Thursday, August 11, 2005

Yes & Me and You and Everyone We Know

I've been meaning to sit down and write about these films for what seems like ages. Actually, I've had this post sitting on my desktop for weeks and have just never managed to sit down and finish it. But I have been wanting to point out these small independent summer films, because they'll slip beneath the radar of most people. But Yes and You and Me and Everyone We Know may be among the best and most refreshingly original films I've seen this year.

Yes

I have been eagerly awaiting this film since reading reviews of it from the 2004 Toronto film festival. Yes is the most recent film from Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) and although I haven't found a strong personal connection with her films in the past, but they are so unique in outlook and innovative that I try not to miss them.

But Yes poses a bit of a problem as far as describing it as there is absolutely nothing I can compare it to. It is a romantic, mature, erotic, unapologetically political, definitely a post 9/11 film, and the dialog is delivered in iambic pentameter. That said, I can easily say that I’ve never seen anything like it. The dialog took a little bit to get the hang of, not because it was difficult, but because I kept getting lulled into the rhythm of the words without really grasping their meaning, but once I adapted, I was struck by the immense power of having the characters speak in poetry as it gave their words so much power and allowed the film to transcend into the realm of art. Even strings of profanity were given a poetic weight that was beautiful and fascinating. This film was a delight to listen to.

She (Joan Allen) is an Irish/American in a loveless marriage to a British politician (Sam Neill). She meets He (Simon Abkarian) at a party and they soon become lovers. He has left his life as a surgeon in Lebanon after saving a man’s life only to watch him murdered and thus has fled to England where he works in a restaurant, using his skills with a knife to chop vegetables instead of saving lives. He and She’s romance is colored by maturity, joy and laughter, but is also impacted by their very different backgrounds and beliefs. There is a heart wrenching moment in the film where He talks about being Muslim and how he has had to adapt to living in another culture and culture where no one, not even She, can utter a single word of his language or knows anything about his faith and culture.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Yes is the inclusion of the cleaning women in many of the scenes that are present only to tidy up the things of the wealthy and more privileged. Yes opens and ends with The Cleaner (Shriley Henderson) commenting on the human debris left behind by her employers and how it is impossible to clean away all of life’s dirt while knowingly watching her employer’s entanglements. It provided a fascinating prospective, this inclusion of the cleaners, watching the people they work for knowingly throughout the film.

You and Me and Everyone We Know is a very different film from Yes, but no less poetic and original. Miranda July stars and directs this truly wonderful and charming film about human connections.

What struck me most about You and Me and Everyone We Know was the profound innocence and optimism of the film. Christine (July) is a video artist who pays the bills by driving those who are too old to drive. When at a shoe store, she has a instant connection to a shoe salesman, Richard (John Hawkes) who appears to match Christine in quirkiness and a shared sense of isolation. One of the most powerful scenes is when Christine and Richard walk a block together and compare the distance they travel to a relationship, that will reach it’s end when they reach the upcoming intersection. They debate the nature of the relationship and decide that they are walking an entire lifetime spent together and their disappointment is so apparent when they reach the intersection and need to part to go their separate ways.

Many of the other characters of Me and You and Everyone We Know are children, but these children are not typical movie kids. These kids are delightfully innocent and wise and their experiences and there were a lot of parallels between my own concept of childhood and these stories. There are the brothers who spend their time creating ascii art and chatting with strangers on adult message boards. There's the little girl who is collecting timeless pieces for her hope chest. And then there are the the teenaged girls who flirt with an adult neighbor who leaves dirty messages for them to find. In another world that isn't Miranda July's, one could imagine terrible things happening to these innocent children because the world often isn't very kind or forgiving, but in July's world their innocence is protected and no harm comes to them. It also has them exploring sex and human connections in such a refreshing way and this film isn't shocked or troubled by their curiosity.

You and Me and Everyone We Know is a truly original and charming film. It has humor and sadness, a dash or romance and some wonderful insights. Miranda July is absolutely adorable in her geeky vintage clothing and this film has wonderful moments like when Christine helps Richard hang a framed picture of a bird in a tree, in a tree.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

SIFF diary, part 3

Godzilla: Final Wars and The Edukators

In my attempts to keep my festival going diverse, we selected Godzilla since it looked like an action packed romp and the German film The Edukators, which simply sounded interesting and I wanted to catch at least one German film during the festival as I usually like the look and often dark tone of German cinema.

We're are doing a great job of selecting films thus far.

Godzilla: Final Wars is billed as the last Godzilla film and is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who made Versus. I've only seen one Godzilla film and it was the 1984 one and really, I have very little recollection of it other than Godzilla meets Bambi played before it. So I am not up on the Godzilla franchise, but I did obviously know what to expect; an action flick where a rubber Godzilla battles a zillion other monsters.

We had a pretty good time at Godzilla. I was a bit surprised by the near sold out show as I had no clue that there were that many fans of the monster [1], but it was great fun to see with such an enthusiastic audience. It also helped to be surrounded by so much excitement as I've been battling a migraine all weekend, so they helped me tune out the dull throb behind my right eye.

But Final Wars was a great choice for a Godzilla neophyte as it was a kitchen sink Godzilla flick. Basically, every monster Godzilla has ever fought shows up in the film and Godzilla battles them all. There are also hot biologist babes, a mutant army, an alien invasion and some matrix-esque martial arts. It also appeared to have every Japanese actor as there were numerous familiar faces (at least two of whom were in Kill Bill). So Godzilla was far from the best that I've seen at the SIFF, but it was a totally silly good time and it even had some goofy science.

And then, after a dinner break, it was time to get in line for The Edukators. I don't know if it was due to the late starting time (9:30 PM) or the fact that this film likely doesn't have much festival buzz surrounding it, but this was the least attended film that I've been to during the SIFF. Which is really a shame to see so many empty seats, because this is by far the best film I've seen thus far.

The Edukators are a trio of idealists who break into the homes of the wealthy, not to steal from them, but to give them a message by rearranging their valuables and leaving a note that reads "you have too much money" or "your days of plenty are numbered" signed The Edukators. When they break from their normal plan of working off of a list of targets and putting the homes under surveillance before breaking in, a mistake is made that results in the need to kidnap their target when they are interrupted during their mischief.

The result is an amazing and gripping story about values and how so many people slowly change from being idealistic in our youth to being conservative and totally frightened of change when they are older. And this film doesn't compromise the characters or the message by taking the easy way out and finding its answers in compromise or a middle ground. It is hopeful in outlook and is a wonderfully suspenseful and thought provoking film. And this film is unpredictable and very original, so I was pleased by every unexpected plot development and that it had so much optimism and heart. This film has much in common with The Dreamers and would make a powerful and provocative double feature.

