29 October 2012

The Scapegoat (Charles Sturridge, 2012, UK)

If you were ever a big fan of Bette Davis or Alec Guinness, you've probably seen the 1959 version of this story, adapted from a Daphne Dumaurier novel. My impression from my vague memory and from what little I've read is that this version is fairly different from the older version, and, from what I've read, this is supposedly more faithful to the source material.

It's 1952, and boarding school teacher John (Matthew Rhys) has just been relieved of his position, due apparently to budget cuts. He decides he's going to travel around the world, but before he even gets to the train station he runs into a man who looks exactly like him, playboy Johnny. Johnny oversees his family's estate and their glass foundry and like many titled families in this era it all seems about to come crashing down. How alike can they possibly look, you might ask... Well, they're both played by the same actor. Johnny contrives for them to switch places so he can disappear for a while, and in a string of scenes that is more trying to the patience than anything else, John is for various reasons compelled to play along, usually because the people around him are acting like no person would ever act.  Anyway, once he commits to playing the part, the movie picks up a little steam. There is this interesting theme about atoning for another man's sins, but in general the film plays like a glossy made for tv film, which is what it is.

All of this occurs on the eve of Queen Elizabeth's coronation, which seems to hover at the background throughout the movie until they finally watch the coronation occur on the newfangled television machine. I'm not keyed in enough on recent UK history to understand the significance of this, but it's interesting that Johnny's daughter's deceased goldfish is named Mrs. Simpson. Interesting, but again I'm not really sure what the significance is. One thing that bothered me about this film is that the values embedded in the film struck me as somewhat anachronistic. It's very clearly leaning toward more contemporary attitudes, which makes sense, but I found it distracting. I also worry it's the sort of thing that leads to nostalgia for a kind of brutal classism that doesn't deserve to be nostalgized. But of course I grew up in America in a pocket of Wisconsin that still retained the progressive values that put the state on the political map, so I may see the film differently than other viewers. All in all, it's an engaging made for tv film with an engaging cast, and it does pretty well, aside from a big chunk in the first third which I actually kind of found hard to watch.

Afterword: Now that I think of it, I suppose you have this theme about the social changes in England, possibly an increased democratization and a transition into the contemporary era. The queen replaces the king, television takes hold, and a working class person literally replaces the son of a Lady. I'm still not sure how Mrs. Simpson fits in, other than seeing her symbolic passing as another symbol of the death of a bygone era.

28 October 2012

This Mortal Coil - I Want to Live

I'm feeling a little gothy today. This doesn't really have to do with film, but here's a pretty song that's as complicated as a good film. Have you felt this way? Why do you think people feel this way? Erich Fromm suggested it might have to do with our dehumanizing society. Que penses tu?

27 October 2012

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012, USA)

I love PT Anderson films, cults, movies about cults, and Amy Adams, more or less. I don't like Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman annoys me a lot of the time. I've seen this movie twice now. The first time I loved it, and the second time I found it kind of sterile. I think the first time I was so mesmerized by the audacity of it. It really cuts to the quick of that era in America and I was surprised by how transparently about Scientology it was. My boyfriend said Lancaster and Freddie were drawn to each other because they each lived the life the other coveted.

Anyway, Freddie Quell is a WW2 veteran who arrives home completely off his rocker. What discussions of this film don't seem to take into account often enough is that he was likely bonkers before he ever set sail for the South Pacific. He drunkenly wanders on to the boat Lancaster Dodd, founder of quasi-Scientology cult The Cause, is using to sail from California to New York via Panama. They have various misadventures arising from the fact tha they are both insane criminals, basically. I think the supporting cast in the film is pretty good, as is the sound. It's a little disappointing because for me this was the first PT Anderson film that didn't really stand up to a second viewing, although I've only seen Hard Eight once.

A Royal Affair / En kongelig affære (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012, Denmark)

This film seems to have done well in Denmark and it seems poised to do well enough in America. I got the impression that it was going to get released here early in the spring. I got a sticker for checking in to this movie on my GetGlue app, which tells me that someone is actually pushing this movie. It's based on a true story, alledgedly one of the great stories of Danish history, according to the director, who also wrote the screenplay for the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This film deals with the end of the Danish feudal system and the ultimate rise of the Enlightenment in Denmark. It seems that feudalism lasted longer in Denmark than in the rest of Europe. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard stars as the mad king Christian VII and Alicia Vikander stars as his wife, Queen Caroline. Both actors are relatively new here but give performances good enough that they're considered breakout performances. I particularly like Vikander as the queen. Mads Mikkelsen seems to be the number one actor in Denmark for the past several years. If you're like me, you've probably seen him in After the Wedding and Flame and Citron. If you aren't like me, you've probably seen him in Clash of the Titans and Casino Royale. In any event, he's at the center of the film as the Enlightenment oriented doctor beloved by both the king and queen, who have pretty much been estranged since they first met. In these days when the oligarchy is threatening centuries of progress, this film actually seems pretty relevant. I think we have this illusion that the forces in our world which enjoy wealth and power could somehow be checked for the greater good if the need and the will arose. This film argues that, at least in the short term, it's best not to underestimate them that has.

Sister / L'enfant d'en haut (Ursula Meier, 2012, Switzerland)

This film somehow feels a lot like Meier's last film, Home. The main character here is 12 year old Simon, who seems to support himself and, to some extent his sister, by stealing from tourists at the nearby ski resort. Much of the film is him going up to the top of the mountain and stealing skis and so forth. He's staying with his sister, and things seem off, and they are. A lot of the films I saw at the film festival seem to consider those people in the society whom the larger society fails. It was kind of hard for me to watch, though I'm not sure everyone would feel the same way. Anyway, it's Switzerland's submission for the 85th Academy Awards.

Shun Li and the Poet / Io sono Li (Andrea Segre, 2012, Italy)

Tao Zhao, as lovely and graceful as in Still Life (2006), stars as a woman who has come from China to Italy. At the start of the film she is working off the debt she incurred in coming to Italy at a garment factory, awaiting the day she's repaid her debt so her son can come. She is transferred to a bar near the port of a city on the mainland near Venice. At the bar, she meets a kindly old man whom his friends call the Poet because he's always making these silly rhymes. Shun Li and the Poet become friends and it's sweet until everyone in the area starts clucking about how she's a scheming Chinese lady and all this stuff. It's really lovely how the film shows us how these two sad, lonely people find comfort and joy together, until society intercedes and reminds them that the social contract requires them to remain unhappy. It's not as dour as all that, though it can be quite sad. Anyway, I thought the film was just as graceful and lovely as the lead actress.

