Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

Once again, October is upon us, which means it's the time for another cinema showcase to take place across the elegant Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. With hundreds of filmmaker guests and tens of thousands cinephiles, the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) takes place October 3-13, 2013 at CinéArts@Sequoia and 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, at Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, and at other venues for parties and live music events.

The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival

In addition to a few 5@5 shorts programs, this year's festival consists of total 91 feature length films, including 25 documentaries, 25 narratives from the United States, and 41 narratives from foreign countries around the globe.

As always, this year's program selects several highly anticipated films which might well be front runners in the upcoming Oscar race. This year's festival also appears to be a healthy sample of this year's Cannes Film Festival—a total of nine films, about 10% of the 91 films, are coming from Cannes. Although Chinese director Jia Zhangke's (贾樟柯) "A touch of Sin" (天注定 2013), winning the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes, is noticeably missing from this year's festival, many other major winners at Cannes are included in this year's MVFF.

This year's Mill Valley Film Festival opens on October 3 with director Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" (USA 2012 | 115 min.) and director Brian Percival's "The Book Thief" (USA/Germany 2013).

Ten days later, on Oct 13, the festival pays tribute to Ben Stiller and closes the festival with his new film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (USA 2013).

In between, the festival also pays tribute to French director Costa-Gavras and Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, shines spotlights on musician/actor Jared Leto, British filmmaker Steve McQueen, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, actor Dakota Fanning, and filmmaker John Wells.

For those die-hard Star Wars fans, on Monday October 7th, the festival holds a 30th Anniversary celebration and screening of "Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" (USA 1983 | 134 min.).

The following is a list of films I think not to be missed at this year's festival. Due to "hold-review" embargo, I can only briefly comment on some of these films before their theatrical releases. As always, each film title is linked to the festival program, where more details about the film such as showtime, venue, and ticketing information during the festival can be found. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available. In random order (more to be added):

  • Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる | Japan 2013 | in Japanese | 120 min.)

    One of my favorite directors working today is renowned Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝 裕和) who is a master of capturing family drama in a seemingly ordinary yet profoundly moving way, and often involving small children. His delightful drama "I Wish" (奇跡 2011), about two brothers pursing a miracle that they believe in, is the No. 1 film on my list of top-ten films in 2012. In his latest film "Like Father, Like Son," he once again works his magic and tells a deeply touching story that explores the true meaning of a family bond.

    The story involves two families in Tokyo. Middle class young couple Ryota Nonomia (Masaharu Fukuyama 福山 雅治) and his wife Midori (Machiko Ono 尾野真千子) happily raise their six-year-old son Keita (Keita Ninomiya 二宮慶多) to be a well-mannered boy, despite that over worked Ryota often has little time for Keita at home. On the other side of the town, a working class hardware store owner Yukari Saiki (Lily Franky リリー・フランキー) and his wife raise their three young children, including a six-year-old boy Ryusei (Hwang Sho-gen 黃升炫), in a fun and easy going way.

    An unexpected event pulls these two families together. It not only forces them to confront a difficult dilemma, but also it provokes them to reflect on what it really means for being a parent and what's the most crucial bond between a father and a son.

    Koreeda and his fine actors, especially the young children, superbly create a few mesmerizing characters in this touching film. It's heartbreaking no matter you resonate with a father or a son in the film. The film won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and it's definitely to be on my top-ten list for this year.

    Like Father, Like Son Official Site

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  • All Is Lost (USA 2013 | 107 min.)

    Even acclaimed Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Redford is no stranger to you, yet he is guarantee to impress you as the only actor in director J. C. Chandor's sophomore feature "All Is Lost."

    The story cannot be any simpler. Robert Redford plays a man without a name, sailing alone in the Indian Ocean. When he finds out that his boat is damaged by a cargo container floating in the sea, he begins his battle for survive.

    J. C. Chandor brilliantly creates a thriller with lyrical visual, few words (if any at all), and a tour-de-force performance by Robert Redford.

    All Is Lost Official Site

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  • Tokyo Family (東京家族 | Japan 2013 | in Japanese | 146 min.)

    It has been sixty years since great Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu (小津 安二郎) made his classic "Tokyo Story" (東京物語 1953). In remaking this classic, 82-year-old Japanese director Yôji Yamada (山田 洋次) diligently recreates many of those familiar wonderful characters in "Tokyo Family."

