2012 SLIFF Preview | Adrienne Jones

sliff sm_copyKids with issues are nothing new to film, but Liars, Fires and Bears takes the subject to the extreme, with good results.


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I’ve previewed SLIFF films for the past five years and have generally been unimpressed with the offerings. I’m glad to say, though, that this year’s contributions feature a much better crop of filmmaking.

One of my favorites was Mariachi Gringo (11/14 Frontenac 9:30 p.m., 11/15 Frontenac 2 p.m.). Movies about aimless adults are a dime a dozen, but few have the gumption to do things as differently as this one. When Ed turns 30 after a period of drifting, which includes going on anti-depressants and getting laid off, he rekindles his love of music by getting lessons from a former mariachi star. When his mentor has a stroke, Ed leaves his parents’ farm behind and moves to Guadalajara to become a mariachi himself. I always enjoy it when films go in directions I’m not expecting, and Mariachi Gringo manages to do so while making the story more realistic without becoming boring.

The Giant Mechanical Man (11/12 Tivoli 7:15 p.m.) shares a general theme with Gringo, but the characters take a more comedic approach to finding what motivates them. Tim and Janice are both searching for something that they can’t quite pin down. Janice gets fired from her temp agency for looking bored during her various assignments, while Tim gets abandoned by his girlfriend because of the tips-only work he does as a giant mechanical man living statue around town. But when these two lost souls get jobs at a local zoo, they find their places in the world by finally connecting with someone who makes them feel special and like they belong. Mechanical Man is the rare movie that makes you feel warm inside. Watching it feels like watching people you really care for and worry about finally get their crap together. If you don’t feel good after seeing this one, it’s possible you have no heart.

sliff mariachi-gringo_300Another film that focuses on finding something to believe in, Fat Kid Rules the World (11/17 Tivoli 9:15 p.m.), shows us how delving into someone else’s problems can help with your own. Troy is a fat, teenaged outsider who has pleasant daydreams of suicide. When he actually tries to kill himself and is rescued by punk rocker Marcus, his boring life gets a jolt from their odd friendship. One of the wonderful things about Fat Kid is the fact that Troy isn’t as alone as he thinks he is. He might not have any friends, but he does have a dad who, though tough, loves and struggles to help him and understand what he needs to be happy. Fat Kid is a film for the loser in all of us.

Kids with issues are nothing new to film, but Liars, Fires and Bears (11/10 Wash Univ./Brown 7 p.m.) takes the subject to the extreme, with good results. Dave leaves a Las Vegas bar after a bender to find nine-year-old runaway Eve in his car, demanding to be driven to Colorado. It isn’t long before Dave makes enough bad decisions to end up on the lam with Eve in tow. Even though the parts featuring Dave without Eve can feel a bit like a different movie, it’s still enjoyable to watch. The performances of Lundon Boyd and Megli Micek perfectly embody Dave’s arrested development and Eve’s serious, haunted foster kid. If nothing else, Liars, Fires and Bears will definitely stick with you.

A film that slowly wormed its way into my brain and keeps popping up since I finished watching it is Between Us (11/18 Tivoli 4 p.m.). Twenty minutes in, I hated each of the two fighting couples we focus on. Then I started to get it: We’re not supposed to like them because they don’t much like themselves or each other, either as couples or individuals. The jealousy and frustration of these old friends boils over on two separate occasions. No one has the life they would have chosen for themselves and, naturally, someone in the other couple has what they want. The beginning of the film can feel quite laborious, but once you get into why everyone is so angry, it becomes an interesting study in the escalation of arguments and unspoken emotions. Between Us is worth a look, as long as you don’t mind watching people say nasty things to each other for 99 minutes.

On a much, much lighter note, The Olivia Experiment (11/14 Tivoli 9:30 p.m., 11/17 Wildey 1 p.m.) deals with sex in a way that few films even consider. Olivia is a writer in her late twenties who’s never dated or had sex, and is even uncomfortable with platonic touching. When she’s told by a professor that she needs to live a little to inform her writing, she decides to see if she’s really asexual, as she assumes, by having sex with a friend’s lover. Olivia attempts to explain what happens when awkward kids grow into equally awkward adults, and while Skye Noel’s turn as Olivia is pitch perfect, the film misses the mark with too much quirk and not enough substance.

sliff olivia_250Songs for Amy (11/9 Frontenac 6:30 p.m., 11/10 Frontenac 4 p.m.) is another film that takes a lighter approach to storytelling with winning results. When Sean has a wild night out and accidentally leaves fiancée Amy at the altar, she leaves him and Galway behind for a job in New York. Still in love with her and wanting desperately to get her back, Sean convinces his band to record a CD just for Amy. You’ll be pulled in by the funny, real, likeable characters, and probably come away wanting more romantic comedies to play more like this.

The relationships at the center of Faith, Love and Whiskey (11/17 Tivoli 3 p.m.) are considerably more screwed up than those in the previous film. Neli has a nice, rich American fiancé and should be happy. But when she visits her native Bulgaria to see her grandmother, she falls back in with her old crowd and her ex-boyfriend. Neli goes from a perfectly planned life of ambition back to partying, drinking, and screwing as a way of living. Her quick descent into her old ways gives us an interesting view of someone too used to having nothing to really want anything. It’s hard to make a movie about people who don’t do much without it ending up boring, but the filmmakers here have managed it nicely.

The team behind Craft (11/14 Frontenac 4:15 p.m.) has given us a study of the trials of a creative life that borders on excess realism. Bianca is an actress who ekes out a meager living posing as celebrities for events and doing small plays. When she lands a role in a major film alongside a well-known actress, though, she feels her ship has finally come in. For most of this movie, we watch as Bianca works, performs, auditions, and deals with the consequences of her artistic life. As such, the movie ends up as a bit too slice-of-life to be really entertaining.

Craft just misses the downer mark, but Amnesty (11/15 Frontenac 2:30 p.m.) is all over it from minute one. When a new law allows prisoner’s conjugal visits in Albania, Elsa and Spetim do their duty by visiting their incarcerated spouses each month. After a few chance meetings in the prison waiting room, the passionless time they spend with their spouses leads to something brighter for the two of them. I kept waiting for something wonderful to happen in this movie. Part of the problem is that it moves far too slow to hold interest: The leads don’t even have any significant contact until 54 minutes into the film. Things really start to move along after that point, but by then you don’t care much. And, unfortunately, when the ending rolls around, you will wonder why you spent 83 minutes on something so unsatisfying. | Adrienne Jones

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