Kevin Fansler's 1998 SIFF  Reviews

Kevin Fansler is a fellow Microsoftie and a serious filmgoer.


Monday, June 8

The Oyster and the Wind (Brazil)

Interesting look at isolation and its impact on a father and daughter who live on an island. The father is the lighthouse keeper. Most of the film is told in flashbacks and diary excerpts. You know that all the main characters are "missing" from the very beginning, but you aren't sure why or how. The whole film is beautifully shot with great use of light and shadow. The mystery unravels with some nice tension all the way through as well. I thought the characters were a little didactic in that they each represented something rather than seeming real, but it was oddly gripping anyway.

I Married a Strange Person (Bill Plympton feature-length animation)

Bizarre in the best sense. This is the feature length film from Bill Plympton that I expected to see when he made The Toon a while back. This time, he keeps all his zaniness and quickly morphing people and storylines without losing any energy. Though it's also extremly graphic and a bit gross throughout. Plympton was at the screening and guessed that the film might get either an NC-17 or an X rating if it goes through the ratings board. One more showing today (6/9) and then a possible wide release in September.

The Hanging Garden (Canada)

Wow! I love ambiguity in movies. This one uses an interesting technique to make you question what is true and what is actually happening vs. what happened in this family's past. Definitely one of my faves so far (with Children of Heaven and Lea). Without giving too much away, this uses a technique similar to that famous Ambrose Bierce short story about the soldier in the Civil War... I'll stop there. ;-)


Saturday, June 6

The Kingdom II

Disappointing follow-up to the first film. Some brilliant bits and you gotta' love the characters in this hospital, but very unfocused and diffused compared to other work. This time, it felt like it was made for TV with broader humor and tons of plot twists that were telegraphed by at least 20 minutes each. Way way too long for what little content was here. One huge caveat: this means that it is still better than 80% of the films out there...

Killer Condom

Faithful to the comic in some ways, but much less erotic. It definitely had its moments, but I'm not sure it was worth staying up until 2:30 a.m. for...

Sunday, June 7

Secret Fest #3

Ho-hum... why oh why did I buy a secret fest pass this year... it was cute and all, but lacked a certain sparkle that I thought it should have had.

Poster Auction

Eek! I spent way too much money here, but it was for a good cause, i.e., to keep the festival going. Also, I got some great posters, so hey! Irma Vep, Trainspotting, The Celluloid Closet, and a surprise birthday gift for my partner... The most money for a poster went to a beautiful Chinatown poster which sold for $640.00!


Thursday, June 4

Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss

Funny, witty, and overly long. Worth a look if you want to see a better-than-average American gay film, but not as good as some of the other gay films in the fest, particularly Regular Guys (Germany) or The Man in Her Life (The Philippines). Some very clever things and some fun drag performances, but it never really hits that edge that made Priscilla so enjoyable.


Much better than the other Swedish film in the fest (Adam and Eva). Well-crafted movie with many different characters and points of view as well as a swirling timeline that is fairly easy to follow. It suffers a little bit from trying to be the Swedish version of Slacker or City of Hope, but it works for the most part. The best bits were the skinheads talking about tulips and the game show contestants who ignored the crisis in their own building (the host calls up random phone numbers in Sweden and talks to the contestants in their homes).


Wednesday, June 3

My Secret Cache

Charming Japanese comedy with deliberately fakey special effects. Very funny in places and mostly a lot of fun. Not a great film, but more moments work in this comedy than in most US comedies I've seen. One major problem with the film is that the main character never really grew. She went from not having drive in her life to having drive, so that's commendable, but I was hoping a lesson might be learned as well. Ah well. So it has a bit of an 80s "make a buck at any cost" sensibility. It's still pretty clever.

The Red Door

Metaphysical film from India. I went to this expecting it to be about a wife and her journey into self-actualization blah blah blah. It was actually more about the husband. It was interesting to watch, but it seemed like an awful lot of film time to just show me that this guy could benefit from a few trips to a therapist... I don't want to dismiss the film, but I honestly didn't get too much out of it. It will, however, probably be one of those films I think about more as time goes by.


Monday, June 1

The Man in Her Life

Melodramatic in a strictly cultural sense, but moving and rewarding nonetheless. This was the first film I had seen at SIFF this year where I had a really nice emotional response to the film. (See the Sea made me shiver and Lea had some great moments, but I didn't really get swept away by either story on an emotional level).


