Monday, 22 October 2007

Gone Baby Gone

Director: Ben Affleck
Country: USA

Based on Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name, Gone Baby Gone is about the search for a 4-year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien) who has been kidnapped. Missing persons private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner (Michelle Monaghan) are hired to investigate the kidnapping alongside police Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) despite the objections of police Chief Doyle (Morgan Freeman).

This is a very strong directorial debut by Ben Affleck, who also co-wrote the screen adaptation. The story was quite good, which I presume was because of the book, but it would not have made a good movie were it not for Ben's skills with the pen and behind the camera. Younger brother Casey Affleck pulls out yet another great performance for the year (the other being in The Assassination of Jesse James), which has been getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and deservingly so. I also think that Ed Harris's performance, the best I've seen him in years, demands at least a nomination if not a win.

I just loved this movie. I only heard about it a couple of months ago, and wasn't really sure what to expect, but the Afflecks really did a good job here. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

30 Days of Night

Director: David Slade
Country: New Zealand/USA

Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost settlement in North America, and experiences 30 days of night during the winter. This time, vampires have decided to use this period without sunlight to feast on the living. Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and estranged wife Stella (Melissa George) are two of very few who survive the initial onslaught of violence, and must try to survive the month until the sun comes up once more.

30 Days of Night was originally a comic miniseries, and was adapted for the screen in part by co-creator Steve Niles. However, this did not help the script, which suffered from disjointedness and two dimensional character development. The direction and general look of the film was good, but the acting was average. Melissa George is not even close to being a convincing American as her Australian accent comes through whenever she speaks a line (which I find is a common problem with many non-American actors).

Overall, I thought this was a decent flick. It was fun to watch, but there are too many gaps in the story, and you weren't really made to be sympathetic to the protagonists. The film is incredibly violent and gory, which horror fans might love - it's certainly not for people with a weak stomach.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Director: Andrew Dominik
Country: USA

The basic premise of this movie is summed up in the title - Jesse James (Brad Pitt) is killed by one of his gang members, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). However, there is more to it than that. This is the story of an outlaw, an admiring member of his posse, and the development of their relationship that eventually leads to Jesse James's untimely death.

Chopper director Andrew Dominik returns for a superb second feature, another adaptation looking inside criminal life. This time, instead of a darkly humorous biopic about Mark "Chopper" Read, it's a deep and contemplative study of the last months of infamous outlaw Jesse James and his assailant Robert Ford. Now, many have complained about the length of the movie - clocking in at 160 minutes - but I actually was not bothered by the running time one bit. I felt that it was very well paced and that, if anything, it could have gone for a bit longer to further develop some of the characters. The directing and cinematography are just great. It's a really beautiful film in terms of content and look. The acting is very solid all-round, with a show-stealing performance by Casey Affleck.

This is a great movie. It has western elements but is more of a character drama, showcasing the relationship between Jesse James and his eventual killer, and of how Robert Ford changes throughout the whole ordeal. Highly recommended.

Monday, 15 October 2007


Director: John Carney
Country: Ireland

A street musician (Glen Hansard of Irish band The Frames) meets a young immigrant girl (Czech performer Markéta Irglová) whilst performing an original song late one night on the sidewalk. They quickly become friends, and she encourages him to record a demo of his works. The movie moves along, with the songwriting process reflecting their brief love story.

John Carney, ex-bassist for The Frames decided to make this film in collaboration with Hansard, and the musical background of both made for an unconventional approach to the musical genre. The experienced musicians playing both of the main roles are only amateur actors, so instead of breaking into song-and-dance every once in a while, there is more of a focus on how their lives affect their songwriting. This results in a beautiful and seamless story that also happens to be a musical by nature. Despite the lack of acting experience in the main cast, the chemistry between the unnamed guy and girl is perfect, and it comes to no surprise that the two are now dating in real life.

This is a great movie, and easily the best musical I've seen since Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark; I strongly recommend it to everybody.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Le voyage du ballon rouge

English Title: Flight of the Red Balloon
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Country: France

At the beginning of this movie, a boy (Simon Iteanu) follows a red balloon but soon gives up. However, the balloon doesn't seem to give up following him. It seems that because of this, we get a glimpse of lives of Simon and his family.

I didn't really enjoy this one. This was probably due to the fact that it was more or less a non-story. It showed a fragment of the life of Simon, Suzanne (his mother, played by Juliette Binoche), and Song (Song Fang), his baby babysitter. I suppose you could say that the flight of the red balloon is a chaotic and unpredictable one, something that is mirrored by the lives of these people, but you really couldn't care by the end of it, as it moves along far too slowly.

Fans of Hou Hsiao-hsien may like this. As might fans of artsy French movies. I can't really say for certain, as I didn't quite get what the movie was trying to do.

The Union: The Business Behind Getting High

Director: Brett Harvey
Country: Canada

This is a documentary about marijuana, the marijuana industry in British Columbia, and the stigma that most of western society (especially the USA) places on this plant. The union referred to in the title is the commonly used name of the loose affiliation of groups and individuals that make the estimated 7 billion dollar illegal industry in BC possible.

This was a real eye-opener for me. I knew to some extent that marijuana wasn't as bad as everybody seemed to make it out to be; I knew that it is the only drug that has never killed anybody, and that smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol, two legalized drugs, are far more dangerous than smoking pot. However, I didn't know how ridiculous the situation really is. I don't usually do detailed summaries of films, but I think this needs to be known.

The basic message of the movie is that marijuana not only is not harmful (tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, and even coffee are more deadly) but actually has medicinal and commercial benefits. In fact, these two attributes are part of the reason that the plant is prohibited. Drug companies hate to have a natural-growing plant have so many benefits that any manufactured drug cannot give, and many corporations would stand to lose a lot of money if industrial hemp becomes largely used. Because of these benefits, growing marijuana was not only legal before the 20th century, it was actually encouraged.

Another reason for its prohibition (at least in the USA) is that it was used by the government as a reason to be able to arrest people. This leads to very complicated issues regarding politics, war, and profiteering, which I would rather not expand upon, as it would greatly increase the length of this post. The documentary also explains why prohibition never works, using the prohibition of alcohol, which causes more problems than pot, as a perfect example of this. Needless to say, there seems to be no good reason why marijuana is targeted and treated far more seriously than hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and why it is not treated like legalized drugs.

The scary thing is that all of the information in the movie was confirmed by doctors, biochemists, scholars, former politicians, and former law enforcement officials, as well as scientific studies, all agreeing that marijuana poses no harm apart from what the its prohibition creates. This means that the facts, which have been put to study countless times, have been suppressed by the public because of the agenda of lobby groups.

