Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Toronto Film Festival 2014: In Review

So that was it. The festival is over and I'm back in boring old England. But blimey, what an excellent time I have had. All the films I watched were brilliant in some way or another. The films I referred to as 'filler' in the lead-up, all proved themselves to be worthy films. I will do small reviews of all the films I watched during the four days, with my own mini-award ceremony.

Scarlet Innocence (2014)

I reviewed this one on the blog, but to wrap up, its a sophisticated erotic thriller about a man's descent and a lover's deceit. Even though it's not the sort of film I like, I cannot deny how well directed all the scenes are.


Best Acted, Film Least Recommended to See with Parents

The Dead Lands (2014)

A film about aborigine New Zealanders, that feels like The Lion King meets Apocalypto. The film started with a fire alarm, so we had to leave the theatre, and the fire brigade was called. After a while we were allowed back in, and the film began. What proceeded was a mediocre film, which was predictable throughout. The cinematography was mildly good, but, again, it felt like a lesser Apocalypto. The post-screening Q&A was introduced by a tribal dance (link to the video) and all the actors and directors seemed incredibly passionate and friendly. The audience seemed to love it as well, but their was nothing in the film for me. Infact it made me very tired, I must have fallen asleep 15 or so times during the film, only to be woken up by a character shouting OOGA BOOGA.


Most Enthusiastic and Passionate Cast, Most Sleep Inducing

Tokyo Tribe (2014)

One of my most hyped screenings as I am a colossal Sono fan ever since seeing the four hour  Love Exposure at 1am on Film4. I have seen eleven of his films and none have disappointed thus far. Sono is a constantly improving director which I would admit is probably my favourite. The film begins with a ten minute shot, accompanied by monotonal rapping and concluding in violence and nudity. What I love about Sono is that he gets the balance of nudity, violence and exploitation, so none of them are overused and exhausted. The whole film was incredibly enjoyable, although the film comes into it's own during the last 30 minutes. What happens during the final third is classic Sono, with non-stop, full throttle, laugh-a-minute exhilaration.

The crazier the ideas of his films are, the better they turn out to be, so when I heard Sono was directing an Epic Gangster Rap Musical, I was overjoyed. The whole film was great, even if the rapping did absolute nothing for me. The film may even top WTF lists in years to come it was so insane, however it is definitely not for everyone.

The screening was part of Midnight Madness, so I the film and Q+A finished about 2am. Instead of being tired, I was pumped, humming "Tokyo Tribe, Never Ever Die" until I got to the flat. The audience was crazy, clapping moments of the film, and heckling the sponsored adverts. If you ever get to see a Midnight Madness screening I would advise to do so, there is nothing quite like it.


Favourite Director, Craziest Film, Most Enjoyable Film, Third Best Film

Cruel Story of Youth (1960)

This Nagisa Oshima film was showing as part of the Cinematheque, which was showing classic and restored film throughout the festival. This has been a film I had recently wanted to see, due to its notoriety and that it kick-started the Japanese New Wave. This free screening was accompanied by an unexpected introduction from Claire Denis, who greatly admires the film and how it was unique for the period.

The film has aged slightly, as the synopsis of "two reckless youths falling in love, and concluding in tragedy" has been repeated ever since. Yet the film is largely forgotten, unlike Oshima's "In the Realm of the Senses" which has only got more infamous and controversial. The story concerns a young woman falling for a young man, even after he slaps and rapes her. The woman resists at first, but eventually succumbs to his male stature in a hybristophilia type way. The youth portrayed in the film are selfish, audacious, full of hatred for older citizens and without a care in the world. None of the characters are sympathetic, but provide a good character study of the type of people I wouldn't know anything about. It also provides a snapshot into a time of the late Post-War Japan period, with rioting and lost youth. It's a film that I would recommend if a fan of film history, but not enjoyable whatsoever. Seeing as this is Oshima's second feature, I am very impressed.


