Exam

Exam (2009) – [rate 3]

Exam is a good movie if you like films like Cube or The Game. It pulls off a very good story, without ever leaving a single room that contains nothing more than 8 desks, 8 sheets of paper, 8 pencils and 10 actors. Sadly, the plot contains some small holes and a few serious ones, that could have been easily prevented considering the kind of film it is.

Not unlike 12 Angry Men, the subject matter is explored and discussed by the people in the room and as they go along, the viewer is left to form an opinion and make up their own mind about the situation. If you pay close attention, you can pick up quite a few clues and there’s no deus ex machina required to bring it to a good end, so that’s a plus.

All in all, I felt it lacked some originality and some of the flaws in the story really matter for this film. If you haven’t seen Cube or The Game, this one is probably great for you. If you have, you will probably like this one too, but likely not as much as those.

Thirst

Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009) – [rate 2.5]

I was fairly disappointed with Park Chan-Wook‘s traditional vampire tale. Sure, it had some of the pacing of scenes that give Eastern movies their specific feel and some of the graphic violence is very explicit. But instead of focussing of on the attraction of violence instead of love, or digging a little deeper into the implications of a priest turning vampire, Chan-Wook turn it into the usual tragic love-affair that goes exactly where you expect it to go once you know what’s going on.

Fairly forgettable and only for Park Chan-Wook fans. If you don’t know his work, watch Oldboy or Sympathy for Lady Vengeance before you decide on this one. If you want to see a good vampire movie, there’s 100’s out there better and more interesting than this one. Certainly not a bad film, just not a very good one either.

Amer

Amer (2009) – [rate 4]

This is the kind of movie I expect to see at a festival like this. Amer gets in real close, it’s not for the squeamish and requires serious attention to follow, but in the end it is more than worth it. Its powerful imagery, it’s strange but clear characters and its odd pacing all serve to draw you in deeper.

As an ode to Giallo and with a styling that screams 70’s on all counts, this movie is not very likely to do very well at the box office, but every movie buff should still consider seeing it. It’s powerful film making and considering that Giallo appears to have been out of grace for quite some time, this is a worthy addition to the genre.

Oblivion Island

Hottarake no shima – Haruka to maho no kagami (Oblivion Island) (2009) – [rate 3.5]

Oblivion Island has a very original style, mixing a strange brand of hand drawn backdrops with perspective added in with computing, with characters that are fully rendered CGI. It’s a family movie and the plot is strongly reminiscent of Spirited Away. A bit too much, in my opinion, it becomes “one of those movies”.

The basic premise is clever: somewhere there’s an island where all the objects that mankind neglects are brought to, after being stolen bij fox-like serfs of some Shinto-deity. The creatures on this island have no technology of their own, but using whatever they can get their hands on and some moderate magic, they have shaped the entire island out of second hand goods.

The visuals are wonderful, but the movie is too long for its content and tends to drag on a bit around the middle. The plot is predictable, though that might be expected for a family movie, but there are hardly any surprises at all.

Recommended if you’ve already watched Spirited Away ten times and your kids are still clamoring for more.

Tears for Sale

Carlston za Ognjenku (Tears for Sale) (2008) – [rate 3.5]

Eastern European movies are in league of their own. Whenever I watch a movie from Chec(sp?), Polish, Russian or in this case Serbian movie, I get reminded that I should really plan a holiday to visit countries that have a culture so clearly separate (but no less interesting) from our own.

Tears for Sale has an exuberant, merry style – even though it is a movie about funeral wailers in a town where all men have been killed by war. It’s both serious and not at all serious and the crowded musical scenes and the whimsical characters reminded me of Hipsters. Most of the characters are stereotypical, but many scenes contain so many characters that it doesn’t matter and the plot certainly doesn’t suffer.

Recommended if you like the Eastern European style.

