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.
Day 3’s crop of films at Fantastic Fest had a few exciting features, docs and shorts, but it also had plenty to leave you with your face in your hands, regretting not leaving or getting a quick nap session in.
To be fair, even if the movies here are not geared towards your flavor, you cannot deny that they take you to interesting places you’ve never been before. This seems to be the theme of the festival, as no two films are alike– and while some may take on similar subject matter, where they differ is in their exploration. Love or hate them, you’ll never forget them.
One of the films that divided audiences, and easily was the biggest draw of the day, was HIGH-RISE, starring everyone’s favorite dancing Brit, Tom Hiddleston. The film takes place in 1975, where a shocking breakdown of class and social structures within a brand new, state of the art apartment building unfolds. However, after things take a turn due to system malfunctions and otherwise, the inhabitants, including the detached doctor Robert Laing (Hiddleston), slowly start to give into their animalistic impulses, turning the flat into supreme chaos.
HIGH-RISE is a great sensory experience, especially as you follow these characters through each level of the tower block. I have to give director Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST) credit for his visionary style, whether it’s a slow-motion technique of capturing objects (or people) falling on top of cars from balconies, or alcohol trips that are absolutely hypnotizing to watch.
Each level of the building gets more bizarre, chiefly at the top with the architect (Jeremy Irons) and his old fashion yet scenic layer. Some party their livers damaged, while others try to get by with whatever they can. Like SNOWPIERCER, there’s no denying there is grand scale of uniqueness here. However, SNOWPIERCER keeps things moving and its characters compelling from start to finish. HIGH-RISE, on the other hand, cashes in more on its style and concept, losing track of what’s important.
Upon watching it, you’ll find yourself exceptionally curious in the first half, but then you’ll notice a point where you feel the story’s wheels are spinning. It gets real repetitive and head scratching, especially in its final hour. However, despite its unfocused pen and direction, there are many great qualities within – like Luke Evans scene-stealing performance as one of the other inhabitants – to take away and chew on.
In 1993, Steven Spielberg made many quiver in shame, as SCHINDLER’S LIST illustrated the despicable reality of the Holocaust. It broke ground in its portrayal, and even swept in many prestigious awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Director. SON OF SAUL, however, puts the lens closer on the event by making audiences active participants in the story.
There aren’t many cuts in SON OF SAUL. The camera continues to roll and follow our characters as they go through their devastating journey. It’s a visceral tour at the heart of the infamous death camps.
László Nemes is the type of filmmaker who is not afraid to expose everything and take you to dark, often uncomfortable places. With its 4:3 aspect ratio, Nemes makes SON OF SAUL so riveting that even when you want to look away, especially scenes that showcase the Jews being rushed into pits or shower rooms, you cannot take your eyes off the screen.
No secret that Zoe Bell knows how to kick some ass alongside Mr. Fantastic Fest himself, Nacho Vigalando, in the action-thriller CAMINO. Directed by SpectreVision’s Josh Waller and taking place in 1985, Bell plays a photojournalist running from her demons by traveling the world searching for truth within her chosen profession. She is assigned to cover a rebel group in the depths of the Colombian wilderness led by Vigalando, who plays the charismatic yet sinister leader.
When a senseless murder is uncovered it’s a fight for survival as they play a patient game of cat-and-mouse. Bolster by Vigalando’s excellent performance (probably the biggest surprise thus far) and Bell’s committed stunt work. CAMINO doesn’t fully complete the run through the jungle with out a few slip ups, but the two leads alone carry the film to success.
Every year at Fantastic Fest it’s best to look for the hidden gems, the film that you didn’t come here to see but winding up praising because of the filmmaker’s commitment to the project. Pedro Morelli explained that his film, ZOOM, has been a work in progress for the past five years. He and screenwriter Matt Hansen created a story within a story within a comic book drawing. Starring Alison Pill as life-size doll maker/animator she creates a comic book strip about a filmmaker played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who is trying to express his art instead of making big budget action films– all the while he has lost the ability to access his manhood (if you catch my drift).
ZOOM is one-third rotoscoped animation, and it shows the work and thought that was put into the film to make the intricate screenplay work seamlessly. This is a very funny film that dissects body issues and the process of filmmaking.
After seeing several films that trudge through the muck of sadness and despair, it’s always a breath of fresh air when you get something that looks upon the lighter side of life. The best way to talk about religion in film is with the tongue firmly planted in cheek. The Belgian film THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT is just that, but with flairs of magic!
The first two lines of the film read “God Is Real. And he lives In Brussels.” His daughter Ea (an excellent Pili Groyne) describes him as cruel as he runs the world from his computer desktop. Ea infiltrates his office and releases the death date for every person on the planet.
From there the film a comedic flair filled with positivity and love as she searches for six new apostles. These six people are our outlet to view the world from the perspective of broken, battered and bruised individuals. Director Jaco Van Dormael helps us learn about these people and look at our own lives with overwhelming positivity.
All ticket and screening information can be found at fantasticfest.com.
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