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Review – Reign of Assassins – Australian Premier – #BIFF

Beautifully and creatively shot on every level

For some reason this was touted as the new John Woo movie – but we couldn’t see his name as Producer or Director in this romp. I have seen elsewhere on the net that he has been credited as a co-director. Okaaaaaay.

In many ways, RoA’s ticks the boxes for a matrial arts movie. Silly pretense, grudges, fights, pretty girls who are dangerous, cross and double cross. And look, I was enjoying it as a piece of pure escapism movie going, until it became about testicles. It didn’t need to. Even if it had just stayed on mega martial arts skills I would have been happy with that. That twist wasn’t necessary IMHO. The other twist though I didn’t see coming.

While I have heard some people say that the romance story wasn’t in line with the story, I found he acting between Michelle Yeoh’s Zeng Jing and Jung Woo-sung’s Jiang Ah-sheng was lovely – and I thoroughly enjoyed the disparity between their little ideal world and what was going on around them. So NEENAH to those who didn’t like that.

Pluses:
Lovely comedic dialouge
Some good fights (though some were a little silly)
Awesome twist!
Sword play.
The filming of the fights was pretty hot too – especially the watershedder sword shots.

Minuses:
Testicles anyone?
Silly names.
In high dialouge scenes the subtitles moved too quickly to take in the scene and the words.

Even with the silly twist, it was an enjoyable way to finish the festival and I am very pleased I saw it. I generally wait for DVD, so this was the first wuxia movie I had seen since Hero – so it was lovely to revisit the experience on the big screen.


#twoandahalfpandas

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Review – I Love You Phillip Morris – #BIFF

Of all the prison libraries in all the world you had to walk into this one...

This is the ultimate con movie. Ok – it is also a romance movie. Oh and it is a comedy too. But at the end of the day it is all about the con.

Everyone in this movie gets con’ed – everyone – including the viewer – yes I admit I got majorly con’ed. Hook, line, sinker and copy of angling times (to quote Red Dwarf).

But let’s talk about the movie.

Jim Carrey plays police man Steven Russell who is married with a couple of kids, and whom, after years of searching, finds his birth mother who wants nothing to do with him. He packs up his life and heads to Texas where a life changing moment makes him realise he wants to be happy and to be himself – gay. What follows are Russell’s lives, cons, loves and brilliance. As he put it, it is expensive to live on the high on the gay hog. While in prison he falls for Ewen McGregor’s Phillip Morris. Things go well, go badly and well just go. What is the most bizarre part of this “con-rom-com” is that Carrey’s Russell was actually successful at his lives – just greed and lifestyle got the better of him.

Pluses:
Prison romance.
CFO.
Aids tests.
Texas.
Throw away lines.
Carrey really can act – I had forgotten!
Some of McGregor’s acting.

Minuses:
McGregor’s terribly fake eyebrows.
Some of the scenes were a bit OTT.
Trying to cater to the general audience.

Until I saw The Red Chapel, this was my pick of the festival. It isn’t perfect, but is so enthusiastic that you forgive its failings. I look forward to its American release next month.

#fourpandas

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Review – Howl – #BIFF

Awwwww.

Straight up – I am not a modern poetry kind of Panda.
That being said, I was interested in Howl because of what it achieved, not so much the poem itself which I have never read.
Ginsberg is one of the most celebrated poets of the last century, and I wanted to know why and how he achieved this fame.
Unfortunately that really wasn’t the primary focus on the movie. It really felt like there were four movies in one, none of them to the depth I needed to really “get” it. Firstly we have Ginsberg reading the poem in a club. Secondly we have an imagining of the poem through animation. Thirdly we had him being interviewed post poem and trial. Forthly we had the trial. Oh and we also had him writing the poem.

Pluses:
I didn’t mind the animation for the first half of the movie but it got old fast.
Courtroom pieces.
Grinsberg’s recollections.

Minuses:
The poem.
Too many competing voices.
I really wanted to know more about Ginsberg than we got.

Not really my cup of tea and bit too all over for me to connect with this highly regarded piece. I walked in with expectations and they weren’t met.

