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Nov 2003 / sights and sounds :: email this story to a friend

SLIFF Pick-O-Matic
By Thomas Crone

Ordinarily, the "Sights and Sounds" column looks back at some of the events taking place around town the month prior. But, surprisingly, nothing happened in St. Louis during October. Strange!

Closer to the truth, we had to make room for some previews and picks at the 12th annual St. Louis International Film Festival, brought to life by Cinema St. Louis during mid-November. The Fest is always long on films that might not, on their face, seem like easy draws. But with preview tapes in hand, we can only beg to differ. Here, we'll pass along some recommendations for international and documentary sleepers, and a couple of local titles that have come to our attention, as well.

For the full SLIFF lineup check out Cinema St. Louis' website.

"101 Reykjavik"
Directed by Balthasar Kormakur
Iceland, 2000, 88 min.
Thursday, Nov. 20, 7 p.m., Webster University

There's a certain something about the Icelandic sense of humor, which seems to directly mirror the strange, eerie landscapes of the tiny island nation. The country's thriving film community puts out several impressive efforts a year, and SLIFF has three recent titles, including this dark comedy, which finds a slacker drawn into an increasingly complicated web in his home life. Satisfied to spend the day bathing, sleeping and porn surfing (and the nights drinking and carousing), saucy Hlynur soon finds himself in the center of a love triangle featuring his mother and an expatriate flamenco dancer. A strangely likable film, despite the absence of any likable characters.

Directed by Chris Grega
USA, 2002, 90 min.
Friday, Nov. 14, 11:30 p.m., Tivoli

An unbelievably large crowd attended the premiere of this film at the Pageant this past summer, on the final night of the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. Though the story itself sometimes confounds — with its too-numerous characters and constantly shifting allegiances among them — you'll amuse yourself spotting both actors that live down the block and shooting locations that you've been to a hundred times. Count on: lots of gunplay, some gory effects (compliments of local horror master Eric Stanze) and f-bombs that fly as frequently as bullets. Of which there are lots. Guns, girls, drugs and obscenity aplenty. Tell your teen brother about this all-local production.

Directed by Martin Doblmeier
USA, 2003, 93 min.
Saturday, Nov. 15, 2 p.m., Tivoli
Monday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m., Tivoli

By now, images of hundreds waiting in soup lines, Jews lying dead in concentration camp yards, German armies on the move ... all are part-and-parcel of any day's programming on the History Channel. In a way, the constant presence of those visuals cheapens them, makes them ordinary. In this riveting documentary, though, they serve more as emphasis points, adding a dose of menace and foreboding to a truly unique tale. Though known in theological and ecumenical circles, the story of German resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer isn't known to a wider audience. This film traces his roots in pacifism to the death of a brother in World War I, following him through his days as a vocal critic during the rise of the Nazis and his eventual role as an active conspiracist against Hilter. With voiced-over narration providing Bonhoeffer's own words, his aged contemporaries speak eloquently about his unwavering faith and quiet heroism as part of an all-too-small core of German resisters. Well-structured and appropriately paced, this title brings to life a remarkable story and packs an incredible emotional punch.

Directed by Josef Fares
Sweden, 2002, 90 min.
Friday, Nov. 21, 9:30 p.m., Hi-Pointe
Saturday, Nov. 22, 2 p.m., Hi-Pointe

There's one quick, fleeting act of violence early in the film that almost ruins the breezy, fun feel of this Swedish comedy. Luckily, the character (mostly) acquits himself after numerous apologies and we're back to rooting for him and his colleagues, a small-time police force about to lose their jobs due to lack of crime. To avoid giving much away, we'll just say that the casual cops decide take matters into their own hands and the farcical results are often quite funny, indeed. Toss in a little gunplay, some romance and the occasional inept car chase and you've got a movie that's winning in its own right, and also as an amusing parody of American action films. ("Benny the Cop," in particular delivers some antics that are even parts "Matrix" and "Benny Hill.") Silly stuff and often quite funny.

"Life After War"
Directed by Brian Kanppenberger
USA, 2002, 85 min.
Friday, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m., Tivoli
Sunday, Nov. 23, 1:30 p.m., Tivoli

Look for a more comprehensive over at We'll note quickly, here, that this film will appeal to anyone who gets their daily news from sources outside of the mainstream. This impressive doc follows NPR reporter Sarah Chayse, who leaves the profession while covering the US war against the Taliban. She becomes a relief worker and finds a set of challenges that dwarf her every expectation. And for a hardened war correspondent, she's not entering this life-altering decision assuming anything but tough times ahead. And that's exactly what she gets, from the shifty government, other relief workers, the local mob bosses and the sometimes-crafty townsfolk she's trying to help.

