The Fest’s Windy Weekend: In Which I See Some Things I Never Thought I Would
The things that I saw that I never thought I would see were, of course, in Embodiment of Evil (B), the long-awaited third installment (officially, anyway) in the Coffin Joe series, which you can learn more about over here. I’ve never seen At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul or This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse, but this resurrection, the first C.J. film since 1979, served as a, well, memorable introduction to the fiendish Brazilian undertaker with a black cape, top hat and fingernails so long they curve under his palms. As played by José Mojica Marins in what may be the hammiest performance ever committed to film, Joe is released from a mental institution and instantly gets back to business. No Dario Argento “comeback” this — Evil is rough stuff but with a moral underlining. Marins’ essentially borrows the idea from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects: Joe & co. are bad, bad people and their violence is abhorrent. (At one point Marins, who also directed, compares people who would enjoy watching such torture to a cackling hunchback.) But the people after him are no better, including a murderous favela cop introduced gunning down slum kids and the crazed monk son of one of Joe’s previous victims who wants to use his privelege in the church to condemn his soul to hell. Marins doesn’t go as far Rejects, but there’s a definite viewpoint to this rejuvenation. And while most of the violence is towards (naked) women (including a bit showing — how do I phrase this? — something that should not go in a vagina), in the interest of fairness he does throw in men getting their ding dongs torn off with teeth. Yea.
I just got done with a piece on the rare decent shorts in anthology films, for the upcoming three-fer Tokyo! None of the four Thai horror quickies in 4bia (C) would make the cut. Varied in tone and content, they consist of three that are vaguely promising then disappointing, plus one that’s outright death. The bad first: “Tit for Tat” takes a Prom Night/Slaughter High premise and fixes it up with migraine-inducing hyper-style, plus beasties copied and pasted, with much loss in resolution, from a Chris Cunningham video. The only one of any interest is “In the Middle,” which temporarily feels like it might be a keen, if overly referential (shout-outs to everything from The Others to Titanic), exploration of guilt. Until it turns out not to be at all. C’mon, how hard is it to scare people, people?
For a film that melds violent spy games, softcore business time and musical numbers, the French The Joy of Singing (B-) holds together a lot better than it should. The radiantly unamused Marina Foïs stars as a spy infiltrating an opera singing group to see if one of its members (the great Jeanne Balibar, in an awesomely bubbleheaded turn) has a sought-after USB key. Eventually everyone sings, everyone screws eachother and everyone gets naked. Director Ilan Duran Cohen is aiming for a fairly unique tone that could be described as tough-minded absurdism. Should Christophe Honoré (Love Songs, The Beautiful Person) decide to move his polysexual retro films into the spy arena, it might look a little something like this.
Set on the border of Israel and the West Bank, Eran Riklis’ Lemon Tree (C+) is, alas, not the “Lemon Tree” episode of The Simpsons reconfigured for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. But it’s almost as hoary. Based on a real incident, this P-I metaphor finds a Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbas) who’s shocked when her new next door neighbors, the callow Israeli defense minister (Doron Tavory) and his much nicer wife (Roa Lopez-Michael), demand her ancestral lemon grove is viewed as a security threat and must be chopped down. Riklis, who directed the chaotic and trenchant wedding comedy The Syrian Bride (also with Abbas), segues into serious social issue mode. I’d be lying if it wasn’t occasionally effective: the grim final shot made every hair on the back of my neck stand upright, just as it intends to. But it’s cookie cutter and not above shamelessness or simplicity: in Riklis’ estimation, Tavory is Old School Israel, Lopez-Michael is New Israel and Abbas is Nobly Suffering Palestine. Abbas, who brought gravity to a thin, condescendingly written role in The Visitor, works similar miracles here.
A lazy Sunday movie shown on a lazy Sunday, the South Korean My Dear Enemy (B-) follows a woman (Ha Jung-woo) who demands that an loutish ex-boyfriend (Jeon Do-yeon) pay her the gobs of money he’s owed for awhile NOW! and proceeds to spend the day roaming around with him. She doesn’t, as you’d expect, get back together with him, but she does go from comically unamused by his attempts to charm her to far more empathetic to his situation. Director Lee Yoon-ki, who previously made the quite good This Charming Girl, keeps things leisurely and gets an amazingly distracted performance from Jeon, whose character could almost be lifted from the films of fellow countryman Hong Sang-soo. Perched between better than it should be and not quite good enough.
Last summer Marty Moss-Coane devoted an entire hour of Radio Times to two guys who didn’t understand that the infamous New Yorker cover clearly satirizing Obama-related paranoia was satire and weren’t embarrassed enough to keep shtum about it. It was painful. Initially that’s what Playing Columbine (B-) — about the controversial and very obviously satirical video game “Super Colubine Massacre RPG!” and directed by its inventor, Danny Ledonne — feels like. Throw in some self-aggrandizement and you have me doing my second walk-out of the fest. But I stayed and sure enough, after a bumpy beginning, it mightily improved, mostly because Ledonne rightly recognizes his role as a conversation-starter and quickly begins keeping his onscreen persona to a minimum. Ledonne’s net is cast wide, exploring the way video games have been shunned as art, the silliness of scapegoating and the notion that an artist can’t be held accountable to those who grossly misinterpret their intentions. Where it fails is in finding a strong voice from the other side; both conservative activist Jack Thompson and Senator Andrew Lanza humiliate themselves with every word, and the result is a film that feels less like a dialectic and more like PR for its worldview. Not that that worldview is wrong, mind…
Eastern European cinema tends to encourage black comedy, but few films are as patently goofy as Goran Markovic’s The Tour (B-), in which a troupe of decidedly pacifistic thespians wind up traveling through the still freshly broken-up remains of Yugoslavia of 1993. Not unlike Bergman’s Shame envisioned as a grim yuk-fest, it finds the actors playing tripey comedies and stiff historical plays for randy soldiers, all while driving on a tour bus with constant explosions around them (which the driver, unblinking, tells them is normal). Markovic usually keeps the tone balanced between horror and gallows humor (sample gag: a jaded doctor serves the actors tea in cups covered in blood), though tips the scales towards the former a couple times. But, then, there is a fucking multi-scaled war going on…
So many B-s this weekend. Sigh. But not all was mediocre or disappointing. Caught the Quay Brothers shorts sampler (having bailed on the “legendarily boring” Institute Benjamenta after a long movie day), which reaffirmed my belief that, while the Norristown-born stop motion-ers lack the rigor of, say, Jan Svankmajer, their films don’t need rigor to work. Films like Street of Crocodiles, the Stille Nacht series and In Absentia (which I never liked till seeing it this time) work because they have a logic so hidden we never quite discover it, and are thus effectively lost. Often times their images are impossible to parse, causing one to stare and stare and stare, looking in vain for something to hold onto. Still, I say their switch to video (and their new short Eurydice – She So Beloved) just isn’t the same.
And I also re-saw my two favorites of the fest — Sita Sings the Blues and I’m Going to Explode — and back-to-back, no less. They were awesome.
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