Tuesday, June 20, 2006

SIFF 2006, part 10

Ah, it was another good year at the festival. And I'm already down to my last films for this year. It is rather sad it is over so soon.

Time to Leave

In general, I adore Francois Ozon's films. Ever since Swimming Pool and 8 Femmes, I have gone out to my way to not miss his films. So I was excited to get the chance to see another of his films at this year's SIFF.

Time To Leave on the surface seems like it might be a difficult film to like. It follows Romain's (Melvil Poupaud) path to exceptance of his own mortality after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. As the film begins with his diagnosis, we don't really have any idea about his life before, other than he was an ambitious and very successful fashion photographer. But after, he is cruel to his lover, lashes out at his sister, and in general withdraws from everyone in his life, generally through being angry and mean. He seems to insure that he will spend his last days alone.

Ozon's last release, 5x2, I could not get into at all because I couldn't identify or find any empathy for any of the people in the film. I just couldn't believe that there was any love in the relationship so I could not feel the tragedy as the relationship was eroded away through years of harsh words and unkind deeds. Time to Leave despite having a sometimes unlikable protagonist, his actions never seem completely unjustified. We don't know whether he has people's best interests at heart, but I always suspected that he did. In fact, sometimes I wondered if I would make similar decisions in my last days on earth in order to protect others from the grief of watching someone die, but also to protect myself from seeing myself reflected.

Time to Leave is a careful meditation on death and it is beautifully made. Not everyone will likely empathize with Romain, but many will and I was greatly moved by this film.

5 of 5


Pierrepoint
AKA, The Last Hangman

Pierrepoint was a reminder of exactly why I tend to avoid biopics. Even when they sound as if the subject matter is very compelling, somehow filmmakers manage to create safe politically correct and often very long films that seem to exist only to show off the acting skills of one or two cast members and to induce sleep in anyone who attempts to watch the film. This was absolutely what was delivered with Pierrepoint

And I'm still stunned. How could a film about the career of Albert Pierrepoint (played by Timothy Spall) be do mind-numbingly boring? He was among Britain's Chief Executioners, doing the hangings that followed the Nuremberg Trials and having a career that resulted in over 600 executions. Just the idea that someone delivered so much death in the service of the government provides fascinating fodder for exploring issues of life and death, justice, and morality. But unfortunately, the film didn't explore anything. Just skimming the beginning of with wikipedia entry for Albert Pierrepoint is much more engaging experience than this film, which I was tempted to walk out on at the 10 minute mark. Just for the record, I never walk out of movies, even when I find them reprehensible or just plain unwatchable, but if I wouldn't have needed to disrupt the film for a number of others, I would have left during this screening. It was that bad.

1 of 5

Backstage

Lucie (Isild Le Besco) is in love with Lauren (Emmanuelle Seigner)in that all encompassing love for a singer that only a young fan can. The kind of complete love and devotion that occurs when there is a belief that the songs could only be written for you and the star is a perfect, pure human being completely deserving of love and admiration.

Backstage could have been about Lucie's loss of innocence with an eye opening experience of who Lauren really is as a person, but instead the film seems to be a little more interested in letting Lucie's fandom be rewarded, allowing her into Lauren's inner circle and her obsessive devotion to Lauren continues throughout the film. Backstage is an interesting character study of fandom, and while I didn't completely connect with this film, I did enjoy it. But then, I cannot help but enjoy any film that stars Emmanuelle Seigner as she is fascinating. She has a peculiar kind of beauty with a sinister quality that is always there, even when she is being a popstar.

3 of 5

Sunday, June 18, 2006

SIFF 2006, part 9

SIFF Screenings: June 16

Starfish Hotel

Arisu (Koichi Sato) spends his days as just another white collar office worker and his evenings are marked by a distant wife (Tae Kimura) and thus he reads the mystery novels of Jo Kuroda. After his wife disappears, Arisu finds himself at the center of a real mystery, one where a brothel is burnt down, his wife may lead a second life and he may have set it all into motion with an affair two years ago with the mysterious Kayoko (Kiki) at the Starfish Hotel.

