VIFF 2015: The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson, 2015)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

forbidden room faces

Guy Maddin made a music video for a Sparks song about asses starring a lobotomized Udo Kier and whip-wielding Geraldine Chaplin. He (along with co-writer/director Evan Johnson) also made a couple dozen more weird, wacky, wonderful films and smashed them together in the glorious, uproarious new feature, The Forbidden Room. It’s Maddin’s best feature to date and one of the essential cinema experiences of the year.

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VIFF Notes: Days 3 & 4

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Some brief thoughts on films I saw Sunday and Monday at the festival.

piper

The Piper (Kim Gwangtae, 2015): Full review

three cities

A Tale of Three Cities (Mabel Cheung, 2015): Sweeping historical romance that hearkens back to the grand gestures of classical Hollywood. The film charts the courtship of Jackie Chan’s parents, played by Tang Wei and Sean Lau, as they are kept apart under the duress of war and an evolving 20th century China. It’s better than Doctor Zhivago.

forbidden room

The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson, 2015): A madcap descent into the outer territories of cinema. The Forbidden Room is an audacious and hilarious collection of absurd vignettes, all nested in one another, dreams within hallucinations. Everyone is game to follow Maddin and Johnson through the kaleidoscopic kino-hole, including such greats as Mathieu Almaric, Geraldine Chaplin, and Udo Kier. The undisputed highlight of the festival so far.

port of call

Port of Call (Philip Yung, 2015): An unflinching dual examination of a teenager’s short life and that of the detective who desperately needs closure for her gruesome death. The film contains some of the most graphic imagery ever put onscreen. Acts as both a window into the struggles of contemporary China and a portrait of the unique and universal sadness of teenage girls. Felt at times like a cross between Zodiac and Fire Walk With Me but scarier than both.

tomorrow

It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (Emily Ting, 2015): White guy living in Hong Kong meets an American woman of Chinese descent. The two hit it off but complications ensue when it is discovered they have other attachments. As a travelogue for the gorgeous city of Hong Kong, this works well enough, with depictions of the majestic skyline and bustling streets. As a romance or a comedy or a showcase for the art of acting, it is a failure.

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Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo, 2015): Full review

VIFF 2015: Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo, 2015)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN_key still (1)

The new Hong Sangsoo film, Right Now, Wrong Then, is very much concerned with the famed director’s usual themes. He is again at work with a story involving a hard-drinking filmmaker and the nature of casual encounters. But the movie is less about its surface than with an inquiry into its structural narrative. As always, it’s the differences from the works that came before it that excite. The nice thing about Right Now, Wrong Then is that it also affords the joys of differentiating it from itself.

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Entertainment (Rick Alverson, 2015)

entertainment_0Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. This review is by Vancouver-based critic Neil Bahadur.

Rick Alverson’s new film Entertainment, isn’t perfect. At first, I didn’t know if I’d even call it great. If not for Neil Hamburger’s humor, the first hour of the film would feel endlessly repetitive and banal, situations reiterating themselves with seeming meaninglessness, mimicking The Comedian’s situation which repeats itself in a series of dive-bars, where he is only greeted with disappointment and indifference. Not for nothing is the only place where Hamburger elicits a response a prison. Self-defeat rules this comedian’s life, and so too the film; it seems humor itself is the only defense mechanism left before falling into the void of cynicism and despair. Alverson’s distance is disconcerting at first: as Phil Coldiron alluded to in his review, Alverson has an Antonioni-esque spacial awareness. But perhaps this is necessary to make distinct the difference between Hamburger the performer, and Turkington the actor. Yet both are very similar: Turkington attempts twice to connect to his daughter and fails, Hamburger attempts several times to connect to an audience and fails. Hamburger doesn’t use these life-disappointments as fodder for material, he rather vomits out mad, belligerent nonsense (admittedly for me, often quite amusing) But for all these lapses of humor, I was ready to give up on the film. “OH great, another movie about like, alienation or something and some shitty guy being an asshole.” There’s even an impossibly obvious shot where our comedian walks around in circles. But then Turkington/Hamburger has to face repercussions for his actions, and suddenly the film takes a sharp, unexpected turn into something far more abstract, forcing me to re-evaluate something I was about to write-off. It became clear that Hamburger/Turkington is on a sort of pilgrimage, a hellish progression from self-consciousness to self-awareness.

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VIFF Notes: Days 1 & 2

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Some brief thoughts on the films I saw over the first 48 hours in Vancouver.

paradise

Paradise (Sina Ataeian Dena, 2015): Iranian film about a young teacher in mourning over the death of her parents. The film follows her through daily life as she attempts to put in a work transfer at the school. Meanwhile two of the students have gone missing. The film was shot illegally with some of the participants not even aware that they were being filmed. While it pulls back a little more of the curtain on women’s lives in modern Iran, it never really finds an engaging entry point. Part of this is due to star Dorna Dibaj, whose depiction of depression comes off frequently as simple disaffection.

thoughts once we had

The Thoughts That Once We Had (Thom Andersen, 2015): Full review.

pearl button

The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzman, 2015): Eye-opening documentary that deftly weaves in the fading history of Chile’s indigenous culture with an examination of more recent genocidal atrocities and a rumination on the vitality of water. The coalescence of these elements is deeply satisfying. The Pearl Button is a beautifully shot documentary that at times plays like The Act of Killing mixed with Herzog’s oddity The Wild Blue Yonder.

