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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Mid-way through the Film Festival

The festival has reached its halfway point and what better time to take the night off and recharge for the final four movie packed days. So here’s the news so far:

Day One: Friday, Sept 24

Of the three movies I had originally planned to see, I could only attend the midnight feature, Saw (from America by James Wan). The two that I missed were August Sun (from Srilanka) and Kamchatka (Argentina).

Saw (directed by James Wan): Rating a solid 9/10

A midnight feature is deemed to be cultish, gory, scary, etc. Saw is not as gory as the original version that premiered at Sundance, but it is still a stellar movie. The opening scenes are some of the best I have seen this year. Picture this:

The movie opens in darkness with a man immersed in a bathtub with a blade looking device escaping down the drain. The man hears another man’s voice. The other man says he has found a light switch. The lights come on slowly, one by one. Two men, strangers to each other, find themselves on opposite corners of a large, dirty bathroom. In the middle of the bathroom floor, equidistant from the two men, is a man lying dead, face down in his blood with a gun in one hand (part of his head seems blown off). Both men have one of their legs chained to the pipes on the wall. The men can’t remember why they are here? Who has brought them? What’s going on?

The movie then unfolds brilliantly. Echoes of Seven and Cube come to mind. But this movie stands on its own. The only negative point is a bit of slack near the ending but usually with this kind of genre, the endings try to achieve too much. A worthy see nonetheless. And when you consider this is an effort from a first time director, then the movie seems an even greater achievement.

Day Two: Saturday, Sept 25

11’09”01 – 11 different directors with each short film lasting 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame.

There are some interesting flicks in this one and some which will offend for sure. Here is a quick rating of each one

1) Segment from Iran by Samira Makhmalbaf: Rating 6/10

For some reason I didn’t take to this one. It is set in Iran dealing with refugee Afghani children and their school teacher trying to tell them about the incident. Topics of God and destruction are brought up.

2) Segment from France by Claude Lelouch: Rating 7/10
Set in New York dealing with a deaf, mute woman whose is on the verge of breaking up with her boyfriend (who works as a tour guide in the Trade Centers).

3) Segment from Egypt by Youssef Chahine: Rating 6/10

It brings up interesting ideas of a certain country's foreign policies and killing of innocent people but does not have a consistent flow. Also, made with the mood of a typical Egyptian movie (with dramatic background music)

4) Segment from Bosnia-Herzegovina by Danis Tanovic: Rating 9/10

An emotional piece which shows that one must keep on demonstrating even though no progress is being made.

5) Segment from Burkina Faso by Idrissa Ouedraogo: Rating 10/10

This was the only humorous segement. A boy believes he has seen Bin Laden in his small African village and rounds up his friends to nab Bin Laden so that they can claim the 25 million dollar prize.

6) Segment from United Kingdom by Ken Loach: Rating 10/10

This is the best of the lot. It shows an exiled Chilean in London remembering Sept 11, 1973 when America helped dispose of Chile’s government and supported the installation of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

7) Segment from Israel by Amos Gitai: Rating 8/10

This was a good episode which showed the media circus that follows real life terrorist incidents news reporting.

8) Segment from Mexico by Alejandro Inarritu: Rating 9/10

Powerful. Effective. And ends with the words “Does God's light guide us or blind us?”

9) Segment from USA by Sean Penn: Rating 10/10

Sheer genius. But the one to offend most people. It can be interpreted in a number of ways.

10) Segment from India by Mira Nair: Rating 7/10

Based on a true life story about a Pakistani person mistakenly judged as a terrorist in New York because of America’s blanket 1984 laws.

11) Segment from Japan by Shohei Imamura: Rating 3/10

This one sticks out from the rest. Set in 1945 Japan. A solider returns from the war and chooses to live like a snake rather than be human. The movie ends with the snake saying “There is no such thing as a Holy War”.


Clean (directed by Oliver Assayas): Rating 6/10

Oh the hype. Maggie Cheung won the Best Actress award for this movie at Cannes this year. And yet, she is the weakest element in this movie. The movie lacks any emotion and is cold and un-interesting. The only time Maggie acts with emotion is when she switches to Cantonese but in French and English, she delivers her lines with zero emotion. A huge let-down.

