Thursday, June 07, 2007

SIFF 2007, day 8

Tell No One - France, Thriller

In Tell No One, Dr Alexandre Beck's (François Cluzet) wife was murdered as he lay unconscious, unable to save her. Eight years later, two bodies are discovered on Dr. Beck's property and the authorities begin to ask questions about his wife's death, since things just don't add up. Then some photos of Alex's wife appear showing her badly beaten. While Beck is getting all of this attention from authorities, he starts receiving anonymous messages that suggest that his wife may be alive. Tell No One is a wonderfully gripping thriller for the majority of the film and I was completely drawn in and enjoying the mystery as it unfolded. It also made some rather progressive choices. There is a small band of thugish assassin-types, with a very thin and incredible striking woman with a talent for retrieving information from the unwilling or uncooperative. I thought she was incredibly cool and couldn't believe the torture that she was inflicting upon the film's hero. But apparently, American audiences aren't quite ready for gender equality as there were some angry shouts of "Kill the bitch" during that scene, which I found quite distressing.

Unfortunately, while I had a great time for three-quarters of Tell No One the ending was so unnecessarily complex that is was nearly comical. This is very sad, because otherwise this would be an awesome movie, but the big reveal was completely over the top. But it was still a perfectly enjoyable thriller that just gets a bit silly with plot twists at the last.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

SIFF 2007, day 7 (5/31)

I've made it to the end of week 1 of the film festival and this is a record year. We have already been out to 10 full length feature films and there were only 2 films that I wouldn't recommend. One of those I cannot blog about and the other was merely a very average documentary. While Monter Camp wasn't terrible it was very mediocre.

But there are already two stand out films and both are documentaries: King of Kong and The Devil Came on Horseback.

Also of note is that I have lost 1.4 kg/ 3 lbs in one week since the festival started. At work, we have had the fitness challenge going since the beginning of the year with Hieu tracking our progress. I'm not allowed to play, since according to Hieu, I am already at my ideal BMI (which I told him is meaningless for many reasons, but he wants to run the contest based on BMI, so whatever) so I'm stepping on the lab scale once a month with everyone else as a "control". My weight has stayed firmly at 59 kg (metric is more scientific, I hear), but it only took a week of daily movie-going for it to change for the first time this year. Who knew that film festivals could be a valid weight-loss plan? I've suspected weight-loss as a result of too much movie going in years past, but had no data to prove it.

Additionally, I'm keeping track of how much time I spend in line. The most shocking bit of data is that I've spent nearly 5 hours standing in line in the last week. That is probably right, since I've had to wait approximately 30 min in line for each screening. Pass holders aren't even getting in much faster this year as they are needing to get to the venue early too, since even the pass holder lines are long this year. Seems to be a big year for SIFF.

I'm sure I'll add a few more hours to the line total this weekend.

A Friend of Mine- Germany, Comedy

The more I think about this understated, German comedy, the more I dig it. Karl (Daniel Brühl) is a successful, award winning, mathematician. The only problem is, work is his whole life. After being recognized for his mathematic innovation with an award, he goes home. Karl waits for his train, alone and silent with his award in hand. At work, Karl is assigned a project that involves taking a minimum wage driving job. There he meets Hans (Jürgen Vogel) who is Karl's opposite. Hans loves life, no matter what he is doing. He enjoys driving the cars, often new sports cars, very fast and quickly befriends the quiet Karl. For the time that Karl is posing as a driver, Hans gets him in to all sorts of mischief.

A Friend of Mine is very somber for a comedythe I attributed to it being German, but I thought it also added to the quirky charm. I was very charmed by this comedy. I adored Hans. He was so goofy and fun and I seem to always enjoy Daniel Brüel's roles (good thing, since he has several films in this year's festival) so it shouldn't be a surprise that I enjoyed this movie. And I wasn't the only one. We overheard plenty of gushing by fellow festival attendees. While A Friend of MIne is a very conventional, feel-good comic movie, it does have some nice subtext on friendship.