erbarme

Erbarme dich – Matthaus Passion Stories (Ramon Gieling, 2015): An artfully staged exploration into the power of Johan Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion”. Musicians, conductors, artists, and writers recount their personal relationship with the work. The film does this while charting rehearsals for a performance featuring a choir of homeless people. (Jesus is played by a shaggy, overweight tenor with Led Zeppelin shirt.)  The best parts of the documentary are the bits that stray from the conventions of the medium, in particular a series of bold intertitles of philosophical musical musings.

vicki

Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015): Full review.

alice

Alice in Earnestland (Ahn Gooc Jin, 2015): A woman works tirelessly to care for her deaf, fingerless husband in a coma when she finds out that redeveloping the neighborhood could be her ticket to financial stability. So she does what any normal person would do and ties a therapist to a chair and feeds her poisoned blowfish. It’s a self-consciously quirky mix of the macabre and the mundane that falls squarely in the latter category, despite the blood and explosions.

VIFF 2015: The Piper (Kim Gwangtae, 2015)

piper performance
This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

First-time director Kim Gwangtae delivers a fresh take on the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” with his visceral film The Piper. Set in the hinterlands of Korea in the war-torn 1950s, the film begins with a devoted father and son traversing the country in hopes of finding a cure for the boy’s tuberculosis. The pair (played wonderfully by Ryu Seungryong and the absolutely adorable Goo Seunghyeon) stumble upon a hidden village that knows no news of the outside world and eyes their new arrivals with unease. In an effort to ingratiate themselves with the locals, the father offers to rid the town of their rampant rat infestation.

In the early going, The Piper plays it light with goofy antics and the building of a budding romance. But like the smoke used to run out the rats, darkness creeps through the narrative’s cracks long before the fatal finale. And by its conclusion, The Piper has become a gruesome tale of vengeance that would make Park Chanwook or Quentin Tarantino proud. There will be blood. And there will be rats feasting on it.

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VIFF 2015: James White (Josh Mond, 2015)

james-white
Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. This review is by Vancouver-based critic Neil Bahadur.

Beautifully unpretentious. The debut feature of indie producer Josh Mond, James White, is surprising in its coming from the New York independent scene because of its tender sincerity. Dishonesty is alien to this director; perhaps the film is more moving than it is interesting, but what of it? Clearly a very personal work, this is an attempt at self-catharsis, a successful attempt to try to express (and really document) emotions that one has difficulty understanding. Shot in a mere 18 days, the movie’s tight and controlled structure almost seems to betray its modesty. This isn’t a criticism: the movie never overreaches its fiscal limitations and is rather designed around it. And perhaps because of its remarkable self-control, the film seems far more ambitious than it actually is. The movie is so fixed in its purpose and it never misses a beat. It’s like James Gray distilled.

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VIFF 2015: Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015)

victoria

Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Gimmicks have long been used to get butts in theatre seats. From the blatantly crass attempts of William Castle, who deployed live effects in the theatres during his B-movie screenings, to the formal constraints of Alfred Hitchcock, who dared himself to film entirely in a boat or an apartment, or in reel-length unbroken takes. Gimmicks are exciting, they pique an audience’s curiosity. But transcending them and delivering a worthwhile work of art at the end is one of the most difficult tasks a filmmaker has. Gimmicks are both blessing and curse.

The aforementioned unbroken take has been tried many times before, including a faux example in last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman. Now comes the German film Victoria, which manages an honest-to-goodness, no-strings-attached single take as the titular woman, a Spanish transplant, joins a group of guys on a drunken night in Berlin. What begins with the bravado of belligerent boys and the tentative mating dance of the deeply intoxicated, eventually turns sour as Victoria gets enlisted in a foolish and irrevocable act.

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Attack on Titan (Shinji Higuchi, 2015)

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The Attack on Titan franchise has been a juggernaut in Japan for the last few years. The original manga has now spawned an anime series (a huge hit that can be seen on Instant Netflix), several light novels, other spin-off manga and video games as well. Since the Japanese film industry basically thrives on manga/anime adaptations these days, it’s not surprising to find the property now adapted into two parts and treated like a big event. It’s the Death Note movies all over again.

About 100 years ago, giant humanoid creatures named titans showed up and ate just about everyone in the world. Humanity was barely able to escape extinction by building three giant walls that kept the titans out. But then one day they disappeared. Humanity has since been living in peace. Starring young fashionable actors like Haruma Miura, Kiko Mizuhara and Satomi Ishihara, Attack on Titan tells the story about what happens when the titans attack again.

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VIFF 2015: The Thoughts That Once We Had (Thom Andersen, 2015)

millennium-mambo-still

Part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Thom Andersen’s new essay film, The Thoughts That Once We Had is a proudly idiosyncratic interpretation of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s thoughts on cinema. Deleuze’s two volume set, The Movement Image and The Time Image, are the springboard for Andersen’s patented excursions into cinema’s past, built on a foundation of film clips both obscure and ingrained. Andersen’s film flits around Deleuze’s dense concepts, often teasing the first portion of a line with a resulting set-up clip, before transcribing the larger idea and presenting a montage representing it. I wouldn’t claim to understand what the hell Deleuze (and by extension, Andersen) is going on about half the time–it’s all very abstract and anyway, the quotations are onscreen for the briefest of seconds–but by gum, the thing works wonders despite the less learned background of the viewer. (In fact, the film’s biggest drawback will be the inevitable embrace by the high-falutin’ intellectual cognoscenti.)

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