Thursday, June 19, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog#10

Cherry Blossoms - Hanami
Dir. Doris Dorrie
Contemporary World Cinema Program
North American Premiere

This is absolutely my favorite film of the festival. Upon leaving the theater, I kept thinking that it touched me similarly to Ozu's Tokyo Story. After further reflection, this is in many ways a remake of Tokyo Story. It is similar in so many ways, but this is in no way a criticism of Cherry Blossoms. It is just as powerful as Ozu's film about the interconnectedness of family. And just like Ozu's film, also made me want to pick of the phone and call my mother.

In Cherry Blossoms, after Trudi receives the news that her husband may not have long to live, she drags him off to visit their children. Rudi would rather stick to his normal routine, but he humors his wife as they stay with their children and do some sightseeing. Eventually, this journey of understanding brings Rudi to stay with his son, who has fled to Tokyo. There Rudi meets a young, homeless Butoh dancer and through this meeting comes to truly know his wife.

This is a beautiful film. I found myself moved so personally by the way the adult children interact with their parents, their life decisions, and also by the couple's lack of understanding of each other despite having spent decades in a happy marriage. So much is taken for granted, that we forget to really look at the other person. This isn't really sad in itself, but just something that happens and like Tokyo Story, this film about a German family strikes very similar emotional chords. And the ending was so sad and beautiful that I left the theater in tears, along with most of my fellow SIFF attendees.

And I definitely wasn't alone in loving this movie. It won the Golden Space Needle for being highest rated this year at SIFF. And it was well deserved.

The Wackness
Dir. Jonathan Levine
Contemporary World Cinema Program

Ever have the experience where you know the movie you are watching is good, but you just cannot find it in you to enjoy it? That was The Wackness for me. The performances were fine, but I couldn't relate to the characters at all. I found no connection and it wasn't shocking enough, funny enough, or even Wacky enough to carry me though. So I'm sure plenty of people enjoyed it. I heard them around me laughing and having a good time, but this did nothing for me.

Gah, I cannot even bring myself to care enough to give you a synopsis. If you want to know more, check out the trailer...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #9

Dir. Jared Drake
North American Cinema Program
World Premiere

This is exactly the reason I don't see the premieres at SIFF. Letting Go of God was an exception as being the film presentation of Julia Sweeney's monologue, I was fairly certain it would be enjoyable. Well, I talked myself into taking a chance on Visioneers, an US independent film by a first time director, because of the cast. Silly me thought that a movie starring the comedian Zach Galifianakis would end up with some of his comedy liberally sprinkled throughout. Sigh. I was very wrong. Zach was there, but his comedy stayed home.

George Washington Winsterhammerman (Zach Galifinakis) is part of level three Visioneers in the Jeffers Corporation. He works to keep productivity up in his group of 4 as people in the world around them begin to explode. These explosions are preceded by common symptoms, which George is also experiencing. As coworkers continue to explode, George's brother, Julieen (James LeGros), moves into his guest house after discovering his true calling, pole vaulting, which he practices in George's back yard.

I think there was a potential for this futuristic, dystopia based on the hopeless outlook of corporate office employees, but sadly, Visioneers failed as a cynical satire and even worse, it failed as a comedy. I don't think I managed an involuntary lip twitch during this snooze-fest. All I did was feel bad for the actors in the movie, and then feel utter amazement when the screenwriter and director had the audacity to compare their movie to Brazil.

Dir. Alan Ball
Contemporary World Cinema

After Visioneers, I needed to see something that wouldn't crush what was left of my soul. Thankfully, we did back to back screenings and so we immediately re-entered The Egyptian to see Alan Ball's feature directorial debut, Towelhead. The film was based on the novel of the same title by Alicia Erian and Allan Ball was in attendance. On one hand, this is a daring debut feature as it deals with a Arab-teenager in American during the first gulf war. However, being the creator of Six Feet Under, Alan Ball has demonstrated that he isn't at all adverse to stirring up a bit of controversy with his work. And this may do exactly that if the right-wing leaning reviews are any indication.

Jasira is 13 and is living with her Lebanese father as punishment by her mother, after she finds her live-in boyfriend shaving her daughters pubic hair. Her father is very strict and unpredictable, slapping her when she wears something unapropriate and often has no idea how to deal with a daughter undergoing puberty. In this new life with her father, Jasira likes the attention she receives from Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), for whom she baby sits his son. Towelhead confronts numerous unsettling subjects like racism, child abuse, menstruation, masturbation and molestation. I find it amazing that Towelhead comes across as a wonderful coming of age story that deals with real issues, while never feeling heavy. This movie remains light and comic, but still treats the subjects with respect.

At times, Towelhead is a very funny film thanks to the performance of Peter Macdissi as Jasira's father. He is not a very good dad, really and at times, an abusive father. But this film never demonizes his actions. Instead of being portrayed as a bad man, or un-redeemable, he is played as young and naive. Someone who has simply never raised a child and seriously doesn't have a clue how. Similarly, the neighbor played by Aaron Eckhart also does horrific things, but again is placed in a context that doesn't turn him into a monster, something that would be easy to do with Eckhart in the role. And Jasira is given an uncommon power. It is rare to see female sexuality on screen, that isn't punished or destroyed. This is a surprisingly pro-woman, sex positive movie.

Towelhead has found North American distributorship and will receive a limited release in the fall.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #7

dir. Lucia Puenzo
Contemporary World Cinema

At one time, I used to see every film about alternative sexuality that I could find. Wait, let me rephrase that, any film on sexuality. Coming out stories, movies about gay men, lesbian films, any film that received a NC-17, even a movie with a penis puppet quoting the Marquis de Sade. And most of them sucked, but there was always the occasional gem that would become my very favorite film ever. It was 1997 that I developed my fixation with The Pillow Book, that I've never gotten over. Although it was about that time that I stopped seeing every movie I could with a queer theme. I just noticed that I've slipped into old habits with this year's SIFF as there has been a lot of GLBT content this year.

In XXY, a surgeon and his family come to stay in a small village in Uruguay to meet Alex. Alex is a hermaphodite who has been taking medications to feminize her appearance, allowing her to completely pass as a normal teenage girl. What Alex's parents do not realize until after the arrival of these house guests, is that she has stopped taking her medication and has absolutely no interest in meeting a man who wants to correct her anatomical anomaly. When this is presented to her parents, they both individually say that surgery is her decision, it is clear that each parent has somewhat different concerns about Alex. Her mother worries about her not fitting in, not being accepted. Her father wants her to be happy.

When we meet Alex, she is being introduced to the doctor and his family when she admits to being expelled from school for breaking her best friend's nose. One has to assume that the fight that led to her hitting her friend was probably a direct result of the same issue that this surgeon is focused on correcting for her, but she isn't interested in talking to him. No she is much more interested in his teenaged son, Alvaro, whom she aggressively pursues.

Unlike many films about young people's sexuality, XXY focuses on the less talked about issues of teen sexuality. I remember 15 very clearly. I was unpopular. Underwent puberty years before any of my peers. I couldn't relate to my girlfriends and their perpetually changing, all encompassing crushes. And I believed I was a freak. I never had a boy crazy moment. I tended to have erotic dreams about girls I knew. Thus I was certain that there was something wrong with me. My 15 year-old solution was to have lots of sex. I'm sure there was some logic to that idea, that being sexual with boys would make me less strange, somehow. But that is what I saw happening with Alex when upon her propositioning Alvero. It made complete emotional sense that she would turn to a strange boy to make sense of her budding sexual feelings, trying to figure out for herself what they meant in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.

XXY is very honest about the challenges of growing up. Alex has problems that I thankfully ever had to face, but in the complexities of dealing with being a hermaphodite, a true freak, the story still remains very universal. While Alex faces unique challenges, each of us needed to come to grips with the situation we are born into and while much of Alex's issues deal with her sexuality and the decision to grow up into a man or a woman, she also has to face he relationships with her parents and her peers. XXY presents portraits of two teens with very different relationships with their fathers. Alex's father is very supportive of her decisions and doesn't pressure her to conform to anything. He worries about her and has to deal with his own reaction to her developing sexuality, something that is difficult for any parent, but this film watches him grow and their relationship strengthen. The glimpses given of Alvero with his father are a dramatic contrast to the Kraken family. In one pivotal scene, Alvero expresses that he likes Alex to his father and isn't ready to leave. His father expresses coarse surprise and pride that his son isn't homosexual. It is apparent that Alvero's family has a very rigid notion of what Alvero is to become and anything outside of that is unacceptable.

