Let’s not diddle around too long with the intro and cut straight to the open love letter Matt Singer‘s posted at Criticwire: “Some film festivals are important; most, even small regional ones, show terrific movies. But only one festival is really, truly fun: Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.” As if to prove it, Matt’s followed up a few days later with an account (transcript and all) of a debate and boxing match between Badass Digest critic Devin Faraci and filmmaker Joe Swanberg, “which shall henceforth be known as ‘The Accostin’ in Austin.'”
Those of us far and away from the heart of Texas can experience such goings on vicariously by following the Chronicle‘s ongoing coverage. Here, we’ll stick to tracking reviews through Thursday, and probably a bit beyond, and of course, we already have entries on a few of the films: Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, which opened Fantastic Fest this past Thursday, Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, Rian Johnson’s Looper, and Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage Beyond. For convenience’s sake (yours, that is), I’ll build out this entry as we go along alphabetically by title.
Scott Tobias in a dispatch from Toronto to the AV Club: “26 filmmakers were each given a letter, a little money, and an average of about four minutes to make the horror-themed short about some manner of death or another. Like all anthologies, The ABCs of Death has winners and losers and plenty in between, though the overall experience of watching so many shorts at so modest a length is palatable and fun, like judging a mini-film festival.”
“Splat pack ringleader Eli Roth takes his gory roadshow south in Aftershock, a lively but formulaic Chile-set chiller where a group of tourists finds themselves bloodied, bludgeoned and buried beneath a horrific earthquake.” Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter: “With Roth playing one of the leads and handing off directorial duties to Nicolas Lopez (Santos), the film tends to feel shoddier than the first two Hostel movies, even if the team draws laughs from the sight of spoiled hipsters getting their comeuppance in the Third World.” More from Erik Childress (eFilmCritic), Jason Gorber (Twitch), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE, C), and Noel Murray (AV Club, C+).
Michael Stephenson’s The American Scream is a doc “on the phenomenon of ‘home haunting’—wherein otherwise normal suburbanites transform their houses and yards into the very essences of interactive, DIY, Halloween spooktaculars.” The Chronicle‘s Marc Savlov finds it to be “a heartfelt, charming, emotionally moving, and true-grue portrait of three East Coast families and their All Hallows labors of love (and death). It’s as American as Norman Bates’s mom, pumpkin pie, and Don Post monster masks, an affectionate portrait of where the modern nuclear family and the ancient rituals of October 31 collide with giddy, gory, glorious results.”
John Semley for Cinema Scope: “Given that Brandon [Cronenberg] has clearly piggybacked on both his father’s sensibility and name-brand cache, riding his coattails all the way to Cannes, Antiviral remains damnably conjoined to the larger construct of Cronenbergia. As his film attests, he’s clever enough, and possesses enough basic stylistic confidence, to cook up and carry out his own icky body-horror concepts. From anyone with a different last name, such conceptual debts would be laughably indefensible. Here they just seem dull—and often, just laughable.” More from Erik Childress (eFilmCritic), Brian Clark (Twitch); and Peter Howell profiles Brandon Cronenberg for the Toronto Star.
Berberian Sound Studio premiered in Locarno, opened in the U.K., screened in Toronto, and now it’s in Austin. Its next stop is the New York Film Festival, so we’ll finally dwell on it at some length in early October. For now, here’s the opening of Peter Bradshaw‘s 5-out-of-5-star review in the Guardian: “Three years ago, British film-maker Peter Strickland grabbed us with his debut, Katalin Varga, an eerie revenge drama unfolding in the central European countryside. Arresting as it was, nothing in that movie could have given us any clue to this quite extraordinary followup: utterly distinctive and all but unclassifiable, a musique concrète nightmare, a psycho-metaphysical implosion of anxiety, with strange-tasting traces of black comedy and movie-buff riffs. It is seriously weird and seriously good.” More from Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 5/5), Philip French (Observer), Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), Christoph Huber (Cinema Scope), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 4/5), Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist), Noel Murray (AV Club, B+), Niall O’Conghaile (Dangerous Minds), Jonathan Romney (Independent), Catherine Shoard (Guardian, 4/5), and Emma Simmonds (Arts Desk).
