Thursday, December 31, 2009

My best of the aughts lists

I become easily obsessed with lists. I enjoy reading them, comparing them, and making them and I list all sorts of things, not just movies. But at the end of the year, I start to compile lists of the movies I've seen and what I thought about them. This is an essential part of movie-going because I often don't really know what I thought about a film right after seeing it. It needs to bounce around in my head for awhile and then upon rethinking about a film I can gauge if a film was great, good, or just something that appealed to me at the time.

I've been reviewing the movies of the 2000s in an attempt to come up with a top 10. However, I've seen to many really awesome movies. Looking over my 10+1, there are so many I wish I could squeeze in. But I cannot take any out. This is agonizing!

My top 10 of the aught's


And this is the ever growing list of movies I really, really liked during the decade.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Best movies of 2009

Or rather, my favorites of the year. I cannot claim to be attached to the particular order of this list, but I tried to limit it to 10 films. However, I ended up pairing a few, due to similarities in theme or tone, plus one can get movie movies in a top 10 list that way...

1 Thirst
2 We Live in Public
3 Up
4 Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans/Terribly Happy
5 Inglorious Basterds
6 An Education/Coco Avant Chanel
7 Moon
8 In the Loop
9 Revanche
10 Rembrandt's J'Accuse/La Danse - Le ballet de l'Opera do Paris


There are plenty of others that I probably enjoyed just as much that maybe should be added to the above list, i.e. Still Walking, Black Dynamite, Taken, Humpday, Nure.Fighter.Boy, Jennifer's Body, Sunshine Cleaning, Orphan, Tokyo Sonata, and World's Greatest Dad. Additionally, the year isn't quite over yet and I haven't yet seen Up in the Air, Broken Embraces, or Avatar... along with tons of others, because I just never see them all, but I do what I can between work, play and Rock Band.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An Education & Coco Before Chanel

Is 2009 the year that Chick flicks will actually be taken seriously?

I decide what to see often based on critical consensus, and as  result I don't often notice whether I'm seeing films made by women. Looking back, it appears that most years I see close to 100 films and only a few are made by women.  I've been averaging 6 films/year that have been directed by women with the majority of those never receive a major theatrical release. This year, that number has already doubles and many of these are critically acclaimed. I've already written about the depiction of women in two of this year's woman directed films, Jennifer's Body and Whip It, but I've also seen Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs), Humpday (Lynn Shelton), Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley), Talhotblond (Barbara Schroder), We Live in Public (Ondi Timoner), The Escape (Katherine Windfeld) and The Hurt Locker (Katherine Bigalow). But this year, there have been two very notable releases, An Education (Lone Sherfig) and Coco before Chanel (Anne Fontaine), films made by women about being a woman. And both films must be doing well at the box office, since they have each remained on the same screen for several weeks now.

What is particularly striking about An Education and Coco Before Chanel is that both films are about the limitations imposed by simply being born a woman. One could argue that this is due to their historical settings, but in reality, both films beautifully illustrate that 20th Century women must decide what they are willing to do to achieve success. While An Education dramatically depicts the heart-break of adolescence when young women realize that most of their dreams are so unattainable as to be only fantasy. Coco Before Chanel is about an older woman who is equally driven, but understands exactly what it takes achieve independence and does so without any hint of disgrace. And both films also are also praiseworthy for the skills of their actresses, Carey Mulligan and Audrey Tautou, which both are incredible in these films.
In An Education, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is completely focused on her dream to go to Oxford. She is a star pupil with dreams of Paris and a taste for great art and music. Everything is going as planned until she meets an older man, David (Peter Sarsgaard), who charms her and shows her that there is more to life then books. But she also begins to see her life differently. After all of the studying and very hard work, and Oxford education does not guarantee anything for a young woman. The educated women in Jenny's life are her teachers and David's exciting entrance into her life has revealed that even her parents only hope that Oxford will bring her better marriage prospects. So when David reveals himself a cad, after Jenny has already given up her Oxford dreams in favor of living, Jenny is left with a very uncertain future. But she will show much more caution when confronted with promises made by men and her own hopes and dreams are certain to be tempered by this "education".

I found An Education to be a heartbreaking movie that rang so true to my own experiences, so much so that I couldn't move until after the credits had finished. Not that An Education is inherintly sad, it is just the way that women learn and grow into women that is sad.

But Coco Before Chanel does not deal with a young women enduring the heartbreak inherent in growing up.  The film begins with a father leaving his two daughters at an orphanage.   As adults, the girls get by using their seamstress skills and singing at cafes. It is through this latter trade that Gabrielle was given the nickname Coco by a wealthy playboy, Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), and she becomes his mistress after her sister goes off with a wealthy suitor and Gabrielle is left without a singing partner and few other options.

Actually, this is where Coco Before Chanel shines. Audrey Tautou displays a quiet confidence as Coco. Despite her humility being constantly tested, she maintains a stoic air of determination.  She doesn't have any means of her own, but her ambition pushes her to make smart choices and also helps keep her pride in check.  So she decides to make herself available to Balsan, who seems happy enough to give her a room to stay in as long as she disappears anytime he has guests. And it is in Balsan's home that she meets people with the means that eventually allows her to open her own house of fashion.

While both films are excellent portraits of ambitious women, instead of only being a reminder of just how difficult it is to be a girl, Coco Before Chanel depicts an amazing success story.  Looking back, 2009 appears to have been a year with more cinema made for and by women.  Now, I'm just hoping that this will be a year when a few women will be recognized for their talents or at least maybe Hollywood will remember the success of women in film and offer to fund even more films made by and for women.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Best of the Decade

You know that I adore lists. I like to make them and I enjoy comparing lists. Well, lists of the best films of the decade are starting to emerge and what I've learned is that I am getting out to see the most highly regarded films, but these lists have two major flaws. They overlook Asian cinema and tend to under-rate action cinema. But I thought I would include a link to Times (UK) Online's list of The 100 Best Films of the Decade. And here are the films that I've seen.

Now for the blatant omissions. In the last decade, Quentin Tarantino has released 4 feature films and none of them are on this list? Also, missing is Martin Scorsese. Personally, I would have to include Gang of New York and Kill Bill, vol. 1 and Inglorious Basterds.

Others that might have been included, O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), Ghost Dog (2000), Elephant (2003), Juno (2007), Up (2009), Amelie (2001), Billy Eliot (2000), Junebug (2005), Gosford Park (2001), Letters From Iwo Jima(2006), and A History of Violence.

Some of my favorites that are missing that are obviously underrated masterpieces that probably won't show up on anyone's list: Kinsey, I Heart Huckabees, Mysterious Skin, The Cooler, Brick, and Swimming Pool.

And where is the Asian cinema? Most of my favorites come from Hong Kong, Thailand, China, and Japan... how can Infernal Affairs (2002), Hero (2002), Last Life in the Universe (2003), Oldboy (2003), and Three Times (2005) not be on the list? Additionally, I would add Vital (2004), A Snake in June (2002), and Linda Linda Linda.

And where is Susanne Bier's amazing Brothers (2004), which hollywood is releasing a remake of in time for the oscars?

While I understand that no list can be perfect, but these are some pretty big omissions. But mostly these lists act as a reminder of the films that I didn't see. I've already rented Hou Hsio-hsien's The Flight of the Red Balloon to watch later today. Lists remind me of just how many movies there are in the world and how few of them I have actually seen. Please feel free to add your own overlooked classics of the last 10 years.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Playing Catch-up [part 1]

A Serious Man

I've fallen behind on writing about the films I'm seeing and I place the blame directly on Ethan and Joel Coen. It has been a good, long time since I've seen a film that I disliked so much that I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Usually, I reserve this pleasure for films by Haneke and Lars Von Trier, but something about A Serious Man has seriously gotten under my skin and I'm having trouble shaking it.

Larry Gopnik's (Michael Stuhlbarg) life is unraveling. His wife is leaving him, a student is attempting to bribe him, his brother has moved in, he's getting calls demanding payment for a record subscription that he knows nothing about, and he is up for tenure. And Larry wants to know why these things are happening to him and is seeking council from the rabbi. In A Serious Man, Larry is under attack from all sides and needs to understand why. Perhaps my biggest problem with A Serious Man was a complete failure to find humor in this black comedy. This film seemed more like a morality tale, or tragedy, than a black comedy. Last year's Burn After Reading was equally dark, but induced laughter that I couldn’t find in A Serious Man. Not only didn’t I find anything about Larry Gopnik’s circumstances funny, but I’m wrestling with the message of this film.

Basically, it appears that all of Larry’s problems stem from his unwillingness to act. He protests throughout the movie that he has done nothing to deserve mistreatment by the universe at large, so why is God punishing him? This could easily be read as another telling of the story of Job; that Larry has in fact done nothing to incite God’s rage.

Or is he in fact being punished for his inaction? This might be what I find irritating about A Serious Man, is this notion that the majority of Larry Gopnick's problems stem from not doing anything. And I can see why Ethan and Joel might decide to run a character through the ringer for repeatedly coming up with perfectly rational reasons to not act on his whims, desires, or really anything, but I just didn't find it enjoyable to watch and often A Serious Man was uncomfortable. This might be because it left me with a nagging question. What does it mean in life to do something? And I found myself awake in the middle of the night more than once in the weeks after wondering if my life was not too dissimilar from Larry's. At least, I am aware of a few desires that I would dearly love to act on, but I can also compose a lengthy list of very good reasons not to. But really, the biggest thing that impedes me is the simple fact that is is so much easier to do nothing.

So I guess I cannot make any claims that A Serious Man was not provocative, just not as enjoyable as what I had hoped after seeing the trailer. In fact, the trailer may be a much more exciting piece of filmmaking than the movie.



Saturday, November 07, 2009

Playing Catch-up [part 2]

So what does one do after seeing a movie that isn't any fun and makes one question their ability to read and critique cinema? Watch martial arts movies, silly. Living in Seattle has resulted in more access to great and diverse cinema, but one downside of seeing so much more cinema is that I frequently miss the films that I derive the most pleasure from watching. So I went to Scarecrow Video with a list of movies that I missed in the theaters, Ong Bak, Chocolate, and Fighter in preparation of Ong Bak 2 opening. And really, these movies were exactly what I expected.

Ong Bak
had the best martial arts sequences in a movie that is otherwise unremarkable. Thugs steal a sacred statue from the village which bring hard times until the sacred item is returned, so Ting (Tony Jaa) is sent to the big city to bring it back. But I was not watching Ong Bak for a compelling plot, but for awesome action and it delivered. The best part is the chase, which is embedded below, but there are plenty of incredible fight sequences that are astonishing and remind me of how I'm not living up to my physical potential.

Chocolate is another Thai martial arts film that stars the female martial artist, Jee Ja Yanin, as Zen. Chocolate was both frustrating and shockingly offensive. The plot was unnecessarily complex for an action film with Yakuza infringing upon Thai gang territory and a Thai woman having his child before he is forced out of Thailand. The child is autistic, but living next door to a Muey Thai school results in Zen becoming a master fighter without anyone realizing it and through only watching Muey Thai. So when mom becomes sick and needs money, the little girl demands payment of her mother's debts, taking out dozens of gang thugs at a time. Chocolate was not only incredible for being completely insensitive to physical and mental handicaps (i.e. there is even a fight between autistic Zen and a guy with turrets), but also features gangs of Thai Lady-boys as comic relief. This movie was special on so many levels, although, never dull. But sadly, Jee Ja Yanin is no Tony Jaa and the fight choreography was a far cry from the marvelous chase in Ong Bak or the works of Jackie Chan or Yuen Woo-Ping.

The other rental was the surprise gem of the group, the Danish film, Fighter (2007) about a Turkish girl who defies her parents to join a Kung Fu team. This is essentially a more realistic Bend it Like Beckham in which romance plays a very backseat role to a young woman learning to live in a culture with vastly different values than that of her family. Aicha (Semra Turan) is not the woman that her family believes her to be. They expect her to follow in her brother's footsteps and go to medical school and marry a Muslim. But Aicha is not a student and is barely scraping by in school. Her passion is the Kung Fu practice that she attends after school, but one day, Aicha is asked to join a co-ed competition fighting team. When her family learns of this, she is forbidden from fighting. But Aicha is always fighting in her life and it isn't long until she has returned to Kung Fu.

The risks posed to Aicha for just defying her father and continuing with martial arts and huge. Her act of defiance not only jepordizes her ability to find a future husband and her standing in her own family, but hurts all of the members of her family, threatening her older brothers upcoming traditional marriage and maybe even impacting her young sister's chances at future happiness. This film likely paints a realistic portrait of family life within an insular immigrant community and unlike Jess in Bend it Like Beckham, Aicha does not even dare to think of becoming romantically entangled with the boys that she practices with and quickly discourages relationships with them outside of the club. Just the thought of attempting to continue attending the practices and maybe attend a competition is all she can bring herself to dream of. And despite her precautions and careful planning, even just continuing in the martial arts threatens to destroy her reputation.

Fighter is a wonderful and empowering film that is strongly grounded in reality. This is my kind of chick-flick!

And finally, we attended Ong Bak 2 at a mostly empty screening at the Egyptian and I have very little to say about the movie. Again, the film showcased the talent of Tony Ja allowing him to demonstrate his unusual Thai marital arts techniques and even demonstrating the origins of Thai martial arts from native, African and Japanese influences. However, the movie wasn't even as enjoyable as the simplistic but fun Ong Bak. For the sequel, they forgot that the success of the original was due not only from the great martial arts choreography, but also from it being a light, and very entertaining movie.

Really, the only thing I took away from this sequel was a long list of questions about Thai culture and the desire for a traditional magical Thai tattoo.





Friday, October 16, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is one scary movie. So much so, that I needed to look it up on IMDB after just to convince myself that what I had seen was only a movie. I was much relieved to read that the director, Oren Peli, has another project underway, Area 51, and that the stars have future projects. The films abrupt ending, with no credits or soundtrack left me wondering, if not just a tad concerned about the fates of the stars. Meaning, Paranormal Activity might be a bit more effective than The Blair Witch Project, even without the collaborating websites and print ads to attempt to create a fictional mythology for the film.

Paranormal Activity opens with Micah (Micah Sloat) surprising his girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) with a new video camera. He intends to keep the camera running to see if they can get any of the creepy phenomena that have been occurring in the night on film. Nearly the entire film is from the perspective of this camera, that is either being held by Micah or on a tripod recording the bedroom as Micah and Katie sleep. This is nice, since it avoids the problem of the constant motion of a camera being held while the actors are being attacked by unknown forces, which avoids the resulting motion sickness i.e. The Blair Witch Project. Instead, the camera is still and much of the "action" of occurs while Micah and Katie are in bed. And the action is very creepy involving what starts as flickering lights, mysterious noises and things moving in the night, but as the days pass, the disturbances become more frequent and much more troubling.

Probably the most intriguing aspect of Paranormal Activity is its success as a scary movie is proof that what frightens is not what is seen, but what is left to the imagination. The moments that are the most jump inducing were loud noises from unseen sources. I suspect this is the reason that while I don't really believe in the supernatural, strange noises in the night still freak me out. Paranormal Activity taps into that fear of what isn't seen or understood and instead just offers enough information to allow us to draw our own conclusions, which are always going to be more scary than what Oren Peli could have created.






Saturday, October 10, 2009

Girl power in theaters now

Color me amazed, but there is not one but TWO "chick flicks" in theaters that challenge female conventions of the genre, Jennifer's Body and Whip It. Now I'm not going to claim that either film is great cinema, but if I had a daughter, or if I even knew any teen-girls, I would want them to see these two movies.

While is isn't uncommon for horror movies to provide plenty of roles for women, it is rare to see one that actually understands the women portrayed. Screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama understand girls and with Jennifer's Body, they have crafted a horror movie that does not hinge upon fear of female sexuality and power, but instead plays upon the actual horrors of being a teen-aged girl.

Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) are BFFs and they even wear the lockets to prove it. But like so many high school friendships, the two girls are not equals. Needy is what her name implies. She's a bit nerdy, smart, and has a boyfriend that cares about her. But Jennifer is the most important person to Needy. Jennifer is perfect in Needy's eyes. She's beautiful and knows it and her looks gives her power in the realm of high school, i.e. popularity. Jennifer even speaks in the manner of a popular girl, being the only character who routinely uses the lingo that Diablo Cody coined in Juno. But Jennifer is not just the typical early bloomer that has learned to use her prematurely developed body to gain status, she also uses it to eat boys.

To Jennifer, her looks are everything. They are the source of all of her power, so Needy poses a threat. Not a serious threat, as beauty trumps smarts, but enough of a threat that Jennifer cannot seem to keep her hands or um... teeth... off of the boys that like Needy. I have never seen such a perfect depiction of friendship between girls. I knew girls like Jennifer and Needy in high school. Hell, there were times when I was each of them. In California, I was Needy to my BFF who always had some ill-advised adventure underway with older boys. I was more interested in protecting her then in boys. But in Spokane, I morphed into a Jennifer and finally tasted the power of looking and acting older than my peers. And while I don't remember being a shit to the girls that looked up to me, I probably was just because of the ugly lessons learned over the years prior. Because no one delivers life lessons in quite the same cutthroat way as a teen-aged girl.

And that is what I see at the heart of Jennifer's Body. The story of a friendship with a beautiful girl, who actually IS a monster. And the discovery that what will finally destroy that demon girl, is the realization of the destruction of the friendship.

Whip It is feels less true about the experience of growing up a girl, but instead revels in the potential power of sisterhood. Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a very formulaic coming of age story. There are literally no surprises in this story about small town girl, Bliss (Ellen Page), who learns confidence and independence in roller derby.

While Whip it doesn't know too much about today's women's roller derby, like that it is now on a flat track, it does understand the spirit of female empowerment that blossoms alongside the derby. The film spends little time with the women that are Bliss's inspirations, teammates and rivals, but it does use the screen time with the roller-girls to paint a portrait of mature women who have found a home within the derby leagues. And they are shown as tough, independent, and surprising women. One character has children, and Bliss' rival, Iron Maven (the badass Juliette Lewis) is nearly two decades older than the 17 year-old Bliss. But the most important element brought to the screen is the spirit and fun of roller derby.

The women of Whip It are fun, tough, exciting. These are women that are a blast to spend 90 minutes with. So while I have no new insights on life from seeing Whip It, I had a great time. But the best experience came after the movie in the ladies bathroom, where I could hear the excited conversations of young women who minutes after seeing Whip It are ready to go out to Rat City Roller Derby matches and maybe get some skates of their own.




Saturday, September 05, 2009

Moon

Summer movie season is winding down again, although I have to admit that there are still plenty of good movies in theaters. Often times, in August, I resort to seeing things like Legally Blond 2 out of desperation, because studios tend to use August to dump movies that really no one needs to see. However, one night, I was trying to decide on my Friday night movie and became so overwhelmed with the choices, that I ended up going home and reading a book. Should I see Up, Ponyo, Food, Inc., The City of Lost Children, Thirst, Harry Potter, Objectified, or A Perfect Getaway? Just asking the question was giving me a headache, so I finished my Guiness and went home.

Plus, based on the critical consensus, I've already seen the most admired summer film, The Hurt Locker. But why is Katheryn Bigelow's movie so universally admired by critics? I've read plenty of the glowing reviews and while I agree that The Hurt Locker is a fine film, I don't share the enthusiasm. The Hurt Locker is unique among the Iraq War genre films in that it is probably the least political. It uses the war as a backdrop for a tense action film. I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the film, immensely. My disappointment with the film stems from the ending, making the statement that war heroes have no place outside of war and this message seemed a bit lazy and simplistic. So, while I enjoyed The Hurt Locker, my favorite overlooked summer movie is the very small scale science fiction Moon.

Moon is set in a near future where all of the earth's energy is supplied by a clean fusion of helium 3, an element that is rare on the surface of the earth, but is much more plentiful on the moon. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwall) is the single human inhabitant of a station overseeing the mining of helium 3. Sam is nearing the end of his 3 year mission and preparing to return home to his family on Earth, but his health is suddenly deteriorating. While outside of the station, he is in an accident due to a hallucination and when he wakes, well, that is when things get really interesting.

What is really great about Moon, is that it is a science fiction that takes full advantage of the genre. Moon sets up a scientifically sound premise to explore human nature. And this exploration occurs on a few levels. There's the question that Duncan Jones seems to be directly asking Sam Bell in the script, 'if you met yourself, would you like you?' But the bigger question about human nature that Moon seems to be pondering is whether corruption is unavoidable in any human endeavor.

Additionally, Moon had some of the best special effects that I've seen in ages. In making a low budget science fiction film, Jones was careful and sparing with the effects used. CGI was kept to a minimum in Moon and instead relied on use of models and other techniques and that this was deliberate. The result is that Moon looks much more stark and real than any special effects film I've seen in a while. There's a glossiness to today's special effects pictures that make everything seem very unreal, but this is avoided in Moon. The surface of the moon, the station, and the equipment used to collect the cylinders of Helium look completely real.

[Spoilers follow]

There is another film that has much in common with Moon, the Japanese The Clone Returns Home. It is a strange coincidence that two 2009 releases have plots about astronaut clones. They even share some key shots in common, specifically the striking image of a clone carrying his own body in a space suit. They are very different films, but I am pleased to have seen both because of the parallels. Moon is definitely the better of the films, but was also less ambitious since Duncan Jones was not attempting to explore existential issues of the impact of the existence of a clone on reincarnation of the soul. I've yet to see a movie that has suceeded in communicating such complex, philosophical ponderings to the screen. But what I am struck by is that the two films exist, made completely independently of one another. How does this happen? Their existence almost argues for a collective consciousness that crosses cultural barriers. Seems every few years, a handfull of movies come out that have striking similarities that are made completely independent of one another. I can never seen to remember examples of this phenomenon, but I'm pretty certain that is happens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 24

June 14, 2009

Poppy Shakespeare
(2008) Dir. Banjamin Ross

From Blogger
One June 14th, the festival was over. Winners were announced, but as the festival wasn't yet over, films were still being screened. I attended one last film, which is among my favorites this year, Poppy Shakespeare.

Poppy's story is told through the eyes of her friend, N (Anne Maxwell Martin) at the the Dorthy Fisher mental health day care center they are required to attend. Poppy (Naomie Harris) is different from the other patients that spend their weekdays at the center. Poppy doesn't believe she belongs there. Poppy isn't mentally ill and is required to attend as some sort of mistake due to a questionnaire. N knows that system inside and out and like everyone else at the center, spends her time making certain that she remains forever within the safety of the Dorthy Fisher. So despite not understanding why Poppy would want to leave, she agrees to help her, but there is a nasty catch 22. In order to prove that Poppy is sane, she has to first prove she is crazy, so she can qualify for mad money and get legal representation to prove that she is in fact sane.

Poppy Shakespeare provides a rare and highly accurate glimpse into the lives of the mentally ill and in doing so, it moves with ease between humor and tragedy while bringing to light real problems with the systems that treat crazy people. This was such a wonderful film with totally unique and amazing characters that I was completely captivated by. The film, made for British television, is based on the eponymous book by Clare Allan. Clare Allan spent 10 years in a mental health treatment facility and writes about mental health issues for The Guardian. This background lends a lot of plausibility to the characters and their circumstances.

And I recognized this immediately. While the British medical system is vastly different from the American one, I immediately recognized some similarities. Or at least one big one. Once one has acquired a diagnosis for a psychological condition, it is a very difficult thing to shake. Despite all of the treatment and rehabilitation, it is challenging to prove sanity. And if anyone believes that someone might be a threat to the safety of themselves or anyone else, the patient immediately loses control of their own treatment, of their future really. Not that I would know about any of this.

