Thursday, December 31, 2009


As promised, here is the last of my spiel on Fantastic Fest. I already have my ticket for next year, and I hope that then it doesn't take me three months! Happy New Year everyone.

METROPIA (Sweden, shot in English, )
Strongly Recommended

Metropia should be seen by anyone who’s a fan of dystopian weirdness. The filmmakers have managed to create a unique and fascinating world of mad corporate conspiracies and human eccentricity. It’s a cerebral world, and it’s no accident that all the characters are animated with thin, doll-like bodies and giant heads.

Roger is a banal man living a banal existence, inhabiting a Kafkaesque near-future world where all the cities of Europe are connected by super-fast metro trains. You can get from Copenhagen to Rome in twenty minutes, which sounds great to international travelers like myself, but in this world you’d probably step out of the station to find that the Trevi Fountain has been paved over to make room for a shampoo plant. Roger marches through this world in a sort of well-mannered depression, with his only endearing quarks being that he has a crush on a shampoo model and harbors a general paranoia about sinister things going on in the metro. Because of his refusal to use the tube, he rides his bike to his unfulfilling job at a call center, passing shuttered shops that no one has visited since the metro began speeding under them. At first, Roger’s odd conspiracy theories seem only a shade or two from normal—then he starts to hear voices. They tell him his wife might be cheating, they tell him to buy things, they tell him to keep the cogs of capitalism going.

Then he sees her: Nina, the woman from the shampoo bottle. He knows her well, because he stares at every morning as the water rushes down over him and he rubs shampoo onto his head. We suspect that sometimes he does more than look. Roger is bald and doesn’t need shampoo, but he compulsively buys it anyway, maybe out of his infatuation, or perhaps because of something more sinister. In a moment of uncharacteristic passion he follows his blonde dream girl, meets her, and gets drawn into a conspiracy so bizarre you wouldn’t even believe me if I described it.

While the bleak paleness of the palette doesn’t work in Van Dieman’s Land (see below) here it reinforces the odd, half-lit quality of the underground world. If, like me, you have always had a certain horror of subways, this shadowy wan light will evoke the same feelings of paranoia and suspicion that Roger feels. The oppressive atmosphere and black humor are the best parts of the production, and make up for a plot that plods rather than races to its conclusion, and never totally gels. I didn’t feel the length personally, since I was drawn in by the oddity of the world, but some may become disinterested in its quiet humor.

What makes the film so interesting are its visuals and its ideas, which manage to pull the viewer along through a plot that is not particularly intriguing. I’d recommend it strongly, but know that you’re watching it for the ideas and surprising conspiracies, rather than an involving story.

VAN DIEMEN’S LAND (Australia, No US Release Date)
Strongly Recommended (Warning: Extremely Intense)

In 1822, Irishman Alexander Pearce and seven other convicts escaped the prison colony of Macquarie Harbour and made their way into the wilds of Van Diemen’s Land, present-day Tazmania. They escaped what was arguably the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire—a place where convicts slept in mud-filled lean-tos, and every morning were marched shoeless up a mountain under armed guard to cut Huron Pine trees for the British shipbuilding industries. Afterward, they would either have to drag the large trunks down the mountain or tie them together and ride them down the rivers as rafts. Often, convicts did all this in chains.

Unbeknownst to the escapees, they are headed for a fate far worse. Driven into the interior of the island by soldiers, they must contend with mountain ranges, icy rivers, snowstorms, and worst of all, the gnawing silence of hunger. After a few days without food, it’s clear what they have to do.

Most films about cannibalism dwell on the lurid aspects of the practice, but thankfully, Van Dieman’s Land takes a more cerebral approach. This isn’t a movie about murder, it’s a movie about food. It’s clear that Director Jonathan Auf Der Heide understands this from one of the first shots of the movie: a pair of hands pulling at a grisly piece of meat. We hear the crackle of the fat, the smack of chewing lips, see a pair of filthy fingers sopping up the grease with a piece of bread. The close, almost over-personal shot is unappetizing. Even when the camera pulls out to reveal that we are watching a British soldier eating a piece of beef, the message is clear: in this place, eating is not for pleasure, it’s for survival.

