Here’s the Fantastic Fest 2015 midfield. There were a pretty decent batch of movies I enjoyed, though with some issues. Spoilers abound. In somewhat order from ones I liked more to ones I had more issues with.
Schneider vs. Bax – a Dutch movie by the director of Borgman, Alex van Warmerdam, this was an assassin vs assassin movie that wanted to be a Coen Brothers type fiasco story. It was well done technically, with some funny bits (mainly drunk/druggie old assassin #2 failing to jump a drainage ditch, mixing his speed up with his hallucinogens, etc.). It had a nice visual style as well, and some good characters. I liked it and wanted to like it a lot more.
But it didn’t make Coen Brothers or Guy Richie level mainly because though there were a bunch of characters, they weren’t really quirky at that kind of level and more importantly did not have strong agendas of their own bringing them into conflict. Why were the assassins being pitted against each other? No reason given. What were the motivations of the daughter, the girlfriend, the girlfriend’s boyfriend? Nothing besides the super bare bones of “they were there.” So much happens without any later consequence or payoff (the pimp he KOs and leaves in a construction yard, the park ranger…). In the end it wasn’t sufficiently quirky or actiony or macabre or gritty or twisty or anything, leaving it feeling pretty but hollow.
Here’s how this movie would have been more interesting. The middleman wants one assassin to take out the other because… He’s dating his daughter! The girlfriend comes back with her new boyfriend to get stuff because… She needs $30,000 to… Start a new life in Amsterdam or pay off her drug dealer or something, so assassin#1 can bribe her to turn on assassin#2. Give them *reasons* to fuck with each other. When they send away three of the characters in a car it’s as if they’re saying “Whoops, we introduced all of you but then realized you’re contributing nothing to the story, get outta here.” On the positive side, I really liked Maria Kraakman’s performance as the daughter, going from annoying basket case to pretty competent planner to coming up with an ingenious solution to the problem. I’d like to see her in more things going forward.
SvB wasn’t bad, I don’t feel like the time watching it was wasted, but it was a shame that this well made movie could have been about 200% more interesting with some story workshopping. At least it’s not “Ecks vs. Sever“.
Gridlocked – Basically Assault on Precinct 13 remade, with some Die Hard, S.W.A.T., etc. mixed in. Dominic Purcell is the hard-bitten cop and Cody Hackman is the feckless actor he’s bringing along on his work (as part of a community service type sentence for being an ass), Danny Glover is the ‘too old for this shit’ desk sergeant, Stephen Lang (Avatar baddie) is the bad guy leader, etc. Fun and serviceable, seems like it’d make standard action movie bank at your local Cineplex.
The majority of the movie is the protagonists trapped in a secure SWAT type facility with the numerically superior bad guys trying to get in. Violence ensues – the defensive posture gives them an advantage but they don’t (usually) mow the baddies down like mooks, they’re all super tactical too and there’s a mole… NOW SHOOT HIM!
Der Bunker – A super weird German movie about a student on the search for the Grand Unified Theory who goes and rents a room from a family that lives in a bunker, and gets drawn into their bizarre life (the wife talks to a possessed (?) lesion on her leg, they dress their home-schooled kid who is allegedly 8 but looks 35 as Little Lord Fauntleroy, the dad tells lame jokes from a book and explains at painful length why they are funny). Everyone’s weird agendas unfold in the cult-like family’s shadow. A little slow in the third act but otherwise a good experience. I’d write more but a) it’s hard to explain really and b) I don’t want to give too much away. Worth watching.
The Deathless Devil – a Turkish remake of The Mysterious Dr. Satan. OK, so movies from 1973 in a festival lineup are padding, pure and simple. But it was better than a lot of other things I saw at the fest. Masked wrestler Copperhead tries to protect his girlfriend and her scientist dad from the depredations of the moustachioed Dr. Satan and his robot and henchmen, aided only by a twisted little cavorting pervert dressed in a Sherlock Holmes outfit. Well, and the cops. Parts of this were mystifying – like when they find out the secretary is a mole, Copperhead just up and bangs her (what about your girlfriend man, this is gonna come out sooner or later!) and they all talk to each other like they’re part of some kind of military or something even though as best as I can tell the scientist and Copperhead have no direct relation to either the cops or military, both of whom show up separately.
