Friday 25 July 2008

Random Notes #1

Thought I would start doing shorter snippets on things that jump to mind. A few films I've seen recently:

Be Kind Rewind (2008 - Michel Gondry) - A slight film in many ways, but it didn't feel like it should have had the drubbing it received. It feels like people simply wanted a long form series of "sweded" videos with Gondry's sleight of hand and when they didn't quite get that, they ignored the rest. Sure those were my favourite parts of the film too, but I really ended up liking the rest of it as well. Well, OK, the ending was a bit much...But that extended single take of them putting together their versions of "2001: A Space Odyssey", "King Kong", "Men In Black" et al was brillant - especially that forced perspective shot of Jack Black's King Kong reaching for the character Alma.

Classe Too Risques (1960 - Claude Sautet) - I'll watch pretty much anything that Criterion releases (not everything works for me, but a rather large majority does), so when this popped up in the video store recently, I snagged it without much thought (or knowledge of the film). It's down right terrific. But as great as Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura (from "Army Of Shadows") were, the revelation for me was Sandra Milo. I guess I had seen her in both "Juliet Of The Spirits" and "8 1/2", but she stood out here. And not just because she is gorgeous:

Semi-Pro (2008 - Kent Alterman) - Were they even trying? I actually like Will Ferrell and I think both "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights" are two of the funniest movies of the past 5 years or so. But where those two films actually have memorable characters all the way down the cast list, give their actors funny things to do and allow a great deal of room for improvisation, "Semi-Pro" wastes everybody and gives them nothing to do. Ferrell has a few amusing moments, but I can't think of a single funny thing that anyone else in the film did.

The Dinner Game (1998 - Francis Veber) - Very funny French comedy with subtle and broad moments a plenty. The concept is that a number of snobby rich friends have a regular dinner to which they invite the stupidest people they can find. Pierre thinks that his current "catch" will far out do anyone else's. Two great things about it: 1) I had worried that the humour might be a bit too cruel, but within minutes you realize you can't wait for the game to begin; 2) when the game doesn't quite play out the way you think it might or start when you think it will, you don't mind one bit. Just great fun.

Noise (2007 - Matthew Saville) - A small budget Aussie film I picked up on a whim. A police office with Tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears) is pulled into two separate murder cases - a mass killing on the subway and the death of a young man's fiancee. It feels quite ambitious with what appears to be several themes running across different storylines and characters, but it really held me throughout and left me pondering its resolution (or rather lack of full closure on all fronts). An additional thing I liked about it and kept noticing was the recurrence of small out of focus coloured lights in the background. The film is set around Christmas time so there's always some lights in the picture:

It's possible that this is actually by accident, but near the end the officer is rifling through another character's notebooks and comes across:

I just thought that was kinda cool.

Thursday 24 July 2008

TIFF 2008 - Midnight Madness

The list is out for the Midnight Madness screenings (all of which will also play at more civilized times at some point during the fest). Films with screenshots are my current picks.

Acolytes (Jon Hewitt) - The synopsis of Australian director Jon Hewitt's latest film gives me hope that it's more of a tense horror film than a standard slash and thrill one (nothing necessarily wrong with the latter, but I do prefer the former). A young shy student comes across a mysterious man burying something in the woods. When he and his friends return to uncover it, they realize it's actually a body. They come upon the idea of blackmailing the apparent murderer in order to have him kill a local bully, but instead they end up getting pulled deeper into the world of a serial killer.

The Burrowers (JT Petty) - This combination of a Western and a monster film is described by Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes as a "terror take on John Ford’s The Searchers". When native tribes are blamed for recent murders and kidnappings, a posse finds more than they expected. The attacks are apparently coming from beneath the ground.

Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew) - The director of "Ong-Bak" and "The Protector" brings forth yet another action packed, Muay Thai boxing spectacle. This time it's not with Tony Jaa, but 24 year old Jija Yanin who seems to aspire to be another Michelle Yeoh. Jija's character is a shy austistic woman out to collect debts owned to her Mom, but the picture above likely tells you all you need to know about the film - except that the story is probably not very good, the acting is likely weak and you'll be killing time between stunning set pieces. But I gotta see it.

Deadgirl (Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel) - Two teens stumble across a dead girl's body. When it shows signs of life, they have different reactions as to what to do with it that divide the two boys and create disturbing consequences. Might be good, but the concept isn't grabbing me. I'll wait and see.

