It’s kind of interesting to note that I started my in-theater public festival screenings with a Jim Jarmusch documentary, Gimme Danger, and now I start my final day off with his new drama, Paterson, starring Adam Driver. One of the top movies on my viewing list, the film follows Paterson, a bus driver living and working in Paterson, New Jersey (ironically). Paterson is a quiet and happy individual who spends all of his free moments with his wife, Laura, and her cantankerous bulldog, Marvin, but above all of that, he is a poet, day in and day out. It’s clear from Paterson’s written work that he draws inspiration from his city in all of its splendor in this beautifully reflective film.
I feel like Jarmusch has never been as quiet and reflective as he is in this movie and it suits him fine. Paterson is very much a slice out of the life of this well-meaning soul, as we are peeking in on his life for exactly one week. Each day we see him wake up next to Laura, played by the incredibly gorgeous Golshifteh Farahani, start off his day writing poetry at the breakfast table, then to the bus before he goes out, interacting with his co-worker Donny, who always has a “sky is falling” attitude. After work and after dinner, Paterson always ends up at the same bar while walking Marvin and his routine feels very much like the clockwork of life. Adam Driver pulls in the audience with such soul and quiet contemplation, really showing the star power he’s developing. This was a really nice way to start the final day of VIFF. 4.5/5
The Handmaiden (South Korea)
In my trio of South Korean films, it seems the festival schedule saved the best for last for me as I got to check out the masterful filmmaker Park Chan-Wook’s new film, The Handmaiden. The mind behind such mind benders like Oldboy and the Vengeance trilogy delivers a story that is astoundingly deceptive and pushes the boundaries of sexual imagery on screen. Taking place in Korea in the 1930s, the film follows a young pickpocket who is hired as a handmaiden for a rich woman, at the behest of Count Fujiwara. This is all part of an elaborate plan put together by Fujiwara, who is actually a con man looking to get married to the woman, have her declared legally insane and take her entire estate for himself. What he doesn’t count on is the two women falling for each other – but that is only the start of the mystery.
Park Chan-Wook has created brilliance yet again, as it is never a let down to see one of his films. The film is jaw-droppingly gorgeous with every frame on the screen, never failing to keep you glued to the screen. From the wide shot arrival of young Sook-Hee, the handmaiden herself, to the picturesque mansion she now calls her home of employment, the exposition flows just as beautifully as the imagery. As the story starts to unravel itself in from of you, told in three parts, the intricate web of deception draws you in deeper and deeper until that final reveal that is so well plotted out that it will leave you floored. You will also never forget that final shot of the film! 5/5
With the massive amount of diversity in the films of the Vancouver International Film Festival, it should be no surprise that this also is evident in the documentary programming. From amazing music documentaries like Gimme Danger to the film docs like Harold and Lillian, I have had a great pleasure in perusing the selection and the film, Tower, is another intriguing one. The movie is about a horrific day in 1966 when a man climbed into the watchtower at the University of Texas, armed with a rifle. The gunman, Charles Whitman, shot forty-nine people – eighteen of them died. The filmmakers tell this story through written and recorded testimonials, as well as interviews with those still surviving from that day.
The film could have just been a straightforward telling of this tragedy but instead goes a different route, by having three different ways to approach it. On one side, we have the actual footage, compiled from news reporters and cameras on the scene and secondly, the actual interviews taken by the filmmakers. The majority of this film is told through a third medium, animation. The animated style isn’t a conventional one either, as it is done in much the same rotoscoping style that Richard Linklater used in his films A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, giving it an almost Waltz With Bashir feel. I think this made the film that much more real and effective, making this a sobering look at an event that is much more commonplace these days. 4/5
We Are X (UK/USA/Japan)
It’s glorious to look at the sheer amount of incredible documentaries the Vancouver International Film Festival had to offer this year. Delving into many of my interests, I’ve seen films on behind the scenes film players, cinematographers, photographers and songwriters but what I wasn’t expecting was to be shown a musical group that had completely missed my music radar. This is exactly what We Are X did for me, the story of the most famous Japanese musicians of all time, X-Japan. An inspiring and, at times, completely tragic story of a group of incredibly talented individuals formed around songwriter and drummer Yoshiki, this documentary is proof that a language and culture barrier isn’t insurmountable to enjoying amazing compositions.
I felt incredibly dumb as I watched this movie. As big of a heavy metal fan as I am, how could I not know anything about this brilliant group? Told, for the majority, through Yoshiki, the documentary explores what in his past leads him to create the music he does, as well as his process in putting the band together, alongside childhood best friend, Toshi. It’s fascinating to watch this band’s rise in Japan, including the western world unsuccessfully trying to bring them to the mainstream of North America. The strife that plagued the band physically and emotionally sometimes led to uncertainty over the possibility of continuing, but the sheer determination of Yoshiki is something to be witnessed. If you love music, We Are X will be a warm hug to your lyrical mind. Excuse me now, I have X-Japan’s discography on repeat. 5/5
Checking out more of the Canadian content at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I threw on my screener for Lavender, a new horror film from director Ed Gass-Donnelly, one that sees a limited release in November. The film follows a woman living with her young daughter and husband, who is unable to shake the repressed memories of her childhood and a family that she never knew. After the prodding of her psychiatrist to go back to her old home, one that saw her family brutally murdered, she begins to unlock her past which is also coupled with supernatural forces that seek to keep her for themselves.
With a good cast featuring Australian Abbie Cornish in the lead role, Justin Long, Pacific Rim actor Diego Klattenhoff and veteran Dermot Mulroney, the film had all sorts of promise working for it. The Last Exorcism Part II filmmaker Gass-Donnelly spends most of the film setting up a creepy atmosphere and underlying horror but, unfortunately, this never culminates in anything resembling a payoff. Even worse than that, this film is not scary for a single moment and it’s ending feels like the director and his co-writer backed themselves into a corner with a finale that is both nonsensical and a cop out. Any regular moviegoer will see right through this film instantly. 1/5