Moriarty @ Fantastic Fest Part Three: JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY, TOKYO!, REPO!, and TOKYO GORE POLICE!
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
And only one of the exclamation points in that headline belongs to me... crazy, huh?
For me, the regular festival screenings finally got underway with the Friday morning show of Ole Bornedal’s JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY. Bornedal’s a Danish filmmaker who made his biggest splash internationally with the 1994 film NIGHTWATCH, which he wrote and directed. A few years later, he wrote and directed an English-language remake starring Ewan McGregor, a wretched movie that pretty much stopped his international career cold. That was 1997, and aside from one TV credit, he was on the bench for five years, finally resurfacing with 2002’s I AM DINA, which I haven’t seen. That’s probably because it never got an American release of any kind.
That means he went a full decade between films for American audiences. That’s a looooong time to be out in the cold, and based on the evidence of JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY and THE SUBSTITUTE (which I’ll discuss later), he’s been waiting long enough. Borendal deserves an international audience, and JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY deserves your attention if you’re able to track it down. There’s no American distributor yet, but it’s repped by Endeavor, and I hope someone picks it up soon.
Basically, this is a gender inversion of the Sandra Bullock film WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, but played dark and serious. Three short scenes start the film, and at first, they don’t seem to add up. All of them seem doomed, fatalistic, random. They’re anything but, though, and figuring out how they all add up is one of the sinister pleasures of this film. It’s the story of Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen), an average man living an average life and slowly but surely drowning in it. He’s not unhappy, per se, but he’s not happy anymore, either. He’s just sort of going through the motions because that’s all he knows how to do. Then one day, in the car with his wife and kids, he’s involved in a horrifying car accident that almost kills another driver, a young woman named Julia (Rebecka Hemse). She ends up in a coma in the hospital and, wracked by guilt and drawn by some strange compulsion, he goes to visit her.
The complications begin when he has to lie to get in to see her. He says he is her fiancé, not realizing that her family is going to be upstairs and that they’ve all been dying to meet this mysterious fiancé who she met while away in Thailand. The family didn’t even know Julia was back in the country, so they’re in shock on many levels, and when Jonas walks in, they assume that he is Sebastian, the man Julia had written to them about. Jonas goes along with the idea at first, only wanting to assuage his guilt and reassure himself that she’s okay. But something about Julia keeps drawing him back to visit, and slowly, an unnverving intimacy begins to assert itself, and Jonas finds that he prefers playing Sebastian to this comatose stranger than being himself.
What’s impressive is the way Bornedal keeps all the plates spinning, and the way he keeps ratcheting up the tension. There are some truly nasty twists in the story, and the two central performances are very strong. I’m not sure you could actually categorize this as noir, but it’s sort of a Dogma-style riff on the conventions of the genre, very naturalistic, with plenty of Danish angst on display, but with all sorts of clever plot mechanics to make you squirm. I’m bummed to hear that, as with many good foreign-language titles, this one (along with THE SUBSTITUTE) is already in the works as a remake. Hopefully, though, Bornedal learned his lesson when he remade his own NIGHTWATCH to disastrous effect, and he’ll sit this one out, focusing instead on creating more original work this smart and savage.
TOKYO! is an anthology triptych that picked up some decidedly mixed buzz coming out of Cannes this summer, but the directors involved still managed to lure me into the theater. Sure enough, like most anthology projects, it’s got strong points and weak points, although overall, I liked the quiet ambition of it.
The first film, “Interior Design,” was directed by Michel Gondry, and it’s easy to sort of dismiss Gondry’s solo work as a little hippy dippy nonsensical whimsical, like it’s under no obligation to add up to anything. But when he really nails it, I think he might be capable of anything. He’s got a poet’s sense of the medium. He thinks in sketches, in quick bursts of playful metaphor, and here, he paints a haunting portrait of a girl who moves to the big city and loses herself.
