This radiant Korean short film made the best use of split screen I’ve ever seen and was poignant without descending into the melodrama so much of Korean cinema is prone to. I would love to see a feature-length project from this director.
This is the only Hollywood movie to make it onto my list. J.J. Abrams’ adaptation of the classic series is my favorite Star Trek movie of all time (yes, even better than the previous undisputed champion, The Wrath of Khan).
Both the major film festivals in San Francisco this year were disappointing; SFIAAFF was too small, and SFIFF had a high percentage of bad movies. Plus, and I still don’t know why, SFIFF is still using those #)*(@&! pencil-in ballots (though I made it a point to tell everyone who offered me a ballot that I wouldn’t take one until they had tear ballots). My reviews for the festival follow:
For those who may not read Japanese, that means: “I’m home!” Now that SFIFF 2008 is over (as of last Thursday—more on this in a minute), and I’ve spent a couple of days recovering, you’ll be seeing more of me. Aren’t you excited?
About the festival. In direct contrast with SFIAAFF, my happiness quotient with SFIFF has been going down in recent years. I wasn’t sure why, until my friend Jieun hit the nail on the head a little while ago: the festival takes itself entirely too seriously. It’s pretentious, even more than most, which are snooty almost by definition. SFIFF tends to pick films rather than movies, “important” films (a description that makes me want to run in the other direction), serious films, films that are about art almost to the exclusion of entertainment…but isn’t that what movies are about, in the end?
And when they do show movies that are so crass as to be entertaining, they apologize for it beforehand. I mean, come on. 9_9
Anyway. That said, this year was better, mathematically speaking, than last year, and I’ll let you judge for yourself based on my descriptions of each movie:
this past Thursday, and our first showing was last night. Brick Lane (3 stars), based on the popular novel of a few years ago, just didn’t do it for me.
While it was quite skillfully made, I felt like the story relied too heavily on stereotypes and wasn’t very engaging, which is probably more an indictment of the novel on which the film was based rather than a fault of the film itself (full disclosure: I haven’t read the novel).
Brick Lane is but one of a raft of novels about the Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi immigrant experience that have been so popular in recent years, and I feel reasonably certain that there are other novels (my sister would probably say Jhumpa Lahiri’s) that take a subtler approach than this one seemed to, again assuming that the film is a fair standard by which to judge the book—which is, admittedly, risky, but the director said last night that the author said that the film captured the essence of the book.
Anyway. I felt the plot lacked a certain subtlety, was in fact a bit clunky. Also, the film relied too heavily on flashbacks and camera tricks to get the emotions of the main character across, when they should have relied on the gifted actress that was cast in the role. I’m not sorry I saw the movie, but I was not moved by it—and this film’s subject matter is a topic that has a lot of resonance for me.
Reprise – 4 stars
A most impressive debut from filmmaker Joachim Trier, this movie had that indefinable something that I love about most Scandinavian movies—probably something to do with bleak humor. Gently humorous and beautifully filmed, intense yet understated, this movie sets the bar high for Trier’s future films, which I will definitely be looking out for.
Crisis & Opportunity – 3 stars
I found something to like in almost every film in this shorts program, though none were spectacular.
Hana yori mo naho – 3 stars
Entertaining but unspectacular, disappointingly childish in its humor, this samurai/revenge/pacifist movie was worth seeing but not worth writing home about.
Jindabyne – 4 stars
This Australian movie was a pleasant surprise before it even started. I found out when the movie was introduced that it’s directed by Ray Lawrence, the director of another great movie called Lantana, and my expectations took a jump up as a result. Happily, I was not disappointed. Lawrence has a gift for bringing complex, three-dimensional characters to life in a scrupulously non-judgmental fashion, for portraying all sides of a difficult situation with a meticulous care that makes for an intense, satisfying movie-watching experience. Beautifully directed, cast and acted, it was a great follow-up to 2001′s Lantana, though not, in my opinion, quite as good.
