Wednesday, December 29, 2010

AIFF 2010: Features - My Favorites

This is Part 2 of a post started here comparing my favorite features at the Anchorage International Film Festival to those that won.

The Ones I Liked and Why

Fanny, Annie, and Danny

I've already written about this one and you can read about it there.  But the longer it's been, the more I think this is an almost perfect little film.   Just really good characters, really good acting, and a story that moves at just the right pace to bring all the characters together to the climax.  I was drawn right in and assumed I knew what happened when the screen went black.  It never occurred to me that the off-camera conclusion could have been different than the one I 'saw' until someone else was sure of a different conclusion.  This is a film whose characters were still in my head the day after I first saw it and wouldn't let go of my brain. 

The Temptation of St. Tony

Other reviewers had suggested the cinematic homages paid to various high brow film directors would be over the heads of most viewers.  While the film bleakly followed the excesses of Estonia's nouveau riche, often juxtaposing their excesses against the plight of the poor, I found it compelling throughout.  The images were stark and sometimes surreal.  The star of the movie, Taavi Eelsma, told me it was basically about whether it is possible today to be a good person.  Knowing that made it all work for me.  

Hello Lonesome

Hello Lonesome was, like Fanny, Annie, and Danny, about people and relationships.  We watched three lonesome people connecting with other people.  The move weaves in and out of each of the three stories - and all three stories are unexpected, yet very believable.  Excellent acting and all the other basics of good film making made this a poignant movie.  All the people, odd as some were, felt real.  This was simply a good movie.

Two more

22:43 - This Twilight Zone-like Austrian mystery had great characters and stories that moved along on several levels so the viewer had to pay close attention to keep track of them all.  It was an ambitious movie that was nicely done.  It isn't a great movie, but certainly better than much of the formula garbage that comes out of Hollywood.  And it's world premier was in Anchorage at the festival.  You can watch premier audience reactions.

The Red Machine - This movie fits into the category of hip outlaw films such as The Sting.  The lead character is one of those smart criminals who has a strong work ethic, a problem with authority, and a lip. He's hired to help steal, not the Japanese secret code machine - which would make knowing the code useless - but how the machine works in the mid 1930s. 

This film was invited to the festival and thus was not in competition for an award. It's Hollywood slick, but better than average Hollywood smart. Good characters and dialogue throughout, though I was left scratching my head over a couple of points in the film. For example, I didn't get the strong animosity over the guy who was brought back to the team to do the heist. His relationship with the Japanese ambassador was made clear, but not with the other Navy guys. They really didn't like him.

In an earlier post I lamented that the film was shown on Dec. 6 and Dec. 8, but would have been much more appropriately shown on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.  I also called the movie very slick and irreverent.  The directors left a comment that took me a second to catch.
Argy and Boehm said... would have been cool to have The Red Machine play on the Day That Shall Live in Infamy! Thank you for the thought...
Stephanie Argy (slick) and Alec Boehm (irreverent) Co-directors The Red Machine
That gives a hint of their quick wit throughout the film.

OK, I've got two more I want to at least mention.

Ashes  is in the 'infected' genre and I probably wouldn't have seen it at 10pm when it was playing against a well hyped local feature - Beekeepers.  But I'd met film maker Elias Matar  just after he arrived and he kept inviting me to the film.  I'm not a zombie movie fan.  I don't quite get the attraction.  And I learned from Matar that infected movies are NOT zombie movies.  Ashes was filmed in a real hospital and follows a pretty realistic emergency room doctor.  Matar (here's a video of him talking about the film) explained that his sister is an ER doctor and so many of her stories are meshed together in this film.  All this is to say that the film begins as a serious film about an infection in a hospital before people start going strange as they become infected.  It's possible that the film could attract what I would think would be two different audiences - the serious hospital crisis drama  audience and the infection/zombie audience. Or each might be turned off by the joining of these two different genres.  I would note that the film was marred by the fact that the Blue Ray version stopped about 20 minutes in and we had to first wait, then watch much of the beginning over again until the DVD copy caught up to where the first one ended.  This is something the festival has got to do better in the future if it is going to be more than a funky, way-off-in-Alaska festival.  And I don't recall any of the audience leaving during the interruption. 

Ticked Off Trannies With Knives gets my award for best title at the Festival.  The transvestite characters were spectacularly bigger than life, but we also got to see behind the make-up a bit.  And just listening to them and watching them is worth the price of admission.  The sadism and violence in the movie is not something I normally watch, but all the characters were real - which made it even more distressing.  And as I said in a short previous comment on this film, the very ending line asked the same question I was asking, saving the movie, because it was so self-aware. 

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