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.
James Cole Clay // Film Critic
A recap of the fun and misfortunes of Day 4 at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX:
This has been the year for Stephen King’s resurgence. While he’s never really out of the pop culture conversation, two of King’s most beloved stories, IT and THE DARK TOWER, received major studio releases — and, of course, there’s the whole peripheral connection to STRANGER THINGS.
GERALD’S GAME is a small story perfectly suited for Netflix’s small budget/wide net routine that has been working well for the horror genre as of late. There’s very little expectation brought to the film that winds up being haunting and healing thriller. Jessie (Carla Gugino) ventures up to secluded vacation home in the woods of Maine with her older – and curiously buff – husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwoods) as try to toss some spice in their sex life. After a half-hearted attempt at kinkiness, Gerald kills over and leaves Jessie handcuffed to the bed. To top it all off, there’s a hungry stray dog in the mix… maybe more.
About 85% of the film is set in the bedroom, and if there was ever a director to figure out this puzzle its Mike Flanagan (HUSH, OUIJI: ORIGIN OF EVIL), who gives Jessie her own perspective as we hear her inner most thoughts while Gerald tries to kill her spirit. This isn’t your average tale of survival. Gugino and Greenwood and given complex human emotions to fill in the blanks were other horror films lack. GERALD’S GAME continues to give horror new life.
GERALD’S GAME releases on Netflix on Friday, Sept. 29.
Fantastic Fest alums Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead brought their film SPRING to the festival a few years back to wide acclaim. SPRING had still and visually sumptuous cinematography that was stylish and authentic. Their latest, THE ENDLESS, got a large crowd at its screening on Sunday. The film promised a cerebral and deliberately paced thrill, and it delivers on that, but with a few ZZZ’s thrown into the mix.
The ambitious work takes its time in telling the story of two brothers who return to the “death cult” they left 10 years prior. Filmmakers Benson and Moorhead cast themselves in the star roles, but unfortunately, there’s an unfocused demeanor to their delivery that causes lots of resistance to the story at hand. They toy with ideas about time travel, dread and skewed perspectives. (Fans of the Netflix series THE OA and the film ANOTHER EARTH will delight in this slow-burn story.) But in the end, all its ideas come without any sense of urgency.
THE ENDLESS has an encore screening on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 3:45 p.m.
Lately there has been a huge push for European films at Fantastic Fest that center on a woman’s self-discovery. Films such as ELLE, BLIND, VICTORIA, RAW and Joachim Trier’s THELMA (which screened at Fantastic Fest this year) all have approached the topic in clever ways and have been some of the best films in recent memory.
The German film TIGER GIRL, directed by Jakob Lass, inflicts an ass-kicking style into his film about a young girl named Vanilla (Maria-Victoria Dragus) who’s training to be an elite security guard in Berlin. She seems focused and poised to succeed, but this changes when she meets Tiger (Ella Rumpf), a punk who squats in apartment buildings and ends up saving Vanilla from a group of catcalling men at a subway stop. The two become fast friends and wind up mugging people, breaking plates and throwing fruit at cops. There’s tons of mischievous fun to be had in an anarchist sort of way.
TIGER GIRL grows a bit cold in its third act, especially when it shows Vanilla doing even more senseless debauchery and losing herself in being an agent of chaos. The two young women grow in opposite directions and you’re left wondering, “Who is the real ‘tiger girl?’”
Tune in tomorrow for Day 5, where we catch up on Monday’s films and provide some thoughts on the secret screening (revealed to be THE DEATH OF STALIN), THE CURED (an original zombie film) and MY FRIEND DAHMER (an origin story to the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer).