Not a great movie and likely nominated for the pro-Western political perspective it offers. The technique of the documentary is very in your face with no clear narrative but a collection of real life encounters with participants in the conflict. They include not only leaders but people in the street and so it is visceral in its impact. The director followed the style of a previous Netflix movie called The Square about the uprising in Egypt that focussed in demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Both films take the viewer into the streets with the protestors and shows the conflict from that perspective. It is a powerful technique that builds sympathy in the viewers for those who are in the midst of the conflict. The problem in both cases is that it also simplifies the struggle going on in the country. In both situations and particularly in Ukraine the situation is not nearly as simple as it is portrayed. Ukraine is of critical strategic importance to east and west and is as a result the focus of much interference from both sides. This aspect of the conflict is not addressed in the film and so I am not entirely happy with it. I do not necessarily accuse the film makers of political propaganda but the film is of limited value because of its focus on the street alone. If you want to see better example of the technique however I would recommend The Square over this film.
I have to take a pledge not to watch any more Atom Egoyan films. This movie is simply absurd, terrible, hugely disappointing, ridiculous, and did I mention stupid?? Furthermore this film is described as one of Egoyan’s more accessible films. This is true. At least you know what is going on but what is going on is hardly worth your time. The story is of an elderly and disabled holocaust survivor played by Martin Landau who recruits a fellow client of his nursing home (played by Christopher Plummer– who is also ostensibly a survivor) to kill the Nazi officer who killed their families. While Landau is physically disabled, Plummer’s character is suffering from dementia and needs careful guidance to achieve his goal. I do not want to give away the plot or the absolutely absurd ending but enough to say – avoid this film. When I saw the cast and that this film was a selection at Venice and TIFF I thought I really needed to see it and give Egoyan one last chance to impress me. Sadly I was disappointed. This film that aims to treat the holocaust and dementia, trivializes both. Many reviewers who were not happy with the movie praised Plummer’s performance and I will admit he is very good except that one wonders what form of dementia he supposedly suffers from. The portrayal is like nothing you have ever witnessed so I blame the writer and the director for getting it all horribly wrong.
The last film of the week for us at least. I hoped it would be good fun as it was promoted as a comedy in which a former resident of a small Australian town comes back from her travels to wreak revenge on the town citizens. Kate Winslet plays the heroine of the film. She was sent away for reasons unclear at the start of the film and travelled to England, Italy and France and became and accomplished seamstress and fashion designer. However her ghosts require her to return to her past, her mother and the town she clearly hates. In the course of the film there are some truly hilarious scenes as the movie slowly reveals the secret that drives Winslet’s character. There are some wonderful performances from the cast including the mother, the local police sergeant (who saves the film in many ways) and other townies. Still the film turns somewhat dark and upsetting while trying to resolve the whole story. Winslet falls in love with one of the guys in town who appears to be her only ally. Her mother is elderly, and as things begin to come together they suddenly all fall apart in a somewhat random and unnecessary way. One reviewer said the following: “The film can be funny and quirky but it comes from the silliness of the film. ‘The Dressmaker’ has woven confusion caused by too many things thrown into the fray. This has left many critics bewildered on where the film was really trying to go.” I think this sums it up perfectly. There was also the suggestion that you can enjoy the film if you just relax and ignore the random events thrown in. Unfortunately you really can’t ignore them and you leave a bit unsettled. Still it gets high ratings on the fan sites so I may be completely wrong but on the other hand I voted for the people’s choice award for most of the films I saw but not this one.
This is a Chinese film in the Hong Kong gangster tradition directed by the man who brought you Infernal Affairs later remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. This time around it is Andrew Lau’s film and Scorsese is the producer. Set in Queens New York City rather than Hong Kong this is brutal (and I mean brutal) film about Asian gangs, drug dealers and human trafficking. I found it very hard to take and would recommend it only to those who know what they are getting into. The action is non-stop and violent and the twist ending is really contrived and while surprising made no sense in my mind. I sense I was however not holding a universal opinion. One aspect of going to so many movies in such a short time is that your view of the film can be influenced by what you had for breakfast or an upsetting email or whatever. It follows that if a review is super negative – like this one – it is to be taken with a grain of salt. So…. If you know Lau and like Hong Kong gangster films this may very well be up your alley. I can attest to the fact that there were no empty seats.
This is a Chinese movie. It is entirely in Mandarin with really bad subtitles. It is apparently a classic of the genre (road trip) but to be honest I did not like it, could not follow the plot and ultimately did not care either way. I think this is a cultural thing totally. I do not get Chinese cinema at all. So while there were some very funny scenes and some spectacular scenery the movie left me cold. So unless you can understand Mandarin stay away. I sadly made a very bad choice here.
Second and final film of the day was Prisoners from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve who is perhaps best known for Incendies which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film and Polytechnique, a dramatization of the 1989 massacre of female engineering students in Montreal. This time he is working in English with a couple of major acting names: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano and making a very Hollywood thriller about a psychopath and two missing girls. Jackman plays the father of one of the girls and is a bit of a survivalist who decides to take a vigilante approach to the hunt for the perpetrator. Gyllenhaal plays the cop who takes the more measured approach, at least at first. Dano plays a really creepy guy who is a suspect but not the real villain. Dano also plays a totally creepy guy in 12 Years a Slave. He seemed typecast at the festival this year. So what did I think? Its okay, Gyllenhaal is very good as the cop but I was less impressed with the rest of the cast including Jackman who, as the vigilante, refused to use his Wolverine powers!! The movie is also way too long at 150 minutes and the tension is hard to maintain. I was also a little bit irritated that the director did not show up for the only showing of this film. Clearly this was a bit of a ruse to get some buzz going before the release. It’s okay I guess and if you like the lead actors and can stomach little girls being kidnapped by nasty homicidal maniacs well this is definitely your fare. Myself? Meh.
Second film of the day and the last of the day. To be honest I did not make to the end of this one. I chose this film because of the description which noted that it had been made in Damascus during the current insurrection and was about living with that reality. I have chosen a few movies this year about the Middle East and this fit that pattern as well. I wanted to learn about how film directors from that region looked on their current lives and state of affairs and what messages they might have for us all. This film at least depicts the lives of ordinary people trying to live their lives in a perpetual war zone. The violence is never far away but the film focuses on other themes somewhat to the detriment of what I wanted to learn. So a bit disappointing for me but that may very well be my own fault. If you understand Arabic and enjoy films from this region go for it but otherwise… well go see Palestine Stereo instead.
This movie has actually won an award already (The grand prize at the Deauville American Film Festival) but in my opinion the competition must have been sparse. This is a really pretty mediocre film. Night Moves follows three amateur eco-terrorists in Oregon who plot and manage to blow up a small hydro-electric dam. Of course the outcome goes very wrong and a camper near the dam is swept away and drowned. So what was intended to be a protest turns into murder and the three wannabe terrorists Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard turn on one another but in a confused manner and again the motives are totally unexplained. Eisenberg is a farmhand on an organic farm, Fanning reads all sorts of environmental facts on the Internet and has some kind of therapeutic spa and Saarsgard who is hardly in the film, appears to know how to make bombs out of fertilizer but why he wants to blow up a dam is completely unexplained. The film moves at a snail’s pace – apparently on purpose according to the Director who specializes in “slow cinema”. I may have been influenced in my opinion by the fact that I sat between one person who brought in a box lunch and proceeded to lay it out and munch on it throughout the first 20 minutes of the movie, after which the person sitting on my other side brought out some kind of incredibly crunchy snack which she proceeded to crunch incessantly for the next 20 minutes. They then both decided to fall asleep with the luncheon fan snoring and the cruncher sniffing. Nonetheless, I did sympathize with their sleepy reviews. This movie is very poor and ends with a whimper. Stay away.
This was my first movie of the week and sadly not a winner. This is a New Zealand film by a relatively well known New Zealand documentary director and about a New Zealander – one Edmund Hillary. Hillary, for those who don’t know, was the first man to successfully reach the summit of Mt. Everest and this film is a docudrama of that expedition. I have to say that I really don’t have much use for mountain climbers. They are portrayed as heroes who risk their lives, as far as I can see, only to give themselves an adrenalin high. The trouble is they often put other lives at risk to do it and really to no end. I mean I think Neil Armstrong is a hero because going to the moon ended in the development of amazing engineering and scientific outcomes but climbing Everest to take a few photos to prove you were there is hardly the stuff of legend. At least in this reporter’s opinion. So, I hear you ask, why did you waste your valuable pass coupons on this film? Well… I guess I got hooked by the idea of understanding how they did it and I needed something to fill in Friday afternoon at the movies and this was the only thing that appealed – sort of. At any rate given my prejudice I was not disappointed. This was a pretty pointless movie. I knew Hillary made it, the film did not really make it appear all that challenging and the worst thing? It was shot in 3D and really poorly. So one more rant. I hate 3D movies. I wear glasses so the 3D glasses never really fit properly (and the ones at the TIFF Lightbox are the worst ever), the glasses darken the screen and take from the quality of the image and I almost always get a headache in these movies. The only movie I ever saw where the 3D actually worked was Life of Pi. Way to go Ang Lee but sorry Leanne Pooley you have a bit to learn. So there you go. Don’t bother watching this one if you get the chance.
Last movie of the week for me and not the best I fear. This is a documentary about bees and theoretically about why they are dying and why that’s and issue for us. I have seen films about this in the past and thought a European perspective would be interesting. Sadly this movie was not. There are some interesting facts but the whole film is disjointed and has no particular direction, conclusion or overall argument to be made. In the end I learned that the current situation of honey bees is dire, that the reasons are multifactorial and mostly our fault for overbreeding and treating them as a commodity, and that forty percent of our food is dependent on their survival. What can or can’t be done about the situation is touched on mostly in terms of correcting the way we breed them and care for them but the director loses control of the message and it becomes muddled and confusing. So sadly not a great way to end my week of films but so it goes. Next post will summarize the week.
More than Honey