Part 3 of my Fantastic Fest movie reviews. Spoilers abound, so be warned. Sadly there’s a lot of movies in this category this year. Most of them had promise and aren’t all bad, but took a wrong turn – one of several common wrong turns, interestingly enough, so rather than just skip over them I’m going to call them out in an attempt to correct some of the common cinematic sins I’m seeing.
I get it, struggling filmmakers. You managed to get some footage out of a couple thousand dollars and you’re putting it together into a film. You can’t bring yourself to cut out that 20 minutes of pointless noodling in your third act because that footage was so hard won. But you need to. In edit, build your movie together out of what you have and then stop when it’s complete, don’t just have more for more’s sake. I wanted to fall asleep in the third act of a full 1/3 of the movies at the fest this year and that’s just plain ridiculous.
Few films at Fantastic Fest are ever just plain bad (well, except for those intended to be that way). Except for “Balada Triste,” which I hold a grudge against to this day. All of these had something good going for them, but managed to squander it somehow.
Artsiness Does Not Prevent Your Movie From Getting Boring
Ruined Heart – a Filipino movie about a street level gangster and his girlfriend. It was ambitious – virtually no dialogue, very impressionistic. But I’m afraid its reach exceeded its grasp; it was interesting but then as it drug on the approach started to come apart at its seams and become tiresome. It went from “impressionist” to “what’s going on now?” to “I don’t really care any more” as act 1 moved into 2 into 3.
La Granja – A similar issue was to be had with La Granja, a movie about the slums of Puerto Rico and the crazy degenerate stuff its inhabitants are subjected to. It was fine and interesting, but used the technique that this Fantastic Fest taught me to dread, the “we’ll show you the movie as one series of events from 3-5 different persepectives!” technique. Apparently everyone decided this was the artsy thing to do this year, but in this case the additional tellings didn’t really add much new in terms of texture or information to the story, so once you were past a couple of them it became boring to see the same stuff retreaded. It could have had a couple perspectives removed without hurting (and therefore subsequently improving) the film. Also, the nurse’s baby-stealing seemed like it was outside of the core arc of the movie.
Darling – A movie about a chick who moves in to be caretaker of a big ol’ New York mansion/apartment and then some combination of it’s haunted or she’s crazy or whatever. In black and white for artsiness. But just not that much happened over the course of this movie. It is a short in feature length clothing. I don’t mind some moodiness but the ratio of moodiness to anything freaking happening was very poor.
Laura Ashley Carter doesn’t do a bad job, but the combination of writing and direction is not sufficient to the intended result of being a study of a descent into madness, and the hints at supernatural agency are hamhanded. Another third act sleeper (to be fair, we spend a lot of time watching her sleep, so it may be intending to make you drowsy for some reason).
Pacing, Please Learn It And Use It
Baskin – a Turkish movie about a minivan full of roving Turkish cops that get called to a spooky-type village and a spooky-type house with mutated cultists in it. It starts out very interesting, with some weird experiences and dream(?) or flashback (?) sequences, to the point that I was trying to figure out if this was all really happening or if the young cop was just in Purgatory or what. And then they all just get caught, strapped to pillars, and tortured to death by mutants for the entire third act.
I was very disappointed in this – I mean, if you want to do torture porn, fine, but the pacing of a heretofore decent movie was just completely blown out by this. Simple fix – capture one, torture him to death, have the others still running around, grab another one of them… But slamming to a stop and just doing 45 minutes of grotesque sitting in place is tiring to the point of being nap-inducing. I would love to see the first 2/3 of this movie with a completely, totally rewritten end 1/3 on it.
Ludo – an Indian (Bengali) movie about four roving Indian teens looking for a safe place to drink and screw, who after zooming around the city on their two mopeds and being turned away from every fleabag motel in town (apparently they’re serious about their morality laws there) hide out in a shopping mall till after hours. I liked all four characters and the actors, even though the montage of trying to find hotels could have had 10 minutes cut out of it. Then they meet two spooky old people also in the mall after hours and then they all get Parcheesied to death.