European Shorts #1

Always a lot of fun, the shorts. Watching the shorts adds to the flavour of the festival, although it can be hard to remember all of them, considering you’re watching a small dozen shorts back to back. The best was clearly saved for last with the excellent Logorama. But the ultra-short Barbie Butcher got a very good laugh as well.

Repo Men

(2010) – [rate 3.5]

A typical Philip K. Dick type of story, this is not a bad science fiction movie at all. It tells of a near future where expensive cybernetic implants have become commonplace, but are very expensive to produce. People take on insane financial plans to save their lives and when they can no longer pay the bills, the repo man comes around to take back the company property.

You can pretty much see where that’s going and the movie couples it with a buddy movie of the ‘military buddies sticking together’ kind. The plot develops in a decent enough way and though it loses some of its pace halfway through, I found the ending redeeming.

But I did have many issues with it. The characters are stereotypical even though the movie offers ample opportunity to change that. Also, I was incredibly annoyed by the blatant Volkswagen ads that appear every few minutes, with no bearing on the story whatsoever. I would recommend that people who rip and torrent this movie take those scenes out, for the same reasons they take commercials out of TV series. (of course, you shouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff in the first place, but you know what I’m saying…)

If you like dystopic scifi and don’t mind a bit of very graphic body horror, this is probably going to be right up your alley. It sure beats watching pointless torture porn like Saw XIV and it has some interesting themes, but don’t expect a masterpiece.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

(2009) – [rate 4]

A star-studded cast in this latest Wes Anderson movie. And not just a movie, stop-motion animated movie about animals fighting humans in a Watership Down meets Wallace and Gromit if Roald Dahl had written it sort of way. Roald Dahl did write this story and his specific brand of humour, combined with some scenes that are no less Wes Anderson than his non-animation features make this one a worthwhile watch – though it is said that mr. Anderson’s actual involvement with the movie wasn’t as extensive as the billing might lead you to believe.

The voice acting is very good, the jokes are well-paced and sharp and there are many visual gags that got a healthy laugh out of me. This movie is very funny, looks great and will appeal to all ages, or at least the ages that Roald Dahl generally appeals to.

The plot could perhaps have done with a little more interest and depth, even as a movie for all ages. Apart from a subtext about the nature of creatures, both psychological and biologicalm the story is pretty straightforward, but lacking the whimsical twists and turns a good Wallace and Gromit will offer.

Do watch the title roll at the end – you might be amazed at the amount of fame in there, especially considering the brevity of some of the roles.

Summer Wars

Summer Wars (2009) – [rate 4.5]

The festival kicks off (for me at least) with a wonderful animated feature about a boy lucking his way into spend a week of the summer with the most popular girl in school, who happens to be a young daughter of former Japanese nobility. Sound to sappy for your tastes?

Just wait until the fate of the world ends up in the hands of a gamer fighting off a rampant A.I. bent on destroying the world because of a penchant for games and no moral inhibitions. Did I mention the boy is a math genius, skillful enough to break serious encryption overnight? Wargames anyone?

The strange mix of approaches actually works very well and the attention to detail of everyday Japanese life, as well as the family situation lend a great deal of character to a movie that feels very ‘now’. There’s some serious fiction in here, but it’s set in today’s world and addresses our place in it with very lighthearted drama and even though there’s some impressive action sequences, I’d expected this movie to be rated all ages.

Recommended and very humorous, I’d say you can’t go wrong watching this.

The die has been cast!

Temperatures are climbing, the sun is showing more of itself every day, birds are laying their eggs and spring is in the air. Yes, it’s that time of year: time to lock ourselves indoors and watch the dancing shadows on the silver screen. It’s time to get creep-ed out, chilled to the bone, bewildered with enchantment and amused to tears. It’s Imagine, the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival!

After careful deliberation we’ve managed to plan a festival itinerary that will take us through 29 movies in under 9 days. Here’s what we’ll be seeing:
Continue reading The die has been cast!