SIFF Film Review: The Future is Unwritten

It must be incredibly difficult to make a documentary about your friend. Especially if your friend died reasonably young and happened to be one of the Founding Fathers of a musical movement. Julien Temple’s “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” is remarkably objective and concise for being a touching tribute to such an important man. However, it still, perhaps unavoidably so, falls into the trappings of a documentary made by a friend. It's just too long. The good news is that is my ONLY criticism of this film. Everything else is just nitpicking. The film covers Joe Strummer's entire life from his childhood with his brother and his foray at boarding school to dealing with his brother's suicide and how that contributed to the man he became. It covers the quiet period between the end of the Clash and the beginning of The Mescaleros that has previously been a bit of a mystery. It ends, of course, with Strummer's untimely death and implicates the full extent of why this was a tragedy. The man simply had so much more to do.

The Clash is absolutely my favorite band. They are also one of the most documented bands and definitely the most documented founding punk band besides, perhaps, The Ramones. It wasn't as easy back then to just carry a camera around with you so it must have been pretty clear to everyone that Joe Strummer was a big deal. What he was doing was important and needed to be filmed. Much of this footage must have been filmed by Temple himself because I have seen every Clash documentary I can get my hands on and I only recognized a handful of the shots in this movie. The only narration is from the man himself, taken primarily from a radio broadcast he recorded. The film is filled with interviews from the people who were close to him, most of which were shot around a roaring camp fire in several cities. The way the interviews were shot, with the people who loved Joe gathered together around a warm campfire, really illustrates how much of an influence he really had on everyone who he touched. This is evident even before you learn that the campfires are a tribute to an ongoing event that Joe had organized himself.

Temple also ignored another documentary film staple. Titling his interviewees with their names. You either recognize an interviewee (the most recognizable of whom is Bono) or you learn who they are through the stories they are telling. If you never learn who they are (the Sex Pistol's Steve Jones is quite a bit more bloated than his skinny young counterpart), it doesn't really matter. The film isn't about them. It's about Joe. His story has been told before and will, thankfully, be told again. But Julien Temple's telling of it is perfect.

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SIFF Film Review: The Ten

“The Ten” is written by the same team responsible for one of my favorite comedies of all time, “Wet Hot American Summer”. You might also know these folks from an old MTV sketch comedy show called “The State”. Some of the alumni went on to make “Reno 911” and another sort of surrealistic comedy troupe called “Stella”. I think all of these projects are brilliant (save the short-lived “Stella” TV series that was a bit of a disaster). So I was half ecstatic, half worried to see “The Ten”. Would it be the filthy surrealistic humor that I love from David Wain and Ken Marino, or would it be the flaccid failure that was the “Stella” TV show?

I was overjoyed to learn that it's the former. “The Ten” is glorious. It's very difficult to make a sketch film. Not even all the “Monty Python” movies are great. There are bound to be some weak moments, as with most film, but they will become more apparent when the moments are entire concepts for a scene. Wain and Marino were smart to start with such a strong theme: Take the 10 Commandments and write 10 scenarios in which each commandment is grossly broken. Hilarity doth ensue.

It's true, there ARE still weak moments. But they only serve to introduce characters who will go on to be a part of a really strong moment. Our narrator is the ALWAYS enjoyable Paul Rudd. (And I do mean ALWAYS. I haven't watched “The Object of My Affection” at least 5 times on Lifetime because I'm a big Jennifer Aniston RomCom fan.) Rudd introduces each story after furthering his own plot as man who is in the midst of breaking the commandment about adultery. His jilted wife is played by the tremendous Famke Jansen (Jean Grey!) who can make the phrase “There's something you're not telling me about the pec juice” uproariously funny. Trust me, it makes sense in the context of the scene. Sort of.

The film is actually filled with usually dramatic actors being absolutely hilarious. Liev Schreiber plays a man obsessed with competing with his neighbor…by buying the most CAT scan machines…with tragic results. Winona Ryder plays a woman who has a steamy affair with a ventriloquist's dummy….with tragic results! Of course, all this tragedy is actually hilarious because they are spot-on parodies of dramatic film conventions. And now that I think about it, the less you know about this film, the better. This film scored a distribution deal at Sundance, but whether that means it will be coming to a theatre near you or a streaming video website near you, I'm not sure. All I know is that “The Ten” is destined to be a comedy classic a la “The Meaning of Life” and “Kentucky Fried Movie”.

SIFF Film Review: Death at a Funeral

One of the millions of reasons I love living in Seattle, and one of the main reasons I moved here in the first place (11 years ago!) was because of the independent film scene. It used to be that the Seattle International Film Festival contributed a great deal to this scene by bringing small independent films that might not otherwise be seen on a big screen or, perhaps even make it to DVD to a theatre near you. (If you live in Seattle, of course). Unfortunately, over the years, SIFF has fallen prey to the same trappings that other big film festivals like Sundance and Cannes have. Thousands of hopeful filmmakers scrounge for $50 + postage and submit their small films to these festivals hoping to be discovered, not realizing that before a call for submissions even goes out, half the festival has already been programmed with sure-thing films. Those films have name stars or directors and often ALREADY HAVE DISTRIBUTION BY THE TIME THE FESTIVAL ROLES AROUND. These people do not need help. But, as is the Hollywood way, they get it anyway. I hate being so jaded, so I go to SIFF anyway. I wait in line to see a movie by Frank Oz. Of course, I like Frank Oz. He's YODA, for Jeebus' Sake! He also directed the film of my favorite musical of all time, Little Shop of Horrors. (I would like to say that this is the ONE film that is based on a musical based on a film that actually worked out OK and I hate that it is probably responsible for why that godawful Hairspray adaptation/remake is about to happen. But I digress…)

Death at a Funeral is Frank Oz's latest film. It has the formula for being great. British actors, or actors pretending to be British, dark comedy about death and funerals with drug references and Peter Dinklage. Sadly, I found it falls a little flat. The jokes are surprisingly cliche for a film about funeral mishaps. Also, my enjoyment of the film was impacted by the EXTREMELY overeager audience who, aware that Mr. Oz was in attendance, SCREAM laughed at every single joke. You think I exaggerate? I assure you that this is not hyperbole. The man next to me was shrieking as if his life depended on making sure Frank Oz knew he LOVED the film. The experience was both physically and emotionally painful.

There were good points about the film. The aforementioned Dinklage is always fantastic. Likewise with Alan Tudyk (he with the decent fake British accent and expressive face). In fact, the entire cast was pretty spot on. I just wish they'd been given something a little edgier to do with their talent. In the end, it felt like my boyfriend and I were actually attending movie night at the retirement home. For a movie with profanity and references to hallucinogenics and gay sex, the whole affair felt pretty tame. But at least now I know what DVD to get my grandmother for Christmas.