Category Archives: SIFF 2005

Reviews and information about the Seattle International Film Festival (2005)

Fun Stuff I’ll Be Doing Soon

I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of an events calendar/database for stuff like upcoming concerts, talks, CD/DVD releases, etc. that are of particular interest to me. So far I haven’t found a solution I like (so I may just write something on my own), so in the meantime I’ll just do a normal post. (That is why, as you may have noticed, there is an “Events” header on the right with nothing under it.)

I guess I share this stuff since I figure it’s probably of interest to a few more people than just me, plus if it’s something like a concert or whatever maybe more people can join in the fun, yeah?

Month Day Exciting Thing
April 19-23 In the Mood for Love at Central Cinema
April 25 Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children DVD release (sort of a “part two” to the FF7 video game — one of my all-time favorites)
April 26 Ladytron in concert at Neumos (buy tickets)
April 28-29 Coachella in California (I’ll blog about this more as it approaches and after the show)
May 9 Just Like the Fambly Cat by Grandaddy (their last album… sadness…)
May 9 Queer as Folk season 5 (the final season)
May 9 The West Wing season 6
May 11 SIFF 2006 lineup announced
May 11 Goldfrapp at The Showbox (buy tickets)

Also, as for things that have happened recently that are worth looking into: Knots Landing season 1 on DVD, Placebo’s latest album Meds, Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale (believe the hype about this one — it’s the best hip-hop I’ve heard since Kanye West’s first album), Gorillaz’s Demon Days Live in Manchester DVD, and the high school noir (done in a totally serious way) Brick.

SIFF Stats

My SIFF Tickets
Well, SIFF is over. It’s sad. My movie-watching will now return back to Netflix. I realized that I really do like watching in the privacy of my own home (without tall people’s heads infront of me, the stink of popcorn, uncomfortable temperatures, etc.). Nonetheless, I’m totally glad I did SIFF and I intend to continue seeing SIFF movies as long as I live in Seattle.

As for the Secret Festival, I’m not sure whether I’ll do it again next year. I only liked one of the four movies. I think the philosophy behind choosing the movies wasn’t quite what I expected. Maybe that varies year-to-year — I can’t say. We’ll see what I impulsively decide next year.

Throughout the festival I kept some “statistics” on random things. To conclude my SIFF coverage for the year, I share:

  • Total money spent on tickets:
  • Total time spent standing in line:
    155 minutes = 2 hours 35 minutes
  • Total movies seen:
  • Languages:
    Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, English, Swedish, French
  • Movies with subtitles:
  • Movies canceled:
  • Movies about movies:
  • Times the director was in the audience:
  • Total voting points given:
  • Average points given:
  • Times the woman with orange/red hair stood behind me:
  • Times people left the audience in disgust:
  • Movies with Maggie Cheung in the cast:
  • Movies with Don McKellar in the cast:
  • My favorite movie:
  • My favorite movie that wasn’t a Wong Kar-Wai movie:
    Mysterious Skin
  • My favorite movie that stood a chance against a WKW movie (i.e. 2046) and a movie by one of my favorite directors with one of my favorite actors (i.e. Mysterious Skin):
  • My favorite movie that didn’t stand a chance against the aforementioned movies because it was a comedy (and I’m not a big fan of comedy, but this movie was awesome anyway):
    Ellie Parker
  • Fat people who blocked my view:
  • Movies seen at the Egyptian Theatre:
  • Movies seen at the Neptune Theatre:
  • Movies seen at the Harvard Exit Theatre:
  • My favorite theatre:
    The Egyptian
  • Movies I went to see alone:

Review: Frozen

Frozen was a bit of a disappointment, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.

I think this movie may be better the second or third time around because it’s one of those movies where, at the end, everything comes together and you have somewhat of an “ah-ha” moment. In those types of movies, however, there has to be more than the “ah-ha” moment to keep things interesting. In Frozen there was nothing. I actually considered leaving the movie a few times it was so boring. There was little or no music to keep me engaged nor where the characters all that interesting nor were there any interesting camera tricks or beautiful shots to keep me wanting to find out what happened.

