Hong Kong Trilogy (2015)

Impressions: Directed by Wong Kar-Wai’s cinematographer, experimental/documentary about Hong Kong. Sounds great, right? Well…. It was more than a little rough separating the movie from the fact that Christopher Doyle was either drunk, on drugs or just crazy during his suuuuuper long, completely incoherent introduction, and his girlfriend/producer was obnoxious. He even attempted heckling his own film standing up in front and yelling things to the audience during the opening sequence, which thankfully could not be heard because the sound was turned up pretty high. Finally they settled in on the stairs one person over from me and watched the whole movie from up there instead of in their specially reserved seats. I should note that I adore the cinematography in Wong Kar-Wai movies and this one had some beautiful shots too.  The idea behind it is not bad, either: have  Hong Kong residents of different ages tell stories from their lives and have this be the audio to his cinematography. Now, I understand it was supposed to be experimental, and maybe I just don’t get it, but it was completely incoherent and seemed to be made up of random footage he took at different points and then spliced together with no rhyme or reason. Shots of the Umbrella Revolution could have been interesting, but instead it switches to a random fictionalized sequence about a teacher leaving his kids on a field trip to go get beer, and a stereotypical rich kid spending all his time with his nanny and missing his parents. This was my least favorite movie of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Facts:  Experimental documentary in which Hong Kong residents of different ages tell stories from their lives on the audio track, while the visuals are unrelated shots of the city.

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The Overnight (2015)

Impression:  Having had a kid, and hung out in parks with him, and having moved cities a couple of times, and struggled to make friends in new places as an adult, the opening sequence of this movie was oh-so-relatable.  Being invited to dinner and having a fun time with brand new friends, that’s happened before too. But then, this movie gets a little weird. And funny! What if your new friends with kids were maybe…actually… into swinging. A lot of awkwardness and comedy ensues, as each of the two main characters goes through a different sequence of emotions, from weirded out, to bonded to the hosts (uhm, not that kind of bonded!), to at odds with each other about what they think of all this and what should be done about it. Although it’s really just a silly comedy about sex and relationships, it never gets too absurd (ok, maybe the trip to the massage parlor is a little weird) and the characters for the most part react to the situation within bounds of what would be expected. The humor is born of the awkwardness of the situation itself, rather than mocking it or taking it to some kind of over-the-top absurd conclusion. All in all it’s a low key comedy that’s respectful of its characters and audience, and fun to watch. I’ll still probably have a little smirk on my face the next time I get invited to a dinner after meeting parents at a park .
Facts:  A family newly moved to Los Angeles gets an invite from a friendly dad at the playground for dinner, hilarity and weirdness ensues.
Extras:  I watched this movie because I love the Duplass brothers. I think Togetherness is one of the most underrated and underseen TV shows of the last decade, at least. They specialize in directing, producing, staring in talky low-budget films/series, and they make a ton of them. Glad to see someone carrying on the tradition of what “indie” used to mean in the 90s.

Sparrows (2015)

Impression: Icelandic, set in the far north small town during the summer, so there is no night. Icelandic summer means non-stop daylight, and the light with which the film is painted is unlike anything I have seen, everything is sharper, and more stark.  All sense of time is lost, and events seem to happen and escalate a lot faster than they would somewhere where action takes place over 12 hour stretches followed by breaks.  Somehow, everything is amped up. The plot follows a teenager who unwillingly comes to stay with his dad and grandmother for the summer. The otherworldly Icelandic landscape is captured really well, and is a great background for his coming to terms with adulthood in a series of progressively more heartbreaking episodes. Definitely a candidate for the “shoot your kneecaps off” category of depressing films. Still, very good!

Facts: A teenage boy comes to spend a summer with his estranged father and grandmother in the far north of Iceland.

