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.