Wednesday, September 29, 2004

KBT: Technical Difficulties

Yesterdays attempted screening of Infernal Affairs was brought to a screeching halt as the PC engine behind the theater went defunct. Probably heat problems...I'm the only person who would stick a PC into a closet. An emergency screening for those gathered there (probably the biggest KBT turnout of all time, so Murphy's Law was in full effect) of RONIN was held in place of Infernal Affairs. Because to make matters complicated, the subtitles wouldn't work on my Laptop (which ended up driving the projector, sans 5.1 sound. Of course to make matters worse, my RONIN DVD failed utterly with only 15 minutes left of the screening. Fortuantely I had a RIP onhand. So with a 5 minute bathroom break, the screening came limping to a conclusion. For all those who come to future screenings (I'm expecting less due to this minor debacle which went until 11:30pm) hopefully this will not happen again! That being said, RONIN is a fine example of the spy genre, post Cold war, pre-WarOnTeror. There are great performances from a brilliant American/Euro Cast including Natasha McElhone, Jonathon Pryce, Sean Bean, Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno and the darkly mesmerizing Stellen Skarsgaard. Subtly indirect dialogue, and a story that just keeps on veering off in different directions. I'm happy to have shown it to the crowd which, despite screening errors, seemed to dig it a lot.
Infernal Affairs will be attempted again...sometime soon...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

KBT: Infernal Affairs

They just don't make very many good Cop Thrillers in Hollywood anymore. The last memorable one was Insomnia and even it was inferior to the Original European Version. Fortunately, they can still turn out good ones in Hong Kong. Infernal Affairs has the brooding feel of a John Woo style Bullet Ballet, the stylistic excess of Tony Scott and the macho profesionalism of Michael Mann.
It stars two of the biggest names in HK Cinema, Andy Lau (House of Flying Daggers) and Tony Leung (Hero). It is a complex game of cat and mouse where the both men think they are the cat. Leung is a undercover policeman who has a position high up in the mob. Lau is an undercover mobster high up in Internal Affairs. Each is informed enough to know that there is a mole in their midst. Who will figure out whom first? Check out Rotten Tomatoes for the 96% (at the moment) rating on this film. It has already turned out 2 (supposedly inferior, I haven't seen them) sequels in China. There is an American Remake (to be directed by Martin Scorcese!?!!??!) already underway. See the original first. The screening will be started at approximately 8:30pm Tuesday Night.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Zombi 2

After watching Shaun of the Dead last Tuesday (from the UK PAL-DVD), I was back in the mood for some good old Zombie fun. I decided it was at long last that I watch Lucio Fulci's 1979 classic Zombi 2. For those of you wondering 'Why not just watch Zombi'? The answer is that there is no Zombi. Fulci titled his movie Zombi 2 because Dawn of the Dead (the original) was called Zombi in Italy and his producers convinced him it was a good idea to cash in on Romero's success in the Italian market. At least Zombi 2 is loosely connected to Dawn of the Dead anyway, beginning and ending in the United States it may in fact be the reason why the Dead come back to life in Romero's Film..
That confusion aside, this movie has everything you want in a low budget 70's horror film. Bad acting (The good Doctor, who projects some hearty frustration at his science experiments gone awry is an exception), incredibly bad dubbing (this is intrinsicly Italian, just watch any Spaghetti Western to see what I mean), a creepy synthesized musical score, a tropical setting and copious amouts of inventive gore.
Plus there is a brilliant Zombie versus Shark scene that has to be witnessed to be believed!
The movie takes its time (this was not uncommon in both domestic and foreign films of the day) to build up to the final half-hour full-on Zombie attack.
Creepy images like the giallo (italian slasher) style eye piercing, undead feasting on corpses, the aforementioned shark, and lines of the undead crossing the Brooklyn Bridge linger well after the the closing credits.
The one thing about this film vs most of the other high end zombie films, Romero's "Dead" Trilogy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 28 Days Later, etc. is that it is pretty much no subtext. It is a film designed to entertain, horrify and gross you out. That is all.
Not for everyone, especially not for those with a weak tolerance to movie blood and guts. Rumour has it that when it first screened in the united states in 1980, they handed out airline-style Barf-bags at the theatres.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

TIFF 2004 Wrap-up

After 34 capsule reviews of each films, here are my favorite films of this years Toronto Film Festival. I did see a heck of a lot of asian films at this years festival, and the top three were from Japan, S. Korea, and China.

#1: Vital - Because I not only liked the ideas explored in this film (i.e. flesh as a record of the spirit and memories), but the look of the film, the music and story was spot on perfect. Definitely not for all tastes, but this one rang my bell.

#2 3-Iron - Because a good storyteller can tell capture the characters complexity without a word of dialogue between them. It has genuinely humourous moments and walks the line between fantasy and reality. There is real depth to this film.

#3 House of Flying Daggers - Because I'm a sucker for great cinematography (all the top three films excel in that dept) and keep falling for chinese melodrama. The wu xia choreography and the talent of the actors bring this to a level that only the recent art-fu films (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and King Hu's Come Drink with Me and A Touch of Zen) were able to achieve.

Most Inspirational - Moolaade's tale of a woman standing up to the tribal leaders so that the girls of the tribe will not have to undergo genital mutilation makes you want to stand up and cheer. It is a passionate cry against fascism of any kind.

Best Puzzle Box Film - Primer is a real mindbender. If you like a mental workout while watching a film, this is best of breed. Saw was, surprisingly, a close second.

Best Midnite Madness Film - Kontroll's depiction of the Budapest Subway system as a small world of pure anarchy stands out. Even though it was not as extreme as the midnite movies typically are, it was a great ride. Overall it was a very strong year for the midnight program.

Best Funny - A two-way tie between the Kung-Fu chaos and CGI mayhem of Kung-Fu Hustle and Zebraman, the gentle satire of 70's Japanese Action heros. Both films made fun of their genre while being a stand-out film with it at the same time.

Worst Film Overall - 9 Songs was an experiment by Micheal Winterbottom that can be regarded as a failure on nearly every level. I'm glad he did it though, here is hoping his next experiment is a success. In the meantime, avoid this film like the plague.

Over the course of the Festival I was Snapping the occasional photo, here is a sampling. (Sorry if they are boring, but most of them are actors or directors in front of a movie screen with a microphone!)

Zhang Yimou (one of my favorite directors) was at the TIFF for his newest: House of Flying Daggers

Olivier Assayas and Maggie Cheung: Ex-husband and Ex-Wife that can still make movie magic together. Clean is a fantastic piece of world hopping cinema.

The lovely ladies of Kung Fu Hustle put on a funny show both on the stage before hand, and their performances in the movie. Trivia: the older lady had a small part (a long time ago) in James Bond: Goldfinger.

The Woodsman: Kevin Bacon the Star, Lee Daniels the Producer, Nicole Kassell the Director give good Q&A.

Just how far back you can be at the Ryerson? The Machinist was experienced from a least a 1/2 km away from the screen. Fortunately, we had people in line and never had to sit this far away again. Oddly, it worked for this particular screening, because The Machinist is about distorted perception from lack of sleep and disconnection from reality (the could sum up the entire midnite programme). The tiny man on stage is Midnite Madness director Colin Geddes, who is given huge props for giving me a free Ghost in the Shell: Innocence ticket after I lost mine running down to the Ryerson theatre from the previous screeing in Yorkville.

Cast of Silver City on the Elgin Stage. Kudos that nearly everyone showed up (minus Richard Dreyfus, Tim Roth and Thora Birch). Note how much taller Daryl Hannah is over Chris Cooper. Special note about the Elgin, they were giving out FREE BEER this year, and were very generous to provide three rounds of Sleeman Cream Ale on one particular visit.

Gordon Pinsent knows how to give a great intro speech for the (Canadian Restored) movie he wrote and starred in from 1972 (The Rowdyman)

Ousmane Sembene and Translator stayed for a 45 minute discussion of the barbaric practice of female circumcision in 34 of the 58 countries in Africa. He is over 80 and made it up to the Festival. Good on 'im.

Wim Wenders, his writer Michael Meredith and the star of Land of Plenty, John Diehl give a political commentary about the state of america under George Bush and the lack of any constructive debate between the Right and Left for the past 4 years.

The Festival happens in Toronto, but doesn't take over the city by a long shot, it rather blands into the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. Here, revelers pack the streets after Canada wins the World Cup of Hockey. I was seeing Kung Fu Hustle and still believe I got the better deal. One of the guys who was joining us for the film bailed when he got tickets to the Hockey game at Air Canada Center. Rob, it was your loss!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

KBT: Shaun of the Dead

Today's KBT screening was Shaun of the Dead. I think that everyone had a blast. What a perfect gem of a film. Every single joke works and it only gets better on multiple viewings. It's so difficult to meld Horror and Comedy into a workable film. Mental note: Check out every episode of Spaced ever made. Certainly the best Romantic Zombie Comedy (RomZomCom) ever made.

For those of you interested in checking out the film when it opens this friday here is my blurb:

George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (ignoring the remake for the moment) was a social critique of consumerculture: How endless consumption of americans is not too muchdifferent than Zombie behavior. Shaun of the Dead puts a british spin on this idea and reinvents it as a slacker comedy. The apocalypse is at hand, but Shaun is so caught up in his own girlfriend and family problems that a couple days go by before he even notices. When he starts fight back the hordes of undead, his self-esteem gets a needed boost. Destined to become a cult classic right up there with OFFICE SPACE and CLERKS.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Two men wake up in a dingy bathroom lit by flickering neon lights and full of rusty pipes of which they are chained to by the leg . The body of a man with his head blown off and a tape recorder in his hand lies between them. The are chained to the pipes. Welcome to the next stage of the serial killer puzzle film. The writer and director definitely seen all of David Fincher's films. Saw is an amalgamation of Seven, The Game and Panic Room. Throw in a bit of Vincenzo Natali's Cube and you've got yourself about as high-concept of a film as you can get.
I had low expectations going into the film from the trailer, which looked creepy but not particularly original. So, hats off to young pups James Wan and Leigh Wannell for pulling this off with a nice brand of nasty verve.
To go into the story would be to spoil the grungy, gory fun of the whole affair. The movie is about the story, there is little subtext other than the multiple meanings of the title and puzzle of who the killer actually is. The killer wants his victims to appreciate their own life (one gets the feeling that he spies on them for a while and find them taking things for granted), so he gives them Prisoner Dilemmas of the most gruesome type.
Saw doesn't revolutionize or reinvent the genre, but is a solid entry that makes very few missteps.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Steam Boy

When you get this close to the end of over 30 movies in 10 days, you begin to get a bit burned out. I probably should have enjoyed Steam Boy more than I actually did. I is a huge epic adventure of invention set at the dawn of the industrial age. It is the story of a family of inventors from the grandfather who pioneered steam engine technology, to the father who is at the peak of his career, desiging the most magnificent edifice to Steam technology, and the son, Ray, who is a master at repair and design a very young age.
Ray's grandfather and father have different philosophies of how the science should be used, one wants science to be used for discovery and understanding, the other wants to use science for business and empire building. When they invent a steam ball which can hold a nearly infinite amount of steam pressure, enough to power a flying steam city. All hell breaks loose with Ray in the middle.
The film takes place mostly in London and it has never looked as good as it does with Katsuhiro Otomo's (Akira) animation. This film is as good looking as Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, but in different ways. It leans a little more on the 2D component, but the 3D CGI elements are flawlessly integrated.
For this type of rip-roaring adventure set in the past, the movie feels like it is missing an act however. Nearly half of the film is spent with a battle between an American think tank which is funding Ray's father and the London Guard. This is magnificent, and has that pulp science fiction from the turn of the century feel to it. But it feels like the whole affair is just lacking something extra.
The film is about how mankind handles the power of science. How things turn out afterwards, when man realizes the potential of science is done through stills over the closing credits and is as magnificent in style as is the rest of the film.


When we are young and do crazy things, do we flirt with death because we do not understand it, or are we just wired that way?
Vital was the best film of the Toronto Film Festival 2004 that I saw (edging out 3-Iron by only the smallest of margins). It is the one of the strangest personal dramas in which a man recovers his humanity by literally dissecting his girlfriend. Before you lock in a mental picture of the previous sentence, know that the film is not gory in any way. It is one of the most respectful films to human flesh that I have ever seen. The anatomical pencil sketchs shown throughout the picture are hauntingly beautiful. This is not a horror film or even science fiction. It is a film which asks the deep human questions of how the flesh is connected to the spiritual. Can dead flesh be a record of who that person was, beyond the physial?
A man wakes up with Amnesia. He is told by his father that he was in a car accident with his girlfriend (who died). He enrolls in medical school and years later when he gets to his anatomy lab, gets his girlfriend as the cadaver. He does not know this at first. But has he does the hands-on-course work his memories of life with her begin to flood back. He is able to move on with his life because he has done this. The movie does not exist in the 'real world' but rather the metaphoric much like Antonioni, Bergman or even Vincent Ward. I don't think that even in Japan there would be a funeral ceremony given to the donated-to-science-cadavers after the classes were finished. I don't think that the school or the parents would even allow this thing to happen once they knew the connections between student and cadaver. But the film is not about the plot. It is about deep spiritual questions.
That these questions are answered through visuals more than dialogue is another superior thing. It is difficult enough to address these questions with words. It is fascinating how the writer-director Shinya Tsukomoto actually makes this work!
The regaining memory 'flashbacks' has the lead character not just reliving the moments with his girlfriend, but also somehow being outside the moment, as if memory and nostalgia for the past give him a new way to interact with her. She is prescient and omnicient in those dreams. Her spark of life his done through a couple tour-de-force dance sequences against helplessly beautiful backgrounds. Far from being flashy however, the film is actually quite understated and the acting subtle.
The emotional and intellectual and even sexual engagement (no, there is no necrophilia for those of you with dirty minds) of the movie is unsurpassed this year for me. The film references Blade Runner (which for that, will put any movie at least on my curiously list) several times from memory as passing rain, to the belching smokestacks which open both films. Flesh as memory and the origin of the soul are deep themes in both films as well.
It makes me want to check out all of Tusokomotos films. I am somewhat aquianited with his Tetsuo from a years back, but my understanding was that it was a machine meets flesh (like David Cronenberg's films) guerilla horror film made on zero budget in the directors garage (Robert Rodriguez style). Vital however is a cinematography paradise and could compete with any of the beautiful art-films from around the world. I now must see all of his movies.

La Peau Blanche

One of the stranger meditations on racial relations that I've seen. A country-boy Quebec university student named Thierry and his roommate, Henri (Montreal born, but Hatian backgrackground) take a night on the town in Montreal. This leads to an amourous encounter with two prostitutes which turns violent for Henri. After leaving the hospital, Henri tells his family that they were assulted by skinheads. Theirry is uncomfortable with this, but supports his friends desire for discretion.
Theirry finds red-heads creepy normally (It's thier pale skin. --Note that the translation of title is "The White Skin"). He meets a red-head student which he becomes irrationally atracted to despite his aversion. These disjointed incidents begin to get connected.
What follows is a departure from drama and headlong into genre. The film is slow to build and never satisfyingly pays off, but I'm willing to cut some slack for this first-time filmmaker from Montreal. There is an offkilter beat to the way the film plays out that just worked for me.
I'm sure this will be played to death on The Canadian Movie Channels, it is well worth a look.
UPDATE: This film wom the best Canadian First feature award this years TIFF.

Rahtree: Flower of the Night

Rahtree is one of the rarest of films that succesfully blends Drama, Horror and Comedy into a satisfying whole. It's the Exoricist fused with the sensibility of Benny Hill. Larger than life characters which could only be described as Thai-trash (think trailer parks in Bangkok) attempt to purge the ghost that has taken residence in their high-rise appartment building. Several holy figures (from many religions) as well as the police, scam-artists, and even hair-dressers file into the appartment hoping to get rid of it.
Thai genre cinema should be getting international attention with entries such as Rahtree, Ong Bak and 6ixtynin9. They both scream out to the world to be seen and enjoyed by hardcore genre fans who will get the references to the western films as well as the recent asian horror revival (Ju-on, The Eye, and The Ring)

Friday, September 17, 2004

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Z Channel is a treasure trove of art film clips in search of a documentary. It runs overly long, and could accomplish the portrait of Z Channel creator Jerry Harvey in a fraction of the run time. The man set the stage of art-films for the general public well before the rest of the world caught up with the marvels of view-on-demand, DVD and 500 cable channels. He played a large factor in influncing a young generation of film makers from Jim Jarmusch to Quentin Tarantino. He preserved and nurtured foreign directors from Paul Verhoeven to Luchino Visconti on american soil. And he was a champion for lost on misunderstood work of cinema from Heaven's Gate to Overlord. For any lover of foreign cinema, it's a great trip just to see bits of so many films in one place. He also commited suicide after murdering his second wife.
The exploration of Jerry Harvey's psyche, drive and ultimate demise just is not done well (how could it be, the guy was private and the act was a spontaneous surprise even to his closest friends. An hours worth of unconnected anecdotes could boiled down to one collage of several of the many interviewees trying to come to grips with his great accomplishments followed by such a horific act. The rest adds very little. If you want all the details however, this film provides them. If you want transcendence, there just is not much here.


What is undoubtedly this years Memento, Primer is a structural mindbender of the highest order (think La Jetee scripted by Robert Altman and shot by Steven Soderbergh). It is a 'hard' science fiction film without any special effects and set in the present. It is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue over gritty and disorienting camerawork. It was likely made very little money. But this is in service of the experience.
The audience is like a voyeur over the lives of several engineers who invent something which could change the world, but fear, paranoia and greed supercede any chance of trust. These young entrepreneurs wear their pressed white shirts and $20 ties not just to their day jobs, but even while they work on thier side-projects in one of the guys garage. The bicker, they fight, and they are petty little boys.
I will go no further than this in discussing the film it's best to go in cold. You will either be fully engaged at untangling the narrative or possible lost in its labyrinthine structure and procedorial minutae. If causality, paradox and nested reality pique your interest or you just like a good puzzle, this is not to be missed. A post screening discussion is demanded. I believe that I have pieced all the stuff together, but a second viewing is required to test my theory. Primer is not just a puzzle however. There is a lot of 21st century post-tech boom subtext from the characters behavior and it has a lot to say about the way things are done in high-tech (nay the entire business world) sector since the 1990s of instant-riches-today, burnout-crash tomorrow.
STRONG CAUTION: if you wish to experience this movie to its full effect, read no reviews, previews or watch no promos, trailers or other material. Being swept away in the films microcosm is the joy of the whole affair. Sure to be a DVD classic.

The Rowdyman

Every year the TIFF takes a classic Canadian film and makes a new restored print of the film. They screen it under the heading "Canada Open Vault". This years film was a golden oldie. One of the first major works of Canadian Cinema, written and starring an acting legend (O.K., only if you actually live in Canada) : Gordon Pinsent. It is the portriat of a jolly newfoundland fellow who has an infectuous desire to have fun and refuses to grow up. As the rest of his schoolmates get married, move away and leave his home town (Corner Brook, NFLD) things get complicated for him until he nearly breaks.
The film is all about Pinsent's performance which makes his aging boyish cad a very likeable fellow. And his character is not as simple as you first would think, his weekly visits to meet girls in St. John's include a trip to the old age home where he has a bond with an elderly patient who was once a womanizing legend himself. The conversations and body language between these two are at once tangential to the films narrative, but come back to the core of the picture. How to deal with yourself once you have spotted "the girl" that got away, the one you should have married.
What is great about this movie is that it is just damn fine storytelling (easy to follow, but subtly complex). A happier companion piece to another Canadian classic of Newfie losers who can't grow up, Going Down The Road, which came out only a year prior to The Rowdyman. These two films defined much of what types of Canadian films were made for a decade an a half as the Canadian Film scene was getting underway.
Side note: It was nice to see trains running in Newfoundland in this picture. The provincial government pulled all the railway tracks on the island up in the 1980s due to incompatible (with the mainland) rail standards .


If you think this posted picture is cool then this movie is for you. It is accessible cult cinema which is still pretty out there. A distracted and nebbish grade 3 school teacher makes a superhero costume for himself because he is such a huge fan of the cult TV show (cancelled after only 9 episodes) Zebraman. Zebraman fights crime and aliens from outerspace, often looking like seafood, with the help of his Zebracycle and his busty nurse (You guessed it, Zebranurse!)with a huge phallic needle (with two liquid get the image).
When the costume is complete, he tentatively goes out of his house to try it out. He buys a soda. The scene is hilarious. Unbeknowest to him, the aliens do invade and it is up to him and his often ripping and tearing homemade costume to become the new hero for the city of Tokyo.
For those familiar with mad-cap horror/yakuza/bodily-fluids director Takashi Miike, this is a gentle charming family film.
Zebraman is full of comic surprises and old-fashioned heroism with the occasional softened Miike moment (one particular face-punch, the results of a signature back-kick, or the birth of a green alien baby). It is also geek love at its most sublime that is perhaps best appreciated with a 1200+ midnight madness crowd.
Its biggest strength is capturing the joy of watching those ernestly bad superhero/spy/sci-fi/adventure films from the 50s-80s without feeling false or condescending. A man in a rubber crab mask and a Giant Green Marshmallow Blob(tm) attacking a building doesn't hurt either.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Eros is one of those anthology films which makes art-cinema fans drool. Three 30 minute films on the erotic from master directors. War Kong Wai. Stephen Soderbergh. Michelangelo Antonioni.
Sure they are all good well done shorts. "The Hand" is about the relationship of a tailor has to the right escort he makes close for, it is all through sound and touch. "Equlibrium" takes place in a psychiatrists (always perfect Alan Arkin) office as a hyper-stressed marketing guy (Robert Downey Jr. doing his thing) talks about his dream of the woman standing in a doorway and how it realates to the invetion of the Snooze Alarm (yes it is vaguely-erotic comedy). "The Dangerous Thread of Things" is so typically Antonioni it will please his fans (i'm one of those!) and annoy everyone else (99.8% of the planet). If you couldn't guess, it involves emotionally distant well-to-do rich folks wandering though landscapes which reflect thier emotional states and tell the story more clearly than the acting. (The Hand by Wai starring Gong Li was my favorite of the three if you were wondering as much for mood as for Christopher Doyle's (Hero) heartstopping cinematography), but they make you wish that the film makers would make full features rather than short subjects.


This is a TV movie out of the Netherlands about the psychological effects of Bullying. What makes this film so good is how understated and underplay the whole affair is. Any hint of melodrama or movie-of-the-week simplicity is left at the door. When this young 12 year old girl begins to be picked on by her classmates the fear is real. The way it affects her grades, her relationships at home and her extracirrular activies is a real as real can be. I dare you not to relate to this movie. That is all there is to it. It has a better than brilliant performance from first time actress Elske Rotteveel. It's one misstep is the addition of a limbless brother. While again it dances around the pitfalls of cliche regarding his presence in the movie, it pushes the heroine closer to the divine when it wasn't necessary. If you ever get the chance to see this, it is a quiet little gem.


This is Danny Boyle's third film about a big bag of money falling into the hands of unsuspecting people. In Shallow Grave, the roomates decide to hide the body of the moneys owner. It is a dark character driven piece on the evils of money. In Trainspotting, the money is from a drug deal which leads to the salvation of one character at the expense of the helpless and hopeless other characters. It is money as the salvation of the few.
Millions reminds me a lot of Groundhog Day. If you liked that movie, I think you will like this one.
It is a couple weeks before England adopts the Euro as its only currency. A man and his sons move out of their run-down townhouse and into a bright new, generic subdivision next to the traintracks. It's one of those planned neighborhoods that could be in Boulder Colorodo, Mississauga Ontario, or Redmond New Jersey. While playing in his box-fort (from made from the moving boxes) by the traintracks, a big bag of money falls from the sky and lands in the lap of the youngest son (he is about 8). His older brother (11) find out about the money. Their strategies for what to do with it are different. The youngest wants to give it to poor people. The oldest wants to buy all the latest toys, and buys a posse of friends which likens him to the president of the united states with an entorage of sunglasses wearing 11 year old secret service men. Of course the owner of the money, a criminal, comes looking for his ₤230,000. It's not hard to find out who has it. Things go from there.
The movie is told like a quasi-real fable (Ground Hog day meets Amelie). It's a bit obvious, a bit sappy (I mean it really wears its heart and mind on its sleeve), very very visual and of course not realistic at all. The youngest son literally talks to famous catholic saints equipped with halos and often smoking cigarettes. By all rights I should not have liked this film. But it works in nearly every single frame. (for the third time I will reference Ground Hog day!)
It's a feel good family film which is far far edgier than anthing made in North America. Tough to do. I will be recommending this to everyone (yes you will be sick of me doing so, but nah nah nah!)


What is surely the 'Clerks' of this years festival. Kontroll comes out of nowhere. It opens with a man reading a statement to the effect of: The following film is fiction. This is in no way a reflection on how the Budapest subway system operates. Any incidents are unrealated symbols of the directors story.
What follows is a movie that is a look into the world of the denizens of the Budapest underground. The characters that ride the midnight trains and the Kontroll officers which check to make sure they have a ticket (Budapest transit works on the honor system of buying a ticket to board the trains without gates).
The officers are a motely collection that without the arm-bands they wear, you couldn't tell them from the late-night customers. They are anti-social oddballs which try to enforce order in a chaotic environment where it seems that nobody actually pays for transit.
There is a book by Malcom Gladwell called the Tipping Point. One of the chapters in that book talks about the high murder rates in the New York Subway system in the late 1980s. The head of transit and chief of police cleaned up the problem by blitzing the subway system. But not in the way you would think. Instead they spent all their efforts painting over the graffitti and busting fare jumpers. This worked, and crime rates fell through the floor. Why did this work? Because in an environment of chaos, broken windows, graffitti and where nobody pays, people lose the perception of control and order and anarchy ensues. This feeling (and it is addressed in the movie) is one of the many layers of Kontroll.
There is a love-story component, a mystery-thriller involving subway jumpers and small character moments for each of the five enforcers. The joy in the movie is the immersive envorimnent of the underground which is carried off note-perfect. An unusal pace and fantastic cinematography (comeing to a peak with an full-on Rave on one of the platforms) is invigorating. Another one of the best of this years festival.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Land of Plenty

Don’t really have the courage
To stand where I must stand.
Don’t really have the temperament
To lend a helping hand.
-Leonard Cohen, Land of Plenty

Land of Plenty is perhaps Wim Wenders most accessible film to date. It is his essay on the affects of September 11, 2001 and the United States after that date. It is an incredibly positive view of uniting the left and the right in a dialogue rather than a rock-em-sock-em robot punching match.
Paul is a paranoid conspiracy theorist patrolling the streets of Los Angeles with survelience equipment trying to put observations together and sniff out terrorist cells. He was an adjusted Vietnam war veteran until the September 11 attacks which awoke the terror and fears he experienced in his past tours of duty.
His neice, Lana is returning to America from Tel Aviv with a letter from her mother (who has recently died) for her uncle Paul. She has been travelling in Africa and the Middle East with her parents who are missionaries. When she arrives in L.A. she takes a job in a homeless shelter in one of the poorest parts of L.A. (and probably the whole of America). She is full of idealism and optimism, but worldly as well.
Paul begins following an Arab man who is carrying around boxes of Borax from place to place. He is recording his findings with an audio journal (an a headset which never leaves his head) and camera equipment mounted in his van. When the man is shot in a drive-by shooting in front of the shelter which Lana works, Paul and Lana find each other by co-incidence. Paul is distant and uncommunicative, lost in his investigation and conspiracy theories. Since Lana talked with the man who was shot, she tries to break through to her uncle by helping in his investigation.
I'll leave where the investigation goes, it is one of the pleasures of the movie. However it does lead to a nice dialogue between Paul and Lana.

Wender's America is that of abject poverty and confusion and a view that America would be great again if reasonable dialogue on hot-button subjects was possible. Believe me however when I say that this is the most pro-american film I've seen in a while.


This film was made by the godfather of African Cinema, Ousmane Sembene; one of the first african directors to achieve international notice in 1966. This is his 13th film since 1963. This is the first of his films that I have seen. It is an impressive cry for revolution within the traditionalist confines of tribal Senegral. The authority of the men in the village is nearly absolute, and the status quo is maintained by prevention of the outside world to flow in. When one woman, Collé of the village refuses to have her daughter circumcised, she is dismissed as an eccentric who is ruining her daughters chance for marriage. (NOTE: Female circumcision is practiced to this day in 38 of the 54 african countries, and involves the ghastly practice of basically chopping off the clitoris. It results in many, many deaths of the young girls who undergo the procedure. From my limited exposure on the subject, it is only done because of tradition and to keep the women in line).
When several young girls run away from the ceremony and to Collé, she invokes a ritual of asylum, the Moolaadé for the childrens protection. She butts her head defiantly against the village elders, her husband and her brother-in-law, while getting support of many of the woman in the village.
The film is beautifully articulated revolution through ritual and the sacrifices of a revolutionary woman for her beliefs. It avoids cliché, and generates feelings of outrage against the traditions, sympathy for the woman. The story is told deliberately avoiding melodrama with excellently understated performances from the actors. If you like affecting drama, this is THE not-to-be-missed film for the year.


A character in this film who has just done a horrible thing cries out in fear anger and misery to God: "How many times can I be born again?!" If you find this line darkly amusing then Palindromes is perhaps the movie for you. Director Todd Solondz has a way of filtering the way characters behave through some sort of comic id. They say what people may think in the tiniest corner of their brian but is usually unconventional to let out any further than that. Case in point: When Ellen Barkin's character advises her daughter Aviva to get an abortion she tells her to think of how her life will be ruined if the child turns out deformed. This is perhaps an awful thing to say, but there may be a nugget of truth to the situation when that daughter is 13 years old. Later we see happiness and joy of children with various disabilities at a christian boarding home run by an ernest Mama Sunshine. These children are happy and productive. Later still, we see Mama Sunshine's husband planning the murder of an abortion doctor.
The central message of Palindromes is in the title, people cannot change with any sense of finality, but merely come back to the point at which they started. If they are a happy person by nature, they will probably end up happy, if they are depressed they may find temporary points of happiness, but will come full circle back at some point, because that is who they are. This is underscored by the decision to have several actors play aviva, from young teenagers to a heavy black woman in her twenties to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Trust me, it works and is nearly transparent to the story. Abortion, Pedophilia, Christian Pop Music and motherhood are all touched on during Aviva's Huckleberry-Finn-like journey. Somehow it is funny too. Solondz does not break much new ground from his previous films like Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, however he has made a finely crafted film.

Calvaire (The Ordeal)

With horror films in the United States being either self-aware, or remakes of classics or foreign affairs and the rest of the horror films coming mainly from asia, it is nice to see a very (very!) european horror film come along.
This one combines elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance with an eye for cinematography that also lends a Bergman-esque feel to the film. It is slow burn creepy which slowly (and i'm sad to say, obviously) charts down the path to insanity.
This poor lounge singer singer has some uncanny ability to allow everyone else in the movie to project their image of who he should be on top of him. When his van breaks down and he stays at a remote and isloated in...well bad stuff happens with the local hillbillies.
It is deliberately paced european horror with many lingering images.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Kung-Fu Hustle

At the film festival there are usually so few comedies. When seeing thirty films with strong and complex subject matter it is a treat to just set back and be mindlessly entertained. This is one of the most enjoyable movie experiences i've had in a while. It is the Warner Brother's Looney Toons meets the Shaw Brother's kung-fu! Director/Star Stephen Chow has not had his films imported across the ocean to large audiences despite the fact that he constantly beats Jackie Chan and Jet Li at the chinese box office. His movies combine a chinese sense of humour (a strange blend of humilation and violence passed off as farce) with lots of mainstream eastern and western film references. His Shaolin Soccer is a near-masterpiece of madcap lunacy with state of the art special effects and a campy premise.
Here Chow has upped the bar so high, I don't think he will ever top it. To give away the story is to destroy the many, many hilarious surprises that pile on top of each other. Suffice it to say that when the big city axe-gang (who do cheoreographed dance-numbers with their axes in 1930's gangster suits) moves in on pig-sty alley, the local residents aren't going to take it.
It is all very sumptuous and cinematic. It's the Singing in the Rain of Kung-fu films.
I cannot recommend this movie enough! When it plays in North America, and it will play, it is a great night at the movies.
WARNING: The preceding film is cheesy as hell, but a little boys kung-fu wet dream.

Nine Songs

Michael Winterbottom is a british director who as made several fascinating films which cross genre and narrative style. Here he tries to show the scope and trajectory of a relationship entirely through concert attendance, intimate moments in the apartment and graphic sex. A bold and interseting idea which crashes and burns so heavily here, I don't know where to start.
The characters are not interesting in themselves, the lighting is poor for no apparent reason, the concert footage is awful and the sound quality worse than a badly mixed cassette tape. While most of the sex scenes are 'realistic' they made no connection to me whatsoever. (The idea that I would would definately be having more interesting sex than what I am watching comes to mind). There is a metaphor of antarctica being a contient with a memory longer than anything else on earth. The story is told in flashbacks as the main character is on an expidition there. His voice over narration is badly done though and the metaphor of lonliness and coldness now versus warmth and passion then is trite. Even worse is the "i'm lonely in a crowded room" line.
I was a big fan of Winterbottom's 24 hour Party People and I like Go Now (i've heard that Code 46 and In this World are fantastic). This was the worst film I've seen (thus far) and a huge disappointment. (Heck, I like the gay p0rn film better.)

Monday, September 13, 2004


For those who enjoyed the heavy dialogue and charismatic mysoginy of Roger Dodger, this is Dylan Kidds followup. He is still playing within the confines of gender politics, but this movie casts a much wider net. There is an added element of the mystical in P.S. When Louise, a Columbia admissions director, is going through possible art program admissions one strikes her eye because he has the same name as a high-school boyfriend who died in a car accident. When she interviews him, she finds out he also looks the same and talks the same. She begins an affair with him (probably increasing his chances of getting in!) but they eventually have to deal with the unexplained. Complicating this Louise's ex-husband who maintains a friendship with her, and her best friend (an always brilliant Marcia Gay Harden) who is both anatagonizing her and is her conscience.
The movie is interesting because it takes a potentially science-fiction idea and treats it like a character drama. People behave like real people. The immensly talented Laura Linney plays Louise as a woman in her late thirties whose life did not go as expected and she is both self-assured and fragile at the same time. Topher Grace moves up from T.V. to give an assured performance as a self-confident young man who takes life as it goes, but has a passionate and strong moral centre. He is wise beyond his years (and beyond the cliche of that sentence).
The movie is about addiciton, art, relationships and confusion of being in something that is both familiar and new at the same time. Every relationship that you enter has echos of the past ones. The movie deals with this in both the literal and abstract way.
I liked this movie a lot, but it could be elevated by a second viewing or completely collapse.

Gunner Palace

Picture the middle chapter of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket where the soldiers are talking to the film crews and hanging around Saigon. Now fuse this with the talk-to-the-camera, run-through-the-streets style of Fox TV's COPS. That is the style and tone you can expect from this engrossing documentary. It follows a gunner squad which are HQed in on of Uday Hussein's pleasure palace (with on side sheared off from the bombing campaign) and police the city. They talk shit, they rapp, they party in the pool and go out on arrest raids, examine potential explosive devices and in one scene teach a local politician how to operate a pistol.
Taken with Farenheit 911 (socio-political) and Control Room (journalism) Gunner Palace is one group of soldiers point of view on the war as they are right in the middle of it. The thing that is constantly repeated is that what is on the news is nowhere near a reflection of the reality of day-to-day life in Baghdad. Most of the soldiers are pro-soldier but anti-war.
Gripping, humourous, sad, frustrating, and poignant are words that come to mind as the film his overlayed with a rap soundtrack actually composed from many of the soldiers in the group. The documentary doesn't tell you what to think, but rather just shows you what is happening and lets you take away what you will.

Raspberry Reich

Easily the worst film i've seen this year at the festival, it was nonetheless a unique experience. How often do you get the chance to sit in the comfortably generic multiplex environs of the manulife centre in those high-back posh seats and watch a gay p0rno film with 600 other people. And that's not all. While everyone is having sex (in the film!), they are spouting out marxist slogans such as "heterosexuality is the opiate of the masses!" and "The revolution is my boyfriend!" OK, it was still just a p0rn film and the acting and production values were on that level. But it was intentionally comic, had a historical context (The German terrorists of the 1970s) different and it was an interesting midnight crowd.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Woodsman

The woodsman is a straight-up story of a pedophile who is trying to integrate himself back into society after 12 years in prison. He is not a nice man, and he is not innocent of his crimes, although the movie softens him a bit (he only touched little girls hair, no overt sexual acts are implied). The movie takes his side mainly and is a discourse on how people jump to conclusions and throw their blame, hate, and prejudice at the issue due to the emotional nature of his crimes. Though the movie could be about many other crimes which people believe are guilty before innocent.
There is the the cop that is always watching him with a hateful glare. Family members don't want to have anything to do with him. There is the girl at his office which begins digging into his past and showing printouts to his co-workers ("The community has a right to know"). But there is also a kind coworker who trys to understand him further and a fair boss which believes it doesn't affect his job (the work is in a lumber yard).
All the while, he is trying to rehabilitate but is tempted often by the kids on the bus and his own impulses. This movie is not handled in a facile way (as hopefully these few paragraphs do not imply), however it does feel 'scripty' at times because the movie is handling political issues and narrative simultaneously. It is a good, if dark mainstream film with an excellent performance by Kevin Bacon at the centre.


Coming off of other festivals with the marketing hook of "This film was made for $218", the screening for this film at the cumberland theatre was so tight that one of the agents of the film tried giving me passes and free press-screenings (at a later date) for my tickets. I had to refuse because i was curious (and I had already waited 40 minutes in line.
The movie is a quite astonishing blend of photographs, home film, home video, audio clips, text crawls across the screen, film clips, etc. The narrative involves a family which could come close to rivaling the Friedmans. Shock therapy, abuse, dysfunction run rampant. But there is always that human brave-face on things, particularly because you are watching the 'happy moments' that people are want to do when they roll the camera, snap the photo, or leave the phone message. You know there is miles of the unexplored gunk beneath the surface.
It is fascinating how the director John Caouette puts it all out there, as an expose, as therapy, as oddly middle-american art. At no point does the film feel exploitive or crass. However I don't see how this could ever play outside a festival environment as it is a fusion of narrative, documentary and avant garde film. Unmanipulatative. Fascinating. Haunting.
(But as far from the mainstream documentary as can be.)


The next film by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk is a brilliant take on the disconnect between reality and fantasy in modern society. A homeless man drifts through a city squatting in homes where the owners are on vacation. He eats some of their food, takes a shower, sleeps in their bed and usually takes a picture of his stay. He repays the favour by fixing little things in their house. In one home he is caught by one of the owners, a young woman who used to be a model, but is now a housewife. She has bruises on her face. She leaves with him and joins him in his benevolent squatting. They are sometimes caught by the owners and some less than pleasant things happen. It is a difficult movie to describe. There is almost no dialogue, much in the same way of Ki-Duk's previous film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...And Spring.
In the complexities of modern living, every person has a way to deal with the unpleasant parts. Television, vacation to the lake or a theme park, a round of golf or even holing up in your house and not going out can offer a temporary escape. When the escape eclipses the reality priorities get turned around and life can become surreal and disconnected. The hero of 3-iron lives each day of his life in a new small microcosm of reality and manages to bring in someone else for a very unique connection.
The best film at the festival so far.

House of Flying Daggers

Zhang Yimou's follows Hero with another big matrial arts (wu xia) film. Gone is the formal use of colours and the intellectual bent on story telling. House of Flying Daggers is pure, unabashed chinese melodrama. This is not a bad thing, although those expecting something along the lines of Yimou's message charged previous work will be somewhat let down. Zhang Ziyi is definitely maturing as an actress and she gets an upgrade from supporting roles in high-profile Asian exports (Crouching Tiger, Hero) to Leading Lady. Her two potential lovers are played well by top-not actors (Hong Kong's Andy Lau and half-Taiwanese, half-Japanese Takeshi Kaneshiro).
The story involves a lot of disguises, double crosses and emotional confusion set in historical China. The plot mechanics are startlingly similiar (or reminded me of anyway) to another Andy Lau picture, Infernal Affairs (which is not surprisingly on tap for american remake by none other than Martin Scorcese!!!???!!!)
The movie is techically superior in the genre in every way, even to Hero which was a true benchmark of wu xia only two years ago. The 'Echo Game' dance sequence is breathtaking and original. The bamboo forest sequence is a brilliantly staged homage to King Hu. And the fight sequences have more originality that one would expect, making Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger look dated before they have even significantly aged.
In December, go see this on the big screen for the beauty of the ballet-like fighting, the pageant-like costumes and the sumptuous scenery. Zhang Yimou again has the landscape and rooms the characters physically occupy completely repesent the mood of the scene. Remember the leaves going blood red at a characters death in Hero? Wait till you see what is done here.

The Machinist

You will not believe your eyes when you see Christian Bale in this film. This goes beyond the weight gain of Robert Deniro in Raging Bull, Jeff Bridges in the Big Lebowski or Rene Zellweger in Bridgit Jones's Diary. Well actually it goes the other way. Bale looks like a skeleton with skin and nothing more. Think "Sloth" in Seven or pictures of WWII concentration camps.
He plays a lonely press operator in a dilapitated factory who cannot and has not slept properly for over a year. Reality beings to be distorted, paranoia sets in. He alienates the few buddies he has at work (in a particularly nasty fashion his coworker played by Canadian Micheal Ironside), as well a nice waitress in the airport coffeshop which he goes every night after work and finally his prostitue girlfriend (an alway excellent, but criminally underused Jennifer Jason Leigh).
One cannot help but think that Edgar Allen Poe would be even happy to watch this movie in a morphine induced haze.
Two trivia bits: The movie was financed, shot and produced completely in Spain because nobody in hollywood would pick it up (the subject matter is dark but not as dark as I thought it would be). Look for a bizarre cameo from British Actress matron Anna Massey who is in the film for no discerable reason and given little to do.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Silver City

Silver city is loosely connected series of satirical sketches which are savage, sharp and best of all very, very funny. Director Jon Sayles is no stranger either the political film or the ensemble film. Here is is treading familiar territory as Lone Star, but with a different goal: The wholesale of American resources to private interests. Well that as well as corruption of the media, puppet strings on the politicans, the injustices of migrant labour and the failure of labour policies to be inforced within the commodies sector of the U.S. The cast is mostly underused, mainly due to the number of characters and ground the story wishes to cover. It includes a brilliant Chris Cooper as a wannabe Texan governer with no brain and hilariously bad public speaking skills (Similarities to actual politicans are absolutely intentional), Richard Dreyfuss as the Karl Rove type handler/political advisor who really runs the show, Kris Kristofferson as the Billianaire CEO who owns just about everything in Texas except the national parks, Daryl Hannah as the scandalous sister of the potential governer that is paid off to stay away, Billy Zane as a cynical political mouthpiece, Tim Roth as an underground conspiracy-newspaper editor, Danny Huston as the dorky, but earnest ex-reporter-turned-political messengerboy who finds not a closet full of skeletons, but an entire underground mine, and Marial Bello as his ex-girlfriend reporter.
The lack of focus prevents it from ever being one of Sayles masterpieces, but it is very, very good and the ending scene is as savage and condemning of the current U.S. administration as anything in a Micheal Moore picture.

Alzheimer Case

Director Erik Van Looy can only be described as the Belgian Michael Mann. His glossy slick thriller seems to be cut from similar cloth as Heat and Collateral. An ultra professional assassin is hired to eliminate the political rivals of a rich and powerful Baron. But the assassin is getting old and struggling with Alzheimers disease and is often disoriented and confused. He finds out on this second mark that the target is a 12 year-old girl. He refuses citing professional ethics. The Baron then puts out a hit on the assassin leading to a reversal of sides. Meanwhile the police are investating the case of one the first assassination and get confused when the bodies start to pile up on both sides.
The movie is engrossing, mainly due to the performance of Jan DeClair (the aging master of Belgium Cinema) which is nuanced and avoids the Alzheimer conceit from ever felling like a gimmick. This is a character who is having trouble with reality and dealing with the loss of his professional competence which for him is his entire life. His gruff moral code will be familiar to North American audiences even as the movie exudes a welcome european flavour (particularly one sequence involving a prostitue and her treatment by both a potential client and later the assassin).
There is the requisite police banter and interdeptmental politics amoungst the cops and politicians which are not particularly noteworthy other than to explain the actions of some of the plot. The film shines and has a particular Micheal Mann influence in the banter between the highly professional investigator and the assassin. For most the movie they are working on the same side, but the cop is using law inforcement procedure, and the assassin using vigilante techniques.
The conclusion is tense and well conceived. The movie will not revolutionize the genre, but is better than the usual entries in the assassin/cop category.


French director Olivier Assayas is an interesting filmmaker. He makes his films to look real first and cinematic second. He loves open endings (and this film is no exception). And he can always make his actors feel like they are their characters.
With Clean, he tells the story of Emily, a actress/singer mother who is addicted to drugs and loses her boyfriend (and father of their child) to heroin she purchased. The grandparents on the father's side take custody as she does 6 months in prison for possession. She comes out of prison on methadone with a career in shambles, little money an no immediate family except an uncle who gives her a waitress job. She wants to have communication with her son, but the grandparents forbid it until she gets off drugs.
What follows is a very sensitive and human portrayal of someone kicking a drug habit and struggling on without support. Maggie Cheung gives perhaps the best performance of her career (although i've only seen about 60% of her films). She often plays cold uncaring characters like her turn as a woman being cheated on in In the Mood for Love or her icy revolutionary in Hero. Here she is an absentee mother but manages to radiate a warmth through desparation and confusion. It's quite complex. Everyone else in the film revolves around Emily. She is without roots drifting from Hamilton, Vancouver, London and Paris while maintaining a home nowhere and only tentative contact to her father-in-law who is one of the few characters in the film which do not either judge her for her drug-use or blame her for the death of his son. Nick Nolte turns in a nuanced and delicately gruff performance (as he can do very well).
The movies fierce abandonment of drug-use cliches and thoughtful approach to the subject differentiates it from many films on the subject ranging from romantication (Trainspotting) or oppressive (Pure). The movie has tragedy and dramatic moments without ever devolving into melodrama or movie-of-the-week which the basic story could have easily gone that way. The scenes with and her son are handled so fresh and real that I wish there were more of them. A breath of dramatic fresh air, despite being shot partially in Hamilton! :)
Highly recommended.


Christopher Smith's first feature film is a good, but by no means a perfect film. He shows an incredible competence for the jump-scare style horror film which raises the level of scariness beyond most entries in the genre. As a script writer however, he needs a lot of work. The film goes off the rails (pun intended) so many times here that it undermines the great acting from Franka Potente *Transmitting Fanboy Love*.
The story is simple. A woman leaves a party to catch a late subway train, falls asleep in the station and is locked inside. She is being stalked by something underground and interacts with a lot of the people who live and/or work down there in both the active tunnels and the many abandoned ones. There is not much subtext here (these are not Guellermo Del Toro's sewers) other than a brief and darkly humourous comment on how the average city dweller thinks of the homeless.
The scares are many, and most are pretty darn effective. One of the movies strengths is that there are many scenes in which the movie does things just a bit different than your average horror film. Just when things are getting interesting, it gets all convetional again. At a certain point believability is pushed way out of bounds and the last 20 minutes are chalk full of badly executed horror cliches that cheapen the great 1st and 2nd acts.
I give this a luke-warm recommendation to hard-core horror fans (this is way too much for the average multiplex horror fan), while at the same time, i'm really looking forward to his next film where he may hopefully work out the snags.

Turtles Can Fly

Using maimed or missing limbs on children as a metaphor for the impotence of the Iraqi people is a good give-away that you are not in for a happy film. It is also probably impossible to make a film set in Iraq in the past year and not have it political in some way. This film nonetheless manages to have hints of humour and hope meshed into the story of children looking after their own. The main character, nicknamed Satellite is a 13 year old technology whiz in a land where 30 antennas are desperatly held up by the towns people to try to get a TV signal for news of the impending war in March 2003. Satellite is brimming with self-confidence and competence and has a small armada of refugee children collecting live mines on a Iraq/Turkey border town and selling them back to whoever will buy them. His little entrepreneurship gets threatened when an impetuous armless kid, his attractive sister and the 2 year old kid they are looking after are not falling into the business plan. Satellite also develops a budding attraction to the girl who has issues of guilt, loss and suffering that nobody of her age should have to deal with (a theme which runs througout the picture in ways which defy audience expectation). Satellite puts his faith in technology and business and thus, his hope lies in the USA. By the end of the film when Americans finally come, too many things have happened for him to really be happy. The film is dark, but lyrical and sophisticated. There is a tense scene around a landmine which worked more effectively than most thrillers ever get (I was literally on the edge of my seat), but the film seems made with the intent to anger, frustrate and haunt the viewer. It works effectively at this aim. Certain images are sure to linger.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Ghost in the Shell: Innocence

How many ways can i express my disappointment in this film. It is a tragic waste that the most beautifully crafted anime film ever made (and i've seen quite a few of them) is in service of such an unnecessarily dense and overly ponderous story.
80% of the dialogue consists of characters quoting literature and philosphical tidbits which i would not have a problem with if were properly meshed into the texture of the story. Instead it is an oxymoronic tableaux of explicit subtext in search of a film.
Unfortuately the visuals which consist of a Bladerunner-esque futurisitic megalopolis and Darryl Hannah-type leathal pleasure model robots can only please the eye,. The brain is bored when it should be stimulated by the expressions of the nature of man and his empathic connection to his own DNA.
Oh and the movie has the most well realized animated dog since the Triplettes of Belleville.
The midnite madness program begins with a stunningly beautiful thud.

Human Touch

Paul Cox's new film deals with the immediacy of human relationships, and is contrasted with images and ideas of the infinite. There are scenes of both an artists rendering of catacombs with chicken wire and lights, and later in the film actual Million Year old caves which are breathtaking in the power of their images.
Anna and her boyfriend David do not have sexual relations in thier partnership any more and are looking for was to rekindle both the erotic and the intimate. He seeks an anonymous encounter at a massage parlour. She finds a rich potential sponsor of her choir who takes nude photographs of her. This causes further breakdown in Anna and David's relationship. They take a trip to France for one last attempt to pick up the pieces.
One thing about Paul Cox's films is his ability to delicately capture nudity. I cannot think of another filmmaker that does this quite as well. This film shares on the surface anyway, many touches from his earlier film "Man of Flowers". But it is far more about the girl than the fella this time.
There is a lot of real ground covered in how men and women percieve intimacy and the differences in how they express thier frustration when things aren't working.
An excellent film to start the festival.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

beaucoup filme, pas le temp

10 days, 253 features (not to mention 70 or so shorts) , of which I hope to do just over 12%. Tomorrow and Friday are two films days, with many three, four and five film days to come. Films I am particularly looking forward to are Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers. It is his second wu xia film after the highly successful Hero (first in China, then Asia, then everywhere but North America, and finally the past few weekends in Canada & the U.S.). This film is said to be higher than Hero in emotional power but less intellectual. Judging from the trailers, it is equally sumptious to look at.
Second on my 'looking forward to' list is Clean. A film with a chinese star (the gorgeous Maggie Cheung), directed by a frenchman and set in Hamilton, Ontario. Cheung is a favorite of mine, and here she is (supposedly) in top form as a mother fighting a custody battle for her son.
The first film I am scheduled to see is Human Touch, from Australian director Paul Cox. If you have not had a chance to see his mature romance drama Innocence, you must stop reading this and run to the video store, it was probably the best film of 2001. While you are there, pick up The Devil's Backbone and Ghost World, two other top-shelf 2001 dramas.
There are midnight madness films which are high on my list as well, including the animated feature Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. It is one of two anime epics from two of the three reigning masters of Japanese animation, Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira). The third master, Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) has a new film called Howl's Moving Castle which is curiously absent from this years festival considering his last two films were huge audience favorites. I guess two anime pictures is enough for one international film festival.
Also on my schedule are new films from Dylan Kidd (Roger Dodger), Todd Solondz (Happiness), Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), John Sayles (Lone Star), Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire), Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer), Micheal Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) and Takashi Miike (Audition). This is not mentioning films as from an incredibly diverse set of countries including Belgium, Iran, Senegral, Thailand, and Australia.
It's going to be a packed week with little sleep and it starts tomorrow. Look for daily updates to this blog for the next 10 days. For those of you used to seeing getting my Movie Quote of the Day, it will be on hold until after the Festival is over.

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