Category Archives: 72nd Venice Film Festival

Venice Film Festival: Beixi moshuo / Behemoth 悲兮魔兽 (2015) – China / France

Venice Film Festival: Beixi moshuo / Behemoth 悲兮魔兽 (2015) – China / France

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Directed by: Liang Zhao

Reviewed at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival

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Director Liang Zhao have created a work of art that takes a lot of patience and thoughts before the unavoidable and impending misfortune that is the monster within humanity is revealed to us. While not as figuratively, nature is destroyed, human lives once roaming freely in the vast natural world is now being confined to working in toxic and polluted environments like the coal and steel productions. It is almost sad and teary to witness such predicament to fall upon the weakness, the most vulnerable and the innocence. Corporates and government bounded together in pursue of profits and in this case, the creations of “ghost towns” around China is all the more ironic.

This powerful documentary grows and stays with you. The image of a once healthy man having a happy family with a newborn baby rolling around the vast grass fields and clean air being juxtapose with grey and red chemical pollution that eventually proved fatal. Such is the nature of humankind that as we live in a cynical world this is just an example out of many around the world today. One day our children and their children will no longer be able to live in the world we are in and there will be no one else to blame, but ourselves.

“Beixi moshuo” (aka “Behemoth”) is a fitting film to be shown at Venice as they are now in the midst of a “living decay” with tourism over-exceeding what the islands can hold and soon all the beauty and whatever that is left of the Venetian culture will be sunk into the sea, lost for the value of more profits. Similarly, themes are relevant, but for the people of this Chinese town, their lives forever ruined and nobody is willing to help or assist. I have always believe that films and documentary have a huge role to play in society to express relevant social concerns to the wider public and in making “Behemoth”, director Liang Zhao succeeded and deservingly picked up the Green Drop Award at Venice 2015.

Recommended film and endorsed by HK Neo Reviews.

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Venice Film Festival: De Palma (2015) – United States

Venice Film Festival: De Palma (2015) – United States

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Directed by: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Produced by: Eli Bush, Jake Paltrow, Scott Rudin
Starring: Brian De Palma

Reviewed at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival

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Venice 2015 honors Brian De Palma, director of two of my favourite films in “Scarface” and “The Untouchables” with the “Glory to Filmmaker” award as well as the Gala screening of “De Palma”. This is a well-made documentary capturing essentially everything you need to know about the ups and downs in a career of an extremely talented director that may or may not have fulfilled his true potential.

What I liked about directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow approach are the way they simply allows De Palma to sit down and talk through each of his films, the reasons behind each one, the special scenes, the characters the scripts and the actors. In between, we get some interesting facts, such as Sean Penn whispering to Michael J Fox’s ear, saying “Television actor” to slur him up a little. Others are more about how “Scarface”, his greatest film, nearly was not his to make and the fact that he kicked out Oliver Stone off the set for talking to his actors.

His use of split screens in “Sisters” was explained via his deep influence from Hitchcock films and how he is one of the few filmmakers that is inspired by the man and ultimately improvised the techniques to become his own distinctive style. What is great about this documentary is that De Palma is clearly a character and a human as he were once touted as better than George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, but all of them became great directors with major career hits. On one hand, De Palma have had his share of success, but his inconsistency lead to films like “Mission to Mar”, “Body Double” and the disgraceful “Passion”. Perhaps, De Palmer sums it up well, “you got to realise that a director goes through trends and it depends of what kind of material you are given at the time.”

All in all, “De Palma” is an interesting documentary about a man that is extremely intelligent, made some great films and poor ones along the way, but at the same time he is just like us, flawed human characters that go through their ups and downs in life. De Palma himself phrased it extremely well, “a director most creative eras is during their 30s, 40s and 50s and after that the physical energy required is enormous and draining.” De Palmer is a man approaching 80 and acknowledges this fact and for what he has achieved, he should be a proud man and so he should be.

Recommended film and endorsed by HK Neo Reviews.

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Venice Film Festival: 11 Minutes / 11 Minut (2015) – Poland / Ireland

Venice Film Festival: 11 Minutes (2015) – Poland / Ireland

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski
Produced by: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Written by: Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring: Richard Dormer, Wojciech Mecwaldowski, Paulina Chapko, Andrzej Chyra, Dawid Ogrodnik, Agata Buzek, Piotr Glowacki, Anna Maria Buczek, Jan Nowicki, Lukasz Sikora, Ifi Ude, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Grazyna Blecka-Kolska, Janusz Chabior

Reviewed at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival

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A lot can happen in “11 Minutes” and that is precisely what veteran director Jerzy Skolimowski wants to allude towards. Some parts and moments are better than others are and some scenes seem rather irrelevant and adds nothing to the story, which tends to create the dragging feeling. By breaking the normal cinematic convention, we are shown that like life itself, everything happens for a reason and the events that are triggers by decisions whether it is someone randomly walking on the street or somebody we have no connection to at all. “11 Minutes” is not entirely fresh and the same kind of approach have been used before, but it works because we live in an existential society and every decision we make will somehow randomly, adversely, or positively affect someone else. That is the reality and this film encapsulate this particularly well.

