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Friday, September 7th, 2012
1:31 pm - TIFF free screenings
Further to my last entry about the TIFF Cinematheque programme of free screenings at the festival, I might mention that the screening of Loin du Viêtnam this Sunday morning looks pretty interesting, but I have a ticket for something else at the same time. Another one, The Bitter Ash, I saw a few years ago in Vancouver; all I remember about it is that some of the (now elderly) actors were in attendance and commenting during the screening and I was annoyed but decided it would be inappropriate to shush them since it was kind of their own film.

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1:06 pm - TIFF Day 1
TIFF 2012 had a great start for me yesterday; I went to three films in the TIFF Cinematheque programme, which is entirely free of charge at the festival this year.

The procedure at Bell Lightbox (which last night was subject to information picketing by CEP, whose workers were locked out by Bell) was as follows: a TIFF staff member would begin handing out tickets two hours prior to the film’s start time. Before that, people queued in front of the building. For example, Dial M for Murder was scheduled for 9:15pm. I got in line at 6:30 or so and was fairly close to the front. At 7:15 promptly, a man came down the line and gave everyone one ticket. Then we were free to go; a separate ticket-holders line (just as for any other film) began later. I believe this is a good, fair procedure by TIFF for handling gratis films. Dial M for Murder was officially sold out (I believe there were some seats in the front two rows, but it still counts as a sellout) while the other two free films yesterday, Sans Soleil and Tess, were surprisingly only about two-thirds full.

Sans Soleil (dir. Chris Marker, 1983) was introduced by Cameron Bailey, who noted that this film was the reason he is now artistic director of TIFF, and was being presented in commemoration of Chris Marker, who died on July 29 this year. The film has a dense narration of a woman reading letters from a man who is travelling the world — particularly Japan, Mauritius, and Guinea-Bissau — accompanied by footage supposedly shot by this traveller. There were a few spots where I got impatient, but by the second half of the film I think I started to see what he was trying to accomplish. I am going to come back to this film on DVD because there are certain sections I need to re-watch a couple of times to follow the French narration, but I was glad to see it on 35mm at Jackman Hall yesterday.

Tess (dir. Roman Polanski, 1979) was amazing. I almost didn’t see it because I was afraid the two-hours-and-53-minute long film would be dull, and the airplane-style design of the Lightbox theatres means you have to crawl over a bunch of people if you want to leave. Fortunately the film kept me awake and interested throughout its length. This is a restored version presented digitally and it was visually sumptuous. Okay, Nastassja Kinski isn’t a great actress, and I kept wondering why her accent sounded vaguely Irish (isn’t she German or Czech or something?, I kept thinking) but that doesn’t matter; Kinski was good enough considering the well-plotted source material (Hardy’s novel) and the skill of Peter Firth (no relation to Colin) and other supporting cast. This was Polanski’s first film after he fled the US, having pleaded guilty to the crime of sex with a minor but before sentencing. It was quite odd thinking about that during the film, knowing that separate from the California crime, Polanski had also had a relationship with Nastassja Kinski when she was 15, and in the film she plays a character who is taken advantage of by a much older man, her quasi-cousin. I was thinking to myself, is Polanski trying to justify himself here? Or is he condemning, maybe expiating himself? But I came to no conclusions on that point. Adam Nayman gave an engaging intro to the film; one puzzling thing is that he discussed in some detail the significance of the film’s dedication reading “for Sharon” instead of “to Sharon”. But when the film began, the dedication on screen did say, “to Sharon”. So was this an alteration made in the restoration that Nayman was unaware of? Or had the film’s dedication always been “to Sharon” and Nayman just had it backwards. Personally I don’t see much point in overanalysing a preposition especially when used by a non-native speaker of English. (Sharon Tate was Polanski’s late wife.) According to IMDb, two alternate versions of Tess are 184 minutes and 134 minutes. I guess this 173-minute version is a third cut; I will be interested to find out if a version of that length already existed or is it new in this restoration.

Dial M for Murder (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) is a 3D digital restoration; it was introduced by film theorist David Bordwell, who today posted in his blog a detailed analysis of the film. Interestingly, Bordwell noted that a 3D print of this film had been shown 31 years ago at TIFF (then known as the Festival of Festivals). At the start of the film I thought there was way too much exposition, but it paid off well in the end. Although the movie seems comparable to Rear Window and Rope in that the action is tightly confined to one apartment suite, I found that in plot and tone it was more similar to the work Hitchcock directed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and other TV anthologies, which I saw within the last two months at Pacific Cinémathèque, also of course I recognized John Williams from three of those episodes, playing the police inspector in Dial M. Throughout the film I was trying to remember whether I had ever seen it before; I think probably I had seen ten minutes of it once when flipping channels on TV, but not the entire film. I did suddenly remember seeing the remake, A Perfect Murder (1998) with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Tuesday, August 21st, 2012
3:45 am - TIFF: assessing the programmers
Preparing for the film festival this year, I have updated a post I made in 2010, listing TIFF films I have seen categorized by the programmer who programmed them and wrote the programme note. The purpose is to see whose tastes accord with mine, and also who writes misleading programme notes. I went through the last two years program books and am including all the films that I saw (whether at TIFF or subsequent to it). Programmers listed alphabetically. Conclusions at the bottom.

Cameron Bailey
State of Violence. film, good; writeup, accurate
Blessed Events. film, poor; writeup, overly exuberant
The Majority. film, poor; writeup, overrates the film
Black Ocean. film, good; writeup, accurate
3. film, fair; writeup, accurate
The Poll Diaries. film, good; writeup, accurate
Rabbit Hole. film, great; writeup, good
Never Let Me Go. film, good; writeup, good
Blue Valentine. film, good; writeup, okay
Viva Riva!. film, good, writeup, good
This Is Not a Film. film, good; writeup, accurate
Like Crazy. film, great; writeup, very accurate
Sleeping Beauty. film, good; writeup, accurate
Wuthering Heights. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Tyrannosaur. film, great; writeup, accurate
The Invader. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Michael (Ribhu Dasgupta). film, fair; writeup, accurate
Color of the Ocean. film, great; writeup, accurate
Guilty. film, great; writeup, accurate
The Descendants. film, good; writeup, accurate
Shame. film, good; writeup, good
Omar m'a tuer. film, great; writeup, accurate
The Forgiveness of Blood. film, fair; writeup, inflated

Martin Bilodeau
Oliver Sherman. film, great; writeup, okay (I disagree with Bilodeau about what the “central question” of the film is)
Small Town Murder Songs. film, great; writeup, accurate
Amazon Falls. film, good; writeup, good
Wetlands. film, great; writeup, very good
Edwin Boyd. film, fair; writeup, good
Monsieur Lazhar. film, great; writeup, very good

Noah Cowan
House of Tolerance. film, great; writeup, very good
Martha Marcy May Marlene. film, great; writeup, good but too spoilery

Dimitri Eipides
Mandoo. film, good; writeup, okay but omits the most important detail (that the film is shot entirely from one character’s POV, like Lady of the Lake and Enter the Void.)
The Edge. film, fair; writeup, okay, but makes the film sound more interesting than it is
Womb. film, great; writeup, not entirely accurate and gives away a spoiler (although, it would have been hard to accurately summarize the movie without the spoiler)
My Joy. film, poor; writeup, accurate
The Kid with a Bike. film, great; writeup, accurate
Twilight Portrait. film, great; writeup, accurate
A Separation. film, great; writeup, very accurate
Gypsy. film, great; writeup, accurate
Elena. film, good; writeup, accurate
Breathing. film, good; writeup, good

Giovanna Fulvi
Norwegian Wood. film, fair; writeup, okay
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale. film, good; writeup, accurate

Colin Geddes
Our Day Will Come. film, good; writeup, accurate
Red Nights. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Monsters. film, good; writeup, excellent
Carré blanc. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Generation P. film, good; writeup, accurate

Steve Gravestock
Lapland Odyssey. film, good; writeup, very accurate
In a Better World. film, great; writeup, okay but somewhat exaggerated
Melancholia. film, poor; writeup, overly exuberant
Among Us. film, great; writeup, accurate
Superclásico. film, great; writeup, accurate
Play. film, great; writeup, okay
Doppelgänger Paul. film, fair; writeup, okay

Piers Handling
Gorbaciòf — The Cashier Who Liked Gambling. film, fair; writeup, overly exuberant
Neds. film, good; writeup, okay
Mothers. film, poor; writeup, accurate
The Christening. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Hereafter. film, fair; writeup, accurate
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. film, good; writeup, accurate
Neds. film, good; writeup, accurate
Of Gods and Men. film, good; writeup, accurate
Le Havre. film, fair; writeup, way off the mark
Pina. film, good; writeup, accurate
Terraferma. film, good; writeup, okay
Rebellion. film, fair; writeup, okay except for the comparison to Apocalypse Now
The Woman in the Fifth. film, good; writeup, accurate

Michèle Maheux
Biutiful. film, good; writeup, okay
Conviction. film, good; writeup, okay
Easy A. film, fair; writeup, okay
The Artist. film, great; writeup, good

Andréa Picard
•Wavelengths 2: “Plein-air”. programme (seven shorts), fair; writeup, accurate
Ruhr. film, great; writeup, accurate
Dreileben. film, great; writeup, okay

Thom Powers
Windfall. film, great; writeup, very accurate
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. film, great; writeup, very accurate
Cave of Forgotten Dreams. film, great; writeup, excellent
Armadillo. film, good; writeup, accurate
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. film, good; writeup, very accurate
Last Call at the Oasis. film, good; writeup, good
Into the Abyss. film, good; writeup, good

Diana Sanchez
Nostalgia for the Light. film, good; writeup, okay
Leap Year. film, good; writeup, excellent
Roman's Circuit. film, poor; writeup, overly exuberant
Las acacias. film, good; writeup, accurate
Extraterrestrial. film, poor; writeup, accurate
Bonsái. film, great; writeup, accurate
Miss Bala. film, good; writeup, accurate