Shadow Dancer (James Marsh, 2012, Ireland)

Tom Bradby has adapted this screenplay from his own novel. Honestly, my reaction to this movie is that the only excuse for how things went is if it was based on a true story, which it doesn't seem to have been. In the prologue, we see that the McVeigh family has personal reasons for fighting the English in Northern Ireland. Their son was shot outside their home. Colette, played as an adult by Andrea Riseborough (the best thing about the movie), is also implicated in this event because she was told to get cigarettes for her dad, but she bribed her little brother to go instead. So we fastforward some number of years to the mid 1990s. Colette is an adult who gets picked up following a botched terror attack in London. Clive Owen puts the squeeze on her to become an undercover agent, but the plot is thicker than it first appears. Honestly, I don't find that the final twist of this film holds up to much scrutiny. Or maybe it's saying something pretty harsh about officials. Anyway, the film is mostly the suspense you see in the trailer. What will be the ramifications for Colette and her family? Will her info lead to the deaths or arrests of her friends and family? Will they find out and kill her? It's an interesting enough movie in the abstract, but mostly it didn't feel like it had enough heft and it certainly didn't seem to me to earn its ending. That said, the middle aged ladies I kept encountering at all the screenings seemed to like the movie quite a bit more than I did.

The Exam / A vizsga (Péter Bergendy, 2011, Hungary)

Most discussions of this movie seem content to dismiss it as a lesser The Lives of Others. This dismissal says more about the rigid thinking, mental laziness, and weak education of people writing about film than anything else. I mean, both films are about Eastern Bloc countries surveilling their citizens, but the similarities really end there. The film begins by telling us that at some point the government has passed a law requiring all intelligence personnel to be tested for loyalty. In a conflict of interest that seems too strange for none of the investigators to take note of, a middle aged investigator, Markó, oversees the test of a young agent, András, who was his protege and who is meant to dine with him and his wife that night. Because it's Christmas Eve. 1957. András's cover is that he gives English lessons from his apartment, but really people just come and rat out all their friends and associates. As the test is about to end satisfactorily a woman shows up at the apartment and everything is suddenly different from what it seems. Some of these plot twists you can see a mile away, and some are more surprising. Some of the actions taken by the characters seem logical and motivated and others seem borderline insane. In any event, the film is engaging and well put together. The cast is both attractive and capable. The film won first prize in the New Directors competition at the Chicago International Film Festival, and of the films from that slate that I saw, I imagine that it probably deserved it.

Everybody's Got Somebody...Not Me / Todo el mundo tiene a alguien menos yo (Raul Fuentes, 2012, Mexico)

Alejandra is a lesbian living in a large city I assumed to be Mexico City, but honestly I have no idea. She's probably in her late 20s and she seems to be drawn to 18 year olds she can lecture to and emotionally abuse. The director says the film is in black and white because Alejandra and her main love interest, the fair Maria, are polar opposites. Anyway, the film looks good. Whatever his intentions may have been, for me the most affective theme in the movie is the effect of this arrogant negativity that seems to prevail among us. That resonated with me because I've seen that self defeating behavior derail plenty of promising relationships.

Yuma (Piotr Mularuk, 2012, Poland/Czech Republic)

It's kind of a sexy film, I guess. Jakub Gierszal, who plays the protagonist Zyga, is a pretty faced actor who kind of drips a sort of sexual energy. Actually, almost everybody in the film does. The story starts toward the end of the 1980's, I imagine. Zyga and his best friend help this East German escapee get to the West German embassy. He gives them money that Zyga first tries to decline, but they end up accepting it, which leads them to a prostitute in the forest, which leads to hijinks, which leads to a traumatic experience which sets the film in motion, more or less. The friend disappears and comes back later on in the film as a deranged lawman. Basically it's about these kids who succumb to the madness for materialism that sweeps through the former Eastern Bloc after the Iron Curtain falls. We're informed at the beginning of the film that the area of Western Poland that borders Germany is called Juma (pronounced Yuma) and because stolen German goods are so widespread in that part of Poland, the word Juma has come to mean something about reselling stolen goods. So this is what Zyga gets mixed up with, naturally. Alongside all the massive trucks operated by the Russian mafia, Zyga starts smuggling stolen goods across the border, first Marlboro cigarettes at the behest of his brothel running aunt, and eventually anything you could think of. Things naturally go well for a while as Zyga and his friends run around town in their stylish threads blasting their stylish music and so forth and naturally things get out of hand. The protagonist is inspired by the old western 3:10 to Yuma. I haven't seen that film in a few years but I don't remember the plot being too similar to what happens here. Anyway, it's sort of an exciting movie, but sometimes the characters are weirdly mean given how likable they can be and how fluffy the film can be. In the end, it's an entertaining film, but not one you can always take seriously.

Dreams for Sale / Yume uru futar (Miwa Nishikawa, 2012, Japan)

A husband (Teruyuki Kagawa) and wife (the exquisite Takako Matsu) have this little restaurant that burns down during the dinner rush one night. The fire insurance doesn't go very far and they're desperate. The wife seems more okay with things, seeming relatively content to work a job at a cheap restaurant while they're working on getting a new restaurant. The husband's self pity basically turns him into a scoundrel. At one point he sleeps with some old acquaintance of theirs who gives him a bunch of money she doesn't want. The wife puts two and two together and comes up a plan that she dedicates herself to, seemingly to both make her husband's dream restaurant a reality and also to make him atone for what he's done with this other woman. This plan is to convince all these women that he's going to marry them and to weasel money out of them that they will eventually pay back with interest. As is often the case, the driving force in these schemes is pretty much the male ego, but as is also often the case, the woman ends up getting stuck with the blame. More or less. The film has an interesting premise and a lot of interesting characters. I just didn't really buy into a lot of the film's logic. Perhaps something was lost in translation, I have no idea.

Our Children / À perdre la raison (Joachim LaFosse, 2012, Belgium)

Belgium's submission to the Academy Awards foreign film competition, this film is apparently based on a true story. Perhaps if I had known that going in, it would informed my viewing in such a way that I didn't find the film such a downer. It kind of uses the Lars Von Trier template where you start out with this great woman, and this case a very likable new husband, and drag her through endless unpleasantness until something dramatic happens. The film starts with the woman ( Émilie Dequenne) in an emergency room telling the nurses that her children needed to be buried in Morocco. We then see some small coffins being transported and then we start at the beginning of their friendship. She's a school teacher dating this resident at a hospital or something, played by the guy from A Prophet (Tahar Rahim). The old guy plays his friend/mentor is the old guy from A Prophet (Niels Arestrup). For financial reasons the couple move in with the older friend, who turns out to be married to the guy's sister, and the wife starts banging out kids while the audience is left wondering what kind of strange relationship is going on with the two men. The husband gradually becomes less and less sympathetic, but the movie still seems to expect us to sympathize with him and his desperate family. I just read a review that called the film emotionally draining and that's exactly how I would describe it. Maybe it's because I'm not particularly interested in all this breeding stuff, but I didn't find anything particularly appealing about the film as a whole, though I like most of the actors well enough.

