Tag Archives: film

Fantastic Fest – Day 8

The final day of Fantastic Fest was as fun as the first.  Except, for some reason, the line for tickets in the morning was even longer!  I swear, the lines got longer as the festival went on, not shorter.

On my slate for the day were:

Sadly I didn’t get into Daybreakers, not even on standby.  I had seen everything else in the slot, so I had a beer and went home to get some decent sleep before work the next day.

The festival was DOPE.  I really enjoyed it.  The skilled Alamo staff and ticketing system made it a very painless experience.  The only way it could have been better is if I had a VIP badge.  They put the 2010 badges on sale during the festival and they sold out in a minute and a half.  Doh.  The demand is outgrowing the supply; maybe they need to expand to two venues full time or something.

I met a lot of fun people.  Shouts out to Tyler from Shreveport and Chris the Shakyface Queen.  And I’m crushing on Rae, the Alamo chick who kept everything running on time.  Everyone was very friendly and it was easy to strike up conversations with fans, filmmakers, and everybody else.

Fantastic Fest – House of the Devil

The House of the Devil, by Ti West (Cabin Fever 2, The Wicked), is a homage to late ’70’s/early ’80’s horror movies and does a great job of slavishly reproducing the look and feel of movies from that time, from the lead actress’ feathered hair to the cinematography, title and credits, everything.

The lead, Samantha (Jocelyn Donahue) is a poor college student trying to make enough money to get a place of her own, and takes a babysitting job at a big house out of the city to that end and OH GOD SATANISTS!  The plot is the usual chick chased around a big house thing.  Donahue does a good job and the movie is suspenseful, it gets you with a couple good scares.   It resembles a film made in 1982 in just about every respect – story, effects, score, characters.  (With the welcome exception that the lighting work didn’t suck as bad as it did in the older movies, always a pet peeve of mine.)

That’s a cool and interesting accomplishment, and I enjoyed my time watching House of the Devil enough, but I didn’t think it was all that interesting once you got past the ’80’s reproduction thing.  It was a little bit too much Halloween meets Rosemary’s Baby; I liked the ’80’s tone but wanted the plot to be a little more than a retread.  It was gripping, though, and would be somewhere in the top 30% of 1980s horror movies.  Which, come to think of it, puts it above about 90% of the crap put out in the last year or so, thus I guess in the end analysis House of the Devil is pretty good.

Fantastic Fest – Dirty Mind

Belgian director Pieter Van Hees brings us his new film, Dirty Mind, about a shy stunt effects guy, Diego (played by Wim Helsen), who suffers some brain trauma and suddenly develops a totally uninhibited personality (a real syndrome called frontal lobe disorder).  He starts calling himself “Tony T, as in TNT, boom baby!” and becomes a devil-may-care stuntman.  A doctor, Janna (Kristine Van Pellicom) tries to get him to get treatment for his disorder, but Diego/Tony hated his loser life and is enjoying being a stuntman and chick magnet.  So he tries ceaselessly to seduce Janna instead.

The interesting part of the film is the debate over whether Diego/Tony really needs treatment or not.  He was an unhappy loser living with his mother, also a pathetic depressive, always overshadowed by his stuntman brother Cisse (Robbie Cleiren).  Now, sure he’s a little inappropriate at times but is generally acting like his brother or any number of non-brain-damaged overenthusiastic assholes we all know and semi-love.  The film slowly ups the ante as his syndrome progresses – in the beginning, his brother and family are very enthusiastic about the new personality.  But then Tony starts to eclipse his brother in the stunt world and cuts him out of deals; he has sexual contact with people he shouldn’t; he gets very narcissistic and loses the ability to empathize with people or determine what is inappropriate and the progresses to very risky behavior.  But even with that the people in  his life vacillate over whether Diego or Tony is the best guy (also an interesting theme, about how other people help determine who we are).

Helsen’s performance is great.  The film’s serious but funny at times; Tony has these little pseudo-raps he does about how great he is that are hilarious.  The best takeaway points are:

  • There’s a fine line between mental disorder and the normal range of human behavior
  • Women love the bad boys – even (especially) the buttoned up professional women; when it comes down to it they’ll throw it all away for the deep dicking
  • Sometimes your mother just needs a good punch in the uterus for lippin’ off to you

I thought this movie was awesome.  Very thought-provoking.  The one thing I didn’t like was the ending; they throw in a little “action” at the end when the operate-or-not decision is at stake and I thought that was a misstep, trying to do things the “Hollywood friendly” way or something.  But besides that, this was one of my favorite movies of the festival, and definitely the most thought-provoking.

Fantastic Fest – Buratino, Son of Pinnochio

Buratino, Son of Pinnochio is a very odd but good-hearted Estonian musical.  Buratino’s mother wishes upon a star for a son and is suddenly impregnated by a…  Fairy rape splinter from heaven, I guess?  Anyway, she comes to full term immediately and has a wooden boy as a son, who as soon as he loses his bark looks normal (as normal as anyone looks hereabouts).  Flash forward to the teen years, and Buratino and his friends in “Badville” go over to roust the citizens of “Goodville” for spare cash and outrun/terrorize their police force.  The bizarrely costumed youth gang brings to mind images from A Clockwork Orange (though the tone is diametrically opposite). Eventually some bad guy from Goodville (that’s a good name for a band!) named Karabas Barabas sends his thugs after Buratino to kidnap him to get some kind of “seeds” from inside him.  And he has a hot blue-haired daughter, Malvina, who Buratino naturally falls in love with at first sight.

I thought Buratino was charming and upbeat, if not very polished.  Characters frequently burst into song so you get a bit of rock opera thing going on.  The twists and turns are humorously bizarre (Pinnochio himself, who no one knew was Buratino’s father prior to this, turns up later on) and there’s all kinds of over the top cartoon style silliness (to see for long distances, people just make their hands into binoculars; people get exploded and tossed a quarter mile and only end up disheveled).  Sure, it’s goofy, but has a real heart.  It was Rasmus Merivoo’s first film done while he was in school on a shoestring budget and a very short timeline, and shot in Russia to boot.

Buratino, Son of Pinnochio was fun, weird, and happy.  The musical bits are surprisingly good.  The rest is obviously low budget but solidly done.  I enjoyed its off-beat humor.

Fantastic Fest – Day 7

By skipping the “100 Best Kills” party last night, I got something approaching 8 hours of sleep.  Woot! But then the Alamo ticket line was even longer than it has been on previous days.  Boo.

My lineup for the day:

  • Sweet Karma, a revenge killing movie with, I am told, great gratuitous nudity
  • Yesterday, good old fashioned zombie survival horror
  • Private Eye, a Korean pulp detective film
  • Doghouse, yet more zombie survival horror

I had been planning on Private Eye but then the buzz on Fish Story was so good I was going to switch, but it’s sold out, so back to Private Eye.  Maybe I’ll try standby for Fish Story and fall back if necessary.

Also under consideration was S&M Hunter in the midnight slot – but it turns out it’s not just in the midnight slot, but over at the Alamo Ritz instead of here so would require a time-crunched transition and paying for parking downtown.  That’s two strikes so unless I am feeling REALLY motivated for some softcore tonight I’ll pass.

Fantastic Fest – Day 6

Whew, caught up on my “daily” postings.  Pretty much every day I wake up, drive to the Alamo 2+ hours early to get in line and get tickets, watch movies for 14 hours, drive home, and crash.  Tim, one of the festival’s co-chairs, introduced the first movie of the day with “Welcome to day 17 of Fantastic Fest!” and that’s certainly what it feels like.

What am I seeing today, you ask?  Well, the plan is:

  • Salvage, a British horror/thriller
  • Rampage, by infamous director Uwe Boll.  I wasn’t planning on seeing this but all the buzz I hear from people has been so positive that I’m going to catch it.
  • Ninja Assassin – if I can get in on standby, it sold out quick.  Otherwise, Succubus.
  • Short Fuse, a collection of shorts
  • The 100 Best Kills party, if I don’t feel like going home and to bed at midnight

Yesterday was a success in retrospect; though I wanted to walk out of Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle, both Mandrill and Stingray Sam are sticking with me as high points of the festival.

Fantastic Fest – Day 5

Monday has come and with it the second half of the festival.  I’m starting to have to watch my bank account closely, as being in the Alamo all day is harmful to my checking account balance.

Today I saw:

Some were really good and some were really bad; this was definitely the biggest mixed-bag day for me.  Stingray Sam and Mandrill are AWESOME.  Cropsey was not.  Hard Revenge Milly was decent but the sequel, Bloody Battle, was awful.  Full reviews will follow!

Fantastic Fest – Day 4

I was a bit disappointed with yesterday; my chosen lineup wasn’t as strong as the first two days’ had been.  So I took off the first half of the day to spend some time with my daughter, as a week’s a long time to spend away from her.

There was still time for a pretty good set of movies – since I got there late I didn’t get tickets to all the ones I wanted but that’s what “standby” is for; I’ve had good luck with it.  My agenda consisted of:

  • Buratino, Son of Pinnochio, a weird Estonian film that’s like a light-hearted and musical version of Clockwork Orange
  • Dirty Mind, about a Belgian stuntman who gets a frontal lobe injury and turns from zero-nerd into Rico Suave
  • House of the Devil, a movie trying to replicate in every detail the typical late ’70s/early ’80s horror movie
  • District 13: Ultimatum, a sequel to the first French parkour-and-martial-arts dystopian actioner

Reviews will follow, but all these were good in their own way!  Especially Dirty Mind, which I think is probably the best movie I’ve seen so far.

