Fantastic Fest 2012 Second Half Reviews

So, there you go. Another year down and a ton of new stuff for you monkeys to look forward to. Only 1 more year until the next Fantastic Fest and I can hardly wait. Thanks for reading!!

Day 5 began with the World Premier of a crime film from the Netherlands called Blackout, which had a good buzz throughout the Festival and I can tell you it was totally justified.  Think of this as a Guy Ritchie film from Scandinavia and you’ll get the idea.  Brilliantly acted, scripted and shot, Blackout is about a guy who wakes up from his bachelor party with a massive hang-over, a dead body next to him and a guy on the phone wanting to know where his 20 kilos of cocaine are.  Now he’s got 24 hours to solve this mystery and get to his wedding on time, provided he doesn’t get killed first.  Great fun, no real slow bits and plenty of twists to keep the audience on the edge of it’s collective seat.  Colorful characters, weird situations and sporadic bursts of violence make this a define must-see film.   Anyone into crime capers will love this film.

There were quite a few documentaries at the Fest this year and I hit as many of them as possible due to their genre nature and the U.S. Premier of My Amityville Horror sure fit the bill.  Daniel Lutz, one of the children to live through the actual Amityville events, finally comes forward to break his silence for the first time ever on what actually happened during that time period.  Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, the family truly and deeply believes something happened in that house, even going so far as to pass a lie detector test with flying colors in 1979.  The director himself is a skeptic but “believes Danny believes” and a no more accurate statement could be said as Mr. Lutz’s belief is palpable throughout the documentary.  Danny Lutz wants nothing more to be believed and this solid documentary evenhandedly explores both sides of this controversial event.  Danny is the only Lutz child to come forward and if you have any interest in the events of Amityville, this documentary is sure to be up your alley.

My next film was supposed to be the crime drama Unit 7 but I heard so many bad things about it I chose blindly and ended up with another crime thriller called Cold Blooded which turned out to be way better than I would have expected for a film that initially didn’t even make my “maybe” list.  The movie is a jewel heist gone wrong and the felon holding the diamonds is busted.  Of course, they cannot find the diamonds and the thief is injured so they place him in an unused hospital wing handcuffed to his bed with a female officer on guard.  The film here breaks down into the thief trying to get the cop to let him go but rapidly escalates when his gang comes to get the diamonds from him, cop or not.  The film was very effective in it’s use of tension and has some nice twists which managed to keep my attention even during the slow parts.  Very well done and is totally worth the view should you ever encounter it.

My next film was also a crime thriller called Paris by Night which I was also skeptical of because it seemed so much like last year’s stellar Sleepless Night, also French, only without the child kidnapping.  Turns out my skepticism was well-founded because not only is this film predictable as hell but also boring as fuck.  It was a 90 minute Audi commercial with the Paris scenery in the background.  It still had a nice buzz during the Fest but in no way am I going to recommend it to anyone unless they have trouble sleeping.

The day ended by me skipping the supposedly excellent Here Comes the Devil (which got distribution so there you are) in order to see my first Fantastic Feud in several years.  Also 4:20 friendly, this year saw Team USA fall victim to team international for the first time ever, so it was quite a milestone.  Rowdy, drunken mess and a great way to end the day.  Would like to tell you I got more sleep here but it sadly was not to be.

Day 6 started as good as it could with the U.S. Premier of Beat Takashi’s Outrage Beyond, the second installment of his yakuza crime drama and it was a tremendously solid follow-up to the first film (now on Netflix!).  A clever cop has spread rumors of Otomo’s death to keep him as an ace-in-the-hole in case the yakuza get up to their old tricks, which they do, of course.  He strategically releases Otomo to spark a war between two rival yakuza clans, one of which Otomo has a score to settle with.  However, things do not go quite as the cop or the yakuza have in mind.  Packed with double-dealing and betrayal and some pretty inventive kills, Outrage Beyond totally sets up part 3 while delivering all the crime drama your little heart desires.  Totally recommended.

Of course this Festival loves to see new stuff from old favorites, especially when one of those old favorites is Ernesto Diaz Espinoza (Mandrill!) and he’s bringing us his hyper-violent, stylistically awesome masterpiece Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman in World Premier format!  Totally awesome, Mr. Espinoza apparently thinks of Fantastic Fest audiences when he makes a new genre film and if this is an example of what he delivers while thinking of us, you all are in for a real treat when this gets released.  Singly one of the best films of the Fest, Espinoza tells the tale of a club DJ in the wrong place at the wrong time who overhears his boss talking about killing Machine Gun Woman.  When he’s discovered, his only chance to escape death is to promise his boss to deliver her or die trying, which is a certainty if he fails.  Very Grand Theft Auto-influenced, tremendous soundtrack, fantastically attractive leading lady (who is just as hot and quite wonderful in real life), brutal death scenes, great Mandrill nod and everything you’d hope for in an action extravaganza.  Shot in only 15 days, this is a movie I will definitely watch several more times.  HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  Bonus points for a bad-guy named El Tronador, who sodomizes his victims with a wire.

