1999 Reviews

Here are the reviews for the films that were playing at the 1999 World Film Festival. Eventually, I'll put these reviews into their separate categories (such as when they either come to theatres or to video), but until then I hope these help you choose see the diversity of films always presented at the festival.


Bayside Shakedown (Odoru Dai Sosa Sen) (Japan - 1998) 
Starring: Yuji Oda, Tosh
iro Yanagiba, Eri Fukatsu
Director: Katsuyuki Motohiro
Plot: A ragtag group of young detectives must unravel a bizarre murder, the daring kidnapping of their police commissioner, and the theft of their expense reports from under their noses!
Review: From a strong and funny opening, the film quickly shows off an irreverent and cynical look at a group of Japanese detectives trying to fight crime in their own, sometimes bumbling, way and beat a system that is dead-set against them at the same time. Obviously meant as a series, the film spends little time in character development preferring instead to fill the screen time with situation gags and enough story elements for two movies. Jumping from serious crime thriller to keystone-cop comedy, Bayside Shakedown manages to step the fine line between both genres to present a very entertaining film.
Comedy: 7/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Bone Collector, The (USA - 1999) 
Starring: Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah
Director: Phillip Noyce
Plot: A paraplegic New York forensics detective enlists the aid of a young, street smart female cop to help him catch a vicious serial killer who leaves a complex series of clues after each murder.
Review: The Bone Collector is a decent, well-paced, and entertaining mystery-thriller from genre director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Clear and Present Danger). The film could have been edited a bit better, and some of the scenes lack the necessary tension for this kind of movie, but there's enough here to keep us interested. The plot itself is very formulaic, but actors Washington and Jolie make a great "odd-couple" pair and that helps raise the film above the typical Hollywood fare.
Entertainment: 6/10

Breaking Out (Vägen Hut) (Sweden - 1999)
Starring: Björn Kjellman, Peter Haber, Viveka Seldahl
Director: Daniel Lind Lagerlöf
Plot: An out-of-work actor finds work in a prison and decides to stage a play using inmates. But are the inmates really interested in theatre or are only going along for the chance to break out?
Review: Breaking Out reminds one immediately of Full Monty with its similar theme, that of a group of mostly untalented men trying to put on a show to step beyond their social confines. The prison setting does bring in some darker moments, as these players must live with the ridicule and dangers inherent in a criminal community. Mostly, though, it is a light, heart-warming comedy that sticks successfully to the formula brought about by other similar films.
Comedy: 7/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Chang Jiang: The Great River of China (IMAX) (1999)
Director: Yasushi Sakaguchi
Review: Chang Jiang is the river that flows through China, the longest in Eurasia, and separates the country into North and South. This IMAX presentation follows the river from its start in the mountain ranges all the way to Shanghai where it empties into the East China Sea, focusing on the people living along its shores. The film tries to explain the Chinese geography and culture through the eyes of a young Canadian violinist and generally succeeds. As is usual for an IMAX production, the scenery is the main star, and Chang Jiang doesn't disappoint in that respect, but there just isn't enough of it shown here.
Documentary: 6/10

City of Marvels, The (La Ciudad de los Prodigios) (Spain / France - 1999)
Starring: Olivier Martinez, Emma Suárez, François Marthouret
Director: Mario Camus
Plot: A poor young man comes to Barcelona for the Exposition of 1888 looking for work but finds only poverty. First joining an anarchist movement against the power-hungry land-owners who run the city, he quickly becomes disillusioned and turns to crime, but remains torn between his love for a woman and his goals.
Review: Based on the book by Eduardo Mendoza, the film is a sprawling drama akin to the Godfather series, but with the rich history of the city of Barcelona at the turn of the century as its background. Familiar situations abound as the film delves into the life of a gangster-turned-crime boss, but it's still captivating to watch the story unfold. Beautifully photographed, well acted, and fascinating, the City of Marvels is full of grand drama and interesting characters.
Drama: 7/10