Anyway, as for the film itself, it is a very solid documentary. It informs as well as entertains, and includes many documentaries and facts about the marijuana business, all of which are very interesting. It is put together very well, and flows naturally into each new segment. Most importantly, it gets its point across quite clearly. As strange as this may sound, this bears similarities to An Inconvenient Truth, in that it exposes such an obvious lie by the people in power due to corporate interests.

I highly (no pun intended) recommend this to everybody. It really turns the current views of this controlled substance on its head, and shows that marijuana is not even close to being as bad as the common belief would have you think.

Q&A: The director answered a few questions from the audience. The most interesting bit of this session was when an audience member asked why the "other side" was not interviewed for this documentary. The director said that they had approached certain highly placed officials in charge of drug investigations, asking them if they would like to talk about the marijuana plant. The response was that because they had used the word "plant" instead of "drug" to refer to marijuana, they were perceived to represent the views of the liberal left, which the officials did not want to assist. Another interesting tidbit was that a good portion of the crew that worked on the film had never smoked pot before, and the director himself said that he does not smoke marijuana on a regular basis.

Taming Tammy

Director: Tracy D. Smith
Country: Canada

Introduction: Before the screening, the director came up to the front and gave away cheap sex toys as prizes to a pop quiz. Very amusing. Half of the audience seemed to know her in one way or another, and I'd say that a lot of the audience probably had something to do with the movie. It made for a really great atmosphere.

Taming Tammy, as the name may suggest, is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. However, it's not only a modernization, but also has a twist; the role of Bianca, the younger sister, is now a gay younger brother, Tristan (Ryan Kennedy). Tammy (Sarah-Jane Redmond), the "shrew" is a very feminist sex toy salesperson who seems to scare every man who crosses her path.

I thought this was a pretty funny little flick. The dynamic of the unlikely scenario of Shakespeare's play combined with the new take on the characters really made it interesting, as opposed to "just another adaptation". The actors seemed to be having fun all the time, and this really contributed to the quirky feel of the movie. In addition to this, it also felt very independent and low-budget (which it was), which is something I like to see. It means that the filmmakers probably worked hard to get their story told, and it shows.

I really liked this. Despite being an old formula, it's different enough to be noticed, and is very charming in its own unique way. Recommended for fans of the romantic comedy.

Q&A: Independent filmmakers take note - Taming Tammy was made with a $10,000 (Canadian) cash budget, which is a real feat for a full-length feature (some shorts clock up more than that). According to the Tracy D. Smith, the director (and this is the question I asked her), the reason they had the 42 (yes, 42) executive producers was that it really helped them finance the film; each executive producer donated around $200-500 each, meaning that no one person had to dig deep into their pockets to make the film possible. Furthermore, the $10,000 went mostly towards insurance and catering, with all of the cast and crew working for free. The moral of the story is that it really helps to have connections.

The movie was preceded by a short film.

Ou est Maurice?
Director: Matthew Rankin, Alek Rzeszowski
Country: Canada

A funny black and white short about a Parisian girl. I wasn't really quite sure what it was about, although I got the feeling that it was a light-hearted take on a musical melodrama. I found it quite amusing.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Relative Humidity

Short Film Series
Country: Canada

The third of four short film series in this film festival that focuses on Canadian filmmakers. This will by my last short film series (as I will not see the fourth), and is another solid body of work.

The Cabinet
Director: Karen Lam

What starts off as a romantic comedy quickly turns into a creepy horror, as a woman discovers her lover's dark secret.

Director: Kryshan Randel

After a hard break-up, a woman develops the ability to predict the outcome of potential future relationships. A supernatural story of catharsis.

In Her Ear
Director: Kris Elgstrand

There is a reason why there are only two people at Carrie's party, and it's more amusing than you think. A very weird and wonderful story about a girl who just wants to sleep.

Director: Karl R. Hearne

A man and a woman are about to move in together. The man does not like to have too many "stuff" in his house, but the woman has lots of "stuff". A battle of wills ensues. A very cynical comedy about relationships.

Cursing Hanley
Director: Kelly Harms

Hanley is cursed by his fiancée after he unceremoniously breaks up with her, leading to a series of very unfortunate (and sometimes entertaining) events.

Diamonds in a Bucket
Director: Sherry White

In Newfoundland, a girl tries to find love, while a man tries to find a backup singer. A dark Newfoundland comedy about desperation.

Director: Sean Garrity

After some bad news from his fiancée Janet, Kyle begins to rearrange everything in their apartment. A touching and unique story about love, lust, and artistic interpretation.

True Love
Director: Adam Brodie, Dave Derewlany

Easily the funniest Canadian short I've seen in this year's festival, this tells the story of a man who forces two people to fall in love... at gunpoint. A very cynical take on society's expectations of what a relationship should be like.

Q&A: For some reason these short film series Q&A sessions have been plagued with a lack of questions from the audience. Today was not as bad, but it still started off with very little in terms of audience participation, prompting questions from the host of the screening. It eventually lead to a few audience questions, but the sessions still didn't last too long. I did like that a few audience members weren't afraid to use technical terms when asking questions. It is a film festival after all.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Stone Angel

Director: Kari Skogland
Country: Canada

Based on the famous Canadian novel of the same name by author Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel is the story of Hagar Currie Shipley (Ellen Burstyn), a very headstrong 90-something woman who is about to be put into a nursing home by her son. She resists the idea, a reaction that is a result of an attitude shaped by her past.

Told in parallels between the present and the past (the younger Hagar played by Christine Horne), The Stone Angel is a story about a woman trying to come to terms with her life as she reaches its end. It presents fragments of Hagar's past that dramatically affected her, slowly exposing the reason for her defiant behaviour while also making her more of a sympathetic character. I really liked this one. I could kind of see areas where (I would imagine) bits from the novel were left out, which makes me want to read the entire story, which is a much-loved classic in Canada.

I hear that this was a required text within the Canadian education system, and a very popular one at that, so I would say that this will appeal to anybody who was brought up in that system. However, as with most adaptations, expect to nitpick during the movie. On a broader scale, this is a very solid drama in its own right.

Cloud Seeding

Short Film Series
Country: Canada

Another great set of short films from Canada.

Latchkey's Lament
Director: Troy Nixey

A key attempts to escape from its captor in this CGI-filled adventure/love story. Nice and unique.

Director: Andrew MacLeod

A story about one man's passion for road hockey, which I didn't really like.

Burgeon and Fade
Director: Audrey Cummings

An aging single mother her blossoming young daughter attend a party, whereupon the mother's insecurities come out after the daughter's beauty knocks everyone off their feet.