Friday, June 01, 2007

SIFF 2007, day 3

King of Kong- USA, Documentary

This was way more fun to watch than you'd expect from a documentary. Somehow, a movie about Donkey Kong, you know the 1980s classic arcade game, managed to make a movie about an epic struggle between good and evil. The good guy, Steve Wiebe of Redmond, WA decides to attempt to beat the legendary high score set by Billy Mitchell back in 1982. No one had come even close to that score since, until Steve submitted his video. The battle begins when the authenticity of the tape is questioned, then the questions of whether Steve's Donkey Kong arcade game was somehow tampered with, and his struggles continue, but by the half-way point, you really want Steve to be the Donkey Kong victor. He just comes across as a really awesome guy who wants to play fair with the record holder.

And this is where the movie gets really fun. Billy Mitchell, the original holder of the record Donkey Kong high score is the perfect movie villain. He wears black and has dark, shoulder length hair that is perfectly feathered. He is the ultimate in corny 1980s evil, talking trash about his rivals, boasting about his own greatness and going on and on at about his hot sauce. Billy is one of those guys that knows he is the coolest and probably was... back in 1982! But today, inspires giggles.

But King of Kong doesn't laugh at these characters of their situation, but documents the feud, investigating claims of authenticity, favoritism, corruption, etc. This movie takes the subject of Donkey Kong seriously and thus, it is a blast to watch the events unfold, but also informative. Great movie!

SIFF 2007, day 4

The Devil Came on Horseback- USA, Documentary

Another excellent documentary. Every morning I listen to the news on NPR, but while I think I am relatively well informed on what is going on in the world, I know that my knowledge doesn't have any real depth. I know of the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, but I knew little about the animosities and politics that fuel it. So I took in a documentary on the subject.

The Devil Came on Horseback is a call to action to the world to aid the people in Darfur to stop the killing from Brian Steidle. He is an American, ex-marine who was in the region as a monitor, but his job that kept him in Darfur for 6 months only involved the recording of instances of violence in the region and he was not permitted to interfere or try to stop the murders, only photograph and write reports on the aftermath of the attacks on villiages by the Janjaweed or the devils on horseback. After 6 months of recording these attacks daily, he came back to the US with all of his photos and first hand accounts to try to do something to stop it and thus he and his sister, director Annie Sundberg, have made this documentary. This is an amazing accomplishment.

First of all, it is an incredible and often heart-breaking account of what is going on in Sudan currently through video footage, accounts from reports, some interviews with the displaced villagers, in addition to Brian's observations and his vast collection of photographs. The film also gives the historical perspective for why these events are taking place. This is the first documentary of this kind that I have left with a very complete picture of what is occuring in Sudan, why the Janjaweed are killing people, and the economic and political forces that combine to allow the genocide to continue. This was a very well made film that worked on both emotional and intellectual levels.

And the subject matter is powerful and unfortunately still relevant.

http://www.thedevilcameonhorseback.com

SIFF 2007, day 5

This Is England- UK, Drama

At SIFF 2004, we went to a screening of Dead Man's Shoes directed by Shane Meadows which was a well made and very memorable thriller starring Paddy Considine. As I had such fond recollections of that film, I was quick to agree to see another film by Shane Meadows.

Shortly after getting into a fight at school, Shaun meets a group of friendly skin heads who adopt him, shave his head, and teach him how to dress. While Shaun's mother is a little distressed that her child is spending his time out of school with a bunch of adult punks, she does nothing to interfere since they have helped him stay out of fights and they do take care of him. But the group becomes less friendly when Combo returns after doing his time. Soon Shaun is indoctrinated into racism and violence.

This Is England didn't cover as much new territory as I had hoped. I know a bit about skin head culture and England's skin heads are nearly identical to those in the US. They wear the working class uniform of jeans, braces, doc martens and the all important hair-cut. I guess learning that Ben Sherman's shirts were part of the uniform was a new piece of information and I hadn't realized how much this movement was fueled by unemployment during the years that Thatcher and the war in the Falklands. But that wasn't really the point of the film, it was more about how the vulnerable and very young Shaun was brainwashed into holding values opposed to his prior beliefs.

The story, while feeling genuine, didn't really pull me in, but I was fascinated with the depiction of England. The England that this film was set in was decidedly less glamourous than how I think of England. The people looked poor and they lived in projects. So the setting seemed very genuine to what I know of working class England under Margaret Thatcher. It is just a shame that I wasn't as sucked into the plot as I was some of the individual characters and their setting.