Film Fest 2006: Post 2

Okay, got a few moments to breath at last so I can share a view notes on a whirlwind of films.

Men At Work

No, not a concert film featuring 80's kooks. Four old buddies coming back from a skiing trip encounter strange natural phenomenon and become obsessed with making their mark upon the world. Fairly typical "festival-y" fare, really -- fun opening, quirky characters, inexplicable shifts and way too long. Tries a little too hard to lay on the quirkiness.

Too many characters, really. It starts with four but by the end of it there's more than a dozen folks milling around -- since we don't get to meet them very well they remain cyphers and largely interfere with our ability to connect with the main characters. Offside got this much better -- never too many characters to follow, but still introducing new elements throughout the story.

Still Life

Slice-of-life drama in the Three Gorges area of China, where entire towns are rapidly disappearing beneath the rising waters, with painful impact on all those involved.

Unfortunately, the film relies on UFOs to tie one storyline to another, and honestly, if you're going to have a UFO in your movie, your movie ought to be ABOUT UFOs in some manner. Close Encounters -- the UFOs work there. Still Life, not so much.

Great photography of the area and a wonderful portrait of one man's heartbreak. But too many UFOs for me (or not enough).

No Mercy For The Rude

Shoulda been better. Mute Korean gangster provides voice-over narration to the story of his redemption (sort of). Filled with trademark Korean goofiness, but fails to provide either a) good fight scenes or b) a truly compelling emotional ride. Gotta have one or the other, says me. Some good stuff in it, but the script could have used a few more pass-throughs, just to streamline the story properly. It gets unclear who the bad guys are, which isn't so horrible really, except that by the end you're not really afraid or worried or satisfied or anything. You've just watched a lot of Korean people die.

Better than Oldboy, at least (that's for you, Daryl). But not a worthy follow-up to the glory that was Volcano High.

The Host

Speaking of follow-ups to Volcano High, this one started off so well I thought we were seeing the fabled successor. Usually in a monster movie, the monster is held back on a bit, teasing the audience, until its big reveal for the latter part of the film. Not so here; the first thing that happens is a giant monster comes leaping out of the river and starts chowing down on Korean people.

Clearly South Korea has had Japanese consultants come over and give them pointers on handling giant monsters, as the tanks roll out immediately and the beastie is more or less contained right away. No need to convince the military that this is a threat, nor is there any suggestion that maybe the military isn't up to handling it. Instead, it's the Americans (whose foolishness cause the creature in the first place) who have the completely insane idea about how to handle it and it's up to doughty if rather goofball heroes (we see a recurring trend this way in Korean cinema) to save the day and destroy the monster in a way that doesn't take all of Seoul out at the same time.

Slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching loss and special effects; it should be a home run, but something holds the whole thing back from true delight. The monster just isn't around enough. The opening sequence is the only "monster runs amok" part of the whole film, which is too bad because it's a great monster. We really needed to see it tear into those tanks.

There's also the question of the virus that's at first suggested to be around and then turns out to be a hoax, or something. Maybe it's clear if you're Korean, but I didn't really get what that was all about.

And the final gag, the one that really finishes off the monster? Saw it coming about twenty minutes before it landed.

More to come! Lesbians, Chow Yun-Fat, Bollywood and more!