#twopandas

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Review – The Red Chapel – #BIFF

Simon, Mads and Mrs Pak present the pizza oven device

Poor Mrs Pak has no idea what is really happening.

This is a hard movie to describe. I have seen a few people try – but it doesn’t quite get to how I see it.
In short, two Korean born Danish comedians (Simon and Jacob) return to Korea but go to North Korea, not South Korea. They are accompanied by their “manager” (Mads Brugger) under the pretence of putting on a comedy show for the North Koreans in a cultural exchange – possibly the worst show ever produced. In truth, they are there to show the darkness that pervades North Korean society by their interactions and Simon who as a (self labelled) spastic is a living representation of what is never allowed in North Korea – perfect children only please.

The movie works on many layers and asks the viewer many questions, often ones that are very uncomfortable, while at the same time filling you with shock, awe and laughter by what they are prepared to do to get their point across – and how eagerly the North Koreans lap it all up. Mads Brugger does realise that he is also manipulative and cruel in forcing his comedians past their level of comfort and ethics – putting on a face for their hosts, while at the same time the North Koreans are being manipulative and cruel under the guise of helping and love for their guests and their Dear Leader. There are a few moments in the documentary where you think – no, there is no way – but there it is, unfolding out in front of your eyes.

The impact on Simon was heartbreaking. Seeing a “perfect” world where everyone is happy, beautiful and loved that he can never be a part of is so emotional and honest. Then to see how Mads continues to manipulate and force him to push forward is just as heartbreaking. It should be noted that Simon is the only one in North Korea who can speak their mind. Not only is he speaking Danish (their handler speaks English) but he is speaking “Spastic Danish.” So while Mads and Jacob are careful in what they say, even in Danish, Simon tells it like it is – the only time he dissembles is in English and in letters. You laugh as Mads deliberately lies as he translate, but at the same time you squirm on the inside.

The manipulation of the North Koreans knows no bounds. From a bus load of pretty girls for the boys to picnic with to totally redoing their comedy show including patriotic sentiments and hiding Simon’s disability, it leaves you gob smacked. Watching though, it is impossible to forget that these people’s lives, and those of their families, depends on making this work to make North Korea shine. I do have real fear in my heart for the North Koreans involved, especially Mrs Pak. Then you think about the entire population of the country – living in fear, lies and mistruths – always watching what they do and say – even their children. It is no life to live like that.

Pluses:

The march.
The uniforms.
Pineapple.
The filming style.
The honesty.
Pins.
Pizza.
The pain.
The hopelessness.
The tears.
The table.
Wonderwall.
Simon saving Mrs Pak.

Minuses:
Did they really think about the fall out back in North Korea?

This was my “life changing” moment of the festival – every year you want one – you don’t always get it – and this year I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those years where I picked the wrong movies. Then I saw The Red Chapel. It touched me in ways I can’t put into words – infact I have tears behind my eyes as I write this, then I will smile and laugh as I remember a particular obtuse moment. I have wanted to go to North Korea for many years, and have looked at various tours to go – but couldn’t bring myself to give my western currency to the regime… for the same reason I have never gone to Indonesia or Burma/Myanmar. After seeing this documentary I desperately want to go, while at the same time horrified by what I saw and what I would experience.

#fourandahalfpandas

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Review – Somewhere – Australian Premier – #BIFF

Not off to the Golden Pandas, that is for sure

It must be so hard to get paid stupid amounts of money to do something as pivotal to human society as act in movies.
I went along having heard that this Sophia Copola movie didn’t suck like her last one.
Bupboww.

For just under 2 hours we were given a bird’s eye view of the tortured and lonely life of a mega star.
Boo Frickin Hoo.

Whereas Lost in Translation saw us have empathy for the players, heart conflicted, Somewhere just left me with a feeling of tired ambivelence – or maybe two feelings – tired and ambivelence. Yes, he no longer knows why he does this. He no longer sees the relevance in his life. Welcome to reality – well a pole dancing twins version of reality. The dialouge was minimal and did little to encourage a sense of engagement from the audience.

Pluses:
Elle Fanning’s Chloe – some great acting (though her iceskating was more like 3 months than 3 years).

