Our very own Fred Topel is back with a monster recap of the movies and events from this year's utterly fantastic Fantastic Fest! Get cracking, Fred!
BULLHEAD – Bullhead is the story of a man whose testicles were crushed by a bully as a child, so he’s had to live on hormones his whole life. I must say, it’s one of the top five genital mutilation hormone movies ever made. I jest, but the film is bold to take it seriously and actually handles the subject really sensitively. Set in the criminal world of beef hormones, I’m glad the crime subplot was only a backdrop so you can focus on the character and don’t have to go through those motions. Only at Fantastic Fest does a movie go there and play it real, not Oscar bait-y.
DRAWN AND QUARTERED: ANIMATED SHORTS – Unfortunately I wasn’t blown away by any of the animated shorts. A few of them had a striking style like Black Doll. Lady Paranorma actually told a story. In Path of Blood it was at least funny to see a South Park style samurai battle. Sk8rz was totally weird with human skateboards but I’m not sure I’d consider that animation as much as visual effects. But none of the content in any of them stuck with me.
EXTRATERRESTRIAL – Nacho Vigolondo’s latest film is another sci-fi contained in its setting and group of characters like Timecrimes. An alien invasion leaves a few survivors alone in their apartment building, and of course the human issues become way more interesting than the aliens. The glimpses of alien ships look way more realistic than the remake of V, and Vigolondo did not have the money ABC Television had.
FANTASTIC DEBATES – An annual tradition of Fantastic Fest, the highlight of this year’s discussion/boxing matches was Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan debating World of Warcraft. Wood was hilarious dropping F bombs comparing farming to his Zelda days, but Monaghan clearly had him beat physically. The rest of the event was lackluster compared to last year. Fest co-founder Tim League actually held his own against bare knuckle boxer James McDonagh. It was more of a real fight than his battle with Michelle Rodriguez last year, though their debate about Texans vs. Irish wasn’t really a significant issue. And the NASA debate made it fun to see a rocket scientist explain deep space with profane everyman language, but he was two feet taller than the conspiracy theorist so he only had to reach his arm out to keep him at bay. Maybe it’s that the idea of a drunken debate followed by a boxing match is funnier on paper than in reality, but last year had some heated debate over relevant topics, or hilarious performance by ridiculous filmmakers. I think next year I’ll see another movie and watch the highlights of this on YouTube.
HEADHUNTERS – This is the kind of movie that just makes me so happy. Where else can you go when Hollywood action forsakes us? Norway is stepping up. Headhunters begins as a heist gone wrong thriller and becomes The Fugitive. This film has some narrow escapes you will not believe, and it pays off everything it sets up. It stars the Norwegian James Spader, Norwegian Gwyneth Paltrow and Norwegian Josh Holloway so they’re comfortable faces to see. I love that it wasn’t one last job, it’s just a big job so it should be harder and the art thief expects it to be. The pace is incredible but the filmmakers know exactly when to take time and rest, then ramp back up. After a bunch of somber assaults testing the audience’s tolerance at Fantastic Fest, it’s nice to see a movie that just has fun.
HOW TO STEAL 2 MILLION – This is a solid film for an African indie movie. It pulls off the film noir crime story. That’s a triumph for an emerging film industry, but not memorable in the grand scheme of things. Per usual, a thief (Menzi Ngubane) is out, going straight, but gets pulled into one last job. His casing strategies and intimidation methods and ways of training an accomplice are interesting. Ngubane is an Idris Elba type so elevates some of the clichés. Director Charlie Vundla achieves mood and atmosphere, but read that as “slow.”
JULIA X 3D – Julia X gets off to a great start with a serial killer (Kevin Sorbo) and his prey (Valerie Azlynn). He says things that a serial killer must be thinking but never says in “serious” movies. There’s no backstory B.S., it just goes because some guys are just crazy. It keeps the cat and mouse moving for a while and Azlynn is appealing. I mean, she’s no Sharni Vinson but a lovely heroine anyway. Ultimately the film can’t pull off its ambition, but it’s fun to see it try. The script can’t handle the subtext it’s bringing to survivor and victim mentality. Some plot twists get sloppy and the prosthetic body parts don’t look remotely real while being mutilated. The killer attempts some attacks that wouldn’t have hurt anyway even if he’d landed them. Every character’s attitude is “whatever” and that’s refreshing in a torture porn genre. Light torture porn, it’s softcore torture porn, so good effort but no dice. They do have fun sticking everything out of the screen though.
TAKE SHELTER – For those who haven’t closely followed my obsession, I do love post-apocalyptic movies where the survivors have to find supplies in the wasteland. So in that context, I was a little disappointed in Take Shelter. I appreciate the realistic take on ruling out mental illness when a family man predicts the coming storm. His marriage is a powerful relationship with incredible emotional support, but still slow. I only got a few jollies off the storm shelter preparation. Yeah, stack that canned food, baby.
URBAN EXPLORER – Maybe I’m jaded, but I expected more messed up sh** from the Germans. A horror movie about the tunnels underground in Berlin, with a group of tourists haplessly exploring them. The film moves but nothing truly awesome happens. The unusual things they find are interesting, and they fall for a trap or two. The biggest danger is their own doing, which I guess is realistic for flighty tourists. The biggest shock is still no Human Centipede 2.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN – This is one movie where all the Awards buzz hype is correct. Besides the solid performances, the film portrays evil unapologetically. It goes there without being explicit. The tone of dread is persistent as the kid just emotionally brutalizes this woman (Tilda Swinton.) Obviously it’s a breakthrough performance from Ezra Miller but I’m more impressed with the little kids playing young Kevin. Training them to be monsters is the scariest. Lynne Ramsay gives us all the information visually, we see what’s happening and know. The score pulls off a somber twang that feels appropriate, not telegraphing the dread. It also sounds like a real instrument, not a synthesizer.