Fantastic Fest 2014

Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and features horror, science fiction, action, fantasy, Asian, and cult or anything else that strikes Tim League’s fancy.  This was its tenth year since being founded by Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse ), Harry Knowles (Aint it Cool News), and others.  Since this festival is held in Austin at the newly reopened Alamo South Lamar (except for special events), I decided to give it a try.

In addition to the movies with directors, producers, and actors in attendance, there were several events and parties at the neighboring The Highball, including an event with Leonard Maltin and a taping of the  Doug Loves Movies podcast with Doug Benson.   The Alamo Drafthouse theaters serve food and drink, so there is no need to leave  the premises once you get there for your first movie…except eight days straight of Alamo Draffthouse food is not a very healthy diet.

I had a great time and will probably attend Fantastic Fest again. There were generally five slots of movies a day with 4-5 films to pick from.  I usually made between 2-4 showings a day.  Not all of these movies were totally up my alley, but here are a few that  I really enjoyed (not in any specific order):

As Seen By The Rest: A Bollywood film noir that at times reminded me of Roshomon, Pulp Fiction, and Sin City.  As with all good Bollywood movies, this breaks into song and dance several times,  planned for an intermission, and inexplicably and frequently switches between an Indian dialect and English,  even in mid-sentence.

Man From Reno: A Japanese mystery writer gets involved and helps to solve a real mystery in San Francisco.  Good plot with good twists.

Duke of Burgundy: Avoid this at all costs.  A lesbian love story that almost put me to sleep.

Kung Fu Elliott:  One of my favorites of the festival.  This is a documentary about a guy who wants to become the biggest action star in Canada.  This movie follows him as he is shooting his latest,  Blood Fight (his first film was titled They Killed My Cat).  Unfortunately he is not good at making movies nor at Kung Fu.  This started out as a ligh-hearted look at a guy whose aspirations exceed his skill set, but midway through takes unexpected turns and gets much darker.  This is both funny and disturbing.

Bros Before Hos:  A very funny, politically incorrect, raunchy film from the Netherlands about two brothers who fall in love with the same girl.

Lost Soul: An excellent documentary about the 1997 disastrous making of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.  The original director, Richard Stanley, was fired early on and participated in the documentary and was at the screening.  He has very strong opinions as this had a big negative impact on his career.  The movie turned into a disaster for a lot of reasons, and the documentary is fascinating.

Master Pancake mocks The Island of Dr. Moreau:  Master Pancake mocks movies, ala Mystery Science Theater.  I always enjoy Master Panacke, but after seeing Lost Soul I was interested to see their mocking of this movie. While they hadn’t prepared as well as they normally would, this movie was very easy to mock, and it was a very funny show.  Even during the mocking,  you could tell what a bad movie this was.  Richard Stanley participated.

Goodnight Mommy: The original Austrian versions title translates to I See, I See, but for the American release, it will have this terrible name.  This was Tim League’s pick for the secret screening, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s a mystery about a mother and her two sons.  She is recovering from an accident and they are having relationship problems.  It’s not clear exactly what is going on until the end.  I liked it a lot, but be warned: it gets pretty violent along the way.

In Order of Disappearance: Another one of my favorites.  When a man’s son is wrongly killed by drug dealers, he seeks revenge.  This was much funnier than I expected.  You also get to see the serious snow clearing machines that they need in a country like Norway!

The Tribe:  I’m not sure this will appeal to many people.  This is a Ukranian film set in a boarding school for the deaf.  It’s a 2+ hour film with just Ukranian sign language and no subtitles.  But it’s not hard to follow the plot.  The film is about a new student at the school trying to adjust.  He gets involved with a group of thugs.  This is very gritty and gets very violent at the end.

The Tokyo Tribes:  This film was quite a contrast to that previous 2+ hour one with no dialogue. This movie was the story of gang warfare in Tokyo told totally via hip hop (plus lots of action).  My son always makes fun of West Side Story.  I wonder what he would think of this!

To Be Takei

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

To Be Takei is an entertaining and mostly lighthearted documentary about the former Star Trek star and current Facebook phenom.    Takei’s charisma shines through.   He  always has a smile on his face and is definitely enjoying this stage of his  life with his renewed time in the spotlight.

While this documentary is mostly lighthearted it does cover some serious topics starting with his days in a Japanese American internment camp during WW2, it’s effect on his family and how his parents handled it during and after the war (and the current musical on that subject he is hoping to take to Broadway).  It also covers some of his early career roles in demeaning Asian stereotyped roles, his coming out as gay later in life and his advocacy for gay rights causes.

The film also entertainingly revies his days on Star Trek with interviews with several cast members including an unflattering appearance by William Shatner,  his days with Howard Stern and his current popularity on Facebook.

This  is one of the more entertaining documentaries of the year.

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Mood Indigo

Bill C’s Review – 1 out of 5

Mood Indigo is the latest directorial effort by Michel Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is a VERY quirky, special-effect-loaded with romance.  Usually I’m into quirky stuff, but this did not do it for me.

The quirkiness and special effects were interesting at the beginning, but as the movie wore on they became tiresome and distracted from the plot.  Towards the middle, I lost interest and was wishing I had chosen another movie.  The end should have carried an emotional wallop, but due to all the diversions, it came off flat for me.

My guess is there will be lots of folks that love this movie, but I was not one of them. This film is in French with subtitles.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Bill C’s Review – 4.25 out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy is joy to watch. It’s a  Marvel based super hero movie with lots of humor, great energy and music and with  good action.

A toned Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation is the excellent lead of a good cast that includes Zoe Saldana and the voice work of Vin Deisel (‘I am Groot’) and Bradley Cooper.  This is a lesser know Marvel set of unique characters and  it includes a super hero tree and fox but the filmmakers definitely made it work.