Bad. Canadian ripoff of Peter Greenaway's style and it needed a really good edit. It had some interesting ideas and a lot of interesting images, so it wasn't a complete waste of time, but only see this one if you are "extremely" interested in the various subject matters (i.e., circumcision, censorship, Pierre Trudeau).

Tuesday, June 2


A little too reverent for my tastes, especially considering the subject matter was one of the wittiest men to come out of the Victorian era, Oscar Wilde. Stephen Fry and Jude Law do a great job with the parts they're given and Wilde becomes a very sympathetic character. Similar to Mrs. Brown from last year in that a solid main character brings to life an otherwise middle-of-the-road film.

Jeanne and the Perfect Guy

Many of the full-series passholders at this screening complained about this one, especially the music and the choreography... but I personally found it charming. The movie is sometimes billed as "the French Rent" but I found it more along the lines of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which came long before Rent. They don't sing every line like in either of the other two musicals mentioned here, but they do sing a lot and sometimes in very goofy ways. The goofier the number though, the more endearing the musical if you ask me. ;-) Also, the AIDS story within the musical numbers gets it right and works very well.

Lawn Dogs

My day just kept getting better. I liked all 4 films I saw today, but they are each successively better than the one before. This one is a suburban fairy tale riff on the tale of Baba Yaga (complete with the appropriate Mussourgsky accompaniment at one point). Very powerful film with a moral point about the empty lives of people in the suburbs. Played very nicely to my own personal biases, so it worked for me. IOW, if you enjoy living in the suburbs... you may miss the point of this film completely.

The Children of Heaven

Great film from Iran. Easily the best movie I've seen in the festival so far. It doesn't play the fest again, but it looks like Miramax picked it up for distribution, so watch for this one in theaters sometime... Once again, we see Tehran and Irani (is that the right word?) society through the eyes of children like in White Balloon or The Mirror. This time, you get the added excitement of a 5K footrace, a bicycle mishap, and other plot elements that make the whole story work a little better for western audiences than in the other films I've seen from Iran. (I've liked them all, I just thought this one played better for a western audience than the films usually do.)


Friday, May 29

Love Tangles

Very light and fluffy French sex comedy. Seemed overly long at 90 minutes for what little content was there. Some cute things.

Adam and Eva

Very light and fluffy Swedish sex comedy, which means it's slightly more angst-ridden than the same situation in a French sex comedy... ;-) I even love Swedish movies generally and this one was a little too light and fluffy for me. I only caught glimpses of one truly 3-dimensional character and she wasn't one of the leads.

Things I Left in Havana

Interesting and entertaining, though somewhat unfocused. Certainly the best of this day.

Saturday, May 30

Waco: The Rules of Engagement

Disturbing look at human rights atrocities committed by our government in Texas. Fascinating to watch, though the sound quality (or either the film or just the theater in general) was atrocious. 84 killed, mostly women and children.

Chile, The Obstinate Memory

Blah blah, more human rights atrocities. This time in Chile. Very well done though. Just look at my day to see why I have a blase attitude about the whole thing. Appx. 1700 killed or "disappeared" according to official reports though the film implies that this number was much higher. The film is more about collective memory and why cultures may "choose" to block out certain memories.

Kisangani Diary

And even more human rights atrocities. This time about Tutsi refugees being slaughtered by the new government in The Democratic Republic of Congo (is that the right name for Zaire now). 200,000 killed. The film opens with a disturbing quote about how most people in the film will be dead by the time you see the film.

The Opposite of Sex

Mean-spirited but surprisingly funny and complex comedy about life. Christina Ricci is great and the story is clever. I even got all emotional at one point near the end. Some dialogue even borders on the profound (or at least pithy).

Regular Guys

Sweet, romantic, and very funny comedy from Germany. Perfect antidote to my day of human rights atrocities. Well worth a view.

Sunday, May 31

Secret Festival

Ugh. I can't talk much about this, but I thought it was a complete waste of time. I walked out at about the halfway point. It was a disease-of-the-week treatment done for TV and it showed. Why subject us to this drivel?


Wednesday, May 27

Honey and Ashes (Tunisia)

Moving tale about the powerlessness of women in Tunisia. The film shows the different types of experiences various women have by focusing on 3 women and how their stories interrelate. Very well done, though not particularly inspired. Nice window into the culture.

The Mirror (Iran)

Extremely clever movie. Easily my favorite film so far in this fest. A little girl (1st grade) waits for her mother to come collect her after school. Eventually, she decides that her mother isn't coming for whatever reason and takes matters into her own hands. Through a series of misunderstandings of how the adult world works, the little girl eventually ends up at the exact opposite end of the city from where her home is and that's just the first half. Without spoilers, I'll just say that the 2nd half makes you understand why the movie title is what it is.

