Monday, November 8, 2010

Hum Tum

Saif Ali Khan is no Shahrukh, that we know. We just saw Salaam Namaste last week too, but I've been very lazy about the blogging. In any case, it's very difficult to focus on a Bollywood movie when one keeps on wishing it were a different male lead.

Just like Saif Ali Khan is a poor substitute for SRK, Amsterdam is a poor substitute for New York. And Paris. This is the story of a couple that meet on the plane flying from Delhi to New York with a stop over in Amsterdam, which they spend together. Their paths keep on crossing, until (guess what) they realize they're in love with each other, blah blah blah. They spend time in Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Delhi and Mumbai, but all non-Indian locations are shot in Amsterdam. That could be less conspicuous if they avoided landmarks like the Rijksmuseum or the Concertgebouw, but hey, anything goes when they're singing and dancing with cheerleaders in the park.

Also interesting take on a kiss, a widow finding love again and marriage out of wedlock - or not so interesting if you've seen enough Bollywood films: this only seems to happen if the couple is living outside of India.

As a final note, I'd like to remark once again (or maybe for the first time on this blog) that as beautiful as Aishwarya Rai is, Rani Mukherjee has by far the coolest (or hottest) voice in Bollywood.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Expendables

The Expendables has a lot of fighting, killing, running around and explosions. Unfortunately, it has much less plot, character development, and dialogue that makes sense. At 103 minutes, it feels very extended.

Director (of gang and movie) Stallone leads a group of mercenaries to some Caribbean island that's ruled by a mean general (David Zayas from Dexter) and an even meaner American (Eric Roberts). General also has a hot daughter. Stallone is offered $5 mil by Bruce Willis, but eventually goes and blows up the whole place (meaning the presidential palace, and likely, the nation's entire cultural heritage hosted inside it) for "personal" reasons. Schwarzenegger shows up for no reason, other than he's friendly with Stallone. There is even a scene involving the '80s action trifecta (Stallone-Willis-Schwarzenegger), which alone would be worth the price of the ticket; unfortunately, it is pretty clear that Arnie and Willis couldn't make it to the set on the same day, so the whole scene is completely fragmented and feels like some fanboy's montage sticking the three stars together. And the dialogue is simply inane, moving haltingly rather than smart-assedly. I'm not even going to go into the whole set of ideological problems related to a bunch of muscled guys going into random countries to blow things up.

The Expendables feels like a movie you'd run into on late-night network TV, only enjoyed (but then really enjoyed) if you're drunk. Or maybe stoned. Which is what Mickey Rourke looks like in the movie.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Vincenzo Natali's film about "two young rebellious scientists" who "defy legal and ethical boundaries and forge ahead with a dangerous experiment: splicing together human and animal DNA to create a new organism" received very good reviews (75% on rottentomatoes). Why, I don't know.

First off, as the summary suggests, the film features every imaginable (and unimaginatively used) cliché about "science gone wrong." Starting of course, with the improbably attractive and young scintist couple. It is then smothered by all the possible clichés involving psychoanalysis (I won't go into detail to avoid spoilers). I do not look forward to read scores of student essays in the forthcoming years on "A Psychoanalytical Analysis of Splice."

But what really enraged me about the movie is its claims to universality. This human/animal splice named "Dren" grows up superfast so we get to see all of its developmental phases. And without a TV to look at, or humans to talk to, it adopts all the typical "Western" attitudes towards gender, clothing, behavior, etc. Because that's how "natural" people act surely.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


There was a time when Atom Egoyan made beautiful, subtle films. Exotica tops my list, followed closely by The Sweet Hereafter and Felicia's Journey. Then I somehow skipped a few and saw Adoration last year. I thought it was a fluke, he'd get back to his senses. But now with Chloe, I'm getting worried.

A middle aged couple (Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson) in Toronto is growing apart from one another (or she thinks so). The wife hires a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) to see if the husband will go astray. There is also a teenage son (Max Thieriot). Things get complicated. That he is a music professor and the plot seems to have jumped out of Così fan tutte is probably not a coincidence, but doesn't save the film.

Everything in Chloe looks beautiful. People (Moore! Neeson! Seyfried! Thieriot not so much.), clothes, houses, hotel rooms, even the doctor's office are all gorgeous. But everyone is so devoid of any humanity (maybe precisely because they are always so well-kept) that I found it impossible to care about any of them. And maybe I watch too many movies, but the narrative twist that is (presumably) supposed to give us the 'wow' effect is clearly visible from miles away.

One thing that's been on my mind: at the very beginning of the film, Moore's character (an ob-gyn specialist) explains to a patient how an orgasm works ("it's a series of muscle contractions, nothing mysterious about it"). If Egoyan is then trying to show that desire is not that simple and is in fact mysterious, he's comparing apples and oranges. Or so I thought.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Despicable Me

Cute, and not overly sweet. The plot summary on IMDB actually makes it sound a lot more sappy than it is: "When a criminal mastermind uses a trio of orphan girls as pawns for a grand scheme, he finds himself profoundly changed by the growing love between them." Luckily, Gru (the "criminal mastermind") is a villain of the same calibre as Dr. Horrible, thanks mostly to Steve Carell. I have to admit that while I found the adoption of certain 'suspicious' accents by Gru and his mom suspect, they were funny nonetheless.

What really makes the movie, more than anything else, are Gru's yellow minions. I want them. All of them.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Public media

This is a breakfast place on my street. For the world cup, they mounted a tv on the wooden 'wall' surrounding the demolition next door. They move the tv inside every night. Ingenious!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twilight: Eclipse

Eclipse followed by True Blood. It was a day of werewolves, vampires, and the (slightly irritating) women who love them.

I never got into Twilight, as I previously explained. Eclipse is slightly better in the sense that at a few (very few) points in the film, it becomes self-reflexive and makes a few jokes. The whole thing seems so silly to me that without any jokes, it becomes unbearable. And the chasteness of all involved has become truly annoying.

True Blood, on the other hand, is anything but chaste. The homoerotic scene between Billy and Sam in S03E01 reminded me of the wonderful phrase "the subtext is quickly becoming the text" from my all-time favorite vampire story. Wouldn't mind seeing something like that in the next installment of Twilight!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Emek protestolari sürüyor

Beyoğlu Belediyesi önünde eylem. Cuma aksam 7 biraz gec bir saat gerci.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sex and the City? 2

SATC2 has already received its fair share of negative reviews, so I'll keep this brief. It's not just that the film is too long, incredibly insensitive, and that the characters are so annoying we don't care whatever happens to them. My main problem here is that in Sex and the City, there's hardly any sex, and barely a glimpse of (New York) City.

A few notes: Trying to be educative about the Middle East and Arabic language doesn't work if you end it all with "F... the New Middle East." Also, SATC was a lot more feminist when it wasn't trying to be preachy about feminism, and have the girls sing "I'm a Woman." And the funniest thing in the movie has become their clothes, not their lines. Sad.

Arvo Part in Istanbul

Sitting in the middle. Premiere of Adam's Lament starting soon.

Friday, June 4, 2010


In the prologue of Lars von Trier's Antichrist, a married couple is having sex in their bathroom while their little child walks over the edge of an open window to his death. It all goes downhill from there.

The prologue is shot beautifully in black/white, in slow motion, and set to Haendel's 'Lascia Ch'io Pianga'. For the 45 minutes after that, I could hardly stay awake. And for the next 45 minutes, I wished I were still asleep. The film is divided into four chapters (in addition to the prologue and the epilogue). After the child's death, she (the mother, a fantastic Charlotte Gainsbourg) slides into a depression, and he (the father, a much too old Willem Dafoe, who seems to have been selected mainly because he has played Christ before) tries to get her out of it. He is a very successful therapist apparently, and while he knows all the rules (never treat your family, never have sex with your client), he can't quite abide by them. Long story short, he tries to cure her, she pays back by lengthily torturing him. That's women for ya!

