I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
The weird, the wild and the wonderful is in full effect. While on most days it’s difficult to get out of bed on four hours of sleep, with Fantastic Fest, however, it’s invited. The power of choice can actually get stressful with the sensory overload of selections. There’s no telling what you’re going to get into, and that in-and-of itself is beautiful.
But, so far the ultimate feat of beauty was the U.S. Premiere of Jeremy Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM, a gruesomely effective neo-Nazis vs rockers thriller. It’s nothing short of a raging frenzy of violence and tension that’s an austere masterpiece.
With a cast of 20-somethings – including Anton Yeltchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and Saulnier favorite Macon Blair– and, OH!, some bloke named Patrick Stewart – the film was incredibly well received and will be distributed by indie juggernaut A24 sometime in the Spring/Summer movie season in 2016.
The time was 9 p.m. and the theater reached a fever pitch of excitement now that the announcement has been made to start seating for the secret screening. The Alamo’s fearless leader Tim League perpetually teased the identity of the screening to audiences in the packed auditoriums. Every year League builds up the secret screening to be something larger than life, and most of the time he very rarely disappoints.
There were rumors that the film in question was THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, mainly because of Elijah Wood’s active involvement with the fest. However, others speculated that it was going to be KRAMPUS due to the opening night’s peculiar party theme of Christmas. It very well could have been one of those films, but League got us good by brining in Guillermo del Toro’s much anticipated ghost thriller CRIMSON PEAK, starring Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston.
Now, while there is currently an embargo for press, the theater seemed to crack with an electric fever, especially since del Toro himself made a special appearance to talk about the film afterwards with League.
CRIMSON PEAK brought much excitement to the fest, no doubt, but another film that left audiences stunned was VICTORIA. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Academy Award-winning film BIRDMAN. It won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Cinematography for its daring yet bold illusion of a movie filmed in one, continuous shot. It was, of course, a mere illusion – virtually no one in the film industry has worked out the logistics of a one-take movie. Enter German filmmaker Sebastian Schipper.
Schipper put together the ultimate, immersive film featuring you in the driver’s seat. His powerhouse of a film titled VICTORIA follows a runaway party girl, Victoria (Laia Costa), who runs into a friendly quartet of men (Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit and Max Mauff) who invite her on a journey around town. Little did she know, she would become the wheelwoman of a bank heist before the night was through.
VICTORIA is an undeniable technical achievement – you will be completely floored by its style, wondering how the hell they pulled it off. It’s quite the storytelling achievement as well. Unlike previous one-take films, VICTORIA is not a “look what we did” technical demonstration reel. The film gives audiences the before, during and aftermath of a bank robbery, which only adds more fuel to the tension shown through this particular lens. You’ll easily find yourself caught in the web VICTORIA spins.
It’s all fun and games until you see two near-life-like puppets getting some sexual healing in Charlie Kaufman’s ANOMALISA. Kaufman is an eccentric genius, nobody is disputing that fact. The man has opened our minds to a higher form of consciousness with everything he has touched; namely, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION. He’s back on the scene at Fantastic Fest awkwardly premiering the stop-animation flick ANOMALISA. Kaufman has team with some of the best alternative talents on the planet, including Dino Stamotopolous (MORAL OREL/ COMMUNITY) and Dan Harmon (COMMUNITY).
Other than the visual beauty of the animation crafted by director Duke Johnson, ANOMALISA is a whiny story about a successful man named Michael Stone (David Thewlis) who is in the American Midwest to give a keynote speech. During this time, he winces and moans about how he doesn’t love his wife, is bored with it, yada, yada, yada– “white people problems.” He brings back a fellow hotel patron, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), to his room where they both gripe about their insecurities. The themes are the incarnate of a mid-life crisis in a relentless onslaught of complaining and sensual puppet sex. Although this has been lauded on the fall festival circuit, give it a hard pass during its encore screening on Tuesday.
The stories at Fantastic Fest are boundless, so TALE OF TALES is a fitting addition to the festival lineup. It intertwines three fairy tales you may already know, but it an added twist from Italian director Matteo Garrone. You got ol’ trusty John C. Reilly slaying a deadly sea monster, Salma Hayek chowing down on a creature’s heart, and the creepiest lothario Vincent Cassel longing to bed a couple of “old hags” (their words not mine) with surprising results. In the vain of a Jim Henson(ish) classic, TALE OF TALES boasts its weirdness with visual delight.
In terms of smaller-scale flicks, the frantic South African action romance titled HARD TO GET is sensational, but unfortunately not lauded quite yet. Zee Ntuli’s feature debut is given a kinetic pulse by following a young bus boy named TK (Pallance Dladla) as he tries to woo the mysterious Skiets (Thishiwe Ziqubu).
Once this film starts it just can’t stop. It has a style of Jean-Luc Goddard’s BREATHLESS, but injected with the vitality of a great Hollywood action film. This looks to be truly in a class of its own, while showing how dangerous falling love can be. And who doesn’t long for a little crazy love?
All ticket and screening information can be found at fantasticfest.com.