It's the Friday after the end of Fantastic Fest and I'm deep in the throes of Fantastic Funk. I'm missing my friends terribly and I hate that I had to duck out of the closing party before it really got started, but home awaits, and getting back to family and my soft bed proved very theraputic. My feet are a mess, my mind and heart are full, and I'm already anticipating next year.
This is probably my favorite Fantastic Fest that I've covered. The movies that I saw (with a few exceptions, but we'll get to that) were top-notch, and it's always wonderful to watch new filmmakers blossom and come into their own. I got to jam on karaoke with some Cee-Lo and some Metallica, got bit on the neck by Nacho Vigalondo, talked to some amazing people, and the bonds of friendship were strengthened. I got some great interviews under my belt (and I'll get to posting those as soon as I can get them transcribed, including interviews with Keanu Reeves and members of Metallica).
I swore to myself that I wouldn't do what I'm about to do, which is do a big encapsulating article instead of devoting a full review to each movie and event. But frankly, I have a lot of transcribing and work ahead of me, and if I don't do this now, it won't get done at all. Every movie on here deserves a real in-depth review, and perhaps I'll revisit some of these in the future. Right now? I'm fighting exhaustion. Let's do this!
COMMANDO: A ONE MAN ARMY
This was a lot of fun - a Bollywood RAMBO-esque actioner, where the principals stop every once in a while to break out into song. If you do a shot every time the main villain takes off his sunglasses to reveal his dead-white corpse eyes, and you're not passed out in the first hour, you have a liver of smelted iron, my friend. This would be a joke if not for the fact that the fight scenes really are quite amazing. They have the old Hong Kong feel to them, and while there's a lot of speed-ramping, you can tell those punches landed.
Plus, Vidyut Jamwal is, like, totally dreamy. Actually, he's got very impressive fighting skills, and watching him navigate a room full of bad guys delivers in all the best ways that movies like this should. I also really enjoyed the Bollywood musical numbers (one of the songs is the villain's ode to a particularly fine piece of booty, and it's as awesome as that sounds). I could have done without the extended chase scenes and gotten right to the fighting and the singing. It's well shot and staged, and hopefully will see some kind of general worldwide release.
I had no idea going in that this was based on Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress," but I'm glad I didn't have any preconceived notions about that. Even so, much of the movie strays from the source material, but feels like a Lem work. Robin Wright (playing herself) knows that she's towards the end of her career, and is given the opportunity by Miramount Studios to be completely digitized and owned by the studio, putting her in movies for many more years to come. 20 years later, Robin Wright has become something of a hero to the world, and she is called to the Congress so that others around the planet can take her image. But Wright refuses, and sets off a revolution that can change the course of history.
The ideas of THE CONGRESS are many; at times it's almost like brushing flies away from your face. This is dense, heady material, and routine audiences will likely reject it. But to those people who let it in, THE CONGRESS is incredibly rich and fulfilling. It's safe to say Robin Wright has never done anything like this (although half of the film is animated), and I didn't expect to see her handle this kind of material as well as she does. This is science fiction of the best kind - full of intelligence, ideas to spare, and visually stunning. Although it didn't affect me as it did others - I saw at least half the audience wiping away tears after my screening - there's much to admire in THE CONGRESS, and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
I found myself repeating the phrase, "It is what it is," when people asked me what I thought of Robert Rodriguez's latest film. MACHETE KILLS stars, once again, Danny Trejo as the titular Machete, sent on a mission by the President (Carlos Estevez-er, Charlie Sheen) to assess and take out, if necessary a revolutionary in Mexico by the name of Mendez the Madman (Damian Bichir). Dozens of cameos and bullets later, it's probably likely that we'll see Machete again. I just wish the whole thing ddn't feel so routine.
If you go into a movie like this expecting anything other than a live-action cartoon you deserve what you get. Trejo is one note (as is the character), but Bichir and Mel Gibson as the grand villain behind it all look like they're having all the fun, and watching them cavort around for most of the movie makes it almost worth it. Especially Bichir, whose multiple personality despot/freedom fighter/federal agent is worth a movie of his own. But there's not much new here. I think Robert Rodriguez is a talented visual stylist and he makes movies that can be entertaining. But I also feel that Rodriguez could put his talents to better use and make a more substantial piece of filmmaking if he were more interested.
METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER
The press releases and the filmmakers call this a narrative concert film, but don't be fooled. Yes, it does have a story that mostly fills the gaps between the performances during a Metallica concert (actually shot in two different venues across five different nights). But the narrative is more of a mission statement than a story. In essence, METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER wants the world to know how awesome Metallica is, and how their music can change/destroy the world.
But! It's also a hell of a fun movie. Nimrod Antal keeps everything at a brisk pace, and the concert footage is stunning, shot with native 3D rigs that swoop and glide across the stage with aplomb. It's a great selection of songs - all the favotirs plus a few deeper cuts. I don't remember if any of the songs were off ST. ANGER, but the band has always put their all into their stagecraft, and the use of 3D along with their stage setpieces makes it all essential to see in the theater.
Dane DeHaan plays a roadie who must get a mysterious bag to the Metallica concert hall, and while he does so the world apparently starts coming to an end. It doesn't make much sense, but it works in the context of the movie, and METALLICA THROUGH THE NEVER feels intrinsically Metallica. If you're a fan of the band, you really shouldn't miss this; even casual fans will find something to like.
NIGHTBREED: THE CABAL CUT
As the editors of this new cut of Clive Barker's NIGHTBREED continue to restore and add to the film, I wish them well. But there's a reason that editors are as brutal as they are and are as willing to kill the baby, so to speak, when in the editing room. I love Barker's work, and although he hasn't made many films I think he can be a good director. But the best filmmakers know when to let go, and while all the blame can go to the studio or the marketing department, in the end it's the director's vision that has to be held the most responsible.
There are moments in the new cut that are interesting, and there are also moments where I could see no noticeable improvement from the original. Perhaps there's a sweet spot that the editors are aiming for, something between the theatrical cut and the bloated piece of filmmaking currently making the rounds. It's still a work in progress. But for now, the film simply isn't ready; while I understand why a lot of it looks muddied and terrible due to the VHS edit, that doesn't explain why the new edit is just so dull. Eventually all that turd-polishing results in a really filthy handkerchief.
Ah, R100. One of my favorites of Fantastic Fest, and to explain why to most people would be an exercise in futility. I'm so happy Drafthouse Films picked this one up, because frankly I don't know if it would have ever been seen on these shores otherwise. Imagine David Fincher making a sex comedy, then he's punched in the nuts by Charlie Kaufman halfway through shooting and Kaufman takes over, and you come a bit close to what R100 is trying to do, but not really. Hitoshi Matsumoto's humor gets into some next-level stuff, but if you pay attention, and let the movie happen, you'll find that it's all for a reason. And you might find yourself laughing your ass off.
To explain R100 is to ruin it a little bit - if you do end up seeing it, just remember that nothing is as it seems and R100 is both a sex comedy and a comment on sex comedies, and more, it's a comment on the filmmakers of sex comedies, and even more so, it's a comedy about the sensibilities of the filmgoing audience. It all seems quite heady and difficult, but the movie isn't self-absorbed. There are gags that pay off half-a-movie later, and when they do it's so hilarious it hurts. It's a patient, building movie, but it also doesn't hold back when it needs to deliver. I am astonished at the craftwork on display, and whatever Matsumoto chooses as a follow-up, I'm there.
WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE
Disclaimer: I know several people involved in this production, including producers Paul Gandersman and Nick Robinson. I hadn't seen this before the festival, and frankly I had no idea this movie was even being worked on. That out of the way, I really enjoyed WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE. It's a tight little Texas noir, nasty in all the right places, and with a really great script by Dutch Southern that has a nice cadence to it. It's well thought out, well acted, and well shot.
If I have any issues with the movie it's this: once the villain makes his big wrapping-it-all-up monologue at the end, it all seems a bit too pat and convenient. As WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE is set in Texas, I had trouble believing that the character would go into a monologue at all, to be honest. We Texans are a reserved people, and we don't spill the beans if we can help it. But it's a minor complaint in an effective movie otherwise, and the performances are all superb. The less you know the better for WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE, and it's an effective noir thriller that just gets a little bit too convoluted in the end.
