Sunday, April 18, 2010

MSPIFF 2010: Day 2

Son of a Lion - Recommended
Son of a Lion is a solid film that might not provide any major surprises by way of innovation, but is rich with honesty. Set in the wild west of Pakistan, this first feature from Australian director Benjamin Gilmour focuses on a widowed Pashtun father and an ideological struggle with his eleven year old son. The father is committed to raising his son under strict Islamic law and teaching him the trade of his gun shop. His son, however, is drawn to music and wants to attend school to learn how to read. A young child's desire to go to school lays a safe ground work for the film to gently explore other issues. Gilmour does a fantastic job of keeping a steady gaze trained on this subject matter while exploring some of the more difficult cultural and social issues that a father and son face in the hinterlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, from finding a good dentist to dealing with the propagation of weapons. The best parts of the film are those in which the dialog feels unscripted and is not responsible for propelling the story forward. Midway through the film a handful of Pashtun elders, none of them 'characters' in the film per se, openly discuss the importance of education and what they would do is Osama bin Laden were to come to their house. One man laughs and admits that we would want the reward money; another said he would be welcome into his house, but not as a terrorist; and yet another simply said, "I don't want any trouble." As much as education is important in a young person's life, so is a father and neither can be abandon for the other. The resolution to this film, realistic or not, let's you leave the film happy, and ironically it does not feel like a compromise.
Screens again Wednesday, April 21 at 6:00pm

The Secret of Kells - Highly Recommended
I used to think that seeing a film at the festival that was going to open in town at a later date was wasting the opportunity to see something you might never get the chance to see again. I'm starting to change my mind. Seeing a film like The Secret of Kells (which opens this weekend at the Edina Cinema) among the festival hub-bub, and in this case a sold out show, elevates the experience. I was immediately won over by this unique animation and its visual style. It made me further realize just how rich the Oscar nominated animated feature pool was. Director Tomm Moore uses the images and colors from the Book of Kells for inspiration: a mix of finely detailed hieroglyphs and patterns, and flat stylized people and creatures. I felt far less invested in the story than I did the visuals, but that was okay with me. Themes and plot, although steeped in Irish myth and folklore, felt trimmed to meet the needs of a mass audience. I would only be my hope that this would allow more people to see this visually stunning 75 minute of work.
Opens Friday at the Edina Cinema

The Square - Recommended
How do you navigate writing about The Square? The Square is a thriller that has more twists than two pretzels tied in a knot, and discovering those twists as a viewer is half of the experience. Yet commenting on these plot devices, and how they work and don't work, is a very meaty conversation. Don't worry—I'm not going to do it. Nash Edgerton is an Australian stuntman turned director who has been mastering his craft through a series of short films, one of which preceded The Square Saturday night. If anyone sitting in the theater had any doubts about the kind of film they were about to see, Spider, Edgerton's most recent short, answered them succinctly. (Available on YouTube, it is perhaps the best introduction to the twisted logic used in The Square. Check it out here.) The Square contains all the classic components of a noir thriller: an illicit affair, a redneck boyfriend, and a bag full of cash. Raymond is the film's hero who seems to be an honest upstanding guy but quickly gets pushed to his limits. "The square" represents Raymond's first misstep and the pebble that turns into an avalanche of very very bad luck. The Square is a complicated story that Edgerton takes advantage of at every step, confusing or distracting the audience. The film exudes a grave tone, but with each mechanism and contrivance, the tone, which has an iron grip on your attention, turns slightly hackneyed and false. You get to a point in the film where there is really only one possible ending and the suspense ends. There is no doubt that humor drives the film in the direction it goes, but I would argue that that might not be the most effective direction.
Opens next week at the Lagoon Theater

Bananas! - Take It or Leave It
Unfortunately, I was about 20 minutes late to this 80 minute film, so it is probably unfair that I deem it disappointing. The banana industry is a monster with so many important and interesting issues surrounding it, Bananas! seems halfhearted at best. It focuses on a possible landmark case against an American company (Dole) for actions that took place outside the country (in this case the use of pesticides that they knew where harmful in Nicaragua.) The rights of workers under the hands of multinational countries is a huge issue, and the focus on the Banana industry is not unfair. But the documentary is muddled by the fact that the film uses an ambulance chasing attorney who drives a convertible Ferrari as its moral center. After closing arguments in the case, someone brings some refreshments to the attorney's office for the staff and he pulls a carton of Dole orange juice out of a bag. It's funny, but it's not—these people obviously don't get it. There is no mention of the Fair Trade movement and no mention of organics, and my food-as-politics bone finds that inexcusable. The only thing Bananas! does is offer a portrait of a screwed up trial. Bananas! screens with the unilluminating Big River by Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney who made King Corn.
Screens again Tuesday, April 20 at 6:30pm


Sandy Nawrot said...

Isn't there always a bag of cash at the heart of every twisty thriller??

Daniel Getahun said...

Great job covering MSPIFF so far, Kathie. Your capsules are well organized and I like the recommendations in red. I think I will now skip The Forbidden Door tonight.

The only film I got to Fri-Sun was actually Bananas!, and for the most part I agree with you that it was a missed opportunity. The first 20 minutes or so probably included the best material, at least in a way that helps us accept Juan Dominguez as a true altruist, Ferrari notwithstanding. I found the courtroom scenes riveting but maybe that says more about my interest in trials than the quality of the film. Overall it played like a lesser version of last year's Crude, which told an almost identical story.

We skipped out on Big River, and doesn't sound like we missed much. Also, I don't know how late you came in but there were A/V issues at the beginning so it didn't start on time anyway.

Lastly, was it just me or were the closing credits for Bananas! really, really bizarre?