“If Guy Ritchie made The Hangover in the Netherlands,” writes Matt Singer at Criticwire, “it might look something like Black Out, a competent but convoluted crime thriller about a man who wakes up the day before his wedding beside a dead body with no memory of how he or it got there.” Peter Martin at Twitch: “While none of the narrative beats are strikingly original, the screenplay by Melle Runderkamp and [director Arne] Toonen takes care to shine them up and rearrange them, one note at a time, until they resemble a new composition.”
Richard Whittaker in the Chronicle: “Scriptwriter James Moran has two films at Fantastic Fest—horror comedy Cockneys vs. Zombies and urban thriller Tower Block… That their paths collide, he calls ‘completely coincidental. I never plan a theme ahead of time; I only ever realize what I wanted to say after I’ve finished the script.’ CvZ director Matthias Hoene calls it ‘a love declaration to East London, with pensioners, machine guns, and zombies… it’s my statement against the bland urbanization of our cities.’ … Wipe away the gore, and CvZ is silly and sweet—unlike the bleak world view from the top of Tower Block. This is London at its worst, with the last residents of a crumbling apartment complex cowering behind closed doors as a neighbor is kicked to death.”
David Wu’s Cold Steel “starts in 1938,” notes Jay Seaver at eFilmCritic, and “Mu Lianfeng (Peter Ho) is already a crack shot with a rifle, and an unlikely series of events has him joining Sgt. Zhang Mengzi (Tony Leung Ka-fai) in the 204th riflemen on a mission to assassinate four Japanese generals and their Chinese interpreter. Eventually, Mu’s legend grows in his hometown—as does his relationship with young war widow Liu Yan (Song Jia)—while Japanese Colonel Masaya, an expert marksman himself, is apparently channeling all of his frustration from his recent broken engagement into hunting this Chinese sniper team down…. Sniper work is patient, precise, and morally ambiguous, and while the movie pays those qualities lip service, it seldom actually does much to show them.”
Combat Girls “is largely American History X in the original German with the key difference being that director David Wnendt tells his familiar story from the unfamiliar perspective of a female neo-Nazi,” writes eFilmCritic‘s Peter Sobczynski. “This approach, not to mention the fine and fierce performance from Levshin, is compelling enough to keep things humming along but if there is a grimmer and more depressing film on tap at this year’s festival, I am not sure that I want to hear about it.”
“Substitute zombies or mutant koala bears for the scary kids that run rampant on a Mexican island, and Come Out and Play wouldn’t be any better or worse,” writes Maggie Lee in Variety. “This cheap and dreadful indie horror-thriller, helmed by Russian-American masked recluse Makinov, faithfully follows Narcisco Ibanez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), albeit sans that film’s political allegory about the Civil War.” More from Noel Murray (AV Club, C+).
“With absolute conviction and unwavering intelligence, The Conspiracy unpacks complex theories and raises disturbing questions that are not easily dismissed,” writes Peter Martin at Twitch. “What distinguishes the faux-documentary framework from any number of ‘mock docs’ is that writer/director Christopher MacBride doesn’t pretend that his film has been made by clueless amateurs. His approach is dead-on accurate, pulling the viewer inexorably into a world of paranoid conspiracies.” Update, 9/25: “Found footage is far from dead,” writes Jacob S. Hall at Movies.com: “it just needed a filmmaker like Christopher MacBride to come along and kick it in the butt.” Update, 9/26: More from Matt Singer (Criticwire).
Charles de Lauzirika’s Crave “is a study in collapse,” writes Marc Savlov, “specifically, the mental disintegration of crime scene photographer Aiden, played by Australian actor Josh Lawson. Tortured by what he’s seen as much as by what he’s not felt, Aiden falls hard for next door neighbor Virginia (the terrific Emma Lung), and things go from bad to possibly not-so-bad, to really, horrifically, beyond bad in short order…. Lauzirika’s debut is a gritty, artfully urban noir, a sorrowful meditation on forlorn alienation, and a critique of societal disconnection masquerading as a gallows-grim horror film. It succeeds on all levels, empathically drawing the audience into Aiden’s harrowed psyche and then daring us to not care when the abyss swallows him whole.” Update, 9/25: “Crave was, hands-down, my favorite film at Fantasia,” writes Michael Guillén, “as noted in my earlier Q&A transcript and interview with associate producer and digital effects supervisor Raleigh Stewart. My enthusiasm was confirmed by Crave winning Fantasia’s New Flesh Award for Best First Feature Film.”
