Fantastic Fest 2015 – Part 1

This is the second year I’ve attended Fantastic Fest.  It’s the largest ‘genre’ film fest in the U.S. and is held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Location in Austin.  Here is a link to my post last year which gives a more detailed description of the fest.  I really enjoy this fest as it has some great movies from all over the world and many you are not likely to see anywhere else.  It also has some great activities going on at The Highball .  Here is a link to the schedule (which includes the Highball activities).

Here are some hilights from the first 4 days (this goes for 8 days):

Victoria

A really cool German film.  They made this   2 hour 15 minute movie in a single take  as they move through multiple locations in Berlin.   The single take was incredibly impressive.  The movie follows Victoria as she parties, meets some people and makes some increasingly bad decisions.  Very interesting.

Anomalisa

Charlie Kaufman’s latest.  This is all done in stop motion animation  This is an exploration of one man’s psyche and sort of depressing. I think I liked it more for the animation and because of the Q+A with Kaufman.  This film was also preceded by Don Hertzfeldt’s latest cartoon which was good  (and he was there too).

The Brand New Testament 

A French comedy about God’s daughter going off to find her own apostles and writing a new testament.  Very funny (although some might be offended).

Son of Saul

This won awards  at Cannes and is a great but very sad/depressing film.  It takes place in a concentration camp during WWII over a day when one of the Jews that is forced to help the Nazis in the concentration camps finds what he believes is his dead sons body and wants to have a proper Jewish burial. Very powerful.

High-Rise

This is like last years Snowpiercer about class struggles but takes place in a high rise instead of a  moving train.  Entertaining but too long.  See Snowpiercer instead.

Liza the Fox Fairy

I liked this one a lot.  A dark comedy about a woman striving for true love.  Very unique with a musical ghost.

Man vs. Snake

One of my all time favorite documentaries is ‘King of Kong’. It’s about Steve Wiebe trying to set a world record in Donkey Kong and is both hilarious and moving.  Man vs. Snake is a documentary about the quest to get a billion points in a lesser know video game called Nibbler.  This is also a funny documentary with lots off twists  and turns.  It’s good but I’d still recommend King of Kong first.

Schneider vs. Bax

Another good dark comedy. This one is about 2 hit man assigned to kill each other.

Klown Forever

This is a sequel to a Borat like comedy that I really loved called Klown.  Klown was hilarious, totally inappropriate and unique.  The sequel is good, but not as good as the original.

Black Mass

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Black Mass is the story of crime boss Whitey Bulger and his relationship with the FBI prior to his 16 year life as a fugitive.

I liked this a lot.  It is reminiscent of Goodfellas (although not as good).  Johnny Depp gives a great performance as Bulger – nice as can be one minute and then a psychotic murderer the next.  Joel Egerton (who Bill and I both liked in The Gift) was also awesome as Bulger’s FBI handler.  He gives a really nuanced performance as someone heading into the abyss as he lets Bulger use him and forgets what his true role is.

This also has a great supporting cast.   Benedict  Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, a powerful Boston politician.  Peter Sarsgaard is terrific as a drug addict.    David Harbour is also a standout as an FBI agent.

If you like this type of movie  (and don’t mind violence) this is definitely worth seeing.

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I liked it a lot, same as Bill C, although my rating is closer to a 4- or even 3+, because it’s not close to Goodfellas or Departed (another film that is based on Whitey Bulger, although fictional). I think I liked Ben Affleck’s Town better. This film apparently sticks close to the book written by Boston Globe reporters. I lived in Boston during the heydey of Whitey, and all I knew was that the major crime figure in town was free to walk around while his brother Billy ran the state senate, as the most powerful politician around. This movie doesn’t show really the crimes other than whacking his enemies, or supposed friends, or his scheming, rather it’s a character study of a sociopath, played compellingly by Johnny Depp, and the incredible gullibility/blindness/one-mindedness of the FBI as they focus on the Italian mafia as they let Whitey do his thing, supposedly giving them valuable information, which of course is mostly bogus or invented by his Southie buddy on the FBI. I really liked when they cut to the Winter Hill Gang members who end up informing on Whitey, in order to shave years off their sentences. So, overall an enjoyable couple of hours, and standout performance by Depp and others, but a somewhat cliche story portrayed in a straightforward fashion.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Black-Mass-Movie-Review

Grandma

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Grandma stars Lily Tomlin in the title role helping to get her granddaughter through  a personal crisis.  It’s sort of a one day road movie with Tomling revisiting some past and current relationships as she tries to get the money to help her granddaughter.  It has it’s good moments and Tomlin’s characters is able to explore and hopefully resolve some of her past/current relationships along the way.

I liked it but I’m not sure it will stay with me very long.  If you’re a fan of Tomlin check it out.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

images

 

Mistress America

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig team up again in this new comedy.  As in the entertaining Frances Ha, they share writing credits and Baumbach direct while Gerwig stars.  If you liked Frances Ha you will probably like this.

Gerwig stars along with Lola Kirke.  Kirk plays Tracy, a college freshman in NYC who is  lonely and bored.  Tracy meets Brooke (Gerwig), soon to be her step sister, and Brooke show her how to open up and try to get more out of life. Though Brooke’s plans don’t always work out she is going for all the gusto.

Greta Gerwig is one of my favorite actresses during the past 10 years and, as usual, doesn’t disappoint.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

229427

Meru

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Meru is an excellent documentary about the attempts by three climbers to become the first to  scale the Shark’s Fin route up Meru mountain in the Himalayas.

While watching this, it is hard not to think about how crazy these guys are for doing this.  They put up with incredible hardships as they hung off the side of this mountain in awful conditions while attempting this climb.  They sleep in a little tent tethered to the side of the mountain while carrying everything they need while climbing.

