Fantastic Fest 2011: Part 1
The Squad, Human Centipede II, Manborg, A Boy and His Samurai
Part 2
The 2011 Award Winners.
Part 3
Paranormal Activity 3, Melancholia, Sleep Tight, New Kids Turbo, Aardvark, Calibre 9.
Part 4
Comin’ At Ya 3D, Urban Explorer, Headhunters, Bullhead, You’re Next

Fantastic Fest had one major drawback for me — I was averaging about five hours of sleep a night, getting to the theater around 11am everyday and then leaving around 2am. I drank a varied arsenal of caffeinated beverages to keep me afloat, but I was also consuming copious amounts of beer all day too. The combination of these factors often made it a struggle to remain vigilant during certain films, especially the midnight shows. Surprisingly, I only fell asleep during one film. This one…

Beyond the Black Rainbow
Genre: Sci-Fi
Director: Panos Cosmatos

FF Summary: Young Elena has been a prisoner her entire life, her world consisting of four stark white walls and a single window. On the other side of that window is Doctor Barry Nyle. Is he Elena’s salvation or her tormenter? Will she ever be free to live a normal life? And what, pray tell, is the exact purpose of the mysterious glowing pyramid at the center of the institute that contains them both?

Should You Be Excited: Sorta, yeah.

Thoughts: Full disclosure — I fell asleep for about twenty minutes during the middle of BTBR. It’s a slow, somewhat hypnotic film, but my nap had far less to do with the film itself than the facts stated in my intro. But I am refraining from giving the film a rating, as I was not totally present for the whole picture. That said…

BTBR is an extremely unique and bizarre film. For genre fans, especially those who might appreciate an homage to the simmering and often glacial pace of trippy 70’s/early 80’s sci-fi and horror, owe it to themselves to check the film out. It is one of those. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll want to have seen it and be able to comment on it. When I wasn’t battling fatigue (or succumbing to it), I really dug the film’s unbridled craziness. Michael Rogers is creepy-great as the film’s villain, and Panos Cosmatos creates a wonderfully realized world; the film goes so far with the stylistic homage that it at times hovers somewhere near parody. This is just a weird, weird film.

Moment to Savor: The campfire scene — which doesn’t go so great for everyone.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard

FF Summary: Frank and Casper have a simple, multi-stage plan for the coming weekend. First, they shall engage in an activity guaranteed to keep their women at a safe distance. In this case that means canoeing. Second, under the guise of a camping adventure, they shall canoe not to a campground but to an exclusive one-night-a-year brothel. Truly it shall be a Tour De Pussy. With a plan as simple as this, what could go wrong?

Well, Frank could learn by accident that his girlfriend is pregnant, for one thing. And that she’s told all of their friends but not him, for another. And that the reason for her silence is that she’s concerned he’s not ‘fatherhood material’ and is therefore considering an abortion, in which case it will be simpler if Frank never knew anything at all. What does this have to do with the Tour De Pussy? Well, nothing, really. That’s still happening. Casper will tolerate no change in plans. It’s just that, in an effort to prove his girlfriend wrong Frank essentially kidnaps her eleven year old nephew and takes him along with them for a weekend of bonding.

Should You Be Excited: Very.

Thoughts: The reason Clown‘s title on that poster is Clown: The Movie is because the film is based on a popular long-running Danish TV series. Amazingly, I had no idea this was a pre-existing world while watching the film (I learned this in the Q&A). Director Nørgaard and writers/stars Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen do a great job of making the film stand-alone. The only aspect that seemed weird to me while watching the film was that I had no idea how Frank and Casper knew each other or what they did for a living. Other than that, anyone can/should jump right into this film — it won the new Gutbuster comedy award at Fantastic Fest. Clown is fucking hilarious. Far and away the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. It’s a bit Vacation meets Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Bad Santa meets The Hangover (the film actually steels a rather famous bit from The Hangover; though uses it well). The film is utterly shameless. It is just as lowbrow, crass and juvenile as The Hangover, sometimes more so (the film’s longest running gag involves the penis size of the little boy Frank is babysitting), but it balances these jokes out with an equal amount of subtle, awkward humor. And Hvam and Christensen are merciless on their characters, never allowing them to bask in good fortune or salvaged pride for very long before hilariously kicking them down a peg. The only bad element to Clown is the air of an inevitable Vince Vaughn remake that hovers over the whole thing. Hopefully this will get some kind of chance in the States.

Moment to Savor: The scene where Casper and Frank are sharing a bed with a woman who has helped them after their canoe capsized. Casper and the woman start having sex, and are adamant that Frank join in. Frank isn’t interested and tries his best to sleep while the two go at it next to him. Things continue to build when the woman’s feelings are hurt that Frank won’t join in, and suddenly Frank seems like an asshole for staying faithful to his girlfriend. The compromise they come to will bust that gut of yours.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Genre: Thriller, Action
Director: Kim Min-suk

FF Summary: 50% horror movie, 50% superhero film and 100% Korean thriller, this is one dark, super-powered ride that became a big hit when it was released. Seoul, 1991: A little boy with a prosthetic leg is blindfolded, stumbling through the rain, clinging to his mother’s wrist. She orders him not to remove the blindfold, but when they reach home his abusive father begins beating his mother. In response, the boy removes the blindfold and uses his strange, glittering gaze to make Dad snap his own neck. When his mother fails to kill her telepathic spawn in his sleep, he wanders off into the night, a white-suited phantom lurking on the fringes of humanity, with only his model city to keep him company. From his vantage point, the rest of the world simply looks like…toys.

Seoul, 2010: Kyu-Nam (TV star Koo So) is an out-of-work laborer looking for a new gig. He answers an ad from the local pawn shop and everything seems to be going well until, on his first day of work, the silver-haired mystery man (Korean heartthrob, Gang Dong-Won, of Secret Reunion and M fame) walks in and begins robbing the till. Everyone in the store is helpless against his omnipotent glittering eyes – everyone except Kyu-Nam. So begins a mind-bending game of cat and mouse, with an entire city set against our working-class hero, who must band together with his screwed-up, foreign pals to take down an evil, psychic god who uses every single soul in Seoul as his pawns in a deadly hunt to eradicate the one man who can stand against him.

Should You Be Excited: Yeah.

Thoughts: I was hearing a lot of X-Men comparisons with this film at FF, but I’d say its kinship belongs with Unbreakable. Conceptually Haunters (a title that means nothing) is basically just a re-imagining of M. Night’s film, made by Koreans who thought  it was uneventful and pretentious. Haunters is incredibly fun, and weaves daringly between goofball comedy and extreme cinema,  giving it an unusual edge and gravitas. And unlike my complaints with Calibre 9, Haunters pushes its concept in increasingly inventive directions. Koo So is exceedingly likable as our beleaguered hero, and well matched by Gang Dong-Won as our demented, glinting-eyed villain. One dramatic aspect I really liked about the film is the villain’s repeated attempts to get Kyu-Nam to leave him alone by pointing out that the only reason people keep dying is because Kyu-Nam has made it his mission to take our villain down. And it’s true. It is an interesting dilemma to put a hero in, as prior to their crossing of paths the villain seemed nothing more than a thief. The action set pieces are great in the film – as the villain has the power to control anyone he wants; except our hero – and I really liked the comedy trio of Kyu-Nam and his immigrant side-kicks, a lovable Nigerian and a tech-whiz Middle Easterner. Have you ever seen a black guy speaking Korean before? I’m not sure I had.

Moment to Savor: The scene in which Kyu-Nam discovers he has powers during a robbery. Our mysterious villain has used his special ability to freeze everyone at Kyu-Nam’s work, but slowly Kyu-Nam snaps out of it. It is a very cool and suspenseful scene.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

The Holding
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: Susan Jacobson

FF Summary: Cassie Naylor (Kierston Wareing) and her two daughters Hannah and Amy (Skye Lourie and Maisie Lloyd, respectively) live on a secluded farm somewhere in the English countryside. It’s a beautiful place, a farmer’s dream. But the problem is, things aren’t going well for the Naylor family, as they’re deep into debt and they’re close to losing their “holding” to a local, bullying farmer named Karsten (Terry Stone).

Cassie pays the bills in ways farmers usually do – cow’s milk, hay, etc. – but her husband, the kids father, Dean (Christopher Brand) “left them” without a goodbye. And by left them, I mean she killed him to protect her family. This is Cassie’s dark, twisted secret. Cassie needs more hands on the farm and a drifter named Aden (Vincent Regan) shows up, claiming he’s good friends with Dean and wants to help the family get out of debt. Afraid of losing the farm, Cassie reluctantly allows Aden to stay with them in hopes he can help them. Later learning Aden has his own secrets and ulterior motives, Cassie’s secrets unveil in the most painful and unforgettable ways.

Should You Be Excited: No.

Thoughts: This is a well shot and well acted film, and though it starts off on the right foot – opening with our hero drowning a man (who we quickly deduce was her husband) in a feeding trough – it sadly fizzles out rather fast as it morphs into an uninspired rural The Stepfather. The fact that our hero murdered her husband never really comes into play quite like you’d assume, and the revelation of Dean’s backstory and true purpose is rather dopey. So though The Holding never becomes bad it ultimately feels like a waste of time. Which is worse, in a way.

Moment to Savor: When Dean decides to “help” Cassie by having a “chat” with her asshole neighbors.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Juan of the Dead
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Director: Alejandro Brugués

FF Summary: 50 years after the Cuban Revolution, a new one is about to begin. That revolution is zombies; filthy flesh-eating zombies. The Cubans face a large enough challenge dealing with a zombie infestation (allegedly started by U.S.-backed radical groups), but their procrastinating hero Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) has to overcome his lazy lifestyle to save the world.

At first, Juan doesn’t pay the growing chaos in Havana any mind. When the rampant “social order disturbances” escalate and start to affect his routine, however, he realizes that the perpetrators are not in fact “dissidents” but rather are bonefide walking dead. Sensing an opportunity for a fast buck, he bands together a ragtag militia and commercializes a zombie cleaning service, “Juan of the Dead,” to rid households of unwanted, undead loved ones.

Should You Be Excited: Yes.

Thoughts: Choosing the title Juan of the Dead will prove a double-edged decision for this film. On the positive side, it undeniably raises awareness by drawing an allegiance with Shaun of the Dead. Of course, it also invites unfavorable comparisons. Juan is not as good as Shaun. But it is good. And despite the base concept of a skinny guy and a fat guy and their neighborhood friends battling zombies, it bares very little resemblance to Shaun. There is no rom-com element, and Juan is the father of a full-grown girl (btw, hot girls and subtitles are a poor and distracting combination). Once you watch the film you will see that the title is more akin to a CSI: New York scenario, as Juan isn’t a parody or remake of Shaun, but seems to be using Shaun as a branding tool — as if the title were Shaun of the Dead: Cuba. Just as Shaun mined a lot of humor by playing Romero-style zombies against British culture, Juan is a very, very Cuban film. So despite the broad similarities between the films, they feel quite different and go to very different places. Structurally, Juan is closer to Dawn of the Dead. The film also has a meaner sense of humor, as our heroes are constantly killing innocent people by accident and never seem that upset about it. The film is imperfect – a lot of these amoral hero jokes create a sense of detachment – but it is heaps of fun.

Moment to Savor: When Juan and his friend have a serious mishap with a harpoon gun while trying to help their elderly neighbor with a zombie problem.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Still more to come! I saw a lot of goddamn movies at FF.