The texture of a film festival is based on the aspect of identity. The location and breathe of Macao, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of Hong Kong and literally right next to Mainland China gives it an undeniable influence but diversity of ideas which is refreshing. Add into play the aspect of religious history keyed into Catholicism on the roughly 30km territory as well as the Vegas sized (and at times slightly bigger) breath of the casino properties, it creates a unique dynamic. The programming at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao [IFFAM] reflects this sense of dynamic quality in some of the films experienced as well as a masterclass by the undeniable Nicolas Cage.
Masterclass – Nicolas Cage Cage was designated the talent ambassador for the IFFAM this year which makes undeniable sense since he is interestingly poised with a great dynamic lure creatively to this part of the world. While he has not made a full fledged descent into the Asian cinema market (China included), that would seem the most logical next step. He cites “Face Off” as one of his favorite movies to make since he is always seeing how to push the boundaries of naturalism in acting and, by essence, surrealism which he counts director Hong Kong director John Woo as a pinnacle of. It would be great to see Cage and Woo collaborate again. Cage gave many interesting perceptions in his discussion. He talked about advice Martin Sheen gave him when he used to hang out with Charlie Sheen at the Sheen household in Malibu when they were kids. This makes total sense since the elder Sheen made “Apocalypse Now” with Cage’s uncle Francis Ford Coppola. Cage also instills that his approach to naturalism was instilled in him by his aunt Talia Shire (known for her roles in “The Godfather” and “Rocky”). There is also the aspect that he shared regarding that Cher really wanted him for the “Moonstruck” role but he didn’t want to do it interestingly. This was very interesting in its candor. Cage said his agent Ed Limato convinced him that he could do “Vampire’s Kiss” if he did “Moonstruck” and he admits it worked out well. He cites “Vampire” as one of his other favorite movies he has made as well as “Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call – New Orleans”.
In an unusual approach, Cage spoke about making “Wild At Heart” and that he had found that snakeskin jacket at a thrift store before they filmed. His spot on David Lynch impression saying “Nikky” (also Cher’s nickname for him) really gave ideal credence to the storytelling. Cage spoke about going to the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles as a kid to see James Dean movies (Tarantino now owns and operates the New Beverly). That is where he said he fell in love with movies since he grew up in LA and not San Francisco. He also spoke to his new embrace of VOD where people can see many of his movies now. He says that rather than turn away from it, he has leaned into it since the films that he initially made at the beginning of his career were small independent films and this is the arena you can make those types films now. The studio movies offered him a way to experiment with character structure and development on a grand scale. These new films from “Mandy” to “Mom & Dad” to the upcoming “Prince Of Ghostland” which he says by far will be the most “out there” film he has made yet (he has yet to film it) allows him to push the style of film performance in an age where it is harder to do so in a large film. He credits Jerry Bruckheimer for giving him the ability to experiment but, on those types of films starting with “The Rock, he explained that Bruckheimer told him he could play between the lines as long as it didn’t impact the story beats that needed to be hit. And that is how the Beatles and vinyl loving Stanley Feelgood in that movie came to be. Cage, a long time resident of Las Vegas, did his master class in the grand ballroom at the Wynn Macau which more than nicely gave an undeniable nod to his roots.
Loro This loose biopic of the recent Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi is lurid at times in its approach but distinctly and delightfully schizophrenic in its texture. This festival cut was initially a two part film, the first being from the perspective of a pimp/business operator trying to get to Silvio and then the second from the breakdown of the leader himself and how the two worlds collided. Director Paolo Sorrentino is sometimes known for his visual excess and the first half of the film is like the “Boogie Nights” of the political bribery world. The excess is meant to show the irony but sometimes passes over into self-satire especially with a doctor coming on camera to explain a drug fueled party involving MDNA. When the film switches over to the political leader’s machinations as he moves back to office, it becomes a different film entirely…not a bad one mind you…but different. But when it tries to engage across the board it is interesting yet clanky. Silvio always wins yet always loses. It is as if he is lost in the essence of what power means in comparison with the act governance though there is an aspect of ambition as well as the dream. Riccardo Scarmarcio plays Sergio the pimp. He brings both a humanity and a darkness that was also present in last summer’s “Euphoria” (which played Cannes) for director Valeria Golino. His journey and star power is undeniable so it will be interesting to see the progression of his ongoing career. Toni Servillo plays Berlusconi as a twirling vision of masks to the point that the performance is a perception of how far down the leader could bury himself from himself.
Jesus In a place like Macao, this kind of movie has particular resonance because of the Portuguese and Christianity influence. Made in Japan, the story here follows a boy who, after the death of his grandfather, comes with his parents to a small town outside Tokyo to take care of his grandmother. He is enrolled in a Christian school and begins his journey within this new space with no friends. The story of Yura is an existential one as he questions the essence of God and specifically what religion adheres in him. Out of the blue, a thumb sized Jesus (who doesn’t speak) appears out of nowhere and seemingly begins to grant wishes, although in abstract way. After Yura has finally makes a friend at school, the essence of tragedy strikes which gives him the perspective of what prayer might really mean. The movie is shot starkly and quietly in the 1:33 format (like the recent “Cold War”). Using reflexive nature and parallel scenes structure, director Hiroshi Okuyama creates a simple and clear but also eccentric portrait of a boy trying to come to terms both with life and death.
Happy New Year Colin Burnstead This dysfunctional family diatribe from BBC Films brings to mind such elements of drama and comedy as the film “Peter’s Friends”, a small piece Kenneth Branagh made as a director between projects like “Dead Again” and “Hamlet”. The main gist of the story here reflects in Colin, the supposed alpha male of a British family who picks up the pieces of his clan after his father has dropped the ball financially. Colin faces off against his would be deadbeat brother David who, in his mind, defiled everything of what it means to be “family”. David ran off on his wife and child and did not come back to see his family (blood or not) for 5 years. While this might sound sort of like a downer, like the ensemble volleys on screen before in this genre, there are enough sub stories with all the other characters to keep the pace moving. While not slapstick or laugh out loud in its texture, the slights and jokes continue to jab until they reach a pinnacle. As with most protagonists in these stories, no one is inherently bad or good per se but actions speaks louder than words especially when characters don’t listen to each other. The ultimate resolution works because like with all self confident movies, it knows not to spell out to the audience exactly what will happen after the credits close.
In Macao, the casinos reign tall. On the main island where the International Film Festival & Awards Macao [IFFAM] was held at the Macao Cultural Center, the Grand Lisboa Hotel reaches up with the visage of a gold flower in the middle of the island. Nearby the newer Wynn property reflects with the same majesty of Vegas. But this is not Vegas. Go over the bridge and one enters different regions of the second island of Macao. Located within this space is the small region of Cotai, which reflects like an amped up version of The Strip. Everything seems bigger but with distinct differences. Big production shows are not touted as much as say Vegas. There are no billboards like Vegas. There is a crisp and cleanliness to Cotai. Within this auspice and the hospitality of the film festival, three attractions within certain casinos came to be perceived.
The House Of Dancing Water (City Of Dreams) Like Le Reve at The Wynn in Las Vegas (a show which was also created by Franco Dragone), the essence of water is a truism. The story here, realized inside a custom made theater inside the City Of Dreams property, definitely reflects this region of the world in terms of style and texture. The essence of a boat master who finds his way into a magical world and must help a couple torn apart find each other makes for some interesting visuals. Created basically in the round but with a depth of field, new computer graphics help push the kinds of stories that make shows like O so undeniable. While different feats of acrobatics are on display, it is the almost flying textures from the rafters that truly surprise. At one point, would-be sprites weave in and out of a suspended cage. Humor also plays a part with a clown type figure as well as a wise men (who almost seemed Senegalese) who was a contortionist by trade. His reveal from a backpack in one instance is astounding. The only element that seemed out of place slight was a motor bike piece which while thrilling and definitely elicited great screams of delights from the younger members of the crowd, it pushed forward the narrative only one notch while the others kept in direct time with the story and tone. Nevertheless the climax of the show delivered with sense of the fantastic but also represented in the mythic.
Batman: Dark Flight 4D (Studio City) Hidden within the Studio City property at the far end of the Cotai strip, this ride definitely ups the ante but unlike at times many rides in the States, this one allows for a darker tone. The essence of the Joker and Batman here definitely uses more of a texture of the art from “The Killing Joke”. Basically you are recruited by Batman after the Joker tries to take out a building. The Bat shepherds you via an escape elevator into his lair where you are given access to your own Batwing (along with other riders). The action takes places within an IMAX type screen as you chase Joker and Harley Quinn through the skies of Gotham and towards the edge of the water of the port (which creates a parallel to “The Dark Knight Rises”) . the entire adventure is set at night which gives it a dark foreboding feeling. The pre-show also integrates some advanced hologram technology but using animated characters (instead of filmed human characters) which hasn’t been done in newer ride save for “Wizarding World” at Universal Orlando (as well as Hollywood) so this is definitely ahead of the curve.
Golden Wheel (Studio Cíty) Also within the Studio City property located over the cusp of large garden area is this unique Ferris wheel of sorts which is literally built into the building. After taking an elevator up to a floor in the 20s, riders enter a gondola that seems something akin to Jules Verne. But it is the path that the gondolas take that is unique and cool. It literally crawls up the side of the wall and creeps through into a figure 8 motion until you are at the very top. The view is an interesting panorama of both new construction towards the shoreline including a big dome while on the other side of the gondola is wetland with some other areas being cleared for further development. The ride itself is only 12 minutes and the rider stands over part of a glass floor but once the rider is used to it, the sensation can be breathtaking.
By Tim Wassberg