This is an absolutely fascinating film. It appears to be a modern film noir, but has some uncharacteristic plot developments at its core. Just don't make the mistake I did and keep equating Mr Trickster to Frank despite the uncanny similarities. Actually, Starfish Hotel does have a bit in common with Donnie Darko, except it is less about figuring out a puzzle and actually has more in common with Eyes Wide Shut. Arisu has begun on a marvelous journey. I'm not certain what is real and what is fantasy, but in the end, the journey alone was quite satisfying.

And the film looked amazing. I do enjoy a lush looking film with plenty of darkness.

5 of 5

When Cows Attack... Isolation

I don't know how they did it, but director/writer Billy O'Brien managed to create a truly frightening horror film about mutant cow fetuses. I hadn't read much about this film prior to getting tickets, but I expected this Irish film to be a bit more in the spirit of the Swedish vampire flick, Fristbite. How could it not be? The premise is attack by mutant cow fetuses. I expected another self-referential comic horror movie.

Well, Isolation was not a comic horror film. It is set on a small ranch where a scientist is conducting cow genetic experiments. And when one of the cows gives birth, it is evident that something has gone horribly wrong. The action that follows is nerve wracking. Isolation is more easily compared to Alien in tone, tension level and gore. This is a bloody film that took itself and the subject matter very seriously and I was scared. I don't see very many horror films, but when I do, they often are not at all scary. This one is.

As a scientist, I feel that this review would be incomplete if I didn't mention the science behind the terror. I don't think the premise is totally ridiculous. I believe there is likely plenty of genetic experiments ongoing to try to create livestock that is bigger and make better stakes. Now, I do have a problem with the level of fertility observed in Isolation. I am not a developmental biologist and I know as little about that area of biology as I can get away with, but I suspect sexual reproduction to be essential for cows to reproduce. Asexual reproduction seems highly unlikely, but hell, you just never know what that evil scientist was trying to cook up. And Billy O'Brien was smart enough to not attempt to explain what happens in the movie with a bunch of pseudo-science (no mitoclorians to be found). So I review the science as highly implausible, but not annoyingly so. In other words, the mad cows get enthusiastic thumbs up.

And because I would be amused to give the cows a golden space needle, they get 5 of 5. Plus, Isolation was a very affective horror movie.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

SIFF 2006, part 8

SIFF screening: Tuesday June 13

Eve and the Fire Horse

This was another SIFF film that attracted my attention for being sounding really lovely and has Vivian Wu. I love Vivian Wu, but hadn't seen her in a while. I had initially passed, but when I had a find 6 more films to see thanks to the acquisition of passes that needed to be used, I added this film.

What I have learned is not just to pay attention to whether a film has won awards at other festivals, but to pay attention to which awards. If they are honors like "Most Popular Canadian Film" or People's Choice awards, run far, far away. I should have learned this last year after suffering through Cape of Good Hope, but I did it again this year. "Hey look, this film was really popular at Sundance, we should see it!" Ugh. What I have learned is that the people suck.

This film was horrible. It is about a Chinese immigrant family with two young girls, Eve and Karena. Eve is struggling with religion. Specifically, the pull between the faith her family brought with them from China and that of her older sister, who has become totally enamored with Catholicism. There were wonderfully imaginative and charming moments in this film. The family, in order to show support for the girls' interest in Catholicism, put up a crucifix with the family Buddha and other eastern icons. There is a great sequence where Eve finds Buddha and Christ dancing together.

While this film had inspired moments, most of it felt contrived. [spoiler alert] We watch Karena become a perfect Christian, trying to convert others and live a perfect, christian life in that absolutist way that some children see faith. But Eve comes across as seeing the big picture. She talks about the Chinese gods to her class and watches her mother practice Buddhism. The film seems to place so much weight on the eastern faiths, that the ending, when Eve abandons her chinese faith in favor of Catholicism doesn't seem at all genuine.

The kids were very good in this film, that it is really a shame that the director was in attendance and spoke after the film. She was so simplistic and girlish. Everything she said annoyed me. Phoebe Kut (Eve) was also at the screening, and I wish that the kid had just taken the mic away from the director and answered that questions. Apparently, 12 year-olds have more interesting things to say and more insight into the films they've been in than the filmmaker, Julie Kwan.


2 of 5

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

SIFF 2006, part 6

Screenings: June 10

Three Times

I had planned to not see as many films this year because there are significantly fewer films this year playing at SIFF, that will open wide in just a few weeks, I still owe the government some money, and as of early August, work on my half-sleeve will start and the first session will be a long and therefore costly one, so I really need to focus on saving right now.

Well, plans changed when was given a whole bunch of passes by Scarecrow Video. So we got to add some more movies to our festival, without paying for a ton more tickets. So I added a few titles that I would have skipped, since Three Times is already playing in a few theaters around the US. The film caught my attention because Hou Hsiao-hsien is a respected director from Taiwan and I have not yet seen any of his films.

Three Times is composed of three short films focusing on a relationship between two characters portrayed by Shu Qi and Chang Chen. The three films are stylistically very different but share a similar tone and are all three beautiful, and moving films. I was in love with every second of this film. The first segment, A Time for Love was set in a pool hall in 1966. She works there and he has been stationed elsewhere and sends her letters. Much of the film is his attempts to track her when he returns and she has moved to a different pool hall. Very little is spoken, but innocence and tenderness mark the tone of this portion of the film.

The next segment, A Time for Freedom, is much more dialog heavy. But it is a silent film about the relationship between a diplomat and courtesan (?). They discuss Taiwan's future freedom from Japan, his children, and are obviously emotionally intimate. This portion is highlighted with her singing which is ethereal and very moving.

And finally, there is A Time for Youth. Here they seem most vulnerable. It is 2005 and their lives are chaotic, full of choices and we don't really know what choices they will make. These two characters seem destined to be together and we are confident that in 1966, they will be together and love each other. In 1911, their love is established, but they will likely never be together. But in modern times, I cannot see their future as clearly. These characters have wandered into a Wong Kar Wei film and the chaos of modern life may be enough to keep them from the realization of what they could be.

Three Times is a very quiet, understated and very beautiful film about love. I really loved this film. I however was very displeased with the audience. I overheard nothing but apologies and gripes about how bad or boring this film was, which was very discouraging. I still cannot fathom why the whole theater didn't fall in love with this film as I did.

5 of 5

Beowulf and Grendel

Adapting Beowulf and Grendel for the screen is a huge undertaking. First, most of us are very aware of the story and have read the poem in literature classes. But the bigger problem is the question of how to tell this story to a modern audience with modern sensibilities. Today we don't believe in monsters and it is easy to see Beowulf's actions as barbaric and thus, much more difficult to see him as the hero that he should be.

Sturla Gunnarsson handled these inherent problems very gracefully. He put together a very strong and believable cast. And he humanized Grendel and additionally modernized Beowulf, casting Gerard Butler of Phantom of the Opera as the hero. In order to achieve this more modern take of the story, it had to be altered. There was a back-story added and thus a new justification for Grendel's wrath. New characters were added, most noticeably Selma (Sarah Polley), a prostitute witch. And I had very strange, mixed feeling about these changes to the story as I was watching the film.

I guess I was hoping that Sturla Gunnarsson would have just gone with the brutality of the original text. Perhaps to present the story visually as the danes may have in song. Celebrate the nailing of Grendel's arm to the wall and to see the men as justified in their hunt and defeat of the monsters. And while I admired the more human depiction of Grendel, as a primitive man with animalistic drives, I fought it during the film.

But my biggest issue with Beowulf and Grendel was the addition of a female character and the misogyny of doing so. While they were careful to give Selma a voice of wisdom in this rendition of the story, they did debase her with rape and violence that really didn't sit well with this audience member. I know I just stated that I had hoped to see a more primitive story and was a bit disappointed that they modernized it, but the addition of a woman to the story for the purpose to add complexity to Beowulf and Grendel's stories does bother me.

Thus my review is biased. I see a lot of justification for the changes and they worked, but they didn't all sit well with me and thus it is hard for me to judge this film based on the film. There is too much swimming around in my head from the text, the history and what the film says about our lack of respect for female characters today.

