Virus Tropical

SIFF 2018: week two highlights

Fresh coming-of-age dramas, a loving docu-tribute to Mr. Rogers, and a simply stunning animated feature are among the must-sees of SIFF 2018’s second week (5/25 – 5/31).

DON’T MISS:

Hot Mess
{5/26 8p Shoreline}
I’m sure you’ve known messier hot-messes than 25-year-old Loz, the budding playwright and college dropout at the center of this Australian comedy. An apparent upswing in Loz’s dating life may or may not translate to a boost to everything else she’s failing at, and watching Oz comic Sarah Gaul in the role – usually somewhere between halfhearted striving and indifferent resign – is squirmy fun. Hot Mess is not a laugh-a-minute, but it’s amusing in its darkly deadpan, improv-heavy, mumblecore-y way.

The Last Suit
{5/25 4p Egyptian; 6/3 6p Kirkland}
Sweet gem of a movie about a gruff, cranky 88-year-old tailor named Abraham, played beautifully by Argentine actor Miguel Ángel Solá, who leaves his Buenos Aires home for a one-way trip across Europe to reconnect with the man who saved his life after Auschwitz. The plot partakes in quite a few “scrappy road trip in search of…” sub-genre tropes, but the film’s performances – especially the central one, rough by design, imbued with longing – give the material a tidily-stitched finish.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
{5/25 6:30p Uptown; 5/26 3p Uptown}
Desiree Akhavan’s poignant indie drama, a Grand Jury awardee at Sundance, follows a group of queer teens who meet at a dubious conversion therapy camp in the ’90s; they’re faced with a choice: vain attempts to pray the gay away, or graceful self-acceptance. Chloë Grace Moretz is very good in the title role, but it’s the supporting characters – most notably one named “Jane Fonda”, played by American Honey‘s Sasha Lane – that really give the film its depth, and make the heartfelt moments sing.

That Summer
{5/29 6:30p Uptown}
Composed almost exclusively of 16mm footage shot in 1972 and lost until only recently, Göran Hugo Olsson’s winsome thrill of a documentary recounts the summer when Lee Radziwill and photographer Peter Beard (whose oral history frequently serves as narration) decided to record Radziwill’s reclusive aunt and first cousin, Big and Little Edie Beale themselves. Radziwill hired Albert and David Maysles to help shoot in and around the Beales’ crumbling, raccoon-infested East Hampton mansion as attempts were made to bring the property up to code. (The brothers would return later to make their 1975 classic Grey Gardens.) Even if you have only a casual interest in the Beales, Little Edie’s rendition of “My Adobe Hacienda” is alone well worth the time and ticket. And if you’re a Grey Gardens fan, this film will give you life.

Tigers Are Not Afraid
{5/30 9:30p Uptown}
Marvelously rendered film about a (very allegorical) Mexican town held hostage to a brutal drug war, and an orphaned girl whose supernatural visions lead her to an alliance with a gang of street boys. The film’s strong visual storytelling moves us shockingly yet seamlessly back and forth from spooky (spectral creatures manifested from darkness) to just plan horrific (guns turned on children), and will hopefully get director Issa Lopez the international recognition she deserves.

Virus Tropical
{5/28 6:30p Egyptian; 6/2 8:30p Shoreline; 6/7 4:30p Uptown}
This very charming SXSW Audience Award winner, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Colombian-Ecuadorian cartoonist Power Paola, follows the author from conception to young adulthood as she stumbles through a frequently-unraveling home life, friendships brief and lasting, and awkward romantic dalliances. Yeah, most of the expected coming-of-age elements, but presented in unexpected ways, thanks in large part to the delightful, often downright stunning hand-drawn black-and-white artwork – I really regret not having seen the film on a bigger screen. There’s a simple directness to it that serves the scattered narrative well. I want a sequel pronto.

We the Animals
{5/25 7p Pacific Place; 5/26 12:30p Uptown}
Based on the autobiographical novel by Justin Torres, this film has a quiet power that sneaks up on you, then lingers. It follows a period in the lives of two volatile parents and their three wild boys in upstate New York; the youngest, quietest, most sensitive of the brothers provides the narrative POV. His secret drawings are brought to life in astonishing dazzle-bursts of animation, and his unvoiced fantasies are visualized beautifully – even when they’re difficult to watch.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
{5/26 6p Uptown; 5/27 1:30p Uptown}
In 1968, during its first week on air, a little educational children’s series called Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood presented a story involving a certain King Friday XIII, a haughty blowhard of a leader who valued his distorted worldview above the well-being of his people, and who so stubbornly resisted change that he ordered a wall be built around his kingdom. This tender documentary explores numerous other uncanny parallels to today that Fred Rogers’ work was hitting on decades ago, and director Morgan Neville beautifully highlights the goodness of a great man. See this film. You need it. And bring tissues. You’ll need them.

TAKE OR LEAVE:

Gold Seekers
{5/29 7p Uptown; 6/3 8p Uptown}
Often quite fun, but ultimately just shy of satisfying, this buried-treasure flick from Paraguay is referred to in SIFF’s program notes as “National Treasure meets The Goonies“. Enjoyment levels will vary accordingly. There are crumbling treasure maps, zippy street chases, nicely-rendered observations of culture and class matters, and a very interesting visual metaphor involving rising waters that repeats appropriately from setting to setting. But the material doesn’t quite reach depth beyond that of a good-natured and worthwhile diversion that never truly achieves its high-octane heist-thriller potential.

Prospect
{5/30 6:30p Shoreline}
Locally-produced space western about survival, trust, and an elusive place called home. Most of the action takes place on a remote moon, where a teenage girl and her father arrive to search a toxic but magnificent woodland (played by Washington state’s very own Hoh Rainforest) for tedious-to-harvest gems. But they aren’t alone, and all I’ll say about that is Pedro Pascal is there. And as hard as I swooned, this isn’t that kind of movie. It’s minimalistic, yet grand – the music is dark and glorious; my mind will not let go of one particular choral-orchestral track – and even given the film’s tedious stretches of difficult-to-understand dialogue (thanks for that, retro space helmets) it’s clear that Prospect‘s makers have a lot to say.

A Skin So Soft
{5/25 8:30p Uptown; 6/9 6p SIFF Film Center}
For years I’ve admired the feature work of Quebecois filmmaker Denis Côté (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Curling), who lately has been making stylish and observational documentaries, frequently focused on outsiders of one stripe or another. Here he follows six bulging bodybuilders during their daily routines in and out of training: being parents, watching professional wrestling, sometimes being wrestlers themselves, choking down unenjoyed foods, hanging out with loved ones, and… napping. Quite a bit of napping. Speaking of, this film is not exactly a thrill-a-minute, and it might induce somnolence in some. It eventually induced wonder in me.

SKIP:

Streaker
{5/28 8:15p Shoreline}
Broad, silly, fitfully entertaining Swiss comedy about a desperately cash-strapped teacher (named Balthasar; he goes by, um, Balz) who enlists his bookie/barber to help take sports betting in a new direction: instead of standard wagers on the outcomes of soccer matches, they begin collecting bets on the length of time streakers can stay on the field. Did I mention the teacher’s name is BALZ? Because there are quite a few dangly Euro-bits on butt-nekkid display in this film. But said bits don’t make Balz’s harebrained tedium – or the story’s unsatisfactory handling of its female characters – any less exasperating.

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