Fantastic Fest – Survival of the Dead

George Romero, the grandfather of modern zombie cinema, was in attendance to show off his new movie Survival of the Dead.  It’s a spinoff of the recent “Diary of the Dead” and, like it, is completely independent.  He says he envisions doing a four movie series like the first “of the Dead” linked series (Night, Dawn, Day) but along this new, different storyline.

I am always of two minds about Romero.  He’s of course a seminal figure in the field, his first zombie movie especially was brilliant, and has spawned an entire genre.  But…  His ideas aren’t aging well, and it often seems to be more of the same, without the additional polish you would tend to hope would come to pass over a career spanning so many decades.  I’d use a geek analogy to Gary Gygax, co-creator and main popularizer of the Dungeons & Dragons game – yay, he created a lasting cultural icon, but then over the next three decades he kept regurgitating the same ideas without, really, much evolution and became less and less relevant.  (It’s a step better than the Linus Pauling syndrome, where someone who was brilliant in a given field picks up crackpot theories in another – Pauling was a brilliant chemist who gave us several important theories, especially on the nature of atoms, but later in life hooked in to the idea that megadoses of Vitamin C would cure anyone of anything and went onto the quack circuit.)

Anyway, Survival of the Dead, as I feared, has its good points but also has many weaknesses and inconsistencies.  It follows some ex-National Guardsmen gone wrong (and a sassy kid they pick up) as they go to an island rumored to be free of the undead, but instead run afoul of a family feud.  Romero said he was going for a Western feel with this one, but it felt like he briefed one set of actors (the islanders) on that and neglected to brief the other (the Guard) and it yielded an extremely inconsistent tone.  Furthermore, though generally “serious,” there are moments of camp, like one zombie kill where the cap of its skull spins around before coming to a rest on its neck-stump like something out of Army of Darkness.  Similarly, at times it seems like life is going on OK in the U.S. despite the zombie plagues – late night hosts joke about “deadheads” and the Internet is still working – but then it seems like every single location is infested with undead and completely unlivable.  The movie couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be and veered wildly between several different tones.

The nominal addition to the Living Dead mythos here is that one of the islander families doesn’t want to kill the zombies, but keep them around as revered ancestors; rationalizing it as maybe someone will find a cure one day.  This could be an interesting premise, but it ends up being incoherent – the family is “zombie ranching” on their farm but carelessly kills them plenty themselves.  Then they change their story to “trying to teach them to eat something besides people!”  But no matter how you look at it, that’s stupid and pointless.  First, teaching zombies to eat livestock would just denude the world of animals as well as humans.  Second, zombies don’t need to eat – they just kill and “eat” out of their bizarre undead natures.  It’s not like they can “fill up” on something – they’ll eat your dog and then eat you;  you’re not being used as food per se, it’s not like they get nutrition out of it.

In the end, the failure of this movie and the other more recent Dead movies can’t be blamed on budget – it’s the script, and an inability to craft a coherent narrative.

Fantastic Fest – Metropia

Metropia is an animated feature set in a European dystopian future (is there any other kind?).  People still live on the surface but apparently never travel there, instead using the huge interconnected subway system controlled by the Trexx corporation.  Roger has an indifferent life – working as a drone, his relationship on the rocks, etc.  His only step away from “normalcy” is enjoying bicycling instead of using the metro.  But apparently that’s enough – the voice in his head that tells him to buy Viagra and conform becomes jarring to him.  He thinks he’s going crazy until he sees the cover girl from the shampoo everyone uses, and starts to follow her around instead of going to work – this spirals him into a web of intrigue.  The movie recalls themes from Brazil and A Scanner Darkly.

The animation style is unique and weird.  People’s heads are large and facial features very realistic, but the rest of their bodies and the world are more stylized.  It fits the Kafkaesque feel they’re going for and allows for maximal expressiveness and acting on the part of the characters, a double win.

The plot is pretty interesting – turns out the ubiquitous Trexx Corp. has graduated from just putting cameras in everyone’s TV set to mind – if not control, influence – via their ubiquitous shampoo; they have a bank of call center type employees who can see through people’s eyes and speak into their minds.  Roger is never sure who to trust – his girlfriend, the shampoo cover girl he’s obsessed with, his “control” who talks into his head and looks disturbingly like him…  It’s a conspiracy thriller about control and perception.  I liked it quite a bit, as I did the somewhat similarly themed (and also weirdly animated, though in a completely different style) A Scanner Darkly.  It’s director Tarik Saleh’s first movie and as a freshman outing I think it’s amazing.

Fantastic Fest – Under the Mountain

Under the Mountain” is apparently a famous story in New Zealand – first a book written by Maurice Gee in the 1950s, then a NZ TV series in the 1980s, and now a movie.  It’s the second outing from Jonathan King, who did the also New Zealand based horror comedy “Black Sheep” (about sheep that start eating people).