I knew a couple when I moved to Los Angeles, a really great and sweet Midwestern couple, and the guy was super-talented. Seriously. Just monstrously good at what he did. And his wife was sweet as pie. They’re one of the few success stories I know, still married all these years later and doing really well as a musician, so all that early struggling? Totally paid off. But what if it hadn’t? That’s the more common version of the story. I’ve met any number of couples over the years here in LA who are completely out of balance, where one person is the “artist,” and the other busts ass at two jobs (or more) to make sure the artist has time to focus on what they want to do. And time after time, I’ve watched that imbalance eat away at these couples. It’s understandable. One person’s got to sacrifice to push the other person into (hopefully) the spotlight. One person’s life is wholly devoted to doing what they want to do, and the other’s is wholly devoted to doing what they have to do. That disparity... it’s a cancer to a relationship most of the time.
That’s what Gondry gets right in his film. A young couple move to Tokyo, and they barely have enough money to cover travel expenses. The young man’s made a movie, and he’s going to premiere it at a local theater. Yes, it’s a porn theater most of the time. And yes, he’s paying to use the screen. But it’s a premiere, and he’s got a plan for how to make the movie a “happening,” a multimedia thing that he’s convinced is his big debut. They have to stay with one of the young woman’s friends, and Gondry does a nice job of painting that fine line between a friendly favor and a merciless abuse of someone’s hospitality, that moment where someone’s stayed too long and no one knows how to make it end without it ending badly, so no one’s quite ready to do something... but they will be. Soon. And everyone knows it. That, plus the dawning reality of what life’s going to be like working a dead-end and demoralizing job. That’s what this young woman is facing. And she feels like she’s nothing. Like she’s invisible. Like she’s furniture. And, sure enough, you can expect Gondry to push things to a fairy tale sort of rubber reality. His segment’s quite sad and sweet, and there’s a feeling of surrender to the ending that’s sort of haunting.
Leos Carax is, frankly, a madman. A wild animal of some sort. And “Merde” is like observing an animal let loose from its leash, raw and violent and profane.
If you’re not familiar with Carax, it’s not a shock. He’s definitely attracted some international reputation for his earlier work. I quite like LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE, but it’s a perfume commercial, not a movie. POLA X is a mess, but it’s an interesting mess consistently. And that was in 1999. Since then, I’ve seen BOY MEETS GIRL, a film which I wish I had on DVD, a gorgeous black and white dream. It’s interesting to me to see how few movies this guy’s made, and how all-over-the-map his output is so far. He’s impossible to get a handle on, but obviously very talented in the actual craftsmanship of movies. Since he’s been completely silent as a filmmaker for nine years, I really had no idea what to expect of “Merde”. I have no sense of who he is as a filmmaker now. The first five or six minutes of the film, scored to the actual Toho theme to GODZILLA, are sort of brilliant. Mr. Merde is a monster who climbs up out of the sewer, then walks down the sidewalk terrorizing people. He grabs things from people. Smokes their cigarettes. Basically acts like a giant asshole for a few blocks, then drops back into the sewers and disappears. Each rampage on the surface is worse, until he stumbles across a box of grenades in an underground tunnel. Then he really raises hell, and the police move in to find and neutralize him. What happens as he’s arrested and processed through the legal system is heavy in metaphor and Denis Lavant deserves some sort of special mention for his performance as the bizarre Mr. Merde. It’s a singular interpretation of what constitutes a “monster on the rampage,” and no matter how absurd his lines or his scenes, he still gives it this deep real emotion. I don’t think the film makes its points completely, or I’m fairly sure I don’t agree with its points overall, but it’s certainly a memorable effort from a guy who should get back to features ASAP.
The final segment, “Shaking Tokyo,” was written and directed by Joon-ho Bong, best known to international audiences as the guy who made THE HOST. As much as I like that film, I’m more partial to MEMORIES OF MURDER, his 2003 picture about a futile search for a real-life serial killer. He’s got a wry, mordant wit in his movies and a really wonderful way of writing to theme without tipping into obvious metaphor. With this film, he’s made the most surreal thing of his career, and possibly the sweetest as well.
