Thursday, November 14, 2013

36th Starz Denver Film Festival Report Card

Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands, 2013, 118 min.)
Jan Bijoviet and his band of anarchic wood sprites enter the lives of a middle class family like a force of nature leaving chaos and destruction in their wake. Excellent, expressionistic sound design and engaging performances distinguish this absurdist satire on bourgeois alienation and repressed desire. 
Lisa’s Grade: A-

The Fifth Season (Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, Belgium, 2012, 93 min.)
A visually stunning apocalyptic fable about the loss of connection between man and the natural world, The Fifth Season combines dark, deadpan humor with free floating environmental and political allegory. Young Belgian filmmakers Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth create painterly compositions - which are frequently suggestive of Pieter Bruegel and James Ensor - and multi-layered soundscapes that recall the work of Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr.
Lisa’s Grade: B+

Go Down Death (Aaron Schimberg, United States, 2013, 88 min.)
This singular work of DIY punk filmmaking unites Guy Madden’s anachronistic nitrate-era aesthetic, apocalyptic post-WWI iconography, and the mannered, circular dialogue of early 90s-indie auteurs like Hal Hartley.  Enigmatic and elliptical, Go Down Death, feels significantly longer than its 88-minute running time, but its combination of energy and intellect keeps the viewer engaged.
Lisa’s Grade: B

Grigris (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, France/Chad, 2013, 101 min.)
Esteemed African filmmaker Mahamat-Seleh Haroun follows Grigris – an aspiring dancer with a paralyzed leg – from the city to the country as he attempts to earn a living and find romantic happiness. Haroun’s subtle direction highlights Souleymane Deme’s remarkable physical performance in the title role, while the film’s pastoral coda opens up new areas of meaning.
Lisa’s Grade: A-

Ilo Ilo (Anthony Chen, Singapore, 2013, 99 min.)
Set in the late 1990s, this warm and occasionally harrowing family drama from Singapore charts the increasingly uncertain fate of a middle class family and their Pilipino maid as the Asian financial crisis intensifies. Spare, but elegant cinematography and uniformly excellent, understated performances elevate this Cannes Film Festival favorite, which often recalls Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (2000).
Lisa’s Grade: A-  

Labor Day (Jason Reitman, United States, 2013, 111 min.)
Labor Day unfolds over six consecutive days, during which Josh Brolin’s sensitive escaped convict opens the hearts of reclusive divorcee, Kate Winslet, and her wide-eyed teenage son. This overwrought family melodrama combines hothouse sexual metaphor and heavy-handed sentimentality in a manner that over-powers the well-meaning performances of his talented cast.  At the level of style, Reitman’s signature shallow-focused cinematography denies the spectator’s gaze the freedom to move while cross-cut flashbacks confuse more often than they enlighten.
Lisa’s Grade: D 

The Search for Emak Bakia (Oskar Alegria, Spain, 2012, 84 min.)
First-time filmmaker Oscar Alegria lets chance be his guide as he attempts to discover the namesake of Man Ray’s experimental, Basque-language film Emak-Bakia. Quirky and charming – almost to a fault – The Search for Emak Bakia's unique and evocative audiovisual landscape is too frequently intruded upon by explanatory inter-titles. In its final 45-minutes, the film finds its footing as a bittersweet travelogue and meditation on the waning Basque language and culture.
Lisa’s Grade: B-

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013, China, 125 min.)
A series of unexpected acts of violence coalesce into a sweeping political and economic indictment in the newest masterwork from 6th Generation auteur Jia Zhangke. An epic, cerebral, and visually striking trek across contemporary China’s diverse landscapes and cultures, A Touch of Sin gives Jia the opportunity to revisit the thematic terrain of several of his previous films.
Lisa’s Grade: A

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (Arvin Chen, Taiwan, 2013, 104 min.)
A closeted gay man with a wife and young child, mild-mannered eyeglass salesman Weichung, finds his world upended by an unexpected romance in this sparkling comedy-drama from the Republic of China. Drawing on the conventions of the Hollywood musical, Chen’s lightly surreal flights of fancy capture the intoxication of new love. At the same time, the film also paints a detailed and touching portrait of a loving family in the midst of dramatic change. 
Lisa’s Grade: B+   

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