A DAY (South Korea, dir. Sun-ho Cho)
World-famous surgeon Jun-young (Myung-min Kim) is flying back to South Korea after an extended stint helping treat refugees abroad. The trip has caused him to miss his daughter’s birthday, and he’s anxious to see her, but little things keep getting in the way like an ambush press conference and saving the life of a kid choking on a piece of hard candy. He’s running late to meet his daughter when Jun-young happens upon a car accident. He stops to help, and when he crosses the street he makes a tragic discovery. Suddenly, he finds himself back on the plane 30 minutes before landing, the day having “reset” itself exactly as it was before. He ends up at the traffic accident again, and the day abruptly starts over. When Jun-young figures out what’s happening, he makes it his mission to stop the accident before it happens, but he finds himself confounded every time. The situation becomes even more complicated when he discovers he’s not the only person stuck in this temporal loop. It feels like the GROUNDHOG DAY-inspired “time loop” movie has been really popular lately, with teen fantasy/drama BEFORE I FALL hitting U.S. theaters earlier this year and the imaginatively titled horror film HAPPY DEATH DAY coming to the big screen in time for Halloween. A DAY is completely uninterested in the mechanics of its time loop and entirely focused on the relationships between the characters who find themselves stuck in it. Each one naturally must discover why they are in this situation, and the cast is great at conveying their anger, fear, frustration, and heartbreak. While it does a little of the tonal see-sawing of typical in popular Korean cinema, the film runs a brisk 90 minutes and debut feature director and writer Sun-ho Cho keeps the action moving. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic, but A DAY has enough surprises to merit a watch.
RON GOOSSENS, LOW-BUDGET STUNTMAN (Netherlands, dir. Steffen Haars & Flip Van der Kuil)
The Dutch film industry is in a crisis. Union stuntmen have driven the cost of film production through the roof. When career alcoholic Ron Goossens (Tim Haars) becomes a Youtube sensation for crashing his car while trying to jump a raising bridge and emerging from the water with the year’s hottest catchphrase (“I’m like totally shitfaced!”), a producer approaches him in hopes of hiring him as cheap stunt labor. Ron isn’t interested—he has just enough money to drink himself stupid every day, and that’s all he really wants out of life—but then his wife Angela (Maartje van de Wetering) announces she’s pregnant and gives him an ultimatum. If Ron can get Dutch superstar Bo Maerten (playing herself) into bed, Angela will let him stay. So Ron takes the gig and begins implementing his master plan, which mostly consists of suffering one grievous injury after another while he tries to do stunts completely drunk and occasionally harasses Ms. Maerten. RON GOOSSENS is the latest feature from Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil, creators of the hit NEW KIDS TV series and films. While there is plenty of goofy slapstick humor that transcends cultures, there’s also no doubt a familiarity with popular Dutch cinema would probably be helpful. Several people play themselves including Maerten and musician Dennie Christian, and there are a number of direct references to the NEW KIDS films. Still, there’s a lot of very funny stuff here and a lot that will probably make North American audiences a bit uncomfortable. RON GOOSSENS is probably best enjoyed with a beer or two (or five, or more), but it’s still pretty funny if you’re sober. Just probably not as funny.
JUNK HEAD (Japan, dir. Takahide Hori)
Thousands of years in the future, mankind has built cities reaching far into the skies. Somewhere below live the descendants of a class of cloned workers who rose up against humanity nearly two millennia ago. When a crisis arises among the human population, an explorer is sent down the lower levels on a desperate mission, but before he even lands his ship is destroyed and his head (encased in a robotic helmet) removed from his body. A scientist puts the head on a new body, but the explorer has forgotten who he is, and plunges into a series of misadventures with the bizarre inhabitants of the lower depths. JUNK HEAD is an astonishing technical achievement, a nearly two-hour stop-motion sci-fi epic made by Takahide Hori and a handful of collaborators over the course of several years. Like Nick DiLiberto’s hand-drawn animated feature NOVA SEED (which played Fantasia last year), JUNK HEAD is an undiluted vision that looks to have been beamed directly from Hori’s brain onto the screen. The creature design is imaginative and nightmarish, but for all the scary stuff happening JUNK HEAD is surprisingly funny. Its characters speak in multiple invented languages, so there’s not a single word of decipherable dialogue for the entire film, but the subtitles and expressive character designs ably tell the story. It’s such an impressive feat that the abrupt ending is a massive letdown; the film ends at what feels like the start of the third act. Here’s hoping Hori and the citizens of his crazy little world return with a sequel to finish the story sooner than later!