An agoraphobic young man lives in an apartment in Tokyo, having reduced his life to a series of rituals that minimizes his contact with the outside world to the extent that he can handle it. He’s not a complete recluse, but he’s close, and he never makes eye contact with anyone. He lives off deliveries from restaurants and grocery stores. And, on the same night every week, he orders the same pizza from the same place. And every single time, it’s the same girl who delivers it. And, yeah, it’s sort of a boy meets girl piece, but not really. There’s more to it, and part of what drives the film is a series of earthquakes. It’s a richly imagined, strange little film, and there are sequences in it that sort of boggle my mind. I’m not sure what the trick is in what you’re looking at, but the realization of an empty Tokyo is quite beautiful. I know Joon-ho Bong’s gearing up on his next movie right now, MOTHER, but I’m glad he made this one in-between features. It’s a very different side of one of the most interesting filmmakers in the international scene right now, and seeing this and the Gondry and the Carax back to back was rewarding enough, flawed though each of them may be, that I’m glad I included this on my schedule.
And that’s the trick at a festival, isn’t it? Not only deciding what you will see, but also deciding what you won’t see. And hoping that you make the right choices so you don’t walk away from the festival regretting what you didn’t see. When I was putting my schedule together, I knew there was one film that had to make it somewhere onto the playlist, and that was REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, Darren Lynn Bousman’s risky use of all the financial goodwill he’s earned at Lionsgate with this work on the SAW series. I’m not a huge fan of the SAW series, but I think his work on II, III, and IV is what defines the series. The first film is more a parlor trick than a movie, and it was really on the second one that they figured out how to turn it into the perpetual motion money machine that it’s going to be for Lionsgate. It makes sense that Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate would reward Darren for putting in his time on the series and making it such an ongoing success, and this movie, which started as a live theater piece in LA, then evolved into a short film that featured Michael Rooker and Shawnee Smith, has been a longtime passion project for him. I heard that the screenings at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal went really, really well, and Tim League was a big fan of it and very excited to introduce it at the 9:30 screening that Friday night.
The sad truth is that most of you won’t ever get a chance to see it theatrically. They’re planning a very, very limited run for the movie, and then it’ll head to home video within a few months. And while part of me understands since this is very close to an impossible movie to market, another part of me thinks that there’s a big rarely-tapped audience out there who would devour this thing eagerly. Every 15-year-old goth girl (current or past) would buy a copy of it on DVD, as well as the soundtrack, if only they had a chance to hear about it or see something from it. It’s for ever ROCKY HORROR nerd who wishes that, just once, there was something else to watch. It’s for hardcore old school Lloyd Weber PHANTOM fans who want to see Sarah Brightman return to opera... sort of. It’s for Bill Moseley freaks. It’s for BUFFY fans who want to hear Giles sing... a lot. It’s for SPY KIDS fans who have grown up with the series, and sad to say, it’s for all the skeevy older guys who liked the films for the wrong reasons, too. It’s a genuine opera, both in terms of musical style and narrative structure, and there are some really spirited, crazy performances in the film. Paul Sorvino, a big giant salt-cured ham in his role as Rotti Largo, is a longtime opera freak who tears into his part with gusto. He’s the head of the family that runs the giant corporation that owns pretty much every man, woman, and child alive thanks to all sorts of bizarre gentic advances. And, yes, they’re the ones who will send the Repo Man to get you if you default on your payments for all the new organs they produce. Anthony Head plays the main Repo Man, a once-good man driven mad by sorrow and loss, raising his daughter alone. At the tender age of 17, Shilo (Alexa Vega) is the lynchpin around which the entire story revolves, and just how and why everyone is so focused on her is all played on that fine edge of melodrama and camp and heightened emotion.
