Philadelphia Film Festival: Recap (part 1)

As I've mentioned earlier, this year's festival isn't quite as exciting to me as it has been in previous years, but so far I've had pretty good luck. Here are some quick thoughts on a trio of pretty good movies.
  • Landscape No. 2: This Slovenian thriller follows a young burgler who accidentally steals a document revealing post-WWII atrocities while on a job. When his partner is found dead, he realizes that an assassin is targeting everyone who has been exposed to the documents. This is pretty standard thriller material and it suffers from a severe lack of empathy for most of the characters, most notably the main character. This may be a bit of a spoiler, but let's just say that he gets what he deserves in the end. Along the way, he inflicts a lot of collateral damage on those around him though, and some of it is painful to watch. There is one scene in particular that is utterly brutal in its intensity and violence (it is made even more brutal by the circumstances of the victim). It's well made enough and it has some interesting moments, I suppose, but I just didn't like spending time with any of these characters. **
  • 4BIA: A Thai horror anthology featuring 4 stories and an awful title (it's supposed to be a play on "phobia"). Don't let the title get you down though, as this is a fantastic little film. Like most horror anthology films, some of the segments work better than the others and the worst I can say about this film is that it ends on one of the weaker stories. Still, each story is involving and each makes it's own distinct impact. The first segment features a girl stuck in her apartment with a broken leg. She begins texting with a strange man... but the texts soon shift from cute to bizarre and ultimately to creepy. It's a deliberately paced opening, but I have to admit that this segment features a superbly executed "boo" moment that actually caused me to shout in the theater (not something I normally do). The second segment plays like a minature Final Destination movie, with a group of teenage bullies cursed by black magic. This segment is much more stylized than the others, using quick cuts and shaky handheld camera movements. The kills are inventive and surprising and the ending is suitably eerie. The third segment takes a more comedic approach, following 4 teenage friends on a camping and rafting trip. Movie references galore in this segment, which is often played for laughs but which also retains a certain creepy quality. As you might expect, this referential segment is almost by definition derivative of other movies, but it knows what it's doing and it plays with it. It might be the best segment overall. The final segment follows a stewardess on a pair of unusual flights. There's an element of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" going on here, though it also strays into the realm of the supernatural as well. Not my favorite segment, but still better than a lot of horror out there. Overall, the film features a great balance of stories and works really well. I doubt any other film will be able to unseat it as my favorite of the festival. ***1/2
  • I Sell the Dead: Before facing the guillotine, a grave robber recounts his exploits to a priest. Due to the ridiculous nature of the Schuylkill Expressway, I was about 15 minutes late to this show, but I saw most of the film and indeed enjoyed it. When I started watching the film, it was conventional enough. Two grave robbers, played by Dominic Monaghan (of Lost and LotR fame) and Larry Fessenden, were basically tasked with providing a steady stream of fresh dead bodies to a local "doctor" (played by Kaedrin favorite Angus Scrimm). For a time, all was well. Then they began to find that not all bodies in graves are completely dead. Hilarity ensues. The film strays into farce territory as it moves on, but that's not a bad thing in this case, and it works well enough. Monaghan and Fessenden play off each other well and you can kinda tell they had a good time making this movie. It's not a great film, but there's a lot to like here and there are some rather interesting stylistic touches to the film. I enjoyed the ending a lot as well. **1/2
So far, so good. Alas, not many more films on my schedule, and I may be skipping one of them due to Villanova's unexpected tourny run (I loath the sport of basketball, but I do make an exception for 'Nova).