“Noboru Iguchi’s Dead Sushi is the latest product from the prolific Japanese B-movie maker that, while not explicitly made for export, certainly seems to have North America and the rest of the west in mind,” writes Jay Seaver at eFilmCritic. It “caters to j-pop enthusiasts by delivering them exactly the sort of Japan they fetishize, only amplified. As Dead Sushi demonstrates, it doesn’t always make for great movies, but it seldom results in boring ones.” Update, 9/25: “Over-the-top isn’t sufficient to describe this wacked-out feast of sight gags and absurd (and intentionally unbelievable) situations,” writes Michael Guillén.
Doomsday Book collects three stories, the first directed by Yim Pil-Siung (Hansel & Gretel), the second by Kim Jee-Woon (The Good, The Bad and the Weird, I Saw the Devil), and the third by both. For the Chronicle‘s Richard Whittaker, Yim’s zombie-infested opener is only so-so, but: “Any problems with the film as a whole are overshadowed by [Kim’s] wondrous Heaven’s Creation. Kang-woo Kim plays a robotics engineer sent to a Buddhist temple to examine a machine that has become more than self-aware. It has reached Enlightenment.” More from Jay Seaver (eFilmCritic).
“For better or worse, Dredd takes the dour, crypto-fascist seriousness of superhero pictures like The Dark Knight Rises (2012) to their logical endpoint, and does so without opportunistically waffling on its Machiavellian realpolitik,” writes John Semley for Cinema Scope. “This is a film so thoroughly cynical, so nastily and unblinkingly violent, that it’s almost admirable as a bad object par excellence. Almost.” On the other hand, Marc Savlov: “It’s bloody fucking brilliant.” More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 3.5/5), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3/5), Phelim O’Neill (Guardian, 4/5), Antonia Quirke (Financial Times, 4/5), Matt Singer (ScreenCrush, 7/10), Peter Sobczynski (eFilmCritic), and Charles Webb (Twitch). And, for the Guardian, Ben Child talks with director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland.
“In a bit of wild understatement, the program notes for [Graceland] claim that writer-director Ron Morales ‘borrows somewhat from Kurosawa’s classic kidnapping thriller High and Low,” notes eFilmCritic‘s Peter Sobczynski, “and beyond that, he hasn’t really added much of anything to the formula other than a relentless aura of sleaziness that permeates virtually every scene.” Update, 9/25: “Morales has made a gutsy thriller that delves with uncomfortable detail into Manila’s child-sex underground, tying it to a complex web of woe that includes kidnap plots, domestic terrorism, scandalous cover-ups and the black market for body organs.” Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily: “It’s a stone-cold harrowing contemporary noir with the breaking news kick of a documentary expose.”
“Intriguing if ultimately less than satisfying, [Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s] Here Comes the Devil takes a low-key, low-graphic-content approach to demonic possession,” writes Dennis Harvey for Variety. “Tale of a middle-class couple whose two children start acting very strangely after a family trip promises much in an ominously atmospheric package that nods to 1970s genre stylings. But the payoff is on the meh side; this is one of those all-buildup stories in which it feels like the really interesting things will happen after the final fade.” More from Jordan Hoffman (ScreenCrush), Boyd van Hoeij (indieWIRE), and Charles Webb (Twitch). And at iW, Jay A. Fernandez reports that Magnet Releasing has picked up North American rights. Update, 9/25: At GreenCine Daily, Steve Dollar praises the “bold performances whose emotional and sensual dimension is a good deal more complex than what you might expect, and necessary for the film’s severe dynamic to kick so forcefully—enhanced at every turn by lysergic sound design, emphasizing terror as an interior landscape—not only a black secret hidden in the rocks. And even then, it’s not quite over until it’s over… a final jolt awaits.”
We collected reviews of Leos Carax’s Holy Motors when it premiered in Cannes, and we’ll have another roundup when it screens in New York in October, but for now, here’s Jacob S. Hall at Movies.com: “An intellectually stimulating, non-narrative art piece that also feels like everyone’s new favorite wacky midnight movie. It’s like eating your cinematic vegetables and they taste like candy.”
