Day 2, Friday. Things are definitely picking up after yesterday’s slow start. Enough fluff. Let’s get to the movies:

Hagazussa

This is an experience. Scene after scene washes over you like ocean waves crashing ashore. Each scene is vusal poetry. Beautifully composed, stunningly shot. Each scene contains three ever-present elements: (1) something that creates tension and unease, (2) new information–or perhaps merely the subtle suggestion of new information, (3) something unexplained, mysterious and intriguing. Together, a narrative slowly emerges about a woman living alone with a child in the mountains during a superstitous time. The sense of dread eventually gives way to some of the most horrific and disturbing imagery right up to the final scene, which offers no further explanation, but catharsis. This film’s abstract story telling and emphasis on lush cinematography recall recent festival films like Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution or The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. This one should not be missed. 8/10

 

Maus

This survival-horror-hostage drama set in modern day Bosnia tries to do too much at once, I think. A German man and his Bosnian girlfriend are stranded in the woods when they run into a pair of dangeous outdoorsmen with guns. If it was a convential survival-horror thriller, that would be fine. But it tries to make a statement about the ethnic violence (killings) during the Seriban-Bosnian civil war, which, OK, gets points for the being topical. I can handle a film with a very direct political message, but then there’s an alien monster whose objective reality is very much in question, because the film uses an unreliable narrator. Is it a real creature, or something the character is just imagining? This is perhaps where the storytelling stumbles because the answer to that doesn’t really matter, leaving this genre element irrelevant. As a filmmaker, you can only ‘cheat’ on the audience with the unreliable narrator once. After that, the audience no longer trusts what they are seeing, and are waiting for a reveal in the next scene. 6/10

 

Darkland

I think of this movie as “Danish Batman, With Consequences.” Zaid is a successful Iraqi-Danish heart surgeon with a pregnant girlfriend and goregous apartment home in Copenhagen. When his younger brother turns up dead for owing a local crime boss, Zaid finds himself guilt-ridden and hell-bent on revenge. The Dark Knight comparisons seem appropriate, but Zaid’s real-life masked vigilante makes mistakes that cause him to risk everything in his carefully constructed life. The film juxtaposes Zaid’s ironic turn as both a doctor and healer, and as an angel of death who wouldn’t hestitate to pull the trigger. For this reason, the story remained grounded on the “real life consequences” side of what would otherwise pass as a superhero origin story. It also covers the character’s immigrant origins and his place within Danish society. I found Darkland a surprise, its hard-boiled mix of drama and action worthly of inclusion into this year’s festival. 7/10

 

Wheelman

I don’t normally see films that I know already have a distribution deal (because I can see them after the festival). But I’m willing to overlook that for Wheelman, which is a solid crime thriller about a getaway car driver who is left holding the McGuffin after a bank job goes sideways, and he finds himself on the run, not (only) from the law, but also from the mob who wants the quarter-million in cash in the trunk of his BMW. On the surface, a lot of screentime focuses on the titular wheelman driving the nighttime streets of Boston shouting obscenity-laden exposition into his cellphone, but that storytelling format really works here on the strength of Frank Grillo’s performance as the driver. For the entire first two acts, everything is shown from cameras inside or on the car, filming the action looking “inside-out.” You fell like you’re in the car along for the ride. What’s better is that somehow they made car chases work without breaking out of the POV limitations of this format. Wheelman is coming to Netflix in October. I recommend it. 8/10

 

Radius

This a sci-fi mystery about a man who wakes up from a car accident with no memory of who he is or what happened to him, and everywhere he goes, there seems to be dead bodies, as if some kind of contagion was killing people around him. His only hope of solving this mystery is the young Jane Doe who tracks him down, also with no memory. It turns out she has a strange connection to him. This movie gets points for originality. The high-concept sci-fi story is intriguing, and offers opportunities for some pretty tense scenes. Ultimately, the film’s denouement offered a rather conventional (but still surprising) twist. Only the film’s acting was inconsistent in places (think “TV drama quality”). But the concept alone makes up for a lot of sins. 6/10 

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