Fantastic Fest 06–Tideland/Nightmare/Shinobi/Apocalypto
“She looks like a burrito.”
Today was full of surprises. The biggest one, of course was the special screening of a rough cut of Apocalypto, Mel Gibson’s latest epic. But more on that later. Let’s get to the first, less pleasant surprise.
(Keep in mind that I am now writing in retrospect. It’s at least two days after the festival. I’m a lazy fuck. I know.)
I’ve been waiting to see this movie for at least about a year. As a lot of people know, I’m a huge Terry Gilliam fan. I would watch a version of the phone book directed by him. Hell, I might even watch The Passion Of The Christ again if it was proven that he actually directed it. So when I heard that he had actually done two movies in one year after not having done one since 1998′s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, I was super excited.
Little did I know that this would be the worst year for Gilliam films ever.
First came The Brothers Grimm, a lackluster, but fun flick that didn’t exactly fire on all cylinders. But it had its cool points, so I was ok with it.
Tideland, on the other hand, had very few bright spots. In fact, it’s the darkest, most depressing, most unrelentingly bleak film Gilliam has ever made. And that’s saying a LOT about the director of Brazil.
Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland from Silent Hill and “Kingdom Hospital”) is a little girl whose life is among the most depressing and disturbing ever put on film. Her parents are drug addicts with little hope of survival. Her mom (Jennifer Tilly) is over-bearing and goes from telling Jeliza-Rose how much she loves her to calling her a little bitch because she touched one of her hundreds of chocolate bars. Her dad (Jeff Bridges) is a doofy heroine junkie who is so flighty that, when mom dies in bed, he wants to burn her in the house…like a viking. (Luckily, Jeliza-Rose is smart enough to stop him.)
So dad takes Jeliza-Rose to Kansas (or some such flat, dry place) to the house he grew up in. But it’s decaying faster than his mind. The next door neighbors are really no better. Dell (Janet McTeer) is completely insane and looks like a witch. She starts off hating Jeliza-Rose and ends up…um…not really feeling very different, I think. Although she does help the little girl occasionally, it tends to be in very strange and twisted ways. Her son (maybe?), Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) is in some way mentally retarded. He befriends Jeliza-Rose, but you always get the feeling that he’s going to do something terrible to her without knowing that it’s terrible.
The only respite that Jeliza-Rose has are her “friends.” She has four doll heads that she has given voices to. They are her all different parts of her personality. One (her favorite) is adventurous and vain. Two of them are nervous and never want to do anything that might be a little bit fun. And the last one is broken and deformed. She seems to be the most human of them all.
The only truly good part of this movie is that Jodelle is really, really good. She does all of the voices for the doll heads and each one of them is a completely different personality. They each have different voices and accents. It’s pretty amazing for such a young girl to be able to do that sort of thing.
Occasionally, Jeliza-Rose goes into a sort of dream world where everything is supposedly better. But the dream world isn’t very different from her real world. In fact, it pretty much just consists of the doll heads and Dickens. It never showed us that there was a light at the end of her dark, dark tunnel. (Any movie that starts with a little girl cooking heroine for her parents HAS to go some pretty dark places. This one just never lets up.)
I really wanted to love this movie. It’s Gilliam’s most personal film and one that he’s wanted to make for years. And he actually got to do everything he wanted to do on it with no interference from any studio.
But if this is Gilliam without a net, I want him to be securely tied down next time. This was just the bitterest pill that any filmmaker has ever made me take.
All filmmakers have a one recurring nightmare that keeps them up at night. Usually, it involves a horrible actor that someone is making them use or a script that is just unfilmable. Or maybe they show up on set in their underwear.
But one young filmmaker (Jason Scott Campbell) is stuck in a nightmare he can’t wake up from. When he has a quickie with a hot student (Nicole Roderick), they wake up the next morning with a video camera at the foot of the bed. Thinking that someone might have made a sex tape that they didn’t know about, they decide to check it out.
But it ain’t sex they see. It’s the two of them slaughtering other people. Funny thing is, there’s no sign of these people now. No blood. No bodies. No weapons. Nothing. Just the tape. Now they have to figure out who is doing this to them and whether they’re actually doing it or not. To help him do this, he makes a film about it. But it also starts to drive him insane.
It’s still hard to say how I felt about this one. I think I liked it, but the ending is so strange that I think a lot of people will hate it. It’s an interesting view of voyeurs and how we, as filmgoers, are the ultimate voyeurs.
The acting is very good, especially from Campbell. His megalomaniacal director is at once desperate and horrible. He is so driven to find out what’s going on that he doesn’t care that his crew is starting to hate everything about the film they’re making and him. His DP is about to walk out on him. He has one ally besides the woman who was in the video with him (and his lead actress). One of the guys on his crew is all about seeing naked chicks. And there are PLENTY of naked chicks in this movie.
If you get a chance, check this one out. It’s a mind fuck of the highest order.
Ninjas are awesome. We’ve all been taught this by that stupid website. But they’re also very elegant fighters.
And they’re all too human.
Oboro (Yukie Nakama) and Genosuke (Joe Odagiri) are young ninjas in love. Unfortunately, they are from different clans that have been at war for centuries. When a ban on wars is lifted by the local leader who wants to dominate everyone, he has the clans choose their five strongest Shinobi (the most powerful and elite of the ninja) to fight each other to the death in the nearby woods.
Oboro and Genosuke are chosen as the leaders of the two groups. So we all know that, eventually, they will have to face off.
