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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2017

September 29, 2017

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Hey friends, here’s what I saw at Fantastic Fest.  I caught 20 films!  I actually wanted to see 30, but I got hit with a sinus infection and it totally derailed me for most of the fest.  Still, I’m calling this year a win.  Read on.

PS – You can check out which films won awards at Fantastic Fest right HERE.

Anna And The Apocalypse

Plot:  A high schooler named Anna is all set to jet out of her hometown on a solo adventure, but then zombies show up.

Review:  This holiday horror musical really came out of the gate strong with catchy songs and a great sense of humor, and for a bit I was ready to peg it as the freshest and most fun zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead.  Then the song quality started to slip, the plot got predictable, the jokes went soft, and the movie shifted to being a fairly bland affair.  I actually still think it’s worth seeing, but be sure to keep those expectations in check.

Bad Genius

Plot:  Lynn is a genius.  Her friends are not.  Lynn is not rich.  Her friends are.  So, she takes their money, she gives them correct test answers, and all is well.  For a while, anyways.

Review:  I totally had sweaty palms for a large chunk of this movie.  It’s exhilarating, which is pretty crazy since the film is essentially about standardized tests.  Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying is great as the ever-ambitious, yet ever-helpful Lynn, and I really hope to see her in more stuff soon.  By the way, there’s a twist at the end this movie that I did not see coming at all.  Also, cheating has always been cheating to me, but I can’t say I necessarily feel that way after seeing Bad Genius.  Guess I’m a criminal now.

Blade Of The Immortal

Plot:  Manji is a samurai who can’t die, and Rin is a young girl trying to avenge her parents.  They team up.

Review:  Director Takashi Miike’s 100th film is long, brutal, surprisingly funny, and really awesome.  Manji (Takuya Kimura) and Rin (Hana Sugisaki) are great in a “big brother, little sister” sort of way, and I never once stopped rooting for them to win out against seemingly everyone in Japan.  So many people get hacked up in this movie, but Miike does a great job of keeping the enemies and fight scenes varied so that nothing feels repetitive.  Well, except for the sound of limbs getting cut off.  I hope you get to see this one soon.

Brawl In Cell Block 99

Plot:  A drug runner gets busted, tossed in prison, and then given a very difficult task by a bad person.

Review:  Just when I thought that director S. Craig Zahler couldn’t get any more violent than Bone Tomahawk, along comes his Brawl In Cell Block 99.  If you’ve ever wanted to see Vince Vaughn as quick-witted, no nonsense former boxer with a penchant for curb stomping the fuck out of people, then this movie is for you.

Darkland

Plot:  Zaid is a man on the hunt to find the person who murdered his brother, Yasin.

Review:  The Fantastic Fest site refers to this film as a “realistic, culturally relevant take on Batman.”  I wouldn’t go that far.  Yes, it’s a gritty look at a normal dude dealing out justice on his own terms, but it always goes where you expect it to and I found the main bad guy to be less than memorable.  Still, it’s far from a bad movie.

Downsizing

Plot:  Cellular miniaturization has become a thing and lots of people are going “small” in order to help the environment and/or change their lives.  Paul Safranek and wife Audrey are the latest to get in on the mini-action.

Review:  Alexander Payne’s latest film is a big slice of social satire that doesn’t quite all the way work.  I really loved the first hour and some change, but once it moves to try and actually make a point, things get messy and the film stumbles to the finish line.  Matt Damon is great in it the whole time, though.

Gemini

Plot:  Lola works for superstar actress Heather Anderson as her personal assistant.  She likes her job.  Or at least she does until Heather gets murdered, and the cops suspect that she did it.

Review:  I’ve yet to decide if the ending of Gemini is clever or a cop out, but either way, I did enjoy the movie.  I dug its overall neo-noir vibe, and I felt like it was paced really well.  On another note, I’ve really grown fond of Zoe Kravitz.  She’s got a way about her that’s hard to ignore.

Gerald’s Game

Plot:  Gerald and Jessie are a married couple in desperate need of a getaway, so they take one.  Whilst engaging in the first naughty moment of the weekend, Gerald dies and Jessie is left alone with her arms spread and handcuffed to separate bed posts.

Review:  I’ve never read the Stephen King book that this movie is based off of, so I have no idea if it’s similar or not.  What I can tell you is that I thought it was a great film.  Carla Gugino is stellar as Jessie, and the movie just wouldn’t quite work the same without her.  Mostly because a lot of it takes place in her head or via the viewpoint of her cuffed to a bed, so her reactions to things and her body in general is how you follow what’s going on.  Side note, there’s some legit gore on display here, so keep that in mind before you sit down to casually watch it some night on Netflix.

Gilbert

Plot:  This one is a documentary about Gilbert Gottfried.

Review:  If you’re a fan of Gilbert Gottfried, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to watch this.  It’s got some nice insight into how he got started, and you get to see him when he’s not on a stage saying crazy things.

Good Manners

Plot:  Ana hires Clara to help her around the house while she is pregnant.  Things start out great but eventually spiral down a weird hole.

Review:  There’s technically two movies to consider here, as there’s a jump forward in time that takes place around the midway mark.  Both halves are pretty solid.  I was pleased to find that the film actually turned out to be like the Fantastic Fest site described – “a Gothic fairy tale for adults.”

Jailbreak

Plot:  A gang needs to get to their recently-jailed member.  Some cops would prefer that not happen.

Review:  Jailbreak is pretty much a low rent take on The Raid.  I know that doesn’t sound all that nice, but I actually don’t mean it in any sort of bad way.  There are indeed some amateurish parts, but most of the fight scenes are well done and its swift run time doesn’t ever let it drag.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Plot:  A man and his family get inundated with scary problems when an oddball teenager enters their lives.

Review:  Director Yorgos Lanthimos has quickly become a big favorite of mine.  Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer – they’re all great films.  I don’t want to say much too much, as the movie definitely has a lot of moments that can be easily spoiled, so I’ll just stick to this – it’s fucked up story that left me with all sorts of weird thoughts floating around in my head.  By the way, Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan deliver big time performances here.

Love And Saucers

Plot:  David Huggins swears that he lost his virginity to an actual alien.  This documentary explores his claim.

Review:  This one is only about an hour long, so there’s not much to it other than David Huggins talking about his various experiences with extraterrestrials beings.  I’m guessing that some think his stories and paintings are interesting (or maybe funny), but I mostly found them to be tedious.  Not really my thing here.

Mary And The Witch’s Flower

Plot:  A young girl finds a special flower that magically charges a broom and takes her to a school that trains witches.  From there, things don’t go quite as planned.

Review:  I’ll be honest, I’ve always found the Studio Ghibli-type stuff of the world to be pretty hit or miss.  Sometimes the movies just go on for far too long, or I don’t like the characters.  Thankfully, I didn’t run into that here.  I found this one to be a charming, creative affair that’s beautifully animated.  I’d watch it again.

Pin Cushion

Plot:  A teenage girl and her mom move to a new town.  Things don’t go well.

Review:  I didn’t like this movie.  It’s barely 80 minutes long, and yet I felt like it dragged on for an eternity.  I’m not even sure what it was trying to say.

Ron Goossens: Low Budget Stuntman

Plot:  Drunk stuntman Ron Goossens’ sleazy lesser half has tossed down an ultimatum.  If he doesn’t figure out a way to sleep with Bo Maerten, the Netherlands biggest movie star, then she will take their unborn child and leave forever.

Review:  I don’t know if you any of you have seen New Kids Nitro or New Kids Turbo, but they are some of the loudest, dumbest comedies ever.  Ron Goossens, I figured, would be more the same since it’s from that team, but it surprised me with its black comedy-lean.  I wanted to laugh at but also hold Ron (Tim Haars).

The Square

Plot:  Since this film is thick, I’m just going to borrow a line from IMDB here – “a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times.”

Review:  Big fans of director Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure should be excited about The Square, as it’s just as funny, well made and interesting.  Although, I can’t say it’s anywhere near as accessible.  This film lunges in a lot of directions and occasionally gets so dense that it can be difficult to pick up exactly what it’s putting down.  If you want a great think-piece though, then seek it out.

Super Dark Times

Plot:  Some kids accidentally do something awful.  What follows is them trying to hold themselves together.

Review:  I know the title here is Super Dark Times, but oh my is this movie is for real dark.  I was actually caught off guard by where it one went.  Owen Campbell as Zach and Charlie Tahan as Josh make for two of my favorite performances of the entire festival.  By the way, I think I’m scared of teenagers now.

Tiger Girl

Plot:  A girl named Maggie wants to be a cop, but she fails the tryout and instead is set to train to be a security guard.  While doing this she meets a rebellious young lady called Tiger, and then things go off the rails.

Review:  I was excited to see this because it has Ella Rumpf (from Raw) in it, but the film mostly fell flat for me.  I think it’s because you’re supposed to find its characters to be edgy and meaningful, but I couldn’t bring myself to like any of them.

Vidar The Vampire

Plot:  Vidar is really tired of being a farmer.  He wants loose women and stuff!  A chance encounter with a vampire Jesus may just give him what he desires.

Review:  This is one of those bonkers Fantastic Fest movies that you either love or hate because of how bonkers it is.  I wasn’t a fan.  I do think it has some really funny moments, but overall it’s definitely one of those films where me not being from its country of origin (Norway) proved to be too much of a culture hurdle.

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My Must-See Films At Fantastic Fest 2017

September 19, 2017

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Oh my.  Fantastic Fest is here!  I usually like to somewhat blindly jump into the fest and let the films surprise me, but this year I decided to take a different approach and actually make myself a short list of movies that I have to see.  Below you’ll find those selections.

PS – I used Noahphex’s Youtube compilation of FF trailers.  You should check it out!  He’s got just about all of the fest’s films there.

Blade Of The Immortal

I can’t believe this is Takashi Miike’s 100th film.  That’s crazy.  On a related note, this adaptation of the Blade Of The Immortal manga looks like a lot of fun.

Brawl In Cell Block 99

Vince Vaughn beats up a car in the teaser for this movie from S. Craig Zahler (he did the excellent Bone Tomahawk).  That’s some Street Fighter 2 kind of stuff.  I’m in.

Wheelman

I haven’t seen anything else by Jeremy Rush, the writer/director of Wheelman, but I really like Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War), producer Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) and car chases.

Gerald’s Game

The teaser for his Stephen King adaptation by Mike Flanagan (Hush) makes me feel uneasy.  I’ll rally up though just so that I can watch Bruce Greenwood handcuff Carla Gugino to a bed.

Super Dark Times

Super Dark Times registers to me as a fairly silly name, but the movie actually looks like it’s a rather twisted affair.  I like it when coming of age movies go dark.

Good Manners

I love the mysterious tone that’s all over the trailer for this film.  I’m also really into the way the Fantastic Fest site describes it as a a “gothic fairytale for adults.”

Applecart

I can’t quite figure out why this is called Applecart, but it looks like a a pretty interesting horror film.  I can’t wait to watch everything go wrong for all the characters in it.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

I really love writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, so of course I’m excited to see his follow-up.  He has a super weird sense of humor that I just really enjoy.  Also, I’m intrigued by Alicia Silverstone’s supposedly awesome appearance in this movie.

The Square

Because Force Majeure is so damn great, I’m down to watch anything from writer/director Ruben Ostlund.  With that being said, I do hope that The Square is a worthy follow-up.

Downsizing

This one from Alexander Payne is the Fantastic Fest closing film this year.  It looks as charming as can be.

Bad Genius

i wanted to see this film before I even made it halfway through its trailer.  Down with standardized tests!

Ron Goossens Low Budget Stuntman

This is the latest from the team behind the really dumb but really funny New Kids films.  I won’t be missing it.

Blue My Mind

Here’s another Fantastic Fest entry that looks like a messed up coming of age tale.  I’m in!

The Cured

A movie that takes place after a world-conquering zombie virus been cured?  That sounds neat.

Les Affames

Here’s another interesting-looking zombie film.

The Merciless

Few things at Fantastic Fest go over as well as Korean gangster films.  This will be a lot of fun to watch with that crowd.

Gemini

I love the look and feel of this film’s trailer, and the Fantastic Fest site compares it to Drive, Nightcrawler, Heat and The Driver.  That sounds like a winner to me.

Darkland

Everything about this movie looks intense.  Guess I’ll have to drink during it.

There are a handful of films that don’t have trailers out, but I think they sound neat.  Here are those picks with links to their Fantastic Fest pages.

Thoroughbreds (black comedy!)
Revenge (survival horror!)
Anna And The Apocalypse (horror musical!)
1922 (Stephen King adaptation!)

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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2016

October 10, 2016

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Fantastic Fest has come and gone and – as always – it was a damn good time.  Below you’ll find mini-reviews (divided into various categories) of the 18 films I saw this year.  Make some notes and then seek out what sounds interesting to you!

PS – Austin Film Fest is up next.  Look out for that recap soon.

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NO, NO, NO
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The Greasy Strangler

Plot:  “Brayden fears his first love affair is turning his father into a bloodthirsty monster who’s covered in grease and has an 18-inch penis that looks like a dead chicken.”  This is Fantastic Fest’s description.  It’s super accurate, so I figured it was best to just lift it.

Mini-Review:  I went into The Greasy Strangler under the assumption that it would be wildly dumb but fun.  Well, it’s certainly a dumb movie, but I didn’t find it to be particularly fun.  It’s an obtuse film, one that’s obnoxious just to be obnoxious, and the one time I did laugh I immediately felt like I had turned my back on all that’s good in the world.

We Are The Flesh

Plot:  Two young adults find their way into an abandoned warehouse.  Or so they think it’s abandoned.  There’s actually an older fella inside who is up to … well, I never quite figured that out.  Anyways, the three of them eventually engage in a whole lot of really weird shit.

Mini-Review:  About 30 minutes into We Are The Flesh the guy next to me hopped up and never returned.  I don’t blame him.  It’s a bizarre film and I couldn’t at all figure out where it was going or what it was doing.  Hell, I’m not even sure why I bothered staying.  You should skip this one unless you’re one of those people who likes films that no one else does.

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STRONG START, WEAK FINISH
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My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea

Plot:  An aspiring journalist finds himself in an interesting predicament – his high school has broken off from the mainland and is drifting out to sea.

Mini-Review:  Throughout the first half of this animated flick (the first from graphic novelist Dash Shaw) I was fully charmed and entertained by its big name voices – Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph and John Cameron Mitchell – and their dry-witted characters.  Then things started to stretch on for far too long and eventually I found myself not really paying attention at all.

A Dark Song

Plot:  A woman recruits an occultist to perform a ritual.  It’s not any usual ritual though, it’s one that will take months and months to complete.

Mini-Review: A Dark Song does a good job of creeping along and making you feel as anxious and impatient as the woman who’s waiting for her ritual to be completed, but where it should reward you with a glorious (or at least scary) payoff, it pulls its punches and whiffs on delivering anything memorable.  Too bad.

The Bad Batch

Plot:  Set in what appears to be the future, a young lady is left in a cannibal-infested desert after being designated as “bad batch” by society.  While there nothing good happens.

Mini-Review:  Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch is her follow up to the well-received A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.  I went in hoping for a fantastically disgusting cannibal flick, and as I watched the very pretty Suki Waterhouse get a couple of limbs graphically hacked off, it seemed as though I was going to get what I wanted.  Unfortunately, Amirpour quickly ditches the horror angle for some kind of coming of age, love story thingy, and I stopped caring before the halfway mark.

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YEAH, OK
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Belief: The Possession Of Janet Moses

Plot:  Some time ago a woman named Janet Moses was killed during an improved exorcism ceremony.  Time to find out why such a thing happened!

Mini-Review:  This documentary covers a wildly interesting set of events, but it does so in a fairly mediocre way.  I actually think it would have been a lot better had there just been talking heads and some photos, but instead the director, David Stubbs, uses actors and dialogue based off of transcripts.  This really gives the doc an unfortunate made for TV feel.  Still, it’s one hell of a story, and therefore I think it’s worth seeing.

Headshot

Plot:  A guy wakes up in a hospital and can’t remember who he is or how he got there.  Eventually he discovers that he’s really good at punching and kicking people, and this leads to a lot violence.

Mini-Review:  When I saw that Headshot had Iko Kuwais (from The Raid flicks) in it, I got really excited.  He’s awesome!  This film, however, is not particularly great.  Sure, it has some entertaining spots and a handful of martial arts bits that made me want to cheer, but overall it’s just got a flat feel to it.  Seek it out if you’re a Kuwais fan, but keep your expectations in check.

Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child

Plot:  Set on a far off planet, an officer must abandon his post on a safe and super comfy space station in order to get to the surface so that he can save his daughter from a group of rampaging monsters and the enormous bomb that’s meant to exterminate the group of rampaging monsters.

Mini-Review:  Despite its totally dumb title and a slight made for TV feel, I dug this film.  It does a good job of world building, the characters are interesting, and I walked out legit excited about where the story might go next.  So why didn’t I really like it?  Because it’s edited in a rather disjointed, distracting way.  Someone should re-cut it ASAP.

