Movie Roundup: VIFF Edition

The wife and I are just back from the Vancouver International Film Festival, where we say eleven films in four and a half days. It was my first festival ever, I believe she’d seen some films at the Seattle one before, but this was the first outside of our hometown. It was a lot of fun, I only wish I’d bought an umbrella.

Waltz With Bashir – Good, but I expected better from all the buzz around it. The animation is quite nice, not particularly smooth or realistic, but it works for the story. The music is great. At times, the movie feels like it’s trying to absolve Israelis of the atrocities in Lebanon by telling them it wasn’t their fault, that it was the Christians, that the Israelis were just young and didn’t know any better. There’s a fine line between coping with guilt over your actions and making excuses to yourself for yourself. I don’t know that the film is entirely successful at walking that line.

Sparrow – A tremendous amount of fun from director Johnnie To. It takes the style of the modern HK action film and makes a goofy, lighthearted near-musical out of a gang of pickpockets trying to rescue a pretty girl. The humor isn’t over the top in the way a lot of HK comedies I’ve seen from the 90s are, instead it feels closer to The Young Girls Of Rochefort (without the singing and dancing) than I’ve seen in a Chinese film. The wife liked it a lot too, its our favorite of the festival so far.

Of Time And The City – Terence Davies documentary about his hometown of Liverpool, feels like his attempt at a My Winnipeg (which I’ve yet to see). Over mostly archival footage he rectites poetry, muses on the passage of time, makes fun of the Queen and The Beatles and talks a bit about growing up gay and Catholic. The historical shots are fascinating, slice of life images of Liverpudlians going about their rather dull days surrounded by hideously ugly buildings. The narration is alright when Davies is musing, obnoxious when he’s being bitchy. The film breaks down near the end, where it had been chronicling the urban decay he grew up with, as soon as he comes out and declares atheism, his personal stoyr ends (sometime in the mid60s) and all of a sudden we’re transported from the rundown town of that era to the shiny new metropolis from the present. No explanation, no more personal history. It feels slapped together in the end. The wife disliked it a lot more than I did. At least I enjoyed the reallife documentary images. She just thought it was all pretty pointless.

Happy Go Lucky – I’m with what i think the consensus is: Hawkins is terrific, the film is a lot of fun. It’s an interesting study the MPDG character. She starts off as the annoying cliche, but as the film goes along, she becomes more and more an actual character as we see the stereotype deal with actual human problems (and not just movie problems). With this and Topsy-Turvy, I like Mike leigh a lot when he’s not trying to be depressing (ahem, Secrets & Lies).

The Rest Is Silence – Entertaining Romanian film about the making of that countries first silent feature. Very mainstream in style (and far away, I imagine, from those Romanian films getting raves at Cannes). There’s a twist at the end I didn’t like at all.

Sita Sings The Blues – Irreverent animated telling of the Ramayana, interspersed with some great songs of the 20s. Hilarious, the animation (in at least four different styles) is really cool, and a nice message the ways we use narrative to explain and cope with issues in our own lives, at how little this aspect of human nature has changed over the centuries. My wife’s favorite of the whole festival, it might be mine too.

Equation Of Love And Death – A well-made Chinese thriller with comic and romantic elements about a taxi driver kidnapped by inept drug runners while almost finding her long lost boyfriend. Zhou Xun is really terrific as the cab driver. It feels more Hong Kong than Chinese, but maybe I’ve only seen a lot of slow-paced, esoteric Chinese films. The wife liked this one a lot too.

Let The Right One In – Swedish adolescent vampire movie. A 12 year old outcast boy makes friends with the unnaturally pale girl next door. Some nice moments, but all-in-all, a rather depressing film. It’s alright, but I was never particularly excited about it.

Wonderful Town – Thai movie about an architect helping to rebuild a coastal resort post-tsunami. He has an affair with the local hotel owner, scandalizing her brother and leading to some small town outrage. It occupies a kind of middle ground between Pen-Ek and Apichatpong, plot-wise. A beautiful film, but I’m a sucker for images of Thai beaches, especially with the weird grey-brown overcast light they seem to have. The wife thought it was pretty dull.

Good Cats – Ultra-low budget Chinese film (video) about a chauffeur for a petty gangster/real-estate developer. His boss’ deal with a local village is going badly, the his mentor is really depressed due to debt, his wife hates him for not being more successful, and their apartment appears to be trying to kill him. If that wasn’t enough, every 20 minutes or so, a Chinese metal band walks out of the scenery and sings/growls bizarre lyrics somewhat related to the story, Greek Chorus-style. Filmed in the single long motionless take style of Asian minimalism, but with an quite interesting use of depth. Not quite as ornate as Hou’s compositions, but still pretty cool. The wife really didn’t like this one. It was the rock band that put it over the top for her.

Rachel Getting Married – Anne Hathaway is good. I’m not good with acting, but she created what seemed like a real character for me, although it never really felt spontaneous. The whole film feels kind of planned out like that, if that makes any sense at all. It’s often funny, Rosemarie deWitt (from Mad Men is great as Rachel, there’s a weird guy who couldn’t look (and act) more like George Clooney if he tried (seriously, for while I thought Clooney might have dyed his hair and appeared unbilled, its creepy), I totally failed to spot Roger Corman, despite looking for him the whole movie. I liked it better than Margot as it was less sensationalistic (but still too much so for me), the wife prefers Margot (the message of which, she says and agrees with, is that “some people just shouldn’t have children”. She believes this is the message of Squid as well). The music is terrific.

All in all, I’d say:

1. Sita Sings The Blues
2. Sparrow
3. Wonderful Town
4. Rachel Getting Married
5. Happy Go Lucky
6. Equation Of Love And Death
7. Good Cats
8. Waltz With Bashir
9. The Rest Is Silence
10. Of Time And The City
11. Let the Right One In

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