DAN-DREAM (Denmark, dir. Jesper Rofelt)
Thorkil Bonnesen (Casper Christensen) is stifled at his day job by his superiors’ lack of vision. When they ridicule his insistence that every home will have a computer before the 1980s are over, he leaves the company to start his own and invent something important. When he meets electrical engineer Jens Knagstrup (Frank Hvam) and sees the electric battery Jens has rigged up for his bicycle, Thorkil is struck with inspiration. He recruits a team and moves them to a small town to start research and production, but tensions in the partners’ families and outside their company threaten the project. The people in the town hate Thorkil and his fellow “city people,” automotive expert Vonsil (Magnus Millang) keeps making inappropriate jokes at the expense of Thorkil’s African girlfriend Grace (Louisa Yaa Aisin), and Jens’s wife Kirsten (Stine Schrøder Jensen) is bored and endlessly scornful of both Jens’s ambitions and their daughter Fanny (Jelina Moumou Meyer). DAN-DREAM reunites writers and stars Christensen and Hvam from the KLOWN TV series and films, importing a similar sense of humor to a very different milieu. As in KLOWN, there is no shortage of deeply uncomfortable humor, frequently toeing a very delicate line dealing with some seriously volatile material. Some of this pays off in surprising ways, but there’s no question some viewers are going to find much of the comedy here to be “problematic.” It’s not quite as adventurous or outrageous as the KLOWN films, but DAN-DREAM has a slightly more optimistic tone and is much more interesting visually than those films, which borrowed the semi-verite approach to shooting handheld with digital cameras from the KLOWN television series. Veteran television director and first-time feature director Jesper Rofelt takes advantage of the early 80s setting to great effect, and the cast has fantastic comedic and dramatic chemistry.
NOVEMBER (Estonia, dir. Rainer Sarnet)
In a remote village, the beautiful young woman Liina (Rea Lest) pines for handsome Hans (Jörgen Liik). But his heart has been stolen away by the lovely Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis) come from Germany to visit the Baron (Dieter Laser) in his vast estate that towers on a hill near the village. As any self-respecting woman would, Liina seeks the counsel of the local Witch (Klara Eighorn) to change the mind and heart of her beloved. This is no ordinary village: villagers make deals with the Devil (Jaan Tooming) at a crossroads deep in the forest to acquire souls for kraat (shambling golems built out of whatever happens to be laying around) to help them around the house, the plague occasionally wanders into town in the guise of different creatures or objects in hopes of tricking the people into contracting it, and spirits of the dead regularly return on a pilgrimage to get a hearty meal before returning to the other side. NOVEMBER is a stunning, strange portrait of life in a surreal world where magic is commonplace and Christianity inspires more superstitious rumor than comfort or goodwill. While no doubt some audiences will be reminded of THE WITCH—another “folk tale” set among simple folk in an isolated location—this calls to mind more the obsessively detailed medieval world of HARD TO BE A GOD and the grim depiction of daily life in difficult conditions of Béla Tarr’s THE TURIN HORSE. The gorgeous black and white photography (with some footage shot with infrared cameras) by Mart Taniel and excellent score by Jacaszek give NOVEMBER a unique tone, but even at its bleakest the film never takes itself too seriously. This is one of the best films of the year, and when it hits the big screen later this year in North America via Oscilloscope, any cinephile who has the chance catch it during its theatrical run should make it a priority.
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