In a nutshell, the movie is about a woman, Kath, whose sister disappeared two years ago. She’s been trying to deal with the loss of her sister ever since. She has a boring job as a fish filleter (or something) with not-so-interesting coworkers — though she did sleep with one of the men at some point and when he wants to get wtih her again she bites him. Her “therapist” is a pastor or something at a church with an invalid wife. Her and the pastor sort of fall in love.

She talks to the police and ends up getting her hands on some of the evidence tied to the case — most notably, a security tape from an alleyway where her sister was last seen. At one point she finds a “magnetic disturbance” (I forget the exact explanation) in the tape that gets her all excited. She also experiences daydreams that, along with the strange tape, lead us to believe (or lead me, at least, to believe) that there is something supernatural going on maybe?

There is a bit of a payoff at the end, but, like I said, the rest of the movie doesn’t make it worthwhile. I think the voting was over, or I didn’t get a ballot, but I would give this movie 2/5 if I could.

Review: Ellie Parker

Naomi Watts in Ellie Parker
“It’s no secret” that Naomi Watts is my favorite actress — and that is what made Ellie Parker such a great film for me. This movie had her doing a range of acting and also gave her a chance to, I would image, have a lot of fun.

The director, Scott Coffey, was in the audience and spoke after, so I learned that the movie was filmed over the course of five years. Watts and Coffey apparently became friends when they were both acting in Tank Girl. Around the time Mulholland Drive was finishing (another movie they were both in — Coffey playing a very minor part, Watts, of course, being one of the main characters) they started working on Ellie Parker. The film started out as a short film that they were going to use as an “audition piece” (not sure about the correct terminology here?) in order to get money for a totally different film. It turns out, however, that they were so pleased with how the short turned out, that they decided to expand it into a full-length feature.

Given Watts’ raising popularity and commitments to other films, they had to work on the film in short pieces (something the director said he would never suggest doing to aspiring film makers). She didn’t get paid to be in the film (the whole thing cost only $500 to make, Coffey said) and as the years went by the “Naomi Watts circus” (i.e. her “people”) were rather perplexed in regard to her dedication to Ellie Parker and not quite sure why she’d spend time on a film that she didn’t get paid for when she had other projects to focus on.

So based on the way Coffey explained it, this sounded like one of those films that Hollywood-types get together and make for fun (not for profit) and have a great time making. Based on my viewing of the film, this seems pretty accurate.

The first half-hour or so features Watts going to two auditions. In the first one she is trying for the part of a southern belle. After her first attempt — subtle and heartfelt — the director informs her “this is going to be filmed on digital, so it has to be raw.” Her next attempt is over the top emotional — and hilarious. In between the first and second auditions we see Watts driving along some Los Angeles highway. The second audition is for some junkie prostitute-type role, so she has to totally change her image — put on different clothes, apply tacky lipstick, mess up her hair, etc. She does all of this while driving — and while listening to great songs such as “Safari” by the Breeders (which I’ve always thought is one of the best Breeders’ songs), “Heart of Glass” by Blondie, and some techno song I cannot remember the name of (to which Watts sorta dances in her car). The whole thing is great, and she actually did do all of that stuff while driving (while Coffey kneeled down in the passenger seat to tape it). The second audition is, awkwardly, done in front of a video camera since the director is in Vancouver. Watts uses a Brooklyn accent and, again, the whole thing is totally funny.

The rest of the movie is basic Hollywood insider stuff. Her boyfriend is a stoner musician who cheats on her. Her friend makes abstract art that she couldn’t understand. She falls for the guy who rear-ends her. She eats blue ice cream and vomits it up later. She attends a very bizarre “acting class” where she learns to channel her life experiences into roles. She goes to a Dogstar concert (Keanu Reeves‘ band). She informs us that therapist = the rapist (if you just add a space). She “retires” from acting. She destroys her tapes. She retires from retirement. She goes to the most insane audition ever.

The movie is great. It is totally hilarious and demonstrates the range of roles Watts can play — though in a very self-conscious and self-aware, in a funny way, way. I found myself laughing at this movie so much, and I can only imagine that if I lived in Los Angeles or worked “in the industry” the movie would be even funnier.

