Archive for the 'HIFF' Category

06
Nov
14

HIFF 2014: The Babadook

"Mommy, that's an Alexander Wang!"

“Mommy, that’s an Alexander Wang!”

Rye’s Take

Australia”s The Babadook has proven that the domestic ghost film has officially run its course all over the planet.

There was an intriguing premise here. A children’s book mysteriously appears on a boy’s shelf and his mother reads it to him. It turns out to be a boogeyman story and for a while, there is genuine tension between the sleep deprived, hard-working single mom and the precocious, possibly sociopathic boy. (He creates a dart-shooting crossbow and a shoulder mounted catapult.) The book has possibly “called” the monster known as The Babadook and unexplainable loud banging on furniture begins.

As the film reaches it’s end though, logic and story holes increasingly take over. As a climax to the mysterious shenanigans going on in the very-gray painted house, there is a roach infestation, an unnecessary tooth-pulling scene and derivative black vomit—all were not previously mentioned as in the Babadook legend—as well as a deceased husband/father that may or may not have something to do with the hauntings. Even worse, things get unintentionally hilarious due to one character’s attempt at fighting back with homemade booby-traps against the horror, which calls to mind Home Alone.

Let’s just hope there isn’t a sequel. The Babadook Part Doo?

Lady, who does your decorating? David Lynch?!

Lady, who does your decorating? David Lynch?!

Yoda’s Take

As a fan of the /Filmcast movie podcast, one of it’s hosts David Chen, proclaimed The Babadook as one of his favorite films of the year during the summer. From the way he was going on about it, it sounded pretty intriguing. Well, at the time I didn’t think I would ever get to see it since it sounded like an obscure foreign film that would never play anywhere near me. And then low and behold when the HIFF schedule came out . . . The Babadook was on there. Needless to say I had to check it out.

Having seen both The Conjuring and Annabelle, I was a little let down by The Babadook. /Filmcast hype aside, The Babadook carries the same premise that the aforementioned Hollywood movies do; as such, a lot of what I think makes The Babadook a decent horror movie was really old hat for me upon viewing. While atmospherically it was very chilling and a little scary at times, because I had seen the same convention in The Conjuring and Annabelle, I wasn’t as scared as I probably would have been had I not seen those other two movies.

What didn’t help my disposition on the film was that the kid in it was pretty damn annoying. I don’t know if it was the way his character was written, the nature of his behavior due to the storyline, or just the fact that he’s actually annoying in real life, but it really grinded on me. Half the time I was like, “who lets their kids act like that?”

Overall The Babadook is a decent enough horror film that I’m sure horror fans will appreciate, if just for the amount of tension and suspense that is built from situations in the film. If you’re at the festival and up for a late night scare, then The Babadook will definitely fit the bill.

The Babadook screens one final time tonight (11/7) at 9pm at Regal Dole Cinemas as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival.

04
Nov
14

HIFF 2014: Revenge of the Green Dragons

Kev Jumba wields a box cutter. Man behind him is not impressed.

Kev Jumba wields a box cutter. Man behind him is not impressed.

One of the main problems with the gangster flick Revenge of the Green Dragons is the casting. Harry Shum Jr. from Glee as the godfather of Chinatown, New York in the 1980s?  Pfft. I’M more threatening than him and I stand at 5’2” on a good day with asthma. Justin Chon, a gloriously lively actor from 21 and Over , plays an immigrant who grows up within this criminal netherworld, but he was eventually reduced to screaming while pointing a gun and crying with extreme spittle throughout most of the film.

The real impressive performance actually came from Kevin Wa, also known as the hilarious YouTube sensation Kev Jumba. He’s the funny guy getting into Internet shenanigans with Ryan Higa and he’s absolutely, and threateningly, riveting here as Chon’s BFF who is also a loose cannon with a potty-mouth temper and an itchy trigger finger.

"That was my role on Glee."

“That was my role on Glee.”

In the end, even with the experience behind the directing team of Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo, the whole film felt like a production by a bunch of impressionable film school students who decided to do an Asian gangster movie.

There’s already a similar take on the subject in production, starring Lucy Liu as the Snakehead, the woman responsible for bringing in the Chinese illegal immigrants who become all of these gangsters; so as the characters tell each other throughout Revenge of the Green Dragons, karmically, what goes around, comes around.