Jane Schoettle
Meek’s Cutoff. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Beginners. film, fair; writeup, inflated
The Hunter. film, good; writeup, accurate
Lipstikka. film, great; writeup, slightly inaccurate
Footnote. film, great; writeup, very good
Restoration. film, good; writeup, good
The Loneliest Planet. film, great; writeup, good

Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo
Incendies. film, fair; writeup, okay
Surviving Progress. film, fair; writeup, okay
Nuit #1. film, great; writeup, good
Café de flore. film, fair; writeup, okay

Anonymous (galas do not list a programmer)
The King's Speech. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Les petits mouchoirs. film, great; writeup, good
The Conspirator. film, good; writeup, okay
The Town. film, great; writeup, accurate
Potiche. film, fair; writeup, inflated
Black Swan. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Take This Waltz. film, fair; writeup, accurate
Starbuck. film, good; writeup, a bit dry

Conclusions. See more films programmed by Martin Bilodeau. Of six films programmed by him that I saw, I rated four great. Unfortunately I think he might not be with TIFF any longer. Others whose tastes coincide with mine to a large degree, Jane Schoettle, Dimitri Eipides, Thom Powers, Steve Gravestock, Andréa Picard, and Noah Cowan. Avoid films programmed by Piers Handling; of 13 films that I saw by him, none were great.

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Monday, January 23rd, 2012
11:59 pm - My favourite movies of 2011
I wanted to post this list before the Oscar nominations were released. There were a lot of movies I liked from the past year, though few of them will get any nominations (and in many cases are not even eligible because they didn't have a Los Angeles qualifying release). I am putting these in order of how much I liked them, although it's a bit absurd to compare movies from different genres.

1. Lipstikka (dir. Jonathan Sagall). Brilliantly constructed film that plays with time, memory, and personal history with performances that are thoroughly engaging and convincing, though unpredictable.

2. In Our Name (dir. Brian Welsh). This British movie was so intense that I still can’t stop thinking about it, two months after seeing at Pacific Cinémathèque’s EUFF. Joanne Froggatt stars as a soldier returning from Iraq to the challenges of a young daughter who won’t speak to her, a husband who gets insanely jealous, and her mounting PTSD. Despite the serious themes the movie is not unpleasant to watch; every scene is perfectly executed.

3. Footnote [הערת שוליים] (dir. Joseph Cedar). This likely will get an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film; it is an intelligent, engaging family comedy-drama set in academia. A large part of what makes this film great is its playful style that is perfectly suited to the content, the quick edits and on-screen clever narration are something that many directors have been experimenting with recently but usually unsuccessfully; Cedar incorporates it perfectly: the film is highly enjoyable while raising philosophical issues about the nature of knowledge and the recognition of academic work.

4. Source Code (dir. Duncan Jones). This film won’t get the recognition it deserves because it is science fiction, but the story is compelling and the script is absolutely brilliant. As I wrote earlier in this blog, Jake Gyllenhall is fantastic in the starring role, and the supporting cast are some of the best new actors of the last few years: Michelle Monaghan (from Gone Baby Gone), Vera Farmiga (from Up in the Air), and Jeffrey Wright (from Syriana).

5. Play (dir. Ruben Östlund). This Swedish movie had me wanting to say “holy fuck” all the way through.

6. Tyrannosaur (dir. Paddy Considine). Standout performance by the great Peter Mullan.

7. Color of the Ocean [Die Farbe des Ozeans] (dir. Maggie Peren). I saw many films last year about illegal migration to Europe; this one (set in the Canary Islands) was far and away the best. It avoids all clichés and gives its characters some sympathetic, believable ambiguity.

8. The Co(te)lette Film (dir. Mike Figgis). I’m not generally a fan of dance and especially not of dance movies, but this one at VIFF had me entranced from beginning to end.

9. The Kid with a Bike [Le Gamin au vélo] (dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne). Of course the Dardenne Brothers are great, Cécile de France is great, and the young Thomas Doret is great. Not much more to say.

10. One Day (dir. Lone Scherfig). I guess this is the most mainstream movie on my list so far, but the director is Danish so it shouldn’t be a surprise. And I love movies like this which set limitations for themselves in terms of structure, especially relating to the passage of time. I would expect this to get a few Oscar nominations, particularly Patricia Clarkson, Anne Hathaway, and David Nicholls for the screenplay based on his book.

11. Twilight Portrait [Портрет в сумерках] (dir. Angelina Nikonova). To plagiarize myself: Angelina Nikonova’s début feature Twilight Portrait is rivetting even though its scenes of humiliation, hardship, and sexual violence are so raw and realistic that you want to look away. Set in Rostov-on-Don, the film portrays a dysfunctional Russia in which bureaucrats actively discourage the reporting of crime, while policemen cavalierly rape women. Olga Dykhovichnaya, who co-wrote the script, gives a searing lead performance as Marina, a social worker who is raped by three cops and then seeks one of them out, her motives ambiguous. Shot on DV in a style that evokes early Dogme95, Twilight Portrait is the kind of movie that makes TIFF worth while. The film won prizes at 11 festivals, and won the White Elephant prize for best début feature, awarded by the Russian Guild of Film Critics.

