Monday, May 23, 2011

Seattle International Film Festival Report #1

The Seattle International Film Festival is always a cool experience for any film lover. In the past two years, highlight films have included eventual Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker and the festival megahit Winter’s Bone. So, basically, there is some credibility to the festival. It is not just some random tiny festival without any real significant films included.

This year, the 37th annual event had a tribute to Ewan McGregor. The opening night film was the buzzed indie film The First Grader. Who knows, maybe a major Oscar player will end up being played at some point during the duration of this festival. I wouldn’t put it past the selection committee. If anyone is in town May 19-June 12, I definitely recommend catching a film or two with some other avid film enthusiasts.

Tyrannosaur (directed by Paddy Considine)

Once I saw that Paddy Considine was directing a film at the festival, I had to see it. He has always been one of my favorite under-the-radar actors, and his relationship to director Shane Meadows gave great promise as to what Considine’s feature could entail. I am happy to say that this is one of the best movies I have seen in the last year or so. It is maybe the most devastating and honest film about trying to put your life back together since The Wrestler. I was so pleasantly surprised with this film’s power and emotional impact.

The film centers on Joseph (Peter Mullan, in an Oscar-worthy performance). He is an alcoholic widower who is being driven toward self-destruction by his drinking and violent rage. All he has is his dog (who is beaten to death in the opening scene) and his house. He wakes up, drinks, gets into trouble, and repeats. His future seems completely hopeless, especially after accidentally killing his only companion. One day, he stumbles upon a shop owned and operated by Hannah (Olivia Colman, equally good), a woman who is beaten by husband James (the great Eddie Marsan) and wants a way out of her commitment to him.

The film is totally brutal. The opening scene is incredibly hard to watch, and it is emotionally-wrenching. It is certainly not for everyone. Watch a Meadows film, and that will be about the tone to expect from this. The actors are phenomenal, and the impact and unexpected turns that the film takes in its second half are as satisfying as any that I have seen in quite some time. Perhaps it could end up being likened to last year’s Animal Kingdom or something, but that might be stretching it a bit. This is a small-scale, stripped-down intense drama that will not be easy to swallow. It challenges the audience in several ways, and that is about all you can ask for from a film like this. It is unquestionably the best movie I have seen this year, and a near shoo-in for my end of year top 10 list. See it at any cost…seriously.

Rating: 4 stars

The Ward (directed by John Carpenter)

The second film I saw at the festival was The Ward, the first film John Carpenter has made since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. I had to see it. John Carpenter is one of the modern masters of shock horror-thrillers. His long drought in between films did not hurt his craft. There are some truly brilliant scenes in this film, but it is the screenplay that makes the film uneven and gives it less of an impact than some of his previous films. It is a bit more conventional, but it still has that Carpenter polished feeling, almost making it seem like it should be better than it actually is. That is a testament to his skills. There is a US release date in July. Definitely see it at midnight, as I did with a packed house at the festival. It is a cool movie, despite its flaws.

The film is about Kristen (Amber Heard), a young girl who is admitted to a mental institution and begins being terrorized by mysterious ghost that has apparently been haunting the other patients at the hospital as well. The committed doctor is Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who does everything in his power to help Kristen to get better. There are constant flashbacks and dreamlike sequences featuring Kristen or some of the other inmates. It is a fairly standard ghost story on the surface, but there is something more sinister going on.

The Ward is like the love child of Shutter Island and Girl, Interrupted. The latter in the sense that there are a bunch of beautiful and talented young actresses in a psych ward, and the former takes into account some of the story arcs. The horror film clich├ęs are evident throughout some of the second half, and the twists can be easy to catch with some obvious foreshadowing. But, who am I kidding? This movie was a lot of fun to watch. At least Carpenter is back.

Rating: 2.5 stars