Detroit Metal City (Toshio Lee) - This absolutely has to be a ton of fun...Based on a manga series, it's the story of shy Souichi who wants to be a pop ballad singer when he moves to the big city. As things turn out, he becomes a make-up covered, stage destroying singer for death metal band Detroit Metal City. As their popularity grows, he must keep his identity secret from his long time crush (now a pop music critic) as well as face off against another metal icon: Jack IL Dark (played by Gene Simmons - of course).

Eden Log (Franck Vestiel) - If you like your futures of the dystopic nature, this film looks to be right up your alley. A man wakes up at the bottom of a well next to a dead body and the film tracks his attempt to understand how he got there and how he can get out of the labyrinth under the ground. The washed out cinematography seems to be one of the most talked about features of this French SF tale. Might be worth a visit.

JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri) - I like meta-films. Self-referential stuff with layers within layers that turn back on themselves and try to bring an interesting new angle on filmmaking. Unfortunately, I really don't like Jean-Claude Van Damme. The new film JCVD has gotten some initial buzz which sounds positive - it pokes fun not only at Van Damme's own almost super hero character, but the whole genre itself. Within the movie he plays himself and gets caught as a hostage in a holdup. Even though he is just another frightened human being, he is expected to act as his movie self. So what can he do? I like the idea, but I just can't stomach the star. If the praise keeps steady, I'll have to reconsider.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier) - Two victims of terrible abuse bond as one helps the other slowly recover. After 15 years, the recovering girl seeks revenge against one of her attackers with help from her friend, but strangely enough there are consequences. Apparently the film is deeply disturbing and difficult to watch, but does so without exploitive gore or shocks. It sounds like it may be a very well done film, but I'm not sure I want to experience it at the moment.

Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley) - Australian grindhouse? Apparently, the 70s and 80s were filled with car crashes, low budget horror and bouncing female anatomy. This documentary captures the clips of these films as well the behind the scenes stories in order to give a picture of the industry at that time. I don't know how many of these films are even available, but one gets the feeling that you may walk out of the film with a very long list of new must-sees. As well as a big smile on your face.

Sexykiller (Miguel Marti) - Kinda speaks for itself, don't it?

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Early Thoughts about TIFF 2008

The initial announcements for the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have started to roll out and I've already got a bunch picked out.

I'm going for the 30 ticket pass this year which might be straining reality somewhat since I'm not on vacation during the fest. I expect I'll be grabbing a day off here and there though while squeezing bucket loads in on the weekends.

Midnight Madness selections are to be announced today, so there will definitely be a few more added to my list. Though I love the idea of attending a midnight screening with ravenous fans, it just never seems like a great plan on the day of...

A couple of other great resources...First, Greg over at TOFilmFest has built a lovely site that adds all the films as they are announced PLUS short synopses of the films and links to reviews, etc. It's a great place to start your investigation of the slate of movies (instead of going one by one through IMDB).

Darren Hughes' First Thursday blog has risen again for another couple of months of news and discussion leading up to the fest. I found this invaluable last year as I connected with a couple of long time attendees.

Here are some of my early picks from the currently announced crop:

  • 24 City (Jia Zhang-ke) - Given the raves I heard about Jia's films at previous fests (and having seen and enjoyed "The World"), I may have to dive into his latest.

  • Control Alt Delete (Cameron Labine) - In the heady Internet Porn days of 1999, Lewis begins a new relationship - complicated by the fact that he is also sexually involved with his own computer. One can only hope that the filmmakers leave a lot to the viewer's imagination...

  • Cooper's Camera (Warren Sonoda) - Young Teddy uses a camcorder to document the strange happenings around his dysfunctional family during Christmas 1985. Has possibilities, but with the wrong tone it could be a "seen it all before" bore. Part of the Canada First program.

  • Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo, James Stern) - The makers of 2006's political doc "...So Goes The Nation" turn to musical theatre by comparing behind the scenes footage from 1975 rehearsals of "A Chorus Line" to the recent Broadway revival of the same show. Could be quite interesting to see the commonalities across 30 years.

  • Fear Me Not (Kristian Levring) - One of the more intriguing premises has a man who continues his experimental drug regimen (after the clinical trial has been cancelled) and begins to try to take control of others' lives. From Denmark.

  • Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone) - Five separate stories about characters from Italy's underworld make "probably the most authentic and unsentimental mafia movie ever to come out of Italy" (Screen Daily's Lee Marshall). Based on a non-fiction expose by Roberto Saviano.

