IIFF 2009: Right on the money

October 3, 2009 at 9:48 am (Festivals, IIFF, Movies)

After a couple of very peaceful final days, in which I pretty much did everything but watch any movies, the awards gala last night ended an interesting and successful first edition of the festival (barring the somewhat expected technical issues for some of the screenings). And the main award – Zimbrul de Aur – went to exactly the movie I predicted a couple of days ago, Oren Moverman’s The Messenger. As previously noted, I loved the movie – not as much as Duncan Jones’ Moon, but enough to be very glad for this result. Carlos Cuaron won the award for Best Directing, for Rudo y Cursi. Best Romanian film went to Cea mai fericita fata din lume, Radu Jude’s feature debut. Time permitted, I will return with more details, but now I have to prepare for part 2 of my holiday: Sitges 2009.

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IIFF 2009: Award predictions

October 1, 2009 at 8:28 am (Festivals, IIFF, Movies)

After last night’s Only, the screenings of competition films here at IIFF ended. So it’s time for a few attempts of predicting some winners. I have seen 8 of the 10 films in competition – the only ones I missed were Katalin Varga and Pa-ra-da, both being considered very good by everyone I talked to. Being coproduced by Romania, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them will win at least one award – but, again, I can’t say anything about it, because I haven’t seen them.

From what I’ve seen, my personal favorite is, without a doubt, Moon. Coming close on second is The Messenger, followed by Only. Knowing the jury, especially its president, I find it really hard to believe that Moon will stand a chance for the main award. So I do think the main decision will come between The Messenger, Only and Katalin Varga – with Pa-ra-da also standing a chance. My prediction goes to The Messenger. If there was an acting award, Sam Rockwell will be my choice, but there isn’t. There is, however, a directing award, and my prediction goes to Oren Moverman or Duncan Jones.

The awards ceremony will take place on Friday night, and will be followed by the Romanian premiere of Francesca, one of the most talked-about films of the year.

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IIFF 2009: From Canada with love

October 1, 2009 at 8:15 am (Festivals, IIFF, Movies, Reviews)

It’s Wednesday here at IIFF, and for the first time, it rains and it’s really cold. Not a good weather to walk around downtown from theater to theater. Luckily, being part of the staff, I also get to be driven around in the official festival cars, so going to Victoria in the morning to write a bunch of stuff, and then hurrying to Glendale for a workshop and the first couple of movies, caused no problems whatsoever. The workshop was about digital cinema, was presented by Tudor Lucaciu and was extremely interesting, a comprehensive study about cinematography, especially about the differences between digital cameras (Red One) and 35 mm film (Kodak).

The first movie of the day was the second dud of the festival. Franklyn is a SF drama that starts with two completely parallel worlds, that eventually (obviously) end up being connected: the present, and a weird lovecraftian version of a different universe. But the plot takes a lot of time to kick off, so for more than an hour we get to see some under-developed and uninteresting characters from the present, walking around in a mess of a story with no hook for the audience and a lot of boring scenes, and also the parallel universe that, despite also being extremely boring, at least looks very good. By the time the worlds begin connecting, and you realize there is something behind the story after all, you’re already too pissed off to care.

A few crispy strips later, another movie in competition kicked off. Battle in Seattle is a story based on true events about some activists protesting the WTO (World Trade Organization), and the riots that started after a peaceful demonstration turned violent. Despite the interesting subject, the movie is completely devoid of soul, probably because there are too many main characters and all of them are completely underdeveloped. The movie stumbles from one scene to another, and, despite some good moments, the too many protests become tiring. It would have been more useful to cut some of these scenes, in favor of some character development, especially when it comes to the activists. The plot concerning the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Charlize Theron is however very good, and contains a couple of the few memorable scenes of the movie. Still, Battle in Seattle misses on too many levels to be considered a success.

The last film of the day was also the most interesting one. Only is a no-budget Canadian flick, directed by a couple of beginners from Toronto (who flew halfway around the world to be at IIFF for the premiere). It tells the story of a lonely 12 y.o. kid from northern Ontario, who meets a girl, guest at his parents’ motel, and spends a day with her in the snowy forests of Canada. The film has no kind of plot, no climax, no special effects, nothing out of the mundane life in the deserted plains of Ontario – just the two characters, simple, mundane people, that meet each other, and discover each other while walking around in the snow – just like we are discovering them, through simple dialog, observations and gestures. The film makes us feel, and the end is wickedly innocent and also simply perfect.

In this report: Franklyn 4/10, Battle for Seattle 5/10, Only 8/10

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IIFF 2009: Tuesday, best day so far

September 30, 2009 at 9:00 am (Festivals, IIFF, Movies, Reviews)

Ah, Tuesday, the middle of the festival. Another busy day, lots of work in the morning, another press conference and another lousy lunch. People are starting to gather here in Iasi – I assume most guests will be there for the final days and everything around IIFF will become more animated.

