THE BOY WHO PLAYS ON THE BUDDHAS OF BAMIYAN (Phil Grabsky)
Grade 47 2004
Feels more like a long commercial trying to shed light on the insane poverty and starvation faced by those living under Taliban rule in Bamiyan. It is hard not to have a lot of sympathy for their plight but the film seems to go for the throat of the viewer rather than give concrete information about what life is like under Taliban rule or the gravity of the statues that were torn down; which we are shown by the boy of the title instead of one of his elders who could give us more information about what value these statues had for their society. The whole film seemed like it should have had a 800 number running across the bottom for us to donate money. [US DISTRIBUTER: Centrral Park Media]
DOUBLE DARE (Amanda Micheli)
Grade 71 2003
A look at the life of two stunt women: one near the end of her career (60 years old) and the other near the beginning of her career. Through these two stunt women, Micheli is able to suggest the lifespan of the occupation without being heavy-handed about it (the film never dwells on the injustice of aging in Hollywood) and Jeannie provides a 25 year mirror for what Zoe may become if she lives up to her promise. There are a lot of good moments here that show the humanity of both of the subjects, and also a good deal of humor (Zoe telling that she gives good blowjobs with her lipring – temporarily forgetting the camera – is probably the comedic highlight). Also, Zoe helps the film go down easy with her charisma and charm. Shot of Digital Beta but given the magic bullet treatment and it sure helps make the film look more like film than other films in competition (for instance The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan – see above).
THE 5 OBSTRUCTIONS (Jørgen Leth, Lars Von Trier)
Grade 84 2003
Fascinating documentary approaches the creative process through two directors inspiring each other, and although that may make The 5 Obstructions sound like a new agey artistic masturbation I assure you that this is one of the most entertaining documentaries in recent memory. I saw Lars Von Trier's film Epidemic a few weeks prior and noted some similarites in the two films as to how the creative process is represented and how life interferes and connects with it.
GOOD BYE, DRAGON INN (Tsai Ming-liang)
Grade 47 2003
A very slight film that is neither funny nor moving enough to warrant the time or energy it takes to settle into Tsai's rhythm and excessive long takes (with very minimal camera movement). Some good moments, especially one of the longest urination scenes in filmed history (think Naked Gun … but longer), but even most of the moments that really work are dragged to mammoth length for little reason.
LOVING GLANCES (Srdjan Karanovic)
Oh My God does this film suck! I wasn't really sleepy going in nor was I excessively sleepy during the screening, rather sleep was my best escape from this cloying piece of Foreign-Oscar-and-Miramax-pandering trash.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (Boon Joon-ho)
Grade 47 2003
All over the map tonally, this film plays like a serial killer film filtered through elements of nostalgia, silly comedy and routine police procedural cliches. The comedy scenes are not funny enough and the serial killer elements are not suspenseful or surprising enough for the film to overcome its length (it’s over two hours – and feels like it) or my lack of involvement with the characters.
THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD (Guy Maddin)
Grade 58 2003
Pretty silly and uninspired as far as Maddin goes (it doesn’t help that he is coming off two wonderful features) and often visually redundant with previous Maddin films (something he is usually able to escape). The last third of the film is almost devoid of laughs and not as tragically moving as it seems to want to be. [US DISTRIBUTER: IFC]
Friday April 16
I plan to see Kill Bill Vol 2 this day and any festival coverage might/will be sacrificed for that cause. Everyday People was in fact sacrificed for Kill Bill, Vol 2, I will try to catch it April 18th instead.
Saturday April 17
INVESTIGATION INTO THE INVISIBLE WORLD (Jean-Michel Roux)
Grade 46 2002
Cool title but it’s a little hard to take this investigation seriously really. First you have the style of the interviews which are stylized in such a way (medium shot into close-up, very few insert shots to hide jump-cuts) that suggest they were rehearsed between the subjects and the filmmakers. Also the subjects themselves are a problem after a while because the filmmaker keeps interviewing *only* those who already believe in this invisible world and throws no bones to the skeptical viewers (other than a very brief explanation about the fault lines moving) and Roux’s inability to get an anthropology professor to speak about the public behavior is another gap in the film’s already shaky credibility. Still, the film is pretty interesting for awhile (certainly a step up from Sci-fi channel “Sightings” nonsense) and Roux puts his background in fictional science fiction films to good use, often finding arresting visuals to support his case.
