SIFF 2019: Week Two Capsule Reviews

A Family Tour (Taiwan/Hong Kong/Singapore/Malaysia 2018, 107 min)

Digital Screener, Fri 5/24

Of all the movies I’ve seen as screeners that I wish I’d woken up for and seen in a theater, this one is at the top (followed by Sibel), mainly due to the abundance of written information plastered all over the screener. Still, it couldn’t dilute how powerful, courageous, and wonderful this film is: the latest from Ying Liang, who (like his protagonist) was censored by the Chinese government for his last film and forced into exile. Subtly executed, and yet the message isn’t subtle at all. A must-see.

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (USA 2019, 91 min)

Digital Screener, Tue 5/28

Of the two docs I saw this week on women writers, this is the better one. Molly Ivins was big, bold, and funny as hell. This documentary captures all that, and if a detail here or there is lacking, the bigger sense of her isn’t. Just wonderful. Future screenings: Sat 6/1 12:30 pm SIFF Cinema Uptown

The Bigamist (Archival, USA 1953, 80 min)

SIFF Cinema Uptown, Tue 5/28

The only woman director to work for major studios in the 50s, Ida Lupino helms and stars in this tale of a man (Edmund O’Brien) who’s about to adopt a baby with his wife (Joan Fontaine), but then the inspector (Edmund Gwenn) discovers he has another family in Los Angeles. Better than most 50s melodramas (and it is a melodrama, sappy music and all). What’s not melodramatic is the way Lupino handles her actors, while she herself gives the best performance in the picture. And the restoration looks fantastic.

Storm in My Heart (North American Premiere, USA/Scotland 2018, 117 min)

SIFF Cinema Uptown, Tue 5/29

Susan Hayward and Lena Horne were both born on the same day in Brooklyn. That’s not the only similarities between the two, but because Horne was black and Hayward was white, director Mark Cousins thought it interesting to show their two most famous movies side-by-side: Horne’s Stormy Weather (1943) and Hayward’s With a Song in My Heart (1952) (he calls his piece a “diptych”). The screen is actually split in four, as whenever Horne or Hayward appear, they are placed in one part of the screen, when they aren’t shown, another (this is because Horne was cut out of most of the films she starred in when the films were shown in the South, whereas Hayward’s movies revolved around her no matter where they were shown). It’s an interesting idea, with commentary captions that reminded me a bit of VH1 pop-up videos, but since Stormy Weather is so much shorter than With a Song in My Heart, we end up getting more of Hayward, even though Cousins adds Horne’s “Now” short, which is considered the first music video. Plus, if one wanted to chart their lives and careers in parallel, wouldn’t a more conventional documentary do a better job than just comparing two of their films, especially since Stormy Weather has an all-black cast and so wouldn’t be subjected to the story marginalization that Horne was exposed to in her other films?

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (USA 2018, 95 min)

SIFF Cinema Uptown, Wed 5/29

If ever a documentary were in need of an unconventional treatment, it would be Kael’s. The Molly Ivins movie reveals more of the person and the art than this by-the-numbers, surprisingly uncinematic documentary does, despite quoting copiously from Kael’s writings and including numerous clips from televised interviews (the only time we get close to her essence is when her grandson is interviewing her). Interestingly, that documentary was directed by a woman, whereas this one was directed by a man. And how did they decide who to interview? No interviews with de Palma, Spielberg, or Scorsese (whose careers she helped make, though we do get a letter from Spielberg), and none with contemporary women critics on her impact (I mean, there’s Molly Haskell, but what about all the women critics who appeared after Kael?). And while he notes particularly controversies surrounding her reviews (particularly her “Raising Kane” piece and her negative review of Shoah), director Rob Garver isn’t interested in digging deeper — a fault that Kael’s reviews could never be accused of.