In the end, this sense of cannibalism actually makes the film more, rather than less terrifying. This film doesn’t really match the criteria above—it’s neither wild nor wonderful, unless you count the wildness of nature of display—it’s a horror flick through-and-through, one starring human monsters.

The crew mad accuracy a goal of this project, from the costuming and dialogue to the use of Gaelic for the Irish characters. Most of that is spot-on, but what functions so well about this film is its visceral authenticity, the way can feel the bite when the convicts cross freezing rivers or smell the foulness of their greasy bodies. This realism stems from Auf Der Heide’s apparent philosophy that his actors should suffer as much as the original convicts did. He shot the movie in the Tasmanian wilderness, convincing the actors to forge rivers and walk through the snow while dressed in rags. All that abuse carries over to the screen, where every shiver and moan looks genuine.

That same eye for human misery makes the killings shockingly effective. Fantastic Fest audiences are infamous for cheering after a particularly violent death scene, especially in horror movies. Laughter and applause are not uncommon. By contrast, every murder in Van Dieman’s Land was greeted with silence. These murder scenes are horrifying in their realism, in their cruelty, in their sheer biological accuracy. In one particularly disturbing scene, a man who has had his skull split with an ax convulses, screaming, for nearly ninety seconds while the killers stand around him, unsure of what to do next. The product of their own violence frightens them into inaction.

The film’s color palette is less effective. Auf Der Heide uses a filter for most of the shots that drains much of the rich color from the lush Tasmanian forest, which makes the scenes seem more bleak, but one wonders, given the material, if he really needed any help in that regard. Washing out some of the color has become a well-used technique in historical film, made famous by Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, which seemed to say: see, this is authentic because it looks like old film. This (overused) technique looks alright in World War II movies, since we’re used to accessing the period through faded film prints and photos, but it makes little or no sense in the context of the 19th Century, where film had not yet been invented. It is possible that the color muting—which becomes more prominent throughout the film—serves as an indication that the men are coming closer and closer to starvation, but I’m not sure. Keeping track of how deadened the color palette gets can be a tricky thing, since once the audience has to mentally track the degree to which the color has washed out. It doesn’t help that the movie is a bit on the long side and drags in places, especially since it’s entirely made up of footage of men walking. If the Frodo sections of LotR pissed you off, you might want to skip this one.

I could keep writing about this movie for hours, talking about how the sound of musket shots were masterfully recreated, how the men carry their very British Politics of Empire with them into the wilderness, the prejudice against the Irish members of the group (the majority English always seem to vote to eat the Irishmen first), and the extremely tense final twenty minutes, but I’ll leave you to discover those things yourself.

STINGRAY SAM (US, Online Distribution at ; showing at Alamo Drafthouse)

If you’re a fan of social commentary, westerns, musical comedy, and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide, I would strongly suggest you check out Stingray Sam.

Series creator/star Cory McAbee specifically designed Stingray Sam to work on all screen sizes, from iPod to a full theater, and has succeeded to a great degree. Each ten-minute episode has roughly the same elements, and features a comedy sketch, some animation, and a song and dance number. It’s a good format, though without doubt the most successful portions are the animation sequences, which evoke Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python days crossed with a Douglas Adams-style narration performed by David Hyde Pierce.

In brief, the plot follows galactic ne’er-do-wells Stingray Sam and the Quasar Kid, former inhabitants of a prison planet, as they pay their debt to society by rescuing a little girl from galactic despot Fredward. (Who was created in a scientific experiment combining he genes of two male scientists named Frederick and Edward.) To say more than that would spoil things, especially when you can see the first two episodes free at

Follow that link and check it out (both episodes, since it really finds its stride in the second one), I almost guarantee you’ll like it. If you decide to Mount up with Sam and Quasar for the long haul, you’ll meet bored dancing girls, sadistic bureaucrats, genetic oddities, incredulous scientists, convicts in mascot costumes, badly-designed robot suits, and eventually meet and fall in love with the smooth and mellow flavor of Liberty Chew Chewing Tobacco.

Just see if you don’t.

KENNY BEGINS (Sweden, No US Release Date)

Fans of stupidity humor: I have met your new God. Easily my favorite of the “weird cinema” movies I saw, Kenny Begins is the Godfather of idiotic-but-lovable-leading-male movies. Kenny Starfighter has been a Galaxy Hero in Training for years, the sci-fi equivalent of that cousin you have who’s been in college for seven years. If he fails one more semester he’ll suffer a fate worse than death—being forced to work in his family’s hair salon (and when you see the flowing blonde mullets they have, you know what a terrible fate that is). Hoping to pull his grades up by making a clean arrest, Kenny follows über-villain Rutger Oversmart through a black hole and crash-lands on Earth. Teaming up with a couple of high school kids (a geek who can barely believe his luck at developing superpowers from an ancient artifact and the girl he secretly pines for) Kenny races the clock to outsmart Oversmart, and finally graduate the academy! He’ll probably find some time to eat ice lollies too.

Kenny Begins is the prequel to Swedish mini-series Kenny Starfighter which must have been outrageously funny if it was only half as hilarious as this. The heart of the comedy comes from Kenny’s vulnerability; he knows he’s a washout and a failure, but the kids don’t, and he tries to carry off his bumbling heroics with enough aplomb to keep his young companions in awe. Of course, these kids are in high school and know all about faking confidence, so they see right through him.

Hey Adult Swim generation? You’ve gotta see this movie. This is totally in your arena and will get you spouting Kenny’s nonsensical catch phrases (Ischlo Pischlo! Woolie Boolie!) for years to come.


UNDER THE MOUNTAIN (New Zealand, No US Release Date)
Recommended for Parents with Tweens

I always find it difficult to get into a movie like Under the Mountain. I sort of skipped the whole “teen horror” phase, and went directly from kids horror to Michael Crichton and Preston/Child. Let me tell ya: after you’ve seen velociraptors eat Henry Wu’s intestines while he’s still alive, Goosebumps just doesn’t do it for you anymore.

Even so, the movie is pretty likable. Two fraternal twins with parental problems (dead mother, grieving father) spend a summer at their cousin’s house while their dad cools off. Meanwhile, they get mixed up with some creepy neighbors in the house across the lake, who are shape-shifting aliens trying to raise the old ones from the depths of Auckland’s extinct volcanoes. If the twins want to stop them, they’ll have to pair with Sam Neill, the last of a race of galactic lawgivers who want the creepy Wilberforce family contained or eliminated. Saving the world takes a lot of sneaking around creepy houses, diving down gooey alien tunnels, and, in the movie’s best sequence, a short glimpse of the delightfully Lovecraftian horrors that stir in the bottom of the volcanic chambers. A lot of the fun comes from Neill chewing the scenery, spitting it out and chewing it again. It’s clear he had a blast on set.

It’s a damn fine movie for an early teen horror/thriller, and if you’ve got kids about this age, or even nephews and nieces, it’s a hell of a lot better than taking them to Disney’s latest failure to capture family-friendly action on film. It’s not a classic like Goonies or as frightening as the introduction to The Witches, but you could do a lot worse at the multiplex.

See It If You’re Interested, But You’ll Never Get the Chance (Estonia/Russia, No Distribution Except Festival Circuit)

Apparently the Russian company that funded Buratino, Son of Pinnochio is never going to let it get released. My sympathies are with the director, Rasmus Marivoo. If you’re out there Mr. Marivoo, I just wanted to tell you that I really liked your movie. It was entertaining and made me laugh, and the songs stuck with me, particularly the villain, Karabas Barabas’s song and dance number.

For the curious: Buratino, Sun of Pinnochio is an Estonian rock opera about a young man who was born after his mother wished for a child. Little did she know that child would come about from a sentient splinter that flies up her skirts like Tinkerbell and knocks her up. Five minutes later, the doctors deliver a wooden child from her swollen belly, and (after his bark falls off) he looks pretty normal. At least, as normal as you can look in a world where Clockwork Orange-style youth gangs roam the streets in gas masks and spiked jackets. As a teenager, Buratano and his band/youth gang sally out from Badville on lowride bikes to hold up the residents of Goodville, including town honcho Karabas Barabas, who wants to catch the wooden boy for sinister experiments. The plot thickens, as plots are wont to do, when Buratino falls hard for Barabas’s cute blue-haired daughter.

Marivoo carries all this off with a great deal of fun, especially for something he struggled to put together on a small budget and under pressure from Russian backers. This world runs on Looney Tunes physics, with people looking long distances by shaping their hands like binoculars or brushing themselves off after an explosion hurls them hundreds of yards. Yes, it contains villains, and nasty police, and poverty, but all of these things are silly to the point of non-threatening. For example, though the police frequently shoot at poor Buratino, they do so with what can be only described as Zap Guns.

Rasmus Marivoo, your film may not get distribution, but I will always talk about “this insane Estonian rock opera” I saw once. I think you’re a great filmmaker, and I hope you have better luck next time.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What I Saw At Fantastic Fest Part 3: Rip-Snorting Action Edition!

I'm determined to get the Fantastic Fest posts done by the end of the year... so keep on the lookout for the conclusion in the next week. Now, feast your eyes on the cornucopia of throat kicks and head shots below:

MANDRILL (Chile, No US Release Date)

I’ve always believed that an action film makes its bones in the first five minutes, and Mandrill proves it’s serious right off the bat with a series of shakedowns ripped from the opening of Diamonds Are Forever. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not, since this is a homage that improves upon the original. See, Mandrill is a spoof, well, at least kind of... you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a comedy throughout the first scene, until ninety seconds later when Marko Zaror leaps into the air, flips like a gymnast and kicks a pistol out of a henchman’s hand.

Without any wires. That’s right, Zaror does this crap for real.

Mandrill was my favorite film at this year’s festival. I was enthusiastic about many of the movies I caught, but it was only Mandrill that made me run out and rent the director’s earlier films. Chilean director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza and action star Marko “The Latin Dragon” Zaror are a hell of a find, and I also would encourage you to see their earlier films, Kiltro and Mirageman.

Mandrill is a hitman who takes the toughest targets in South America, but we get the impression that his real job is just being cool. He drives hot cars while listening to funky music in his cassette player, he propositions beautiful women with alarming directness, and he gambles at swanky casinos. Mandrill is a man of few words, which is a welcome change in a decade that’s been overshadowed by Tarantino’s garrulous mobsters and their copycats. If our hero opens his mouth, it’s either to take a contract, interrogate a lead or seduce a woman. Often, he gets by on sheer presence alone—at one point a bellhop tells him he’ll need a tuxedo to play at a high-stakes table. He tips the kid a hundred and pulls off the hop’s clip-on bow tie. Problem solved.

The plot is fairly simple: Mandrill takes a contract to assassinate a man with the classic mafia sobriquet “The Cyclops,” a one-eyed kingpin that our hero suspects of killing his parents. Unfortunately for Mandrill, it’s a well-known fact that all kingpins have beautiful and enchanting daughters. Though most women in Mandrill’s life are disposable (sometimes literally, you’ll see what I mean) he’s so driven to possess this beautiful young lady that he does the unthinkable—interacts with her on a human level. As his hyper- suave persona begins to fracture and we see the elements of his past that shaped him (which are thankfully hilarious rather than psychoanalytical) Mandrill must keep his cool while engaging in a cat-and-mouse game with The Cyclops, his daughter, and more henchmen than you can shake a magnum at.

The movie wouldn’t work if it weren’t for two things—Zaror’s excellent comic timing and his incredible physicality. Action/Comedies usually fail because comedians make poor action stars and vice versa. Had Espinoza and Zaror (they shot the film mostly without a script, so I credit them both along with the entire cast and crew) tried to get the audience to take Mandrill seriously it would have been a dud. The plot is just too silly, the concept of the “cool agent” far too played out. Likewise, if he’d skimped on the action, the movie wouldn’t be anything but mildly funny. Instead, they managed to shoot the gap and produce a powerhouse of a movie that’s lighthearted in its violent mayhem, yet still satisfies our need for flying bullets and roundhouse kicks.

Seriously guys, I want Mandrill on a shirt. Marko Zaror has become my new favorite action hero, and he deserves all the accolades that’ll come his way in the next few years.

DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUM (France, No US Release Date)
Strongly Recommended

District 13: Ultimatum is stylish, fun, and trés français. Like Mandrill, the District 13 series is one of the international holdouts of old-school action films, the kind where stars do their own stunts as the director gives the studio insurance agents the finger. “Damn the skyrocketing premiums,” they say. “We’ve got a movie to shoot.”

Like the original, District B-13, Ultimatum takes place in a near-future Paris where the government has decided to deal with the city’s endemic crime by walling up the slums. , because it gives parkour expert and freedom fighter Leto (David Belle) and his odd-couple ally, undercover policeman and martial arts master Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) free license to stick it to the man by running up walls and kneeing dudes in the face. The plot is pretty much a retread from the first one with some Bush-era War on Terror references, but does that really matter? This film has everything that was good about the original—the amazing free-running, the action, and the predictable but enjoyable twists—plus a bigger budget that really cranks up the spectacle. In one particularly explosive scene, the heroes rampage through the third floor of an office building in a sedan, plowing down walls, doors, and a half-dozen unfortunate henchmen.

While the first movie mostly showcased Belle’s extraordinary parkour skills, the sequel focuses on Raffaelli’s cabinet of roundhouse kicks, short punches, and Judo throws. But his fighting skills aren’t what makes him fun to watch, Raffaelli’s real talent lies in the bizarre comedic turns that this franchise requires of him when Damien dons his signature disguises.

Unfortunately, as good as this sequel is it doesn’t quite capture the breathless, dynamic, race-the-clock energy of the original’s third act. The villains here are also quite bland, replacing flamboyant drug lords with staid, starch-collar bureaucrats.

I never saw many French action films until this year, but all I know is that the more of them I see, the more I love French action movies. They’re generally smaller and tighter than the American shoot-em-ups, and have the guts to go down roads that US studios would consider too risky. There’s one particular sequence in this movie that no square-jawed American star would risk his reputation with, fearing immortality on YouTube. Raffaelli carries it off with aplomb.

THE REVENANT (US, On the Festival Circuit, Look for it on DVD)
Recommended (Strongly Recommended for Zombie/Vampire Fans)

I can only think of two things worse than your best friend dying in Iraq—either dying in Iraq yourself, or having your best friend knock on your door after he’s been killed in Iraq. In this movie, friends Bart and Joey have do deal with both of these scenarios, Bart the former, Joey the latter. Not only do the pair have to deal with the repercussions to their own friendship arising from Bart’s ghoulish resurrection, and the impact on Bart’s poor girlfriend, they need to figure out how to acquire enough blood to keep him from rotting. Unfortunately for these Google-trained Gen-Yers, there isn’t any Wikipedia entry on how to do that.

Stephanie Meyer, take note--this is what guys would do if they were turned into the immortal undead. And by that I mean: heisting blood banks, stockpiling weaponry, and roaming around LA like the Boondock Saints, gunning down every criminal they come across and drinking their blood.

This isn’t an action/comedy/bromance though—it has blood and bite, and is far less about friends in a weird situation and more about the common male experience of blundering through life directionless, figuring out the rules through trial and error. It’s an American Shaun of the Dead with a lot more blood and a bit of mean streak. After all, in this film it’s the heroes that have become monsters.

The third act is perhaps too dark for its own good, but also contains a few moments of pure brilliance. It’s then that things get completely out of hand and the ramifications of Bart’s condition reach beyond his limited social circle. That kind of widescreen view of the world is what sets The Revenant apart from lesser entertainments.

Ultimately The Revenant succeeds because of its inventiveness and it’s logical progression. Characters often find creative solutions to problems (including the most innovative use of a vibrator in the history of cinema) but those solutions always make sense. Likewise, the plot twists stretch the bounds of imagination without rupturing the suspension of disbelief. It’s one of the few vampire/zombie films I’ve ever seen that’s merge horror, comedy and geopolitics while still making a movie that’s fun to watch.

If you’ve got the stomach for the blood and the cynicism for the humor, this one’s a sure bet. It’s sure to be a cult classic in zombie/vampire circles.

FIREBALL (Thailand, No US Release Date)
See It If You’re Interested

There is a part of me that wants to like Fireball oh-so-badly. It’s the same part of me that loves wounded animals and ugly children.

