Review: San Francisco International Film Festival kicks off another year

My Suicide‘ – not just another teen drama

By Aaron Light

High school is hell. Between the mindless busywork, pressure from parents and peers and raging hormones, it can be the single most unnecessarily frustrating, if not downright difficult period of most people’s lives.

Not many films in recent history have tackled teen angst as realistically, hysterically and with as much respect for the plight of the modern teenager, as “My Suicide,” the new film by David Lee Miller.

Though a bit ridiculous at times, “My Suicide” is one of the most honest portrayals of American high school life I have ever seen. The tale is of Archie Holden Buster Williams, a loner who compulsively films his life. Once he announces in his media class that he is going to kill himself on camera, Buster becomes the center of attention. Shot in a style that captures every angle of a scene, often from the point of view of Archie’s own omnipresent camera, “My Suicide” encapsulates the spirit of the modern viral video.

One of the reasons “My Suicide” works so well is Gabriel Sunday, the actor who plays the story’s hero. Manic and precocious, jaded and endearing, he draws the viewer into his world, showing virtues, insecurities, eccentricities and flaws with a deftness that defies his age. Cramming every scene with pop culture references and impersonations of famous movie scenes, he brings to mind characters like Max Fisher (in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore”) and other teen heroes of recent years.

Unlike most other movies about teens, the soundtrack features good music without being self-consciously hip. In place of crappy pop-punk songs are tunes by Animal Collective, TV On The Radio, Daniel Johnston, The Mae Shi and the best use of a Radiohead song in a movie since “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996.

“My Suicide” gets a little overly dramatic toward the end. The movie’s buildup is a lot better than the enjoy-your-life climax, but it doesn’t stop “My Suicide” from being one of the quirkiest and most entertaining indictments of suburban teenage life, examinations of teen angst and portrayals of the modern world to be released in years.

“My Suicide” plays at the Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post Street on Friday, May 1, Tuesday, May 5 and Wednesday, May 6, at 6:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m and 9:00 p.m., respectively.

North Korea uncovered in ‘Kimjongilia

By Aaron Light

Ah, the joys of North Korean life. Oppression, torture, famine, concentration camps and a repressive government that would put Big Brother in 1984 to shame — all in a hard day’s struggle for the citizens of North Korea.

Kimjongilia,” the new documentary by N.C. Heikin sheds some light on what goes on in the secluded country. Interviewing multiple North Korean refugees who have escaped unspeakable atrocities, the film gives a voice to victims of the tyrannical rule of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s infamous “Great Leader.”

“Kimjongilia” uses authentic North Korean propaganda and the interpretive dance of a woman dressed like a traffic cop to help tell its story, but the heart of the film is its interviews. Here are the survivors’ stories in all their harrowing and disturbing spectacle, from the woman who watched as every member of her family was murdered for no reason, to the singer who escaped to China only to be sold into sex slavery, to the concert pianist who was tortured for 14 hours straight for because he played “capitalist music.”

The true power of “Kimjongilia” lies in the raw emotion Heikin gets from her subjects as they expose the horrors of living in a country led by a man like Kim Jong-Il.

At times “Kimjongilia” can be repetitive –  I almost expected it to turn into an infomercial to help North Koreans, but at its best, “Kimjongilia” is an eye-opening experience. It leaves the viewer in awe at just how messed up things can be in the modern world.

Even a perceived lack of commitment to one’s labor is punishable by immediate execution through a firing squad in North Korea. As one interviewee puts it, “If the person who created such a place isn’t a criminal, I don’t know who is.”

“Kimjongilia” plays at the Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post St. , San Francisco, on Sunday, May 3 and Wednesday, May 6 and the PFA, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkley (Between College and Telegraph) Monday, May 4, at 3:30, 3:15 and 6:30, respectively.

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