Four Walls
Director: Raha Shirazi

In a prison cell, three very different Iranian women await freedom or punishment. An interesting study of class difference.

Birthday Girl
Director: Erin Laing

A tie for my favourite short of this particular series, this dark comedy takes place at a girl's birthday party. The twist is that she has decided to make it a funeral, casket and all. Highly entertaining.

Director: Julia Kwan

A Chinese-Canadian family prepare to take their family portrait to send to relatives in China, bringing out various issues, not least of which is the idea of not smiling during the photo session.

No Bikini
Director: Claudia Morgado Escanilla

My other favourite from this series, this is the story of Robin, a girl who "had a sex change once" when she was seven and learning to swim. Very quirky and funny.

Q&A: This was a pretty short Q&A session, with a few of the filmmakers and actors coming up to answer questions about their films, including inspirations and budget. I found out that the director of Birthday Girl drew inspiration from a story she had read about a woman who had been mistakenly pronounced dead, and decided to stage her own funeral as a result.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Storm Surge

Short Film Series
Country: Canada

I was quite impressed by most of the films in this series.

Director: Jesse Rosensweet

A stop-animation story of a man whose life literally goes off the tracks. Very clever and likeable.

Director: Peter Mettler

A very short film about a man who gets away from technology. Very simple and effective.

Wolf Lake
Director: Michael V. Smith

Filmed in Super 8, this very low-budget film is more of a piece of art than a film, as a girl narrates a poem about what happened at Wolf Lake while the camera follows her around.

The Last Moment
Director: Deco Dawson

I would classify this as a "mystery" involving a man and a girl, though it takes various approaches in telling the story mashing up film styles on the fly, including film noir and New Wave. Very unique.

Director: Colin Cunningham

An abusive trailer park father gets his due in this gritty thriller set in an Airstream RV and a desert road. Very cool (or, more appropriately, hot).

Director: Dylan Akio Smith

An artistic and very stylish story incorporating ancient legends and a story of a grief that blots out the sun.

Madame Tutli-Putli
Director: Chris La Vis, Maciek Szcerbowski

On a midnight train to nowhere, Madame Tutli-Putli wakes up alone, menaced by an invisible threat. I didn't quite get this one, but I kind of lost concentration towards the end. Nice stop-animation though.

Q&A: A handful of the filmmakers came up and answered some questions, mostly regarding how they went about making their shorts, and their future plans. I was surprised to see Colin Cunningham, director of Centigrade, but who I know as Major Davis from Stargate SG-1, in the flesh, and was almost tempted to yell out "STARGATE!" but instead asked him a question about where he got the inspiration for his film. In fact, I believe I was the first person from the audience to actually ask anybody something.

Profit motive and the whispering wind

Director: John Gianvito
Country: USA

This non-fiction film documents the little-known (and often little-acknowledged) events of USA history that has more or less shaped important aspects of the nation. Dedicated to and inspired by the very important book, A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, this narration-free documentary chronicles grave sites and shrines of the people from America's history who died fighting for what they believed was right.

Devoid of any speech, this hour-long documentary was a very elegiac piece that aims, much like Zinn's book, to inform the people of the United States the things that are not often taught in schools. It gets down to the gritty truth that, for the longest period (and it is still happening today), common people had to fight against the authorities and those in power, and often die, for basic rights. Accompanied by shots of leaves blowing in the wind, this poem dedicated to A People's History of the United States is very atmospheric, and very much achieves what it sets out to do.

This one is for people who are interesting in knowing what cannot be readily found in every history book, and is especially recommended for those in the United States. Although I haven't read it, I'd say that Howard Zinn's book would be a perfect companion.

Q&A: The Q&A session mostly involved praise for the movie, discussion about the theme and content, and questions about the stylistic choice for the film.

The movie was preceded by a short.

Director: Pedro Costa

Tarrafal is the name of an area where a concentration camp was once built by Portugal for political prisoners. This story is about Cape Verde nationals who have immigrated to Portugal but are sent back.

I didn't really understand the mysticism and politics that the film incorporates, so I couldn't really enjoy this one.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Autism: The Musical

Director: Tricia Regan
Country: USA

This documentary follows a group of autistic children involved in the Miracle Project, a workshop for kids with autism, their family, and their friends, aimed at creating and performing a live musical production. The film focuses on five of the children and their families, and shows their everyday struggles during the six-month period of the Miracle Project.

This one really tugs on the heartstrings. It shows how the condition of autism is so stigmatized and ignored by society, particularly by the health care system in the United States, and clearly conveys how difficult it is to be a parent of an autistic child. It also gives hope by making the Miracle Project the core of the story, showing that there are people out there who care, and strive to make a difference to these people's lives.

I truly hope that this film gets a wide distribution in order to remove the stigma of this condition and make everybody understand that these are regular kids. I recommend anybody who can get access to this film to see it, and to tell everybody they know to see it. It would especially appeal to people with autism, and people who know somebody autistic.

Yume jūya

English Title: Ten Nights of Dreams
Director: Various
Country: Japan

Based on Natsume Sōseki's collection of short stories involving dream-like sequences, this film consists of ten short films by different directors interpreting Sōseki's dreams.

I thought this was a pretty interesting movie. All of the shorts had the surrealism of dreams while at the same time carrying a bit of meaning. That's not to say that I enjoyed all of them, but I'd say that most of them were solid. There were a few that were very entertaining, including one about a man who carves wood by doing a complex interpretive dance.

This is an interesting one; I'm not quite sure to whom it would appeal. I certainly enjoyed at least part of it, but it may not be for everybody. I'd say that if you like quirky and you like deep and contemplative, then you may like this one.

Sunday, 7 October 2007


Director: John Jeffcoat
Country: USA

Todd (Josh Hamilton) works a cushy job as a sales manager for a firm that sells tacky American-themed products, a job which he soon finds out is going to be outsourced to India. He retains a position in the company to train his successor and new employees on American culture so that the call centre will succeed. He finds resistance to this, especially from the very proud Asha (Ayesha Dharker).

This is a typical fish-out-of-water romantic comedy, but is a fairly well-made one. It deals with the issue of outsourcing through the exploration of the differences between American and Indian culture, quite often to comedic results. Having done a lot of traveling around, culture shock is a particularly interesting topic to me. This movie does not really delve deep into the cultural conflicts, but also does not get overly sappy and sentimental, which saves it from being a horrible movie.

If you are involved in any corporate culture that outsources work (which, I would assume, would include a majority of all big companies), or tend to find culture shock amusing, then this is for you.


