|FantasticFest 2018 (09.20.18 - 09.27.18, 33 movies)|
|09.20.18||Halloween||David Gordon Green||Boom it's time for another Fantastic Fest. I have to say, this year I haven't been 100% psyched for this. I think I need to work on improving my attitude a bit. Hopefully I'll see a good movie and my mood will lift but right now I'm kind of feeling like if the fest isn't amazing this year then it might be my last. I'm writing this down here now because I realize I kind of think this at the beginning of every fest and by the end of the week i've had enough fun to want to keep going as long as they have it. But we'll see!|
Anyway, I felt like I had to see the Opener just like I feel like I have to see the Closing night film, even though I've never been a huge fan of the Halloween franchise so a new entry is pretty whatever on my psyched-meter. Really though, the opening night ritual of sweating my ass off in an overly-packed lobby while waiting for them to open the flood gates and let the first films seat is the real opener of the fest. I feel like it's happened every year. I don't know why I think it'll be cooler inside. It's just not. Thankfully, this was the only time that it was miserable inside or out. Rain is in the forecast so let's hope things don't go too poorly.
The movie... eh, I mean I guess it was ok? Again, I'm not a great judge. There were a few cool parts... a halloween night sequence in particular was really well done. I like that Jamie Lee Curtis showed up to work and didn't just phone it in like I kinda remember the last few that she was in feeling like. Certainly it wasn't terrible.
The Q&A afterward was good. Danny McBride saying he was just up there because he went to college with David Gordon Green was pretty funny. Jamie Lee Curtis was funny. ok!
|09.20.18||An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn||Jim Hosking||I didn't see The Greasy Strangler but heard it was bad. I wasn't going to see this but the cast is pretty good and... I dunno, man. I gave it a chance.|
I didn't really like it much, although I will say that it reminded me of Eagle vs. Shark in some ways that I do think Jim Hosking has a good movie in him... he's just not there yet. I'm hoping he makes a What We Do in the Shadows or Hunt for the Wilderpeople but this wasn't it.
It comes off way too stilted and random, like just another guy trying to do what David Lynch does. Everything winds up feeling very forced. Although Jermaine Clement and Matt Berry still managed to be entertaining. Next!
|09.20.18||White Fire||Jean-Marie Pallardy||For whatever reason, there's a bunch of rep screenings in this year's programming. I chose a strategy of sticking to these pretty hard. My thinking is that someone loved it or thought it was cool enough to fight for it and add it to the schedule. Now I kind of see that Vinegar Syndrome is a sponsor so they probably got a few slots for whatever, but I think my idea still holds true because Vinegar Syndrome as a company restores and releases films that it thinks are worth seeing. Anyway, that was a pretty chatty way of saying that if I saw an older movie on the schedule, I put it on my list.|
On paper, this one sounds like it should be the best movie of the festival. There's, like, diamond smugglers? And they're in Turkey but it might be the future because they're wearing these weird onesies with helmets and the guns don't look right and then there's this whole Vertigo Face/Off angle to the main characters that is overtly incestuous... and Fred Williamson shows up. But truth be told, it's a little too random and disjointed to hold together as a movie at all. There are nice moments for sure, but there's way too much going on and none of it comes together like you want it to. And it takes like an hour for The Hammer to show up and I'm convinced there was never a script or anything because everything Fred Williamson says is... terrible. I think he was just making it up.
The theme song is good though. I think my favorite scene was this montage where the main dude is falling in love with this other girl but he's doing it by yelling at her trying to teach her how to drive a jeep through sand. That's real love.
|09.21.18||Keep an Eye Out||Quentin Dupiex||Day Two.|
I liked one of Dupiex's previous movies Wrong at a previous fest and feel like I am a little more in tune with his sensibilities now. As such, I enjoyed this pretty well. If anything, I think the surreal stuff is a bit of an unneeded add-on here since the fun anxiety fever dream of the police interrogation (which dominates most of the film) is strong enough on its own. Still, I liked it, thought it was better than anything I saw yesterday.
|09.21.18||Border||Ali Abbasi||The write-up for this film included unfair amounts of hype. Comparisons to The Witch, It Follows, Hereditary, and Let The Right One In. I guess that's a way to get people to see the movie without telling you anything about it, but I don't think it does the film any favors unless it really is that great.|
EH... I feel like this is a quintessential Fantastic Fest movie. It takes a genre topic and treats it with humanity and compassion. If anything, I got more of a Big Man Japan vibe than any of the movies mentioned. It was not a bad movie, but I do feel like there's a twist/gimmick/"thing" about it and once you know what it is then the whole experience is deflated.
|09.21.18||Apostle||Gareth Evans||Not exactly like The Raid films and actually further from Evans' segment in V/H/S 2 than I thought it would be. I liked it pretty good. There were a few interesting things about it, but also some stuff I didn't love. It also kinda gave me a headache but I suppose I can't hold that against it. I dunno, It certainly kept my attention but it's already fading from memory. That sounds harsher than I mean it to.|
|09.21.18||Sudden Fury||Brian Damude||A lost gem Canadian suspense thriller along the same vein as Blood Simple or Dial M For Murder. This was really good really solid stuff. While the budget was low, you don't really feel it. The performances are surprisingly great and the film is put together with an expert eye toward pacing and editing. It's a shame Vinegar Syndrome didn't have any finished Blus there for sale because I think they would've sold. The best thing I've seen so far.|
|09.22.18||After the Screaming Stops||Joe Pearlman, David Soutar||Day Three.|
Today started with a doc about a british boy band reunion. I'm not familiar with the band Bros at all, but I think the entertainment of this film comes from the relationship between estranged twin brothers who are in the band. I thought it was interesting and funny that the directors confessed so easily in the Q&A that they antagonized and played the brothers against each other for the footage. Also, one of the brothers has a bunch of stupid observations right out of Spinal Tap. It's not a bad movie, but there also wasn't anything in here that I couldn't guess. or haven't seen before. Maybe it has more weight for Brits who know the band.
|09.22.18||Savage||Vincent Mariette||Not as savage as the name suggests. This one... was ok. Not bad, but it didn't... there wasn't much to it. I guess that's underselling it a bit, but not... much... happens? I liked it ok? i dunno, NEXT!|
|09.22.18||Hold the Dark||Jeremy Saulnier||Jeremy Saulnier's latest. I liked it but not as much as his previous two. There's some great stuff in it (as always, the action and gore are well done), but afterward as I thought about the story... I really don't know why any of it happened. I suppose that's a feature of the source material and it's open to interpretation or whatever, but it kind of feels like just a bunch of random events.|
|09.22.18||Between Worlds||Maria Pulera||This one was pretty crazy in a fun way. It's dominated by Nicholas Cage's performance as a southern truck driver. Pretty much every line reading drew applause. The movie is definitely in on the joke though and it goes some places that make it a nice fit for the festival. I had fun with it.|
|09.23.18||Shadow||Yimou Zhang||Day Four.|
Started with this Wuxia from the guy who did Hero. I liked some of the monochromatic set design and the one major battle sequence was cool but otherwise it felt overlong and like it was actively trying to put us all to sleep. Seriously, constant rain, a soundtrack full of traditional Chinese... lute? stringed instrument? And I swore there was even a rhythmic inhale during some sequences. I thought it was someone snoring at first but it was coming from the speakers. Harsh trial for a morning show.
