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Wonderful performances and score
Brief summary of the first 20 minutes: Thomas, a young man gets released from prison. He had something to do with the disappearance of a young boy. He finds a job as an organ player in the church of the town where he used to live.
Pic deals with universal themes such as guilt, love, expression through music, faith, responsibility, loss of loved ones and the value of family. Although the setting and some references are Scandinavian, this is a story that could have taken place anywhere in the world. I think it can touch sensitive people across many cultures.
It may not be the most original, hip movie that I saw in the last year. I have seen elements of the story before, and the pace is calm.
However, the structure and high quality performances keep things interesting until the finale. Much of the quality of the lead actors comes from body language and non-verbal performances. Also the casting of the smaller adult parts and child actors is simply top.
Some scenes in the movie caused a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I was moved. The general tone of the movie is serious and sensitive, but director Erik Poppe also manages to keep the mood light and hopeful.
I'm a sucker for good movie scores. The music is breathtakingly wonderful. I have never been an avid fan of the organ, but this movie has the power to make people fall in love with this instrument. Much of what Thomas is going through is expressed through the music. It also helps the audience to get involved into this perhaps not so sympathetic, mysterious character. Also the non-organ part of the score by Johan Söderqvist is touching and effective. I had at times brief associations with the music of Philip Glass (but only briefly) and Thomas Newman.
So it is to my big surprise, that the soundtrack of this movie - now one year after the theater release in Norway - is still not available on CD. I found Scandinavian bluray and DVD-releases, but no OST. I hope that somebody can fix this, because this is one of those soundtracks that I would simply would want to play again and again.
Bunny Chow: Know Thyself (2006)
"Seinfeld" in Jo'burg (sorta)
I saw this movie at the 2007 International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The director and a lead actor (Kegiso Lediga) were present at the screening for a Q&A.
Three stand-up comedians from Johannesburg and a weird white guy are the central characters in this story. Without giving away too much of the plot, here is how the main characters set out.
Dave (Dave Kibuuka) is probably the handsomest of the bunch. His friends think his girlfriend is out of his league, though. He is funny and charming off-stage, but has trouble with his material during performances.
Keg (Kegiso Lediga) has a big mouth and plenty of self-confidence. His beautiful girlfriend Kim (Kim Engelbrecht) wants to take their relationship "to the next level" He seems to have his reservations. She is suspicious when any women gets near him or even calls him.
Chubby Joey (Joey Yusuf Rasden) is the clown of the group. In his quieter moments, he contemplates if he is true enough to his Muslim heritage.
The three of them and the fast-talking white guy Salah (Salah Sabito) go on the road for a stand-up gig at a festival.
Like the successful television comedy Seinfeld, this movie focuses on the daily life of a stand-up comedian. Or in this case: three stand-up comedians. The location is not New York, but another cultural melting pot: Johannesburg. South Africa. Here is where the similarities stop, though.
Bunny Chow's photography (black & white shot in high definition video) gives it a rougher edge. There is no nudity or sex, but there is quite some swearing and macho talk about women. So this may not be your typical dating movie, but perhaps more something for a night with the guys..
What really works in this film are the naturally flowing dialogs and fine acting. What helps of course, is that most actors play characters that are not too removed from their real-life persona. As a result, this all feels very real, and not acted, without becoming a documentary.
What I really like is the good chemistry between all the main characters. This is not very hard to imagine if you know that most of the cast are friends outside the scope of this film. This comes across very well on screen.
Plotwise, there is not much renewing going on, but this will probably not bother anyone very much. This is basically a sequence of many - often funny - situations and events happening with a group of characters who happen to be stand-up comedians in South Africa.
I can recommend this movie to anybody who likes stand-up comedy and who is not easily offended by some male chauvinistic humor. I rate this as an interesting and entertaining watch,suitable for repeat viewing: 9/10.
Language Trivia: Most of the movie is in English, with some dialog in Afrikaans. Be warned that the English dialog is often very difficult to follow, because or poor sound conditions (e.g. noisy background) and heavy South African accents. I spoke with someone who is from Johannesburg and even she had trouble following some of the language..
I saw this movie with only the Afrikaans being subtitled. I missed probably 40% of the English dialog. The remaining 60% is still funny enough to have made this worth my while, though. The filmmakers acknowledge the problem and have plans to have all of the dialog subtitled.
Casting Trivia: The three main characters are in real life also stand-up comedians. Kim Engelbrecht, who plays Keg's girlfriend has in real life also had her go as a stand-up comedian.
Photography Trivia: The black and white photography in high definition video (HD) was chosen after doing a series of tests. The director thought this looked best considering the (very low) budget that they had to make this movie. He also liked what B&W did for urban movies that he admires such as Manhattan and La Haine. He likes the "New York look" Bunny Chow got as a result.
Title Trivia: "Bunny Chow" is a kind of South African food. It is basically a bread with a lot of stuff in it. As is explained in the first minute of the movie, for the filmmakers it symbolizes "the ethnic melting pot that is the city of Johannesburg."
The Killing of John Lennon (2006)
Nonfiction drama about Lennon's killer is very well made
I saw this movie at the 2007 International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The director was present at the screening for a Q&A. I saw a finished cut, "straight from the Avid", but with at least partly a temp soundtrack.
Plot summary: This is a dramatized telling of the events surrounding the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman. Chapman (Jonas Ball) is the central character here. We follow his footsteps in the months before and after the killing.
I have recently seen the documentary The US vs John Lennon (2006), It filled a gap in my knowledge about Lennon in the 70's.
This movie, "The Killing of John Lennon" is not a documentary, rather a nonfiction drama. It answers some of the questions about Lennon's death that I still had ofter seeing "The US..." The challenge with this type of story is of course: how do you keep a movie interesting when the protagonist is so obviously not a very nice character. I like how this was handled here. There is a good balance between keeping a healthy emotional distance from this criminal, while keeping things interesting. Ted Demme's"Blow" (2001), a similar type of movie about a famous drugs criminal did not have this balance,. I think, where "The Killing..." does.
Director Andrew Piddington states in the opening titles "All of Mark David Chapman's words are his own." This is important to know, I think, because we get to hear Chapman's words during most of the movie. In dialogs and in voice-over as he recalls the events. It is clear that Piddington has put a lot of research into this, though , He obviously used other sources besides Chapman's testimony.
The end result is a well-made film. Jonas Ball is almost constantly on-screen, and he gives a very believable performance.
Even though this was (as the director told later) made with a very low budget, it feels very well produced and expensive. The creation of the time period is very well done. The cinema scope photography is flawless. I also liked the score, but what I heard was at least partly a temporary soundtrack. E,g, for scenes in the car and taxicab a piece from "The Thin Red Line" (composer Hans Zimmer) was used. The director said this would not be in the final film.
The only flaw that I can see, is that after 3/4 of the movie, it started to feel a bit longish. All in all a very worthwhile watch: 8/10.
Screenplay Trivia: The movie was made without cooperation by Chapman (or Ono, for that matter. All of Chapman's testimonies are public, so that was used to get Chapman's words.
Production Trivia: The entire project took 4 years to realize. Much of that went into research and getting financing.
Poetic aerial shots of a grassy hill. In a house, a naked black man brings an older white man to a freeze. Outside we see a teenage boy - is he a peeping Tom? This short movie boasts seemingly high production values. Sharp images with vivid colors. The sound score is very good and evokes suspense until the last second.
I saw this in a combined screening with Daft Punk's Electroma. Although unrelated, a similar well-made and mysterious audiovisual ride without dialog.
Recommended if you are sensitive to superb images and audio, yet can live with a story that does not spell out all the answers: 8/10.
Day Night Day Night (2006)
Visual beauty, intense experience (minimal plot summary)
Plot summary (as minimal as possible) An American white woman prepares - as we slowly but certainly learn - for a suicide mission. We follow her closely during each step of the process.