12. A Separation [جدایی نادر از سیمین] (dir. Asghar Farhadi). I’ve never been an aficionado of Iranian cinema, but this film is great. Very likely to win the best-foreign-language-film Oscar.

13. The Timekeeper (dir. Louis Bélanger). Probably the best ever Canadian feature with an all-male cast.

14. Guilty [Présumé coupable] (dir. Vincent Garenq). Based on (closely based on, apparently) a true story of a gross, sad miscarriage of justice in modern-day France, this disturbing film resonates with its convincing, heart-rending performances.

15. Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen). Woody Allen’s funniest comedy in maybe 20 years.

16. The Loneliest Planet (dir. Julia Loktev). Slow-paced but never boring, Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg are terrific as American hikers in lush, mountainous Georgia.

17. Nuit #1 (dir. Anne Émond). With frank visuals and poetic dialogue, this two-character film has a rare honesty and openness about sex.

18. Stricken [Komt een vrouw bij de dokter] (dir. Reinout Oerlemans). Carice van Houten is stunningly good (as usual) in this drama about a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, but unfortunately Pacific Cinémathèque screened the film in some video format that looked like crap. If I had seen it in 35mm this film would almost certainly be higher on my list, because there were many shots that looked like they might have been eye-popping cinematography.

19. Margin Call (dir. J.C. Chandor). I loved the first ⅔ of this movie but found the ending a bit weak. Still, a highly intelligent script and amazing performances from Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, and Simon Baker, among others.

20. Project Nim (dir. James Marsh). A revealing, sad documentary about the life of a chimpanzee who was taught sign language in a scientific experiment.

21. Limitless (dir. Neil Burger). Visually dynamic science fiction thriller about pharmaceutical brain-boosters.

22. Like Crazy (dir. Drake Doremus). Endearing comedy-drama about a transatlantic relationship, with improvised dialogue.

23. Martha Marcy Mae Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin). Tense, ambiguous, rivetting drama with brilliant performances by Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, and John Hawkes.

24. Dreileben (dir. Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf, and Christoph Hochhäusler). Three interlocking films by different directors, yes it’s a gimmick but the sort of gimmick I love when it’s done well, which this is.

25. Happy, Happy [Sykt lykkelig] (dir. Anne Sewitsky). Sharp Norwegian snowy relationship comedy.

In addition to those 25 features, I recall two excellent short films from 2011: Che Vuoi (dir. Marina Roy) and Vapor (dir. Kaveh Nabatian).

Last year:

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Sunday, December 18th, 2011
2:01 pm - Fifth Avenue Cinemas is now Fifth Avenue Video
I have been pissed off all week because of this sign at Fifth Avenue Cinemas:

Coming Soon to Fifth Avenue Cinemas! Full digital projector conversion. Please refer to www.festivalcinemas.ca for all show time information.

Since it opened in the ’90s I have seen hundreds of movies at Fifth Avenue and it feels like a betrayal that they will no longer be showing films cinematically, but rather in a video format. I predict that within three years the establishment will have closed down (like the lamented Hollywood Theatre on Broadway). Why would anyone pay $12.75 to see a movie projected on video in a theatre when the Blu-Ray is just as good?

I posted a few months ago on the Festival Cinemas Facebook wall when they began using video instead of 35mm for certain films; it is unfortunate that they have continued, without even indicating in their web listings which movies are not projected from celluloid.

Now that it no longer uses cinematic projection, they ought to change their name to something other than Fifth Avenue Cinemas.

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Saturday, September 10th, 2011
11:55 pm - The Hunter — TIFF Day 3
I was interested to see The Hunter because it concerns the hunt for a thylacine, a tiger-like marsupial thought to have gone extinct in 1936 although unconfirmed sightings are reported each year. Willem Dafoe does a great job (as does Morgana Davies, a child actor who was the only good thing about last year’s The Tree) but much of the story falls into some genre cliché (local townspeople intimidating an outsider, for example). Then the end was peculiar and disturbing, not in a good way. Still, how often do you see a feature set in Tasmania. With subject matter like this you assume the filmmakers want to say something about endangered species, but after seeing the film I wonder whether they intended to say what they actually said. 6

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11:38 pm - Wuthering Heights — TIFF Day 3
I was looking forward to Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights because I loved her first film, Red Road and also quite liked her second, Fish Tank. But this latest one (based on Emily Brontë’s novel) just didn’t gel for me. There were large parts of it that I liked but overall the film just did not have the intensity required for the drama to pay off. I think this was largely due to the script, and partly to the performances. 6