XXY is probably the best film I have seen at SIFF 2008. The acting was amazing especially Ines Efron in the role of Alex and the story was profoundly moving. This is a powerful story about adolescence and the relationships between parent and child. XXY is playing numerous film festivals at this time, but has opened in Europe and the UK, so it is likely it could get an limited US release.

SIFF 2008, Blog #8

Letting Go of God
Dir. Julia Sweeney
Contemporary World Cinema Series
World Premiere

World Premieres are fairly rare at SIFF. While being among the largest film festivals, screening over 400 films most years, SIFF isn't the kind of festival that filmmakers premiere their films at. The only reason we probably got this one is that Julia Sweeney is local. We've even spotted her shopping at Uwajimaya with her daughter once. Otherwise, Letting Go of God would have probably premiered at one of the real festivals like Sundance or Toronto. But it didn't. It was premiered here and I was there and so was Julia and her family, who were seated directly in front of me. [grin] And Letting Go of God is proof of overwhelming talent as it was simply a recording of Sweeney's 2 1/2 hour monologue about her search for God and it remained engaging for the entire duration.

Letting Go of God is her journey that begins with a couple of mormon boys who knock on her door to ask her if she believes that "God loves her with all of His heart?" Her telling of this exchange is both funny and provocative and acts as a catalyst for a spiritual voyage where she seeks to know God. And I don't think I'm giving anything away by stating that where this journey takes her is toward finding no God at all and her peace of mind in this place.

I guess what makes this film so engaging is Julia Sweeney's remarkable ability to enchant an audience while weaving a tale. She is so natural and fun to listen to that 2 1/2 hours disappeared without the any awareness that time had passed. It also didn't hurt that her journey brought her to many of the same conclusions I have independently arrived at. One just doesn't hear too many stories about the search for the meaning of life that arrive at atheism.

Dir. Julien Leclercq
Midnight Adrenaline Series

This year, the logic was that if I was going to do SIFF, that I would cut back the number of screenings attended. Last year, we went to 30 screenings. This year, we trimmed it to half of that. I don't always remember exactly why I had selected a film, but the things I focus on are the director, country of origin, the given synopsis and genre. It occurred to me last night why I decided Chrysalis would be a good one to see, it's a science fiction thriller. I typically really dig dark, creepy science fiction. Well, this one looked like it fit the bill and could be along the lines of Blade Runner. Cool.

Well, it could have been really great. The basic plot was reminiscent of Les Yeux sans Visage and the film looked fantastic. Chrysalis was not a grainy, low budget French movie, but a slick modern science fiction movie with an attractive cast, realistic sets, and even nifty futuristic cars. It looked great!

Sadly, it wasn't. Some of the issue was the midnight time slot. Chrysalis was a bit plodding to try to watch in the early morning hours and I am forced to admit that I failed. I found myself dozing through the middle of this movie, about a tortured cop uncovering a plot to use illegal immigrants as spare parts for a truly elaborate form of plastic surgery. Now I didn't miss so much to keep from realizing just how pathetic some of the plot was or to keep from realizing that the action sequences were terrible. But the biggest problem with Crysalis was simply that it was very slow. This was 90 minutes that I didn't think would ever end. It was exhausting.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #6

Dir. Jennifer Phang
Planet Cinema Program

I wish I could remember why I thought this would be good. Now that I look over the description provided by SIFF, it looks like a movie I would have avoided. It might have been the positive comments left on IMDB that led me astray.

So Half-Life is set in a very near future where global warming has kept increasing, it does not appear to be safe to spend time outside without a respirator, and America is even more politically isolated from the rest of the world than it are today. In this future world, a single mother is raising her son and daughter. She has a boyfriend that is living with the family and they appear to be happy. The kids are another story. Both Tim and Pam are depressed. Tim daydreams about flying and beaches and Pam jumps off of the roof, apparently without causing herself any harm.

There is some family drama. Mom's boyfriend is creepy and due to his creepy, inappropriateness with Pam, she and Tim run away for a night. Pam's best friend is gay and loses his virginity. This upsets his religious parents. But none of the potential drama plays with any emotional authenticity. Actually, for a film that should have been about childhood, Half-Life did not have a single moment that was reminiscent of childhood.

The worst crime this movie commits is being boring. At a certain point, I realized that there was no point and I just waited for it to end. And it took forever. The only high point was that I really liked Sanoe Lake as Pam, but as they didn't give her anything to do but look disaffected, sad and bored, she couldn't save this movie from itself.

Otto: or, Up with Dead People
dir. Bruce LaBruce
Midnight Adrenaline Series

This movie has been described as gay, zombie, porn. Yup, it is all of these things. Because Bruce LaBruce was present to introduce Otto, he added that Otto is in fact a melancholy zombie movie. It is also that, but a joyfully melancholy zombie movie that is both gruesome and pornographic.

It is easy to guess when I really enjoy a movie as those are the times that I cannot seem to help but to search the internet for a good still to include. So yeah, I admit that I had a great time at Otto and not just because there was a scene where a zombie fucks a big, gaping flesh wound. No, I enjoyed Otto because it is a shockingly good movie. It has multiple storylines due to the movie within a movie structure. There's Otto's story of how he came to be the star of Media Yarn's film, Up with Dead People, there is Medea and her fantastic monologues about the zombie as metaphor for the deadening affect of technology and capitalism, Medea's previous film, that she makes Otto watch, which was obviously inspired by Maya Deren's films, the decision to depict Medea's girlfriend as existing in a silent movie, and to top it off, zombies having gay sex.

I expected to enjoy Otto, but I didn't expect that I would actually admire Otto. The acting was perfect for the film. Bruce filmed in Berlin so he used a German cast in this English language film, so the characters all had inexplicable accents, that made sense for the movie. Otto's accent added to his ultimate outsider status. He's a very melancholy gay zombie undergoing existential crisis, or an ultimate outsider among gay zombies. And I would expect Medea to have an accent, although I imagine the character to be American, making her foreign accent is an expression of art.

But what I appreciated most was a scene where Otto stays in the spare room of another cast member, since Medea believes he is homeless. When he is taken to his room, stating simply that zombies don't sleep, he sits on the bed and watches the clock. In this shot, Otto sits expressionless as the time passes, until it is morning. It is an amusing scene, but also quite well done. And there are many scenes like this where Otto is motionless for long stretches and I found that I was watching the screen for any action while the camera remained fixed on the motionless zombie. Between these quiet scenes, the use of jarring industrial music provided by Throbbing Gristle, and the occasional memories of a prior life and a lost boyfriend from when Otto was alive, I found Otto occasionally thought provoking.

However, it was also great fun. There is one scene where Otto is taken home by a gay man. The outcome is a totally blood soaked room, where Otto's date becomes one of the undead to announce, "That was incredible."

Bruce LaBruce stated that he expects that "zombie porno is going to be big. The orifice possibilities are endless." And I suspect that he could be right.

Friday, June 06, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #5

dir. Johnny To
Contemporary World Cinema

This is only my seventh film at SIFF2008 and I feel satisfied. I have seen a charming comic film with a huge pickpocket showdown. It didn't have the flashiness of the pickpocket duels of A World Without Thieves of SIFF 2006 and also sadly lacked Andy Lau, but despite those short comings, I was totally charmed by Johnny To's Sparrow.

This year I scoured the schedule for asian cinema and came up fairly empty handed. While there was no lack of films that sounded intriguing, most of them are western. But there are three Johnny To films this year; Sparrow, Triangle, and Mad Detective. A bit a research on availability made me grab a couple of tickets for Sparrow, since the other two can be found on DVD and it also, from the introduction, it might be the best of the three. Score.

I just went to IMDB to see what other of Johnny To's films I've seen. Actually, Exiled appears to be it. I'm puzzled by this as I was certain that I've seen others, like I thought he made Heroic Trio, but I could be mistaken. My memory isn't as good as it once was. But it is nice to discover that he has made around 50 films, so if I want to see more there's plenty to choose from if I feel the need for a whole Johnny To weekend.

So okay, Sparrow... aka Cultured Bird, is about a small brotherhood of pickpockets who become involved with a bewitching lady who seems to want their help, but their attempts to give aid are met with thefts, beatings, broken bones, and so on. It is difficult to describe the light and quirky quality of this movie, but these guys are just charming. In one scene, the four of them are riding to "work" together on one bicycle when the bicycle breaks throwing them into the street. It isn't played as slap stick, but for a quieter laugh with affection for these characters. I couldn't help but care about these guys and just kept hoping that they would just leave Miss Lei (Kelly Lin) alone, but that would have been much less fun to watch.

Basically, this is a crap review, but I really enjoyed this light little film. It doesn't have the slick cool of some of his other movies, like Exiled, but it was no less entertaining. Plus, Sparrow has a sweetness to it that I was completely charmed by. Thumbs are way up!!!

Movie Trailer: Sparrow

Sunday, June 01, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #4

dir. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza
Midnight Adrenalin Series

Mirageman is a super hero movie from Chilie. And it is very enjoyable. Maco is a martial artist with a past tragedy that still impacts his every decision. His parents here murdered, he was raped and his littler bother was brutally beaten, resulting in his need for hospitalization for constant care. But one day, on a run, he stumbles into a home invasion in progress, where some women are being held hostage. He covers his face with a ski mask and efficiently defeats the bad guys and Mirageman is born.

As you can probably guess, there isn't anything truly original about the story. It is the same super hero story that is architypical. But it is the the use of the basic plot, with some great martial arts, and the totally expected plot arc that is exactly what works for this film. In Mirageman, they know that the reason there is a formulae for these movies, is because it works. We love it every time, so why not give the audience exactly what they want.

The other thing that helps the low budget martial arts film is that they gave it the look and feel of the 1970s martial arts movies. There's the ridiculously glamorous TV reporter, the silly homemade super hero costume with blue gloves, and the pitch perfect 1970s soundtrack. There were moments that I was reminded of Bruce Lee's movies and other times, the movies that came out of Hong Kong after Bruce Lee. All low budget, very 1970s, but with great action. And that is what Mirageman delivers. Some fantastic action sequences with a light touch of humor throughout.

My favorite bit of the film was when Mirageman went to rescue the kidnaped reporter, but in order to get to her, he had to fight his way through dozens of guys. And just like in any good kung-fu flick, he had to work his way, one by one from the easy to defeat guys guarding outside, through men with varying levels of ability inside, to the final guy, on the top floor of the house who was a real challenge to beat. One cannot help but wonder behind which door kareem abdul jabbar was waiting.

Mirageman was a blast. I enjoyed every moment of this movie. I didn't see new moves or any new take on the action genre, or a truly unique plot. In fact, the only thing I can claim was at all innovative was the unusual decision to use Bowie's Life on Mars as a love theme. But Mirageman delivers a solid 90 minutes of entertainment that made it easy to stay alert until 2 AM.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #3

Boy A
dir. John Crowley
Contemporary World Cinema

It recently occurred to me that there have been a few films, usually from the UK, that tell a story about childhood from the point of view of a bully. And what is particularly striking about some of these stories is that they refuse to judge the protagonist for these actions, instead they just observe them with little commentary on the act of bullying. Boy A on some levels does this too,

In Boy A, Jack (Andrew Garflied) has been released from prison. His mentor, Terry (Peter Mullan) help him establish a new identity in a new place, far away from the crime that he commited and served time for. During their meetings, Jack occasionally wants to talk about his past life, before prison, but Terry wants him to move on. To live in the present and to focus on becoming a new man.

And Jack really does seem to be doing quite well in his new life. He is liked at work, makes friends, and even finds a girlfriend. This is a huge success story considering that Jack grew into an adult while behind bars. And despite his personal sucesses, stories from his past, of Boy A, the child murderer, find their way to headlines and while not directly pointing to him, this serves as a constant reminder of a past that Jack is trying to leave behind.

But one question Boy A poses, is whether people can change. What of the child that commits a crime that is appears to be nothing short of pure evil? Can be become rehabilitated? Can he re-enter society without risk? Or maybe the question that should be asked, will society ever forgive him for his crime? Will culture allow him to attempt to become a law abiding and productive member? Through flashbacks, details of the circumstances surrounding the crime are revealed and do not sugar coat the fact that Jack did kill a little girl and does not excuse his act, but it does put it in perspective that makes it seem like it perhaps wasn't an act of pure evil, but maybe of immaturity, allegiance, confusion, and fear.

