xSelent Film Reviews

I'm a big fan of watching quality movies. So I end up watching a lot of non-hollywood movies playing at repertory cinemas such as the Ridge. If you want to watch foreign films you have to leave the soulless suburbs with their multiplexes.

Various movies that I've seen and what I thought about them with my own subjective rating on a scale from 0 - 5. Most of them were seen during the Vancouver International Film Festival:

Bang Rajan: Legend of the Village Warriors

Thailand's biggest budget movie about the true story of when a mighty Burmese army was defeated and delayed by a small Thai village until more reinforcements come. Somewhat like Alamo in Texas during the American-Mexican war.

This is a combination of a melodramatic war story and romance. Even the women get to fight and tragically die for their country. The acting and characters are over the top but it's still enjoyable.

VIFF 2001 3/5

Before the Storm

A Swedish film about the problems immigrants from the Middle East have in adjusting to life in the "West". With brutal bullying going on at school and pressures from terrorist groups back home it's impossible to just "fit in" no matter how hard you try. The tension rises higher and escalates into unforeseen territory as there is no escape from consequences and limited control over what choices you have.

2001 VIFF 3.5/5

Bread and Roses

About an illegal immigrant and the effort to unionize janitors. I found this film to be a bit "hollywood" with overly melodramatic situations. The union organizer is unbelievably good. It's an entertaining movie combining romance and "progressive" politics.

2000 VIFF 3.5/5

Brotherhood of the Wolf

A big budget schlockfest from France. A combination of a martial arts flick with a horror movie about the hunt for a mysterious wolf like creature that is killing the local rural populace. Set in France around the mid 1700's there's some foreshadowing of the tensions to come in the French Revolution. Lots of mystical action going on with a mysterious Mohawk from Quebec with his "pagan" rites. The plot doesn't make much sense but there's lots of action and costumes being worn and the special effects for the beast are decent.

2001 VIFF 3/5

The Cabbie

A film from Taiwan and although it's a different director it reminds me of Eat Drink Man Woman. It's a romantic comedy about a cab driver who falls in love with a cop so he breaks every driving law to get her attention. A very funny comedy about relationships with a plot that you think is predictable but always has some surprises. One of the best films that I've ever seen.

2001 VIFF 4.5/5

Cafe Ole

A simple love story set in Montreal, which is not to say that a love story is simple. Good production values, well acted, good script. A strong point is that even the minor actors in the background had depth to them. This is the best film that I saw during the 2000 VIFF.

2000 VIFF 4/5

Culturejam: Hijacking Commercial Culture

I watched this on a sunny October Friday afternoon in a sold out theater. The two gal pals with the rainbow decals and unusual amount of female facial hair and piercings were not unusual in the audience. I recognized Jaggi Singh in the audience. He was the activist arrested in Quebec City on a bogus weapon's charge related to the catapult that launched Teddy Bears at the April 2001 FTAA summit in Quebec City. Who am I to sneer at all these "weirdos" with no job to go to when I'm also here and don't have a job at the moment.

The notion of ClutureJamming is not new to anyone who has seen an AdBusters magazine. The movie covers some entertaining material about the type of people who "vandalize" advertisements. There's surprisingly a lot of effort and originality involved in "defending" against corporate propaganda. Advertising above a urinal is just asking for a response back. And the shock in saying something unconventional such as the evil of Disney is provocative to many people. Shot in Toronto, Vancouver and San Fransisco it was fun to watch a film that had scenes which were only a few blocks away from where I was watching the movie. My biggest complaint is that this movie is too short at just one hour.

2001 VIFF 3/5

Happy Man

A truly horrible film from Poland. About a layabout writer who still lives with his mother at the age of 30 and who finds out his mother has a terminal illness so he tries to phonily fake happiness to cheer her up. Unappealing characters, with drab city slum surroundings and slooow pacing makes this movie a bore. One of the worst movies that I've ever seen.

2001 VIFF 0/5

Hidden Wars of Desert Storm

A documentary about the events leading up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the post war aftermath. Not a film to watch for entertainment but one to watch for political impact. Using a variety of sources of information it made the following claims:
 1. Diplomacy could have stopped the invasion from taking place
    in the first place.
 2. The US lied about the size of the Iraqi army in Kuwait and
    the threat they were to Saudi Arabia to scare S.A. to allow
    US troops to setup base in their country.
 3. The Iraqi conscripts forced to fight did not put up serious
 4. The ground war was stopped even though there had been no real
    Iraqi resistance.  Norman Schwarzkopf himself says they could
    have taken Baghdad in another 24 hours.
 5. Actions taken post-war have helped keep Hussein in power.  With him
    as a threat there is still an ongoing "need" for a US
    military presence in region.
 6. Munitions using depleted uranium are not healthy but its one way
    to get rid of the Department of Energy's toxic waste stockpile.
    These munitions have also been used in Kosovo.  The US Army is
    playing the same game about denying any health risk to veterans
    as was done for agent orange in Vietnam.
 7. A million Iraqi civilians have died due to the ongoing sanctions.
    To quote Madelaine Albright, "It's a hard decision to make but
    the price is worth paying."
 8. Post war arms sales to the region (excluding Iraq of course which is
    embargoed) are $1 Billion USD every month.

The production values for the movie itself varied due to the use of various sources of info and there were times the sound quality was bad and what people were saying was out of sync with what their lips. However I did find it educational based on the above points which were brought up during the movie. There was a lot of interest in it as it was sold out and another screening took place immediately afterwards so another couple hundred people can see it.

2000 VIFF 1/5 for a movie per se 4/5 for political agi-prop impact

Italian for Beginners

A DOGMA 95 film from Denmark by a first time director. Mainly a romantic comedy with various detours into serious territory covering aging, death, grieving and theological debates.