Fireball is a throwback to the rash of “combat sports” movies that appeared in the 1970s after the advent of Rollerball, with the shtick this time being an underground league of full-contact, Muy Thai Basketball.

You can pretty much imagine the plot from there. Hero gets out of prison, finds his brother in a coma, turns out little bro was playing combat basketball to make ends meet for the family, guy who KOed him is a big asshole on the other team, hero swears revenge, etc. Other than some minor character development that goes into each team member (mostly so we feel bad when they’re killed) that’s basically it, but it’s enough for a film like this. After all, the movie is almost entirely cast with stuntmen, so we’re not going to see a lot of acting chops on display.

The problem is we don’t see a lot of martial arts on display either. Fireball is shot with so many shaky, close-up quick-cuts ala Jason Bourne that I could hardly tell who was elbow-dropping who. Even worse, since the teams don’t wear anything resembling uniforms, it’s almost impossible to see who’s winning. My efforts to follow the ball from hand to hand put me in mind of a Hogwarts Seeker trying to catch the Golden Snitch. It’s the opposite of Mandrill and District 13, wherein athleticism is always highlighted by flattering cinematography. Here we have guys doing incredible stunts, but we never have more than a half-second to appreciate them.

Listen up directors: Stop using shaky cam and rapid close-up cuts for action scenes. I don’t want to feel like I’m in a fight scene. I came here to watch the movie, not participate.

Which isn’t to say it’s totally terrible. By all means, there’s some coolness here. One match where the audience throws lead pipes to their favorite team is particularly memorable, but overall, I’d rather just watch Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior again.

Now that’s good Muy Thai.

THE LEGEND IS ALIVE (Vietnam, No US Release Date)
See It If You’re Interested

The Legend Is Alive, a film about a mentally handicapped martial arts expert, has me split. On the one hand, it’s one of the only martial arts films I’ve ever seen that touched me on an emotional level, but on the other hand, the fact that I actually felt for the hero undercut my enjoyment of the film’s action scenes.

Confused? Check this out:

The film follows Lee (Dustin Nguyen), a boy who grows up in postwar Vietnam, where a dose of Agent Orange has kept him from progressing mentally past the age of ten. Kicked out of school for failing to progress, his mother takes him home to the martial arts school that she runs and formally educates him in the fine art of being able to kill with his bare hands. See trouble brewing?

Sadly, mothers don’t last forever, and when Lee’s poor devoted mom dies, he decides that he’s going to take her ashes to America so that she can be with the father he never knew. Due to his mental limitations, he doesn’t realize that this will take a lot more than boarding the village bus—which makes a great deal of sense, from his point of view. If you’ve never left a small town, or even a martial arts compound, what exactly is your concept of “far away?” Two towns over? Twenty-five miles? Lee’s grief is all the more tragic because, unlike him, the audience knows he’s embarking an odyssey of Homeric proportions.

On the bus ride to the city, he meets a young girl who is young and charming, but might as well have “stupid victim” tattooed on her forehead. She’s sixteen, in love with a man she met on the internet and has run away from home to meet and marry her sweetheart. This story confuses Lee something fierce, since he’s never seen a computer, and probably doesn’t have the capacity to understand online interaction, but when he sees his new friend grabbed by her new “boyfriend”—a sleazeball sex trafficker—he understands what needs to be done.

Kick tons of gangster ass.

And kick ass he does. The martial arts scenes aren’t flashy, but man are they brutal. We’re not just talking hands and feet here, but 2x4s, bottles, panes of glass, knives and more thrown elbows than a Manhattan subway platform at rush hour. I’ve never seen Dustin Nguyen before, but the man is obviously a master at what he does, and knows multiple forms of martial arts. What’s most amazing though, is how he manages to carry off explosive fight scenes without breaking character. No matter what he’s doing, from getting hit with a bottle to kneeing gangsters in the face, we still believe that he’s mentally challenged.

