Saturday, November 22, 2008

SLIFF 2008 Coverage Part 2

Title: Shadowland (2008)
Director: Wyatt Weed
Country: USA
Score: 1.5
“Shadowland” looks to be an early frontrunner for my least favorite film of the festival. The SLIFF website describes it as an amnesiac mystery. It leaves out any reference to vampirism, which is odd, because this is a vampire movie. I would have seen it anyway (in fact, I would have been more interested). My primary motivation for checking it out wasn’t the plot, but that it was made locally and I wanted to try and see more native St. Louis films this year.

The scraggly story involves a young woman who emerges from a hidden churchyard grave with no memories, but a desire to head towards “main street.” She meets a friendly diner waiter, a pushy hobo and a snobby retro clothing clerk along the way. A professional vampire hunter named Julian and eventually the police are on her trail. Meanwhile, she struggles to remember the circumstances that led to her “death.”

Despite a surprising amount of production polish for a local film, “Shadowland” is ultimately closer to the Sci-Fi channel’s original programming than something you might want to see even for throwaway thrills. The acting is consistently embarrassing, especially the “period” flashbacks (signaled, of course, by overused streak-blur transitions). The writing is unimaginative and devoid of personality, exacerbated by over-earnest performances.

The special effects are of the quaint TV variety. I think the film really should have gone the less-is-more route, since the conventional fake fangs and bad contact lenses were bad enough without the fast-motion running and CG wings.

Ultimately, the main pleasure came from spotting the familiar locations. I got to see my street on a sign and a scene set at a diner where I tried to eat right before the film. Sadly, this wasn’t enough to make the movie legitimately good (pay attention, New Yorkers reviewing NYC films) and I can’t recommend it to anyone.

Title: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Director: Paul Schrader
Country: Japan
Score: 8.5
Despite being well-aware that “Mishima” is 23 years old and that Criterion has put the restoration on DVD, I really wanted to see this on the big screen and was not disappointed. The movie weaves together three time periods, each in its own style. Mishima’s life growing up in shown in black and white. His final day plays in color, detailing his carefully plotted attempt to rally a pro-emperor military coup and his infamous ritual suicide. Most beautiful of all are the scenes from three of his best-known works, “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” “Kyoko’s House” and “Runaway Horses.”

Schrader expertly weaves together Mishima’s biography and philosophy, creating a mesmerizing investigation of a body-building, hyper-nationalist, homosexual artist fixated on harmonizing life and art through suicidal glory. The soundtrack by Philip Glass is central to the mood, and feels perfectly at home with the themes of trance-like passion and transcendence. The theatrical staging of his novels, while confusing at first, melts into the spirit of the film and is ultimately more revealing about the author than the more strictly biographical segments. The sets for these vignettes are precisely geometric and richly color-coded islands in a sea of black.

Last year, Paul Schrader’s “The Walker” left me pretty unimpressed, so I’m glad this one restored my faith in him. I didn’t see “Adam Resurrected,” his latest film, when it played Friday night, but I’ll probably visit it on DVD. The only other directing work I’ve seen by Schrader is “Affliction” and “Light Sleeper,” neither of which stand out in my mind as great works. I suspect, therefore, that Schrader is getting this year’s SLIFF lifetime achievement award as much for his writings on and for cinema as for his directing. It’s interesting that SLIFF [almost] gave last year’s award to Peter Greenaway since the two are probably the most vocal directors when it comes to declaring the death of cinema. The film walrus does not agree.


Molly said...

Though I didn't hate it as much as you did, I agree with your assessment of "Shadowland." One thing that particularly bothered me was its lack of coherent vampire rules - can they go out in the day? do they have to drink blood? do they have removable teeth? what in the world do all of Julian's special vampire hunting gadgets actually do? For a film so blunt that contains flashbacks from EARLIER IN THE FILM, "Shadowland" tried to be awfully subtle about exactly how its supernatural world worked.

Mad Dog said...

I've been meaning to see Mishima for a while. This is just the reminder I needed to put it back on my queue!

And yeah, why does local film need to suck so much?

Anonymous said...

Film Walrus:

I don't have a problem with critiques of my film, "Shadowland", but I think you should be more careful in dubbing any film "Worst of the Fest" when you haven't seen all of the films, based on other round-up articles that you've written. It makes sense to call it YOUR least favorite or the worst of the ONES YOU SAW, but I take exception to you calling it the worst of the fest. I think that it is a disservice to a film that clearly many people liked.

Based on movies I myself saw and reviews I heard about from other films, "Shadowland" clearly wasn't the worst film at SLIFF, and I'll bet if you and I compared notes, you would agree.

FilmWalrus said...

Wyatt Weed,

You may be thinking of a different review as far as the "Worst of the Fest" label. I called it my least favorite as you suggested. If you can remind me where I gave it the more excessive moniker I will change it, since you are quite correct in saying that there are likely films I'd have liked less, but didn't see.

