Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Attack of the Robots from Nebula 5 (Chema Garcia Ibarra)
Next Floor (Denis de Villeneuve)
Danse Macabre (Pedro Pires)
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Cropsey (Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman)
An interesting enough piece of low-budget journalism that attempts to get at the truth of five or more missing children that became alleged murder victims around 25-30 years ago in Staten Island. Brancaccio and Zeman truly seem to be hunting for the facts and not out to exploit tragedy for "the sensational documentary"'s sake. Still, there's something wrong when a Geraldo Rivera piece - that is used within Cropsey for some frightening exposition (truly frightening... sickening even) - is more interesting that the doc that's enveloping it.
****** Mandrill (Ernesto Diaz Espinoza)
Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and his crew may be the most exciting new Latin American filmmakers going. In short time, they've - on modest budgets - made three well measured and breezy feel-good action hero flicks. After seeing their martial arts film, Kiltro, I knew it was only a matter of time before the studly Marko Zaror would cross over into Hollywood stardom. Well, that's already on its way as we were host to some early footage of the Mirageman remake (retitled The Defender, for some reason). I admit that Mandrill does go a little limp after a first half that's frontloaded with its brightest ideas, but seeing as how this was the first time they've screened the film for an audience, perhaps this version of Mandrill is still a work in progress. Highly enjoyable, nonetheless.
OK. So, through no fault of Metropia, I kind of hit the five day wall at this point and slid down into my chair relying on only the arm rests to keep me from sliding to the ground in glorious full-fetal nap position. Luckily, later in the night, I caught a brief second wind, but Metropia suffered for my red eyes, I won't deny that. With that disclaimer, I still wasn't feeling this animated film. Europe in the near dystopian future where the corporations blah blah blah..., and the media blah blah blah..., and the brainwashing blah blah blah... . Not that those topics are unimportant, but Christ, give it a unique spin, please. The programmers played an old Brazil trailer beforehand as a good-natured and appropriate lead in, but little did they suspect that being reminded of Brazil right before seeing Metropia was only going to shine the light on the latter's flaws.
Wow. What to say about Stingray Sam? I surely wasn't expecting this to be the funniest movie of Fantastic Fest before walking into it, but man oh man was it ever the most oddball-weirdo-nutball hilarious film I've seen in quite some time. Since the festival brings in people from across the globe, it's often telling to gauge audience responses based on geographic origin. I say that, because my perception is that Stingray Sam possesses a goofball humor to it that is distinctly American. Most of our European and Asian guests didn't seem to connect with it. Director, actor, writer, everyman, Cory McAbee talked about the political aspects of his work, and boy was it refreshing to hear an artist understand the difference between creating propaganda and letting politics influence your fictional art. I think this guy may be too smart for Hollywood to ever understand. A sad shame, because he's immensely talented... and a total freak!
****** REC 2 (Paco Plaza & Jaume Balaguero)
I wasn't too hot on REC, so I wasn't expecting to be too high on its sequel. While, mostly, that is true, I do think that REC 2 is a superior film to its predecessor. For one, the camera work is cleaner and single shots last for a much more extended and fluid period of time. Also, Paco Plaza & Jaume Balagueró's inspired idea to jump to a "helmet cam" periodically gives the film time to breath and gain some much needed punctuation that was lacking in the first. There's also a spiritual/possession element in the sequel that wasn't sound in the first. Because Plaza and Balaguero have matured as filmmakers, and because their original film has now been given space to stretch out its story (I would imagine a REC 3 is in the works...), the REC franchise has instantly become more interesting than I ever thought it could be. Props to Plaza and Balaguero for keeping their film under 90 minutes once again. Though the hands are much more steady this time around, there's only so much hand held one can stomach.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Buratino, Son of Pinocchio (Rasmus Merivoo)
Filled to the rim with inspiration, the sparkly Buratino, Son of Pinocchio ultimately has too many cross-wired problems to commit to the ambitions that it hints at in its first ten minutes. The intro - a baby hungry woman sings to the stars about wanting to be with child and gets her wish via a splinter that magically flies into her womb and sprouts a baby Buratino - is fun, wicked, and wise, but too quickly Buratino, Son of Pinocchio simply feels like a short film tacked on to a half done feature. Director Rasmus Merivoo discussed the difficulties in logistically pulling off an Estonian/Russian co-production, and, sadly, that is reflected on the screen. But props to Merivoo for standing by his efforts. His humility was refreshing. Merivoo knows he loves making movies, and he knows he didn't make a strong one here, but such is the process.
Down Terrace (Ben Wheatley)
If Fantastic Fest generally offers up films dealing in the physically extreme, Down Terrace was an alternative to that from the emotional department. Where, at first, it seems like a dark comedy out to debunk the myth of the sexy gangster lifestyle, Down Terrace turns on a dime and becomes something much more confrontational. A wave of shocking hard violence challenges the audience to question the laughter we were enjoying previously. Is this another winning British class conscious comedy, or the exploration of the sociopath gene being passed on from one generation to the next? Not sure yet, but I know this debut feature by Ben Wheatley engrossed me, and I expect it to be spilling out into some small run theaters very soon. Look for the performance of newcomer Robin Hill. He may be Britain's next big thing.
The House of the Devil (Ti West)
District B13 : Ultimatum (Patrick Alessandrin)
Sunday, September 27, 2009
****** 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.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
SIDE NOTE(S): a.) There are two really cool Japanese rocker chicks walking around this festival with their filmmaking Japanese boyfriends. b.) The Men Who Stare at Goats played as a secret screening last night (I didn't see it), and word is that it's absolutely dreadful.
Hard Revenge Milly & Hard Revenge Milly : Bloody Battle (Takanori Tsujimoto)
Trick 'r Treat (Michael Dougherty)
Smash Cut (Lee Demarbe)
Friday, September 25, 2009
Terribly Happy (Henrik Ruben Genz)
The more I sit with this movie, the more I like it. Terribly Happy pivots on the great faces of its actors. As much as the setting sweats small town Denmark, there is also an Americana eccentricity to it. Many of the characters are drawn like incidental reference points from famous international indie films, but that's more likely attributed to the fact that Genz wears his influences on his sleeves. While not a film that hits on all cylanders, Terribly Happy still darkly charms on its way to off-the-beaten-path redemption.
Macabre (The Mo Brothers)
YIKES! This was the first official clunker of the festival - through these eyes, at least. Total trash, this Indonesian splatter film aims to pay homage to sadist-horror - from gouge-happy 80's-90's American to the current wave of French brutality - but can't even pull of that easy trick because it's too caught up in it's web of tired tropes and genre cliches. Unlike 2007's Fantastic find Hell's Ground (a Pakistani splatter film), Macabre ignores the essence of its own culture while drawing out the horror. Oh, and a new born baby is not a good device for a horror film (nor do baby skulls make for good props).
Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli)
OK, OK. Yeah, yeah. This is the biggest, scariest film since ever... or something. I know. Or, so I'm told. Look, I don't think this film is terrible, and it does have some cold & creepy moments, but I just don't get it. "It" being why movie fans get so excited about stuff like this. Paranormal Activity is another found footage film that doesn't look good, but, as I argued with my buddy Bill the other day about The Blair Witch Project, I guess that's the point. It's also to the benefit of the filmmakers. Since Paranormal Activity is nothing but set ups for some greenlight frights, it's hard for me to see this film as nothing more than another well-marketed stunt of a film that I couldn't really ever care to look at again.
NOTE: This film could just as easily be called The Most Annoying Boyfriend Ever. If my boyfriend followed me around like that with a camera all the time, I would have welcomed demon possession myself.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Now, if you want some upshirt photos of some crusty, fat, nerd boys... then I may be able to give that to you.
I'm excited. More soon...
Monday, September 21, 2009
Jennifer's Body's hidden advantage is that each of its main members know how to step up when another is slumping. Adam Brody's scene-stealing serves as suitable filler in moments that ordinarily would be dull. Karyn Kusama's ambitious bag of visual gags can confuse, but they also provide a rock n' roll rhythm. Amanda Seyfriend - with eyes that reveal an experience wiser than her age - gives more than the subject matters deserves and grounds the film with her professionalism. And yes, in the end, I give Diablo Cody the blue ribbon. No, I'm far from sold on her stature (which isn't her fault, mind you), but I think it could be interesting if she wrote Saw VII.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
It is only when Sugar makes his way to New York, and houses up with a Puerto Rican couple, that he appears refreshed and once again "at home": lively, spirited, smiley. Here at the dinner table, Sugar and hosts are shot from tight angles and in close quarters, their body language giving off feelings of warmth and acceptance. The rich aroma from Sugar's Dominican home life has returned.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
There is a special scene in the Dardenne's Le Fils (The Son) where the father (played by Olivier Gourmet) spends a quiet moment in his son's empty room. Without dialogue or musical influence, a wave of story and character washes over you. It's like magic.
How does this happen? Well, the films of the Dardenne's are so meticulously crafted that each moment is essential to the next and then back on the moments that preceded it. A chain link of images lead to a point that, without fanfare, opens up a box of resolve. "Um, isn't that simply what storytelling through montage and editing is in general?". Yes, but this is more. The Dardenne's aren't just driving a string of events, they are - in small steps - working on our pre-judgments of the protagonist and our personal perceptions of the world around us to unveil universal human truths. Sounds major, right? Well, it is.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
1. After clicking on the above poster to make it appear larger on your screen, look at the heads of Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, and T.I. and witness the worst photoshop America has ever seen.
2. Putting Chris Brown in your promo poster at all, right now, seems pretty questionable, but to have him make a "trigger finger" hand gesture at the same time just takes it to an ickier level.
3. I hope this movie is about a high-dollar gay prostitution house of predominant bottoms where Idris Elba is the pimp and the rest of the dudes are the hookers (ie "Takers"). [NOTE: House of Bottoms would make an interesting title for something.]
FUN FACT: The original title of this movie was Bone Deep.
4. Notice that Matt Dillon's name is the first listed, but that he isn't on the poster. He must've known that this is going straight-to-video.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Alongside Extract's acknowledgment of a private enterprises' workplace responsibility and wider economic impact is Judge's recurring philosophy of individualism. As usual, this is offered up in comic form, be it Kristen Wiig's work-from-home coupon designer, Ben Affleck's bar owner, Mila Kunis' hustler, Javier Gutierrez's illegal immigrant, or - most oddly affecting - in Dustin Milligan's cuddly gigolo character who goes through Joel's ringer of being employed, fired, paid-off, called a whore, and then employed again. Of course, it will be near impossible for Judge to ever top that celebration of individualism on display in the "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta" montage from Office Space, but it's exactly that freedom loving walk-the-Earth euphoria that always makes his characters so appealing.
Sunday, September 06, 2009
The degraded dystopian territory that Gamer's thin plot resides in isn't a novel one. In a "near future", technological advancement and convenience has locked much of functioning society indoors, minimizing human interaction and maximizing hedonistic impromptus. Global pop-culture's # 1 TV program is a survival realty show called Slayers, where death row inmates vie for second-chances at freedom in a kill-or-be-killed battlefield. The twist is that each inmate is handled by a behind-the-scenes real life gamer, playing the ultimate in first person shooter video games. Kable (Gerard Butler), the sub-genre's requisite good "bad guy" who's only in the predicament he's in because of BIG [fill in the blank], is three victories from release... and exposing the evil intentions of the man behind the curtain.
Even though Gamer's plot is shaky, its individual pieces provide some terrific stand-alone signatures. Michael C. Hall as the Stalin-meets-Bill Gates wunderkind tycoon Ken Castle, and Kyra Sedgwick as a TV talk show opportunist with just a smidgen of conscience, both clearly enjoy living within the costumed personas they've been handed. Hall, especially, chews up the scenery at any given chance, but it's for benefit of the film, filling in the space where broadness of story is lacking. Also fun is the freedom fighting group, Humanz, an activist bunch that envisions a future where gaming is rolled back to the days of joystick arcade standies and air hockey. Of course, their greater goal is to unplug society from Castle's wicked web, but the haunt that Neveldine & Taylor hole them up in is a hoot.
