Albert Lanier has the HIFF overview! Bong Joon-Ho's MOTHER, BARBARIAN PRINCESS, D13 2, GIGANTE and a LOST panel!
HIFF 29 FESTIVAL REPORT: THE NECESSITIES OF FILM
by Albert Lanier
Its October in Hawaii and I wrote the beginning of this article on a an HP lap top at the Hawaii International Film Festival's HIFF Cafe, a large flatscreen TV was playing LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, a film unlikely to ever screen at this festival unless a Bruce Willis retrospective is planned.
Six days have already passed as I write this and this year's festival appears-as usual-to be picking up steam as the days winnow down with increased interest and ticket sales.
Probably the major reason is BARBARIAN PRINCESS, the partly made in Hawaii feature film which had its World Premiere at the stately Hawaii theater on the evening of Friday, October 16. This biopic of Princess Kaiulani not only sold out the 1000 plus theater but has quickly sold out its two subsequent screenings on the last day of the fest in what must seem like record time.
The title of the film has been controversial-for obvious reasons. I don't like the title either-it smacks of some Italian sword and sandal flick or a Sybil Danning movie but I'm here to review films not titles.
The film dominated the opening press conference on Thursday, October 15 at Sheraton Waikiki where director Marc Forby got into a slight verbal jousting match for a minute with filmmaker Vili Hereniko who threw a somewhat critical comment/question at PRINCESS star Q'orinaka Kilcher.
I talked to Kilcher after the press conference. A lovely young woman but I confess I'm more interested in her activism with indigenous groups than her film work.
Also interviewed Exec Producer Jean Higgins of LOST. She has come along way since working on THE GREAT SMOKEY ROADBLOCK with Henry Fonda and Susan Sarandon.
Attended Opening Night party at Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki. A great looking hotel and an enjoyable party. Talked to Hai-young Yun of CJ Entertainment and her significant other-CJ had MOTHER and a couple of other films at HIFF and are building a multiplex in LA.
Also, briefly met Ken Leung of LOST.
Opening night film was Bong Joon-Ho's MOTHER a fascinating return to film since his last film, the brilliant smash hit THE HOST. I won't go into detail about MOTHER here other than to say its a fine drama with terrific performances from Korean TV veteran Kim Hye Ja
as the mater familias of the film and TV drama heartthrob Won Bin as her slightly retarded son.
VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL rounded out the night. A lame, overly bloody production directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu and supposedly from the production team of MACHINE GIRL and TOKYO GORE POLICE. I loved MACHINE GIRL but I find this movie- a vampiric girl fighting a post-modern Prometheus (another way of saying Frankenstein's monster) of a girl over a male student who's the object of both their affections- tiresome and one-dimensional. The opening sequence is terrific but it goes quickly downhill from there not mention it contains offensive black face stereotypes (Obama be damned!).
The films generally didn't get better on Friday, October 16. RAINBOW TROOPS from Indonesia has a mildly interesting storyline: a rural school teaches poor children who would generally wind up manual laborers and focuses on a few students including a brilliant student named Lintang who ends up giving up his studies to raise his siblings. The two hour drama directed by Riri Riza and written by Riza, Salman Aristo and Mira Lesman should been cut by 30 minutes and given a further script polish to tighten up aspects of the storyline. The film feels lethargic and overly didactic and ends up being sentimental and ineffective and quite frankly, boring.
The best film that day were in SHORTS PROGRAM #2. The standouts were Sam Taylor Wood's LOVE YOU MORE about two students who end up having sex to the title song from the Buzzcocks in 70's Britain and exec produced by the late Anthony Minghella and the terrific INTOXICANT-directed by John Hsu- which examines internet online forums by representing them as literal rooms with real people using megaphones to announce their "posts."
Also worth noting is the funny short MOTOO, about a visiting Japanese Professor who canvasses for Barack Obama during last year's campaign. Very enjoyable. Directed by Adele Pham and Bao Nguyen.
I saw an hour or so of NECESSITIES OF LIFE, a fine film directed by Benoit Pilon and written by Bernard Emond about an Inuit named Tivii who is forced to leave his remote Baffin Island home to go to a hospital in Quebec City because he has tuberculosis. Generally well crafted technically and scriptwise.
The hit film of the festival BARBARIAN PRINCESS was up next. Partly shot in Hawaii, PRINCESS is about about Hawaiian Royalty-Princess Kaiulani-played by Q'orianka Kilcher-who died in her early 20's.This biopic deals largely a chunk of her life which takes her from being teenage royalty in Hawaii to being an exile in England along with her Scottish father to her return to the islands. Also thrown in is a love story and the intrigues and events surrounding the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in the late 19th century with Will Patton and Barry Pepper playing Sanford Dole and Lorrin Thurston, two men who both had roles in the overthrow.
BARBARIAN PRINCESS contains a couple of scenes with surprising emotional power but is a largely glorified cable-TV movie with excellent cinematography by Gabriel Berisain and a well-meaning lead performance by Kilcher in addition to fine supporting performances by Patton and Pepper. Writer/Director Marc Forby has a fine visual eye and some of his compositions of scenes (like Kaiulani hula dancing under a veranda) are enjoyable to look at but the film is essentially a one-note historical melodrama that contains no character depth and surprisingly is incurious about Kaiulani as a full-bodied young woman of accomplishment and breeding. The generic Hollywood elements of romance, historical intrigue and one-dimensional character conflict are clearly part of the narrative matrix and construct of the film.