|09.23.18||Blood Lake||Tim Boggs||This is a shot-on-VHS slasher restored by Bleeding Skull. It was pretty fun. Way more water skiing than slashing, but still. It's fun to get these glimpses of what could have been a home movie of a vacation. I guess youtube is where the equivalents of this are today but they don't seem anywhere near as charming.|
|09.23.18||Suspiria||Luca Guadagnino||The secret screening this year was Suspiria. I was actually looking forward to this and think I liked it more than my friends did. I liked Thom Yorke's music when it was in there and all the dance stuff I thought was really good and the climax was pretty sweet as well. Friends' criticisms after the movie were valid however. I'm not sure why it had to be two and a half hours, I'm not sure why it had to be called Suspiria (it's really like an opposite take on the story), and I'm not sure why Tilda Swinton had to play two roles. Eh.|
|09.23.18||The Night Comes for Us||Timo Tjahjanto||This one kicked some fucking ass. The same dudes and stunt team from The Raid accomplished some of the most brutal action I've seen since... well, The Raid. Lots of great sequences here but the climactic fight is holy shit. Similar to The Raid, you kind of get inured to the broken bones and slashed throats by the end, but they did a great job of varying the fights to keep that monotony relatively low. Basically, any movie ever where there's a knife fight or someone hits someone with a sword and you think "shouldn't there be more blood?" This movie answers with "fuck yeah there should be. HERE YOU GO." A Highlight of the fest so far. Awesome stuff.|
|09.23.18||Deadly Games||Rene Manzor||This late 80s French film is like Home Alone meets Die-Hard. This crazy kid in this crazy mansion fends off a crazy santa claus trying to kill him. It's got a real... not sure how to put it... ephemeral style? Like I was never quite sure if the establishing shots were miniatures or to-scale sets and everything has a wide angle to it and there's lots of interesting POV work and the lighting in general has a kind of glaze to it. It really does a nice job in putting you in this fairy tale headspace in which this kid programs computers, has a prototype of an iphone strapped to his arm, and wakes up every morning to a weight training/Commando-esque gearing up montage. I had a lot of fun with it.|
|09.24.18||School's Out||Sebastien Marnier||Day Five.|
Not exactly an evil children movie but it's kind of sold as one. I liked this. The kids were suitably creepy, the tension built nicely, and the climax wasn't stupid and overblown like us dumb americans like to do. Plus the ending is nice and ambiguous which I quite liked.
|09.24.18||Ladyworld||Amanda Kramer||This was a girl's version of Lord of the Flies. I liked it with a few qualifications. I didn't love how EXACTLY it followed Lord of the Flies in terms of story and I had to make a conscious decision to stop thinking about the myriad of ways they could easily escape and focus on the whole Lord of the Flies thing. Otherwise, an evocative soundtrack, interesting performances, bold choices. It was not, like, the easiest movie I've watched at the fest but it did give me something worthwhile which is great.|
|09.24.18||The Guilty||Gustav Moller||I liked this as well. It's all told from the perspective of a 9-1-1 operator. I was a little ahead of the plot as it unfolded but that's just because i'm a genius so it shouldn't be held against the film. A nice concept that they succeeded at pulling off.|
|09.24.18||Mid90s||Jonah Hill||This one really surprised me at how good it was. The poster and trailer said 'pretentious meandering fake shit from an entitled actor' to me but I have to say I was completely wrong. The movie feels so authentic and nuanced; all the kids give superior performances. It's not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve but also delivers something new. I'm almost upset that it's so good. And Jonah Hill's Q&A with the cast was also super polite and eloquent and funny. He even said bless you to someone who sneezed in the audience. So yeah, loved this one.|
|09.24.18||Climax||Gaspar Noe||This was so good. Gaspar Noe, man. The only thing is that I kind of wish he would do a movie that didn't descend into hell. I should see Love, maybe Love doesn't end in a cacophonous journey down the river Styx. This one sure as fuck does. And those beginning dance sequences were so great. The music selection was so great. Noe's tendency to chop up the structure of the film is great. His titles: great. The theater applauded after the beginning titles ended. Then things got dark. But as usual, the technical facility needed to choreograph and pull off those insanely long takes... filled with visual or practical effects and impossible camera movements... just astounding. So goddamn good. Favorite of the fest.|
|09.25.18||The Blood of Wolves||Kazuya Shiraishi||Day Six.|
This is a throwback yakuza movie I guess made to look like it's from the 80s a bit. Reminiscent of Training Day except if Denzel was not as dirty and was more of a Japanese version of Al Pacino in Heat. It was decent. Tiny bit heavy-handed at times but not terribly so. I liked it pretty good.
The next slot I opted for a class from Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies titled Ghouls to the Front: Rethinking Women's Horror Filmmaking. Basically, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas gave a presentation of some of the female filmmakers that she studied in writing her upcoming book, then played shot clips or trailers of their films. I'd heard of exactly one: Blood Diner (which has a hilarious trailer). Everything else was waay above my head which was cool. Basically, whatever Kier-la Janisse brings to the fest I will automatically attend. This was really cool.
|09.25.18||The Perfection||Richard Shepard||A late addition to the fest, I'm glad I got to see this as I think Shepard does interesting work and still remember seeing The Matador at AFF years ago and liking Shepard's candid and entertaining Q&A. Not knowing anything about this movie helped I think since I was trying to guess the genre even as the film played out. I had a lot of fun with it. I feel like the way the story develops is earned and every time I felt like something was off or someone gave a terrible line reading, the film quickly corrected itself. I do wish at the end we got to hear a little bit of the cello playing instead of music over the picture. That would have been a great final joke.|
The next slot I chose to see Tenacious D present their new album in the form of an episodic animated show that will run on Youtube. I think if I dig bag far enough I'll find some glowing notes for Pick of Destiny so I'm officially on record as liking that film a lot. This one has that same unadulterated D spirit but instead of a real film with real production values it's a bunch of crude drawings (done by Jables himself) set to extended "skit" tracks between songs. It's still pretty funny and very entertaining, but you can definitely tell they basically did this themselves.
I liked it a lot though, don't get me wrong. After a good Q&A, they got on stage at the highball and performed three or four songs (Tribute, Pick of Destiny, Rize of the Fenix, Fuck Her Gently). Afterward they were like "that was a great rehearsal!" Not sure why the set was so limited.
|09.25.18||Luz||Tilman Singer||A student thesis film shot on 16mm, this was pretty good for what it was. The atmosphere is nice, music is good if not too overbearing... the only problem is I have no clue what the fuck it was about. I didn't make any sense of the story at all. I mean I think I kind of do, but just barely. It wasn't bad, but I'm glad it was only 70 minutes long.|
|09.26.18||Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore||Sarah Jacobson||Day Seven.|
Today started with an AGFA presentation of Sarah Jacobson's work. First up was a short called I Was A Teenage Serial Killer which was rough but not without charm.
The feature though, Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore, was really good. It fits in perfectly well with that mid-90s wave of independent film in that it's largely dialogue-driven and stars a bunch of 20-somethings in a workplace. In this case it's a movie theater. Surprisingly moderate for an AGFA title but pleasantly so. I liked it a lot.
|09.26.18||Goliath||Peter Gronlund||Family drama except the family is criminals. It was ok. Not bad, just ok.|
|09.26.18||Donnybrook||Tim Sutton||Like Bloodsport except with methy rednecks and a total bummer and they don't get to the tournament until the last ten minutes. Too bleak.|
|09.26.18||Under the Silver Lake||David Robert Mitchell||I think this is the only movie I saw where all my friends liked it more. It's given me more to think about as to what bugged me about it.|
From the get-go, this one's aiming for a Big Lebowski / Inherent Vice / Kiss Kiss Bang Bang noirish LA-set mystery with Andrew Garfield as a slacker looking for missing hot neighbor Riley Keough.
I think most of my problems with the movie speak to a perceived ego of the director. Maybe I'm projecting all of this but it feels like an indulgent victory lap of a movie with extravagant luxuries that the movie doesn't need but are thrown in there because it's what the precious genius director if It Follows wants. You could say the same thing about Magnolia, which I like, so maybe it's just a personal taste issue or that I feel like PTA isn't as obnoxious as Robert David Mitchell in person or something like that. Either way, I felt like the movie fell into similar traps as Matrix 2 or Southland Tales: too long, too many frayed edges, too much going on and not enough justification. I feel like the movie doesn't earn its excess, which sounds pretty pompous as I write it so that might be bullshit once I sit with it for a while.
Anyway, all of this doesn't mean that I didn't have fun while watching it. I did feel like, with my first watch anyway following the plot, I enjoyed the moment to moment with an expectation or hope that the movie would end in a satisfying way. When the ending came, it made me take stock of everything else and I feel like much of it was unnecessary. Maybe that's the point? Maybe a second viewing would allow me to enjoy each scene and not worry about the story?
Before the film, the director told the audience to not try to make sense of everything for their first time and let it wash over you. This rubbed me the wrong way, since a) don't tell me how to watch your movie, and b) you have a movie that's framed around a mystery but you're telling me not to think about the mystery. I am certainly fine with not having every loose end tied up in a bow, but that's much harder to do with a genre that is all about confusing details that make sense at the end. The Big Lebowski is stylish and character-driven as fuck but the core mystery still has a resolution that explains all the weird stuff throughout.
Which gets to the heart of it I think. I think I just don't like the director's personality. Most of his answers to the Q&A afterward rubbed me the wrong way as well as his intro. Someone asked about why they added CG to obscure Andrew Garfield's penis when there was so much female nudity in the film and his answer was "to be fair, Andrew Garfield was naked for a lot of the film." I think there wasn't an actress in the movie that didn't show her breasts (not complaining about this. I repeat, I am not complaining about this), but you get like two quick glimpses of Garfield's ass. I don't want to be a nudity police or anything, but the gratuity felt a little pushed to me (and i'm all for gratuitous nudity). I just see the director saying to himself "and EVERYONE's naked!" as he wrote the treatment.
So in the end, who knows how this film will sit on me. My first impression was that it was fun enough while watching but I walked out with several issues with the movie. Again, not to say I hated it, just didn't love it.
|09.26.18||Overlord||Julius Avery||I didn't love this one so much either. The beginning of the film was good but just made me want to watch Band of Brothers again. The middle of the film was long and slow, and the last third was by the numbers. I really expected a whole movie of Wolfenstein'esque supersoldier nonsense but you barely get any and that's right at the very end. I'm also not yet comfortable with Wyatt Russell's face on screen. It still looks like a wrong version of his dad to me.|
|09.27.18||Slut in a Good Way||Sophie Lorain||Day Eight (Final Day)|
The day started with a charming comedy about a teenaged girl who sleeps with all her co-workers. Very french (of course), but also funny and endearing while still following the typical rom-com structure.
|09.27.18||The Man Who Killed Don Quixote||Terry Gilliam||At least it's done and over with. This wasn't as bad as other recent Gilliam but still not good. It really didn't feel very "Gilliam-ish" at all to be honest. At least with Zero Theorem you had that wild production design and camerawork going for it. This didn't have the story or the visual flair to make it that interesting. But it's a movie that has a start, middle, and end, so there's that. It wasn't hard to watch but it wasn't fun either.|
|09.27.18||Maniac||William Lustig||William Lustig was still here to show a second screening of his 4K restoration of Maniac. It was fun to see a real honest-to-goodness horror film with exploding heads and practical blood effects again. |
Checking the notes, it looks like I saw this at my very first DVRfest back in 2005. It's funny how my tastes have changed. This time around the inner monologues and whiny moaning that Joe Spinell does were a highlight for me. I also felt like the more extreme Savini effects (the head blowing up and the partial dismemberment scene at the end) were very intense. For all the gore that we get today in films like The Night Comes for Us or Green Room, there's something about the way they did it back then... and also the way they shot it, really lingering on that coverage - even going slow-motion to revel in it - that feels effective to me.
And of course, a fantastic Q&A from Lustig himself. I wish someone would do an extended interview with him. Hmm, maybe they have. Let me look for podcasts. Oh, yeah there are a ton. cool.
|09.27.18||Bad Times at the El Royale||Drew Goddard||Closing night film. The only guest was a producer and video intro by Goddard. The movie was alright. I didn't care for Chris Hemsworth's part and the movie hit a slump when he came on screen for me. Also, the soundtrack reminded me of the video game Mafia 3. I wish it was juuuuuust a little better, but there was enough there to like.|
That's it. I had to get my car towed so I didn't go to the party. As always, the highlight was seeing all my movie friends again and stepping back into the life I led a dozen years ago. The lowlight was having to pay seven hundred bucks to do it. I'm not usually one to complain about prices (or maybe I am, who knows) but this year I felt it a little extra due to the price hike for this year's badges. The fantastic fest menu had a few good deals (the small popcorn, breakfast tacos) but also had a few duds (I ran out of chips for both the big and small queso. chips!). I was told several times that the price hike was because the festival lost sponsors after last years scandal-fest, but to me it did create an expectation that this year would be extra cool. While I can't complain about the programming (i didn't see anything terrible, I missed a few crowd faves like In Fabric, Chained for Life, Terrified, and One Cut of the Dead but that was due to my own choices), I do feel like there were fewer special little touches than I'd experienced in previous years. It felt very business-as-usual to me. Perhaps that's because many of the highball events were scheduled not to overlap with the breaks between movies so there was rarely anything going on over there, or maybe it's because i'm not really on twitter or facebook anymore so i just missed all the cool spontaneous whatevers that made the week special for people. I dunno.
So, here's a top 3
-The Night Comes for Us
I split out the rep stuff because I saw so much of it:
-Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore
And a bottom 3
-Man Who Killed Don Quixote
-An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn