Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 6

Fernanda Urrejola and Ernesto Diaz Espinosa

Fernanda Urrejola and Ernesto Diaz Espinosa (lead actress and director, respectively, from Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman)

Day 6 of Fantastic Fest was a light one for me. I deliberately skipped out on the first film timeslot of the day so I could get some PowerPoint Karaoke work done, and I split immediately after the final film. However, since the first two things I did see were a program of animated shorts and an anthology film in 26 parts, I felt like I’d somehow crammed about 40 movies into my head that day. Light, indeed!

DRAWN AND QUARTERED (animated shorts program)
I always love the animated films that are dug up by the Fantastic Fest folks, and this year was no different. Everyone loved one called “Attack of the Killer Mutant Chickens”, which was animated like a mid-1980s kids’ cartoon. “Tram” was also a favorite, a saucy and strangely cute short about a female tram driver fantasizes about the businessmen who board her vehicle. I was fond of “Bendito Machine IV”, which was a gorgeously animated, dialogue-free semi-fantasy about transportation and pollution. But everything paled against Disney’s “Paperman”, which will be screening soon in front of Wreck-It Ralph; it’s so gorgeous and sweet that your eyes will probably leak.

ABCs OF DEATH
I love the concept of the ABCs of Death. The producers contacted 26 horror directors from around the globe, gave each one a letter of the alphabet, asked each director to choose a word starting with that letter, and then gave them a small budget to make a 5-minute film featuring a death related to that word. Thus, the film starts with a segment called “A is for Apocalypse” and goes from there. As you’d expect from a project of this nature, some shorts are better (and/or crazier) than others. However, the overall experience is a lot of fun, if your tastes bend in such a direction. I’m not sure what sort of release it will get, but it’s quite likely I’ll buy this one on DVD.

THE MAFU CAGE
This was one of a trio of vintage horror films brought to the festival by Kier-La Janisse, author of House of Psychotic Women. I’ve always wanted to see The Mafu Cage, but never managed to get my hands on a copy. I’m pleased to say that it’s quite a film, and it’s worth some work to locate. The plot centers around two adult sisters, the older of whom is the caretaker for her younger, mentally unstable counterpart. The film focuses on the difficulty and pitfalls of being such a caretaker, as well as a powerhouse performance from Carol Kane, who plays the younger sister. The film is additionally interesting in that it was also directed and produced by women (Karen Arthur and Diana Young, respectively), which was kind of a novel thing in the late 1970s. Really good stuff.

MIAMI CONNECTION
Back in the 1980s, a tae kwon do grandmaster named Y. K. Kim decided to personally fund and direct a movie. The movie dropped quickly into obscurity until a print was unearthed by the Alamo Drafthouse, when they purchased a large collection of random film cannisters. The film is what you’d expect from a person who is not a filmmaker: filled to the brim with atrocious acting, writing, and excess. But what a failure! Miami Connection is one of the most deliciously awesome-bad films I’ve seen in a long time, and I want to show it to everyone. The plot somehow involves a cocaine-stealing ninja biker gang who have a vendetta against a goody-good synthpop band trained in tae kwon do (led by Y. K. Kim, of course). Despite the title, this all happens in Orlando. Seriously, if you love so-bad-they’re-great films, this is a gem.

OTHER CRAZINESS
The Alamo Drafthouse not only unearthed the film Miami Connection, they managed to re-unite the band featured in the film. Dragon Sound actually played live at one of the parties. WHOA.

Reminder: You Want to See PowerPoint Karaoke

That’s right! PowerPoint Karaoke’s triumphant return to the Bryant Lake Bowl stage is a mere day away! Is there a better way to spend the night of Thursday, September 27th than laughing at PowerPoint presentations? Of course there is, but you probably can’t have it for under $10!

This month’s presenters are: Jill Bernard, Joseph Scrimshaw, Eric Heiberg, and Sharon Stiteler!

I won’t be there, as am in Texas right now, but MY SLIDES WILL BE IN MINNESOTA!

Tickets are $7 ($5 with a MN Fringe button), and can be purchased at the Bryant Lake Bowl website!
http://bryantlakebowl.com/calendar/shows/powerpoint-karaoke-7

If you like doing the Facebook thing, you can do that here:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/355577351193652/

Please attend! Laugh! Drink beer!

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 5

Fantastic Feud

The Fantastic Feud

By the end of Day 5, I have seen 21 films. Three more days to go!

BLACK OUT
High-energy, smoothly funny, and witty, this crime flick from the Netherlands quickly became one of my favorites from the festival. It’s a dark joy from beginning to end, packed with fun characters and great dialogue. The plot operates like a Rube Goldberg device. The film also gets major bonus points for containing interesting female characters; watch in particular for a scene between two hitwomen, who offhandedly discuss the dearth of good female roles in genre films. It’s likely that I will buy a copy of Black Out somehow, and force it upon everyone I know. You have been warned.

DOM – A RUSSIAN FAMILY
This is undeniably a well-crafted film that I just couldn’t get into for some reason. Dom is mostly a kitchen sink drama set in rural Russia, wherein a long-lost brother, a member of the Russian mob, comes home to a family reunion. The film is beautifully shot and well-acted, but I had a very hard time tracking the dozens of characters. I don’t know if that is the fault of the film or my personal exhaustion, so your mileage may vary. I will grant that whatever the film was doing, it all built up to a humdinger of a climax.

UNIT 7
This is mostly a somewhat decent crime drama that fumbles its use of its most interesting aspects. Unit 7 is set in Seville, Spain, in the five years leading up to the 1992 World Expo. The police have been tasked with clearing out the drug trade by the time the Expo rolls around. That’s a great setting… but the film never uses it. One of the characters is diabetic… but the film never uses it, and flubs how insulin actually works. On top of that, the film never actually comes to a conclusion; instead, it just kind of stops. Outside of these flaws, it’s an okay slice-of-life cop drama about lawmakers gone dirty, but that’s a movie we’ve seen better elsewhere.

CRAVE
This character study, about a lonely crime scene photographer, creeps me right the fuck out. It’s a great character study, often darkly funny, but I can’t quite tell if the film is trying to forgive men for treating women like things that can be possessed. The film lives inside the head of this man, who often fantasizes about taking control of his life in violent ways; I can’t tell (and the character can’t tell) if this is madness or just a normal thing people do. Perhaps I need to digest it more. However, I can say with some certainty that the end credits are the coolest end credits I have seen in recent memory.

OTHER CHAOS

I managed to attend the Fantastic Feud last night, which was a chaotic, fabulous mess, as always. The Feud always pits Team America (five American filmmakers or critics) against Team International (five non-American filmmakers or critics); in a stunning turn of events, Team International won after a dead heat. During all this, comedian Doug Benson (on Team America) was taking bong hits onstage between questions, and actress Barbara Crampton was throwing answers from the audience, and Drafthouse owner Tim League was bribing the entire audience with free beer, and critic Scott Weinberg became the angriest stoner I’ve ever seen. Chaos reigns, indeed.

I’ve noticed over the last couple days that I’ve become a magnet for random hugs from drunken, male, foreign filmmakers. On day 4, I was attracting hugs from drunken Argentinians. Yesterday, it was drunken Norwegians and drunken Australians. Now I feel that I have to cozy up to African, Canadian, and Asian filmmakers so I can collect all the continents by the end of the festival.

I took a break during the day yesterday to have a drink at the Highball with Wendy and Jess. I learned that the Highball has glorious onion rings that are the size of donuts.

I was chatting with a well-versed film fan named Cody for about an hour yesterday, and then discovered with some dismay that I was old enough to be his mother. Oy gevalt.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 4

Harry Knowles and James Nunn

Harry Knowles (Ain’t It Cool News) with James Nunn (director of Tower Block)

I’ve reached the point in Fantastic Fest when I’m actually a little sad that I get my first pick for the first time slot of the day, because that means I can’t sleep in. However, my body is starting to adjust to eating like a Roman emperor for days on end, so I suppose that’s something.

