Tag Archives: subtitled

Rising High

Sean called this movie Raising Hell for the first third of it or so, until we paused it and the Netflix screen helpfully cleared things up. Not that it helps to know the title, unless it helps you avoid it. And frankly, Rising High might have been improved with a little more hell raising.

It’s about con men after all. Greedy men who are money hungry and obese with ambition. Viktor (David Kross) is allergic to the poverty he experienced in childhood and is willing to do nearly anything to avoid it. He’s got the motivation and the slick good looks, and he runs into a guy, Gerry (Frederick Lau), who’s got the dirty connections. Once they bring in Nicole (Janina Uhse), a banker who values cash over morals, they’ve got themselves a perfect set-up. They screw over people like it’s going out of business. You only rise that high by stepping over other people. Generally, you have to be both skeevy AND charming to do those things. Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s cornered the market on playing skeevy yet charming. Before the fall (and there’s ALWAYS a fall guys), there’s usually a certain amount of gleeful over-indulgence. Viktor and Gerry go through the motions of course: coke, hookers, parties. All of it empty and unsatisfying naturally. And it’s not even fun to watch. Mostly because the movie’s just going through the motions too, copy-catting better films in the genre, nothing new to contribute and nothing charismatic in the copy.

This is a German film that’s as joyless as it is pointless. I was so bored that I spent most of the movie playing Dragon Squirrel. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it, it’s not the latest Angry Birds or Candy Crush or anything like that. Dragon is my shih-tzu Bronx’s favourite toy, though it’s really just the ripped open empty carcass of a stuffed blue and pink dragon at this point. Squirrel is the last of Fudgie’s (my Yorkie) trio of squeakie toy squirrels, also his favourite toy. The game involves me trying to steal their favourite toy, the dogs playing varying degrees of effective defense, and then some pretty epic tug of war once I have the toy in hand, me gripping the toy’s little ears, and the dogs clamping teeth down on their tails. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Usually I have a limit as to how much Dragon Squirrel I can play, and usually we make the squeaky Squirrel “disappear” about 10 minutes into any given film or series. This particular game of Dragon Squirrel lasted 94 minutes, uncoincidentally the exact run-time of Rising High. Because Rising High never rose above a whimper, never had even a tiny fragment of my attention despite the fact that Dragon Squirrel has now been played so many times the dragon no longer has a single tuft of stuffing left. The movie never gives you a reason to care for the characters, it never justifies its existence, and it never apologizes for being a weak copy of something better. I would have been more firmly engrossed by rewatching Catch Me If You Can for the 100th time, or even by rewatching Wolf Of Wall Street, which I don’t even like. So assuming you don’t have a rousing game of Dragon Squirrel to distract you, I’m going to go ahead and recommend you skip this one.

Pain and Glory

Thirty-two years after his film Sabor (Flavor) came out, writer-director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is just coming to terms with it. He hasn’t seen Sabor’s lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) since it premiered 3 decades ago but the cinemateque has recently restored the film, labelled it a classic, and viewing it with fresh (well, older, wiser, more experienced) eyes, Salvador decides maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet.

It is clear that Salvador is taking stock of his life. He’s not well. But his recollections suggest that his life has rarely been without pain of some kind. As a talented choir soloist, he was educated by the priests and taught his book learning to others. But geography he learned by traveling the world as a successful director. And anatomy he learned through pain and illness. When he reconnects with Alberto we assume he’s making amends but resentments still run hot and what is actually exchanged is heroin.

Antonia Banderas is the picture of a tortured man. Riddled with pain he can no longer make movies. But without shooting, his life has no purpose. To hear those truths is to understand a man who is resigned to the end. His character has come full circle in a lot of ways, a lot of ways that are painfully obvious as a play about his youth is staged and brings out forgotten friends. We learn so much about his fears and motivations and how a man who has made his living telling stories is now grappling with his own. And in many ways, this role brings Banderas full circle from the role that first garnered him attention from American audiences as Tom Hanks’ lover in Philadelphia. This time Banderas is front and centre, earning himself his first Oscar nomination for his restraint, consideration, and tenderness.

Dolor Y Gloria is like a vise on my heart for every shred of his own humanity that master film-maker Pedro Almodóvar pulls from his experience and uses to paint the screen with sorrow and redemption. Using heroin is referred to as ‘chasing the dragon’ but this film chases after so much more: compassion, reflection, grief, making peace. Almodóvar still knows how to engage us, but in this he surprises us, and perhaps even himself, with the authenticity in his unflinching self-examination.

TIFF19: The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers is about 3 generations of a family spending a holiday at their summer home. The matriarch is contemplating the house, which angers at least one son and pits the siblings against each other. But it is a daughter-in-law, Luisa (Érica Rivas) who has it worst.

Luisa doesn’t want to be there. Unhappy in her marriage, she vents her frustrations to a brother-in-law rather than her husband. There is not enough space in the house for a relationship that’s falling apart. But most of all she’s worried about her daughter, Ana (Ornella D’elía), who is young enough to be getting her first blood, but looks considerably older. She’s already caught the attention of an estranged cousin, Alejo (Rafael Federman), recently resurfaced and apparently without boundaries. Even more concerning, Ana is a sleepwalker like her father. She has recently been discovered sleepwalking nude in her own home, and her mother is understandably concerned about what this may mean in a strange house full of people. But Ana doesn’t take kindly to restrictions, and her moody temperament causes her to lash out at her protective mother, and question just which one of them is truly sleepwalking through her life.

Director Paula Hernández has something to say about the pressure and position of women in the family, but for me it was obscured by camera work that literally made me sick. Almost always, only one main character would be in focus, while everyone else had constant blur. At first it was merely frustrating but after 107 minutes it made me physically uncomfortable – sick. And that’s unfortunate because there were some good bits, some very interesting stuff to be examined, but I felt unable to truly concentrate on it. Perhaps, by taking away my choice in what to look at or concentrate on, Hernández wants to put me in the shoes of a young, stymied woman. But that just makes me feel like she doesn’t trust enough in her script. It left me feeling angry and frustrated and ready to bolt. The two lead female characters keep looking for safe space to unleash, to vent, but I felt denied that myself. I never had the space to orient myself or digest what was happening. I felt like a horse with blinders on.

Luisa and Ana are going through some tense and important times. Their performances are good, restrained, even. Hernández makes their inner turmoil obvious without being obvious. I just wish she could do it without creating so much in me.

Hit-And-Run Squad

Korea is a machine. Honestly, I can’t help but admire the country’s dedication to arts and culture. Decades ago, the government assessed their economic standing and realized that they were vulnerable. If just one of its leading industries failed, it would take down the whole country with it. So they diversified in a way that few if any countries ever has: they pumped tonnes and tonnes of money into developing culture – music, television, movies, and video games. South Korea has a population of just over 50 million, but chances are you’ve heard of their boy band invasion (BTS!), you’ve played their games (they’ve mostly developed computer gaming, like Overwatch and League of Legends), and you’ve seen some of their cinema’s best (Bong Joon-ho’s The Host or Snowpiercer or Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, for example). And this is despite the fact that most of us don’t speak Korean! American audiences have been notoriously difficult to penetrate with foreign languages. They hate subtitles and expect to be able to sing along to everything on the radio. But that’s changing, perhaps in part due to greater inclusivity and appreciation for other cultures, but mostly because the Korean machine is just so damn irrepressible.

That said, it feels like Korea might be poised to take over the world, and I might worry about that a bit if not for this: if the lung cancer doesn’t get them, the misogyny will. According to actual statistics, only about 40% of Korean men smoke (which is objectively pretty high), but in cinema, it’s nearly 100%. But misogyny is definitely 100%. And here’s the weird thing that I’ve been twisting around in my mind. America has a comparable rate of misogyny, it’s just that over here, we have this pretense that abuse should be closeted. We know it happens. If it happens behind closed doors, we can all look away and pretend otherwise. It’s embarrassing when it goes public because then we have to pretend to care. Not actually care. No nonnononono. The justice system makes that clear: we will not intervene until he kills her. Then we will be angry: boo! We’ll put him in magazines and make movies about him, and if he’s handsome then we’ll REALLY shake our heads. But as long as he keeps it quiet and private, we’ll let that shit happen for years. And even if it becomes public, we’re still often sympathetic, and might even vilify the women, for good measure. Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Josh Brolin, Johnny Depp, Alec Baldwin, Michael Fassbender, and Christian Bale have all been accused of domestic violence, and we’ve seemingly given them a pass. In South Korean movies, however, violence against women is a little more upfront. The men are not afraid to toss around a woman like they might toss around any man in a common barfight, or even beat a subordinate who hasn’t done her job well. It’s a lot of equal opportunity violence, whereas over here, we “pride” ourselves on only hurting our wives and girlfriends and daughters in the privacy of our homes. Is that fucked up or what?