“Alternatingly delightful and troubling, the woods-set I Declare War will sound like Lord of the Flies to some, given its leaders-and-followers scenario and overtones of cruelty,” writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “In reality, this kids-play-war film has more in common with a story like Stand by Me—one concerned with kids as kids, not allegories, and with seeing how intense everyday emotions can get before they’re dangerous. Co-directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson balance humor and fun with a little fear in a thoroughly accessible way.” But for Kiva Reardon, writing for Cinema Scope, “the film relies on the notion that homophobia, racism and sexism are funny when spewed from the mouth of prepubescent males, as if they won’t grow into men who risk maintaining these views, or even merely into filmmakers who make asinine and immature features. I declare bullshit.” More from Kurt Halfyard (Twitch).
The King of Pigs is “one of the angriest animated features I can recall seeing,” writes Jay Seaver at eFilmCritic. It’s “about schoolyard bullying by wealthier students against their poorer classmates,” noted Robert Maras at the World Socialist Web Site last month, “and was inspired by director Yuen Sang-Ho’s own childhood experiences. The decision to use animation was an attempt by the young filmmaker to give a freer expression to the terrible psychological impact of this ongoing practice and the film certainly has some challenging and violent moments.”
“Director Philippe Lefebvre is a veteran of the television business, and Paris By Night (Original title: Une Nuit) resembles a standard police procedural when reduced to the nuts and bolts of its plot mechanics,” writes Peter Martin at Twitch. “The storylines quickly get tangled up and are not that easy to follow. Really, though, everything is secondary to the jazzy, fluid, and sleek mood established by Lefebvre.”
“Police work has rarely looked more like an ordinary office job than it does in the wryly amusing Plan C, where the desks are stuffed side by side in cramped spaces, bureaucracy reigns, and bald, middle-aged Ronald has lost his mojo.” Again, Peter Martin at Twitch: “What carries [Max] Porcelijn’s film is not just the dry wit but the seeds of poignance planted early which eventually blossom.”
“No mere relicensing of [Nicolas Winding] Refn’s diamond-hard Danish blockbuster (already treated to a 2010 Hindi adaptation), [Luis] Prieto’s Pusher has been sanctified by the director of Drive (2011) himself!” notes John Semley for Cinema Scope. “Accept no substitutes for this superfluous substitute.” Update, 9/25: Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily: “I was impressed by the film’s wholehearted embrace of incessant drug use, excessive casual violence and sullen conversations with elegantly debauched Edie Sedgwick lookalikes (Agyness Deyn). Like its antihero, the movie makes no apologies and packs an exhilarating rush cut with brief episodes of unshaven despondence. Which is to say, it takes itself seriously enough not to take itself too seriously.”
“It’s unclear for awhile what exactly [Scott Derrickson’s] Sinister is,” wrote Emmet Duff at Sight on Sound when he caught it at SXSW. “Whether it is a tense psychological thriller, a haunted house horror, or a dark procedural drama is up to the audience’s speculation for the film’s first half. But from the opening scenes it is a film with a tremendous command of tension, a dry (occasionally quite black) sense of humor, and several outstanding performances. The fact that this film can be so absorbing–not to mention funny–given that much of it involves Ethan Hawke watching old 8mm snuff films and looking frightened is frankly befuddling.” More from Jordan Hoffman (ScreenCrush) and Peter Martin (Twitch).
“Stephen Fung Wai’s Tai Chi 0 (0 as in zero) represents everything we think of when we say that digital production and postproduction have transformed cinema,” writes David Bordwell. “This kung-fu fantasy from the Chinese mainland (but using Hong Kong talent, including the director) retrofits the genre for the video-game generation. CGI rules. The result is, predictably, monstrous fantasy—a globular iron behemoth, a sort of Steampunk locomotive version of the Death Star—but also screens within screens, GPS swoops, tagged images, Pop-Up bubbles identifying the cast, and other scribbling that turns the movie screen into a multi-windowed computer monitor…. Tai Chi 0 ends on a cliff-hanger, the end titles (rolled too fast to read) provide a trailer for part 2, and apparently a third part is in the works. Now China has franchise fever.” In MUBI’s Notebook, Marie-Pierre Duhamel wonders, “Could the film, under its light-hearted comic book features, fuel a rather brutal definition of people as clan, within a mindset of withdrawal and autarky?” More from Todd Brown (Twitch),