Editor’s note: Senior Life & Arts writer Alex Williams has been reporting from Fantastic Fest since Sept. 23. For previous recaps visit the Culture Spotlight blog and for continuing coverage follow Alex on Twitter.
Those who haven’t seen “Elite Squad” need not worry that they’ll be lost in “Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within.” Although a few characters carry over from the first film, “The Enemy Within” is a fairly self-contained, entertaining police story that has more on its mind than cops and robbers, instead widening its scope to focus on political corruption in Rio de Janeiro.
The story opens with an intense prison showdown, and from the very start “Elite Squad” is impressive in its action, the ease with which it juggles various characters and settings and the matter-of-fact manner it plays out. The rest of the film is an extended, widespread series of events dealing with the fallout from the opening gunfight. And it is complex and uncompromising, dealing in the same narrative wheelhouse as HBO’s “The Wire,” and evoking all of the precise character work and dialogue that show used so well.
“Elite Squad’s” action scenes are few and far between, but director José Padilha keeps the film interesting with his spotlight on the upper echelon of Brazilian society and the unpredictable way the film plays out. “Elite Squad” lacks a real climax, instead ending on a note that makes thematic sense but leaves the audience unsatisfied. Despite this, it’s a smart, layered film that features some very pointed barbs at government and is definitely worth checking out.
“Carré blanc” is decidedly more surreal than most of the fare at this year’s Fantastic Fest (save for “Beyond the Black Rainbow”) and isn’t exactly better for it. Taking place in a distant French future, the film depicts a government that forms its citizens into ideal members of society via psychological torture and constant commentary from loudspeakers that permeate every aspect of life.
The film is rather hard to engage with, both because of the clinical, distant nature of its characters and the fact that its plot is more of a loosely connected series of events, which start to tie together towards the end but ultimately fail to reach any sort of meaningful climax. However, “Carré Blanc” has a pleasantly devilish sense of humor, best expressed through the constant loudspeakers, which provide the occasional dark punchline to on-screen events or just provide an offbeat laugh every now and then.
“Carré Blanc” would have made a great short film, but it feels overextended at 77 minutes and has very few genuinely interesting elements. With a bit more narrative focus and clarity, it could have been a truly great addition to the ranks of Fantastic Fest but instead is a failed experiment, a cold attack on French government that lacks context, intrigue, or, most importantly, humanity.
A big-screen adaptation of the Japanese series that inspired “Transformers,” “Karate-Robo Zaborgar” has almost everything you might expect from a film by director Noboru Iguchi (whose “Zombie Ass” is also playing this year): lots of very weird phallic imagery and subtext, coupled with incredibly on-the-nose dialogue and a healthy dose of insanity.
The film plays out in a rather unconventional structure, opening as Yutaka Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) and his magical robotic motorcycle/sidekick in crime-fighting, Zaborgar, butt heads with the Sigma organization, a nefarious group that’s stealing the DNA of various public officials to make a super-sized cyborg in their testicle-shaped flying fortress. Yeah, the whole thing is just as weird as it sounds, and that’s before the 25-year time jump in the middle of the film.
“Karate-Robo Zaborgar” is undeniably entertaining and moves with astounding energy. Its unabashed silliness works for much of the film, but it starts to get more than a little bit exhausting by the end of its just too long 101 minutes. Iguchi’s particular brand of insanity is great in small doses, but remains unable to sustain an entire film.
Printed on September 27, 2011 as: Fantastic Fest features fascinating, fresh flicks