The Edukators is getting distribution and will be opening limited over the summer in the US. I highly recommend seeking out this film.

Here's hoping that the good movie juju continues...

[1] Godzilla questions for those who have seen more than one zilla movie. Is Godzilla a cyborg???? In Final Wars, they claim that Godzilla is a cyborg, not a mutant like the other monsters he fights. I thought Godzilla was a sea monster. But everything in the movie appeared to be referencing the past movies, so I'm assuming he was a cyborg at some point. And what is up with baby zilla? Weird.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

SIFF diary, part 2

Saving Face

Saving Face is about a young Chinese/American surgeon, Wil (Michelle Krusiec) whose mother (Joan Chen) moves in after being exiled from her Chinese family and friends at a time when Wil falls in love with a ballerina (Lynn Chen). Saving Face is among the films showing at SIFF that has distribution and it opened in LA and New York on Friday.

Go see this film if you get a chance. It is delightful first film by director Alice Wu. She was in attendance and it turns out that she wrote the screenplay while taking a UW screenwriting course here in Seattle. After finishing the screenplay, she decided that it needed to be made into a film and that she must direct it so she moved to New York and gave herself five years to get the film made. She learned about editing and filmmaking and ended up getting help from Wil Smith to finance the film. It was fascinating listening to her speak and I was floored and the guts it must have taken to jet off to New York to make a movie with no real connections and that she got it made and it is good.

Story wise, Saving Face isn't particularly original. It consists of a love story and more than a little family drama and I saw most of the plot twists coming from a mile away. And it does give you the expected happy ending where everyone finds happiness, love, etc. But while working in a lot of romantic comedy cliches, it does cover plenty of new ground as I haven't seen very many films that appear to accurately describe the experience of being a Chinese American and gay. The older Chinese characters speak in Mandarin while their children spoke English, giving the film a feeling of authenticity while talking about generational differences and cultural identity mixed with issues of being gay, coming out and falling in love.

I was totally charmed by Saving Face. Now it might have had a bit to do with the atmosphere, a totally sold out show full of enthusiastic lesbians and asian families. But I smiled throughout this film and had a great time. Lovely, lovely film.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

SIFF diary, part 1

While the rest of the world is lined up at The Cinerama to see Star Wars, Episode III, I spent my weekend attending my very first film festival, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I only attended two screenings, since I am a festival novice and was uncertain how many movies I would have time to take in and am a little short on cash at this time of the month (won't get paid for a few more days), so I opted for a couple of matinee shows to test the water.

Well, I'll be taking in many more films next weekend.

Yes, it went well. Saturday, we saw C'est la Femme, a collection of short films directed by women. It was a good choice. Seven films were scheduled, although only five were shown due to technical issues. I really appreciate the short film format and have often found short subjects to be much more inventive and daring than feature length films. I especially remember a few shorts that were shown between features on the Sundance Channel with fondness. There was a fascinating and dark take on Little Red Ridinghood staring Christina Ricci that was deliciously erotic. I also remember a very shocking short about a motorcycle accident and another about a woman that pulls a man from the drain of her kitchen sink. So perhaps my expectations were a bit high as these shorts were not nearly as well crafted or original as I had hoped.

The first was All Fall Down a five minute long film where a little girl asks her critical mother, if she had to choose whether one of her children would live, who would it be? All Fall Down wanted to delve into the challenging topic of how girls are treated, but I found it to be the lest affecting of the shorts.

The next short was Gyppo. Gyppo was about a girl asking questions about sex while growing up in a very feminist environment. This was a very compelling subject matter rife with interesting issues to explore and the young actress who played Gyppo was very good, but the film tried to cover far too much ground in its 10 minute running time.

The best of the shorts was Between Baronovskys, the story of a woman dealing with the loss of her husband in some rather eccentric ways. This film was quirky and often charming, but it also was the most sincere and really the only film the really struck the right emotional chords. I felt Helen's joy and playfulness as she stripped and swam in a public fountain, but also felt her desperation and loneliness at night as she laid on the floor of her room or stormed the liquor cabinet. This was also fresh for the look into the lives of the elderly which really made it stand apart from the other tales of childhood and young adulthood. Between Baronovskys was a very refreshing and lovely film.

Below the Break was a film that began with a lot of promise, about a young disabled woman who would like a boyfriend. In the beginning, we see her invisibility as she to attempts to get service as she sit in her wheelchair. But then after she dates, the film becomes very clichéd as she finds love in her first sexual encounter. I liked the actress and generally enjoyed the film, but it could have explored some really interesting and rarely touched upon topics of sexuality for the physically challenged, so it was disappointing when it became just another unrealistic love story.

And finally, there was the coming of age story, Cat's Bad Hair Day, a title that really didn't fit the film. An obviously autobiographical film covering first sexual experiences, a tough father daughter relationship, and of course the appearance of a first period.

I was hoping for more from these shorts. They were all very straight forward and didn't have the tightness and total originality that I've seen in shorts in the past. But there was one gem and it was fun listening to the directors talk about making the films afterwards.

And Sunday, we saw The Dying Gaul. I am so pleased that we attended this screening as it was by a first time director Craig Lucus and I had heard very little about the film other than a brief plot summery. There was very little buzz surrounding this film and the only reviews I've seen of it were based on the screening at Sundance and were not very positive.

The Dying Gaul was very compelling. The film opened with a quote from Herman Melville, "Woe to him that seeks to please, rather than appall" which sets the tone for this classical tragedy set in modern day Hollywood. It stars Peter Sarsgaard as Robert, a screen writer who is selling his first screen play. Campbell Scott is the Hollywood executive that offers to buy the screenplay and Patricia Clarkson plays his wife. The first exchanges in the film are between Robert and Scott as Robert is persuaded to sell his script and is told that there will have to be re-writes as "no one goes to movies to be challenged or to learn anything." I really believed that The Dying Gaul was being set up to be very critical of the Hollywood system and the sacrifices that have to be made to sell the work and by successful.

