Part two of my CIFF report card:
Mekong Hotel (Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Grade: B / 7.4
This begins like a documentary as a group of characters, including a musician whose Spanish-guitar score provides the film with much of its hypnotic power, hang out on a hotel balcony overlooking the Mekong River and talk about nothing much in particular. But, this being an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie, it isn’t long before characters who may or may not be ghosts are eating the entrails of other characters who may or may not be dreaming. This impressive divertissement is slow, quiet and serene, much like the river eternally flowing in the background through most of the film’s slight 61-minute running time. Mekong Hotel may be a minor work by a major director but, after three great movies in a row (Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, “Joe” deserves a little throat-clearing exercise like this while plotting his next move.
F*ckload of Scotch Tape (Grant, USA)
Grade: B / 7.0, Capsule review here.
The Final Member (Bekhor/Math, Canada/Iceland)
Grade: B / 7.1
This charming oddball documentary concerns Sigurdur “Siggi” Hjartarson, curator of the “Icelandic Phallological Museum,” the world’s only museum devoted to the male reproductive organ. Siggi apparently has penis samples of every mammal in the world in his collection, with the exception of the elusive human specimen, and the film details his attempts to find a suitable donor. What seems at first like it might be gimmicky or in bad taste becomes genuinely moving, funny and even suspenseful instead as the filmmakers craft a race-against-time structure by cross-cutting between two potential donors, both of whom want the dubious honor of being “the first”: 95-year old Pall Arason, a legendary Icelandic explorer who has willed his penis to the museum, and Tom Mitchell, a millionaire American cowboy who wants to have his penis surgically removed so he can donate it to the museum while still alive. Proof yet again that truth is stranger than fiction.
Consuming Spirits (Sullivan, USA)
Grade: B / 7.1, Capsule review here.
Rhino Season (Bahman Ghobadi, Iraqi Kurdistan/Turkey)
Grade: B- / 6.8, Capsule review here.
John Dies at the End (Coscarelli, USA)
Grade: B- / 6.6
In this horror/comedy/instant cult classic, a new drug known as “Soy Sauce” hits the street with the promise of making users geniuses as well as masters of time and space. It also inadvertently causes them to return from other dimensions as non-human creatures bent on destroying the earth. Naturally, it’s up to two college dropout/stoner buddies to save the day in what amounts to a low-budget, indie version of Ghostbusters on LSD. It may have the least spoiler-free title ever but there are still plenty of surprises (and laughs) in this nutso vision by director Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho Tep) who adapted a cult novel by the pseudonymous David Wong. Paul Giamatti deserves major props for agreeing to play a journalist in a framing story, and for taking his role with deadly seriousness. I found this tonally uneven (a perpetual problem with genre mash-ups) but it will go over well with the midnight movie crowd for whom it was made. You already know if that includes you.
Room 237 (Ascher, USA)
Grade: D+ / 4.5
Five people with too much time on their hands give vent to their theories about what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining “really” means in this occasionally clever, mostly tedious documentary that puts the concept of “fair use” to the test. The interviewees are never seen but frequently heard explicating their crackpot theories in voice-over (e.g., the film is Kubrick’s apology for helping NASA fake the moon landing, an allegory for the holocaust, an allegory for the genocide of Native Americans, etc.) while the filmmakers mostly show images from other movies, including large chunks of The Shining. This premiered in Sundance to great acclaim at the beginning of 2012 and by the time it showed up at CIFF it was already sporting the IFC Films logo at the beginning. The hoopla is somewhat understandable given that the film has a guaranteed built-in fan base but Room 237 strikes me as something that would be moderately amusing at best as a DVD supplement. Sadly, genuinely great (and highly poetic) “fair use” docs like Los Angeles Plays Itself and The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni will be seen by only a tiny fraction of the people who see this snarky, unnecessary tribute to the tinfoil hat brigade.