Tuesday, June 2, 2015

SIFF Capsule Reviews: 'Haemoo' And 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution'

The 41st Seattle International Film Festival keeps rolling right along, but we're on the downhill slope of the marathon 25-day cinematic party. In that frame of mind, we've got another couple of short reviews of movies you might want to check out.


Haemoo (translated as Sea Fog) is one of those movies that you can’t help but wish was better. I love everyone in involved—Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) produced and co-wrote with first time director Shim Sung-bo, who collaborated with Bong on the Memories of Murder script, and it stars Kim Yoon-seok, who is excellent in both The Chaser and The Yellow Sea. Unfortunately, it never amounts to much. Pushed to extremes by the lack of a catch, a fishing boat captain takes a job smuggling people into South Korea. When things take a tragic turn, the tight knit crew finds themselves at odds, torn between doing the right thing and saving their own asses. What starts out a riveting slow burn in the cramped confines of a seagoing vessel comes off the rails and turns tedious. Character’s reactions are unnatural and totally nonsensical, there’s no subtlety or introspection, and each clings to their  single defining personality trait—the captain only cares about his boat, the hero only cares about saving the girl, and one crewmember just wants to rape said girl. Awash in an unearned cynicism, Haemoo leaves you wondering what the hell is the point. [Grade: C-]

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Open and honest, powerful and enraging, Stanley Nelson’s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution can be informative and moving, but if you’re familiar with the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the struggles they faced, and the wrongs they attempted to right, there’s nothing terribly eye opening. It hints at going deeper on occasion, but never truly does. This is a fairly dry, detailed primer about a fascinating topic, and it provides an even, impartial picture of the notorious organization. While it lays out the reasons for their militant stance—they started as an opposite side of the coin to the non-violence preached by the likes of Martin Luther King, and there was an urban focus as opposed to the civil rights movement in other areas—it doesn’t shy away from talking about the darker side, like the infighting among the leadership the paranoia (much of which was instigated by the FBI’s counter intelligence program), sexism in their ranks, and much more. This is a captivating subject, one that’s as vital now as ever—the imagery shown in old footage doesn’t look much different from a lot of what frequently shows up on the evening news—but produced by PBS, Vanguard never transcends that. It’s cool to get firsthand accounts from people who lived this, but endless talking heads and archival footage, and a lack of any new insight , makes this feel like something you’ve seen many times before. [Grade: B-]

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