There’s another HIFF screening for the film today (Wednesday 11/5) at 8:30pm at Dole Cannery. It may be an imperfect piece, but for Asian gangster flick fans or YouTube groupies, it’s worth it for the amazing Kevin Wa performance.

04
Nov
14

HIFF 2014: What We Do in the Shadows

The flat of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

The flat of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

It seems like only yesterday when vampires were all the rage with Edward, Bella, and Jacob running around in those Twilight movies. With them and True Blood gone, it does leave sort of a void for someone to step in and do something with the vampire genre. Enter New Zealand writer/director/actor Taika Waititi (Boy) and his latest film, What We Do in the Shadows.

Shadows is a vampire comedy filmed documentary style where cameras follow the subjects and then intersperses that with footage of the subjects being interviewed–the same format that was made popular by Modern Family. The “documentary” follows a flat of vampires that live in Wellington, New Zealand and the trials and tribulations that ensue.

Believe me when I say that Twilight this ain’t. Waititi and frequent cohort Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, MIB 3) lampoon the standard tropes of vampirism through low budget special effects and by showing the audience how ‘real life’ vampires would react in everyday situations. If there was a way I could best describe it, it would be like Interview with a Vampire meets Seinfeld.

Taika Waititi as Viago

Taika Waititi as Viago

The film depicts how these particular vampires have to deal with everything from mundane tasks such as washing the dishes and going out clubbing to the finer details of vampirism such as dealing with werewolves, learning how to fly, and keeping a low profile. Each endeavor depicted presents it’s own set of challenges as the guys have to balance practical reasoning with their own sensibilities and baggage. This is perfectly illustrated in one scene where the guys get dressed up for a night out on the town, but since they can’t see their reflections in mirrors, have to rely on each other for fashion guidance. Compounding their situation, since all of them are over 200 years old, their dated fashion sense is pointed out by the youngest member of the group.

While the everyday situations that the group faces are funny in and of themselves, it’s probably the low budget special effects that makes the film stand out and really adds some charm. From rising out of a coffin, to turning into bats, to flying; anytime special effects are employed you can totally tell they’re effects; but that’s part of the fun of Shadows–it’s in on the same joke that the audience is laughing at when it comes to effects.

You won’t be disappointed by taking in What We Do in the Shadows, in fact, you might just see one of the best films at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival. A vampire comedy? Who knew right?

The second and final showing of What We Do in the Shadows screens today, November 4, 2014 at 8:45pm. Director Taika Waititi was on hand to intro the film and conduct a Q&A at the first screening and we hear that his co-director Jermaine Clement will be joining him at the second screening.

22
Oct
12

HIFF 2012: Festival Capsule for Oct 21

This capsule report is a brief look, reaction, and thoughts on some of the films we’ve seen at this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival.

Hang Loose

This strand of firecrackers definitely gave new meaning to the title ‘Hang Loose.’

I don’t blame the guys from Kinetic for having some fun after the pretty serious tone that they took with their films last year. And that’s exactly what you get in Hang Loose; a sort of National Lampoon’s Hawaiian Vacation meets The Hangover. You have the straight laced guy going out with the groom and his rowdy friends for the traditional bachelor party. And wouldn’t you know it . . . hijinks ensue.

Kevin Wu and Dante Basco were perfectly fine in their roles here, with Basco even stealing scenes a few times. Everything else in the film though just seemed to be really exaggerated or played to the extreme; from local stereotypes, to certain roles, to implausible feats (paragliding over Waikiki?) some of it was a bit too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, the movie knew it was having fun and everything in it reflected that; I guess I was just looking for things to be a bit more serious or maybe a bit more realistic. In spite of that, I myself hung loose and just went with it and had a few laughs in the process.

Rating 3/5 stars
————

Holy Motors

If you’re already stumped by looking at this scene from Holy Motors, you’re not the only one.

I don’t even know where to begin with my thoughts on Holy Motors. The movie is confounding to be sure, but entertaining none the less.

I’ll start with what I do know . . . it may take you a while to properly digest what you’ve seen after watching Holy Motors. At its most basic level you have the story of Mr. Oscar played beautifully by Denis Lavant. He goes from assignment to assignment throughout Paris masquerading as different people and doing different things. Sometimes this requires him to kill people, sometimes it only requires him to speak to people. Through it all he is always changing his looks, demeanor, and personality.

Expect to be challenged if you sit down to watch Holy Motors. Some of the maddening questions that were posed to me during the movie: What is he doing? Why is he going around dressed as different people? Who does he work for? Is any of the things he’s doing real? Are there supernatural elements involved? For a feeble minded viewer such as myself none of these questions were really answered–and somehow I don’t think that’s the point. What is real and what is fake definitely come up again and again throughout the film, but beyond that I’m not sure of anything else.

Beyond the confusion I was definitely entertained by what was going on on-screen. Each of Oscar’s assignments was very different from one another and it was interesting to seem him transform himself to fit each one. Mix in the transitioning scenes in the limo in between assignments and you have a picture of a company man who’s been doing his job for a long time, and though he still doesn’t mind doing it, you can tell it’s definitely taking its toll on him.

I’m still not sure what to make of Holy Motors and I might even need a second viewing to be completely sure. What I am sure of though is Denis Lavant‘s great performance and that Holy Motors will challenge any moviegoer.

Rating 4/5 stars
————

Room 237

Kubrick faked the moon landing . . . MIND BLOWN!

You really have to be some kind of movie fan to really dissect and break down a film. I mean, I thought I was a movie buff since I like to talk about, watch, and go over movies. The theorists in Room 237 though, they take movie fandom to a whole new level.

As I sat there watching Room 237 a majority of the time all I could think was “are these people actually making these assumptions/judgements about Kubrick’s The Shining?” From the faking of moon landing footage to the holocaust, to the genocide of American Indians and tons more in between I sat transfixed as theory after theory was conveyed to us–transfixed mainly because I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Kubrick was a pretty smart guy, but I’m not sure if any of the theories suggested hold any weight.

What’s really fun about the doc is that even though it presents these theorists in a somewhat serious light, it still treats everything sort of tongue and cheek with the way footage from Kubrick films are used to illustrate what the speakers are saying and also at times pokes fun at what they are saying by juxtaposing it with satirical imagery. Another fun aspect that adds to the film’s charm is the fact that it’s obviously subjective. There is no bias involved and it goes out of its way to make it seem as if all of these theories are real.

In the end, while it was a fun presentation of the possible undertones of the film, I never really bought into any of them. Some of the leaps that the interviewers make were really quite large and often times were only supported by coincidence rather than hard evidence. Besides, all of those things couldn’t be true at the same time could they? I leave it up to you to decide.

Rating 3.5/5 stars

20
Oct
12

HIFF 2012 Review: Starlet

What is it about guilt that make us ashamed and repentant? I guess you have to be a good person at heart or at least have some type of feelings otherwise people wouldn’t feel remorseful for their wrong doings. But what lengths would you go to repay a debt or to right a wrong? Would you pay a person back? Or would you find another way to make it up to them? Does concealing the fact that you may have wronged a person make things worse? All these questions and more are tackled in Starlet and there don’t seem to be any easy answers.

At its core, Starlet is about the unlikely relationship between Jane, a young twenty-something trying to make ends meet and Sadie, an elderly eccentric woman coping with losing her independence. Their two paths cross when Jane makes a purchase at Sadie’s yard sale. Hidden inside Jane’s purchase, rolls of cash that Sadie doesn’t know about. Once Jane discovers the money, she struggles with what she should do with it.

The drama and heart of the film comes from the interchange between Jane and Sadie. The guilt that Jane feels for taking the money compels her to repay Sadie; though she doesn’t go as far as giving it back to her. What starts off as remorse slowly turns into curiosity as Jane starts finding ways to spend time with Sadie and help her out. If this sounds at all stalker-ish, that’s because it is. At several points early on Jane seemingly pops out of nowhere to help Sadie out, showing up at the store and even at Sadie’s Saturday bingo game. These early encounters are definitely a little funny, but if it wasn’t a movie, it would probably be a little creepy.

Who knew bingo could be so much fun. All the kids are doing it these days.

Many of the conversations and interactions that Jane and Sadie have together are really awkward, but fun to watch from an audience perspective. Sadie is kurt and brash with her responses and over reacts to some of the things that Jane does such as when Jane lets her dog Starlet drink from the same glass that she just did. It utterly shocks Sadie. The back and forth between the two, though sometimes uncomfortable, ultimately forces the both of them to really think about their developing relationship and their lives moving forward. You know the two have really bonded when Sadie describes to Jane the way to get the perfect bowel movement (a big breakfast, no lunch, and a salad for dinner if you were wondering).

