>> Fantastic Fest 2008: Day Six

South of Heaven / USA / Directed by J.L. Vara

Synopsis:  A ransom scheme causes unwanted trouble for a wannabe writer after he is mistaken for his criminal brother.

There’s a marked difference between stage and screen, and South of Heaven is a film that really reminds a viewer of that difference.  More than its limited locations, small cast, and hand-painted backdrops, the film also has the dialogue of a good play, with interesting character monologues and audience asides that come close to breaking the 4th wall.  Still, I’m not sure that South of Heaven, with all of its looney tunes ambition (think the Coen Bros meets Lil’ Abner meets Darkman, then make that a noir), really works as a movie.  It works as a story, but I could never quite overlook the un-cinematic-ness of it, as on display here.  The same story with a bigger budget and a little bit of script fat-trimming would probably be an incredible movie, and it’s almost a shame to see it exist in the form that it does–too low-budget for its own good.  The cast is all-around good, doing good service to the material, and J.L. Vara may be a writer to watch.  If you have an open heart to DIY movies, truly independent stuff, then you’ll feel rewarded by South of Heaven.

6 on a 1 to 10 scale

Tokyo Gore Police / Japan / Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura

Synopsis:  In the near future, privatized police units fight against bio-mechanical fiends called “Engineers” that can grow weapons from the wounds they sustain.

When this movie is being satirical, it works really, really well.  Almost too well, as the moments when it goes for more straightforward action seem dull in comparison.  Long-time FX man, Nishimura, literally sprays the screen with blood so red it looks flourescent, and offers up some memorable set pieces including a fast-paced opening and a bizarre battle at a brothel.  Tokyo Gore Police is probably the gooeyest action film ever made–a ridiculous claim, but there it is.  The fake ads within the film, including a hilariously un-PC commercial for girls that like to cut themselves and an audacious Wii parody in which a family uses a remote wand to torture a live prisoner on their TV, are brilliant, and the movie could’ve used more of this spirit throughout its running time.

6 on a 1 to 10 scale

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