Minuses:
The rest.

I didn’t think I disliked it as much as I did untill I sat down to really think about what I loved about the movie. Breaking things into pro’s and con’s reveals just how little I felt in this movie. There were a couple of cute moments (Guitar Hero), but they were few and far between. The imagery felt so staged and the final scene has been done to death. I wanted to check the time, but the guy from Universal was standing near me and had informed us we would be escorted from the cinema if we used our phones/devices during the movie (which wasn’t advertised as such FYI). I can’t believe this won the Golden Lion.

#oneandahalfpandas
PS. It should be noted that I was pretty tired but I was super energised and upbeat when I walked in after just seeing The Red Chapel.

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Review – Red Hill – #BIFF

Not having a good first day on the job?

Red Hill is Patrick Hughes first movie – he wrote, produced and directed it and it had its Queensland release at the Brisbane International Film Festival. After my disastrous experience with Simone North’s first movie “I Am You” (which she also wrote, produced and directed) I was ready to experience Red Hill with zero expectations of it being a passable movie.

Red Hill tells the story of a just under 24 hours in a small country town in the Victorian Highlands. It is Kwanten’s character, Shane Cooper’s first day on the job as a country beat cop. Unbeknownst to Cooper, this town has a dark past, one that comes crashing in just hours after he starts. The villain of this piece was the indigenous actor Tom E Lewis’ Jimmy Conway. His ability to portray Jimmy Conway’s emotions and thoughts without saying a word, and with wearing a large prosthetic was very impressive. The town, lead by the always enjoyable Steve Bisley, prepare to defend their town from Conway – who is back with vengeance on his mind.

The plot was a bit predictable, and some plot devices were obvious, and had you questioning the motivation of the characters by their actions, which were required to keep the story moving. The twist was also expected but well delivered. I was’t too sure about the necessity of the kitty cat, and it was a tad too CGI for me – but each to their own.
All this being said this film is a very strong first effort. Some of dialogue was great. There was really solid character development and the film was moving along really well – the suspense building and you had real emotional buy in. Then the movie changed into something akin to a Tarinto gun fest bordering on the comical – then back again to the suspense and character driven piece. Some of the shots were wonderful and there were lots of hat tips to other films from the genres.
For a first movie that was made without any support (Hughes mortgaged his house to make it – and it is a “Hughes House Film” (that did make me laugh but I was pretty drunk)) it was damned fine.

Pluses:
Bisley’s Old Bill was a great character!
The town itself.
The art direction.
Lewis’ acting.
Kwanten’s forceful acting.
The characters of the town.
Some of the gun fights.
The overall arc of the story.

Minuses:
Unnecessary characters – we had no need to meet his wife.
Predictable plot points.
Kitty Cat.
Kitty Cat nibblies.
Overly hokey country music twangs.
Frustrating character actions/inactions to solely drive the plot.

I initially gave this a #threepanda rating, but on reflection given the shoot time (24 days), first movie bonus, and the self funded multipler I have changed my rating to

#threeandahalfpandas
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Review – Freakonomics – #BIFF

Gibney Pure Corruption

A perfect shot reflecting the balance of the two major concepts explored in this piece.

Takes a number of different ideas, based in and around economic/statistical concepts and attempts to communicate those formulated thoughts to the audience. Some are used are “fillers” to set the theme for the upcoming short or to explain that what we think to be true may not necessarily be true.

 

Pluses:
Gibney’s Pure Corruption – by far the most interesting and informative of the segments that also wasn’t trying too hard.
I liked the opening and closing credits.
The research behind Spurklock’s piece.

Minuses:
I really didn’t like Jarecki’s style – dealing with issues such as crime and abortion with a hipster narrator and base animation didn’t do anything for me.
Drawing on people’s own racist mindsets for jokes.
Relying on schadenfreude.
Ewing and Grady’s over managed incentive piece on education.