One of the climbers was a co-director and the footage on the mountain is incredible.  It will be interesting to see how the footage in the fictional movie ‘Everest’ of the disastrous climb in the late 90’s compares to this.

In addition to the great footage the backstories of the 3 climbers has a few surprises that add to the film.

If you like this type of movie it is definitely worth seeing.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Meru Expedition, Garwhal, India
Meru Expedition, Garwhal, India
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011
The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011

Phoenix

Bill I’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Really well done “thriller”, with no screen violence, but an atmosphere of distrust, guilt, remembrance, in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. You see the ruins of buildings everywhere as folks make their way in their daily life, with American troops controlling key check points on the roads. We follow Nelly, a survivor of a German “camp” as she get her horrific facial injuries healed, and emerges with a new face, and a frightened, hesitant personality.  Her close friend is there to help re-integrate her into society, and pushes her to move to the new Jewish enclave in Palestine, where they can live without the fear of being targeted. Nelly is not interested in that, in fact says she’s not Jewish, but is obsessed at finding her husband. She does find him, but he doesn’t recognize her, and there the plot gets complicated and interesting. How she interacts with him, even after her friend says he set her up (and who amongst her friends betrayed her) to be arrested by the Nazis, is the mystery and how she unveils her true self is the thrilling part. My mother was puzzled by the ending but I thought it was pretty clear. See this movie and I’d be interested in hearing your perspective.

Bill C’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I liked this film as well.  The atmosphere of post WWII Berlin is well done.  The plot has some good twists (although I wasn’t sure what happened with Nelly’s friend was needed) and the acting is first rate.  As for the ending, I thought it was perfectly clear from Nelly’s perspective but Johnny’s emotions  at the end were ambiguous (to me anyway).

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Ricki and the Flash

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I would say this is a good movie to see on TV except that the music scenes are best experienced on a big screen. Meryl Streep can rock it out! And I’m sure it helps that her lead guitarist is an actual rock star, Rick Springfield. His role as her long-time adorer and FWB friend was not as believable. She plays a middle aged leader of a bar band who abandoned her young family years ago, and now her ex husband asks her to come back to help her daughter get over a painful marriage breakup. The best part for me was to see the perfect interactions with the resentful daughter, played by Meryl’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer. Again, not so believable to me was to envision that Meryl’s younger character somehow found a soul-mate in Kevin Kline’s formal, upper class cliche father. And the film relies heavily on ugly over-done eye shadow and weird braided hair to show how much Meryl is out of the mainstream. But, overall a pleasant movie.

Cop Car

Bill C’s review 3.5 out of 5

Cop Car has a very simple premise: two kids are running away from home and stumble upon a hidden, seemingly abandoned police car.  They take it for a joy ride.  Unfortunately, the cop car belongs to a bad (a very bad) cop, and he wants it back.

This is another  movie with a lot of twists and turns that keeps you sitting at the edge of your seat. James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford do a great job as the two kids, and Kevin Bacon is sufficiently menacing as the cop.  

This movie is a lean 86 minutes, so the action moves along swiftly, and there’s good usage of black humor to break up the tension.

This film might be hard to find in theaters.  For those near an Alamo Drafthouse, you might check for it there.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

75

Straight Outta Compton

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

I almost gave this a 4 rating because I enjoyed it so much, but I thought due to its formulaic structure (boys meet boys, boys lose boys, boys get back together) I didn’t think it’s a top movie of the year so far. But what’s there is captivating, from the rise of the young members of rap group NWA coming together to create music and messages that rocked the culture. It’s got some great elements: rags to riches, brotherly bonding (both more captivating and more realistic then what we see in Entourage movie), the music hits business (including the slick talking manager), betrayal, villains (cue Shug Knight!), growth, and ultimately death. Ice Cube is portrayed by his actual son (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who looks just like his dad. Easy E is the most compelling character, and the always great Paul Giamatti excels in manager sleaziness disguised by loving mentor and plain talking businessman. I could go on and describe some great scenes, especially the crowd receptions, the riots, but the biggest emotional impact for me was to see how the police treated these young “gangsters”, which hits so close to home when seeing it happening in everyday America. I never cared much for NWA’s music, and in fact despised their F*** tha Police song, but put into context here (Ice Cube writes it literally after experiencing first hand police thuggery and racism), it make sense and comes across as a legitimate form of civil protest. The violence and  sex is nothing too brutal or explicit, and I think the movie is OK for teenagers 15 and over. It’s nothing they haven’t already heard, and by seeing this film we can understand where the NWA members came from.

NWA Straight Outta Compton

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

The new The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film is a prequel to the the 1960’s TV show. This was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid.  I thought the film was OK, but there are tons of this type of movie (Mission: Impossible, for example) that are better.

I was hoping that the nostalgia factor would overcome any shortcomings, but while they used the same title, characters , etc.,  the movie came up short in this area.  My memory of this TV show from my childhood is probably faulty—I’m actually recording a couple of episodes to see what it was really like.  As a prequel that tells the story of how Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakan came to be a team working for Mr. Waverly, the movie had none of the friendly banter I remember from the show.  Worse, Kuryaken was nothing like he was on the TV show.  I remember him as a really smart person who was not physically intimidating, but in the movie he can rip trunk doors off of cars.  While the movie version of Napoleon Solo was similar to the TV show character, Henry Cavill is no Robert Vaughn.

The film’s action scenes, humor, and plot were fine, but again nothing special.  I’d like all who were fans of the show to check this movie out to see if they agree.  Otherwise, you can probably skip this one.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

images