Soulmining at TIFF '09, Day Eight - The Double Hour, Suck, Mother, Bunny And The Bull and Symbol
19th Oct 09
A full six hours sleep makes all the difference – I’m feeling refreshed and raring to go this morning, which is just as well as I have five films on today’s agenda. But first I have a decision to make – do I start my day with the Japanese ninja movie Kamui or the Italian thriller The Double Hour?
The Double Hour
The Double Hour wins my vote purely for the fact that it’s 30mins shorter! The first feature from Giuseppe Capotondi, a veteran of many music videos, it’s a psychological thriller centering around Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), a Slovenian girl who works as a chambermaid in an Italian hotel. She meets Guido (Filippo Timi) at a speed-dating event and the two of them later drive out to the mansion where he works as a security guard. Unfortunately there’s a break in and in the ensuing scuffle Guido is shot and killed and Sonia is wounded. As Sonia recovers and returns to work she spots Guido on the hotel’s CCTV… is she losing her mind or is she the victim of some elaborate and sinister set up?
It’s certainly an intriguing setup on paper, but translated onto screen it’s actually a tad underwhelming. Yes, there are twists a plenty as the drama unfolds and Sofia begins to questions the events which led up to the robbery at the mansion, but if you’re a thriller aficionado then you’ll have no difficulty on unlocking the mysteries of The Double Hour before she does, it’s all rather predictable. Nevertheless, that’s not to say it’s not a worthwhile watch; the pacing is just right and the performances, especially that of Rappoport, are solid, as is Capotondi’s direction.
Next up I’m at the Cumberland where I meet up with Todd for Suck, a vampire rock ‘n’ roll comedy. The Winners are a pub rock band, going nowhere until bassist Jennifer (Jessica Paré) cops off with a scary goth fella and is turned into a bloodsucker. Her new sexy, confident persona pushes her centre stage, much to the chagrin of band leader Joey (Rob Stefaniuk), but the fans love it, and as the band hit the road Joey and the rest of the band have to decide whether to embrace the undead world in order to pursue their dreams.
A fun, ambitious feature from writer/director (and star) Stefaniuk, Suck has all the right ingredients but somehow never quite gels and the result is something of a curate’s egg. It’s a shame as there are plenty of interesting ideas in here, but it just feels underdeveloped, a series of great scenes strung together without a cohesive narrative. Paré excels as the sexy vamp but Stefaniuk struggles as the vocalist in crisis and perhaps should have delegated the role elsewhere so he could focus more on his directorial duties. Still, the musical numbers are strong and there’s a whole series of celebrity cameos including Alice Cooper as a sagely vampire, Iggy Pop as a record producer, Henry Rollins as a radio host and – best of all – Moby as lead singer of the Secretaries Of The Steak, a band whose live performances take place in a hail of raw meat. With more time and a bigger budget Rob Stefaniuk will surely be a name to look out for; Suck shows his potential and certainly has its moments but remains a frustratingly uneven watch.
A punishing schedule today, I barely have time for a quick bite to eat and a cursory chat with Mitch and Ian – their final day here – before I have to be back at the Varsity for my fifth and final ticketed public screening. Mother is the latest feature from Bong Joon-ho and is the epitome of what I’d describe as a slow-burn thriller. Do-joon (Won Bin) is a simple lad with a childlike vulnerability. When a popular student Ah-jung is murdered, the police exploit Do-joon’s mental illness to gain a confession in the lack of any real concrete evidence that he’s the perpetrator. Incensed at her son’s incarceration Do-joon’s mother (Kim Hye-ja) takes it upon herself to prove his innocence, whatever the cost.