Oldest Film, Least Likeable Protagonists.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

My most anticipated film of the festival is Studio Ghibli's latest. Directed by Isao Takahata, formally known for 'Grave of the Fireflies' and 'Pom Poko', who was also there for the after-screening Q+A, which is possibly the most star-struck I have been. He's not just another over-rated celebrity, but a genuinely talented and respected old man. Did I mention I've seen every Studio Ghibli film to date (excluding The Wind Rises)? Well it was time to begin, and well... It was even better than my exceedingly high expectations.

The film grabs you from the very first scene and does not let go until the closing credits, by which time I was so close to tears. The film itself has a sad story of homesickness and nostalgia, but its the pure overload of gorgeous images that really got to me. Every scene is drawn as an unbelievably beautiful water-colour painting, that fitted the tenth century setting perfectly. The themes of longing for the past is universal and affects every person in the world. These may be the reason why the phenomenal world of Princess Kaguya is one I want to experience again and again.

This may be the beginning of another Ghibli golden age, but don't get your hopes up, as Takahata said during the Q+A that it's more likely he won't direct another Ghibli film, than he would. I could see Takahata was about to cry as he was saying this.


Best Film, Closest to Tears, Most Timeless Film, Best Animated.

Coming Home (2013)

Zhang Yimou's newest film is very much a tear-jerker. Not me, but the audience was sobbing like crazy. It chronicles the return of a rebel prisoner to his amnesia-suffering wife in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. Gong Li's character does not recognise her husband when he does return, causing him to go to great lengths to get her to recognise him. The film is primarily a family drama, where everything that can go wrong, does, for maximum dramatic effect (like Hanake's 'Amour'). It is filled with cultural history of a largely forgotten period of history. Yimou usually shoots on film, focusing on large stories and epic landscapes, so I found this his least impressive film, as its shot on digital and focuses on a small family. The film is disappointing for me, as I know Yimou is capable of unforgettable epic films like 'Raise the Red Lantern', and 'Flowers of War', but this is very much a step back in his career than one forward. The film does have some shining moments, such as a beautiful piano scene, and the letter reading, but the overload of sad scenes made me groan far too often.

Gong Li is the best thing about this film, giving a truly wonderful performance. All the acting is great from the three main leads, but I wasn't feeling the film as much as the constantly sobbing girl I sat next to. The Yimou Q+A afterwards was really quite brilliant. Despite only making films from the mid-80s, he does feel like a true master of cinema.


Song of the Sea (2014)

This wonderful film is directed by Tomm Moore, the man who created one of the most gorgeously animated films ever made with 'The Secret of Kells'. From the trailer, it looked like the animation style was identical, although the story is quite different. The film is about a brother and a sister who go on an adventure to save the magical fairies who have turned to stone. On the way they must dodge vicious owls, and take guidance from a wise man with a long beard, each hair of which contains a different story. Even though 'Song of the Sea' is clearly aimed for children, the creators have conveyed so much heart, emotion and power into the film its impossible not to be stunned, amazed and moved. It is equally as good as 'The Secret of Kells', which is very high praise indeed. The Q+A with the director was very fun, with the children in the audience asking better questions than some of the grown-ups.


Second Best Film

In Her Place (2014)

'In Her Place' is a South Korean drama directed by first-time director Albert Shin. The film is about a city woman who travels to rural Japan to live with a teenage girl and her mother. The protagonist soon changes to the teenage girl, when its revealed she is pregnant. Albert Shin is a Canadian director who went back to South Korea to make this remarkable film. The action takes place mostly around a small house in the desolate village of Gungnam, so there are no fancy sets and thus the film focuses on the characters. The whole film is a brutal character study that is physically exhausting, in particular, a devastating scene towards the end. None of the characters were likeable (the directors intention), so I found the film to drag, even if it includes one of cinema's biggest "Oh Sh*t" moments. Well done to Albert Shin for an astonishing debut.


