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Moriarty Reviews TWIST OF FAITH, WOLF CREEK, and KUNG-FU HUSTLE!!

Published at: Oct. 15, 2008, 2:29 a.m. CST by Moriarty

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I hate that I didn’t go to Sundance this year. It sounds like it was a pretty damn good festival overall. I thought I’d go ahead and review three films that played during the fest that I had a chance to see in very different circumstances and at least pretend that I got a little hint of Sundance 2005.

TWIST OF FAITH

When I went to see the truly spectacular IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL just before the end of the year, I started talking to the film’s publicist, who told me that she was also working on Kirby Dick’s new film. This was still well before it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, but I was interested immediately. I think Kirby Dick is one of the most consistently entertaining documentarians working right now, so when she offered to send me a screener, I was thrilled. I’ve seen the film twice now, and it’s taken me some time to be able to put my thoughts together. This is an incredibly demanding film, and an important one, and Dick deserves high praise for his sensitivity with such difficult subject matter.

By now, allegations about Catholic priests and sexual abuse have been in the media eye long enough that it’s not shocking or upsetting as an abstract. Instead of trying to make a film about the overall issue, Dick focused his attention on one particular survivor of abuse, and the result is a piercing, painful film that may push even the most devoutly faithful Catholic to ask some hard questions about the political structure of the Church. Dick got sadly lucky when he met Tony Comes, a 33 year old Ohio fireman. He was abused when he was 14 by a man who was his priest and schoolteacher at the time. Comes thought he had gotten past the events until he moved into a new house with his wife and two kids, only to learn that he’d inadvertently moved onto the same street where Dennis Gray – the man who abused him – now lived.

All the humiliation and the misery came rushing back to Comes, and he decided to finally go to Bishop Hoffman of Toledo to tell him what happened. When he did, Hoffman assured him that no other complaints had ever been lodged against Gray. That wasn’t true, though. Not only had there been many other complaints, but the Church had moved Gray after each complaint to a new parrish where he could start fresh, never warning anyone about any of the allegations and never allowing Gray to face legal ramifications for his actions. When Comes learned that Hoffman had lied, he decided that he had to sue the Church and, finally, make his story public no matter what the emotional cost to him and his family.

If you’ve seen Kirby Dick’s other films, starting with CHAIN CAMERA in 2001, then you’ve probably seen the evolution of his technique. He loves to give his subjects cameras of their own, then back off. They end up shooting much of the material themselves, and he works to edit that material and find the most revealing moments. His films have an intimate, confessional quality that is always striking, but with subject matter like this, there’s an extra level of human drama that’s almost too much to take. There’s a scene early on where Tony sits his eight-year-old daughter down to explain to her that he was molested as a boy, and that they’ve moved into the neighborhood where that person lives, and this is why she must never talk to that person, not even if she gets hurt in front of his house and he tries to help her. Never. As it sinks in, she crumbles, and so does Tony, and if you don’t while you’re watching, there’s something wrong with the way you’re wired. I can’t imagine having to explain something like that to anyone, ever, under any circumstance, but to your own child? You’re telling them that there are real monsters in the world, and one of them managed to hurt their daddy at some point in the past. That’s a heavy, heavy burden for any family to carry. TWIST OF FAITH is not an anti-Catholic film, even though Comes finds himself struggling with his own Catholicism. His wife wants to raise their children in the Church, and part of the film deals with his daughter’s First Communion ceremony and the drama over whether or not Tony’s going to go and be part of that. His wife only converted to Catholicism because of him in the first place, and it’s obviously become very important to her.

Another amazing scene, a truly ugly moment, takes place when Tony and his mother really have it out. He wants her unconditional support, and in a perfect world, he’d want her to leave the Church and turn her back on the organization. He knows that won’t happen, though, so he wants something, some sign that she agrees that the Church did wrong by him. The idea that she’s still putting money in the collection plate every Sunday, essentially paying the legal bills of the people that he is suing, galls him to no end. For her part, Tony’s mother is frustrated and cornered here. We’re talking about someone’s faith, something that is part of their identity. She may feel that Bishop Hoffman or Dennis Gray have done wrong, but there’s no way she can muster up the fortitude to let go of the fundamental nature of being Catholic. It defines her, and what she can’t understand is how Tony can suddenly stop believing, no matter what happened to him. This film puts a human face on an issue that has become increasingly easy to tune out or relegate to the punchlines of tasteless jokes. It’s a powerful emotional experience, and another triumph for filmmaker Kirby Dick. If this somehow beat the better-known SUPER-SIZE ME at the Oscars next month, it would be sweet vindication for a worthy movie.

WOLF CREEK

As soon as Dimension announced their big-bucks purchase of the Australian horror film WOLF CREEK the week before Sundance, screeners started circulating in LA. I guess writer/director Greg McLean had been shopping the film to distributors, meaning everyone had a copy, and someone was kind enough to loan me one. It’s really no wonder that Dimension snapped it up. I’m curious to see if they’ve got the balls to release it uncut, because the version I saw could very well get slapped with an NC-17. There are a few scenes in it that are genuinely transgressive, as unnerving as anything in IRREVERSIBLE or HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. Not the whole film, keep in mind, because this is a good film... not a great one. More than anything, it’s a really nice example of just how rough you have to play if you hope to pierce the complacency of most modern horror audiences. Anyone can open one of these films right now... look at the spring success of HIDE AND SEEK and THE BOOGEYMAN and even ALONE IN THE DARK. The question now is, can you make something that will last, something that will stick with an audience after they’ve gone home, when they’re laying in bed at night, wide away because of what you did to them? And McLean comes close... oh so very frustratingly close.

The set-up is familiar stuff. Three kids (Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, and Kestie Morassi) buy an old car and set out to drive across some of the most remote sections of Australia. One of the spots they want to see is Wolf Creek, a meteor crash site that is surrounded by urban legends about UFOs and mysterious disappearances and other unexplained phenomena. While they’re at Wolf Creek, their car breaks down.

Enter Mick Taylor.

I’ve heard that this is based on a few different real-life cases from Australia, and John Jarratt plays Taylor as an utterly banal face of evil, a guy who fully embraces the moral freedom of living away from civilization. There’s no one around, no reason for him to curb one bit of his most vile and animalistic impulses. From the moment he rolls up on the three kids, he’s in charge, and there are some truly horrific dark moments as he takes these kids apart. The film tries to eschew convention as much as it can, and there are long admirable stretches where it succeeds. Don’t let yourself get too invested in any one character, because McLean plays dirty. Whoever you think the protagonist is, you’re probably wrong. My biggest complaint is that there’s no third act. Just as the film is revving up, it’s over, and the last five minutes are easily the weakest part of the whole film. It’s a shame, too, because this is the kind of film that I want to wholeheartedly recommend to other genre fans. It’s sort of like HAUTE TENSION in that way. In both cases, the filmmaking is impressive, and there’s plenty to like along the way. It seems like really sticking the landing is the hardest part of making a film like this, and unfortunately, a bad ending is the last impression you leave on your audience. Having said that, WOLF CREEK is worth seeing, and there are moments that may drive more skittish viewers right out of the theater. The cast all does credible work, and there’s a real natural chemistry between them. The girls are attractive and appealing, but they feel like real people, not like someone who just got driven over from the taping of their WB sitcom. Same thing with the killer. He’s not the wisecracking monster archetype that we have become so used to seeing. The cinematography reminds me of the first MAD MAX, always a plus. I’ll be honest... I can’t wait to see what McLean does next.

KUNG FU HUSTLE

You know what it’s like when a filmmaker really hits his stride and you get that feeling each time you see a new film by them, like something special’s going on? Well, that’s the buzz I get each time when I see a new film by Stephen Chow these days. When the word started to spread about SHAOLIN SOCCER, I was familiar with a few of his earlier films, and I certainly enjoyed what I’d seen. SHAOLIN SOCCER seemed like a quantum leap forward in pure entertainment value, though, like he finally put it all together. You want to walk about endings that work? The last five minutes of SHAOLIN SOCCER still make me break into a huge smile every time I see it. Now, with KUNG-FU HUSTLE, he proves that it was no accident. This is delirious cartoon filmmaking, comedy and action blended into one of the headiest brews you’ll enjoy in a theater this year. It’s no coincidence that I saw this for the first time at the Alamo Drafthouse, because the movie made me drunk. This may be the first film to take the visual effects breakthroughs of THE MATRIX in a new direction, combining the sensibilities of Tex Avery to the choreography of Yuen Woo Ping.

