It’s September in Austin and that means it’s time for Fantastic Fest!
Their new online ticket ordering system totally crapped out in the face of a thousand simultaneous clicks in the morning, so we went back to last year’s “rack out early and stand in line” method. C’est la vie. The Alamo Drafthouse staff and volunteers run the whole thing very smoothly so no real complaints there.
My first movie of the festival was Transfer (8/10), a German science fiction movie about rich old people who make use of a new “memory transfer” technology to put their minds into virile new bodies. These bodies are technically “volunteers” from Africa and other third world countries, who get a bunch of money for their families and four hours a day back in their own bodies for giving up 20 hours a day (and much of their freedom during those other four). As you might imagine the “volunteer” nature of this work and the validity of its rewards are debatable.
I really enjoyed this movie. It touches on some of the same themes as the “use my clones/imprint my brains” kinds of movies like The Island or the excellent Joss Whedon TV show Dollhouse. But while a Hollywood movie would degenerate into chases and action sequences, and have all (morally) black-and-white characters, Transfer was a lot more nuanced – all the characters had a lot of depth and complexity and “good” and “bad” – both the elderly German couple and the Africans who were being used in this way as well. Science fiction is properly about human reaction to technological developments (and ideally more complex ones than “shoot the robots!” and this movie was a classic, thoughtful science fiction story without being inaccessible – too many filmmakers go the other way when reacting against mass-market sci-fi and make their work deliberately weird, cryptic, and symbology-laden.
The acting was great. I was impressed how well B.J. Britt, the black male lead, did with depicting Hermann the German when his personality was dominant – Hermann has what we Americans call a “big ol’ shit-eating grin” and he totally nailed it. And the story dealt in a very complex way with racial tension in European society. While watching this I had a brief nightmare about Hollywood remaking this movie as a comedy starring Martin Lawrence or the Wayans Brothers or something. “Look, I’m wacky, I’m acting white!” Shudder.
There’s a lot of ambiguity in the ending – it wasn’t clear to me exactly how it turned out for the Africans, for example – but it was a very well done and enjoyable film.
Next, I saw Golden Slumber (9/10). It was by the director of Fish Story, which was my absolute favorite film from last Fantastic Fest. This Japanese film was a tale of the shared experiences between friends, using the Beatles song “Golden Slumber” as a recurring theme.
I liked this movie. It wasn’t as good as Fish Story (which, I’m not ashamed to admit, made me cry) but was still good. I felt that some of the film felt more forced where Fish Story felt more organic in its execution of the theme (and the titular song tie-in). I think in trying to reproduce some of the “hook” of Fish Story instead of completely being its own thing, it suffered.
But let’s not make too much of the comparison; few movies are as good as Fish Story and this one was very good. It follows a hapless Japanese man who gets set up as the scapegoat in a plot to assassinate the Japanese Prime Minister – “Just like Lee Harvey Oswald, ” the characters muse. This meant a lot of intrigue and chases and even action scenes, but the movie was not about the action, which makes all the difference. And while many movies here at Fantastic Fest are about “how we all turn on each other when the shit goes down,” this movie is a celebration of how we don’t – the protagonist’s family and friends (mostly) know the man and know he didn’t do it, whatever they are told by the TV or scary government hatchet men. So it has a very positive heart. And humor; the helpful serial killer “Kill-O” had the crowd whooping.
But it’s also not a “District 13″ kind of wish fulfillment fantasy where everyone gets their comeuppance in the end and the government gets set right… Despite the heavy slate of coincidences, it strives to be a but more low-key and “realistic” than that.
Then, I went downtown to the Paramount to see the star-studded premiere of Let Me In (7/10). The original “Let The Right One In” was a huge FF favorite from years past and there was a lot of trepidation about the remake. But Tim League was out there claiming it’s “as good - if not even BETTER than the original” so I went. I was on the fence about seeing it actually; going to the Paramount burns two Fantastic Fest slots and since many of the big gala movies are coming out into theaters in like two weeks, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay the opportunity cost. But I heard some of the kid actors on the radio in the morning and thought the Q&A and seeing the stars would be more interesting than the average, so I went. (Sadly, no Chloe Moretz; that would have made it a slam dunk.)
Let me be honest here – I haven’t seen the original. Inconceivable, I know; I have it on my Netflix instant streaming queue and just haven’t gotten around to it. So given that context…
I thought Let Me In was good. Certainly better than most Hollywood horror movies by a long shot. But it didn’t live up to what it could have been. Things just seemed so… straightforward. Mysteries weren’t preserved for long, and times where there could have been interesting twists, there weren’t really any. In the end, it was pretty predictable. The young actors and actresses did a great job, though, and really carried the movie. The director, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) did a decent job of creating mood, including one clever trick of never showing the boy’s mother’s face to indicate his level of dissociation from her, but certain elements like the environment of bullying and the enclosed nature of their small apartment complex didn’t come through as strongly as I would have liked.
I don’t want to come off as too negative; it’s certainly way better than “Freddy vs Jason Round 18″ or whatever crap people are putting out nowadays, I was just lightly disappointed in an otherwise good movie and felt like a little tweaking could make it a lot stronger.
The Q&A went pretty long and I got back to the Alamo too late for the fourth slot, and I didn’t really want to sit around two hours waiting for the midnight slot, so I availed myself of some of the free Ambhar tequila they were giving out and went home to let out my long-suffering dog. So that’s it for Day One of Fantastic Fest 2010! It’s off to a good start; I saw three movies I enjoyed to varying degrees, from “good” to “excellent!” (And I hear I made the right call going to Let Me In instead of sticking around to see Ong-Bak 3, which by all reports was a real stinkburger.)