Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Good Old-Fashioned TIFF 2007 Roundup - The Meh

Hello again. Here's part 2 of my massively delayed 2007 roundup.

These are the films I met with a hearty shrug. Most of these aren't bad movies--they just didn't do anything for me. On with the show...


The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald)
A Gentle Breeze in the Village (Nobuhiro Yamashita)

Two contrasting takes on modern teenage life, both of which made me thank the heavens I was no longer a teenager. Honestly, neither film is bad. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS distinguishes itself with a supremely chaotic design, where the film's editing reflects Tracey's fragmented mind. Thoughts, stray words, weird images, imagined conversations, all compete within a single frame for our attention. It's often very arresting, particularly in a heartbreaking scene where Tracey has sex with her school crush--her fantasies dominate the moment, but soon, the unromantic reality takes precedent and all she's left with is something cold and meaningless. It's a great scene, an authorial commentary seeping into the frame almost in spite of Tracey's desires. But the film lacks the distance that might have given it a sharper edge. Instead, we're mostly left floundering in Tracey's mind, and after a while, that becomes almost unbearable. That might have been the point, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE focuses on a very, very different teenage girl--an innocent and naive girl living in a rural province in Japan. Her life centers around her school, which only has a handful of students left, most of whom share a single classroom. Into this simple existence comes a boy, who moves to the town from Tokyo. Thus begins a slow-burning, chaste romance that never elevates above hand-holding and a single, halting kiss. There's not much more to it than that In truth, there's nothing really wrong with this film. But a year after having watched it, I find it difficult to remember any highs or lows, anything truly memorable, as though the movie was itself a gentle breeze, enervating in the moment and forgotten the next. (Ooh...poetic!)

Jar City (Baltasar Kormakur)

Lots of little things bugged me about this one, but I don't feel like dragging them out. Mainly, it's an interesting premise presented in a mostly uninteresting manner. I don't want to drag spoilers into my arguments, so let's just say that the film's concerns with family history, while often emotional, don't quite go far enough to address the larger ideas the film presents. At least by my estimation--your mileage may vary.

The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona)

Why didn't I like this more? It's got a creepy house, masked ghost children, some ferocious scares, a downbeat ending, good performances, a on, so forth. In short, it's everything I love about classy ghost stories. So why didn't it work for me? Why did I spend half the film frustrated by the husband's stubborn refusal to accept the supernatural? Why did I find the resolution both satisfactory and underplayed? Why could I not stop nitpicking the back story and the character's actions? Regardless, it's worth a look, if only for the moments when it comes alive (particularly when the scares kick in).

With Your Permission (Paprika Steen)

Not bad, with a seriously twisted sensibility, but the eventual mix of sentiment and black comedy doesn't quite work. Often very funny, sometimes genuinely affecting, but never wholly successful.

Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains (Jonathan Demme)

Great man, so-so documentary. Its biggest strength lies in the contrast between a former president's tireless and arduous effort to improve the world and the current president (unseen and mostly unremarked upon), who, in eight years of office, has yet to show one scintilla of Carter's passion or compassion.

Run, Fat Boy, Run (David Schwimmer)

Awful romantic comedy, but it definitively proves that Simon Pegg and Dylan Moran can make even the most simple-minded, poorly executed comedies tolerable just by showing up.

Help Me Eros (Lee Kang-Sheng)

Weird, boring, pretentious, sad, silly, fascinating--Lee Kang-Sheng's film is all these things, sometimes simultaneously. What it is not is a terribly good film. Like most of them on this list, it's not necessarily bad--it's just...missing something. Something crucial that would give the whole thing focus. Without it, the string of deeply depressed and repressed characters, grasping desperately for any kind of sexual gratification they can find, becomes wearying rather than enlightening. That said, anything this unusual should be given a chance regardless.

Sukiyaki Western Django (Takashi Miike)

Dear Takashi Miike,

Hi! I like your movies. They are weird and sometimes very fun. They often get a little boring, but then something awesome happens and then I am happy. Still, something weird is happening (weirder than your movies, if you can believe it). What's happening is this: I'm kind of getting tired of your movies. They are still kind of cool, and the awesome parts are still kind of awesome, but...that's it. These days, it's like there's nothing else there. Maybe it's just this one, which starts out awesome, but quickly gets dull. And what's with the length, man. You're not Sergio Leone and this isn't Once Upon a Time in the West. This story didn't need to be dragged out forever and ever. Anyway, keep making movies, only make them better.

Crunchy Squirrel's Inner Twelve Year-Old

Mad Detective (Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai)

Another great premise / iffy execution film. I'm still puzzling through this one, so look for a future installment dissecting this and something else sometime later.

That's it for now. On to part three: The Hell?!

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