First movie of the day: a 2005 German romcom directed by Til Schweiger, Barfuss, that was released across Romania a while ago. I missed it back then, didn’t miss it right now, and that was a wise decision. The film is adorable, fresh and extremely interesting, despite being a bit too long. This is the story of Nick, a failure who isn’t able to keep any job more than a few days, who falls for a mental patient who’s about to commit suicide, and takes her across the country for a memorable trip. The story is simple and straightforward, but both characters are likeable, the chemistry is there, the jokes work, and despite missing a few notes, Schweiger does a tremendous job both directing and acting. Good film, highly recommended for everyone looking for a simple, relaxing good time, without feeling cheated by Hollywood’s commercialism and banality.

Then came the highlight of the festival (so far). Moon is a psychological SF about Sam Bell, a man sent on a 3-year mission to, well, moon, who, after 3 years of loneliness, slowly starts losing his mind, and hooks to the memory of his family back home as his only hope for going back to normal. Between hallucinations, dreams and hopes, things start unraveling and deteriorating for Sam, after he discovers a possible revelation. It’s really difficult to find anything wrong with this film. From the story, to the directing, acting, cinematography – everything is top notch. The plot is extremely intriguing, despite developing extremely slowly, and never feels overdone or exaggerated. Sam Rockwell’s acting is of Oscar caliber. Duncan Jones directs everything like a pro, not a beginner, knowing exactly what to emphasize and how to move everything forward without ever losing grip of the material. Moon is one of the best films of the year – and a sure candidate for the IIFF trophy.

I ended the day watching another older movie, Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, that I’ve already seen a couple of times. Nothing new here. Solid movie all around, highly recommended.

In this report: Barfuss 8/10, Moon 10/10, Eastern Promises 9/10

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IIFF 2009: Football night

September 30, 2009 at 8:55 am (Festivals, IIFF, Movies, Reviews)

Day 4 was the first day in which I actually had work to do. Rushed to a press conference in the morning, with the main competition jury, including Anamaria Marinca, and then went to Cinema Victoria where I spent the next few hours writing. After a(nother) disgusting lunch on the house, and some more writing, I caught the first film of the day late in the afternoon.

Short Sharp Shock, Fatih Akin’s debut in 1998, sets the tone for what will eventually become an amazing career for the German-Turkish director. The film, despite some obvious normal flaws for a directorial debut, has the same angst and power Akin’s later movies will make him famous for, but the story and the characters are much less complex. I couldn’t shake off the feeling this is some sort of exercise for Akin, knowing that he will use the same world, the same themes, for his future, more polished and famous movies, especially Head On. Still, for a debut, this is a great film.

Both evening’s movies at Victoria Theater revolved around the world of football. The first one was a Mexican comedy, starring the greatly talented Gael Garcia Bernal and Carlos Luna, in a film directed by Alfonso Cuaron’s brother, Carlos. Rudo y Cursi is an interesting, albeit conventional sports comedy, about two poor brothers from a Mexican village who get noticed by an agent and end up playing in the Mexican first division. All the musts of such a film are present, including the big match between the rival brothers. What sets this apart are the characters – both of them, simple people caught in a world they aren’t familiar with, a world they don’t really want and for which they’re not ready to sacrifice their lives for. What I really didn’t like was the total lack of soccer action from the film. Even the games are shot only suggesting what’s going on on the pitch – and that destroyed part of the excitement and audience involvement. Still, the debut of Carlos Cuaron is a good film, with good performances. I don’t think this will stand a chance for any awards here at IIFF, but it’s a movie worth seeing.

The last film of the day was another good one – but not great. The Damned United tells the story of Richard Clough, one of the legendary coaches of English soccer, and his extremely short tenure at Leeds United, where he lasted only 44 days before getting fired. Michael Sheen does an outstanding job portraying Clough, but the movie, despite being extremely interesting for soccer fanatics, fails to gain the attention of the “outsiders”, and also twists some important events, becoming mostly a film “inspired by real events”, and not a true biography.

In this report: Short Sharp Shock 7/10, Rudo y Cursi 6/10, The Damned United 7/10

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IIFF 2009: The Messenger delivers

September 29, 2009 at 8:56 am (Festivals, IIFF, Movies, Reviews)

Day 3 in Iasi began, as usual, with a tiring, annoying hunt for Internet. There’s no wifi in our rooms, the wifi at the theaters rarely works, and I’ve seen no internet cafes downtown, so the most reliable way to send reports from over here is to go to the mall, grab some crispies from KFC and use their wifi. Right after noon, we headed back to the main theater, for lunch. Meals are also on the house, but it’s a 1-star lunch in a 4-star hotel, and it’s so bad, I actually prefer spending my own money for something better.