Biggest "Oh Sh*t" Moment


'Luna' is a unknown and unhyped British film directed by David McKean. What persuaded me to buy tickets is it has one of the best trailers I have ever seen. Turns out the trailer gave away all the best parts of the film. Luckily for me I only watched it once (and I suggest you do the same). The story begins as a couple, Grant and Christine, who have recently lost their baby, visiting friends in a remote woods. When their baby passed away, their world deteriorated and they created a sort of fantasy world. As they visit their friends, Fraya and Dean, the fantasy world slowly returns as they struggle to differentiate fantasy from reality. Its quite an incredible film, based slightly off a true story. The characters and the actors portraying them feel like real people, providing a gripping character study. The bizarre and artistic animations are also faultless, adding to the creepy otherworldly aesthetic. 'Luna' will scare, move and will make you think. It stayed with me a while, and is definitely worth watching.


Made me think the most post-watching, Most Interesting Film


'Confession' is a thriller by first-time director Do-Yun Lee, who looks about 14. Collaborating with the cinematographer of Oldboy, and some fine South Korean actors, Lee has made a thriller to the standard of South Korean master-works 'I Saw the Devil' and 'The Chaser'. The script reminds me of Infernal Affairs, while the atmosphere is reminiscent of 'Memories of Murder'. All of this for a directorial debut! Safe to say this was originally filler, but turned out to be the biggest surprise of the festival. If I was to say anything bad about it, it would concern the acting of one of the actors while crying (which wrongfully made me laugh several times) and the ending should be cut by 15 minutes. I am incredibly impressed with this film, and can't wait to read the reviews when its fully released.


Best Debut, Biggest Surprise

National Gallery

The final film I saw of the festival was Frederick Wiseman's 'National Gallery'. A sophisticated 3 hour documentary about the National Gallery in London. I find art mostly dull and uninteresting, but Wiseman's documentary did considerably change my thoughts. The three hours was cut down from 170 hours, and takes place during the winter of 2012. Wiseman takes a look at the many wonderful pieces of art and the behind-the-scenes management of the gallery. What did surprise me is how he made the film look so good when using his own artificial lights would be banned due to them fading the pictures (I asked him this in the Q+A once the film had finished, and he said it was because he used a RedOne camera and edited like crazy afterwards). It's quite unexpected how beautiful the inside of the art gallery looks like on film, with gleaming floors and beautiful works of art on the walls. The staff talking about the art really impressed me, and showed me how a simple painting can have an unbelievable story behind it. The film may be too long, but its one of the most relaxing, peaceful experiences possible and is easy to chill throughout. The final dancing scene was a specific highlight, and one of the most gorgeous scenes at the festival. Wiseman is seriously old, but I hope this is not his final film.


Best Documentary, Most Relaxing Film, Longest Film

Friday, 5 September 2014

Scarlet Innocence (2014)

  'Scarlet Innocence' (Madam Ppang-Deok) is a 2014 South Korean film directed by Pil-Sung Yim and starring Woo-Sung Jung and Esom.

  Deoke (Esom) falls in love with Hak-Kyu (Jung), a university professor turned writing teacher. They have a passionate affair, with major consequences for Deoke's Deaf mother, and Hak-Kyu's wife.

  My first film at the Toronto Film Festival 2014, was the world premiere of this erotic thriller, complete with Q+A with the director. I intentionally watched this film without researching about it, and was pleasantly surprised. 'Scarlet Innocence' is an impeccably crafted film, but is not without a few flaws.

  First thing I noticed was the cinematography, reminiscent of a Soderbergh thriller, with each character lighted so you can see their every sweat. Light is used impeccably, especially the earlier on outdoor scenes. The cinematography is perhaps too good, (not in a Epic 'Lawrence of Arabia' way, but in a "Can't be filmed any better given the material" sort of way), not only because of the composition and lighting, but because it perfectly fits the mood and tone of the film.

