor. I didn’t post about it at the time because I didn’t see it in the theater, but it’s excellent.

* I really don’t think that Bon Cop Bad Cop played at SIFF, which is unfortunate, because seeing it on the big screen would have been particularly awesome. For all of you who think I don’t recommend enough films where things blow up, this one is for you. There are some subtitles, though, because one of the cops is from Toronto but the other is from Montreal. You’ll just have to deal.

* Rachel Getting Married is one of those films that had me whispering to myself every so often, “This is such a *good* movie”. It has some flaws, but I do not care, because it is stunningly acted & full of beautiful, heartbreaking moments. Anne Hathaway is grand as promised, but the supporting cast does marvelous work as well.

Other things I saw: Vicky Cristina Barcelona* (Penelope is, of course, fabulous, but I found the characters terribly irritating, and don’t get me started on the voice over), Role Models (a few entertaining moments, but essentially is further proof that I only love stupid comedy if Seth Rogen is involved), and Cadillac Records (a solid music-business flick with a fantastic cast. Does exactly what it says on the tin).

* I am still a Woody Allen fan, though probably the last film of his I enjoyed was Sweet and Lowdown and the last one I loved was Everyone Says I Love You. They’re showing Take the Money and Run this spring in the 69 series, and I can’t wait.

[DVD highlights (and a lowlight)]

* Lars and the Real Girl. I queued this mostly because Patricia Clarkson & Emily Mortimer are basically always worth watching, and I was curious what drew them to the project. I still don’t know. It required suspension of disbelief that eluded me, and I am, honestly, a pretty credulous viewer. In this case I was constantly irritated by the things I was supposed to believe and the questions I wasn’t supposed to ask… or at least the questions the filmmakers weren’t going to bother to answer. Skip it.

* Night on Earth was a surprise arrival when Netflix decided to pass up the five ‘available now’ discs ahead of it. Which is fine, because it’s a great movie that I should have seen a long time ago. It’s totally my sort of movie, being basically five vignettes of cab rides all starting at the same moment around the (Western) world. Stick with it past Winona Ryder’s overacted LA segment for New York & Helsinki in particular.

* When I was on the east coast, friends made me watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. And I laughed. A lot. I feel compelled to admit this to you, the Letterboxed reading audience. Judge me if you must.

* I missed Heavy Metal in Baghdad at the film festival, but that was okay because it just came out on DVD. It tracks Iraq’s only heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. (There’s a heavy metal scene, but holding a band together, as you’ll see in the doc, is nigh on impossible.) It’s about living in Iraq, about being a refugee, about wishing you were home and that home is what it used to be. And it’s about metal. Rock on.

* Grace Is Gone is, so far as I can tell, the first decent movie John Cusack’s been in since High Fidelity. He’s the husband of a soldier killed in Iraq, and the film follows his initial grief as he tries to figure out how to tell their daughters what has happened. It’s a little unavoidably sentimental, but I also bought it enough to tear up a bit, so there you go.

* In preparation for seeing Ann Savage in My Winnipeg next week, I picked up Detour. It was really a terrible transfer, but the movie itself is classic noir — an average Joe getting caught up in a web of troubles to put it lightly — and she’s the ultimate femme fatale, hard and manipulative. Good times!

* While I was at it, I got Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, which is an essentially silent film. It’s funny and weird (v weird) and includes hockey and a wax museum, which is pretty much win so far as I am concerned. I have to get it out again at a later date so I can watch it with Maddin’s commentary. Delicious!

[DVD through March]

* First off, did I forget to post about For the Bible Tells Me So? I am thinking I did! Fail. Every year at the film festival there are movies I hear about in line, but never manage to see. For the Bible Tells Me So was 07’s, and now I understand why. I’ve seen a lot of queer-themed documentaries, and even a few others on gays-and-religion, but this one was easily the best. American-focused, of course.

* On a recommendation from a friend, I queued Shackleton, the story of the 1914 trip of the Endurance to the South Pole. Beautifully filmed & acted. It is long, yes, but I thought it was well-paced. I have to admit I was particularly taken with all the scenes including the men singing, showing how they passed the time at sea. Also, I have to give a shout-out to Matt Day who played the photographer Frank Hurley. He’s in one of my favorite comfort movies, the criminally underrated Love and Other Catastrophes (which seriously needs to come out on DVD soon, before my VHS wears out.) Oh! It was also neat to see it after going to the Maritime Museum in Greenwich this summer — they have the replica of the James Caird used in the film.

* The Lion in Winter was utterly delicious. I’m just sorry that there wasn’t a revival of it to pair with last winter’s big screen adventure with Becket.

* Kiss of Death was in my queue already after Noir City, but I bumped it to the top after the death of Richard Widmark in late March. It’s a solid enough noir on its own, but (as everyone knows) it’s Widmark’s portrayal of the villain Tommy Udo that makes it particularly worth seeing.

* The week after Widmark passed, his Night and the City director Jules Dassin died, so Rififi moved on up the queue. I wrote a bit about Dassin on the ephemeral blog already, but in between the two films, he was blacklisted, which is why Rififi was filmed in France. It’s *the* classic heist film, worth seeing for lots of things, but in particular for the heist itself, something like a half hour with no dialogue but an excellent score. Um. No pun intended. This is not a hijinks sort of heist movie. It’s very dark.

* The Best of Youth was a six hour Italian film, originally aired on television in four parts, and then as an edited version in the theater. I am a total sucker for any sort of epic family history piece, and this was beautiful and satisfying. Also, I might now have a bit of a crush on Luigi Lo Cascio.

* Toy Story, I realize, is sort of a random selection, but I’m in a group on Ravelry that’s working through the AFI Top 100. I actually hadn’t seen it in years, possibly not since shortly after it came out on video, and I was surprised to see how well it stands up. The animation is still strong (my favorite bits being the details like scuff marks at the bottom of doors), the story has a lot of great stuff going on, and probably the use of classic toys helps it feel all the more timeless. But the thing I noticed most about it this time around is that Andy’s is a single parent household. His mom cares for him & his sister, maintains a gorgeous home, plans his birthday and the family move, and there’s never a mention of a father. So cool!

[Alejandro González Iñárritu]

So, Babel was coming out, but I felt that I should watch Iñárritu’s previous feature two films. Possibly because I am a crazy person. First up was Amores Perros, which is a gritty and violent film about love, told in 3 interrelated stories (a hallmark of Iñárritu).

Next came 21 Grams, which I think is my favorite of the bunch. From my impression of the marketing I had expected it to be a much more spiritual/religious film than it really was. It’s much twistier than the other two, but certainly compelling, so I had no trouble following it.

Finally, Babel was an intense and devastating film, one of those pieces that makes you wonder why anyone attempts to communicate at all, since it is so clearly doomed to failure.

(In looking up Iñárritu, by the way, I also discovered that he directed one of the most memorable segments of 11’09″01, a collection of shorts very much worth watching.)