Here are my final reviews for Fantastic Fest 2014. Between illness and tech issues, I ended up seeing far less than I hoped. I still had, dare I say it, a fantastic time and look forward to reviewing even more films next year.
The most pleasant surprise of the festival, the documentary Kung Fu Elliot delivers a knock out blow with the story of Elliot “White Lightning” Scott. Known throughout Nova Scotia for his low budget chop sockey films such as Blood Fight and They Killed My Cat, Scott’s dreams of becoming Canada’s “first action star.” The unemployed, 30-something Scott, with the aid of his girlfriend Linda’s money and several unpaid actors, spends all of his time trying to reach his goals.
Very reminiscent of younger geeks, Scott’s reality never seems good enough for him. He always embellishes upon the truth about his accomplishments. Being a world class kick boxer is not enough, but he must be the best in all of Canada. Making two films is not enough, but must win several film festival awards. Scott’s story sounds almost too good to be true and as this fascinating film progresses, cracks appear in his tale. Though he imagines himself as the Canadian Van Damme or Chuck Norris, Elliot lacks the charisma, not to mention the martial art skills, of either. Linda at first supports the man she loves until his inconsistent behavior devolves into bullshit.
Embolden with the intriguing and insightful interviews of Scott’s friends, the fascinating tale ventures into unexpected and seemingly unreal territories. With Kung Fu Elliot, directors Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau expertly deliver one of the best features of Fantastic Fest.
An old school psycho-sexual thriller, director Grzegorz Muskala’s Whispers Behind the Wall delivers the prerequisite tension, femme fatales, red herrings, thugs, and dupes. Shy law student Martin (Vincent Redetzki) finds Berlin housing in short supply. After living in his car, he finally moves into a cheap crummy apartment after the previous tenant disappears. Martin discovers secret passageways that run adjacent to the home of his mysterious landlord Simone (Katharina Heyer). He listens in on her frequent fights with her lover Sebastian (Florian Panzner). Soon Martin is drawn into her strange reality.
Anchored by the excellent Redetzki and Heyer, Muskala’s first offering largely uses stereotypes effectively as a short hand for character understanding—Simone and Sebastian are tortured artists with bohemian ideas; Martin the naive country bumpkin. Though those same stereotypes also weaken the narrative. Martin too eagerly accepts all the new weirdness in around him. Simone reallies far too much on her sexuality. Sebastian is almost comically moody. Using older Berlin tenement buildings settings, the claustrophobic film could use a few more Gothic and creepy elements or perhaps even overplayed the existing ones.
Muskala masterfully uses the few bloody moments effectively to shock. Overall, a quality, quiet thriller in an era dominated by bloody and uber violent slasher porn.
The lost 1975 film The Astrologer, directed and starring Craig Denney in his only known film credit, features a bug nutty tale as only the 1970s could produce. Con man Alexander (Denney) finds a modicum of success as a sideshow astrologer when he is approached by a wealthy couple to smuggle jewels out of of Kenya. Cut to a Kenyan prison scene with Alexander and several other inmates being grilled by a prisoner officer (Harvey Hunter doing his best Paul Winfield impersonation). Then suddenly without explanation, the story joins our intrepid trio and the gems. After things go terribly wrong in Kenya, Alexander wanders the Pacific eventually ending up back in California, where he becomes a world famous astrologer, star of film and tv, who routinely receives phone calls asking for help from the U.S. Navy.
Littered with bizarre time shifts, unexpected slow motion sequences, and terrible jump cuts, the insane movie enjoys a surprisingly good soundtrack created by The Moody Blues with songs by Procol Harem and Conway Twitty. The amateurish acting and terrible screenplay only serve to enhance the wholly enjoyable, surreal experience of The Astrologer.
Nikolas List’s first film Tombville finds a confused David (Axel De Vreese) waking up in a strange place with no memory of where or why. As he wanders through the bizarre, Jungian dreamscape, David encounters unusual characters and scenes, many possibly from his real life or possibly not. He is stuck in Tombville until he learns the Truth. Sadly for David, he doesn’t know the question.
Despite being littered with excessive torture porn and curious explorations of Oedipal issues, the mercifully short film (69 minutes) effectively offers a disturbing, riveting, and compelling tale. Very unsettling but extremely well done, Tombville marks List as a talent to watch.
A very odd conglomeration of Mad Max, Lone Wolf And Cub, and The Planet of The Apes, Wastelander Panda: Exile is the first three ten-minute episode of the popular post apocalyptic web series. This 60 minute segment centers around the adventures of Isaac, an anthropomorphic panda in a world of humans, who after causing the accidental death of a little girl, seeks a replacement for his tribe.
Creator Victoria Cocks superbly melds all these disparate elements into an enjoyable concoction, full of potential and devoid of pretense and lunacy. Though never explained, the existence of the talking, intelligent pandas never distracts from the overall story. Cooks manages the almost impossible by creating a very serious affair with your lead running around in a panda head. The enjoyable Wastelander Panda: Exile serves its primary function in leaving the viewer wanting to learn more of about the Pandas and their world.
Directors Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel deliver an old school Gothic horror tale with Shrew’s Nest. Montse (Silvia Alonso) lives a life of a tragedy. Her mother died giving birth to her sister (Carolina Bang). Her stern father disappeared during the war. The agoraphobic Montse managed to raise her younger sister on her own without ever leaving the apartment. Her work as a seamstress (clients come to her), combined with her sister’s work at a local store support the duo. But when her sister turns eighteen and wonders about boys, the world beyond, and her family’s mysterious past, Montse’s life turns upside down.
Catholic symbolism abounds in a 1950s Spain, complete with the expected mores and limitations of the era. Buoyed by the effective leads, Andrés and Roel created the proper claustrophobic atmosphere. Shrew’s Nest manages to overcome its fairly predictable story, emerging as and unsettling and scary thriller.
Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil’s Bros Before Hos relates the hilarious bromance of foster brothers Max (Tim Haars) and Jules (Daniël Arends), who at a young age promise to never let a woman split them apart. The adult brothers now live together. Jules manages a grocery store. Max works in a video store. Every night, the pair revel in drunken hook-ups and sexist games. Then Max meets Anna (Sylvia Hoecks), the woman of his dreams, but Jules hooks up with her, which sparks a war between the brothers.
Very offensive and non-PC to the max, the fairly typical disgusting movie overcomes its roots with excellent performances by Haars and Arends. The beautiful Hoecks outshines them all with her magnetic portrayal. The highly recommended Bros Before Hos delivers with very well written and conceived humor. Make sure to stay through the final credits.
If I can overcome the tech difficulties, there are 3-4 movies from Fantastic Fest, I’d still like to review. Though with Wizard World Austin coming up and my other commitments, it’s sadly not likely.
Course I always dream big, so we’ll see.