OK so I get the Parcheesi thing, it can come across as a little silly here where Parcheesi is more of a kid’s game, but over there it’s the “game of kings” so one can mentally substitute playing chess or something. But again, in this movie the pace comes to a dead stop, since the game board just hypnotizes everyone into sitting around it like zombies playing till they get eaten.
They try to compensate for this, I guess, by having a long long long long long flashback to when the two old folks originally found the magic Parcheesi set back in long ago India (like, rocks and clubs level long ago). Yes, the two characters who we don’t give a shit about, unlike the four characters we’ve spent the last hour growing to know and care about. Like, it goes beyond flashback to full fledged subplot about them and some witch and other stuff it was hard to follow and/or care about.
Just like Baskin, I’d like someone to take the first 1/2 of this movie and then write an ending that a) involves the original damn characters and b) maintains some kind of momentum.
Sometimes Retro Is Just Bad
Dangerous Men – A single guy, John S. Rad, made this movie over like 26 years. He’s director, writer, songwriter, and about everything else. It’s hilariously retro, with a bunch of “interesting” (read: psychotic) plot and casting and set and music and everything else choices. It starts out being about a chick whose boyfriend gets murdered by bikers and she gets carried off and then she kills them and goes on a serial killer spree focused on male predators. Then a cop shows up and goes on a completely unrelated biker-shooting romp (apparently the actress got fired 2/3 of the way through) and then he gets beaten into a coma and then a third character, the police chief (I guess?) tracks down the ’80’s wrestler looking bad guy Black Pepper (NB: not black) and arrests him.
So the cluelessness and bad ’80’s stuff is entertaining for about a half hour. But then it turns the corner to just “hey this is pretty bad.” Especially when the plot completely changed. I get it, Kung Fury etc. and retro making-fun are all big right now, but this is an incarnation of it only someone in full hipster mode can stand behind. Not every single-person retro junk movie is “so bad it’s good” – sometimes it is just bad. The audacity of its badness is good for a while but then it wears off.
German Angst – Three nearly unrelated German shorts. Short 1 – a girl has her dad (?) strapped to a bed and castrates and kills and mutilates him. She owns guinea pigs. Then she leaves. Maybe it didn’t happen. The end.
Short 2 – Some deaf-mute hiker lovebirds get death-stomped by a mostly German gang. But they have a necklace that might do soul-swapping in bodies, as a tale the man signs to the woman indicates, he got it from his… mom? Grandma? Who used it to get away from the Nazis in wartime Poland. (Or did she…) This is kinda interesting as a setup but it gets super annoying with just the yelling and carrying on and stuff for so long. Whoever the blond screamy gang chick is I wanted her to die of leukemia, I got so sick of hearing it. Then this winds up with the head skinhead giving a lengthy looking-at-the-camera apologia for their behavior, blaming their Polack-killing on the “granite weight of guilt” of still being identified with Nazis. This is done in such a way that it’s pretty transparently A Message To You From The Filmmakers. My response to that is “Fuck you.” You get to not get Nazi stigma once everyone who got stuck in one of those camps has passed away, and everyone that had to fight in that war has passed away. Act right for one human lifetime (and you’re doing great so far) and then we’ll all stop using the N-word. I think that’s fair payment in kind for millions of lives. Till then STFU and take it. (N.B. I am of German descent myself so see no reason to beat around the bush here.)
Short 3 was better but I was still pissed off from shorts 1 and 2. A guy joins some kind of sex club but then it starts to become clear they are probably mating with some weird mandrake-based plant creature, but woot the orgasms are great, so it’s quite the dilemma of what to do. Would make a good “Twilight Zone” episode for a HBO-type Twilight Zone kind of program.
Except for a very very slight effort at relating the three stories in any way, they really are completely separate and very inconsistent in tone and nature. This is less a movie and more of a sampler pitch. And, the granite weight of guilt, my balls.