The Dwarves Must Be Crazy

Plot:  A bunch of dwarves eat some glowing bugs, and then their heads pop off.  This scares people.

Mini-Review:  Unsurprisingly, The Dwarves Must Be Crazy is one one of the odder films I’ve seen in a while.  Not only is it full of slapstick humor (hitting, farting, etc.), but there are all kinds of Thai spirits and stuff that I know nothing about.  So, it made me feel both like an immature kid and a uncultured fool.  Neat.

The Playground

Plot:  Two pre-teens do something real bad.

Mini-Review:  Bartosz M. Kowalski’s latest film features some really graphic, shocking imagery, and it isn’t for everyone.  Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s for anyone, as it’s not something that any normal person would ever want to watch.  I will say this though, long after the credits had rolled, I felt a tinge of support for the film and the way that it tries to remind you that less than ideal personal situations can drive people – even children – to do terrible things.

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YES, YES, YES
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The Young Offenders

Plot:  Two immature Irish teens decide to take a ride to the coast so that they can (hopefully) grab one of the many packages of cocaine that were lost at sea after a drug bust.

Mini-Review:  The Young Offenders is a charming film that’s both a buddy comedy and a coming of age tale, and I really enjoyed it.  The two leads – Alex Murphy and Chris Walley – have great chemistry, and director Peter Foott does a nice job of never letting things get too silly.

The Eyes Of My Mother

Plot:  A young girl witnesses something awful.  This leads her down a very dark path.

Mini-Review:  The Eyes Of My Mother, which is Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, is a pretty straight up horror affair.  So, there’s no overall message or anything like that to be had, just a whole lot of well-honed creepiness.  By the way, this one is a must see if you’re a big fan of films shot in black and white.

The Handmaiden

Plot:  A young woman is sent to be an heiress’ new handmaiden.  She’s not who she seems to be though.  And neither is the heiress.

Mini-Review:  This one is the latest from director Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy, Stoker).  It’s sexy and whimsical and twisted, and I loved every damn minute of it.  Here’s hoping I get to see it again soon.

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

Plot:  A coroner and his son are tasked with determining the cause of death of a mysterious body.  It doesn’t go as planned.

Mini-Review:  Director Andre Ovredal jumped onto people’s radar a few years ago with Trollhunter, and this is his follow up feature.  I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t make a splash when it gets released.  Both Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox are great in the film, and it has an interesting and original story.

Zoology

Plot:  A woman grows a tail.  Naturally, this changes her life.

Mini-Review:  I really liked this little Russian film.  It’s a coming of age story told with a neat twist (aside from the tail thing, the main character is also an older woman), and it carries a really positive message about disabilities, self confidence and the like.

Split

Plot:  A fella named Kevin, who happens to have somewhere around 23 personalities, kidnaps three teen girls.  He then interacts with them in a peculiar fashion.

Mini-Review:  This was the secret screening at this year’s fest.  To be honest, when I saw the name M. Night Shyamalan pop up on the screen, I groaned and contemplated running out of the theater.  Thankfully I stayed, because Split turned out to be great.  It moves well, has a slick story and is clearly the most fun Shyamalan has had in a long while.  Good for him.  Side note here, the little twist at the very end is going to delight audiences everywhere.

Colossal

Plot:  A giant monster suddenly appears in South Korea.  As if that wasn’t weird enough, a woman discovers that she has a distinct connection with it.

Mini-Review:  With its really creative/clever script and a couple of great performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, Colossal is definitely Nacho Vigalondo’s best film since Timecrimes (2007).  Genre films like this one are what keep me coming back to Fantastic Fest year after year.

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THE BIG WINNER
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Elle

Plot:  After she’s attacked and raped in her home, Michele continues on like normal as she attempts to figure out who did it.

Mini-Review:  Paul Verhoeven’s latest film is as challenging as it gets.  Not because it’s dense or slow or anything like that, but because it covers a very tough subject in an immensely entertaining way.  Every time I laughed I would wind down with a slight shake of my head because the oh-no-why-am-I-cracking-up part of my brain would flip on.  It’ll be very interesting to see how general audiences react to this film once it’s in theaters.  On another note, Isabelle Huppert’s performance in the movie is incredible.  Here’s hoping she gets every award out there.

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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2015

October 27, 2015

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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.

Demon
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.

Zoom
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.

Follow
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.

February
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.

Speed
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.