Eschewing the big thrills of The Host, this is a return to the more subtle pleasures of Bong’s earlier picture Memories Of Murder and is orchestrated accordingly. It’s a very simple tale that reveals itself slowly but surely, yet still packs a punch when it matters – and, in my opinion, provided the best shock moment of the entire festival. A real character piece, as the title suggests, this is all about the mother and Kim is simply marvellous in the role, subverting her status in Korea where she’s known for playing a series of devoted matriarch types on national television. Mother shows how far she’s prepared to go to save the son that she loves to devastating effect, and that, coupled with the whodunnit mystery of Ah-jung’s murder, is a winning combination. Sadly Bong Joon-ho – who was there to introduce the film – has a plane to catch so is unable to stay for a Q&A session afterwards. Shame.
Bunny And The Bull
No time to rest, my fourth film in quick succession awaits. Bunny And The Bull is a surreal comedy drama set in a flat. Sort of. Stephen Turnbull (Edward Hogg) is a shut in with a severe case of OCD. Reluctant to leave his home and interact with the outside world a sudden infestation of rats in his kitchen forces him to confront his worst fears. As Stephen ponders the thought of venturing outside for the first time in a year he relives the memories that caused him to shut himself away, primarily his disastrous European trip with best mate Bunny (Simon Farnaby). Bunny is the polar opposite of Stephen, a loud-mouthed vice-monger obsessed with booze, women and gambling. Along the way they meet an array of strange characters including an Italian waitress who Stephen falls for… but of course with Bunny in tow, nothing goes according to plan.
From the mind of Paul King, director of television’s The Mighty Boosh, you’d expect something a little odd and unconventional and Bunny And The Bull, his debut feature, does not disappoint. Like a British Michel Gondry, King’s film is a flight of fancy brimming with imagination and visual invention, using cardboard sets and animation to help bring Stephen’s memories to life. The script is sharp and witty – Stephen’s attempt to visit Europe’s most obscure museums is a treat – and it’s easy to forget that there’s a more serious comment on mental illness underneath all of the levity. Hogg and Farnaby make for a likeable double act as they squabble their way around the continent and there are some familiar faces in supporting roles. Fans of the Boosh will be delighted to see King’s regular collaborators pop up along the way including Noel Fielding as a matador and Julian Barratt who milks a dog. Both funny and original, Bunny And The Bull is a fine debut from King who makes the transition from small screen to big screen with some aplomb.
I’ve now got a few hours to relax until the midnight film so I hook up with Ian for dinner at The Foxes Den where we bump into an acquaintance of his who works for Last Asylum Entertainment in Dallas. After our meal Ian and I say our goodbyes – he’s leaving first thing in the morning – and I head off to check my emails before making my way down to the Ryerson for Symbol. There’s no-one here to represent the film sadly, but director Hitoshi Matsumoto has sent Colin a present consisting of a Mexican wrestler’s mask and a pair of brightly coloured pyjamas which he duly dons to introduce the screening.
So why the wrestler’s mask and pyjamas? All will soon become clear. Symbol is best viewed knowing little or nothing about it, so I really only want to give a brief sketch as to how it begins. There are two plot strands that run concurrently in the film: the first focuses on a Mexican wrestler known as Escargot Man who’s being driven to his next bout by a chain-smoking nun; the second focuses on a pyjama-clad man (director Matsumoto) who wakes up in an empty room and has to try and find a means of escape. Eventually the two stories connect… in the most unpredictable way imaginable.
Hitoshi Matsumoto is a TV legend in Japan known for his crazy gameshow antics, and his debut film Big Man Japan (which played at TIFF 07) gave Western audiences their first taste of his surreal blend of humour. Symbol extends that absurdity with a film that at first baffles the viewer but then gets funnier and funnier as its cards are revealed. Matsumoto is a gifted comic actor, his deadpan expression and bowl haircut the perfect butt of a series of visual gags that his character befalls. Perhaps too outlandish, too uniquely Japanese for mainstream audiences, Symbol is nonetheless a comic treat for viewers seeking something a little different to the norm – and I guarantee you won’t have seen a film like this before!
For further information on TIFF 09 visit the festival website: www.tiff.net/.
The Double Hour and Mother will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October.
Bunny And The Bull will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October and is released in UK cinemas on 27th November 2009.
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