Traverse City Film Festival 2013



This year I wasn’t into rating the movies. Why? Because when you mix seeing dramas and documentaries “like” or “dislike” can be misleading. My attitude was to believe festival co-founder Michael Moore when he said he brought “the absolute best movies I’ve found in the past year.” So unless otherwise indicated, all the movies are a 5 out of 5.


Opening night. Tuesday, July 30th, Blue Jasmine, 2013 USA PG-13 98 min. by Woody Allen opened today in NY, LA, and Traverse City Michigan. Woody Allen wasn’t here like many expected since we paid a premium to attend the opening night film. He was in France shooting his next movie. Michael Stuhlbarg, the unknown (to me) lead in Joel and Ethan Coan’s movie A Serious Man; who plays Adam Rothchild in Boardwalk Empire on HBO; who was the decisive vote in Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln; and somebody in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, a movie I didn’t see, was present. He plays a dentist in Blue Jasmine, a special kind of dentist, one who couldn’t resist coming on to Cate Blanchette. The movie shows a slice of desperate life as Cate Blanchette unravels as the wife of a Bernie-Madoff-Ponzi-scheme-empresario character, played by Alex Baldwin. She fumbles, stumbles, sexes, and talks to herself on the way down, or over to her next new life.


Wednesday, July 31. Bijou by the Bay is open, and my first movie on Wednesday is there. Bijou is located in an historic square brick building, a former museum. It was sold by the city to Michael Moore’s group for $1, which put $800,000 into it, to make it into a state of the art movie theater for 170 patrons. It also adds an 8th venue to the film festival and permanently to the town. The State Theater, recently voted by the Motion Picture Association of America as “the best movie theater in the world,” now has an adjunct, right behind it on Grand Traverse Bay, Bijou.


My first movie was The Pervert”s Guide to Ideology 2012 UK Ireland NR 136 min. with Joe Cocker imitator, Slavic philosopher and social critic Slavoj Zizek [The Year of Dreaming Dangerously] as narrator. I call this movie “an intellectual exercise.” This guy is hard to follow. The program guide calls it “an exhilarating and off-beat crash-course in the philosophy of film and the ideological implications hidden within.” Since I never understood what this film was about, I kept my focus by writing on a piece of typing paper I always carry in my pocket all the movies Slavoj shows clips of to illustrate his arcane points. They include The Sound of Music, Brazil, Full Metal Jacket and Jaws.


2nd movie on Wednesday. Red Obsession 2013 Australia, China, France, UK, Hong Kong NR 76 min. It is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild brand of Bordeaux wines that the film features. The Chinese buy cases of this pricy wine like they were bricks of gold. It is wine as an investment. “The photography was so beautiful,” a lady said to me.


3rd movie on Wednesday. Blackfish 2013 USA PG-13 82 minutes. The native people say Orcas, also known as killer whales, have spiritual powers. Killer whales bond mother and pup for a long time. Scientists doing MRIs and dissection find an emotive enlargement of brain matter that humans don’t have in Orcas. Like last year’s fish advocacy film about dolphins, The Cove, which urged support for dolphins, Blackfish is an incitement for a movement to forever boycott Sea World.


4th movie Wednesday. A Hijacking 2012 Denmark R 99 min. A hundred days hijacked is hard. It’s hot down there in a cabin with nothing to do. So much in this movie resembles another hijacking on land by Somali pirates in the book Impossible Odds, the kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and her dramatic rescue by SEAL Team Six. There is, for example, in both the negotiator who claims he’s “not one of them,” meaning those lowlife pirates. In the movie the negotiator back home is a stalwart character, demonstrating with his bargaining for his ship and crew the same wizardry he used to beat the Japanese businessmen he was dealing with before the pirates.


5th movie Wednesday. The Broken Circle Breakdown 2012 Belgium, Netherlands NR 111 min. To avoid a spoiler I copy the Program Guide: “Two wild and passionate people discover they fit perfectly together, until circumstances beyond their control change everything.” The pain of the plot is softened by blue grass music played by the main character’s band. When someone asked me after, I answered this was my favorite film so far.


1st movie Thursday. Kon Tiki 2012 Norway UK, Denmark, Germany, Sweden PG-13 118 min. I haven’t been ranking films 1-5 like they invite us to do after we see a film eligible for the Audience Awards. When I voted all so far have been 5s. This was 3 until the end when the “characters” on this biopic were brought up to date with what they did after the voyage, how long they lived, where they lived, when they died. This was an Academy Award foreign film nominee in 2012 and it received an honorable mention in Traverse City, in spite of my low regard for it.


2nd movie Thursday. Before Snowfall 2013 Norway, Germany, Iraq NR 105 min. The theme is honor killing. Money is given to the son to kill his sister. The Kurds have a network in Europe that gets him from Turkey to Oslo. Our boy finds his sister.