3 of 5


Sunday, June 11, 2006

SIFF 2006, part 7

Screenings: June 11 - Film Noir Archival Presentations

The Man Who Cheated Himself

The Window

It is very lucky that won those passes, because otherwise, I probably wouldn't have decided to pick up tickets to any archival screenings. I have a tendency to assume that anything that has been made is around somewhere and thus, I could just rent these old films. Plus, I hadn't heard of these films, didn't know the stars, etc.

But this was a really great afternoon at SIFF. While the films were not the greatest that I've seen at the festival, the experience was great for seeing two little known noir films in a whole theater of movie fans. But the highlight was definitely Eddie Muller. He was very funny, informative and gave great introductions to each of the films. Most importantly, he talked about the film noir foundation and their efforts to attention to old films. Knowing that hundreds of films are made and that numerous studio projects get shelved and sometimes are never seen by audiences, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that many classic films, even some Oscar winning films, have been lost. No one knows where the prints are or even if there are existing prints. But the noir foundation pulls as many strings as they can to find films that haven't been seen in years. It was fascinating to hear about the foundation's work.

As for the films, The Man Who Cheated Himself is exactly what I expect to see when I hear a film described at film noir. It was about a cop, who tries to cover up a crime because of a dame. It had all of those elements that typifies noir; fedora wearing men, black and white, a crime plot, plenty of smoking, and even a femme fatale. This was a very enjoyable film and it was a nice example of Eddie Muller's description of film noir as "when you know it's wrong, but you do it anyway."

But it was The Window that was the highlight of the day. The Window was about a little boy (Bobby Driscoll) who witnesses a murder, but isn't believed when he tries to tell others. The result is a wonderfully suspenseful thriller that has more than a little in common with Hitchcock's Rear Window.

I really enjoyed this film and now that I've seen it, it isn't shocking that this was a huge hit in 1959. What is surprising is that such a commercially successful film that even won a couple of Oscars, including a best child actor award for Bobby Driscoll, but that Warner Brothers would have lost all prints of this film for decades. So if you like suspense or those now rare films of the children in peril genre, try to catch this film if you get a chance.


SIFF diary 2006, part 5

Screenings: June 9

Linda Linda Linda

Linda Linda Linda is a song by the Blue Hearts, a band that that is an inspiration to girls in Linda Linda Linda. The girls are in an art school and have been in and out of numerous bands. They form a band with a new singer, Son (Du-na Bae of Take Care of My Cat, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), who is a Korean exchange student and is in the process of learning Japanese.

This is a delightful movie. The plot is simple, a group of girls work on a song for a school performance, but the movie doesn't simply rehash other teen-centric film. Instead of falling into cliches about teen girls, or trying to be a cute fantasy about girls in rock, a la Josie and the Pussycats, it feels more realistic about high school relationships. The girls have crushes, most of which don't develop into anything and are only expressed in occasional brief awkward meetings that feel excruciatingly long, just that way I remember. They have falling outs. They make new friends. And most of all, they work hard at making music.

And the girls are adorable. I especially loved Son, the Korean exchange student who spends her time working at a Korean cultural exhibit at the school. She was so endearing, learning to sing in Japanese via karaoke, playing cow darts... she was too cute and stole nearly every scene with some amazing comic timing and totemo kawaii. The other girls were also endearing, but I'm afraid that Du-na Bae stole the show.

Finally, the music was also so fun. It seems some Blue Hearts music has mysteriously gotten onto 's iTunes. A fun, Japanese take on Western rock that has a lot in common with The Ramones. Really great stuff.

5 of 5

The Power of Nightmares:The Rise of the Politics of Fear

The Power of Nightmares is a very informative documentary about today's politics and the use of fear to gain office, maintain political standing, motivate, and keep the masses from really paying attention to what is happening in the world today. Anyway, that is the film I expected to see, but really this one goes a step further. It documents the emergence of the neo-conservatives, discusses their ideology and how they managed to gain political favor in current political debate. This is really a very fascinating story and alone makes an eye opening story.

Additionally, the Power of Nightmares also parallels the history of radical Islam with that of the neocons and this is a rather startling piece of history. It fascinates me how similar neocon philosophy is to that of radical islam and the interplay and connections between the two are just really interesting.

However, it is challenging to review this three hour long documentary as it covers so much ground. I really feel like I learned a lot about the world I live in today from it and strangely enough, it gave me hope for the future. I would have preferred to have watched this film as intended, that is broken up into three parts spread apart over time, as it was a bit annoying to have a review of the last hour at the beginning of each hour of the film, but regardless, this was a very engaging film. The seats at Broadway Performance Hall are not very conducive of sitting for three hours, but I'm still glad that I saw this film at the festival.



5 of 5


Saturday, June 10, 2006

SIFF diary 2006, part 4

13 (Tzameti)

It is a shame that one doesn't usually step into a theater with absolutely no idea about the movie that is about to start. Sometimes, I suspect I do myself a disservice with all of the research, reading reviews, watching trailers. I never go into a film without expectations. And I'm very pleased that I didn't know anything about 13, beyond it being a thriller from France that a few people at IMDB seemed to like.

At the beginning, nothing is revealed except that Sébastien is a young immigrant working on the roof of a man with a morphine addiction and some mysterious connections with some kind of underground activity. After eavesdropping on a conversation, Sébastien ends up in the possession of a ticket that could make him a large sum. How, he hasn't a clue, but he follows the directions landing himself in a "game" where he could stand to earn some money, but also is in no position to back out, once he has arrived at this destination.

I'm being careful here not to reveal anything, because the film would lose all tension and effectiveness if you know where Sébastien is going and what happens there. I'll just say that once he gets there, and the game begins, it is a bit of a thrill to watch. This is a very simple film with an obvious set up, but is still very effective. My only complaint is with the anticlimactic ending. After the buildup, I was hoping for the main characters to be a bit more clever. I wanted an ending that would live up to the intensity of the game, instead of the quiet ending that 13 delivers.

My other disappointment is the rumor that the rights to this film have already been bought by a major Hollywood studio and a remake is underway. 13 is still playing festivals, why has a remake already been initiated before the film has shown anywhere? Somehow, despite my annoyance at the last minutes of 13, I doubt the Hollywood studio system will improve upon it. Especially since they will abandon the most affective element, the gritty, old school black and white cinematography that really adds to the dark intensity of the game sequences. I just do see a "major studio" releasing this kind of film without turning it into a well polished thriller with major stars and that something will be lost in the translation. Try to catch the original, before the Hollywood corruption occurs.

4 of 5

Blood Rain

This has been the biggest disappointment of SIFF, 2006. I really hoped that this would be a fascinating film, or at the very least engaging and entertaining. Instead, I struggled with this film for two long hours, fighting off yawns and forcing my eyelids open. Not at all what I expected from a film from South Korea that the Seattle PI felt the need to warn audiences about the brutal violence.

But Blood Rain should have been an interesting and entertaining period murder mystery, that shared some commonalities with In the Name of the Rose. There was a detective and plenty of characters with motivations to commit the brutal murders that were plaguing the region. But instead of being a gripping or at least an entertaining murder mystery, I found the film overly long and confusing, due to the key plot turns being told entirely in dialog, the confusing Korean names, and very poorly executed flashbacks. I would have expected a film based on manga to be more visual, and less dialog driven. And I don't take issue with dialog driven films, but this one just did not work and desperately needed to show us something.

2 of 5

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

SIFF diary, part 3

I am horribly slow at keeping my blog at all updated, but I've been just a bit swamped. I keep getting "this close" to landing a better job, meaning lots of interviews and correspondence that doesn't end up panning out. did manage to find a better job though and started it this week. And the film festival does suck up my life just a little. Especially, when I only seem to have tickets to late showings, which is messing up my sleep patterns too.

Frostbite

This year I am taking in a couple of the midnight adrenalin series films. I don’t think of myself as someone who is into gory horror films, but it didn’t take too much arm twisting to convince me to pick up tickets to Frostbite, the Swedish vampire movie.

