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TIFF: Anton Sirius on the 'sublime and ridiculous' DETROIT METAL CITY and Garin Nugroho's UNDER THE TREE!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest from Anton out of Toronto. I've heard really good things about DETROIT METAL CITY and have another positive review which just came in that will be posted very soon. Sounds my kind of fucked up and bizarre. This is my first time hearing about UNDER THE TREE, though, but it sounds like a pleasant surprise. Thanks for putting it on the radar, Anton! Here's his thoughts!

Starkinder, it's been a long while since a film hit me the way Under the Tree did. I walked out of the screening, made a beeline for the Me and Orson Welles party and completely failed to say hi to Richard or Claire Danes or Geoff Rush, instead just downing a couple of quick double vodka cranberries (did I mention I rather hate vodka?), half-heartedly chatting up the party girl organizers and getting the hell out of there. When a film makes even me not in the mood for a party, you know it packs a wallop... Two more quick reviews and then it's back into the breach for me. **************************** Detroit Metal City (2008, directed by Toshio Lee) Napolean supposedly once said, "There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous." Well, the little bastard got it wrong -- Detroit Metal City proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can be both sublime and ridiculous at the same time. Based on a recent, insanely popular manga series, Detroit Metal City tells the sad tale of Souichi, a sweet lad who loves syrupy pop ballads that make ABBA seem like a garage band. Unfortunately, Souichi's bitch goddess manager has shoehorned him into fronting the death metal band Detroit Metal City, a power trio that makes Gwar look like Foghat. What's worse, Souichi's college crush Aikawa has resurfaced as an editor for a trendy Tokyo pop magazine who loudly expressed her loathing for all things DMC, just as Souichi begins to realize that while his heart might belong to bubblegum, his true calling might be as Satan's rock and roll emissary. Live action adaptations of manga and anime, in my experience, rarely work. The cartoony elements that make the genre so appealing either look silly in live action or get removed from the scene entirely, leaving the result flat and lifeless. DMC, fortunately, suffers from no such limitation. Even in the real world the more theatrical rock bands (Kiss, Gwar, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, etc etc etc) are cartoony, to say the least, so keeping those elements in the film not only makes sense, it's essential. On top of that the plot itself, with Souichi switching back and forth between his pastel sweater-wearing self and his purple cape-wearing, evil incarnate alter ego Sir Krauser so often he loses track of which is which, is pure comedy gold. And then the capper, of course, is the appearance late in the film of Gene Simmons, playing death metal legend Jack Il Dark, as Krauser heads towards a final apocalyptic showdown for global metal dominance. With the exception of short shrift given to Sir Krauser's bandmates, there are no false notes (cough) in the film at all. Their manager is a gloriously evil character, Cruella de Ville crossed with Ari Gold, while Souichi's struggles to find acceptance for his awesomely craptacular pop ballads (as one of DMC's fans puts it, "So sweet I want to puke!") contrast beautifully with the success of the band's odes to death and evil (as the chorus to their big hit goes, "Let's murder, murder, murder everyone/Paint the future red with blood!") It may not be the best film ever made based on a comic book, but as far as I'm concerned Detroit Metal City has earned itself the title of Best. Comic book adaptation. Ever. Satan rules! Woooooo! ****************************** Under the Tree (2008, directed by Garin Nugroho) Come hell or high water, I am going to find a way to write this review without relating it to the current presidential race. Under the Tree takes place on the island of Bali, but it's hardly a South Pacific paradise. It's a land of motherless daughters and childless mothers, of people cut loose from their moorings who are desperately grasping for some sort of connection. The only thread truly connecting them, though, is the ancient culture of the island itself, if only they can see past the trappings of modern life to find it. To say this was not the film I was expecting when I walked in would be an understatement. The description in the festival guide book made me think it might be some sort of interpretive dance version of a Marquez story. Instead what I got was a resolutely feminist take on community and identity. The three main stories that make up the film don't intertwine in that cliched Hollywood 'all the plot threads tie together neatly in the third act' way; in fact, two of them don't really have any conventional resolution at all, and the resolution on the third one (in which a pregnant woman must decide whether to abort the fetus, which has failed to develop a brain and will die moments after birth, or carry it to term) is as heart-breaking as it is inevitable. Instead, the choices and decisions the women of Under the Tree make reflect and inform each other on far deeper levels. One of the great joys of a big festival like TIFF is having your preconceptions shattered. Under the Tree did that in more ways than I can count. My preconceptions told me a film set in Bali would contain lush scenery and sensual encounters. Instead I got dirty back alleys and moments of lonely pain (and, to be fair, one extremely sensual encounter). I expected a film from Indonesia, a 'Third World' country without an established film reputation, to contain characters rooted as much in archetype and myth as anything. Instead I got complex psychologies worthy of a Sayles or Pinter at their best. My oh-so-smug brain told me a film about Balinese dancing would contain young girls in elaborate costumes. Instead I got to see what happens to those girls when they grow up and the costumes get packed away, and I got to see the very different movements of Balinese men, a dancing style as far removed from Bollywood as PJ Harvey is from Hilary Duff. What I expected was a pretty time waster. What I got was something that's still haunting me a day later, and doesn't seem inclined to leave my head any time soon. Part of me always hates writing reviews for movies like this, because I know almost no one will get a chance to see them. For those of you in Toronto there's a second screening Saturday night and a third one on the fest's final day. I almost never do this but please, PLEASE, try to see this movie before it disappears back from whence it came. As for me, I've got to find some way to check out the rest of Nugroho's work.

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