Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Festival Day 6

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

Friday 4/11
Help Me Eros
aka: Bangbang wo aishen
Taiwan 2007, 103 min

Two of the most challenging films of the festival came on Friday night. The first, Help Me Eros is a Taiwanese take on the Contemplative Cinema of Béla Tarr, Theo Angelopoulos, current period Van Sant, ect. The films are meant to give you time to process and read what you may into them while the film is running as well as long after. But the problem with contemplative cinema is that it is very culture specific and the meditations and queues that are there to pick up are often lost on people who don’t know that culture and thus the contemplative aspects are seen more as space in which to fall asleep. This neon poem to Taipei is filled with loneliness and sadness and life that is soulless but plot queues, while interesting are alien to me.
The plot that the film floats about involves and man who has lost millions and is now holding onto the last vestiges of his previous life – an ultra modern home atop a sweet shop and a mighty impressive pot plant. Having also lost all his friends he pawns off pieces of his life to buy water and sweets at one of the most bizarre establishments I’ve ever seen – a drive though neon candy shop with a stripper poll and girls in skimpy outfits. He falls for one of 3 girls working there but ends up getting high and fornicating with all of them… in very visually memorable ways. His love interest, obviously pissed, destroys the plant and his depression spirals further out of control to the point that he buys 50 thousand dollars worth of lottery tickets. In the final scene he disappears but bills rain down from his window.

Its brilliant looks may entice some while the poetic meditations on life will suit others and some may put up with it to see the more titillating aspects of the film but on the whole this is a very art-house film. If you appreciate any of the directors mentioned above though seek this one out.



aka: Déficit
Mexico 2007, 75 min

This is Gael García Bernal’s directorial debut and its not that interesting to tell the truth. Bernal plays the lead Christobal, the teenage scion of an upper-class Mexican family. He is down at the family’s vacation house with his friends for a weekend and there are a bunch of class issues and drugs and jealousy and swimming and daddy hating and barbecue. It’s fairly melodramatic and very well trodden territory (you can actually see people coming of age!) but at least it’s also short and well acted.


Far North
Great Britain, France 2007, 89 min

The final film of the night was to be Irina Palm but the print was apparently lost in transit (I’m assuming USAir was to blame). Instead it was replaced with this film directed by Asif Kapadia (The Warrior, The Return) and staring Michelle Yeoh and Sean Bean. The title refers to the lands above the Russian Arctic Circle for which special benefits are given to those who chose to work there. Yeoh plays a native woman whose village was attacked by some of these men. She flees for parts even farther north with the only other surviving member, an infant child. Together they live as survivalists in the harsh climate avoiding all human contact. When Yeoh discovers a man come down from a glacier (Bean) her nurturing instincts get the better of him and she brings him into their camp and nurses him back to health. The now grown infant and adopted daughter falls for him and they make plans to leave all leading to an unexpected showdown that will leave you speechless.

Part horror film, part psycho-drama and part travelogue with hints of an environmental message the scenery is the real star of this film reflecting the seeming openness but hidden dangers in the characters and well as their relative stoic silence. Yeoh gives one of her most powerful performances to date as the damaged, protective survivalist who becomes jealous of her ward and the new interloper. Much like Mother Nature when something new emerges to throws off the balance she moves to bring things back to a natural equilibrium.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Festival Day 5

