I’m baaaack. Another big long day but there were surprises aplenty for me on day six of Fantastic Fest, not the least of which was the first of five secret screenings. Cyrus
got a little time to recover and now he’s ready for another marathon of cinematic wackiness starting with…
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird
I’m just crazy about the Korean cinema right now. Crazy (said with that certain glint of impending insanity to the tune of Patsy Cline
.) While they don’t always hit the mark (see my recent review of “The Legend of the Shadowless Sword”
) their film industry has proven to have a knack for taking a familiar concept or genre and making it completely their own. It’s self evident by the title that this one is rooted in the spaghetti westerns but it’s so much more than merely a tribute to or remake. Ok, it IS technically a remake but it’s a transplant that takes on the characteristics of the cinema which is reinventing it with complete organic honesty. Or something. It’s real good, I think is what I’m looking for here.
("A Tale of Two Sisters"
) helms this tale that is somewhat
a remake of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”
but with the action sequences filmed in that manic Asian cinema style I've come to love in their gunplay flicks. You might picture that combination to be awkward but you’d be completely wrong. They go together SO well that you know as you’re watching the film that you are seeing the beginning of a new genre in Korean cinema.
In the 1930s, a map is being sent out on a train to sell to a high bidder. The seller sends a professional killer (Lee Byung Hun
) out to grab the map AND the money intended to buy it with. Also on the train is the Clint Eastwood
-ish hero (Jung Woo Sung
) who is there to protect the map and is part of the Korean resistance against the occupying Japanese, and a colorful outlaw (Song Kang Ho
) who is there to rob the train and knows nothing about the map but of course is the one who ends up riding away with it anyways. From here it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad
chase as everyone wants the map. The outlaw and eventually the hero reluctantly team up to try and follow the map to the treasure it hides while pretty much everybody in Manchuria rides hot on their tail.
What a solid knock-out punch this movie is. It’s not just the velocity and original action set pieces either (although let me tell ya, that would be enough.) These characters are all so lovable, even the psychotic evil of the bad guy is cute in it’s own way. The lynch pin is Song Kang Ho
as the outlaw who has a notable comic charisma throughout and is the source of most of the humor in the film. Not only is “The Good, The Bad, and The Weird”
the best film of the festival so far (and won the Audience award for such to boot) but has rocketed to the title of best western since “Unforgiven”
in my book. If I was there with you reading this right now I’d be picking you up and shaking you screaming “Why are you just sitting here? Go out and find a copy of this and watch it right now you loser!”
I’m feeling a little passionate.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to get into the first secret screening of the day. Things are a little strange this year with the way the movies are organized especially when it comes to press. I’m not saying things are bad, I’m just confused as to why they changed to the way they are. Oh well. Regardless, Carlyle
came through for me hooking me up with a really decent dude named Brian
who had an extra ticket. Brian
by the way, I should mention out of gratitude, is the producer of a film called “South of Heaven”
that I unfortunately have not been able to see during the fest but I hear from pretty much everyone is tits. That’s a good thing, in case you weren’t sure.
Anyway, we all got ushered in to find out that the first secret screening was…
The Brothers Bloom
Right now most of you are saying, “What the hell is the Brothers Bloom?”
I wasn’t familiar with it either, but that’s mainly because I haven’t had much time to keep up with upcoming movie news since I started reviewing DVDs for the site. Otherwise I would likely have annoyed all my friends talking about it already.
“The Brothers Bloom”
is the sophomore movie from Rian Johnson
, who also wrote and directed the criminally under seen film noir detective story in high school, “Brick.”
If you saw that, you know he writes unforgettable and beautifully poetic dialogue reminiscent (in “Brick”
) as nothing so much as Raymond Chandler
or Dashiell Hammett
's own eloquent yet tough cadences, but updated into a new invented slang as you might find within the ‘hip’ crowd within any given high school. With his second effort, his dialogue is every bit as unforgettable but in a different way as appropriate to this genre as Brick
’s was to its.
and Mark Ruffalo
are the Brothers Bloom. Mark
plays the older Stephen
who is the artist and the stronger of the two, who designs elaborate and literary cons. Adrian
(only ever referred to as ‘Bloom’
in the film so I don’t know if his name was ‘Bloom Bloom’
or what) is the more sensitive younger brother who ends up playing a scripted, exaggerated version of his romantic nature in all the complicated cons Stephen
writes for them. Bloom
wants out: he isn't emotionally cut out for this and wants something ‘real’
in his life for once. Stephen
and their partner, the enigmatic and generally quiet Bang Bang
), convince Bloom
to pull one last giant con to end all cons. Their target is the ridiculously rich and hermited Penelope
.) “Don’t fall in love with her” Stephen
but we all know that’s inevitable. And maybe that’s the plan all along. Or is it?
I was surprised to hear a lot of people at the fest didn’t like this. Either you’ve got an automatic hate-on for con films (something I’ve never understood...I love a good puzzle) or you’ll have trouble with the whimsical good-hearted nature of things here, is the way I figure it. I found the combination refreshing if not a little reminiscent of the tone in Wes Anderson
’s earlier works, but not to the point that it felt lifted from them. Charm and eloquence are the tools Rian
effectively uses here to effect the mood.
While “The Brothers Bloom”
struggles briefly in its third act as it toys with a darkness and a sorting of elements that seems out of step with the delicate fun of the first two thirds of the film, most of the time it kept me enchanted with the clever script and especially with Weisz
’s portrayal of the eccentric Penelope
who “collects hobbies.” I’d explain but I don’t want to spoil the fun. Suffice it to say, every time she's on screen she evinces smiles.
