CINEMA: Philadelphia Film Festival Spring Preview


BuskirkByline_REV.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Most local film lovers don’t even want to discuss the collapse of this Spring’s Philadelphia Film Festival, it’s down there with bummer thoughts like the loss of a beloved pet or the rise of the Tea Party.  I know some of the my favorite films of the decade were features caught during the festival that never again arrived on area screens.  Like a friend looking to cushion the blow, the Philadelphia Film Society has staged a Spring Preview mini-festival this weekend, bringing twelve new films to the Prince Theater and the best thing is that the whole line-up is being brought to you for free.  They’re promising a full-sized festival for the Fall, but there should be something among the dozen film presented to whet your appetite for more, you can check out the schedule and reserve tickets here.  Among the titles we’ve screened:

thesquare-poster-796963.jpgTHE SQUARE (2008, directed by Nash Edgerton, 105 minutes, Australia)

Ray (David Roberts who appeared in the Matrix sequels) is a fifty-something contractor who is having an affair with young married neighbor Carla (Claire van Der Boom).  When she finds a bag of money her tow-truck driving thug-of-a-husband is hiding, she and Ray decide to steal it, burn down the house and escape to a sexy happily-ever-after.  With its plot straight out of Film Noir 101, Edgerton stays clear of stylish homage and instead keeps his twisty story grounded in a believably sunny Down Under reality.  Mickey Rourke warned William Hurt in the similarly noir-ish Body Heat that there is one way to carry off a criminal scheme and a million ways to screw it up, and there is a sweet joy in watching this couple’s passion lead them across every snare possible.  Ray is ultimately as trapped by his horny instincts as Carla’s dog, who can’t be stopped from swimming across the neighborhood lake to howl for Ray’s mutt, much to his wife’s suspicion.   Many of these thrillers finesse the set-up only to blow the finale; I’m glad to report that The Square’s machinations are as brilliantly choreographed as Ray and Carla’s are blunderously botched.  Tense fun, and make sure you arrive in time to catch director Edgerton’s brutally funny five-minute short, The Spider.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (20008, directed by Ji-Woon Kim, 129 minutes, Korea)

The director of the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life mounted this old-fashioned Western adventure, reportedly the most expensive production in Korea’s history.  There are nods to the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone but the spoofy action tone is much closer to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Kang-ho Song (of The Host) is the goofy desert google-wearing bandit who steals a treasure map in 1930’s Manchuria.  Before he can dig up the unknown booty he’s being trailed by a rifle wielding sharp-shooting cowboy (Woo-sung Jung) and a balletic murderous assassin who dresses like the pop star Prince (Byung Hun-Lee, star of A Bittersweet Life).  The action starts off at a gallop and rarely subsides and anyone who loves old-time moviemaking will smile to see  so many classic movie set-ups (gunfighter duels, horseback battles) made so fresh you’d think Ji-woon Kim invented them.  For a film with so many gigantic set pieces, I looking-for-eric-france.jpgwas a bit disappointed the climax doesn’t top what came before but it is still an impressive adventure, short on CGI trickery and long on old-fashioned jaw-dropping action.  Don’t wait to watch it at home, this is what the spectacle of theater-going is for. 

LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009, directed by Ken Loach, 116 minutes, U.K.)

I was amused to see David Mamet’s pet story elements (illusions, deceptions and profuse profanity) worked into a kickboxing picture (of all things) a few years back in Redbelt.  Equally as unlikely, the latest film by Ken Loach mixes his patented tough working class style of British drama with….a guardian angel fantasy?  Lonely fifty-something postman Eric (Steve Evrets) is taking stock of his sad little world when a marijuana-fueled delusion of legendary footballer Eric Cantona appears to offer him much-needed advice to turn his life around.  Cantona is a mega-star in British soccer circles but if you haven’t spent the last couple decades worshiping Manchester United you might be underwhelmed at his presence as a spiritual cheerleader.  All this life-coaching fits uncomfortably next to the gritty subplot of Eric’s stepson mixed up with local gangsters yet like all of Loach’s films it is full with fine performances and the rare chance to see working class characters as full-bodied, multi-dimensional characters.

Other screenings of note include an ESPN-produced documentary on Sixer Allen Iverson (given some credibility on account of being directed by Hoop Dream’s Steve James), a violent Michael Caine vehicle called Harry Brown, the well-received anti-fraking natural gas documentary Gasland and a new anthology film written by Romanian critical fave Christian Mungiu, Tales Of the Golden Age.  Let’s all freeload on the Film Fest’s dime and enjoy this weekend-long free buffet.

TICKET OFFER: Philadelphia Film Festival has offered us limited number of passes for the Spring Preview screenings, if you would like to attend drop us a line at and please include a cell-phone number. 

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