Cinematic wonders continue

Our writers carry on coverage of San Francisco International Film Festival, as the event enters its third week.

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Hahaha

Winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, South Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo's "Hahaha" isn't the kind of comedy one would expect from its title. Told in a series of flashbacks, the film details the seemingly unrelated romantic escapades of two men visiting the same seaside town as they relay their experiences to one another. As the story unfolds, the audience realizes that the accounts take place at the same time with the same characters.

Although the film contains elements of the romantic-comedy, Hong avoids the simple answers that have become a mainstay for the genre. Instead, he works against the typical romance film in similar fashion to the French New Wave filmmakers of the '60s by using unexpected directorial techniques. Still images and abrupt camera zooms replace the usual cross-cutting seen during a conversation between characters, creating a fantastic but familiar quality. While exploring the complexities of love-triangles, Hong retains humor and sweetness with the help of the overriding narration provided by his central characters, delivering a sincere vision of a deceptively simple story.

-Jawad Qadir

The Dish and the Spoon

Director Alison Bagnall's "The Dish & The Spoon" begins with beer and donuts. Rose (played by the always effervescent Greta Gerwig) has just discovered her husband's infidelity when we first see her - driving in pajamas, stuffing her mouth with sugar. It's a raw and curiously absurd moment only to be outdone when she meets a stranded young Englishman (Olly Alexander) in a lighthouse. It's not exactly a meet-cute, but somehow, the two become confidants and the film follows their fantastical adventures as they come to terms with the pain of reality.

While this disillusionment might seem dour, the film is surprisingly light-hearted: Alexander tickles the piano keys as Gerwig improvises a tap dance. The two stage a faux-wedding in one of those Old West photo studios. And like the characters, we too are captivated by the sheer whimsy of it all. But the quirk only goes so far. Though "The Dish & The Spoon" unravels like an endearing romantic comedy, the characters never develop fully. Olly Alexander's young man remains unnamed and is nearly forgettable. By the end, the film is like its characters' fantasy: pleasant but fleeting.

-Jessica Pena

13 Assassins

Made as a tribute to the glory days of Japanese swordplay epics, Takashi Miike's "13 Assassins" embodies the best of the samurai genre. Loosely based on Eiichi Kudo's 1963 movie of the same name, Miike's film begins in 1844, as the sadistic young Lord Naritsugu ascends to the position of political advisor to the Shogun. When a government official realizes the damage that can be done by the immature nobleman, he hires a trusted samurai to gather a group of fighters to assassinate Nartisugu.

Similar to Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," the film can be divided into two halves. The first part deals with the job of recruiting the crew of warriors, while the last 50 minutes are used for a climax that entails a larger-than-life battle sequence, giving viewers exactly what they want from a samurai epic.

With its simple plot and bloody action sequences, "13 Assassins" isn't that different from most films of this type. But it works so well due to the director's decision to embrace the cliches of the genre. Although the film has a predictable storyline, Miike's ability to work within the confines of the style makes for an entertaining two hours.

-Jawad Qadir

On Tour

Mathieu Amalric's "On Tour" stars New Burlesque dancers shimmying their way throughout the harbor towns of France, bringing fake eyelashes, sass and pasties to the stage.

"It's women doing shows for women," Dirty Martini explains early on, one of several real-life dancers cast in the film. "On Tour" focuses on the triumphs and trials of a burlesque troupe on the road in France. The most entertaining scenes of the film come as the dancers doll themselves up. Gleeful camaraderie in the dressing room quickly into sultry confidence under the spotlight.

Though the women have spectacle and charisma in spades, they struggle when it comes to performing actual dramatic dialogue. The troupe's manager, played by director and actor Mathieu Amalric, picks up the "acting" slack. He may not have the assets of his costars, but he has his own French-ified Bill Murray brand of haven't-slept-in-weeks sexiness.

"On Tour" may not be a fully-fleshed film, but it remains a joy to watch because of its spectacle and the bubbling enthusiasm the burlesque dancers bring to the stage and their roles.

-David Getman

Terri

Many high school coming-of-age stories are modeled upon the tried and tested premise of misfits and jocks, all of which is embedded within sex driven comedy in movies like "Superbad" and "Sex Drive." Azazel Jacobs' "Terri" avoids the cheap sex joke while preserving the awkwardness of teenage life with genuine understanding.

The film follows the tale of a late blooming giant named Terri. Terri is the kid you find out is cool once you get to know him, but is not someone you want to be seen with outside of class because he wears pajamas all the time. Terri befriends the lovable principal (John C. Reily) who, through his own errors, teaches Terri to live life with a chin up.

Naming the films of John Hughes as a major influence growing up, Azazel Jacobs presents moments of honesty, moments where the camera seems almost voyeuristic as shown in an extended scene between Terri and his love interest Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). Through its subtle insight and well placed humor, "Terri" gives us the opportunity to witness teenage life as it slowly happens.

-Carlos Monterrey

Tags: SFIFF






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