THE ZERO THEOREM
Saying THE ZERO THEOREM is Terry Gilliam's best movie in years requires some qualifiers. It's not BRAZIL (although it makes for a nice double feature/spiritual sequel). Like Gilliam's other dense material, it takes some digesting, and I've already encountered multiple viewpoints from other filmgoers on what the movie means to them. I really loved talking to Harry about it - while we both loved the film, we had wildly different takes on what we perceived the ending to mean, and I love that. I find that THE ZERO THEOREM is Gilliam's most optimistic movie in years, but if you go deeper into the layers of the onion, you might find the film means something different altogether.
It helps if you come at the movie from your own perspective and life's journey. I really identified with Q'ohen Leth's (the magnificent Christoph Waltz) journey and even his worldview - Q'ohen is a worker bee at a vast, nameless corporation, and when Management assigns him the unsolvable task of solving the Zero Theorem, it drives him to madness and back. But THE ZERO THEOREM, like so much of Gilliam's other work, is a parable of our times. It's not important to try to crack the movie, but just to let THE ZERO THEOREM happen to you. Every feeling you have is valid, and while THE ZERO THEOREM is widely open to all kinds of interpretation, it's not some kind of Rorschach test, either.
I think, oddly enough, that Gilliam's movie says that while we're surrounded by all sorts of distractions and technology, that we can still remain intrinisically ourselves. You could also come to the conclusion that the entire film is a ruse on the main character just to keep him running in his hamster wheel, doing the corporation's bidding. Because it can mean so many different things to different people, THE ZERO THEOREM promises a unique experience for anyone who sees it. It's smart, brilliant filmmaking, and I want to see it again.
THE BEST OF THE FEST
First, for all those that think there are no freestyling nerds out there, here's a little ditty by Damon Jones about the greatest Superman of all time:
So many parties. So much karaoking. So many friends. This year was the best Fantastic Fest I've had the privilege to experience, and I'll give up a thousand SXSWs for the opportunity to attend every year. If you ever get the opportunity to go, and you're willing to experience some amazing cinema, great friendships, and great people altogether, you need to make Austin your home for that one week in September.
Here are my top five films at Fantastic Fest this year:
2. MOOD INDIGO
1. BLUE RUIN
And a special note of amazing awesomeness goes to GRAVITY, one of the finest science fiction films I've ever seen. I didn't put it on this list because it wouldn't exactly be fair; GRAVITY certainly didn't need Fantastic Fest to push it into the national filmgoing consciousness, but these five do. Make sure you see these at the first opportunity. Click on the title to read my reviews.
I'm still not done - I have some reviews to transcribe and some rest to catch up on. Be sure to keep reading AICN for more on Fantastic Fest, including Harry and Quint's forthcoming reviews.
I'd like to thank, in no order: Tim League, Henri Mazza, Devin Faraci, Luke Mullen, Brandy Fons, Ryan Fons, Dacyl Armendariz, Adrian Charlie, Harry Knowles, Eric Vespe, Aaron Morgan, Derek Clayton, Zack Carlson, Holly Blain, Samantha Inoue-Harte, Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, Christopher and Jessica Cargill, Tammy Metzger, Scott Weinberg, Elijah Wood, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, Nimrod Antal, Randy Moore, Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Grey Munford, Macon Blair, Cindy Reinhart, Nacho Vigalondo, Eugenio Mira, Trevor Trujillo, Nick Robinson, Roland DeNoie, Kristen Bell, Meredith Borders, Evan Saathoff, Rod Paddock, Lars, Nilsen, Antonio Quintero, Karaoke Apocalypse, Andrew Todd, Alejandro Brugues, Jette Kernion, Melissa Kaercher, Emily Hagins, Paul Gandersman, Pat Healy, Travis Stevens, Ted Geoghegan, Robert Saucedo, Travis Leamons, John Gholson, Rebecca Elliott, Doug Benson, William Goss, Keanu Reeves, Tiger Chen, BenDavid Grabinski, and if I've forgotten you know that I love you and miss you already. Thanks for an amazing year.