"Noi the Albino"
Directed by Dagur Kari
Iceland, 2003, 93 min.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m., Webster University
Friday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m., Webster University

Oh, those Icelanders! As noted above, the Icelandic film community reflects a certain bleak humor in the populace and the undercurrent of this title is certainly pessimistic. Young Noi is a knucklehead at school and a drifter away from it, though he's also tested as genius by the psychologist from "the big city." Luckily for him, in a sense, his remote, northern village is so small that his ability to get into any real trouble is limited. But the arrival of a pretty, young girl and an increasing desire to flee provide the right combustible elements for problems ahead. Set in the dead of winter, this film moves at a languid pace, with drab colors, so the occasional burst of activity is even more pronounced. Also amusing: the running joke of using the song "In the Ghetto." In a film this subtle, you find what you can.

"Power Trip"
Directed by Paul Devlin
USA, 2003, 85 min.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m., Tivoli
Friday, Nov. 21, 5 p.m., Tivoli

You may not think that a film exploring the industrial problems of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia would have much sizzle for American audiences. Your guess would be ... incorrect. Writer/director Devlin finds a remarkable story in the privatization of electricity in Georgia, now run by a U.S. multi-national, AES. He follows the AES field workers into the streets, where they find an upset citizenry, blatantly corrupt national government and homemade power outlets that zap residents with regularity. The city of Tbilisi is the backdrop to this story — a teeming, cosmopolitan, and crushingly poor town, full of remarkable characters. The native Georgians veer between bemused resignation and near-revolutionary anger, while the American electrical engineers cover as much ground as possible between power outages, assaults on their gear (and sometimes themselves) and the latest case of official graft. If you wonder how Afghanistan and Iraq will be rebuilt with US dollars and know-how, this film gives some indication of a rocky road ahead. The subject matter of this one might suggest a narrow interest audience, but anyone intrigued by the role of corporations in U.S. foreign policy should seek it out.

Directed by Johnny To
Hong Kong, 2002, 85 min.
Friday, Nov. 14, 9:30, Hi-Pointe

Most Hong Kong action films start with arms a'blazing. And they end with the same. "PTU" offers a bit of a different twist, in that the guns are frequently at rest, giving this title a sense of tautness not always seen in contemporary Asian cinema. There's still a goofy, broadly drawn nature to most of the characters here — captured in frequent, tight, clenched-jaw close-ups. With the narrative taking place over one tense night, the cops and mobsters continually shift their allegiances, keeping you guessing as to when the inevitable violence will strike. And who'll remain standing when the credits begin to roll. Director To will be on hand for this single screening.

"Robot Stories"
Directed by Greg Pak
USA, 2002, 85 min.
Friday, Nov. 21, 7:15 p.m., Tivoli

robot baby! Four separate stories — but often featuring the same actors — that are set in the near-future, with a decided bent towards understanding the impact of technology on our innate humanity. The opener, "My Robot Baby," is a slightly creepy, kinda amusing take on the notion of a world in which robot babies (and it's fun to write that: robot babies) are substituted for human adoptions. Really stealing the show, though, is the second installment, "The Robot Fixer," a sweet film, if you can call it that, about a mother's hunt for lost toy pieces, as her son lies dying. The remaining two bits are solid, but the final moments of "The Robot Fixer" are the most haunting of this rather inventive quartet of sympathetic shorts.

St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase - Documentary Program 2
Feat. "Gaslight Square: The Forgotten Landmark" and "A View From the Top: KXOK in the '60s"
Thursday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m., Tivoli

A decided hit at the Missouri History Museum for an extended run, "Gaslight Square: The Forgotten Landmark" will play the Tivoli, with an early-evening showcase of live music from Gaslight alumni at nearby Brandt's. This local nostalgia twin bill also includes a look at one-time powerhouse radio station KXOK, the hit maker of the AM dial during its day.

w/ "Lustron - The House America's Been Waiting For"
Directed by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt
USA, 2003, 62 min.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 5 p.m., Tivoli
Thursday, Nov. 20, 9:45 p.m., Tivoli

"Tupperware!" should be a real crowd pleaser. Featuring contemporary interviews mixed with archival footage, "Tupperware!" sketches out a fast and fascinating history of the plastics company. It's partly a story about the founder, Earl Tupper, and his early sales lieutenant, Brownie Wise. It's partly a social history of American society's changing attitudes towards women in the workplace during the 1940s and 1950s. And it's also a fun look at how a corporate idea — home parties — meshed with zany sales techniques and an American appetite for consumables in the post-WWII era. Campy and fun, it's a perfect companion to one of last year's best documentaries, "Adventures in Plastic," that one look a "all-American lesbian folksinger Phranc," herself a superstar on the Tupperware circuit. Who knew this company's story contained not one, but two, humorous and insightful docs? See it.

Thomas Crone, when given the chance, watches far too many movies.

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