  The nice love story that the film begins on quickly takes a dark turn, and continues to get progressively darker. Similar to 'Filth' and 'Wake in Fright', the film chronicles a man's descent into despair, with frightening results. It doesn't just stick to this, by also having a story that includes betrayal, lust and gambling. This film does try and fit too much into the run-time, which helps with the biggest problem for the film that is: there is no clear act structure. The vacancy of any clear middle and end acts make the film hard to enjoy, as I constantly thought the film was wrapping up, only for it to continue for another hour. The film was best during the first 20-30 minutes as you could see clearly what was happening, and was a pretty authentic erotic romance, similar to, and better than, 'Last Tango in Paris', but after this, there is no clear direction where the film is headed making it feel a bit muddled.

  Also impressive is the acting, where I could tell each and every emotion from how the characters act on screen. Woo-Sung Jung takes a break from his heartthrob/action films to portray a multi-layered deceitful persona, far different from his roles in 'A Moment to Remember' and 'The Good, the Bad and the Weird'. If the Oscars were more internationally friendly, I would say he could easily win Best Actor. When I think of South Korean films, I think high-paced action, adorable romances and advanced cinematography, but never quality acting. The acting is good in South Korean movies but never before to this high standard. Both the lead actor and actress were incredible, even during the uncomfortable and revealing sex scenes.

  The reason why this is not scored higher, is because it's just not my type of film. An erotic thriller, where the characters have no redeeming features, is not the sort of film I like at all (I found 'Last Tango in Paris' to be a horrible experience). This is a sophisticated, high quality film that I definitely recommend, if you like the genre.

The first-class acting and brilliant lighting outshine the muddled plot and unsympathetic characters.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Toronto International Film Festival

I am currently chilling in Toronto, in preparation for four days of hardore film watching (that is watching lots of films, not watching films that are hardcore). I have 13 films planned, and I'm going to be too busy to review them. Here is a complete list of films I will watch:

September 4th 2014

6pm Scarlet Innocence (South Korea)
It has been a while since I watched A South Korean thriller. The Chaser, Mother and I Saw the Devil are recent classics, so I decided there was no better way to start the festival.
9pm The Dead Lands (New Zealand)
I know very little about this film. It is mainly filler for the films it is sandwiched between. Its a film about aborigine tribes in New Zealand.
12pm Tokyo Tribe (Japan)
I'll be surprised if I can stay awake for this long. Shion Sono is perhaps my favourite director, having not made a bad film in his 15 year directorial career. This film is a Yakuzza, gangster musical, that I expect to be phenomenal. I am indeed a fan, having seen 11 of his films. Shion Sono may even be there!

September 5th 2014

11.45am Aire Libre (Aire Libre)
This is filler, and optional. It looks awful from the trailer, so I might miss it if I am exhausted.
3pm Winter Sleep (Turkey)
The worldwide acclaimed, 3 hour, Palme D'Or winner, is a film I have yet to get tickets for. I do intend to. I was a bit bored by his previous film 'Once upon a Time in Anatolia', but his work is visually interesting and tells stories at a slow and meditative pace.
8pm Coming Home (China)
Zhang Yimou's latest film. Yimou is known for directing the 2012 Olympic Ceremony, 'Raise the Red Lantern' and 'The Flowers of War' (starring Christian Bale). He is a superb director who is truly a visionary.

September 6th 2014

9am The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Japan)
I would NEVER miss a Studio Ghibli film. This one is directed by Isao Takahata ('Grave of the Fireflies') and is based on a tenth century Japanese fairytale. The reviews have been brilliant thus far.
11:30am Song of the Sea (Europe)
Directed by the same guy who directed the masterful 'The Secret of Kells', this has the exact same animation style.
2pm In her Place (South Korea)
This is, once again, filler, but it has the most potential out of all the fillers. The trailer gives little away, so I know very little about it.
6.30pm Luna (Britain)
The trailer is really quite something. I have to physically pull myself away from the screen to avoid watching it again (incase it spoils the film). The film looks very experimental, and indie. An unanimated 'Waking Life'.