Yes, this is a film that is packed with ideas about life, guilt, and friendship, but mostly I think it is a movie about not being able to escape the past, even when one should be able to, after repaying the debt to society.

dir. Brad Anderson
Contemporary World Cinema

I generally enjoy Brad Anderson's movies. I remember being charmed by Next Stop Wonderland. Session 9 is a fantasticly chilling horror movie set in the rotting remains of an asylum and The Machinist was an exciting and ambitious project with a sadly contrived ending. But it was still a very entertaining movie.

Like Session 9 and The Machinist, Transsiberian is a thriller with an underlying theme of repressed guilt , but sadly isn't isn't as good as those other films. It was frustrating to watch, because he obviously wants to tell a dark story about guilt and denial, but for the second time, the story falls flat and this time much more completely then The Machinist, which held strong until the last scenes. Sadly, Transsiberian begins to derail before it even gets out of Vladivostok.

Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) decide to take the long way home after their missionary trip to China, so they are traveling via the Trans Siberian Rail to Moscow. On the train, they befriend another western couple, Abby and Carlos. As they spend time together, Jessie begins to wonder if Abby are Carlos are what they seem. Are they on the run? Are they smuggling something? But things remain uneventful until Roy fails to return after they have stopped at a station.

Jessie, without Roy came across as very vulnerable, so Carlos agrees to stay with her until she is reunited with Roy. It is at this point that the plot begins to derail, as Jessie's past was revealed, it became clear that she is a strong, worldly woman who certainly could take care of herself for a few hours until Roy reappeared. But instead, she finds herself in a threatening situation and behaves in a way that is totally inconsistent. It was necessary to move the plot, but wasn't organic to this story.

And from that point on, Jessie and Roy become an interest to the Russian police who constantly urge Jessie to tell them the truth, in a nice friendly way that is probably totally unrealistic, especially when the police officer happens to be Sir Ben Kingsley. Then there are drug mules, some torture, and Transsiberian starts to attempt to take cues from movies like Hostel. But despite all of this, it never occurs to these American missionaries to turn to God for help. No, Transsiberian doesn't work, beyond piling on a bit of tension and intrigue, but not enough to keep my from wondering how long the movie is going to be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #2

The Edge of Heaven
Dir. Fatih Akin
Emerging Masters Series

There have been so many recent films that could be compared to The Edge of Heaven due to its structure of intertwining stories. Crash, Short Cuts, Magnolia. But to do so, is misleading. The Edge of Heaven is not actually a story made up of stories that entertwine due to coincidence, but it really just one story, or one shared goal, to help Ayten.

In the first part of the film, titled the death of Yeter, Ali invites Yeter to live with him and in return he will pay her salary. Yeter is a Turkish prostitute in Germany. While living with Ali, she comes to know his son, Nejat, who is a professor. Due to the circumstances of Yeter's death, Nejat tries to find her daughter in Istanbul to fund her education.

Unbeknownst to him, Ayten has fled Turkey and is in Germany living with Lotte, who tries to help Ayten get political asylum. After another tragedy, the story winds back to Turkey ending in a German bookstore owned by Nejat, where Lotte's mother offers Ayten a place to sleep.

The Edge of Heaven is not a fast paced film, but it is engrossing. The details of Yeter, Nejat, Ayten, and Ali's lives are left vague. They reveal very little about their past or their present. And as they interact, I found myself hungry for more details. What are the circumstances that brought Ali, Ayten and Yeter to Germany? What has shaped Ayten's militant beliefs? I was frustrated by being given so little about these people, while being given so much.

In the end, I enjoyed this film, and was generally engrossed by the story, but was frustrated by not only the unwillingness to give much back story, but also by of the film's complete unwillingness to allow emotional involvement. I remained at a distance from these people, despite the films tragedies, like the shockingly sudden death of Yeter. I wanted to feel for these people, but I remained at a distance to them.

Fantastic Parasuicides
Dir. Park Soo-yeong, Jo Chang-ho, Kim Seong-ho
Contemporary World Cinema Series

I liked the title of this Korean movie, Fantastic Parasuicides. I tried to find it on IMDB, but failed to uncover much of anything about the film or the directors beyond knowing that it has three directors and is from South Korea. Well, we bought tickets after a glowing review from The Stranger.

Chuckle. Should have known better than to trust The Stranger.

