Well, look at what I found in my inbox! It's a couple of Fantastic Fest reviews from Devin Faraci, formerly of CHUD and soon to be of... well, I wish I knew.
Devin's in between gigs at the moment, so Harry invited him to post his FF coverage here at AICN. I'd like to say this is a delight, but I'm currently fuming at everyone having the best week of their lives in Austin at the moment. They aren't deserving of happiness. No one is.
Had I attended FF this year, Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE and the mindblowingly bizarre RUBBER would've been two of my most anticipated films. Sounds like they deliver. Here's Devin...
Don't get too excited down there in the TalkBacks - I'm not living at Ain't It Cool. Harry was just kind enough to give me an outlet for my reviews of Fantastic Fest movies when my other arrangements fell apart. This feels like an exciting crossover, like the time that Mork was on Happy Days or the whole Tangent Universe thing when Marvel and DC collided - but just like those, it's a limited time only endeavor.
So let's get to reviewin', and first up is OUTRAGE.
The legendary Takeshi Kitano returns to the yakuza genre after about a decade away; in the last ten years Kitano has been making artier, more self-reflexive films (and hosting wacky Japanese game shows), but that hasn't dulled his edge when it comes to gun-wielding Japanese in dark suits.
OUTRAGE opens with identically clad yakuza driving in identical cars after giving tribute to Mr. Chairman, the godfather of the families. Their world is rigidly defined, and perceived honor can be more important than money or real power. And that's the concept upon which the whole film turns - OUTRAGE is an escalating series of face slaps between yakuza, except that their face slaps take the form of shootings, beatings and impromptu dental work. The escalating series of incidents begins to change the crime landscape; one family folds while another grows and begins to fracture internally.
Kitano, who wrote and edited as well as directed OUTRAGE, mostly keeps the action moving forward with a cool efficiency. He's able to sketch out yakuza who become full-blown characters as they go around extorting ambassadors, mutilating shop keepers and taking over brothels, and by the time that things start going sour for the branch of yakuza we've been cheering for (as things must always go in crime films), you really feel bad for these guys. In fact I was almost disappointed in the twisty machinations of the final act simply because they were removing players I liked from the board. To me there's no better praise you can give to a crime film - when a hood gets his comeuppance you don't feel thrilled but bummed out.
There is a weird lull that hits in the second act. Kitano, under his nom du acting Beat Takeshi, plays an underboss named Otomo. Old fashioned and rough edged, Otomo is the guy we really like, and the second act is about his slow but steady consolidation of power. The yakuza threaten and injure and compromise the people they need, ruining and ending lives to get a couple more yen, and it's great to watch them as they scheme and move into position. But much of this feels like a montage that has been exploded out into 45 minutes of screentime; each of the individual scenes work on their own, but as a cohesive whole the pacing is just off. Still, there are more than enough moments of pleasure - and creative, personal violence - that getting through the badly structured second act isn't too much of a chore.
Kitano is the heart of the movie as Otomo; while not stupid, he's fairly straight forward, and is completely loyal. Kitano's face has weathered into a form that gives his aging yakuza real pathos, especially as he begins to realize that the rules by which he played the game are not the rules that everyone else abides by. There's a strong thematic undercurrent of the tension between the old ways and the new, with Otomo slammed right in the middle.
But enough about the themes and the characters - OUTRAGE works as a meat and potatoes mob movie, with excellent, creative rub outs (if a yakuza tells you to stick out your tongue, he might very well punch you upside the jaw real hard) and physical violence. Kitano's cool camerawork reflects the unruffled clothes of the gangsters, and it really brings out the terrible beauty of the hits (and the hits).
OUTRAGE isn't Kitano's best yakuza film by a mile, but after a decade away from the form it's nice to see that he hasn't gotten rusty. Fans who stuck with him during his artier period will likely be pleased and very satisfied by OUTRAGE. And the good news for them is that word on the street has Kitano coming back for OUTRAGE II, although I wonder how that would work - like a sequel to GOODFELLAS it might be unsatisfying to watch a movie without most of your favorite characters.