Anyway, to the movie. Hit and Run Squad will be a little difficult to summarize, but here’s my lame attempt. Officer Eun Shi-Yeon (Hyo-jin Kong) is investigating government corruption – particularly a case in which a very successful Formula 1 driver, Jung (Jung-suk Jo), is paying off the police commissioner. Tricky. But that investigation gets botched and Officer Eun gets demoted to the hit-and-run squad, where she’s teamed with Seo Min-Jae (Jun-yeol Ryu), an unambitious, spacey looking dude who just happens to be the Sherlock Holmes of hit and runs. And the hit and run squad just happens to also be looking at Jung for an ‘accident’ possibly involving one of his cars.

One thing is abundantly clear: Jung is a very bad dude. But he’s also nearly untouchable. But Eun is persistent and Seo is motivated in his own way; it also turns out that he’s got an interesting past that might start to bleed into the present, with both positive and negative repercussions.

Hit-And-Run Squad is a police procedural, but Korean dramas tend to have it all: comedy, romance, melodrama, highs and lows. South Korea’s primary television export tends to be their soap operas, and a lot of their films feel touched by a telenovela. At one point, this movie was scored overdramatically by a jazzy saxophone accompanied by insistent snapping, and it felt very much Too Much, but you have to look past these foibles in Korean cinema, because it’s not quite how we like to do things here, but if we kept ourselves in the tiny box of American cinema, we’d never have any fun.

The cinematography is pretty great, the car chases feel urgent and dangerous, and it’s fun to see them take place literally anywhere but Atlanta once in a while. The acting was quite good too, or at least the actors were adept at working with what they’re given. While it’s nice to see a female lead, and Officer Eun is undoubtedly the film’s lead and the audience placeholder, she’s the least compelling character, having been given no back story and very little development. She’s overshadowed not just by Jung and Seo, but by a couple of even lesser male protagonists as well. There’s a trio of important women in the film but they’re extremely one-dimensional and depressingly primitively drawn.

Of course, if you’re here for hot cars and top speeds, you likely won’t care that a female officer is reprimanded at work by blows to the head until she bleeds, and that her ability to bleed is one of the few things we know about her. Heck, you might even be into jazzy sax, in which case, more power to you.

The Guilty

How many times in your life have you called 911? I hope the answer is none, but for some of you it will be higher than that, and chances are, it wasn’t exactly a happy occasion. Even if you’re calling on behalf of a stranger, you must believe that it’s an emergency situation, and those tend to be adrenaline-filled and on the harrowing side. I call 911 on a very regular basis, and I’m always grateful for the patient expediency of the person on the other end. Mining someone’s abject panic for important, potentially life-saving information, is not an easy thing to do. Distilling that information into its most salient components while managing someone’s fear and distress takes precision and control. Dispatchers will sound cool and confident on the phone, but that doesn’t mean their job isn’t getting to them. They assist people through the darkest of circumstances. They experience vicarious trauma. The Guilty is one of their stories.

Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is working what seems like a normal shift when he gets a call from what seems like a wrong number. A woman named Iben (Jessica Dinnage) is calling, pretending to be on with her young daughter. Because of his training, Asger manages to ask the right questions in the right way. Iben is making this phone call in front of her abductor, and trying to do it stealthily.

Asger gets more and more attached to the case as he speaks to Iben, to her abductor, to her daughter Mathilde who is not even 7 but home alone covered in someone else’s blood after having seen her mother be dragged violently away. He goes beyond the bounds of his position in order to fulfill a promise to Mathilde to get her mother home safely.

How do you think you’d stack up as a 911 dispatcher? They test for inductive (using specific observations to make broader generalizations) and deductive (using the info you’ve collected to come to a logical conclusion) reasoning, plus memory recall and the ability to read maps and a good old fashioned psych evaluation. And then there’s just necessarily personality quirks like the ability to be still in the face of chaos.

Asger is a flawed hero and not necessarily the best at his job. But he cares about this woman. Tonight, his job goes from hard to nearly impossible. It’s disturbing. The movie will break your heart in a million ways. But if you think it’s hard to watch, imagine how hard it is to live, to take these calls for 12 hours or even 24 hours at a time, day after day, weekends and holidays. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, and Asger is pure proof of the toll this job can take.

Jakob Cedergren is excellent, as he must be, acting almost exclusively against voices over the phone. Through the arc of one telephone call, he experiences a major shift, and almost every high and low on the human spectrum. Director Gustav Moller keeps things very simple and straight-forward, allowing the story’s natural tension to take centre stage.

Virus Tropical

Virus Tropical is a black and white animated film celebrating the coming of age of a young Colombian-Ecuadorian girl in a close-knit family.

Paola’s conception is near-miraculous; her mother had her tubes tied and her pregnancy was initially diagnosed as a tropical virus of some sort. Nine months later, a third daughter was added to the family. Paola’s oldest sister is adoring and the middle sister is instantly jealous, having been so firmly bumped out of the baby position. Paola’s father is a former Catholic priest with many of the religious tendencies still intact, and her mother is a domino-reading fortune teller favoured by the president. It’s a mystical-sounding childhood that in fact turns out to be quite ordinary.

Paola is a kid like any other, struggling to be accepted by her peer group, finding her place among her sisters, rebelling against her parents. The film, based on Paola Gaviria’s (aka Power Paola’s) graphic novel of the same name, belongs in the bosom of the family, and rarely looks out toward larger social or cultural contexts. But even the mundane events are recounted with such attention to detail that they’re fully absorbing, the story rich and brimming with life.

The black and white line drawings are surprisingly effective, and director Santiago Caicedo has a knack for drawing in the eye with relatively simple art. The story itself is rather episodic, and the transitions between them aren’t always smooth, but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it felt, and how connected I felt to Paola and her family of strong-willed women. The film doesn’t aspire to make larger connections so you’ll have to be content with diary-style recounting rather than introspection; Virus Tropical is pleasant and interesting, but it isn’t particularly deep.

Let The Sunshine In

Juliette Binoche is extraordinary, really. Behind those gorgeous, liquid brown eyes, there’s a bit of a mystery. There’s a natural sensuality to her, but under the direction of Claire Denis, that turns into a raw eroticism, and Denis knows just how to turn that up.

Isabelle has many lovers but no loves. And maybe she’d like one, a true love, a forever love, but the truth is, she can barely manage the one night stands. She’s exceptionally MV5BNWJhY2UwOTEtMjMzYi00MjBkLWEwNDgtY2QzYmVkNzllNDQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk1Njg5NTA@._V1_bad at choosing men. They’re all unavailable. Her best effort is a married man who’s bad in bed AND rude to waiters. Nothing going for him! He’s not even cute! And he’ll never be hers. So why then is she so hurt when he continues to never leave his wife, as promised? Why does she cry over men who don’t deserve it? She’s a beautiful woman, a tender, open artist. Everyone is entitled to one bad boyfriend. But a string of them starts to look like a pattern, and you’re the one picking the wallpaper. So what the hell is wrong with Isabelle?

She cries at night, every night. She’s miserable. She’s suspicious of men. She moves too quickly and is even quicker to anger. She’s ricocheting between men, wracking up a score, but she never wins the prize. As much as I can dislike Isabelle, Binoche gives her a vulnerability that is hard to hate entirely. She tries too hard, she wants it too much. She’s so desperate she goes to see a psychic (Gerard Depardieu) for advice. And she’s the type who wants so badly to believe him. Her tears guide him into saying exactly what she wants to hear. We all have that friend who just keeps screwing up her love life – we can see it coming a mile away, so why can’t she, an otherwise intelligent woman? Isabelle is that woman and Claire Denis knows her intimately.