Karlovy Vary: Second Report
Posted on Tuesday July 7, 2009, 14:27 by Damon Wise
Karlovy Vary is a great place to catch up with movies from the festival circuit, and there's usually a fair few from Sundance. They're usually pretty good, too, which is why I was surprised by Everything Strange And New, a rather dull, digital-shot indie about an ordinary man struggling to get by in credit-crunch America. If there was humour there, it was so dry it must have flaked away from the screen as soon as it started. My viewing companions and I were not impressed and made our excuses to an already half-empty cinema. Enough of that, however, because there were two truly great American indies playing here, both of which scored deserved raves in Sundance.
I'll start with Black Dynamite, a fast, funny, funky homage to blaxploitation cinema, because that's the easiest. I wasn't quite sure how it would play here, to be honest, because the likes of Shaft, let alone Avenging Disco Godfather, aren't likely to have been big hits in the former Czechoslovakia in the 70s. I also wondered how director Scott Sanders would sustain the joke over nearly 90 minutes. Well, the crowd enjoyed it, even though the references often left them more be-mused than a-mused, but it does an amazing job of sustaining a thin premise, largely thanks to a brilliant, po-faced turn by Michael Jai White, a black belt karate expert whose abs, mad 'fro and permanent bad-ass mofo grimace really carry the movie.
Blaxploitation has been tackled before, most notably in the sloppy comedy I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka and the creaky crime thriller Original Gangsters, but neither of those films really worked. In the first case, it was because blaxploitation was just a coathanger for some very pedestrian, Airplane!-style zingers, most of which had nothing to do with blaxploitation cinema at all. Original Gangstas, however, was a little too reverential, and the likes of Jim Brown, Pam Grier and Fred Williamson (there are no such 'names' here) seemed so intent on celebrating their pasts, they forgot to have any fun doing so. Black Dynamite, though, gets the balance just right. Its attention to detail is both surprising and hilarious, using its low-budget to fantastic effect, with stock footage, awful continuity and shoddy camerawork that bring to mind the full QT/RR cut of Grindhouse.
The plot, such as it is, starts with the murder of a gang member, who not only turns out to be an undercover informant but the brother of Black Dynamite (White), a former pimp turned CIA agent, now retired. Black Dynamite immediately sets out to find his brother's killer, and accidentally uncovers a plot to flood America's orphanages with heroin – news that outrages our civic-minded hero (“I used to be an orphan,” he laments). From here, the story turns on a dime every ten minutes or so, having so much fun with blaxploitation cliches it's sometimes hard to keep up. My personal favourite scene is the same car crash that appears twice, but I also like the pimps' union, who dress fabulously and say great things like, “He ain't no pimp, he's just a valet for ho's,” and... no, I won't go there: the less said about Kung Fu Island is definitely the better. It's out in the UK early next year, which is a big wait, I know, but this crazy-ass movie is definitely worth seeing.
The other film, Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, is out much sooner (August 14) and very, very different. Set in Central America, it follows the lives of two Honduran youngsters – El Caspar (Edgar Flores) and Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) – who are trying to get across the border into North America. El Caspar is a gangster on the run from his old crew (it would be a spoiler to reveal why) and Sayra is hopping trains with her father to find her family in New Jersey, and the railroad is where the two meet. It's kind of a Romeo And Juliet story in many ways; there's also lot of body art that brings Once Were Warriors to mind, and the resemblance to City Of God in its shooting style might make it seem less original than it actually is. For a first feature, Sin Nombre is pretty amazing, and I can imagine Fukunaga being approached for a Bond movie – he has the right eye for location and extras, plus a kind of harsh romanticism that would sit well with the Daniel Craig-era Bond. If you see Barbara Broccoli, tell her to look out for this guy, and I promise I won't ever claim my 12 per cent finder's fee.