Things come to an emotional head about half way through the film when Jane makes Sadie responsible for something of hers when she has to leave for work one weekend. Over the course of her day Sadie just loses track of things which leads her on a search throughout the neighborhood. Beyond potentially losing this new found friendship, being entrusted with this task is something that bears a heavy weight on Sadie as it is a moratorium on whether or not Sadie is too old to be responsible for anything.

An unlikely odd couple friendship if there ever was one.

Of course this relationship wouldn’t be too complex if Jane didn’t have destructive friends and a pretty unconventional occupation–both of which impede on Sadie’s friendship in different ways. Jane’s friends create drama and stress while her job remains secretive. Both put their stress on the newly formed friendship, but in the end its these obstacles that help strengthen it.

Like I said at it’s core this movie is about this friendship between this older woman and this younger kid and the interplay that goes on there. Dree Hemingway has this really great youthful and energetic interaction with her older co-star Besedka Johnson and their on screen chemistry is pretty great. Their scenes together really make the film. Each made their character feel real and authentic and I was hoping that their relationship would last throughout the film.

In the end Starlet does answer some lofty questions about guilt and remorse; but it’s also a movie about relationships, affection, and love . . . takeaways that I think anyone can appreciate.

Starlet will have a second showing at HIFF on Saturday, October 20 and will be in limited release beginning Friday, November 9.

Star rating-3.5/5 // NR* // 103 minutes
*Though it does not currently carry a rating, there is a graphic sex scene in the film which would definitely push it into “R” rating territory.

20
Oct
12

HIFF 2012 Review: Tai Chi 0

Don’t make him angry . . . you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Back when I was in elementary, THE arcade game to be playing was Street Fighter II. Though I couldn’t master the game, it seemed to be popular due to its colorful characters, funky combination of button punching to release special combos, and fantastical sets of special moves. I was reminded a lot of that video game from a bygone time as I sat there being entertained by Tai Chi 0.

What makes the film so fun is the playful way that tai chi is presented. While the the moves are fantastical and over the top, they are more workman like and utilitarian in nature. So while people still go flying around, it is a bit more believable than say what they were doing in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What adds to the fun are the animated messages that pop up or are overlaid at different points in the film. A fun use of this is employed when tai chi moves are introduced. As the person is going through their move, schematic like diagrams explaining their move are shown. Finally, there are a few animated and comic book like cut sequences that also add to the playful nature of the film.

WHOA, I know kung fu when I want to know tai chi.

Tai Chi tells the story of Yang, an orphaned child with the unique ability to go “super saiyan” whenever his bodily abnormality on his forehead is punched. After long term use with life threatening consequences, Yang is urged to seek refuge at the legendary Chen village, where learning their special brand of tai chi may reverse the ill effects. Though everyone in towns knows tai chi, they do not teach it to outsiders.

You pretty much know where the story is going once our young protagonist gets to the village, so there’s no new ground being covered here. Undeterred, Yang turns the obstacles in front of him into a windfall when outside forces threaten the village. Throw in a love triangle, industrialization creeping into rural areas, years of village tradition, and a reclusive mentor; and the plot of the film provides the hero (and the audience) with enough to keep busy with. Probably the most interesting turn in the film is when a huge steampunky war train shows up at the gateway to the town threatening to bulldoze it over in the name of technological progress. That’s where the film kicks up the action and drama while featuring the best food fight I’ve ever seen of film.

I would be remiss not to mention that this film is the first in a trilogy of films so don’t expect everything to wrap up nicely at the end. In fact, many questions I had were not answered by the film; first and foremost being the non-resolution of Yang’s reasons for journeying to the Chen village. However, the film does end on a “just wait till you see the sequel” moment where it’s hinted at that things will be amped up in the next movie. The end credits sequence even previews some of the events in future by providing imagery of things that I’m sure others in my audience were dying to know.

At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a fun martial arts action movie, Tai Chi 0 won’t be your best choice, but it definitely will be a fun one and Down Right Fierce.

