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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

SIFF 2009 Dispatch: Ein! Zwei! Die!

I’ve caught a few films at SIFF that are “hold review” films, meaning although they may have played at earlier fests (and been reviewed from those fests) they now have distribution, so we can’t write full reviews on them at SIFF. I can, however, write briefly about them, so here’s a roundup of three of them.
In the Loop, the festival opener, is a sharp, funny political comedy that’s been called something akin to the love child of The West Wing and The Office. As the Brits and the Americans bicker over starting a war or stopping one, the political tug-of-war among the players keeps up a frenetic pace, with rapid-fire dialogue that’s often completely politically incorrect; insults are hurled back and forth like hand grenades so quickly it can be hard to keep up with it all through the laughter of the audience. James Gandolfini is particularly good as a peace-loving general, but all the players in In the Loop, including his, have alliances and hidden agendas, and the film is biting and often very funny (though when you mull over much of the plot after seeing it, and ponder how close to the truth it likely is, it’s actually kind of scary).

The Garden, nominated for an Oscar this year, is a doc about the fight to save a community garden in South Central Los Angeles. Constructed just after the Rodney King riots, the 14-acre garden, grown and nurtured from an abandoned patch of dirt by a group of dedicated, mostly Latino farmers, grew to become the largest urban farm in the United States — until the farmers showed up one day to an eviction notice.
The ensuing fight to save the garden is documented in the film, but what’s also documented are the myriad facets of politics, greed and racism that all played a part in the battle. The Jewish legal owner of the property is painted here as anything but a mensch, the city councilwoman is shown to be up to her elbows in back-room deals, and, perhaps most surprisingly, the racial tension between black and Latino residents over which group controls South Central creates much of the drama. While the dialogue and pacing are very different from In the Loop, both films show the ugly underbelly of politics; The Garden, though, shows more how the lives of the people with the least political power are affected by those who wield it.
Dead Snow, aka “the Nazi-zombie flick,” isn’t the best zombie film ever made, but it does have the benefits of having a herd of well-organized undead Nazis marshalled by their evil commander, some attractive Norwegian victims, an opening scene set amusingly to “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and perhaps the best tagline ever (“Ein, Zwei, Die!”). Writing-wise, it’s very self-aware of the stereotypes of horror films in a way that’s a bit reminiscent of Scream, and some of the special effects are over-the-top, but it’s all campy good zombie fun. I expect Dead Snow plays better as I saw it — in a dark theater packed with eager horror fans — than at home on DVD, so when it comes to your neck of the woods, try to catch it that way, preferably with a group of attractive victims, er, friends. And look out for any zombie Nazis who might be lurking in the shadows as you walk to your car.

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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho