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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2015

October 27, 2015


Yeah, I know that Fantastic Fest was a month ago and I should have knocked this out right after it ended, but I got bogged down by two weekends of ACL, general life shenanigans and a semi-failed attempt to dive deeper into the press screener library.  Sorry.  Better late than never though, right?  Below you’ll find thoughts on the 20 films I saw this year.  Take a look and make some notes, friends.

PS – Fantastic Fest is by far the best film-related thing I attend every year.  If you’ve never been and you love movies, you should seriously consider going in 2016.

The Lobster
Plot:  A man enters a home/community where he must find a new partner.  If he fails to do so, he will be turned into a lobster.

Thoughts:  I loved The Lobster.  Even now, all of this time later, I still have the film floating around in my head.  It features one of Colin Farrell’s best performances ever and is a dark, funny, smart, weird effort that’s as equally challenging as it entertaining.  I can’t wait to see it again.  On a related note, I need to seek out director Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous films.  I bet they’re good.

Plot:  Right before his wedding, a man discovers human remains in his backyard.  From there bizarre visions and other things set in.

Thoughts:  I really wanted to like Demon.  The film has some tense moments that are well done and the general story is interesting, but it just never really goes anywhere.  It steadily builds and hints at a lot of potentially neat bits, and then it sort of abruptly ends and leaves you hanging around with nothing in particular to show for your time.

The Wave
Plot:  A geologist and his family try to stay alive after a rock slide causes an enormous tsunami in the fjord where their town rests.

Thoughts:  Overall, The Wave is a pretty standard disaster flick.  There’s an expert, he warns everyone of certain doom, no one listens, certain doom arrives, heroic stuff happens.  I will say this about the film though, it starts slow and takes its time setting things up.  Most disaster movies want to get on with the destruction and mayhem, but much of The Wave is spent either detailing why tsunamis in Norway are such a threat or letting you get to know and like the family at the center of the story.  I’d watch it again.

The Keeping Room
Plot:  Three women try to protect themselves as the Civil War comes to a close.

Thoughts:  I wouldn’t call The Keeping Room a great film, but I liked it well enough.  There are too many unnecessarily dramatic moments and every member of the cast has a cardboard moment or three, but I appreciate that it attempted to show what it would be like for young women to try and stay alive in a war-torn land with scarce resources and no real rules.

April And The Extraordinary World
Plot:  An animated film set in an alternate version of France.  The world’s scientists have long been missing, so all of the available technology is based on steam.  The main character is a girl named April, who is searching for her parents.

Thoughts:  I found April And The Extraordinary World to be an incredibly charming film.  The animation style is super easy on the eyes, and I just adored every character that popped up on the screen.  Also, it has a third act that’s far too bonkers to not like.  You should see this one as soon as you can.

Plot:  Three different stories connect in a peculiar way.

Thoughts:  I spent much of Zoom wondering where it was going with its various story lines and art styles, and then when it finally got there I couldn’t help but shrug my shoulders.  Does it have some entertaining moments?  Yes.  Is it a waste of time?  No.  I think my issues with it largely stem from the fact that I never once took the characters seriously or ultimately cared how their separate-but-connected stories might end.  Oh well.  Alison Pill and Gael García Bernal seemed to be having a good time in it, which I guess counts for something.

Brand New Testament
Plot:  God’s daughter decides to run away from home in order to recruit disciples and write her own testament.

Thoughts:  I adored Brand New Testament.  If I were to rank out all of the films I saw at Fantastic Fest this year, it would be pretty close to the top.  It’s very much a more clever, funnier, darker, ballsier version of Dogma.  You have to see it.  By the way, Pili Groyne (she plays God’s daughter, Ea) is amazing in the film.  I hope she pops up in more stuff soon.

Plot:  After blacking out, a fella named Quinn wakes to find that his world has been turned upside down.

Thoughts:  It’s hard to say much about Follow without giving the whole damn thing away, so I’ll just note it’s a small film that does a great of job of steadily growing crazier and more manic with each passing scene.  I had a good bit of fun with it.

Plot:  A couple of girls spend winter break at their boarding school.  Things do not go well.

Thoughts:  I enjoyed February, but make no mistake, it is not a film for those who are either impatient or unwilling to pay attention to details.  It is a drab, cold, lonely movie that crawls along and slowly unveils its sinister story.  I admittedly had a moment (or maybe two) where I was ready to check out and do something else, but I’m happy I stuck with it.  Solid flick if you’re in the right mood/mindset.

