Latest Entries »

A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Poster

A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Poster

TitleA Spell to Ward Off The Darkness
Genre(s)Documentary
Director(s)Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Release Year2013

If you were to ask me what my favourite genre of music was, I would probably just say ‘metal’. And then go into detail of each sub-genre that I listen to frequently. So when I saw that there was a documentary which featured Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens-fame as the protagonist, playing at VIFF this year, I was sold. For a long time, black metal has been associated with anarchy and satanism, due to artists like Burzum and Mayhem going around burning churches and killing people. However, lately, the scene has changed and with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Om, there has been a shift to trying to entwine spirituality within the music. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness is the first film I have seen to display this new wave of black metal so vividly. It is not a perfect film, but for what it is trying to do, it serves its purpose with ease.

The film is comprised of three parts, with the final part representing the culmination of the first two acts. The problems that the film encounters primarily stem from the initial act, where we sit in on a 15-person collective in Estonia, as they live their lives among each other. The sense of community presented in this section is something which the film does to great effect, but in relation to the rest of the film, it creates the most problems. There is no main character provided before the switch to the second act. This is because the film tries to show as many characters as possible, and the one person who ends up being our protagonist, is the one who talks the least and who we barely understand except that he plays guitar. Other characters have more depth by the end of the first act than him, but we still wind up watching his journey. Of course, the man in question is Robert Lowe, who spends the next section of the film wandering through the woods, finding himself. This section isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is interesting in the context of A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness.

It will probably turn many off by having a black metal concert being the final act of the film, for many reasons, but for me, I was engaged by simply the melodies and the sense of community that the atmosphere gave off. Plus, it was a conclusion to the journey of Robert Lowe, even if the audience had no idea we were on the journey in the beginning. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness fully captures the essence of a lot of United States black metal acts and demonstrates how spirituality and community can come together to form such a dissonant and ferocious sound. For fans of black metal and bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues, there is plenty to appreciate here, and for others, while the music may not be pleasing to the ears for everyone, there is still an appreciation of the music that can be formed by watching Lowe’s journey.

Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Stray Dogs Poster

Stray Dogs Poster

TitleStray Dogs
Genre(s)Drama
Director(s)Tsai Ming-Liang
Release Year2013

There is something to appreciate out of Stray Dogs, the 2013 film from Tsai Ming-Liang. It is a film comprised of beauty and personal connections which I was more than ready to take in. Perhaps it was my unfamiliarity with Ming-Liang’s previous works, but everything that felt like it was methodically planned out, wound up pushing me away from the film. Long stretches of silence and immobile characters assist in emitting each character’s emotions and feelings at the time, but do nothing to help propel the already bare bones plot forward. The film demands attention to the minute changes in a characters expression, but at the same time, fails to compel the viewer to be attentive. Acclimatizing to this kind of slow-moving film would surely benefit anyone going into Stray Dogs, and perhaps they would walk out with a new outlook on life; my reaction was a combination of appreciation and boredom.

The mind cannot help but wander (like a stray dog) when watching a 10+ minute shot of our two adult characters (Lee Kang-Sheng as the father of a young boy and girl, and Chen Chyi as the supermarket manager who begins to take notice of the family) merely standing still and moving only slightly and periodically. In a way that is beneficial to the film as it lets the audience think about everything, or the mind will not wander and instead the audience watches patiently, catching the slightest of cues from characters to receive a deeper understanding of their actions. Nothing is ever spoken outright in Stray Dogs, and that is kind of the allure of it. Had the actors been less able to emote without saying anything than the film would have failed entirely. Instead, the movie lives and dies within its characters, which are all perfectly embodied by their actors. Any dialogue spoken can be deemed as crucial, but the most important scenes are the ones that have very little action. Very few directors could ever pull off a movie like Stray Dogs, and that should be enough incentive for film buffs to go see this film, especially if they have seen Ming-Liang’s work before.

However, for me, the movie only works on an appreciative level. There were moments when I was entranced by what was happening, but it was more frequent for me to disconnect from the film. My problem is that, though the scenes may illicit emotions if paid attention to for long enough, there were not enough reasons compelling me to stick through the scenes. Instead, I would zone out, checking back in periodically to see if anything had happened, and then try to get into the next scene when it finally happens. Make no mistake, I realize that Stray Dogs is a piece of powerful and methodically planned out cinema, done by a director who clearly knows what he wants. The reason the film doesn’t click with me is because it lacks a strong narrative. Laying the groundwork of a story is something that would have made the long scenes easier to endure, and perhaps even enticing. Regardless, I do recommend Stray Dogs for anyone who has not seen Ming-Liang’s works, because it is definitely an interesting experience, and I will be checking out more of his works later on as well.

Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Soul Visually Embraces Its Metaphysical Concept [VIFF 2013]

Soul-2012-Movie-Poster-200x302

Soul Poster

TitleSoul
Genre(s)Horror
Director(s)Chung Mong-hong
Release Year2013

Soul had a premise that really did something for me. A man is possessed by a spirit and begins having violent outbursts. He is then locked up by his father until he finds out what exactly is going on with his son, and how he can get his son’s soul back. The problem with the premise is that it is never fully realized. There is a lot of meandering and senseless decisions by characters, that equate to a film which really wants to seem sinister, but just cannot do it for longer than a couple scenes. For the most part, the performances are okay, with the highlight being the father (Jimmy Wong) as the man who has to deal with his son, A-Chuan (Joseph Chang), and his illness. Often visually striking, and able to convey a sense of suspense when it wants to, Soul misses the mark in being an excellent film because of its slow-moving plot and jarring attempts at dark comedy.

Chung Mong-Hong’s third feature-length film is one that definitely shows an expertise in many regards. Most enriching of all is the way the film demonstrates its metaphysical concept in just its visuals alone. Shots of insects, flowers, and various other forms of nature are sprinkled throughout Soul, creating an ethereal portrait of something more grand occurring beyond the scope of humanity. The problem with this is that loose ends never quite get tied up, despite having clear endpoints in mind. The entire epilogue of the movie feels like a waste of time because its atmosphere is very much disconnected from the mood set throughout the majority of the film.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

3X3D Has a Difficult Time Grasping 3D [VIFF 2013]

3X3D Poster

3X3D Poster

Title3X3D
Genre(s)Comedy, Drama
Director(s)Peter Greenaway, Edgar Pera, Jean-Luc Godard
Release Year: 2013

It was clear from the moment I stepped in line to see the omnibus feature, 3X3D, that most people were intrigued solely because one of the shorts was directed by Jean-Luc Godard. As someone who is generally displeased with Godard’s work (appreciative, but rarely entertained), with the exception of Une Femme est une Femme, my excitement for this compilation film was more for what each director would do with 3D technology, and how they would tie into each other. With all that being said, 3X3D is mostly interesting, but with the exception of Godard’s visual essay, “The Three Disasters”, there is a displeasing use of 3D, and a terrible short in the form of “Cinesapiens.”

The overarching theme between each of the three shorts seems to be that of history. Peter Greenaway’s short, “Just in Time”, is a look at the history of Guimaraes, Portugal and the famous figures who have joined the culture. It is a beautifully shot film, but contains a lot of text that is imposed upon the setting and becomes hard to read, especially when it appears on floors or ceilings. The short is seemingly one single roaming shot that lasts for about 20 minutes and is a very informative history lesson, but one that is sometimes hard to follow. It ends up feeling like a guided tour through the palace that it is shot in, and in that sense it is a very interesting effort.

Meanwhile, the second short of 3X3D, Edgar Pera’s “Cinesapiens”, is a history of film and a very satirical look at changes in film technologies. It is a very jarring segment to place in the middle of everything, especially being the only segment that contains much comedy. Most jokes are poor though, and the look at film’s evolution is fairly superficial. It may also be the longest of the shorts, but that’s not something I can either confirm or deny, but it did feel like the longest. It also happens to utilize 3D in one of the more abhorrent fashions, with a lot of the final several minutes becoming a blur of dimensions.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

The Vancouver International Film Festival has begun again, and just like last year, I intend to cover most of the films that I see. However, because I am busier than ever at the moment, reviews are going to be short and to the point. On the upside though, I am seeing a lot more movies than last year, so there should be an abundance of reviews coming over the next couple weeks. 

Blue is the Warmest Color Poster

Blue is the Warmest Color Poster

TitleBlue is the Warmest Color
Genre(s)Drama, Romance
Director(s)Abdellatif Kechiche
Release Year2013

Blue is the Warmest Color is one of the most ambitious and intimate romantic dramas that I have seen in recent memory. It may also be the most elaborate depiction of a lesbian relationship in film, with a 3 hour runtime that goes through all of the complexities and nuances of finding your sexual orientation and realizing who you really are. Anchored by the strong performances of its two lead actresses, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color is a well-made film that is hindered by its ambitious and far-reaching look at the intricacies of a romantic, same-sex relationship.

Following Adele (Exarchopoulos), the film looks at her character primarily as she tries to find her sexuality and break out of her shell. It is when she falls in love with Emma (Seydoux) that the film’s complex character moments come into focus. Director Abdellatif Kechiche makes every moment feel authentic, as characters wrestle with emotions and decisions that feel like genuine concerns within the diegesis of the world. Adele’s attempts to discover herself are blatantly difficult for her, and she seems angry at how difficult it is for herself to feel comfortable. These are the moments in Blue is the Warmest Color when it is at its finest, as Adele explores herself and tries to find her own path through life. The movie’s raw poignancy is accentuated by lengthy and very explicit sex scenes that help to chart Adele’s sexual awakening, but at times serve to dampen the pacing, as the plot slows for an extended period of time.

It has already been getting tons of praise, but Blue is the Warmest Color really is an exceptional piece of work. Its lengthy nature is a byproduct of its ambitious examination of every facet in a same-sex relationship and unfortunately holds the movie back for me from being a film that I would want to watch again. The pacing is a bit off-kilter as well, but overall, the film is definitely a memorable experience and has moments that will stick with me for a long time to come. Those moments came to life through the great performances by the two lead actresses and the incredible attention given to feeling honest and raw, that is assisted by some beautiful camera work. It would be a disservice not to at least see this film, even if it won’t warrant any repeat viewings.

Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 300 other followers

%d bloggers like this: