Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. What a day this guy had. I love that you get collisions of movies like this at a festival. Any one of these would be enough movie for a normal day, but back to back to back to back like this? Let’s see how it affected our intrepid reporter:
MUY THAI CHAIYA A muy thai gangster film about 3 childhood friends from the country moving to the big city to try and make a life for themselves by boxing using the style native to their region, "chaiya" style boxing. Upon arrival with little money and chock-full of naivety regarding the major role of gambling in the thai boxing world the best fighter of the three friends, and another which he uses as his corner man, finds himself succumbing to the darker side of the business with underground fights and being on the payroll of a top gang leader, while the other friend seeks to train in the more traditional fashion and fighting professionally under the wing of his father. It's very BOUND BY HONOR with a muy thai twist. Unlike most martial arts films the story for MUY THAI CHAIYA is actually the star of the show and does not serve as a means to string a series of fight scenes together. For as complex as this story gets, which isn't extravagently complex but more than you'd expect of this type of film, I would have thought going in that I will at some point get tired of watching a story that I have seen many times before, specifically because it's a martial arts film and martial arts actors don't normally pull off drama with gusto. However, the actors in MUY THAI CHAIYA are more than competent to carry the film when fights aren't occurring, and there are long stretches without fights, and I did find the emotional moments to be fairly compelling. But, a drama is not what people are going to want to see when they go see a film with muy thai in the title. They wanna see elbows to the neck, and a knee to the thigh, and roundhouse kicks to the midsection that would end a man's ability to piss correctly. And whaddaya know, MUY THAI CHAIYA has many of those, and they are displayed in all the violent glory you expect of such a sport. This is hardly the best martial arts film someone could watch (hell, it isn't even the best film that involves muy thai) but a person could do a helluva lot worse too, and although a handful of moments in MUY THAI CHAIYA are considerably cheesy, the effort is still there and it's much easier to swallow some cheese when the actors appear to be giving a genuine attempt to pull off something that's a tad too sentimental. FEAR(S) OF THE DARK This animated anthology of horror films was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at this year's festival. I'm not a comic book reader so the fact that Charles Burns had a segment in the film meant little to me, but I thought the trailer to the film looked amazing and the concept was something I wanted to see pulled off in an animated film. For the most part I was not disappointed. Thematically speaking each segment in the film centers around stories that would invoke the type of fear that make someone want to keep the light on at night, such as ghost stories and your significant other turning into something inhuman before your very eyes. Three of the shorts are seamless, going from beginning to end, while the other three (one really being nothing more than narration from a woman about the different things that frighten her) are interspersed within the film. The all around consensus is that the Charles Burns story is brilliant, and I'll say no different. Two of the other stories I experienced something I never thought I would in an animated film, real tension. It sounds odd to say, but I truly was on the edge of my seat during two of the stories, but it's also with those same two stories where my biggest complaint is. Those two stories lack closure unto themselves. I'm all for a film being ambiguous with its ending, but for a film to have an ambiguous ending it needs to have an ending. These two films felt more like an incomplete draft of a story. It's like Frodo getting to Mount Doom and the credits role right before he enters the foot of the mountain. The other three films are different degrees of drab and sinister, which isn't a wholly unsatisfying combination, just not an entertaining one. THE SUBSTITUTE An alien race from another galaxy are dying off because the species knows everything there is to know, except love. They are light years smarter than humans with supernatural abilities to boot, but their species only knows how to make war. So, they send one of their own to Earth to learn how to develop empathy, and compassion. The alien being ends up possessing the wife of a chicken farmer, and acts as a substitute teacher for a class of middle-schoolers. There's no doubt that aside from ZACK AND MIRI this is the most fun I've had at this year's festival. From top to bottom there are few things in this film that don't work, and a number of things that downright excel. The cast, for instance, is the best piece of ensemble work I've seen thus far, and surprisingly 90 percent of the ensemble are pre-teens, with the leader of the group (Jonas Wandschneider) giving a standout performance. Paprika Steen as the alien / substitute is the perfect balance between sarcastic and emotionless that the role calls for. The early scenes between her and the children are some of the most entertaining scenes from any horror comedy that I can recall. She literally berates each child and displays her superior mind with absolutely no reservation. It's the kind of scene I could see an actual teacher having concocted to let out their inner frustrations with their class. THE SUBSTITUTE packs a clever and original concept, and surrounds it with an intelligent and witty script, an amply capable cast, and visuals that are better than a film like this requires. On a sidenote, I was told this film was set to get an American remake, which may turn out just fine, but I hope that in doing so it will allow this film the chance to play to an audience first. SAUNA A joint task force of soldiers is traveling the countryside of Russia and Finland drawing the new borderlines after the 16th century war between the two countries is coming to a halt. In their travels the group comes upon a swamp area with a local village of a few inhabitants, and a sauna right outside the village that is said to have the power to wash away all of a man's sins. SAUNA may be the strongest production I've seen at this year's festival. It employs an intelligent script (that may have impressed me more if I knew more about 16th century culture and religion of that region), breathtaking visuals (easily the best looking film this year), and a truly eerie atmosphere and mood. SAUNA utilizes a different set of tools than you normally see in horror films, especially recently. It moves forward more meticulously than what we've become accustomed to, and the focus of the story, in hindsight, isn't as much about the supernatural elements that have you feeling uneasy when you're watching it. If you were actually to remove the creepy stuff from SAUNA you would still have a serviceable, and beautiful period drama about two brothers trying to cope with the kinds of individuals they've become since the war. It's about facing up to the sins of your past. SAUNA is the kind of horror film I wish would be more successful at the box office, but know will never be. It requires a smidgen of intellectual investment to follow along, and I've learned by now that's way too much to ask of people. But, if you are a fan of atmospheric horror and can appreciate a 16th century postwar Finnish storyline then I can't recommend SAUNA enough. DEADGIRL Physical proof that concept is not enough. Not nearly enough. DEADGIRL is about a pair of outcast high school students with raging, built up hormones that find a girl locked up in the underground backcorner of a shut down and deserted mental institution. Apparently, when you combine two high school kids with raging libidos that have never had the oppurtunity to experience pleasure with more than just their hand, and a girl that's tied up and has survived a broken neck and 3 gunshot wounds without making a sound and looks as if she hasn't had a shower in years, then of course they do what any kid would do. Right? I mock the idea, but in fact the idea is the only thing in DEADGIRL that works. After the creators had the conversation about making a film centering on a zombie sex slave they couldn't come up with the rest of the things that make a good film, starting with the dialogue. From there they had not considerably great actors read not considerably great words. From there, they attempted to play serious a storyline that was getting more and more farcical. And then, from there, they included more not considerably great dialogue spoken by not considerably great actors. Look, I get that this film was low budget made with unprofessional actors. I can forgive that. What I can't forgive is a film that exists where the creators looked as if they were trying to do nothing more than get people to say, "Damn, that's f'ed up. Look, they shot her and now wanna have sex with a smelly bullet-hole, isn't that f'ed up," and so on. I have seen very good "fucked up" films, and DEADGIRL is not that. I am seemingly in the minority in regards to DEADGIRL, as this was one of the better rated films of the festival, but I really have no idea what film those people saw. DEADGIRL, to me, appeared nothing more than an idea that never developed beyond being written down on a whiteboard next to other possible concepts that the filmmakers could look at each other and say, "Yeah, that would be fucked up."