But probably the most interesting aspect of Poppy Shakespeare is the depiction of the world of the day center and those who inhabit it. It appears to be an alternate reality. Many of those within this world know little of life outside of the mental health system and the rules and coping strategies are so radically different, that it is amazing that anyone who spends time inside that world finds their way out. But while the film depicts the apparently hopeless situation, Poppy Shakespeare rarely becomes tragic in tone and remains ultimately optimistic, quirky and often quite funny. The world of N is not a tragic one. She is not overwhelmed by the sadness of Poppy's situation, but instead N's world remains bright and off beat.




Saturday, July 04, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 23

June 13, 2009

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Dir. Sergio Leone

From Blogger
Every year, SIFF shows a few newly restored archival prints and I never attend these. I don't know why, but when I saw Once Upon a Time in the West had a screening, I had to see it on the big screen. Like a lot of people my age, I once claimed to not like westerns, but my reason was a little different then most. I was raised on westerns. My mother used to watch movies non-stop when I was a kid, burning through VCRs. And most of the movies were westerns. She even used to write fan fiction that was western in setting. So when I would say, "I HATE westerns", what I meant was that I was sick and tired of old episodes of Rawhide, Roy Rogers, and most of the John Wayne library. Just like any genre, there are amazing Westerns out there and most of my favorites are Sergio Leone's films.

What I find strange, is that I had never seen Once Upon a Time in the West as a child. Which is really a shame, because it means that my mother isn't a fan of this film. I noticed something during this viewing. This film has clear cut heroes and villians. I didn't think that happened in Leone's films. And not only are there good guys and bad guys, but Harmonica (Charles Bronson) wears white and Frank (Henry Fonda) wears black.

The other thing that I really enjoyed about Once Upon a Time in the West as I had forgotten how funny the opening is, specifically Jack Elam waiting for the train. It's just a great scene, watching a group of gunslingin' thugs wait. And you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueeDdrBnV2M

The Clone Returns Home (2008) Dir. Kanji Nakajima

From Blogger

The other movie we saw was the Japanese science fiction, The Clone Returns Home. This could have been a great film. It looked amazing, shrouded in white for much of the film, I was reminded of Macintosh advertisements. And the ideas embodied in the story are quite profound, asking us to think about questions of life and death and the nature of the soul.

Set in a near future, human cloning has been perfected allowing for the recently deceased astronaut Kohei (Mitsuhiro Oikawa) to be cloned and his memories to be implanted. This clone however is defective and has only the haunting memories of his childhood, when his twin brother died. The clone attempt to return to his childhood home and along the way, finds the body of Kohei in an astronaut suit. He mistakes him for the body of his brother and he continues on his journey carrying the body.

As I said, the imagry is incredible, but there is something lacking in the storytelling. Maybe director Kanji Nakajima relies too heavily on the imagry for the storytelling, because while the elements are there to explore the nature of the soul, it doesn't provide a compelling enough narrative to keep the audience involved. In otherwords, The Clone Returns Home was slow and didn't manage to go much of anywhere.



SIFF 2009, Day 22

June 12, 2009

Talhotblond (2009) Dir. Barbara Schroeder

From Blogger
After seeing the insightful documentary We Live in Public, I wasn't going to miss the other internet related documentary, Talhotblond, especially since some of the programmers were very excited about this film. Talhotblond has the tone of a Dateline or 20/20 story. It is sensationalistic and a bit lascivious since it is about a sex triangle between three internet personalities that results in a murder.

Depressed about his life, Thomas Montgomery, or marinesniper, found himself caught up in a fantasy where he pretended to be himself at 18, a tough marine in order to impress talhotblond in a chatroom. And this roleplay continued until talhotblond, a young, blond cheerleader found out about the lie and begins to torment marinesniper by throwing her other online relationship with beefcake in his face. beefcake was Brian Barret, a 22 year old who works with the much older, ex marine Montgomery. And as tensions increased and jealousy raged, Thomas Montgomery murdered Brian.

The film doesn't dispute that Tom was ultimately the man who pulled the trigger. What it does dispute was the legal system that finds only Tom at fault for the crime. And my issue with Talhotblond stems from my agreement with a legal system that only prosecuted the man who committed a murder, not the woman who lied about who she was and instigated a rivalry between two men in a chat room. And while I agree with Barbara Schroeder that it is wrong to use your own daughter to lure men into a fantasy relationship and manipulate them, I disagree that it should be a crime to do so.

Ultimately, the film was entertaining, but too sensationalistic and misogynistic. I foresee this getting scooped up for television, I just hope that Barbara Schroeder drops the narration from the point of view of the dead Brian before then. It is plenty to hear Tom's story from his point of view, making the movie from Brian's perspective, when he's DEAD, is going a bit too far.



Sunday, June 28, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 21

June 11, 2009

The Conversation
(1974) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

From Blogger
My mother is just a little movie obsessed and as soon as VCRs became widely available, we had one. It wasn't long my mother was quickly amassing a huge library of movies. And in the late 1970s, much of that collection were blackmarket copies with Arabic subtitles or atrocious quality, simply because the movies were not yet available commercially. Central to her collection was anything and everything that Harrison Ford is in. Thus The Conversation is a movie that I've seen many times, although, I had always been far too young to really appreciate the film. So I was very excited to see that SIFF included a screening of this classic, which was probably selected because this year, Coppola has another film that played at SIFF, Tetro. One of my favorite things about The Conversation is that it is one of those movies that stands up well to repeated viewings. Everytime I watch it, the ending means something completely different.

But there's no way I'd attempt to write here about The Conversation, when plenty of other, better writers have done so.

Krabat (2008) Dir. Marco Kreuzpainter

From Blogger
And after The Conversation, we attending a screening of probably the biggest German production of 2008, Krabat. It was based on a book of the same name by Otfried Pressleur (English translation title: The Satanic Mill) which I have heard described as the German Harry Potter. It has been a very popular book in Germany, that many people read as a child and while Krabat is definitely a fairly tale, it is a very dark one.

Krabat is set in Europe just after the Thirty-year's War and the beginnings of the Plague. Krabat (David Kross) is an orphan due to the plague and is begging with a small band of children when he begins to have strange dreams. These dreams, along with a flock of crows, lead Krabat to a mill where the Master (Christian Redl) is waiting with a meal, a bed, and an apprenticeship. As Krabat does his work at the mill, he learns that he and the other 11 boys that work there are there to learn more than just how to opperate the mill. They are also apprentices in black magic.

Krabat is befriended by Tonda (Daniel Bruhl), and it is from Tonda, that Krabat begins to learn of the sacrifices that are made for being a part of the mill. The Master does not allow the boys contact with anything outside the mill and they will be killed if they are fall in love with any of the village girls. But this isn't the only sacrifice. The Master is also prolonging his own life by sacrificing one of the boys each year.

Krabat is an absolutely mesmorizing film. It looks like a big budget, Hollywood movie. The cinematography, music, and production are amazing and not at all typical of the films seen at the Seattle Independent Film Festival. The special effects are well done and are also not over used or too flashy like in too many American movies. Krabat is simply a very good, albeit, very dark adventure story that I found to be wonderful. I am now very curious about the book, which has been translated into English, but is out of print.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 17

June 7, 2008

Four Boxes (2009) Dir. Wyatt McDill

From Blogger
I hope there were a few fledgling filmmaker at this screening of Four Boxes, because it was very instructive on how such a disappointing movie is made. Trevor (Justin Kirk) and Rob (Sam Rosen) run a internet-sales business, Go Time Liquidators, and are at the recently deceased Bill Zill's homeSa in the suburbs, listing his belongs for sale on the web. And to pass time, they watch fourboxes.tv. Bill's fiance, Amber (Terryn Westbrook) joins them in the house, which is becoming emptier, and also becomes drawn into fourboxes.tv. Fourboxes.tv is a house that is wired with cameras and broadcast, but recently a new guy has appeared, who they call Havok, and he doesn't appear to know that he's being watched. And he's weird, and maybe a terrorist.

Four Boxes is one of those movies that sets itself up to manipulate the audience so that a trick ending is possible. By this, I don't mean to say that all films with a puzzle structure and a suprise ending are terrible, but they are if the audience can see what's coming 10 min in. Four Boxes is not nearly as clever as it wants to be.

But really, Four Boxes should act as a reminder to NOT make a movie just because it would be an easy film to make. Please, make a movie that you are inspired to make. Tell stories that you need to tell in order to sleep at night. Don't do it because you have a script that requires an easy to find set and then call it "film gris" because you couldn't afford to properly light it. Additionally, I doubt this film would have gotten around to film festivals if the director's good friend, Justin Kirk, hadn't agreed to star. Meaning Justin Kirk is a really great friend.

Manhole Children (2009) Dir. Yoshio Harada

From Blogger
Day 17 was a disappointing day. Manhole Children sounded like a fascinating documentary from Japan. I had hoped to learn about the situation in Mongolia that resulted in extreme poverty and hundreds of people abandoning their children. The children survived by scavenging food and using manholes as shelter from the harsh climate. The documentary filmed the chidren back in the late 1990s, then followed up on them periodically over the next 10 years. We learn that the government sealed up the manholes and attempted to return the children to their families, but that these efforts had little impact on the lives of those in the documentary.

Boldoo appears to have much promise as a child living in a manhole. His mother had sent him to the city to work when she couldn't feed all of the kids at home, hoping for a better life for him. As a child, Boldoo learned to survive and to occasionally even make enough money to go home to his family to visit. He eventually managed to build a tiny house with found lumber and provide shelter for his family and best friend, Dashaa.

But adulthood was not kind to these children who were never able to escape extreme poverty as seen from the lives of Boldoo, his friend Dashaa and Oyun, the mother of Boldoo's child. As adults, Dashaa continues to work hard to get by and feed and care for family, but Boldoo sucumbs to alcoholism and often returns to the manholes to survive.

My complaints with Manhole Children as a film, isn't the subject matter, but that I didn't feel any more informed after having seen it. The impact of poverty is a universal problem and in Mongolia it didn't look that much different then it does on the streets of Seattle. Once people fall into homelessness, getting out is hopeless and so the choices are to either keep fighting or to descend into substance abuse. This is a sad portrait, but didn't offer any insight into the situation or even figures as to how many people in Mongolia are still struggling in this manner today after the fall of communism and the rise of capitolism that brought about the immense poverty in the 1990s.

Hooked (2009) Dir. Adrian Sitaru

From Blogger
One aspect of attending an International film festival is the opportunities to see movies that come from all over the world. I don't ever take enough advantage of that. Instead of seeing a diverse group of films, I tend to gravitate towards specific genres (action, thrillers), countries (Japan, Denmark, UK), or directors (Araki, Kirby Dick), but while I've always enjoyed the movies I see at the festival, this does limit the kinds of films I see. Due to my strong distaste for Lars von Trier, I avoid anything that is described as dogma. Hooked was selected due to it being mentioned in The Stranger, and I'm very pleased with this addition to our rather full Sunday festival schedule.

In Hooked, or Pescuit sportiv, two lovers are traveling out of town for a picnic. Mihai (Adrian Titieni) is a math teacher who has left his job due to a disagreement over grading. And so Mihai and Sweetie (Ioana Flora) are getting away to relax, but there is some definite tension between them as Sweetie drives to their destination, but this is forgotten once she hits a woman in the road. Fearing the woman, likely a prostitute is seriously hurt or dead Mihai wants to take her to the hospital, but Sweetie wants to cover up the accident so she talks him into taking the body into the woods. But the Ana (Maria Dinulescu) wakes up uninjured and the couple try to act as if she had passed out. And she ends up picnicing with them...

From here is where the film gets really interesting. Seems writer/director Adrian Sitaru is very good at depicting relationships. Ana toys with the couple all movie. She draws out information and sometimes secrets that keep the couple on edge and reveal their secrets along with the nature of their reltionship in a natural way.

Hooked is a Romanian first feature from Adrian Sitaru and reading an interview with the director I was surprised to learn that he is heavily influenced by Dogma cinema and Lars von Trier. And Hooked is very Dogma. It was filmed on location, with hand-held camera. And I think this contributes to the intimate feel of the film, but it is also a carefully scripted and cleverly written piece that has much more understanding and affection for women then anything I've seen from Lars von Trier.



SIFF 2009, Day 16

June 6, 2009

Grace (2009) Dir. Paul Solet



Grace was another film from the midnight adrenaline series and first feature from writer/director, Paul Solet, who was at the screening. He talked about his interest in film being cultivated by his camp councilor. Turns out Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) was once a camp councilor and trusted to council children. But anyway, I'm guessing it was the Eli Roth connection that helped bring Jordan Ladd into the project to play the lead, Madeline Matheson, a woman who desperately wants to have a baby.

Madeline and Henry (Stephen Park) appear to have a great life. Madeline has given up work to become a full time wife and mother, but so far all of her pregnancies have ended in miscarriage. Finally she is pregnant again and the couple decides to use a homeopathic birthing clinic and midwife instead of the more common hospital birth. Close to the end of term, the couple are in a traffic accident that ends with loss of both Henry and the unborn child. But Madeline will not allow labor to be induced and carries the dead fetus to team, waiting to have a natural childbirth at Naturebirth. And shortly after Madeline gives birth to the dead baby, her midwife, Patricia Lang (Samantha Ferris) find Madeline nursing the baby, Grace.

However, this is not quite the perfect miracle. Grace is not a normal, healthy baby. Madeline notices a smell and flies accumulate around the crib. And Grace has a thirst, not for milk, but blood.

In general the tone of the film is perfect for this tale about unnatural nature of childbirth and motherhood. I mean, just because everyone says nothing is more natural than having a baby, I cannot imagine anything that less natural or more terrifying then having something growing inside for nine months. There is plenty in that probably universal terror to base a film on. But with Grace, Paul Solet was attempting to tell a story about the intense bond between mother and child, a bond so strong that a it is only natural for a mother to kill in order to protect her child, and in the case of Grace, she's willing to kill to feed her child.

Well, if that was the intended subtext, it wasn't a complete success. I saw a different film in Grace that was more about the intense need of some women for a baby. And that this drive is, at some level, unnatural. That's how I read this film. In many ways, this was the same movie as Jan Svankmayer's Little Otik, but with more gore and significantly less horror. But despite not going as far as has been done, it did work, but it was far from the pro-woman movie that the filmmaker seemed to believe that he made. Sadly, many of the female characters were not well developed or particularly interesting, but the worst crime was the attempt at a lesbian plot line that completely depended upon unrealistic stereotypes.

And my question is, why aren't women making horror movies about motherhood? Because perhaps, this material in the hands of a woman could birth a more subtle and interesting film that comes across as more genuine.


Friday, June 19, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 15 part 2

June 5, 2009


Black Dynamite is a tribute to 1970s blaxploitation and was born of a collaboration between director Scott Sanders and star, cowriter, fight choreographer... Michael Jai White.  And if Black Dynamite is any indication, they know exploitation cinema of the 1970s and made this homage to the genre that encapsulates all of the elements that made the movies of the era so enjoyable.  The plot is most definitely a nod to the genre as at first, Black Dynamite is looking for the man who killed his brother, but the plot spirals a bit out of control eventually leading Black Dynamite to battle the devious Dr. Wu on Kung Fu island.  Black Dynamite even takes The Man on face to face when he arrives at the white house. 

But the silliness of the plot doesn't  mean the Black Dynamite isn't completely awesome.  First of all, this movie is the blaxsploitation movie that was never made.  It is perfection.  Somehow it looks as if it was made 30 years ago.  The wardrobe is impeccable, the filming locations must have been broght in via time machine, and the music is incredible.  I even read somewhere that it was filmed using film and equipment of the era.  Black Dynamite is completely old school.  And it doesn't wink at you a single time.  This is a film with complete respect for the era and the genre.  There isn't a single lazy, "look at the silly 1970s clothes/hair/culture" joke in this movie.  It is very funny, but it is fun and often hilarious because it is played totally straight. 

And Black Dynamite is an awesome bad ass and has brought back the action hero.  I think Michael Jai White might just be the new Chuck Norris, since all of those "facts" that are attributed to Chuck Norris IS Black Dynamite.  And the SIFF audiences overwhelming agreed that Black Dynamite kicks ass as it took home the Golden Space Needle.  Don't miss Black Dynamite when it opens in September.




Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SIFF2009, Day 15

June 5, 2009
Humpday (2009) Dir. Lynn Shelton

From Blogger
Humpday is the little, Seattle film that everyone is talking about.  It won a special jury prize at Sundance and is opening nationally in July.  This is a bit of a shock that a small, "mumble" core movie based on local The Stanger's annual porn competition Hump has leaped into the limelight.  Although, perhaps the timing is perfect for Lynn Shelton's film as there is interest in movies about relationships between men, recently dubbed bro-mance movies (i.e. I Love You Man).  But Humpday has much more realism and characters with depth in comparison to any of the Apatow movies.

In Humpday, Andrew (Joshua Leonard) shows up at Ben (Mark Duplass) and Anna's(Alycia Delmore) home looking for a place to crash.  Andrew and Ben were good friends in college, but their lives have moved in very different direction.  Ben has gone the traditional route and is married and owns a home in Seattle, while Andrew wanders the globe and considers himself an artist.  Shortly after Andrew's arrival, he and Ben have a few too many drinks and decide that as Andrew's next big mind-altering project, they should shoot a porn movie for Hump.  Because two straight men having gay sex on camera makes some sort of artistic statement. 

But the next day, this idea definitely transforms to a dare that neither is willing to back down on.  Ben doesn't want Andrew to believe that marriage has made him predicatable or dull.  Andrew also is reacting to a situation that revealed that he isn't nearly as comfortable with his sexuality as he thinks he should be and so both men feel they need to prove to the other that they could make this movie, even though they are straight and do not want to. 

How the movie plays out makes it a very awkward comedy.  But unlike most Hollywood comedies, this one does shine a light on relationships.  I really enjoyed watching Ben interact with his wife.  I thought she would be more stereotypical, but over the course of the film, I found I could really relate to her and Ben's relationship. And for me, it highlights why sometimes the lies are more about protecting someone's idea of who you while othertimes they happen in order to challenge or destroy a perception of who you really are.  And I think these two men along with most of us are struggling with the idea of who we are versus how the world sees us and even how those closest to us sees us. 



Monday, June 15, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 14

June 4, 2009

The Escape (2009) Dir. Katherine Windfeld

From Blogger
The Escape refers to Danish journalist Rikke Lyngvig's (Iben Hjijle) escape from a group of terrorists in Afghanistan who planned to kill her is Denmark did not withdraw their troops. Her escape was made possible due to the help of her Afgan guard, Nazir (Faegh Zamani), who felt sympathy for her when he realized that she would be killed in a few days time, but he told her that she can never reveal that she did not escape on her own, because if anyone were to suspect that she escaped with his help, we would be killed. 

Once free, Rikke returns to Denmark a hero, resulting in interviews and even writing a book about her experiences. She keeps her word and never reveals that Nazir made her escape possible.  However, Nazir flees Afghanistan seeking asylum and contacts Rikke for help. But if she helps Nazir her career is at risk, since she will have to admit that she lied numerous times to the press and even in her own book about having escaped her captors unaided. 

The Escape
succeeds in being a captivating film with some excellent performances.  Iben Hjejle is wonderful as the very career minded journalist, for whom being taken hostage and surviving was little more than an opportunity to launch her career.  And Lars Mikkelsen, like his brother Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale), seems to have a fascinating sort of charisma that lends complexity to his characters.  The Escape was a high tension drama that has a bit to say about the politics of the Danish involvement in Afganistan and the role the media can play in politics.  A pretty impressive first feature, from director Katherine Windfeld. 


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Sunday, June 14, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 10

May 31, 2009

Kisses (2008) Dir. Lance Daly

From Blogger
After being called the best Irish film of 2008 in the Irish press, I had high expectations for Kisses, and was not disappointed.  Dylan and Kylie and friends and neighbors in an impoverished North Dublin.  One day, after a particularly ugly argument at home with his alcoholic parents, Dylan flees home with Kylie.  They head into Dublin to search for Dylan's brother, who ran away two years before.  On their search, they buy roller-sneakers, steal meals, search for places to sleep and try to avoid the authorities who will send them back home.

What is most striking about Kisses is that due to the very honest portrayals of Dylan and Kylie, the film manages to be a touching adventure into the discovery of another world outside of the gray and seemingly hopeless lives at home.  Kisses is a bit of an adolescent lovestory between Dylan and Kylie as they learn to depend on each other.  Kisses additionally manages to be a sweet film about childhood that doesn't once become saccharine. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

SIFF2009, Day 9

The Hurt Locker (2008) Dir. Kathryn Bigelow

From Blogger
Okay, I admit it. Using this image is a bit misleading. But at the beginning, when I realized that I had inadvertently picked a SIFF movie with Guy Pierce it it, I was so excited, but he's only in the movie for a few minutes. But he was in the part of the movie that I was really enjoying.

The Hurt Locker is about a unit of soldiers that disarms bombs. And I was quite enjoying this movie when they were in Iraq doing their job. There was tension, suspense, and just enough plot. It was a bit like a decent action movie set in Iraq. Sadly, Kathryn Bigelow wasn't content with making an action movie set and the movie eventually brought the soldiers back to the families in the states and futher attempts to demonstrate how illsuited the men are to live back home.

La Mission (2009) Dir. Peter Bratt

You've seen this movie before, only this time, it is set in San Fransico's Mission District.

Plot synopsis: Che (Benjamin Bratt) is an upstanding member of his community in the mission district. He knows everyone, brings elderly neighbors groceries, and fixes up fancy cars with his buddies to parade around town in. He's just a swell guy. But then, he finds out his kid is gay. OMG! And kicks him out and generally cannot cope, cuz there ain't no such thing as a gay latino.

But the native american side of the family understands and Jesse stays with them. Che (big shock) eventually comes around and accepts his son, but not until after some gay bashing and gang violence have occurred in his community.

For the genre, this is a better than average flick, but again, it is all so familiar and it is a bit dull to watch a movie when you know exactly what is going to happen, and even how it will likely get there.

SIFF 2009, Day 8

May 29, 2009
Deadgirl
(2009) Dir. Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel

From Blogger
Not many films included in the Midnight Adrenaline series sparked much interest this year when I was just glancing at the schedule, but this was the exception. The synopsis just completely intrigued me. Deadgirl asks the question of what would happen if two average teen-aged boys were to find a girl tied up that no one knew anything about. In exploring this simple set up, Deadgirl becomes an analysis of manhood in American culture.

My very brief plot summery isn't really sufficient. The two boys that find the girl are JT (Noah Segan) and Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) on a day that they cut school and end up exploring an abandoned hospital. Deep in the basement, inside a locked room, they discover the naked body of the girl under plastic and to their amazement, she is alive. Rickie wants to take the girl to the hospital and tell the police, but JT is going to take full advantage of finding a "totally hot" naked girl strapped to an exam table, so Rickie leaves. When he returns, he learns of JT's discovery. The girl is not a normal girl. She cannot be killed and she appears to have more in common with a wild animal then a human.

This plot point allows this movie to explore some very dark, disturbing territory without becoming repellent. JT and plenty of others who find out about the girl do horrific things to her, but the story isn't so much what is happening in the basement room of the hospital, but is more about what Rickie is going to do about it. He is the only one who knows about the girl who doesn't participate in the gang rape and even attempts to free her. But he doesn't stop them, when all it would require is to contact the authorities. Why doesn't he? Well, because JT is his best friend. And also, because this whole situation has brought into question what it means to become a man. And right or wrong, his lack of participation makes him less of a man in their eyes and thus, in his own.

In the end, this is not a movie with heroes or villians, but that instead implys that all men are monsters, even the ones with the best of intentions. Additionally, Deadgirl points out that boys don't start out as monsters, but are taught in their attainment of manhood. And while I don't agree that all men are beasts, I do think it is worth considering that the American cultural ideal for men may premote the development of monsters.