Each member of the groups has their own special power. There’s a girl who poisons with a kiss, a guy who is “extremely difficult to kill,” a guy who can take the face of any of his victims, etc, etc.
This is one of the most beautiful ninja movies ever. Director Ten Shimoyama and DP Masasai Chikamori have amazing eyes for the beauty of nature and violence. And, even though the story is a little bit Ninja X-Men, writer Kenya Hirata (working from a novel by Futaro Yamada) keeps us interested in each character and keeps it all completely original.
I loved this movie. It’s anime without the anime. There are no good guys or bad guys (both sides are implicated equally) and the action is awesome. The love story could have used a little bit of fleshing out, but it was still involving enough to make you not want the two leads to fight. But you kind of do because you want to SEE them fight.
If you’re at all interested in ninja, check this out. I have no idea when it’s coming out over here, but I’m sure it will at least be on DVD. It will lose some of its beauty on such a small format, but it will still be great.
One side note: the guy who wrote the synopsis on the Fantastic Fest website (apparently it’s taken from Twitchfilm) had some choice words about Azumi from a couple of years ago. Fuck him. Azumi was freakin’ awesome. I’ve been trying to find it on DVD ever since I saw it at SXSW.
Oh well. No accounting for taste.
Now on to the big one. Can Mel surpass his past indiscretions and make us love him again with a film that’s about the Mayan culture and shot all in Maya?
Personally, I say, “Yes!”
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is a young man in a small village just outside of the Mayan city. His life is basically peaceful. He has a wife and a little boy that he adores and a brother who can’t seem to get his own wife pregnant. (This leads to a lot of pretty funny practical jokes. Didn’t know that these guys had a sense of humor, huh?) His father is a leader of the village and always has a lot of advice for everyone. Especially his sons.
When the Mayan’s come calling for slaves and sacrifices, things change forever. Jaguar Paw manages to escape and the rest of the film is basically a race to the cave that he put his wife and kid in for their safety. With a small band of Mayans hot on his trail and an arrow in his chest, things aren’t easy.
The movie isn’t perfect by any means (it’s a little bit slow in the middle–Mel says he’s going to cut a couple of scenes out), but it’s about fifty times better than Jesus Chainsaw Massacre. (I wish I could claim credit for that one. I think Amanda did that. Thanks, ‘Manda. I stole it fair and square.) It’s not quite as brutal, either. Oh, it’s violent, but it’s not the orgy of violence that Passion was. Even when I saw the rough cut of that one I was cringing. This one was on par with Temple Of Doom. Maybe a bit more hardcore.
The first idea that Mel had for this movie was a chase story. He just wanted to do a chase movie on foot. Then he put it in the Mayan perspective. THEN he made a political statement with it.
You know, I had always heard that Mel was very conservative and was a supporter of Bush and his war. Turns out that that’s completely false. He snuck a bit in this film about how the Mayans were raping their own land for resources (lye, in their case) and then sacrificing people to the gods to bring back those resources. From the mouth of Mel: “What’s human sacrifice if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?” He also said something about how the Mayans and the Aztecs ruled by fear. Harry said, “You know, I’m SO glad that doesn’t happen anymore.” To which Mel replied, “Yeah. It’s nice that we’re all living so peacefully these days.”
Or something to that effect. It was very sarcastic, whatever the exact words were.
I love Mel. He may hate Jews, but he hates Bush, too. So that’s alright with me. (And, as a friend of mine says, Mel doesn’t hate Jews. He just hates studio execs.)
Anyway, enough political commentary. The movie is actually a lot of fun, which is kind of weird. There is a lot of humor in the first half of it while Jaguar Paw is in his home village. Humor that you could see coming from a group of close friends now. It was good to have that connection to the characters. And the chase was a lot of fun, too. Yes, the movie is dark and a little depressing, but it has enough fun parts to balance out the darkness.
Someone asked me if there was a big Christian agenda attached to it. They had heard that it was about how the Mayans fell because they didn’t accept Christianity. No. That’s totally wrong. There was no mention of Christianity at all. There wasn’t even anything that could be considered a metaphor for Christianity. And the Europeans weren’t shown until the very last shot. It’s just a chase movie about a different culture.
I plan on seeing this again when it’s finished and released in December. There were no digital effects yet and the score was temporary.
MICROGRAVITY (played with Tideland)
A short with a lot of production values, this is about a woman who is trapped on a spaceship stuck in orbit. She is in contact with a man who she appears to be having some sort of affair with, but it seems hopeless that she will ever get back home.
I think director David Sanders watched 2001: A Space Odyssey quite a bit before making this one. It’s long and ponderous and really tells us of the loneliness of space. Not a bad short, but kind of slow. It fit right along with Tideland: hopeless and a bit too long.
REPOSE EN PAIX (played with Nightmare)
An incredibly short film that never wears out its welcome. A man is trying to sleep, but someone (or someTHING) is trying to kill him. But King Kong is on tv and he might not let that happen.
Really funny and, while the end is a little bit predictable (sort of), it’s still really funny.
What pissed me off about this one is that the festival directors actually showed the end of the film in the pre-show festival trailers! DAMMIT! DON’T DO THAT!!
THE LISTENING DEAD (played with Shinobi)
This one was really long and really ponderous. At 14 minutes, I almost think that the point could have been put across in about eight. It’s a “silent horror flick” about a ghost who listens to a man as he composes music. That’s about all I got out of it. Not bad, but it was so slow that I kept kind of falling asleep. It looked really good, though. It really looked like a silent film.