Sitges 2009: The Romero dissapointment

October 14, 2009 at 2:43 pm (Festivals, Movies, Reviews, Sitges)

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.

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Sitges 2009: A trip inside a dying mind

October 11, 2009 at 11:55 am (Festivals, Movies, Reviews, Sitges)

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

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Sitges 2009: Lazy Wednesday

October 11, 2009 at 11:53 am (Festivals, Movies, Reviews, Sitges)

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

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Sitges 2009: The Hurt Locker, Oscar material

October 7, 2009 at 9:55 am (Festivals, Movies, Reviews, Sitges)

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.

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 ……… is an ultra-violent affair set in the 12th century, that follows a group of Vikings in search of Jerusalem. …….. 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.

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Sitges 2009: Great first day

October 6, 2009 at 10:45 am (Festivals, Movies, Reviews, Sitges)

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

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, The 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. Van Something 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 ………. 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 4/10, The Eclipse 5/10, Metropia 9/10, Mr. Nobody 10/10, Les derniers jours du monde 2/10

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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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