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.
It’s sad to leave a festival– especially Fantastic Fest, because it feels like a second home. You feel comfortable walking around in your own skin, being your weird self in the company of other weirdos.
So many great films are seen and so many memories are made– it’s truly a one of a kind film festival. So it’s bittersweet to be heading home.
Since we’ve had our hands full with attending as many screenings as we could, we didn’t get around to posting our thoughts on a few films. So we combined days 4 and 5 together.
At the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, RAW saw several people fall ill during the Midnight Madness screening. Ambulances were called to the theater and a couple festivalgoers required attention from paramedics. So that naturally had us hungry out of curiosity.
The film follows a young vegetarian named Justine (a knock-out Garance Marillier) as she heads off to college to study veterinary science — the same place her sister Alexia (an equally as great Ella Rumpf) attends. Justine is an optimistic person who has a firm belief in animal rights and what her body should ingest. So the thought of eating rabbit kidneys for a student initiation ritual doesn’t bode well for Justine. However, she participates out of pressure and peer acceptance.
What follows is a severe reaction that causes Justine to visit the local nurse, which then escalates to her craving meat, which then eventually arrives at human meat.
This is a more textured story than what we’ve seen come before from the genre. It’s wholly original and manages to find a way to not only give fans of the genre the thrills they’re craving, but crafting a smart, often poetic and emotionally rich narrative.
– Preston Barta
Read Preston Barta’s full review here.
In THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, we are introduced to an underground bunker of sorts in England. There are soldiers with guns, scientists conducting experiments and seemingly normal children bound to wheelchairs with handcuffs and militarized straps.
But there is one girl with a inviting smile and completely adorable British accent named Melanie (an excellent Sennia Nanua) who catches the attention of the facility’s guards, scientists and teachers — especially one teacher by the name of Helen (Gemma Arterton).
There are elements we have seen before in zombie films, yet director Colm McCarthy (OUTCAST) never allows the audience to become too comfortable. He introduces a new look to England we haven’t seen, along with a contained story that has an imminent fear of menace and surprisingly effective emotional arc.
– James Cole Clay
Read James Cole Clay’s full review here.
Stanley Kubrick (THE SHINING, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) is one of the most peculiar filmmakers who ever lived. We still study his work to this day and pick out new meanings with each viewing.
S IS FOR STANLEY documents Kubrick’s relationship with his personal assistant (Emilio D’Alessandro) and provides never-before-seen insight into the auteur. Kubrick lived a very private life, so any chance of getting to know him better is a trip worth taking.
The documentary plays like a sit down with your grandfather who shares stories of his youth. Stylistically there’s nothing too special about S IS FOR STANLEY; it gets a little cheesy at times in terms of its presentation (sound effects to pictures) and it glosses over some fascinating insights (which could have been left out to keep it more focused).
While it may have been a far more effective doc in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker, S IS FOR STANLEY still manages to move and give a better understanding of the person Kubrick was.
It’s always strange to finally see a person you’ve known your whole life for the first time. Well, that happened to hundreds of fans at Fantastic Fest when Tim Burton dropped by to show us his new film and hang out for a little while.
In a surprisingly candid conversation with legendary film critic Leonard Maltin, Burton chatted about his filmography (primarily ED WOOD, BEETLEJUICE and BIG FISH) and the use of practical and computer-generated effects in his films.
It was easy to see that Burton was happy to be in Austin, as he received rapturous applause and even cracked a few smiles– All in a day’s work for a filmmaker at Fantastic Fest.
Based on the 2011 novel by author Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s is essentially a story plucked out of the X-Men universe, but with more childlike sensibility. It tells of a boy named Jacob Portman (Asa Butterfield) who, following a family tragedy, goes on a journey to collect the breadcrumbs leading to an orphanage on a Welsh island.
If you’ve read Riggs’s novel, it’s easy to see why Burton would want to develop the material for the big screen. It’s certainly something that’s fitting for Burton’s filmography of weirdness. However, what starts off to be a promising venture into the bizarre, quickly descends into failed territory beyond the second act.
A truly great Burton film comes from an organic place, one that hasn’t been fleshed-out yet. Miss Peregrine’s may be one of the better films in his “meh” collection of titles, but it doesn’t showcase the quality that makes Burton the visual storyteller he is.
Hopefully one day Burton will return to the cinematic landscape that doesn’t come from Hollywood’s deep pockets. He works best from the inside out and not the other way around like this film boasts.
Read Courtney Howard’s full review here.
MISS PEREGRINE’S opens nationwide on Friday.
Paul Verhoeven (TOTAL RECALL, ROBOCOP) is best known for his sci-fi epics in the ’80s and ’90s, but what many may not realize is he’s one incredibly versatile director.
He may just have made his magnum opus with his French language debut ELLE that goes above and beyond to reinvent the rape/revenge narrative. (The film is currently the front-runner at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language film.)
Marked by an astounding central performance from Isabelle Huppert (AMOUR), the film dives into interpersonal relationship with her ex-lover, son and work colleagues as she deals with the trauma of sexual assault.
Provocative and funny, ELLE is a high-brow film with teeth.
Ethan Embry (SHE’S ALL THAT, EMPIRE RECORDS), the heartthrob from the late ’90s and early ’00s, has made a lot of great choices in roles lately. While only in THE GUEST for a short stint, Embry made his presence known with his more badass physique in last year’s festival favorite – THE DEVIL’S CANDY.
And after the web Nicolas Winding Refn spinned with THE NEON DEMON – a movie about the fashion industry – FASHIONISTA seemed like the low-key version of that, which had us on board.
Unfortunately, the film – about a woman with a fashion addiction – is too busy to fully appreciate. The performances are admirably committed (primarily Amanda Fuller) and there’s a good story in there somewhere, but it crowds the more fascinating aspects with subplots of infidelity, S&M and straight up weird for the sake of being weird. It’s a valiant effort, but there are too many loose threads.
Filmmaker Paul Schrader made his mark on Hollywood writing classic films such as TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL. Some-odd 40 years later, he’s still at it, but now in the director’s chair.
His latest, DOG EAT DOG, starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe, is a kinetic, yet completely uneven crime-comedy thriller thing. It’s difficult to pinpoint what Schrader is going for, as his film is exploitative, sleazy and, at times, actually pretty funny.
While it’s nice to see the two leads ham it up while snorting blow in fake cop uniforms, DOG EAT DOG ends up chasing its own tail.
Encore screening of DOG EAT DOG on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 10:45 a.m.
While we are no longer at Fantastic Fest. We still have coverage posting for the rest of the week, leading into next. Look for it!