This was bad. Really bad. It turns out that Fantastic Parasuicides is a comedy about attempted suicide. This could be a great topic for a comedy, bringing to mind some great scenes from Harold and Maude, but alas, very few laughs were found in this film. There were three segments, Hanging Tough about a school girl who wants to die after sleeping through an exam, Happy Birthday about a forgotten birthday, and Fly Away, Chicken about an officer who wants to end his life. This was one of those comic films that stacks ridiculousness on itself until the audience is simply exhausted and just wants it all to end. Like in Hanging Tough, all of Gina's teachers try to kill themselves and she is desperate to stop each of them, but instead just gets herself shot, married, killed, etc, but after each plot twist, she wakes from a dream. By the end, there is no telling what one is supposed to believe.

The same is true for Happy Birthday. It wasn't packed full of dream sequences, but of on forgotten birthday that leads to the main characters death, that all might be a birthday prank. But the most off putting aspect of Happy Birthday was the gay and cross dressing content. I have no idea what to take away from the main character who is a man, referred to as mother and comments on a young man's cute bottom. My problem here is I suspect the cultural context. I don't know if the movie is laughing at this ridiculousness or not. I found it irritating.

I did sorta like aspects of the middle film, Fly Away, Chicken. A man in uniform puts a gun to his head, ready to pull the trigger. But he is interrupted; phone calls, odd men fighting outside, a woman in a wedding dress watching. But at one point, he is walking on the beach and encounters a chicken tangled in a net. He clucks to the chicken, sympathizing with the chicken's predicament, in chicken language. I thought this was quite funny.

But the rest, no so much. Just tedious. Sigh.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog#1

The Mother of Tears
SIFF Series: Midnight Adrenalin
Dir: Dario Argento

The Mother of Tears is the third and final installment of Argento's trilogy that started with Susperia. And in The Mother of Tears, his daughter, Asia, steps into the lead role. And Mother shares a lot with its predecessors, including the sometimes erie, but more often silly Gobin soundtrack that, in this movie, tended to consist primarily of "Mother of Tears" whispered over electronic rock music.

If you don't want the movie spoiled, don't read too much further. The Mother of Tears is a good time if a scary monkey, geysers of blood, large bands of goth chicks marauding witches that stick their tongues out and say Blah, alchemists with ancient texts written story book style in modern English, glimpses of cannibalistic lesbian orgies (I think) and Asia Argento covered in sewage. This was all quite popular and met with much laughter and applause. But it should be noted that The Mother of Tears isn't a particularly good movie, just quite easy to enjoy in the early morning hours.

It is difficult to discuss exactly what is wrong with this movie, because there is so much, but I'm pretty certain that two scenes nicely sum up the problems.

First, one of the biggest developments is when Sarah (Asia) sees that ghost of her mother and discovers that her mother has been helping her escape from the murdering witches. From this point on, in any sticky situation, there's mommy's ghost hovering near helping Sarah by giving her pointers like "run", "get out now", and my favorite, "remember your special power." Sarah's special power is special indeed, and [GIANT SPOILER] allows her to disappear simply by concentrating, really hard. You can tell she cannot be seen because of the look on her face. Yes, an intense look of constipation concentration crosses her face as she hunches near the scary, murderous deformed men with the screaming monkey.

In another great scene, Sarah believes she is safe when she is reunited with her boyfriend, but he oddly has a nasty cold that gives him a cough. He is bundled in a giant scarf, complaining about the chill. and when Sarah tries to help him with soup or tea, he refuses.

Boy in scarf: No, I'm fine. Just a cold. Cough, cough.

Sarah: But you are injured. There's blood on your scarf. You need help. I'll take care of you.

Boy with blood gushing from his scarf: No its nothing. Blaaaaah. Bwaa-ha-ha. Cough-cough. No, I'm not possessed by demons/witches/supernatual forces. I love you Sarah.

Mommy ghost: Sarah, run! Run Sarah. You are not safe here!

Sarah: Mommy!!! Okay Mommy.

And then, when she faces the Mother of Tears, she defeats her by burning the Mother of Tears' shirt. Seriously.

Yes, it was hilarious. I wonder if it would have been if I hadn't seen it at an hour I am always curled up happily sleeping with a boy and several kitties? I guess there's a good reason to hold these screenings after midnight. It makes us all a little giddy and silly and thus, we have a blast at the horror flicks whether they are scary or just a bit silly.

So, it wasn't cool like Susperia, but was pretty damn hilarious.