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Thursday 4/10

The End
Great Britain 2008, 74 min

Thursday was doc day at the festival with the only 2 docs on my list playing at opposite ends of the city. Interestingly enough, I started with The End. This is a doc about the life and death of London’s notorious East End as told by the men who lived and “worked” there. The filmmaker is the daughter of one of the leading criminal entrepreneurs. After realizing that he life was so different from most other peoples she decided to take stock by shooting this film (this is based on the Q & A after, she isn’t a character in the film) and was able to get privileged access to these usually tight lipped men. The film is shot in grainy black and white which adds to the chilling effect of the conversations with these (current and) former cockney gangsters and the music fits the mood perfectly as well with a DJ Shadow style melancholy [stream]. From their conversations you learn that their story is much like that of any community with a thriving organized criminal element: working class upbringing, family loyalty, ethical codes, being there for your mates, ect. These are tough guys but they are also family men and they all share a sense of loss because this neighborhood and community no longer exists. 2/3 of the way through the film one of them takes a walk through the current East End which has turned into an open air bazaar as peoples from the middle-east and the Indian subcontinent have replaced the white population. There is a sense of loss but its really not racially motivated as one might think but it’s the idea that the life that these men knew and grew up in is now gone forever and that they are really the last cockney gangsters that will ever be. Most have moved on to decent sized estates outside the city (thanks to ill-gotten gains with one man proclaiming "Crime Pays!" while showing off his posh digs) while a few others are actually hiding out from authorities. This film serves as an outstanding document of a culture that has since passed, for better or worse, from the land. Oh and the strong accents are thankfully subtitled.

There was a Q & A with the director and producer of the film – unfortunately the first for me of the entire festival – which was very enlightening. The film stands on its own but some of the details and back story of these characters was nicely fleshed out afterward. I hope they do a commentary track if this eventually gets a dvd release.


Milk In the Land, Ballad of an American Drink
USA 2007, 90 min

Thankfully the previous film was a scant 74 minutes which left ample time even with a Q & A to get down to Old City for the start of the next film, a startling documentary on the history of Milk in America. The filmmakers obviously have an agenda as this film while not explicitly anti-milk (though it talks with people that are) is definitely anti-corporate dairy farming. The film starts detailing the history of the American dairy industry – cows were kept in New York City as a way of disposing of left over grain from whiskey distilling so people could get swill milk year round… though it killed quite a few people. It goes through the growth of the industry as a replacement for breast milk that was not being produced by middle class urban dwelling women (corsets), the breeding of cows that would produce year round and in great quantities and how the Dairy Lobby grew to national importance and scandal under the Nixon administration. They also visit a family farmer in Wisconsin who advocates drinking raw milk over the pasteurized store bought version. Surprisingly little is mentioned about rBGH or Monsanto.

Frankly looking at all that sloshing chalky liquid made me a little queasy and outside of cereal and coffee I rarely drink the stuff. However, I found many parts of the film fascinating especially where it digresses into the effect this drink has had on American culture from the religious to the hobbyists and how these people in turn affected its pervasive spread to our refrigerators and tables.


Denmark 2007, 90 min

The final film of the night was this Robert Rodriguez/Guy Richie inspired genre flick from Denmark. I should’ve caught another doc. The story within a story within a story is that some film school kids are making a fiction piece based on the legend of a heist gone awry so they meet a seedy character in a bar who starts telling the yarn. At some point the party is crashed by another man with a story to tell and some people in the story also… well you get it. The big question is “where’s the money?” and the resolution to this question contradicts everything that transpired in the 85 minutes of set up. Also people get shot, beat with pipes, kicked in the ribs thrown through hard objects and just keep on fighting. Most of the characters are just annoying and some do things in back to back scenes that completely contradict each other. And unlike either of the two that this movie cribs from the director, Shaky González, has an awesome name but no visual flare. The look is ugly, under lit at night and flat during the day. The only interesting thing about this is the fact that the lead actor looks exactly like David Beckham so when he gets the crap beaten out of him it’s kinda funny. Worst film of the fest. (Apparently there is an epilogue after the closing credits that explain some things - I didn't know this and didn't stick around at the time)


Friday, April 18, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Review)

I do not ever want to be Jason Segel. He is the writer and star of this film and frankly I think he is exactly like this in real life. I always thought Apatow cast him as a stand in for himself but now I’m sure that he is just this way and Apatow used him effectively as such.