Walking into a von Trier film, I expect misogyny (much as he denies it), but I also expect to be cinematically shaken up. None such after the prologue. It is excellently directed, I just am not impressed by the direction it takes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My office view

This is probably one of the things that gets me out of bed and out the door in the morning.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

40s apartments

My street was full of these, but they're all being torn down to build semi-identical hotels. This is probably next to go.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

OK, I like a non-sensical historical action flick as much as anyone. But this is Hollywood drivel in its most derogatory sense. Its historic Middle East is a land of Orientalist myths, the casting of its leads (especially in the case of Gemma Arterton - remember Strawberry Fields?) is ridiculous, but most importantly, it's boring! There's a magical dagger that gets tossed around so many times between the good guys and the bad guys, no one cares anymore after the umpteenth time it changes hands. Even my favorite game -let's spot the blatant analogies- becomes tiresome. Persians attack Alamut on suspicions of WMD, but there are none! Alas, Alamut sits on an extremely valuable natural resource: magical sand! Whatever.

It's an annoyingly bad movie, with a $ 150 million price tag.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Robbin’ in the Hood

(still behind in festival reports, but had to get this in)

Disclaimer: I love the Scott Brothers, and am positively biased towards all of their work. (Yes, that includes Black Hawk Down and Domino.)

While there have been quite a few Robin Hoods before, this one tells the story of Robin Longstride becoming Robin Hood. In that sense, it’s rather misfortunate that it stars the oldest Hood to date. At 45, Russel Crowe looks his age, despite the star charisma and all. But if one is determined to enjoy the movie (as I was), I would suggest to imagine that people in Middle Ages (particularly soldiers who have spent the last 10 years walking from England to Palestine and back) tend to age faster. All the familiar faces are there, Big John, the chubby priest, and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. And Marian of course, in the shape of the gorgeous Cate Blanchett. She’s probably also to old for her role, but that’s ok as she’s an Elf.

At 140 minutes, the film is long, yet it doesn’t drag on. One of my pet peeves is that in Hollywood pictures, everyone on earth in any age speaks English, so I was delighted by the fact that the French actually speak French here (and they're all evil). And great work on production design: everything is rather grimy, as things probably were back then. While the whole subplot about Robin’s father, and the subsequent “freedom and liberty” bit seems rather forced, ultimately I really enjoyed it as a historical adventure. There’s only one bit of robbing though, the rest is left conveniently to a possible sequel (Robin Hood and his Arthritis).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 16: Dogtooth, Emek Demonstration

(the very last festival entry - finished on June 29, 2010)

I had been hearing about Dogtooth, the festivals-favorite from Greece, since it premiered in Cannes last year, where it started racking up the awards. The film has been likened to von Trier (only Idiots, really) and Haneke on the IFF website. The premise of three siblings isolated in a house with their parents is indeed interesting, but takes too long to command the attention of the viewer (of this one, anyway). I won't go into detail to avoid spoilers, but I actually have a friend who was planning to teach her children wrong words to see how they would react to the outside world. In this case, the idea is similar, but there is never an outside world. It's a world of false consciousness, very well made, I just wish it could have been more succinct.

The main event on the last day of the festival was the march to save Emek, with a big crowd, lots of noise and plenty of fun. The update on Emek is that the plans have been suspended for now, until a report from a court expert. Ascourt experts are notoriously unreliable, there are occasional protests to keep the issue alive.

IFF Day 15: Reservoir Dogs, A Brand New Life, The Time That Remains

(Actual writing date: June 8th)

Reservoir Dogs. Such a great movie. It was being shown as one of the greatest first features of the last 30 years, and I made a little presentation before the film. It absolutely holds up. If you still haven't seen it yet, go rent/buy/download. The credit sequence at the beginning is one of my absolute favorites (along with Pulp Fiction and Easy Rider), it makes you want the movie to fully start, right now!

A Brand New Life (Yeo-haeng-ja) tells the story of a little Korean girl at an orphanage, waiting to be adopted by a Western couple. It's based on the real life experiences of its director, Ounie Lecomte. There is nothing wrong with the film, in fact, the little actress is excellent, and the director manages to be not too sentimental. Nonetheless, there is also nothing extraordinary about it. A typical well-enough-made festival fare that becomes tedious when watched on the last weekend of a long festival.