Director: Mark Obenhaus
Country: USA

"Deep and steep" is a common phrase among advanced skiers and snowboarders and refers to their preference for the adrenaline-charged activity of skiing or riding on unthinkable terrain. Steep is about skiers who risk their lives for the ultimate rush, and how a seemingly insane practice has turned into an extreme sport.

I love feature documentaries about snow. I tend to go for ones about snowboarding, but I decided to watch this one about skiing because it sounded too good to pass up, and I was right. What this movie did for me was essentially the same as what First Descent (a documentary about the evolution of snowboarding and big-mountain riding) did about a year or so ago; it awed me, and gave me inspiration to improve on my snowboarding skills so that one day I will be able to do even a fraction of the crazy things that these guys do. It also reminded me of the similarities and differences between skiing and snowboarding.

Steep is a great film whether you are a skier, a snowboarder, or haven't seen snow in your life. The things you will see in this movie will make your jaw drop, and may even turn you into (or make you even more of) an adrenaline junkie, which, as the movie suggests, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, 5 October 2007


English Title: Dust
Director: Hartmut Bitomsky
Country: Germany/Switzerland

Dust is everywhere. It's a commonly accepted fact of life. But did you know that there are people out there whose lives center around this particularly small and often ignored particle? This is the premise of this German documentary.

I can certainly appreciate the idea behind this documentary. I was even highly intrigued by some segments. However, I found the presentation of this to be very bland. The low-pitched monotone German narration is the main reason for this. Though hampered by the language barrier, it does not change the fact that the narrator just could not keep my interest. Not only this, but some of the interviews are also boring. I literally fell asleep at one point, which does not happen very often (granted, I was pretty tired, but this does not diminish the fact that the movie failed to keep my interest levels high).

If you are one of those people who are excited by the subject of dust, then this one is for you. I cannot really see who else would be captivated by this movie.

Just Buried

Director: Chaz Thorne
Country: Canada

Jay Baruchel and Rose Byrne star as Oliver and Roberta in this very dark comedy about a funeral home in regional Nova Scotia. After his father died, Oliver inherits the family business - a funeral home in a town where there are no people dying. Just before selling the business to its main competitor, Oliver and Rose run into a resident with Oliver's truck, and are forced to cover it up. Soon they realize that further cover-up deaths (both accidental and intentional) could help business pick up.

Just Buried provides a very warped view of death, and a highly amusing one at that. It provides another example of how low-budget film-making can also produce good films. Rose Byrne serves up a typically solid performance, while Jay Baruchel steals the show with his very frail and straight-shooting character. Filled with lots of twists and turns, this is not absolutely brilliant, but is certainly enjoyable enough, in a sick and twisted way.

This is one that I recommend to everybody who has a perverse sense of humour, especially those who have a strange obsession with the subject of death.

Q&A: Writer and director Chaz Thorne came up to answer some questions about the movie. He discussed things such as the limitations of a low-budget movie, his inspirations for the script, and financial and emotional toll of film-making. His comments about how ridiculously expensive it is to get a movie made reminds me of why I am not an aspiring filmmaker.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Breakfast with Scot

Director: Laurie Lynd
Country: Canada

Hockey player-turned-sports commentator Eric (Ed Cavanagh) and Sam (Ben Shenkman) are a gay couple that find out that Sam's brother's ex has died, orphaning young Scot (Noah Bernett). As part of the will, they must take care of him before Billy, Sam's troublesome brother, can come back into the country to take Scot. Eric fears that Scot will be a nuisance but as it turns out, he's not the typical child. He likes musicals instead of sports, likes put on his mother's makeup and jewelery, and tends to be really sensitive. This seems to bother Eric even more.

Though the issue of homosexuality is discussed a few times, this is really no more than your average Christmas family movie. With much of society's attitude towards gays still closed-minded, there's no doubt that it won't be as popular with "traditional" families (and indeed family groups), but it follows the same formula of a holiday "feel-good comedy", and that's where I found it lacking. It doesn't really explore the issues it raises with too much depth, instead focusing on the situations in which Eric and Scot find themselves. Ben Shenkman doesn't even play a huge role in this. He has a few key scenes, but is really only a background character, which is disappointing.

If you like watching the typical family movie for the holidays and are comfortable with gays, then this might be for you. Otherwise, it's not really worth seeing as it is simply not a great movie.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Obbah: A Girl's Elder Brother

Director: Kim Jongguk
Country: South Korea

Outside Seoul train station, a couple run into an old acquaintance; a street musician mumbles along his songs; an elderly missionary does his rounds; and a rally is taking place in protest against world trade.

While I didn't really like the story taking place in this movie, I was very interested in the way that it was filmed. While the plot seems to be stretched out (mainly due to the largely improvised nature of the acting), my interest was kept by the long single shot of which the film is composed. Running at just over an hour, the movie is one unedited take. (This reminds me of Russian Ark, though with much less choreography and a smaller budget.) In addition to this, as the film progressed, the image slowly desaturated, eventually ending in black and white, which follows the tone of the film.

Obbah is not one to watch for the plot, but is a good example of experimental film-making, which is the main reason I didn't fall asleep during the screening. Budding filmmakers may get some ideas from this one.

Q&A: The director answered a few questions from the audience members who stayed behind. The main points were to do with the film-making process. He noted that the actors were given a rough scenario and it was up to them to improvise the dialogue between themselves. I asked how many takes it took for them to have the final product, and he said that they did two takes, although the first (the rehearsal take) turned out to be better than the second, so in the end, that was the one they picked.

This screening was preceded by two short films.

Sipmungan Hyoosi
English Title: The Ten-Minute Break
Director: Lee Seong-Tae
Country: South Korea

A short that deals with the stresses of compulsory military service in South Korea. I actually enjoyed this more than the actual feature. Very well done.

Jujaga Kodokhal Ddae
English Title: When a Runner Loves Solitude
Director: Kim Jongguk
Country: South Korea

A quirky film involving a runner at a busy railway crossing. It got a few laughs, including a giggle from myself.

Imahe nasyon

English Title: Imagine Nation
Director: Various
Country: Philippines

The idea behind Imagine Nation revolves around the Philippines "People Power" revolution in 1986, which ousted Ferdinand Marcos and forced him into exile. Twenty indie filmmakers were given the task to make a short film, each not exceeding five minutes, with the theme being the question: what's become of the nation since 1986? As there were twenty very short films, I will just review the program as a whole.

While the idea of this movie was quite good, I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I would have liked. There was the odd film that was well-done but by-and-large I found that the films were trying to be too important for their own good. Apart from the straight narrative films, there were reflective pieces as well as very artistic pieces. Some of these suffered from being too obscure as a result of being too artsy, and it just didn't do it for me.