The Dilettante (La Dilettante) (France - 1999) 
Starring: Catherine Frot, Sébastien Cotterot, Barbara Schulz
Director: Pascal Thomas
Plot: After years of luxury in Switzerland, a woman decides to leave it all behind and move back to Paris to start fresh and renew ties with her adult son and daughter, much to their dismay. 
Review: A dilettante is a person who does everything for her own pleasure, no matter the consequences, and that's quite appropriate as a description of the main character. But no matter what she does, the people she meets are delighted by her company. She does everything with such naivety, such insouciance and optimism, that you can't help but be charmed by her exploits, even as she destroys her daughter's new life and jumps from one improbable job to another. The drama is mostly superficial, of course, but works well within the context of her life. The Dilettante is a light, entertaining comedy with enough maturity in its execution, intelligence and verve in the script to put American comedy-dramas to shame. 
Comedy: 7/10
Entertainment: 7/10

The Dinner (La Cena) (Italy / France - 1998)
Starring: Vittorio Gassman, Fanny Ardant, Giancarlo Giannini
Director: Ettore Scola
Plot: A typical local restaurant on a typical night fills up with regulars, tourists and new clients, each table the center of a burgeoning drama. Even the waiters, cooks, and the hostess are not immune to the stories surrounding them.
Review: With a large cast of famous French and Italian actors in mostly bit parts, the story focuses on each of them briefly but repeatedly to describe how their character's story progresses. From a group of Japanese tourists, to a dysfunctional Italian family, to businessmen and theater actors, The Dinner offers up a large cast of characters and situations. The film is definitely a comedy interspersed with dramatic elements. The comedy part of the film is good, at times both witty, quite funny, and on occasion quite revealing, but the dramatic moments seem a bit forced, and actually slow down the story. Still, it's another fine set piece by director Ettore Scola, just not to the level of success he's achieved in some of his previous films.
Comedy: 6/10
Entertainment: 7/10

Goya in Bordeaux (Goya en Burdeos) (Spain / Italy - 1999)
Starring: Francisco Rabal, Jose Coronado, Dafne Fernández
Director: Carlos Saura
Plot: An elder Francisco Goya, the great Spanish painter of the late 18th century, reminisces and recounts the important events of his later life to his young daughter, detailing how he clawed his way into the king's court, and how his love for his country and its people influenced his work.
Review: Goya in Bordeaux is a dramatized and dream-like view of Goya's life, putting his work in context with the times - the politics, the culture, the events that occurred in Spain and France. Goya's most famous paintings literally come alive, and quite vividly, for both the audience and the character, and these are the film's most powerful moments, mixing the real and the imaginary. The actors are all first-rate, and the imagery is often quite stunning. The relationship between Goya and his daughter is particularly touching. A spell-binding film by director Carlos Saura (Carmen, Tango).
Drama: 8/10

Legend of 1900 (Leggenda del pianista sull'oceano, La) (Italy - 1998)
Starring: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Plot: A child abandoned atop a ballroom piano on a trans-Atlantic liner, is adopted by the ship mechanic and named 1900 after the year of his birth. He is raised onboard, never once leaving the ship, and becomes a virtuoso jazz pianist, entertaining the upper-class guests. As his popularity grows, he is encouraged to leave the ship and pursue fame and fortune, but 1900 refuses to leave the only world he knows.
Review: Tim Roth is excellent as the title character, balancing poise and intensity in just the right way. Moving from the present to the past, the story does indeed infringe on the mythical as the narrator attributes extraordinary, almost fantasy-like musical skills to 1900. Some scenes, such as 1900 playing during a violent storm as the piano rolls around the ballroom, and the piano duel with "the father of Jazz" are truly memorable. Giuseppe Tornatore (best known for his ode to cinema Cinema Paradiso) has crafted another simple story brought to large canvas. It is a slow, beautiful piece of film-making.
Drama: 8/10

Mansfield Park (USA / UK - 1999)
Starring: Frances O'Connor, Hugh Bonneville, Jonny Lee Miller
Director: Patricia Rozema
Plot: In the early 1800's a poor young girl is sent to live with her wealthy cousins, in the hopes of educating her a finding her a position in high society. She grows up into an educated and very spirited young woman and is soon torn between the man she loves, and the man she is to marry. 
Review: Said to be Jane Austen's favorite novel, Mansfield Park starts off in a similar vein as other Austen stories such as Sense and Sensibility and Emma, describing a handful of high class, very British characters acting out their roles as forced upon them by society, each trying to garner an engagement to another. But this particular story has a little more bite to it, and bit more drama, dealing on its fringes with black slavery, class bias, and a touch of scandal that helps raise this adaptation above some of the more recent ones. The acting is superb, especially from Frances O'Connor, but the production, and the film itself, ends up seeming a little bland. 
Drama: 7/10

