Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brian All Over. By Way of Toronto

I had intended to bring you two proxy TIFF journeyman for short notes on movies. The second is Brian Owens who runs the ever rising Indianapolis International Film Festival that I've written about before (you'll remember I served on the jury). He put his entry in the comments so I'm stealing it back for true posting. Glad to hear you've been busy @ the film festival, B! Here are his quick thoughts on some TIFF films...
Hey Nat! Hi Lev! I don't know Lev, but we've attended at least two of the same screenings. Anyway, thought I'd give my opinion thus far:

The Sky Crawlers - Oshii - Japan
Beautiful to look at, but the plot is vague and hard to follow even by anime standards. But the aerial battle scenes are revolutionary and breathtaking making it worth seeing. B

O'Horten - Hamer - Norway
Delightful. I actually was able to get one of the last two tickets available that morning and so glad I did. It's a simple story of a train conductor who doesn't know what to do with himself upon retirement and the strange folks he meets along his way. Beautifully shot and full of that Scandanavian humor which I can't seem to get enough of. A-

Flame & Citron - Madsen - Denmark
(pictured right) Incredibly well-made, very well-acted, and too long by about twenty minutes. It felt like a movie that kept ending. Respected it more than I liked it. B
I'll see anything with Mads Mikkelsen so I want to see this particular WW II film which is said to be a complex picture on Danish resistance fighters. It's a huge hit in Denmark. Will they submit it for Oscar consideration? From the description (linked above) it might be a little too shades of gray to hit that WW II soft spot in the collective Academy subconscious
Religulous - Charles - USA
I had fun watching it, but it doesn't sit well after the fact. There's a flaw in the premise in that Maher isn't going to respect any answer he's given from anyone he interviews unless they denounce their faith, so the whole thing ends up being pointless. Still, Maher was hilarious and it does make one think. Just could have been so much better. C+

The Country Teacher - Slama - Czech Republic
The premise was great (a gay teacher leaves Prague for a small village school and befriends a local farmer/single mother) and the beginning was fulfilling the promise, and then it just collapsed in on itself. C-

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 - Rafferty - USA
Maybe the biggest surprise of the festival. More laughs than Religious offered and the director managed somehow to create suspense in the game when the outcome is given away in the title (literally a Canadian crowd - of whom only a dozen expressed any love of football at all cheered for Harvard on the final play). Absolutely delightful, even for a non-football fan because the interview subjects are so likable. A

Still Walking - Kore'eda - Japan
Astonishingly simple and beautiful (like most of Kore'eda's work). Funny in an unforced way. Touching to the point of tears. This simple story of a family gathering on the 12th anniversary of the untimely death of the oldest child is a winner. Sadly, I'd be willing to bet it doesn't get a US distributor (I hope it does though, because this is one of those movies that should be seen). Maybe the best of the fest. A

White Night Wedding - Kormakur - Iceland
More of that Scandanavian humor. And when it sticks with humor, it works. Odd time-shifts between a present-day wedding-planning comedy and the grooms previous marriage to a woman who eventually had a nervous breakdown are too jarring for the overall film to be effective. C+

Ashes of Time Redux - Wong Kar-Wai - Hong Kong
Wow. What a strange, strange, beautiful movie. The fact that Wong Kar-Wai was there was icing on the cake. I really need to see this again for it to really soak in. It's definitely a multiple-viewing film. It's amazing how much talent was amassed for this film. It seems to literally use the talents of everyone involved in current Hong Kong Cinema. My initial impression is A-, but as I said, I need to see it again.
I'm really looking forward to this one as I've been waiting for it for years... couldn't find a good print. Newlyweds Carina Lau and Tony Leung Chiu Wai are in it not to mention such other luminaries as Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung. Plus its Kar-Wai so how can you go wrong?
The Narrows - Velle - USA
Some positives and the ending is quite good, but it's too easily distracted with subplots and the lead performance by Kevin Zegers is kinda flat. Nice work by D'Onofrio, though. If they rework it, they might have something here. C

I'm Gonna Explode - Naranjo - Mexico
I really dug this little movie. A fiery teenage son of a conservative politician befriends a quirky daughter of a single mother and they run away. Only, all they've done is set up camp on the roof of the boy's immense home. It has a lot of charm, two fantastic youthful performances, and is paced perfectly. You see the end coming from a mile away (these things never turn out well, after all), but it's the ride that matters and everyone involved delivers. B+

The Wrester - Aronofsky - USA
Wow. This is a good film made even better by Mickey Rourke's amazing performance. Four words I never thought I'd hear: Oscar nominee, Mickey Rourke. Brilliant. A-

Gigantic - Asello - USA
Cute, quirky. Much like The Narrows there's a really distracting subplot. Nothing to really hate about it, but nothing to get particularly impassioned about either. C+

Tokyo Sonata - Kurosawa - Japan
Kurosawa steps away from horror for this one and, at first, seems to get it perfectly right. Then the third act rolls around and it's as if he couldn't possibly handle simple human drama anymore so he throws out some absolutely ridiculous plot elements just to "spice things up". Really disappointing. If I edit those poor choices out in my head, I'd give it an A-. Since he didn't edit them out, I have to go with... C

Better Things - Hopkins - UK
Pretentious film festival stuff. Long still shots of flat acting kids who do drugs and eventually die. Really upset that I picked it. The shots are kinda pretty, though so it merits a... D

Slumdog Millionaire - Boyle - UK
Yea! This was one of the ones I was most looking forward to after I'd heard the buzz from Telluride. This is an audience-pleaser at its best. I can't believe the way Boyle can move so readily from one genre to another. This is his most accessible film yet. There are, of course, some plot contrivances, but the film has so much energy, such enjoyable performers, and a killer soundtrack (put together by the most popular Indian composer for Bollywood pics) that it feels silly to point out mistakes (and there are a few). I gave myself over to it. A-
Brian's got about ten more to see including Lovely Still (with Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau) and the WWII Spike Lee Joint Miracle at St. Anna so hopefully he'll chime in again.


Anonymous said...

Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke?

Well, it doesn't appear that hell has frozen over and I've yet to see any swine take to the air...

Maybe it's not the end of the world after all.

Anonymous said...

Changeling (2008) Trailer:

Jolie looks AMAZING. Hopefully she won't be unfairly snubbed like in 07's A Mighty Heart.

Glenn said...

I'd also heartily recommend O'Horten. Saw it at Melbourne International Film Fest after the session I was meant to go to was cancelled (exploding projector and all that jazz) and was very happy. Lovely movie, great lead performance and it's photographed beautifully. And the humour is so Scandinavian, which is a good thing indeed.

Anonymous said...

Nat, Denmark was the first country to choose a film to submit this year; it is To Verdener.

Also, if you love Mikkelsen you need to see Adam's Apples, like, now. He is at the top of his game there, and the film itself is also something quite unique.

Anyway, I am loving these Toronto posts. Keep them coming.

Tram said...

Glad to hear great things about the new Kore-eda! Nobody Knows still breaks my heart (it was on IFC the other day).

The Wrestler still sounds like a made-for-TV-movie, though.

Anonymous said...

I attended the Toronto as well, but watched only one movie BLINDNESS. It was powerful, but VERY hard to watch.
I'm glad to hear you could get to see two Japanese movies as I'm a Japanese film promoter.
Besides, you loved STILL WALING.
This year we have very good films actually.
I loved STILL WALKING but I loved ALL AROUND US by Ryosuke Hashiguchi (TIFF2008) even more!
Also, now DEPARTURES, Montreal Winner, makes a huge buzz here and is selected for the Oscar Entry from Japan.

Anonymous said...

You saw actually three!
Thanks for your support to J-Movies!

Anonymous said...


I hope you get to see intimacies o shakespeare and victor hugo. The big surprise of the festival so far for me.