Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

12 Angry Lebanese

Well, here we are in the final three days of SIFF 2011, and while I’ve kept you current on any hits, misses, and in-betweens I’ve been able to experience for myself, a few additional closing-weekend must-sees have come to my attention since my latest post. For the major procrastinators (you now have no excuse), for those who’ve been dutifully SIFFing all along (not a stinker in this bunch, pinkie-swear!), and for those somewhere in between, my thumb is enthusiastically up on ten strong festival-ending offerings:

12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary
{screens June 12, 7pm at the Harvard Exit}
Heartfelt (and funny!) documentary about the infamous Roumeih penitentiary and Lebanon’s first prison-based drama project there. Over a 1.5-year period, 45 inmates prepped and presented an awesome-looking variety show version of Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men, with some added original dances, monologues and songs (created by the participants) highlighting the play’s themes of forgiveness, stigma, and hope. Program director Zeina Daccache, a remarkable individual with seemingly boundless energy and patience, achieved something amazing with the project; 12 Angry Lebanese brings it to the world. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen all year.

{US Premiere. Screens June 10, 9:30pm and June 12, 3:30pm at Pacific Place}
Glittery, soapy, bi-lingual disco trash set in swingin’ late-’70s Montréal. The adventures and misadventures of eight characters, all linked to a ridiculously hip nightclub called The Starlight, include some familiar Studio 54-ish elements, from sex (cheating TV star in a downward spiral, hot guy on the downlow before “on the downlow” was coined) to drugs (the shit was good back then) to general corruption (a dirty club owner moonlighting as a sleazy record producer pulls a high-camp Milli Vanilli). Then there’s the period music, and I don’t see how the dominion of Canada itself will ever be able to afford license fees if this thing ever gets wide distribution. Anyway, Funkytown is a ludicrous hoot, and watching all 133 tawdry minutes in a sitting feels like freebasing episodes of good Canadian TV; if title cards at the end hadn’t tied up loose threads, I’d be yearning for season 2.

Hot Coffee
Hot Coffee{screens June 11, 11am and June 12, 9:00pm at the Harvard Exit}
In the assumed absence of bigtime extenuating circumstances, you surely remember hearing about the woman who sued McDonald’s after she suffered coffee burns in the early ’90s, right? Well, your take on the matter was very likely affected by conservative tort-reform advocates’ nefarious objectives. Turns out the case is a harrowing example of extreme difficulties individuals can face when taking legal action against a corporation; it’s one of several explored in this delightfully enlightening documentary. Fun man-on-the-street interviews are interspersed throughout deep-dives into a number of cases illustrating the dark sides of damage-limits legislation (“jackpot lawsuits” my ass), mandatory arbitration of disputes (which you’ve probably agreed to if you have a credit card of cell phone), and the pro-corporation front known as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If you are American you are consistently being dissuaded from utilizing your civil justice system; Hot Coffee shows you what to do about it.

Life in a Day
{screens June 12, 6pm at the Cinerama as part of the Closing Night Gala}
Do you remember what you were doing on July 24, 2010? If you’d submitted a video to this YouTube / Kevin MacDonald / Tony and Ridley Scott project, I bet you would. The whittling down of 80,000+ user submissions to the 300 that comprise Life in a Day was as amazing feat; on view in the fast-moving, very pretty finished product are individuals from around the globe preparing meals, working, raising children, clashing, worshipping, skydiving, partying, and (in some of the most profound moments) simply conversing. If it all feels a bit “We Are the World” at times, just know that it won’t be long before you’re gasping, weeping, giggling — maybe all at once. A nice selection for SIFF’s closing night fête.

On the Ice
On the Ice{screens June 10, 9pm at Kirkland Performance Center}
It’s tough to cover up a crime in Barrow, Alaska, where pooled blood freezes and snowmobile tracks reveal most everywhere you’ve been. Teens Qalli and Aivaaq return from a seal hunt with the news that their friend James fell into the sea; after several unsuccessful searches, Qalli’s cop dad becomes increasingly suspicious of his son’s involvement in the incident, leading to an inevitable showdown between Qalli and Aivaaq over what really happened on that desolate ice. There’s never a doubt about the ultimate outcome, but On the Ice has a lot up its chilly sleeve: an ominous score accompanies stark visuals and a fascinating setting, working to join disparate elements and fill empty spaces left by story flaws and less-than-perfect performances (think Elaine Miles as Marilyn on Northern Exposure). Glimpses into these characters’ frosty day-to-day lives prove even more haunting than the screenplay’s Hitchcocky crime suspense.

