Friday, May 14, 2010

SFIFF Wrap-up

As soon as I returned from my vacation, Mike left on his (to the rainforest, of course), so apologies for leaving the website hanging for a couple of weeks. We'll have an update on the progress of the next series, to start August 4th, in the next few days. Meanwhile, I managed to see a bunch of good films in San Francisco, some of which are playing the Seattle International Film Festival starting next week and may eventually make it to your local Landmark Theatre.

I Am Love - Tilda Swinton stars as a rich housewife who's surprised to learn she's not all that happy with her life in this melodrama from Italian director Luca Guadagnino. It's big and lush and beautiful and skirts the fine line between deliriously wonderful and over-the-top silliness that all the best melodramas have to navigate. Swinton is as awesome as she always is and the score is entirely made up of bits of John Adams works(!)

Bodyguards & Assassins - Another historical epic from China, in the mold of John Woo's Red Cliff, set in the early 20th Century as Sun Yat-sen arrives in Hong Kong to plan the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and has to be protected from the titular assassins by the titular bodyguards. It's classical filmmaking in the Seven Samurai mode, as the first half lays the groundwork for an impressive, extended action sequence that accounts for most of the second half of the film. It stars the great Donnie Yen and Leon Lai and Simon Yam and the other Tony Leung.

Senso - One of SIFF's archival presentations is this restoration of Luchino Visconti's melodrama set in the mid-19th Century during Venice's war against Austria. Alida Valli (from The Third Man) plays a Venetian countess who has an affair with Austrian soldier Farley Granger (Rope, They Lived By Night) that has disastrous consequences for both herself and her country. It's all quite glorious and the restoration looks pretty great.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Stephin Merritt (the genius behind The Magnetic Fields and several other musical groups) composed and performed a new score to the silent version of HG Wells's sci-fi classic. The movie itself, made in 1916 by Stuart Paton, is not without interest. It boasts of its innovative underwater filming techniques, the veracity of which claim I'm not capable of confirming (though it looked to me like they just filmed an aquarium). The plot follows the crazy Captain Nemo, who's invented a submarine and rescues some people from a shipwreck and takes them to a mysterious island. Adventure ensues. It bears only a passing resemblance to the Disney film with Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason, having more in common with Mysterious Island, a film notable for Ray Harryhausen's effects creating such terrifying animals as a giant chicken. (Note: there are no giant chickens in the silent film version). Anyway, the draw is the score, performed live by Merritt and some of his pals (including organist David Hegarty and Lemony Snicket). It's not your typical silent film score, with the musicians occasionally adding dialogue to the action (some of which is very funny, but never really in a derisive MST3K kind of way), and including a pop song or two. I defy you to not exit the theatre with the title refrain stuck in your head. I've been singing it for ten days now.


Mikey said...

That Ferngully poster perfectly encapsulates our trip! Everything depicted on that poster actually happened.

Glad to hear the Merritt score was as awesome as expected. My tickets for the SIFF performance at the Paramount are printed and waiting.

sean said...

I know what a big fan of leaf-surfing you are.