TEKKON KINCREET (Michael Arias, 2006)
American animator Michael Arias’ Tekkon Kincreet, based on Taiyo Matsomoto’s manga “Black and White,” follows street urchins Black and White as they try to survive on the streets of the surreal Treasure City. Black is the streetwise, tough one, protecting his younger, innocent brother White. They run Treasure City, as far as they are concerned, and prove it when other street kids try to muscle in during a great opening chase/fight sequence. But can they also fight back against the yakuza and dirty cops who have their own plans for Treasure City?
Tekkon Kincreet is old school, hand-drawn animation, and is definitely an impressive technical feat. After the exciting intro, though, the story slows to a crawl, and it never grabbed me again. It didn’t help that White (the anime’ character, not the Cashiers du Cinemart editor) drove me absolutely nuts with his would-be adorable antics, gibbering constantly with snot oozing down his face, and, during the final act, screaming, screaming, screaming.
Disclosure: This is the first feature length anime I’ve ever seen, and the first animated movie I’ve seen in a theater since THE FOX AND THE HOUND. So take those credentials into consideration. If you’re already an anime’ freak, you may love TEKKON KINCREET, the Fantasia Fest crowd sure did. – Rich Osmond
THE SIGNAL (David Bruckner, Don Bush, Jacob Gentry, 2007)
Late one night, a mysterious signal overrides all electronic media. Appearing as a psychedelic swirl on video monitors and an oscillating screech on phones and radios, the signal transforms anyone exposed to it into a homicidal maniac. On the night the Signal is broadcast, the unhappily married Mya (Annessa Ramsey) is preparing to leave her exterminator husband Lewis (A.J. Bowen), who’s already insanely jealous before seeing the signal. When the signal hits her apartment complex, the halls fill with neighbors murdering neighbors with knives, baseball bats, and garden sheers. Desperate to reach her lover Ben (Justin Welborn), Mya flees the complex while Lewis, now a fully functioning psychotic killer, attempts to stalk her down.
The “mysterious phenomenon turning everyone crazy” scenario is a staple of modern horror, but it’s rarely been done better than it is here. Unlike most stories like this, the signal doesn’t turn its victims into mindless, mute zombies. Those affected still retain their personalities, can talk and reason; they’re just also batfuck crazy. The atmosphere of paranoia this creates gives directors Bruckner, Bush and Gentry lots of opportunities for both laugh out loud black comedy and grim, bleak horror. The movie flips between both modes literally second by second, and pulls off the tonal changes effortlessly.
THE SIGNAL is split into three segments, or transmissions: “Crazy in Love, The Jealousy Monster, and Escape from Terminus,” and each segment is written and directed by a different filmmaker. Each has its own distinct tone, with The Jealousy Monster having the most laughs, but they all balance scares and laughs with equal ease. The Signal is probably the best indie horror movie since Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD in 1983. – Rich Osmond
FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: OUTBREAK ON A PLANE (Scott Thomas, 2007)
If THE SIGNAL is a 21st century THE EVIL DEAD, then FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a 21st century EVIL DEAD 2. There has been steadily building online buzz for this one (originally entitled PLANE DEAD) for awhile now, and it definitely lives up to the hype.
The plot synopsis is the title; this is basically SNAKES ON A PLANE with zombies. But while SNAKES ON A PLANE (which I liked a lot) calmed down a bit after its initial crazed snake attack sequences, FLIGHT never lets up, throwing one outlandish slapstick gore set piece after another at the viewer, none of which I’m going to give away here. Characters flying the zombie-filled skies include a Jeff Lebowsky-esque sky marshal, played by Richard Tyson (Buddy from the eighties classic THREE O’CLOCK HIGH) a no-nonsense cop and his effete, white collar criminal prisoner (David Chisum and Kevin J. O’Conner, respectively) a young African-American golf superstar (Derek Webster) who carries a putter with him wherever he goes, which comes in handy when the ultraviolent zombie plague hits, and, of course, a nun.
Sure to inspire repeat party viewing and drinking games worldwide, FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has been picked up by New Line Cinema, so watch for it. – Rich Osmond
200 POUNDS BEAUTY / MINYEO-NEUN GOEROWO (Yong-hwa Kim, 2006, Korea)
Another entry in the “fat girl makes good” school of cinema, 200 POUNDS BEAUTY (sic) falls closer to SHE-DEVIL than THE GIRL MOST LIKELY TO or DEATH BECOMES HER. This time around, Ah-jung Kim dons a fat suit as Hanna, a clumsy, dirty oaf (no stereotypes there) whose only redeeming quality is her killer pipes. A kind of singing Cyrano de Bergerac, Hanna is the behind-the-scenes voice of Ammy, a pretty vapid pop sensation. In love with Ammy’s producer, Sang-ju (Jin-mo Ju), Hanna decides to undergo radical plastic surgery to turn her life around.
Like Hanna, 200 POUNDS WOMAN suffers from an identity crisis. It wants to be a comedy, love story, and poignant treatise on identity. In a culture that supports and decries cosmetic surgery with equal fervor (a procedure to Anglicize Hanna’s new features is suggested upon her “discovery”), 200 POUNDS BEAUTY hopes to posit thought-provoking questions but fails to deliver. Instead, the uneven tone of the film derails any attempt at depth. The hackneyed plot has characters attempting suicide whenever things don’t go their way and the soundtrack orchestra goes into overdrive during the multiple tear-jerking endings. A cross-genre Frankenfilm, 200 POUNDS BEAUTY is a cinematic ugly duckling that never blossoms into a beautiful swan. – Mike White