Guys and Balls / Männer wie wir (Sherry Hormann, 2004, Germany)

I hope this movie is as dated in Germany as it is here. I lived in Germany ten years ago and I thought it was strange that although the culture is relatively tolerant and progressive, that people were more comfortable with homosexuality in the abstract. I don't know, really, I never figured out what the deal was with gay culture there.

Here we have a gay sports comedy. Ecki, the goalie of his local soccer team, inadvertently comes out of the closet when he is seen making an unwanted pass at his best friend. He leaves his podunk town in shame and his parents become laughingstocks as he seeks refuge with his sister in Dortmund. He's challenged his team to play his gay team that doesn't exist yet in four weeks' time. He scours the underbelly of Dortmund until he finds enough leather daddies and kebab queens to man his team and naturally they go back to bumblefuck and continue to act out all of the sports movie tropes you'd expect. What makes the film problematic, other than it being a movie about soccer, is that it's an endless stream of gay stereotypes, homophobic humor, and cheap sentiment. It's so funny to me that Germans are thought of as these cold robotic types by a lot of people, but they're really as cornball as anyone else.

I liked certain members of the cast though and I automatically tend to like movies more just because they're in German since I like to listen to German, in case you're wondering about the charitable rating. I guess I also have a soft spot for gay movies, and even though this one is painful to watch sometimes, it seems to mean well.

Color of Sky (Dr. Biju, 2012, India)

An old man comes to town to sell some art objects and pick up some flour or something. A thief sees him get the money at the art place and follows him back to his boat and eventually tries to rob him on the boat at knifepoint. The clever old man thwarts the robbery and ferries the thief to his isolated island where the thief is held prisoner, more or less, though he is treated like a hotel guest or something. Also at the hotel type place are a man, a woman, and a child, all of whom are mostly silent in the film. I liked the message of the movie, which is essentially that you need to find beauty in your life and that creating art and helping other people are both redemptive activities. I'd be surprised if this movie ever materialized anywhere, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, even if it was sort of meditative and intermittently perplexing.

26 October 2012

Valley of Saints (Musa Syeed, 2012, India)

Valley of Saints takes place primarily on and around Dal Lake in Kashmir.  At the start of the film, rebel actions lead to a city wide curfew which exempts the boat people who live on these little islands in the lake or in houses on stilts in the lake. Two boys have been planning to leave the city to try their fortunes in Delhi. Afzal is a typical macho type male, committed to various smuggling schemes and so forth, while Gulzar seems to possess a more sensitive and artistic temperament. Naturally Gulzar becomes out protagonist. The friends' attempt to leave the city is thwarted by the curfew and their relationship is strained as they booth swoon over this girl they are told to look after who is staying on Gulzar's uncle's (?) houseboat, which seems almost like a guesthouse built on stilts in the lake. The girl, Asifa, turns out to be a researcher studying the condition of the lake. It's great because there are the stories of these characters wrapped up both in the story of the political situation of Kashmir which looms in the background alongside the ecological crisis occuring witht his lake. I thought it was well done and compelling, overall.

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012, USA)

 I keep seeing established film critics defend Magic Mike. Defend might not be the right word, because many of them don't seem to understand that it needs defending. I think this is in part because a lot of working film critics have lowbrow tastes and exalt the likes of The Avengers or Magic Mike as the best movies of the year and all that absurdity. Not that it matters. I'm trying to figure out what it is about the absurd Magic Mike, which more or less seems like an updated movie from USA's Up All Night, if you can remember that far back. The USA network used to play racy movies late at night that were always about some dream that rested on some amount of money and it always revolved around strippers or nightclubs or something. I don't know. I feel like the plot of Burlesque borrowed heavily from that genre, as does Magic Mike, but for some reason people seem to lap it up with Magic Mike.

I have two theories. One is that Channing Tatum (or is it Matthew McConaughey?) somehow tapped into this sea of latent homosexual desire, and these film critics respond to these uncomfortable feelings by defending the plot of this silly movie, thereby avoiding cogntive dissonance. Conversely, it could be that it taps into some phenomenon whereby men are deep down in love with their best friends and it's somehow cathartic to see this worked through as Tatum eventually channels that romantic energy into his bromantic partner's sister, literally. Anyway, these are just stray throughts, as you can probably tell. This phenomenon could all boil down to the fact that Steven Soderbergh benefits for one reason or another from a love affair with auteur theory.

25 October 2012

Black's Game / Svartur á leik (Óskar Thór Axelsson, 2012, Iceland)

Pretty much everybody I met at the festival liked this movie. Ever the contrarian, perhaps, I wasn't quite as impressed. I thought it was a tacky, violent movie that glorified violence, nihilism, substance abuse, and cheap sexuality. The main character Stebbi is a miscreant who has just stumbled out of a jail where he's been booked for fucking some kid up when he was drunk. He runs into an old acquaintance from his hometown, Toti, all muscles and Satanic tattoos. Eventually, Stebbi does a dangerous job for Toti so this gangland lawyer will get him off of this heavy assault charge. Things go wrong during the job and Stebbi proves himself by going psycho on some important gangster or something. This earns him the nickname Psycho. Things go okay for a minute and then go out of control when this Satanic black metal looking criminal mastermind shows up and pushes it to the fucking limit. I didn't really buy all the plot elements, particularly a string of things toward the end of the film. It's also hard to care too much about these people because they're all evil, even though Stebbi is kind of attractive.

Westerland (Tim Staffel, 2012, Germany)

Based on what I just read on some German site, this film is apparently all about delivering the unexpected, or something. It takes places on Sylt, an island to the north of Germany which is associated with summer vacations. This film takes place here in the winter. It's also ostensibly a gay love story, but there is very little indication that this is actually a romantic relationship instead of a some kind of codependent friendship. They sleep in the same bed and spend a lot of time together but I don't recall them ever kissing or being otherwise physically romantic. I didn't know what to make of the film. The characters and their situations struck me as very authentic, but I don't know how interested I was in the story or how revelatory it felt. The characters are Cem and Jesus. The former is an industrious fellow who seems to let his own life affairs and possible future prospects drift into an abyss because of this strange codependent relationship. Jesus is unstable, possibly homeless, probably a pathological liar, constantly smoking pot, probably bipolar or something. These characters felt more or less real to me, maybe a little sanitized, and I enjoyed spending time with them, but I'm not sure the film had anything interesting to say about them. The crazy one is very pretty though.

The Last Friday / Al Juma Al Akheira (Yahya Alabdallah, 2011, Jordan)

This was a dour, somewhat depressing movie. A cab driver, likable enough, but deep in hock following a failed attempt to make it big by going abroad, deals with cancer (or some testicular problem) of some sort and a juvenile delinquent son. He's also got all kinds of issues about his wife being married to a wealthy man, we discover. He also doesn't seem interested in telling anyone that he has this serious health condition. I don't know, most of the characters are likable enought but the film, like the city it takes place in, is stark and somehow painful to watch. This movie and I may have been doomed from the start because men annoy me so much, but for whatever reason, I had trouble really connecting to this one. The acting is good; Ali Suliman deserves the praise he's gotten for a good performance. The film is probably really real. People are probably too cold and unhelpful and self-defeating. It's probably just hard for me to watch sometimes, because it reminds me that I might not like people too much. It's funny though that people in this movie seemed so fond of dogs because we're all the time hearing that Arabs don't like dogs. It's funny how little we know about each other.

Postcards from the Zoo / Kebun binatang (Edwin, 2012, Indonesia)

A little girl loses her father in the zoo and apparently ends up staying and living there. That's the first few minutes of the movie. The rest of the movie takes place as she is an adult of indeterminate age, perhaps 20? I really wasn't sure. She wanders around the zoo, dreams of petting the giraffe's belly, and falls in love with a strange, silent cowboy magician. I liked this movie, in some ways, but mostly I was just kind of bored. That might be the pitfall of seeing five movies in one day at a film festival. I'm not sure. I can imagine myself liking this movie, but I didn't really engage with it at all when I saw it.

Coming of Age / Anfang 80 (Gerhard Ertl & Sabine Hiebler, 2011, Austria)

This was supposed to be my light palate cleanser of the festival, and being a film festival, this pretty much was, is the funny thing about that. Right before it started the lady next to me said something about it being sad or something, and I was like, what? I guess what I failed to glean from a trailer or anything before seeing this movie are two key facts of the film that are presented upfront in the film, but not so much in the trailer, as I recall. First, the man in the story is already married to another woman. Secondly, the woman has cancer. That said, it's still a pleasure to watch. It's half comedy, half tearjerker, and more or less 100% crowdpleaser. The cast is great, it's beautifully filmed, and the story hits in all the right places. Anyway, I ate it right up.

On a bit of a side note, the lady from Paradise: Love appears in a supporting role in this film. It's not a huge role, but it was a fun surprise, having just seen Paradise: Love a few days prior to seeing this.

Post tenebras lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012, Mexico)

The film's title is Latin for "After darkness, light." That's about as much clarification as you're going to get here. The first few minutes set me up to think that this would be an amazing film. There is this demented high energy sequence where this little girl is standing in a rainy field calling the names of herd animals which seem to be stampeding about her. The sky is a poisonous garden. The actual title sequence is annoying as each of the three words is placed on the the screen individually for too long a time. Honestly, it kind of undercut the energy of the previous scene by seeming silly and self-important. This is followed by a scene of a cartoon devil walking into an apartment with a toolbox. Very unexpected. Then are all these random scenes of rugby, sex clubs, animal cruelty, an AA meeting, family bonding, and strange weather. I liked a lot of this movie. Some of the sequences are electrifying. I'm just not sure the film earned its high moments, and the sum of the parts seem more than the whole. By the way, several people left the screening early on when the ostensible protagonist seems to beat a dog to death. Still more trickled out during an inexplicable sequence in a sex club which went from perplexing to tedious to enchanting. The latter scene has a lot of nudity but nothing too graphic and the dog scene is disturbing but it's filmed in such a way that the dog is mostly offscreen while it's taking place.
Essentially, I kind of feel like the cinematographer Alexis Zabe is the real star here, as perhaps was also the case in Silent Light. The little girl in the movie is also exquisite; I was surprised to learn that she's the director's own daughter.
I guess I'm not giving the full picture here. I may have read too many other reviews. The movie seems to be about dreams, maybe life being a dream, maybe childhood being a dream, and a wistful longing for the experience of being a child. At least that seems to be part of it.

Flowerbuds / Poupata (Zdenek Jirasky, 2011, Czech Republic)

This was actually the final film I saw of the film festival, during the best of the fest screenings. It won the runner up prize in the first time director category. It seems like a subversive made for television Christmas movie. It's not quite as dour as I expected, given that the synapses I found focus on the serious problems faced by all the characters. The father is a compulsive gambler with a questionable work ethic, the daughter is pregnant with a child of which she may or not know who the father is, the son is in love with a prostitute, and the mother has to deal with it all. I actually ended up finding it sort of funny though. I mean, it's certainly dark, and don't look for anything remotely happy about the ending, but there is something sort of uplifting about the audacity of big finale. Despite their foibles, I found most of the characters relatively likable, particularly the Vietnamese couple who seem to be friendly with the wife.

24 October 2012

Germania (Maximiliano Schonfeld, 2012, Argentina)

As you may or may not know, a bunch of Germans who had relocated to Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great eventually chose to move elsewhere when the situation in Russia changed for the worse. (See more info here.) This film introduces us to a family in one of these German Argentine villages. For whatever reason, the family's farm seems to have been afflicted by some kind of plague, which may be the result of water contamination, in which their chickens are all sick and so forth. The family has to leave their farm behind and move on to another community, where they will be forced to leave their heritage and even their language behind. It's what you'd call a meditative film.There's a weird storyline about the sister running around with some itinerant farm laborer and some weird sexual tension or something between her and her brother. The father seems to have died some time ago and the mother doesn't exactly seem with it.
I don't envy filmmakers who bring something like this to a regional film festival. It's all crochety old people who talked throughout the movie and then complain about what they didn't like about it. It's sort of in the same vein as Silent Light, I guess. It's interesting from a cultural perspective and fascinating from a linguistic perspective, assuming you have at least basic knowledge of German and Spanish...

22 October 2012

Paradise: Love / Paradies: Liebe (Ulrich Seidl, 2012, Austria)

This film is more or less the story of Teresa, a middle aged Austrian single mother who lives a pretty drab life. Her daughter, on the verge of juvenile delinquency, doesn't seem to care about her at all, and there doesn't really seem to be very much in her life that's particularly fulfilling. For her birthday she's going to Kenya with a friend of hers, who has been to Kenya before and knows the ropes down there, at least as far as the ins and outs of holiday love affairs with young African gigolos goes. I feel like Western audiences in general will focus a lot on how these African men seek to exploit or take advantage of the white women. That's the impression I could from the audience I saw it with, anyway. Speaking of that audience, they laughed like children any time anyone was naked or did anything remotely sexual. I felt like I was back in junior high. The movie certainly has moments which are funny, but I also felt like a lot of the racism was being driven by petit bourgeois ideas about race, gender, and body shape, which I confess to have found simple minded and, for lack of a better word, counterrevolutionary.
It's true that the local men are constantly on the make, whether they're trying to sell trinkets on the beach or demanding large sums of money from the European women they sleep with, but clearly the women think it's worth it, because they keep going back. It's kind of a complicated situation. You find yourself feeling overwhelmed as the tourists are mobbed by people selling things and asking for money, but then again you have an upscale resort protected by armed guards and surrounded by extreme poverty in a country with a long history of European colonialism.
The acting in the film is very good, but it's not always easy to watch. Another tale of mutual exploitation, perhaps, though it's hard to say it's mutual when there is such a power differential here.

Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood (Daniele Vicari, 2012, Italy/France/Romania)

This film tells the story of the brutality that emerged as a response to the protests that occurred during the 2001 G8 Summit n Genoa, Italy. It focuses on these media centers were all sorts of journalists, activists, and random people who couldn't find hotel rooms in the city congregate and sleep. After the film the actor suggested that the shocking response of the police force to these protestors was a political act by Berlusconi, who was having some trouble and needed to appear capable and strong. The actor also mentioned that the director said he actually left out a lot of the more harrowing things that occurred because he didn't think the audience would believe it all. So if you're wondering if it was really as bad as this, it was apparently worse. The film does a pretty good job of establishing likeable characters, which makes the brutality that ensues even harder to watch. There film is, to a small extent, in a not entirely chronological order. These flashes out of time serve to build tension throughout the film. I almost feel traumatized watching this movie. It's really disheartening to see what it looks like when people dare to talk back to money in any real way. About a week after I watched this movie, I saw the Danish film A Royal Affair, and I can't help feeling like the situation we have today isn't as far from serfdom as we'd like to believe.

After Lucia / Después de Lucía (Michel Franco, 2012, Mexico)

This film is Mexico's submission to the Academy Awards best foreign language film competition. It seems to be pretty popular with both audiences and critics, but somehow it didn't work for me as much as I expected it to.

In the film, Alejandra and her father have just relocated to Mexico City from Puerto Vallarta following the traumatic death of her mother. For reasons which can be speculated upon based on how the mother died, Alejandra never tells anyone at school that her mother is dead. At school, she falls in with a group of bratty, pot smoking miscreants who seem to be the popular kids. One weekend at a party she gets drunk and lets one of the boys film her having sex with him and the video gets sent all around school. For some reason, possibly relating to the jealousy of one of the other girls, Alejandra is then subject to bullying which is almost too harrowing to watch at times. The ending goes a somewhat different direction that you might expect, but it's not particularly satisfying. For me, the film's scenes of extreme cruelty seemed hard to believe, and this was exacerbated by failing sometimes to understand why these characters made some of the choices they made. It's definitely moving sometimes, maybe horrifying is a better word, but I'm not sure it earns the emotions it conjures.

21 October 2012

Boys Are Us (Peter Luisi, 2012, Switzerland)

For me, the main reason for watching this movie if you were interesting in seeing Zurich on film, or hearing the various ways that Swiss German, one of the more well preserved German dialects, is mingling with modern slang and so forth. But then, I'm guessing people with a minor in German linguistics are probably a small market.
It's a fairly entertaining teen soap opera that seems like it would belong more on television than in the cinema. It's kind of a banal story of a young woman scorned, her crazy sister, and the boys that fall prey to their vengeance. Of course, as a female, you know before the film even begins that the girl be a victim of her own vengeance, because of course. The film is supposedly elevated by its odd concept which I don't particularly understand the point of. It's a curious enough movie to warrant streaming online and the actors are engaging, but I don't know that I'd recommend paying $11 to see it, as I did.

Out in the Dark (Michael Mayer, 2012, Israel/Palestine)

Yet again the sociopolitical situation in Israel is dramatized through a gay love story. An ambitious Palestinian university student from Ramallah falls in love with an Israeli lawyer from Tel Aviv. Complications ensue. This is an entertaining, if not terribly original film. I guess what makes it more successful than, say, The Bubble, is that it's more upfront about the seriousness of the political situation, probably because that other film is more of a comedy. You basically have the Palestinian family on one side, all terrorists and gangsters who have nother better to do, it seems, than persecute gay people and stockpile weapons. On the other hand, you have the cruel Israeli security service, who according to this film blackmail gay Palestinians seeking refuge in Israel and then betray them when they are no longer useful. The director claimed at the screening that the events in the film are based on real events that happened to various people they interviewed in the gay underworld of Tel Aviv. If that's the case, Israel seems far less progressive than it's given credit for being. My boyfriend's stories about visiting Israel have always left me with a desire to visit the place, even though he, like most young American Jewish people I know, isn't particularly fond of the place. After seeing this movie, I'm not sure I really would want to visit the place anymore. I wonder if it would make much of a difference in the middle east if their cities were more colorful. They're so stark looking.
It's entertaining and I'm glad enough that I watched it, but, I guess I wouldn't say it's extremely well made. I liked the actors.

Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu, 2012, Romania)

It's so funny how I've been putting off writing about this movie because it's so hard for me to discuss things that I like. Silly me. This is definitely one of my favorite films of the festival. It's from the director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. On the surface, this movie couldn't seem much more different, but it actually has a lot in common. As in the earlier film, Mungiu creates here an unsettling atmosphere that permeates the entire film, and really both films are about the ways in which the state has failed its people and the search for an understanding of modern Romanian identity. They're also both made beautifully. There is a sort of grace in this film which I don't know how to explain.

This film is based on a non fiction novel based on events that took place in 2005 in a rural monastary in northeastern Romania. I'm fascinated by how divergent the various accounts of the real life events have been.  It's about two friends who grew up in a small town orphanage where they were subject to all kinds of abuse and exploitation. One of the girls has gone to work in Germany as a waitress, perhaps, and the other has entered a very traditional monastary located out in the hills outside the town they grew up in. It's traditional in that it has no electricity or running water, not in the sense that it's old. I read a great article about how all these churches and monastaries are popping up all over Romania since the Iron Curtain fell and the crisis is that there aren't enough qualified clergy to run all these places. The story behind this particular monastary is an interesting enough story for its own film.

Anyway, the girl who has been working in Germany, Voichita, comes back to Romania to get her diploma so she can get a new job and perhaps stay in Germany indefinitely. She seems to believe that her friend, Alina, will leave the monastary and come with her, but Alina doesn't seem to understand it this way. Voichita stays with her friend in the monastary and they have plans to leave, but some sort of mental illness or something seems to get in the way, which naturally leads to an exorcism.

In the accounts that I've read online, either the character upon which Voichita was based was schizophrenic, an ordinary modern girl with no history of mental illness, or a convert who joined the order and begged for Satan to be driven from her body. In real life, the priest was only 31 years old. A former soccer player who had been recruited to run a monastary after studying theology in a community college after a year. I guess there had been monks there, but they all left when all these nuns showed up.

I found the film fascinating. I really enjoyed reading about the actual events after I saw the film. I would love to read the novel the film is based upon, but it doesn't seem to be available in English, at least in the USA.

