This is my last SFFilm preview of 2022. I won’t write about this festival again until after opening night. So here are six films I’ve seen and reviewed, to help you decide what to see – in order from best to worst.
A- Fire on the Plain
This may be one of the darkest noirs I’ve ever seen. It has a serial killer who strangles cab drivers, cars blowing up, gangsters that could be police and police that could be gangsters. And in the middle of it all, there are star-crossed lovers who may want to kill each other. Set in China’s industrial northeast during the Christmas season, when the air is cold, and the sun rarely shows its face. The only reason I’m not giving this film a full A is that the story is sometimes difficult to understand – possibly problems with the subtitles or the customs.
The film starts up like an edge-of-your-seat Hitchcockian thriller, although the ending isn’t as strong as it should be. Three aid workers set out to help people in a mountainous, difficult, and barely populated region of Transylvania. But things go horribly wrong when an old man gives them very bad directions. There’s no phone service in the area. Their SUV can’t handle the difficult roads. People who cross their path may not have good intentions. And even if their intentions are good, they can’t help. And a deeply cold night could kill them all.
B+ Fire of Love
How often do you see a documentary on volcanoes that’s also a romantic love story? Katia and Maurice Krafft – a very happily married couple – spent their lives studying the bubbling and dangerous powers that occasionally breaks through the earth’s crust. They also had one of those rare perfect marriages; they worked together and loved it. Their work was extremely dangerous – but also very important and beautiful. Lava flows and unique rocks are stunning. But throughout the film, you’re constantly reminded that the film will not end well. They speak mostly in French with subtitles, with English narration spoken by Miranda July.
B Black Mothers Love & Resist
I’ve seen too many documentaries and TV news clips showing police attacking and often killing young black men. We all know it’s horrible, but this doc took an unusual track. It focuses almost entirely on the women who lost their children to police violence. For the most part, it sticks with Wanda Johnson (Oscar Grant’s mother) and Angela Williams. Frequently powerful, but at times it becomes difficult to watch. And the sad thing is that the people who need to watch this film will never look at it.
- Roxie, Friday, April 29, 8:30pm
B- Hit the Road
This Iranian family road movie starts out well. Father has a cast in one leg, keeping him stuck in the back seat. Mother can be strict, but she can burst into song and jokes. The adolescent son does much of the driving the rented car, and seems to be worried about something – perhaps the police. (We never know their destination.) The young boy (maybe about 5) is adorable but uncontrollable – as young kids are in cars . But as the movie goes along, the movie gets less and less fun, which is a problem in a movie without much of anything important to say.
C Riotsville, USA
There are so many documentaries about race in America that to make one work, you need something special. Director Sierra Pettengill’s special gimmick is using only old TV clips or U.S Army training films. The army footage comes from a fake town called Riotsville – made in the 1960s to train the army to tamp down riots. That concept isn’t enough for a full feature documentary, so Pettengill shows us clips from 60s television news, talk shows, old commercials, and even static. The narrator is bland and monotoned. But I’d like to know why the only Internet references to Riotsville I could find were about the documentary.