Monday, November 30, 2015

No one, not even a cop, deserves this day

A Hard Day, South Korean director Kim Seong-hun’s second film, which screened last weekend at the Detroit Film Theatre, is a cop corruption drama that provides a sufficient amount of thrills and spills and competed in the Directors’ Fortnight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Seong-hun came up with what I’m sure he thought was an imaginative premise. Have a cop - or it really could have been anyone - go through the trials and tribulations of one particularly god awful day. The cop is Detective Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun). You see, all he’s trying to do is get to his mother’s funeral, which is bad enough. But he ends up hitting a body on a deserted road, freaks, and decides to dump the dead man in his car trunk. I’m not sure why he didn’t just come clean as it was an honest mistake but I’ll leave that up to the filmmaker. The funny part comes when he has to get rid of the body. Guess what? His mom’s casket makes the perfect place to hide the evidence. “I’ll make it up to you, mom,” he pleas. There’s one problem. Someone of course has seen him. It’s another cop on the force, a guy who really is corrupt, as in trafficking in narcotics and other underworld activities corrupt, Lt. Park Chang-min (Cho Jin-woong). He decides to blackmail our hero, and the film proceeds in a kind of Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) style chase as Gun-su seeks to discover and eliminate his adversary. The roller coaster ride, often imbued with humour, will be sure to get your adrenaline churning. South Korean films tend to be good at delivering high octane drama and I’ve seen better than this. Park Chan-wook’s 2003 Old Boy or Boon Joon-ho’s 2006 The Host come to mind. And while movies about police corruption are genre standards Seong-hun implicitly paints the entire police force in this movie, set in Seoul, as corrupt, right down to the guys taking the breathalyzer tests. I’m getting a little tired of movies that, almost in knee-jerk fashion, paint everyone, especially cops, with one stroke. Maybe it’s the times but I’m waiting for a film that makes heroics, flaws and all, of the police. Any takers?

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) artistic director Cameron Bailey will make a rare Windsor appearance this Thursday at the Art Gallery of Windsor. He’ll be taking part in a discussion on a future cultural strategy for Ontario, sponsored by the provincial government. The event gets underway at 7 pm. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Two at the DFT

This weekend I caught Gueros (2014, Alonso Ruiz Palacios) as well as this year’s Taxi (Jafar Panahi), the two films on tap at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT), with Taxi also playing next weekend……Gueros intrigued me because it was a take on youthful alienation and something of a nod to the French New Wave. And Taxi, because it’s Iranian and made by perhaps that country’s leading filmmaker and which has generated a lot of publicity during its screenings at numerous art houses this fall……First, Gueros. What you notice first is that this film is in 4:3 aspect ratio so it appears on the screen more like a square than a rectangle, and the fact it’s shot in black and white. No biggie there, it was the subject matter that interested me. The film has been hailed by the critics and yes it certainly does have enough references to the kind of meandering story lines of the New Wave. But I thought the subject matter was barely interesting. The central character Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre) gets kicked out of his home to live with his older university-going brother Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) in Mexico City. Everywhere he goes people remark on his light skin, hence the movie’s name, showing that racism exists, even unintentionally, in every society. Sombra is on strike, against a strike, by fellow university students, who have laid in for a long occupation of their presumably liberal arts campus. I thought this was an interesting aspect of the movie but the director brings no edge to it. Is Sombra politically against the strike or simply indifferent? More the latter. The two characters plus a roommate and a student leader, Ana (Ilse Salas) decide to leave the university’s fractious atmosphere and go on a drive in search of a legendary Mexican pop star, whose voice “once made Bob Dylan cry.” They find him but don’t get the reception they wanted. So what’s the film about? If anything ennui, that politics doesn’t matter, and that life is for filling in any haphazard way you want. It’s these very aspects that induced a bit of ennui in me…..Now to Taxi. The film by the celebrated and persecuted (by the Iranian authorities) Panahi is a rather light slice of life. Panahi plays a taxi driver (picture above) picking up fares around Tehran, with virtually everything filmed from a dashboard camera. The characters are disparate, from a man and woman arguing over the death penalty, to two older women carrying a fish bowl, to a cyclist bleeding from an accident, to a young filmmaker played by the filmmaker’s niece, Hana, who harangues the good-natured Panahi as she goes about making her own school project film. One wonders what all this is supposed to add up to. There’s a reference to the Iranian theocracy’s oppression, as Hana reads the strict guidelines about who should be the good guys and bad guys according to official state policy. It’s not until the end of the movie that we come face to face with the real wall of oppression on a sunlit Tehran day. Altogether, Taxi is a series of whimsical character studies, ending with a surprising and not so pleasant kick in the teeth. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Festival's benign neglect should end

The causal indifference the City of Windsor shows the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF), now in its 11th year, might be explained by many things. First, arts has never been big on the radar screen in the City of Roses. If anything, sports has long been the centre of attention. This city, for instance, like all of Canada, is hockey mad. But not simply hockey. Baseball tourneys and high school meets, bring serious money into Windsor, as witnessed by the solidly booked hotels for major sport gatherings. Despite the WIFF’s increasing success (17,000 tickets sold this month over six says, 2,000 higher than last year’s 10th anniversary nine-day run) it can’t boast that. So there’s been an inbred bias for sports and against the arts. But the world is changing and it’s time for city leaders to take note. Arts itself is becoming big business everywhere. Film festivals are springing up in the smallest of cities across North America. Summer time festivals which accent creative artwork and crafts keep growing. The visual arts itself has found a new audience and developed a cool cachet; just check out Grand Rapids’ stellar Art Prize every fall. And the so-called Creative Class, even in Windsor, is a demographic city planners seek to lure. Backers of WIFF say it transforms the downtown and gives shots in the arm to businesses like restaurants and cafes between screenings. But that takes place for only one week a year. WIFF of course would like to expand that and up until several months ago was offering monthly film screenings. It’s up to the city to recognize it has a growing new industry, non-profit or not, given its business spinoffs and potential for commercial and non-commercial growth like film studies and production workshop and studios. City hall could do several things to facilitate this without taking a big whack to taxpayers. It could provide free or discounted rental of the Capitol Theatre to the festival, and eliminate its $1 surcharge on tickets. Supporting WIFF would also have other benefits. It would meld with the city’s efforts to bring post-secondary education downtown as well as lure more Millennials to the core. However, WIFF might also seek alternatives. It could scout for better or cheaper facilities. The demise of the Palace Cinemas has relegated WIFF to a largely uncomfortable Capitol Theatre. The Jewish Film Festival uses much better facilities at Devonshire Cineplex, where perhaps some of WIFF’s films could be shown. But bottom line is WIFF has been the object of benign neglect for too long. Times, and demographics, are changing, and it’s time the city wakes up.