Memories (Japan)

3 anime features of varying success. Otomo's should have been the showpiece at the end of the three, but it was kind of tedious. The middle section was the best and worth the price of admission. The opera/space segment at the beginning had good moments as well. All three episodes needed a good editor to whack away at tired explication.


Tuesday, May 26

Girl with Hyacinths (Flicka med Hyacinter)

Great film noir from a socialist/psychological perspective. The "murder" is a suicide and the plot involves trying to figure out why the stranger next door to you commited suicide and left all of her things to you. Very entertaining and perfect food for my Swed-o-phile addictions. I didn't know that anybody in Sweden had made film noir types of films.

See the Sea (Regarde La Mer)

Creepiest film so far in the fest (even creepier than Surrender Dorothy). Along the lines of La Ceremonie but from the bourgeoisie character's point of view so you don't really get into the head of the other person much. I thought the pacing and story were just perfect, though some people in the audience seemed to have trouble grasping character motivations and things like that. So it's subtle… I had to go home and read something to get my mind off it enough not to have nightmares. Plays with a short film by the same director that is completely different in tone. Shows nice range.


Friday, May 22


Beautiful retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Stunning images and real electricity between the two leads. Fun cameos from both Hannah Schuygulla and Udo Kier.

Saturday, May 23

Postman Blues

Somewhat mixed message film either farce or political commentary with no clear intentions and a bizarre ending. I think the director just had nowhere to go with all the elements he was trying to pull together into a story.

Sunday, May 24

Secret Fest

Gorgeous. I'm so glad I went. ;-)

Saltmen of Tibet

Gorgeous as well, but somehow unsatisfying. Intriguing and interesting, but it raised more questions than it answered. For instance, the Saltmen have lots of taboos about who can do this with them and who even gets to overhear the language they use while harvesting salt, yet no mention is ever made that a film crew is along for the ride or whether women will be barred from seeing the movie in case they overhear the saltmen's secret male-only language.


The film was fairly subtle and creepy. The music from the Alloy Orchestra was only creepy, but never subtle or quiet. In fact, it was so loud that I was still hearing it several hours later.

Surrender Dorothy

Very disturbing and dark film that is nevertheless well acted and gripping all the way through. It's even humorous despite the dark theme. It's not a black comedy. It's just humorous in some way.

Monday, May 25

Frank Lloyd Wright

Ken Burns does FLW and includes so many details that you enjoy watching it while at the same time wishing that he had included more details about the architecture and its impact rather than so many details about other things.

Post Coitum

Probably the least erotic film I've seen about sex in a long time, though the director/star did a fantastic job and held my interest throughout.

Conceiving Ada

Ugh. I should have been interested in this, and it should have been much better considering it's about the woman who invented computer language and it stars Tilda Swinton. But I thought it was poorly executed with an even worse screenplay. It plays like one of those awful "movies" made for the science fiction channel.

Early Reviews

Smoke Signals

I saw a rough cut of this when it was still called What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona, so they may have recut it and changed it around a bit since then. A little cliché-ridden, but mostly effective and worth the time it will take to stand in line to see it at the fest. Alexie did a nice job of assembling bits of his published work into a screenplay with a moving story (he takes aspects from Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Reservation Blues, and some published poetry - I don't think he took anything from Indian Killer, but he may have borrowed a bit from it). The Bottom Line: if you like Sherman Alexie's writing, you'll like this movie!


More interesting for its historical impact on storytelling and films than its pacing. The story is basically the same story told from 3-4 different characters points of view (4 technically, but you see 3 told as complete pieces and the 4th is the framing device for the entire film). It's a must see if you're interested in film and film history. It's also quite interesting psychologically. However, Ran is still my favorite Kurosawa movie. Bottom Line: slow moving, but worth it if you are patient.

The Kingdom I

One of my favorites. Shot for TV, so tends to look a little grainy when blown up for the big screen, but mesmerizing and emotionally satisfying while being funny and creepy all at once. If you haven't seen this, you might want to check it out before seeing The Kingdom II later that day. It's all one big TV series in Denmark, so the second part will pick up right where the first one left off. I think it would be kind of hard to follow the plot of the second one if you haven't seen the first. Kind of like coming in on "Millenium" halfway through the season. Bottom Line: Don't miss it! (For repeat viewings, the bottom line is only go if you forgot how it ends or need a refresher.)

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