  • The Good, The Bad And The Weird (Kim Jee-woon) - Kim's previous two films ("Bittersweet Life" and "A Tale Of Two Sisters") were both well done and visually interesting, so I'm looking forward to see what he can do with a Western in 1930s Manchuria that follows 3 Korean outlaws.

  • O'Horten (Bent Hamer) - I suppose the plot (of a man about to take his last train trip between Oslo and Bergen after 40 years) doesn't scream excitement, but I really enjoyed one of Hamer's previous films - "Kitchen Stories" - and tend to find the Scandinavian sense of humour to be in sync with mine.

  • Real Time (Randall Cole) - Randy Quaid and Jay Baruchel in the story of a man given an hour to live by the man that was hired to kill him. Sounds like the title of the film describes it and I'm a sucker for movies that impose restrictions like that on themselves...

  • Three Monkeys (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - I'm two for two with Ceylan having really liked the slow moving "Distant" and recent "Climates". His latest (about a family who tries to ignore and cover up their problems) has had a few not so glowing reviews, but it still makes the list.

  • Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) - You need me to explain at this point that I'm excited about a new Kiyoshi Kurosawa film? Have you not been paying attention? It's billed as his first real "drama" (ie. not horror), so I'm curious to see where he's headed. Having said that, it's not like all his films have been solely genre exercises. By the way, he has his own Blog-a-thon coming up! Excellent news Michael!

  • Tony Manero (Pablo LarraĆ­n) - In 1978, a Chilean dancer lives to imitate John Travolta's Tony Manero character from "Saturday Night Fever" - especially when word arrives that a TV station is holding a Manero impersonation contest.

  • Toronto Stories - A "tribute" to the city of Toronto, this omnibus film contains 4 short stories (each directed by a different filmmaker from the city) that are all witnessed by the same young boy. I love omnibus films (well, at least the concept of them anyway) and I'm pretty damn fond of my city as well - so this is a strong contender for can't miss status.

  • White Night Wedding (Baltasar Kormakur) - I didn't see last year's "Jar City" from the same director nor did I really much care for another of his films ("101 Reykjavik"), but it's an Icelandic film and the country definitely has found a place on my must visit list. And Sigur Ros are from there too...

Friday 18 July 2008

Tattooed Life

Seijun Suzuki's 1965 film "Tattooed Life" is like many of his films of the late 50s and 60s. Though its story is not overly complicated or original and contains a number of stock themes (such as destiny, loyalty and sacrifice), it's the style and methods of telling the narrative that grab the attention. Suzuki liked to play with the rules, so he developed little shorthand ways of moving the plot along and avoiding long sequences of exposition. He might edit a scene in an unexpected way or drop in a totally out of context image and it would impart the information you needed to know - just not necessarily in the way you would normally receive it. For most of "Tattooed Life" these techniques are kept to a minimum...But the last 15 minutes are an explosion of colour, violence and a marvel of creativity.

I'm leaving out the story though and it's actually a pretty decent tale...In order to help put his younger sibling through art school, Tetsu has become a low level yakuza (and has been adorned with identifying tattoos). By command of the Owada family, he assassinates the head of the Totsuka clan. With the job complete, another member of the Owadas tries to clean things up by killing Tetsu, but fails in the attempt and is in turn killed by Kenji - Tetsu's younger brother who witnessed everything. After those opening scenes the brothers decide to escape to Manchuria, wind up stuck in a fishing port on the sea of Japan and fall in love with a mother and daughter. But Tetsu knows no good can come from sitting still while their past catches up with them. After all, his tattoos have marked his destiny for him and his brother.

So when the brothers make a final attempt to escape before the final act, you kinda know where things are about to head. And when it begins, it feels like Suzuki has been saving it all up for that last stretch and he just can't hold it back anymore. Camera angles become severe, rooms and characters get bathed in saturated colours (guess what red signifies?) and the pace quickens. Suzuki opens the floodgates and emphasizes the emotional high point of the film. All of the following images are taken from the last 10-15 minutes of the film.

An example of red light indicating the death of a character. The red light creeps across all the white bricks.

All 4 of these images are in the same scene with the camera still. The light changes from red backdrop, to a backlit window to foreground lit Tetsu who has just pulled off his black robe to reveal his fighting outfit.

It's really a joy to watch.