As for my criticisms, while they are harsh, please understand that I hope you continue making films. I think you would do fine in Hollywood if you chose to move to larger scale productions and I think you're quite adept at putting a budget to work, especial at the indie films. With a little more discernment in your special effects and a few more script drafts, I expect to see some fine horror (or other genre) films from you.

Assuming my review didn't piss you off too much to revisit the site (and I'd understand if it did, since I'm more prickly than most!), I actually would be interested in comparing SLIFF notes with you. What films that you saw did you like/dislike?

Anonymous said...

Film Walrus

To be very precise, you DID say "early frontrunner for MY least favorite film of the festival" in your Nov. 21st review of the film. It was in your Dec. 8th round up that I felt the vagueness was more problematic, as the film sat at the bottom of the list of 19 films and there was no reference to the other 260 at the festival!! 260!!

You inadvertently placed me at the .38 percentile of all films. Plus, 66 of the films were feature-length, which means I'm sitting in the bottom 1.5 percentile of all features!

I will stop now, because I do appreciate the fact that you have let me air my gripes, and frankly, I may be the only one who noticed, or who took it personally. I will say that despite a negative review, you didn't do what most self-starting internet reviewers do, which is see how cute and funny and insulting they can be. You reviewed the film in a very straight-forward fashion. That I will never argue with.

Is there a solution? I'm not sure, other than to say the public will often create a fact that isn't really there. It's your review site, and I am very familiar with the concept that you can't make everyone happy, nor should you. Unfortunately my experience is that people will draw the wrong conclusion when given the opportunity. They don't read between the lines or always use common sense. Allowing me to respond provides a footnote, and that is probably enough of a solution.

As for films that were "worse than mine", I wouldn't want to air those opinions here. That would be bad - I should confer with you privately. As for my experience at SLIFF 2008, I feel it was an overall good crop, but there were disappointments.
I wonder at times if they really need to screen 260 films, because some of them clearly aren't up to it.

I also find it frustrating that our home town festival, which doesn't take a lot of outside donations from commercial sources and has not yet become a sales market, takes on so many big Hollywood features that clearly have secured futures, such as Kinsey, Juno, The Wrestler, and Slumdog Millionaire. Three of these four films have taken the "Best of" award in as many years, and their presence pushes aside a lot of other potential indie hits that could really use the coverage, such as Let the Right One In and Streetballers.

In fairness, it should be said that Streetballers got an Audience Choice award, but still can't begin to compete with the international heat of a film like Slumdog. It's DANNY BOYLE, for god's sake!

One final thought: I have a theory that of all the films made, only so many can be good. So, let's say that if there are 1000 films made in Los Angeles every year, but only a few hundred are good or worthy of getting into distribution, that disguises the other 700 or 800 that get buried. A "Wrestler", a "Slumdog", or a "Juno" can cover over a lot of badness.

Now, when you have only 6 or 8 features total that have been made in the St. Louis area in the last few years, it's easy to look at the crop and say "Hey, our local films suck!" Percentage wise, they probably do. But if you look at the top 1 or 2 local films, I honestly believe the percentage of good matches up to Hollywood's on a fairly even level. In the future, when St. Louis is cranking out 6 or 8 films A YEAR, the lesser one will be less noticeable.

By the way, I thought you'd find it amusing that we're talking to the Sci Fi Channel about our movie!!

FilmWalrus said...


More good points in your last comment. I especially agree with your sentiments about putting local productions into perspective. It is unfair to think that you or other truly independent directors are in direct competition with the likes of Boyle or Aronofsky. Most of the other blogs I frequent wouldn't even do a ranked list like my roundup, but that habit is one of my compulsive quirks.

I went ahead and edited the roundup page to include a "19/260" reference. I figure you've been quite polite in your request and I actually agree with your mistrust of the general public when it comes to common sense and, well... math.

As for the big titles at SLIFF, I know they work really hard and I think they are smart to feature a few big names to grab the audience attention and increase their percieved prestige. It is a shame, however, that more of the attention can't be spread around. One of my main goals blogging has been the faint hope that I can get people to see more variety.

Believe it or not, I'm actually really happy for you that the SciFi Channel is interested. All derision aside, I think it's a suitable venue for "Shadowland" that will reach an appreciative audience (better than the largely retired uppercrusty types that SLIFF attracts for better or worse). It could also be an important stepping stone towards your next venture.

One last note that might do you some cheer. If you can find a post I wrote called "Vampire Week: Closing Thoughts" you'll find a list of about 25 vampire movies I didn't like. I think yours is as good or better than most of those including such major big-budget films as Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, John Carpenter's Vampires, Salem's Lot and Fright Night. So if you enjoy statistics as much as you seem to, take heart that on the scale of vampire films, I don't think you're nearly as bad off.