The movie is targeted at the tween market – not too young children, as I bet my seven year old would about crap her drawers if she watched this movie, but it’s not super horrifying for us jaded adults.  “More fodder for the Twilight crowd,” I’d say (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  It can be compared somewhat to Escape to Witch Mountain, but darker and scarier.

I thought the movie was well done.  Sam Neill as the crazy homeless guy slash friendly alien was fun and the boy and girl cast as the twins did a decent if not awe-inspiring job.

The plot is simple – a pair of twins, Theo and Rachel, go to live with their aunt and uncle in Auckland when their mother dies.  The twins, a boy and a girl, have a light psychic bond but the boy has completely shut himself off from it since the death.  In short order they determine that the weirdos living across the lake in a decrepit house mean to kill them and they find a crazy homeless guy who can help – he explains that the bad guys (the “Wilberforces”) are bad Lovecraftian aliens who have seven huge “Gargantua,” alien war monsters, in stasis under the seven volcanoes in the area.  Homeless guy is a good fire alien who needs twins with a psychic bond to use two “fire stones” and, by tossing them into one of the volcanoes, thwart the evil aliens forever (it’s unclear how or why this does that, but roll with it).  Soon they, their cousin Ricky, and his main squeeze Clementine are racing back and forth across the area trying to not get tentacle-probed by the shape-changing Wilberforces while  Theo tries to get his act together enough to trust his twin and unleash the POOOOOOWER!!!!

I found it enjoyable, though tame for me the famed zombie hunter.  But I think it will do well; it’s about 2000% better than the utterly shit recent remake of Escape From Witch Mountain with that wrestler, and that made decent bank.  I hope a tweeney horror movie that isn’t total tripe might do even better.

Fantastic Fest – K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces

Aka “K-20: The Legend of the Mask,” this pulp movie is set in the 1949 of an alternate history where WWII never happened and so Japan is still riven by strong class distinctions and the poor have it pretty bad.  A notorious masked burglar, “K-20”, strikes fear into the hearts of the rich.  A poor circus performer, Heikishi Endo, is framed by K-20 and has to resort to daring thievery of his own to reclaim his good name and thwart the fiend, who is trying to get a big Tesla coil to use as a weapon.  It evokes Batman, The Shadow, Black Mask, Spiderman, and Darkman as inspirations.

I’m going to get this out of the way first thing – this movie was not nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be.  It had some promising bits, but they were all mostly squandered.

The set design was nice – in the first scene, the alt-history city looks nice and steampunkey, with police gyrocopters labelled in Japanese and German both (Polizei!).  You never see any Germans, however, and except for the Tesla coil as a McGuffin the steampunk elements are never utilized either.

Furthermore, I couldn’t figure out what Takeshi Kaneshiro was trying to do with his character, the piece’s hero, Heikichi Endo.  He allegedly starts out as a master acrobat and illusionist in the circus and after being framed takes up thievery to get back at K-20 – but some of the time, he really seems to achieve nearly Sling Blade-like levels of mild retardation.  “I just want to go back the the circus and pet my doves!” he mumbles, clutching himself, in several scenes.  To quote the much better movie Zombieland from yesterday, “Nut up or shut up!”

This could be forgivable if the action was good.  It is not.  His “training” (in what tries to be a nod to genre tropes, he basically reads a book of thieving lore and becomes able to do pretty much supernatural tricks of disguise) is basically free running (parkour).  Free running is fun and all but it’s already being overexposed in movies and needs a little something (like a decent fight) to spice it up.  But the martial arts action is very few and far between, and when showdowns happen between K-20 and Endo they are nothing to write home about – a lot of jumping but that’s about it.  They finally have to resort to a gun to try to kill each other, as they realize that even beating on a helpless opponent with their sissy punches isn’t going to result in more than light bruising.

The identity of K-20 is supposed to be a big secret and shocking reveal – and I hoped it would be one of the less obvious characters – but no, if you have ever watched movies you’ll know who K-20 is very early on.  The love interest is one-dimensional and annoying; you’re supposed to be impressed by her being so game to leap into daring plots and pilot gyrocopter rescues, but then she opens her mouth and talks and it’s ruined.

The old inventor-thief and his ex-swindler wife are the only bright spots in the film; they are interesting and play their parts well.

I am pre-sold when you tell me “it’s a steampunk pulp hero martial arts movie,” and you have to work pretty hard to un-sell me, but K-20 managed to do that.  Why the hell do they call him K-20?  Why do all of the group of thieves he loudly despises immediately pledge to do everything in their life’s power to help him?  Why is every plot point so brutally and hamhandedly obvious?  I don’t know, but I can’t recommend K-20.