We have many characters and actors going about it, some characters like life, are more important than others. Wojciech Mecwaldowski is perhaps the focus of the story and the catalyst to all the events that eventually will happen. His sheer determined look and expression through provide a sense of suspense of what is about to happen. Perhaps the best scenes in the movie involve the director and the aspiring actress (played by Irish actor Richard Dormer and the attractive Paulina Chapko respectively). The interactions between the two is both awkward and fascinating as the two plays off each other in the most alluring fashion. In a way, the film would have benefited more if there were more focus on the duo on show.

All in all, “11 Minutes” works because it is not overtly long, clocking at 87 minutes and perhaps would have worked better with lesser time frame. Still, there is a lot to like about this film as it does try to say something about how every decision we make, as individual will affect those around us. While not entirely original, this film is a welcome addition to the Venice Film Festival that seem to lack a punch for quality European cinema this time around.

Recommended film and endorsed by HK Neo Reviews.

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Venice Film Festival: Equals (2015) – United States

Venice Film Festival: Equals (2015) – United States

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Directed by: Drake Doremus
Produced by: Michael Pruss, Chip Diggins, Ann Ruark, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jay Stern
Written by: Nathan Parker
Cinematography: John Guleserian
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver

Reviewed at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival

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“Equals” is a film that comes with a lot of reference to other great films or novels of our era, namely “Brave New World”, “Blade Runner”, “1984”, “Gattaca” and the list goes on. However, as the saying goes, “one man utopia is another dystopia” and while the film is certainly well meaning, director Drake Doremus lacks a script that makes the story convincing or containing characters interesting enough for us not to fall asleep during the proceedings. We can labour through the films tougher and stale moments, but by the end of it, we are given no indication where the film is trying to head or say. Yes, we understand that human emotions or interactions are being control and “thou shall not love”, but the point of the film remains murky and the core is non-existent.

Kristen Stewart have been trying hard to shed off her “Twilight” epidemic with decent turns in “Finding Alice” and “On the Road” and here she challenges herself in a role that requires her to conform as a robot where her inferno of emotions as an outcast is waiting to be unfolded. Stewart does well with the limited material she been given to play with and manages to have adequate chemistry with heartthrob Nicholas Hoult. Hoult on the other hand lack the right level of charisma to headline the film. There are plenty of moments where the audience are simply questioning where the character or film is heading. Australian actor Guy Pierce is almost diluted into the background.

All in all, “Equals”, produced by Ridley Scott, tries hard to say something about future society, the human condition and the frightening reality that will eventually come to us. However, it lacks execution, conviction and any sort of empathy for the audience to link and feel for any of the happenings. It is almost an insult to say the least that this film is deemed worthy to be premiered at Venice and while the intentions of director Doremus is honest and well meaning; “Equal” is neither entertaining, informative nor watchable. Venice, Scott and Doremus have seen much better days.
(Reviewed at 72nd Venice International Film Festival 2015, September)

Not Recommended film by HK Neo Reviews.

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Venice Film Festival: Spotlight (2015) – United States

Venice Film Festival: Spotlight (2015) – United States

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Produced by: Steve Golin, Michael Sugar, Nicole Rocklin, Blye Faust
Written by: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

Reviewed at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival

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“Spotlight” is an intriguing, gritty and controversial film about the cover-ups of the Catholic institution in child abuse and harassment by priests. What is wonderful about this film is that it stays true to its one principle to pursue the truth in investigative journalism and showing the hardship, difficulties, and the odds that journalists face throughout this journey. Director Tom McCarthy have managed to weave a magic and life onto a story that is likely to offend half of the religious western world, but instead the audience are mixed in an inferno of sadness and out crying emotions for in search of justice for these often neglected and helpless children. The victims in this case are startlingly real as it could well be the person next to you, your own child or even yourself. One of the best lines in the film comes in the form of Mark Ruffalo, who used to think that he will one day go back to church, not because it was good for him, but for the sake of hanging on to some sort of hope in this world. He simply breaks down when he realise how this false sense of hope, no longer exists and the reality of the church is almost unimaginable.

Michael Keaton gives one of his best display in recent years as the head of “Spotlight” department at Boston Globe. His steady head, restrain and mixed emotions on this case juxtapose perfectly with the rash, real, emotions outpouring of Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo is given the most juicy role and the scene where he simply let it all out, is one of a masterpiece and sensationally done. Liev Schreiber plays the new Jewish boss of the paper and as they say sometimes, it takes someone from the outside to see things differently. Rachel McAdams is wonderful as usual in her persistent for the truth.

All in all, “Spotlight” simply works because it doesn’t try to show too much apart from the reality and facts. The film focus on the difficulty of the task on hand and the characters being thrown into the situation, in turn allowing “Spotlight” to strike a neat cord with the audience. We feel for the children, the victims and indeed this is something far bigger than the church itself. It is about the basic respect between humanity, the breach of trust for something in authority and power, which goes back to the cliché; “with greater power lies greater responsibility.” It is a sad reality that this can happen in the modern world and the fact that it is not just a few bad apples within a grand scale of things, but rather an institutional matter of concern. Debuting at Venice, this is a brave and controversial film for the country of the Roman Catholic. However, as far as the Oscar radar is concern, this is another one to look out for.
(Reviewed at 72nd Venice International Film Festival 2015, September)

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