Sunday, 3 April 2011

Night Visions Back to Basics 3011 - Night 1

Read Part II Here.

I love Night Visions like no other festival. And I especially love it in the springtime, when Back to basics festival is held in the small but cozy Kino Engel theatre. It's a fine place to spend your nights - so much so that I tried to stay awake for two nights straigth this time around. The results varied. So I'm seriously sleep deprived while writing this. Yet I believe there was enough material in this year's strong lineup, that I'm dividing this festival report into two seperate posts.

Sucker Punch
Director: Zack Snyder
USA 2011

I do admit that I had enjoyed all of Zack Snyder's previous films on some level. Too bad I can't say the same about his latest. I believe it was Patton Oswalt in Twitter that said that in order to save the ticket price for this movie, one can recreate the athmosphere by masturbating to Sailor Moon while reading Mein Kampf. It would've been a more pleasurable experience, I can tell you. The film is a collection of dire video game cutscenes held together by an incredibly hokey and preaching "plot".

Sucker Punch is about a 20-year-old orphan girl Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who attempts to murder her abusing stepfather, but manages to accidentaly kill her sister instead. She is sent to a mental institution. In her mind the place turns out to be a bordello/cabaret/prison, where inmates must dance and fuck the clients or suffer consequences. She must get all the other girls there to cooperate with her escape plan before the dreaded High Roller comes and pops her cherry. The different stages of the plan all involve exotic dancing to ugly men, but instead of seeing any of that, Snyder offers incredibly irrelevant action scenes in settings only a 13-year-old boy could imagine. We get to see a Lord of the Rings-land, a steampunk WWI -land and a samurai land for example.

The closest comparison for this film is Bitch Slap, a bad wannabe sleaze actioner, that used more time to measure its female leads' curves than to advance the muddy plot. But alas, in Sucker Punch we don't even get to have the excitement of having big boobs on screen. Snyder's look-how-cool-this-is style, using slow motion, camera tricks and excruciatingly lot of CGI, feels seriusly dated already and it's been only four years since 300. Also one can't simply care one bit about the characters' escape plan as, like with a lot of girl power -action films, the screenwriters forgot to give any of them any characteristics. The worst part, however, is the incredibly shallow and preachy voicover about guardian angels that feels very out-of-place, takes forever of boring screentime.

BEST BIT: I did enjoy two brief moments. One in which a robot punches a girl in Matrix revolutions-style slow mo. The other where a giant samurai first shoots a bazooka and switches it to a giant gatling gun.

Director: Sergio Caballero
Spain 2010

A shallow and boring Hollywood action film was followed by a slow-moving and captivating Spanish avant garde film. Guess which I enjoyed more. Sergio Caballero's first feature film does manage to gather comparisons to the works of such respected art film directors as Harmony Korine, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Werner Herzog. Yet Finisterrae the film stands proudly on its own feet of originality.

The film features two Russian ghosts (played by men with a white sheet over their head) who are tired of their afterlife and want to gain a life again. Thus, they embark on a pilgrimage in Camino of Santiago. At the end of the journey awaits a new life after life after death. The film makes gentle fun of religious rituals and the need to find some sort of connection with nature.

Finisterrae is the sort of art film that doesn't really benefit from being described too accurately. The film is a collection of weird scenes which don't follow conventional film formulas. As ghosts, the protagonists can do whatever they like, like shoot hippies, talk to animals or move from one side of a split-screen to another. Things shift and change their state of being, like the other ghot's shorse, which turns into a stuffed toy at times. The film's power is all about the mood, and Caballero manages to create some very effectively with great shots and precice sound design. Jimi Tenor's score also works like a charm. I myself was so captivated by the film's imagery, I stared at the screen feeling like a baby gazing with amazement of the new and weird outside world. It's always a sign of a great art film.


The other ghost peeks into a tree's branch hole to find a strange 80's cooking show which features vomiting on the table and putting mice and milk into a blender. This scene itself was apparently an old short film of the director.

Detroit 9000 (a.k.a. Police Call-9000)
Director: Arthur Marks
USA 1973

I've long wanted to see Detroit 9000, if only because Quentin Tarantino has proclaimed it to be one of the best blaxploitation movies ever made. I don't always trust Tarantino with his film taste, but I was willing to give this the benefit of a doubt, as most blaxploitation films tend to be boring in my opinion. I still like the genre. But Detroit 9000 isn't even a pure blaxploitation film, which is probably why it's remained more obscure than your Shafts and Superflys.

It is a film about two cops that intend to find out who organized a heist at a black governatorial candidate's fundraiser. Lieutenant Danny Basset (Alex Rocco) is in the game for the glory and a long overdue promotion. And Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes) is just a tough, uncompromising, but tough cop, andmant to get to the bottom of who tries to sabotage the black candidate. In their investigation they run into a much bigger plot, plus more chase scenes and shootouts you can hope for.

Detroit 9000 does work better than most blaxploitations as it certainly isn't boring. It is surprisingly violent, even for a film from that period. It also has its share of gratitious nudity. Yet this all is very well executed. Especially the editing works like a charm in gun fights. The film's dialogue is snappy and the script otherwise inventive, but it's too bad most of the actors in the film are pretty bad. With a little more effort this would be hailed as a classic. Now it's just a shamelessly entertaining cult gem.


BEST BIT: The shootout at the cemetary leaves one black thug cornered. he shouts out "MOTHERFUCKERS!" as loud as he can before recieving a fatal shot to the ear.

Day of the Cobra (Il giorno del Cobra)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Italy 1980

Day of the Cobra was the first film of the festival where I nodded off a little. So I hope you'll forgive me for missing about 10 minutes of this Italocrime epic.

Franco Nero plays a tough, uncompromising private eye Larry "Cobra" Stanziani. He returns to his native Italy hired to find out who killed a narcotics agent. This allows him also to reconnect with his young son. But he's facing a ruthless organization and old enemies that will use force to get Cobra off their tail.

Spoiler follows. It is pretty clear from the start that Cobra's kid is going to kick the bucket. Like in many other tough Italian genre films (or exploitation films in general), the film really doesn't get going until the family is murdered and the hero has a motive to be brutally violent against his opponents. It's the same here, too. In the beginning we have weird, slowmotioned scenes of Cobra with his son, playing baseball etc., that don't go anywhere. But when vengeance comes around the corner, the film starts to pick up pace. In the final scenes Cobra does deliver a couple of pretty dirty blows, such as shooting a guy in the croth from below the floor. There's also a nice amount of sleaze all around such as a shootout at a transvestite club. And the theme "I don't give a damn, I am the Cobra" is a great earworm, this year's King Frat theme. Yet the film is overlong and a bit too slow in the beginning which is why I don't regret falling asleep.

★★★ 1/2

BEST BIT: The afore mentioned croth-shot. It makes the poor guy jump high in the air to die.

Young Warriors
Director: Lawrence D. Foldes
USA 1983

The programme organizers at Night Visions clearly believe in sparing the best for last and the end of the first night was no exception. For the already dead tired festival audience got to see one of the most mind-numbingly insane films I've ever seen. If you'll forgive me, I tell about the film's plot with a bit more detail than usual, but I believe this piece of art needs it.

The graduates of Malibu High are living it large. They are now university students, and spend their frat boy days screwing girls, drinking beer and doing frat pranks. One could guess judging by these pranks that something is seriously wrong with the minds of these young people, as they include such things as tying a boy's penis into a brick and throwing it out the window, releasing a huge pack of swine into a party, and stealing the dean's car and driving it straight into a lake. But then, a tragedy strikes as Kevin Carrigan's (James van Patten) sister Tiffany and her boyfriend are driven off the road by a black van while returning from the prom. Tiffany's boyfriend dies as the car explodes, but Tiffany herself comes victim of a gang rape by the vicious black van punks.

Kevin and his friends are devastated, as Tiffany later dies in a hospital. Kevin's dad Bob (Ernest Borgnine) is a cop and promises to do everything in his power to catch the hoodlums that did it. He has to admit that the police doesn't have any leads. This doesn't satisfy Kevin, who demands blood. He and his friends investigate the case further, but as they find out nothing, they decide to form a vigilantist gang to attack and murder all the criminals the cops can't stop. At first this doesn't work well and a few of Kevin's friends get killed in the action. But then the boys find a stash of illegal weapons in one of their victim's car. They are now ready to real urban warfare, but what will this do to their psyches?

The film has the handprints of the mentally disorderly from the beginning. Never have I witnesses such an abrupt end to such a Party Animal college comedy than in here. It's like Animal House suddenly turned into I Spit on Your Grave and then to the mixture of Red Dawn and Death Wish. And the most insane part is that some of the college comedy elements stay during the picture. That's why the vigilantist gang has their mascot dog (who wears sunglasses all the time) with them as they shoot crooks. There's also a lot of gratitious nudity and irrelevant sex scenes, because, why the hell not.

Still, even with the massively out-of-place comedic effects in function, this is a really dark and brooding film. We witness Kevin's development from a somewhat balanced young man into a psycho by having weird scenes of his psychedelic animations, that he shows to his friends and professors. Kevin also spends a lot of time arguing with his ethics professor and girlfriend about his moralities. And of course the action scenes are horribly brutal and violent. They also reuse the same footages over and over again and thus, a billiards player dies twice in an identical matter in a climatic shoot-out. The teary-eyed finale is also crazily out of place, as it seems to belong in a war movie rather than in an action movie. A mournful electric guitar rendition of Stars and Stripes over a black-and-white graduation photograph puts a neat little bow on top of all the madness.

The message? KIDS, SAY NO TO VIGILANTISM. Golan and Globus say, leave it to elder war veterans, such as Paul Kersey.

★ or ★★★★★

BEST BIT: This is extremely difficult to choose, as the whole film is full of such exquisit insanity. But one thing I did enjoy particularly was the ineffectiveness of the cops in the film. They don't manage to ever catch the licence plate of the bad guy's black van, even when they always shoot the cars they share the road with with a shotgun. But once while patrolling they do find a black van, which happens to be the right one as well. The police car begins a pursuit with a helicopter following. The car crashs pretty soon and the helicopter is taken out with a single pistol shot (OK, it seems to be a Magnum, but still). The helicopter explodes and falls to a used car lot, where it explodes EVERY SINGLE PARKED CAR. Nevertheless, the cops never send any reinforcements after the van after that or in any way continue their pursuit for them.

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