FANTASTIC FEST is the BEST. I contemplated just tossing that sentence out and then not bothering with mentioning a single one of the 25 films I saw at this year’s festival, but that seemed silly. So, instead you’ll be getting mini-breakdowns for the flicks I had the pleasure of seeing over the week that the festival dominated my life. By the way, for your convenience, I divided my “reviews” into various fantastic categories that you’ll discover as you scroll down the page. Now get to reading!
PS – Just want to give a quick shout-out to Fons PR, the Alamo Drafthouse, and the main brains of Fantastic Fest. This year’s fest was the smoothest of the ones that I’ve been to. You all deserve an onslaught of high-fives.
FILMS THAT NAILED IT
Cheap Thrills: Two old friends meet up and then run into a couple who start betting them to do … things. I don’t know if I laughed or squirmed more throughout Cheap Thrills, but in the end I wanted to celebrate the film’s awesomeness, and that’s all that matters.
The Dirties: Found footage movies aren’t really my thing, so you have to believe me when I say The Dirties is a must-see. I found it to be eye-opening in regards to the ever-pressing issue of bullying in schools.
Mirage Men: This was the only documentary I saw at FF, and I found it fascinating. It essentially explores how the government used to feed various conspiracy theorists false information about UFOs in order to cover up experiments/tests.
Grand Piano: Elijah Wood has taken a slew of great roles since his Lord Of The Rings days, but I think this might actually be the best film he’s been in since then. If you watched Phone Booth and desperately wanted it to be better, then I think Grand Piano is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
Mood Indigo: Michel Gondry will probably never make another Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and that’s okay. I actually want him to continue on doing films like Mood Indigo, which is centered around a pretty standard story (it follows a relationship), but it’s done in such a creative and beautiful way. Just thinking about it makes me want to hug someone.
Gravity: I adore this movie. It blew my mind when I saw it at FF, and then it re-exploded it when I saw it again at a press screening a few days after the festival had ended. I’m not sure 2013 will deliver anything better.
Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons: I don’t know where Stephen Chow has been the last few years, but I’m just going to assume he was in a weird basement somewhere hammering out the amazingly bizarre Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons. It’s the only film where writing “LOL” and “WTF” is the best way to describe it.
Machete Kills: If you saw Machete, then you know what to expect from Machete Kills, as it really is more of the same. What you may not realize though, is that this sequel is actually just a setup for Machete Kills Again … In Space, which might end up being the greatest movie of all-time.
Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear: I’m pretty sure this movie had a plot, but I don’t recall it. Mostly because all of the dialogue seemed focused on inspiring Scott Adkins to kick someone in the face. And you know what? Scott Adkins is really good at kicking people in the face.
Man Of Tai Chi: Keanu Reeves is such an enigmatic figure, so it was a nice surprise to find that Man Of Tai Chi is him obviously having a blast and wearing his influences on his sleeve. Here’s hoping he doesn’t take too long to direct another movie.
FILMS THAT ALMOST NAILED IT
Child Of God: Written and directed by James Franco, Child Of God is not a movie that’s an easy watch (let’s just say there’s plenty of necrophilia to be had), but it’s certainly a good one. I just wish there had been a great third act instead of just a solid one.
Monsoon Shootout: For a movie that features the word “shootout” in the title, there’s not really a whole lot of action to be had. With that being said, it’s still a really entertaining effort that explores the consequences of thinking too much instead of reacting.
Confessions Of A Murder: An author publishes a book confessing to a string of murders just after the statute of limitations on the crimes expire. That’s the plot of this movie, and it’s so ridiculous. I loved the drama of it all, though.
On The Job: If this didn’t have some real pacing issues, it would have landed in the NAILED IT section. The film’s story, which centers around two men in prison who occasionally get “released” so that they can assassinate people, is a really interesting one.
Nothing Bad Can Happen: The title of this film is a complete lie. It’s thoroughly disturbing. Still, I couldn’t seem to peel my eyes from the screen, and there weren’t many other films at Fantastic Fest with characters that I rooted for as much as the ones here. If you’re looking for a plethora of reasons to make yourself appreciate the life that you currently have, then Nothing Bad Can Happen is the movie for the job.
Borgman: This is an incredibly well made film that had me captivated from beginning to end. So what’s it about? I have no clue. In fact, I’m certain I could watch it a dozen more times and still not come close to understanding the significance of the events that played out in it.
FILMS THAT SORT OF ALMOST NAILED IT
Escape From Tomorrow: This one constantly felt like it was about to turn into something great, but it never could seem to make the jump. The illegally shot Disney World footage comes off as gimmicky more so than crafty, and the tone of the film really ping pongs around. A man on the verge of freaking out in the most magical place on Earth is still a great concept, though.
Coherence: For the first half of this movie I was totally engrossed in the story, which follows a family who find themselves in a struggle with various versions of themselves from alternate timelines. Sounds cool, right? Now imagine if I typed that sentence a 1,000 times over with minor variations and you’ll understand how the last half of Coherence unfolds.
Detective Downs: I had quite a few people tell me they thought Detective Downs was a funny and clever movie, but I just didn’t get that at all. Aside from a few highlights, I found it tedious.
Green Inferno: Eli Roth really likes cannibal movies, and he makes sure you’re aware of that throughout all of Green Inferno (even in the credits). And yet, his film doesn’t come off as overly inspired. It’s simply just okay.
Resurrection Of A Bastard: I heard a lot of people say they felt this film played out like a Coen Brothers effort. I don’t disagree. There is definitely a similar tone to be found. However, I didn’t feel as though the story or the characters were as well written as what Joel and Ethan tend to churn out. I will say this though, of all the films listed in this section, I recommend checking out this one the most.
Goldberg And Eisenberg: This movie confused the hell out of me. One moment I was chuckling and watching some weird guy forcefully insert himself into another person’s life, and then the film just outright stopped having fun and got really bizarre. Only seek this out if you like your black comedies as dark as dark can get.
The Zero Theorem: Terry Gilliam is a director that seems to revel in being weird, so I’m not surprised that I have no idea what his movie was about. I am, however, disappointed that I didn’t find the film good enough to make me want to care to find out its meaning. At least Christoph Waltz was a lot of fun to watch.
FILMS THAT DID NO NAILING OF IT
Almost Human: I’ll always say that a clever tribute is better than a direct emulation. It’s nice that the makers of this film really love John Carpenter, but why not have some fun with his style instead of just copying it?
Witching And Bitching: There’s a heist/escape during the first 30 minutes of this movie that made for some of the most fun I had at this year’s Fantastic Fest. So why is it down in this section? Because it just became a monumental mess for me (though, many of festival attendees seemed to love it) once the “witching and bitching” commenced. Oh well.
FILMS I MISSED THAT REPORTEDLY NAILED IT