Saturday, October 08, 2005

Fantastic Fest report #5: The Birthday, Dark Hours, Sin City Recut

The Birthday

The Birthday, according to the self-confessed "half-assed English" of director Eugenio Mira, is a "polyphonic" film the audience is invited to "hear" it in different ways, to interpret it according to our own experiences and prejudices. This comment did not mollify my wife, who reacts to ambiguous film endings with incredulous distaste. I rather enjoyed the fact that the film (and I don't think I'm spoiling too much here) ends with a central question unanswered, much as John Sayles' Limbo ended with some uncertainty.

What can be stated more definitively is that this is a Corey Feldman you've never seen before a nebbishy, bumbling milksop completely unlike the leering and ubiquitous teen rogue from the '80s. (We got to see that Corey in a trailer for Meatballs 4 that rolled just before The Birthday.) To see Feldman well, act is akin to discovering an extra body part on your person. It's a bit of a shock and it makes you question things that heretofore had been indisputable. I'll say more in a full review of the movie soon, but if you have adventurous tastes in motion pictures, put The Birthday on your short list.

The phrase "psychological thriller" usually induces in me a bit of glazed-eye syndrome. Such pictures seem to rely either on the crutch of the much-misunderstood multiple-personality disorder or the attempted reproduction of Anthony Hopkins' performance as Hannibal Lecter, which rarely ends well. Dark Hours eschews mere imitation, preferring to play with perception and honesty and fear in a tantalizingly logical fashion. There are a few bits of cheap theatrics but I must confess that it is one of the most compelling and tightly-written "thrillers" I've seen in years. Who says good movies don't come from Canada?

Both of these features contain mysteries that should make second (and perhaps third) viewings necessary, if only to watch for the little details and hints that one missed the first time around. This point brings me to the film that began my day, Sin City - the extended and recut edition, which did little to reward a second viewing. Having seen the original edition just once (in part because I didn't enjoy it that much), I detected only one additional scene in this version (in the Mickey Rourke segment), but I will say that seeing the "Yellow Bastard" chapter as one continuous story (as opposed to the wraparound version presented in the theatrical cut) made more sense. I allowed myself to enjoy the film's visuals more this time around the Alamo Drafthouse upgraded the digital projector in one of its theaters in part to accommodate this movie's presentation but I still had trouble with the way the dialogue failed to properly roll off the lips of modern actors like Jessica Alba and Michael Madsen. I guess Frank Miller's dialogue in the movies may never sound as good as it does in my head when reading his books.

If you'd like to read a little more about Fantastic Fest, including coverage of Zathura (which I haven't written about yet) and GORA, which I was too wiped out to go see on Thursday night, check out Jette Kernion's entries on the festival over at Cinematical.

up next: Bloodshots, P, Creep, and eventually more about Zathura and Narnia

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