Zombieland photoshoot: Jesse Einsberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Reuben Fleischer
Zombieland press conference: Reuben Fleischer, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Jesse Einsberg
People waiting for Zombieland
Last couple of days in Sitges were hectic. I had no time to write pretty much anything – hence the lack of reports and this extremely short post. Saturday was Zombie Day, and that meant almost 10 feature films with zombies, plus the worldwide famous Zombie Walk – another huge success, almost 4.000 fans dressing up as zombies and roaming the streets of Sitges. The start of the walk was given by the Zombieland cast, meaning Jesse Einsberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and director Reuben Fleischer. All four of them also had a press conference at noon that I attended and that I’ll be posting shortly.
In terms of movies – I’ve seen another four: a good-looking but somewhat shallow drama (Accidents Happen), a good and tensed French zombie flick (La horde), a very bad attempt at another British zombie comedy that failed miserably on all levels (Doghouse), and a superbly fresh and inventive zombie comedy that’s totally worth all the hype and top 150 all-time rank on imdb (Zombieland).
Sunday started with the Viggo Mortensen press conference – useless, cause the man speaks fluent Spanish so – again – there was no English translation. At least director John Hillcoat spoke English. Then the award winners were announced – you can check it out here – and, to my total joy, two of my fave movies received the main awards, Moon and Enter the Void.
In terms of movies, I started with the Scandinavian thriller Millennium 2, that was surprisingly average. Maybe the biggest disappointment of the festival was The Immaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which is a good movie. However I was expecting awesomeness, and, except for some breathtaking scenes, didn’t get any. The film looks terrific, but that’s it. I found the story surprisingly weak.
Last film of the festival was also one of its best. John Hillcoat’s The Road is cinema at its finest. It’s a very bleak and dark drama about a father and his son roaming the American wasteland after the world as we know it ended. Very faithful to the source material (Pullitzer winner Cormac McCarthy’s outstanding novel), the film is exactly as it’s supposed to be, and – Thank God – plays exactly as it should, without choosing the easy way of emphasizing the action, but playing as a character drama in a beautifully dark post-apocalyptic world. The acting is top notch from both main protagonists, while some of the scenes are nothing less than memorable.
In this report: Accidents Happen 6/10, La horde 7/10, Doghouse 3/10, Zombieland 9/10, Millennium 2 5/10, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus 7/10, The Road 10/10.
Duncan Jones and Sam Rockwell
Me & Duncan Jones (sorry for the crappy quality)
Sitges at night
Sitges at day
Me & Gaspar Noe
Heartless press conference (2nd: Philip Ridley, 3rd: Jim Sturgess)
Another beautiful day here in Sitges. It’s Friday, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The festival has been awesome so far – the films are great, the screening quality is impressive, and so is the audience. Pretty much every single movie at the Auditorium attracts huge crowds – there are at least 700-800 people even for the midday screenings, while the evening screenings are always sold out, and that’s not an easy task – the main theater has almost 1.500 seats. What I really love about the audience is the way they behave. I’ve already seen almost 20 movies here, and I never heard a phone ring during the screenings. Not once. Everyone applauds when it’s necessary, and people really get involved in the stories. After all of this, I doubt I’ll ever enjoy a horror film in Romanian theaters from now on.
No press conferences today – actually there are a couple, but with Spanish directors, the kind of conferences foreign journalists don’t even bother to attend to, because they aren’t translated.
So, as soon as I got to Sitges (around noon), jumped straight in for the first film: George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead. I’m a huge fan of Romero’s zombie flicks, their originality, their political and social commentaries. This one has nothing. It’s by far Romero’s worst film of at least the last decade. It looks and feels more like a sequel attempt by a beginner director, than an original film from the master himself. The story surrounds a bunch of guards (those who stopped the van of the kids doing the documentary of the last Romero flick, Diary of the Dead), and their attempts to find an area not infested with zombies. They eventually find an isolated island, but stumble in the middle of a useless war between two local Irish gang leaders and their silly feud. One of them thinks the zombies should be killed, the other doesn’t, and they each want to prove the other wrong by increasingly horrible means. Add a rebellious daughter (and her dead twin sister – in one of the silliest “revelations” I’ve seen lately) to the mix – and you get the full picture of a disappointing movie in which the only good thing is the variety of ways to kill zombies. However, if that’s all I’m gunning for, I’d rather wait for Zombieland. From Romero, I expected a lot more.