But just as with Crank and Crank : High Voltage, the unique pleasure of Neveldine & Taylor's films pour from their unchecked sense of vision. The idea (and pulling off of said idea!) to stage the final squaring-off between Kable and Castle on a seemingly free floating basketball court is post-modern cinematic nirvana. Also nutso bonkers - but in the most complementary meaning of those terms - is a fight sequence prior, where Castle's thugs line up in finger-snapping formation to attack Kable under the orders of Castle's acapella performance of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin". Shot in darkness and shadow, the sequence initially eludes you by catching you off guard and off your wits. However, the image of Kable descending a staircase to enter a den of dancing henchmen is what continues to ride with me the most, and it's what makes me want to revisit Gamer sooner than later.
As Neveldine & Taylor started to exhibit in Crank : High Voltage, there is a Godard-ian color scheme injected into their most pop-tastic compositions. The splashy diagrams of Pierrot Le Fou channeled through the lensing and lighting of a slick Luc Besson action film would be my best way of describing Gamer's most luminous moments. Crank : High Voltage was grimier and, truthfully, played off of Godard's use of pop-imagery more than his late 60s richness of color, but the "Society" scenes in Gamer offers up Neveldine & Taylor a brand new landscape to open their Crayola palette of colors in. Bubblegum hyper-mimickry and raw exploitation will surely be charges leveled against the brightest moments of this film, but to do so would be to misjudge the hard-candy humor and almost surreal quality that's quickly becoming a trademark of the Neveldine/Taylor brand. Unfortunately, delayed respect can sometimes be a consequence of inventiveness.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
I don't know if any of that stuff in the poster actually happens in Children of the Corn 3, but I know I am renting it now so I can find out!!!
I just like the design of this entire poster, but most of all I LOVE that the "O" in Terminator 2 is a HEART.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Or, at least the character of "Charlene Yi" is. Paper Heart welcomes us to question everything. Who's to say that Michael Cera isn't simply channeling the college years of Paulie Bleeker instead of revealing the nakedness of his inner Canadian? And why should we trust Charlene when she says she's IMing Michael from her hotel room? But, most importantly, how can we possibly take the few handpicked & charming accounts of the couples Charlene interviews (from NYC to Oklahoma City to Amarillo and back to LA) as any kind of resolution to her larger philosophical questions of the heart? We can't. The real truth is that a hovering camera persuades more than it records, just as an editing bay cheats more that it condenses. What's so refreshing about Paper Heart, is that it's a "documentary" that finally acknowledges this.
Fittingly, and appropriately, it is Jasenovec's eventual self-awareness that stands as the powerful climax in Paper Heart. His decision to pull-back the camera, and then to cut sound completely, is not only an acknowledgement that questions of love (and politics and culture) are better debated and addressed in intimate settings rather than under a light stand (the documentary's "heat lamp"), but a comment on our voyeuristic desires to intrude in on even the most personal of moments. Jasenovec's revelation is felt by all when, upon his decision to not force the camera into Michael's home, we catch a brief spot of emotional comforting between the couple from the mic still hanging on Charlene's sweater. Without the camera around, the change in tone and vulnerability in both Michael and Charlene's voices are recognizable, and it is here when the crew cuts sound.
Paper Heart's end of summer trickling-out release is the perfect anecdote to the now widely accepted failure and fraud of Sacha Baron Cohen's ambush freak-journalism. Notice especially how Yi treats her interviewees from coast-to-coast America. Whether it be via New York City or Lubbock, Yi emits a genuine respect and wide-eyed fascination with the eclectic cross-section of people. There is no red state/blue state bullshit pandering here... Bill Maher be damned. Paper Heart also remedies the romantic contrivances of Marc Webb's perplexedly popular (500) Days of Summer. After taking in Paper Heart's "Christmas Tree" song montage and its hand-holding supermarket hunting sequence, it should be clear which film is more in tune with the concept of the indie-pop romcom (see also the underrated Gigantic).