George Hickman is an Austin film maniac who does not sleep. Here’s Part Three of his capsule reviews of all the movies he saw at Fantastic Fest 2013 this year! Part One and Part Two are right here. Here’s more Fantastic Fest 2013 coverage.
Afflicted (minor rock fist up) is a really well staged found footage flick about a couple of world travelers whose lives are changed when one of them is bitten by a vampire. The first third feels like an above average reality TV show, the middle third feels like the power discovery sequences of The Revenant or Chronicle, and the last third has more traditional horror elements, but with them turned on their head. While its pieces feel derivative, the overall experience still manages to feel fresh and inventive enough.
Cheap Thrills (solid rock fist up) starts unassumingly enough, as an awkward reunion of old down on their luck friends, but quickly escalates into a thrilling and darkly comedic series of events when they become a wealthy couple’s experiment in escalation and the compromises desperate people will make. Manages to feel both intimate and larger than life.
Detective Downs (solid rock fist up) charms as it follows an aspiring detective with down syndrome on his first case. While the plot is a little muddled (and bears a few similarities to the almost forgotten John Candy vehicle Who’s Harry Crumb?), the Norwegian comedy/drama/noir-throwback succeeds by refusing to exploit or look down on its lead. Funny, surprising, and just a little bit heartwarming.
Goldberg and Eisenberg (swiss fist) is an Israeli dark comedy about a man who is harassed in an almost Fatal Attraction-like manner by a stranger after a polite but stained conversation in a park. Written and directed by a first-time filmmaker, the film’s lack of polish is mitigated by strong performances.
Gravity (rock fist way up) is a stunning 90 minute roller coaster that raises the bar on movies set in space. Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career in a film that is a more visceral and thrilling experience than any film in recent memory. Easily the new “best 3D movie ever made.” It’s an experience I can’t wait to revisit again and again.
Metallica: Through the Never (solid rock first up) succeeds in presenting 3D concert footage in new and exciting ways, including by interweaving a narrative about a roadie sent on a quest in a surreal, horrific, and quickly deteriorating urban landscape. While the narrative doesn’t take up a lot of running time on its own, it remains compelling and enhances the darkness and conflict inherent in Metallica’s very recognizable back catalog. Commendable in its earnestness, and good enough to win over even jaded former fans of the band.
Northwest (minor rock fist up) is a Danish crime drama about a teenage burglar who graduates to higher paying criminal activity, but not without incurring the wrath of his former employer. While the film is very well made, with some great performances, it’s hard to shake the feeling this territory is a little too familiar.
R100 (solid rock fist up) could be the weirdest film overall at Fantastic Fest this year, as a struggling father with a wife in a coma looks for euphoric release by engaging the services of BDSM company that promises to surprise the client when he least expects it. However, as the dominatrices push him too far by accosting him at work and involving his son, he soon finds himself literally going to war in this surreal and self-aware Japanese comedy from the director of Big Man Japan.
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (minor rock fist up) at first seems like one of the most left-field choices for Fantastic Fest. It’s a low key slice of life drama about an elderly parolee and her lover as they get by in a small, remote town. Eventually things take a dark and unexpected turn. Pretty unique.
The Zero Theorem (solid rock fist up) marks Terry Gilliam‘s return to science fiction, with a retro-futurist take on a world where people use computers to attempt to solve great mysteries. Christoph Waltz carries the film, which has a lot of big ideas that may take repeat viewings to fully grasp.