I'm a fan of Elia Suleiman. Even more so after The Time That Remains, which reflects on his family's (and his own) experiences in Israel from 1948 until today. He's a Middle-Eastern Buster Keaton, calm and cool, yet full of emotions. And funny.

IFF Day 14: Honey, Life During Wartime

Honey (Bal), this year's Golden Bear winner, is the final part in Semih Kaplanoğlu's Yusuf trilogy. Over three films (Egg, Milk, Honey), Kaplanoğlu has drawn a portrait of a poet, moving chronologically backwards. I did like the fact that the time remains in the present, and the film makes it very clear that while we watch Yusuf's childhood in Honey, we have not moved back to the seventies. There are subtle references to the other two films, but Honey stands on its own. In fact, it towers over the earlier two. Most significantly, the cinematography by Barış Özbiçer is breathtaking. And while the acting has always been strong in the trilogy, coming from a little boy (Bora Altaş), it's even more impressive. Yes, the long takes are very long, but I think I've gotten used to that by now.

I clearly remember a scene from Happiness, where one sister says "We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you" and the other responds "But I'm not laughing." I also remember other bits that stuck in my head, still after over a decade. Its sequel, Life During Wartime screened here a little over a month ago, and I have no recollection of it. Except that Todd Solondz has a really low speaking voice, and I couldn't hear him even with a microphone. The film is vicious to its characters, and I can't really imagine how it would stand alone without its prequel. (This is what happens when I start a blog entry on April 21st and complete it on June 4th.)

IFF Day 13: The Misfortunates, Kosmos, Tulay German

Completed on May 18th - It's becoming hard to write these, as it's been a while...

The Misfortunates has a lovely Flemish title (De helaasheid der dingen) and an even better Turkish one (Şeylerin Boktanlığı). Story of a boy growing up among drunkard white trash Flemish men (his dad and three older brothers), to become a famous novelist (the film is an adaptation). While I usually don't like the handheld-shaky-muddy cinematography that has become so ubiquitous lately, it does work here to good effect. The film has actually won the Golden Tulip at the festival. Two of the actors were here to collect the award, and they remained here for a few days more, courtesy of Eyjafjallajökull.

Kosmos comes from the most interesting of contemporary Turkish directors, Reha Erdem. Like his previous My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var), it has brilliant cinematography and an interesting use of sound, and is slightly too long. While I loved the idea of a mystical stranger coming into town and the way he used Kars (and yet it isn't Kars), everytime the stranger spoke, I felt completely alienated and detached from the film. Apparently, his lines were taken from a number of "holy books." Maybe that's what turned me off...

Tulay German: Years of Fire and Cinders is a documentary about one of the most popular Turkish singers of the sixties. My generation does not know her well (or rather, at all) as she emigrated to France in 1966. A few years ago, my newly-found cousin Didem Pekün (we have a big family) has decided to make a documentary about this fascinating woman. As German did not want to be filmed herself, Didem had to find other ways of telling her story, and ended up including herself in the film, which she completed with Barış Doğrusöz. It's an interesting portrait with loads of archival footage, a must-see for everyone interested in German or in 1960s' Turkish cultural scene.

IFF Day 12: Save Emek!

No movies on Day 12. Instead, I went to a town-hall type meeting about an old movie theater (Emek) that is planned to be torn down - sorry, "moved to the eighth floor of a multiplex without being torn down." Whatever. Until the meeting (which had a representative from the company that's planning the deed, someone from the Architects' Council, Director of IFF and a representative from Istanbul 2010 Agency), I wasn't against the project just for the sake of protest, and I was ready to listen to the guy from the company. He, however, spent about an hour saying nothing, lying to our faces, and grinning shamelessly. There was a lot of (mostly pointless) shouting, but in the end, it was god to show that there was a strong group of people against the project. One of the major points for me was that the theater has already been declared a cultural protection site, and is not supposed to be torn, changed or moved anywhere. We actually should not even be having this discussion. Another was that it's owned by Social Security Institution, so it's public. Why is it then being handed to some people so that they can make a profit off of it, without even a competitive bidding? Who are these people? And my favorite: 'the guy' tried to convince the audience that his company had good intentions to protect the cultural integrity of the building. The bottom three floors of the complex will be occupied by a museum: Madame Tussaud.

For more information, see the website.

IFF Day 11: The Last Station

The Last Station has Helen Mirren. Magnificent. If it needs anything else, it also has a great performance by Christopher Plummer. It's about the last days of Tolstoy, which is pretty interesting. Still, ultimately I found The Last Station a bit too bland. I think what bugged me the most was the constant use of music, as if the film did not have enough faith in itself to move the audience, so it had to rely on the score. The director was there for a Q&A, but I thought it would be rude to ask him about the music...

Monday, April 19, 2010

IFF Day 10: Howl, Nowhere Boy, Mr. Nobody

Howl features parts of the poem Howl. In animation. It also features re-created interviews with Allen Ginsburg, played by James Franco. And court scenes, with the actual transcripts from the obscenity trial faced by Howl's publisher. Poetry on film hardly ever works (or never works, save Bright Star). Trial scenes are boring, animations are tedious, bio-pic scenes are alright but not exciting (except the fact that it has the handsomest cast in recent times: Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Alessandro Nivola).

Nowhere Boy is the feature debut of video artist Sam Taylor Wood. Surprisingly, it's a vey straight-forward (albeit very well-made) bio-pic about the early years of John Lennon in Liverpool. It's also very much about motherhood. What realy surprised me though (maybe I know too little about The Beatles) is how much of a troublemaker/womanizer/punk Lennon appears to be, especially compared to the younger-but-wiser McCartney. And how gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas looks, even as she ages.

Jaco van Dormael's Mr. Nobody is a very strange and very beautifully made film. It starts in 2092, when the oldest - and the only mortal - human begins to tell his life story. What makes it interesting though, is that among the (possibly to large) parallel/possible stories he is telling, he doesn't know which one is real. Neither do we. Nor does it really matter. It could have been slightly shorter, but then again, I say that about every film over 110' long.

This Sheldon cartoon summarizes Mr. Nobody perfectly.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Live from the trenches

I posted this during the march from my cell phone, but only now managed to activate my mobile blog. More pics from the demonstration to come.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

IFF Day 9: Muezzin, Blood Simple, Kinatay

Day 8 was spent in nature, with family and friends. No movies, but I did watch 24. Interesting change of pace.

Muezzin is an Austrian documentary about imams in Turkey. More specifically, it's about the calls to prayer (ezan) they chant five times a day, and a call to prayer competition apparently held each year. The film follows a few of the imams who enter the competition, through regionals, all the way to national finals. What Muezzin does, very subtly and respectfully, is show how ambitious and vain these men really are. There may not be anything wrong with ambition and vanity per se (I would beg to differ, but in some strange cultures, ambition is even encouraged); but these imams are supposed to be 'men of God' in a religion that allegedy puts modesty above all.

Blood Simple. Pure Coens, even in their feature debut. Zhang Yimou's version now looks even more dull.

Kinatay is the first Philippine film to have competed at Cannes, where Brillante Mendoza won Best Director. I don't know if there was a problem with projection or not, but after the first 30 minutes or so (within which nothing happens), the film became so dark I could no longer follow it, and I left. Sorry to say, I was not the only one.

IFF Day 7: Fish Tank, Perrier's Bounty

It's 'Beautiful Irish Men Day' at IFF.

Fish Tank has Michael Fassbender. It also has a stellar cast and a solid narration. The story of the 15 year-old white trash (or whatever they call them in Britain) girl who can dance could have gotten mushy and/or preachy, but director Andrea Arnold successfully avoids that. Nonetheless, I would like there to be a rule about not using fishtanks and birdcages as a metaphor, for possibly the next 30 years or so. One funny (or disturbing, depending on how you look at it) detail: this film was running up against An Education at the BAFTAs. The Brits seem to like their little girls...

Perrier's Bounty has Cillian Murphy, who is too pretty for his own good. He's done zombies, he's done Batman, even a Loach film, but the image that I have stuck in my mind is Murphy sashaying in Breakfast on Pluto. So I had a hard time taking him seriously as the small time crook who owes 'Perrier' (a wonderfully evil Brendan Gleeson) money and has very little time to come up with it. The film appears to try to look like a Guy Ritchie gangster flick, but doesn't have the filmic attitude, save for a cocky voice-over. I love seeing Jim Broadbent in anything, so that's a plus (he plays Murphy's father). Especially stay away if random violence in movies disturbs you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

IFF 6: The Shock Doctrine, Dancing Dreams

Docu-Day at IFF.

