Horror, sci-fi, thriller, weird…anything that a lot of people are against, I'm for.
That, my friends, is why I go to Fantastic Fest every year.
And this was a GREAT year for the festival.
Directed by Frant Gwo/Yang Li
Written by Frant Gwo/Xiao Bei Zhang
Based on short by Yang Li
I almost want to tell you to pay no attention to the trailer. It's kind of awful…and not subtitled.
Lee's Adventure was the least suspecting "best of the fest" if only because it was one that I was only mildly interested in seeing. It's the story of a young guy (Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie) who is afflicted with a disorder that spontaneously slows down time. He still moves normally, but everything around him just slows down. When he meets a girl with the same disease it's a match made in heaven…but it doesn't last long. Not in our years, anyway. In their time it lasts thousands of years, though. Lee decides to use a video game to help him travel back in time to get his girl back.
This is basically Slaughterhouse Five meets Eternal Sunshine.
It's weird, it's fun, it's multi-media, it's heartbreaking…it's nothing less than the sweetest and most romantic movie I've ever seen amongst all of the horror and sic-fi films at this festival. It's a movie that, as soon as it was over, I wanted to see again. I loved everything about it. I wish I could guarantee it an audience in America, but I don't know if that's possible. If I can get just six people to see this movie, I'll be a happy man.
TAI CHI 0
Directed by Stephen Fung
Written by Kuo-fu Chen
It wasn't the best movie I saw at the festival, but it was certainly one of the most fun. Yang Lu Chan (2008 Olympian Yuan Xiaochao) was always considered a freak because of the growth on his forehead. That growth, though, is what makes him a martial arts master. Unfortunately, it could also kill him if he keeps using the wrong kind of kung fu. He must learn Tai Chi, so he travels to the village of Chen where the Tai Chi master lives. Of course, he's not allowed to be taught. When the railroad company threatens the town, though, he steps up and becomes a hero.
One of the most kinetic movies I've ever seen, Tai Chi 0 is heavily influenced by video games. Heavily. Every major character is introduced with a title card that tells us who plays them and where we've seen them before. The fights are set up like Street Fighter bouts.
Some people complained about the ADD-ness of this movie, but I had no problem with it. I can't wait for the sequel, Tai Chi Hero, to hit our shores.
Written and Directed by Leos Carax
A few years ago, Leos Carax directed one third of the movie Tokyo!
The movie was a decent enough anthology film, but there was something special about Carax's sequence. That special thing was Denis Lavant's creation, Mr. Merde. He was basically a whirling dervish of the id. The tramped around the streets of Tokyo grabbing peoples' cigarettes, eating their food, knocking over people on crutches…pretty much just wreaking havoc.
Lavant and Carax have worked together for years, but I think that it's all been building up to Holy Motors. Merde shows up again, but he's only one part of the movie. Lavant plays an actor (or an angel, or a demon, or a gangster) whose job it is to go from one predicament to another in different makeup to disturb or fix a situation. Or maybe it's just to be there for someone. Or maybe allow them to say the last words that they always wanted to say to a dying relative.
Or…well, it's really hard to say what he's doing or who he is. There are others like him, though, because they keep meeting up in their travels.
Holy Motors is surreal, funny, though-provoking and incredibly deep. It's a movie that will take a few viewings to fully appreciate it. The true revelation, though, is Lavant. He is amazing in every one of his roles. He'll make you want to follow him around for more than just one day's worth of jobs.
Watch for the actress playing his chauffeur. I didn't recognize her at first, but she tips her mask to her most famous role at the very end.
I DECLARE WAR
Directed by Jason Lapeyre/Robert Wilson
Written by Jason Lapeyre
We've all seen movies where they take children and stick them in adult situations, most of them with middling to terrible results. (I'm looking at you, Bugsy Malone.) I Declare War, though, works so well that you almost forget that these are kids at times. It pits two groups of pre-pubescent boys and one girl against each other in the game of war that they play every weekend. They use homemade toy guns and a forts that they built out of scrap. The play gets so real, though, that they occasionally are carrying real guns that seem to fire real bullets. Can these kids keep their humanity? Or are even the "good guys" not all that good?
Each kid is faced with a difficult situation at one point or another.
The question, as always, is how they will handle it. Will they betray their friends or themselves?
It's pretty heavy stuff for actors this young, but they all handle it really well. It's some of the best child acting I've seen in years.
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August/Tim Burton.
Based on short film by: Tim Burton/Leonard Ripps
Ok, so it's a big-budget movie that everyone will see anyway, but I don't care.
Frankenweenie is one charming bastard of a movie and Burton's best probably since Big Fish. It's a stop-motion tour de force that manages all of the things that Burton has kind of forgotten about in his most recent films, most importantly, heart.
When Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) loses his best and only friend, he only sees one option: bring him back to life. Of course, that opens up a whole new can of worms when people start to find out. How do you explain a dead dog being able to run and bark and chase cats again?
Even if you think that Tim Burton has forgotten how to make films, give this one a chance.
It might just win you back.
WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Evan Jones
Based on book by Kenneth Cook
Masculinity is a funny thing. It really means different things to different societies, but there are definite themes in all of those definitions.
In the Australian outback it's a much harsher thing that it is in America. It pretty much boils down to "No women allowed." Men outnumber women about 5 to 1, so the men have to find their kicks in other ways: namely, drinking beer, fighting, shooting kangaroos, fighting, driving fast and recklessly, fighting and, just to be different, more fighting.
Wake In Fright follows John Grant (a Peter O'Toole looking Gary Bond), a young British teacher who has been forced to teach the children of a VERY small Australian town. During Christmas break he wants to go back home. Unfortunately, he loses all of his money in a simple game and has to make his way with the help of some very friendly, but very drunk men (including Donald Pleasence in one of his best roles). Eventually, though, Grant finds out how far he has to go in order to be "one of the guys."
This is a great film that was almost lost forever.
If it wasn't for the editor spending his own money to find the negative literally one week before it was to be destroyed it would have been remembered only by the filmmakers…and Martin Scorsese. Drafthouse Films picked this one up and will hopefully do it justice on a DVD release soon.
It's beautiful in its craziness and frightening in its realities.
About that kangaroo hunt: yes, it's real.
No, Kotcheff didn't make them do it for the movie.
He was against doing anything like that. He followed some guys who went out every night to kill 'roos for the American pet food industry. He just filmed what was already going on.
Because of this film, though, American pets no longer eat kangaroo meat.