SEPTEMBER 27, 2011
As with previous festivals, I just don’t have the time to write up full reviews of every movie I saw, and a couple of them weren’t really horror anyway. Also, with many of them still seeking distribution, it’s no fun to go into detail about a film that I wasn’t all that impressed with. But folks like to know, so here’s a bunch of capsule “reviews” of the other movies I saw while I was there.
Revenge: A Love Story
One of my favorites of the festival, but also not really horror at all. This revenge tale, told out of order (sometimes confusingly so), seems to be influenced by Kill Bill in some respects, but is far from a ripoff. Juno Mak is terrific as Kit, a simple man whose even simpler (read: mentally handicapped) girlfriend is brutally attacked one evening. The identity of her attackers and why he is doing what he does is best left for you to discover, but I will say that while it’s not the most original story on a base level, the way that it’s told makes it a winner, as does the subdued but still valid ideas about the uselessness of having an “eye for an eye” type mentality. Also features one of cinema’s best “gunshot + gas tank” scenes ever.
A Lonely Place To Die
Like The Descent, this movie could have been a perfectly gripping thriller if it was just based around the survival aspects, in this case being underprepared for weather and climbing conditions on a particularly tough mountain. But whereas Descent just got better and better as the monsters showed up, Lonely Place gets needlessly convoluted, and writer/director Julian Gilbey’s script makes the mistake of switching the action from breathtaking and scary mountains/rocky rivers to a police station and a friggin house. Star Melissa George is as great as she always is, but the late introduction of key characters sort of leaves her on the sidelines for too much of the third act, and by the time we’ve been introduced to our THIRD group of supporting characters (mobsters!) the movie no longer offers any true excitement; if you were on the edge of your seat for the first act, you’ll be sitting normally and lazily by the third.
You Said What?
I reviewed this for Badass Digest if you want to check it out, but basically it’s a very sweet, charming, and frequently funny romantic comedy in which a guy pretends to be holding a casting call for a movie just so he can find a girlfriend (he got the idea from Audition), only to decide to actually make the movie once he finds the girl, figuring it was easier than telling her the truth right away. Somewhere along the way Peter Stormare gets involved, playing himself. A terrific “date movie”; deftly blending romance with a funny “misfits making a movie” tale.
A frequent theme of the movies I saw was that they were good for their first two acts only to fall apart in the third, and none exemplified that issue more than The Corridor, which started as a contender for my favorite movie of the festival. After an opening scene tragedy, we flash to a few years later, as a group of friends gather at their childhood “retreat” (a cabin in the woods owned by one of the character’s now-deceased mother). Trust issues, “we’re not as close as we used to be” drama, and a very low-key sense of impending dread turn this into a more successful version of Dreamcatcher for quite a while, bolstered by terrific performances by the unknown cast (though James Gilbert’s physical similarity to Bradley Cooper was quite distracting). The title refers to a “hot spot” of sorts in the middle of the woods that at first just makes them feel at ease and possibly grants them special “powers” (a reveal about their increased hearing skills is one of the best “jumps” I’ve seen in a while), but ultimately just turns them into raving lunatics. And it’s at that point that the movie starts going off the rails, trading suspense and character-based drama for bursts of unexplained violence and Richard Kelly-esque visuals, plus a brief excursion into “is this all in his head?” territory, at which point the movie lost me entirely. By then, I actually began wishing I WAS watching Dreamcatcher, which also went batshit insane but in an amusing way.
I should note, however, that apart from You’re Next, this was the only English language movie I saw the entire time that I was at the festival.
Miraculously, the only time during the entire festival that I fell victim to my usual “cinesomnia” was during this movie, and I think I’ll chalk it up to the fact that I’ve essentially already seen it. Whether the writer just watched Deathwatch a hundred times or just once, I don’t know, but I would need him to submit to every polygraph test in the world before I believed the similarities between the two films was just coincidence. Group of soldiers investigating an abandoned post, turning on each other, audience left to interpret if it was psychological or supernatural in nature… all the same beats, and without Deathwatch’s opening “cast crawl” to help us tell the similar looking characters apart. At 107 minutes it was also one of the longest films I saw, and ultimately I wished I had stayed asleep longer (I think I was only out for about 10 minutes – not bad considering I was bored and operating on less than four hours’ sleep). Waste of a great setting and a potentially unique backstory (witchcraft is suggested as the cause of the film’s events).
