George Hickman is an Austin film maniac who does not sleep. Here’s Part One of his capsule reviews of all the movies he has watched at Fantastic Fest 2013 this year! Part Two is right here. Here’s more Fantastic Fest 2013 coverage.
Almost Human (minor rock fist down) is almost a movie. This alien possession horror film was clearly made by an enthusiastic group of friends, but the basic plot, repetitive script, and mostly amateur level resources sink the few sparks of invention it does have. On the bright side, people who miss the era of no-budget indie slashers or shot-on-video horror films have likely found a new favorite.
Big Bad Wolves (solid rock fist up) is the stylish follow-up to Fantastic Fest 2011 favorite Rabies. Like that film, it mines pitch black comedy from tense and violent situations. This thriller about a disgraced cop and a mourning father’s possibly misguided confrontation with a suspected pedophile and kidnapper is complex, brilliantly staged, and completely unafraid to go to those dark places uncommon outside of South Korean cinema.
Blue Ruin (rock fist way up) is a really stellar drama about a very broken man who lifts himself out of homelessness to avenge the murder of his parents, only to find himself facing the unintended consequences of vengeance. Tonally similar to No Country for Old Men, and almost as good.
Coherence (solid rock fist up) is great little mind-bender, which explores quantum mechanical concepts via the most traditional micro-budget indie set-up: the awkward dinner party. The initially slack pacing helps to build tension once things take a turn for the bizarre. Primer meets It’s a Disaster.
Commando: A One Man Army (minor rock fist up) proves Bollywood has at least one great action star, and that musical numbers won’t necessarily derail exceedingly macho movies. Thirty minutes shorter and it’d be stronger as a generic 80s action throwback, but as it is, its uniqueness makes it stand out as an almost singular experience.
The Dirties (rock fist way down) is the most disappointing film of the fest. While the characters prove to be somewhat endearing at first, this found-footage film annoys more than it enlightens, and the violent turn the third act takes would be infuriating if it wasn’t so obvious and poorly staged. A slog to get through, even at 83 minutes.
Escape From Tomorrow (minor rock fist up) is captivating enough to rise above the “comprised mostly of stolen footage inside Disney World” gimmick. Its surreal juxtaposition of familial anxiety against the idyllic Disney backdrop makes for a fascinating commentary on the insecurities of a husband and father.
Grand Piano (solid rock fist up) is an insane thriller, and clearly a throwback to Hitchcock and his biggest champion DePalma. Thankfully, the film believes in itself and that commitment works on a level that shouldn’t even be possible. If you love classical pianists being forced to play at gunpoint, your drought is over!
Jodorowsky’s Dune (rock fist way up) is wonderful. What could have felt like a glorified DVD special feature is a funny, brilliant exploration of the nature of art and creative expression. Imaginative, hilarious, and tragic. BRB, building a wormhole so I can live in the reality where this film was made.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (solid rock fist up) marks a return to form for Stephen Chow as a director. I’ve missed him and his bonkers sense of humor and I loved the crazy Buddhist stuff in the demon battles. While Chow doesn’t act in this one, his touches are felt throughout in this martial arts comedy.
Machete Kills (swiss fist) is more of the same and exactly what the trailers advertise. If you got into the first film at all, you’ll enjoy this one even more as it ratchets up the ridiculousness to a level that one could only hint at.