Tokyo Tribe was an ecstatic experience at this year's Fantastic Fest. Sono Sion continues knocking it out of hte park with his willingness to push through the borders of what is acceptable in terms of contemporary Japanese film. I had a small idea of what I was in for from reviews and trailers, but nothing prepared me for the orgiastic onslaught of awesome. As a fan of exploitation, action, and musicals, this was made for me. Our Jaime Grijalba Gomez said it well:
Between the references to classic films like The Warriors (a tribe is based around baseball and the use of painful bats as weapons, but they don't paint their faces, that would be weird), and Sono's playful editing style, one can't help but fall completely into the intricate relations that are put forward in the first half hour of the movie.
The film is wild in its visual style, with gorgeous cinematography... neon lights, rain and outrageous colorful costumes for every character. The sets are beautifully constructed. So yes, it's without a doubt the biggest budget that Sono has ever had, and it shows in the way that he constructs a world that feels so vivid you could drop right into it.
Filled with one liners that will make you laugh, bloody violence and great acting (using real rappers, artists, DJs, tattoo designers, etc.), Tokyo Tribe is a film to see with an audience; they will sing and chant, and move their feet around. So, yes it is a very, very fun movie. It might be the most fun that Sono has ever put on screen. It's also a revelation of how musicals can be executed. Filmmakers, take note, hip hop is not dead.
Okay, I admit it, I'm in the bag for Astron-6. After having reviewed both of their previous features (Manborg and Father's Day) for ScreenAnarchy as well as the exceptional collection of shorts on DVD, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on their bag of tricks. The Editor, though, surprised me once again. Even though the screening was not one of my highlights of Fantastic Fest this year, the film is so good that it still makes my list.
Kurt got the chance to review the film for us at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September, and while I was more enthusiastic about it than he, his words do mirror some of my own feelings:
That being said, The Editor is not that polished and there are lots of peculiar non-sequiturs. Points for a character randomly ripping woman's face off, thinking it is a mask, then sheepishly re-attaching it after realizing his mistake. It feels about right. In this world, nobody is good at their job, and everyone goes about their incompetence in the loudest, most naked (figuratively and literally) fashion until they are murdered with extreme grue.
Brooks and Kennedy again star alongside Connor Sweeney but here they have collected a fabulously collection of nutty and weird character actors including Udo Kier, The Human Centipede 2's Laurence R. Harvey, Brent Neale (fellow Winnipeg native who was the star of one of Guy Maddin's best films, Careful) and the reigning queen of 'getting naked' on screen, Paz de la Huerta. Clearly only on set for a day or two each, the support cast add just enough legitimacy to the picture to carry it along to an ending that feels both lunatic and satisfying at the same time. For folks just arriving, welcome to the Astron-6 party, which is still ascending.
I can't say enough about Jigarthanda. I didn't see a ton of Tamil films this year, but of the dozen or so I did manage, this was far and away the best. Even better than that, it will work with a film-savvy international audience as well. Just amazing stuff from Karthik Subbaraj, Siddharth, and Bobby Simha. Here are a few words from my review
There is a magic to popular Indian regional cinema that I cannot really explain, but it comes with complete submission to the form that not many people, and certainly not film festival programmers, are often willing to make. I lay prostrate at the temple of Indian regional cinema, and allow it to wash over me, coarse through me, and permeate my being in a way that finds me glued to cinema screens as often as possible, indulging in fantasties that no one would believe, for the sake of this magic that very few people seem interested in.
Jigarthanda is a worldy film that takes influences from within its own very small cinematic orb and transforms them into something that the discerning film fan can meditate on and enjoy. Will the general non-Tamil film fiend miss a few jokes? Yes, quite a lot actually. However, Jigarthanda manages to make universal that which is culturally specific; it's really quite an accomplishment.
Unfortunately, due mostly to its length, I can't see Jigarthanda making a run at the film festivals of the world. It's hard to convince programmers, a community that I now find myself to be a part of in some ways, to block off that much time for a single film. However, I really hope that this film manages to find some kind of audience beyond ethnic Tamils, because it deserves one.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Okay, here we go. I have a couple of mainstream films on here because, goddamit, I liked them. Sue me.
I had no connection AT ALL to the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book before seeing this film. I am, however, a huge fan of director James Gunn. His writing on the Dawn of the Dead remake, and his direction of both Slither and Super made me a fan years ago. When I heard that he was getting a Marvel movie, it could've been any character or team and I would have been there on opening night.
He did a remarkable thing, he took five characters about which I knew nothing and made me care about each one of them, all while sweeping me up in an adventure like I hadn't seen in a long time. I've now seen it four times, twice in the theater, and twice (on consecutive nights) at home and it hasn't gotten old yet.
The LEGO Movie
This would be the other blockbuster on my list. I was hesitant about The Lego Movie from the get-go. Lego is a wonderful product, but I had visions of Battleship swimming around in my head. When my family and I walked out of the theater the first time, though, singing "Everything is Awesome", I was in love.
I think enough has been said about the film around the Internet, though, so I'll leave you with this brief bit from Jason Gorber:
Skeptics, leave your grumblings at home. The LEGO Movie is a blast, a plaything for any age, an exquisite assembly that's literally more than the sum of its parts. For as per the song that runs throughout: 'Everything is awesome, everything is cool,'
I don't get out to arthouse theaters a whole bunch, so when a "For Your Consideration" screener of Birdman appeared on my doorstep, I jumped at the chance. After all, Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of the triumvirate of Mexican directors taking Hollywood by storm (along with Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron), and after Amores Perros, I've been waiting for him to come back with something more inspiring than Babel.