    While the film is mostly faithful to the original master piece (even some of the dialogue remain the same), it sets the story to a modern time post 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Once again, it terrifically captures an elderly couple's poignant visit to their children in Tokyo.

    Tokyo Family Official Site

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  • Dallas Buyers Club (USA 2013 | 117 min.)

    Matthew McConaughey is a great actor, period. He has created a few mesmerizing characters in recent years. In director Jean-Marc Vallée's engrossing "Dallas Buyers Club", after losing 38 pounds, he stunningly transforms himself into an AIDS patient in the '80s.

    The film is based on a true story in Dallas. When homophobic Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) finds out that he has AIDS, remarkably, he teams up with a transgender woman Rayon (Jared Leto) and seeks for treatments in his own unorthodox way.

    Dallas Buyers Club Official Site

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  • Yema (يمّا | Algeria 2012 | in Arabic | 90 min.)

    Writer/director Djamila Sahraoui ( جميلة صحراوي) also plays the grief-stricken protagonist in her superlatively crafted "Yema."

    Ouardia (Djamila Sahraoui) is a mother who is caught in the middle of Algerian Civil War. She just loses her elder son who fights for the government, and she is resentful to her younger son who fights for the Islamic fundamentalists. This quiet and engrossing film beautifully plays out like an ancient Greek tragedy.


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  • Bends (过界 | Hong Kong 2013 | in Chinese | 95 min)

    Fresh off from the Cannes Film Festival, the only Chinese language film at this year's festival is Hong Kong director Flora Lau's (刘韵文) feature directorial debut "Bends," staring two of the most recognizable movie stars in China—Chen Kun (陈坤) and Carina Lau (刘嘉玲).

    Living in Shenzhen, Hui (Chen Kun 陈坤) crosses the border between mainland China and Hong Kong everyday to work as a chauffeur for a wealthy boss Anna (Carina Lau 刘嘉玲). Hui and his wife Ting Ting (Tian Yuan 田原) try to give birth in Hong Kong in order to dodge China's one-child policy. Meanwhile, Anna must keep up her appearance even her husband and her fortune has vanished due to the financial turmoil. Crossing the border bears tremendous social and psychological significance for people living on both sides of the border.

    It's refreshing to see a character-driven film that emphasizes current social issues, compared to mass productions of Hong Kong films that chase box office figures and entertainment elements. Although the film's English title is perplexing to understand (the film's Chinese title "Guojie 过界" precisely means "Crossing Border"), the promising performance by the leading actors and an impressive production team make the film to stand out.

    The film is also selected as the opening night film at this year's Hong Kong Cinema presented by the San Francisco Film Society on October 4-6, 2013.


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  • Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle - Chapitre 1 & 2 | France 2013 | in French | 179 min.)

    Like it or not, director Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or winning drama "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is perhaps best known for a long and graphic lesbian sex scene. That doesn't mean an understatement about the film by any measure. That scene might be partially responsible for the Palme d'Or being awarded, for the first time in the Cannes Film Festival's history, not only to the film's director, but also to the two lead actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos.

    The three hour long film tells a story about the romantic relationship between a high school student Adèle (Léa Seydoux) and an artist Emma (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Of course, that relationship leads to the famous long and graphic lesbian sex scene.

    Blue Is the Warmest Color Official Site

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  • 12 Years a Slave (USA 2013 | 134 min.)

    There are already plenty Oscar buzz about acclaimed director Steve McQueen's new film "12 Years a Slave." This film is certainly a must see under anyone's watch.

    Based on a true story in 1841-1853, the film tells an incredible story about Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is captured as a runaway slave and then traded as a slave. If you remember Steve McQueen's previous unflinching films such as "Shame" (UK 2011) and "Hunger" (UK/Ireland 2008), you may have a sense about what you might expect in his new film dealing with the slavery.

    12 Years a Slave Official Site

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  • Nebraska (USA 2012 | 115 min.)

    Alexander Payne's sixth feature is a black-and-white "Nebraska." It tells a story about a family in the middle of nowhere, which indicates families like this is everywhere in the America.

    Cranky old man Wordy Grant (Bruce Dern) receives a sweepstakes junk mail telling him that he wins one million dollars. He insists to take a road trip with his son David (Will Forte) to claim his prize.

    Bruce Dern's superb performance wins the Best Actor Award at Cannes. That simply adds one more reason not to miss this film from a fine story teller—Alexander Payne.

    Nebraska Official Site

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