The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human (USA - 1998)
Starring: Mackenzie Astin, Carmen Electra, David Hyde Pierce
Director: Jeff Abugov
Plot: An alien narrator takes us on a wildlife journey through the bizarre mating rituals of the human species by focusing on the relationship of a typical couple from first meeting to marriage.
Review: As can be gathered from the title, the film is a tongue-in-cheek look at relationships. This obviously small-budget movie is really only a one-gag film stretched out to feature length, but with enough witty observations, including many false guesses from the alien narrator, to make for a funny, and sometimes even hilarious, faux-documentary. Some of the material gets a bit repetitive, and one can tell director/writer Abugov originally worked on TV sit-coms, but as a small, un-pretentious comedy, it works well.
Comedy: 6/10

My Best Fiend (Mein Liebster Feind) (Germany - 1999)
Director: Werner Herzog
Plot: In this documentary, German director Herzog describes his working relationship with manic actor Klaus Kinski through narration, film footage, and conversations with people who worked with Kinski.
Review: My Best Fiend (no, that is not a typo) is a very personal, sentimental and candid account that reveals not only the character of Kinski the actor, but of Herzog as well. At times amusing, serious, and wild, the documentary is always captivating, going behind the scenes of their collaborations such as Aguirre: the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Less a biography than a kind of movie triptych, it stands as a distinctly original homage to an actor who easily defined the megalomaniacal artist.
Documentary: 8/10

The Personals (Zheng Hun Qi Shi) (Taiwan - 1998)
Starring: Rene Liu, Chen Chao-jung, Wu Pai
Director: Chen Kuo-fu
Plot: After being abandoned by her lover, a married man, a pretty ophthalmologist decides to place an ad in the personals for a prospective husband. The men she then interviews range from the young to the old, from the pathetic to the bizarre, but none seem to be the right one.
Review: The Personals is a funny, often cynical and finally touching account of a woman coming to terms with herself, her needs, and her pain. The film seems to catch its huge cast of characters in all their vulnerability, usually at their worst, which makes some of the scenes almost painful but fascinating to watch. Through these hilarious, and sometimes depressing encounters with potential mates, we slowly get to understand the reasons for her search and her desperation. From a simple premise, the film blossoms into a beautiful piece of film-making. A comedy, and a drama, well worth seeing.
Drama: 8/10
Comedy: 8/10
Entertainment: 8/10

Postmen in the Mountains (China - 1999)
Starring: Teng Lujun, Liu Ye
Director: Huo Jianqi
Plot: An aging mailman passes on his job to his son, and joins him to make the rounds one last time through the mountains of Southern China.
Review: The story depicts the relationship between an alienated father and son on a three day journey through the mountains to deliver the mail. The two are at first distant but soon become closer as the son begins to understand and realize the importance of his father's work as the two pass villages large and small that are almost cut off from all contact with the outside world save through the mail. The director gives a fond look at life in rural China, showing us the hardships and simple pleasures of life in the mountains along with some wonderful cinematography and incredible scenery. Postmen in the Mountains is a beautiful and touching film.
Drama: 8/10

Time Regained (Le Temps Retrouvé) (France / Italy - 1999)
Starring: Marcello Mazzarella, Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Perez, John Malkovich
Director: Raoul Ruiz
Plot: In 1922, on his deathbed, Marcel Proust remembers events from his fictional works as if they were from his own life, his characters becoming old acquaintances and relations from his childhood and later life.
Review: The film jumps from one event to another, through different years, different encounters, intermingling different moments in time all the better to denote the vagaries of memory. Yes, some of the scenes seem to drag on, there is no underlying story but the brief looks at all these myriad characters living the shallow life of upper-class luxury with Proust himself but a spectator to the events around him. Yet the film flows and manages to keep our attention through over almost 3 hours. Beautiful set-pieces remind one of the intricately staged period-films of Merchant Ivory, but director Ruiz imbibes the film with occasional scenes that tend to the surrealism. Time Regained takes on quite an undertaking trying to bring Proust's multi-volume story onto the big screen, and in many ways succeeds beautifully.
Drama: 7/10

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