The Shock Doctrine was adapted by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross from Naomi Klein's book. It features the author in many speeches, too many for my taste. She essentially argues that extreme capitalism feeds on 'shock': wars, disasters, etc. She starts from the Chilean coup, goes over the fall of the USSR, Gulf Wars, mentions Katrina and the Asian tsunami, and pretty much blames everything that is wrong with the world on Milton Friedman. While it was interesting to watch some of the archival footage, I found there to be too many leaps in her argumentation. Also, I don't get the use of Fargo soundtrack. (They also use some random Michael Nyman, just like Man on Wire did last year.)

On an entirely different note, I went into Dancing Dreams with absolutely no expectations. This is a documentary about a group of teenagers who perform Pina Bausch's Kontakthof, and the sole reason I went was that I loved everything I had seen by her (see my reference in the Mother review here). To cut a long story short, I was blown away. It would be wonderful enough to see another Bausch piece (and see it being prepared), but the film also introduces some of the young dancers, who are just regular high school students, but apparently some with such fascinating back-stories that they would deserve individual films. It was also extremely frustrating and saddening, knowing that Bausch is gone forever. Favorite doc in quite some time.

(Here's a performance of Kontakthof from 1983)

IFF 5: The Girl with the Red Scarf

The Girl with the Red Scarf (Selvi Boylum Al Yazmalım) is one of the greatest classics of Turkish cinema, and I had been embarrassed long enough for not having seen it. No more! A restored version was shown on Wednesday night, with most of the cast and crew present. The director, Atıf Yılmaz, has passed away in 2006. He was one of the most prolific and significant filmmakers of Turkish cinema.

The film starts out like a romantic comedy, but soon turns into a melodrama. The load rests on the shoulders of the main couple: Türkan Şoray and Kadir İnanır, both of whom look fantastic here. I found the constant voice-overs a little distracting, but who am I to object? Two details that stood out: The little boy (who was apparently played by a girl) falls off- practically throws himself off - the swing at some point. It's very convincing, and I'm sure there'd be a gigantic lawsuit if anyone threw a 3-year old off a swing like that in Europe or the U.S. today (not sure about Turkey). Also, Ahmet Mekin (the 'other guy' - pic below) looks so much like Atatürk, he'd be rich if he were a few decades younger (there's a flood of films about, and advertising featuring the man these days).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

IFF 4: A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, Skirt Day, Air Doll, Journey into Fear

A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop is Zhang Yimou's remake of Blood Simple, set in ancient China. As a comedy. The problem is, it's a slapstick comedy. Another problem is, although the daytime scenes are gorgeous (as one would expect from Yimou), most of the film is set at night.

Skirt Day, starring Isabelle Adjani as a high school teacher who takes her class hostage, created quite a skirmish among the viewers. Some members of the audience laughed and giggled in a scene that was not particularly funny, and a lady loudly proclaimed that this was very unappropriate as she was crying at the moment. About ten minutes later, after the film took a rather tragic turn, a male voice asked: "Why aren't you laughing now?" To which, others gave various replies, making the viewing process more fun than the film itself. Adjani won a Cesar for her performance here, rightly. But most of the film is set in one room, and it can get tedious and heavy-handed. And although it's shorter than 90 minutes, it feels longer - the ending especially drags on a little too much.

Air Doll is about a blow-up doll who develops a heart. She does not become a 'real' human as we know it, as she's 'empty inside'. When she says this to other people, they say that they are just like her, but she doesn't quite get metaphors. Metaphors are exactly what drag this film down, as it's full of them, but it's still a nice little film about fragile lonely people. Not my favorite Kore-eda though (that would definitely be Nobody Knows).

Pera Balık, right by Aya Triada, may be the best (and certainly the most reasonably priced) fish restaurant in all of Beyoğlu.