I wasn't prepared for the tragedy that unfolded. These three characters who had a lot of respect and love for one another, as they mingled and their motives became muddied and entwined and drama unfolds that is sometimes touching, sometime sad, and at the end really startling. We watch this story unfold all because of one immoral act that triggers a tragic chain of events. This is a very complex and multilayered story that I will be thinking about for some time. Especially Patricia Clarkson's character as I spent most of the film one step behind trying to understand her motivations and at one point wondering whether she was indeed the personification of Robert's dead ex-lover or whether she was simply a very jealous writer flexing her creativity in a most hurtful way.

so yea... great cast, interesting film that was definitely worth going out to the SIFF for. And now that I understand how this process works, I need to plan next weekend's movies. And to remember to space out the movies enough to allow to get to the theater more than 30 minutes ahead as the ticket holder lines seem to get long fast and to eat and be well hydrated because it isn't set up very well for taking advantage of concessions (when they are allowed at all). I was worried about seeing a ton of movies in one weekend, thinking that would lead to a ton of soft drinks and movie candy and popcorn, but so far, either there was no food allowed in the theater or there just wasn't time to get any before the film since they only let in ticket holders after pass holders and press and inside and seated.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

SIFF diary, part 10

A World Without Thieves

Wang Li (Rene Liu) announces that she is done with living a life a crime and as she prays at a shrine after stating her intention to stop stealing while her partner and husband (Andy Lao) deftly picks the pockets of the other worshipers. After meeting the naive “Dumbo”, Wang Li vows to protect him and his belongings as they are descended upon by a train full of con-artists. The pick-pocket duels, which are stylistically similar to close contact martial arts fights, alone make this film worth checking out.

4

If topless crones who make anatomically correct dolls from bread chewies, large quantities of raw meat and graphic close ups of eating set to a soundtrack of dogs yelping and whimpering is what you want in a film, 4 delivers in abundance. 4 was funny, startling, and very engaging for the first 30 minutes when three characters weave tall tales about their lives in a bar that includes a story about a government cloning program that has resulted in villages of 4s, or cloned quadruplets, but upon leaving the bar, the film descends into a long, laborious journey that I expect is likely symbolic, but is only tedious, disgusting, and down right boring. It was only made worse by horrible cinematography (hello, shot after shot of bringing objects into sharp focus isn’t exactly revolutionary or even interesting). And I am shocked that SIFF gave an award to the director of this film and that someone at the Seattle PI actually recommended this film, although this is just another example of how totally misguided the PI SIFF coverage has been.

In My Father’s Den

In My Father's Den is a wonderfully complex and satisfying psychological thriller and among the best films I attended at the SIFF. Paul Prior (Matthew MacFadyen) is a scarred war photographer that has returned to the small New Zealand town of his youth for his father's funeral. One day he discovers a girl in his father's den, a room filled with hundreds of books that was a shared secret between Paul and his father. After chasing her off, she pushes her way into Paul's life so when she disappears, the town scrutinizes Paul, treating him as an outsider. As the mystery unfolds, this very successful thriller explores the rich territory of family relationships, small town life and ambition, and most of all the echos wrongs committed in the past coloring current relationships.

This has been a theme of a few films that I attended during the festival: the impact of the past on the present. In this film, the truth about past events and relationships are only slowly revealed. First the film develops the characters and their current situations while slowly revealing their past relationships and the deeply buried family secrets. The result is a very satisfying thriller that always keeps the viewer on their toes by never revealing enough to really grasp the essence of In My Father's Den until the last frames. This really was a captivating and emotionally satisfying first feature.

Frozen

It has been two years since Kath's sister has vanished. Kath (Shirley Henderson) is unable to accept her sister's disappearance and seeks her own answers in a surveillance tape made around the time Annie disappeared. I had high hopes for Frozen as the stills looked so strikingly chilly and had secretly hoped for a tale of isolation and loneliness. Those aspects were there, but Frozen seemed to lack any cohesive message. It began to unfold as a mystery, then as a character study of the lost, remaining sister, and then almost takes a supernatural turn and in the end, I was never certain what was happening or why.

While Shirley Henderson gave a captivating performance, I found Frozen to be a cold and frustrating experience, it was just a touch too distant and impersonal, a bit too rigid in tone, and very vague in message. It was an interesting film and I enjoyed the tension that this mysterious setting provided, but there was no pay off, so I was disappointed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

SIFF diary, part 9

Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? and Lonesome Jim

“Are you the Favorite Person of Anybody?” is the question posed by John C. Reilly to the people he encounters on the street. Actually, he is conducting a simple survey asking first whether they are anybodies’ favorite person and then a few clarifying questions. This four minute short was very entertaining. Each person he encounters gives a different and sometimes surprising answer to his query. Not the best short or the most imaginative short that I saw this festival but good none the less.

The four minute short film, written by Miranda July (Center of the World) and preceded Lonesome Jim, the new feature directed by Steve Buscemi.

Lonesome Jim is a very understated and peculiar little film that caught me totally off guard by how much I enjoyed it. Jim (Casey Affleck) has moved back home to Goshen, Indiana defeated after a failing to make it in Yew York City. Jim is chronically depressed and has a habit of pointing out just how hopeless and pointless life can be while admiring his wall of photos of great writer’s who came to untimely ends, usually as a result of suicide.

Lonesome Jim has a very dry wit about life disappointments and about the small midwestern town life. I’m not finding the words to adequately describe the experience of watching this film, but there were a lot of laughs and I grinned throughout. And I am amused to report that Ricki’s I, II, and III are actual bars in Goshen and that one of them displays the scooter that Evil (Mark Boone Junior) rides through town. The only thing that would have made the small town Indiana town feel even more genuine would be if they had gotten the rights to some John Cougar’s music.

Lonesome Jim was not among the best films that I saw during the SIFF, but one of the films that I enjoyed the most. I have some complaints concerning the drab, grey look of the film and the quality of the digital video it was shot on (Buscemi needs to spend some time with Rodriguez because digital doesn’t have to look this crumby) and the performances were purposely understated and thus, un-remarkable. In general, Lonesome Jim worked and is a film that I look forward to watching again, especially on those days when the future looks as bleak and disappointing as Jim’s.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

SIFF diary, part 8

Clean and Heights

The festival is over and I still have seven films to write about, but I haven't been feeling at all inspired to sit and write about film, plus there just hasn't been much time between screenings. But overall, the festival was amazing. We saw many more good movies than bad, although on Saturday, we had the misfortune of sitting through the worst film that I have seen at the festival, but that one will likely require a post all to itself, as there was just so much that was wrong about 4.

But first, I'll try to say a few words about the mid-week films that kept me out late and made me very sleepy at work during the week, and it was very worth it.

Clean

Clean was written and directed by Maggie Cheung's ex, Olivier Assayas. Emily Wang (Cheung) struggles with addiction, the desire to create music, and her need to be a mother for her son, Jay, who is in the custody of Lee's parents (Nick Nolte and Martha Henry). After spending six months in jail for drug possession after her husband Lee's death, she heads back to Paris in an attempt to her life back together. And with the possibility of being able to part of her son's life, she does seem to make progress in turning things around.

