November 28, 2016

Finding Me at Dragonmeet 2016

After a parlous period during which it seemed that Pelgrane Press’ magic spreadsheet had turned into a sensible spreadsheet, I am once again delighted to report that I’ll be attending Dragonmeet in London this Saturday. I’ll be there with the Pelgrane crew, including Kenneth Hite, Rob Heinsoo, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and of course co-honchos Cat Tobin and Simon Rogers.

The event itself has yet again shed its skin and grown larger and for the first time will be at the Novotel London West near the Hammersmith tube station.

Stop by to chat at the Pelgrane booth, or catch me at the following seminar events:Dragonmeet 2016

13:30: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Live: Join us for a live podcast recording as Ken nerdtropes up a storm and we field audience questions with our usual jetlagged aplomb.

15:30: What’s Up with Pelgrane Press: The whole team spills the beans on plans for 2017 and beyond, and I periodically urge the non-Kens among them to use their outdoor voices and speak up for the nice people.

If the publishing gods so decree, we’ll have a special Dragonmeet preview edition of Cthulhu Confidential, the flagship GUMSHOE One-2-One release. I could not be more excited about seeing this finally arrive in print form, so please propitiate the ink deities as the weekend draws near.

(Any Simon Rogerses out there might want to take note of the relationship between the venue and a local purveyor of Christmas sandwiches—traditional lunch of choice for humble, undemanding and hard-working freelancers. See handy map.)

November 25, 2016

November 18, 2016

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Home Movies You Didn't Take

In the latest episode of our award-winning podcast, Ken and I talk scarier Cthulhu, Chicago fim fest, commentary beats, and Timothy Pickering.

November 11, 2016

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Some Old Schlubby Wine God

In the latest episode of our eponymous podcast, Ken and I talk about mythic-level play, Ken's latest book raid and Death Spiral, the segment that is also a game.

November 04, 2016

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Not an Impaleologist

In the latest episode of our down-to-the-wire, guaranteed unskewed podcast, Ken and I talk Tour de Lovecraft, rigged votes, Sandy Petersen and Dracula's alchemy.

October 28, 2016

October 18, 2016

Join Me for an Online GUMSHOE Game in Celebration of International Pelgrane Day

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This Friday is International Pelgrane Day, an event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the GUMSHOE system.

If I get enough takers, I will join in the foofarah by running an online GUMSHOE game at 12 noon Eastern for 4-6 players on Roll20.

Claim your spot in the game by finding my email contact info in the site header and dropping me an email message. Preference will be first come, first serve for those who follow that simple instruction.

“What GUMSHOE game?” you might ask.

Well, it’s a surprise. What would International Pelgrane Day be without surprises?

October 14, 2016

September 30, 2016

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Tell Jimbo That You’ve Moved House

In the latest episode of their red-carpet podcast, Ken and Robin talk GM motivation, art direction & layout with Hal Mangold, and the Toronto film fest.

September 25, 2016

Passings

Condolences to family and friends of Jeff Mackintosh. He wrote of his impending death from cancer with courage and forthrightness. I always enjoyed chatting with him back in his game industry days and feel the sorrow of those close to him. The Pelgrane Press crew will commemorate him, as are many other tabletop publishers, by naming an upcoming character after him—in our case, in the upcoming Cthulhu Confidential. His final downturn came quickly but I think he had been informed that this was happening.

While on the subject of passings, I would also like to celebrate the joyous music of Buckwheat Zydeco, aka Stanley Dural Jr., who will not be making his November gig at Antone’s in Austin. I once saw him at a small Toronto club, where the promoter had to warn him that local blues audiences stayed glued to their chairs and that this didn’t mean they weren’t enjoying themselves. My wife and I did our best to disprove this but were 50% of the people on the dance floor.

This weekend we also lost Bill Nunn, who as Radio Raheem pulses as the heart of anger in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. He played every role with solidity and authenticity.

All three of these men were taken by cancer.

You can’t take revenge on an abstract concept. Death isn’t a dude in a skull mask you can flip off. But we could, it would be by recognizing the precious value of the time we do get on this earth, and savoring it as best we can. In the next days I will strive to do something with Jeff’s attention to detail, the sheer fun of zydeco music, the truth of Bill Nunn’s acting.