Like so many movies at this fest, it needed a lot of editing and a huge amount cut out of the third act – I get it was a serial, but so when you turn it into a movie please cut some of the repetition out, I could have dealt with one fewer chick-and-her-scientist-dad-get-captured-again cycles.
Lovemilla – A super weird Finnish comedy with superheroes and cyborgs and aliens and baristas in love. And “zombies”, which apparently drinking booze turns you into. Protagonist Milla and her puddin-faced beau Aimo have issues, getting advice of varying quality from their friends “rich girl,” “feminist superhero,” and “gay guy.” It’s super silly and designed to be.
The anecdote that will stay with me forever, however, is the question at the end from a hipster chick to the director. In the movie the gay guy falls for a girl and insists he can’t be bi because “bisexuals are just perverts” – a funny and on-target sendup of many gay groups’ reaction to a member of the tribe “defecting” for various reasons. But her question was along the lines of “Oh do you have problems with that in Finland because here in America we are all completely comfortable with gender fluidity…” Chris and I looked askance at each other and figured she must have never in her life left a 5 mile radius of downtown Austin to be able to say that with a straight face. Yes, I’m sure the Nordic countries have worse problems with tolerance than we do here. Try driving out to Killeen and see how “comfortable they are” with your “gender fluidity.” Good Lord.
High-Rise – An interesting movie about people living in a high-rise apartment segregated along class lines and how it goes all Lord of the Flies. Chris liked this one a lot and would have me put it in The Best, but for an otherwise realistically filmed movie the isolation of the inhabitants and why they stayed when things went to crap is completely unexplainable. Maybe put this on an island with a ferry to the mainland or something… Anyway, Naked Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is our protagonist and Shrieking Villain From Dungeons & Dragons (Jeremy Irons) is the Architect (yes, like from the Matrix). The evil rich class are represented by Bard from the Hobbit (Luke Evans) and Solomon Kane (James Purefoy). It went pretty medieval but with a cast like this I kept expecting someone to break out into a swordfight.
Anyway Loki is a doctor and he moves into this high rise and it has rich snoots and rough lower class folks and then utilities shut down and the in-house supermarket doesn’t get any more stock and soon rape and pillage are the rule of the day. Two cops show up once but the Architect gets them to go away with a vague “we’re all OK here” and hints at a bribe. You’d think after there were cars on fire and dead bodies strewn around the tower that wouldn’t work any more, but it’s the UK so who knows.
The Similars (aka Los Parecidos) – They say Isaac Ezban is the only Mexican director doing science fiction nowadays. The Similars is basically a mashup of a bunch of old Twilight Zone episodes. Which is fine, and probably good for a market where there’s no science fiction – to me, I was like “oh look the twilight zone episodes I already saw again.” The omnipotent psychic kid, the people all turning into the same person, etc. It was well made, though had a bit of third-act lag and could have stood to have 10 minutes or so cut around then.
But, they did give us all a little Caballero porn booklet where all the women had a bearded Mexican face on them. I will keep that until my dying day so the people going through my effects have to try to figure out what the fuck my problem was.
Sensoria – a Swedish movie that, while better than Darling (in the Frustrating section), had a lot of the same issues just to a lesser degree. A lady, freshly broken up from her husband, moves into a new flat. It’s creepy and the neighbors are weird. She meets pretty obvious ghosts quickly and then snap she gets ghosted. The end. Muted color palette. Lots of sound work. It was decent but basically very, very straightforward plot wise and there weren’t any meaningful decisions made by our protagonist so there wasn’t really any dramatic tension besides “eek a spook” from time to time. I wrestled with putting this one here or in the “Frustrating” section because the moodiness with little backing plot left it feelign empty, but the characters (especially the creepy upstairs neighbor who could make out with another chick without his eyes ever leaving the protagonist) were good. -1 for starting out with a Lovecraft quote when Lovecraftian horror had nothing to do with this film.