Fantastic Fest 2011 Day Five

Whew, only halfway done and it’s already fading into the past, I need to pick up the pace.

Fantastic Fest 2011! Day five! Monday! Most of the filmmakers bail out, and it’s second screening time for the hot tickets.

Two Eyes Staring (8/10) – A little Dutch film about a little Dutch girl in a little Dutch house! (Well, Belgian, but that’s where we’d go to the grocery when we lived in Holland). Two Eyes Staring is a horror thriller, in which nine-year-old Lisa and her mom and dad move back to the ancestral home, and odd secrets start coming out… Like about her mom’s twin – did she kill her? Is she haunting the cellar? Does the mom not want Lisa? Are bad things about to happen? Yep!

I probably can’t give this movie a “fair” review. I lived in Holland for three years when I was young, I have a nine-year-old girl, and her mom, my ex, was a little on the haunted past/self centered side. So this movie landed right in my wheelhouse. It has a very slow build, but the twists are effective. I liked the interaction between the mom, dad, and kid – of course things don’t just go from zero to blow-up immediately, that’s how families work – and when weird/mildly bad things happen, you usually just have to live with it.

It’s not Paranormal Activity and doesn’t try to be; the horror elements are there but definitely made subsidiary to the family drama. To be fair, this is probably a 6/10 to those who haven’t lived in Holland and don’t have a little girl this age. But I do, so I guess I’m the target market!  Woot!

The Squad (2/10) – Okay, the previous movie proves that I don’t mind a slow pace. But The Squad totally sucked.

I was ready for some military horror.  I like me some military horror. After 10 minutes of film council logos, we open on a Columbian commando squad.

In fact, let me stop there.  A couple of the South American movies did this, but I’m going to complain about it here because this was the worst one.  What is up with the fricking logofest at the start of the movie?   OK, in some American movies you get a couple – Lionsgate!  Brought to you by Whoever! Produciton company! OK, fine, up to three I will tolerate. But these South Americans just run screen of logo after screen of logo.  Audience members started laughing after the same goddamn film council’s logo came up for the third time (no, seriously)!  Note to Columbia, Argentina, etc. – that shit has to stop. It’s like how your military strongmen have chests full of 200 bizarre medals – it makes you come across as corny, not cool.  FYI.

Now back to the sucking. This squad clearly has the military discipline of your average Boy Scout troop; they’re all violating orders and running out where they can get wounded within two minutes. They take over an empty abandoned base (apparently sending a squad of guys in by foot is the only way anyone gets in or out of this giant installation that clearly took heavy equipment to build) and they start to think oh maybe it’s witches or something, then they turn on each other. None of the actors are charismatic and the narrative doesn’t settle on any as a main character you can latch onto.The setting is awful, it’s mud + fog 90% of the time and the other 10% it’s unremarkable prefab buildings. The cinematography is dark and muddy and jerky. The characters are all goons; you’d think a Columbian death squad would have one intact pair of cojones amongst the lot of them, but it’s not to be. There’s just nothing good I could grab a hold of and say “Yes, but at least the.. characters, scenery, military tactics, cinematography, sound work… was good…”  In the end there is no tension, no release, no twist.  The ten minute MRE distribution scene was the most memorable, in retrospect. And it wasn’t good.

This movie is kinda like The Thing, without a Thing, and without Kurt Russell, and without John Carpenter directing. So it sucked is what I’m saying.

A Boy And His Samurai (9/10) – I was demoralized after The Squad, lucky I was about to be rescued by Yoshihiro Nakamura!  Nakamura-san’s movie Fish Story was my favorite of Fantastic Fest 2009, and I really liked Golden Slumber from Fantastic Fest 2010. So I couldn’t help but go see his latest at FF2011.It’s based on a manga, apparently.

A Boy And His Samurai is a family comedy. A kid and his barely-coping single mom run across a samurai who got zapped into modern day by praying at a Buddhist shrine. Now he has no idea what to do.  They take him in and he becomes a domestic ninja, so to speak. It’s funny and tender, and there’s conflict stemming from expected gender roles (without stupid Mr. Mom kinds of jokes). Even near the end, when the “young punks” scene jumps the shark a little bit, it’s a fun movie. And they’re not afraid to use the little kid to tug your heartstrings.

I described the movie to my daughter and she asked me who the “bad guy” was. That took me aback. I realized there usually has to be some bad guy or at least opposing foil in similar American movies to create tension.  But not in this case, everyone’s pretty much of good heart, and it highlights how even normal people trying to do the right thing are brought into conflict by the nature of the world.

Anyway, this just solidifies Nakamura in my mind as being a god of movies. I’ve seen one a year and every time they leave me moved and thankful. I can’t wait to watch this one with my daughter, once it’s released in some form!

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (7/10) – This Brazilian movie reminded me of District B-13 in that you can’t miss that’s a sequel. I’ve never seen the original, and it became obvious that it would provide some more perspective on the plot and relation to the characters that they don’t bother to provide you with inside this one.  Once you get over that, it’s a reasonably engaging criminals vs police vs the system tale (again, very District B13-like). There’s some great scenery and music, since it’s set in Brazil.

Whew, only three more days to go, but plenty more good movies!

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