Segel plays Peter, a well to do musician who scores the TV show that made his titular girlfriend (that sounds dirty) a star. After 5 years together she breaks up with him and he become a wreck… well more of a wreck than he was before. Peter is a schlub with a big heart who is overly sensitive to everything but his own shortcomings. In order to clear his head he goes to a Hawaiian resort that Sarah had always talked about… surprise she’s there as well and with her new lover, an English rock lothario. Hijinks ensue. In fact, I think this was how the first 40 minutes of the script was “written.” There is almost no story and everything is improv. While this is par for the course for the Apatowniverse, first time director Nicholas Stoller’s sloppy handling of it took me out of the film. Yes, its mostly funny but you can only take so much of Paul Rudd looking into the camera and running lines before it gets old. You could see the improving which is not a good thing. Still when the story gets back on track after what seems like forever it turns into a decent romcom. Mila Kunis is actually good in this (I usually can’t stand her voice) and Segal plays his role like a well worn sock. And there are a lot of laughs but more dead jokes than I’m used to from this crew. If the beginning of the film was tightened up and focused more on story this would be close to the top of the Apatowniverse films but as it is its middling at best.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Festival Day 4

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Wednesday 4/9

The Other Boy
aka: Der andere Junge
Germany 2007, 91 min

The kid’s aren’t all right in this German look at the troubles of suburban teens. Paul and Robert have grown up together as their parents are close friends but as the boys aged they became very different people. Paul is tall, smart, confident and good looking and Robert… um… isn’t. Unbeknown st to the parents Robert is the target of Paul’s bullying. One day Paul goes too far with tragic results and his parents are forced to betray their own friendships in order to protect their son. Things get tense all around as the police close in and tragedy gives way to tragedy.

This is a slow and tense film that the write-up in the festival program likens to a combination of Clark’s Bully and Haneke’s Caché. Like the later film its approach too setting up tension comes from lingering shots and a sparse soundtrack though not quite as effective as Haneke’s mesmerizing film as the plot is a little predictable. Boy plays out like an episode of Law & Order: SVU with a European art house aesthetic… turns out this is not a bad thing though.


Eye In the Sky
aka: Gun chung
Hong Kong (China) 2007, 90 min

I included this in my fest schedule because it was produced by Johnnie To, director of Exiled – best film of the 2007 festival and staring Tony Leung. Unfortunately not THAT Tony Leung, who knew? The Hong Kong Actors Guild needs to arbitrate this one stat.

This is a mentor/mentee story in the surveillance group within the Hong Kong police department, the… er… eyes in the sky if you will. The first scene of the film features “Piggy” (the new blood – everyone has an animal code name) boarding a trolley and observing as several suspicious looking men board and leave the train. One is her boss, Dog Head, and as we later find out this was her entrance exam. The other is the shadowy figure behind a team of jewelry store thieves who are actually pulling off a heist at the same time. This becomes her first case as the inevitable baptism by fire starts. This film is chock full of Yin-Yang: details of both the cop’s and the criminals surveillance methods, a scene during the exam is repeated for real later in the film and Piggy’s Sophie’s choice of sorts between work and life on 2 occasions are among them. The camera work is also evocative of the surveillance theme with a lot of dutch angles and shots from up above or far away. This is a solid procedural yarn and well worth the time.


Mystery Film!
aka: The Wackness
USA 2008, 110 min

Well, I had initially planned on seeing Roman de gare which looked really good but upon logging into my email earlier in the day I saw a message that blew the lid off of what the mystery film was going to be (thanks PFS). So I changed plans and took up with this Sundance smash. I’m SOOOOOOOOO glad I did.

The Wackness is a coming of age – check that – to paraphrase Roger Ebert, this isn’t a coming of age film, this is a coming of age film’s wet dream of itself. Set in Manhattan circa ’94 the film uses some combination of soft focus, over exposure and digital filters to achieve an enticing nostalgic, dreamy look. This is the final summer before college for Luke Shapiro who is the ultimate outsider. He is from a family with financial troubles but goes to school with upper-class kids. He is the school pot dealer so everyone knows him but he’s friends with no one. With most of his customers jetting off to summer in wherever he’s left with his fantasy girl, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) who’s parents are in anything but marital bliss. It just so happens that her father Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) is one of Luke’s best customers but as a psychologist he pays in sessions. As Kingsley’s marriage crumbles he latches onto Luke and they become friends and confidants as he tries to hide a growing relationship with Stephanie. The film is filled with colorful characters including Method Man as a Rastafarian drug king and Mary-Kate Olsen as a hippie who makes out with Kingsley in a phone booth (weird) who all add to the atmosphere

This is writer/director Jonathan Levine’s second feature but seems to be set to debut before his first (All the Boy’s Love Mandy Lane) which has been sitting in the can for 2 years now. He turns in a pitch perfect pop culture dumpster dive through 1994 and characters that have rightness and truth about their motivations and reactions, and lead actor Josh Peck offers up a substantial leap from his character on Nickelodeon.