Christopher Bourne said it well in his review:
The visual structure and form of Birdman proves to be as great an attraction as the film's stars. The often stunningly audacious cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki creates the illusion of the entire film occurring within a single take, the camera moving in sinuous long takes following the characters and often getting right up into their faces. This makes the environs of the St. James Theater, where practically all the film's action takes place, as its own universe, which envelops the viewer along with the characters. This illusory single shot encompasses several days of screen time, and appropriately for a piece that takes place in the world of theater, could illustrate a literal reading of Aristotle's theories of the classical dramatic unities of action, place and time. The single-shot technique of Birdman, combined with Antonio Sanchez's propulsive, insistent jazz drumming score, give this film a feel and atmosphere quite unlike any other you're likely to see.
Although Birdman has some definite flaws... it is for the most part an incredibly impressive achievement in artistry and entertainment that will certainly be a part of this award season's conversation.
Man From Reno
Full disclosure: I've known Man From Reno casting director/associate producer Mye Hoang for a long time, and I consider her a friend. That being said, Man From Reno ticks all the right boxes with me, which is weird, because it's nothing at all like director Dave Boyle's previous films. Man From Reno is a mystery, the kind of film that just doesn't get made any more. A mix of Hitchcock and Jules Dassin in contemporary San Francsico with a multi cultural, multi linguistic bent that sets it apart from everything else I've seen this year.
Ben Umstead also liked the film (though not as much as I do), and had these words for it:
As it stands, Man From Reno is an intriguing film, if only because it wishes to be a serious and measured adult mystery at a time when there seem to be so few. Director Boyle, who has made a nice niche for himself with intelligent, cross-cultural comedies like Surrogate Valentine, certainly proves he can do a lot more than just bring the funny to the screen. Man From Reno shuns practically all modern studio takes on the genre and aims straight for the heart of the classics while inverting several genre archetypes. The picture may be a mixed bag in the end, but Fujitani's performance, as well as Wong's cinematography, still make this a fascinating departure for the filmmaker, with the promise of even stronger work in the future.
World Of Kanako
I'm a huge Nakajima Tetsuya fan, and I have been since Kamikaze Girls. His eye is unlike that of any other modern filmmaker, and his pop sensibilities are the kind that will either make you fall in love or send you away screaming. World of Kanako brings together Nakajima's artistic flair from his earlier films like Kamikaze Girls, and mixes it with his dark side, like Confessions, to make what is closer to being his masterpiece than anything since Memories of Matsuko.
Put Nakajima together with Japan's finest actor, Yakusho Koji, and you've got something special. Yakusho has been branching out from his popular film roles with turns in films like 13 Assassins and The Woodsman and the Rain, but Kanako is a whole other beast. I've never seen Yakusho this filthy, both literally and figuratively, and it's a role that suits him well.
Kurt cautioned those who might see the film in his review, but his words work for me, even as I can't wait to watch it again!
Along with so many other 21st century Japanese films, what the creative set has to say about the nation's educational institutions, is that it is they are place of abject, unrelenting terror. Blame is placed as much on the culture and the establishment as it is on distant, neglectful parenting.
But the film doesn't point fingers, it breaks them or chops them off. When reality penetrates Akikazu's anger and drug-fueled haze, he realize that his quest is more to kill his daughter with his own hands rather than any quaint notion of saving her from the cruel world. Everyone, the viewer included, is drowning in a river of shit so wide that the embankments are not visible and the current is unyielding. This is not hyperbole, this is what it is.
The filmmakers and actors have no interest in proceeding with caution in The World of Kanako, but my suggestion is that anyone taking this trip to cinematic hell be aware of just how far down the rabbit hole it goes.
I love Wetlands. If I had to rank this list, which thankfully I don't, this would be pretty close to the top. But don't take my word for it now, read what I said when I reviewed it for South By Southwest:
Wetlands is not a film for children by any means, but it's kind of a shame that it isn't. Its message of acceptance and the idea that you can be a fuck up throughout your childhood and still be a person of value is one that every child on Earth deserves to hear. Perhaps someday they'll be able to tell that story with slightly less explicit masturbation and vaginal sliming and the world will be ready to listen.
Until then, David Wnendt gives the sophomore slump a firm fist up the ass in what is likely to be one of my favorite films of the year and already tops the list. Wetlands is dirty, explicit, romantic, tragic, psychedelic, raunchy, sexy, repulsive fun, and I loved every minute of it.
Dear lord. Fandry. Even now, six months after watching Nagraj Manjule's masterpiece, I have a hard time shaking it off. The film explores a largely undocumented component of Indian rural life, the antiquated tradition of caste discrimination. Those castes, hierarchical groups of aristocracy, have been at play in India more than any other nation for centuries. The idea that a person is born into their fate is not all that foreign, it appears in many cultures, including the prevailing Christian culture in the US, however America, and most first world nations have utlized the abiulity to move through social strata as part of the wonder of civilization.
The film follows a young boy named Jabya, a Dalit (untouchable) by birth, and the titular Fandry (Pig) on his journey to find something better for himself. When he does, in the form of the beautiful Shalu with whom he falls in love, it is up to them to hide these feelings as the caste separation is too deep to overcome in the eyes of the village elders.
This is the India we don't see in studio films in any language. Indian fimmakers have no problem attacking corruption, religion, gang warfare, violence against women, but caste discrimination is largely ignored, mostly because the Indian people with the money to make films want to pretend it doesn't exist. Manjule's film should be required viewing, it is beautiful and exquisitely heart-breaking. Find Fandry.