I always look forward to John’s posts on film festivals, and this year continues to justify that stance.  I was able to see a bunch of the films with him this year, so I figured I’d share what additional comments I could.  I’ll start off with the film I got to that John didn’t, then the one film I saw with he that he hasn’t recapped yet (I hope I don’t steal your thunder!) and then I’ll build on what John wrote for the films we saw together.

Outrage (Autoreiji), Japan, dir: Takeshi Kitano

I don’t know very much about Japanese cinema, so I can’t comment on Kitano’s previous work, other than that I’ve read he started out as a successful stand-up comedian and segued into gangster films for awhile.  I did recognize him, as I’m sure many other people my age would, from his roles in Battle Royale and the TV show “Takeshi’s Castle” (which, of course, was used for MXC)

Anyway, Outrage is a Yakuza movie about warring families/clans (apologies if nomenclature is incorrect) who operate within a larger group of clans.  About a half hour into the film, it becomes clear that the movie is really about who is going to kill who, and how twisted the death scene will be.

My fundamental problem with the film, and I’m not entirely certain to what extent it is a cultural thing, is that it felt like so much of the movie dealt with the bureaucracy of the Yakuza.  The guy at the top would order a kill, or imply that he wanted a kill.  His second in command would relay that order to the appropriate head of family, sometimes changing it slightly.  The head would pass on the order to his second in command, or perhaps ignore it.  The second in command passed it on to his henchmen, sometimes, who would execute the kill.  And then the information would go back up the chain a similar way.  Rinse and repeat.  Like the bloodiest game of telephone ever.

The other problem is that we don’t really get to know the characters.  And few of them have any sort of distinguishing characteristic.  So it is hard to care too much when they get offed.

Some of the kills were cool.  But I wouldn’t recommend to see the film just on that basis, there are plenty of movies with better death scenes, I think.   It isn’t a bad film, though, and if you are a mob movie fanatic or completist, it is probably worth your while.  C

Grouch who’d like it the most: If the film actually pulled off what it intended to, Adam.  As is, maybe Brian.

The Names of Love (Le noms de gens), France, dir: Michel Leclerc

As I mentioned, I really do look forward to John’s recaps and I’m curious to hear his thoughts on this film.  But as a romantic comedy with a subplot involving Jewishness, well, this movie was probably a little more up my alley.

Superficially, The Names of Love exhibits many of the hallmarks of the traditional romantic comedy.  Jacques Gamblin is your straitlaced leading man.  He’s a government official in charge of investigating avian deaths, does stuff by the book, and you can tell he is goody-goody because he wears glasses.  Sara Forestier is your impossibly attractive free-spirit of a leading lady.  They meet cute, get together, break up, and I won’t reveal the end.

But the film is much more layered than that.  We learn at the beginning (through flashbacks that are (500 Days of Summer by way of Amelie) that Forestier is the daughter of an Algerian father who came to France after the war and married a hippie.  We also learn that she was sexually abused as a teen, something the family tries to avoid talking about.  Gamblin is the son of two very staid technophiles who always get into better, but failed products (e.g. Betamax).  His immigrant grandparents were victims of the Holocaust, something the family tries to avoid talking about.

I bring all that up because in many ways the movie is about how so much of who we are is where we come from, whether we embrace it (as she does) or hide it (as he does).  But counter to that, the film is also about not letting where come from determine who we are.  There’s also a minor political bent to the film as she employs the tactic of sleeping with members of the opposite political party, in order to eventually persuade them to join her side.  And he continually votes for a losing candidate.

The film is also quite funny at times.  It has, hands down, the funniest Holocaust humor you’ll see all year.  Being French, the film is also maybe a touch more risque than our romantic comedies generally are.  But the nudity actually has a legitimate purpose here.  One other than establishing how crazy hot Sara Forestier is, I promise.  B+

The Robber

Honestly, I didn’t even think the action scenes were all that great.  An interesting premise, to be sure, but it never gets beyond that.  As John pointed out, we never really get to know the main character’s motivations.  Which was a problem to me, since finding out why and how he became a world class marathoner and bank robber were the primary things I wanted to know as the film played on.  I’m not saying this needs a Michael Bay remake or anything, but I could see the film being a lot more successful when done by an American writer and director who could put in some more interesting heist scenes and trim out the German nihilism.  C

Transfer

John nailed this one.  It deals with the kind of sci-fi I love, but fell into the trap of films I often describe as being like a TV pilot: it started creating the beginnings of an interesting world and brought up tons of questions.  The premise isn’t that unlike Dollhouse, for example, especially second season.  As John said, to be more successful, the movie really had to focus in on the questions it wanted to tackle.  And I know it sounds weird, but the dubbing really was distracting.  B-

Home for Christmas

OK.  When you hear something like Love Actually, what do you think?  Probably something along the lines of a light, breezy, fun movie with a bunch of interconnected scenes.  Right?  I think that’s fair.  OK.  The very first scene of Home for Christmas ends with a child in the crosshairs of a sniper.  In any case, I disagree pretty strongly with John, here.  I didn’t think the film did a good job at all of eliciting emotions.  And when it did, it used rather cheap ploys.  It it a dark, dismal, drab tale.  Which can be fine, but this film never got past the surface of anything.   Two things I think Love Actually does well is tie the storylines together enough that it makes sense all the different threads were part of the same movie, and make each thread self-sufficient and interesting enough that it could stand on its own.  This movie does neither.  None of the stories go anywhere and they certainly don’t end up together.  D

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