The Unforeseen – 2 stars
Though in general well put together, I felt like this documentary lost focus in its last half hour, and raised interesting questions that it didn’t try to address. While I have been known to like documentaries that take a strong stand on their subjects (notably The Corporation), this one left me cold—I already know that overdevelopment is bad for the environment, but I don’t know much about practical approaches to solving the urban growth vs. ecological preservation issue. I felt this movie took the easy way out on a number of interesting issues without exploring them in detail. Lastly, a pet peeve: I really didn’t like the score the director chose; it was cheesy and overtly sentimental, so much so that I felt manipulated and preached to about how I should feel by the end of the movie. Big minus there. All that said, I think that this movie’s director, Laura Dunn, has great potential, and I will be looking for her work in the future.
The Heavenly Kings – 3 stars
This eminently entertaining mockumentary was, yes, absurd and hilarious, but was marred by the periodic insertion of nonsensical and unfunny animated sequences. It was no Christopher Guest masterpiece, but it was worth seeing.
Frame by Frame – 4 stars
A very well selected animated shorts program. I liked almost all of them, with the exception of Acousticity, Collision and Harrachov. Shorts I especially liked: Loom, Adjustment (probably the most innovative animated short I’ve seen), and The Danish Poet.
Congorama – 3 stars
I have nothing to complain about with regard to this movie. Really; I can’t find a thing wrong with it. It was well made, but I just didn’t get engaged enough in it to give it anything higher than a 3.
Paprika – 3 stars
This movie was as stunningly beautiful as all of director Satoshi Kon’s previous work, but not nearly as compelling. It feels like he’s just going through the motions here; there’s just enough plot to keep the movie moving between gorgeous, over-the-top action scenes, but not much else. A stellar cast (the entire core cast of Cowboy Bebop) and a high production value doesn’t save the movie from rehashing Kon’s old saws: the blurred lines between dream and reality, and the ease with which humans mistake one for the other. Great music, though.
The Monastery – 3 stars
This well made and interesting Danish documentary ensured that my streak remains unbroken—I have yet to see a Danish movie I haven’t liked. By turns funny and sad, it painted a lovingly detailed portrait of protagonist and curmudgeon Mr. Vig. I liked it!
How is your fish today? – 3 stars
Astonishingly well made for a film with such a low budget (much, much better than my other experience with almost-nonexistent-budget-mainland-Chinese film, Bringing Father Home), and mixing documentary and fictional footage, this movie explored both the inner and outer life of a writer. While I liked the premise and some of the execution quite a bit (some of the movie was just beautifully filmed), it had long boring stretches, and relied rather too heavily on narration. Well done, but could have been better.
A Parting Shot – 3 stars
Low 3. This movie had an interesting premise, but a poor execution. I don’t know if it was the script, acting or direction that was bad, or a combination of all three (yeah, probably all three), but this movie was faintly absurd. The main character’s motivations were never clear, and as her actions and their consequences drove the plot of the movie, it was hard to get past the confusing beginning to suspend disbelief for the rest. Quite a disappointment.
Once – 4 stars
When the president of the SF film society himself came up to introduce this movie, and moreover said that not only was this movie his favorite of the festival, but his favorite of 2007 so far, I was duly impressed, and glad I had decided to rush for it on a whim earlier that day. While I don’t think I liked it so much as Mr. Leggat did, I really enjoyed this movie. It was indeed unpretentious, and made with understated grace by director John Carney. The strength of this movie, which can fairly be described as a 90 minute-long music video, was its simply lovely soundtrack, written and performed by its nonprofessional actor, professional musician stars (Glen Hansard, the frontman for popular Irish band The Frames, and Marketa Irglova, an up-and-coming Czech pianist/singer/songwriter). I liked the music so much that I ordered the latest Frames album and the Hansard/Irglova collaboration (which grew out of the movie, btw) called The Swell Season the next day.
A good festival experience, all-told. Nothing I loved, but nothing I hated, either.
As you’ve heard me mention, the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival recently finished, and this year was an exceptional one. It was also the first year where I saw so many films at SFIAAFF. So, without further ado, here are my impressions of the movies we saw:
Linda Linda Linda – 5 stars Yes, this is the third time I’ve seen this movie, and it is as good or better each time. I got a bit more of the jokes this time around. Great!
Grain In Ear – 3 stars This movie was beautifully photographed (and depressing!), but I found the performance of the main actress to be a bit wooden.
Be With Me – 2 stars This movie was just cheesy. Also boring and poorly plotted. The only saving grace was that some of it was quite funny.
Letter from an Unknown Woman – 4 stars This was my favorite of the films new to me in this festival. It was sumptuously photographed, beautifully acted and just very very good all around. If this comes out on DVD in the US, I am totally going to get it.
Cafe Lumiere – 3 stars I didn’t like this Hou Hsiao-Hsien movie as much as Matt did, but it was nicely photographed and quite entertaining. And as quirky I’ve come to expect most Tadanobu Asano films to be.
Mystery Arcade – 4 stars This shorts program is probably one of the best ones I’ve ever seen, and the only one where I’ve liked every one of the short films included. My favorites: Missing and Hiro.
Punchcards and Preoccupations – 3 stars This was another good shorts program. There were a few I didn’t like at all, but they were in the beginning (in fact, each short was better than the one before). My favorites: What Remains, Stationery, The Women’s Kingdom.
American Fusion – 2 stars The first thing I thought when I saw this was: I’ve seen this movie before. And: I liked the Greek version better. To elaborate, this movie was trying too hard to be My Big Fat Chinese Wedding, and the bad script and worse acting (except for stars Sylvia Chang and Esai Morales) dragged it down to the depths of mediocrity. The only thing that kept me from walking out (I seriously considered it) was that there were some parts of the movie that were really very funny. Laugh-out-loud funny. But not funny enough, in the end, to make this a good movie.
And on another note, I have to congratulate the festival organizers for getting the balloting system right this year. They took the tear-ballot system Sundance uses and improved on it. Very good job. Now let’s see if this year’s SFIFF gets it right.
the 48th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, and I am irritated. Not with the movies, of course. Just the organization of (some parts of) the festival. Now, seeing as this year was the 5th year that I went to the Sundance Film Festival, the 2nd that I went to the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival, and also the 2nd that I’m going to SFIFF, I consider myself a seasoned film festival goer. And in my informed opinion, the organizers of all these festivals should get together and take lessons from one another, because not one of them gets it right completely. There are too many small annoyances to count, but the focus of my wrath today is the audience award ballot used by SFIFF. It is incredibly poorly designed. Let’s take a look:
So, what’s wrong with it? A better question would be: what isn’t? You have to write on the ballot; you need to fill in the film’s name, as well as circle your rating. You need a writing utensil. This means that either you need to carry a pen with you, or the festival needs to provide pencils for you to write with. This is a pain for you as the film goer and an unnecessary expense for the festival organizers. What they should do is follow the Sundance balloting method:
Use tear-through ballots: print the 5 numbers in a large font, well spaced from each other. Then the viewers can just tear through the rating number; no writing implements required.
Print the category of award the film is competing for on the ballot.
Finally, make a bunch of ballot boxes, each labeled with the name of the film; this means that the viewer doesn’t have to write in the name of the film on the ballot, again obviating the need for a writing implement as well as making it easier for the organizers to organize and count the votes later.
Oh, and one more thing; this is not related to the ballot design per se, but they shouldn’t hand out ballots for shorts programs. How the hell do you give one rating to a collection of films? I mean, what would you be rating? The ability of the programming team to put together shorts that complement each other? Come on. You’d think they’d been running this festival for 48 hours, not 48 years.
(More rants to follow.)
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