Nevermore is not a movie, but it is the best thing I saw at Fantastic Fest 2010. So if you’re not interested in hearing about a Stuart Gordon directed one-man stage show starring Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe, feel free to skip on down to the next little review. For those who do care about things that are amazing, Nevermore is “an evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” wherein Mr. Poe takes the stage to share some of his work and reaches an emotional epiphany and/or breakdown before our very eyes. Like most one man productions, Nevermore is not plot-driven and depends entirely on the power of the performer. In this case, Combs gives the performance of a lifetime, a performance that may very well define him and his career in the same way that Mark Twain defined Hal Holbrook. Combs is one of those actors who’s never been bad. Sure, he’s been in more than a handful of shitty movies and TV shows, but you show me a lazy Jeffrey Combs performance and I’ll just call you a liar. Although the show is about Poe and his work (and I guarantee you’ve never seen anyone perform Poe and his work quite like Combs does), it feels like a cry for validation from Combs and Gordon, two figures defined by their work in “lesser” genres, struggling, like Poe, to prove that they’re making art and that their work has meaning. The result is an intense, hilarious and tragic experience, an unforgettable live performance that I will never forget.
I Spit On Your Grave
I Spit On Your Grave is a nasty piece of work, a remake that somehow manages to top the infamously disgusting original film. If you’re on the hunt for something vicious and mean-spirited and cruel, this will definitely be the movie for you. This is a film bursting at its brim with rape and torture and terror and murder and sexual humiliation, a movie that more than earns its “unrated” tag. I just left the theater feeling sad and depressed, wishing I had gone to see something else. If you’re going to bombard an audience with images this horrible and unsettling, it’s important to have a point. Right now, I Spit On Your Grave is forty-five minutes of watching a woman tortured, repeatedly raped and left for dead, followed by forty-five minutes of watching her hunt and kill her tormenters. I’m not saying this is a story that can never work (the Korean film Bedevilled, winner of this year’s Audience Award, pulls it off beautifully), but I am saying that this is a case where it doesn’t. It’s not enough to make us wallow in misery. If a filmmaker wants to go to these dark places, it is his duty as an artist to make the experience something more than an orgy of sex and violence. There has to a heart beating under the surface. There has to be an emotional core. Call me a wimp or a snob, I don’t really care: I want something more out of a film. I hate this movie.
A remake of a 1960 film of the same name, The Housemaid follows the titular woman as she enters the employ of a wealthy family, finds herself having an affair with the husband, facing the wrath of the wife and her mother and finally, getting something that may or may not be revenge (this is Korean film…guess). Frankly, The Housemaid is so slow that it’s almost, but not quite, boring. That doesn’t mean you should skip it, but it does mean you shouldn’t expect anything to happen too quickly. Those with patience will find much to enjoy, particularly the lead performances and the disarmingly simple and elegant cinematography. The slow pacing ends up doing wonders for the tone, allowing a feeling of dread to slowly build from a slight uneasiness to a sinking feeling in the stomach. For a film where not too much seems to be happening, The Housemaid does wonders with making you dread what’s going to happen next.
Norway’s answer to the Judd Appatow School of Grown Man Children Who Learn Valuable Life Lessons Amidst Wacky, Raunchy Hijinks, Fatso is the tale of Rino, an overweight, socially awkward dork who spends his free time masturbating, eating, masturbating, drawing semi-autobiographical fantasy comics and masturbating. He also masturbates. His disgusting existence is turned upside down when his father forces a roommate upon him: a gorgeous, free-spirited young woman who proceeds to…wait for it…change his life forever! In terms of plot, there is nothing here that we haven’t seen in a thousand American comedies, but there is a refreshing amount of emotional honesty on display here. Rino’s journey from loathsome scumbag to well-adjusted-young-man-with-a-chance-of-getting-laid-in-the-near-future feels more realistic than most Hollywood arcs and the ultimate conclusion is bittersweet and unexpected. Fatso is a sweet, well-meaning movie filled with dick and semen jokes. An easy, if ultimately somewhat unremarkable 100 minutes.
Redline is typical anime nonsense, one of those movies so full of head-scratching, bewildering moments that I’m ready to just throw up my arms, declare “Oh, Japan!” and file it away in the “Not For Me” box. I do appreciate the world of the film, a science fiction universe where racing is the most popular sport in the galaxy and I love the sheer number of alien species who are represented. Hell, I even love the basic crux of the story: the big final race, the Redline, will take place on an openly hostile planet whose government vows to destroy any racers it sees, meaning that our heroes have to win a race against their competitors as well as survive military assaults and attacks from massive bioweapons. The film is gorgeously animated (“It’s like someone animated Jack Kirby!” was the common response among the ne-e-erds) and the races are simply breathtaking to watch. However, the animation does little to mask messy storytelling and weak characters, all of whom are either large-breasted ladies, villains who SCREAM ALL OF THEIR LINES or, in the case of our hero, blank, long-banged, headband-wearing cyphers. Oh, Japan.