Here are the films I saw yesterday:

YOUNG GUN IN THE TIME
Sure this film looks low budget, but you would never, ever guess that it cost a measly $30,000. It’s also a lot of fun. If Magnum P.I. were Korean and dropped into an episode of Dr. Who, the result might look something like this. The story involves a private detective who stumbles across a nefarious murder plot involving a time traveler and a dead girl, and he must catch the villain before the girl dies again. Young Gun in the Time has some pacing issues (ironically), but otherwise is a clever little comedy with a sprinkling of truly impressive scenes. In particular, watch for one of the best enclosed-space brawls ever. Bonus: it passes the Bechdel Test!

ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY
Imagine a world where a movie actually knows a bit about genetics. Luckily, you now live in this world: this thriller-drama was made in collaboration with — and filmed at — the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany. While the movie does eventually leap to movie-science for its miracle exemption, it gets astoundingly close to the leap with actual science. It also explores the intersection between human foibles and science with an incredibly sharp eye, knowing full well that science itself is neither good nor bad. The film runs into some problems when the methodical pacing sometimes dips into outright slow territory, but otherwise I felt this was a very strong film overall.

BRING ME THE HEAD OF MACHINE GUN WOMAN
Many action films are Straight Male Wish Fulfillment Delivery Mechanisms of some sort, but this one is nearly the textbook definition of the concept. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as that’s kind of the point here. Deliberately structured like a GTA-style game, Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman is the tale of an Average Joe who is forced by Bad Guys to track down an elusive, deadly, and scantily-clad hitwoman. The film is absolutely completely aware and comfortable with what it wants to be, and lunges for that goal with gusto. The result is a metric fuckton of fun. The film was made for pennies, shot in 15 days in Chile, and is a treat for fans of grindhouse-style cinema.

TOWER BLOCK
Tower Block is an example of a very familiar story told very well. The plot involves apartment building residents coming under siege when a sniper targets their building; the result is the trapped-people-must-cooperate plot we know so well from films like Assault on Precinct 13 and Attack the Block. What separates the wheat from the chaff in this film subgenre is the writing, particularly when it comes to characters. Tower Block benefits greatly from a tight script by Dr. Who writer James Moran. The characters never feel like archetypes, and they push and pull each other in sometimes surprising ways. Bravo to the excellent ensemble cast, too. Great, solid stuff. Worth some work to track down.

TWO RABBITS
This Brazilian film is nearly a chaos of style over substance, particularly during the opening half hour where it introduces dozens of characters and is nearly impenetrable. However, it eventually settles into an actual plot and becomes a interesting exercise in the double-crossed crime subgenre. Much of it is stuff we’ve seen before, but the film benefits from outright verve, some fun supporting characters, and a couple truly fun plot elements.

OTHER WEIRDNESS

I got a chance to chat a bit with the Norwegian filmmakers behind a documentary named Exorcism in the 21st Century. It turns out that even Norwegians hate Aquavit. They were also fascinated with the concept of “hell house” haunted houses.

The folks behind American Scream took over an empty storefront by the theater and set up a tiny haunted house for the Fantastic Fest attendees. It wasn’t terribly elaborate or scary, but the final room was a party. Every haunted house should end in a party! Bonus points if the haunted house goes all Satre and makes it a party that you can never leave.

I personally got to shake James Nunn’s hand and thank him for Tower Block. I hope to do the same thing to James Moran when I see him at CONvergence next year.

One of the best short films I’ve seen all festival is online. Watch it, especially if you like James Urbaniak from The Venture Brothers and/or dig female filmmakers.

I was accosted by drunken Argentinians at The Highball last night. Actually, everyone was accosted by drunken Argentinians at The Highball last night. The theory is now that it takes two drunken Argentinians to replace one Nacho Vigalondo, who is sadly not at Fantastic Fest this year.

Harry Knowles Being Assaulted by Valentín Javier Diment

Harry Knowles being accosted by Valentín Javier Diment, director of Memory of the Dead.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 3

David Wu Talking About Cold Steel

Director David Wu talking about his film, Cold Steel.

It’s extraordinary how exhausting Fantastic Fest is. Today is only the morning of Day 4, and every cell in my body is already plotting a revolt. Yet I shall soldier on, because I got great film picks today!

Here’s a sampling of what I saw yesterday:

COLD STEEL
This film is essentially Enemy at the Gates set in China, a tale of two snipers on opposite lines. It is quite a good wartime melodrama, though, with nice bits of dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, and excellent action. It also contains a more subtle antagonist than I’m used to seeing in an Asian drama about wartime. Recommended.

HOLY MOTORS
Man, I have no idea what this film was actually about (aside from “spiritual stuff”), but I sure enjoyed the journey. On the surface, the film is about an actor who rides around in a giant limousine, who stops at “meetings” around the city and performs different roles in seemingly real-life vignettes. His first meeting has him turning into a beggar woman; later, he’s a father, or a dying uncle, or sewer-dwelling bum who photobombs Eva Mendes. It is strange, beautiful, and hallucinogenic, held together by a magnificent performance by Denis Lavant. Holy Motors is dense and possibly impenetrable, but it is also enjoyable without diving into its philosophy. My friend Don, though, may have had the best capsule review of this film when he said, “That was the Frenchest thing I have seen in a long time.”

PLAN C
I’m a sucker for a decent “crime gone horribly wrong” movie, and this one is quite good. The story centers around a cop who owes money to a Chinese thugs; when they start threatening his family, he turns desperate for payback cash. That’s how the plan to rob an illegal casino comes to life… and so on. Plan C is quite dark and quite funny, centering around an engaging main character and supporting characters worthy of a Cohen brothers movie. Yet the film keeps its quirkiness understated, and never seems to be clever for the sake of cleverness. Nicely done.

PUSHER
I am sad to report that I have never seen the Refn version of Pusher, which is damn near 15 years old by now. I am pleased to report, though, that this English remake is quite solid, and that it makes me want to look into the older film as well. I am told by others that this remake is very faithful to the original (and is even executive produced by Refn), though the characters have a different tone. On its own merits, this Pusher is also a fine “crime gone horribly wrong” flick, wherein a drug dealer flubs a large deal and winds up owing a huge amount of money in a short amount of time to very dangerous people. Most of the film progresses as you might expect, but I was particularly impressed with its endgame. Nice, tense, and full of verve.

TAI CHI 0
I was exhausted by this time, and the film didn’t start until 1 AM, so I have to admit that I snoozed off during a couple points of the film. That’s not the fault of this movie, though. Tai Chi 0 is a bright, feather-light, zany, zippy martial arts flick, complete with video game narrative guideposts (think Scott Pilgrim), steampunk machinery (!), and fight choreography by Sammo Hung (!!!). Don’t go in expecting a complete story, though. Tai Chi 0 is only the first entry in a series, and it ends on a cliffhanger. (You get to watch the trailer for the next film during the credits.) The basic story is one you’ve seen a thousand times in martial arts flicks; it’s the method of storytelling here that makes Tai Chi 0 a treat.

OTHER ODDITIES

I had a fantastic day yesterday at scoring free stuff. I got a free beer in the Shiner theater during Plan C. I got free Tales from the Crypt pint glasses (!) at Pusher. I got a free lollipop at Tai Chi 0.

Speaking of lollipops, a guy named Lars gave the most astounding introduction to Tai Chi 0, which involved a five-minute rant about rediscovering lollipops and the phrase, “Watch out, man, I know Tai Chi.” I think the preamble (emphasis on “amble”) was due to someone telling him to fill time while they got the film ready, but the result was downright surreal.

I totally missed out on The Fantastic Debates, wherein Fantastic Fest guests first debate with words, and then resolve their battles in a boxing ring. I hear that the twin women who made American Mary battled each other, and Tim League battled the guy who made Miami Connection. I’m sure video will emerge soon.

Director David Wu was present for the Cold Steel screening, and he delivered a fantastic Q&A. He’s funny, articulate, and in possession of decades of experience in the Asian film industry. I could listen to him do Q&A for hours.