Dogs rule! There's really nothing else like a Wes Anderson-directed stop-motion animated film. That is especially true for Isle of Dogs, the latest one-of-a-kind stop-motion animated creation from the mind of this master filmmaker. Isle of Dogs is a very Japanese film, set entirely in a retro-future Japan where dogs have been outlawed by cat-loving government villains. It's endlessly imaginative, unlike anything I've ever seen before, with incredible detail in every single frame. So much so, that it's almost hard to keep up with all of it - I want to pause and study each frame/set/scene before continuing. The film is amusing and funky, sometimes a bit clunky, with plenty of Anderson's typical quirky humor and wacky characters galore. It's so funky that some may not connect, but there's an undeniable charm that definitely won me over by the end.
The next big film festival after Sundance every years is the Berlin Film Festival, also known as Berlinale for short. Celebrating its 68th year, the Berlin Film Festival kicked off today (Thursday, February 15th) in Potsdamer Platz in the middle of the city. This is my fifth year in a row covering Berlinale, it's always a good time, the festival runs smoothly and all of the venues are top notch. Most of their screenings are on time, they're always totally packed, but the crowds are focused on the film and ready to enjoy some cinema. This is a festival for the city, for locals to attend, but there's also a huge contingent of press who fly in from all over the world see a few world premieres. I'm just happy to keep watching more films at another great fest.
The lesson I've learned covering film festivals is that sometimes the best films aren't always the one you loved at first sight, sometimes they're the ones that you remember. There's something about them. It could be the performance, it could be the story, it could be something else about it that gets into your mind and still lingers there. Something about it that you keep thinking back to, even if it isn't a perfect film, there's something you can't shake. That is usually the sign of a great film, and film festivals (which are exhausting to cover) help us figure out which ones leave a lasting impression because there's so many to see in so little time. To wrap up my 4th year attending the Berlin Film Festival (aka Berlinale), I want to recap a few of my favorite films and favorite performances of the 2017 festival. I hope all these films end up on your radar.
There's nothing like watching someone breakdown completely. Wilde Maus, which translates simply to Wild Mouse, is a dark comedy film from Austria which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Austrian actor Josef Hader makes his feature directorial debut with the film, also writing the screenplay and starring as the lead character, a music critic from Vienna who loses his job after 20 years. The film follows Hader as Georg, who goes bonkers and starts wandering around Vienna trying to make sense of his life after losing the job that kept him focused for so long. He ends up creating some unnecessary problems with his wife, and randomly partners with a guy who wants to run a little rollercoaster at Vienna's Prater amusement park.
I love movie theaters. Every time I walk into one, I get the feeling I'm at home again. They are my places of worship, they are my cathedrals, they are my palaces. Every last city in the world has their own unique set of movie theaters, usually with an extensive and interesting history behind each one. Over the last 10 days of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival (aka "Berlinale") I was able to explore a number of different venues for screenings all over the city. I really love Berlin, and it's now my home where I live, but I'm still exploring and still going to places I've never been before. Looking back over this year's festival, I wanted to highlight a few of the gorgeous movie palaces I visited and share some photos of these places, since they're all so lovely.
As another film festival comes to an end, it's time to celebrate and commemorate with the announcement of the awards. The 67th Berlin Film Festival just ended (my own recap is coming soon), and the winners were announced at the Closing Ceremony, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a film called On Body and Soul, described as an "unusual love story set in the everyday world", directed by Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi (seen above). Oddly, I missed most of the big winners this year, except for the Polish film Spoor, which was one of my favorites of the fest (read my review). I'm also happy with A Fantastic Woman getting some recognition. Read on for all the winners.
Let's make this clear right at the start - this is not another Marvel Studios movie. Logan is a stand-alone, outstanding, one-of-a-kind X-Men movie made for adults. It's violent as all hell, emotional and captivating, gritty and grounded, and exciting to experience. Director James Mangold really hit a home run with this one, bucking the trend and going with his gut to deliver a superb "Wolverine Western". I had to see Logan twice at the Berlin Film Festival before writing this review, to confirm how awesome it is. I haven't enjoyed watching an X-Men movie this much in such a long time, and I'd say this is easily one of the best X-Men movies. It's not really an X-Men movie, but it actually is - there's so much mutant mythology hidden within.
Nothing like watching artists work. Final Portrait is a film directed by Stanley Tucci (of Blind Date, The Impostors, Big Night previously) starring actor Geoffrey Rush playing the famed Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. If you don't know who Giacometti is, it's better to get acquainted with him and his incredible sculpture work before getting into this film. Final Portrait tells the story of, literally, his final portrait as an artist - a painting he did of an American novelist who was visiting Paris, where his studio was, in the 1960s. The film has a small, intimate feel to it exploring the pained life and quirky antics of a great artist, which is becoming increasingly common these days (e.g. Inside Llewyn Davis, Maudie, Mr. Turner, Love & Mercy).
Imagine if Quentin Tarantino was Chinese and made an animated crime drama. That's kind of what Have a Nice Day feels like, in a way. Have a Nice Day (originally titled Hao ji le in Chinese) is a film from director Jian Liu that just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in the main competition line-up. The animation style is closer to "Archer" or A Scanner Darkly, and the film is sort of a Coen Brothers-esque story about a bunch of people in a small Chinese town who get mixed up chasing a bag of money. There are a few minor political themes, but it's fairly light entertainment, with some fun moments and colorful characters. Oddly enough, this film is better than half of what I saw in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, even if isn't that smart.
"We cross and re-cross our old paths like figure-skaters." That's a line from Cloud Atlas, but I kept thinking back to that film (and that storyline in it) while watching this one. Return to Montauk is the latest drama from German director Volker Schlöndorff, set primarily in New York following a few German characters around the city. It's a very tender, heartfelt film about the great regrets and lost loves in our lives, and how we attempt to get over what happened in the past (or, perhaps, not get over our past regrets). Maybe it's because I connected to it in a very personal way, but Return to Montauk kept me captivated and awake and intrigued from start to finish. Even if I didn't feel emotionally drained by the end I was certainly enthralled.
Vegetarian vengeance! I don't even know how to begin to describe how much I loved this film. Spoor, also known as Pokot originally, is a film from Poland about an elderly former teacher who lives in a small town. She loves her two adorable dogs, but one day they go missing, and thus begins this thrilling story of animal lover vengeance. The cinematography in this film is STUNNING, some of the best since The Revenant, and I really mean that. Along with an incredibly unique score from Antoni Lazarkiewicz, and exceptional lead performance by Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka, this won't be a film you forget. And that isn't even the half of it - there's so much I loved, and even if I can't describe it all perfectly, I hope my enthusiasm is apparent.
This is the first great discovery of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival - it's an excellent film that deserves to break out. Tiger Girl is a low key indie comedy, directed by Jakob Lass, about two women who becomes friends and start taking out the patriarchal trash. It's essentially a "girls fight back" movie and it's so badass and so much fun. Ella Rumpf plays the woman known as "Tiger", a drifter who doesn't take crap from anyone, especially guys; and Maria-Victoria Dragus plays her friend she nicknames "Vanilla", a young woman who fails her entrance exam to the police academy. She's not tough enough, but through this friendship she learns how to kick ass and fight back. It close to being a dark comedy, but either way it's worth seeking out.