Mathew Englander (mathew5000) wrote,
Mathew Englander
mathew5000

Today is the first day of the Vancouver International Film Festival. I caught a few media screenings; here are some short comments on what I saw. The scores are on a scale from 0 to 10.

The Prince of Pot: The US vs. Marc Emery (Canada). A decent documentary about entrepreneur Marc Emery, a Canadian citizen currently facing extradition to the United States for drug trafficking. The film has interviews with Emery as well as his wife, his colleagues, and his lawyer, plus some cogent analysis by former Vancouver mayor (and now senator) Larry Campbell about the politics of marijuana. The film attempts to make the case that the American prosecutors seeking to put Emery on trial are concerned mainly with silencing his political activism (namely advocating for the legalization of marijuana in Canada). However, the U.S. district attorney interviewed in the film maintains that they are pursuing Emery only because his business (selling cannabis seeds by mail-order) causes harm to the American public. 7

Atonement (UK). Scheduled as the Festival’s opening gala, this film (based on the novel by Ian McEwan) has a very strong first third, with strong performances by Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, and Saoirse Ronan. The film is worth seeing for its unusual, creative, and highly effective narrative style of the first 40 minutes. After that, however, it gets a little mired and confusing, with the setting moved to France and the opening stages of the Second World War. Perhaps this is due to the deletion of scenes and exposition that had been in the novel. I liked the ending, however, and overall I strongly recommend the film. 8

War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (USA). A very strong documentary about how the U.S. military uses propaganda. The film looks at the conflicts in Vietnam, Panama, and the Persian Gulf, but mostly focuses on the Iraq War. It is strongly critical of CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and other mainstream media, making the case that they were negligent at the outset of the war in accepting everything the government said at face value, and suppressing contrary opinions. 10

The Stone Angel (Canada). This film seemed like fifty cinematic clichés strung together. Ellen Burstyn plays a curmudgeonly old lady resisting being put in a retirement home; this is interspersed with flashbacks to various times in her life. It’s an adaptation of the classic Margaret Laurence novel (which I have never read), but it seems that they moved everything forward 40 years. The 1964 novel was about a 90-year-old woman in the early 1960s looking back on her life in Manitoba in the 19th Century. The film takes place in 2007 (more or less) and the flashbacks are all in the 20th Century. The whole thing did not ring true at all, presumably because Laurence’s observations about each historical era are garbled by transposing all the events of the film to later eras. There is one excellent performance, by Cole Hauser as Bram Shipley. Most of the other actors were good but a few (like Sheila McCarthy) were over the top. 3

In the Shadow of the Moon (UK). A nicely flowing documentary on NASA’s program to put men on the moon. The film mostly focuses on the personalities involved, and includes interviews with (I believe) all the surviving Apollo astronauts. The film also has some coverage of the scientific and technological challenges but I thought it could have examined that aspect more deeply. 8

The Tracey Fragments (Canada). Bruce McDonald’s latest film tells the story of an alienated 15-year-old girl in Winnipeg searching for her missing younger brother. The film mostly uses experimental techniques, to good effect. It stars Ellen Page (from Hard Candy; she is also in The Stone Angel). 7

Young People Fucking (Canada). A comedy about five sexual encounters in Toronto. The script is clever and many of the actors are good (like Carly Pope from Popular). 7

Samson and Delilah (The Netherlands). The French-language opera adapted for film with some kind of modern middle-east setting. Boring and cartoonish, I almost walked out several times and I wish I had. Shot in digital video, the movie looked terrible; perhaps just the way it was projected but all the reds and blues were garishly ugly. The music was loud and unpleasant and never let up. The singing voice of Klara Uleman, playing Delilah, was particularly grating. 1

Hollywood Chinese (USA). An insightful survey of how Chinese and Chinese-American people have been depicted in American feature films, following the history of Hollywood from the silent era to the present. The documentary includes interviews with several Chinese-American actors and directors as well as white actors who portrayed Chinese people. 8
Tags: films, movies, vancouver international film festival, viff
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