One of the weird things about film festivals (well, to me at least, maybe it's not to anyone else) is the concept of "hold review" films. "Hold review", as the term implies, means that we aren't supposed to publish full reviews of certain films until their actual release date. This makes sense from a distributor's standpoint, because they want reviews to go up right as the film is coming out, so that, theoretically, the plethora of reviews will drive butts into seats, and give the distribs some return on their investment. The interesting thing is, that probably half the films on the SIFF review list are films that Cine has already reviewed from earlier fests, before said films acquired distrib, and generally speaking, when we run a fest review of a film that scores distrib down the road, we almost always run another review then, with a pointer back to our fest review.
Since we prefer to stay in the good graces of our friends at both the distributor and fest end of things, though, we nonetheless rigorously comply with the "hold review" lists. We can tease you, we can tantalize ... we just can't tell you everything you want to know. Here's what we can tell you about the SIFF films I've seen so far for which I can't give you full reviews ... yet (think of it as a little cinematic foreplay) -- and links to those for which we've previoiusly run reviews.
SIFF Hold Review Films
The Illusionist - Edward Norton was amazing in American History X. Yes, indeed, he was. Sadly, he has not, since then, reached the level of that brilliant performance -- and he doesn't quite get there in this film, either. The Illusionist tells the tale of Eisenheim, a magician in love with his childhood sweetheart (Jessica Biel), who, unfortunately, is a duchess engaged to the Crown Prince of Austria (Rufus Sewell), who has a nasty habit of roughing up the ladies. Sewell gets high marks for addingn depth and passion to what could have been a stereotypical bad guy, and Paul Giamatti plays well against type as Chief Inspector Uhl, who admires Eisenheim even as he tails him at the behest of the Crown Prince. When the would-be princess turns up dead, it's up to Eisenheim to prove the prince killed her. Biel isn't given much to do but look pretty, but she certainly handles that task very well.
The King - This odd film by James Marsh left me scratching my head -- and yet, there's something about it that's oddly appealing. Gael García Bernal stars as Elvis, a young man fresh out of the Navy, who heads to Corpus Christi and begins stalking a preacher (William Hurt) and his family. As to the whys and wherefores of that., you'll have to watch the film yourself. Suffice it to say this is not your average film with a happy ending, but the religious symbolism alone will keep you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Strong performances by Bernal and Hurt anchor this odd film, but keep your eye on Pell James, who plays Malerie, the preacher's daughter. She adds layers to this role that many other actresses would overlook.
A Soap - This little gem out of Denmark was one of my fave films at SIFF. Charlotte (Trine Dyrholm) leaves her nice-but-dull doctor boyfriend and gets her own apartment. She meets her downstairs neighbor, the reticent Veronica (David Dencik), a suicidally depressed pre-op transexual. Charlotte and Veronica reluctantly forge a relationship after Charlotte saves Veronica from a suicide attempt. It sounds so simple -- two apartments, two people, pretty much nothing but dialogue -- and yet the sum of this film is so much greater than its parts. Dencik turns in a truly remarkable and sensitive performance as Veronica (and you have to give major bonus points to any fairly hairy man who will endure a full-body waxing for the sake of a movie role - ouch!).
Half Nelson - Ryan Gosling shines as Dan, a middle-school teacher and basketball coach with a heart of gold -- and a pesky crack habit. When Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of Dan's students, catches Dan with crack pipe in hand in the locker room after a game, the two develop an intriguing relationship based on guilt and mutual understanding. Gosling's performance is both outstanding and affirming of the talent he always hid like a light under a bushel (let's just sweep that whole late-'90s Hercules thing under the rug, shall we?), but the real kicker in this flick is the electric connection forged between Gosling and Epps, a first-timer fresh out of a NYC arts school who, I sincerely hope, we'll be seeing a lot more of in the future. I'm curious to see what Epps might do in a role that's less close to her real life story; she's certainly a standout here, in any case. Every time the girl gave Dan that look, even I felt guilty.
American Blackout - You might think you know everything there is to know about how Al Gore lost Florida (and thus, the election) to Bush in 2000. You might not care. Then again, American Blackout just might teach you something about 90,000 disenfranchised, mostly minority voters deliberately kept from the polls by Jeb Bush, brother of George W., and about the lengths political parties will go to, to silence someone who dares to speak out. If the footage of the poltical hack who devised a way to destroy the career of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (who dared to challenge the Republican guard) practically rubbing his hands together and cackling with glee doesn't make you think twice about what you know about our political system, you haven't been paying attention.
Monster House - In a year packed with mostly mediocre kiddie flicks (*cough* Garfield *cough*), Monster House is a refreshingly unique modern-day fable about a haunted house that is the embodiment of the spirit possessing it. Wunderkind director Gil Kenan uses motion-capture to bring to life an amazing voice cast including Kathleen Turner, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Steve Buscemi. The real jewel of the film, though, is the house itself -- the big payoff scene in the last third of the film, when the title character uproots itself and chases the three kids who are trying to stop it through their neighborhood, is truly stupendous, and will have even the grownups on the edge of their seats.
Conversations With Other Women - Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham-Carter star as Man and Woman -- married in their youth, long-since divorced, who are reunited for an evening at a wedding. Like A Soap, this film is all about the dialogue and interaction between two characters. Pinning a film on 90 or so minutes of dialogue is a risky endeavor -- you need witty, brilliant writing and equally brilliant acting to pull it off. Fortunately, Conversations doesn't skimp on either, and the interesting visual device the film uses actually pays off rather than just being annoying, like I thought it was going to be.
SIFF Hold Review Films Previously Reviewed on Cinematical
Man Push Cart
Brothers of the Head
This Film is Not Yet Rated
A Prarie Home Companion
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The Science of Sleep