The main problem with this film is the music. For a film about people in the music industry, the music is very weak as is Maggie Cheung's singing voice. Otherwise, her performance was strong and she was a runner up for the Best Actress Golden Needle Award. The other problem I had with the film was that it never felt totally genuine as a film about addiction or rock and roll and I had a hard time believing Emily Wong's transformation from heroine addict to responsible adult, due to the love and acceptance of her son after spending a short time together. Maybe I am just a bit too cynical about the transformative powers of motherhood or maybe I am reading this film wrong. I did enjoy many things about this film and it was worth the time just to watch Maggie Cheung act in three languages. Nick Nolte also gave a very strong performance as Jay's guardian that gives Emily a second chance at getting to know her child, when everyone else has given up on her abilities to ever be a mother.

So there was plenty to like about Clean, but I have to admit that it didn't really work for me. This was not a story that resonated with my tastes and experiences.


Heights

Heights spans one day in the life of a whole host of characters in New York City. The story centers around Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), a photographer who is preparing to marry Jonathan (James Marsden). Jonathan is attempting to conceal a secret about his past that is about to be made public due to a big art opening. Diana (Glenn Close) is Isabel's very successful and highly respected actress mother whose husband is having a very public affair and making Diana question their open relationship. The plot at first appears very convoluted and needlessly complex, but the revelations reached at the end concerning life and love are genuine and very satisfying.

One is tempted to draw parallels to other recent films that ponder the interconnectedness of human lives for dramatic affect, like Short Cuts or the recent Crash, but Heights doesn't share tone or outlook with these films. Heights opens with a scene from Macbeth where Alice corrects the actor's portrayal of Lady Macbeth, reminding us that Shakespeare's characters were truly impassioned by their circumstances and that today true passion is much more rare, even in the face of real trauma or tragedy. We fail to react and just continue on with our lives without letting things really impact us. Heights explores life’s passions by taking a journey through one day that is catalytic for many intersecting lives. And the result is that carefully constructed lies are shattered and as a result, some of these people can move on to live a life that is more honest and ultimately more satisfying.

Heights was a film that I personally connected with and definitely agreed with the gaze of this film. I was charmed by this film and found it to be a thought provoking and delightful film.

Monday, June 06, 2005

SIFF diary, part 7

Well it had to come to an end at some point. After a very long run of excellent films, we finally found a stinker and a couple that fall under the category of nothing special. So I guess I will try to write a few words about the last three films that I attended at the SIFF.

The Warrior

The Warrior is set in feudal India and tells the tragic tale of a warrior who leaves the employ of an unscrupulous warlord and as a result becomes a wanted man. This film had a lot of promise as it has won numerous awards, including a BAFTA for best foreign language film and some recognition for the amazing cinematography. And The Warrior is a beautiful film, with amazing desert landscapes and some great cinematography. But I was hoping that it would play out like a Hindi Samurai epic, with amazing sword duels in the desert, so I was disappointed when this epic didn’t deliver any great battles. It was still quite good and moving, but a bit slow and disappointing for the lack of sword fights.

The Writer of O

How is it possible that such a compelling subject matter, the identity and controversy surrounding The Story of O could result in such a simple minded and plodding documentary? The Writer of O sets out to find the identity of the author of The Story of O and repeatedly mentions that the book triggers some kind of revolution. As to which revolution, I’m not entirely certain. In one of the few entertaining moments of the film was an interview with Henry Miller, so I thought maybe they were suggesting that the Story of O paved the way for the sexually explicit literature of the Beat generation, but I’m not entirely certain what the thesis of the film was exactly. In fact, other than learning a bit about the author of O, I learned absolutely nothing from sitting through this documentary. The only thing positive I can say about it is that the scenes that recreated portions of the book were lovely and I was disappointed that a film about such a wonderfully provocative subject matter, specifically that of women authoring sexually explicit literature, could be so dry and completely soul sucking. But then, perhaps this was the perfect treatment of the Writer of O, as I found the original source material to be just as dry and uninspiring.

Kept and Dreamless

Kept and Dreamless is an Argentinian film is about a woman with a drug addiction and no desire to work who is cared for by her 8 year-old daughter. I’m really not sure what to say about this film as my reading of it was as a rather sad tale of poverty and squandered opportunities, but after listening to the director and star (Vera Fogwell) speak about the film, I don’t think I read the tone of the film correctly and should have felt more uplifting and optimistic than it did.

All I can say is that Kept and Dreamless never really pulled me into the world of the extended family’s life. I felt like a foreign observer. And I’m not certain if this was due to cultural differences, failings on the part of the film or just being exhausted and still sapped from The Writer of O… probably a combination of all three issues.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

SIFF diary, part 6

Dead Man's Shoes, Sabah, and Mysterious Skin

Armageddon is upon us. I am certain of it. And I have proof. Gregg Araki made an excellent motion picture. And the other proof that the end of the world must be soon, I have now attended 12 screenings and have yet to come upon a film or event that I didn't enjoy. Sure, some of the films have been better than others, but if Cape of Good Hope remains the worst film that we've seen at this year's festival, then we are doing very well.

Dead Man's Shoes caught our attention because it not only stars British actor Paddy Considine (24 Hour Party People, In America), but was also written by the actor. The result is a very interesting and satisfying film of vengeance and redemption.

Richard (Paddy Considine), a soldier that after returning home from the service, finds his brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) has been tortured and humiliated by a group of small time gangsters. Dead Man's Shoes spans the 5 days that Richard spends terrorizing the men and Considine gives a frightening performance. Dead Man's Shoes is slow to reveal the events that feed Richard's wrath, and while not as shockingly violent as other reviews had hinted at, this is a bloody revenge picture that is very satisfying for the performances and the fascinating slow reveal of the horrific events that took place.

Sabah was a delightful surprise. Arsinée Khanjian (AKA Mrs. Atom Egoyan) stars as the Canadian Muslim, Sabah. She has just celebrated her 40th birthday and has spent much of her life dutifully caring for her mother, when she meets and falls in love with Stephen, a non-muslim Canadian (Shawn Doyle) who she fears will never be accepted by her very conservative family.

Sabah is often romantic and with a light tone while confronting the real and challenging issues of family, ethnic and cultural identities and the compromise that happens when acclimating to another culture. I really loved every minute of this charming, romantic film.

