Vancouver International Film Festival 2016

Our Vancouver-based writer, Nicholas Lay (of In Layman’s Terms), recently found himself in the midst of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival. Here, he rounds up seven of the more intriguing pictures featured this year…

godspeedGodspeed

Drama / Gangster

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Country of Origin: Taiwan

As an avid lover of classic Hong Kong cinema, the news that comedy legend Michael Hui (of the Hui brothers) was starring in Taiwanese director Chung Mong-hong’s new gangster flick, AND that said gangster flick was playing at VIFF, meant it was almost inevitable that Godspeed would be the first ticket I purchased at the festival this year.

A purveyor of satirical, character-driven comedy since the 1980s, Hui’s wise-but-cynical cab driver spins Mong-hong’s winding yarns into dry, droll gold as he and his companion, the wonderfully blank Na Dow, cruise down to southern Taiwan in order for the latter to perform the sort of drug deal we all know is going to go badly wrong.

Godspeed won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the foreign language market for a violent, darkly humorous, subtle technical achievement (Nagao Nakashima’s ranging cinematography is gorgeous at times), then definitely make a note of this one for later.

Watch the trailer here.


Hello Destroyer

Drama

Director: Kevan Funk

Country of Origin: Canada

Without doubt the most depressing film I’ve seen this year (seriously), Kevan Funk’s debut feature, Hello Destroyer, is a bleak, painfully frank examination of the cycle of violence forever present at the heart of Canada’s national pastime.

Flirting with the blurred boundaries of an enforcer – regardless of the level the game is played at – the focus is Tyson Burr, an up-and-coming rookie riding the only talent he has ever been pushed to develop in the hope that, one day, his career may reach the pinnacle that is the NHL. Instead, one overly zealous decision, one single product of the nurturing he has received at the hands of the system; sees him gradually nudged back toward the cold, hard reality of the small town BC life he so desperately wants to escape.

The excruciating, systematically ruthless descent of Tyson as both a hockey player and a human being is ramped up by Funk’s intense style and a haunted, empathy-inspiring turn by Jared Abrahamson.

Trailer yet to be released.

inavalleyofviolence

In a Valley of Violence

Western

Director: Ti West

Country of Origin: USA

Those who’ve seen writer/director Ti West’s acclaimed micro-budget horror flick, The House of the Devil, will be familiar with his ability to transform a basic premise, a limited cast, a lead character who spends a large portion of time on their own, and plenty of glorious homage-paying into a workable, enjoyable picture. Finally moving away from horror, West turns his eye to the old school Western.

In a Valley of Violence follows a similar pattern to The House of the Devil, and certainly lives up to its name; as West holds nothing back in this backwater tale of fully justified (trust me, you’ll agree) revenge. Ethan Hawke stars as the wandering gunslinger, while John Travolta makes a random, but welcome appearance as the local Marshal.

There’s nothing all too groundbreaking about the film as a whole, but it looks great and West’s writing – particularly the comedy – is strong, as is the timing provided it by his cast. The modern subtext, deliberate or not, of Hawke’s character’s past and the small town setting – like recent neo-Western, Hell or High Water – is equally as interesting, but, if I’m being honest, the highlight is one hundred percent the quite marvellous canine performance of Hawke’s trusty mutt, Abbie.

Watch the trailer here.


Moonlight

Drama

Director: Barry Jenkins

Country of Origin: USA

Riding into town on the crest of the TIFF hype wave, Moonlight became one of the higher profile features at VIFF, due to the elevated levels of chat it enjoyed in advance. A moving journey along the path of one young man’s lifelong struggle as a black homosexual, trying to find his place in a forgotten, poverty-ridden corner of modern America; Moonlight is a highly relevant commentary on the stereotypes and social injustice that still plague a great number of people far more often than the odd flash on the news many of us are privy too.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins visual eye contrasts the striking and peaceful with the deliberately claustrophobic. One could argue he goes a tad overboard with the odd “artsy” sequence here and there, but it’s a minor complaint.

Featuring solid performances from the well arranged ensemble cast, Moonlight is more a conveyance of intriguing, vital subject matter than a “great” film. In these uncertain times, however, it certainly deserves a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

paterson

Paterson

Drama / Comedy

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Country of Origin: USA

Without question the highlight of my VIFF experience this year, Jim Jarmusch’s week-in-the-life of Adam Driver’s bus driving, poetry-composing lead character, Paterson, who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, is a both a study, and itself a triumph of nuanced creativity, set against the mundane nature of everyday life.

Jarmusch has always been an unconventional filmmaker (in case you’re unaware, one of his films stars Forest Whitaker as a modern day, urban samurai and mafia guardian angel – and it is awesome), and Paterson is no exception to his repertoire. Pulling us in close to his characters’ eccentric normalness with a tight script and beautiful direction, Jarmusch masterfully sets up sequences of tension and relief that are clearly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but genuinely have you on the edge of your seat in the world of Paterson and Co. Moment after moment of sly comedic genius compliments such an approach, with everything from ordinary background objects, to the slightest facial reaction of our lead character playing a part alongside the amusing, dialogue-driven interactions that sustain his various relationships.

Driver, whose career goes from strength to strength, spearheads a top notch cast opposite Goldshifteh Farahani, with further stellar canine involvement (a running theme at VIFF) and a brief, but memorable cameo from Method Man, as Jarmusch revisits the Wu-Tang connection he established years back on Ghost Dog (which, if you’re yet to Google it, is the Forest Whitaker flick mentioned above).

Watch the trailer here.


Under the Shadow

Horror

Director: Babak Anvari

Country of Origin: UK / Jordan / Qatar

We often speak of the literal horrors of war, but rarely does the field of cinematic horror find itself in the midst of the battlefield. Iranian writer/director Babak Anvari sets out to change that with his subtext-layered, Under the Shadow; set beneath the harrowing barrage of Iraqi bombs raining down upon Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war.

The standard premise of a mother and daughter haunted in their own home is given a new lease of life by the backdrop of war, as Anvari dances on our nerves with a tightly wound depiction of his characters’ increasingly desperate predicament. The horror is both further emphasised and enhanced due to the depressingly intriguing military, political, and social quandaries faced by our two lead characters throughout.

Aided by standout performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, Anvari has fired the gun on adding an extra layer or two to the usual jump-punctuated screamfest formula.

Watch the trailer here.

weirdos

Weirdos

Drama / Comedy

Director: Bruce McDonald

Country of Origin: Canada

Balancing out Hello Destroyer’s dark take on small town life north of the border; Weirdos is veteran director Bruce McDonald’s black and white throwback to the folksy, teen-dream Canadian road trips of the mid-70s.

A true coming-of-age tale, Daniel Maclvor’s witty script follows Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend, Alice (a breakout performance by Julia Sarah Stone), as they seek out his metaphorically long-lost mother (Molly Parker, House of Cards) across the province of Nova Scotia. Rebellious teenagers having their insular, cherry-picked ambitions dashed on a regular basis is hardly anything new, but McDonald’s comforting sense of awkward calm ultimately succeeds in providing the heartwarming sense of hope necessary to bring the picture full circle.

One of the highlights of VIFF 2016, Weirdos is a softly spoken ride that does its best to convince you that, in the end, everything will be all right.

Trailer yet to be released.

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