But now I’m at a loss for what to say about this film. Was it good? Hmmm, I don’t think good really applies, but it wasn’t bad. I was amused and the special effects were much better than I expected. As for whether I would recommend it, I think it depends on your expectations. If you want to be scared, this isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you want to giggle at vampires speaking Swedish, than I highly recommend it.

A family moves to a new town in Sweden only to find it is infested with vampires. There are evil doctors, an odd and creepy patient in a coma, drunk teens, talking dogs, and a dinner party that goes very wrong. And I did mention that this is a movie about vampires in Sweden, right? You know, where it is night for months at a time?

3 of 5

Wristcutters: A Love Story

The more I think about this movie, the more I am delighted by it.
In the opening scene, we watch Zia (Patrick Fugit) end it all out of love for his girlfriend, Desiree. When he wakes, he is alive, finds work at kamikaze pizza and is surrounded by people who have taken their own lives. He befriends Eugene (Shea Whigham), whose entire family is in this alternative universe as they have all committed suicide. And the quirkiness doesn’t let up resulting in an entertaining and oddly charming film.

Zia and Eugene hit the road to attempt to find Desiree when Zia hears that she too has killed herself. The result is an off beat road movie, that becomes a quest for Zia to find his true love and Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), whom they pick up hitchhiking, to find the “People In Charge” or the PIC. I won’t say whether they accomplish their missions, but I will say that they do find a place of little miracles, Kneller’s Happy Campers, and Tom Waits.

Also, the soundtrack is packed with really great music, including a few tracks by Tom Waits, which fit the odd little love story.

4 of 5.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

SIFF diary 2006, part 2

Dear Pyongyang

Documentaries are often low on our priorities and tend
to only catch our attention in the case of the film being particularly
innovative, on a favorite subject matter, or the film has attracted a
lot of critical acclaim. But recently, I have been watching a lot of Japanese film and attempting to learn about the culture so it seemed logical to take in some Japanese films at SIFF, including this Japanese documentary about Koreans living in Japan.

Dear Pyongyang did take a little to get into. Too much of the beginning
required reading a tremendous amount of text about the history of Korea, the
differences between North and South Korea, and Japan's place in this
history. This background was much needed for those of us with little more
than a sketchy understanding of the history of Korea.

Dear Pyongyang follows and attempts to make sense of the lives and views
held by the filmmaker's father, specifically his undying loyalty to North
Korea. This is contrasted sharply by their comfortable lives in Japan
compared to the struggling existence of relatives that appear in some ways
to be captives of North Korea, dependent upon their more affluent Japanese
family members for comfort, but sometimes survival.

But Dear Pyongyang is not a heavily political documentary, but more of a
personal exploration attempting to understand her family's values and devotion to a nation where they never lived (her parents homeland was actually in South Korea), but supported politically and sent their sons to live. While I didn't always admire this film, it is a particularly fascinating exploration of the lives of ethnic Koreans living in Japan.

3/5

Adam's Apples

Dr. Kolberg: Adam, this makes no sense at all. I am a man of science, I believe in numbers and charts. Goddamnit, I wanna go some place, where people die when they are sick, and don't sit in the yard eating cowboy toast when they have been shot through the head.


Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a neo-nazi, is released from prison into the custody of a small parish for community service. The parish is run by Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) who is charged with assigning Adam his service and is blindly good natured, seeming to not notice or believe that evil is inherent in anything and certain not in Adam or the other men staying at the parish after serving their prison terms. Adam watches with confusion as Ivan ignores evidence of Gunnar's return to alcoholism, the piles of money that Khalid somehow acquires and even Adam's white supremacist beliefs go unnoticed while Ivan concerns himself with the care of the parrish apple tree.

The result is the darkest and funniest black comedy I have seen. After a cherished apple tree is put in Adam's protection, ravens swarm the tree, maggots infest, and storms threaten the tree. This film is packed with religious symbolism, shocking situations and outrageous humor. This is certainly not a film for all tastes, but I haven't laughed so hard in ages.

And now, I need to rent a lot more films that were written and or directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, because this one was amazing.

5 of 5