Monkey Warfare is a film about a couple who scavenge garbage for its resale online, ride bicycles and live "off the grid." When in the need for a new pot dealer the man meets a young (bicycle riding) dealer whom he develops a slightly more than professional interest in. He starts spending a lot of time with her and imparts his love of radical politics and direct action.
It's not quite a comedy and not a full on drama either. Overall I thought it was OK, but not great. The performances were good but I just wasn't that interested in the storyline. According to the director it advocates overthrow of the Canadian government. I sort of missed that but maybe it's advocating it in a very subtle and polite way. Or perhaps I'm just not a proper child of the revolution. Heard that The Stranger loved it - I'll need to grab a copy to read why. (2.5/5 stars).
Monster Camp (USA) - Documentary about the Seattle branch of Nero. Nero is a live action role playing group (think Dungeons and Dragons) and is in no way related to fiddling while Rome burns. Though I suppose you could draw that analogy depending on your views... Draws a very human portrait of the participants and does a good job of not making this a, "hey let's look at the freaks" exercise. Not all the folks are completely loveable so there is definitely balance there. You're still likely to feel this isn't the most healthy activity for all the participants, but you'll probably look at it differently than when you went in. (3.5/5)
Exiled (Hong Kong) - action shoot 'em up with a heart. Sequel from a film I haven't seen. Hit man friends sent to kill one of their own. Feel a bit bad about it and sit around with the target discussing how to help his family before they kill him. Some funny scenes, and a bit of gun violence for good measure. All around pleasant enough if observed in a moral vacuum. I'm not a huge fan of the Hong Kong standoff so not sure where this fits in on the quality scale. Seemed like a good collection of likeable hit-men but can't really be sure. (3/5)
My Best Friend (France) - Man realizes he has no friends. Immediately has a mid-life crisis. Either because he has no friends or because he just bet someone over $500k that he can produce his best friend in 10 days. Less a meditation on the meaning of friendship than a comedy. And a good one at that. (5/5)
Golden Door (Italy/France) - Interesting take on the coming to America experience. Way better than the film with Mr. Murphy. (5/5)
The Island (Russia) - Man forced to make a horrible choice by the Nazi's lives the rest of his life atoning for it. Quite, beautifully shot and very, very Russian. In the most depressing way. (3/5) if you're not in the mood, (4/5) if you are.
Secret #1 - You didn't miss that much. Serviceable attempt at a genre, in a country, with actors that must remain unspoken.
Battle of Wits (Hong Kong/China) - Tale of a lone warrior/strategist sent to defend a city-state against forces far superior in number. A more realistic (read as no flying people) view of battle in China. Not usually my genre but very good. (4/5).
The Singer (France) - French lounge singer at the wane of his career. Sort of an interesting view of an aspect of things you don't typically see in the average French export. I liked but didn't love. (3/5)
Fair Play (France) - Sort of a French Neal LaBute play. Competition gets way of hand in a small company. Well done and interesting at times, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of the point by the end. (3.5/5)
Waiter (Netherlands/Belgium) - Waiter takes issue with the crappy life being provided for him by the screenwriter. Barges in to say so. Even though this may sound a bit like a recent film it's different enough to recommend. Though personally I liked the Hollywood one too. (3.5/5).
Takva - A Man's Fear of God (Turkey/Germany) - A simple, very religious man is tapped as the new rent collector for his mosque. He struggles with his physical desires in this new role. An interesting film, though not an upbeat one. Good for conversation post-screening (4/5)
Pleasant Moments (Czech Republic) - Altogether not that pleasant. At times clever, other times just a bit annoying. Shrink sees a steady string of clients all pretty unbalanced. Of course at home she deals with her own issues. If nothing else you'll spend the film wondering why she doesn't buy a lock for her office door (2/5)
12:08 East of Bucharest (Romania) - Citizens of a small town in Romania try to figure out if they'd been active participants in the revolution. I dozed off a bit which is more likely me than the film. I'm giving a bonus point because I might have missed something. A few fun performances, but didn't really leave me caring much one way or the other (3.5/5)
Son of Rambow (UK) - Opening night film. Two unlikely childhood make their own Rambo film after watching a pirated version of First Blood. Sort of fun crowd pleaser that tends to be chosen for the 1st day of the festival. Better than last year's choice IMHO. (3/5)
I enjoyed Sakuran more as a feast for the visual senses than the actual story. The photography is drop dead beautiful. If you've never understood how an entire nation can be so smitten with the cherry tree (without someone chopping it down) you'll get it after seeing this film. The story of Kiyoha's life is a bit less interesting in my opinion - but not to the extent that it distracts from watching the pretty pictures. :-) If I had a chance to watch it again on video I likely would, just because I think there may be a bit more in the story to appreciate than I caught on this viewing.
That said, I enjoyed the film. Turns out I'm a complete sucker for romantic comedies. If there's anyone remotely like able (read not Sarah Jessica Parker post Square Pegs) I'm going to get into it at some point. The male and female leads were very like able and it seemed they were having a good time making this film. Let's just say I wouldn't turn away a free ticket to this if I were you. Though I'm not sure I'd hire this guy to run my call center.
I think the Election comparison is reasonable, though it's not really complete. It has a lot less of an edge than that film. I enjoyed the screening, but I felt for some reason I can't quite articulate that it fell just short of greatness. And that potential was definitely there. But there's no way I'm not going to enjoy a film that couples fast talking hardcore debaters with a good selection of the Violent Femmes back catalog (listen for it even during what at first seem like classical compositions).
Probably the best part of this film is it doesn't go the way 99% of similar stories finish. It's sort of a simple story told that way and it generally stays along that path without devolving into something syrupy.
As in most great sports stories the film tells the tale of the outsider upstart challenging the "establishment" to be the world champion. Except it's the world champion of the video game Donkey Kong. This movie is great fun - and likely will be even if you've never taken up Mario's heartbreaking quest. Hard as it may be to believe, it really does have a lot of the same appeal as the Rocky pictures. By the end you're rooting for the upstart all the way. Even if your rational mind isn't quite there the filmmakers cleverly pull out all the musical stops along the way. The music of some of Rocky's famous movies makes the cut, as does the song that plays over the final portion of The Karate Kid. You just get swept away.
The movie has a great cast of characters. There's the reigning champion with a record unbroken since '85. A hot sauce mogul with a bit of a sneaky bent and a personal style much like the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia (minus the crudeness). There's the challenger who's almost the polar opposite. A super nice guy who's portrayed as doing well enough for himself at life but always just missing out on coming out completely on top. Throughout you end up rooting not just for him to win, but realize the luck of having what's portrayed as a great family and friends. Probably the best summary comes from his young daughter on the way to a tournament - "I didn't know the Guinness book was so important ... Some people ruin their lives trying to get in."
Mix in a motley group that makes up the rest of the hardcore retro gaming universe for good measure and there's pretty much something for everyone.
One small caveat. This isn't exactly virtuoso film making - you're not going to be bowled over by the cinematography. But it delivers what it promises and it delivers the fun.
The photography is pretty basic, and occasionally so jumpy it can induce some queasiness. But I felt it's rewarded with what felt like a very ground floor view of the living conditions for the working poor in that country. She's a sympathetic character without being painted with a halo. My sense is that a lot of folks were less than enthused with this movie - I'll probably get a better sense of that as I ask around. For me, I'm glad I went.
This is definitely in a category of its own. The film was really beautiful and otherworldly. A true fantasy where the computer graphics blend seamlessly in with the natural surroundings. Even with the pretty scenery I just couldn't get into the storyline. The spirits are subtitled as "bugs" and the main character who deals with them as a "bug master." I guess it's possible this is an accurate translation (many of them do resemble insects) but it kept pulling me out of the story. Could have just been the day, but the mythology or maybe the characters just didn't really draw me in. If you'd like a view of a magical world you likely have never seen before Mushishi is probably worth a try. It's certainly a treat for the eyes.
Let's start with the official description which accurately captures 2 Days in Paris, "Clashes of culture, volatile in-laws and flirtatious
ex-boyfriends test the relationship of Marion and her American boyfriend Jack on a visit to Paris in this charming screwball comedy. "
It's probably not fair to compare this with Before Sunset or the stronger Before Sunrise. But it's hard not to have that thought watching Julie Deply (who also wrote and directed) talk her way through Paris with an American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg). It is a different movie, a lot less serious and more directly funny. Not terribly deep but entertaining nonetheless. Almost worth watching to see Goldberg get creative in securing a taxi when he' s behind a long line of American tourists on a DaVinci code tour (and wearing Bush t-shirts to boot).
There are parts that seem to drag a bit at times but overall I had a fun time with the positives outweighing the negatives. Not amazing, but for fun per minute it's leading the press screening pack for me.
I was looking forward to this documentary but unfortunately it fell a bit short of my expectations. The festival's short description gives a better overview than I could - "This powerful documentary explores the roles of social causes and government agencies in the rise of the Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS-13) in the US and Central America. Estimated to have more than 100,000 members, it has the distinction of being the largest and most violent street gang in the world." At times there are definitely some very powerful and disturbing images. I guess if you're completely unfamiliar with the topic it'd be informative. And the story as to how such a huge group grew out of US involvement in El Salvador and how our immigration policy spread it further is truly fascinating. But overall I feel I learned less about this group and it's members motivations from the movie than you would from a NY Times article about the same topic. I didn't feel as I was getting a really complete picture of a complex situation. It's clear the filmmakers wanted to make the point that trying to stop a gang like this through simple means (arresting or killing) the members doesn't work. I generally agree, though I'm not sure they make the strongest case. They could have deepened the amount of information provided. For example, they often mentioned that the organization provided an attractive financial alternative, but they didn't explain what. They sort of inferred there's no central control of MS-13, nor hierarchy - but didn't really cover what the structure was. All this would have been OK if they'd told it deeper and personalized it as a human interest story. It scratches the surface here as we meet the founders of the gang but takes a higher level view rather than diving into any one person's life. Something to catch on TV because it is an interesting and important story. But I can't recommend carving time out during the festival to seek this film out.
I saw Out of Time from Austria at today's press screening. Stealing the description from the press notes description provided by the festival it's, "Ostensibly a look at four old-world Austrian businesses that won't survive gentrification, this rewarding documentary is really about the quiet moments and the banter that
takes place among the aging proprietors. Beautifully shot and absolutely charming, it recalls of a time when community was more important than consumerism."
I enjoyed the film, possibly because after a week of mostly drama I was really in the mood for a documentary. I doubt it's the strongest example of the form I'll see at the festival. At least I hope it's not. There is some interesting conversation between the store owners - mostly married couples that work together. There are four stores features, a leather goods store, a butcher, a button store, and a pharmacy. They differ in the who we meet, couples in the first two, basically aged single proprietors in the last two. I enjoyed watching the couples the most. In part because watching the relationship was the most interesting but also because I thought their businesses were more appealing than the others. The leather goods and the butcher seem like areas in which globalization may have traded cost and efficiency for true quality. The button business while interesting just didn't feel the same. And the pharmacy - it's hard at this point to see it as anything other than a business that just sort of hung on way too long. It isn't so much that he's being beaten out by larger stores for no reason - the reason is quite clear, he barely has anything in stock. Not to mention there are recollections of his experiences during the Nazi occupation that left me more than a bit uncomfortable with the "eccentric" 86 year old proprietor. The description from the festival is a little misleading because you really don't see much of the community aspect - largely because with the exception of the butcher the businesses seem to be hanging on by a thread.
To sum up - if you're in the mood for something a little slow that gives a slice of life - or more accurately a slice of the end of 4 businesses lives this might be for you. It's not as depressing as it sounds, but you won't learn anything too earth shattering either. As you can tell it's a less than rousing endorsement. But I am glad I saw it.
Overall, it gives the right feel. But my take is that the taxi driver (and yes, there are several references to the film of that name) isn't really so tormented at the start. We meet him when his wife has left him alone with his three small kids. He's trying to make the best of the situation. As stressful as that start is things really go downhill fast once his wife decides to come back. And downhill is the direction things are consistently heading. I think this was my favorite from the first week of screenings. I'm still thinking on what the meaning of the overall story is - at the very least it could be an ad for why you probably want professional representation in your child custody dispute. Quite the cautionary tale in that regard ...
This was one of the better flix for me from the first week of press screenings. While I'm not 100% sure I've fully digested this film I was pretty involved throughout trying to figure out where it was going. It's not exactly the feel good movie of the summer but it kept me wondering. I wasn't particularly invested in how things worked out for the main character who wasn't particularly appealing. But I did want to understand his story - at least while I was in the theater. As I write this some time after the screening I realize it didn't really intrigue me much beyond the lights coming up. But I'm sure if I'd gone with others we at least would have been discussing it over coffee that night.