Mysterious Skin is a departure for director Gregg Araki. I am familiar with Araki from Doom Generation, which was far too hyper-kinetic and disturbing for my taste. I've steered clear of Araki's films ever since. So when I heard that his new film, Mysterious Skin was showing at the SIFF, I was determined to miss it, despite getting so many positive reviews. The subject matter of Mysterious Skin is still very much in familiar Araki territory, about two boys who are linked together by a shared childhood sexual abuser. As the boys grow up, the past will not let them go and the nerdy Brian, suffers continued nose bleeds and blackouts without ever remembering the details of the abuse that haunts him in nightmares. In Brian's search to find out what happened to him during 5 hours that he cannot remember, he searches out another boy that is also in his dreams, Neil. Neil is a young hustler that seems relatively untouched by the abuse in his past, until he and Brian finally meet again and Brian demands answers.

While the subject matter of Mysterious Skin in very dark and troubling, the films tone is solemn and surprisingly optimistic. Mysterious Skin is a very moving, haunting and beautiful film. It is the kind of film that I never would have expected Gregg Araki to have made. This might be the best film I've seen at the SIFF as I cannot seem to shake it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

SIFF diary, part 5

Murderball and Geek Love

In just a few hours, I will be at another SIFF screening, I thought I should finish writing about last weekend's films before I get hopelessly behind, which is easy to do when seeing so many movies and wanting to document each and every one.

Memorial Day was an amazing day at the festival as we took in three screenings. We started the day with Murderball, the much talked about film about wheelchair rugby. While I had heard that Murderball was an excellent documentary, it was so much more than I expected. Instead of getting bogged down in the specifics of quadriplegic rugby players, it instead focused on the sport and the intense rivalry between Team Canada and Team USA at the paraolympics in Greece. And I would have never guessed there was a documentary in the rivalry. It was absurd to watch the rage and passion in these teams as they battled for the gold in Athens, but it is the kind of rivalry that makes for great cinema.

And Murderball alone makes for greatly entertaining cinema. The sport in the film was played by quadriplegics, which was described in the film as people with impairment in all four limbs. Some were more impaired than others. Some were amputees, most have neck injuries that resulted in steel plates, and all of the players had very different stories. But the strength of the film was that it didn't dwell on the disabilities, but on the sport. And it was easy for forget that the players are disabled when you watch them play in wheelchairs decked out in steel, that look like something from The Road Warrior, that they use to slam into the chairs of their opponents, sometimes sending them flying. After watching Murderball, I not only understand more about the people who play the sport and their disabilities, but I also learned that Murderball looks like a blast. After watching the film, I wanted to ram things with a wheelchair. And most of all, it succeeded in making serious disabilities seem not nearly as scary. It didn't dwell on the tragedies involved with becoming disabled, but rather on the people who with therapy live an otherwise normal life and because of their disability can play Murderball.

Yes, that does keep the future from looking nearly as scary. I cannot express how optimistic I felt upon leaving this film. And how much I wanted to crash wheelchairs into each other... but all of that faded with the much more serious tone of Missing in America (which I wrote about in SIFF diary, part 4).

And then Monday night was the very sold out screening of Geek Love, a shorts program about "loners, freaks, nerds and geeks looking for love in their own unique ways." This was a very strong selection of films.

Everything's Gone Green was what I imagined would happen if Bartleby the scrivener found a girl friend. Edwin hasn't left his office/room/apartment in ages when the receptionist takes interest in him and draws him out of his isolation. This is a charming short with eccentric characters.

Cashback was probably the flashiest of the shorts. We observe Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) and his nightshift coworkers pass the late night hours in a grocery store. Sharon tries not to watch the clock, Matt and Barry play practical jokes, and Ben likes to pretend that time has stopped. The result is a sometimes hilarious, often surreal, and totally original film that is being expanded into a feature length motion picture.

You can watch a clip of the film at http://www.foppish.net/video/

The Big Empty is among one of the best films I've seen thus far at the SIFF. A 20 minute short based on the story, The Specialist. After seeing numerous doctors in search for a cure for an ache, Alice (Selma Blair) goes to see The Specialist (Elias Koteas). During the gynecological exam, he exclaims "there's nothing there" followed by a sucking noise as he disappears leaving behind a puff of snow. He reemerges and puts on snow gear before he goes back to explore further and tells Alice to get some take-out because he will be a while.

The Big Empty is wonderfully intriguing and adventurous and has a cast that you'd expect to see in a studio feature film, not a short film, as well as some great cameo appearances.

The Butcher and the Housewife is about a housewife who derives great pleasure from her visits with her local butcher. Not a particularly spectacular film, especially after having just seen The Big Empty and Cashback, but it was fun watching silly dance numbers set to a soundtrack provided by The Scorpians.

Katydid was another disappointing film about sibling rivalry. This film was obviously a film school project made primarily to utilize twinning effects.

And Le Vie d'un Chien was a clever short about a scientist who discovers a drug that is able to transform people into dogs, where they can experience true freedom. This is a very witty film that I enjoyed immensely.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

SIFF diary, part 4

Cape of Good Hope and Missing in America

I'm still in shock over how well the SIFF is going. Of the 6 films I've attended this weekend, I've have yet to see a bad film. A bit of a shock really, since we've been selecting films based on lack of buzz. In other words, I'm interested in seeing the movies that I may not get to see in the future due to lack of distribution or general obscurity. So, we're passing up the big names, like Wim Wender's new film or either of Miike's new movies. But I had read a bit about the film Cape of Good Hope from critics who had seen the South African film at other festivals and from comments IMDB.com so I was confident that it would be a charming, light film.

So far, Cape of Good Hope has been the only film that was a major disappointment.

Cape of Good Hope wasn't horrible, but it was frustrating because of the amazing talent that was wasted. One of the stars was Eriq Ebouaney who we recognized as the villain in Femme Fatal and when he walks into the room, you can recognize him as a star. Eriq Ebouaney was wonderful in Cape of Good Hope, so good that it caused me physical pain to hear him deliver the clunky and trite dialog, like the glue that holds the solar system together is love. Most of the other actors in the film are South African and were also very good, especially Debbie Brown and Nthati Moshesh.

Granted, if I had known that Cape of Good Hope was about an animal shelter, I may have steered clear, but it being an animal lover's film wasn't the problem. The problem was that it attempted to tell half-a-dozen stories about the people of the town without allowing time for any one one story to develop. And it lacked the courage and conviction to really tell the stories of the people of South Africa and instead it touched upon issues of racism, immigration, poverty and class and then would move on in favor of neat and pleasant endings to every story line that never felt genuine. I'm not saying it needed to be a serious film about race and poverty in South Africa, but by taking the easy way out again and again, the result was a very empty feel good movie that wasn't charming, but just annoying for being one dimensional, obvious and very painfully trite.