It's a beautifully shot film and everything about it was good, in my opinion. But the audience I saw it with seemed just as divided as the reviews I've read. The guy two people down from me said as the credits began to roll that it was beautiful. A moment later, as people began filing out this lady kind of passed over us saying how horrible it was. After they both left the lady who had been talking to me earlier said she thought it was pretty but she didn't know what it was supposed to be about. I suggested that it was interesting because it dramatized the tensions between the old world and the modern world. I also said it was interesting how many of Romania's social problems contributed to this situation. You have the notorious Romanian orphanages, which in this case didn't protect the children from a notorious pedophile filmmaker, and it's hard not to see that the situation would have been avoided if Romania's healthcare system hadn't been so overburdened and inaccessible. It seems like the societies of the world are returning to their natural states, in which the state is only there once they've failed long enough to have somebody at which to point a finger.

Caesar Must Die / Cesare deve morire (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, Italy, 2012)

I can't believe this movie won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival. It should play well with the sort of middle class elderly person that seemed to eat it up when I saw it because it's simplistic, phony, unoriginal, sentimental, and generally tedious. It presents itself as a documentary, but it seems pretty obvious that there is no spontaneous dialogue in the film. I can't tell for sure if the dialogue is as annoying and fake sounding in Italian as the English subtitles seemed to suggest, but I sure enough hated this movie all the same. Such a strange bit of well-intentioned exploitation.
This film, at least as bland as The Secret in Their Eyes, was submitted by the Italians for best foreign film. Given the track record of the award, I'll be surprised if this stupid movie doesn't take the whole shabang.
I think the only reason I'm not giving it an F is that it was at least handsomely filmed.

20 October 2012

Consuming Spirits (Chris Sullivan, 2012, USA)

Of the films I've seen thus far at the festival, this one may have been the most satisfying to me. It's a mesmerizing, beautiful, hauntingly animated phantasmagoria. Other than its patchwork quilt of animations and motley characters, the film really has an amazing soundtrack. It's so easy to talk about what you don't like. I should probably have waited to post this as I'm still feeling pretty giddy about it.
It's funny, well into the movie, I kept wondering if it was going anywhere and then deciding it didn't matter at all. The film does go somewhere. I really connected with this film and the issues it explores, even if I'm not a drinker. If you maim something it will come home to you some day.
I hope you get a chance to see this film on the big screen.

ETA: I can't stop thinking about the film. It had such a marvelous soundtrack. Also, the version I saw seemed grainier than the trailer on Youtube and I think it looks better that way.

19 October 2012

Something in the Air / Apres Mai (Olivier Assayas, 2012, France)

Here we have a well made bit of nostalgia. If you've ever spent much time in Europe you'll know that the spring of 1968 is as deep a well of nostalgia for Europeans as Woodstock is for Americans. The actors are nice, the filming is nice, the music is nice, but overall I didn't find the story or the characters terribly interesting. It felt too much like a bit of navel gazing nostalgia. Some priveleged artists play at bourgeois revolution.

Bad Seeds / Comme un homme (Safy Nebbou, 2012, Belgium/France/Luxembourg)

Two boys kidnap one of their teachers for some stupid reason and this attractive, engaging film gets bogged down in this men who hate women vein. At a certain point even I get tired of seeing women as objects in male psychodrama. Newsflash: women are actually human beings. Oh well. Charles Berling from Summer Hours is effective as the father and in general the film is a gripping, attractively produced film that manages to be a much different film from what the basic premise would lead you to expect. I like film festival movies because they're good at taking a premise and delivering something different from what you'd expect. Unfortunately, part of that seems to be a trend in having the audience identify with characters who commit monstrous acts, which is probably unfortunate from a sociological perspective.

The Bella Vista / El bella vista (Alicia Cano, Uruguay, 2012)

This relatively short feature documentary sounded quite promising. It's the story of an old soccer clubhouse which has become a transvestite brothel, according to some of the film's subjects. Nevermind that it seems to be more of a bar than anything else. It's about this sort of tranny bar in this small town in Uruguay. Everything seems to be going fine until a small group of geriatric men who used to play soccer together decide they want to run the faggots out of town. They eventually do this under false pretenses, more or less, and the building eventually becomes a Catholic church. The film is far too concerned with the mundane lives of the idiots who persecute the transsexuals as opposed to the transsexuals themselves, in my opinion and the film is also too sympathetic to them. I mean, it's an interesting film and I understand that we're dealing with a certain sense of the past being eroded by the modern world, but the dominant culture shouldn't have its apologies made for it as it forces people who are different into a dangerous demimonde. It's nice how this film considers change, and it does in a shot of one of the transsexual walking a menacing street indicate that they're essentially beneath the wheel, to borrow a metaphor from Hermann Hesse, but I guess as I was watching the film I was irritated by the smugness of the male characters. It doesn't seem like anybody learned anything in this movie, which I guess is what makes it authentic. Even as things change, they stay the same. As you can see, I have mixed emotions on this one.

The Cleaner / El Limpiador (Adrian Saba, 2012, Peru)

When I was looking for trailers or reviews for this film during the long drawn out process of picking my dozens of festival screenings, all I could find for this movie was a description of it on its Kickstarter page. As such, I wasn't really surprised that the film plays sort of like a student process. Much of the audience found it enjoyable and even compelling, but I didn't really connect to it much. I found it sort of slow and tedious at times, but mostly I've never really been able to connect to stories like this film which are focused on a sort of father/son relationship. As someone who seems to have sprung forth almost exclusively from his mother's fevered subconscious, it's just not something I've ever had much contact with. The setup is interesting. The stuff about the plague is interesting. It's unexpected that the treatment of the plague is viewed so undramatically, but I didn't find that there was enough there there to sustain that approach, particularly since I didn't really get too involved in the story of their relationship. Which relationship, you must be wondering. Well, this movie is about a sort of plague that sweeps through Lima killing all the adults. Eusebio is a sort of sanitation worker who goes around cleaning up after dead bodies all day and he happens upon this boy hiding in the closet who has lost his mother to the plague. A classic loner, he takes care of the boy because there is no other option. The two grow to care for each other and honestly it's nice. I've overstated my misgivings with this film because the central element is not my cup of tea, but the truth is I liked the movie fine. I think part of me just felt like it had the potential to be better. I liked the lead actor and all I can say about the kid is, Any Day Now notwithstanding, kids in movies aren't generally my thing.

Shameless / Bez wstydu (Filip Marczewski, 2012, Poland)

When I read the desciption of this film in the CIFF catalog, I said to myself, What's a film festival without an Eastern European incest drama? I also kind of hoped it would have the gritty intensity of a film called Zero which I had seen a while back at an EU film festival at the Siskel Center. The film isn't that kind of intense postmodern experience I anticipated, but it's a relatively entertaining melodrama featuring some strong performances, particularly from the lead actress (Agnieszka Grochowska), and a compelling subplot about a gypsy girl (Anna Próchniak) trying to break out of the rigid gender role imposed upon her by her culture.