3rd movie Thursday. Wadjda 2012 Saudi Arabia, Germany PG 97 min. Bicycles for girls are haram (forbidden) in Saudi Arabia, so this film about a feisty 10 year old girl’s quest to get one drives this movie, and along the way shows a lot about Saudi society.


4th movie Thursday. Dragon 2011 Hong Kong, China R 115 min. Excellent. Action.

I can’t say it any better than this from the Program Guide: “When a quiet, hard-working father of two stumbles upon a robbery taking place in his small town and summarily disposes of the bad guys with what appears to be a combination of dumb luck and fast reflexes, a local detective decides there is more to this unassuming villager than meets the eye.”


1st movie Friday. Terms and Conditions May Apply 2013 USA NR 79 min. Rainey Reitman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of many contributors. Zaynep Somebody from a Sociology Department somewhere is another. They are two attractive ladies that caught my attention. The director Cullen Holback was present. You think the film may be about those terms and conditions you check when you join Facebook. It is and it’s about data, your data, that Facebook uses and sells and, more importantly, about how the government collects all your phone calls and internet activity.


2nd movie Friday. Into the White 2012 Norway R 101 min. Into the White is a riveting drama demonstrating that when you get to know another person you can’t help but like them. The meeting here is between German and English airmen downed in snow-covered Norway.


3rd movie Friday. Elaine Strich Shoot Me 2013 USA NR 81 min. Former and current alcoholic, brash diabetic, Alex Baldwin’s mother on 30 Rock, Elaine Strich is 87 and doesn’t give a damn what people think of her. She’s got dancer’s legs, long, even as the arthritis is kicking in. Did I mention diabetes? “Bring me some orange juice!” she shouts to an assistant during a rehearsal. “Do you want some prunes?” a voice off camera inquires. In her post-movie appearance, after an extended standing ovation, Michael Moore remarked that this was the biggest applause all week.


1st movie Saturday. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia 2013 USA NR 89 min. So many great quotes illustrating great wit from Gore; for example, he said a debating foe was plumbing the “depths of insincerity.” His contest of wits against William Buckley was classic. Buckley was so rattled he called Gore a “queer.” When Howard Austen, his longtime companion died, Gore said, “The gods cannot bear the happiness of mortals.” Gore was born October 3, 1925; he died July 31, 2012.


Gore describes US society as “conformity with an advanced degree in consumerism.” I marvel at the way there is little in the way of impending Alzheimer’s. Gore remembers the words senility and dementia—I can never remember them. Christopher Hitchens, who appears in the film bald from chemotherapy, was once crowned Gore’s dolphin, meaning prince or successor. But then Hitchens betrayed the leftist cause and supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq. You will find this dolphin blurb on the book jacket of Hitchens autobiography crossed out since Gore took back his embrace of Hitchens. Gore despised war and the presidents who waged them. Shunning Hitchens at a book signing, Gore allowed himself to be wheeled off in his wheelchair, leaving Hitchens clutching a book. Gore even predicted that he would outlast Hitchens; he did by one year.


2nd movie Saturday. Sunlight Jr. 2013 USA NR 95 min. When I asked if the director Laurie Collyer, who was present at the screening, paid Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon scale, she bristled. “I don’t like talking about such things.” Hey lady, this is a film festival. You are presenting a low budget film that you shot in 22 days, and you won’t answer this question to enlighten all the aspiring young film directors who want to make a low budget film with big name actors! I gave the movie a 3, but not because of the director’s lack of candor during questions. The sordid reality of the 99% who don’t have the means to live better is not entertaining. It is depressing.


3rd movie Saturday. 56 Up 2012 UK NR 144 min. 56 Up is the 8th film in the Up series. It began as an examination of the English social system, but not much of that goal comes through. 56 Up is part of a long term project, in which he interviewed the same group of people every seven years, by Michael Apted, who also made Coal Miner’s Daughter. In Traverse City, he got the Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. According to Roger Ebert the Up series, considering all as one, is one of the 10 best films ever. I gave the 8th outing a 3.


4th movie Saturday. The Act of Killing 2012 Denmark, Norway, UK, Sweden, Finland NR 115 min. Anwar Congo, one executioner for the Indonesian paramilitary death squads in the 60s, is the star of this film. The U.S. supported regime killed upwards of 1.5 million leftists, “communists,” teachers, and union members. Our star has shield shoulder, as well he should have from fending off the ghosts that haunt his dreams. Our star wears spiffy duds. He dons many “costumes” but nothing like his cross-dressing obese sidekick who doubles as torturer in one scene and obscene eye candy wearing a tutu in another. The Act of Killing won the festival’s Stanley Kubrick Award for bold and innovating filmmaking.