Based on the fascinating true story of the late Maria Altmann, a Vienesse born refugees living in Los Angeles, who fought the government of Austria for almost a decade with a young lawyer Randy Schoenberg to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s more than $100M worth iconic painting of her aunt ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ – stolen by the Nazis in the WW2, ‘Woman in Gold’ is a legal drama that sounds so much like an award contender by Simon Curtis (‘My Week with Marylin’) name, Helen Mirren and mostly The Weinstein Company who distributed the film. The film’s also filled with a huge ensemble cast that includes Ryan Reynolds in the role of Schoenberg, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Antje Traue and German-owned Moritz Bleibtreu in his brief appearance as Gustav Klimt himself.
The thing with ‘Woman in Gold’ is the movie seem to play too safe in cliche territory of feel good legal-drama that is more to an odd couple mission, often goes with almost too comical characters – including Reynolds character – instead of building greater emotional impact on its darker elements of the true-story as an award contender. Though so, Helen Mirren’s performance and most of its talented supporting cast including one to be greatly noted, Tatiana Maslany as young Mirren, is surely unquestionable to create a convincing and crowd-pleasing movie based on a true story. ‘Woman in Gold’, nevertheless, still left some memorable scenes – mostly in its desaturated color-flashbacks and quite compelling climax. It might not fit the serious critics’ taste nor a strong award contender, but still an important film with lots of historical informations.
MOZU (Japan, Eiichiro Hasumi)
Based on 15 episodes – award winning WOWOW/TBS TV series, a hard-boiled cop actioner from the popular novel ‘Go Osaka’, ‘Mozu’ serves as a continuation of the series, by hitmaker director Eiichiro Hasumi, known famously for ‘Umizaru’ franchise and the recent live action version of ‘Assassination Classroom’.
Set six months after the event in the series, Inspector Kuraki (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a young detective who fell into alcohol problem after the death of his wife and kids, now has to deal with a group of terrorist who kidnap a 16 year old autistic girl after some explosions and embassy attack. Working together with Ex-cop turns private eye Ohsugi (Teruyuki Kagawa), their investigations lead to mysterious mastermind named Daruma / Mozu (played by Takeshi Kitano).
Just like the series, only bigger and sometimes more absurd in portraying street chase to gore combats and torturing scenes, ‘Mozu’ needs no further explanation as a straight-forward high octane action entertainment.
YOU’RE NOT YOU (USA, George C. Wolfe)
Based on the novel of the same name by Michelle Wildgen, a film that brought two times Oscar winner Hilary Swank to TIFF, ‘You’re Not You’, tells the moving story of Kate (played by Swank), a classical pianist with ALS (Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and her caregiver companion, a free-spirited college student and failed singer-songwriter Bec (Emmy Rossum), in the seek of redemption to her directionless life.
Directed by award winning George C. Wolfe from ‘Angels in America’ and also starred Josh Duhamel, Ali Larter and many more, Shana Feste and Jordan Roberts’ script was effectively moves the comically formulaic setup, bumping the contrast of its two main characters to the more subtle looks that posed tough questions on how to live and cope with such disease. Swank once again showed her devoted performance – physically and emotionally; playing an ALS sufferer over a wonderful chemistry with Rossum, also plays Bec deeply commited, while the rest of supporting cast – Loretta Devine and Ernie Hudson who plays a couple of fellow patients, Frances Fisher and Marcia Gay Harden as Swank and Rossum’s mom, and Jason Ritter, each gave their notable performance. With this power of emotional complexity, which is thoughtful, inspiring and filled with positivity without ever exploiting its main ALS theme, ‘You’re Not You’ can get away from any cliche form of a disease porn.
JAPANESE CINEMA SPLASH
KEN AND KAZU (Hiroshi Shoji)
Based on Hiroshi Shoji’s eponymous 23 mins short in 2011 from Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia 2011 Japan Competition, also travel abroad to Rotterdam, ‘Ken and Kazu’ is slightly different than other TIFF’s Japanese Cinema Splash entries that mostly plays in arthouse drama territory. The film revolves around Ken (Shinsuke Kato) and his lifelong buddy Kazu (Katsuya Maiguma), also partners in methamphetamine smuggling. The conflict between them is rising when Ken, forced by his girlfriend’s pregnancy, tried to stop but Kazu, with his new partner, goes on selling without their boss’ approval.
Just won this year’s Japanese Cinema Splash Best Picture, the strongest element in ‘Ken and Kazu’ is the acting chemistry between its two leads. The premise might sound cliche in the crime genre, but as an independent filmmaking, the film runs in fast pace without crossing any line of indie territory. The camera work is exquisite, too, and like last year success of ‘100 Yen Love‘, which opened the way of these fine selections of Japanese independent movies to a wider distribution, ‘Ken and Kazu‘ will be very likely gained more attention from the larger public audience.
HER FATHER, MY LOVER / TOMODACHI PAPA (Kenji Yamauchi)
Of all this year’s Japanese Cinema Splash selected movies, ‘Her Father, My Lover’ might one that has a very interesting premise about a young university student, Maya (Wako Ando) falls in love with her sensible friend’s – Taeko (Yukino Kishii) father, Kyosuke (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), who already divorced Maya’s Mom over an affair with his workmate results in the girl’s pregnancy. All of this haven’t stop Maya’s obsession to Kyosuke, though her former high school teacher begins to stalk her, causing an weird chain reaction of imploding relationship.
It may sound like a chaotic black comedy, which director Kenji Yamauchi also sets the movie to become one. The setup was quite good but somehow the movie loses itself in the middle, towards the awkward ending that’s not thoroughly successful to conclude the aftermath.
CROSSCUT ASIA #02: THE HEAT OF PHILLIPINE CINEMA
SERBIS / SERVICE (2008, Brillante Ma Mendoza)
Focusing Phillipine Cinema in the 2nd Crosscut Asia Special Program by Japan Foundation Asia Center, the section has five selected Phillipine movies and another five in its special focus; The World of Brillante Ma Mendoza as one of the hottest director in Phillipine’s independent movie scene. ‘Serbis’ was his seventh film, one that gained many attentions as 2008 Cannes’ Main Competition list.
There might be not enough words to describe Mendoza’s distinctly exploitative works over an explicit absurdity he shown in ‘Serbis’ to portray a fractured family through every rooms and corridors in a failed Phillipine’s porn movie theatre. While some people might find them really annoying, the idea of putting sex as a commodity in a third world runs amok also comes tickling and quite unforgettable over its 94 mins duration.
TAKLUB / TRAP (2015, Brillante Ma Mendoza)
Sixteen films since 2005 has made Brillante Mendoza an auteur in Phillipine’s independent movie scene. His new work, ‘Taklub’, which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival followed the survivors and how they picked up their lives in the aftermath of the Super Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the central part of Phillipine through an intertwined plot of his characters. Starred Phillipine’s legendary senior actress Nora Aunor, ‘Taklub’ was officially made by the request of their Department of Environment and Natural Resources, but instead making a documentary, Mendoza choose a narrative way that plays like a docu-drama.
Although marked as a government-backed project, Mendoza never compromised his signature in portraying a bleak and gritty world, often with pessimistic yet satirical and intimate glimpse. It’s again, not a film for everybody, but nonetheless, a well made, well acted and engaging human drama in Mendoza’s way of his distinct visual aesthetic.
KID KULAFU (2015, Paul Soriano)
Unlike last year’s selections in Crosscut Asia: Thai Fascination that put mainstream and arthouse – independent movie in balance, ‘Kid Kulafu’ might be the only selection that can widely received by public audience. Telling the untold truth about their boxing legend Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao, the film plays straight as a biographical sports drama about Manny’s childhood. And this is not the first Manny biopic from Phillipine Cinema. There were ‘Pacquiao: The Movie’ (2006) and a 2014 documentary ‘Manny’narrated by Liam Neeson.
‘Kid Kulafu’ was actually not being something so different in the genre over the straight-forward intention to portray the titular character as the man who went against all odds to strive his natural talent and greatness. The movie portray Manny’s life from birth to childhood and his young age where he discovers his natural talent for boxing, and then took the intense journey from the mountains of Phillipine to the streets of Manila to find his motivation as a champion. But despite the cliche turns and some too dramatized plot in any biographical sports drama, the power of ‘Kid Kulafu’ lies in well-shot and executed fight scenes, and Robert ‘Buboy’ Villar’s convincing effort to play the young Manny. (dan)