FANTASTIC FEST: September 26th
RATS (USA, dir. Morgan Spurlock)
Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has made a film “adaptation” of Robert Sullivan’s 2004 nonfiction book RATS: OBSERVATIONS ON THE HISTORY & HABITAT OF THE CITY’S MOST UNWANTED INHABITANTS. While the book focuses on New York City, Spurlock’s film widens the scope and looks at how rats survive and how people deal with them in various places around the globe. Made for Discovery Channel, RATS is an interesting documentary with some great interviews and peeks into the lives of people whose existence and livelihood are tied to these creatures. From New York exterminators to the suppliers who catch rats to sell as meat for restaurants, the film covers plenty of ground and has more than enough gruesome details on the lives and deaths of rodents and the results of their attacks to qualify it as a kind of horror movie. It’s fast and informative, but ultimately fairly lightweight. In other words, not much different from a standard Discovery Channel documentary.
BELIEF: THE POSSESSION OF JANET MOSES (New Zealand, dir. David Stubbs)
In 2007, young single mother Janet Moses died during a M?ori ritual roughly akin to an exorcism performed by her family. This was the culmination of a week of bizarre events that had led some of the family to believe she was under the influence of some malignant spirit. BELIEF combines interviews with people who were involved in the case with dramatizations of those events and the investigation that followed Janet’s death. There are moments in the dramatizations that uncomfortably skirt the edges of horror/exploitation, but this is still a compelling and deeply sad story that touches on questions of faith and the relationships between government, religion, and family.
THE AGE OF SHADOWS (South Korea, dir. Jee-woon Kim)
Following the botched capture and subsequent suicide of one of the leaders of the Korean resistance during the Japanese occupation of the country, Korean police officer and translator Lee Jung-Chool (Kang-ho Song) is tasked by his superiors to work with a Japanese officer to bring in Kim Woo-Jin (Yoo Gong). Woo-Jin is a high-ranking member of the resistance, and once Jung-Chool starts working on him his allegiances begin to shift. THE AGE OF SHADOWS is a dense, stylish period piece spy thriller from Kim Jee-Woon, his first film back in Korea after directing THE LAST STAND (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the States. While there are brief moments of humor, the oddball personality of his best work is mostly absent. That’s not to say there is no fun to be had in this film, but it’s much more somber than expected. It’s a tense, intelligent thriller with a slate of excellent performances and some jaw-dropping production and costume design.
BAD BLACK (Uganda, dir. Nabwana I.G.G.)
Bad Black (Nalwanga Gloria) runs a team of criminals in the slums of Kampala. She schemes to bring down the rich man Hirigi (Bisaso Dauda) and steals dog tags belonging to American Doctor Ssali (Alan Hofmanis). Ssali’s kindergarten-aged assistant Wesley Snipes trains him to become a badass to get his dog tags back. But what is the real story behind Bad Black? Why is she so intent on bringing down Hirigi? And how many people is Dr. Ssali willing to kill to get his dog tags back? BAD BLACK is the latest import from Ugandan production company Ramon Film Productions, the same people who made WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? a few years ago. Alan Hofmanis moved from New York to Uganda to help with the production and distribution of the movies, and has been enlisted as “America’s best action star.” Ramon Film Productions is an example of a hyperlocal cinema, made by (and basically for) the people who live in one particular neighborhood of their home city of Kampala. That area is called Wakaliga, and they have named their industry “Wakaliwood” in its honor. Shot on cheap digital video and using an impressive array of handmade props, BAD BLACK would be hugely fun even if it wasn’t for the appearance of VJ (“Video Joker”) Emmie providing a running commentary on the action: for example, when Ssali guns down a couple of guards, Emmie shouts “Worst doctor ever!” This kind of thing is best seen with an audience, and seeing this kind of labor of love with a game crowd at Fantastic Fest was an amazing experience.
DOWN UNDER (Australia, dir. Abe Forsythe)
In December of 2005, race riots broke out in the suburban town of Cronulla near Sydney, Australia. Thousands of white Australians got together in a show of force against Lebanese citizens and immigrants. DOWN UNDER takes place during the riots and follows two carloads of characters, one white and one Lebanese. Hassim (Lincoln Younes) wants nothing to do with any of it but reluctantly agrees to join Nick (Rahel Romahn) to go looking for his brother Farouk, who has gone missing. Gentle stoner Shit-Stick (Alexander England) is enlisted by racist Jason (Damon Herriman) to join Jason’s “patrol” because he’s the only guy Jason knows with a car. As the day drags on, the two groups of men are unwittingly on a collision course that will have tragic consequences. DOWN UNDER is very funny all the way up to its finale, when writer/director Abe Forsythe plays out his characters’ intentions to their logical conclusions. That gear-stripping tonal shift at the end of the film would be tough for anyone to pull off, but Forsythe has given the audience ample time to form sympathies with these characters, and when they actually do things that will ruin their own and others’ lives, it’s positively gutting.
SPLIT (USA, dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a glum outsider who was invited to a birthday party for a classmate out of obligation. She gets a ride home with the birthday girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Claire’s best friend Marcia (Jessica Sula), but they’re kidnapped in the mall parking lot by Kevin (James McAvoy). They wake up imprisoned in a room and quickly learn that Kevin is not just Kevin–he has 23 personalities, including a cold-blooded matriarch and a 9-year-old boy. Some of Kevin’s other personalities are trying to reach out to his therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), but Kevin is determined to outsmart her and use the kidnapped girls as a sacrifice for “The Beast,” a previously unmanifested evil personality with superhuman abilities. SPLIT is a fun thriller, although it deals clumsily with some potentially problematic material. It’s mostly a showcase for McAvoy to do a variety of styles of character, from the goofy little kid to the prim but cruel old woman to a flamboyant fashion designer with a thick East coast accent. It’s also something of a return to form for writer/director Shyamalan, whose recent detour back into lower-budget filmmaking seems to have creatively reinvigorated him.
ZOOLOGY (Russian Federation, dir. Ivan I. Tverdovsky)
Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) lives with her mother and their ancient cat. She works in the offices of a zoo with a group of bitchy women who constantly gossip and make fun of her. One day she decides to see a doctor for an unusual issue: she has suddenly grown a tail. The doctor takes this in stride and refers her to a specialist to get x-rays, but before long people in town are talking about an evil woman with a tail who can kill with a look. Even as this strange situation unfolds, Natasha finds herself in a tentative, unexpected romance with a younger man who happens to be her radiologist. For most of its running time, ZOOLOGY is a poignant and observant character study of a character type who rarely gets the spotlight. Natalya Pavlenkova is excellent as Natasha, and when her world changes it’s touching to see her come to life. It also means the film is genuinely upsetting as it moves into its finale, which takes a hard turn into very dark territory. So much so, in fact, that it’s tough to recommend without the caveat that it may leave you with some seriously unpleasant things to think about long after the credits roll.
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