My only issues with the film are the over use of Giuliani’s NYC clean up as a reference point and the cringworthy delivery of the titular line by Thirlby “Me, I see the dopeness. But you, you just see the wackness.” Other than that this was the best film of the festival and the best of the year so far.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Festival Day 3

Day 1
Day 2

Tuesday 4/8

California Dreamin'
aka: Nesfarsit
Romania 2007, 155 min

This is one of those things you rarely see, an epic Romanian culture clash comedy staring… Armand Assante? Set in 1999 during the war in the Balkans, a train with supply equipment and a US Marine detachment bound for Kosovo is held up in a rural Romanian village due to a local strongman who runs the rail station. Over 5 days that it takes for their papers to arrive, all the forces at work in the village erupt and things will never be the same. The mayor sees this as an opportunity to attract commerce and investment and decides to re celebrated the village anniversary that was held the previous month. The station manager’s daughter sees this as a way to escape her uninteresting surroundings so she gets a high school outcast to teach her English. The marines see a lot of village girls. The station manager sees a chance to get back at the Americans for not coming to his childhood rescue in WWII and the captain (Assante) sees red.

The film is a critique of US policy in Eastern Europe from WWII thru the end of the century from the lack of support for Soviet Block countries to NATO bombings in the former Yugoslavia. The final climax of the film serves as an echo of the Prague Spring of ’68. But there is also the mystical realism that is common is many films from the region that serve to ground the film in the fantastic characters and the strange events that are sometimes a part of life. The film’s director Cristian Nemescu was killed in a car crash during post production and this is the final edit he did before his passing. While a powerful tribute, there is some fat that could be cut from the 2.5 hr print and a lot of ADR work that needs to be done to make this a finished product.


The Sperm
aka: Asujaak
Thailand 2007, 93 min

This is everything The Host should have been: a fun, campy, creature flick that actually holds your attention for the entire film. Our hero is a Thai 20 something in a band who has a huge crush on a pin up girl and dreams about her daily. When he finally meets her he blurts out something a little to forward… not realizing this is reality & he’s live of national TV. As he runs off red faced in a downpour he spies a poster of her in an alley and relieves his frustration. His little swimmers join the rain water and pass by some experimental lasers going haywire. The next thing you know they are airborne and impregnating the Bangkok’s women. The spawn are all horny kids with the same face who’s ultimate goal is to get off and send millions more flighted spermies off on a new adventure. There is a mad scientist with a hot daughter and her clan of inflatable ninjas who help our hero, his band and the pin-up girl defeat the JO juniors as well an a 50 foot version of himself that was born by a very old woman… and thus mutated.

The film never takes itself seriously and while the special FX leave much to be desired they fit the tone of this low budget piece perfectly. The contractions that are used are modified garbage (painted water bottle ray gun anyone?) but the characters are funny and you enjoy spending time with them. That’s really all you can ask for in the genre… love to see an MST3K take on this though.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Festival Day 2

Day 1

Monday 4/7

Blast of Silence
USA 1961, 77 min

Another subdivision of the film festival is screenings in conjunction with Noircon 2008. Three classical period films will be shown in addition to a recent animated update on the themes. The first of these I took in Monday was Blast of Silence. Note to the Fetsival: Please provide details in the program when a film will be shown on DVD instead of a print. The quality of projecting a DVD to the silver screen, even one from the Criterion Collection, is not near that of a film print.

The film itself, while coming after the classical period (released in ’61), shows many of the hallmarks of the genre without the self-awareness of neo-noir. Our lead, one of God’s lonely men, is a Cleveland hitman come to NYC for the holidays on a job. The big city in this film though is unlike that of previous efforts with the influence of the Beats. Cassavetes’ Shadow’s (released 2 years prior) has as much influence here as Chandler. The sneering, oppressive narration by a raspy, sight unseen, voice grounds the film in grit and beat poetry while the club and party scenes feature greasy men in black with bongos chanting and yearning over harsh times in the city. We watch as the hitman, “Baby Boy” Frankie Bono, played by writer/director Allen Baron stalks his kill and the repetition of certain key phrases by the narrator betray the workings of his nerves while the character remains cool on the outside. When he runs into an old flame and things go amiss with a particularly repugnant weapons supplier though Frankie’s work breaks down and he wants out of course this being noir his shot at redemption isn’t likely to end in a house with a white picket fence.


Mister Foe
aka: Hallam Foe
Great Britain 2007, 95 min

The story of a young man’s struggles with the loss of a parent has won quite a few awards since its debut at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007. All deservedly so. Jamie “the only thing that saved Jumper” Bell is the leading British actor of his generation and here crafts a sublime performance as Hallam Foe, a young man who it trying to find someone to blame for his Mother’s death and a way to reconnect with her. His well-to-do family lives on an estate in Scotland yet he hides in a tree house that his architect father designed for him as a child. When his sister moves out, his step-mother (played by the always awful Claire Forlani) makes her move to get him off the property as well, further damaging his fragile psyche. He moves to Glasgow and resumes his favorite pastime… peeping. As he peeks and follows the denizens he runs into a woman with a striking resemblance to the deceased. He charms her into giving him a job at the hotel she works for and after work he bounds across the roof tops of the city to her skylight and peers at her from afar inside the hotel’s iconic clock tower. After a few drinks with coworkers on his 18th she takes him back to her place and they begin a disturbing love affair that grows to understanding of his condition and Foe looks like he’s overcoming his past. But when his parents seek him out again a few well placed daggers from the step-mother send him over the edge leading to a climax at the loch on the estate with badger skins and a lot of make-up.
Hallam Foe - Full Length Official Trailer

Complimenting Bell’s performance is Sophia Myles (Tristan + Isolde) who shines as the unsure of her self late 20 something who has her own issues with love and life. Ewen Bremner is unfortunately wasted in the story which is a shame as even his cameos are usually top notch. Director David Mackenzie (Young Adam) turns in a strong psycho-drama with charm and more than a little humor that should win continue to win over audiences throughout the world.


Young People F*cking
Canada 2007, 90 min

With a title like that how could I not add this to my fest schedule? And that is really all you get in this steamy, awkward, painful, funny Canadian comedy. The film features 5 sets of young people (Roommates, Couple, Exes, First Date, Friends) and takes them through 6 “stages” (prelude, foreplay, intercourse, interlude, climax, afterglow). These aren’t intertwining stories but intercut vignettes, each with a bit of set-up before the title card. The film also screams CBC in terms of comedic set up as well as aesthetics.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Festival Day 1


Unfortunately I was away during most of the first weekend of the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival and missed out on quite a bit of viewing (fortunately I was at a bachelor party in New Orleans). So Sunday night I intended to catch 2 films after a take off to landing nap on the flight but given other logistical snags missed out on the first film. And now, with out further useless keystrokes… . (sorry) the start of 10 days of 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival reviews:

Sunday 4/6

Confession of Pain
aka: Seung Sing Hong Kong (China)/Japan 2007, 110 min

The fest is always heavy on the Asian crime genre. I like the Asian crime genre.

The first of 5 on my tentative schedule this year is Confession of Pain. Directed by the team behind Infernal Affairs, Andrew Lau (also helmed the unfortunately named Legend of the Fist Master) & Alan Mak this is a cop-gone-bad story that unlike their previous landmark film chooses style over substance.