Bousman’s got a real feel for this stuff, and it looks like he squeezed everything he could out of a very tight budget. It’s a crazy world he’s created, and he is liberal with the bloodshed, although I’d hardly call the film gory. It’s way too over the top to be considered gore. It’s just color, splashed about to punctuate the madness of the various characters. Sorvino’s character, in particular, is pushed to the brink by his children, all vying to take over the business when he’s gone, all of them selfish, worthless, and grotesque.
And, yes, that’s where Paris Hilton comes in.
I’ll be honest... she’s not bad in her relatively small part. She’s not sensational, but she’s appropriately cast, and she handles her singing moments as well as most of the other actors. There are a few standouts, of course. Anthony Head sang as part of the BUFFY musical number, but he does a lot more of it here, and this guy can belt. He’s got a great rock voice, and he knows how to use it to signal the shifts in personality between Nathan Wallace, devoted father to Shilo, and The Repo Man, loyal slave to Rotti Largo. Brightman’s voice is as ethereal as ever during her big numbers. And, surprisingly, Alexa Vega makes a really engaging and sympathetic lead, and she handles every song of hers with grace.
It’s a crazy movie, and not every song works, but I have a feeling that for the people who connect with it, they’ll end up every bit as passionate about it as Darren Lynn Bousman obviously was, and I am genuinely pleased he got it made.
You might think that a full-blown opera that played like an S&M version of a Monty Python sketch might be the weirdest movie of any particular night at a film festival, but this was Fantastic Fest, and so at midnight, Kraken and Quint and I found ourselves in a theater showing TOKYO GORE POLICE, a movie that not even Neill Cumpston could hyperbolize. We’d been warned off the movie earlier in the day, so we made a vow that we would give the movie 20 minutes, and if at the end of that time, all three of us gave it a thumbs down, we’d leave. We didn’t even make it eight minutes into the film before we were all three holding our thumbs up, determined to stay to the very end so we could soak up all the insanity this one has to offer.
TOKYO GORE POLICE is two slices of awesome between two half-loaves of awesome, smeared with awesome and then dunked in more awesome and deep fried. And then shot out of a giant mutant penis with teeth on it. This is a movie that is so in love with being crazy that you’ll start to feel like you’ve lost your own grip on sanity about halfway through. After all, no movie could really be as depraved and delirious as this one seems while it unfolds. There can’t really be this many unique and lunatic images in one film... can there?
There can if Yoshihiro Nishimura is the man behind the camera. An effects artist on films like MEATBALL MACHINE, SUICIDE CLUB, MACHINE GIRL, and STRANGE CIRCUS, he’s been involved in bringing some truly bizarre and transgressive imagery to the screen before, but now that he’s calling the shots, he reveals a sensibility that is as extreme as anyone working in horror today. TOKYO GORE POLICE is set in a future where the police have been completely privatized, and they find themselves battling strange mutants called Engineers. Whenever you wound an Engineer, the wound turns into a weapon of some kind. So if you cut off an arm, it might turn into a bone chainsaw, and if you cut open a stomach, tentacles and gun barrels might erupt from it. There’s only one way to stop an Engineer, and that’s by finding a key-shaped tumor that is inside each and every one of them. If you take out that tumor, you stop the Engineer. Short of that, these things are indestructible and, more importantly, perverse to an amazing degree.
When I say that Neill couldn’t hyperbolize the movie, it’s because so much of what he writes is based on these crazy graphic word-pictures, and in this case, the film already contains anything that Neill might try to describe. You want an S&M gimp on a leash with stumps for arms and legs who straps on swords for limbs? Check. A giant 20-barrelled gun that shoots fists with the middle finger extended? Check. A hooker with a giant snapping tooth-filled crotch that actually eats a dude? Check. Check. Check. The list of things I’ve never seen before that I saw in this movie would fill at least three pages, but I’d be laughing too hard to write them all down. I love how joyous all the perversion in this film is. You can tell that Nishimura was having ridiculous fun making this, and Eihi Shiina, his female lead, is more than up for the task of bringing this world to life. Cult movie fans are already deeply afraid of Eihi Shiina. She was the girl in AUDITION. Yes... that girl. And yes, she’s just as freaky this time out. It’s a nice fit, and when this one hits home video here in the US (which it will, and soon), pick it up because it’s a perfect one to throw on when you’ve got a bunch of friends over, a bunch of beer or weed, and you’re tired of watching the same handful of party movies that you’ve already seen 20 times.