But Missing in American succeeds in all of the areas where Cape of Good Hope fails. In Missing in America, Jake (Danny Glover) is surprised by a fellow ex-Vietnam war vet (David Strathairn) who unexpectedly leaves his half-Vietnamese little girl with Jake to care for. The film follows the emotionally wounded vet as he grows attached to the little girl, played superbly by Zoe Weizenbaun, who will be in the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha.

Danny Glover's Jake is familiar territory for the actor as Jake is an independent survivor who lives alone in a shack in the woods. He drives into to town periodically to buy supplies from Kate (Linda Hamilton) with money made from selling chopped wood. Jake doesn't immediately take to the little girl, Lenny, that is left in his care, but as Jake's character warms up to his new housemate, this film could have become a sweet film about a wounded man who is changed forever by the child in his life, but Missing in America doesn't travel down that path. Instead, it using the arrival of a half-Vietnamese child as a catalyst that allows for the exploration into the lives of the mysterious war veterans that live solitary lives in the woods, not able to forget the horrors they experienced in Vietnam. In Lenny's explorations into the woods, she meets their neighbors, some, like Red (Ron Perlman), are still living as if they are in a war zone and see Lenny as a painful reminder of a war that while being 40 years in the past, still impacts their lives as if it were yesterday.

One of the reasons this film stood out in stark contrast with Cape of Good Hope was that Missing in America was everything that Cape of Good Hope wanted to be. Missing in America would have been just as good a film if it had opted for a happy ending where Lenny grows up with Jake. It could have even developed into a very convincing love story between Jake and Kate, because it allowed time for the story to develop and didn't give easy answers. Instead, it was much more interested in the issues unique to Vietnam veterans who are unable to assimilate back into American culture after the war. And I'm not certain that these stories would have felt as authentic in a feel good movie, but at one point I did really want the neat and tidy happy ending.

Missing in America is a very powerful first feature by director Gabrielle Savage Dockterman. This film looked polished and it looked like a big studio film with lovely cinematography and big names in the lead roles, so it was surprising that this film is an independent production that is just beginning the process of finding a distributor. Hopefully, they succeed because Missing In America is a beautiful and powerful film that has Oscar written all over it.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

SIFF2005: SIFF diary, pt. 3

Godzilla: Final Wars and The Edukators

In my attempts to keep my festival going diverse, we selected Godzilla since it looked like an action packed romp and the German film The Edukators, which simply sounded interesting and I wanted to catch at least one German film during the festival as I usually like the look and often dark tone of German cinema. 

We're are doing a great job of selecting films thus far.

Godzilla: Final Wars is billed as the last Godzilla film and is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who made Versus. I've only seen one Godzilla film and it was the 1984 one and really, I have very little recollection of it other than Godzilla meets Bambi played before it. So I am not up on the Godzilla franchise, but I did obviously know what to expect; an action flick where a rubber Godzilla battles a zillion other monsters.

We had a pretty good time at Godzilla. I was a bit surprised by the near sold out show as I had no clue that there were that many fans of the monster [1], but it was great fun to see with such an enthusiastic audience. It also helped to be surrounded by so much excitement as I've been battling a migraine all weekend, so they helped me tune out the dull throb behind my right eye.

But Final Wars was a great choice for a Godzilla neophyte as it was a kitchen sink Godzilla flick. Basically, every monster Godzilla has ever fought shows up in the film and Godzilla battles them all. There are also hot biologist babes, a mutant army, an alien invasion and some matrix-esque martial arts. It also appeared to have every Japanese actor as there were numerous familiar faces (at least two of whom were in Kill Bill). So Godzilla was far from the best that I've seen at the SIFF, but it was a totally silly good time and it even had some goofy science.

And then, after a dinner break, it was time to get in line for The Edukators. I don't know if it was due to the late starting time (9:30 PM) or the fact that this film likely doesn't have much festival buzz surrounding it, but this was the least attended film that I've been to during the SIFF. Which is really a shame to see so many empty seats, because this is by far the best film I've seen thus far.

The Edukators are a trio of idealists who break into the homes of the wealthy, not to steal from them, but to give them a message by rearranging their valuables and leaving a note that reads "you have too much money" or "your days of plenty are numbered" signed The Edukators. When they break from their normal plan of working off of a list of targets and putting the homes under surveillance before breaking in, a mistake is made that results in the need to kidnap their target when they are interrupted during their mischief. 

The result is an amazing and gripping story about values and how so many people slowly change from being idealistic in our youth to being conservative and totally frightened of change when they are older. And this film doesn't compromise the characters or the message by taking the easy way out and finding its answers in compromise or a middle ground. It is hopeful in outlook and is a wonderfully suspenseful and thought provoking film. And this film is unpredictable and very original, so I was pleased by every unexpected plot development and that it had so much optimism and heart. This film has much in common with The Dreamers and would make a powerful and provocative double feature. 

The Edukators is getting distribution and will be opening limited over the summer in the US. I highly recommend seeking out this film. 

Here's hoping that the good movie juju continues...

[1] Godzilla questions for those who have seen more than one zilla movie. Is Godzilla a cyborg???? In Final Wars, they claim that Godzilla is a cyborg, not a mutant like the other monsters he fights. I thought Godzilla was a sea monster. But everything in the movie appeared to be referencing the past movies, so I'm assuming he was a cyborg at some point. And what is up with baby zilla? Weird.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

SIFF 2005: SIFF diary, pt. 2

Saving Face

Saving Face is about a young Chinese/American surgeon, Wil (Michelle Krusiec) whose mother (Joan Chen) moves in after being exiled from her Chinese family and friends at a time when Wil falls in love with a ballerina (Lynn Chen). Saving Face is among the films showing at SIFF that has distribution and it opened in LA and New York on Friday. 

Go see this film if you get a chance. It is delightful first film by director Alice Wu. She was in attendance and it turns out that she wrote the screenplay while taking a UW screenwriting course here in Seattle. After finishing the screenplay, she decided that it needed to be made into a film and that she must direct it so she moved to New York and gave herself five years to get the film made. She learned about editing and filmmaking and ended up getting help from Wil Smith to finance the film. It was fascinating listening to her speak and I was floored and the guts it must have taken to jet off to New York to make a movie with no real connections and that she got it made and it is good.