Beginning on Christmas Eve 2003 the film opens on dramatic helicopter views of Hong Kong in all its seasonal neon glory and closes in on a small (but equally colorful) holiday party with lead actors Tony Leung (aka The Man) as Chief Hei and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Jin from House of Flying Daggers) as Detective Bong, musing over booze and marriage – the two sides of the plot. A few minutes later we find that this is not festive celebration but a sting operation to capture a brutal murderer and the helicopter shots return as the whole party of cops follow the killer’s cab through the city. After the take down Bong returns home to find his wife dead from her own hand. Flash forward to 2006 and Bong is now a PI, a drunk (are there any other kinds?) and in love with a prostitute while Hei has a new wife with a rich daddy. The daddy ends up dead and the wife wants Bong to help out on the investigation. The directors choose to show us the murder up front but the investigation details the cause with all the aplomb of Mr. Magoo. The lead inspector on the case (as Hei is a suspect) is a bumbling fool, there is a too obvious red-herring stalker and we have to sit and watch 90 minutes of a drunk piece together what we already know with plotting that is anything but tight.

The acting from the leads is solid and the film is stunningly shot – especially the reenactment of the crime – but this film commits too many sins to be recommended. The connective tissue between scenes seems to be ripped out at times and there is no suspense whatsoever which would be ok if we had a deep character study but that is non-existent as well. Combine that with a score that beats you over the head with DRAMA and this is one to pass on.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

2008 Philadelphia Film Festival

I like anything with the word Festival attached. Here's what I'm planing for this year:

Your Festival Calendar
Day/Time Title Venue Neighborhood

Sun April 6 7:00 PM The Voyeurs Ritz Five Old City
Sun April 6 9:30 PM Confession of Pain Prince Music Theater Center City

Mon April 7 5:00 PM Blast of Silence The Bridge: Cinema DeLux University City
Mon April 7 7:30 PM Mister Foe Prince Music Theater Center City
Mon April 7 9:30 PM Young People Fucking International House University City

Tue April 8 6:00 PM California Dreamin' Prince Music Theater Center City
Tue April 8 9:30 PM The Sperm The Bridge: Cinema DeLux University City

Wed April 9 5:00 PM The Other Boy Ritz Five Old City
Wed April 9 7:15 PM Eye in the Sky Ritz Five Old City
Wed April 9 9:30 PM Roman de gare Ritz Five Old City

Thu April 10 5:00 PM The End International House University City
Thu April 10 7:15 PM Milk in The Land, Ballad of An American Drink Ritz East Theater 2 Old City
Thu April 10 9:30 PM Pistoleros Ritz East Theater 2 Old City

Fri April 11 4:45 PM The Year of the Nail Ritz Five Old City
Fri April 11 7:45 PM Deficit Ritz East Theater 1 Old City
Fri April 11 9:30 PM Far North Ritz Five Old City

Sat April 12 12:15 PM Violent Saturday The Bridge: Cinema DeLux University City
Sat April 12 2:30 PM Son of Rambow The Bridge: Cinema DeLux University City
Sat April 12 5:15 PM Soo The Bridge: Cinema DeLux University City
Sat April 12 7:30 PM Nothing to Lose Ritz East Theater 1 Old City
Sat April 12 10:00 PM Film Noir Ritz East Theater 1 Old City

Sun April 13 12:15 PM The Mugger The Bridge: Cinema DeLux University City
Sun April 13 2:30 PM Summer Scars Prince Music Theater Center City
Sun April 13 5:00 PM You, the Living Ritz Five Old City
Sun April 13 7:15 PM Triangle Ritz East Theater 1 Old City
Sun April 13 9:30 PM Storm Ritz East Theater 1 Old City

Mon April 14 4:45 PM Blood Brothers Ritz East Theater 1 Old City
-TBA Festival Favorite-
Mon April 14 9:30 PM A Song of Good Ritz East Theater 2 Old City

Tue April 15:
3x Festival Favorite Or Patti Smith Documentary.

OK, its an overly ambitious dream slate. I know I'll never get to all of these but if I see 25 of the 32 I can get to I'll be happy.

Reviews to come.