September 23, 2016

Help Our Fiction Writing Visualization Tool By Taking This Survey

Gameplaywright is developing a writing visualization tool that might seem familiar to those of you who know my book Hamlet’s Hit Points. It might even have something to do with the HHP follow-up project I’m working on, which uses its beat system, plus spiffy new insights, to address fiction writing in general. If this intrigues you, please help us out by taking a brief survey.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: There Is Mooching To Be Done

In the latest episode of their mouth-watering podcast, Ken and Robin talk flawed perceptions, film noir 101, banh mi, and Jack Parsons.

September 22, 2016

My Events at THE KRAKEN

Along with such illustrious names as Sandy Petersen, Jeff Richard, Ian Brumby, Jason Durall, and Michael “Mob” O’Brien, I will be doing the guest thing at THE KRAKEN, October 7-10 at Schloss Neuhausen, Germany.

This year THE KRAKEN celebrates the 50th anniversary of Glorantha and, of course, the 500th of the Reinheitsgebot, Germany’s most beloved set of government regulations. And did I mention that it’s in October?

To celebrate the Glorantha bit, I’ll be running two games: one Hillfolk, the other HeroQuest, both set in the early settlement period immediately prior to the events of King of Dragon Pass. The first may inform the other but no one will have to play both sessions to follow the action. This is important because slots in each game are made available via a lottery system.

I’ll also be taking part in the following panels:

Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha: inspired by the best-selling convention chapbook of the same name, this examines ways to make your Glorantha-games more dynamic and player-driven.

Fix My Game, Robin! The perennial GMing master classs panel gets an imperative name.

Advanced Gaming Lore: More tips and tricks, and a free-ranging Q&A.

And here’s where we get to the Reinheitsgebot part—I’ll also be helming a German beer tasting. Root for your favorite product of the German brewing industry to win my seal of approval! London bookmakers heavily favor the Doppelbock but the truth is in the tasting.

THE KRAKEN is no mere convention, but a gaming retreat. I’ll take my trusty mic along to talk to event organizers to explain just what that means, gathering audio to recycle on future editions of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.  And since I’ll be in the same room as Sandy Petersen it would be remiss of me to fail to snag an interview with him as well.

As of this writing, one slot has opened up for a full attendee package including accomodations. One can also attend as a day guest, if one happens to be in or around Germany’s least populated region. Book here. Cake has been promised.

Not in Germany but want to check out the proceeds? You’re in luck; they’ll be recording everything for their YouTube channel. Might a mysterious new chapbook be announced?

And if you’d like to celebrate the Gloranthan anniversary with a special feathered message for Greg Stafford, join the duck army.

For more on THE KRAKEN, follow on G+, Twitter or Facebook.

September 20, 2016

2016 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Review Round-Up

As my 30th visit to the Toronto International Film Festival recedes in the rear view mirror, I still have my capsule reviews to remember it by. My early worries that it was a bit of a down year, were rendered null by surprise victory in the final stretch. The very last film I saw was a stunner, giving me the usual 3 absolute stand-outs to place ahead of the rest. While I usually wind up seeing about 8 titles I didn’t care for, this year that total comes out as a mere 5. So in fact I did succeed in backloading my schedule with the good stuff, placing the risks that didn’t pan out in the first half. And all of those were just run-0f-the-mill failures, leaving the dread “Ire-Inspiring” category empty.

Last year left me with the feeling of an overall down year for film rescued by a better year for the Asian titles I tend to gravitate towards. Many of the high-profile items landed with a thud. This time I come bearing better news: it looks like we’re in for a great fall season, as plenty of films arrived to rapturous receptions. Titles I didn't see that got lots of buzz included Lion, Denial, Moonlight, Jackie, Manchester By the Sea, Toni Erdmann, Brimstone, Into the Inferno and La La Land, which won the People’s Choice Award, which often but not always presages an Oscar win.

Titles are listed in my order of preference, but within a category that doesn’t necessarily mean much.

Although a few titles play the fest circuit and then vanish forever, most of these will roll out to theaters, then VOD and disc, then SVOD and cable, over the next year and a bit. For a list of films that may have already gone through the pipeline to an art house or streaming service near you, check out my 2015 capsule reviews.

The Pinnacle

Soul on a String (China, Zhang Yang) Outlaw resurrected by lama must transport a sacred stone to a holy site. Tibetan heroquest draws on Ford and Leone as it drops the viewer into one staggeringly beautiful vista after another.

Daguerreotype (France/Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) Young man’s new job as assistant to a truculent photographer who makes large-format daguerreotype portraits of his winsome daughter draws him into a household of ghosts and subjective realities. Kurosawa seamlessly translates his trademark decay and subtle unease to a French cast and setting.

The Bad Batch (US, Ana Lily Amirpour) Sentenced as an undesirable to a vast, lawless Texas internment zone, a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) plans vengeance against the cannibal community that cut off and ate her arm and leg. Visually bold, sometimes shocking post-apocalyptic western. With Jason Momoa as the main people-eater, Keanu Reeves as a local potentate who looks like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, and an unrecognizable Jim Carrey in the old coot role.

Recommended

Citizen Jane: Battle For the City (US, Matt Tyrnauer) Documentary recounts the David and Goliath throwdown between writer Jane Jacobs’ vision of a vibrant, street focused city took on Robert Moses’ modernist urban renewalism and its mania for towering housing projects and downtown expressways. Magisterially presents a web of information and ideas as a gripping conflict with real emotional stakes.

Frantz (France, Francois Ozon) After WWI a French soldier travels to Germany to seek out the family and fiancee of his German best friend, who died in the trenches—or is that the real story? Restrained period melodrama evokes the high style of studio Hollywood, with particular touches of William Wyler and Alfred Hitchcock.

Harmonium (Japan, Koji Fukada) Man harboring a shameful secret invites an old friend (Tadanobu Asano) to live and work with him, without telling his wife that the man just got out of prison. Told in a low-key style that unsettlingly belies the extremity of its melodramatic subject matter.

Maliglutit (Searchers) (Canada, Zacharias Kunuk) When outlaws kidnap his wife and daughter and kill his other male relatives, a hunter and his son muster their sled dogs for high Arctic pursuit. Transposes the very basic outlines of the John Ford classic to Inuit culture for a spare tale of crime, punishment  and endurance against a backdrop of unforgiving beauty.

Neruda (Chile, Pablo Larrain) Cynical secret policeman (Gael Garcia Bernal) hunts politician-poet Pablo Neruda after the Chilean government issues a warrant for his arrest in 1947. Magical-realist manhunt biopic shot in the blues and purples of a faded photograph.

After the Storm (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-Eda) Perpetually broke failing novelist sidelines as a private investigator and tries to be a better son and father and ex-husband. Well, kinda tries. Wry, beautifully portrayed family drama.

Julieta (Spain, Pedro Almodovar) Woman recalls the tragic events that led her daughter to mysteriously break off all contact with her. Fuses three Alice Munro stories into a melodrama drenched in passion, menace, and color--qualities that no one but Almodovar would find in her material.

The War Show (Denmark/Syria, Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon) Documentary follows young Syrian idealists from its Arab Spring protest movement to the devolution into various, successively worse stages of civil war. Keeps a human perspective on a conflict whose horror and intractability challenges one’s ability to engage.

Godspeed (Taiwan, Chung Mong-Hong) A young drug courier takes a cab to a distant hand-off location, forming a combative friendship of circumstance with the aging driver. Elusive interweaving of character comedy, gangland violence, and Buddhist existentialism.

I Am Not Madame Bovary (China, Feng Xiaogang) After her husband reneges on a deal to remarry after a sham divorce to skirt housing regulations, a woman (Fan Bingbing) initiates a series of protests that ensnare countless hapless officials. Deceptively gentle comedy-drama shot within the imposing formal constraints of two extreme aspect ratios: a cropped upright rectangle and an iris

Colossal (Canada, Nacho Vigalondo) After returning to her hometown to regroup, a hard-drinking ex-journalist (Anne Hathaway) discovers a link between her actions and the kaiju attacking Seoul, half a world away. Vigalondo delivers another delightful genre smush-up with this character-driven comedy/drama/monster piece. With Tim Blake Nelson and Jason Sudeikis, who gets to do a turn we haven't seen from him before.

Asura: The City of Madness (South Korea, Sung-soo Kim) Crooked cop gets squeezed between the maniacal mayor he serves and the ruthless special prosecutor intent on bringing him down. With its elaborate plotting, universal corruption, darker-than-noir worldview, and brutal violence, this is what James Ellroy would write if he suddenly turned Korean.

Never Ever (France, Benoit Jacquot) After the film director husband she has only briefly known commits suicide, a performance artist holes up in their home and begins to take on his mannerisms. Quietly absorbing chamber piece about the way grieving is like living with a ghost. Based on Don Delillo’s The Body Artist.

Barakah Meets Barakah (Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Sabbagh) Naive municipal inspector falls for fiery Instagram star--but love isn’t easy when any date can be raided by the religious police. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting protest against the fundamentalist constriction of ordinary Saudi Arabian life than a funny, charming romantic comedy.

Catfight (US, Onur Tukel) A chance meeting between former college frenemies (Sandra Oh, Anne Heche) leads to brutal combat and a cycle of reprisals. If you need your movies to feature likeable protagonists, you will not enjoy this cruelly hilarious satire of America’s poisoned discourse nearly as much as I did. Kubrickian not in its visual style but in its use of music and view of humanity.

The Net (South Korea, Kim Ki-duk) North Korean fisherman accidentally drifts across the border and is interrogated by southern officials as a possible spy. Kim’s most overtly political and most accessible film to date.

Headshot (Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel) Bullet fragment in a battle-scarred hospital patient’s brain prevent him from remembering that he was raised to be one of several super-henchmen serving a legendary gangster—but his former allies haven’t forgotten. Stylish, ultra-hard martial arts extravaganza will revise whatever mental image you currently associate with paper-cutters. Starring The Raid’s Iko Uwais.

The Empty Box (Mexico, Claudia Sainte-Luce) Aspiring playwright) pieces together moments from the life of her distant father (Jimmy Jean-Louis) after he is stricken with dementia. Perfectly modulated drama, drawn from the experience of director/writer/lead actress Sainte-Luce, never strikes a note too hard.

The Age of Shadows (South Korea, Kim Jee woon) During the Japanese occupation of Korea, a collaborating police captain (Song Kang-Ho) plays a double game while hunting the resistance. Assured blend of action, Hitchcockian spy suspense, and drama of conflicted loyalties from the director of The Good, The Bad and the Weird.

The Oath (Iceland, Baltasar Kormákur) When his daughter’s drug dealer boyfriend threatens his family, a driven cardiologist (Kormákur) demonstrates a very surgical set of skills. Spurns the exploitation roots of the vigilante genre, placing its realistic action in a moral universe where transgressions incur consequences.

Heaven Will Wait (France, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar) Interwoven narratives show two French girls at different stages of being lured, via cult-style social media recruitment, to Syria to be given to ISIL soldiers—one being indoctrinated, the other, deprogrammed. Fragmented storytelling techniques lend texture to what might otherwise be a standard-issue social problem film.

Pyromaniac (Norway,  Erik Skjoldbjærg) Young volunteer fireman goes on an arson spree. True crime character study fosters a strong sense of authenticity as it looks at how isolating it can be to live in a small town where everyone knows everyone and you can never quite bring off a social interaction.

Happiest Day in Life of Olli Maki (Finland, Juho Kuosmanen) Finns pin their hopes on a featherweight contender who is more interested in remaining a small town mensch in love with his girlfriend than coping with the pressure put on him by his ex-fighter manager. Reverses the emotional polarity of the boxing bio: here you’re rooting for the hero to escape the dread fate of championship glory.

Guilty Men (Colombia, Iván D. Gaona) When a political deal leads to the national demobilization of paramilitaries, the farmers charged with delivering extortion money to one local group is left holding a dangerous bag. Slow burn contemporary Western with a trenchant Latin American twist.

Sadako vs Kayako (Japan, Kôji Shiraishi) When two young women fall prey to separate ghostly curses--one connected to an abandoned house, the other to a cursed VHS tape--an exorcist hatches a scheme to save them by provoking two legendary bakemono to fight each other. Monster rally sequel to The Ring and The Grudge has creepy, crazy fun merging the two J-horror franchises.

Fury of a Patient Man (Spain, Raúl Arévalo) Man whose fiancée was killed during a jewelry store robbery blackmails the one guy who went to jail for the crime into helping him hunt down his accomplices. Contemporary take on Seven Men From Now in which the vengeful actions of the Randolph Scott figure are portrayed as chaotic and squalid.

Good

The Patriarch (New Zealand, Lee Tamahori) In 50s New Zealand the head of a prosperous Maori sheep-shearing family (Temeura Morrison) butts heads with his smart, questioning teen grandson. Masterfully summons the sweep of fifties and sixties CinemaScope epics--though unfortunately the comparison extends to some extremely on-the-nose dialogue in the climactic dramatic confrontations

In the Radiant City (US, Rachel Lambert) Man shut out by his family after testifying against his then-juvenile brother in a murder case returns twenty years later, when the sentence comes up for review. Though the script of this hard-drinking Americana piece hooks a bigger fish than it can quite land, the visual sense, scene building and work with actors marks the director as a name to watch.

The Red Turtle (France / Belgium / Japan,  Michael Dudok de Wit) Island castaway lashes out at sea turtle that thwarts his raft escape plans, only to see it transform into a woman. Wordless animated feature visually references Herge and Moebius, shows that in a world of mortality, beauty and sadness are just two sides of the same experience. From Studio Ghibli.

Death in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Danis Tanovic) A failing hotel heads for a strike as it prepares to host an EU commemoration of the Franz Ferdinand assassination centenary. Ensemble political drama portrays the Balkan conflict as not resolved, but latent, behind a crumbling facade.

Indivisible (Italy, Edoardo de Angelis) 18 year old conjoined twins whose parents parade them around as low-rent pop singers discover that they can be safely separated after all. Visually compelling neo-neorealism, with affecting star performances from leads Angela and Marianna Fortuna.

Prevenge (UK, Alice Lowe) Woman goes on revenge kill spree, egged on by the sinister voice of her unborn child. The premise is doing most of the work in this ultra-dark comedy of female rage, shot when the director/writer/lead was 7 ½ months pregnant.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (US, Dash Shaw) Uncool kids struggle to survive when a quake causes their entire high school to...well you get the idea. Animated feature drawn to look like the doodles in the back of a misanthropic teen’s geometry notebook. Voice talent includes Jason Schwartzman, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, Lena Dunham and Susan Sarandon.

Tramps (US, Adam Leon) Boy meets girl, boy screws up criminal bag drop with girl, boy and girl try to get bag back. Before Sunrise riff showcases charm of its two leads--Grace van Patten in particular has “future movie star” written all over her.

Okay

Wulu (Senegal, Daouda Coulibaly) Level-headed smuggler rises from courier to kingpin during the advent of large scale drug trafficking in 2000s West Africa. Senegalese counterpart to Narcos or Blow serves up some interesting region-specific detail before an ending so sudden and arbitrary that one suspects the filmmakers had to bail before completing principal photography.

Mad World (HK, Wong Chun. 3) Hospital releases bipolar man to the care of his estranged truck driver father, who struggles to keep up with  his needs. A showcase performance by stalwart Hong Kong actor Eric Tsang as the father adds dimension to this downbeat melodrama.

Not Recommended

Yourself and Yours (South Korea, Hong Sang-soo,2.5) Artist wrecks his relationship with his fiancée by accusing her of lying about her drinking--a situation that arises either out of mistaken identity, or shifting identity. Lacks the layer of comedy and/or melancholy that usually lifts Hong’s very similar films above mere formal gamesmanship.

Planetarium (France, Rebecca Zlotowski,2.5) In late 30s France, American sisters (Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp) who perform as mediums join a studio head’s effort to film ghostly presences. Glossy period drama shows that when your script fails to create a strong drive for its protagonist, it is a paper bag that not even Natalie Portman can act her way out of.

Blind Sun (Greece, Joyce A. Nashawati) In a near future where a water shortage is pushing Greece back in police state condition, a man engaged to guard a rich family’s villa slowly loses it. Monotonous Antonioni pastiche.

Without Name (Ireland, Lorcan Finnegan) Philandering surveyor succumbs to hallucinogenic madness in a remote wooded area. Stylish, but has so little story development that it would be overlong as the weak 20 minute middle segment of a horror anthology flick.

Santa & Andres (Cuba, Carlos Lechuga) Village woman assigned to act as temporary minder to gay dissident writer develops a soft spot for him. Poky, underdeveloped political drama.

Just Not Married (Nigeria, Uduak-Obong Patrick) Ambitious student with ex-con brother and mom who needs medicine hatches scheme to get through police checkpoints with stolen cars by posing dressing himself and an accomplice as a just married bride and groom. There's a big desire on the part of fest programmers and cinema fans for the rough-and-ready Nollywood scene to yield titles that stand with the best of the developing world. Judging from this entry in this year’s TIFF spotlight on Lagos, we’re kinda rushing them.

September 18, 2016

TIFF16: J-Horror Monster Rally and a Post-Apocalyptic Cannibal Western

In your timeline, the Toronto International Film Festival is over. In mine, it is 8:27 am on the final Sunday and I am in a line-up waiting to get into the Scotiabank 14. To the max extent possible I have programmed the funnest, most watchable flicks for this last exhausted crawl over the finish line. And, to give away the ending, that worked exactly according to plan.

(My full capsule review round-up, for your clip and save convenience, drops on Tuesday.)

Godspeed (Taiwan, Chung Mong-Hong, 4) A young drug courier takes a cab to a distant hand-off location, forming a combative friendship of circumstance with the aging driver. Elusive interweaving of character comedy, gangland violence, and Buddhist existentialism.

From the director of past Ken & Robin fave Soul.

I managed to make it to the final day before resorting to movie theater poutine, so that’s an achievement. (We’re talking Toronto here, so the involvement of pulled pork can be taken as read.)

Neruda (Chile, Pablo Larrain, 4) Cynical secret policeman (Gael Garcia Bernal) hunts politician-poet Pablo Neruda after the Chilean government issues a warrant for his arrest in 1947. Magical-realist manhunt biopic shot in the blues and purples of a faded photograph.

One of two biopics Larrain had at the fest this year, the other being the much buzzed about Jackie.

Catfight (US, Onur Tukel, 4) A chance meeting between former college frenemies (Sandra Oh, Anne Heche) leads to brutal combat and a cycle of reprisals. If you need your movies to feature likeable protagonists, you will not enjoy this cruelly hilarious satire of America’s poisoned discourse nearly as much as I did. Kubrickian not in its visual style but in its use of music and view of humanity.

Sadako vs Kayako (Japan, Kôji Shiraishi, 4) When two young women fall prey to separate ghostly curses--one connected to an abandoned house, the other to a cursed VHS tape--an exorcist hatches a scheme to save them by provoking the two legendary bakemono to fight each other. Monster rally sequel to The Ring and The Grudge has creepy, crazy fun merging the two J-horror franchises.

The Bad Batch (US, Ana Lily Amirpour, 5) Sentenced as an undesirable to a vast, lawless Texas internment zone, a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) plans vengeance against the cannibal community that cut off and ate her arm and leg. Visually bold, sometimes shocking post-apocalyptic western. With Jason Momoa as the main people-eater, Keanu Reeves as a local potentate who looks like Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, and an unrecognizable Jim Carrey in the old coot role.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release, instead favoring choices that don’t have distribution and might not reappear.

TIFF16: Saudi Rom Com

Saturday morning. The penultimate day of the Toronto International Film Festival. 35 movies down, 10 to go. The weather app predicts thunderstorms on a day of outdoor line-ups. Time for the inconveniently large umbrella and some more capsule reviews.

Death in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Danis Tanovic, 3.5) A failing hotel heads for a strike as it prepares to host an EU commemoration of the Franz Ferdinand assassination centenary. Ensemble political drama portrays the Balkan conflict as not resolved, but latent, behind a crumbling facade.

This is a prime example of what I think of as a festival movie--something I’m glad to see as part of a slate of films, but that I might not want to arrange an evening around.

Barakah Meets Barakah (Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Sabbagh, 4) Naive municipal inspector falls for fiery Instagram star--but love isn’t easy when any date can be raided by the religious police. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting protest against the fundamentalist constriction of ordinary Saudi Arabian life than a funny, charming romantic.