Journey into Fear, made in 1942 by (some of) the people who brought you Citizen Kane, is shown in the Istanbul section of the festival. This section contains "films which are set in İstanbul, of İstanbul and about İstanbul." Unfortunately, while most of this film is set in Istanbul, the cast and crew have not set their foot outside of their studio in Hollywood. Apparently, they also could not find a Turkish-speaking advisor to help them with pronunciations and accents. The story itself is rather simple: Joseph Cotten plays a U.S. Navy engineer who is pursued by the Nazis. Orson Welles is a Turkish cop. What I enjoyed the most was seeing all the familiar Citizen Kane faces in very different roles. And the fact that the film was only 68 minutes long.

IFF 3: Colony, Birds of Foreign Land, Whip It

Colony is about the disappearance of bees a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the film tells its story mostly through a handful of (rather uninspiring) beekeepers. And since no one really knows why this has happened, it cannot go beyond a few talking head discussing the possible reasons. All this talk, and sound problems to boot (soundtrack was louder than the dialogues), does not make for an exciting viewing.

Birds of Foreign Land (Gurbet Kuşları) is yet another classic I hadn't seen yet. It was shown in memory of its director, Halit Refiğ, who passed away last year. The story is of a family from Maraş (in Southeast Turkey), who come to Istanbul to get rich. Didactic and heavy-handed at times, the film is nonetheless rather daring for its era (1964), especially in terms of showing sexuality. A nude breast! Women sleeeping around! Nonetheless, all those women are whores (some literally are) and have no honor. What I found really interesting were the locations. This year the festival has a special section for films featuring Istanbul (İSTANBUL: INSIDE - OUTSIDE), and this would have fit right in there. It's pretty amazing how empty, but also how shabby and dirty the city looks.
They also showed The Intercessors, a short film Refig made in 1976 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when he was a visiting lecturer there. I don't know what his purpose was, but it feels more like the work of a film student than of an experienced filmmaker.

Whip It, my last film for the day, is not your 'typical' festival film. It's Drew Barrymore's directorial debut about roller derby girls in Austin, Texas. It's also a coming-of-age story told as a typical sports film (although maybe not a very typical sport). There are no surprises, except for maybe how enjoyable and sweet the film actually is. With no high expectations, it was a good diversion from the festival fare.

Monday, April 5, 2010

IFF 2: In the Loop, I Am Not Your Friend, Mother

Although I love comedies, it's extremely rare that I find one that makes me lought out loud. In the Loop is one of those. It's a political comedy with brilliant lines delivered sharply. Like a Yes, Minister, shot The Office style. What else would you want?

Nem Vagyok a Baratod is György Palfi's third film after Hukkle and Taxidermia. Don't take the first two as references. Story of lives crossing. Shaky camera. A very bored me. The only part I really liked was the short preceding it, Nem Leszek a Baratod (I Will Not Be Your Friend), set amongst kindergarten folk. The two films are supposed to be connected, show how we don't really outgrow the pettiness of choosing friends in kindergarten, I suppose. But really, the short film does it just fine by itself. At least I got to hear Hungarian.

Fenerbahçe Acıbadem women's volleyball team lost the final match in the European Champions League, but just barely. The game was infinitely more exciting than anything I watched so far.

Mother. It's official, Bong Joon-Ho is my favorite South Korean director. One of the most perfectly formed films I have seen in a while, and beautiful too. Starts and ends like a scene out of a Pina Bausch performance. My festival favorite so far (obviously).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

29th IFF Day 1

Day 1 was a bit of a disappointment. And apparently, I need more sleep during the festival.

First off, Element of Crime. Fell asleep within the first five minutes, left the screening within half an hour. Thanks to the lady leaving before me, it was an inspiration.

Nice lunch.

5 Fingers, from 1952. True story of the British Ambassador's valet, who was selling Allies secrets to the Germans during WWII in Ankara. It turns out my grandparents knew all these people. Great story with wonderful twists, beautiful shots of Istanbul (albeit only within the last half hour), and deliciously scheming characters as acted by James Mason and Danielle Darrieux. Best part of the day (save for lunch).

Tall latte with an extra espresso shot.