The Witch
Plot:  A Puritan family in 17th century colonial New England move to their own homestead and then find themselves interlocked with something evil.

Thoughts:  Creepy and unflinching – that’s pretty much how I would describe The Witch.  It’s not a quick or flashy film – director Robert Eggers definitely lets a variety of evil happenings slowly permeate the family on display – but it’s so well paced and wonderfully executed that you won’t care.  Easily my favorite horror film at this year’s Fantastic Fest.

What We Become
Plot:  An entire town gets abruptly placed into quarantine.  Residents then attempt to figure out why.

Thoughts:  I can’t say that What We Become did much for me.  It’s not particularly well shot, and overall I found it to be a bit of a bore due to its flat characters and uninspired story.

Men And Chicken
Plot:  A chronic masturbator and his brother head out in search of their real parents.

Thoughts:  I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that Men And Chicken is one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen in a long time.  I liked it.  You may not.  Actually, I’m guessing most of you probably won’t.  It features a truly bizarre set of happenings, and while I spent a lot of time laughing and joyfully shaking my head in disbelief at what I was watching, it would be thoroughly ridiculous of me to note it as even remotely accessible.  See it only if you’re a little crazy.

Plot:  Four forever friends navigate life together.

Thoughts:  To be honest, Speed was my least favorite film at the fest this year.  I pretty much loathed every single one of its characters, and I could have done without its meandering, hokey story.

Green Room
Plot:  A punk band plays a show for neo-Nazis and then finds themselves in a situation they may never escape from.

Thoughts:  Green Room is from Jeremy Saulnier (director of the excellent Blue Ruin) and it features Patrick Stewart as a neo-Nazi leader.  So, naturally, I went into with rather high expectations.  It surpassed them.  The film is an intense, brutal thrill ride, and it will definitely land in the top half of my year-end film list.

Plot:  A photojournalist on a job in the jungles of Colombia finds herself on the run from a group of rebels.

Thoughts:  I’m a big Zoe Bell fan, so I’m all about her starring in something.  I just wish the “something” had been a film better than Camino.  The movie itself is a pretty average attempt at an action/survival/drama mashup, and Zoe isn’t given much to do other than be a somewhat recognizable face.

Bone Tomahawk
Plot:  A group of men set out to try and retrieve a woman and a deputy who have been kidnapped by a tribe of cannibalistic weirdos.

Thoughts:  Oh man.  Bone Tomahawk is a great film.  It’s brutal, funny, charming, and even after just a single viewing, I have no issue with calling it one of my favorite Westerns of all-time.  I loved seeing Kurt Russell in a truly great role again (I can’t even remember the last time he had one), and I’m fairly certain Richard Jenkins can lay claim to having the most lovable character in any film released this year.  Don’t miss this one.

Man VS Snake
Plot:  This documentary details the efforts of a man trying to get the highest score ever on Nibbler.

Thoughts:  If you’re looking at Man VS Snake and thinking it seems kind of like King Of King: A Fistful Of Quarters, you aren’t wrong.  The two films feature a lot of the same people (sadly no Steve Wiebe though) and carry a real passion for retro gaming.  Personally, I think King of Kong is the far superior movie, but I liked Man VS Snake.  Probably because I’m a sucker for underdog stories.

Lazer Team
Plot:  A spaceship carrying a special suit to be used by Earth’s greatest warrior in an interstellar battle is found by a group of morons.  Shenanigans ensue.

Thoughts:  There are some really funny moments in the goofy sci-comedy that is Lazer Team, but overall I found the film to be pretty flat.  It takes all of the turns you expect it to you, and its “try to make everything a joke” approach becomes a rather tedious affair by the time the third act rolls around.  Still though, if you’re high or really drunk, you might find it entertaining.

Der Bunker
Plot:  A student rents a room from a family that lives in a bunker.  After getting settled, he begins to tutor the child living there.

Thoughts:  My last film of the fest was Der Bunker, and it was a wonderfully weird way to close everything out.  It feature a child who might be a grown man, a leg that has a demon or something that lives in it and talks, bizarre science, oddball humor and so much more.  If you want to sit down and put on your “what is happening?’ face for a while, then Der Bunker is for you.

The Martian
Plot:  An astronaut must survive alone on Mars after accidentally getting left behind.

Thoughts:  At this point you’ve probably already seen The Martian and are totally aware that it’s a fantastic film.  If for some reason you haven’t made time for it, you should.  It’s Ridley Scott’s best movie in a while, and Matt Damon is great in it.  Think of it as the more accessible and fun version of Interstellar.

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