When it began, I thought I would have been recommending this to all Filipinos (as the first few films were pretty good) but instead, I would say that it will really only appeal to film fanatics who like the high art style that is employed by some of the filmmakers here. As for me, I think I'll stick to David Lynch movies.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007


Director: Nadine Labaki
Country: Lebanon/France

Caramel follows the daily lives of five women in Beirut. It is, at its base, a comedy, but deals with serious issues such as infidelity, marriage, lesbianism, and age with a certain realism that stops it from being just a regular soap opera.

A virtuoso debut feature by Nadine Labaki, Caramel, more than anything, focuses on what happens when lifestyles clash with cultures, and at the same time dispels a lot of the common misconceptions of Lebanese society. The five women on which it focuses are given almost equal importance, and each time you start to think that one is getting all the screen time, it bounces onto the next person's issues.

I went into this movie knowing very little about about the plot, and came out pleasantly surprised. A subtly powerful film, and simply fun to watch, Caramel should be on everybody's shopping list.


Director: Mike Barker
Country: Canada/UK

Abby (Maria Bello) and Randall (Gerard Butler) are the perfect couple whose lives are unexpectedly placed in a roller-coaster ride after a mysterious man (played in a very creepy performance by Pierce Brosnan) kidnaps their daughter, threatening to cut her off from her parents unless they do exactly as he says.

This was a really solid thriller. The acting was good, and the script was very tightly written. I was on the edge of my seat for much of the second act, and that doesn't often happen, so it gets a lot of respect points for that. My only complaint was issues with the projecting about two thirds of the way into the movie. It was very distracting, and I honestly don't believe it to be intentional by the director (if it was, it was a pretty bad choice).

Shattered is a great film experience for lovers of the thriller, and is one movie that I highly recommend.

Q&A: It's typical that the first film I attend which has a Q&A session at the end also turns out to be the first film in which I have to rush to my next film. Therefore, I missed the Q&A with the director and the writer of the movie.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Matsugane Ransha Jiken

English Title: The Matsugane Potshot Affair
Director: Yamashita Nobuhiro
Country: Japan

In the small town of Matsugane, a young woman is involved in a hit-and-run. Her mysterious arrival is one of only a few secrets that people in the town have to hide, and personal relationships are strained as they all slowly unravel, with polar opposite twin brothers Kotaro (Hirofumi Arai) and Hikaru (Takashi Yamanaka) right in the middle of it all.

This was a great idiosyncratic comedy that also mixes in drama and crime in healthy doses. You can't help but laugh at the situations in which all the characters find themselves, some of which descend into farce. Both Kotaro and Hikaru are both memorable characters who both have a few problems but act as if they're fine, fueling most of the movie's events. I guess you could also call it a mystery, as the meaning of the film's title does not become apparent until the very end.

This one was a treat to watch, and I recommend it to comedy fans and those who are interested in Japanese culture.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Koroshi no Harawata

Being a short film, this was preceded by four other short films. I shall give a quick review each in the order shown.

17ko no Kukan to Ippiki no Ujimushi de Kosei Sareta Sakuhin
English Title: A Story Constructed of 17 Pieces of Space and One Maggot
Director: Hirabayashi Isamu
Country: Japan

This follows the adventures of a man who has been reincarnated as a maggot. Very quirky, I liked it.

Light My Fire
Director: Lee Jong-Pil
Country: South Korea

A young fan of rock music growing up in North Korea decides to flee to the south where he believes that he will belong. Unfortunately, things don't work out the way he had dreamed. A mellow-yet-optimistic piece.

De-Orbited: Like a Scale in Zero Gravity
Director: Lee June-Soo
Country: South Korea

A philosophical science fiction short about decisions made by a couple of people who are in charge of tracking down space coffins that have gone astray. It was a bit too out-there and obscure in terms of the sci-fi aspect, which I didn't think worked too well. Also, with the budget that was used for the very cheap looking special effects, this could have easily been an animated film instead.

Yoru Naka no San-Ji
English Title: 3:00 AM
Director: Nogami Suwami
Country: Japan

A dialogue-free animated short about drinking coffee in the wee hours of the morning. The combination of simple sounds and visuals made this a bit of a treat.

Koroshi no Harawata
English Title: Masters of Killing
Director: Shinozaki Makoto
Country: Japan

An over-the-top action flick about a group of assassins who take out an entire family at the beginning of the film. Twelve years later, the leader of the group is approached with a new target: himself. He agrees, and sets his own team against him. This had a really cool concept, and was something which I thought would benefit from a long-form adaptation.

Friday, 28 September 2007

La Fille coupée en deux

English Title: A Girl Cut in Two
Director: Claude Chabrol
Country: France/Germany

Gabrielle Deneige (translated to Gabrielle Snow, played by the always stunning Ludivine Sagnier) is the titular girl with a crisp clean image. It seems that everybody is spellbound by her, including aging married author Charles Saint-Denis (François Berléand) and arrogant unstable socialite Paul Gaudens (Benoît Magimel). It becomes clear that Gabrielle is smitten with Charles, but his attitude towards their relationship eventually leads her to Paul, whom she does not love, but loves her.

This is a melodrama that touches upon the differences between classes but focuses mainly on the nature of love, and the lengths people go to in order to achieve it. While the acting is solid, and I had no particular complaints about the directing, I really couldn't enjoy this movie too much, though I can't quite put my finger on why this is so. Perhaps it is because the story and the characters are so exaggerated (which is what led me to call it a melodrama in the first place), which not only makes it frustrating at times, but also makes the ending inevitable and unlikeable.

There's a chance that other film goers might like this film - for example, it might be to your liking if you were a Claude Chabrol fan - but I cannot personally recommend it.


English Title: Hounds
Director: Ann-Kristin Reyels
Country: Germany

In a remote German town, newcomers Lars (Constantin von Jascheroff) and his father (Josef Hader) don't seem to be a welcome sight to residents. As it approaches Christmas, Lars befriends a deaf girl, Marie (wonderfully brought to life by Luise Berndt), consequently missing his train to Berlin to visit his mother. This sets off a chain of events that change the lives of both Lars and Marie's families forever.

This drama, bordering on black comedy, is one of the most lovely films I have seen in a long time. It is shot in a very understated way with a subtle score, it was naturally acted, and has a very powerful ending. People were discussing the ending after the movie was over but to me it was quite clear, and very beautiful. I could kind of see it coming from a mile away, but its implications far outweighs the actual outcome, and effectively resolves the issues within and between the two families involved.

This is one movie that I hope to one day own. It was an absolute delight to watch, and was especially satisfying due to the note in which it ended. I heartily recommend it to everybody.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

Director: Davis Guggenheim
Country: USA

Look around the room. Are there any lights switched on that don't need to be on? Turn them off. Why? To reduce energy use. It's one of the many things you can do to help in the planet's battle against global warming. The message of this movie, which follows Al Gore in his quest to change the world, is that if the issue of global warming is not addressed today, it will become irreversible within the next 10 years.

This is normally the point when I start to ramble on about a film's ups and downs. In this case, I don't see any reason to do so. This is a work of fact, not fiction, supported by strong evidence, and it should not be ignored. To quote a line from Roger Ebert's review,

    In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film.

I don't just recommend this film to everybody; I encourage everybody to see it.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Le Violon rouge

English Title: The Red Violin
Director: François Girard
Country: Canada/Italy/UK

The Red Violin tells the legacy of the perfect violin from its creation in the late 17th century to the present day, as it is being put up for auction. As the story progresses, the eponymous violin changes hands various times, and the audience is slowly shown the effect of the instrument on people's lives.

This is a wonderful epic spanning three centuries. The flashback format suits the narrative very well, as the back-story of the violin progressively gives the setting of the present-day auction more and more context. Fitting for a movie about a violin, the score is very beautiful and utilized to give the individual scenarios and the film as a whole more power. The acting is also very good. I was actually surprised that Samuel L. Jackson had such a serious role and still managed to do his signature "angry man" routine at one point.

See this movie. I can't really say anything bad about it. It's a great musical and mystical journey throughout the ages and it centres not on a character but on an instrument - a perfect instrument - and how its perfection has affected a whole host of characters throughout the ages.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Director: Sidney Lumet
Country: USA

In this modern film noir, Hank (Ethan Hawke) and Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are two brothers involved in a heist gone wrong. As they try to cover up their tracks, they are forced to make decisions that slowly lead to their lives spiraling out of control.

Writer Kelly Masterson and director Sidney Lumet craft this story in a very well-paced fashion, splitting up sections of the film to follow each individual involved one at a time so as to reveal events slowly and deliberately. The story itself is very gritty, and profiles three lives in turmoil. The three characters in question - Hank, the divorced father of one in need of child support money, Andy, the drug-abusing corporate accountant, and Charles, their father - are all handled skillfully by accomplished actors (Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Albert Finney, respectively).

This is a very good film that explores the psychology of desperation realistically without condoning or condemning it. Sidney Lumet shows why he is still a great filmmaker after his debut effort (the classic 12 Angry Men) 50 years ago. Philip Seymour Hoffman Fans (of which I am one) will be glad to hear that his superb acting skills continue to amaze with this performance. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Caótica Ana

English Title: Chaotic Ana
Director: Julio Medem
Country: Spain

Ana (Manuela Vellés) is a young artistic talent from Ibiza that is taken into the big city by Justine (Charlotte Rampling), a talent scout of sorts. As she begins to expand her horizons in art and in life, she soon discovers that her daydreams are more than what they seem. Reluctantly, she tries to decipher what these images mean through hypnosis, and at the same time she tries to make sense of her own life.

This is, essentially, a coming of age film. It seems that it was told in such a way that it parallels the hypnosis that Ana undergoes during the film – it begins with the number 10 being shown on the screen, and then starts to count down after every few narrative sequences. I didn’t completely understand certain aspects of this, so I can’t really explain it in more detail at the moment, but the film was interesting enough to make me want to watch it again to fully comprehend what Julio Medem was trying to do.

This is a daring movie, and is not for everybody. At any given point in the movie it can be fun, shocking, surprising, philosophical, and dramatic. Overall, I enjoyed it.

The Tracey Fragments

Director: Bruce McDonald
Country: Canada

The Tracey Fragments follows Tracey (Ellen Page), a 15-year-old girl who has run away from dysfunctional home in search of her missing brother, Sonny. The basic premise is pretty simple, but the story is told from Tracey’s perspective, and so we get a lot of disorganized memories as she recalls the events of the past few days.

What makes this film unique from other films with a disjointed narrative is that it is shot almost entirely in split screen segments, meaning that, most of the time, there is more than one shot on screen at the same time. Often, there are multiple shots, and it was not uncommon for these images to come and go rapidly, and in quick succession. I loved how Tracey’s story was told, and the fact that there was so much going on in every single minute of this movie, its short length (only 77 minutes) did not at all detract from it. Canadian Ellen Page depicts teen angst masterfully in this movie, and it is no surprise that she is one of the emerging (and I hate to use that word because, in my mind, she has already proved herself in several performances) talents in cinema today.

This is one of those films that really stand out from the rest for its style that is beyond the norm. Not only that, but it is a great story (adapted for the screen by Maureen Medved, based on her novel of the same title) too. I highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys movies.

Q&A: Bruce McDonald answered several questions about the movie and made several jokes (which may not have been jokes) about doing drugs during the editing process, which took 7 months (the filming only taking around 14 days). One of the things that he mentioned was that they have released all of the footage that they filmed for the movie on the website for people to re-edit and are soon holding a competition for the best use of the footage.

Friday, 14 September 2007


Director: Takashi Miike
Country: Japan

A mysterious lone horseman rides into town and soon discovers that it is under a power struggle between two gangs. It seems like your average premise for a western movie, but then you see that something is different - the clothes, the buildings, the samurai swords. This is east meets west, as Japanese actors speak phonetic English, characters eat Japanese food, and a conflict intensifies between the white gang and the red gang as they both aim to find the town's hidden treasure.

Think of this as a movie that Quentin Tarantino would have made if he were Japanese. In fact, Tarantino makes a cameo in this movie as a cowboy in his trademark overacted style (which he probably thinks is good acting). The scenarios are ridiculous, the dialogue is intentional, and the action is intense. I did like all these things about the movie, but what I didn't like is that it didn't captivate me. I laughed at the funny moments and I enjoyed the gun slinging and sword swinging, but, and I can't put my finger on why this is (perhaps it is due to the forced English), the movie as a whole just didn't seem as cohesive as it could have been.

That being said, I do believe that fans of westerns and samurai movies will love this, and fans of movies like ones made by Miike and Tarantino will appreciate the unique style. If you don't like either genres or either directors, you should probably leave this movie alone.

Walk All Over Me

Director: Robert Cuffley
Country: Canada

Alberta (Leelee Sobieski) is an innocent klutz who is always getting into trouble. After running away from her boyfriend, she ends up in Vancouver, and turns up at the home of her friend Celene (Tricia Helfer), a dominatrix who is aspiring to be a successful actress. Alberta ruins one of Celene's expensive outfits and, in order to raise enough money to buy a replacement costume, she takes one of Celene's prospective clients behind her back. It just so happens that this client, Paul (Jacob Tierney), is being chased by some gangsters who want to interrogate him about some missing money.

