2010 M-SPIFF Reviews (Part 3 of 3)

posted by The Joe

The Secret of Kells, ***1/2

As it turns out, The Secret of Kells was completely deserving of its Oscar nomination. In a style slightly reminiscent of Samurai Jack, a boy must quest around medieval Ireland to complete the famous Book of Kells. The hand-drawn animation is some of the best in recent memory, and the film takes some surprisingly dark turns. Plus, there’s an epic battle scene with one of those giant snakes from Battletoads.

The Shaft, ****

This might be my bias towards Chinese cinema speaking, but The Shaft is easily one of my three favorites of M-SPIFF. Clearly influenced by Zhangke Jia, the film focuses on three family members in rural Western China whose lives revolve around the inescapable local coal mine. Impressive cinematography made up of long, wide takes and one of the greatest karaoke scenes ever filmed help add to this fascinating look at a fascinating culture.

The Sicilian Girl, **

To be honest, I watched The Sicilian Girl just two weeks ago and can barely remember anything about it. This true story follows a young girl who testifies against the Italian Mafia, and while not a terrible film, it’s completely forgettable.

The Square, **1/2

The Square seems to be one of the higher-profile films at M-SPIFF, possibly thanks to Nash Edgerton’s previous short The Spider. This old-fashion noir follows a doomed romantic tryst in a small Australian town, and while the noir genre is always fun, the inevitable downward spiral came off as a bit too much.

Timer, *
My hatred of American indie cinema continues with Timer. A miserable combination of sleek HD-ish camerawork and a cutesy concept, the film deals with biotechnological ‘timer’ implants that tell you when you’ll meet your true love, and of course the one belonging to the protagonist is blank. The filmmakers had a good special effect with the timers, but yeah, that’s it, except for dialogue that continually spell the whole movie out and the visual resemblance of a commercial.

35 Shots of Rum, ***1/2
In case you missed it at the Walker last month, check out Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum. Very simple and quiet filmmaking, akin to Denis’ Friday Night, the film follows a father/daughter relationship that’s slowly, naturally spreading apart. I’m obviously a big fan of prolonged silence which Denis is a master at, and there’s a natural, near-undramatic flow here that you just don’t see very often.

Today’s Special, *1/2
Yet another shot at American indie cinema . . . I’ll give it to Today’s Special for featuring Indian immigrant culture, but everything else about this film is tired, familiar territory. A snobby chef at a French restaurant in New York reluctantly returns to his roots at his father’s tiny Indian diner, and things go exactly as you’d expect. Whatever.

Ward No. 6, **1/2
Ward No. 6 is an interesting take on the Chekhov story that blurs narrative and documentary in a mental institution where a chief doctor becomes a patient after philosophically debating the human condition. The fake documentary style doesn’t always work, but hearing from actual mental patients and having Chekhov’s words at your disposal certainly makes for a thought-provoking time.

The Wind Journeys, ****
Last but certainly not least, there’s The Wind Journeys, my favorite film of the fest. Filmed in Columbia, Ciro Guerra’s tale follows an old accordion player who travels through the country to deliver his instrument back to his old master, and is followed by a teenager desiring to learn his craft. There are subtle hints at fantasy littered throughout, from the accordion rumored to be won from the devil to a 10-minute, 8-Mile style accordion battle started over the use of sorcery, and it gives the atmosphere an epic fantasy feeling while remaining firmly down-to-earth. Everything from the cinematograhy to the soundtrack to the performances are transcendent, and the film never offers easy answers to the characters’ thoughts, respecting the audience enough to let them figure it out for themselves. Wind Journeys is a rare beauty and comes with the highest recommendation. You can’t miss this.


That’s all for reviews, folks. Check out the dates and times HERE, and starting tomorrow, happy viewing times.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 at 6:02 am