****** Fish Story (Yoshihiro Nakamura)
Until I could check the director's resume afterwards, I thought maybe I was watching another film by the director of Linda Linda Linda. Like that under appreciated film, Fish Story rides the wave of a catchy song for its entirety. It has to be a good song, because the fate of the world is resting on its shoulders. Sounds ludicrous, and it is, but in the way that many Japanese filmmakers are able to stretch the unimaginable and impossible into the heartfelt and triumphant, Fish Story will have you smiling (and maybe crying) as its encore takes into the credits.
Morphine (Aleksey Balabanov)
The director of the grim and brutal Cargo 200 returns with a creaky and stylized period film about Russian small village medicine, malpractice, and misappropriation. There is something interesting about the way Balabanov narrowly goes about dissecting the past of his country, but - like Cargo 200 - there is a cracked heaviosity to it that just rubs me raw. The last shot seems to be channeling the ticklish tough times of Sullivan's Travels... before our guy blows his head off. Meh.
Breathless (Ik-June Yang)
I initially thought this film was overlong, but then perhaps it needed to be so we could marinate with the character of gangster debt collector Sang-Hoon long enough to see his whole picture. Breathless is reminiscent of Kim Ki-Duk's Bad Guy, but with depth and a wider range of notes. Slow reveals give the audience a wider scope of characters that pretty much walk the same lines throughout. Since family drama is at the core of this emotional film, I suspect Hollywood may scoop this one up for a remake. Try to see this version before that happens.
****** Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn)
I wasn't expecting this. I'd read what Bronson was about, but watched no trailers. What I saw was a artful rendering of chiseled masculinity more in line with Derek Jarman than any kind of Guy Ritchie-ness. I was pretty much blown back. Refn has an intelligent eye and a playful palm for setting up scenery. Tom Hardy must have been a joy to photograph. Puffed-up Greek physique and all, the man delivers a performance from his toes to the skin of his head. I think I saw spit exit his mouth about twelve times during the film.
****** The Human Centipede (Tom Six)
After a solid day that consisted of three strong films, I made the mistake of choosing to see this piece of garbage. By far, The Human Centipede is the worst film I've seen all year. I have no idea why the programmers of Fantastic Fest decided to program this outside of the fact that it "pushes the envelope". Well, if you want your envelope pushed, you can always debase yourself at the easy click of a mouse. When I'm in the theater, I want to see a film. (Actually, I don't even want to say that this film pushed any envelopes... because that could be interpreted as a compliment, something that The Human Centipede should never receive by any fair-minded person). The worst student film ever conceived of is more watchable than this! Come back Macabre, all is forgiven. You are a masterpiece next to The Human Centipede, 2009's biggest piece of shit.