Kontroll (directed by Nimrod Antal): Rating 10/10

The buzz around this Hungarian movie ensured the line-up’s were huge and people were turned away. And what a movie it is!!!! The movie follows the lives of the underground subway metro staff on their daily routines – the insanity, the male power games, the inner turmoils, hilarious passengers, etc. The first half is a hilarious movie but the second half explores the shades of darkness lurking beneath.

Day 3: Sunday, Sept 26

Hukkle (directed by Gyorgy Palfi): Rating 7/10 


No dialogues, but simply beautiful countryside of a small Hungarian town. An old man hiccups while life moves at a snail’s pace. In between the close up shots of snakes, insects, water, fishes, pig’s behind, there is a murder taking place. Enough clues are shown for us to piece together who was killed and how. A very offbeat movie which demonstrates the power of images.

Nathalie (directed by Anne Fontaine): Rating 9/10

A classic French movie. Emmanuelle Beart and Fanny Ardant are just perfect in their roles but Gerard Depardieu is not given much to do.

Nothing (directed by Vincenzo Natali): Rating 7/10

I headed into this movie only because it was by the director of the cult hit, Cube. The movie starts off poorly but really kicks into high gear after the first 20 minutes. The premise is best not told but that two friends who are social outcasts find themselves stranded in white empty space.

Note: The other option instead of Nothing was the Swedish movie, Kopps. Everyone I have talked to says that Kopps was hilarious. And sure enough, Hollywood is planning to remake this movie.

Day 4: Monday, Sept 27

I passed up the chance to watch the Czech movie, Zelary and award winning French movie, Since Otar Left. From word of mouth, it seems Zelary was well received.

The Shield (directed by Frederic Provost): Rating 6/10

I was disappointed by this French action movie. The slow and dull start really dampened things but the movie eventually managed to pick up.

Day 5: Tuesday, Sept 28

Choker Bali (directed by Rituparno Ghosh): Rating 6/10


This was the first time in the festival that my view of the screen was blocked by tall people sitting in front making it was hard to read all the subtitles. The movie started 20 minutes late and since I wanted to make the Brazilian movie later in the night, I had to leave the theater with 20 minutes to go. Will have to catch up with it later on.

Man of the Year (directed by Jose Henrique Fonseca): Rating 8/10

The hype around the movie was staggering because everyone had compared it to City of God. Well the movie is not as good as City of God but it is a good movie. A man loses a soccer bet and has to dye his hair blond. From then on, his life takes a completely different turn. Shades of Scarface, City of God, and every other slick gangster movie out there. Visually the movie is really good (the cinematography oozes with coolness, right out of a Michael Mann movie).
Note: For the second time in the night, it was hard to read the subtitles. This time we sat in the 2nd last row (as opposed to the 6th row from the front in Choker Bali) and a cascading stream of heads made it impossible to sit still. Apparently everyone around had the same problem.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Being Cool or being over-smart

Collateral (by Michael Mann): Rating either 10/10 or simply 3/10

Ok I admit I am a big fan of Tom Cruise. Despite the negative image of him, I believe he works hard in all his roles no matter how good or bad the movie is; the hard work could be in terms of acting or doing stunt work like in the terrible MI2. Collateral is a movie loved and praised by virtually every single critic out there. In fact, the actors and director also know this is a great movie. Which would explain why in every scene the actors are trying so hard to be smart, to be intelligent, to say the right things, to have the exact expression on their face -- they know they look good and the movie will be lapped by everyone.

Funny, now I see why all the critics hated Vanilla Sky -- they thought Cruise and Crowe were being cocky in making the movie. But the truth is that Vanilla Sky actually had a genuine purpose to it's story. Collateral on the other hand is an exercise in over-brilliance, and over-smartness. That being said, the movie is indeed shot brilliantly by Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron. But that is a trademark for Michael Mann movies -- his blue and green filters gave his movies like Heat, The Insider and Ali a very cool feeling.
The story for Collateral is simple enough -- Jamie Foxx plays a cab driver who ends up getting the assassin from hell, Tom Cruise, as a passenger. Cruise wants to hire Foxx for the entire night, and go from killing to killing without Foxx finding out. But things don't go as planned. The movie then develops into a cat and mouse game between the actors. For the coolness factor, some reference to Jazz is thrown in (you have to have a Miles Davis story, ofcourse), some philosophy is added to the mix, some magic realism symbols are portrayed (in a scene amid the chaos, a pair of foxes cross the cab's path; a symbol portraying that Jamie Foxx will outfox the killer, or that savage animals are roaming freely, pointing towards the killer Cruise, etc).
But just like Kill Bill, both movies I think fall under the weight of their over-smartness.Funny thing is a year ago I would not have noted such a thing and would have praised the movie to the hilt. But seeing a lot of foreign movies and the genuine story telling elements out there, this movie seems pointless. Sure it is excellent by the cineplex standards, but I got bored in the end. Mark Ruffalo has an interesting part and one dramatic scene involving him is very un-hollywood like. Javier Bardem is brought in to narrate a pointless story (equally as bad as David Carradine's SuperMan story in Kill Bill).

Final verdict: who am I to judge this movie? This movie knows it is so good that I don't have anything to say. Whoever critizes this movie will be labelled as having no taste!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Quick summary of weekend movies

This is a very quick summary of three movies I saw this weekend.

1) Elephant Juice (1999 movie by Sam Miller): Rating 5/10

The movie is about relationships. There are some interesting moments but what I think kills the movie is the bad usage of the background sound. At times, the hip music is too loud and you can't hear the characters. The music is too over-powering at times, when the scene does not require it to be. The beautiful & talented Emmanuelle Beart is ok in this movie.

2) 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut): Rating 8/10

Do I dare rate this classic great movie? Yah I think I can.

3) In the Mood For Love (by Kar Wai Wong): Rating 7/10

I finally got around to watching this movie. And it's good but not that great. The music is great, and comes on at just the right times. The mood & feel for this movie are good.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Trio of French movies

1) Le Placard (The Closet) by Francis Veber: Rating 10/10

20 minutes into the Closet, I wanted to bet that the director was the same person behind the 1998 French Hit, the Dinner Game. And sure enough, I was right. This was because both the Closet and the Dinner Game have an underlying similarity involving astute observances about how people really judge/manipulate others. Both those movies had Thierry Lhermitte playing a character who likes to have fun at the expense of others, a person who likes to toy with other’s emotions just because he can. The only current Hollywood director I can think of who makes such movies is Neil LaBute (Examples include The Shape of Things, Your Friends and Neighbours, In the Company of Men).

The Closet starts off with François Pignon (played by Daniel Auteuil) on the verge of getting fired. Despite working hard for 20 years in a Condom factory, Pignon is considered a boring person by his co-workers. And the macho Felix Santini (a fanstastic performance by Gerard Depardieu) considers Pignon an idiot and can’t wait to be rid of him. His job was the only thing holding Pignon together after his wife left him two years ago and his son refuses to acknowledge him. So when he learns he will be fired, he wants to kill himself. Thankfully his neighbour saves him and helps him with a plan to save his job. The neighbour suggests that Pignon fake coming out of ‘the closet’ -- that way he won’t get fired. And sure enough, the plan works. But things get complicated and Pignon’s dull life gets kick-started with a bang.

The movie shows how even the tiniest behavior can be judged in numerous ways by other people, and how delicate human relationships really are. It is a fine thread that everyone is walking on and sometimes it just takes a little bit to push someone off the edge or even help them to safety. There are good performances all around and the impressive Jean Rochefort (who really would have made an excellent Don Quixote in Terry Gillaim’s abandoned movie) is the company director who is baffled by Pignon’s sexual orientation.

Note: What is a sign that a foreign movie is really good? When Hollywood wants to remake it! Sure enough, the Closet is going to be remade in 2006 with Gurinder Chadha as the director.

2) Belphégor (Belphegor, Phantom of the Louvre) by Jean-Paul Salome: Rating 5/10

By the end of 2004, Jean-Paul Salome is going to be better known for his movie Arsene Lupin (based on a popular French comic book about a thief who robs the rich). But in 2001, Salome directed the beautiful Sophie Marceau and the impressive Julie Christie in this Horror movie about a soul that resides in the Louvre. The trouble starts in 1935 when an evil soul escapes from a 2000 year old Egyptian Mummy casket (being transported to Marseilles). Somehow the casket makes it to the Louvre where the soul strives to make it to the nether world. In order to do so, the soul must inhabit a human body, piece 7 pieces of Egyptian artifacts, and perform an ancient ritual to complete the journey to the other world.

In the end, the movie is nothing but a gloried journey through the halls of the Louvre (and even then only the same 2-3 halls are filmed repeatedly). One of the biggest problems with my movie copy was that it was dubbed. Dubbing is always a bad idea and the original French movie with English subtitles might have better but I still doubt if it would be any more entertaining. The movie is hardly scary and is dull at parts.

3) Vidocq by Pitof: Rating 10/10

This was a surprinzingly well done movie. The movie is set in 1830 Paris at a time when conspiracies and science ran amok. The movie is shot in manufactured sets with a Digital Camera -- in this case, the combination works. One can tell that the sets are fake, but the digital camera gives everything a closer and realistic feel -- the close-up's are effective and everything seems to be surreal. Overall, the movie does feel straight out of Alan Moore's From Hell -- cobble stoned roads, a mysterious killer on the loose, opium dens, detective on the case, etc.

The movie is about the search for a mysterious killer, the alchemist, who wears a mirror-mask and dons a long black cape. The Alchemist is responsible for killing a few notable men on the Parisian society. The movie starts off with Vidocq (played by Gerard Depardieu) on the case of the alchemist when he and the Alchemist fight a duel which results in Vidocq getting killed. Then the story is told in flash-backs and how Vidocq managed to get on the trails of the Alchemist. The rest is better watched......

Note: At times, the movie set-up feels like another French movie, The Brotherhood of the Wolf. But that movie fell apart at the end, and the ending is where Vidocq manages to stay afloat.
Also, the director Pitof (birth name, Jean-Christophe Comar) made his Hollywood debut in 2004 with Catwoman. I might just have to check out Catwoman just to see what Pitof did with that material.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

One Mystic River, One Dangerous River

1) Mystic River (by Clint Eastwood): Rating 10/10.

This was a movie loved by the critics & packed with stars -- Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Lawrence Fishburne, and directed by the legendary Eastwood. The movie contained all the elements that the Oscars love -- topics of abuse, guilt, crime, redemption, misery, etc.
As a result the medai hung 'must-see' tags around this one.
So what's the verdict?
Yes the movie is worth watching! Yes, it is that good. Stephen King said that movie 'would burn in your memory'. And he is right. It leaves one with a haunting feeling.

If you let this movie get you emotionally, then you will be strung along and will feel the misery even before it happens in the movie. The only negative complain I had was with the sound -- the dialogues were barely audible in parts. This could be due to the fact that most of the dialogues were soft spoken and in whispers.

The movie starts off showing three young friends playing street hockey together. A certain 'incident' later, the movie jumps 25 years into their lives. The three kids have grown up (Penn, Robbins, Bacon) but we are not given much insight into their past 25 years. We gather little info about their lives as the movie moves along. Alternatively, we can freely fill in the gaps ourselves based on certain characteristics on display. Other than that, it's better to watch the movie without knowing the story and make your judgements along the way.

Initially, I was praising Lawrence Fishburne's character as being the most objective of the 4 men, since the other 3 were tied down by past burdens of friendship. But as the movie goes on, his objectivity proves to the undoing in some ways. If only people showed more faith, rather than jumping to conclusions.

Anyway...very good movie

2) Krai Thong (by Suthat Intaranupakorn): Rating 3/10

I was expecting something completely different from this Thai movie. I thought it was a tale about kings, warriors and love. Well it's about love all right and a different kind of warrior -- a Crocodile Hunter. And the crocodile in question is no ordinary beast, but one who can change into a human form. A B-grade horror movie with clearly fake computer simulations. And for the added exotic factor, the male monster crocodile has 2 female beauties in an underground cave to keep him company.

The title refers to Krai Thong, the warrior who hunts the human-croc down. Krai Thong finds himself married to two sisters (how this happens is hilarious to watch in itself). But Krai Thong is not happy with 2 women, he needs more. So he kills the evil human-croc and gets the underground beauties as well. One man, 4 women. Two women who live on land and two that live below land. Perfect :)

Hmm...the movie is funny when it shouldn't be.