Giving away any more information about the elements of her preparations would be a spoiler, I think.
The way the camera does not allow the woman to leave the frame makes this a very intimate portrait. Every shot is so clear, so devoid of any distracting elements.
As the theme of suicide bombers is very contemporary, it seems clear to what the sequence of actions will lead. Exactly this keeps the suspense high until the last minute of the movie, I was on the edge of my seat, almost constantly.
It is of course a bit of a bizarre experience: being so intimate with a woman who is about to commit something so violent and so evil. You feel with her as she undergoes certain unpleasant parts of the preparations, yet you wonder: why, why? The movie gives some hints, but no clear answer, I have not yet seen 'Paradise Now', but this movie pretty much has the same premise, I guess. Except here we follow. a white woman in the US, instead of two Palestine men in Israel. For many (like me) western viewers this must be very confrontational and scary.
When I watched Sin City - totally different genre - for the second time within two weeks, it wasn't as interesting as I hoped. The images were so clear and clean and the story so easy to follow: there simply not so much new to see.
For me, this movie will probably fall in the same category: because of its clarity, good for a very exciting first view, not so much for repeat viewing.
I can recommend this to anyone who likes beautifully, tight shot and tense story that puts your mind to work: 9/10.
Gritty contemporary tale does not leave one untouched
I saw this movie at the 2007 International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The director and lead actor were present at the screening for a Q&A.
Garðar, a short-fused blond guy with a big dog makes his living by threatening people and beating them up.
Karítas is a young divorced nurse. She parents four kids. The three younger daughters seem to find their way. Her son, the oldest has no friends. He plays football with Marino, a mentally handicapped man in his thirties.
Marino has a mysterious, maybe violent past. He also works in the convenience store of his uncle. The uncle is gay, but in the closet.
This is how the main elements of this group of characters start out. Like its sibling movie Parents, Children has many small intertwined stories.
In direct comparison to Parents, this story is more grim and violent. Children focuses on people who live "on the wrong side of the tracks", whereas Parents plays in the suburbs.
The acting is superb and engaging. Even though all of the characters have an evil twist or vice of some significance, it is not hard to take their side at some point in the story.
I can recommend this to anyone who wants to experience heartfelt emotions in a realistic, gritty contemporary tale. Leaving the theater untouched is not an option. 9/10
Casting Trivia: The three main actors are part of the same theater group. As this was a low to no-budget production, each of the three main actors was asked to bring in the actors for the characters around themselves. As a result, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir (Karítas) cast her brother for the role of her son Gudmund. Lead actor Gísli Örn Garðarsson plays both the violent blond guy and his bearded brother with the beer belly.
Screenplay Trivia: Each actor developed their own dialog and story-line together with the director.
Production Trivia: The shooting of Children and Parents took place in the same time period. The editing for each film was done separately. Because of the tremendous amount of footage, editing took 6-7 months for each film.
Editing Trivia: A big story-line surrounding the gay shop owner (Marino's uncle) had to be left out of the final movie. The director thought it did not fit well enough together with the other story-lines. He almost had enough material to make another movie..
Acting Trivia: When actor Gísli Örn Garðarsson was in his role for the violent Garðar, they would shoot scenes in a bar. He was amazed and shocked to experience how girls would be attracted to these types.
Yihe yuan (2006)
Beijing student girl in love - for romantics and young of heart
I saw this movie at the 2007 International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The director was present at the screening for a Q&A.
Plot Summary (beginning only): China in the late 1980's. Yu Hong, a 17-year old girl leaves her boyfriend and father to go studying in Beijing. She befriends a girl who stays in a dorm across the hall. They go out dancing with her boyfriend and another friend, Zhou Wei. She soon knows: this is the love of her life.
This is the start of a story about love, mostly from the viewpoint of Yu Hong, the girl. We get insight into her thoughts as she reads from her diary in a voice-over. The love story is set against the student protests on Tiananmen Square. The protests and riots set off a change in the lives of all the main characters. We skip through time and return with them in the late 1990's.
Summer Palace has a lot to say during its 140 minutes. Becoming an adult in the 80's and 90's in China, student life, friendship, sex and most of all love. The language alternates between high-sounding diary thoughts and realistic taken-from-life dialogs. The photography varies from poetic "print it and hang it on the wall" quality to a grittier style, e.g. during the riots.
I really liked how the director fit love making scenes so integral into the movie. In most movies, scenes suddenly stop to ensure a good MPAA-rating. Or the camera pans and zooms unnaturally to keep the 'dirty parts' out of view. Here, director Lou Ye keeps things flowing to simply tell the full story of two people during all stages of their relation. Notice for instance how Yu Hong's love making changes as the story progresses.
This, and other elements such as "defining love" and the background of political turmoil brought back memories of Philip Kaufnan's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on Milan Kundera's book. I must admit that TULoB (the 1988 movie) made more impact on me when I first saw it than Summer Palace does now. But this different ranking may also be the result of my cultural background (I am European), age or maturity.
This movie may speak more to the young of heart and the romantics. A bit to my surprise, the few people that I saw leaving the theater prematurely were all 50+. This movie can split audiences, I guess. Some will ravingly love it, but it may leave others unaffected. People who belong to the latter group, will probably also think that the movie is too slow or too long. I base this on comments that I have read and heard at the festival.
I probably want to see this movie again. some time soon. The images and music are worth experiencing another time. Also, at times the pace of events is quite high, so it may help me to capture all of it better.
I rate this movie as one of the highlights of the festival: It's probably also the best movie from China that I have seen in the last two years: 9/10.
Crew Trivia: Cinematographer Qing Hua was a classmate in film school of Yu Wang, the director of photography of Suzhou River (the director's breakthrough film). Qing Hua was recommended by Yu Wang when he was unavailable.
Title Trivia: Summer Palace is the name of one of the buildings at Tiananmen Square. According to the director, the events at the square mark a change in the lives of the main characters.
Connection Trivia: Asked about being influenced or inspired by "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", director Lou Ye says that he is a big admirer of Kundera's novel, not so much the film adaptation.
Screenplay Trivia: Asked about the possible difficulty of having a young woman being the center of the story, director / screenwriter Lou Ye says that it made it actually easier. With a female main character, it was more natural for him to talk about love and emotions.
Top Gun-style coast guard movie has a heart
Rick Symons (a handsome Kevin Janssens) is a maverick diver in the Belgian navy. His actions embarrass his superiors and he is reassigned to the 40th division of the air force. In Belgium, the coast guard is a part of the army. His new job is to rescue people lost at sea, while being towed down from a helicopter.
At the coast guard, he has to team up with a young nurse, Alex (Veerle Baetend, with a girl-next-door type of charm). Alex had to fight for her position in this masculine world. There is also Marleen (Tine Reymer) and her wheel-chaired husband Koen (Axel Daeseleire). Rick knows them from the past, but how are they connected?
When you are at sea, rescuing people under hazardous conditions, your life depends on the men and women you work with. Alex hears that Rick can't be trusted and brings his co-workers in danger. Alex has to decide if she wants to be in the same team with him.
This is the beginning of a story that alternates between high thrills action and human emotional drama: On one side, there is grand action adventure in the air and at sea, On the other, is the drama of complex relations between friends and colleagues. On both aspects, this movie really delivers. The rescue actions are quite spectacular and thrilling. The human side of the story is brought convincingly and feels real.
I felt a lump in my throat quite a couple of times. It was not hard to identify with the characters on the screen. The picture is very efficient in introducing the characters. Without many words being spoken, you get to know who these people are and you feel a connection with them almost immediately. Well, at least I did.
This movie is drawn on the same template as 1986's Top Gun. It features an exciting part of the army, with brave and charming protagonists. Like Top Gun, this movie sometimes feels like a long job recruitment commercial, in this case for the coast guard. Who wouldn't want to be working with these people who do such dangerous but admirable work? Although filmed apparently with a much lower budget than its US air force example (the equivalent of USD 5 million), this picture easily matches the quality of photography and the delivery of exciting action.
I think this movie succeeds even better on the human side of the story. Although the elements of the story are nothing that we have not seen before elsewhere, the portrayals of the main characters are convincing enough and carry depth. This side of the movie made more impact on me during one theater visit than Top Gun did during 7 or 8 viewings.
The movie is beautifully shot in Cinemascope. Unfortunately the filmmakers seemed to be fond of their digital toolbox and gave many scenes a yellow glow. At times this felt a bit overdone. The scoring by Matt Dunkley (who I didn't know) is quite adequate and never becomes noticeable, which usually is a good sign.
I have not seen the original TV-series "Windkracht 10" (translates to "Wind Force 10"), on which this movie is based. I have also not yet seen the 2006 US coast guard drama "The Guardian", which touches on the same line of work. So I have no direct comparison. I liked this one, though.
I recommend this movie to anybody who likes adventure stories mixed with human drama. Just don't expect an original and unpredictable story.
I rate this movie 8 out of 10, so quite high, because it really struck a chord with me. I can't go any higher, because of the "job commercial", glamorizing aspects and lack of originality in the script. So my verdict: 8/10.
Release / language trivia: The spoken language is Dutch, or rather the Belgian dialect also called Flemish. (Of course, the usual air force jargon is spoken, which is mostly English). In neighboring country The Netherlands, where Dutch is the national language, the movie is shown in theaters with Dutch subtitles. I must say, that this makes the dialog easier to follow.
Marketing trivia: This (for local production standards) big budget movie has been released in a very limited way in the Netherlands. This, in spite of its potential appeal to a wide audience. There has not been much promotion. I saw this movie in its first week on a Monday night with no more than 10 people at the only screening of the day.
International release expectations: Although the film does not seem to aim at the Anglosaxon world, it should do well in other international markets. Especially in regions with sea coasts, this should be a recognizable story. Audiences that are used to seeing their movies dubbed or subtitled anyways, would enjoy the high production values and universal themes. Also, the humor is mostly physical (no word jokes) and there is no frontal nudity or extreme violence.
Mixed Doubles (2006)
Refreshing and funny romantic comedy about swinging .. from India
A couple in their thirties with a school-going son have everything materially. Jobs, a car, a nice apartment. But in the bedroom, things are not as they were at the beginning of their marriage. From a friend coming over from the USA, the husband hears about "swinging" or wife-swapping. He hopes this may solve their relational problems. He buys a magazine with classifieds and tries to persuade his wife...
Pretty funny and fresh romantic comedy and morality tale (or "a-morality tale" as is proclaimed before the end titles.).
This is definitely one of the most modern stories from India that I have seen. Refreshing and funny and with likable actors.
Recommended if you think that you can identify with a married couple in their thirties. 8/10
Although the IMDb Status says "Filming" while posting this review, the film looked very finished when I saw this at the 2006 International Film Festival of Rotterdam.
Linda Linda Linda (2005)
Japanese high school girl rock band story gets better towards the end
Story told in a documentary-style, about 4 girls at a Japanese high-school campus who start a rock band. The goal is to perform at a festival of their school.
The movie starts out quite flat, with a distant and static camera. While the story progresses, the movie becomes more intimate as we learn a little bit more about the characters. We see the coming together of the band, rehearsing and interaction of band members with teachers, boyfriends and family.
There are not so many laughs. Script and acting are pretty straight. Highlight is the actress who plays the Korean exchange student and lead singer Son. She delivers a few very welcome comedic moments.
This almost two hour long movie really takes its time to get to its point. The finale delivers, though. There is even some suspense towards the end. 7/10