Chocolate (2008) – [rate 3.5]

If you watch a kung fu movie that manages to impress and entertain with the same force as something like The Matrix (1999), you have to give it extra credit. More so if it was achieved with nothing but conventional means like good stuntwork, choreography and camera action. Chocolate is all that and a bag of chips.

Quickly introducing the characters and their background, the movie makes good haste to get to the good stuff: kung fu fighting of the kind that riles up the audience and gets them cheering for the main character.

The basic premise of Chocolate is simple: a yakuza hotshot and a Thai woman that is also connected get involved. He is forced out of Taiwan, being yakuza, and she remains, pregnant of their daughter. The daughter turns out to be autistic, which makes her hard to raise, but she turn out to have a real knack for picking up on fighting techniques. Soon, occasions arise where she can put her acquired skills to the test.

Don’t expect a whole lot more from the plot than what I just told you and really, with this kind of movie such trivialities would only get in the way. This is pure, unadulterated, uncut kung fu and it is all good. Some fights are humorous, others gut wrenching and some just plain beautiful. The choreography makes great use of the environment and the stuntwork is amazing (though rather painful as the title roll ‘making of’ shots show).

Not for everyone, but if you like watching a good mock fight, this is it.

11 Minutes Ago

11 Minutes Ago (2008) – [rate 3.5]

In the past few years, there have been a number of highly original and ‘realistic’ movies about time travel. Unlike the silly Timecop (1994) and slapstick Back to the Future (1985) series, these movies have been about relatively ordinary people; usually scientists or people that wander into the situation unaware, without special powers or attributes, dealing with a situation in a way that you and I would. Time travel is strange but mundane in movies like Primer (2004) and Timecrimes (2007).

11 minutes is like that and as a movie it is interesting in that it shows the story from the perspective of the time traveler. It has a number of clever restrictions: the time traveler is only shown at his destination, never in his own time. The chronological order is his timeline and unlike many (worse) movies about time travel, he makes mistakes in interpreting the effects, it’s as confusing to him as to you, the viewer.

For unknown (or rather untold) reasons, the stints of time travel have to be restricted to 11 minutes, but why does this man keep coming back to the same party? And the presence of a film crew at this meticulously organized wedding make it entirely believable that everything has been caught on film and allows the main character to interact with the film crew, lending the whole thing credibility.

Many original ideas mesh into a coherent whole, of good length, telling an entertaining – if somewhat soppy – story. The only negative points I would point out are his initial reasons to visit our time and the slightly corny overall motivations of the main character. But none of this should prevent you from watching this excellent time travel story.

100 Feet

100 ft. (2008) – [rate 2.0]

The premise of 100 ft. was good and had me interested because of an interesting angle on a tried and true thriller format: the haunted house. In 100 ft. a recently released convict, played by Famke Jansen, returns to the house where she killed her abusive husband in self-defense. She’s under house arrest and gets an ankle bracelet that makes it impossible for her to leave the house for more than a few minutes without the police showing up.

Adding to the interesting situation is the fact that her husband used to be a cop himself and his former partner is now assigned the case. Her husband may be dead, but as the character puts it herself: he isn’t taking it so well. Haunting ensues and you can pretty much guess what the bulk of the movie looks like.
But though the setting may be original, the setup is good and Famke Jansen portrays a strong, modern woman in a believable way, this movie didn’t work for a number of reasons. First of all, besides the main character, this movie is filled with stereotypical, shallow characters that are all over the place. Her husband’s paranoid partner seems to be ready shoot and kill whoever thinks about breaking the law one moment and is all loving and caring the next.

You can act like there’s no tomorrow and give the best performance of a career, but if the script has your characters make stupid decisions and gives you lousy lines, there’s no saving the movie. This is Famke’s plight. And the special effects are pretty and impressive in some scenes, but corny and needlessly over the top in others.

With a better scenario, better extra’s and another director, this would have had potential, but as it stands, I would only recommend it to the fans of a genre and even then, only to pass the time.

Sleep Dealer

Sleep Dealer (2008) – [rate 4.0]

In Sleep Dealer we are given a sneak peek at a not so distant future. New technology is changing the way people connect to the net, and high-tec unmanned planes are patrolling the air. But unlike many Hollywood scifi flics, this doesn’t result in our entire world being miraculously replaced by a shining, new plastic and aluminium reality. Instead, the new technology meshes with current day architecture, society and culture.
And with that also come current day problems. Migration, access to drinking water, labour outsourcing, privacy in the light of security, Sleep Dealer deals with all of it. It tells the tale of a Mexican man who dreams of the city and, as a result of various events, ends up working in a factory that allows workers to remotely control equipment for heavy labour, a so-called Sleep Dealer.