Revenge of the Electric Car
{screens June 10, 7pm at the Egyptian, and June 12, 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
Picking up where Who Killed The Electric Car? left off (with the elimination of some 5,000 electric cars by 2006), the surprising and very exciting sequel quickly fast forwards five years, when some of the same companies (and a few new members of the club) have revved production of new electric models in Detroit, Tokyo, and the Silicon Valley. The resurrection tale replaces Who Killed‘s rabble-rousin’ agitprop with delicious corporate intrigue via astonishing access to four of the field’s visionaries: egomaniac GM CEO and cigar-chomper Bob Lutz, ridiculously business-unsavvy Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, eternally dollar-driven Nissan CEO Carlos Chosn, and Left Coast Motors’ oddball retrofitter enthusiast Greg “Gadget” Abbot. Taking us from boardrooms to production lines to showrooms (and to a Detroit church service that must be seen to be believed), this nimble and stylish film demonstrates why revolutions don’t come easy. {Chris Estey liked it too.}

Small Town Murder Songs
{screens June 12, 9:15pm at SIFF Cinema}
This festival darling, already in theatrical release elsewhere, gets a coveted encore slot closing weekend. A well-meaning newly-Born-Again cop (Peter Stormare) in rural Ontario aids senior officers in the investigation of a brutally raped and murdered woman; his ex-girlfriend (for whom he still carries an obsessive flame) and her trashy new boyfriend are suspects. All the while his good Christian wife (mighty Martha Plimpton) deals with local busybodies’ harsh suspicions about her husband’s checkered past. Spot-on pacing, tension and ambience are informed by a mesmerizing gut-punch gothic soundtrack from a band called Bruce Peninsula.

Sound of Noise
Sound of Noise{screens June 11, 1:15pm at the Neptune}
A tone-deaf detective pursues a group of aural resistance fighters (ok, terrorists) imposing unannounced public performances on a sleepy Swedish city. The filmmakers’ 2001 short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers involved repurposing apartment furnishings as percussion instruments; Sound of Noise widens its focus to civic and cultural institutions. Even when a late-breaking magical-realist element doesn’t really make sense (even within the film’s cuckoo logic), it’s all such fun you really don’t care. Inventive, thoughtful, and hopelessly enchanting.

Sushi: The Global Catch
{screens June 10, 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
Interesting if uneven documentary on sushi’s history (humble street-food beginnings), culture (traditional Japanese sushi-makers must undertake a 7-year apprenticeship, 2 on rice preparation alone), and evolution (sustainable sushi is the way to go). Of most interest are sections on the enviro-impact of sushi’s insane world popularity (bluefin tuna consumption is contributing to a global ecosystem collapse; stop eating it NOW) and fun little glimpses at current sushi iterations, like a grilled-meat Texas version (sign reads “nothing raw, nothing weird”), and, um, Sushi Poppers. Yeah. {Chris Estey liked it too. The movie, that is, not the pre-packaged sushi concoction.}

Tabloid{screens June 11, 3:45pm at the Admiral}
Crazy-fun jaw-dropper of a documentary, by consistently amazing nonfiction master Errol Morris, about a figure who probably isn’t on your radar: Joyce McKinney, the former Wyoming beauty queen (among many other things) who first made it into the public consciousness with the alleged 1978 kidnapping of a Mormon missionary in the U.K. Lurid details made headlines around the world, most blatantly via Brit tabloid reporters and photogs, some of whom are interviewed here. The truth surely lies somewhere between McKinney’s less-than-steady account and the papers’ yellow trashfest; sorting it all out makes for an unbelievable yarn, filled with unreliable narrators, and done up here in high Morris style. (And if the lengthy “review” of the film posted to the SIFF detail page and the Q&A hijacking after the film’s premiere at DOC NYC are any indication, Ms. McKinney isn’t exactly a fan of the finished product.)