I spent a lot of the first weekend of Fantastic Fest doing interviews with filmmakers that we’ll bring you later this week. The movies I did get to screen along the way fit in one handy little recap for days 2-4 of Fantastic Fest.
American Scream is really well done and has a lot of heart. It didn’t make me care about building a haunted house though. This documentary from the director of Best Worst Movie follows three families who build haunted houses for Halloween. You’d think that would be automatically interesting, but you find you’re kind of just watching someone’s arts and crafts projects. Their creativity is amazing and amazingly nobody loses a finger with all the hardware. Director Michael Paul Stephenson captures some poignant moments, though the sad music is too much. You sense that this is all they have. It makes me grateful to have something year round and pity them. Surviving wind damage and medical issues raise the stakes. I just still don’t care about building a haunted house, but I got to know the families well enough that I wanted them to be happy.
The Collection is better than The Collector. It gets going right away and it’s fast paced. It’s still Saw without the morality though. It’s well documented how much I love Saw (Google it) so I try not to get too defensive, but Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton really are making the movies we thought their Saw sequels would be: just traps and kills. This one takes the Aliens approach where a team of mercenaries hire the survivor Arkin (Josh Stewart) to lead them back to The Collector’s hideout to rescue his latest victim Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick.) I’m really glad the mercenaries have no personality at all. If they weren’t one-dimensional it would be frustrating. The traps are not inventive, they’re just dangerous. Look for the trip wires and don’t touch the bear traps. It’s not fun when it just kills you and there’s no strategy involved. Finally a cage near the end requires a little brutal ingenuity to escape. Fitzpatrick is good and Elena has a pretty clever escape. She MacGyvers her own bra, so there’s highlights.
Here’s a movie I picked randomly and it totally paid off. This is a drama about neo-Nazi girls in Germany. The lead performance by Alina Levshin is so phenomenal, it’s the must see drama of Fantastic Fest. Marisa (Levshin) hangs out with her skinhead boyfriend and his hatemongers, attacking people of color in public. Svenja (Jella Haase) is a teenager who gets immersed in the nazi world without even realizing it. She just hangs out with guys who have Hitler memorabilia and watches propaganda videos and it seems cool. This is a solid portrait of what sorts of communities breed hate. Marisa is somehow beautiful even with her swastika tattoos, half buzzed hair and violent attitude. It’s okay, I can fix her. You just watch her relationships evolve, watch her cross paths with Svenja, with no judgments.
Flicker is funny, but probably not as funny as the audience seemed to think it was. It’s an absurdist workplace comedy from Sweden, akin to “The Office” or Office Space. When I say absurd it’s not surreal, just out of the ordinary. The boss puts a dunce cone on an employee. One worker has trouble with a report and his various computers through the whole film. An injured worker tries to keep the extent of his injuries from his wife. You can see the plots are pretty conventional, so without giving away jokes I can say that the execution is solid. Again, I wouldn’t laugh out loud at some of the obvious jokes, I’d just smile. But still, funny foreign movie.
Lee’s Adventure is a weird time travel movie, as weird as actually traveling through time probably would be, certainly as weird as you’d expect to see at Fantastic Fest. Jaycee Chan stars as a guy who learned how to turn a video game into a time machine from his uncle. His adventures are a mix of obsessive video gaming, cyborg appendages, animated flashbacks that I have to assume are literally real, visiting random time periods and sensory images of romance. There is a story in here and it makes sense, but it takes the abstract approach to it. Probably for time travel junkies only, but good fun.
History was made at Fantastic Fest with the reissue of this forgotten 1980s gem and reunion concert of the band Dragon Sound. Only the in ‘80s could there be a movie about a Tae Kwon Do rock band who fights ninjas. Hollywood must bring back the Tae Kwon Do rock band/ninja genre. This is a beautiful print if you get to see it at the Alamo Drafthouse, and it is the kind of ‘80s purity that isn’t fully captured by studio productions. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s a genuine study of what the era of ‘80s movies produced and inspired. These are aspiring filmmakers keeping up with what they got from their contemporary cinema. The script is written in broken English with characters saying things (like “Black American”) that aren’t quite right, but no one cleaned it up. The bad guy is mad that Dragon Sound took his band’s job at the club, so enlists another bad guy’s help: “If you get my job back for me any money I make is yours.” No wonder this guy can’t hold a job. There appear to be a lot of first takes with stumbles over lines. The two Dragon Sound songs are exactly the same, just with different words, and they are not edited at all for the montages. The songs play in full and the footage is tailored to them. That’s an example of the little things they missed in filmmaking style that are just amazing to watch as experiments in film theory. The fights aren’t exactly great choreography, but they have big payoff moments and bloody kills. The fashion, the hair (facial and chest), the cocaine, Miami Connection is something any ‘80s film lover will want to see.
The Shining Backwards And Forwards
As a companion to the documentary Room 237 which I haven’t seen yet, Fantastic Fest screened an experiment where The Shining was shown forwards and backwards, superimposed on each other. This is one of the theories posited in the Room 237 documentary on Shining theories. The experiment is a success as there are definitely scenes where the images inform each other. I think it’s less revelatory and more that you could play any film this way and be able to make connections. I mean, if you see images of the end during the beginning of the movie, of course it seems like foreshadowing. The best part is when the two films meet in the middle and merge for one moment. This recap doesn’t really help you though because where else are you going to see this?
Wake in Fright
Drafthouse Releasing is putting Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 Australian movie back in theaters, so Fantastic Fest is a big advertisement for the reissue. As a fan of First Blood, I was surprised it’s not really an action movie. I should have remembered Kotcheff also directed Fun with Dick and Jane, Of Mice and Men and Weekend at Bernie’s. Wake in Fright is about a teacher (Gary Bond) who stops by Bundayabba (The Yabba) and instead of passing through, ends up gambling and fighting kangaroos with the locals until he spirals downwards into despair. It’s a manly soul searching movie, and the kangaroo sequence is pretty stunning. A part of me could never get past the “just leave” factor, but I appreciated the ‘70s style, the zooms and flash cuts to give us the character’s point of view.