A Boy And His Samurai
As I mentioned earlier, this became my favorite film of the festival, and the great thing about it is that I didn’t even plan to see it originally. Unlike Frightfest or Screamfest, Fantastic Fest takes over an entire multiplex (six screens), and thus is able to show movies more than once. So after hearing about how good it was from a previous screening, I decided to check it out once I saw tickets were available (also different than those other festivals – having a pass doesn’t mean you get into every film; you have to go down in the morning and get one of a limited supply of tickets for each screening you want for that day). And while this causes some understandable issues (i.e. people not getting in to see movies they “have” to see if they can’t attend every day), it does allow for word of mouth to get around, something that you can’t do at another festival where movies only show once. If you miss the unreleased movie showing on Tuesday night at Screamfest, you won’t get another chance.
Anyway, all of the folks who talked it up were right. The film is almost impossible to dislike; I was moved to applaud and/or cry multiple times as writer/director Yoshihiro Nakamura told the story of a Samurai who suddenly found himself in modern day Tokyo. Largely (and wisely) skipping over the usual nonsense (he adapts fairly well to his new surroundings; apart from misunderstanding the sound of a phone ringing, there aren’t any stupid scenes of him being confused or frightened by televisions or whatever), the terrific Ryo Nishikido becomes a father figure to Tomoya and discovers a hidden talent for baking while handling the “domestic affairs” while Tomoya’s mother tends to her important software job. As with You Said What, it was a refreshingly charming and simple story, expertly told and largely sidestepping any possible language barrier. A badass samurai using his inherent discipline to bake a perfect flan is just terrific fun in any language. Seek it out at once.
Unfortunately, as I was only there for 3.5 days, I felt obligated to watch movies as much as I could instead of going to Fantastic Fest events such as the debates (where a real debate on a subject is followed by the two debaters duking it out in a boxing ring) or the awards ceremony (where my You’re Next pals took home 4 awards). However, I did check out the Fantastic Feud, a largely horror-based version of Family Feud hosted by my pal Scott Weinberg, who was inexplicably dressed as Mario from Super Mario. I even got a shoutout from Devin when the #1 pick for “Guilty Pleasure Movies” turned out to be Armageddon, something I consider insulting (guilty of what? Being FUCKING PERFECT?). I do wish it ran a bit longer, however – the game was done before we even got our checks.
I also went to the first of two large-scale karaoke events, where my original choice of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” was vetoed by Alamo/FF guru Tim League, who is apparently sick of the song. Naturally, my vindictive nature inspired me to shoot back, opting for an even longer and more obnoxious song (“Anything For Love”), which he admired enough to let me go on even though the list was already too long to accommodate everyone (for those who didn’t get to sing – I apologize, but in my defense I didn’t realize “AFL” would be nearly the entire version (10 minutes). However, a bunch of folks sang along, so that’s always a good sign. If you saw it, I hope you were entertained, though I had nothing on Devin’s rendition of “Too Drunk To Fuck”, Evan Husney’s “Highway Star”, or Sam Zimmerman’s “Teenage Kicks”. And I was followed by a wonderful rendition of “Summer Lovin” by pretty much the entire attending cast/crew of You’re Next. Damn fine time if I do say so my damn self.
In other words, there’s a lot more to the festival than just watching movies, which really separates it from others I’ve attended. While you can always “make your own fun” wherever you go, at Frightfest I was sort of baffled by how many folks would opt to go to the Phoenix and drink (not for free, mind you) instead of watching movies. Here, the events being sanctioned (and again, with the films all showing multiple times), it felt far less of a “waste” to opt for one of these non-movie events. If I was there the whole time I would have certainly opted for more of them, because they certainly added much to my overall experience. I only really loved 3 out of the 11 movies I saw, but I still had a, er, fantastic time. Hopefully I can make it back next year.
If I do though – can you guys lay off the goddamn cigarettes? As I write this I am sipping tea because my throat feels like it’s going to close shut, as every time I went outside to chat with friends after a movie I felt like I was stepping into a boardroom from the set of Mad Men (I am allergic). Rest assured – if I only spoke to you briefly outside before hurriedly walking away, I wasn’t trying to be rude – just breathe. Try the fucking patch, huh?
What say you?