Film Int. Review: Phantom Boy

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Co-directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol follow up their Oscar nominated film, A Cat in Paris, with Phantom Boy, a film that is perplexingly set in New York City, though everything else about it is as French as can be including the humor and animation style. The script (by Gagnol) tells the story of Leo, an eleven-year-old boy who, afflicted with an unnamed, but serious enough illness to require chemotherapy, learns that he can escape the loneliness of his hospital bed through astral projection for brief stints. When Leo meets Lt. Alex Tanguy (Édouard Baer), an injured police officer with a knack for getting on his boss’s nerves, he uses his power to help ensnare a criminal mastermind who threatens to bring the city to its knees. Phantom Boy is perhaps too simple a story to appeal to all ages, but for children, it is a terrific introduction to heady themes like crime noir and, more importantly, grave illnesses and mortality…

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Film Int. Review: Fantastic Planet Criterion DVD

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I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first stumbled upon René Laloux’s surreal animated French language sci-fi film, Fantastic Planet (1973). I assume I was old enough to read subtitles, but I’m not 100% sure because the visuals are engaging and unusual enough to hold the attention of anyone, regardless of language comprehension. I believe it was broadcast on television in the mid 1980s, which means I would have been between 7 and 10 years of age. I must have been by myself because for years after, when I attempted to describe what I saw, I received only blank looks. After a while, I began to wonder if I had, in fact, dreamed it. The film certainly possesses a dreamlike quality. But sadly, my dreams are not quite so brilliant. Finally, in my early twenties, I stumbled upon a movie poster in an independent video store and my fuzzy memories were validated.

With the 2016 release of the Criterion edition, it’s clear that La Planète Sauvage (the original title) has staying power that reaches beyond the basement-dwelling 80s child demographic. After re-watching it, this is hardly surprising. The 1973 film is a piece of art that transcends time and space. The paper cutout animation brings Terry Gilliam’s Flying Circus segments to a new level, seamlessly blending moving pieces with the background to create a fluid visual. I’d call it a lost art; only graphic designer Roland Topor is peerless in his skill and vision. His images are mesmerizing and all encompassing. It’s a trip that you can take without the need for mind-altering drugs or a rocket ship…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Mustang

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When watching Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Turkish film, Mustang, one cannot help but recall The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola’s haunting fable about a father’s fear of his daughters’ burgeoning womanhood. Only, in the case of Mustang, things are much worse for five orphaned sisters who are imprisoned in their own home by their oppressive uncle. Though they couldn’t see it, the Lisbon sisters of Suicides, could have waited out their childhood until adulthood emancipated them. The only escape for Mustang’s Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma, and Sonay is to be married off. They would merely be replacing Uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekan) with a new patriarch. To achieve true independence in their world means literally risking their lives and running as far away as possible. If only it were that easy…

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Hammer to Nail Review: Tickled

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I don’t know about you, but I hate being tickled and always have. There’s something insidious about a person forcing uncontrollable laughter out of you despite not enjoying how they’re doing it. Inexplicably, both my children love being tickled and will even request it. If they ask me to stop, I do so immediately. Their laughs are genuine, though I can’t imagine why. Even as a child, I detested it and would become furious when subjected to it. On more than one occasion, my brother received a bloody nose in response to his non-consensual tickling. So when I heard about “Competitive Endurance Tickling” – the subject of New Zealand directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s documentary, Tickled – my first thought was, “DEAR GOD, WHY?!” The easy answer is the same as the reason people do anything unpleasant – money. A lot of money. But, as Farrier and Reeve soon discover, there’s a lot more to the story than that…

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Hammer to Nail: The Complete History of Seattle

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The Complete History of Seattle doesn’t just eschew the band documentary formula. Nick Toti’s film, which is mainly about 90s Christian experimental punk group, Raft of Dead Monkeys, binges on the genre and then simultaneously craps and barfs it back up. Believe it or not, this is not a criticism. It’s quite refreshing and exciting to watch something from a typically formulaic genre and not have any clue where you’ll end up.

Part of the reason the film is structured this way is due to Raft of Dead Monkeys’ wholly unique stage show. The band rose from the ashes of 90-Pound Wuss and Roadside Monument – two popular Christian punk bands that were darlings of the faith-based Seattle indie label Tooth & Nail. Taking their name from a throwaway joke in an Adam Sandler SNL skit, they were not your garden variety Christians. Raft’s music was particularly profane and noisy, and their performances invoked many provocative images including bloody crucifixions, fascism, monkeys barfing bananas, male and female go-go dancers, and sexy junkie nurses (played by their wives and girlfriends). At the time of their formation, the band members were feeling disillusioned and alienated from both their fellow Christian musicians and the secular punk scene at large. According to their manifesto, they were attempting to create the music that would usher in the apocalypse. In response to feeling shunned, they basically became Christian anarchists…

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SIFF 2016 Wrap-Up

Another SIFF has come and gone. This year, the Seattle International Film Festival ran from May 19th to June 12th and featured 421 films from 85 countries. I have to say this was one of my favorite years. With so many options, it’s always hard to narrow down one’s itinerary. Plus, even when most of the films are great, seeing so many in such a concentrated period of time tends to make them all blur together. But I loved so many of the films I saw this year, that when I receive the inevitable question, “what’s good?” I have a long and enthusiastic answer. If you’re reading this, I assume you would have asked me the same question. So here it is…

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SIFF Review: The Queen of Ireland

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Director Conor Horgan is a longtime friend of Ireland’s most famous drag queen, Panti Bliss, so he couldn’t be more qualified to bring her story to the big screen. Panti is more than just an entertainer. She is the accidental leader of a civil rights movement in Ireland, kick starting the national conversation about gay rights and marriage equality. It’s very possible that without her advocacy, Ireland wouldn’t have become the first country to approve marriage equality by popular vote. Horgan’s engaging and concisely comprehensive film tells the story of Panti’s origins and how she came to be The Queen of Ireland.

Panti Bliss isn’t exactly a household name in America, but in Ireland, she’s basically RuPaul. Panti’s male counterpart is Rory O’Neill, a man from a small, idyllic town in County Mayo called Ballinrobe. He grew up “painfully middle class” but always with the awareness that he was different from other boys. Horgan, began filming Rory/Panti in 2010 when he was still just a moderately successful club owner and drag persona. It’s their personal connection that gives TheQueen of Ireland a boost of intimacy. Rory is extremely comfortable revealing himself to the camera because his dear friend is behind it…

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SIFF Review: The IF Project

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Most people join law enforcement because they want to help victims of crime, but not as many are equally as passionate about helping the people who committed crimes. To Seattle P.D. Officer Kim Bogucki the inmates of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, WA are more than just numbers. They are human beings who have made horrible mistakes. If they share what they’ve learned with young girls and women in the outside world, perhaps they can prevent someone else from meeting the same fate. Kathlyn Horan’s documentary, The IF Project, profiles Bogucki and the program she started as well as four of the inmates whose lives were changed as a result.

The first writing assignment Bogucki gave inmates was to write a letter to their younger selves telling them something that might have changed the course of their life. That first day, her query was met with silence. But the question stuck with one inmate, a woman named Renata Abramson, and she began to not only discover the answer for herself, but also to pose it to her fellow inmates. Months later, Renata presented Bogucki with a stack of letters and the IF Project was born…

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SIFF Review: Middle Man

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You might recognize Jim O’Heir from his role as Jerry/Larry/Gary on the sitcom Parks and Recreation, but chances are you didn’t remember his real name. No worries, neither could his fictional colleagues. In Ned Crowley’s debut black comedy feature, Middle ManO’Heir’s character is equally unremarkable. Though he has lifelong aspirations of making a name for himself on the Vegas comedy circuit, he is painfully unfunny. Maybe that’s why he so easily falls in with a violent drifter and soon finds himself in the midst of a killing spree that informs a new, much more successful stage presence.

Lenny Freeman (O’Heir) is an aspiring comedian who was born several decades too late. For him, the height of comedy is Abbot and Costello and George Burns. He has every classic routine memorized and he longs to revive that sort of antiquated comedy in Vegas. After the death of his mother, Lenny quits his dead-end accounting job and hits the road in a vintage station wagon to pursue his dreams. The trouble is, even if people were still into the wholesome wordplay he reveres, he doesn’t have what it takes to write his own material. He’s so blinded by his desires and the grief of losing his mother (who was clearly the only person in the world who loved him) that he misses the fact that everyone he meets finds him tedious…

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SIFF Review: Burn Burn Burn

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No one does black comedy quite like the Brits, though, in the case of Burn Burn Burn, it’s especially heavy on the black. The directorial debut from Chanya Button (who learned the ropes as an A.D. on the Harry Potter films), and written by Charlie Covell (her first feature script), is a road trip film about friendship, death, and the dangers of internalizing grief. Fortunately, it’s also peppered with dry British humor (or should I say humour?) to help the medicine go down.

Surprises from friends can be fun, but not in the case of sardonic party boy Dan (Jack Farthing), who springs his own funeral on his two best friends, Seph (Laura Charmichael, Downton Abbey) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie). As he explains in his video will, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but he wanted to spare them (and himself), the agony of watching him fade away. His last wish is for Seph and Alex to take him on a road trip, scattering his ashes in four meaningful places across the U.K. He has recorded an additional video for each stop that they are to play just before leaving a bit of him behind. His elevator pitch for this task is “Thelma and Louise meets Casper the Friendly Ghost.” At first, the girls are reluctant. But circumstances (Alex walking in on her girlfriend with another woman and Seph getting sacked from her job), suddenly make the idea of getting out of town seem a lot more appealing…

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