I gave this movie 5/5 because it was so damn funny and so damn postmodern and so damn Naomi Watts-centric. The movie is going to be released to theatres around the same time that King Kong comes out. Coffey noted that Watts would simultaneously be in the most expensive movie ever made and the cheapest movie ever made.

Review: Clean

Maggie Cheung in Clean
Of all the movies so far that have stood a chance of being called “The Best SIFF Movie So Far” (I don’t think that 2046 or Mysterious Skin should be up for that title since they are sort of in a league of their own — being objects of my obsession and all…), Clean would easily win hands-down. This movie was excellent: great acting, great music, great cameos, great story.

To briefly summarize the movie: Maggie Cheung plays Emily. At the beginning of the movie, Emily is with her boyfriend Lee. They are rockers. Lee is an aging rocker, but they are rockers nonetheless. They are also heroin addicts. After a fight, Emily leaves a motel room they are staying in to shoot up alone. When she returns the next morning, she finds the police at the motel because Lee has died of an overdose. She spends six months in rehab and then tries to deal with entering the real world sober. It also turns out that Emily and Lee have a son, Jay, who has been left in the care of Lee’s parents (Lee’s father, Albrecht, is played by Nick Nolte), who live in Vancouver. Albrecht meets with Emily and tells her that until she gets her life back together, he doesn’t think she should see Jay — the kid needs stability, etc. in his life. So once out of jail, Emily spends most of the movie trying to get her life back in order so she can be back with her son. Things go pretty well (she first has a job as a waitress, which doesn’t work out, but she does ultimately end up working at a department store, apparently) and she convinces Albrecht to see Jay. Their meeting, which has a rough start, ends up pretty okay. At the end of the movie, Albrecht agrees to let Emily take care of Jay and Emily goes off to record an album with a woman she met while in prison.

Okay, so that synopsis doesn’t get to the emotional value of the movie, but trust me: it’s great.

I have seen some interviews where Cheung mentions that this role was a difficult (from her acceptance speech at Cannes 04 (where she won best actress for the role): “It was difficult to play but not the most difficult, technically speaking. It was difficult because it was painful”) role for her, and she pulled it off tremendously. No surprise here that she won best actress. I also saw somewhere that is somewhat of a “break-through” role for her in the West, since prior to Clean she had been cast in non-Asian movies as a stereotypically beautiful, quiet Asian woman, and this role really gave her a chance to break from the mold.

As for Nolte, I have to say: he impresses me. I’ve really only seem him previously in Lorenzo’s Oil, U-Turn, and Affliction. Affliction is definitely one of the movies that has stayed with me ever since I saw it, and although I don’t think about it often, I would easily say is one of my favorite movies. He has an uncanny ability to play that raw, emotional, weak-but-gruff character and he does a great job as Albrecht — reluctant to trust Emily, but at the same time all-too-aware that her son is all she has left and that the two of them need each other.

Music is, obviously, a central theme of this movie since Emily was a rocker. A lot of the songs were very shoegazer and ambient -like… and that would make since because David Roback of Mazzy Star was involved with the movie (see the cameos below). The cloudy, atmospheric music definitely helped shape the mood of the film. It’s all-too-easy to include lots of pop-type songs in a drug movie soundtrack (see: Trainspotting, Casino, etc.), but I think the subtly of the music in Clean made it all the more powerful.

One scene, in particular, that I loved was when Emily was playing pool with a friend. She had recorded a demo tape while in prison and wanted her friend to check it out. The friend put on a pair of headphones and listened to the song while playing pool. While she was listening, the soundtrack for the song was turned way up, but you could still sort of hear the background noise — much like really listening to music on headphones.

