2012 SLIFF Film Festival capsule reviews

SLIFF Picks Up Speed: the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival has never looked better

Hipsters. (Not Rated) "Every hipster is a potential criminal," warns a student communist in Valeriy Todorovskiy's musical period piece. These "hipsters" are, in style and substance, the polar opposite of today's artfully disheveled gentrifiers: In a post-war Moscow where consuming Western products is considered a form of treason, their insouciant fetishization — and charming lost-in-translation misinterpretation — of American jazz culture is a legitimate form of political rebellion. This punch-drunk, decadently designed slice of eye candy loosely traces a year in the life of sexually repressed, socially oppressed baby-faced Mels (Anton Shagin), a gray-suited Young Communist League deputy who shifts allegiance when he falls in love with "real cool chick" Polly (Oksana Akinshina). Although a few of the film's musical numbers are framed around Mels's budding career as a jazzman and the gang's nightly rendezvous at underground club The Pompadour (where they live out the fantasy of, as one lyric tells it, "strolling down Broadway, leaving all those miserable squares behind"), many explode in full choreographed splendor out of ordinary spaces (a classroom, the shared hallway of a communal tenement), splitting the difference between sexually charged fantasy and historically haunted reality and boldly defying narrative convention. The closing number, in which Mels and Polly finally get to stroll down a Broadway that only exists in their dreams, is both hilariously absurd and rousing, an unironic swoon at the notion of any subculture as a form of inclusive resistance. (Karina Longworth) 9:30 p.m. Monday, November 12, at the Hi-Pointe.

It's Such a Beautiful Day. (Not Rated) It made for a deceptively vital change of context when cult animator Don Hertzfeldt strung together four of his award-winning cartoons into the feature-length portmanteau It's a Beautiful Day. Continuity is key to these shorts, which collectively create a heroic epic out of the violent hallucinatory memories and daydreams of Bill, a depressive and possibly fatally ill stick figure. Bill's attempts to process his pain and the inexplicable minutiae of his daily routine allow Hertzfeldt to examine both traumatizing fears of death and the absurd joy of life. Bill thinks about bacteria-infested crotches at the supermarket, sees a dead bird besieged by ants on the sidewalk, passes out with alarming regularity, and remembers the past lives of family members, like the younger, hook-handed brother who died chasing a seagull. And as Bizet, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and Wagner swell on the soundtrack, and Hertzfeldt's omniscient but probably not omnipotent narrator lays out events, Bill's life alternatively shrinks and expands to individual moments that collapse into one another. Warped keyhole-size images stack atop one another in a Frankenstein-ian collage that evokes the films of Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Stan Brakhage, and Bruce Conner. Seeing "the years [slip] out of [Bill's] head" in this 71-minute compendium is nothing short of revelatory. (Simon Abrams) 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 13, at Webster's Moore Auditorium.

Klown. (R) Raunchy dude comedy is hardly the sole province of American cinema, as Klown all too dispiritingly reconfirms. Based on his popular Danish TV series, director Mikkel Norgaard's film is a road trip comedy of a familiar male-centric sort in which the canoeing expedition of buffoonish Frank (Frank Hvam) and horndog Casper (Casper Christensen)-- dubbed "the Tour de Pussy" by the latter-- is complicated by Frank's decision to bring along his 13-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) in order to prove his father potential to pregnant girlfriend Mia (Mia Lyhne). The ensuing mayhem's gender dynamics are rote, with women as grating commitment harpies or whores and men as deviant scumbags or naive goofs. Following its chosen genre's bylaws, virtually every humorous set piece manages to involve male genitalia, be it a running thread about Bo's tiny weenie or ladies' man Casper's covert fondness for the same sex. Given its vulgar bro-ness, it's no surprise that The Hangover's Todd Phillips will be overseeing the inevitable American remake. (Schager) 9:30 p.m. Monday, November 12, at Plaza Frontenac.

A Late Quartet. (R) Woody Allen has been known to suggest that, in directing a good movie, much of the battle lies in casting. Were that entirely true, the Philip Seymour Hoffman–, Catherine Keener–, and Christopher Walken–starring A Late Quartet would be phenomenal. As it is, the film about a New York City string quartet whose future is thrown into question after the cellist (Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and the two married members' relationship (Keener and Hoffman) begins to unravel is a mixed bag. Always stately, occasionally stuffy, co-writer/director Yaron Zilberman's chamber drama expresses every real-world problem via musical metaphors and is prone to occasional bouts of grandiosity not quite befitting its stripped-down scale. This tonal back-and-forth is in some ways reflective of the group's music but impedes us from getting a meaningful hold on what these people are feeling and why we should care. Zilberman is often too tasteful to dig into the scandal and melodrama that eventually mires A Late Quartet's plot, but an exceptional finale bucks this trend by acting more as a catharsis than a climax, making up for prior shortcomings and fulfilling much of the film's promise. It's something of a relief that little is actually resolved in A Late Quartet; Zilberman is at his best when leaving narrative threads hanging rather than trying to tie them together. (Nordine) 7 p.m. Friday, November 9, at the Hi-Pointe.

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