Danse Macabre (2009) Dir. Pedro Pires

From Blogger
Some features have a short screening with them. I am very bad at finding these, but I did see one short this year, the fascinating Danse Macabre. This film is a poetic and very visually stunning look at life after death. This isn't a film about a supernatural afterlife, but instead the very natural process of the changes a body goes through after death. There are depictions of the body being moved, of embalming, of rigor mortis, and so on. Interesting concept.

Most fascinating was the choreography. The body appers to be played by a dancer and this dance is preformed with poses instead of movement.

I enjoyed this short. It was visually rich and a perfect companion to Deadgirl.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 7

May 28, 2009

The Merry Gentleman (2009)  Dir. Michael Keaton


From Blogger


Every year, I say to myself that I'm not going to see the movies that I can only see at a film festival and skip the stuff that will at some point open wide. Certainly the movie directed by and starring Michael Keaton will be in theaters before summer ends, right? Well, I couldn't contain myself and had to see it. It has my favorite batman in it. And Frank Logan has a bit in common with batman as they both have a really big secret.

In The Merry Gentleman, Kate Frazier (Kelly Macdonald) is running away from an abusive relationship. In her new life, she looks up into the snow to see a man (Michael Keaton) about to jump from a building, but her scream startles him and he instead falls backwards to safety. When being questioned by police, they realize that the man she saw on the roof was likely the sniper responsible for a murder in the building across the street. The story that unfolds isn't a mystery or thriller, but instead a movie about sadness, loss and the finding connections. Unlike the majority of Keaton's roles, Frank Logan doesn't say much. He has this in common with Kate and after he helps her with her Christmas tree, a friendship blossoms. They are both people with a past and with secrets and they simply seem to understand one another. I connected to these scenes where they spent time together in the hospital or burning the Christmas tree. Those moments of the film were incredibly fresh, honest and genuine. And they were wonderful in that they allowed an intimate friendship to develop between a man and a woman without it being romantic. They were people who could depend on one another, not lovers and that was refreshing.

But there were aspects of The Merry Gentleman that bothered me. I had a difficult time believing Kate Frazier's character. Sometimes, she seemed more like a man's idea of an abused wife than the real thing. She was just so incredibly naive and I just couldn't believe how she continued to flirt with every man she encountered when obviously she had no interest in relationships with men at all. And to not get that the cop was coming on to her seemed downright unbelievable. So, this nagged at me all movie and I know that women do exactly that, flirting unknowingly just to be friendly and likable, but Kate was someone who was hiding from her past and as such, I would expect her to be seriously guarded and distrustful of all, especially man, and Kate didn't appear to be.

But despite that, I did really enjoy this film and a adored these two characters, the quietly charming and lonely Kate and the silent hitman. And it was wonderful to see a film that explores relationships between men and women that aren't based on sex. People have other needs, and Kate and Frank needed someone in their lives to be with that doesn't demand to know that details of their past lives. Just because the past may have shaped us into who we are today, doesn't mean we all want to be constantly reliving it.

SIFF 2009, Day 5

May 26, 2009

Daytime Drinking (2008) Dir. Young-Seok Noh



This film was added to the schedule after only watching the trailer. Something about the tone of the trailer totally charmed me, so I didn't bother doing any further research on the small, South Korean film. In Daytime Drinking, after quite a few drinks Hyuk-jin is convinced by his friends to to on a trip the following day. But when he arrives, none of his friends can be found. What follows is a very understated comedic film where Hyuk-jin is constantly disappointed. He has just been dumped by his girl friend, his friends don't show up for this trip, he stays at the wrong inn, he cannot get a bus back home, and the couple of women he meets along the way just take advantage of him. From the sounds of it, Daytime Drinking should be a frustrating film to watch, but while I felt bad for the character, I did see the humor in his bad luck. He was just so trusting of his drinking buddies and hopeful that the trip had to improve, that I couldn't seem to help optimistic as his trip continued it's downward spiral.

Daytime Drinking certainly wasn't one of the best films I've seen this year at SIFF, but it wasn't bad either. The film suffered from being overly long and poorly executed. I was certain that the theater had started on the second reel, when the movie began in mid-sentence during the conversation where Hyuk-jin was convinced to leave town the next day. But no, as there were other instances of strange, abrupt cuts along side long scenes of nothing at all.

But I thought a couple of the characters had charm and in general enjoyed his meandering journey. And plus, it's a helpful reminder of ethics of (Korean) drinking, and all of the ways it can get you into trouble, ya know, for those times when you find yourself drinking with Koreans.


Fear Me Not (Den du frygter) Dir. Kristian Levring



Another film from Denmark, because Danish movies rock! And one usually thinks of Dogma when talking Danish film, but Fear Me Not, like all of the Danish film that I've seen this year at SIFF has little in common with Dogma. Fear Me Not was cowritten by the director and Anders Thomas Jensen, who also wrote Brothers, After the Wedding, and wrote and directed one of my favorites from SIFF a couple of years ago, Adam's Apples.

Mikael (played by the awesome Ulrich Thomsen) has a great life, but something is missing and while claiming that he's happy to not be working, he is restless and enrolls in a clinical trial of a new medication. After some concerning side effects are brought to light, the trial is suspended, but Mikael likes the changes he is experiencing and he continues taking the drug in secret. The result is a complete change in his personality that he fully embraces who he has become and what unfolds becomes increasingly aggressive and violent.

Fear Me Not was definitely an enjoyable thriller. The writing was smart and the actors in the leads were quite good. I definitely recommend Fear Me Not to anyone who enjoys a good psychological thriller. This was a very intriguing look at the aspects of human nature that everyone probably has, but that are repressed. Until, they are allowed to manifest themselves, due to say taking a drug with unknown side effects.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 4

May 25, 2009

We Live in Public (2009) Dir. Ondi Timoner

From Blogger


We Live in Public began over a decade ago as a document of doc-com entrepreneur Josh Harris' experiment with filming the most intimate activities of life and putting it out on the internet. In the 1990s, during the dot-com boom when he, along with many others, had become rich and he was constantly experimenting with creating and using the internet in new and innovative ways. He created a bunker in New York city that was completely wired. There were cameras everywhere inside the bunker and he invited people to live there where everything was free, except for one thing, the video footage. He would own that.

Well, the experiment was part art project, a bit social experiment, and completely fascinating. But We Live in Public doesn't end with the police raid of Josh Harris's bunker. Instead it explores his life, his relationships and the impact of technology on the emotional lives of everyone. We Live in Public is about what I'm doing right now. Putting my ideas out on the internet for all to see and how that act has consequences and changes my life. And this is something that I'd never really thought about. I had considered the loss of privacy that can result from Facebook, My Space, Live Journal, etc. And try to at least by aware of what I launch into this superhighway, knowing full well that this is a public place, but I had never considered that this act has an impact on my life off-line. And I certainly had never thought about what the popularity of Facebook says human nature.

See this movie. I was blown away by the immense complexity of what could have been a simple documentary on another dot-com millionaire's rise and fall, but exploded into a wonderfully thorough analysis of how technology changes who we are. It is only playing at festivals, but considering the reception it is receiving, I'm hopeful that it will be picked up for distribution.

http://www.weliveinpublicthemovie.com/

Terribly Happy (2008), Dir. Henrik Ruben Genz

Two years ago, the SIFF theme was Danish Cinema. I pretty much ignored it and went about my normal viewing habits of whatever appealed, gravitating toward Asian cinema. But I did take in one film from Denmark, Adam's Apples, which is among the funniest black comedies I've ever seen. Since then, I take notice of any film from Denmark and they do fantastic black comedies, and Terribly Happy is no exception.

Although, I wouldn't categorize Terribly Happy as black comedy. Noir horror, suspense that just happens to be very darkly comedic is more like it. Police officer Robert Hansen is transferred to a small town to act as their marshal. Quickly, he discovers that he will not last long in this small village if he insists on doing things by the book. The townsfolk have their own way of doing things and don't much appreciate the interference of outsiders, who tend to disappear. Terribly Happy often reminded me of Blood Simple, although only in tone. This was a suspenseful and curious film that was often quite funny. Someday, I'll have to see if Henrik Ruben Genz's other films are as interesting as this one.