The film also had some great cameo appearances. I am always delighted to see Tricky in movies. I’ve previously seen him in The Fifth Element, though that was a “character” role. In Clean he played himself — and he apparently talked to Albrecht often and was friends with Lee. Emily tried getting him to talk to Albrecht about seeing her son at one point, but Tricky was being somewhat of an asshole and wouldn’t help her. It was great. The other cameo appearance was David Roback (as mentioned above). He was one of the pivotal members of Mazzy Star, and probably did more than anyone to establish their wall-of-guitar sound. In Clean he plays himself as a record producer who works with Emily at the end of the film. The song the two of them create (which Cheung performs) at the end, “Down in the Light,” was hauntingly wonderful, and made me wish that the two would collaborate on an entire album. We can wish, at least.

Two more things of note:

First, the film made great use of oners (long, continuous shots). I specifically remember one that must have lasted about two or three minutes (which is considered long in film — especially nowadays when shots are so quick) when Emily was working in the restaurant. The camera followed her from a table down some stairs to the bathroom to outside where she smoked and back into the restaurant. It was lovely.

Second, when Jay tells Emily that he hates her because she killed her father and that people who use drugs are bad, weak, etc. Emily responds with something to the effect of: your father was in a lot of pain, drugs helped him, he was brilliant, drugs are fun sometimes, your father and I had lots of fun with drugs, but we paid the price, what they tell you about drugs (they are bad, for weak people, etc.) doesn’t address how complicated they are. It was probably one of the best realistic, anti-drug speeches I’ve heard.

In case my introduction didn’t make it apparent, I gave this movie 5/5. I hope it gets a wider U.S. release, as I really think it deserves wider exposure.

Review: L’Amant

So far I’ve been mostly happy with the film I’ve seen as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. Not all of them have been 5s, but I’m still glad I spent my money seeing them.

That changed last night when I saw L’Amant, a Japanese film about a girl who is purchased by three men (two infertile, one impotent) to be thier personal sex slave for a year.

I had hoped that the movie might be edgy or controversial in the same vein of Lies or Audition or even A Hole in My Heart (from the night before). Not so, with L’Amant.

The film is just about how these three older men oogle over their sex slave. Along the way, a girl befriends her because she is jealous of her hickey. Then that girl’s younger brother seems to fall for her. Then the girl is raped by some other (younger) guy and she gets pregnant, so the other girl’s younger brother tries to help her… but her “owners” are upset she had sex with somene else (and we never really finds out — can she perform an abortion by “touching her womb”??). In the end, of course, the girl ends up loving the three men who bought her (or something like love — she doesn’t hate them, that’s for sure). Like I said, pretty lame.

I gave the film 2/5 stars.

Review: A Hole in My Heart

Tess in A Hole in My Heart
What is it about a “film” that can distinguish it from “pornography”? What is the difference between acting and exploiting? After seeing A Hole in My Heart, I’ve been doing some serious thinking about these ideas.

When he introduced the film, the SIFF guy made a comment like, “It’s always nice to see an audience challenged.” This movie certainly challenged its audience. I wonder what it is about filmgoers that makes us want to be challenged in such ways. There is no complex way of putting this: A Hole in My Heart was gross and disturbing… but I liked it.

The movie sort of reminded me of Lies. The most basic explanation of the movie is, like Lies, people become consumed with their sexuality and feel the need to push the limits in order to achieve more interesting pleasure.

A Hole in My Heart follows four people: Rickard, Eric, Tess, and Geko. Rickard creates/films porno films staring Tess and Geko (sometimes he participates). Eric is Rickard’s shut-in, gothic son who basically spends the entire movie in his room.

There isn’t too much of a plot with this film. It’s more like a series of episodic moments. For example, I thought the climax of the movie might have been when Geko complains about the smell of Tess’ pussy (behind her back — which is what pisses her off) and Tess packs her things and storms off. I figure Rickard and Geko will be forced to come to terms with their behavior and somehow change. Nope. Instead, Rickard and Geko turn their abuse to Eric (forcing him to shoot airguns — at the tits and pussy of a poster of a naked woman). Tess returns shortly thereafter (with food!!) and the insanity continues.

The movie is extremely claustrophobic. Basically everything happens within the confines of the apartment. The two or three scenes that don’t happen in the apartment feel really strange.

