|Philadelphia Film Festival 2008|
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Link to Someone New: Philly Film Fest Edition
You know the drill. Blog reading often becomes a closed loop where you find yourself constantly reading and linking to the same group of blogs. I'm as guilty as anyone (plus, I have a tendency to not link other blogs at all), so in an effort to combat the blogging equivalent of inbreeding, here are links to several blogs I've never linked before, all of whom have also been blogging about the Philadelphia Film Festival (for reference, see my posts):
Posted by Mark on April 16, 2008 at 06:29 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival: Recap
I had meant to write reviews as I went, but things didn't work out that way, so here's a recap of all the films I've seen this week. Star ratings are out of 4 stars.
Update: Made some edits, specifically to the Storm review... Also removed the The Last House in the Woods entry, as I didn't end up seeing that film...
Posted by Mark on April 13, 2008 at 04:08 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival: Confession of Pain
One of the more successful Hong Kong films of recent years is Infernal Affairs, a story of an undercover cop and a police department mole. It was remade in the U.S. as The Departed and it netted Scorcese's first oscars (among others). The symmetrical plot of Infernal Affairs is cliever and complex, but the real strength of the film is the psychological struggle of people who've been undercover for so long they're not sure who they are anymore. Confession of Pain is from the same writers and directors as Infernal Affairs. The plot doesn't feature the clever symmetry of Infernal Affairs and the psychological aspects aren't as deep, but the stakes are still high and the story is still complex and interesting.
After his girlfriend commits suicide, Detective Yau Kin Bong quits the force and becomes a private investigator. He also becomes an alcoholic. His former partner and friend Lau Ching Hei keeps tabs on him, and when someone murders Hei's father-in-law, Hei's wife hires Bong to investigate the suspicious circumstances of the murder. It sounds like a pretty standard plot, but the filmmakers manage to wring a lot of complexity out of it by employing a lot of noir story elements and maybe some of the Infernal Affairs-like symmetry. It ends up being a story of betrayal and revenge, and there are numerous surprises along the way.
The lead performances by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro are great, and the visuals are sleeker and more cinematic than Infernal Affairs. It moves a little slowly and there are some confusing hiccups along the way (perhaps a lost in translation sorta thing), but in the end, it's a very well executed noir-like mysery/thriller. Apparently, a U.S. remake of this film is also in the works, though I'm not sure this one will go over as well... *** (out of 4 stars)
Posted by Mark on April 09, 2008 at 03:24 PM .: link :.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival: Pistoleros
The first film I saw at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival was Pistoleros. Chilean born Dutch filmmaker Shaky González makes a modern-day spaghetti western, complete with a heist-gone-wrong, hidden loot, a trail of clues, betrayals, gunfights and mexican standoffs galore, with a little martial arts thrown in for good measure. An interesting and entertaining mix, though a little uneven in its execution.
The story follows Frank Lowies, the toughest, meanest gangster in Copenhagen. He catches wind of a plan to transport a large sum of money by train, and recruits two other gangsters to help pull it off: a Pakistani named Shameer and an Argentinian named Ramirez. Naturally, things don't go as planned, and the three end up in jail. As urban legend has it, Frank hid a large portion of the money before getting nabbed by the police and hid it. The only clues to the whereabouts of the loot are a series of tatoos spread out amongst Frank's friends. A few years later the folks involved in the heist get out of jail and start looking for the hidden loot.
Pretty standard stuff, really, but the manner in which it's told is... interesting. The film employs a very unusual structure, and to be honest, I'm not sure it entirely works. On the other hand, without this structure, it probably wouldn't work as well. The story is told mostly in flashbacks. A documentary filmmaker named Martin and his producer Camilla meet up with a washed-up gangster named Crazy Uffe, who is supposedly very knowledgeable on Frank Lowies and the story of the hidden money. The story doesn't come out directly, though. Instead, we get a flashback withinin a flashback. Crazy Uffe tells the story of how he told Frank Lowies' story to another gangster named Yugo Ivan. Uffe owed Ivan money, so he told the story in the hopes of paying off his debts with Lowies' hidden stash. In the middle of telling his story, he gets interrupted by someone else at the bar, who tells the story of how the heist was conceived and how it went wrong, at which point we return to Uffe's story. Finally, someone else joins in and says they're all wrong, and that the money is still out there.
So we've got all kinds of flashbacks within flashbacks and unreliable narration, and it's tempting to attribute a Rashômon-like signifigance to it all, but I think that's probably giving this film too much credit. As you can probably tell from the descriptions above, it's a bit confusing and the structure is awkward to say the least. There is definitely some ambiguity left at the end, especially considering the sequence shown during the credits of the film (don't stop watching once the credits start rolling!), but really, the whole story and structure is just an excuse to partake in some action-packed fun.
The atmosphere is wonderful, though I think the film could have done more with it's intriguing mixture of spaghetti western tropes and modern-day imagery. The music deserves some mention, as it's evocative of Ennio Morricone's brilliant scores from Sergio Leone's classic films. There are a couple of great scenes where we see our heroes driving their motorcycles (in place of horses) throughout Copenhagen (in place of the old West) with the spaghetti western score blaring in the background. It struck me that this sort of thing hasn't been done much (if ever), and that I'd love to see more modern-day spaghetti westerns. There are references galore. Obviously, the spaghetti westerns like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (the plot of Pistoleros is most reminiscent of this film, and someone even refers to a character as "blondie") and Once Upon a Time in the West get many homages, but there's more than just that. Robert Rodriguez is definitely an influence on this film, and you can see lots of other references to gangster films. Oddly, there's also a bit of martial arts thrown in for good measure, but that works better than I thought it would. The action sequences are energetic and well staged, and while the editing and pace of the film is quick, you don't lose track of what's going on.
Ultimately, it's a decent film that could have used a tighter story or perhaps a structure that wasn't so haphazard. I'm guessing that we're going to see more from writer/director Shaky González, and while this film isn't perfect, it's definitely an interesting effort and I'd love to see what he comes up with next... **1/2 (out of 4 stars)
Posted by Mark on April 06, 2008 at 01:51 PM .: link :.
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