Sample-ing Problems

At my screening of Tai Chi 0 there were technical issues with the festival print and a DVD version was shown instead. We were told that since it was an evaluation copy of the film that we were watching, the word “Sample” would be plastered across the screen. Refunds and exchanges were offered, and while I don’t know how many people chose this option, a good number of people stayed and our theater was at least 85% full. Hats off to the HIFF staff for making the best out of a bad situation and still offering to show the film in some form rather than outright canceling it–while still offering refunds. Another hat tip as well to all of us that stayed to watch the film. You know people are true cinema fans when they don’t let low quality presentation ruin a night out.

Tai Chi 0 is currently out in limited release and is tentatively slated to open in Hawaii on Friday, October 26.

Rating 3/5 stars // PG-13 // 100 minutes

16
Oct
12

HIFF 2012 Review: Shanghai Calling

You hear that . . . it’s Shanghai calling.

I’ve never been to Shanghai, but I’m sure if I did ever make it there, I’d be respectful and reverent about the new country and culture I was entering. I don’t know, maybe it’s just my humble upbringings, but mom and dad taught me that when you go to someone else’s house . . . you follow house rules.

I guess not everyone learns this lesson, least of whom Sam, a hot shot New York attorney who reluctantly transfers to Shanghai–just another stepping stone on the corporate ladder for his firm. At it’s core Shanghai Calling is a fish out of water story where Sam learns to adapt, then love, his new found home. The ironic part in all this . . . Sam is Chinese but doesn’t know a lick about his heritage. Hijinks ultimately ensue.

Talk about your Asian-American partnerships.

Sam comes to Shanghai and carries on as if he’s still in the United States when all the signs around him (literally and figuratively) point to the fact that he is in another world. During a business meeting early in the film, his secretary tries to give him advice on doing business in China but he brushes her off; thinking she’s trying to be contradictory rather than helpful. While I thought Daniel Henney was brilliantly douchey in the lead role; I thought that particular aspect of his character was a cliché played up to the extreme and detriment of the film. Time and again I found myself face palming every time he shot down helpful advice from his friends and co-workers in China. How could a guy so smart be so dumb?

Other gripes I had with the film stemmed from the logic of the film and the motivation of characters. At several points I wondered why certain things were going when there seemed to be a rather straightforward answer. Case in point is the main dilemma for Sam in the film, his client is losing business to a competitor who has seemingly violated his client’s exclusive agreement. Sam meets with the competitor and tells them that if they don’t stop that he’ll get an injunction to shut them down. Case closed right? Wrong. For the next 30-40 minutes a roundabout investigation is launched into said competitor when in the end, the injunction finally goes through. There were a few common sense points such as this that left me scratching my head.

When the lights go down in the city . . . ohoh ohohoh ohoh.

That being said, I still had a fun time with Shanghai Calling. In fact, the movie was more of a comedy than I expected it to be. Most of the culture clashing jokes did land as they should have and I was rooting for Sam the entire time. Daniel Henney gives a pretty nice performance at Sam. I believed he was that ignorant foreigner and had a great sense of comedic timing. The rest of the acting corps in the film also turned in decent performances as well. While most of the cast will probably be relatively unknown to US audiences, two faces they will probably recognize are those of Bill Paxton (Twister, Apollo 13) who fits perfectly in the role as the mayor of “Americatown” and Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

For director Daniel Hsia, Shanghai Calling marks a charming outing for his first feature length film when you factor in managing the cast as well as shooting on location in Shanghai; and the movie’s got a great feel. Speaking of which, the city does feature prominently throughout the film and does get to shine as a character of its own. And herein lies another rub of the film. Are we to be entertained by the main character and his struggles? Or is the more important aspect Shanghai (and ultimately China and its culture) and the role it plays in the film? As a Chinese co-production certain story elements were changed in order for the film to receive Chinese funding and distribution, exactly how much remains to be seen. I can’t help but wonder though if some of the out of place moments in the film were due to these changes . . . and perhaps we’ll never know.

Hey I just met you Shanghai, and this sounds crazy, but here’s our manapua, so call us maybe?

Not without its problems, on the whole Shanghai Calling is a fun romantic comedy drama of sorts that will definitely give you a few laughs and is a wonderful showcase of Shanghai and its culture. Will that be enough to call you?

Distribution for Shanghai Calling is currently in the works and could potentially be released sometime in 2013.

Rating 3/5 stars // NR // 100 minutes




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