Monday, August 29, 2011


My final film for this year’s MIFF was originally advertised as a “surprise screening”, but once it was announced that the film was actually “The Debt”, I jumped at a chance at seeing it.  This is the American remake of an Israeli film of the same name, which was actually my second favourite film at MIFF in 2008.  Back when I wrote my review of that version, I lamented the fact that the American’s were already in the process of remaking it, but it has certainly taken its time getting here.

While there are some differences between the two films, the basic story remains the same.  It is about three Mossad agents in 1967 who travel to Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal and bring him back for trial.  The mission is a success and the three become national heroes.  However all is not what it seems and perhaps the agents have bent the truth a little.  Thirty years later, someone from their past returns threatening to expose the truth, and the now much older agents must set out and right the wrongs of their previous mission and to repay a debt they owe the Israeli people.

For the most part, this is a very good remake, however I still favour the original.  As is always the case, this remake is “bigger” than the original, but bigger doesn’t equate with being better, and as such I think this is the main flaw of the remake.  The original film is a tight ninety minute affair with no flab, however this new version is a little over twenty minutes longer, and as a result of this the film drags a bit in the second half.  They have added two new set-pieces to the film, the first of which is at a train station which I thought was a really nice addition, but the second at a newspaper office was not needed and only worked in slowing the film down dramatically and lessening its impact.

The film is most successful in the section set in 1967 when the agents are young and attempting to catch the war criminal.  This section is just as good as the original, with the exception that it is all spoken in accented English.  It just sounds a little weird, and as good as Sam Worthington is in his role of David, he does slip into his Aussie accent now and then, especially when he is yelling.  Imagine how excited I was when I found out that Jessica Chastain plays the role of Rachel in this version of “The Debt”.  I was beside myself, but she plays a much different role here involved in a lot of action and she does get quite bloody and bruised.  She is still incredibly gorgeous though.

Once the film reverts back to the 90’s, it starts to lose something unfortunately.  Helen Mirren plays the adult Rachel during this section of the film and it was almost like the producers thought because they had gotten her for the role, they better beef it up for her, which is a detriment to the film as a whole.  As I have said already, the film slows to a snail pace until the finale, and as such isn’t able to hold the sustained tension like the original.  Another problem in this part of the film is Tom Wilkinson who plays the adult Stephan.  He is an admittedly fine actor, but he hasn’t even bothered to try an Israeli accent, he just keeps his British one.  It just sounds a little odd because when Marton Csokas plays the young Stephan he has a thick accent, which appears to have gone completely at the end of the film when Tom Wilkinson takes over the role.  Also the fate of the Stephan character has been changed in this version and is much less satisfying.

Overall though, director John Madden has done a good job with his remake of “The Debt”.  The first half is definitely on par with the original film, only to be sadly let down a little by the second half, still this was a film that I enjoyed immensely.  

3.5 Stars.


My MIFF screenings this year have been bookended by two similar films.  My second film this year was Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia”, a film about a new planet that had been hiding behind the sun, which on a basic surface level is the same thing as my second last film “Another Earth”.  This film had gotten a lot of praise for being a great indie film and while I agree that it is definitely a good film, two things got in my way of loving “Another Earth”.

One day after coming home from a party drunk and distracted, Rhoda crashes into another car killing everyone but the father inside.  The man, John Burroughs, is an accomplished musician and after the crash, ends up in a coma.  He lost his five year old son and his pregnant wife in the accident.  Rhoda ends up going to jail for four years for her part in John’s family’s death.  At the time of the accident, Rhoda was actually distracted by the discovery of a brand new planet, eventually nicknamed “Earth II” which had been hiding behind the sun.

By the time her four year jail term is up, scientists are preparing to visit “Earth II” for the first time.  They have determined that the new planet is an exact replica of Earth complete with the same personnel on the planet.  That means that there is essentially two of everybody.  Another scientist comes up with the “broken mirror” theory which states that the planets were exactly the same until the new planet was discovered.  Since then it has fractured and now follows its own path separate from our own.  This is all very exciting and Rhoda enters a competition to try and get a seat on the spaceship travelling to “Earth II”.  