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Friday, September 9th, 2011
8:53 pm - Twilight Portrait — TIFF Day 2
At TIFF the Discovery programme is for gamblers: as low-budget, low-profile films by directors without any track record; it shouldn’t be surprising if many of these turn out to be slow, clichéd, or sometimes an unbearable mess. However I always try to see three or four from the Discovery programme because they are so unlikely to be released in Canada at theatres or even on DVD, and sometimes these unknown directors turn out to have fresh and powerful voices. Angelina Nikonova is a prime example: her debut feature Twilight Portrait is rivetting even though its scenes of humiliation, hardship, and sexual violence are so raw and realistic that you want to look away. Set in present-day Moscow, the film portrays a dysfunctional Russia in which bureaucrats actively discourage the reporting of crime, while policemen cavalierly rape women. Olga Dykhovichnaya, who co-wrote the script, gives a searing lead performance as Marina, a social worker who is raped by three cops and then seeks one of them out, her motives ambiguous. Shot on DV in a style that evokes early Dogme95, Twilight Portrait is the kind of movie that makes TIFF worth while. 10

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1:01 am - Le Havre — TIFF Day 1
When Piers Handling introduced Le Havre at the Elgin, he said, “you are going to see many wonderful films in the next ten days, but none more so than Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre”. Really? Every other film at TIFF this year is worse than this one? I hope not, because Le Havre was just okay. Concerning a boy from Gabon who arrives in France illegally, the film is enjoyable on account of the charismatic lead performance by André Wilms, and the plot is never exactly boring, but the movie lacks dramatic tension and originality. I saw a Romanian film last year, Morgen, with a similar storyline. Aside from Wilms’s character, the townspeople (many of whom conspire to hide the boy from the authorities) are not that interesting, but the film spends time on them in lieu of developing the character of Idrissa (the young migrant). Perhaps Kaurismäki intended to draw parallels with the French Resistance in World War II, but if so the film doesn’t follow through on this. Score out of ten: 5

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Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
11:53 pm - 2011 science fiction films
For some reason 2011 has so far seen five thoughtful American science-fiction movies. I’ve been meaning to do a brief rundown of them; here they are listed in order of how much I liked them.

1. Source Code. The second film directed by Duncan Jones, Source Code, is even better than his début feature Moon in 2009. I can’t discuss what the film is really about because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will just say that the script is brilliant. Jake Gyllenhall is fantastic in the starring role, and the supporting cast are some of the best new actors of the last few years: Michelle Monaghan (from Gone Baby Gone), Vera Farmiga (From Up in the Air), and Jeffrey Wright (from Syriana). Source Code is rivalling Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as my favourite SF movie.

2. Limitless. I know a lot of people were underwhelmed by this, but I found it pretty compelling from beginning to end. The plot is about a drug that makes you super-intelligent within 30 seconds of swallowing it. I would have preferred if the pill was depicted as taking longer, maybe an hour, to take effect, to make the premise more science fiction and less magic, but still. This is the fourth feature directed by Neil Burger, his follow-up to the severely underrated The Lucky Ones. Bradley Cooper is excellent, building on the type of character he played in Alias. Preferably see this in 35mm or at least Blu-ray because of some subtleties in the cinematography.

3. Super 8. Absolutely worth seeing, J.J. Abrams’s movie is a lot of fun even though the final half-hour doesn’t quite live up to the great beginning.

4. The Adjustment Bureau. Okay, you might not classify this as science fiction considering all the talk of angels and whatnot, but it was based on a Philip K. Dick short story and in my view had more of a science fiction feel to it than religious. The thing is, to enjoy this film you have to realize that many of the lines are intended to be funny. When I saw it I was often the only person in the theatre laughing at the corporate-bureaucracy jokes.

5. Another Earth. I didn’t mind the slow pace of this film; I thought Brit Marling (who I’d never heard of before) and William Mapother (Ethan from Lost) did terrific work. The basic plot with the car accident reminded me of a few other movies, I know some people have compared it to Rabbit Hole but in reality it isn’t all that similar; I would make a closer comparison to the Argentinian film The Headless Woman and also in another way to the brilliant Finnish comedy Black Ice. There might actually be some other film or book whose plot parallels that aspect of Another Earth even more closely, but I can’t come up with it. As for the science fiction aspect of the film, it held my interest although you have to admit that astronomically the premise makes no sense at all. Anthony Lane’s capsule review in The New Yorker says “Anyone who can explain the final shot deserves a refund,” but I didn’t find it mysterious or even ambiguous. I liked the film, including the ending, and I am interesting what movies Mike Cahill makes in future.

In addition to these five, there of course are other SF films this year that I did not see (such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and also at least one, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, that I decline to describe as science fiction.

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Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
4:12 pm - 2010 documentaries — top ten list
I haven’t seen any of the documentaries that received Oscar nominations this year, but I did see enough documentaries in 2010 (at the HotDocs festival, TIFF, and VIFF) to make a Top 10 list.