SIFF 2009, Day 3

Paper Heart (2009) dir. Nicholas Jasenovec

Post movie tweet: Paper Heart- Documentary or fiction? Regadless, sweetly charming mumble core romance exploring the nature of love that feels true.


I really wasn't sure what I was watching throughout this romantic comedy that stars comic Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera, playing themselves.  And that is exactly what was throwing me off.  Paper Heart is a totally fictional film, where the cast all play characters with their own names, but the plot of the film is that Charlyne and Nickolas embark on a journey to find out whether true love exists.  Charlyne doesn't believe in love and says she has never been in love, but while filming, she meets and begins to date Michael Cera and the decision is made to keep rolling and to capture every moment on film, to see where it goes.  Can Michael Cera change Charlene's mind about the existance of love? 

So while watching this film, interlaced with interviews about how ordinary people on the streets of America have or have not found love, while a romance develops between Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi, I couldn't help but be pulled in enough to wonder if there was any reality to the film.  Did they ever date?  Are they are real life couple who decided to base a film on how two actors could fall in love?  Or was this purely a movie, and this nagged at me all movie. 

Well, it is just a movie, based on a screenplay written by Nicolas and Charlyne, but I guess it is saying something about the acting that I really did question whether what I was seeing was real all movie.  The stand out in the movie is Michael Cera.  While I enjoyed Charlyne's preformance and especially her puppet shows to tell portions of the story that were not caught on film,  it was Michael Cera who kept me laughing.

So this was an enjoyable addition to our festival line up that will be released in the USA in August. 

http://www.paperheart-movie.com/

Thursday, June 04, 2009

More Upcoming SIFF 2009 Films

We've done it again.  13 or so festival movies just is not enough.  So more tickets were purchased.  Even with a final looming at 8:00 AM Saturday morning, that I'm not at all prepared for, I still keep seeing movies.  I think I have a problem.

So these are in my near future.

Tonight, The Escape (Flugten), Denmark, Contemporary World Cinema
Friday, June 5 Humpday, USA, Northwest Connnections
Friday, June 5 Black Dynanite, USA, Midnight Adrenaline
Saturday, June 6, Grace, USA, Midnight Adrenaline
Sunday, June 7, Four Boxes, USA, Contemporary World Cinema
Sunday, June 7, Manhole Children, Japan, Documentary Films
Sunday, June 7, Hooked (Percuit Sportiv), Romania, Contemporary World Cinema
Thursday, June 11, The Conversation (1974), Archival Presentations
Friday, June 12, talhotblond, USA, Documentary Films
Saturday, June 13, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Archival Presentations
Saturday, June 13, The Clone Returns Home, Japan, Contemporary World Cinema
Sunday, June 14, Poppy Shakespeare, United Kingdom, Contemporary World Cinema

Sadly, Mesrine was cancelled. 

It's a little strange looking at the schedule this way.  I hadn't realized just how many American movies I'm seeing this year.  I think we are seeing nearly every Danish film this year, but that's because they are awesome, and as usual, plenty of Japanese films.  No Hong Kong cinema or anything from China this year.  I was tempted by Chen Kaige's newest, but seriously, it looked a bit dull.  Beautiful, but like western opera, I'm guessing that Chinese Opera will not be my thing. 

And I'm seriously behind on writing short reviews of the films I have seen, but I'll get to it.  I'm only.... 10 movies behind... That's not so bad, right?


Friday, May 29, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 2

I Know You Know (2008) dir. Justin Kerrigan

To Jamie (Arron Fuller), Charlie (Robert Carlyle) is a hero.  He dresses suave, he appears to know everyone, but Jamie knows his father is in trouble.  Charlie confides in Jamie that they are in danger, if they are found, but that Mr. Fisher will protect them.  Through the eyes of the child, the obvious explanation is that Charlie is a spy and Charlie convincingly plays this role.  So convincingly, that he begins to believe it himself.

I Know You Know is an intriguing film.  It was suspenseful and consistently engaging.  Both Fuller and Carlyle were quite good, especially Carlyle who needed to move from creating a fantasy life in order to protect his son from knowing the truth then the development of mental illness, when his lies become his reality.  I Know You Know was a good flick that ended with an emotional punch to the gut that I really was not expecting.   

Nurse.Fighter.Boy (2008) dir. Charles Officer

The title is a nice synopsis of this quietly, moving Canadian film about a Jamaican family in Canada.  This was a lovely film, but very difficult to write about.  It follows the lives of an immigrant family of two, a night nurse and her son as she struggles with sickle-cell anemia.  Their lives become entwined with a boxer, Silence, who is boxer finding himself suddenly in charge of a boxing gym after the sudden death of the owner.  The film has little dialog and thus, we learn about these characters from their habits, the music they listen to, and the choices they make.  Probably due to this, Nurse.Fighter.Boy has an intimacy with these characters that is a bit of a rarity.  This was a lovely film, with an excellent soundtrack that can be downloaded at the Nurse.Fighter.Boy official website.

http://www.nursefighterboy.ca/

Still Walking (2008) dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

Hong Kong action-cinema may be the genre that resulted in my falling in love with Asian cinema, but it is the subtle Japanese drama that resulted in my complete adoration of Japanese cinema.  Still Walking, or 歩いても、歩いても, is easily compared to Ozu's family dramas, with similar focus on family dynamics and slow pacing.  In the film, Yokoyama Ryota returns to his childhood home during an annual family reunion to commemorate the death of his brother, who drown 15 years before.  He brings his wife and her 10 year-old son home to meet the family.  His sister is already there, loudly entertaining her rambunctious clan as their mother tries to work in the kitchen.  All the while, the family patriarch hides away in the examination room, left from the days when he practiced medicine.

Still Walking results in a contemplation on all of the the promises that are never kept.  Unlike, Tokyo Story, the emphesis is placed on the surviving children.  On the disapointing choices that they've made in life, on their failures, and the things they try to keep from their disapproving parents.  Ryota is unemployed, but keeps quiet on this matter.  But he also makes promises to his parents that are never kept.  But in the end, life goes on and much remains the same and I suspect Ryota has more in common with his parents then he knows. 

http://www.aruitemo.com/index.html





Saturday, May 23, 2009

SIFF 2009, Day 1


Departures (2008) dir. Youjirou Takita

Last night, we went to the very sold out screening of Departures (Okuribito). Departures was the winner of the Best Foreign Language film for the Oscars, so unlike most of the films at SIFF, people have heard of this one. And I, having some awareness of the wonderful dramatic films that are made in Japan, had high expectations.

Daigo Kobayashi had just achieved his livelong dream, he had finally become a celloist in an orchestra, which immediately is disbanded. In an attempt to reevalute his life and make ends meet, he moves back to his home town and answers an add titled "departures" assuming he was applying to work in a travel agency. Turns out the departures the job advertisment was referring are a bit more permanent than a vacation, and he begins to work in the funeral industry. Much of the drama of the film is derived from the misunderstanding of the funeral industry and the shameful nature of working in such an unclean industry.

What was interesting about Departures was the practice of preparing the dead for cremation in Japan. Unlike in the West, it was done in view of the grieving family. The loved one was washed, dressed, make-up applied and layed in a casket while the family observes. The way that these tasks were done was intriguing as it was all done with complete respect and reverence for both the deceased and the family. It was fasinating to watch the washing and preparation of the body without any flesh being displayed to the watching family.

Otherwise, Departures was very formulaic. In fact, the film seemed to follow the Oscar formulae to a level of perfection seldom matched by Hollywood. Yes, this movie does exactly what the audience expects at every turn and thus, it is a crowd pleasing film. It walks a cautious tightrope dealing with the messy subject of death, while adding just enough humor to make this "unclean" trade palatable and touches upon big emotional issues like acceptance, loss, and regret without dealing with messy complexity, just providing nice, tidy and quick resolutions.

Departures was a fine film; engaging and often very likable, but it was disappointing due to its lack of emotional depth. I never emotionally connected to this film.