The camerawork is very experimental/artistic. Many of the scenes (especially those taped during the taping of a porno) are very shaky and handheld. Digital perhaps? The decision makes sense, of course, since it captures the really raw aspect of what happens. There are also some scenes shot with a night vision camera (green skin, beady eyes a la Paris Hilton included!) that feel like some sort of confession. Another interesting camera technique to note is the selective blurring. Like a reality show, brand names and whatnot are often blurred… but there are also a few scenes when the peoples faces (both strangers and the main characters) are blurred as well. This is very unsettling and it seems rather profound, so I wanted to mention it.

The best (technically) aspect of the film is the sound design. The movie, obviously, is pretty uncomfortable. The sound really reinforces this with loud screeching noises a la David Lynch’s Lost Highway. There is also lots of feedback and distortion -type noises throughout the film. It also seems that the “music” Eric listens to is nothing but abstract, noisy soundscapes. More than a few times I could’ve sworn that the noises were sampled from Primal Scream’s XTRMTR album, in fact.

As for the taboos this film addresses, there are plenty: pubic hair shaving, overweight and hairy men having sex, vomit, piss, threesomes, rape scenes/gangbangs, latent homosexuality, incest, body odors, and on and on. There is also some underlying theme dealing with bodily modification and there are quite a few cut-ins of random surgeries that are really interesting — they look so visceral and gross. It’s weird.

A final aspect I need to mention is the anti-misogyny of the film. Rickard and Geko are obviously misogynist and treat Tess horribly. There is a “pseudo”-rape scene that is brutal to watch. Basically Rickard and Geko decide to “rape” Tess without letting her know. It’s the most difficult part of the film, I think, and it’s obvious that the filmmaker is trying to show the evilness of men. Likewise, there is a particularly memorable scene where Eric makes a statement to the effect of:

What do the sickest people, rapists, and people who start wars all have in common? They are all men.

I have to say, I agree, and I wonder if that is maybe one of the larger themes of the film?

Overall, I gave this movie 3/5. I wanted to give it a 4, but in the end it felt more like a shocking-for-shocks-sake art film. I wasn’t quite sure what the director was trying to say. If he just wanted me to think things over, then I guess he succeeded, but I’m guessing there was more going on — it was just too oblique for me to know.

Review: Mysterious Skin

Neil in Mysterious Skin
The film was great. It definitely ranks up there with some of the best book-to-film adaptations ever. The acting was superb. The music was haunting. And the message was preserved.

I’ve always thought that The Virgin Suicides was the best book-to-film adaptation ever. The light, ethereal cinematography combined with the amazingly ambient score by the French band Air really enhanced the content of the book, elevating the film version to something greater than just a stand-alone movie. I also thought that Requiem for a Dream surpassed the novel (which was rather difficult to get through due to its lack of punctuation, etc.), not only because it made the material more accessible, but also because the jerky and oftentimes experimental filming style really captured the feelings of the characters and their situations. Most of the time, I’ve noticed, when I enjoy a movie better than a book (or think the movie is as good as the book), it is because the filmmaker did something unique to express an idea in the book that can be done better visually.

Surprisingly, that was not the case with Mysterious Skin. The movie is pretty much a one-to-one adaptation of the book. Some of the major differences/exclusions I noticed:

  • During the Halloween part (when they were eight years old), as Brian is entering the haunted house, him and Neil make eye contact.
  • In the movie, Neil doesn’t discover the Playgirl magazines stashed under his mom’s bed.
  • The movie doesn’t explain that Brian’s dad leaves the family and divorces his mom.
  • The book has a scene before Brian and Mrs. Lackey watch the World of Mystery television show where they go fishing — I thought it was cool to see them bond.
  • The scene where Neil, Neil’s mom, and Eric go to the white trash diner and then the nature reserve (where they eat cheese and drink wine) was removed.
  • Neil gets a got at “Subz” in the film and it is after leaving there that he meets the guy who rapes him. In the book, the guy is waiting outside of the hustler bar (one of the “cheap ones” who doesn’t go in the bar but waits for the hustlers who can’t get business that night).
  • In the book, Neil sort of makes a friend at the hustler bar.
  • In the book, after being raped, Neil makes a comment about never wanting to touch his ass again — I thought this was really significant, but I can see how it would be tough to translate into film.

