Fantastic Fest Review: Part One

by Andrew Nogay
Assistant Web Content Manager

This year I went to Fantastic Fest for the fourth time, and for the first time writing about it for KTSW. In total, I saw 26 films and about a dozen short films in the span of a week. It was wild and exhausting, but of course I’m already looking forward to next year. For this review, I’ll go through each film in the order I saw them and talk about each. This will be split into about three parts, because I saw a lot of stuff and if I tried to write about all of them at once, I’d lose my mind.

Thursday 9/24

Tim League as Lobster
That is Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League, in a giant lobster suit, for the opening craziness of The Lobster. Fantastic Fest is odd. Photo credit to Waytao Shing, Fons PR.

Ah, Fantastic Fest. It has been nearly a year, but it has finally returned. Quick tangent: the first year I went to Fantastic Fest, in 2012, I got tickets through my friend Jared. We went to most of the films together, and it was awesome, as I’d never been to any sort of film festival before. I bought tickets for the next year myself as soon as I could. However, in 2013, I had to go by myself and only went for the first weekend because of school, so I gave my ticket for the rest of the week to my friend Nick. As it turns out, Fantastic Fest is a lot less fun going by yourself. Instead of talking about movies with your friend between movie screenings, you’re mostly just sitting there by yourself. So in 2014, I went with my friend Nick, and it was absolutely fantastic. This year I couldn’t get either Nick or Jared to come, so I went by myself. That doesn’t really matter, as the movies are always great. It started off with…

The Lobster

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Country: Ireland/Greece/U.K./France/Netherlands

Plot: In a future where people who are not in love are killed unless they turn into animals, a man whose wife left him enters a hotel hoping to find love.

Review: This is the newest movie from Lanthimos, whose movie Dogtooth is both wildly strange and was nominated for a best foreign film Oscar, so The Lobster came in with a fair amount of hype. And it was deserved. Colin Farrell plays the main character in this darkly funny movie, and he plays it well. Despite being extremely odd, Farrell keeps the audience invested in his character. This movie, as a whole, is very odd. The premise is never totally explained, we just know that you have to find a mate, or risk being turned into an animal.

It is for the benefit of the audience that the backstory is never known, it gives the film a constant atmosphere of darkness and trepidation. It is a world almost devoid of love, as the film makes the point that if you force people to be in love, then they won’t. Colin Farrell tries to find love with several different women, but it takes a random look from a stranger for him to find it. Of course, it is after he escapes the Love hotel and joins with the “loners,” the people who fight against tyranny of love. Of course, the loners are not allowed to love. So instead of having any sort of plausible escape, in this world you either have to be in a relationship without love, or be disallowed any kind of relationship or love. So there is no easy method for true love to thrive. Although this film has many possibly cynical things to say about love, it is also very funny. It reminded me of a more morbid Wes Anderson, in the deadpan, subtle way the jokes are delivered.

This movie focused on the themes and characters more than having a strict story it fit to, and I thought it worked. After the movie, the writer and the director did a Q&A, and they mentioned that “it’s never really stories, but situations and conditions we want to explore,” and you can see how Colin Farrell, his love interest played by Rachel Weisz, and the host of other characters are affected by what happens around them in a satisfying way. This is a pretty surreal film, but never was I offput.

Rating: 9.5/10

February

Director: Osgood Perkins

Country: United States/Canada

Plot: Strange things start happening at a girl’s boarding school when two girls are forced to spend the winter break at the school, alone.

Review: This movie gave me mixed emotions. On one hand, I love the way it was shot and the acting was good. For example, the character played by Kiernan Shipka, the daughter from Mad Men, is sort of the odd, sad character. So she was constantly filmed either at a distance, or from a weird angle. I can’t recall a single straight medium shot on her, and that did wonders for the portrayal of her character. Details like that were well-done. However, this is a horror/thriller, but it never seemed to get the right pace for the style of movie it wanted to be. It was meant to be a slow-burner, but some parts were way too slow, and others way too fast.

The plot arrangement of this movie was strange. It started off with point A, then went to point B, tension was building, then it jumped to point E, where it pretty much gave you the ending. Which I actually enjoyed that, except that it took far too long to go back around for points C and D. The movie lagged after that jumping point, when I thought it should’ve picked up. However, as I said, the shots were good, the tension was built well, and the imagery was evoking. But there were some flaws.

After the movie in the Q&A, the director, which this was his first movie, talked about how there were things that he wish he could re-do again, and some of the things I mentioned might be what he’s talking about. Overall, it was good effort, flawed perhaps, but there was definite talent involved with making this movie too. The great parts were great, some parts between those weren’t.

Rating: 7/10

Yakuza Apocalypse

Director: Takashi Miike

Country: Japan

Plot: A rising yakuza finds out that his leader is a vampire and becomes a vampire himself, eventually leading the vampires against the remaining yakuza members.

Review: So this movie is pretty much like a surreal, Japanese Goodfellas, but with vampires thrown into the mix. Miike is a great director, but you never know what you’re going to get with him. His earlier movies, like Audition and Ichi the Killer, are absolutely crazy horror movies that leave marks days after you watch them. Then he turned to a more dramatic, classical style for a few years, and now it seems he’s turning back into the crazy, balls-to-the-wall of his earlier movies, because Yakuza Apocalypse is totally bananas. Again, it’s a gangster movie, but with vampires.

I can’t continue much farther in this review without talking about the guy in the giant frog suit, who is one of the most unbelievable characters I’ve ever seen. At a certain point, some dudes come into the town where the action is taking place, trying to settle everything. And their secret weapon is a nearly unstoppable fighter in a frog suit. I can’t describe how he is, other than awesome. He comes in about halfway through the movie, and you think “okay, this is funny but I guess he’s just another step for the main character to overcome before the end.” Nope. He gets a lot of screen time, for good reason, and takes control of the weight of a movie in a way that is rare for a side character. This movie is worth seeing for him alone. The action is great, the story is strange, it’s funny and Miike knows how to make a kick-butt movie, but the real star for me was the frog. Borderline iconic.

Rating: 9/10

Friday 9/25

This was the only day of the festival I went to five movies, and suffice to say I was exhausted. My time to sleep was precious, so this was the day I decided that instead of waiting around in the lobby between movies, I would try to go back to my car and take a nap. Turns out sleeping in a car is a lot less comfortable than I thought it would be. Anyways, to start off the day bright and early at 10:45 a.m. was…

Victoria

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Country: Germany

Plot: In one movie long shot, a Madrid girl living in Berlin, Victoria, meets new friends during a night on the town, but then a more criminal plan for the night comes into play.

Review: There are two kinds of great movies: ones that make you think about your own life while watching it because of how much it hits you emotionally, and those that take you away from your life completely because of how enthralling it is. Victoria was both for me. The main talking point about this movie is the fact that it all takes place in one shot, and it was a technical achievement I can barely even fathom, but honestly I would’ve liked the movie even if it was made in a standard way.

The first act, when Victoria leaves the club she’s at and meets the four other main characters, it seemed like a mumblecore movie, albeit a very good one. That’s where the “thinking about your own life” part of the movie came into play for me. Five people in their mid-20’s, trying to find something to do, and burgeoning friendships and romances; that isn’t hard to relate to. Then the movie takes a turn, when one of the guys of the group needs to repay a gangster he’s in debt to by robbing a bank. Victoria came across as a very naive girl, but when they ask her to help she does without thinking. Because by the point they’re put into danger, the audience was so invested in the characters, it made the rest of the movie that much more emotional and tense. That is the enthralling, “taking me away from my life” part of the movie.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie taking place in one shot is how many different locations were used. The characters *spoiler* rob a bank and run away, but it all takes place with just one shot. I can’t imagine how much rehearsal went into this thing. The acting is also impressive, as the characters seemed very natural, but were still able to give emotional performances. This was one of the most pleasant surprises of Fantastic Fest. I had no idea I was going to see a borderline masterpiece at 11 in the morning.

Rating: 9.5/10

Anomalisa Q&A
From left to right at the Anomalisa Q&A: Drafthouse founder Tim League, director Duke Johnson, director/writer Charlie Kaufman and animator Don Hertzfeldt, whose short World of Tomorrow preceded Anomalisa. Photo credit to Gary Miller, Fons PR.

Anomalisa

Directors: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

Country: United States

Plot: A man tries to find a way out of his depression while on a business trip, mostly through women he either knows or meets.

Review: Charlie Kaufman might be the most gifted screenwriter in the world, as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind are evidence of. He also happens to be a gifted director, as this is the second feature he’s made, with the first being the great Synecdoche, New York. This is also the first animation he’s done, a stop-motion animation at that. And everything is so, so beautiful. From the writing, direction, animation and voice acting, everything is on-point.

The premise of this movie is simple. A man named Michael is in Cincinnati for a speech he’s going to give the next day, and he is depressed. This is represented by everyone, from his taxi driver, to his wife, to his son, to his old girlfriend all having the same voice, the voice of Tom Noonan, no less. Nothing in his life satisfies him. Then he meets a woman, who is actually attending the conference he is leading, and she has a different voice. Despite not being pretty, in fact she has an unexplained facial scar, they fall quickly in love. But of course nothing is.