You've heard it described as 'killer tire movie,' and yeah, it is - but RUBBER is so much more. And that's not snark or irony or something shitty, but complete sincerity. Absurdist, smart and incredibly well made, RUBBER is a killer tire movie, but it's also a completely self-reflexive examination of the relationship between audience and movie. Yup, it's a fucking art film about a tire that telekinetically blows up people's heads.
Sometimes at Fantastic Fest it's hard to tell whether what you're seeing is the feature or a short film, and the opening of RUBBER is so weird and seemingly random that at first I thought we were seeing a second short (the first was the impossibly odd "The Importance of Awards in Advertising", which is online and must be seen to be believed). But the opening - in which a car careens up a desert row, hitting a series of strategically placed chairs, before stopping so a sheriff can pop out of the trunk to deliver a speech about the most important aspect of film to a group of spectators standing behind a velvet rope - perfectly sets up what's to come next. The aspect the sheriff talks about is 'No reason at all' - how things happen in movies for absolutely no reason. He gives a hilariously wrong-minded series of examples before getting back in the trunk and driving off. The spectators - a motley group made up of teens, a Wings Hauser in a wheelchair, a sassy black lady, a fat nerd and more - then turn their attention to the desert. Using binoculars given to them by a reedy flunky they watch as a tire in a dump slowly stirs to life and begins exploring the world. And discovering its murderous side.
Quentin Dupieux - known to music types as electronic music producer Mr. Oizo - has crafted (and yes, I mean crafted) a truly weird, astonishing, hilarious and fascinating movie. The film is equal parts genre movie, commentary on genre movie and parody of genre movie, and it can be each of those things explicitly. The spectators discuss the logic and feasibility of things they're watching (including debating whether a tire that fell in a pool would sink or float), while Dupieux shoots scenes exactly as if he were making a slasher film. And it all works - the meta commentary, the humor of the killer and tire and even, believe it or not, the silly genre concept of the killer tire.
So much of the film hinges on the main performances; the actors have to play in the exact right tone, and Dupiex has done remarkable casting. Stephen Spinella is the MVP, playing the aforementioned lawman, who is tasked with both hunting down the killer tire as well as knowing that the whole thing is a put on (sort of) for the spectators. He's simply perfectly dead pan, delivering his lines with great comedic bonhomie and edging-on-buffoonish grace. Without Spinella so expertly dancing on the tonal line Rubber might not be so successful.
The other important element is Jack Plotnick, playing 'The Accountant,' the guy who deals with the spectators and who has all sorts of weaselly issues of his own. Plotnick delivers a fairly fantastic monologue towards the end, and he plays The Accountant with a greasy irritation that I loved.
Finally there's Wings Hauser, playing 'Man In Wheelchair,' one of the spectators who's a bit ahead of the game. I'm loathe to deliver any spoilers whatsoever so I can't really talk too much about Hauser, but suffice it to say that he plays gruff (and crippled) like nobody else.
Wait, I was lying about 'finally.' Because the real finally is Robert... the tire. Getting his own credit at the end, and deserving it, the tire is a remarkable mix of easy practical FX and what I'm assuming to be more complicated digital work (although it's fairly seamless). The tire, believe it or not, has a character, and even kind of an arc. He has a period of discovery, he falls in love with a French girl traveling through the desert, and he has a moment of political awakening when he decides to turn his killing powers loose to punish humans for what they've done to his treaded brethren. This is what Ray Harryhausen did so effortlessly with his stop motion characters, but maybe Dupieux and his FX team do a little bit better, since Robert the tire has almost no motion to him - like a real tire he pretty much just rolls around, and maybe turns to look at people. The closest Robert gets to being in motion is when he's about to blow up somebody's head, and he sort of pulsates while the soundtrack builds to a crescendo.
The head explosions are gooey and good and plentiful. While there's plenty of meta commentary to engage the snobby intellectuals in the audience (you know, me), there's also lots of grue and genre goodness to satisfy the gorehounds (you know, me). RUBBER is the perfect Fantastic Fest movie - funny and weird and smart and completely and totally unique. Some kind of absurdist masterpiece, RUBBER is the sort of film that as a smart genre fan you can't believe gets made and released but are incredibly thankful for.