Despite that (somewhat?) long list, the movie really was extremely faithful to the book. In a Q&A after the film, Gregg Araki explained that ever since reading the novel, he has always wanted to basically translate it to the screen. I think his careful adaptation preserves the importance and delicate subject matter of the book without adding the director’s own flashy trademarks. As someone who just finished reading the book a few days ago, I was very pleased.

As for the acting, of course, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil (the gay one who is a hustler) was great — and he had the perfect body for the part (dark hair, dark eyes, waif-thin, etc.). What blew me away most was the acting of Chase Ellison who played Neil at age eight. The kid totally had me convinced that he was a horny and somewhat manipulative (not to mention confused and rather messed-up/abused).

One of the things Araki discussed at the Q&A was the fact that it was very important to him and the crew that the young actors were “shielded” from the content of the film. I am guessing that this meant that the young actors basically didn’t know what they were doing — they were just acting however the director told them to act (“look sad”, “look shocked”, “look uncomfortable”, etc.). Araki said that with young actors, you don’t really tell them about their character by giving them back story or explain what is going through that characters head — instead, you just tell the kid actor exactly what to do, and that’s what they do. I thought this, while pretty intuitive, was interesting and seeing how well it worked in Mysterious Skin is really, I think, a testament to how skilled Araki is as a director.

My only qualm about the acting/characters is that we didn’t see much Elisabeth Shue. Granted, her part in the book wasn’t much bigger, but I would’ve loved to see her on-screen more. Oh well.

When it comes to the music, there is where I think my love for Greg Araki really intensifies. As I recently mentioned, I became rather obsessed with the music of Nowhere and The Doom Generation. While the music for Mysterious Skin wasn’t as random/”pop” (as in “pop” as opposed to classical/arranged/score music), it was still just as appropriate and moving.

Robin Guthrie, of the Cocteau Twins (who Araki has used extensively on soundtracks in the past and who are one of the major players in that whole shoegaze music movement), worked with Harold Budd (who worked with Brian Eno back in the day) to create an extremely ambient and moody soundtrack. Araki mentioned during the Q&A that he has the soundtrack album and listens to it constantly. He also noted that shoegaze music was influential on both him and the writer of the novel (Scott Heim).

In addition to the score, I also remembered hearing “Dagger” by Slowdive, a song or two by Cocteau Twins, a song by Medicine, and a song by Sigur Rós. During the Q&A, Araki mentioned that there was a song by Curve, but I don’t think so — though I know he used them in The Doom Generation and Nowhere.

Overall, I, of course, gave this movie 5/5. It was touching and very well-done. And I was also impressed with Araki’s ability to break from his trademark style (“satirical, postmodern, and ironic” — I think is how he described it last night) to something more subtle and serious.

Gregg Araki Tonight

Gregg Araki
In a super exciting turn of events, it appears that Gregg Araki (the director) will be at tonight’s showing of Mysterious Skin. This is really awesome, and the fact he will also be at Saturday afternoon’s showing makes me want to go see it again (depending on how much I like or dislike the film tonight, I may buy a Saturday ticket).

Back during high school there was a time when he was probably one of my favorite directors. Movies like The Doom Generation and Nowhere really sort of, I don’t know, inspired me? as a high schooler in Minnesota. The films were totally about a world and life so far away (Los Angeles) but at the same time sort of gave me something to fantasize about and all that? I don’t know exactly. I just remember watching those two movies, in particular, and wishing that I could hangout with the characters.

I also remember loving the music in both of the films. I, of course, have the soundtrack to both Nowhere and The Doom Generation, but there were also tons of tons that were not on the soundtrack. I specifically remember spending a weekend watching Nowhere over and over again, identifying each song and writing a little description about when it played then going on to Napster or some file sharing program to get that song. I actually still have the yellow legal pads where I recorded all of this information stashed away somewhere in my apartment now.