VIBRATOR (Ryuchi Hiroki)
Grade 34 2003
Style disrupted any interest in the characters for me here, with interior monologue played over the first scene and then dropped and regular intertitles popping up to show how the protagonist feels (which are usually superfluous because the actors are able to convey them). Even with these two devices, I still didn’t buy the central relationship or either of the characters. There are some good scenes near the middle of the film, especially the scene where Takatoshi explains the CB radio, but they just draw attention to how thin these characters are in the surrounding scenes.
TEMPTRESS OF A THOUSAND FACES (Cheng Chang-Ho)
Grade 57 1968
Hard to really rank a film like this, which was totally entertaining and hilarious without being accomplished in any way as filmmaking. So I decided on a middle of the road type grade to say that the film was awesome without being remotely awesome. Extra cinematic factor: the midnight films are sponsored by Guinness and the first 30 in line got to lounge and drink free beer – which in retrospect was absolutely the best way to approach this film.
Sunday April 18
EVERYDAY PEOPLE (Jim McKay)
Grade 48 2003
Phony, bleeding-heart liberal stuff (and I say that as a card carrying bleeding-heart liberal) really disables this film of interest as a character study since every scene seems to have an extra motive driving it. Still pretty likable in its way (the kind of film Ebert will give an enthusiastic ***1/2 to), I wish it had picked either just the restaurant workers or the people around the restaurant because giving time to both doesn’t work. A couple of scenes stand-out and probably would have made very effective short films all by themselves, but the film never comes together successfully. [US DISTRIBUTER: HBO Films]
THE MISSING (Lee Kang-sheng)
Grade 64 2003
Like a Tsai film (he exec-produced) except the camera actually moves! I particularly like the way the character threads converge and the themes of the film start to crystallize across them. Also the juxtaposition between the grandma at her husbands grave and the boy playing video games, along with the SARS coverage on TV really explicate the characters’ isolation from their own carved niche.
AFTER YOU (Pierre Salvadori)
Grade 51 2003
Pleasant and somewhat amusing French comedy where the laughs grow thin in the second half and the characters are much too shallow to support any plot development or illicit viewer sympathy (or apathy, or anything for that matter). Daniel Auteuil can do this kind of thing in his sleep probably and he is the film’s greatest asset; he deserves better.
Monday April 19
DIG! (Ondi Timoner) - projected on Beta Video (bastards)
Grade 73 2004
First things first: this film bares remarkable similarity to a screenplay I am currently writing and have been working on for a couple of years and it speaks to how universal this kind of relationship is in the art world/music scene. I open with this disclaimer not really to accentuate my review of the film but as a side-note for historians writing about my brilliant early screenplays and/or lawyers looking to sue me for stealing ideas from this film. I did not steal ideas from this film, I stole them from many other places instead. But enough about me, Dig! is an exciting new documentary about two bands that I knew only by name and reputation: The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. The bands start on similar ground and begin to diverge when The Dandy Warhols sign a contract with Capitol Records. The film charts the two bands as they struggle with the commercial, artistic and personal sides of the music business, with the bands eventually developing resentment for one another. The power struggle between and within the bands is fascinating, funny and sad; especially since it becomes apparent that friendships are being torn apart as rapidly as careers are being thrown away. The film does a good job at capturing the personalities of the artists and doesn’t shy away from showing band mates in potentially negative light (for all the kind words about Anton Newcombe’s talent, it is not surprising that he has rejected the film on his website – since he looks like a drugged-up asshole, borderline psychotic for much of the film). The film is scheduled to open in October and will simultaneously run on Sundance Channel for approximately three showings, which will void out any chance of an Oscar nomination of Best Documentary – too bad since this will probably end up being one of the most memorable documentaries of the year. [US DISTRIBUTER: Palm]
Wednesday April 21
TRIPLE AGENT (Eric Rohmer)
Grade 84 2004
Full review of Triple Agent (and Sign of Leo) coming soon.
Thursday April 22
DOPPELGANGER (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Grade 73 2003
Starts as a basically routine Kurosawa horror film and then turns increasingly towards the comically bizarre, capped by a final section that is totally absurdist comedy (and pretty damn funny at that). The shift towards absurdist comedy also fits nicely within the themes the film had presented up to that point: with the doppelganger basically sharing the same function as the robot that acts upon your will, the final bit basically plays this out on a human scale with people trying to control each other with money or fame. Very effective use of split-screen makes the viewing experience disorienting while also covering up the special effect of having the actor share the screen with himself. Shot on video and it sure doesn’t look it.
Friday April 23
THE MATCH (Ursula Ferrara)
Really cool short film that recalls some of Brakhage’s work with paint, but allowing the paint to take more shape onscreen and producing an altogether different effect. I would really like to see this a few more times.