1. A Film Unfinished, Yael Hersonski

2. Into Eternity, Michael Madsen

3. Ruhr, James Benning

4. Windfall, Laura Israel

5. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Alex Gibney

6. Psychohydrography, Peter Bo Rappmund

7. The Red Chapel, Mads Brügger

8. The Eye 3D: Life and Science on Cerro Paranal, Nikolai Vialkowitsch

9. Cities on Speed – Bogotá Change, Andreas Dalsgaard

10. Enemies of the People, Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath

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Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
12:26 pm - 2010 movies — top ten list
Here’s my list of top 10 narrative movies of the year. I’ll do a separate list for documentaries.

1. Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik

2. Carlos, Olivier Assayas

3. John Rabe, Florian Gallenberger

4. Inception, Christopher Nolan

5. L’Affaire Farewell, Christian Carion

6. A Somewhat Gentle Man, Hans Petter Moland

7. Oliver Sherman, Ryan Redford

8. Womb, Benedek Fliegauf

9. The Robber, Benjamin Heisenberg

10. True Grit, Ethan Coen/Joel Coen

Honourable mentions: Daybreakers, The Fighter, In a Better World, Rabbit Hole, The Runaways, The Secret in Their Eyes, The Social Network, Splice, The Tenants, The Town, Uncle Brian, Youth in Revolt

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Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
7:29 pm - LiveJournal formatting
Not sure why all of a sudden my blog entries are showing up centred. They've always been left-justified in the past, and I didn't change any settings.

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Friday, December 31st, 2010
8:22 pm - 2010 books read
Here’s a list of books I read this year. I could be forgetting a couple.
  • Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple), Jeffrey Kluger

  • The Jade Peony, Wayson Choy

  • Nikolski, Nicolas Dickner, trans. Lazer Lederhandler

  • Soul of the World: Unlocking the Secrets of Time, Christopher Dewdney

  • No Way to Treat a First Lady: A Novel, Christopher Buckley

  • Little Bee, Chris Cleave

  • The Plot Against America, Philip Roth

  • The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa, trans. Stephen Snyder

  • Diary: A Novel, Chuck Palahniuk

  • Prospect Park West, Amy Sohn

  • Atmospheric Disturbances, Rivka Galchen

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, trans. Reg Keeland

  • The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson, trans. Reg Keeland

  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson, trans. Reg Keeland

  • The Diving Pool: Three Novellas, Yoko Ogawa, trans. Stephen Snyder

  • The Rehearsal, Eleanor Catton

  • Incendiary, Chris Cleave

  • The First Patient, Michael Palmer

  • Bottle Rocket Hearts, Zoe Whittall

  • In Search of Time: Journeys Along a Curious Dimension, Dan Falk

  • Hate: A Romance, Tristan Garcia, trans. Marion Duvert and Lorin Stein

  • Hotel Iris: A Novel, Yoko Ogawa, trans. Stephen Snyder

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Saturday, October 16th, 2010
11:53 pm - VIFF 2010 list
VIFF ended yesterday. Here’s a list of films I saw (and directors). My top ten are double-asterisked (top 5) or single-asterisked (6 to 10). I’m defining “short” as less than 20 minutes, “mid-length” as 20 to 60 minutes; everything else is a feature (61 minutes or more).
  • Protektor | Protector | Marek Najbrt (Czech Rep.)


  • Rewers | Reverse | Borys Lankosz (Poland)


  • Morgen | Marian Crisan (Romania / Hungary)


  • *Psychohydrography (documentary) | Peter Bo Rappmund (USA)


  • Sawako Decides | Ishii Yuya (Japan)


  • L’arbre et la forêt | Family Tree | Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau (France)


  • **En ganske snill mann | A Somewhat Gentle Man | Hans Peter Moland (Norway)


  • Kawasakiho ruze | Kawasaki’s Rose | Jan Hrebejk (Czech Rep.)


  • *Der Røde Kapel | The Red Chapel (documentary) | Mads Brügger (Denmark)


  • Armadillo (documentary) | Janus Metz (Denmark)


  • R U There? | David Verbeek (Netherlands)


  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (documentary) | Tamra Davis (USA)


  • Plasticity 3D (short) | Ryan Suits (USA)


  • *The Eye 3D — Life and Science on Cerro Peranal (documentary, mid-length) | Nikolai Vialkowistch (Germany)


  • Altitude | Kaare Andrews (Canada — B.C.)


  • Rubber | Quentin Dupieux (France / USA)


  • *Snap | Carmel Winters (Ireland)


  • Die Fremde | When We Leave | Feo Aladag (Germany / Turkey)


  • 12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary (documentary) | Zeina Daccache (Lebanon)


  • Mumbai Disconnected (documentary, mid-length) | Camilla Nielsson & Frederik Jacobi (Denmark)


  • Bogotá Change (documentary, mid-length) | Andreas Møl Dalsgaard (Denmark)


  • Un homme qui crie | A Screaming Man | Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (France / Belgium / Chad)


  • 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup | Around a Small Mountain | Jacques Rivette (France / Italy)


  • Transfer | Damir Lukacevic (Germany)


  • La Belle endormie | The Sleeping Beauty | Catherine Breillat (France)


  • La Vie au ranch | Chicks | Sophie Letourneur (France)


  • **Into Eternity (documentary) | Michael Madsen (Denmark)


  • Plug & Pray (documentary) | Jens Schanze (Germany)


  • 5 Variations on a Long String (documentary, mid-length) | Peter Esmond (USA)


  • Opfindelsen at Dr. Nakamats (documentary, mid-length) | The Invention of Dr. Nakamats | Kaspar Astrup Schröder (Denmark)


  • Harragas | Les Brûleurs | Merzak Allouache (Algeria / France)


  • *Os inquilinos | The Tenants | Sérgio Bianchi (Brazil)


  • **Uncle Brian | Nick McAnulty (Canada — Ont.)


