Fantastic Fest 2010 has started and George Hickman is covering it for Scene-Stealers. His reviews of all the movies he can cram into one week will be published here until the genre-oriented film festival is over and his bloody fingers can type no more.
Fantastic Fest has begun again. Every year it grows a bit more, and this year is definitely no exception. Unfortunately I was also plagued by bad timing or scheduling issues and ended up with only three movies to write about, which should (hopefully) be the lightest day of the festival for me.
The first movie I saw was the Hong Kong kung fu film “14 Blades.”
Much like the fairly recent period Chinese kung fu films of Zhang Yimo, including “Hero” and “House of the Flying Daggers,” “14 Blades” uses its historical setting to best effect by staging elaborate fight scenes. And like those films, the plot is told in such broad strokes that it makes caring about the story itself harder.
The film centers on the journey of Qinglong (Donnie Yen), the best of the Emperor’s secret police, as he’s manipulated into aiding a coup against the ruler he’s sworn his life to. He flees, determined to stop them at all costs.
He’s aided by Qiao Hua, a beautiful but impetuous young woman whose father leads a protection agency to help travelers safely navigate the treacherous countryside. Of course, Qiao Hua and Qinglong fall in love, and there are the required amount of plot twists. The film is also livened up by a fun character who feels like a mixture of Jack Sparrow and every Japanese role-playing game character ever.
But its difficult to shake the feeling you’ve seen this all before. Oddly it feels a bit like the recent, forgettable “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time,” though “14 Blades” does fare better overall. If you particularly love these type of mainstream grand-scale Kung Fu movies, you could do a lot worse than “14 Blades.”
While “14 Blades” was a decent start to Fantastic Fest, it didn’t really begin until the official opening night ceremony and film, “Let Me In.” The opening night ceremony usually consists of Tim League, the founder of the Alamo Drafthouse and co-founder of Fantastic Fest, staging some sort of elaborate and ridiculous stunt.
This year, the festival has a particular focus on Norwegian genre films and classic exploitation films made in the Philippines by people like Roger Corman. So before we were seated, we were handed a test tube full of a green liquid. When Tim League was on stage, he came out dressed in an uncomfortable looking suit. After welcoming everyone to fest, cracking a few jokes, and thanking a few sponsors, he then tore off his suit to reveal a skimpy Viking outfit as several other people, also dressed as Vikings, jumped on stage and lead the audience in a karaoke singalong of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
Afterwards he explained what the test tubes were for. In the grand tradition of “The Mad Doctor of Blood Island,” we all collectively recited the oath of the green blood before consuming the fluid, which tasted a bit like an unfrozen freezer pop.
“Let Me In” – Minor Rock Fist Up
Afterwards, Tim introduced the director of “Let Me In,” Matt Reeves. Matt talked about how remaking the film was really a labor of love for them and he seemed very sincere in his praise of source material and original film. They then brought out Michael Giacchino, the film’s composer, who has been particularly celebrated lately in film geek circles lately for his work in “Up,” “Star Trek,” and “Lost,” among many others.
Michael was followed by the Texas Boys Choir, who performed a selection from the film. It was an interesting choice, particularly since the choir was comprised of exactly the type of awkward prepubescent boy that “Let Me In” centers on. It was like a stage full of Owens/Oskars. It also brought back a few slightly repressed childhood memories of performing in my school boys’ choir “The Singing Surfers.”
With the conclusion of their performance, the film began. And an audience of about a thousand watched the American remake of a film which was the darling of the festival just two years prior.
I mostly agree with Eric’s review, though I’m still trying to work out some mixed feelings that I have. To people with no aversion to subtitles, American remakes of fairly recent Foreign films always seem the least necessary. But I also feel like there is room for both an original film and its remake, particularly if the two diverge or the American version finds an organic way to stage or reinterpret the same scenes. The fact that they both originate with a novel further complicates things. Are they remaking the film, or re-adapting the book? In this case, a little bit of both.
“Let Me In” mostly stays way from the quick cutting and handheld camera work that is so rampant these days, and its a very smart decision that serves the scarier scenes well. But unfortunately holding some of the shots longer has the side effect of drawing attention to some shoddy effects work. Apparently being a vampire grants you the power of eternal life, enhanced strength, and the ability to turn into really terrible CGI.
Also distracting were some overly clever song choices and background jokes. For example, I appreciate the humor of playing Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ For You” in the scene before a character is burned, but it completely broke the tension of a sequence that is absolutely masterfully staged otherwise. And as great as Michael Giacchino typically is, his score drew attention to itself in ways that didn’t serve the movie. Of course, that may have been a side effect of having heard a selection of it performed by a boys choir afterwords.
But really, a lot of these complaints are minor for what really is a good film. The fact that the film worked best when it diverged from the original is a testament to the care and skill that went into this. One sequence in particular is just spectacular, and the decision keep the face of Owen’s mother off camera was a pretty brilliant way of showing their emotional distance. The addition of the detective (Elias Koteas) and the backdrop of 80′s satanic panic help the setting feel more natural. I also think this film’s adjustment of the relationship between Abby and her partner (Richard Jenkins) makes this film that much more affecting and bittersweet.
What it comes down to is anyone remotely inclined to see this film, should. I’m actually kind of envious of those people who will be watching it without ever having seen or even being aware of the original film. I’m anxious to hear what they thought of it. If I had to choose between the two, I’d chose the earlier film. But the fact that the decision is between a possibly very good film an a great film is a luxury fans of remade movies are almost never have.
After “Let Me In,” the Reeves, Giacchino, Elias Koteas, and three of the young male actors from the film all came out for a Q&A. The most memorable information from it was that the staging of film’s most stunning original sequence was partially inspired by a YouTube video and the film “Dial M for Murder,” and Michael Giacchino is so hemophobic he was partially covering his eyes or looking away while scoring a lot of the film’s bloodier scenes.
Next up was the film “Buried.” Tim League came back out and introduced its director Rodrigo Cortés, who was pretty hysterical. He basically teased the audience for showing up to a movie about a guy trapped in a box for 90 minutes, and mentioned that making the film was supposed to be impossible, but that if you wait too long to attempt impossible things, you could be too late because they’ll no longer be impossible.