Between the opening scenes of Louis Koo’s character Choi Tin-ming swerving his car in the streets and reeling and vomiting on himself at the wheel, the effects of an explosion at his cocaine factory, and the concluding scenes of Choi on an operating table being executed by injection, his breathing fast and nervous initially and then slowing down, Johnnie To’s Hong Kong-Chinese production Drug War does not allow the spectator one moment of respite. Like one tense chess match standoff after another, To constructs an extremely taut, graphic narrative that dives into the complex layers of fronts and faces of the drug world in China and Hong Kong. In the process, as one of the signature elements of his cinema, To presents a series of seriocomic role plays, performed by a combination of police and drug lords to burrow deeper, ever deeper, into the drug trade and reach the ones calling the show (all pun intended), culminating in a very bloody, end-of-time confrontation. In short, Drug War is an absolutely exhilarating, anxiety-ridden police pursuit western, all the more appreciated in the way it forgoes the empty dazzle of explosions for the more grounded character analysis and tightly constructed power struggles between people. In addition, the theme of a China-Hong Kong collaboration reflected in both the narrative and the production make of it a very relevant work in terms of China’s socioeconomic shifts.
Browsing: Film Festival
If you followed my coverage of the deadCenter Film Festival, you know that one of my favorite short films was Paul Avellino’s Un Regalo (A Gift), a gory shock comedy with real chops and dry wit. Mr. Avellino happened to be at the showing, so I had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes afterwards. My curiosity was piqued enough by our discussion that I wanted to follow up with a proper interview. Thanks to the power of the Internet, we were able to have a good discussion about the film.
In aviation parlance, ‘flying a hold’ refers to a tactic for a plane that is already in flight and is experiencing problems but cannot yet make an emergency landing until assigned a runway. Part of ‘flying a hold’ is flying the plane in an elliptical pattern as it waits for a runway. This elliptical pattern is sometimes referred to as the ‘racetrack,’ as it resembles the invisible pathway that the plane makes. Pedro Almodóvar makes this ambiguous, strange space between the skies and the earth the principal setting for his return to comedy with the film I’m So Excited!. On the one hand, it is indeed a continuing development of Almodóvar’s love affair with the screwball comedy, which is always welcome any day of the year, rain or shine. On the other hand, it signals a new parallel development for the filmmaker in that it is the first time that he shot digitally. Although diehard fans of the Almodóvar brand of comedy will be quick to take out their notes on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and make comparisons, I’m So Excited! contains many wonderful entertaining elements to stand on its own, if just to the left of the spotlight within Almodóvar’s overall filmography.
Writer-director Marian Crisan has inverted the dynamics of the unhealthy father-son relationship. Victor (Dan Chiorstean), the father, has been eroded into submission, largely by his heroin-addict son, Fang (Alin State), but also by his plodding life. His fault seems to be little other than living in a rough French neighborhood and at one time being a passionate rocker.
Alberto (Nestor Guzzini) is a divorced father who spends too little time with his children, Lucia (Malu Chouza) and Federico (Joaquin Castiglioni). He takes them to an Uruguayan hot spring resort where he hopes they will have a great time and become closer again. Unfortunately, it’s raining, forcing the hot springs closed for most of their stay. To add to the fire, the children are less than impressed with their father. Federico wants to watch television and play. Teenage Lucia would rather be away from her family. As the days get rainier, the rented house gets smaller, leaving the three of them searching for anywhere but around each other.
Somali pirates board a Danish ship demanding a ransom for the boat and the heads on board. This encapsulates the board meetings and the hostage situation by intricately crafting both stories on and off the ship. Condensing months of mission into a tight, poignant 99 minutes that mars the viewer witnessing grim proceedings. While Tobias Lindholm may be more experienced at script-writing, his first solo directorial piece – his other, R, with Michael Noer – is one that wrings the tension out of the sweat covered captives. Never has a language barrier been – fit with no subtitles to confuse us like the hostages – so terrifying when there’s misunderstanding and AK-47s in the mix.
On June 6th I had the opportunity, thanks to Next Projection, to attend the opening night of the deadCenter film festival in downtown Oklahoma City. Due to some schedule conflicts I unfortunately did not get to stay for anymore of what promises to be a stellar festival lineup. The showings were a little sparse on opening night: only one feature length narrative film, one documentary, and two sets of short films. Since I wanted to get the most bang for my (technically nonexistent, since I got a press pass) buck, and since they were showing in the same theater back to back, I saddled up for a night of short film potpourri. In this column I will tackle the first compendium, the comedy shorts.
The film follows three parallel stories. John Sandberg (Simon J. Berger) is a vice squad detective on the brink of uncovering a network of corrupt politicians. Dagmar Glans’s (Pernilla August, she played Anakin’s mom in Star Wars franchise) is a motherly madam expertly networking her bank of girls with the politicians that employ their services. Then there are the lives of fourteen year old Iris (Sofia Karemyr) and her cousin Sonja (Josefin Asplund) new inhabitants of a juvenile home who, through their numerous trips to the city, find themselves caught in Dagmar’s dark web. The story is set on the eve of the 1976 Swedish elections, a time when the country saw itself at the dawn of a sexual revolution and women’s liberation.
A Month in Thailand (2012) does not take place over a month and is not set in Thailand. I feel I should get that out in the open right away. It takes place in one day, New Year’s Eve, in Bucharest, Romania. The story kicks off with Radu (Andrej Mateiu) making love to Adina (Ioana Anastasia Anton). Then they are getting ready for the day, a lunch/dinner party for her father’s birthday then a New Year’s Eve party at a restaurant with their friends. Radu receives a call from Alex (Tudor Istodor) asking him to go to the supermarket with him. Radu goes and while Alex is off looking for something, Radu starts looking around like he’s seen someone and he tries to find the person but cannot.
I was surprised to discover that writer-director Alexandra Gulea had not also edited Matei, Child Miner. The single consistency during Matei is the evoked feeling that the film’s production lacked ruthlessness. Gulea’s screenplay certainly needed a few more drafts. Perhaps editor Bruno Tracq suggested they shave the film to under a half hour. Even if he made the suggestion, we still have an 80 minute film that never figures out what it’s here to say.