First movie of the day, an American drama named The Messenger, the story of a couple of soldiers in charge with notifying the families of the casualties of war. Despite being 100% American, the film has some sort of a European feel, mostly because it’s a film that is built around and for its main characters, while the plot is most of the times irrelevant. First-time director Oren Moverman is helped by some strong performances, especially from Ben Foster and Samantha Morton, who, against all odds, form a relationship with a better chemistry than what I’ve seen in most movies lately. Woody Harrelson is also solid, and the movie features a bunch of memorable scenes, making it a must-see for every real movie lover.

After a serious, realistic drama, I caught a very easy, conventional, but nonetheless funny comedy, called The Rocker. Rainn Wilson goes all Jack Black in a family film about a washed out drummer who gets a second chance at fame when he’s recruited by his nephew’s band to play for the high school prom. The similarities between The Rocker and the School of Rock are too many to even begin to describe, but probably the most annoying was Wilson’s reincarnation of Jack Black. Unfortunately, he’s really not as funny. Still, the film is enjoyable, and despite its flaws, turns out to be a good addition to the schedule.

Film no.3 of the day was supposed to be Diamant 13, starring Gerard Depardieu, at Republica Theater, but huge problems with the subtitles made it unwatchable (unfortunately, subtitle problems, bad sound and bad image seem to be recurring constantly in most theaters here at IIFF. The only one with no problems yet has been Victoria). So I ended up back at Victoria for Les grandes personnes, a low budget character piece about a father-daughter trip to Sweden that turns bad. This is another movie where the plot barely exists – but its two main characters are strong, interesting and they evolve – offering plenty of good, believable moments. Unfortunately the cinematography is bad and bland, and the stumbling plot and some boring scenes make it less than stellar.

For the last film of the day, I had to choose between a few titles that I’ve already seen, so I went with the group and watched Be Kind Rewind, thus satisfying my desire to see Jack Black again, after Wilson’s earlier performance. The movie left me with the same impression as when I first saw it. A very inventive, original and heartwarming comedy about belonging; another obvious must-see, and not only for Gondry fans, but for everyone who still likes their films fresh and soulful.

In this report: The Messenger: 9/10, The Rocker 6/10, Les grandes personnes 5/10, Be Kind Rewind 8/10.

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IIFF 2009: Mixed first days

September 28, 2009 at 1:08 pm (Festivals, IIFF, Movies, Reviews)

After arriving very late on Friday, which meant no movies in the first festival day (not counting the two weird & disappointing couple of midnight movies I saw with some friends on a laptop), Saturday was a completely different animal. After a quick morning cappuccino at an Irish pub named Belfast (the one named Dublin 20 feet away was not yet open), we strolled through a surprisingly boring Iasi to the main theater of the festival, Victoria, to pick up our press passes.

A few libraries and a lunch later, I caught my first film of the festival: 30 Days of Night, that I’ve already seen a while back (and thoroughly enjoyed). This time, not so much, and not because of the movie. The screening was completely messed up, because of the horrible sound and unclear picture. I contemplated walking out, but decided against it, mostly because I already knew the movie so the loud and foggy mess on the screen was a bit easier to tolerate. Horror day continued, in the same horror theater (I’m pretty sure no one from Iasi reads this blog, but if you do, avoid at all costs Glendale Cinema – it’s a mess).

The second film was to become the first dud, and what a disgusting dud it was. The new Dario Argento flick, Giallo, is so bad it actually made some of the audience comment at the end that it might have been intentional. But it wasn’t. It’s just that bad. Adrien Brody sleeps through a role of an Italian detective on the track of a yellow serial killer (yes, yellow) that kidnaps girls and masturbates over their disfigured image. I don’t even know where to start. The plot is weak – it plays like a very bad Criminal Minds episode, only a bit more violent, and less alert. The dialog is horrific, while the acting is – literally – laughable. Brody is so bad, so bored, so awfully horrendous, that only Emmanuelle Seigner’s even worse performance (and trust me, that was no easy task) made him not get the most laughs out of the audience. What’s even more mind boggling is that Brody is also producing this mess.

The third and final film of the day ended up being the most enjoyable I’ve seen lately. The Boat That Rocked is a comedy about the British pirate radio movement of the sixties, a beautifully shot film that breathes quality rock music through all its pores and, despite its often exaggerations, ends up being equally touching, funny and thoughtful – not an easy task by any means. But Richard Curtis, helped by a stellar cast, knows how to blend comedy and drama in a story based on real events, and does it accompanied by the likes of the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, and others like them – and after its heartwarming ending, it’s impossible not to walk out of the theater smiling.

In this report: 30 Days of Night: 7/10, Giallo: 2/10, The Boat That Rocked: 8/10.

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Let the madness begin!

September 24, 2009 at 2:29 pm (Festivals, IIFF, Movies, Sitges)

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.

I’ll probably post lots of stuff from both fests, not only here, but also on cinefan.ro, and on the cinefan blog, so stay tuned.

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