Cold Souls is another movie I was expecting more from. The premise is superbly inventive and original: a sad and hopeless Paul Giamatti, playing as himself, decides to use a service that gets rid of people’s souls, only to find out afterwards that his soul has been sent to Russia and might end up on the black market. Unfortunately, the film isn’t as interesting as the idea. Most of the time, the story feels hollow and meaningless, although all the elements were in place for something really fun and wild. Other than that, Paul Giamatti is as amazing as always, providing another proof of the great actor he is.
Next film, a Hong Kong thriller called Accident, produced by Johnnie To. A beautifully shot movie about a group of contract killers, that murder their targets by staging fancy accidents. However, things get complicated after a hit goes horribly wrong, and the team leader suspects he has been betrayed by his teammates. During a couple of the assassinations, I felt like watching a human Final Destination, with very inventive, but maybe a bit forced staging of accidents. The film looks great, with dark, convincing shots of the claustrophobic and busy metropolis. The story holds well together – the only thing that didn’t convince me were the characters, well underdeveloped. However, a good, fun watch.
Last film of the day, one of the most talked about low-budget horror movies of the year, Paranormal Activity. What, another film shot by the main character with a handy cam? Yep. But is it working? YEP. Just like Blair Witch, this couldn’t have been made otherwise. It works simply because shooting everything with a camera by the character makes everything look and feel real. And that’s the only huge asset this film has: it looks and feels real. That’s what makes it scary and intense, that’s what makes you feel for these characters. If your downstairs neighbor would buy a handy cam and start shooting his apartment, that’s how it would look like. The film is extremely effective, although most scares can be seen coming. There are however some that can’t, and they are really well done. The packed Auditorium (almost 1.500 people) literally screamed a couple of times, shrieked a few other times, and seemed really caught in the events. It’s hard not to – the film is very effective. Nothing groundbreaking here, but a very good flick for all horror enthusiasts.
In this report: Survival of the Dead 5/10, Cold Souls 6/10, Accident 6/10, Paranormal Activity 8/10.
Thursday, another busy day here in Sitges. I started it with a couple of press conferences. First, Philip Ridley and Jim Sturgess came to present their new beautifully crafted fantasy-horror flick, Heartless, that I’ve seen (and wrote about) yesterday. Just like with Sam Rockwell and Duncan Jones, I’ll post their answers a bit later – I really don’t have any time right now to transcript everything. The second press conference was useless – Gaspar Noe is born in Argentina, speaks Spanish perfectly, and there was no translation, so I stood the entire 30 minutes not understanding anything. I’m glad I did stay, cause I got the chance to meet the man aftewards. Ever since Irreversible, he’s been one of my idols, so it was great to actually talk to him personally.
Thursday meant 4 more movies, again, all of them at the Auditorium. I’m not purposely planning to avoid the other 2 theaters, but the headquarters are here, the important movies are here, and there’s a 15 minute walk to the other locations, not very tempting with the hot weather outside.
I started the day with A Town Called Panic, an innocent Belgian stop-motion animation adventure, featuring a Cowboy, an Indian and a Horse. The film won the Melies d’Argent this year at the Rome film festival, impressive accomplishment for such a simple, chaotic film. Sure, some gags are funny, sure, the animation is well done, but everything gets old really fast, and the lack of a proper plot contributes to the downhill slide the film suffers after its fresh first half hour.
Dorian Grey followed – a British supernatural drama based on the famous Oscar Wilde novella. Directed by Oliver Parker (who visited TIFF a couple of years ago with his obnoxious comedy I Really Hate My Job), the film has plenty of good moments, especially for those (like me) who weren’t familiar with the original story. However, the film is too slow, and, despite some good acting performances, especially from Ben Barnes, it failed to attract me in any way. At least in my book, if a movie doesn’t make you feel anything, it’s a bad movie. This one didn’t.
But the next one, Enter the Void, sure did. It made me feel more than pretty much everything I’ve seen all year, anywhere. It made me feel amazed. Then shocked. Then angry. Sad. Hopeful. Shocked again. It stuck with me long after it ended. It’s the weirdest, least commercial, most shocking film I’ve seen here at Sitges. It’s Gaspar Noe all over again – think Irreversible, times ten. The guy has no shame to play with you, to toy with your emotions, to twist them however he sees fit. The film tells the story of Oscar, a young drug dealer from Tokyo, and his sister Gina, a prostitute. One day, Oscar gets shot. Stuck between life and death, his mind wanders, creating a puzzle of memories, hopes and fears, some of them real, some of them imagined. A dying mind’s final trip, when, in those final seconds of consciousness, you see your life, its best and worst moments, mixed together with your random thoughts, your biggest fears, your weirdest hopes and illusions. The film has some of the toughest to swallow scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s like a punch in the gut. Some walked out during the screening. Most stayed, and enjoyed a ride like no other. I’m glad I was one of them.
Last film of the day was 9, but it had the huge misfortune of starting only 15 minutes after Enter the Void ended. I was still too shook up to be able to get involved in its story. But it did look interesting – an animation I’ve been waiting to see for a long time, set in a beautifully created post-apocalyptic world in which Machines destroyed all Humans, and the only hope remained in 9 robotic creatures manually sewn by a scientist right before his death. Extremely dark and inventive, the world of 9 and all its characters surely deserves a second viewing.
In this report: A Town Called Panic 6/10, Dorian Grey 5/10, Enter the Void 10/10, 9 7/10
Lazy Wednesday at Sitges. Got up really late (again) and barely caught the Sam Rockwell & Duncan Jones press conference, in advance of their movie, Moon (that I’ve already seen & loved at IIFF). I’ll post the conference later – it was fun and interesting, despite Rockwell being extremely tired and in a big hurry once it ended. Duncan Jones was much more friendly, I even got to talk to him for a few minutes. I told him about the Iasi film festival, he said he had no idea his film was screened at IIFF, and he would have gladly come to Iasi if he knew. He was also extremely interested in the audience reaction at Iasi for his flick.
A couple of hours later, I caught the first movie of the day, Kinatay. A very dark, realistic thriller from Brillante Mendoza, the film tells the story of Peping, a wannabe cop who unwillingly gets mixed in a kidnapping and murder. The very minimalistic shots, some of them dark, others shaky, or out of focus, add to the realism and build tension – not that this was necessary. The story itself is tensed as it is. (Spoilers ahead) It is practically a step-by-step guide on how to kidnap, rape, kill someone, and then dispose of the body – without any sugarcoating. Everything is seen through the eyes of the main character, a kid who can’t (or doesn’t want to) get out of the mess when he has the chance. Still, some scenes are unnecessary or a bit too long, and the overuse of the shaky camera becomes tedious and tiring.
Then came Heartless, the first film in 14 years for director Philip Ridley, a British flick starring Jim Sturgess as a scarred photographer with a wild, dark imagination, whose mind starts playing tricks on him, in a superbly gloomy and stylish London. Actually this was my favorite thing about this film: its look. The dark, grotesque London is sometimes reminiscent of Clive Barker, while the supernatural elements are imaginative and very well done. Sturgess’ character is as well interesting and well built. The story is intriguing until the very end, and the fact that the final twist is predictable and maybe a bit overexplained doesn’t hurt the very good feeling I had at the end of this movie.
That was it for the day – the hectic rhythm of the last couple of days eventually got the best of me. I would have gone to see Moon again, but the screening was already sold-out when I got there, so I decided to call it an early night.
In this report: Kinatay 6/10, Heartless 9/10
Apparently, going the cheap way and choosing to stay in Barcelona wasn’t a bright decision after all. Sure, it’s only half an hour between Sitges and Barcelona, but if you add the waiting times, it adds up to two hours per day, which is too much when you don’t even know what to choose between the too many movies and events. Plus, after midnight, when the important movies end, everyone retires to different bars and cafes, or to the midnight screenings. Not me, I have to run and catch the last bus to town. This also made me miss two events I had planned for this morning: the Building Metropia masterclass, as well as the Vicenzo Natali press conference.
I got to Sitges right at noon, in time to catch a movie called Timer. A movie branded as a SF romantic comedy, but in which the SF part is just the premise: a device called Timer (duh), which can predict exactly how many days are left until someone will meet their soul mate. That’s it. The rest is a simple, but likeable romantic comedy, with above average characters and pretty interesting situations, including the necessary clichés. Still, a pleasant watch.
Next came a film I had high hopes for: Valhalla Rising. The new movie from acclaimed director Nicolas Winding Refn is an ultra-violent affair set in the 12th century, that follows a group of Vikings in search of Jerusalem. Refn uses simple, but effective shots – nothing spectacular, but surprisingly real, especially when it comes to the brutal fights and murders. Some of the violent scenes actually ignited waves of ovations from the crowd (yes, the audience here at Sitges applauds not only at the end of the film – but also during the beginning credits, and, to my surprise, after the most shockingly violent moments of a movie). The characters rarely talk – but it would’ve probably been better not to talk at all – the dialogues are horrendous and horrendously slow. Actually that was one of the few things I did not like about this film – it’s very tedious to have to wait for 20 seconds after every 3 or 4 words until characters utter the next silly words. Other than that, a good and solid effort.
Then came the best movie of the day. The Hurt Locker is a highly acclaimed war drama from Kathryn Bigelow, that depicts the last 2 months in Iraq for an American bomb squad. Extremely compelling and well built characters jump from one tensed scene to another, in this tour de force that reinvents war movies – just when you thought no new subject could be invented. The film is a real masterpiece, from the superbly recreated Iraqi locations, to the acting and to the writing. It’s one of those rare movies in which most scenes aim for perfection, and you practically wish they can go on and on, hoping they will not end. I haven’t had this feeling since the Coen’s No Country for Old Men. American critics are raving about this film, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oscars will also bow to its brilliance.
The day ended with a horror movie (FINALLY!), Splice, from Vincenzo Natali. A couple of scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) genetically create a monster that also contains human DNA. Named Dren, the female monster grows like a child, becoming more and more human. Things, obviously, become a lot more complicated, but the story is good and solid until the end, and it manages to avoid falling into predictability. Actually, for the most part, it isn’t even a horror, but a character drama that analyses its two flawed main protagonists, the relationship between them, and also the creature. It’s not one of those films in which the creature is only something to run away from, and that gives a brand new depth to the story, a story that strolls along nicely, despite a few missed notes, until a very satisfying and also intense climax.
In this report: Timer 7/10, Valhalla Rising 6/10, The Hurt Locker 10/10, Splice 8/10.
Posters in Sitges
Jaco Van Dormael, director of Mr. Nobody
Sergi Lopez, actor
Aitana Sanchez Gijon, actress
My first day here in Sitges, fifth of the festival, and what a day. My first impressions of Sitges are amazing. A truly big, famous, perfectly organized festival, great movies, friendly people, plenty of events all around. I’ve seen 5 movies so far – all of them at the Auditorium, one of the 4 screening locations here in Sitges, a huge theater that is almost full even during daytime screenings. The quality of the screening itself is unreal - most movies look as if the copies are digital – but no, they’re 35 mm. It’s such a huge difference from the mess in pretty much every Romanian theater.
After picking up my press pass in the morning – and with it a huge catalogue, a Sitges bag and all sorts of other informations -, I started the first day marathon.
First movie: a cop drama starring Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Cage snorts through his role of a drug-addicted bad cop that uses every possible illegal method to solve his cases and get his share of cocaine. The movie is bland and typical – a normal case of multiple homicide, investigations, drug dealers, snitches, all the rest. What’s really disappointing is Cage. His role could have been above average (and surely above his latest choices), but he’s as inexpressive as he’s been in every single film of the last decade. Eva Mendes has an easier role but deals with it like she should, portraying successfully Cage’s prostitute girlfriend. The movie is dark and gloomy, and that’s Herzog’s merit, just like a couple of the scenes invoving Cage’s hallucinations, including some singing iguanas – yes, singing iguanas. Other than that, nothing but a badly acted run-of-the-mill cop drama.
Nothing remarkable about the second film of the day either – but at least this one was a low-budget Irish attempt at a drama with supernatural elements. The Eclipse tells the story of a failed Irish writer who forms a relationship with a successful novelist from London, while also dealing with her former boyfriend and a ghost that seems to walk around in his house. The film is slow and simple, with few memorable moments and very few scares – but the ones that pop in unexpectedly are very well done – I literally jumped in my seat a couple of times. Too bad the rest was bland and boring.
As soon as this film ended, another one began. Metropia is a superb semi-animated SF story set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the minds of most Europeans become controlled by a large corporation. Until our hero appears, that is. Our hero being a normal guy who just stumbles upon some truths and becomes determined to find all the answers. The movie is a Swedish-Danish coproduction, but features Hollywood voice talent, including Vincent Gallo and Juliette Lewis. The story is strong and interesting, and so are the characters, but what sets this film apart is its aspect – a weird combination of live-action and animation, and a beautifully designed, ultra-dark and stylish future. (Actually, if I wake up in time tomorrow, I’m planning to attend a workshop presented by the director of this film, entitled Building Metropia).
Then came the highlight of the day. Mr. Nobody was a huge revelation – mostly because I never heard about it or its director. I love it when I walk in a theater not knowing anything about the movie I’m about to see – no trailers, no story, nothing. The reward for finding that unexpected gem is much bigger than when you know you’re gonna see something good. The film’s first 5 minutes are so intense, so interesting, and, more than anything, so impressive to look at, I was instantly hooked and never blinked for the whole 2 hours. The film tells the story of the choices a kid can make at a crossroad in his life, and the way these choices mix up to form his future. Simple, right? Not really. Director Van Dormael blends everything together so perfectly, it takes a while to figure out what the hell is going on. Different points in time, and different possible paths for our main character, are all mixed together in a sea of possibilities, dreams, hopes, fears and imagination. The look of the film is unbelievable – props to DP Christophe Beaucarne. Also a big heads-up for Jared Leto, who keeps surprising everyone by the weird – and also outstanding – roles he chooses, and by the persistance with which he refuses bland Hollywood stereotypes. The film is a must – and my favorite so far here at Sitges.
After the Melies Awards gala, which saw Martyrs win the award for Best European Fantastic Film of the last year, came the last film of the evening (for me – cause screenings here at Sitges continues every day till dawn). Les derniers jours du monde is a boring French attempt at creating a compelling romance set on the bakground of the end of the world. Unfortunately, nothing is compelling about this nonsense. Trust me, when you’re not capable of making an interesting movie about the end of the world, something’s wrong. At midnight, before the film reached the hour mark, I walked out – something I do very rarely. But I couldn’t stand watching another second of a middle-aged crippled French guy searching for his long-lost mistress, while the world was (uninterestingly) collapsing around him.
In this report: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans 5/10, The Eclipse 6/10, Metropia 9/10, Mr. Nobody 10/10, Les derniers jours du monde 2/10
I’m staring at 18 consecutive days of non-stop movies, stars, parties, press conferences and events.
The appetizer will be the new Iasi International Film Festival – the first edition of an ambitious project, already the second Romanian festival in terms of number & quality of movies, categories, days, and – hopefully – audience (only second, because TIFF is extremely hard to beat). Still, a great amount of movies of great variety, and hopefully some pleasant 9 days in Iasi.
But the “big one” will be Sitges, in Spain, the biggest fantasy/horror festival in the world, that I’ll be attending for the first time. A huge event with tens of thousands attending from all over Europe, a shitload of highly anticipated movies, plus lots of parallel events and parties by the seaside, that I won’t miss, because the people at Sitges were kind enough to offer me a press pass.
Oh, the guest list is also highly impressive: Gaspar Noe, Park chan-wook, Sam Rockwell, Ivan Reitman, Emma Stone, Clive Barker, Abigail Breslin, Malcolm McDowell, Jaume Collet-Serra, etc. I’ll probably get the chance to talk to some of them, so if you’d like to ask them something, let me know.