Part of me really wants to avoid reviewing Naan Kadavul right now because I think it may be a some sort of strange masterpiece, a movie that will be discovered twenty years down the road, get a Criterion release and make the entire film community exclaim “What the hell is this and where has it been all my life?” But I’m not sure. I know I liked it, but I certainly didn’t see it under the proper conditions. Fantastic Fest struggled to get the film, jumped through all sorts of hoops and yet only managed to snag a DVD screener. So I’m reviewing a potentially beautiful film after seeing a DVD projection, not a film print. Take from that what you will, but I will say that if given the opportunity to see this projected with a proper film print, I would jump on that in a heartbeat. Naan Kadavul is the story of an abandoned boy being taken in by a bizarre cult and growing up to become a pot-smoking prophet with a kung-fu streak and a hair-trigger temper who becomes involved in the plight of a group of disabled (Mutants! Midgets! Etc!) beggars and helps them take down their evil criminal overlord. It’s also a Bollywood film, so it’s two and a half hours long and has frequent (FREQUENT!) musical numbers. Although the film is overflowing with weirdness, the Alejandro Jodorowsky comparisons that have been floating around don’t feel completely accurate, since his work doesn’t have quite as many dry patches as Naan Kadavull. However, if weird is your thing, and trust me, this thing is WEIRD, add this to your list of “Things To Try To Track Down Someday But Who Knows When.” Should a major rediscovery ever happen, though, expect the lead character to join join Bob Marley and Che Guevara as college dorm wall staples.
Bunraku is a noble, ambitious mess, a movie with a grand and exciting reach but a cheap and faulty grasp. It attempts to be a spaghetti western, a martial arts flick, a stylized sci-fi movie and a live-action anime all at once while never quite grasping what makes any of those genres tick. It doesn’t help that Josh Hartnett, as an unnamed drifter in a futuristic world where guns have been outlawed, is never quite the badass action hero he needs to be and that Gackt Camui, as an honor-bound samurai, is just giving a poor performance. Both of them conspire to take down a gangster named Nicola, played by a sleepwalking Ron Perlman. Woody Harrelson pops up to wish them luck and collect a paycheck. Demi Moore is also hanging around, but she doesn’t do anything, not to mention Fuck Demi Moore. The look of the world, which falls somewhere between science fiction dystopia and colorful 1950s Hollywood musical, borders on astounding and some of the fights are pretty cool, although the highlight, a side-scrolling, single-take henchman pound-athon, feels copied and pasted out of the Oldboy handbook. But once you get over how visually interesting the movie is, all you’ve got is an endless series of repetitive fight scenes and two lead characters who are so mysterious that they offer nothing to root for.
The Man From Nowhere
Let’s make on thing clear right off the bat: the first hour or so of The Man From Nowhere is slightly generic but entirely watchable, yet another in a never-ending line of Korean revenge movies. However, you should definitely stick around, because in the final act the movie takes some crazy pills and shoots up to 11 on the HOLY SHIT meter and becomes one of the best action films of the year, an all shooting, all knifing, all screaming, all murdering emotional bitch slap of action cinema. The premise is simple enough. We follow Tae-Sik Cha (played by Korean superstar Bin Won), who runs a shady pawn shop and keeps to himself. Naturally, he’s framed when his drug-addled neighbor is murdered and her adorable daughter kidnapped. Naturally, he turns out to be a former commando who left military life when his wife was murdered by nasties. Naturally, he picks up his his old ways and proceeds to make corpses out of an army of no-good criminal types. There’s nothing deep or thoughtful here and the story hits every predictable Hollywood-ish beat you can imagine, but if you’re looking for a more than solid action film that saves the real goods for a phenomenal climax, this is one to seek out.
Like The Man From Nowhere, Outrage isn’t a film interested in human emotions and deep, resonant themes. It’s interested in violence and lots of it. All types of violence. Stabbings, shootings, neck breaking and so on and so forth. In fact, Outrage is so chock full of death that it would be a grim and unpleasant two hours if it wasn’t so damn entertaining. Director and star Takeshi Kitano, making his long-awaited return to the Yakuza crime genre, delivers a dense, beautifully paced film that has the speed and intensity of Goodfellas, if not the emotional gutpunch that makes Scorsese’s film a masterpiece and Kitano’s film just an absolute blast to watch. There are enough characters and parties at play that I suspect a second viewing will be necessary to figure out who everyone is and which side they’re on but Outrage doesn’t dwell on the complexities of its plot and neither should you. Two Yakuza gangs are getting a little too friendly, so the “godfather” of the all the families orders them to be less civil, breaking their truce and transforming the families into sworn enemies. Creative violence and intrigue happens. A torture sequence in a dentist’s office will become legendary. So will the scene with the tongue and the scene with the chopsticks in the sushi shop and the scene involving a noose and a speeding automobile. Hell, there are enough insane executions in this movie to fill a dozen serviceable gangster movies. Kitano keeps things light and breezy, keeping the violence almost entirely amongst the criminals so we don’t feel too guilty about enjoying the proceedings. Of course, Kitano saves the best role for himself. As an aging enforcer named Otomo, Kitano makes wonderful comedic and dramatic use of his deadpan stare, reinforcing what he surely must know by now: that while he may be the Japanese Scorsese, but he’s also the Japanese Lee Marvin.
A Somewhat Gentle Man
It’s rare to find a film that is done a greater disservice by its plot summary than Hans Peter Moland’s A Somewhat Gentle Man. You think you’ve seen this movie before: Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgard) is released from prison and must choose to pick up the pieces of his life and reconnect with his family or seek revenge on the man who ratted him out. But A Somewhat Gentle Man is not what you think it is. Because it’s a comedy. A very funny, very human comedy that dabbles in the darkest of subject matter but somehow emerges on the other side as one of the most optimistic movies I’ve seen in recent memory. The message of hope and family and love and trust comes about in the most unexpected ways. I felt good when I left the theater. I felt lighter than air. I felt ready to live my life and call my mother and hug my cat. For the less sentimental, A Somewhat Gentle Man also features gruesome compound fractures, a bloody execution or two and several (and by several I mean four or five) of the most hilariously disgusting sex scenes you’ll ever lay your eyes on. Around the fest, this movie became “the one where Stellan Skarsgard gets laid a lot.” Skarsgard took home the Best Actor award at Fantastic Fest and rightfully so. Playing a man composed entirely of contradictions, Skarsgard says more with an angry glare or sad smile than most actors can say with a two-minute monologue. Ulrik is a sweet man, a gentle man whose main fault seems to be that he values the happiness of others over himself, but he’s also a cold-blooded former hitman who finds violence to be an effortless act. The conclusion of the film, and what happens to Ulrik, may be one of the most uplifting scene I saw at Fantastic Fest…but it was also one of the most cold-blooded. In other words, see this movie.