The atmosphere in Sleep Dealer reminded me somewhat of Code 46, but even more than in that story, I felt the presented reality was entirely believable. Not so much because the technological advances seem more likely, but because it is completely believable that the world of Sleep Dealer would grow out of our own and could do so in only a decade.

The plot has some flaws and the effects sometimes made me too aware that I was looking at something created in computer memory, but all of it was effective in telling a story and as a whole, Sleep Dealer deserves to be recommended to anyone with an interest in the effect technology may have on current day issues.

Before the Fall (Tres días)

Before the Fall (Tres días) (2008) – [rate 4.0]

Considering the fact that deaths are more common than the end of the world by a few dozen orders of magnitude, you might say that the latter gets an inordinate number of movies written about it. But often a movie will focus on what happens after the world has ended. Or the actual ending of the world is portrayed with lavish use of sfx and Hollywood stars. With movies about death, it’s generally the other way around; they tend to focus on either dealing with the death of others, or preparing for one’s own approaching passing.

Before the Fall is more like that than most apocalyptic cinema, but with a twist. At first it reminded me of Last Night (1998), which also shows people in the knowledge that the world is about to end. But Before the Fall doesn’t just tell the story of average people in an agricultural are and the way they might deal with the situation (a rock falling from the skies). It focuses on a single family that seems to have more pressing matters that need to be dealt with before the fall.

This wasn’t at all what I expected it to be and that contributes to how much I liked it. Believable characters, effective use of effects and surroundings to make the situation believable. Interesting cinematography and overall a movie I would recommend.

From Inside

From Inside (2008) – [rate 3.5]

John Bergin has delivered an impressive piece of work, if you consider that most of it is his own doing. A feature-length story of a woman on a train, traveling through a wasteland with nobody around to tell the passengers where they are, where they are going and why they are here. The movie is sufficiently vague to allow many interpretations and for some, maybe a bit too vague.

I really enjoyed the first half, but after that I started to feel little new in the way of ideas and images was being added, without the questions posed sofar going anywhere near an answer. A bit of a missed chance in my opinion, since the world the movie is set in evokes more than enough questions worth exploring.

Just so you don’t go and get disappointed: be aware that a large part of this movie consists of camera movements on stills, paintings, drawing and other static material. The narrative is driven by a (good) voiceover and camera movement and this may be a bit tame if you were expecting visual spectacle. Some of the more dynamic scenes are very atmospheric in their own way, but some of the viewers disliked the stark contrast between relatively clean computer graphics and the freehand drawn scenes.

Original and creative, this is not for everyone and I won’t tell you more about it, because I think this is a story best enjoyed with as little information as possible…

European Fantastic Shorts

One part of the AFFF I never miss are the European Fantastic Shorts. The format of a short movie is perfect to show an idea that wouldn’t really come out in a feature film and isn’t big enough to be a the center of a longer piece. Some are jokes, some are clever ideas, some just paint a quick picture or express a novel style. And then it’s on to the next one.

This year, I’ve seen both sections of shorts and the quality was exceptionally high. In previous years, there would always be a few that were a bit weaker (say, TV fare) or of lesser production quality. But this year, every single one was new, novel and produced for the movie theater.

In EFS #1, my favourites included Die Seilbahn (2008, Swiss, no dialogue), The Magic Show (2009, Dutch, English dialogue), Arbeit fuer Alle (2008, German) and Porque hay cosas que nunca se olvidan (2008 ,Spanish). In EFS #2, Coupe Court (2008, French), Cold and Dry (2008, Norwegian) and Operator (2007, British) stood out.

In Die Seilbahn and The Magic Show, it’s mostly style and originality that caught my attention. Die Seilbahn tells a tale of a man on his way to a mountain top, with a troublesome cold. The Magic Show shows you what is really going on on stage and nothing is what it seems, while everything looks like a painting from the 60’s, set in a variety theatre from the same period.

Arbeit fuer Alle and Cold and Dry both offer a humorous criticism on our current day society. In Arbeit fuer Alle, the effort to keep our elderly at work is spoofed and the movie shows that the world of movie horror has the same problems ours does. Cold and Dry also goes into the effects of doing something worth doing too well and riducules the effort to freeze people with problems that might be solvable in the future.

Coupe Court mixes Lynchian style with a strange 50’s setting and cannibalism. The makings of a classic all rolled into one, I’m sure you’ll agree. Operator is just a joke, but told well and as short as it needs to be. A man make a phone call and “He” answers.

Worth seeing, these, if you can find them of course…