Fantastic Fest Report: Uncle's Paradise, Wolfhound, Son of Rambow, Crazy Thunder Road, Far Out
I tried to make it through the post-midnight screening of Pakistani zombie flick Hell's Ground last night, but kept falling asleep due to complete exhaustion. (This was actual sleep, not dozing: the movie was half over and I have no memory of anything past the first two sequences.) Finally, I gave up. But earlier in the day, I saw four features and a short that all kept me awake.
Twitch's Todd Brown has raved recently about Son of Rambow (see Related Links); while I enjoyed the film, it never rose above entertainment for me, and felt a bit drawn out towards the end. Still, a nicely realized vision for director Garth Jennings that will resonate with many film lovers, and one that deserves to be supported when it hits theaters early next year. But you probably won't have the original theatrical trailer of Rambo: First Blood II playing before the feature, as we did. Way to go, Alamo and Fantastic Fest!
Far Out has also been raved about recently at Twitch, this time courtesy of Collin A (see Related Links); in this case I fully agree. I loved the set up, the vibe, and the delivery. Director Phil Mucci and his gaggle of talented collaborators also know not to overstay their welcome, which makes the short that much more effective. Highly recommended.
After the jump, I'll have comments on an oddball relationship movie, a Slavic fantasy come to life, and rare roaring motorcyles.
Japanese "pink" films have tantalized me with their promises of strong, risk-taking narratives, but the softcore sex content kept me from plunging in. But if the better ones are like the oddball Uncle's Paradise, then I'm jumping into the "pink" pool feet first.
Uncle's Paradise came highly recommended by Twitch's Blake, who convinced me to see it at its first screening early Sunday afternoon. Still wary of the sexual content, I felt like a dirty old man (sans raincoat) going to see a "porno" on my lunch hour. As it turns out, the multiple sex scenes in Uncle's Paradise are, for the most part, perfunctory. Between and around those sequences, we have what's really interesting: director Shinji Imaoka sketches the relationship between the much older Takeshi, his nephew, and his nephew's girlfriend.
The narrative is anything but straightforward, jumping from domestic tranquility to absurd comedy to a giant squid to unexpectedly poignant moments to a perverse vision of hell to all kinds of happy endings. It's a stew composed entirely of oddball scenes, yet somehow it all hangs together and more than maintains interest throughout its brief, but entirely appropriate, 64-minute running time.
Wolfhound is a serious Slavic swords and sorcery epic that's heavy on the slashing blades and light on the fantasy. Todd wrote the plot description that appears in the Fantastic Fest web site and I'll steal from him and add my own comments:
"He was doomed to die, but survives to avenge the annihilation of his clan."
As a child, his father and pregnant mother are slaughtered in front of his eyes. He is spared, only to be enslaved in mines where he is meant to die.
"The last survivor from the tribe of the Grey Dogs becomes a mighty warrior and takes the name Wolfhound. Narrowly escaping death in the subterranean mines, Wolfhound sets off on a quest with his companion, the Earthbound Bat."
This is great! Where else but in a Russian fantasy film are you going to see a mighty warrior with a bat as his faithful companion?
"He is determined to wreak vengeance on the Cannibal, who annihilated the abode of the Grey Dogs."
Ah, this explains something to me: the Cannibal is referred to as Zhiboah, or something starting with a Z, in the English subtitles on the print we saw. Even without knowing the name, we know he's an Evil Bastard.
"Wolfhound finally reaches the castle where his arch enemy lives and savagely disposes of the Cannibal. He releases two prisoners from the dungeons, the sage Tilorn and bondmaid Niilit."
OK, I'm really mixed up now. I think the Evil Bastard Z is referred to throughout the movie. Must be someone else. In any event, the sage is blind. The bondmaid is a very pretty brunette who's initially naked under a burlap sack she doesn't take off, dang it.
"With Wolfhound they come to the town of Galirad, which is torn apart by strife."
BTW, I think Wolfhound is a pretty cool name for a medieval hero. If I ever have a son, I'm going to name him Wolfhound.
"Hoping to save the town from destruction, the ruler of Galirad gives the hand of his daughter Elen to the young warrior Vinitar, who vows to defend Galirad. The young princess is faced by a long journey to the lands of her future husband. "
I really should have read the synopsis before I saw the movie. I missed this point entirely, which meant I never really understood the point of their quest, except it was To Conquer Evil.
"She asks Wolfhound to be her bodyguard on this dangerous trek."
BTW, the Princess is a real babe, Russian blonde style. If she has a sister, I may be moving to Russia.
"Agreeing to serve the princess, Wolfhound finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of mysterious events that reveal the true aim of their journey..."
The "true aim of their journey" is gloriously silly, which is probably one reason why Todd didn't spell it out. But I don't mean to damn the movie with faint praise. The action scenes, though shot in too tight a fashion in which it's easy to lose track of what's happening, are decently brutal, the production design is aces, and there's something to be said of a fantasy film that stays as grounded as possible in human terms. It doesn't completely work, but it's still fascinating to watch ...
... especially when it spins off into a great "Excalibur Meets Twister" sequence near the end. If you're a drinker, I suggest stocking up and watching this one -- you'll have a good time. Wolfhound is more nutso at times than appears intentional, but it's entertainment of the rip-roaring variety.
Crazy Thunder Road was another "Blake Special," as he's been raving about it since he saw it at a European festival months ago. I hate to feed his ego, but he was absolutely correct about this little-known movie.
The problem I'm having is that it's a difficult movie for me to write about, sitting in a warm room more than 12 hours after I saw it. It seems very much of movie of the night, where shadows predominate and backgrounds are blurry. The buzz-saw energy that abounded during the screening has dissipated in the daylight. This is one that I'd like to allow to percolate in the back of my mind for a while, and wait to see what residue remains, bubbling to the surface of consciousness.
If I can find the time and the right angle to approach it, I'll write about this one down the line, in depth. For now, I refer you to the excellent, insightful comments by Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye that are posted on the Fantastic Fest web site.
In part, Jasper wrote: "Undeniably a product of its time, Ishii's raw biker film lacks the gloss and veneer of later actioners, and its loud and brutally uncompromising kinetics arguably come at the cost of characterisation. However, what it lacks in charm, it more than makes up for in terms of its pure crude energy and a refreshing vitality."
I can only hope that Crazy Thunder Road will appear again sometime down the road so it can be seen by more people.