However, right now in the present, she has more important things on her mind, namely to find John and to apologize to him for all the pain she has caused him.  However when he answers the door, she loses her nerve and pretends to be from a cleaning company which is offering free trials.  He accepts and she continues to clean his house regularly, with her justification being that she is helping him even if it is only in a minor capacity, until the inevitable happens and the two fall in love.

Now the two things that I disliked about “Another Earth”: first of all was the character of Rhoda herself.  She is such an incredibly selfish person and is only looking to make herself feel better for what she has done, but doing so under the guise that she wants to make John feel better.  By worming herself into this poor man’s life, there is an inevitability that he will eventually find out the truth, and the pain that he will feel when he does is unthinkable.  She continually frustrated me.  I suppose though this is one of the things the film is looking at, the fact that you cannot make up for something you did in the past (when it comes to this nature), and it certainly doesn’t condone what Rhoda is doing, but it still annoyed me and made me very angry.  The other thing that drove me insane was director Mike Cahill’s constant and rapid zooming, it was nuts!  The shot would begin at a nice position and then zoom at high speed to a close-up of whatever character was talking.  If it was done once or twice, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it, but it happens all the time, and once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing it.

Apart from that, though, I really liked the film, it was well written, and with the exception of the zooms, looked fantastic and it had a great emotional depth to it, plus I loved the ending.

3 Stars.



This was a Greek film that I initially had a hard time getting into but the more it went along, the more I liked it.  The film is about a young girl in her early twenties named Marina who when the film begins is basically asexual.  She has never had a boyfriend, has never been kissed, let alone had intercourse, but nor does she have any interest in it.  Her best friend Bella is almost the opposite, sleeping with anyone she gets the chance to.  Marina lives alone with her father (her mother is deceased) and the two have a great relationship.  In fact this is part of the problem as Marina would prefer to spend time watching David Attenborough documentaries with her dad (and act them out) instead of spending time with people of her own age, and of the opposite sex.

However Marina’s father is currently in the fight of his life as he undergoes treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer.  As the cancer continues to spread through his body and the likelihood of his surviving lessens by the day, he begins to worry about his daughter and how she will survive once he is gone.  He begins to nudge her in the direction of spending time with other people and with people from the other sex.  Marina ends up meeting a nice guy and she finally begins to awaken sexually.  This awakening brings a freshness and vitality to her life, while at the same time, her father is losing his battle to keep his.

What holds this film together and makes it work is the relationship between father and daughter.  It is very touching and the two leads, Ariane Labed and Giorgos Lanthimos, are very convincing throughout.  Labed is especially strong and her character Marina is someone who you enjoy being in the company of, as she grows into adulthood in earnest.  Amazingly I have just learnt that Labed is not fluent in Greek at all, and had to learn all of her lines phonetically.  This makes her performance all the more special because just learning the lines and performing them naturally is a feat in itself, but to also infuse them with complex emotions is just stunning.

As everyone knows I am a visually orientated person when it comes to film but in regards to “Attenberg” there is almost no style at all to it.  In fact, you could almost call the film ugly.  A strange thing included in the film is that between most scenes we get a small choreographed walk / dance by the two girls as they travel up the same path each time.  It is very odd because to my eyes, it serves no real purpose, but I got to like it watching the girls in sync.

Overall “Attenberg” is a small film and a modest achievement.  The story itself is its strong point and I believe it is one worth watching.  It is a heartfelt and emotional look at sexual awakening while coming to terms with the death of a parent.  Another positive with the film is that it never falls into the trap of sentimentality.  Incidentally if you are wondering what the title means, it comes from the way Bella mispronounces David Attenborough’s name.

3 Stars.


At the time I saw “Three” it was actually my fifth straight film of the day, so I do not think it was the best film to see in my tired state.  This is the brand new film from German filmmaker Tom Tykwer and it is a bit of a change of pace for him after films like “The International” and “Perfume”.  “Three” is a modern day drama about a couple, Hanna and Simon, who have been together for twenty years, who both end up having affairs at the same time unbeknown to the other.  What they also do not know is that they are both having an affair with the same man, Adam.

It is strange because the couple still obviously care for each other but they both seem to need something extra.  Another issue that the couple have to deal with is the sudden announcement that Simon’s mother has pancreatic cancer and has little time to live. At the same time as this revelation, Simon himself as just found out that he has testicular cancer and must be operated on.  It all happens so quick, he is informed that he has the cancer and then told he has to be operated on immediately, which just happens to be the day that Hanna starts her affair with Adam, and thus she isn’t aware of his surgery.  During his recovery, Simon meets Adam at a swimming pool and starts a relationship with the man.  He initially struggles with his feelings because this is his first homosexual relationship, but he decides in the end that life is too short and to just go for it.

As well as the relationship drama that is front and centre, “Three” also looks at the way we label things and how this restricts our happiness due to the boundaries we put on ourselves.  For example why shouldn’t we be able to have a successful relationship between three people (as opposed to the generally accepted two) just because society says it is wrong.  It is interesting and heady stuff and unfortunately I don’t think I took in as much of this part of the film as I should have due to my tiredness.

“Three” is energetically directed by Tykwer and always makes this dialogue driven film visually exciting.  While I think that most of the performances are good, for some reason I reacted against all of them (the characters) and I do not know why.  I found Hanna to be especially annoying.  I will say that I think the film is far too long and even though I liked the ending, I thought it dragged its feet getting there.  Still it was an interesting film and a nice change of pace from Tykwer showing his range as a director.

3 Stars.


Who knew? Trolls actually exist!  They aren’t just creatures designed to scare children in fairy tales, they are actually real.  In fact, Norway has a huge population of them and its government has been keeping them a secret, and is still trying to keep it that way.  The task of capturing or killing these trolls if they escape their allotted area is left up to one man, Hans, who is often mistaken for a poacher of bears, due to the fact that the government often places the body of a dead bear near where troll activity has taken place to make the animal a scapegoat and to continue to keep the public in the dark about the existence of trolls.

A team of journalists from a college newspaper are trying to get an interview with the “poacher”, and as such are secretly following his every move.  One night while on the path of the man, he suddenly bursts out of the trees yelling “TROLL!” and flees for his life with the others following him.  When the journalists discover for themselves that trolls really do exist, they realize that they have a much bigger story on their hands.  They ask Hans if they can tag along with him and film exactly what he does.  Surprisingly he agrees to this, and sets out to find out why a large number of trolls are suddenly leaving their designated areas.

This is a Norwegian film and it is one of those P.O.V / found footage horror films, filmed on digital camera.  Personally I am a little tired of these films and I think they are becoming much more regular due to the low costs involved in making them.  Because of all this the idea isn’t as fresh as it once was but I suppose for this kind of film, “Troll Hunter” is actually pretty good.  The use of trolls as the monster is a fresh angle I suppose, it is just a shame that when they are on screen they look a little ridiculous.  Still the film succeeds by having interesting characters that you actually enjoy being around and the main character of Hans is outstanding.  He talks about trolls with a seriousness and matter-of-factness that you would expect from an expert, but he also shows a tiredness or weariness of a man who has had enough of his job.

The film is naturally quite funny in places with the casual banter between the group, and there is a particularly funny joke involving a Christian, which is followed up with an equally funny joke when a Muslim joins the team later in the film.  The film’s biggest flaw is that it is far too long.  These kinds of films need to have a relatively short running time, otherwise it lessens the effectiveness of the gimmick (for example, the two “REC” films both have running times just over seventy minutes and are great examples of P.O.V horror).  Obviously because of the nature of this film, visually it isn’t going to look pretty and is full of shaky-cam, but this is the only time I can accept this type of camerawork in a film.

Overall “Troll Hunter” is not a bad film, actually for what it is, it is pretty good, but it just didn’t stand out for me.  Also for a horror film, it had limited scares.

3 Stars.