It’s almost impossible to follow that up, huh?  Well, Drafthouse Films released a little anthology film where they grabbed 26 of today’s hottest directors (including Nacho Vigalondo, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Noboru Iguchi, the aforementioned Mr. Espinoza and Ti West, among others) and tasked them with doing a short film about death in their own, inimitable styles.  Yes, I am talking about the U.S. Premier of the ABC’s of Death.  This film felt like Fantastic Fest all in one 123 minute chunk rather than 8 days.  Lots of gore, penis, death and destruction – basically everything you want in a film all at one time.  Much like other anthology projects, some bits were better than others (trust the Japanese to truly bring the weird) but as a whole it is a Fantastic moviegoing experience that I hope many of you readers get a chance to see.  Very inventive and it bodes big things for Drafthouse films.

Now we get to my favorite part of the Fest:  The Secret Screenings.  Usually a mixed bag, they did such a great job last year that I worried about the quality of this years efforts.  Doomed to disappointment, we saw The Sightseers, a boring, unimaginative “dark comedy” about a dysfunctional couple killing their way across England.  A lot of people said they liked this film but it is an utter piece of shit.  Boring as fuck and ultimately pointless, you’d be better off actually going sightseeing.  It would waste less time.  Plus, someone should inform the filmmakers a dark comedy sould actually be funny.  TOTALLY NOT RECOMMEDED TO ANYONE EVER.

Oh, how to get the bad taste of that film out of my mouth?  Only one way I can think of: hit the U.S. Premier of Noboru Iguchi’s new Japanese weirdness flick Dead Sushi.  Everything I had hoped from this film happened and more.  Demo Tanaka makes another appearance as this tale of corporate sushi revenge unfolds and gets so absurd even Iguchi has a character comment about half way through on how things have simply stopped making sense…yet Iguchi steamrolls forward to an even more crazy last half of the film, all about how a young girl sushi apprentice earns the respect of her task-master father.  The young girl wants nothing more than to be a sushi chef like her father but dad does not think a girl should be a sushi chef.  She runs away from home and gets a job at an inn where she is bullied mercilessly by the staff, management and corporate customers.  Little do they know a disgruntled employee wants revenge on the corporation and has developed a serum that raises the murderous instincts of sushi to gain his revenge!  Now our heroine must use her karate and sushi skills to defeat the fishy menace and earn respect.  Every thing Iguchi does has been awesome and Dead Sushi is no exception to the rule.  You’ll definitely laugh a lot and may even develop an aversion to sushi after seeing this tour-de-force from the Land of the Rising Sun.  I don’t even have to put “highly recommended;” this movie speaks for itself!

I’ve noticed these reviews get shorter and shorter by day 7 and this year it’s because I got to hang out quite a bit with Doug Benson, who shares a few hobbies that I do so things from here on out become somewhat hazy.  I do know I started the day with one of the best films of the Festival hands-down and also, co-incidentally, another documentary.  The World Premier of The American Scream, which I was so worried I would miss due to scheduling so am I ever glad they opened another screening of this film!  A simple documentary about a few people in the town of Fairhaven MA. who turn their homes into haunted houses for Halloween, The American Scream follows a perfectionist IT professional, a friend inspired to create his own haunt and a father/son team as they attempt to get their attractions ready for the big day.  I thought at first the movie would be carried for me by the semi-pro guy and his enthusiastic daughter (and less tan enthusiastic wife) but by half-way became totally about the father/son team who are constantly at each others’ throats but love each other immensely.  Made by the guys who did The Best Worst Movie, the film is poignant, touching, hysterical and downright fun as anything you’ll see all year.  I was struck by the IT guy at one point who comments, “if I did something else, no one would ever remember us.”  In a nutshell, this is a movie about normal people with passion.  Truly one of the best thigs I’ve seen or will see all year long,  An American Scream will be shown on the Chiller Network in time for Halloween and comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Oh, my, the documentaries are flying fast and furious this Fest and next on my agenda was Room 237, an exploration of The Shining through fan’s analysis of the film as: a treatis on the killing of Native Americans, Nazi-ism, Greek mythology, numerology, the Rise of Western Civilization and the “hoax” Apollo 11 moon landing.  Wonderfully captivating, my friend Josh Emanuel put it best when he stated “I don’t agree with anything in the movie but it was truly interesting to hear it.”  For the record, I totally buy the moon stuff.  Recommended for anyone interested in The Shining and what other people have theorized about it.

Uh-oh.  Secret Screening 2.  I knew in advance it was Cloud Atlas so allow me to get right to the point.  Mediocre.  Beautifully shot but does not endear me any further to Tom Hanks or the WachowskisHugh Grant is great in his 5 roles.  It’s really long and comes off as a 2 hour 40+minute justification for Larry Wachowski’s sex change crammed in with their usual philosophy 101 bullshit.  It would totally benefit from losing an hour.  Allegedly the book took 20 minutes to edit; he just wrote 4 stories, chopped them up and strung them together which sounds like how this movie was made.  Hipsters went crazy for this movie about the transmigration of souls but it left me rather flat.  Not wretched like Sightseers but not worth your time to see in the theater either.

This is my shortest review yet as I had seen everything else in the time slot or didn’t care about it so I went to Danger 5 again which was just as good the second time around.  Natasa Ristic forever!

Day 7 ended with another detective yarn, this time by Yudai Yamaguchi and Tak Sakaguchi (Versus) called Tebana Sankichi: Snot Rockets.  Tebana Sankichi is a detective, rogue, lover of women, rescuer of the downtrodden, homeless bum, celebrity, bullied kid, martial arts master and all around bad-ass.  Loosely described as an episodic comedy, you get to see every episode of every series of Tebana Sankichi through every change in format, corporate takeover and self-funded effort, all in a rapid-fire roller-coaster fashion that will leave you begging for mercy.  Low-budget, big idea and one of the single best films to show this year.  Truly brilliant and deserves my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.  Bonus points for Noboru Iguchi as Mr. Postman!

The bittersweet last day of the Fest brought more Doug Benson time and also a British movie hated by all my British friends called Tower Block.  Written by James Moran (the brilliant Severance), I certainly hoped it was better than his other effort this year, the mediocre Cockneys Vs. Zombies and it certainly was.  This U.S. Premier begins in a run-down tower block where the last remaining tenants are waiting to be evicted.  Of course, crime is rampant and a young boy is beaten to death right outside the apartments on the top floor (the only left occupied) and no one says a thing.  Everyone lives in fear and pays protection to a young hooligan named Kurtis.  A year later they are rudely awoken by someone with a high-powered sniper’s rifle blowing tenants away through their windows.  Not knowing who did this or why, the dysfunctional survivors must band together to survive this onslaught of bullets.  Not super-clever but just clever enough, this movie was far from wretched and makes quite an ok thriller.  Worth renting or viewing on Netflix when it’s released, Tower Block has just enough suspense and solid kills to make this film slightly above average.

Another hard-to-describe film was next on the agenda, Quentin Dupieux (Mr. Oizo)’s follow up to Rubber, the weirdly linear Wrong.  Simply put, a man has lost his dog and must go through an increasingly bizarre set of steps to get it back.  Unlike Rubber, which was weird and awesome, Wrong is pretty much straight-forward with weirdness brought to it.  Not quite as good as Rubber, Wrong succeeds mainly on the strength of it’s dialogue and unique situations.  Funny and definitely worth a rental.

What can I say about the Closing Night Film Red Dawn?  Not much, as it turns out.  All your fears are true.  Why remake this film?  The remake will just be an average re-telling with a new cast, won’t it?  Yes, it will.  The only emotion the film worked up in me was the desire to kill Thor’s brother in the movie, the terrible Josh Peck.  Nothing new was brought to the table and all I can really say is it was on.  Terribly average, better than Sightseers but not real good at all.  Rent or stream, maybe.

Good thing I can count on The Entity as my final film in glorious 35mm.  One of the best ghost stories out there, right up there with Legend of Hell House and supposedly based on a true story, this tale of domestic abuse by a spirit holds up very well and is magnificently effective on the big screen.  Great juxtaposition of the skeptic psychologists and total believers of the paranormal research team bring a realism to the film sorely lacking in the ad nauseum of Paranormal Activity films.  A great film that is also Highly Recommended.

So, there you go.  Another year down and a ton of new stuff for you monkeys to look forward to.  Only 1 more year until the next Fantastic Fest and I can hardly wait.  Thanks for reading!!

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