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.
Preston Barta & Cole Clay // Critic
It’s gotten to the point in days 7 and 8 of Fantastic Fest where it’s highly possible to find FF’ers catching a snooze just about anywhere. We saw OPEN WINDOWS director Nacho Vigalondo crashed out on a bench holding a sandwich. To be more efficient at FF, it is best to split up and cover more movie-ground. So, that is exactly what we did for the last two days.
We were able to see several films that had fallen under our radar, because this is the festival where there could be a diamond in the rough at every corner.
The last two days consisted of the films: the kinetic internet-thriller OPEN WINDOWS; a dead-pan, existential musical I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS; a re-screening of Keanu Reeves’ 83 body-count tally in JOHN WICK; and the closing night film NIGHTCRAWLER, about a sociopathic crime journalist.
OPENS WINDOWS, set on Fantastic Fest’s home turf of Austin, is a Spanish-American production from writer-director Nacho Vigalondo. The film is told through a series of different browser windows on a computer screen where the characters are being manipulated by a mysterious man named Chord (Neil Maskell).
One of those characters who Chord brings into his game is Nick (Elijah Wood), a fan who won a contest to have a date with starlet Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Chord draws Nick in by granting him special access to Jill’s smart phone and computer, where he can see and hear everything the actress is doing. However, after Nick is caught peeping into their room by Jill’s boyfriend Tony (Iván González), Chord manipulates Nick into attacking Tony, which is all he needs to trap Nick into doing whatever he wants.
There is something really scary about OPEN WINDOWS. Perhaps it’s because we saw it so soon after the infamous iCloud hack. It makes you scared to see where our world is heading, as far as technology goes, hacking, identity theft and lack of privacy. Are we truly safe? Do we really have our privacy? These are some of the questions that are raised after watching OPEN WINDOWS, and this is where the film strikes the right ‘chord.’
However, where the film loses grip and falls off the deep end is in the final 20 minutes of the film. There’s a certain point where they easily could have ended the film and it would have been an effective thriller. But instead, the final act gets rather ridiculous and loses all sight of logic. Well, really, there are many moments throughout that abandon going down an authentic route – the way they get access to certain computers, can see through walls, etc. It’s a little farfetched, yet, you’re still in for the ride until the last act.
I commend the film for being a different movie experience (much like LOCKE of this year with Tom Hardy), where it (in a way) takes place at one location – a computer. But it loses focus from what is really frightening. OPEN WINDOWS might make for an interesting Netflix rental, but the talent involved with the picture are better than the sum of this film’s parts.
Originally, JOHN WICK’s second screening was cancelled due to some dispute with the production studio, but nothing was really made clear. All in all, it didn’t matter because the film screened the following day. And because of the delay, it actually built the film up much more and had a far greater reception on Wednesday than it did during the Friday night premiere (which is why we are briefly discussing the film again). Audiences cheered for what was a truly interactive theater going experience.
Our interview with Keanu Reeves (click here).
JOHN WICK marks a return to form for Reeves. He embraces the role as a former hit-man with a haunted past who comes back to avenge the death of his dog. This film does something – provides a novel motivation for Wick to progress the plot as audiences have become accustomed to seeing humans die in films for many years, but not animals. This allows Wick to be a sympathetic character and root for him as he brutally murders Russian mobsters. Brisk, focused and incredibly entertaining, JOHN WICK is one of few successful action films in recent memory.
A film that sadly very few people have seen outside of Fantastic Fest is Bennett Jones’ I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS, an idiosyncratic comedy that is part musical and all existential. Jones plays Bené, an international pop-star that is grieving the death of his partner. This is a surreal lo-fi experience that is sharp, and is unabashedly the funniest film of the festival. Well, that’s if you don’t count Simon Barrett’s THE GUEST.
Bennett Jones wrote, directed, edited and stars in this tight little film that is MONTY PYTHON meets PARKS & REC, with a pinch of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. However, I AM A KNIFE WITH LEGS does stand alone as something completely original.
After making big waves at the Toronto Film Festival, NIGHTCRAWLER closed the festival with a bang last night. Movies don’t get much better than Dan Gilroy‘s tightly-pieced and explosive thriller.
The storyline is rather simple – a man named Louis Bloom (a knockout Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon the world of freelance crime journalism. Louis cruises the streets of Los Angeles to find crime scenes that he can film and sell to news networks.
NIGHTCRAWLER is a haunting movie with a stilted atmosphere. Great character studies punctuated by violent action scenes keep the audience immersed in this gripping film. Some powerful performances (especially Gyllenhaal at the forefront and Rene Russo), stylish direction and intricate plotting, complete this whirlwind of near-perfection.
NIGHTCRAWLER may not deliver box office gold come next month (October 31), though it will certainly be paying long-term dividends as a reference point for future film noir directors, writers and fans alike.
Other small touches around the festival was confirmation that the infamous YOU’RE NEXT mural was left standing after the remodeling, due to a promise made to festival favorite Adam Wingard (director of THE GUEST).
There were whispers that it still existed, but was confirmed by Simon Barrett’s Twitter account. Although the staff wouldn’t divulge where this indeed was located, they made things a little more interesting by sending out clues to those who asked.
From September 18-25, we covered well over 30 films (look out for our “Best of the Fest” article on Monday), and the verdict is that 2014 can be added to the Fantastic Fest history books. Good films, good times and good people. 2015, we’ll be back.
All information about the festival can be found at fantasticfest.com.