Story wise, Saving Face isn't particularly original. It consists of a love story and more than a little family drama and I saw most of the plot twists coming from a mile away. And it does give you the expected happy ending where everyone finds happiness, love, etc. But while working in a lot of romantic comedy cliches, it does cover plenty of new ground as I haven't seen very many films that appear to accurately describe the experience of being a Chinese American and gay. The older Chinese characters speak in Mandarin while their children spoke English, giving the film a feeling of authenticity while talking about generational differences and cultural identity mixed with issues of being gay, coming out and falling in love. 

I was totally charmed by Saving Face. Now it might have had a bit to do with the atmosphere, a totally sold out show full of enthusiastic lesbians and asian families. But I smiled throughout this film and had a great time. Lovely, lovely film.

Monday, May 23, 2005

SIFF2005: SIFF diary, pt. 1

While the rest of the world is lined up at The Cinerama to see Star Wars, Episode III, I spent my weekend attending my very first film festival, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I only attended two screenings, since I am a festival novice and was uncertain how many movies I would have time to take in and am a little short on cash at this time of the month (won't get paid for a few more days), so I opted for a couple of matinee shows to test the water. 

Well, I'll be taking in many more films next weekend.

Yes, it went well. Saturday, we saw C'est la Femme, a collection of short films directed by women. It was a good choice. Seven films were scheduled, although only five were shown due to technical issues. I really appreciate the short film format and have often found short subjects to be much more inventive and daring than feature length films. I especially remember a few shorts that were shown between features on the Sundance Channel with fondness. There was a fascinating and dark take on Little Red Ridinghood staring Christina Ricci that was deliciously erotic. I also remember a very shocking short about a motorcycle accident and another about a woman that pulls a man from the drain of her kitchen sink. So perhaps my expectations were a bit high as these shorts were not nearly as well crafted or original as I had hoped.

The first was All Fall Down a five minute long film where a little girl asks her critical mother, if she had to choose whether one of her children would live, who would it be? All Fall Down wanted to delve into the challenging topic of how girls are treated, but I found it to be the lest affecting of the shorts. 

The next short was Gyppo. Gyppo was about a girl asking questions about sex while growing up in a very feminist environment. This was a very compelling subject matter rife with interesting issues to explore and the young actress who played Gyppo was very good, but the film tried to cover far too much ground in its 10 minute running time. 

The best of the shorts was Between Baronovskys, the story of a woman dealing with the loss of her husband in some rather eccentric ways. This film was quirky and often charming, but it also was the most sincere and really the only film the really struck the right emotional chords. I felt Helen's joy and playfulness as she stripped and swam in a public fountain, but also felt her desperation and loneliness at night as she laid on the floor of her room or stormed the liquor cabinet. This was also fresh for the look into the lives of the elderly which really made it stand apart from the other tales of childhood and young adulthood. Between Baronovskys was a very refreshing and lovely film.

Below the Break was a film that began with a lot of promise, about a young disabled woman who would like a boyfriend. In the beginning, we see her invisibility as she to attempts to get service as she sit in her wheelchair. But then after she dates, the film becomes very clichéd as she finds love in her first sexual encounter. I liked the actress and generally enjoyed the film, but it could have explored some really interesting and rarely touched upon topics of sexuality for the physically challenged, so it was disappointing when it became just another unrealistic love story.

And finally, there was the coming of age story, Cat's Bad Hair Day, a title that really didn't fit the film. An obviously autobiographical film covering first sexual experiences, a tough father daughter relationship, and of course the appearance of a first period. 

I was hoping for more from these shorts. They were all very straight forward and didn't have the tightness and total originality that I've seen in shorts in the past. But there was one gem and it was fun listening to the directors talk about making the films afterwards. 

And Sunday, we saw The Dying Gaul. I am so pleased that we attended this screening as it was by a first time director Craig Lucus and I had heard very little about the film other than a brief plot summery. There was very little buzz surrounding this film and the only reviews I've seen of it were based on the screening at Sundance and were not very positive. 

The Dying Gaul was very compelling. The film opened with a quote from Herman Melville, "Woe to him that seeks to please, rather than appall" which sets the tone for this classical tragedy set in modern day Hollywood. It stars Peter Sarsgaard as Robert, a screen writer who is selling his first screen play. Campbell Scott is the Hollywood executive that offers to buy the screenplay and Patricia Clarkson plays his wife. The first exchanges in the film are between Robert and Scott as Robert is persuaded to sell his script and is told that there will have to be re-writes as "no one goes to movies to be challenged or to learn anything." I really believed that The Dying Gaul was being set up to be very critical of the Hollywood system and the sacrifices that have to be made to sell the work and by successful.

I wasn't prepared for the tragedy that unfolded. These three characters who had a lot of respect and love for one another, as they mingled and their motives became muddied and entwined and drama unfolds that is sometimes touching, sometime sad, and at the end really startling. We watch this story unfold all because of one immoral act that triggers a tragic chain of events. This is a very complex and multilayered story that I will be thinking about for some time. Especially Patricia Clarkson's character as I spent most of the film one step behind trying to understand her motivations and at one point wondering whether she was indeed the personification of Robert's dead ex-lover or whether she was simply a very jealous writer flexing her creativity in a most hurtful way. 

so yea... great cast, interesting film that was definitely worth going out to the SIFF for. And now that I understand how this process works, I need to plan next weekend's movies. And to remember to space out the movies enough to allow to get to the theater more than 30 minutes ahead as the ticket holder lines seem to get long fast and to eat and be well hydrated because it isn't set up very well for taking advantage of concessions (when they are allowed at all). I was worried about seeing a ton of movies in one weekend, thinking that would lead to a ton of soft drinks and movie candy and popcorn, but so far, either there was no food allowed in the theater or there just wasn't time to get any before the film since they only let in ticket holders after pass holders and press and inside and seated.

Monday, April 04, 2005

deep shadows and brilliant highlights

"It's time to prove to your friends that you're worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying, sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people."




When it comes to movies, I am definitely in the style over substance camp and Sin City is overflowing with style. Meaning, it would likely get a pretty fine review from me without any story at all. But Sin City not only looks amazing, but it also has some substance along with all of the blood that often runs thick and white and rain that pours down in white lines during much of the film. The look of Sin City raises it above the typical motion picture and into the realm of art.



In Sin City, Robert Rodriguez has brought the work of Frank Miller to the big screen not just by telling the stories of Sin City, but by using the graphic novels as his storyboards, painstakingly reproducing each frame into film and giving the film its very innovative look. And the result is glorious to behold. Shot in glorious black and white and using splashes of color, like red lipstick, occasionally bathing characters in blue or green light and of course, the flowing of sometimes red blood.