The soundtracks featured groups that were somewhat obscure but that I still loved like Slowdive (where I first heard the song “Avalyn I” [as Dark played by James Duvall masturbates in the shower]), Catherine Wheel, Lush, Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth (the b-side “Hendrix Necro” even!!), Curve, Blur, Jesus and Mary Chain, Portishead, Love and Rockets, Wolfgang Press, Ride, Medicine, Pizacatto Five, Belly, and many more. Basically, the soundtrack was very 4AD (record label) and shoegaze -heavy. I can honestly say that the music of Gregg Araki’s films have greatly influenced my taste in music in general.

Further, there is a line from Totally Fucked Up (somewhat of a pseudo-documentary about gay and lesbian kids living in Los Angeles dealing with issues such as gay bashing, cheating, artificial insemination, random hooks, and bootleg Nine inch Nails concert videos) that inspired a paper I wrote about AIDS/HIV. The quote comes from one of the lesbian characters during an “interview” part of the documentary:

It’s a born-again Nazi republican wet dream come true!

As I wrote in my paper AIDS: Abjection, (body) Image, (self) Destruction, Sex,

Ever since I saw that movie, I have been unable to shake the thought that something about whole HIV/AIDS phenomenon seemed too “perfect” from the perspective of those born-again Nazi republicans.

As for Mysterious Skin, I have finished reading the novel and have started writing down my thoughts. I am determined to finish before I watch the movie so that my perceptions after the movie don’t influence what I thought of the book. Nonetheless, I am totally excited for the film tonight.

Now we’ll have to see if I can muster up the courage/desire to actually ask Araki some questions during the Q&A session which, I hope, will follow the film tonight.

Review: November

Sophie in November
The SIFF web site describes November as:

[a] change-of-pace homage to the mind-bending thrillers of David Lynch

well, I would say that November is less David Lynch, and more Run Lola Run. Though I felt at times that the movie borrowed ideas from Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, that was really only the first third of the movie. The rest felt pretty conventional. Oh, and this review will contain spoilers.

The movie is broken into three parts: denial, despair, and acknowledgement (I think?). Each part of the film was white-balanced differently (the director spoke after the movie, so I learned a bit about the making of it). The first part was very green/blue, the second part was very yellow/orange, and the final part was very naturally lit.

All three parts deal with Sophie (played by Courtney Cox, who proves that all of the female cast members of Friends can act… I can’t say anything for the guys, though) and her boyfriend Hugh and a late-night visit to a convenience store. Each part also involves Sophie visiting a therapist (Nora Dunn from Saturday Night Live!!), dining with her mother (Anne Archer from Fatal Attraction!!), and teaching a photography class.

In “Denial,” Hugh is killed during a hold-up at the convienence store. “Denial” is by far the most abstract and interesting part of the film. When Sophie visits her therapist we learn that she had been having an affair and that when Hugh was killed in the store she was actually talking to the guy on the phone. She also tells her therapist that the medication she is on makes her feel sick and gives her headaches. When Sophie has dinner with her mother, her mother tries to convince her to cut her hair because her current style “looks like an underachiever’s haircut.” The dinner is very tense, and when Sophie’s mom spills some red wine, the image of red liquid on the table cloth freaks Sophie out.

What makes “Denial” so interesting, though, is the appearance of the “Lynchian obscure object” — a slide that one of her students inadvertently (and unknowingly) shows during class. The picture is of Sophie sitting in her car the night of Hugh’s murder. Sophie gets in touch with a detective who tries to help her unravel the mystery. Ultimately, he discovers that she is the one who developed the slide, which is basically impossible since: 1. she was the subject of the slide; 2. there didn’t appear to be anyone outside or near the car taking pictures; 3. why would she take the picture in the first place?; 4. why/how could she forget visiting the photo lab to have it developed? Other Lynchian elements of “Denial” include the incessant loud music and banging noises Sophie hears in her apartment.

“Denial” ends with Sophie freaking out and bleeding in the bathroom with very Lynchian sound effects (screeching, etc.) overwhelming her and the audience.