The only problem with this movie is that it’s playing both sides against the middle. Every drama scene is heartfelt and well carried, but they tend to move slowly, and the audience often becomes restless waiting for the action. On the flip side, we care so much about Lee that when it’s time for him to put the beatdown on goons, we’re too worried about him getting killed to really enjoy ourselves. The central paradox is this: Nguyen’s talent for holding character often makes the fight scenes disturbing to watch. Oh sure, Lee’s still the good guy, but watching his screams of childlike rage, I couldn’t help but think, Jesus, does he realize he’s killing people? It’s even worse when the situation is reversed, and gangsters are slashing him with knives or beating him with chains and bottles—the confused, hurt expression on Lee’s face robs the fight scene of entertainment. Halfway through I realized that was the point. It’s an anti-action film, and brilliantly decries the glorified violence of the film industry, but a lot of audience members who went in to see a martial arts movie came out disappointed.

The Legend Is Alive is a very, very excellent movie, no doubt about it. It swept the Golden Kite awards, Vietnam’s version of the Oscars, and deserved every award it got. If you decide to see it, just keep in mind that it’s a drama, not a martial arts movie.

RAMPAGE (United States, No US Release Date—Let’s hope it stays that way)
Avoid This Movie Like you Would a Leper with TB

No, that's not the real trailer. This movie pissed me off so much I don't want the real trailer on my blog. Screw Uwe Boll and Screw this movie.

Until Rampage, I had not seen a single film at Fantastic Fest that I disliked. When I got to the front of the line that morning and found out that the only tickets left in the midday time slot were for a Uwe “I’m the modern Ed Wood” Boll film, I took them happily. First of all, it was either see Rampage or drive home and walk the dog. Second, I had never actually seen a Boll film all the way through and was more than a little curious if they were really that bad. Third, I have to admit I wanted to see at least something I could hate on, since hating on bad movies makes me feel articulate and sophisticated. After all, I could never be the bully at the playground, why not do so at the theater? Besides, I heard that the Q&A with Boll at the first show was hysterical.

I should have walked the dog instead. Uwe Boll may have been murdering world cinema for years, but like all serial killers eventually do, he’s escalating.

If you don’t want to hear spoilers, stop reading right now. Rampage is about an unlikable, selfish, ambitionless, college-age wastrel who decks himself out in Kevlar and goes on a shooting spree through his Washington town. He kills soccer moms at the beauty salon, he kills a barista who didn’t make his coffee with extra foam, he shoots a fast food employee who spilled a drink on him and “didn’t seem sorry enough.” From Boll’s record of directing fanciful but supremely stupid films that include heavy doses of satire, you’d think this would be some kind of satire on video game culture or violence in media. It isn’t. It’s just 90 minutes of filthy, mean-spirited, irredeemable hatefulness.

Which is almost sad, because certain scenes are actually not bad. There’s a fascinating section where the shooter walks unnoticed into a bingo hall full of senior citizens mesmerized by their cards and counters. He harms not a hair on them, presumably because he believes them to be bereft of life already. Likewise, early scenes of the shooter and his best friend debating over a fried chicken meal are at least mildly interesting in a sort of philosobabble sense, but the stench of Tyler Durden lies heavy on them, as if Boll has failed to realize that Fight Club wasn’t that profound in the first place. What is so tragic about this whole situation is that while Boll’s skill may have improved, his vision is so artistically wrongheaded that the theme completely destroys itself, when in the end, it turns out its 45 minute scene of civilian-murdering audience torture was only done to cover up a bank robbery. Seriously. After all that crappy debating about consumerism and hints about the stresses of American life making young people lose it, it turns into a heist flick. The guy just wants to steal a bunch of money, kill his best friend, and pin the rampage on him after making it look like a suicide.

And he gets away with it. No punishment at all. In fact, the kid isn’t even sorry, or in any way marked by what he’s just done. I can’t help but think Dylan Kliebold and Eric Harris would have loved this movie. What’s even worse about this is that the ridiculous philosophizing at the beginning condones mass murder because “most people don’t contribute anything to society.” This presupposes that raising children and having jobs and doing all the responsible things these dickhead unemployed pseudo-intellectual brats don’t do isn’t enough of a “contribution.”

You know who doesn’t contribute anything to society? Uwe Boll.

Enjoy this video of Festival Founder Tim League and Uwe Boll in the boxing ring at The Fantastic Debates. Keep swinging Tim, keep swinging.