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Wildlife

One never senses judgment from Dano, Kazan, Gyllenhaal, or Mulligan—they recognize that there’s beauty even in the mistakes we make in life. It’s what makes…

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Halloween

Do you know the biggest sin of the new Halloween? It’s just not scary. And that’s one thing you could never say about the original.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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CIFF 2009: The winners! And our reviews

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Tina Mabry's "Mississippi Damned," an independent American production, won the Gold Hugo as the best film in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival, and added Gold Plaques for best supporting actress (Jossie Thacker) and best screenplay (Mabry). It tells the harrowing story of three black children growing up in rural Mississippi in circumstances of violence and addiction. The film's trailer and an interview with Mabry are linked at the bottom.

Kylee Russell in "Mississippi Damned"

The winner of the Audience Award, announced Friday, was "Precious" (see below). The wins came over a crowed field of competitors from all over the world, many of them with much larger budgets. The other big winner at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East awards ceremony Saturday evening was by veteran master Marco Bellocchio of Italy, who won the Silver Hugo as best director for "Vincere," the story of Mussolini's younger brother. Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi won Silver Hugos as best actress and actor, and Daniele Cipri won a Gold Plaque for best cinematography.

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VIFF: Chinese motorcycle tattoo mob story

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The tong hackman is a little orange-blonde tattooed biker, most often dressed in a pair of black shorts, sandals that match his hair, and nothing else. He picks up a girl who has split with her motorcycle-riding boyfriend and becomes the Poutiest Girl in the World. They shack up on his father's land in a one-bed structure covered with a clear plastic tarp. She throws tantrums and torments him. There is a lot of drinking, smoking, fishing and cell phoning. He attacks his business with methodical professionalism, hacking and beating those who can't pay their debts to his boss. A gang of others arrive with machetes to take their revenge. Things get hot, and the boss tells him to get out of town to Guangzhou and hide out for a while. But what about the girl?

That's a basically accurate plot description of Yang Heng's "Sun Spots," a striking Chinese film that received its world premiere here at the Vancouver International Film Festival. But now let me come at it from another direction entirely....

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TIFF #1: Darwin, Herzog, the Coens and the Antichrist

I've just finished combing through the list of films in this year's Toronto Film Festival, and I have it narrowed down to 49. I look at the list and sigh. How can I see six films a day, write a blog, see people and sleep? Nor do I believe the list includes all the films I should see, and it's certainly missing films I will see. How it happens is, you're standing in line and hear buzz about something. Or a trusted friend provides a title you must see. Or you go to a movie you haven't heard much about, just on a hunch, and it turns out to be "Juno."

Nicolas Cage in "Bad Lieutenant"

I can't wait to dive in. Knowing something of my enthusiasms, faithful reader, let me tell you that TIFF 2009's opening night is a film about the life of Charles Darwin. The festival includes the film of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." And new films by the Coen brothers, Todd Solondz, Michael Moore, Atom Egoyan, Pedro Almodovar, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Alain Resnais and Guy Maddin--and not one but two new films by Werner Herzog. Plus separate new films by the three key talents involved in Juno: The actress Ellen Page, the director Jason Reitman, and the writer Diablo Cody.

Okay, I've already seen two of those. They were screened here in Chicago (Page as a teenage Roller Derby in "Whip It," Cody's script for "Jennifer's Body," starring Megan Fox as a high school man-eater, and that's not a metaphor). I already saw more than ten of this year's entries at Cannes, including Lars on Trier's controversial "Antichrist," Jane Campion's "Bright Star," Gasper Noe's "Enter the Void," Almodovar's "Broken Embraces," Bong Joon-Ho's "Mother," Lee Daniels' "Precious," Mia Hansen-Løve's "The Father of My Children," and Resnais's "Wild Grass." A lot of good films there. Not all of them, but a lot.

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A precious American girl, a Japanese love doll, Iranian rockers, and a Korean vampire

May 15, 2009--The most gutsy, powerful film I've seen here so far is without doubt "Precious" by African-American director Lee Daniels. "Precious" already had its world premiere at Sundance in February, where it was greatly acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. If the comments I've heard today are any indication, it promises to be an even bigger success in Cannes.

Based on the novel Push, by Sapphire, "Precious" is the story of a Harlem teenager who is severely abused by her mother, habitually raped and twice impregnated by her father, and treated like garbage by just about everyone in her life. The one thing Precious's abusers don't succeed in killing is her imagination, and for instance, while being raped, in her mind's eye she sees herself making a grand entrance at a film premiere. The pictures in her photo album talk to her, and this large, awkward girl looks in the mirror and sees a beauty queen with cascading blonde hair. This is not a preachy film, but one that grabs you from beginning to end as Precious comes back from the edge of desolation to discover the immovable force of her own willpower.

After seeing "Precious" last night at an invitational press screening, this afternoon I attended the press roundtable interview event with director Lee Daniels, screenwriter Damien Paul, and actors Gabourey Sidibe, Mariah Carrey, Lenny Kravitz, and Paula Patton. It was held at the outdoor restaurant Beach VitaminWater, which I can't say without laughing. Typical of these events, a lavish lunch is served, and the talent is brought in.

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Bordwell Does Vancouver

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell at the 2006 Overlooked Film Festival. (photo by Jim Emerson)

The Vancouver International Film Festival is now underway: 300+ films in 16 days (September 28 - October 13). Be sure to check out dispatches from the fest from David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson on their new blog!

From David's initial VIFF entry: The festival is particularly strong in Asian cinema, programmed by the indefatigible Tony Rayns; the festival also gives the “Dragons and Tigers��? prize to young Asian filmmakers. It was while serving on that jury last year that I came to fall in love with this festival. There are over 40 Asian programs this time, including Ann Hui’s "My Postmodern Aunt" (starring Chow Yun-fat), Tsai Ming-liang’s "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone," and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s "Hana" (his last film was the very touching "Nobody Knows"). A special treat is Bong Joon-ho’s "The Host," already a cult monster movie that has Hollywood studios fighting for the remake rights.

Vancouver is also very strong in Canadian cinema, as well as documentary, experimental, and international work. Like all great festivals, it’s actually several festivals in one: No way you could see everything you want to see. It was so exciting last year that I determined to return and try to see even more new films.

Festivals are important to us film lovers, because you want to keep up with creative work being done all over the world. Living in the US makes it hard, because so many wonderful films–sometimes masterpieces–don’t get released theatrically. Marketing a film in a country as large as the US requires massive amounts of money, and many interesting films just won’t attract a big enough audience to pay back costs. Also, I’m afraid that some Americans are narrowing their tastes in movies, so that they won’t give a “foreign film��? or a “little movie��? a chance. Festivals exist to do just that.

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The business of controversy

CANNES, France -- Quentin Tarantino, Charlize Theron, Tom Hanks, Michael Moore, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Shrek are converging on this balmy Riviera resort town today, and there may be trainloads of striking French show-biz workers to picket them. The 57th Cannes Film Festival is open for business.

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