2001 VIFF 4/5

Oh Grow Up

A bunch of shorts dealing with childhood in Canada. A mixed bag of movies. Frog Pond and Watching Mrs. Pomerantz were the best movies of the 7 that were shown.

2000 VIFF 3.5/5


An Iranian film based on a true story of a Canadian immigrant from Afghanistan who returns and tries to reach the Afghan city Kandahar before her sister will commit suicide due to the Taliban restrictions choking the ability to live as a woman. Stilted acting but very impressive scenery of the mountainous area and the wretched lives of the people in the region. Amputee victims of landmines fight amongst each other for the inadequate supply of artificial limbs. I watched this film in the sold-out Vogue theater and there was an awkward silence for 20 seconds after the movie ended and then applause. It's not an 'entertaining' film but it is very educational and moving about the misery of Afghanistan after years of war and life under the Taliban/Taleban.

2001 VIFF 1.5/5 for a movie, 4.5/5 for political impact

The Land of Wandering Souls

A documentary about wretched poverty in Cambodia with desperate impoverished workers paid a pittance to lay a fiber optic cable for Alcatel. People who don't even have get enough to eat and don't have electricity (if they even have a home) are laying fiber so that video and data can be sent/received which they will never benefit. Among the hazards they need to deal with are landmines and human remains when digging and corrupt supervisors who under pay their workers. This is a very disturbing film that makes you mad about poverty.

2001 VIFF 3/5

Last Wedding

It's Canadian and it doesn't suck! A romantic comedy set in Vancouver about a couple who marry shortly after getting together and then discover what each other is like. As well the relationships of some of their friends are also covered. Interesting juxtaposition of the male who wants to talk about the relationship and the female who doesn't see any problem. I wish they had showed more scenes of Vancouver since the outdoor scenes are mainly unidentifiable generica, however the dialog and plot dish out Vancouver images such as dissing Surrey country music (YeeHaw!) and rotting condos.

2001 VIFF 4/5

The Princess and the Warrior

A German film by the same director and lead actress from Run Lola Run that explores fate and the borderline between sanity and insanity. Some scenes were quite gory and disturbing. It doesn't have the frantic pacing of Run Lola Run but still manages to keep you involved through the various plot turns.

2001 VIFF 3/5


About social workers in Surrey having to deal with a problem family. Depressing topic but the film does have some humour including an example of how to use "verbal judo". I found it neat to see Surrey landmarks that I recognized during a movie. However there were too many scenes with shaky camera work 'a la' Blair Witch Project that made me nauseous.

2000 VIFF 2.5/5

Rats and Rabbits

The worst movie that I saw during the 2000 VIFF. A badly done farce. I thought it was going to be in French and sub-titled but it was done in English.

2000 VIFF 1.5/5

The Runner

A classic film from 1985 which was shown as a 20th anniversary special of retro movies for the VIFF. This film has minimal dialog and not much of a plot but it has great visuals of life in a port slum with "standard" Iranian fare of using child actors. There's probably all kinds of symbolism that I don't follow regarding earth, wind, fire and water but even without any deep cultural knowledge you can tell there was some heavy symbolism going on in this movie. I saw this with some friends and I was the only one who liked it even though I didn't really "get it". Others found it too challenging (foreign) for their tastes.

2001 VIFF 3/5


A disturbing film about the true life local Victoria psychopath who had his mother and grandmother killed to get the inheritance money. The production quality of the film was good but the content is so disturbing that it is not a film to watch to be entertained.

Some relatives of his accomplices showed up and proclaimed their sons innocence which made for some uncomfortable moments during the post movie Q&A. Some children's mothers are still in denial. This film is due to be shown on CBC sometime around March I think.

2000 VIFF 3/5

Tokyo Trash Baby

An awful Japanese film about a shallow woman who is obsessed (to a unhealthy degree) about a neighbour in her apartment who she collects his garbage and sorts out his junk in her room. She finally manages to get together with him but things don't turn out as she had fantasized. A low budget flick filmed with a digital camera that loses contrast for scenes that had bright light sources... I found the characters to be unappealing shallow fashionistas who make a big deal about smoking Marlbaros.

2001 VIFF 1/5

Trade Off

A documentary about the "Battle in Seattle" set of protests during the WTO meeting in 1999. On a day by day basis showed what happenned and what the issues that protesters had. Based on multiple independent media sources.

Footage from various celebrities such as Michael Moore and Jello Biafra (from the Dead Kennedys) along with interviews of some of the protest organizers. There is some footage of the battles between the police and protesters but that is not the main focus. I found it entertaining and educational.

2000 VIFF 3.5/5

Transit Woes

A number of short films. The best ones were:
Riding the Bus which is about the relations for those who are on the "Happy Bus" and others who drive in traffic with a stock villain in a SUV who runs down cyclists.
Jean Laliberte: A Man, His Vision and a Whole Lot of Concrete about a Quebec businessman who wants to pave over much of Gateineau park to build the world's biggest parking lot, even bigger than DisneyLand's! It will draw business away from downtown Ottawa. If you build the parking lot then the malls will come.
10-Speed was done by high school students and is about a boy who saves up to buy a 10-speed but when he finally gets it it doesn't turn out to be all that he had hoped.

VIFF 2001 2.5/5 (Some good, some bad, but on average none were great)


Echoes of the movie Office Space in showing the banality of cubicle existence, with the occasional visit to the local underground shopping mall. They intentionally used bad lighting for the movie to show what its like to be indoors all the time which often gave everyone an unhealthy orange hue. Not a pleasant sight to see.

2000 VIFF 2.5/5

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