Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BIFFF Day #9 (Saturday, 4/14)

Following the late night adventures (and extended clean-up required) of the Vampire Ball, Gert and I decided to rise a little later than usual, and with no interviews on tap, we pretty much showed up at the start of the film programming (4pm) and stayed the course until the final offering of the day. Just movies, chatting with the lovely press ladies, my exponentially expanding circle of journalist and filmmaker friends (funny how spending a week watching movies with the same people can prove to be such a bonding experience) and my now-standard dinner of an orange and baguette loaf – usually eaten during the 8pm feature. Overall, it was a solid cinematic prix fixe, highlighted by the Korean thriller Poongsan and the crowd-pleasing Finnish Nazis-on-the-moon sci-fi comedy Iron Sky.

Sorry I don’t have any interesting stories to tell for Saturday – everyone was pretty well wiped out from the previous night’s adventures and the conversations primarily centered around the celebs we had met over the course of the week (general consensus – Mick Garris is the nicest man alive, and everyone’s glad that Friedkin has left the building) and the films we were recommending to one another if they hadn’t been caught already. After all, we are now in the home stretch – only three more days of competition left!

Poongsan (2011) (1st viewing) d. Jaihong, Juhn (South Korea)
A solid thriller about mute-by-choice smuggler Kye Sang Yoon who possesses a preternatural gift for eluding observation, slipping through the DMZ between North and South Korea. When he transports the bride (Gyu-ri Kim) of a diplomatic defector from the North, it triggers a war between the Kim Jong-Il loyalists and the South’s police forces, leaving an enormous body count in its wake. While the political allegories get a little sledgehammer-like in their obviousness, there’s little denying the alacrity with which Juhn keeps the action moving or Yoon’s impressive screen presence, communicating volumes with nary a word.

Retreat, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Tibbetts, Carl (UK)
Mixed bag pressure cooker about an on-the-rocks couple (Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton) taking a holiday on a remote Scottish isle, with tensions running high long before a mysterious and wounded soldier, played by Jamie Bell, appears on their doorstep, claiming a massive viral outbreak has occurred and commandeering their lodging. While the performances are all capable enough and there is a estimable amount of tension generated when Bell’s story’s starts to feel a little suspicious, the production is hamstrung by the fact that the “two men-one woman alone together” dynamic has been done to death, and there’s no new emotional ground unearthed here. Murphy is a milquetoast who eventually grows a pair when pushed far enough by the alpha male Bell, and Newton is alternately strong or shrieking, depending on the circumstances. The frequent lapses in motivation and resourcefulness left me fairly cold, but I should also state that Murphy and Newton rarely hit my sweet spot anyway, so it could be just personal taste.

Iron Sky (2012) (1st viewing) d. Vuorensola, Timo (Finland)
Where did the Nazis go in 1945? To the moon, of course. Appro po of this deliriously energetic sci-fi comedy, little time is wasted on explanations or justifications and that is absolutely as it should be. Given circumstances, as insane as they might be, as accepted wholeheartedly, thanks to the conviction of the performances and the handsome production design, all marshaled by director Vuorensola’s giddy pace throughout. A lot of comedy is derived from political satire (such as the Sarah Palin-like U.S. President’s desperate angling for re-election), as well as a healthy absurdist stripe throughout, the most prominent running gag being Christopher Kirby’s African American astronaut-turned-Aryan homeless guy. It’s silly, it’s clever, it looks great, and even if it isn’t funny all of the time, the darn thing moves. Also notable for the fact that of its 7 million Euro budget, 1 million came directly from interested and invested fans themselves, easily one of the biggest consumer-based funding efforts in history and every penny of it appears onscreen with superb visual effects and art direction. A huge hit with the festival crowd, and I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see it show up Stateside.

Elevator (2011) (1st viewing) d. Svendsen, Stig (USA)
Another low-budget effort about a group of people trapped in a confined area (a prominent theme for the festival this year), stripped down to its barest bones with this single set, near real-time thriller about the titular flying box that gets stuck between floor with an impressive but not unbelievably diverse mix of individuals on board. Tensions predictably rise, but screenwriter/producer Marc Rosenberg has a few original tricks up his sleeve, and Svendsen keeps the energy and shocks clipping right along. The always welcome John Getz shares the screen with Chicago actor Joey Slotnik and a septet of others, and suffice to say, things don’t turn out pretty as the best and worst in all comes to the fore.

Panic Button (2011) (1st viewing) d. Crow, Chris (UK)
While there’s much to be admired in this microbudget flick about four guests of a UK social networking site caught in a psychotic mastermind’s elaborate “dream trip to New York” snare, the fact that it is so blatantly “Saw on a plane” diminishes the achievement considerably. From the “game” aspect to the Jigsaw-like modulated tones of the unseen antagonist (here dubbed “Alligator” in keeping with his cute cartoon avatar) to the “do this or you/he/she dies” scenarios presented to the hapless (and insufferably obnoxious) quartet, we’ve seen this picture at least a dozen times before, and it’s coming mighty late to the party. Crow hopefully earns his stripes here and will be rewarded with other, better scripts (I’m still shaking my head that four, count ‘em four screenwriters couldn’t come up with something less transparently derivative).

2012 Totals to date: 164 films, 142 1st time views, 85 horror, 47 cinema

Picks of the Day: Poongsan, Iron Sky

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