Hot Coffee (SIFF 2011)

Do you remember hearing about that person who sued McDonald’s because their coffee was too hot? I […]

The Off Hours (SIFF 2011)

Francine works the night shift at a truckstop diner along a secluded highway in the Pacific Northwest. […]

Small Town Murder Songs (Siff 2011)

Small Town Murder Songs [ Canada (English), 2010, 75 minutes ]
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Principal Cast: Peter Stormare, Aaron Poole, Martha Plimpton, Jill Hennessy
See it: June 3, 5, 12 at SIFF

Walter is the seemingly mild-mannered police chief of a small town in Ontario, but he has a violent past. It seems that he has moved on and has embraced his baptism into Christianity, but his peaceful resolve is tested during the investigation into the murder of an unknown girl found on the outskirts of town. Although he is fueled by his determination to uncover the truth in the investigation, Walter finds himself repeatedly led more by his emotions than by his intellect. This is a trait that has impacted his relationships in the past, and threatens to continue to control him.

Old Goats (Siff 2011)

Old Goats [ USA (English), 2010, 94 minutes ]
Director: Taylor Guterson
Principal Cast: Britton Crosley, Bob Burkholder, David VanderWal, Benita Staadecker, Gail Shackel, Steve Stolee
See it: June 7, 10 at SIFF

Old Goats is a coming of age film about the lives of three retirees in a small town on the outskirts of Seattle. Bob, Britt, and David have lived completely different lives yet find that they all suffer from the same condition, retirement.  David is newly retired and still trying to find his way while David’s wife is set on moving to Palm Springs. Bob, the eldest of the group, is an active socialite who sings with the church choir, heads up the Oatmeal Club, frequently visits his girlfriend, and is working on writing his memoir. Britt has lived alone on his small boat for nearly 30 years and has plans for a big sailing trip, but lacks the skill (and bravado) that would be necessary for such a trip. Jealous of Bob’s girlfriend, Britt decides to try and find a woman of his own. This leads to a variety of new experiences with cell phones, the internet, and dating – all the while taking instruction and advice from Bob and David. The three lead actors couple their personalities with the fictional aspects of the movie plot resulting in a very real and refreshing look into the lives old friends and retirement.

The Yellow Sea (Siff 2011)

The Yellow Sea[ South Korea (Korean), 2010, 140 minutes ]
Director: Na Hong-jin
Principal Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yoon-suk
See it: June 10, 11 at SIFF

DISCLOSURE: Due to technical difficulties at a press screening, I saw this film without subtitles and I don’t understand Korean. I chose to stay and watch, but my review is based solely on what I was able to understand without ANY dialogue to help.

The Yellow Sea is an action-packed, South Korean movie that centers on a man drowning in gambling debts and desperately needing a way to pay off the mobsters who beat him each morning. He is offered a way to repay his debts in full and earn a little extra money; all he has to do is be smuggled across the Yellow Sea and assassinate a businessman. Of course, nothing can be that easy, and our main character finds himself beat to the punch by a couple of assassins who murder his target first. As luck would have it, he becomes the main police suspect and spends the rest of the film on the run from the both the law and mob hit men.

Burke & Hare (Siff 2011)

Burke & Hare [ UK (English), 2010, 91 minutes ]
Director: John Landis
Principal Cast: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Jessica Hynes
See it: June 4, 6, 11, 12 at SIFF

Burke & Hare is a comedy well-rooted in the style of traditional British dryness and absurdity, and it delivers the laughs well. Who but the British could pull comedic pearls out of a grave-robbing, corpse-delivering duo? Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis are a perfect pair of down-on-their-luck friends who happen into a new career of corpse-dealing when their elderly tenant dies of old age and they happen to hear about the local medical school needing corpses for the study of anatomy. Hilarity ensues as the duo attempt to find enough corpses to deliver on the demand, and they also begin living the highlife with their new-found income. Of course no scheme like this can last forever, and the ending seems fitting for the characters.

Por El Camino (Siff 2011)

Por El Camino [ Brazil (Spanish, English), 2010, 84 minutes ]
Director: Charly Braun
Principal Cast: Jill Mulleady, Esteban Feune de Colombi, Guilhermina Guinle
See it: June 9, 11 at SIFF

Santiago is a former Manhattan investment banker who is travelling back to Uruguay to claim a plot of land left to him by his parents. Juliette is a free-spirited Belgian trying to reunite with a commune leader she met while travelling in Costa Rica. The two find each other by chance and embark on a road trip to pursue these goals and try to find where they fit in the world. Along the way they stop at the home of Santi’s uncle, where they meet an array of people at various parties and get-togethers. Later they make their way to Juan’s commune and experience living off the grid. Ultimately they set out again, this time firmly together and ready for their next adventure.

