Reviews & Previews - Calgary International Film Festval Mini-Reviews Part 1

Posted on Friday, October 14, 2005 at 06:00 PM

Calgary International Film Festival Mini-Reviews

By: S. Tran

Last week I got to attend the CIFF. Below are some quick reviews of some of the films I saw in no particular order. I'll review the other films in future entries.

Grizzly Man
Director: Werner Herzog

This was one of the funniest films I have seen all year which is surprising as it's a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, an amateur biologist killed by a bear a couple of years ago. The film follows the life of Treadwell and explores his work with Grizzly bears in Alaska.

Some of the footage of Treadwell standing only feet away from the bears is pretty amazing and scary. The best parts of the film though come from watching Treadwell and the his friends talk. At one point in the movie I wondered if this wasn't a mockumentary like Spinal Tap as Treadwell and his associates were all so bizarrely funny.

Herzog, whether he meant to or not, has created a comedy that is better than most of the stuff written in Hollywood today. I personally think he understood the humour and let it play out on camera. The funny moments are even funnier when he contrasts them with the more serious portions of the film. Like a straight man playing against the comic relief it only furthers the comedy. A good example is when Herzog is narrating a sequence about Treadwell's battles with the park service. While Herzog's calm voice clinically outlines the problems Treadwell had, Treadwell himself is seen onscreen going absolutely nuts cursing out the park service for 5 minutes. Definitely worth seeing.

The Beautiful Country
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Damien Nguyen, Bai Ling, Tim Roth, Nick Nolte,

The movie involves Binh, a young Vietnamese man treated as an outcast because his father was an American soldier who vanished one day. Damien Nguyen is the first time actor playing Binh. The film itself is technically sound and nicely shot and the pacing is good however the film suffers from some plot holes and uneven acting.

When we first meet Binh in lives in a poor small rural village and eventually makes his way out to find his father. However at some point in the movie Binh suddenly is able to speak some halting English and meets a Chinese refugee played by Bai Ling who also speaks English. While I understand this was necessary perhaps to move the plot along it really isn't explained at all in the film how a poor rural Vietnamese refugee picks up so much English.

The actors do a good job but my one big complaint is Nguyen as Binh. Obviously he is an intelligent young man (as we see by his English skills and resourcefulness) who is supposed to be a bit shy because of the way he has been mistreated for his parentage but Nguyen comes off as a bit mentally challenged in some scenes. His hang dog expression is sometimes expression-less to the point where you wonder if he has any thoughts in his head.

Beyond these problems though it's a good film that stays away from too many of the "finding my family" movie cliches. Check it out if you have some time.


NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to