I was most stunned by the shots in the last of the three major tales told in Sin City. When Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is behind bars, I was stunned by the beautiful use of contrast that it looked more like a graphic novel then film. It also reminded me of German expressionism (Fritz Lang) with the stark contrast and the extreme isolation of Hartigan in a square cell surrounded by nothingness. These images were so powerful that the dialog and narration were almost unnecessary. In fact, at times this film could have existed as a silent film due to the power of the visuals and the amazing action sequences.



And speaking of great action sequences, in the wrong hands the comic book action of Marv (Mickey Rourke) could have come across as silly and over the top, much like the animated hulk in Ang Lee’s Hulk, but in Sin City Marv’s unlikely stunts fit into his world and were simply amazing to watch as well as an example of the power of working in digital. It was impressive to watch Marv burst through doors and stop a cop car by crashing through the windshield feet first. One could definitely see Rodriguez’ Mariachi trilogy as his training ground for filming these amazing action sequences that are absolutely riveting and always filmed with a flare and coolness that is shared with all of Rodriguez’ work.

But I still haven’t gotten around to mentioning the substance of Sin City, which are found in the stories. I was really taken by surprise at the character development and the heart of some of the stories. As the film rolled, I was certain early in the movie that I would be talking about Mickey Rourke’s performance as the mad brut Marv for some time. I was beside myself with enthusiasm just to see Rourke in a major role as I found him absolutely fascinating in so many films in the 80s. He was such a dichotomy with his once very boyish good looks while conveying so much threat and having a rather dark sex appeal. After a failed boxing career, Rourke has disappeared from the collective pop culture consciousness, but the decision to cast him as Marv was brilliant. His muscular physique gave the role a level of believability and his charm and demeanor made Marv, even while gulping down anti-psychotic pills by the handful, a sympathetic character in his quest to revenge Goldie’s death.

Throuought the first third of the film, I was convinced that Mickey Rourke had stolen this film, but that was until we reached the next story with Benicio Del Toro as Jackey Boy and Clive Owen as Dwight. This portion of the film was probably the most fun as Benicio Del Toro was fascinating and Clive Owen oozed style and cool as he transported bodies out of old town in a car "with a large trunk". Plus, there is no hotter scene than watching Dwight along side the valkaries of old town, showering the place with bullets.

But I have to give the show stealing award to Bruce Willis. This is the second time that Bruce Willis manages to play the noblest character in a world oozing with corruption and crime. The first was in Pulp Fiction as Butch and now again as Hartigan, the cop with a bad heart who rescues skinny little Nancy Callahan from a pedophile. This was my favorite portion of the film as the high contrast black and white was made for Bruce Willis' face and his portrayal of a determined, aging cop was probably the most human and touching of the stories told in Sin City. It didn't have the over the top cartoonish action of Marv or the extreme cool and sexuality of Dwight and the prostitutes of Old Town, but Hartigan's story is the one with the most heart.

Sin City is going to be another highly polarizing film. Either people will love the sexuality and highly stylized violent world of Sin City or they will likely find it abhorrent or downright disturbing. I happen to be solidly in the “loved it” camp and will likely have to see it again before it leaves the theaters.


Monday, March 21, 2005

the fun of graphic violence

On Friday, I was pleasantly surprised that Old Boy appears to have gotten distribution in the US and will be opening next week. I'm sure most of you have not heard much of anything about this very violent film from Korea. And if it weren't for Scarecrow Video, I would know of it either. But mixed among new releases and staff picks was this film, and curiosity about this eastern psychological thriller resulted in taking it home.

And all of these weeks later, I am still haunted by Old Boy.



Oh Dae-su is held hostage in a hotel room for 15 years as retribution for some forgotten slight, but he has no idea who his captor is or what sin he has committed that resulted in his captivity. When he is released, he searches for the identity of his captor and attempts to determine the reason for his 15 years of punishment. Old Boy is a very stylized and very brutally violent film, so violent that I would have said that it would never be released in the US. This is a very troubling film. But it is a film that really draws you in. You have to find out why Oh Dae-su was treated so inhumanely and who was responsible and despite the very uncomfortable plot turns and gruesomely violent scenes, I wouldn't look away as I needed to learn the answers as much as Oh did. This is a film that is driven by curiosity and it doesn't hurt that is a great looking film with some unforgettable action sequences, one involving Oh facing more than 20 men, armed with a hammer.

And apparently, Korean cinema is getting a bit of attention right now. I recently caught the chilling, Tale of Two Sisters which shared many qualities with Old Boy. Sisters was more of a ghost story, but like Old Boy, it had a complex and very fascinating plot that develops in directions that totally blind-sided me. And like Old Boy, it was such an enjoyable ride, that I was not concerned with plausibility or whether the plot turns really made logical sense.

Apparently, if these two films are any indication, Korean cinema is gorgeous and absolutely gripping.

And after visiting rotten tomatoes' page for Old Boy, I was surprised by the negative reviews calling the film "gratuitously vile" and "so Graphically violent and narratively twisted, its most appreciative audience will likely be callow males and movie buffs who appreciate the old ultra-violence."

It has come to my attention that I have apparently become desensitized to violence and even rather enjoy violence presented with style and flare. Yes, I might be a teenaged boy deep down inside. My evidence for this is the immense enjoyment of last weekend's Hostage with Bruce Willis. I have read the numerous negative reviews this movie received and I just don't get it.

I had a blast at Hostage.

Now I agree with critics that point out that they threw every cliche in the book at that movie, but I also didn't care. The opening credits were stunning, making a police stand off look like a very sexy video game. And despite following a lot of movie conventions, the plot directions did surprise me and were even rather clever, although just thinking about the details makes it sound so convoluted and silly, but it played out nicely. Hostage turned out to be one part thriller, one part police drama, and one part horror film and that is totally ignoring the sudden emergence of an organized crime subplot. Yes, they put everything in this film, but it worked and was a lot of fun.

And it was one of the bloodiest films I've seen in a while. I stumbled upon a discussion forum that was giving advice to a parent which was hilarious and had turned into a forum of movie fans gleefully sharing their favorite bit of gore from the film. A lot of blood is spilled.

And is it wrong that I kept thinking that Mars (Ben Foster) was rather sexy in a Trent Reznor kind of way?

And in other upcoming movie news, Kill Bill: the Whole Bloody Affair will be hitting theaters soon and will be NC-17 as it is the Japanese cut. Hopefully, putting the two halves together will fix the minor editing annoyances in part 2. I am so excited.

And I am also counting the days to the April release of Sin City, so there is plenty of violent action films in my near future.