 

The Wait (2015)

Impression: The best movie I saw at TIFF 2015, and the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s Piero Messina’s first feature. He was the assistant director on The Great Beauty, though. From the first stunning spiraling shot of a Jesus statue, to the ending shot of Juliette Binoche, this movie is not only gorgeous throughout, but it masterfully builds tension. And it’s not because you don’t know what will happen, it’s exactly because you DO know from a few minutes into it what must happen, that this is incredible. It’s hard to say anything more about the plot without ruining it, so I will stop there. Oh yeah, and Juliette Binoche is the greatest living actor. There is an amazing preview of this one on youtube which shows you how gorgeous it looks but reveals absolutely nothing of the plot. Watch it!
Facts:  A woman in a gorgeous Italian villa hosts her son’s French girlfriend.  No more can be said without revealing the plot.

You Carry Me (2015)

Impression:  I really liked how this movie looked, I thought the acting was very strong, and I liked that it’s mostly about strong female characters. But… at almost 3 hours, I think it’s too long: It could easily have been cut in length and not lost the point or the feel of the movie. It’s also too intense. Everyone in it is pissed off all the time. Having a connection to Croatia, I  unfortunately know that this is just the normal state of affairs in Croatia, but honestly it’s why I don’t enjoy visiting so much anymore or reading the news.  It’s like everyone (not just the women) is on a verge of a nervous breakdown.  The film is also a little too ambitious: It tries to do too much, touch on too many issues, and it seems to lose focus towards the end. I liked the first story the best, it was about a woman being torn between dealing with her father’s illness and trying to live her own life at the same time. I thought it was really well done, and well paced, and sweet. It was very different than the later stories, which seemed to pick up in pace, ending with the very frantic, melodrama at the end.  Other than living in the same city, the connection between the characters is that they all work on a set of a ridiculous TV soap opera. Towards the end of the movie the real life relationships seem to actually morph into something from a soap opera. While this was most likely on purpose, I am not sure what the point of it was. The film is also not too subtle about other films it takes ideas from, bird scene from Amour, a little bit of a Y Tu Mama Tambien vibe, the magic realism, a little bit of the Almodovar melodrama, etc…

Facts: Three stories about three women from different socioeconomic strata in modern day Croatia dealing with every day life. And for once it’s not (directly) about war.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Impression: Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love this film. And has likely been forced to watch it with me. I am not sure if I can properly articulate what I love so much about this one, but I will try. I’ve never been very into weddings, or any of the things that Muriel is into. But I do appreciate the feeling of wanting to define who you are without the weight of personal history and environment, the allure of being able to completely redefine yourself in a new place and wipe the slate clean. In fact, I have done it myself more times than I can count, but never as radically as Muriel does with the help of Rhonda. Rhonda is the best friend you’ve always wanted, wild, crazy, accepting of all your faults and not the least bit judgmental. The strong female friendship is the centerpiece of the story. But that plot line could have come off as somewhat cheesy and cliché. It’s that particularly Aussie movie atmosphere that lifts it: the easy mix of hilariously ridiculous intertwined with the tragically sad, the unapologetic archetypes and the raw display of the basest human emotion, completely judgmental, and at the same time completely accepting of it all as just human.  And the ABBA and the accents. Those don’t hurt either.
Facts: An awkward Australian girl comes out of her shell when she makes some selfish choices and runs away from her family and small town.
Extra: I remember going to see this for the first time in the movie theater in Florida with my dad. It was a Sunday,  first day of daylight savings time, and we forgot and showed up an hour early. I have seen is at least 10 times since.

Trainspotting (1996)

Impression:  I was 19 when I first saw this movie and loved it. I recently saw it at almost 40, with a teenager, wondering if it will stand the test of time. I am pleased to report it has aged well. Heroin chic never goes out of style, I guess. The fashion is not all that different, and the themes are universal, the aimlessness of early adulthood, the ups and downs of friendships, the selfishness, the humor.  Kelly MacDonald gives one of her best performances as Diane: witty, beautiful, feminist to her teenage core. The style of the movie, which at the time was somewhat of a novelty, still seems modern. The magic realism, explained away by drug use and hallucinations, still dreams up some of the most memorable scenes put on film: never been able to erase the scene of Renton diving into “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” or the baby crawling on the ceiling. The mid 90’s were an important time for independent film and unfortunately this film often gets lost in the shuffle. I hope the currently shooting sequel helps it get restored to it’s rightful place in cinema history.
Facts:  A group of friends and heroin addicts wasting time and desperately seeking the next hit in 1990’s Edinburgh.