That means, of all the films I’ve seen so far at the fest, the one most likely to get the filmmaker in trouble is a rom-com.

Blind Sun (Greece, Joyce A. Nashawati, 2) I'm a near future where a water shortage is pushing Greece back in police state condition, a man engaged to guard a rich family’s villa slowly loses it. Monotonous Antonioni pastiche.

So that’s twice this fest I talked myself into seeing essentially the same dud film. Without Name is “what if Ben Wheatley remade The Tenant”? and this is “what if Antonioni remade The Tenant”? Note to future self: avoid scheduling anything that might be The Tenant as if remade by anybody.

The Patriarch (New Zealand, Lee Tamahori, 3.5) In 50s New Zealand the head of a prosperous Maori sheep-shearing family (Temeura Morrison) butts heads with his smart, questioning teen grandson. Masterfully summons the sweep of fifties and sixties CinemaScope epics--though unfortunately the comparison extends to some extremely on-the-nose dialogue in the climactic dramatic confrontations.

Definitely eclipses all of cinema history’s previous sheep shearing competition sequences.

The Age of Shadows (South Korea, Kim Jee woon, 4) During the Japanese occupation of Korea, a collaborating police captain (Song Kang-Ho) plays a double game while hunting the resistance. Assured blend of action, Hitchcockian spy suspense, and drama of conflicted loyalties from the director of The Good, The Bad and the Weird.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release, instead favoring choices that don’t have distribution and might not reappear.

September 16, 2016

TIFF16: Indonesian Ultra-Violence

It’s the second Friday of the Toronto International Film Festival, and I’m out of snappy introductions, so hey look it’s capsule reviews and perhaps a stray, muzzy-headed observation or two.

Of all the films I’ve seen so far, the one from past days that has been steadily rising in my estimation is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Daguerreotype. I liked it plenty at the time, but didn’t get a masterpiece vibe from it. It felt like Kurosawa doing that thing he does well, but in France--solid but not revelatory. But the images and situations from the film have stayed with me, haunting my recollections like its subjective ghosts. So it may well be on the way to an upgrade from Recommended to Pinnacle class. It won’t be the first of his films that continued to sneak up on me over the course of a festival.

I Am Not Madame Bovary (China, Feng Xiaogang, 4) After her husband reneges on a deal to remarry after a sham divorce to skirt housing regulations, a woman (Fan Bingbing) initiates a series of protests that ensnare countless hapless officials. Deceptively gentle comedy-drama shot within the imposing formal constraints of two extreme aspect ratios: a cropped upright rectangle and an iris.

Cliche has it that Feng is China’s Steven Spielberg. But not even Spielberg could get a green light for a film shot mostly through an iris.

Fury of a Patient Man (Spain, Raúl Arévalo, 4) Man whose fiancée was killed during a jewelry store robbery blackmails the one guy who went to jail for the crime into helping him hunt down his accomplices. Contemporary take on Seven Men From Now in which the vengeful actions of the Randolph Scott figure are portrayed as chaotic and squalid.

The Net (South Korea, Kim Ki-duk, 4) North Korean fisherman accidentally drifts across the border and is interrogated by southern officials as a possible spy. Kim’s most overtly political and most accessible film to date.

Though this is a drama and not a thriller, it still follows the Korean spy movie rule: no good ever comes from crossing the border from north to south.

Headshot (Indonesia, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, 4) Bullet fragment in a battle-scarred hospital patient’s brain prevent him from remembering that he was raised to be one of several super-henchmen serving a legendary gangster—but his former allies haven’t forgotten. Stylish, ultra-hard martial arts extravaganza will revise whatever mental image you currently associate with paper-cutters. Starring The Raid’s Iko Uwais.


Capsule review boilerplate: Ratings are out of 5. I’ll be collecting these reviews in order of preference in a master post the Monday after the fest. Films shown on the festival circuit will appear in theaters, disc and/or streaming over the next year plus. If you’ve heard of a film showing at TIFF, I’m probably waiting to see it during its upcoming conventional release, instead favoring choices that don’t have distribution and might not reappear.