Day Three was a very good day for film at Fantastic Fest. It went from “Fish Story” to “Toy Story” to Takashi Miike’s “Yatterman” to the one-two horror/comedy punch of George Romero’s “Survival of the Dead” and D. Kerry Prior’s “The Revenant.”
“Fish Story” – rock fist way up
Considering Fantastic Fest usually leans towards highlighting the random and insane side of Asian cinema, the Japanese film “Fish Story” was a welcome change of pace.
Essentially a time spanning ensemble drama about fate, it begins in 2012 as a comet hurdles towards Earth. From there it jumps between four other seemingly unrelated stories, each taking place in a separate decade.
Anchoring the film is the tale of an obscure pre-Sex Pistols punk band as they struggle to find an audience and record a single without compromise. Somehow their song “Fish Story” influences the events that follow in both direct and indirect ways.
The movie works surprisingly well because of how it balances human drama with comedy and suspense. Despite skipping around in time, it never loses focus and remains fascinating throughout. It is definitely one of the best of the fest.
“Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ in 3D double feature – rock fist way up
Aside from watching both of these movies upon their original theatrical release, I’ve never really revisited these two films like I have with some of Pixar’s other work.
As such, I had forgotten just how brilliant they are. Both of these films are hilarious, touching, and have aged surprising well. It’s remarkable that they still feel as unique and inventive as ever.
Cleaned up and re-rendered in unobtrusive 3D, this is also the best these movies have ever looked. Much like “Up,” the 3D here is about immersion, not exploitation. The movies have not been compromised and no scenes were altered to included 3D gimmickry.
The double-feature package also included an entertaining introduction and 10-minute intermission that is going to make a great Blu-ray special feature.
More than just a promotional tool for “Toy Story 3,” this double feature is highly recommended, especially for the children born within the 10-15 years since the original and its sequel were released. It really is remarkable that the first fully computer-animated movie still looks as great as it does, especially compared to even recent DreamWorks animated pictures.
“Yatterman” – minor rock fist up
Takashi Miike is one of Japan’s most prolific directors, but his most well-known movies in America tend to be his gore-filled ones. Like Robert Rodriguez, Miike tends to make movies for different audiences, including children. This adaptation of a short-lived Japanese Anime is very much a children’s movie–and a spastic, colorful, and completely illogical one at that.
“Yatterman” is the story of two teenage tech-savvy heroes and their giant mechanized dog as they thwart the plans of the evil Doronbo gang.
Visually and tonally similar to the Wachowskis’ “Speed Racer,” which I happened to enjoy, “Yatterman”‘s largely CGI universe is an otherworldly explosion of color. Suitably, this makes it feel like a live-action cartoon with a rapid sense of humor. The jokes hit fast, including lots of references to the original TV series. The goofy atmosphere goes a long way, and overall the majority of the gags hit their target.
However, its hyperkinetic style does grow repetitive pretty quickly, and the appropriately episodic plot does grow a little weary. If you enjoy other colorful CGI driven children’s movies or are a fan of old fashioned Japanese insanity, “Yatterman” is worth checking out.
“Survival of the Dead” – solid rock fist up
The financial success of the disappointing “Diary of the Dead” has brought the master of the modern zombie movie back for more end-of-the-world mayhem. Thankfully, I’m pleased to report that “Survival of the Dead” is not only a high-quality horror comedy, it’s also a worthy addition to George Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy.
“Survival of the Dead” tells the story of two families on a remote island and their centuries-old feud. These are the type who can’t even let something like a zombie apocalypse bring them together. Their disagreements on how to handle the undead leads to a banishment of the head of one of the families.
His path crosses with that of an AWOL group of National Guard members who have decided that taking care of themselves is more important than service to what’s left of their country. Once they return to the island together, things really heat up.
The most intriguing aspect of this and other Romero movies is the fact that in this world, zombies are less of a threat than humans are. This movie is also overall the funniest I’ve seen Romero get. Likewise, a high level of gore and satisfyingly unique kills help the horror aspect succeed, but Romero is actually focused on telling this specific story appropriately.
It’s very welcome to have a new humorous, well acted, gory, and beautifully photographed George Romero film. I’ve missed it.
“The Revenant” – rock fist way up
Wow. I have no idea where this movie came from, but it is great. I decided to see it based solely on the fact that the basic plot description sounded similar to a favorite movie of mine, Bob Clark’s 1974 horror film “Deathdream,” aka “Dead of Night.”
Both films are about fallen soldiers who find themselves in the precarious position of being the walking undead, forced to drink human blood to ward off decomposition.
But that’s where the similarities end. While Clark’s film is a heartbreaking allegory for the way a child’s death can tear a family apart, “The Revenant” is a hilarious buddy comedy with the twist being that one of the friends happens to be dead. Or undead, at least.
The fact that Bart and his friend Joey don’t really know what’s happening to him sets up some great comedic situations. The logical way that the two of them handle trying to figure what exactly the “rules” of his condition are is also fairly ingenious.
The movie ends up going some very unexpected places and the movie just bursts with hilarious invention. My only real criticism is that the length may be a little much for some people, though personally would enjoy watching a multi-hour director’s cut.
While impressively gory and often tense, “The Revenant” does not attempt to be scary, so I can’t fault it for focusing more on comedy than horror. At the end of the day, “The Revenant” is the best horror comedy since “Shaun of the Dead.”
That’s it for my Day Three Wrap-up. Day Four brings the new Terry Gilliam film “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” the French action sequel “District 13: Ultimatum,” and more.