On Tour – Siff 2011 Movie Review

em>On Tour [ France (French, English), 2010, 111 minutes ]
Director: Mathieu Amalric
Principal Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Julie Atlas Muz, Miranda ColclasureSee it: May 28, June 9, 11 at SIFF

This is the story of an American burlesque troupe taking a performing tour through France. The performers (all actual burlesque stars in real life) have come together to create a “New Burlesque” troupe and are responsible for the creative side of the tour – developing and performing their acts. Their manager, Joachim, is a washed-up French TV producer who left for America years ago, but is now returning with this touring show and hoping to reignite his career. The group tours small French towns, and even though Joachim runs into frustrations with venue changes and personal conflicts, he is able to keep the show moving along without much negative impact on the performers. This film drops the audience right into the backstage and off-stage life of the troupe, and it follows them quasi-documentary style during a portion of their travels. There’s no real beginning or ending, but the real aim is to provide a glimpse into a world far different from the norm, and in that way I think this film succeeds.

Sound of Noise – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Sound of Noise [ Sweden (Swedish), 2010, 102 minutes ]
Director: Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson
Principal Cast: Bengt Nilsson, Sanna Persson Halapi, Magnus Börjeson, Anders Vestergård, Fredrik Myhr
See it: June 5, 9, 11 at SIFF

Imagine a group of drummers set loose on a city, creating their beats not just on benches and trash cans, but in a hospital operating room (using ventilators and a patient!), along electrical wires, and using heavy machinery. Would the result be engaging rhythms or musical anarchy? This movie takes inspiration from the short film “Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers” (same directors) and expands it into a feature length movie by providing back stories for each the players and developing a police procedural plot that keeps the musicians on the move around the city with the police hot on their tails. This delightful comedy/drama/experimental musical defies categorization into the typical pigeonholes of most movies, and that’s part of the charm – this is one of my “must-sees” for SIFF 2011!

Lys – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Lys [ Germany (German), 2010, 52 minutes ]
Director: Krystof Zlatnik
Principal Cast: Hanna Schwamborn, Horst-Günter Marx, Marc Hosemann, Catherine Bode Ecki Hoffmann
See it: June 10, 11 at SIFF

Lys is a typical German teenager whose life is knocked dramatically off-course when she finds herself in the reactor room of the new power plant when it malfunctions. She doesn’t know why she is there, and though there is no proof, the scientists at the plant believe she had something to do with the malfunction. As Lys starts to discover strange new powers, she also has an unexplained urge drawing her back to the power plant, which continues to malfunction and cause city-wide blackouts. Is Lys the root cause of these problems or the solution the power plant scientists are searching for?

Lys – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Lys [ Germany (German), 2010, 52 minutes ]
Director: Krystof Zlatnik
Principal Cast: Hanna Schwamborn, Horst-Günter Marx, Marc Hosemann, Catherine Bode Ecki Hoffmann
See it: June 10, 11 at SIFF

The TERRA-Power Plant is offered as the answer to the world’s ever growing hunger for electricity. The plant taps into the raw energy of life (Anima) and can give unending power without negative repercussions, or so it was thought. An incident happens and the plant becomes unstable and in the reactor room they find Lys, a 15 year old girl who was coincidently born the same day the scientific discovery concerning Anima was made. Lys discovers that she is able to manipulate the Anima and the scientists in charge of the reactor hope that she can help stabilize the core before it destroys the city. Larger forces prove to be at work and Lys may have other motives.

Terri – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Terri [ USA (English), 2011, 105 minutes ]
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Principal Cast: Jacob Wysocki, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia, Bridger Zadina, John C. Reilly
See it: June 4, 5 at SIFF

Terri is somewhat of an outcast at his school – he is overweight and shy, and it doesn’t help that he has started wearing pajamas to school “because they just feel comfortable on me”. He lives with his ailing uncle, who is unable to provide much more than a roof over their heads and intermittent conversation during his more lucid moments. Terri is definitely a loner and seems unhappy, and his Vice Principal, Mr. Fitzgerald, attempts to intervene by setting up weekly meetings for the two of them to hang out and talk. These meetings provide Terri some comfort, but are also a source of anxiety and frustration as he discovers that he’s not the only student to be singled out for meetings with Fitz.

Mammuth – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Mammuth [ France (French), 2010, 92 minutes ]
Director: Gustave de Kervem, Benoît Delépine
Principal Cast: Gérard Depardieu, Yolande Moreau, Isabelle Adjani, Miss Ming
See it: June 3, 5 at SIFF

Mammuth is a slow-moving French film about Serge, a newly retired man on a countryside motorbike mission to collect documents that will allow him to receive his retirement benefit money. I will admit that I am not French, and perhaps if I were I would better understand how an aging citizen might not have his affairs in order to receive his retirement payments. But in my world of U.S. Social Security, where I get a yearly statement of my future benefits, it’s hard to understand how one could get all the way to retirement and then have to hunt down rogue documents in order to receive benefits. But I digress… the movie overall was disappointing because I felt like I never really got to know any of the characters very well – I needed a little more backstory or development to understand what drives them. Serge’s brief interactions with prior employers and fellow travellers provide some laughs (I did quite enjoy the scenes with Serge’s niece, a free-spirited artist) but also some confusion (what was with that scene with his “cousin”?). Overall, I felt that before I could have any empathy for Serge’s current life and predicaments, I needed a little more explanation in order to feel that connection.

Fuck My Life – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Fuck My Life [ Chile (Spanish), 2010, 94 minutes ]
Director: Nicolás López
Principal Cast: Ariel Levy, Lucy Cominetti, Andrea Velasco , Paz Bascuñan
See it: June 2, 4, 7 at SIFF

For starters, I think the title of this movie is a bit too harsh – sure Javier has some bad experiences throughout the year this movie covers, but for the most part his life seems to have the same ups and downs you’d expect for most people. He meets a girl and falls in love, then falls out of love and tries to embrace his single life while being unable to escape his ex. He also loses his job and has to sell his apartment – a bad year, to be sure, but not quite what I’d consider “F-word” worthy. This movie shines with it’s ability to keep bringing secondary characters back into contact with Javier – his mother, a policeman, his old ex-girlfriend, the bartender, etc – all with great laughs for the audience. The use of social media (Facebook, texting, digital pictures) is appropriate for the story line, but it felt a little forced at times. Also, the ending seemed contrived, like the writers were taking the easy way out without having laid the groundwork for the outcome to seem natural.

Letters From the Big Man – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Letters From the Big Man [ USA (English), 2011, 115 minutes ]
Director: Christopher Munch
Principal Cast: Lily Rabe, Jason Butler Harner, Isaac C. Singleton Jr., Jim Cody Williams, Karen Black
See it: June 2, 10, 11 at SIFF

Sarah (Lily Rabe) is a fiercely individualistic contract worker for the forest service and aspiring artist. Recovering from a failed relationship, she takes to the forest to rediscover herself and in the process comes into momentary contact with Sasquatch. Sasquatch begins courting a relationship with Sarah by leaving messages of artistically arranged feathers and rocks on the trails and by comforting Sarah with “telepathic” sound waves and inspiring her dreams. Sarah also has another man competing for attention and he’s not nearly as cool.

The Names of Love – Siff 2011 Movie Review

The Names of Love [ France (French), 2010, 102 minutes ]
Director: Michel Leclerc
Principal Cast: Jacques Gamblin, Sara Forestier, Zinedine Soualem, Carole Franck, Jacques Boudet, Michèle Moretti, Yann Goven
See it: May 31, June 3 at SIFF

This sweet, French comedy tackles issues of race and politics in an amazingly effective lighthearted way. Baya is young woman of Algerian and French heritage who has made it her mission to convert politically right-wing sympathizers over to her leftist beliefs. She seduces men into her bed, then plants her political ideals through phrases she whispers while they are making love. She is proud of this “work” and keeps a journal of all the men she has been able to redeem with her unique methods. She is free with her love and her opinions, and fiercely loyal to her family. One day she meets Arthur, a conservative and level-headed scientist with a French-Jewish background. Though he is not right-wing, Baya makes an exception and takes Arthur to bed. Thus begins a beautiful and quirky relationship that we are able to watch as it unfolds. The film is punctuated by narrative from Arthur and Baya’s younger selves, and we learn more about their backgrounds and how being a “half-breed” affected each of them as they grew up.

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same [ USA (English), 2011, 76 minutes ]
Director: Madeleine Olne
Principal Cast: Lisa Haas, Susan Ziegler, Jackie Monahan, Cynthia Kaplan, Dennis Davis, Alex Karpovsky, Rae C Wright
See it: May 28, 29 at SIFF

This is a campy, kitschy, B-movie with all the right pieces. Jane is a lonely stationery store clerk who is looking for love but is too shy to open a conversation with anyone. Enter Zoinx, an alien from the planet Zotz who has been sent to Earth to have her heart broken in order to disrupt the viscous cycle of “big feelings” that seems to be destroying the ozone on her planet. Zoinx appears at Jane’s store and purchases a “love card”, which she immediately give to Jane. This leads to coffee, movies, and dancing as their relationship grows. Two other aliens accompanied Zoinx to Earth, and they find they are better suited for each other than any Earthlings they’ve come across. With comedic low-tech effects and witty dialogue, this movie is sure to entertain!

Vampire – Siff 2011 Movie Review

Vampire [ Canada (Canadian), 2011, 119 minutes ]
Director: Iwai Shunji
Principal Cast: Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Leigh Cook, Kristin Kreuk
See it: June 1, 2, 5 at SIFF

Vampire takes a slow, depressing, somewhat confusing, and ultimately disappointing look into the life of Simon: a young, unassuming high school science teacher who has an unexplained desire to drink human blood. Simon is not a vampire, but he is saddled with that moniker as more of his “victims” are found dead and drained of their blood. In reality, Simon meets these girls on “Side by Cide”, a website where suicidal individuals meet up to plan their deaths together.  Here Simon finds girls who want to die, and he has a warped sense that he is helping them by providing an easy painless death by draining their blood.  Simon has no intent on following through with any of these suicide pacts, and once his “partner” is dead, he gets to reap the rewards.  We never learn why Simon wants to collect (and sometimes drink) human blood, and that makes it difficult to decide whether to loathe or pity him.