Camino
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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The Best Of Fantastic Fest 2014

October 7, 2014

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Now that I’ve had some time to digest the 32 films I saw at this year’s Fantastic Fest, I’m totally ready to breakdown which ones were the best.  As always, thanks to the Fantastic Fest crew, Fons PR and the Alamo Drafthouse for putting on one of my absolute favorite things in Austin.  Next year’s fest can’t get here soon enough!

Dead Snow 2: Red VS Dead

The most ridiculous movie I saw at FF this year was Dead Snow 2: Red VS Dead.  The “horror” angle of the first entry in the series is pretty much gone and in its place is an awesomely campy and over the top time that repeatedly had me cracking up.  The only other thing you need to know about this film is that you’re going to want a lot of beer and buddies around when you watch it.

In Order Of Disappearance

If you like your comedies black, then you’re going to love In Order Of Disappearance.  Hans Petter Moland’s direction is twisted, sharp and clever, and I think the film features one of Stellan Skarsgard’s best performances.  He plays a snow plough operator who is seeking revenge on those who may have been involved with the death of his son, and his portrayal of the character is brilliantly intense and comedic.

Cub

I had high expectations for Cub, and it did not disappoint. The slasher film follows a troop of scouts on a camping adventure that, of course, goes to shit when people start getting murdered via elaborate traps and whatnot.  Movies with kids don’t often go full on brutal, but Cub does and it’s all the better for it.

I Am Here

LA Confidential, Batman, 8 Mile, and now I Am Here.  These are the films that I believe Kim Basinger will be remembered for.  In I Am Here she plays a woman desperate to have a child, and as the film glides along you follow her as she makes increasingly bold and dangerous decisions.  Be ready to stick to the edge of your seat.

No trailer for I Am Here is currently available.

John Wick

John Wick is largely just Keanu Reeves shooting nearly 100 people in the head because they killed his puppy and stole his car.  If you don’t think that’s for you, then it’s time to get your life together.

Nymphomaniac Uncut

Lars Von Trier’s five and a half hour cut of Nymphomaniac is a long, detailed journey that I found deeply interesting, and I definitely think you should see it.  Just know that you have to fully commit to the whole thing.  Also, don’t invite me to your screening.  Once down the sex-side of LVT’s brain is enough for me.

The Treatment

Imagine the crime and grime of True Detective without any of the heady philosophizing, and you’ll know exactly what to expect from The Treatment.  I love a good crime thriller, and I think it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

Goodnight Mommy

Goodnight Mommy is about twin boys who do not believe that the woman who has returned from the hospital is their actual mother.  The film is one that slowly unwinds, but once it opens up and gets going it’s one hell of a disturbing ride.  I mean, I’ll tell you this, I’ll certainly never look at super glue the same way.

Shrew’s Nest

Shrew’s Nest is a little Spanish horror film that came out of nowhere and thoroughly impressed me.  It’s centered around a woman who lives with her agoraphobic sister.  Things start out innocent enough, but then a man in need of help enters their world and it results in an outpouring of fucked up secrets.

It Follows

I got out of It Follows at 2am and there wasn’t a single moment on the way to my car where I didn’t feel the need to glance over my shoulder – that’s how creepy the movie is.  Big ups to writer/director David Robert Mitchell for crafting something fresh and legitimately unnerving.

No trailer for It Follows is currently available.

Nightcrawler

I’ve always liked Jake Gyllenhaal, but his performance in Nightcrawler is next level and I’m very much looking at him in a different light now.  I was all at once charmed by and scared of his Lou Bloom, a man with no scruples who is bent on making it big as a freelance crime journalist.  Also, I’m all kinds of ready to see whatever writer/director Dan Gilroy follows up Nightcrawler with.  The guy is for sure a talent worth keeping an eye on.

Force Majeure

If you asked me to pick an overall favorite from this year’s Fantastic Fest, I would go with Force Majeure.  The Swedish film deals with a family who undergo a scare while skiing and the result of it is something that completely strains their relationships with one another.  Not much else of what I’ve seen in 2014 has been as smart or engaging as Force Majeure.  See it when you can.

Honorable Mentions: Over Your Dead Body, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr. Moreau, Redeemer, The Absent One, and Horns.

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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2013

October 4, 2013

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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

The Sacrament
Blue Ruin
The Congress
Afflicted
Big Bad Wolves
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Ragnarok
Why Don’t You Play In Hell?

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