Archive for the ‘2014 Fantasy FilmFest’ Category

A-Hard-Day-1Ahead of October’s release of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, we have the Korean adult version known as Kkeut-kka-ji-gan-da or A Hard Day. Alexander may have to deal with setbacks like gum in his hair and a trip to the dentist, but that hardly measures up to the grown-up problems our hero, Go Geon-soo (Seon-gyun Lee), faces.

Geon-soo must plan his mother’s funeral, deal with his own divorce and the custody of his daughter, and stay a step ahead of the internal affairs team investigating him and the other members of his police squad for alleged corruption.  But what proves to be the capper for the good detective is when he runs over a pedestrian late at night on a deserted stretch of road.

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White Bird4“I was 17 when my mother disappeared…”

There is a haunting beauty to the tag line of White Bird in a Blizzard, an ambiguity that echoes throughout the film. Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley) loses her mother (Eva Green) just as the young girl is becoming a woman, but has Eve Connor walked away from her family or was she taken? The mystery of the mother’s departure, and the effects of her absence for better or worse on Kat and, to a lesser degree, on husband and father Brock (Christopher Meloni), form the center of the film. Unfortunately, the narrative is burdened with too much extraneous material that distracts and detracts from the beautiful, wondrous, excruiating, painful, scarring and fascinating mother-daughter relationship that should be the sole focus.

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Open WindowsIf you try very hard, you can make a case for Open Windows to be a cyber-inspired reimagining of Rear Window. In the 21st century, laptops, smart phones, and surveillance cameras are to us what a telephoto lens and an apartment window were to Americans in the 1950’s: a means to look into the living rooms and bedrooms of our neighbors. That would make Elijah Wood this generation’s Jimmy Stewart, and Wood does carry some of the same nebbish Everyman qualities, though his characters, to date, have not shown the same flinty internal strength. Where this imagined connection between movies falters is with Sasha Grey as a stand-in for Grace Kelly, or Nacho Vigalando for Alfred Hitchcock. Still, Rear Window was a gimmick movie as is Open Windows. The difference is that in Hitchcock’s masterpiece, the gimmick is used to introduce the action; in Vigalando’s rather ordinary effort, the gimmick overwhelms the action.

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It FollowsThe brilliant stand-up comedian Richard Pryor had a routine about venereal disease in which he expressed his concern that drug-resistant STDs were becoming so worrisome that soon, a man would begin the act, and his junk would immediately explode. Until the day Brother Richard’s prophecy comes true, we have David Robert Mitchell’s new horror film, It Follows, which centers around a particularly virulent form of VD. To wit, have sex just one time – particularly if you are a teenage female – and an evil spirit, that may or not take the shape of someone you know, will track you down and bend you like a pretzel until you snap, penicillin or industrial-strength Trojans notwithstanding. The film works as social satire and horror flick until it doesn’t, which is to say that it never pushes past its initial premise to develop into a story greater than its log line.

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JamieMarksJamie Marks Is Dead is a film that is more interested in being earnest than it is in being entertaining. It is a muddled mess that purports to be a message movie, but one that cannot articulate a coherent view. Jamie Marks Is Dead is more easily characterized by the things it is not, than by what it is. It is not a horror movie. It is not a ghost story. It is not a mystery or a thriller. It is not an allegory about bullying or even a worthwhile feature-length public service announcement for It Gets Better.

On the other hand, it is long, languid, and dull, albeit well intentioned.

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Coherence-02Coherence is a vigorous affirmation that a great script trumps special effects in crafting a superior science fiction movie. James Ward Byrkit’s screenplay is the real star of this rock solid, thinking man’s flick. The film has a theatrical sense to it with a relatively small cast of eight spending most of the 90-minute runtime in a dining room as a typical suburban dinner party turns into a cosmic event, but what the movie might lack in explosions and spaceships, it makes up in tension and intellectual provocation.

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RufusRufus is not a bad movie. In fact, it is almost a good one. One final rewrite of the script, the removal of one character, a clarification or two of the central figure, and a slice of about 20 minutes from the 110-minute runtime, and you would be staring straight at a modest Canadian independent production with strong cult appeal that would play very well on the festival circuit. As is, however, Rufus suffers from a lack of clarity and purpose. Director/screenwriter Dave Schultz overextends in what should be a more barebones effort; in the process, he muddles the narrative and leaves the audience wondering what might have been.

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iNumber NumberThe best thing to be said about iNumber Number is that it leaves you wanting more. You want to see more work from director/screenwriter Donovan Marsh. You want to see more of a stellar cast, particularly lead actor S’Dumo Mtshali. You especially want to see more of South Africa as a setting for hard-nosed crime flicks. The downside to this desire for more, more, and more is that iNumber Number is not quite satisfying in itself. A good bit of the 96-minute runtime is given over to waiting for the film to hit fifth gear, only to discover that it’s more of an automatic transmission ride.

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Starry-EyesThe beautiful young woman who goes to Hollywood and sells her soul for fame and fortune as an actress is a familiar allegory, but seldom has it been spun in quite as chilling a manner as seen in the new horror flick, Starry Eyes. Even more rare is to see a unknown in the lead role turn in such a remarkable, defining performance that she elevates the movie above mere Midnight Madness fun. Alex Essoe as Sarah Walker, the would-be thespian who discovers how far she is willing to go for success, is astonishing; it’s sweet justice of a sort for a newcomer to use such a role to establish her own claim to stardom. The directing/screenwriting team of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer wisely piggyback on Essoe’s achievement to bring a fully realized story to the screen.

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The BabadookWhile the debate goes on about female roles in mainstream movies, women continue to kill it – literally and figuratively – in genre films. On the second day of the 2014 Berlin Fantasy Filmfest, audiences were treated to consecutive screenings of a trio of strong flicks with an actress in the lead role, two of which also have a female director/screenwriter behind the projects. Honeymoon stars Rose Leslie, and Starry Eyes features Alex Essoe, but it is Essie Davis in The Babadook who turns in the most remarkable performance. Working in her feature film debut, director/writer Jennifer Kant unleashes childhood horrors on a defenseless widow (Davis) and her maladjusted son (Noah Wiseman) in a movie that works the nerves of the audience by manifesting familial dysfunction and behavioral disorders into the ultimate boogeyman in the closet.

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