I would never try to argue that TOKYO GORE POLICE is a brilliant narrative or an emotionally involving film, but it’s preposterous and fun and it absolutely lives up to that title.
I’ve still got a lot more Fantastic Fest reviews to chip away at, as well as about ten other things I want to write before Friday. Let’s see if I can make a dent in this stack of articles before then. In the meantime, I’d just like to say that I’m ascairt of Harry’s new corner animation, and it’s one of the finest moments of Cartuna’s amazing career here at AICN. It makes me happy, it’s so perfect. I rarely comment on those, but COME ON! It’s a goddamn Halloween-themed PRINCE OF DARKNESS animation, and it’s beautiful!
Nice one, Grande Rojo.
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
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Oct. 8, 2008, 6:01 p.m. CST
by The Amazing G
will totally check it out
Oct. 8, 2008, 6:57 p.m. CST
Hags and there flamboyant emo other halves. The kind you see hanging around Hot Topic or Borders having indepth discussions about how every one else in the world sucks. Most of the one's where I live are fat chicks.
Oct. 8, 2008, 7:57 p.m. CST
and worthy of seeking out for any fan of noir. However, my one qualm with the movie is the twist at the end. It makes emotional sense, but logically seems like a massive stretch. Maybe not that they kill him, but that they confuse him for Sebastian. Anyway, the movie was still good enough for me to overlook the lapse in logic (akin to how I feel about Signs), and I really hope it finds an audience here in America on dvd.
Oct. 8, 2008, 7:59 p.m. CST
If so what did you think, and what do you know about the chances it has of American distribution?
Oct. 9, 2008, 12:18 a.m. CST
by the beef
I fuckin' hope so. Just Another Love Story was an excellent film that I will enjoy more the next time knowing that I can turn it off, or leave, once I see trees at the end. Oh, and as for REPO and the Hot Topic crowd apparently that's very inaccurate, so some other dude said in another talkback. REPO is evidently above mainstream goth.
Oct. 9, 2008, 12:19 a.m. CST
by the beef
I meant I fuckin' hope Gachi Boy gets some kind of distribution here in the U.S.
Oct. 9, 2008, 2:33 a.m. CST
I may have been a bit of a cunt to you in the past, but damn if you don't have the best taste in movies of any of the other guys on this site.
Oct. 9, 2008, 7:07 a.m. CST
by Hawaiian Organ Donor
I don't always agree with the films Mori and Harry salivate over, but they have an appreciation for foreign films that I rarely see in people on our side of the world.
Oct. 9, 2008, 7:23 a.m. CST
After I saw Tokyo!, one of the thoughts that really stuck in my head about the Michel Gondry's piece is that it was like a Hayao Miyazaki anime, especially as it got to its third act. A lot of how the scenes were framed and just how the narrative flowed reminded me of the Studio Ghibli films.
Oct. 9, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST
by Billy Sunday
Gachi is available on region 2 DVD from YesAsia.com and cdjapan.co.jp with English subs if you have a region free player. If you live in Austin, I'm pretty sure I saw it on the shelf at I Luv Video on Guadalupe last week, but I could be wrong. As for REPO, I really liked it. I do not shop at Hot Topic and I've never seen ROCKY HORROR. I pretty far removed from that scene, but I still liked it a lot. I think some kids that shop at Hot Topic and some kids that like to wear a lot of black clothing will probably dig the shit out of REPO as well, but, hopefully, so will some other people. Though I will admit, it's been pretty easy after seeing it to make fun of some of the sings. But I still thought it was a cool concept and I'd like to see it again.
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