“Despair” basically makes the affair between Sophie and her student much more explicit. During the convenience store robbery, Sophie and the guy she was cheating with were in the store taking photographs. He left to get something from the car when the robbery took place. Being a photographer, Sophie manages to snap some photos of the person doing the robbery (though when developed, they are “too arsty” [says the detective] and the thief appears as a black blur). She also snaps a picture that includes the guy she was cheating with, but doesn’t really turn it over to the police or something.

At the visit to the therapist, Sophie reveals that she has been having dreams in which Hugh is shot in the stomach. She also mentions that she has been having stomach pains herself. The therapist makes some obvious statement like, “So in the dream your are hurting Hugh, and then when you are awake it hurts you too. Why don’t you draw the line?”

This statement, coupled with the bizarre appearance of the slide in “Denial” and the loud noises in “Denial” lead me to believe that the movie was somehow about the physical effects of guilt and guilt manifesting itself in different ways a la the scar on Pete’s forehead in Lost Highway or the blue key in Mulholland Drive. The theory still may hold. I’m not sure.

Eventually Hugh figures out that Sophie is cheating on him, and leaves her (taking the couch but leaving a photograph from their first encounter together). When Sophie meets her mother for dinner, she asks here Hugh is, and Sophie is forced to dodge the issue, making for a rather tense dinner. During the photograph class, Sophie makes a statement like, “What is excluded [in a photograph] is just as important as what is included.” I’m guessing this was some obvious attempt at making the movie rather philosophical?

The final part of the film, “Acknowledgement” (or whatever?) is the most boring. Sophie and Hugh have a great relationship. When she encounters the student she had an affair with (which is all over now), they talk like normal people and leave open the possibility of having coffee later. She tells her therapist that, though it “may sound crazy,” she thinks she’s done with therapy, and the dinner with her mother goes very well (her mother worrying that her haircut is too much of an underachiever’s, and that maybe she, not Sophie, needs to visit the stylist).

In a möbius strip form of logic, as everything is going well Sophie and Hugh decide to go have Chinese food for dinner. One fortune from the fortune cookie reads something like, “It’s never to late to change your life” (i.e. a non-fatalist view of life), the had something to do with a more fatalist perspective of life. How to reconcile? Hugh and Sophie just laugh.

After dinner Sophie tells Hugh that she is still hungry (and we are back to the opening scene). He goes into the convenience store. Before he gets in she calls to tell him that she loves him and to hurry. A after flipping through a weekly newspaper (with the cover story: “Is Modernism Dead?”) she hears a gunshot and rushes inside. Hugh has already been shot, and Sophie is next (taking the bullet in her stomach).

The movie ends with them lying on the ground next to teach other then fading into a flashback to the first time they met. Totally cheesy and happy — now they are together and content and in heaven, etc. etc.

Like I said, the first third (“Denial”) was really good and creepy and set a mood for the film that wasn’t followed through at all. I guess the fact that the timeline of “Acknowledgement” wasn’t linear (in “Denial” and “Despair” she visits the therapist, has dinner whit her mom, etc. a month after the deadly trip to the convenience store) made that part slightly interesting, but in the end I felt the movie wasn’t ambiguous enough.

My interpretation is that, like Mulholland Drive and Jacob’s Ladder and other films, the entire movie is a flashback of the main character, imagining/dreaming of/hoping for alternate versions of his or her life. Not too ambiguous and not too profound, as far as I’m concerned.

As for things I learned since the director was there:

  • The film was done for less than $150,000. This is very very cheap compared to most Hollywood films.
  • The director (Greg Harrison) comes from a background of making movie trailers. Though he didn’t work on the trailer for November because he learned that directors make the worst trailers for their movies.
  • He intended for the trailer to capture the mood of the film rather than the story (and, really, I think it only presents the mood for the first third of the movie…)
  • Everything was filmed on digital video (miniDV to be exact) and edited on a desktop Macintosh computer.
  • Because David Fincher is a friend of Courtney Cox’s, he viewed a rough cut of the film and gave Harrison some feedback.
  • The movie was filmed in fifteen days.

Overall, I gave the movie 3/5 stars. It had lots of promise in the beginning, the second and third parts really disappointed me.