Happy New Year, everybody. I love the start of a new year for many reasons, but mainly because it means that The Cleveland International Film Festival is only a few months out (April 3rd thru 14th this year). Why not program your own mini film festival compiled from CIFF films past until then? Hunker down and throw the popcorn in the microwave.
OLDBOY (2002 [CIFF 2005]): (Netflix Streaming): This is the movie that kicked off my love of South Korean cinema. (Please don't punch me in the face after reading that; I know it sounds a little "artsy.") OLDBOY is the story of Oh Dai-Su, a man who, after a drunken night of partying, wakes up to find himself in a room that looks like a hotel room. Turns out it's not a hotel at all but actually a privately run prison. It's in this prison that Dai-Su is held for fifteen years, without any explanation of why he is there. Then, just as unexpectedly as he arrived, he is released from his cell and given five days to find out why he was held prisoner in the first place. If you see it now, you can have the jump on all your friends when Spike Lee's remake of the film hits theaters later this year.
HEADHUNTERS (2011 [CIFF 2012]): (Netflix Streaming, Amazon Prime VOD): If you plan on seeing only one Norwegian crime thriller this year, make it HEADHUNTERS. A big crowd pleaser at the festival in 2012, HEADHUNTERS is about a man named Roger, Norway's most sought after headhunter. Due to his lavish lifestyle that he really can't afford, he gets into the art-theft racket. Roger is keeping himself above water until his wife introduces him to a man named Clas, a dashing ex-mercenary who is looking for a headhunter to help him get a particular job he wants. Through discussion Roger learns that Clas has a very valuable painting that could really ease financial burdens if he could manage to snag it from Clas' pad. So the plan is hatched and Roger does indeed steal the painting, but only then do things get truly crazy. Think Coen brothers' darker work.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL BIGFOOT MOVIE (2008 [CIFF 2009]): (Amazon VOD, Netflix DVD Subscription, Library): This is certainly not your typical Bigfoot movie, as the title declares. Actually, it's more of a movie about Dallas and Wayne, two lifelong buddies that live in Portsmouth, OH, and just happen to both enjoy searching through southern Ohio and neighboring states for the elusive Sasquatch. Director Jay Delany has a tough job here: documenting the trials and tribulations of two lifelong friends against the backdrop of a Bigfoot hunt could come off silly at best and at worst, it could make Dallas and Wayne come off like crackpots. Delany does a fine job walking that tightrope and the result is a surprisingly emotional journey.
MARWENCOL (2010 [CIFF 2010]): (Netflix Streaming & DVD, Amazon VOD): Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked by a group of men as he left a bar in Kingston, NY, in 2000. The savage beating left this former Navy soldier and showroom designer in a coma for nine days. When he emerged from his coma, Mark had to completely relearn his life. One of the ways he attempted to come to terms with what happened to him was by turning to art, but the form of art that he chose is what makes this documentary so compelling. Hogancamp took the larger style military dolls he used to collect as a child and began posing them in and around the town of "Marwencol," a miniature town that he built in his backyard. After filling Marwencol with "citizens," Mark began photographing them as if he were snapping day-in-the-life shots of these "soldiers" as they went about their daily business. The most fascinating part of this documentary was watching how, through the creation of his art, Mark really comes to terms with the violence that was perpetrated upon him, and in a much bigger picture, how this therapy is giving him the chance to restart his life as a very different person than he was before.
THE BEAVER TRILOGY (1999 [CIFF 2001]): (YouTube for clips, www.echocave.net): If you are interested in garnering points with your nerdy friends over who can find the most impressive obscure movies, look no further than THE BEAVER TRILOGY. I saw this collection of three short films at the CIFF in 2001 and it still stands of one of the oddest film experiences I have ever witnessed in a theater. The first film claims to be a pretty straightforward documentary about "Groovin" Gary, a small-town guy with big-time dreams: he wants to be the best Olivia Newton John impersonator there is, and he invited the filmmaker behind this doc to follow him to Beaver, Utah, as he reaches for the stars. The first film is surreal, but we don't get into the real crazy until part two when the director enlists Sean Penn to dramatize the role of "Groovin" Gary. The third film goes even further into odd territory by casting Crispin Glover in the lead role, where he kind of does an impression of both Penn and Gary. Do yourself a favor and just order the complete set from the filmmaker himself at www.echocave.net. Truly no oddball cinema fan's collection is complete without it.