  • **Der Räuber | The Robber | Benjamin Heisenberg (Austria / Germany)


  • R | Michael Noer & Tobias Lindholm (Denmark)


  • Lila Lila | My Words, My Lies — My Love | Alain Gsponer (Germany)


  • **Carlos | Olivier Assayas (France / Germany)


  • Amazon Falls | Katrin Bowen (Canada — B.C.)


  • Raindrops over Rwanda (documentary, mid-length) | Charles Annenberg Weingarten (Rwanda)


  • A Place Without People (documentary, mid-length) | Andreas Apostolides (Greece / Tanzania)


  • The Yellow Bank (documentary, mid-length) | J.P. Sniadecki (USA / China)


  • Año bisiesto | Leap Year | Michael Rowe (Mexico)


  • Winds of Heaven (documentary) | Michael Ostroff (Canada)


  • Nostalgia de la luz (documentary) | Nostalgia for the Light | Patricio Guzmán (Chile)


  • Monsters | Gareth Edwards (UK)


  • Tanzträume | Dancing Dreams: Teenagers Perform “Kontakthof” by Pina Bausch (documentary) | Anne Linsel & Rainer Hoffman (Germany)


  • The Tree | Julie Bertuccelli (Australia / France)


  • The White Meadows | Mohammad Rasoulof (Iran)


  • Sodankylä Forever — The Century of Cinema (documentary) | Peter von Bagh (Finland)


  • Cry Rock (documentary, mid-length) | Banchi Hanuse (Canada — B.C.)


  • Mammalian (documentary) | Frank Wolf (Canada — B.C.)
I haven’t hyperlinked film titles in the post because the VIFF web site makes it too much of a hassle. You should be able to look up films here.

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Thursday, September 30th, 2010
4:41 am - VIFF and TIFF stats
The VIFF 2010 Fact Sheet issued on September 8 contains a blatant contradiction. The first line says there are 359 films; the second line says there are 230 feature-length films and 150 films under 60 minutes. So is the total number of films 359, or 380?

I emailed the press office about this last week, but they neither responded to me nor revised the Fact Sheet posted on their web site.

My count of films in the printed guide is 372, broken down as follows:

  • 228 features (more than 60 minutes)

  • 29 mid-length (20 to 60 minutes inclusive)

  • 115 shorts (less than 20 minutes)
Compared to TIFF this year (according to its own Fact Sheet), VIFF has 33 more total films, but 30 fewer features.

In terms of the total number of films, I guess that at 372, VIFF has more than any other film festival in North America. Most people would find it surprising that VIFF has more films than TIFF (which has 339).

As far as Canadian films, the 2010 TIFF fact sheet claims 74 Canadian films including 30 features, while the 2010 VIFF fact sheet claims 87 Canadian films including 36 features. However, paging through the VIFF program guide, I counted only 32 Canadian features, defined as having a length greater than 60 minutes. But I did count four Canadian films with lengths from 47 to 60 minutes, so I guess that’s where VIFF came up with its number 36. Still, it’s a bit shoddy considering that the fact sheet expressly defines a feature as “over 60 minutes long”.

Regardless, VIFF exceeds TIFF both in number of Canadian features and Canadian shorts, for 2010 at least, which must make VIFF the festival exhibiting the most Canadian films, anywhere in the world. It’s odd then that the program guide declines to make this claim expressly; the text on page 99 reads:
Might this be the largest and best-attended annual program of Canadian cinema in the world? It certainly is popular! Along with our annual Film & Television Forum, this series makes the VIFF the most important event in the region for industry development and exhibition.

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Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
6:21 pm - Films playing at VIFF — recommendations
With the Vancouver International Film Festival beginning tomorrow, here is a list of the films playing there that I have already seen, with a brief comment. I may update this post later. Page numbers correspond to the official program book; descriptions and schedule are also on the guide at the VIFF web site.

Windfall [p. 69] — Strongly recommended. Very interesting documentary addressing the pitfalls of wind turbines.

My Joy [p. 144] — Didn’t like it; confused, violent, and boring.

Nénette [p. 172] — Had high expectations of this based on the trailer, but the film itself became kind of dull.

Ruhr [p. 173] — Perhaps a bit challenging, but still strongly recommended.

A Film Unfinished [p. 174] — Strongly recommended, a fascinating documentary about the nature of documentary filmmaking.

Family Affair [p. 180] — Recommended, an interesting documentary.

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Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
8:42 pm - TIFF 2010: assessing the programmers
Every year, I choose films from TIFF based on the program guide, and often after I see a film I am left wondering, why did I choose that one? The guide contains a synopsis and brief comment on the film written by the TIFF programmer who chose it for the festival. (The writeups are all online at tiff.net, as is information about the programmers.)

This year after the festival I systematically re-read all the writeups of the films I saw, and then evaluated the programmers based on (a) how much I liked the films they chose, and (b) how accurate their description was. The purpose is to aid my film selection in future.

In most cases, the writeups are good; even where I disliked the film I couldn’t fault the writeup itself. It was simply a matter that the programmer and I had differing tastes.

I saw 25 films involving 9 of the programmers. I list the programmers in alphabetical order, with my one-word opinion of the film (Great, Good, Fair, or Poor) and a brief comment on the programmer’s writeup. My conclusions are at the bottom.

Cameron Bailey
State of Violence. film, good; writeup, accurate
Blessed Events. film, poor; writeup, overly exuberant
The Majority. film, poor; writeup, overrates the film
Black Ocean. film, good; writeup, accurate
3. film, fair; writeup, accurate
The Poll Diaries. film, good; writeup, accurate

Martin Bilodeau
Oliver Sherman. film, great; writeup, okay (I disagree with Bilodeau about what the “central question” of the film is)
Small Town Murder Songs. film, great; writeup, accurate

Dimitri Eipides
Mandoo. film, good; writeup, okay but omits the most important detail (that the film is shot entirely from one character’s POV, like Lady of the Lake and Enter the Void.)
The Edge. film, fair; writeup, okay, but makes the film sound more interesting than it is
Womb. film, great; writeup, not entirely accurate and gives away a spoiler (although, it would have been hard to accurately summarize the movie without the spoiler)
My Joy. film, poor; writeup, accurate

Colin Geddes
Our Day Will Come. film, good; writeup, accurate
Red Nights. film, fair; writeup, accurate

Steve Gravestock
Lapland Odyssey. film, good; writeup, very accurate
In a Better World. film, great; writeup, okay but somewhat exaggerated

Piers Handling
Gorbaciòf — The Cashier Who Liked Gambling. film, fair; writeup, overly exuberant
Neds. film, good; writeup, okay
Mothers. film, poor; writeup, accurate
The Christening. film, fair; writeup, accurate

Andréa Picard
•Wavelengths 2: “Plein-air”. programme (seven shorts), fair; writeup, accurate
Ruhr. film, great; writeup, accurate

Thom Powers
Windfall. film, great; writeup, very accurate
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. film, great; writeup, very accurate

Jane Schoettle
Meek’s Cutoff. film, fair; writeup, accurate

Conclusions: the sample size is too small to really judge, but it looks like my taste coincides with that of Martin Bilodeau and Thom Powers, since all the films I saw that were selected by those two, I rated “great”. I ought to go back to TIFF 2009 and previous, and do this same exercise.

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Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
8:34 pm - TIFF 2010 roundup
Here’s a list of the films I saw at TIFF this year, grouped by my reaction to them (Great, Good, Fair, and Poor). Within each grouping, the list is alphabetical. Included here are the directors’ names and links to tofilmfest.ca. Surprisingly, two of the best films I saw at the festival are Canadian: Oliver Sherman and Small Town Murder Songs.

GREAT

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (documentary), Alex Gibney
In a Better World [Hævnen], Susanne Bier
Oliver Sherman, Ryan Redford
Ruhr, James Benning
Small Town Murder Songs, Ed Gass-Donnelly
Windfall (documentary), Laura Israel
Womb, Benedek Fliegauf

GOOD

Black Ocean [Noir Océan], Marion Hänsel
Lapland Odyssey [Napapiirin sankarit], Dome Karukoski
Mandoo, Ebrahim Saeedi
Neds, Peter Mullan
Our Day Will Come [Notre jour viendra], Romain Gavras
The Poll Diaries [Poll], Chris Kraus
State of Violence, Khalo Matabane

FAIR

3, Tom Tykwer
The Christening [Chrzest], Marcin Wrona
The Edge [Krai], Alexey Uchitel
Gorbaciòf — The Cashier Who Liked Gambling [Gorbaciòf — Il cassiere col vizio del gioco], Stefano Incerti
Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt
Red Nights [Les Nuits Rouges du Bourreau de Jade], Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud
Wavelengths 2: “Plein-air” (seven short films, different directors)

POOR

Blessed Events [Glückliche Fügung], Isabelle Stever
The Majority [Cogunluk], Seren Yüce
Mothers [Majki] (partially documentary), Milcho Manchevski
My Joy [Schastye Moye], Sergei Loznitsa

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Monday, October 5th, 2009
11:45 pm - VIFF coincidence
I saw two different movies today with a scene of a girl brandishing a tennish racquet as a weapon — Son of the Sunshine and Pinprick.

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