Look, it isn’t a bad film per se, it just didn’t have that cohesion that a good multi-directorial documentary needs. They tried to do it, but it didn’t really come off. To me, the to camera banter felt like add ins on a DVD that had all the segments on it – they didn’t really tie them together or engage me.
Further to this I felt that most segments lacked resolution – if they were meant to be a mini movie in the greater movie/documentary within a documentary – surely the basic structures need to be followed. I think that is why I liked Gibney’s Pure Corruption so much. It set the scene – I met the protagonists, I felt empathy for the players, it related back to something I knew and then tied it all up neatly – all while being beautifully shot and lyrically narrated.

#twoandahalfpandas
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Review – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives #BIFF

Good evening, ghost of my dead wife. Would you like something to drink?

I would like to start by saying I have NO idea what this film was about, what it was an analogy for (if it was) or what the outcome was (if it had one).

I picked this film because it got great reviews (according to the guide) and that it was an art film for everyone. Maybe the definition of an art film is that you are not supposed to have a clue what is going on.

I, and from the confused sounds around me, the entire cinema sat there perplexed for two hours waiting for it to tie together. If people did work it out, I wouldn’t have seen all the “Lost the Plot” and “Not my Cup of Tea” tears on the evaluation sheets.

In short.

There is a cow. The cow sees this black thing with red eyes. We then meet the main characters who talk about nothing consequential – other than illegal immigrants being bad and likely to stab you then rob you (was just like listening to an ALP or Liberal rally only in Thai). They have dinner. Ghost of dead wife shows up. Black thing with red eyes turns out to be a monkey ghost man who is the lead character’s missing son. He had sex with a monkey man ghost thing and became one. Cut to a princess in love with her chair bearer who wishes she was pretty. She meets a talking catfish who proceeds to have oral sex with her. Cut back to main characters – they go for a walk into a dark cave. Man thinks he was born here (shot of baby catfish). There is his voice over with modern photos of Thai youth (military and not) doing every day stuff. He then dies. There is a funeral. Two remaining main characters decide to go out for dinner but they aren’t really themselves as their bodies are still watching TV (looked like a piece about SARS).

The end.

I HAVE NO IDEA!

Pluses:
I am still thinking about it.
I liked the the main female had a disability.
Some cute one liners.
Lovely paradoxes (eg. putting a face mask on for a medical procedure but not wearing gloves).

Minuses:
It was predominately shot with natural light so often the subject matter was hard to make out.
Minimal dialogue that didn’t clear anything up.
Confusing as all heck.
Sound problems.
Hand held camera for a whole section.
Did I mention I have no idea what was going on?

It was still better than I Am You – but don’t recommend it unless you want to be baffled. If you did see this and know what it means, can you please drop me tweet @howmanypandas or email me HowManyPandas AT gmail.com? I am going google some reviews and see if someone has worked out what it is about – maybe even an interview with the director.

#twopandas
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Review – I Am You – World Premier #BIFF

Terrible. Terrible. Terrible.

I Am You attempts, poorly, to tell the story of the disappearance and death of Rachel Barber.

You would think that with such an outstanding cast, you have a fair chance of a great movie. Unfortunately, Simone North’s inexperience as a writer and director, in conjunction with her being overly involved in the subject matter leads to a very poor piece of work. I actually felt for the actors.

It needs a damn good edit as much was irrelevant and over done. The amount of unnecessary shots was staggering and the way that the main character of Caroline Reid  was portrayed as lacking the complexity and sympathy of an individual with mental health issues was shocking. The young Irish actor though did very well considering what she had to work with. During the Q&A, Simone North’s abject contempt of the real Caroline was obvious – and it shone throughout her film.

It could have been SO much more, but it lacked on every level.

Positives:
Acting of Ruth Bradley (even through the terrible direction and script you could see she had talent).
It does actually end.

Negatives:
The immaturity of the script.
The lack of tidiness to the cut.
The direction.
Just how one dimensional it was.
Vignettes.
Overdone camera work.
One dimensional demonisation of characters.
Lack of depth of any “white hat” character.
Lack of examination of mental health.
It had more endings than Lord of the Rings and felt longer than all three combined.

Don’t bother.

#halfapanda
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EDIT: I should say that I wasn’t aware it was a “world premier” but the host announced it as such.

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