A loyal Nazi turned hero, an American whistleblower and citizen journalists defying a military regime are three good bets today at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
And for entertainment, you can't beat an English teen dating a much older man about town.
They're high on my recommendations list as the festival reaches its last three days.
DAY 14 (aka Oct. 14):
JOHN RABE: This may be the film with the most grandeur in the festival. And one of the best stories. It's based on fact but is brand new to most of us. Rabe managed a plant for the German engineering company Siemens in Nanking, China. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, he stood up to them, organized a safety zone and saved the lives of over 200,000 Chinese. The film is slow in spots but most of the time big and glossy as it recreates “the rape of Nanking” with nighttime bombing raids, surging crowds and atrocities. The popular German star Ulrich Tukur plays Rabe with quiet determination, standing firm against a cynical doctor within his compound (Steve Buscemi) and against a series of Japanese officers and even a prince. He was also a loyal Nazi which is both understated and at various times useful in this film. It is odd though, to see a line of Chinese workers going “Heil Hitler”. (Also Day 15)
BURMA VJ: REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY: Remember the mammoth demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in Burma two years ago? Even as the generals shut down the information flow, we got daily reports and video in our newscasts. This dramatic documentary shows the citizen network that made that happen. They work secretly with hidden cameras, usually keeping contact by cel phone with an office in Thailand. They smuggle their footage out to Norway, from where it's sent out to news outlets and broadcast back into Burma. We see a lot of their work. On the ground the personal risk is great. As one citizen journalist says: “Fear is so deep in everybody. Also in me.” This is a real-life thriller.
THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA gets an added screening today. Good. It shows how Daniel Ellsberg came to release the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. They helped end the Viet Nam War, brought on a key press-freedom ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court and led Richard Nixon's presidency to self-destruct. Amazing clips from Walter Cronkite to Dick Cavett re-create the era, while some nasty bits from the Nixon tapes add background. Ellsberg recalls it all today with a bit of disappointment amidst the triumph. A must see for people who lived through the time or want to learn about it.
AN EDUCATION: This wonderful film turns out to be everything the buzz predicted. It's funny, poignant and entertaining. There's a sparkling script by Nick Hornby performed perfectly by the cast. Newcomer Carey Mulligan deserves the raves she's been getting for her natural performance as a teen on the verge of growing up. She lives in a London suburb, is the best student in class, plays the cello and plans to go to Oxford. Until she's diverted by a smooth-talking suitor twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard). He brings her an exciting lifestyle, converts her suspicious father (Alfred Molina, terrific) with bonhomie and charms her mother by kissing her hand. Emma Thompson, as a school principal, tries to advise caution.
CHLOE: Atom Egoyan's latest is a mixed effort, a bit standard, a bit of a mess and quite heavy handed. Until a big twist takes it around a corner, it's a drama about marital infidelity. Julianne Moore suspects hubby Liam Neeson of cheating and hires Chloe, the escort, played by Amanda Seyfried, to tempt and expose him. The story is not that interesting and the actingis shakey. And it's hard to forget that during the filming, Neeson lost his wife as the result of a skiing accident. It's also hard to wipe away memories of Seyfried as the daughter in Mamma Mia. Toronto looks good though with snowy scenes in Yorkville and at nearby landmarks.
BLACK FIELD: A prairie gothic. The idea makes so much sense I wish the film had turned out better. Set in Manitoba in pioneer days, it creates a wonderfully strong atmosphere with empty landscapes, brooding skies and candle-lit homesteads. That backs up the rising sexual tension in this tale of two sisters on a remote farm visited by a handsome French-Canadian stranger asking only a couple of night's lodging to rest his horse. The younger sibling is thrilled; the older says absolutely not. She's a bossy motherly type, well-played by Sara Canning (from Vancouver and now prominent in TV's The Vampire Diaries). Mixed acting among the others, come-and-go accents and a story that's less Bronte and more paperback romance hold this film back.
COOKING HISTORY: This is not a recommendation. It's a warning. The program guide describes this film about military cooks as “charming and often hilarious” containing “just the right amount of sugar and spice”. Don't believe it. This documentary has several graphic scenes of animal slaughter included a painfully extended one with a squealing pig being dragged across a long yard to the end it seems to know is coming. Charming?
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector
The White Ribbon
I Killed my Mother
Let's Make Money
Backyard (added screening)
The Maid (added screening)
Let's Make Money (added screening)
At the Edge of the World
Queen to Play
Discorama, by Glaser (added screening)
BURMA VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country