In the end, PRINCESS is a well-meaning film and I enjoyed watching it from an aesthetic perspective but narratively, the film is too simplistic through extremely well-meaning.
Last film of the day was DISTRICT 13 ULTIMATUM. I barely liked the first DISTRICT 13 which is a slightly sprawling rip-off of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK but that film was tightly paced and effectively directed. ULTIMATUM brings cop Damien and survivor Leito are back to foil a potential race and ethnic war between rival groups cantonized within Banlieue 13. Some of parkour-fueled action sequences are terrific but they are not enough to keep this film tedious action from slipping into narcoleptic-induced boredom. Directed by Patrick Alessandrin and written and produced by Luc Besson.
Saturday, October 17 started out with two silly,moronic comedies: GRANDPA'S DEAD which is about the death of a family patriarch and the family bickering, revelations and most importantly fainting created from the death of Grandpa. Written and directed by Soxy Topacio, this comedy from the Philippines stars Manilyn Reyes who I met a reception before the screening.
Another Filipino comedy followed-BFF-BEST FRIENDS FOREVER starring major Philippine film star Sharon Cuneta as a woman who unknowingly becomes friends with the mistress of her husband, a free-spirited aerobic instructor played Ai Ai Delas. Nice plot and set-up for a comedy but the script by director Mike Sandejas is so scattershot and over the top that it destroys a nice potentially farcical comedy idea and trashes it severely. Actually would have worked better as a drama than a comedy.
PETITION was next. A 2 hour doc examines the lives and misfortunes of people from varied Chinese prefectures who come to Beijing to petition for redress for grievances. This is the China we often don't see-people sleeping in streets, in vacant lots and in rented rooms over a period of years constantly going to the Petition office and dodging recievers-agents hired from different towns and prefectures to stop and intimidate petitioners.
Directed by Zhao Liang, PETITION is a powerful and thought-provoking doc about people searching and struggling not just for personal justice but a more just and democratic China.
The highly touted LOST Celebration was my last stop of the day. It was held at the Royal Hawaiian Theater, a state of the art theater hidden with the Level 4 nightclub at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki.
The show's main writers and showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse accepted Vision in Film award from Mayor Mufi Hannemann and producers Jack Bender and Jean Higgins were given the Mahalo Nui Loa award, an award basically made up just for them (it should really be called the we-pulled-it-out-of-our-ass award).
The panel included Lindelof, Cuse, Higgins, Bender and cast members Jorge Garcia, Terry O'Quinn, Yunjin Kim and recent Emmy winner Michael Emerson.Presided over by VARIETY TV critic Brain Lowry.
No spoilers about upcoming season except that Linus gets beat up even more. The problem with is event is they showed too many scenes from season 1, 3, 4 final episodes when they could have expended the time to more discussion or even the Q and A session which was surprisingly short ( I didn't get to ask a question).
Cuse took a shot at internet sites talking at one point about sites that "parasitically" try post details "for money." Don't know if he was taking at shot at AICN but my gut tells me he was.
Sunday, October 18 started out with STATE OF ALOHA, a doc about statehood. Basically, a talking head film with historical and archival footage. Director Anne Misawa strives to show the differing sides of the still raging statehood debate in Hawaii as well as a historical overview of annexation and then the push to statehood. Fairly well crafted but often overplays hand when showing news footage of contentious conflict and often tips over to the anti-statehood arguments.
A MILLION from South Korea was next. I won't say much here because I want to write about this film in depth but this thriller about 8 people recruited for a SURVIVOR type reality show filmed in Australia is tense, well-paced and well-directed with a powerful ending. One of the real surprises this year at HIFF.
BARE ESSENCE OF LIFE was next. A quirky off center dramedy about a young somewhat slow farmer (Is there a retardation motif at HIFF this year?) who sells "organic" vegetables with his grandma in rural Aomori but wants to use pesticide on his crops. Enter Machiko, a teacher from Tokyo who is filling in for a pregnant colleague. Yojin quickly falls for Machiko albeit in his childish, irritating way. Machiko is not keen at first-she lost a boyfriend in Tokyo who had his head cut off in an accident.
Satoko Yokohara-considered one of the rising stars of the new Japanese cinema-directs BARE ESSENCE from a script that is keen observant about some of nuances of small-town life while anchored in both whimsical surreality and reality at the same time. This is not a film for everyone's palate but I enjoyed it.
Meet the Filmmakers party at Rum Fire at Sheraton Waikiki followed. I met and chatted with a number of filmmakers including Ana Agabin, director of 24K, Quentin Lee, helmer of THE PEOPLE I'VE SLEPT WITH which is one of the hits of this year's HIFF, Cellin Gluck director of the Japanese re-make of SIDEWAYS, Adele Pham of MOTOO and Karin Anna Cheung, the gorgeous lead star of THE PEOPLE I'VE SLEPT WITH. Nice charming lady, Karin and great to talk to.Check out her film BOOM on you tube.
GIGANTE was final film of the day. Written and directed by Adrian Biniez, GIGANTE focuses on big and burly security guard Jara who has sit at a back room in a supermarket and watch security camera footage all night. He soon becomes entrances with Julia, a member of the cleaning staff. He so smitten that he stalks Julia even when she goes on a date with another man. While this seems creepy and disturbing, GIGANTE actually a slight soft spot and the film ending may comes as a surprise to many filmgoers. Biniez does a fine job directing from his script and manages to tread potential dangers of dealing with this kind of overt voyeurism. Winner of three awards at Berlin, Biniez is a filmmaker to look out for.