September 7th 2014

9.15am Confession (South Korea)
Another thriller filler. Although I am down with anything South Korean.
12:15am National Gallery (Britain)
I have yet to see a Frederick Wiseman documentary. I'm not sure starting with a 3 hour documentary about London's National Gallery is a good idea...
4.15pm Love in the Time of Civil War (Canada)
I like the name. Watching films based on names has failed me before ('2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams', 'The Wild Women of Wongo', 'Cannibal Woman in the Avocado Jungle of Death', 'Dinosaurus'), but this film has a far more interesting synopsis.

Films I Wanted to See (showing later in the festival or doesn't fit with my schedule)

Beats of Antonov (Sudan)
Looks magnificent from the trailer. About the Sudan civil war, and I would have seen this as well. If it were longer than an hour long.
Rec4 Apocalypse (Spain)
The first Rec is the scariest film I have seen. The second was good and more of the same. The third was atrocious, partly because, they thought it would be a good idea if they put the camera down and shoot it like a movie. BAD IDEA. It's called Rec, the shaky cam should be compulsory. This fourth one also doesn't have shaky cam, and the story has been blown out of proportion (much like the Paranormal Activity franchise). Why is this here then. The director of the first two, Jaume Balaguero, is directing this, but mainly because it is a guilty pleasure.
They Have Escaped (Finland)
Finnish films are quite a rare occurrence. But it does look like a crazy and brilliant coming of age story from the great trailer. Definitely one for DVD.
The World of Kanako (Japan)
Tetsuya Nakashima is quite a director. His films are vibrant, energetic and startlingly dark. This is his latest film, is about a missing girl and a father's plight to save her.
Fires on the Plain (Japan)
The director of 'Tetsuo''s attempt to adapt and remake Kon Ichikawa's horrifying anti-war film, for present day audiences.
Horse Money (Portugal)
Pedro Costa is a little-heard of auteur from Portugal. This film continues the story of Cape Verdean, as he survives in the Portugese slums. The fourth in the series after Ossos, In Vanda's Room and Colossal Youth. I am speechless from watching trailers of his films. The light manipulation in these films are truly beautiful.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Japan)
Who doesn't want to see a documentary on Studio Ghibli? Documenting the creation of 'The Wind Rises' and 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya'.
The Look of Silence (Indonesia)
Follow-up documentary of The Act of Killing, this time told from the victim's point of view. Also directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.
The Years of Fierro (Mexico)
Fascinating documentary of death-row convict Cesar Fierro, who has been locked up for 30 years. Even more worryingly he might be innocent. Gripped me from the first few seconds of the trailer.
In the Crosswind (Estonia)
This looks to be the most visually stunning film of the festival. It concerns the Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians which were sent by the USSR on trains to the remotest Siberia.
Partners in Crime (Taiwan)
About three high school friends. One of them dies in an alleyway, while the other two discover why she died.
Goodbye to Language 3D (France)
I doubt many people even know (or care) that French New Wave pretentious rebel Jean-Luc Goddard, is still making films. This is probably over-hyped, but I will watch it anyway.
X+Y (England)
An autistic student travels to Taiwan for the Maths championship. Starring Asa Butterfield from 'Ender's Game', 'Hugo' and 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas'.
Pasolini (Italy)
I have always thought a film about Pier Paulo Pasolini would be a great idea. This film stars Willem Dafoe (who looks remarkably like him), and chronicles the final days of his life before his assassination.
Mr Turner (Britain)
I have yet to see a good Mike Leigh film (mostly OK and unmemorable), nevertheless he is an amazing director, and this film has heaps of praise.
Leviathan (Russia)
Tons of praise at Cannes, has turned director Andrey Zvyagintsev a name to look out for. His previous work 'The Return' was quite a film.

I will catch-up with the films in this segment during the next year.

I have tickets for all but five of them, the others I intend to buy when they become available. At $18 each (£12), I couldn't stop buying. Now I am about to leave to see some movies!