Venice 2009 Round-Up

Our man in the gondola reviews the fest's best…

This year's Venice Film Festival has just wrapped up.

Totalfilm.com was naturally there to get all the scoop on the hits, the misses and the strangenesses (hello, Nic Cage) from the event.

Next: Capitalism: A Love Story

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It’s a worthy sentiment, although one suspects the film might well be another case of preaching to the converted. But at least in Barack Obama, Moore’s finally got an American President he believes in.

Next: The Road

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Next: Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

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Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

An English-language reboot of Japanese writer-director Shinya Tsukamoto’s two-decade-old black-and-white body horror nightmare Tetsuo: The Iron Man, this doesn’t deviate much from the template laid down by the original, nor, for that matter, its 1992 colour sequel, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, offering an even more frantic fusion of man and machine to the same headache-inducing affect.

Prone to regular bouts of anger, soothed only by singing “Hush Little Baby” to himself, Anthony (Eric Bossick), a half American, half Japanese salaryman living in Tokyo with his Japanese wife Yuriko (Akiko Monou) and young son Tom (the wonderfully named Tiger Charlie Gerhardt) finally understands why his former bio-researcher scientist father (Stephen Sarrazin) has been so interested in his health when Tom is murdered and his body starts to transform into a metal monstrosity, a human weapon capable of firing bullets from his chest and head.

Sharing with its two predecessors its manic editing style, an eardrum-splitting soundtrack, sledgehammer action sequences, and an old-fashioned approach to special effects, this has all the subtly of a runaway freight train. The acting may be mediocre, but with the film often approaching near sensory overload, that scarcely matters.

Next: Accident

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Accident

Yet another Hong Kong movie ripe for a Hollywood remake, this Johnnie To production revolves around a quartet of professional assassins who murder their targets by concocting elaborate, perfectly staged chains of events that culminate in fatal accidents, thus eradicating any suspicion of foul play being involved.

After an arresting opening involving a slow motion car crash, the film proper begins with the spectacular murder of a Triad boss by flying glass, and introduces the four members of gang lead by Brain (Louis Koo) whose paranoia spirals out of control when another job leaves one of his team dead.

Convinced it was the work of another “accident choreographer”, Brain focuses his obsession on an insurance investigator (Richie Jen) who was at the scene, moving into the flat below and setting up surveillance.

While the concept of an accidental hit man may be familiar from an old 2000AD comic strip, director Soi Cheang’s film takes the idea and twists it into a stylish, taut exercise in trust that grips right up until its ridiculously ending involving a solar eclipse, which succeeds only in undermining all that’s come before.

Next: Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans

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Next: The Informant!

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Next: Lebanon

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Maoz isn’t interested in making any big political statement, nor does he offer a radically new take on the futility of armed conflict. Rather, this is an intimate and visceral slice of his life, as he remembers it. Not necessarily a true story, but a truthful one.

Next: The Men Who Stare At Goats

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The Men Who Stare At Goats

Based on the non-fiction book by Jon Ronson, this purports to be the “60% true” story of a secret division of the US military trained in psychic powers after the Vietnam War. These “Jedi warriors” were taught how to pass through walls, burst clouds, read enemy minds, and even kill goats by staring at them.

George Clooney, channelling his best Coen Brothers’ slapstick, is Lyn Cassady, the most gifted of these psychic spies, Jeff Bridges, back in Big Lebowski mode, plays the secret unit’s new age hippy chief, while Ewan McGregor stars as the journalist investigating the New Earth Army.

Jettisoning some of the darker elements present in Ronson’s book in favour of something altogether more light and frothy, the script runs out of gas about two-thirds in, but it scarcely matters since the performances are, to a man, a blast and the gags come thick and fast. And, for the most part, are very funny.

Next: George Romero's Survival Of The Dead

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George A Romero’s Survival Of The Dead

For the sixth instalment of his ongoing zombie franchise, George A Romero’s offers up a zombie western, a gory riff on William Wyler’s The Big Country.

Not a direct sequel to 2007’s Diary Of The Dead, although it shares with it one scene and one character, renegade National Guard sergeant Nicholas “Nicotine” Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), this begins six days after the dead have started to walk and is set mainly on the fictional Plum Island where two warring families, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons, are engaged in an escalating battle, with both “Dead Heads” and Crocket’s unit caught in the middle.

Typically gory with some inventive new kills, this lacks the social commentary of previous Deads, but is no less entertaining for it.



Next: White Material

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White Material

Set in an unnamed African country where Isabelle Huppert’s coffee plantation owner struggles to harvest her crop and hold onto her land as a civil war rages around her, Claire Dennis’ complex, atmospheric film represents a return to the subject matter of her debut, Chocolat, namely French colonials in Africa.

Headstrong and ruthlessly driven, Huppert’s Maria doesn’t exactly engender much sympathy as she ignores calls from the retreating French army to leave, putting her extended family at risk for the sake of the harvest and her dependence on the land, ultimately unable to prevent the inevitable tragedy as the plantation is overrun by child soldiers. Powerful stuff.

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