I did not see the 3D version so  I don’t know if that adds anything.  As with seemingly all Marvel comics this had an extra scene at the end but there were a lot of credits so you need to decide for yourself whether it’s worth the wait.  After Boyhood this has been my favorite movie this summer.

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A Most Wanted Man

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

A Most Wanted Man is a good spy thriller based on a John le Carre novel.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles, plays Gunther, a  German spy operative in Hamburg fighting the war on terror in the post 9/11 world.  This movie is not an action movie – it’s a more subtle spy story relying on detailed and sometimes slow digging into the details to build a case.  What makes the movie interesting is not just Gunther trying to build these two cases and determining how high up the chain he can get but seeing him try to maneuver against those that should be his partners  – other German police organizations and his counterparts in the CIA.  The movie comes together with a few surprises in the end.

Hoffman is excellent in an understated way and this has a good supporting cast with Rachel  McAdams and Willem Dafoe also playing Germans and Robin Wright as a CIA operative.

If you look for a lot of action in your spy thrillers you might find parts of this a little slow  but I enjoyed it.

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Life Itself

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Life Itself is a great biographical documentary about film critic Roger Ebert.  The movie spans his entire life including a significant amount of filming during Ebert’s final weeks as he finally succumbed to cancer.

The film is a moving tribute and shows Ebert, warts and all, from his days breaking into newspapers while still a teenager, his ascension as a critic while battling alcoholism, a nuanced view of his pairing with fellow critic Gene Siskel, finding his soul mate later in life, and finally his brave and very open battle with cancer.

The film is directed by Steve James, who is most famous for Hoop Dreams.  It’s a very emotional movie movie with a lot of humor as well.  Some people might find parts of this movie tough to watch due to the toll that his illness took on him and the physical problems that he faced, but this is a film well worth seeing.

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Lucy

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

I knew from the previews that the plot of Lucy made little sense, but since the film was directed by Luc Besson, I hoped the action would make up for it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy and does a fine job.  She is happy-go-lucky until drug dealers use her as a drug smuggling mule by implanting a new drug in her stomach. Things go from bad to worse as the bag of drugs break, causing Lucy to utilize 100% of her brain power. (Luckily, Morgan Freeman is giving a lecture so we know humans only use 10%). This turns her into a vengeful superhuman fighting machine. Up to this point, the film had lived up to my expectations of having a dumb plot, but the action did not redeem the movie either. In some ways, this film reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey as there were flashbacks to prehistoric monkeys and other animals, but that didn’t make much sense to me either.

The action was never boring, but it didn’t seem that original and when necessary, Besson seemed to just give Lucy a new super  power that didn’t have too much to do with brain power.  Lots of guys coming at you with guns? Give her the power to disarm all of them at once from a distance. No problem!

Besson has written/directed some great action movies, including District B13 (very highly recommended), Taken, La Femme Nikita, and The Transporter.  I’d recommend one of those instead of his latest film.

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Snowpiercer

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Snowpiercer takes place in a post apocalyptic world after a plan to reverse global warming goes awry and most life on earth is wiped out as the earth is plunged into a deep freeze.    All survivors  have been riding on a super train that needs to keep moving to allow it to sustain life.   All of this is told before the opening credits.e

The class system rules on the train with the lower classes in the back doing all the work and the 1% in front living the good life.  After several years the people in back revolt.  This is an excellent sci-fi movie with excellent, varied action.   The plot is also pretty good with a lot of  surprises/twists revealed along the way.  There’s also a good mix of humor to go along with the action and serious themes.

This is directed by South Korean (this film is in English)  film maker Joon-ho Bong who is most famous for The Host a few years ago.  The cast is excellent with Tilda Swinton (almost unrecognizable) steals the movie as one of the leaders of the upper class trying to control the lower classes.

I think this just had a limited release and might be easier to find on video on demand.  it is worth looking for.

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Boyhood

Boyhood – 4.5 out of 5

I originally reviewed this at SXSW in March.  It is now being released.  So far this is my favorite movie of 2014.

This is a great movie that everyone should see when it comes out in July.  It’s a narrative that took over 12 years to make.  Richard Linklater shot for 3 days every year with the same actors telling the journey of a boy and his family as he grows from 1st grade to his first few days of college.  While Linklater had the basic arc he wanted to follow it’s interesting to watch as he weaves in the cultural events of the time into the story.  And it’s just fascinating to watch as he and his family go through change (including physical changes during those 12 years).  While nothing incredibly exciting is going on plot wise it’s just fascinating to watch.    This also had an excellent cast led by Ethan Hawke (also great in Predestination), Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane (as the boy) and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) as his sister.

This  movie packs an emotional wallop.

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22 Jump Street

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

22 Jump Street is the sequel to 21 Jump Street starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum graduating  from cops going undercover as high school students to cops going undercover as college students.

The sequel is almost as funny as the first.  The movie doesn’t take itself seriously so they feel free to make fun of everything from the absurdity of them pretending to be college students to film sequels to their own film persona. Some of the humor doesn’t quite hit the mark, but a lot does.

The film has a bunch of cameos cameos and you should stick around during the closing credits. If you liked the first one, you’ll definitely like this. But  it’s not necessary to have seen the original to enjoy this above-average comedy.

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I really enjoyed this, even better than 21 Jump Street from what I can recall.  It’s over the top and nuts in some scenes with not much down time between the laughs. Bill mentioned the closing credits….they are as funny as anything, and at the very end there’s a 3 second funny bit. Ice Cube has a real good scene where he goes ballistic. Channing Tatum is so good, and of course Jonah Hill never disappoints. Perfect summer fun film!

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