“You’re pretty, but alone.” Marlina’s husband is freshly dead and sitting upright in the living room when a man comes to inform her that seven men are coming soon for her and her money and livestock, to settle the husband’s debts. They turn out to be very matter-of-fact criminals, discussing logically who should rape her first as others take the animals away. This is all just business as usual, which is why they don’t see it coming when she poisons most of them with chicken soup and beheads another, then goes on the run.

Marlina takes the severed head, teams up with pregnant friend Novi, hijacks a truck, and dodges two head-hunting motorcycle men, while being stalked by a decapitated ghost. After an anticlimactic visit to a police station, there’s a machete showdown back at the house, the women victorious.

Pretty perfect-looking specimen of International Art Cinema, with wonderful Western-movie music, sparely used. Seemed unsatisfying though – guess I was expecting the ghost to be more prominent when watching this at the tail end of SHOCKtober. As far as 2019 rape/revenge movies go, I enjoyed it much more than The Nightingale.

Team of cops raid a fortified apartment building, taking it floor by floor, encountering new surprises and challenges, like a vertical Snowpiercer (I’m aware that High-Rise is being called a vertical Snowpiercer but I haven’t seen that yet).

Our hero Rama is working with noble Sgt. Jaka and traitorous Lt. Wahyu, targeting drug lord Tama, his operations guy Andi and his lead fighter Mad Dog. Allegiances shift mid-fight as the Bad Lt. starts getting people killed, and Andi turns out to be Rama’s long-lost brother, teaming up with him against Mad Dog. Pretty much everyone dies (100+ body count) except the brothers, and Rama shall return in part two.

Two brothers, Bad Andi (left) and Hero Rama:

That’s the Bad Lieutenant in the middle:

Won a Midnight Madness award in Toronto against You’re Next and God Bless America. Director Gareth Evans made the demon death cult episode of V/H/S/2 which is funny because I had the same complaint about it – cool looking action with story problems.

Mad Dog gets the drop on Sgt. Jaka:

The movie achieved the highest honor a foreign film can receive: having two of its lead actors recruited for a Star Wars sequel (SW also recruited the lead of 2011’s other apartment building assault flick, Attack The Block). Before that, our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) appeared in Keanu’s Man of Tai Chi, Sgt. Jaka (Joe Taslim) in Fast & Furious 6, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) in Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse, and lead baddie Tama (Ray Sahetapy) in Captain America 3.

What can you say? Sometimes the genocidal killers win, stay in charge, and have no reason to feel shame for what they’ve done. Someone finally got the great idea to interview these people and allow them to glorify/incriminate themselves. Letting them tell their own stories through filmmaking and showing the behind-the-scenes process was a stroke of genius, and filming it must’ve felt terrible and dangerous, as evidenced by all the anonymously-credited crew members.

Never go to Indonesia.

Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.

First, the bad. Was a slow afternoon and I forgot to bring candy. Movie was projected on DVD, all low detail. Lot of long shots, someone singing in back of the room so I can’t even make out his face. Starts singing reeeeal slow, so I read the subtitle then have to wait a minute for them to finish singing what I’ve already read, so I figure I can close my eyes for the rest of the shot, then when I open ’em something else is happening and I don’t know how much time has passed.

But other than this one glitch, the movie was incredible. Beautiful imagery, wild colors and costumes, amazing music, cool story. It’s an adaptation of an Indian legend about a woman who cheats with another guy when her husband is away, and when he returns the two men fight over her. The movie references the legend while retelling it (with different character names). Don’t know if the original ends with the husband killing his rival then stabbing his wife to death, ripping out her heart and singing to it, but the movie sure does. Overall an excellent way to spend a sleepy weekend afternoon. Only me and one other guy thought so, though. Will have to see again under better conditions – sorry, Cinefest, but screening blurry DVDs for paying audiences is Not Okay.

Writer/director Nugroho has won awards for a bunch of his movies, been working since ’91.

If I may borrow chunks of what C. Huber wrote for Cinema Scope:

Nugroho’s staggering Opera Jawa—presents the contradictions of society, its values and (resulting) problems, including the capacity for violence, in such a layered manner that it’s impossible to untangle the myriad levels of inspiration.

Alternating between the core drama, Brechtian commentary, and social crowd scenes, the film is played out in the palaces and temples and on the beaches of Yogkharta and Solo, two centres of Javanese culture crucial in the shaping of Javanese art. (Additionally, palace, temple, and beach represent the three pillars of government, religion, and culture.) Yet it also makes use of modern installations, including a barrage of golden and red waxheads (some of these are later hung over body models, lit inside and dripping red), hanging corpses made of white cloth, a metal sedan-creature whose helmet-head carries the inscription “Viva Lamuerte,” and a huge stretch of red cloth running through the village streets, connecting two main locations. Meanwhile, the style of singing and choreography keeps changing throughout; not exactly a juxtaposition, but no smooth merging either, despite the magnificent, measured flow of music and sound as well as the exuberant colours and symbols Nugroho orchestrates. Rather it produces a dazzling dialectic, perfectly expressing the conflicts of society as enacted on a daily basis, which are both classical and modern.