L'Immortelle, Alain Robbe-Grillet's mindgame movie from 1963. Faboulous Istanbul shots. Have no idea about the story. One of those films where falling asleep doesn't really hurt. And coffee is apparently of no help.

Happy Hour @ Aksanat has not started yet. Next week?

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle. What's the deal with Romanian editors? Are they always on strike? Is it a requirement by the international funds or by the state that Romanian films be shot in real-time, with long-takes? Moral of the story: If a trusted friend tells you a movie is not 'your type', trust him.

Home. Sushi. Desperate Housewives. There's always tomorrow (and 14 days after that, yeay!)

29th IFF Opening

First of a series of posts on the 29th International Istanbul Film Festival

The opening night. Somehow, the film always ends up being disappointing. Last year it was Welcome - depressing. This year, it was a crowd-pleaser, and I seem to be the only person who strongly disliked it. Le Concert is about a former orchestra miraculously playing in Paris and reaching "the ultimate harmony". Considering they hadn't played together in 30 years and their soloist never actually performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, it's rather surreal how it all works out.

Here are my three problems with the film:
- Dubbed in French. Granted, this is the distributor's fault, but having a bunch o Russians speak French to one another distracts me. A lot.
- Simplistic. Way too simplistic. Everything 'just happens to' fall into perfect place. Beyond predictable, annoying. And insulting to musicians who actually have to practice and rehearse once or twice before they go on stage.
- Show & tell. In a flashback scene during the grand finale (the concert - d'oh), everything is spelled out, shown, and explained with a voice-over. That was the main reason I hated Issiz Adam, and I feel about the same here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Back from LA

Apparently, some parts of LA did change since A Star Is Born.

Go down to the pics where it says "Garland's boarding house." The big white building on the right in the contemporary picture is Westin Bonaventure, our temporary home in LA for the duration of SCMS. More on the Bonaventure as a postmodern hyperspace here, in Jameson's famous Postmodernism essay.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Scorsese's L'Avventura

A woman mysteriously disappears on a remote island, where the waves pound the rocks.

Well, that's where similarities end content-wise, but Shutter Island uses a gorgeous visual quotation of Antonioni's L'Avventura as Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo's federal marshall characters look for the woman. Anyone who has seen My Voyage to Italy would know Scorsese's fascination with that film. His references also include Hitchcock and possibly Shock Corridor which I haven't seen, so it's enjoyable as always for a cinephile to watch a Scorsese movie.

Apart from references, however, Shutter Island stretches itself too long, making portions of it almost as unbearable as being locked up on an island that houses an asylum for the criminally insane. On top of that, the trailer gives away far too much information (or a sense of it anyway), ruining any possibility of a surprise. Of course it is beautifully shot and stellarly (over-)acted. But with Scorsese, I think it's fair to expect more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


It takes a special talent to make Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro, and Emily Blunt appear untalented. Wolfman manages to do just that. It is suffocated among all imaginable horror-film cliches, not a single one of which is used creatively. On top of all that, it's ridiculously Freudian in terms of the Wolfman's daddy issues. Its horror is limited to sudden loud scares, which only helps the viewer wake up at regular intervals. Such a waste...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


(This is a very late post. It's amazing I can be so behind with such short reviews.)

Vavien is the third feature film by Taylan Brothers, and for many, their best so far. By far. It is also a rare example of popular Turkish cinema that is actually good. The story is tight (until the third act anyway), acting is superb, art direction and music are just as they should be. Much of the credit might have to go to Engin Gunaydin, who wrote the script and plays the miserable (and rather pathetic) small-town family man Celal. The first half of the film has been likened to Coen Brothers' works (what a joy not to have to give proper reference!), but unfortunately the ending tries to get away with too much, too easily. Nonetheless, one of the most enjoyable Turkish films in years. Try to see it if it comes your way.

On a somewhat different note, I was completely expecting this film to get the 'Best Film' award from the Film Critics Association, and it didn't. Surprising.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Neşeli Hayat

A Turkish Frank Capra movie about a mall Santa. Has some good performances (especially Büşra Pekin) and an interesting take on life in the malls, but ultimately, it left me somewhat ambivalent.