The film begins with the protagonist Tadek eluding the conductor on a train. We glimpse the gypsy family whose story is the main subplot. I'm not sure how old Tadek is supposed to be but my guess is that he's about 18, as is the gypsy girl he eventually befriends. (btw, I know it's not polite to use the word gypsy, but it's the word used in the film...) He's on the way to stay with his sister who shipped him off to his aunt's house after their parents died, except she doesn't seem to know he's coming. The sister is dating a sleazy politician who is mixed up with Neo-Nazis and so forth. Naturally, the brother and sister have some unholy history and possibly some taboo desires which the sister rejects. The gypsy girl seems to fall in love with him, but he's too busy pining after his sister to pay her much notice.

I'd be surprised if the film played even in arthouse theaters in the US, but if it became available on Netflix for streaming, I imagine I'd watch it again.

Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer & The Wachowski Siblings, 2012, USA)

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is one of the few contemporary novels I have loved. I read it about four years ago and I loved so much about it. I was thrilled when I heard it was being adapted for film, even though some of the things that made me love it aren't really things that can be translated to film. His masterful use of language and form, for example, isn't really very apparent in the film. My expectations for the film were tempered by a very overwrought looking trailer and the realization that it features a number of actors like Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent who are notorious hams.

The film, like the novel, is composed of six different stories which take place in different points of time, from the late 1800s to the distant future. Unlike the novel, these stories are intercut. The actors all play multiple characters, which is nice from a thematic perspective, but in practice is distracting from a dramatic perspective since many of the characterizations verge on caricature. For the first half hour or so I was convinced that the film would be ruined by the likes of Tom Hanks and so forth, but in the end, I found the film relatively successful. Doona Bae was a big part of that as she gives a riveting performance as the Korean fast food waitress turned revolutionary icon of New Seoul. In fact, that storyline is by far the strongest. The acting is generally better in that storyline and the storytelling was clearer than some of the other stories. Halle Berry also turns in one of the better performances in the film and Hugo Weaving is intermittently effective in his various characterizations, particularly as a deranged nurse and as some sort of demon.

I had worried that the film would, as is usual, be more effective for viewers who hadn't read the book. In fact, I now think the reverse is probably true. The film often moves from story to story pretty quickly and leaves out a lot of the exposition, and the audience isn't really given a ton of information about the characters or plot events. It's really understandable, as you could conceivably have made a film of each of the six stories. I think the film makes a great companion to the book, however, because its editing really shines a spotlight on key themes from the book in a way that I found quite pleasurable. In fact, I find myself loving a lot about the editing of this film and aside from attention for Doona Bae, the Awards nomination I'd like to see most for this movie would be for editing. Of the many films I've seen in the past week, I feel like this is one of the four or so that I've found myself wanting to see again.

Any Day Now (Travis Fine, 2012, USA)

According to the director, this film is very loosely based on a true story, and somewhat less loosely based on a script that was written over 30 years ago, based upon that story. The director also said that this film was nearly made several times with several big name actors over the years, but it never happened. Until now. Alan Cumming stars as a drag queen in San Franscisco in 1979. His next door neighbor is a junkie and this junkie is mother to a 14 year old son with Down Syndrome named Marco. After the mom lands in the slammer, Alan Cumming and his new boyfriend, a closeted lawyer, fight the system in an effort to raise the child.

The film is often overly sentimental and occasionally shrill. It's been accused of playing like a Lifetime movie and that's a fair criticism. All the same, the film is remarkably effective and a serious crowd pleaser, even if it challenges the audience somewhat in the last act. Alan Cumming is phenomenal, as is the actor who plays Marco. In general, most of the acting is strong, but the two old white men who play the villains in the piece are so creepy and wooden that they seem like cartoon characters. One of the best things about the film though is how true it seems to the period in which the story takes place. The atmosphere of the film really evokes that late 70s era better than most other things I can think of because the film never seems to wink at you or gin up nostalgia. It just seems true to the time. It's nice.

The Weekend / Das Wochenende (Nina Grosse, 2011, Germany)

It's unfortunate, but I think that my experience of this film was largely contaminated by the extreme annoyingness of the audience with whom I saw it. It turns out this film is too subtle for a large swath of elderly viewers who couldn't seem to figure out what was happening and were scandalized by anything they could understand. Nevermind that this film is neither particularly hard to follow nor particularly scandalous.

The film is based on Bernhard Schlink's fictionalized novel about the release of an RAF member in 2008. The RAF (Red Army Faction), aka Baader Meinhof Group, may be familiar to you if you've seen The Baader Meinhof Complex, which was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar a couple of years ago. They were a domestic terrorist group in Germany during the 1970s, mostly, and many of the members went to prison and the ones who didn't myseriously die there have been gradually released over the past few decades. I haven't read the book, but the director said that she made major changes in adapting it because the book is predominately a philosophical treatise and therefore not particularly cinematic. In this film, Jens, played by Sebastian Koch from The Lives of Others, is released from prison after 18 years and his sister (Barbara Auer) arranges a weekend to celebrate with some of his old friends. Never mind that nobody seems to feel like celebrating, least of all Jens. He seems preoccupied with discovering who tipped of the police all those years ago. There is a lot of drama as well about the woman he had loved then (Katja Riemann) and the child they had together. The child is namely a son whom the father never really acknowledged and who is now an angry young man.

The film is interesting in some ways. There is suspense about who called the police back then, for example, and some of the dialogue is sharp. It's well filmed and the actors mostly have a great rapport. That said, the film is, as is typical for many a German film, loaded with family melodrama that gets to feeling a little schmaltzy. Additionally, the discussion of the movement and the crimes that brought them to this place are vague and superficial. Still, whatever weaknesses I recognized in this film, I imagine that I will probably watch it again if I get the chance.

Fuckload of Scotch Tape (Julian Grant, 2012, USA)

I saw this movie yesterday at the Chicago International Film Festival because it was local and because it was described as a neo-noir musical. What it actually is is a nihilistic trainwreck which is so overloaded with bad voiceover that the excessive misogyny and homophobia in the film is almost moot. It seems to fit in with that whole genre of white male resentment films, which I confess to never having felt particularly sympathetic toward. Anyway, the music was okay, but repetitive. The lead actor was appealing in it. He made a loathesome character seem almost sympathetic. I think I saw him on the train the next night. He looked like a skinhead, but who knows. Anyway, I'm glad that Mr. Grant has gotten his film to premiere at this film festival, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone I know. F+

16 October 2012

Black Pond (Will Sharpe & Tom Kingsley, 2011, UK)

Out of the ashes of disappointment arising from a canceled screening of Garrone's Reality arose the small triumph of Black Pond. In this pseudodocumentary, which doesn't actually seem to be based on a true story, a family reenacts and deals with the fallout of the events resulting from an encounter with a strange man in a  nature area and his eventual death at their dinner table. If the fracturing of a family is less than entirely novel, I did find the treatment to be original. I found the film very funny and often quite moving as well. I really enjoyed it and would watch it again.