Chow stars here as Sing, a con artist who decides to take advantage of the blood-thirsty reputation of the Axe Gang. Sing and his oversized sidekick (played by Chi Chung Lam) try to shake down a ramshackle series of apartment buildings and shops called Pig Sty Alley. It’s a marvel of production design and casting, a perfectly vibrant little backlot creation. It’s pretty much the setting of the entire movie, and it’s as much a character as the main sets in REAR WINDOW or last year’s THE TERMINAL. What Sing doesn’t know is that there are three legendary kung-fu masters living under secret names in Pig Sty Alley. Sing tries to intimidate them and gets his ass handed to him as a result, forcing them to break cover. Sing tries to scare them by summoning the Axe Gang, but he screws up and he actually summons them. He’s not really a member, of course, but by getting them mixed up in things, Sing only makes it all worse. The battle that ensues would be the climax in most movies, but all it does here is turn things up another notch. The leader of the Axe Gang calls in backup of his own, uncovering even more hidden kung-fu masters living quietly on Pig Sty Alley, which leads to even more back-up being called in. The fights just keep getting bigger and crazier, and Chow uses CGI as much as he uses actual stunts, a blend he’s gotten very good at.

It’s a little strange that Sing drops out of most of the movie, and the romantic subplot about a girl who Sing once dishonored feels a little shoehorned into things, but it’s really sweet the way it plays out, with an ending that feels more like AMELIE than it does like any other martial arts film I can think of. The film is just so damn much fun to watch that it doesn’t matter who the main character is, or what the film is “about.” There are so many good performances here that it’s hard to single anyone out, but Yuen Qin is hilarious as the landlady of Pig Sty Alley, and Leung Siu Lung is great as The Beast. I’m glad that it’s Sony Pictures Classics releasing this instead of Miramax. They’ve proven with their handling of CROUCHING TIGER and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS that they respect the Asian titles they buy, and they genuinely try to reach the widest possible audience. When they roll the film out, go. See it in a theater with a crowd. Take your friends. This is the kind of movie that reminds us why it will always be more fun to see movies together than alone, and it’s easily one of the best films that will be released this year.

Now I’ve got to finish my DVD Shelf column for today and send out some winning notifications in the Valentine’s Day contest. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • Feb. 22, 2005, 1:30 p.m. CST

    When I first saw that headline I thought it said "Kung Fu Werewo

    by rev_skarekroe

    Blurry eyes and a little dyslexia = million dollar idea!

  • Feb. 22, 2005, 1:31 p.m. CST

    No, wait, please let be the first to say it -

    by WeedyMcSmokey

    FUCK THE CHURCH.

  • Feb. 22, 2005, 3:09 p.m. CST

    I'm willing to put money on..

    by Cash Bailey

    ...the director of WOLF CREEK will be asked to direct Michael Bay's remake of THE HITCHER.

  • Feb. 22, 2005, 4:11 p.m. CST

    i just didn't understand what was so great about kung fu hustle.

    by team america

  • Feb. 22, 2005, 5:03 p.m. CST

    Mory! where is The Fountain report!

    by Biko Salamar

    I can't wait for that!

  • Feb. 22, 2005, 10:46 p.m. CST

    kung fu hustle

    by mavsman15

    i was lucky here in korea to by a copy of it on dvd with english subtitles and i was laughing alot. If you get the chance please see the film and you will not be disapointed.

  • Feb. 24, 2005, 12:18 p.m. CST

    Enter Mick Taylor

    by reni

    For a second there, I had visions of Exile on Main Street.

  • Feb. 24, 2005, 12:30 p.m. CST

    by Sword23

  • Feb. 24, 2005, 1:07 p.m. CST

    One great movie...

    by Sword23

    I just bought the original region 3 DVD from a local video store here in Vancouver and I've already watched it 3 times. I think Moriarty's right on the money here. What most of you don't realize is that Stephen Chow has incorporated ideas and styles from different Hong Kong comic books. As someone who is about the same age as Chow and also grew up in HK, I probably read the same comic books that he read because as I watched Kung Fu Hustle in amazement, I can instantly relate to many HK comics I read. For example, the fighting action is mainly from Ma Wing Sing's Blood Sword. From the cartoonish comedy action, right up to the way the landlady looks (hair rollers, cigarette in her mouth to one side)is straight from the wacky comics of Gum Siu Man. Stephen Chow is the first one to successfully and imaginatively combine these different yet visually stimulating elements into one exhilarating package.

  • Feb. 24, 2005, 6:09 p.m. CST

    Kung Fu Hustle is great

    by FreeJack

    It has nothing to do with being "outside the system." It's just a funny, fun-to-watch movie - just like most Stephen Chow flicks. The trend of Chinese films being brought to the west with such success is gratifying to people who have been watching them since they were young.