THE MAN WHO COPIED (Jorge Furtado)
Grade 60 2003
This film is a ruthless struggle between things that attract and repel me, so much so that it is only general goodwill towards the film and the hunch that Jorge Furtado will someday be an exciting talent that push me over into slight recommendation territory. Most of the weaknesses here lie in Furtado’s inexperience making films; he overloads the film with exposition and quirks at times that are much too distracting from the main thrust of the plot, also that darn thrust of the plot gets pretty damn creaky by the time the film gets a peak at the homestretch – culminating with a twist of the plot that made me fling my water bottle at the screen (well, almost anyway). That said, there is a lot to love here: from the nicely rounded characters to Furado’s energy towards telling his story and when Furtado doesn’t overload everything the film is really pretty touching.
Saturday April 24
PLAYING "IN THE COMPANY OF MEN" (Arnaud Desplechin)
Grade 71 2003
Three main types of “Company” explicitly represented in the film: as military, corporate, and theatrical; along with the more implicit “company” as in “the company we keep.” The film weaves those different meanings of company together in such a way that they begin to reflect each other: the repetition of the rehearsal process ties in with the routine of the solider, the compulsive cleanliness of the military routine with the corporate struggle, and so on. Repeated images of blood are fascinatingly used to disrupt the austere, bloodless world of the film, portraying a literal baptism of the protagonist at two key steps of his lifetime: into the family and into the ruthless corporate world away from his family (although always mindful of his father and living up to his expectations). Music by Paul Weller (of the awesome band The Jam) helps keep the film flowing and opens up the play emotionally a good deal, with a particularly perfect use of “Mr. Clean.” Perhaps my only complaint is with the Ophelia character, basically lifted from Hamlet, which doesn’t pay off enough to satisfy the film needing her – except of course as a counter-point to the males’ jockeying for position. Pretty fascinating viewing though, enough so that I am now very curious to catch up with Desplechin’s previous works – which are unseen by me.
MARRONNIER (Hideyuki Kobayashi)
Grade 3 2003
An absolutely awful and incompetent film, but for once I will save the director my wrath and instead wonder aloud why the fuck the midnight programmers were thinking when they selected this amateur crap for their festival. Surely they must have watched it and noticed that it was worse than anything the MYST3K dudes ever mocked, surely they must have secretly held some hatred towards festival audiences and wanted them to waste 12 (twelve) hard-earned dollars on a film that must have cost less than that to make. Also, it takes a particularly cruel creature to invite filmmaker Hideyuki Kobayashi to the screening, as if daring the audience to leave their seats and ruin the hopes and dreams of the terrible first-time director Kobayashi (who stood in the lobby after the screening and bowed politely to each prisoner as they left the theater and seemed like a genuinely nice guy). Damn you midnight programmers! Damn you!
Sunday April 25
B-HAPPY (Gonzalo Justiniano)
Grade 27 2003
Grim miserablism at its most miserable: with a dash of ironic counterpoint (see title), an extra large helping of portentous fade-to-blacks and an especially hard-to-swallow assortment of retarded plot twists. About the time the birthday was interrupted by asshole police inspectors followed by a school lesson conjugating “to be happy,” I began to long for relatively subtle approach Mike Leigh or Lars von Trier (two not known for subtlety) would bring to such material. Director Jusiniano doesn’t even give you a nice image to look at as he sprays mace into the wounds he is inflicting on every character in sight, you are just invited to watch the lifeless thing and wait patiently until the characters are all driven into prostitution or suicide.
ANA AND THE OTHERS (Celina Murga)
Grade 82 2002
Full review coming soon.
TUESDAY April 26
MAGIC GLOVES (Martin Reitman)
Grade 61 2003
A great response to crap like B-Happy taking basically similar material and stretching it to absurdly comic lengths: suicide attempts by eating pudding, etc. Pretty funny for about the first hour or so but limps a bit for the last stretch, just offering slight variations on jokes already told rather than adding new elements to the mix.
Wednesday April 27
RECONSTRUCTION (Christoffer Boe)
Grade 67 2003
|2004 San Francisco Film Festival|
|Unlike the cool festival that was Cinequest, the SFIFF has denied my application for a press pass and so many of these titles are very tentative (with the absolute must-see films listed with a “*”). Sorry about this but hopefully I will still be able to see a decent number of films at this festival. I would encourage my readers not to bombard Rod Armstrong (firstname.lastname@example.org) with mean-spirited emails, nor would I suggest a “die-in” protest with hundreds of film geeks lining the streets of San Francisco stopping traffic; this would cause no change in this matter. I would not even suggest mailing or emailing donations to Jason Overbeck (email@example.com), although I must stress that every penny helps and this is a non-profit website.|