At one point, Stephen
says that the ultimate con is one where everyone gets what they think they want at the end. The ultimate con movie would be one where the audience feels the same. I can’t say I got what I wanted at the end of “The Brothers Bloom”
but I’m not sure I can say that it didn’t end exactly how it should have either. I suppose, like the mark should feel after any good con, I walked away unclear at the end exactly whether I came out on top or not but sufficiently satisfied to not ask too many more questions.
I ran out of “The Brothers Bloom”
unfortunately missing the Q&A with director/writer Rian Johnson
because my next movie was starting almost immediately and this was another one of those that I really didn’t want to miss. I know not everybody would be as excited by a film called…
TOKYO GORE POLICE
...but what can I say, I’m a sick puppy. But not next to the people who made this
Japan in the near future has given out it’s police force functions to a private company. As you’d imagine, this ain’t a happy future with dancing and joy and free peanut butter for all. This new, more brutal police force of the future has their hands full with a group of mutated serial killers called “Engineers”
who when they take an injury, unique weapons grow out of the wounds. Kinda sucks to be a cop. Of course since this is a Japanese exploitation film, a hot police woman is the only hope against the monsters. But who are actually the monsters? Ruka
, played by Eihi Shiina
best known as the most bi-polar chick in history from the movie “Audition”
has issues...she saw her police dad’s head get blown off in front of her when she was a teen and now she’s a cop who's got the skills to make the kills. She tracks down the head of the group of killers only to find out some unpleasant secrets linking them, the police force and her father’s murder.
I can’t imagine anything less necessary that that synopsis I just gave. Here’s the primary thing in "Tokyo Gore Police"
you’re looking for: More blood onscreen than anything I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure there are actually more scenes WITH blood gushing out by the gallon than there is without. It’s the goriest thing that I'm aware of that has ever been made and yet, the silliness of the whole thing defies you to feel sick (kind of like "The Story of Ricki"
for those who have seen that.) It’s got a Robocop
-amped-up-to-eleven-million feel to it both in it's dystopian future comedy stylings and the splashy violence; that’s not a bad thing, per say.
I know this will be lost on a lot of readers but for those who do understand it will tell them everything they need to know about the film: Imagine if the Butthole Surfers
were from Japan instead of Texas and got to make a movie. “Tokyo Gore Police”
is exactly the sort of completely demented, perverse, blood soaked atrocity that they would dream up. I’m a little jaded so after awhile this just becomes ‘yeah, yeah, more blood, so what’
to me, but I guarantee there’ll be some of you that’ll put this on at every party to watch your girlfriends get icked out. Even so, it's so relentlessly creative with its grotesqueries that waiting to see what weird thing or Dantean
sexual nightmare it shows next is enough to keep you watching between your fingers.
Another quick turnaround. I was more than glad by the end of “Tokyo Gore Police”
to leave the theater for the more familiar ground of a chick who kicks lots and lots of people’s ass with Kung-Fu (instead of chopping them into ground round with chainsaws.) Next up, more my speed, was….
director Prachya Pinkaew
takes on a new Thai martial arts star in “Chocolate”
and an unlikely one: a 20-something year old girl named Yanin "Jeeja" Vismitananda
(who looks more like thirteen.) Small she may be but Prachya
primped her for five years to do this role and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look good watching her grind tons of dudes dicks into the dirt.
) works for the Thai mob but she’s a hot chick and hot chicks like to be difficult. You'll understand when you get older. She’s got her eye on a unwelcome invader into the neighborhood, a young Yakuza boss named Masashi
). She plays around with the enemy, gets caught, gets kicked out, got herself knocked up, and decides to have the baby by herself. Unfortunately, the baby who she names Zen
, turns out to be autistic but as she gets older becomes a fan of Tony Jaa
movies and is able to mimic the moves perfectly. So the idiot savant thing can be much more useful than just playing poker. It’s not long before Zin
gets really sick and Zen
understands the situation well enough to know they need money. She and a friend find a logbook of people who owe Zin
cash and they go on an ass-kicking spree to get it back to pay for mom’s hospital bills. Trouble, as you might imagine, ensues apace.
If you’ve seen "Ong Bak"
or any other Muy Thai
film, you know what to expect from the martial arts here. Lots of elbow and knee smashes, lots of prop and painful looking stunt work. While I was nowhere near as impressed with young Jeeja
’s martial arts prowess as I am with Tony Jaa
’s, he’s had a few years more to get it down and is considerably more physically intimidating than the tiny 162 centimeter tall girl. The gimmick is her tinyness though and what she CAN do, and she CAN do quite a bit. That said, it’s clear that lots of editing is involved. Even with the fights being not quite as good as Tony
’s, there is a four story ledge set piece at the end that will leave even the most thoroughly versed martial arts fan’s jaw on the floor. In case you don’t believe how tough it was, stick around for the ‘bloopers’
after the credits which are essentially documentation of why people had to go to the emergency room. Ouch. I'm thinking life might still be a little cheaper in Thailand than it is here (or even in China at this point.)
In closing on this one I can only say what I had wished the tag line had been. “Chocolate: Action so good...it’s retarded.”
And now I can go to hell comfortable in the fact that I've left that behind.
Thus wrapped up another loooooooong day, but a damn good one. Tomorrow lurks around the corner with the promise of another secret screening and more. Stay tuned….