This movie is so thematically dark and dense that it would require a research paper to accurately describe it. So therefore, all I can say is that if this movie doesn’t get recognition of some sort, best animated feature for the Oscars, etc, then this isn’t a just world. I will say that the attention to detail is amazing. During the Q&A, Kaufman and co-director Johnson talked about how the characters breathe, which is something that you rarely see in an animated movie, let alone a stop-motion movie. But this isn’t exactly an animated movie. This is life, real life, and real life is sometimes too much to handle. Reality is often blurred, and dreams, both of the sleeping and the life-goals kind, play a large role. One last thing: despite how depressing this movie sounds, it was actually pretty funny too. It just had a lot to say.

Rating: 9.5/10

Hard to Get

Director: Zee Ntuli

Country: South Africa

Plot: A man meets a mysterious women, and they embark on a small crime spree and escape from enemies they make.

Review: This is the first movie from Ntuli, and it was made when he was 25 with actors with little experience, which makes this movie as a whole rather impressive. It has some fantastic moments and shots, things that felt extremely real and raw. It’s just that the places between those were lacking a little. The characters were kind of thin; it mostly amounted to the guy not being manly enough for the girl, the girl being a bada**, and the bad guys being greedy. The themes of manhood and what it really takes to be one are interesting, but the characters didn’t develop beyond that.

However, this was a fun movie. It’s a crime movie, but much more Snatch than The Godfather, as in it was pretty funny and stylized. And when this movie peaked, it peaked high. But it did lull in parts, and the story never really grabbed me. The love arc was kind of obvious, though it did have some very nice moments. Ntuli is definitely a director to keep an eye on.

Rating: 6.5/10

Green Room (7)
Star Macon Blair and director Jeremy Saulnier during the Q&A of Green Room. Photo by Gary Miller, Fons PR.

Green Room

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Country: United States

Plot: A young, struggling punk band takes a gig at a neo-Nazi bar, and witness a murder. They then have to defend themselves against the neo-Nazis by barricading themselves in the green room.

Review: The reason so many of these movies here will have a 9 or a 9.5 rating is because Green Room was the best movie I saw in Fantastic Fest, and I can’t put any other movie on it’s level in good faith. When I first heard about this movie about a year ago, I was excited beyond belief. I love Jeremy Saulnier, as his last movie Blue Ruin was amazing, and his first movie Murder Party is criminally underknown. And as far as the plot of this movie, it is just about everything I’ve wanted in a movie. A punk band versus neo-Nazis, in a siege movie? That fits everything I would want in a movie to a detail. I was so excited, I was almost thinking I would be disappointed. There was no way the movie I would see on the screen would be as good as the movie I wanted in my head, I thought. Well, I was wrong.

The thing I was worried about most of all was getting the punk thing wrong. Instead of making them real people, I was worried they’d be punk caricatures. But no, they were characters beyond just being in a punk band, and the music they talked about checked out as well. I mean, the singer wore a Minor Threat t-shirt, Saulnier knows his punk. Also, the Nazis were more than just stereotypical bad guys. They felt like real people too, starting from the leader of the gang, who was played by Patrick Stewart.

The characters were great, which makes what happens to them so wrenching. Because this is also one of the most violent and bloody movies I saw at Fantastic Fest. There are certain images and scenes that I won’t be able to get out of my head for a while. The tension builds so well, and you’re invested in the characters, so when action happens it is beyond gripping. Also, the attention to detail was absolutely key, and that was something Saulnier talked about in his Q&A. I know this might not be the most critically acclaimed movie that played at fantastic fest, but I loved it. If this was a just world, this would win every award.

Rating: 10/10

In Search of the Ultra-Sex

Directors: Nicolas Charlet and Bruno Lavaine

Country: France

Plot: Oh boy, this one is tough to describe. Through dubbing and editing together clips of various strange and cheesy porn flicks, a narrative of Earth being infected by something that makes everyone want to have sex, and the astronauts trying to save them is built.

Review: So this was a strange movie. It’s sort of like Bad Lip Reading, but with porn clips and with the attempt to build a somewhat cohesive story. It was sort of funny, but mostly very strange. It was only an hour long, so I couldn’t really complain, but it became droning after a while. I mean, you can watch nudity for only so long until you want something else in the movie to make you pay attention, and this story was a little too confusing for me to gravitate to. Most of all, it just wasn’t quite as funny as I hoped it would be.

Honestly, the reason that I signed up for this movie was to watch a short that played before it, More than Four Hours, which was directed by one of our teachers here at Texas State, Brian Poyser. I will say that between More than Four Hours, In Search of the Ultra-Sex and the other short that played, More than Four Hours got the best response from the audience, and was honestly the best between the three.

Rating: 5/10


Parts two and three will be coming soon, there are tons of amazing movies left to review.

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