15 October 2012

The Land of Hope / Kibô no kuni (Shion Sono, 2012, Japan) CIFF

The premise of this movie is that an earthquake and resultant tidal wave have caused an explosion at a nuclear power plant. So, very timely. It's funny how different this movie is from what an American filmmaker would do with this type of premise. I can't help but thinking the American interpretation of this type of story would either been an disaster based action film or some kind of thriller that chases down the government and corporate individuals who would somehow serve as the bad guys. This film certainly dismisses the government response and is generally pretty cynical about expectations for a forthright or effective response from authorities.
In reality though, this movie is all about relationships that sustain us in difficult situations. As this movie was nearing its ending, I found myself thinking it worked so well as a metaphor for the human condition. If you're as cynical as I probably am, you'll probably agree with me. At the center of the film is an elderly pair living at the edge of the city. In fact, their property is steps from the line of evacuation, which means pretty much that everyone leaves except for them. The film also follows the story of their son and his wife, as well as a few of the neighbors who were evacuated.
This is one of those movies where you find yourself halfway through feeling a little bored, but by the last fifteen minutes you're so moved you can't believe you ever thought it was plodding. I imagine that some people won't respond to the way the film wraps up like I did, which may be why it has a relatively low score on IMDB. I almost didn't go see this movie because of the mixed reviews, but now I'm really glad I did. I found myself desperate to see it again the next day, but I can't imagine when it will be possible. It's such a beautifully made film. All these moments of whimsy I don't want to describe here and some really phenomenal performances, especially by the actors playing the elderly couple. So beautiful.

General Note (read: kvetch) About the Chicago Film Festival

I confess I've been getting a little frustrated with how disorganized the whole thing always is. Mostly though, I can't believe how poor the communication is. Each day before heading downtown, I've checked the Twitter feed, Facebook page, and News section of the website for news of cancelations and schedule changes and still, I had no idea that Reality had been canceled Friday night. (I was disappointed but I swapped my ticket for Black Pond, which I enjoyed, so it wasn't the worst thing in the world/)
Then on Saturday, I was stunned as at the very last minute we were told that they had been having technical difficulties with the digital film but "fortunately" they had a backup DVD. We were warned that there was a watermark on the film, the world's most prominent watermark in the world, it turned out. They didn't mention, however, that the sound was abysmal and the image quality was so poor that you could mostly not see people's faces or read subtitles. I couldn't believe they didn't just cancel the show. I wish I had left, since I basically payed full prince to see a movie in substantially worse quality than you'd find in a bad bootleg copy.
And then yesterday, on Sunday, the sound was all f*cked up on Paradise: Love. Nobody ever acknowledged it, but it seemed to be playing without one of the audio tracks or something. It was like when I got my fancy worldwide DVD player and I didn't have enough speakers for all the jacks so sometimes I wouldn't get certain parts of the audio track. Exactly like that. I kept asking myself if maybe that's how it's supposed to be, but since those scenes frequently had inaudible dialogue which was subtitled, I'm pretty sure all those scenes where all the ambient sound cut out and there seemed to be music missing from the film, that it was just a technical problem.
I've been to film festivals before and I know that things happen with shipping and so forth and things get canceled. I know that sometimes the cuts are a little rough and the subtitles can be even rougher, but I'm really hoping that I'm not going to spend the next week and half dealing with this kind of ineptitude since the $400+ I've spent on these tickets is not exactly small change for me.
It was smart of me to buy tickets in advance this year, but it can backfire. I'm glad I'm not standing in the ticket line all the time like I was in the past. One of the films that was sold out when I went to buy tickets last week, Something in the Air was suddenly available on Ticketmaster yesterday. It ended up costing me $20.90. The member price is $11, but you can only buy them either 24 hours in advance (on a weekday) over the phone or in person. Knowing it would surely be sold out by the time I got down there, I bought them from Ticketmaster in a moment of reckless abandon. It's insane how they rack up the fees there. $14 base price. Plus $4.50 in fees. Plus, oh yeah, another $2.50 in fees. Plus it would have been another two dollars for the privelege of printing my own tickets. How freaking outrageous is that? And why can Fandango do the exact same service for a dollar? It's really tacky in this day and age to use Ticketmaster, in my opinion. It's such an affront to your guests. Why not use something like Fandango or Brownpapertickets?
I won't go into the ineptitude of the lethargic AMC staff and the absurdly long and slow moving concession lines because it sort of goes without saying that AMC clearly undervalues and undertrains its consistently demoralized staff. It's really nothing new. But why in the hell is one of their down escalators still out of commission during the damned film festival. It often seems dangeous to exit the place because the escalators get so backed up with clueless suburbanites and so forth.

Stand Up Guys (Fisher Stevens, 2012, USA)

The opening night feature at this year's Chicago International Film Festival was Stand Up Guys, due for release on January 11. The film stars Chistopher Walken, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, and Juliana Margulies. The film begins as Christopher Walken picks up Al Pacino from prison, where he's been spent the past 18 years or so for some crime he took the fall for. It's hard to say exactly what the plot is without destroying a bit of suspense in the film, which is probably why the synapses I've read of the film tend to be vague and misleading. Not that it's some great bit of narrative engineering or anything, but I'll leave it at that all the same.
In any event, I was a little surprised at how silly these actors are in different scenes, particularly in scenes involving "dick pills" and a scene where Al Pacino makes an ass of himself in a bar. It's kind of a funny movie, but most of the humor seems centered on the crotch, so if that's not your thing, then maybe this loose collection of dick jokes isn't really for you.
Honestly though, although I liked a number of things about the movie, such as Walken's relationship with the waitress in the diner, I felt like there were serious problems with the cause and effect relations in the movie. It's really a series of strange coincidences that don't ring particularly true, especially the way they just magically end up running into Juliana Margulies all of a sudden and finding out where this old man is being held up in a nursing home. And following from that arc, it's pretty unlikely that a nursing home in a major city like LA would have no desk staff or security staff. Really, I'd have probably forgiven a lot of this film's weaknesses if I had found it more interesting, but it didn't strike me as a particularly special movie, except as a curiosity piece that seems to scream "strange end of acting career film choices."
Having seen the film, I wasn't too surprised that it was the writer's first screenplay. What surprised me though was how amateurishly the experienced cast and director brought it all together. I liked some of the moments and some of the performances though. I was weirdly drawn the madam of the brothel that appears in the film.  C-

I'm really beginning to question even going to these opening night films anymore. I enjoyed The Last Rites of Joe May last year and it's a cool, rare experience to see a film in the Harris Theatre, but for what it costs to see them, I feel like the films are pretty weak more often than not. Additionally, I understand the point is they want you to shell out $150 for the gala as well, but I feel like there should be a Q&A or something if you're spending anywhere form $35 to $50 to see a film. I mean, I can see that people may enjoy watching Al Pacino and Christopher Walken walk the red carpet, but if they don't have anything to say, I'm not really too interested.  Maybe it's just not for me.