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.