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August Movies At Saigon’s Alternative Film Venues

This month, Saigon’s alternative film venues are offering up a solid selection of foreign films, Hollywood classics and recent hits.

5th August @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

In a World….. (USA 2013)

The timing of the release of In A World….is almost (involuntarily) prophetic as barely a day passes without an article popping up in the press about female filmmakers voicing their anger towards discrimination against women in the film industry (and beyond).

These are regularly followed by a range of snarky or dismissive comments on social media telling those women that if they want more parts or meatier roles then they should, on top of acting, make their own films. We are not sure if Lake Bell subscribes to this bias nonsense - either way, she has indeed written, directed, produced and starred in her directorial debut. A comedy with a romantic twist, In A World…. explores the power dynamics and the world of voice-over actors.

In 2008, the legendary VO actor Don LaFontaine dies, leaving a hole in the industry that needs to be filled. Carol (Bell), a young, aspiring VO actress, goes up against two (male) titans of the industry to become the new voice of a new blockbuster quadrilogy The Amazon Games (the nod to The Hunger Games is no accident).

If you are ready to dismiss this film as a feminist propaganda piece, hold it. Bell is clearly too intelligent not see both sides of the problem, asking if one would rather be chosen for a job because they are the best or because they are to be used as a political tool?

6th August @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

Ex Machina (UK/USA 2015) 

Author and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, The Beach) makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina. Sci-fi in theme but a psychological thriller in execution, Ex Machina dives into one the controversial world of artificial intelligence.

Garland’s film explores the riveting (and unusual) sexualization of genius Nathan Bateman’s (Oscar Isaac) mechanical creations. The reclusive Bateman lives in a hidden paradise where natural beauty and lavish design cannot hide the eeriness of its owner.

Nathan randomly recruits a computer programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to run a Turing test on one of his androids, Ava. Both the performances and the development of the three characters makes Ex Machina intriguing as they keep the audience questioning the real motives of each and every one of them.

12th August @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

In the Name of the Father (Ireland – UK – USA 1994)

Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Sheridan’s second collaboration (the others being My Left Foot and The Boxer) is the heart-wrenching and passionate real-life story of Gerry Conlon.

Conlon spent 15 years in prison after being framed (with other friends and family members, better known as the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven), for a pub bombing in Guilford, London back in 1974. Their case became one of the most shameful abuses of authority (the police and government) in modern British history.

In the Name of the Father is largely based on Conlon’s book, Proved Innocent. Sheridan, aware that he does not need to push the already evident political and scandalous themes of injustice, takes some artistic liberties and focuses the story on the relationship between Gerry and his father Giuseppe (played by Pete Postlethwaite), who was also imprisoned.

Some of the most riveting scenes in the film are conversations between Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite, remotely defining the relationship between a father and his son as well as Gerry’s subsequent life. From his release until his death last year, Gerry Conlon actively campaigned for cases of injustice.

13th August @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

What We Do in the Shadows (New Zealand 2014)

When it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last year, What We Do in the Shadows was already considered one of the best comedies of 2014.

It is a “mockumentary” that follows the daily life of four vampires who share a flat in New Zealand (the film opens with a fake logo from The New Zealand Documentary Board). The film follows on with the bland and mundane chores of the undead and their petty arguments about who is not doing the dishes - even what outfit to wear on a night out.

The creator of Flight of the Concords and the director of Boy (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi) have written, directed and acted in this wickedly funny rendition of a classic cinematic and literary genre. The film does not simply see the succession of one gag after another; it also steadily adds character, back-stories and twists during the narration. The film manages to pack in thrills, romance and contemporary social themes of racial discrimination (the rapport between the vampires and werewolves is more than entertaining). 

19th August @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

It Follows (USA 2014)

Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, the second feature film by David Robert Mitchell is a stylish and beautifully shot horror film.

For viewers that are after the usual jump scares, blood being splattered on the screen or any other clichés of the genre, It Follows might disappoint (or surprise). In fact, Mitchell’s film breaks the conventional overused tricks: sex does not equal death; the characters can actually run without repeatedly falling; they have access to guns to fight the villain; they stick together and help each other; and car engines always work.

The steady and unnerving plot revolves around a female high-school student who is followed by a zombie-like presence (which can take the form of various people), with the intent to kill her. The only way to get rid of this curse is to pass it on to someone else through consensual sex. What lies underneath the storyline are themes of teenage angst, isolation, and, of course, sexual intimacy. 

20th August @ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

Maps to the Stars (USA 2014)

Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikokowska and Robert Pattinson lead a stellar cast in the latest film by David Cronenberg.

Hollywood's obsession with itself is well-documented, just look at how Birdman was received within the industry last year or, more recently, the fact that a group of actors voted Tootsie (a film centred on the struggles of working actors and female actresses in New York) as the greatest film ever made

Since we are talking about Cronenberg (who can hardly be labeled a “Hollywood filmmaker” to begin with), we might just as well forget all the pictures surrounding this topic: Maps to the Stars is as bleak, satirical and unsympathetic as one would expect from this Canadian helmer.

An aging actress, her successful teen-movie star son, her personal assistant and a limo driver/unemployed actor (played respectively by Moore, Evan Bird, Wasikowska and Pattison) serve as vessels to enter the scary world of showbiz and the idiosyncrasies  of celebrities. 

26th August @ 8pm – deciBel Lounge

The Salt of the Earth (France – Brazil 2014)

Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado joins an already illustrious list of artists – Pina Bausch, Yasujiro Ozu, Nicholas Ray, Yohji Yamamoto and many more – whom the filmmaker/documentarian Wim Wenders has chosen as his subject.

Apart from a few intermissions by the German director and Salgado’s son (who co-wrote and co-directed the film), Wenders did what he could not for Pina: he let Salgado talk about his work, his life and the rapport with his subject.

The Salt of the Earth is a hymn from one artist to another: it does not explain the technical or preparatory process of the Brazilian photographer, nor does it cover the controversial and moral issues that his work has raised in the past.

Instead, the film follows the life of the socio-documentary photographer from his hometown Aimorés through some 100 countries that he has traveled to during his life.

The monochromatic interview shots are interwoven with the stunning photographs from Salgado’s renowned series – Workers, Migrations, Sahel, Africa and the 2013 Genesis – allowing the artist to be revealed through his work and show how it has affected his life and his perspective on humanity and the planet we live in. 

27th August@ 8pm – Saigon Outcast

White God (Hungary – Germany – Sweden 2014)

Winner of the Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, the Un Certain Regard Award, and two Palm Dogs (for the dogs Luke and Body) at Cannes, the Hungarian film White Dog is a strikingly violent and crude parable about the relationship between humans and animals, the relentless rage that springs from the abandoned and un-loved, as well as the political situation in Europe.

Following the classic structure of fairy-tales, the film sees a 13-year-old girl, Lili (Zsófia Psotta), fighting to get her mutt dog back after her father abandoned it. Meanwhile, the city of Budapest (where the film is set) becomes the theatre for canine revolt and carnage after stray dogs rise up against the brutal dogcatchers.

Not since Amores Perros and Bombon: El Perro (a film focused on man’s best friend) has a film been so poignant, touching, yet brutal. The pure joy of this cinematic gem is in its storytelling, merging the childish-dreamlike qualities of fairy-tales with the torments of horror. 

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