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Philly Film Fest – Days 11 & 12: All’s Well That Ends With Giant Metal Worms

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What happens when you give Ringo Lam (City on Fire), Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China), and Johnny To (Exiled) the same camera? You get Triangle, a taut yet amusing entry in the heist-gone-wrong genre. The amusing part comes mostly from To, who contributed the final third. The first third comes from Hark and was built upon by Lam in the second third. Each director took what the other had created and added to it exquisite corpse-style. The only part I could recognize was To's, mostly because I've seen more of his films and also because it's hard to see an absurd/gorgeous shootout and not think, "To."

The next night, I checked out In a Dream, which can probably be described as the "breakout hit" of the fest. It sold out its first two screenings, prompting the addition of a third screening, which also sold out. It then made it into the "Festival Favorites," which meant a fourth screening, which, say it with me…

I made it to that final screening. On paper, I didn't expect it to be my cup of tea. A documentary about a Philly artist who creates these really cool mosaics that cover the inside and outside of entire buildings. I've been to one. It's cool. But I wasn't thinking, "Wow, I really need to see a doc about this guy!"

As it turns out, In a Dream is not a documentary about an artist; it's a documentary about an entire family. Director Jeremiah Zagar started filming his father Isaiah, the artist in question, almost ten years ago, and in that time the film has evolved into what it is now, a mesmerizing portrait of an American family. The art is there, of course, and plays a major (and quite beautiful) role, but it's not the heart of the matter.

As with Secrecy, it's as much how the story is told as the story itself that makes the film stand out. There is as much artistry in the filmmaking as in the art it depicts. Shilo, the company that made that kick-ass Blackjack commercial, brings some of his father's drawings to life. He also shoots in 35mm and video, rendering a collage-like effect that mimics his father's mixed media work.

Zager the youngest was on hand to talk about his film, pointing out that the film took directions he never expected (much as it does the audience) and that it wasn't until Keiko Deguchi, who co-edited the film, came on board and brought the mother's perspective into sharper focus that the film really took shape.

Along with Secrecy, this is probably the best film I've seen at the fest, and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up on the Academy short list for Best Doc.

Vexille is a futuristic anime flick I've had my eye on ever since I heard the premise: a strike force infiltrates a Japan that's been off the radar for 10 years while it develops android technology banned by the rest of the world. What they find is really cool from a story perspective, but lamely executed from a nuts-and-bolts screenplay perspective. This is the kind of movie where, when people die, their names are screamed really loud by the main character. There are a few kick-ass action sequences and some memorable visuals (e.g. giant worms made out of scrap metal whirlpools), but that's about it.

Didn't quite make the closing night film, so this will be my farewell and adieu to the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival.

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