September 29, 2009

Antichrist and The Men Who Stare at Goats Fantastic Fest.jpg

Today’s festival titles I doubt could have been any different from one another.  I had a gruesome revenge thriller, goat staring, and something that demands all kinds of adjectives and discussions. Click the jump for Fantastic Fest Day 2, where you can read my reviews for “Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle”, “Antichrist”, and “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. And keep checking back for more coverage of the Austin, TX genre festival.

Hard Revenge Milly / Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle

Hard Revenge Milly Bloody Battle.jpgThis was a double-feature of films that appear to be a continuing series of stories about a woman exacting revenge on the people responsible for killing her family, in the most violent of ways.

There’s not much to this.  A woman is roaming a futuristic, post-apocalyptic landscape initially in search of the men who cut her up, and killed her husband and child.  She’s armed with a retracting, fold-out wrist sword, and a shotgun knee.  If that sounds awesome to you then it’s about as awesome as you would expect of a movie like this knowing that the special-effects were provided by the same man who did “Tokyo Gore Police.” If you haven’t seen “Tokyo Gore Police” then it’s about as gory as you’d expect of a film titled “Tokyo Gore Police.”  Combine excessive gore with a woman armed with a shotgun in her knee, and razor sharp blades and you’ve got Milly.

The first film “Hard Revenge Milly” is actually the revenge tale that involves Milly, while the second (“Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle”) is more a continuation of the character’s journey which comes at a crossroads with another woman wanting revenge for the people responsible for killing her lover.  She initially wants to hire Milly to find the men and do the dirty work, but when Milly refuses the request the woman asks Milly to train her so she can take care of it herself.

If you enjoy incredibly bloody, low-budget martial arts and gunfights then you’re likely to enjoy seeing Milly tear bad people to pieces.  It has some unexpected humor in the second film “Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle,” but it also treads tedium from time to time.  However, watching both back-to-back adds a level of enjoyment to the overall experience, and adds to a perception that you’re watching a comic book-like film series play out at a new issue every few months.  I’m not exactly anxious for the next installment, but would welcome it if it comes along.

antichrist movie poster.jpgAntichrist

A husband and wife have just experienced a parent’s worst nightmare.  Their only child has been killed, and the grief is overtaking the mother’s ability to cope, and recover.  It’s been months since the tragedy, and the mother is showing little sign of progress.  The husband, played by Willem Defoe, is a psychiatrist, and while his belief system would normally detract from recommending a relative treat a loved one he feels that there’s no better person on Earth more able to help his wife than he.  Defoe then takes his wife (played magnificently by Charlotte Gainsbourg) through a series of mental tests and a venture out to a cabin in the woods (the sight of her greatest fear) as he tries to pinpoint the reason she’s having no success coming to terms with the death of their son.

There are probably a ton of words in the English language that can be used to describe Lars Von Trier’s latest, but I can’t seem to gather any of them.  The only word that seems perfectly fitting, across the board, is unforgettable.  Whether you’d want to or not you can’t erase “Antichrist” from your memory after seeing it.  The collective reaction of everyone in the audience on the way out of the auditorium was complete silence.  Some out of confusion, others out of disbelief, a few more from shock, and a sizable handful of people who felt like they’d just watched one of the greatest films they’d ever seen.  I dip my toes into each one of those waters.

antichrist movie image.jpgDespite reservations of saying whether I actually “liked” the film, I can say with little restraint that I’ve seen few better films than “Antichrist” this year.  It evokes similar atmospheric traits to Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” in regards to how it handles elements of the supernatural.  There are a lot of dream-like slow-motion sequences and a score that matches a somber dark fantasy to create something that is entrancingly nightmarish.  It’s as beautiful to view as it is physically daunting to watch, because there are some brutal moments that are nearly impossible to withstand.  I hate to point to that aspect of the movie because as monumentally shocking as those moments are there are just as many others in the film that are positively breathtaking, and sometimes it’s both at once.

“Antichrist” is the kind of film that I can appreciate, and be in awe of despite a few moments that feel pretentious (this is Von Trier), but can only recommend based on the individual.  It’s completely outside any realm of specific accessibility.  I can, however, guaranty that what you see is not easily, if not impossibly forgotten.  If you have one of the most open of minds, and want to see something entirely one of a kind you’re unlikely to find something as affecting as Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist”; yet, even still, brace yourself.

The Men Who Stare at Goats movie poster.jpgThe Men Who Stare At Goats

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a small-time newspaper journalist that has taken it upon himself to try and get access into dangerous Iraq territory and supply news stories of his experiences in an effort to prove to his cheating girlfriend that he’s uncowardly.  Prior to his venture into the Middle East he does an interview with a man that claims he was once part of a covert military operative that specialized in training certain talented individuals in harnessing psychic abilities, and advanced fighting techniques.  These men were called…..Jedi; and the most gifted jedi of them all was Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), whom Wilton either fortuitously, or fatefully meets one night at his hotel.

As with most comedies starring George Clooney the most entertaining piece is George Clooney.  Simply put, I dare say there is no other major celebrity with his acting ability.  He can immerse himself into a comic range of slapstick and screwball, to excessive paranoia, while also being able to pull off its dramatic twin.  Lyn Cassidy is essentially the goof side of the mirror of the character Clooney played (and won an oscar for) in “Syriana”. And, just as you’d expect if you’ve been a fan of Clooney’s comic roles in “O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “Burn After Reading” he’s pitch perfect.  Watching Clooney play as someone who perceives himself a Jedi is often as rewarding as seeing Robert Downey Jr. play an overly-method actor play an extravegantly black stereotype.

The Men Who Stare at Goats movie image George Clooney.jpgThe film that surrounds Clooney though, isn’t as funny as the ridiculousness lets on, and it more often than not gives the impression that the filmmakers felt satisfied to just rely on the crazy premise to elicit laughs.  The acting sometimes compensates as there’s a great ensemble of proven comic actors, such as Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey, but they’re occasionally left naked in the wind trying to make something funny where the material wasn’t provided for them to do so.

Overall the film is rough.  It always seems to be playing for laughs and it most often garners simple smiles and an acknowledgement that what we’re watching is goofy.  It has a decently sized chunk in the middle where Clooney gets to stretch the legs of his force that hits every intended beat, but everything that follows rarely elevated to anything higher than a minor chuckle.

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