This movie was an absolute blast to watch. I actually cannot comment a lot on the directing or cinematography too much due to viewing issues - I was sitting at the very front because the seating arrangement in that cinema was horrible for a short person - but I can say that the script was very sharp and witty, and was certainly enough to carry the movie, even from my awkward angle. One of the best things about this movie is that it's a nice and healthy mix of several genres, including (but not necessarily exclusive to) a coming of age story, film noir, comedy, and the buddy movie. Leelee Sobieski and Tricia Helfer both play great leading roles, but Sobieski steals the show with her very convincing performance as the clumsy Alberta. The supporting cast also did a very good job.

I may not win any major awards, but Walk All Over Me is just a really fun movie, and should be checked out by everybody who can get access to it (mainly Canadians, I would suspect). It's a nice movie to cheer you up when you're feeling a bit down.

Q&A: The director, Robert Cuffley, and actor Michael Eklund (who played Aaron in the film) introduced the film and so I was only expecting the two of them to come up after the movie to answer questions. Instead, we got the two of them plus Leelee Sobieski, creating a nice dynamic, with most questions (mostly about the process of making the movie) being answered in a concise and sometimes entertaining fashion. I especially liked it because, while I didn't like the position in which I had to sit, I was close enough to see how beautiful Leelee Sobieski is in person.

Thursday, 13 September 2007


English Title: Philippine Science
Director: Auraeus Solito
Country: Philippines

This movie is a coming of age high school story that chronicles the lives of a group of students at the Philippine Science High School (nicknamed Pisay in the Philippines) during the mid-80s, a politically turbulent time in the country. Each year, from freshman to senior, follows one or two characters as they go through hardships and successes both personally and academically in the backdrop of the political changes of the time.

This was my favourite film of the day and my second favourite of the festival so far. I went into this movie looking for a Filipino movie that wasn't just a mindless attempt to get a few laughs and some money, and I was certainly not disappointed. In fact, this film does two things very well. Firstly, it does what the director intended, to portray Filipinos as more than just fools or hospitality workers, but as intelligent people who are just like everybody else. What it also does is provide a perspective of life during the time of the people's revolution of the mid-80s and of the internal politics of the PSHS. Another thing I liked about it is that the script was funny without being pretentious. The story itself was very good due to the fact that it drew upon many facets of the Auraeus Solito's time at Pisay.

I highly recommend this movie, although I may be a bit biased as I am a Filipino, and was very proud to be one after seeing it, as were most of the audience (I barely saw anybody in the audience who weren't Filipino) when the credits rolled and the applause filled the room.

Q&A: The director, writer, and the actor who played Auraeus Solito's alter-ego went up on stage to answer a few questions after the movie. Most of the questions were congratulating them on making a great film and asking things about certain bits of the story and how similar it was to real life. The bit I liked best was when somebody was nitpicking about how it was the counselor and not the physics teacher that usually makes the speeches to the students. Solito replied that it was a cinematic device that they used so they didn't have to hire another actor. Solito: 1, that guy: 0.


Director: Stuart Gordon
Country: Canada/USA

The best way I can describe this without giving away too much is that a nurse, Brandi (Mena Suvari) is driving home under the influence late one night and runs into Tom (Stephen Rea), an unemployed man forced into the streets. As a result of this, Tom gets lodged (and thus stuck) in the windshield of Brandi's car. Complications arise.

This movie didn't strike me as anything exceptional. Being based on real events, it seems as though the writing team took a bizarre occurrence - the real case of a nurse hitting a homeless man and fleeing the scene with the body still sticking out of the car - and tried to make too much out of it than they could. The story itself is fairly solid for a 'psychological horror' (as I'd like to label this film), but the script seems to stretch out a bit, especially at the beginning. I also did not like the creative decision to be extremely graphic. It didn't really serve the story too well. I mean, sure, some of it was acceptable, even necessary, but at some points it felt like the story was there to serve the blood and gore rather than the other way around.

Despite my thoughts on the movie, I think this film will be big with fans of horror, and particular of the subgenre of horror that is more closely related to psychological thrillers. Anybody who cannot stand blood and gore should avoid this one. In fact, I found it amusing that I heard a lot of audible gasps from the audience during some of the gruesome scenes. The lady beside me even looked away a few times. Even I cringed one or two times. If you do see this, try not to eat a lot of food beforehand.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Director: Martin Scorsese
Country: USA

I won't really say a lot about this one since it's an oldie. Basically, it was the first movie to feature a leading woman in a positive role. Ellen Burstyn plays the titular character, Alice (a performance that won her the Oscar for best actress), as she goes through the motions of losing her husband, pursuing her dream as a singer to support her son, and going through abusive relationships.

What I loved about this movie was how real the characters were for a film of that era, and how they interacted with each other. Particularly entertaining was the rapport between Alice and her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter). I was actually surprised at how humorous much of the movie was despite the serious subject matter. It should also be noted that a pre-teen Jodie Foster has a small bit as Audrey, a girl that Tommy befriends, and does a damn good job of portraying her character.

You should watch this movie, if not only as a study of how the role of the leading lady in cinema was changed so dramatically way back in the mid-70s.

Q&A: This Q&A session was a bit different in that it began with somebody (I feel bad for not remembering her name - she was an accomplished Canadian filmmaker and author I think) asking Ellen Burstyn a few questions in the form of a one-on-one interview before it went to questions from the audience. The reason this was done is because the film was part of a retrospective series called Dialogues, in which people involved in classic films come to discuss said films. It was really interesting to hear from her perspective how she actively sought out a role that didn't have the female character as "the victim, the wife or the prostitute", how she played an active part in its production, and how the movie opened the floodgates for similar roles for women.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead

Director: George A. Romero
Country: USA

This was the movie that I was looking forward to the most out of all the films in the festival, and it did not disappoint. I don't want to speak prematurely, but it is certainly a strong frontrunner as my favourite film of the festival, and even of all the films released in this calendar year.

The film, which effectively reboots the Dead saga's universe (or, as I like to think of it, creates an alternaverse), begins when the dead start becoming reanimated, hungry for human flesh, much like the events of Romero's original horror classic, Night of the Living Dead, except that it takes place in the modern day. The story follows a group of film school students as they are filming a horror movie. During a break, they hear reports of the dead coming back to life, and dismiss it as a hoax. As they soon realize that the events are reality, they continue their filming in an effort to document the truth of what is transpiring while they struggle to survive.

The film is littered with social commentary, as is common with Romero's films. In fact, it is perhaps his most socially relevant work since his masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. It would not surprise me if I find a handful of new meanings to the movie each time I see it again in the future. The filming style (that is, a mockumentary using multiple cameras of varying quality), makes the movie unique within its genre (with The Blair Witch Project being the only other film of particular note with a similar approach), while at the same time enhances Romero's commentary on pervasive technology and media. Romero's writing and directing does not falter one bit, which, with the help of some excellent acting from a largely unknown cast, drives the point home even better.

Diary is a sublime modern retelling of an old idea. From start to finish, I could find nothing wrong with this movie. I absolutely loved it, and highly recommended it, unless you are particularly offended by blood and gore. Alas, despite it being the second screening of the movie, George A. Romero wasn't available to answer any questions.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

A Londoni férfi

English Title: The Man from London
Director: Béla Tarr
Country: Hungary/France/Germany

The story, yet again based on a novel, follows Maloin, a regular joe who happens to one night witness a deal gone bad at the French port where he works. Maloin goes about his business, but with the knowledge of what had happened that night on the back of his mind, and also, it soon becomes apparent, with the British currency that he recovers from the harbour from that night. Soon, a man from London turns up investigating some missing money.

I really didn't like this movie but, oddly enough, I did like most aspects of it. What first caught my eye was the old-fashioned use of blacks and whites, in the style of the really old film noir of the early days of cinema. I immediately thought "awesome". There are not enough modern black-and-white films that have imitated the movies of old quite as well as The Man from London has. I also really like the point of view from which the story is told, and that is, from Maloin, who is not involved in the death at the beginning, but is hounded by this mystery as he tries to go on doing what he normally does.

Unfortunately, what will undoubtedly make this movie disliked is Béla Tarr's method of storytelling through his choices in cinematography. I haven't seen any Béla Tarr movies in the past, but it soon became apparent to me that he had a distinct style, in particular with his penchant for long takes. He wants the audience to really soak up each scene, and this is evident from the very first take, a 12-minute shot that sets the scene for the events to come. This makes the film very atmospheric, almost a snapshot of the environments familiar to Maloin, but also tests the audience's patience more than a few times. In fact, I noted that a lot of people left before the movie even ended, and as early as halfway through the 135 minute movie. Also, a lot of people would start whispering to one another whenever the next scene started to drag on. I respect Tarr's decision to do these long takes, but I admit even I thought that, most of the time, they went on for far too long.

I'm afraid that, apart from film buffs, who would no doubt find purpose in Tarr's long takes, I cannot recommend this film lightly. If you like Béla Tarr, I suppose you would probably like it, and if you like film noir, it's a good study on how to tell an otherwise noir story in a somewhat unconventional fashion while keeping true to the most of the conventions of the black-and-white crime genre. In fact, the story style, coupled with the long takes can almost make this movie classifiable as an anti-noir.

Q&A: I stayed for about half the Q&A session, but there didn't seem to be a lot of people interested in asking questions, so I left after a few minutes.

Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon

English Title: Romance of Astrea and Celadon
Director: Éric Rohmer
Country: France/Italy/Spain

Based on L'Astrée, a classic French novel from the 17th century by Honoré d'Urfé, this film tells the story of, as the title suggests, the romance of two young shepherds, Céladon (Andy Gillet) and Astrée (Stéphanie Crayencour). At the beginning of the movie, we soon find out that the two are deeply in love. However, Astrée sees Céladon kiss another girl (a deception intended to please Céladon's parents), and complications arise as Astrée forbids Céladon to ever set eyes on her again, to which Céladon reacts by throwing himself into a river to try to drown himself. Céladon survives, naturally, but this sets the scene for the rest of the story.

The movie plays out as a classic comedy of errors, with plenty of dramatic irony to please the audience. The acting was good, although I can't really say it's great, as I tend not to be able to judge foreign-language acting quite as well as acting in English. What really made me love this movie was the production. Éric Rohmer, most famous for his role as one of the pioneers of French New Wave cinema, obviously had a clear vision of what he wanted to do when he adapted the novel, and it shows. The film is preceded by a message regarding the filming of the movie, which did not take place at the original setting, but at a similar region that was less touched by human expansion. From this, you could tell that Rohmer really wanted to do the story justice. As a result, the movie felt as if it had stuck close to the original material (although I can only assume this, as I have not actually read the novel, nor can I read French). I found this approach really refreshing.

I highly recommend this movie to anybody who doesn't mind a bit of old-fashioned romance with a whole lot of comedy, and I especially recommend it to those who are sick of the overproduced romantic comedies that come out of Hollywood. Perhaps the only disappointment that I had with the movie was the fact that Éric Rohmer wasn't on hand to do a Q&A session with the audience.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Starting Out in the Evening

Director: Andrew Wagner
Country: USA

The movie, based on the novel of the same name, is about an ageing author, Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), who becomes the subject of a master's thesis by young graduate, Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose). Heather has a passion for literature uncommon for her age and an unusual fixation on Leonard's work and on Leonard himself. Complications arise as Heather tries to resurrect Leonard's career. There is also a side-plot involving Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor) as she reaches 40, and tries to make some important decisions in her life.

A good part of the first half of the movie is spent establishing the principal characters of the movie. Unfortunately, this seemed a bit rushed and, at times, quite pretentious, and on the verge of straight out forced (in terms of dialogue). It almost felt like the movie was a victim of its own title - it only really started to feel like the movie it was meant to be towards the end. However, I guess it's a lot better to see a movie with a bad start that ends well than a movie that starts off brilliantly but is ruined by the last 10 minutes. This is how I felt with Starting Out in the Evening - it was a movie that was redeemed by the way the end was handled (although I guess that may have to do with how well the book was written).

Apart from the ending, which I loved because it didn't resort to any cliché of a May-December romance, what I liked the most about the movie was Frank Langella's performance. The acting overall was pretty solid, but Langella was superb as Schiller, the seemingly burnt out writer determined to finish one final novel before he dies.

This film is a hard one for me to decide how to recommend it. I did like it, but I didn't love it, and it kind of falls into an "in-between" category in that it's certainly not a cheap cheesy Hollywood chick flick, but it also has enough unlikable elements to deter the indie movie crowd. I would say that it's one of those rental movies for a slow week if you feel like a romance that has a bit of character.

Q&A: I didn't actually stay for the Q&A for this one. I wasn't in the mood for one after the movie ended - I was feeling quite tired, and wanted to get home to relax. As I exited the theatre, the crowd was still as huge as it was when I entered, and there was a small queue of people trying to get into the theatre for the Q&A session. Yup, this festival has certainly begun.