Once more into the breach: Fred Topel's coming at you with reviews of all the hottest movies at Fantastic Fest 2011, so we're going to get out of the way and just let him do his thing.
A BOY AND HIS SAMURAI – I can see why this was the audience favorite of Fantastic Fest. It’s totally cute crowd pleasing. A samurai winds up in the future, bonds with a boy and his mother and becomes a successful chef. I’m still more of a You’re Next or Headhunters guy myself, and Japanese cinema doesn’t touch me the way Hong Kong does. So I liked Samurai, didn’t love it. It’s not rocket science. The cute kid cries and the samurai teaches him to triumph over adversity. His culinary arts are impressive and his code shows that recovering from a mistake can be even more powerful than getting it right the first time. It also deals with gender roles in Japan and pays off the samurai swordplay. If that’s your genre you’ll love it.
JUAN OF THE DEAD – The Cuban zombie film brings a political and regional twist that really elevates the genre. Taking the perspective of a true hustler, Juan turns zombie killing into a business, and they work the title into the dialogue. There are great zombie hordes, with a combination of fast and slow zombies, and great kills with badass finishing moves. A zombie tango is genius, and their profanity is hilarious too. The expletives they come up with must be common locally but they’re pretty elaborate by cinema dialogue standards. All the political problems Cuba has remain issues during the zombie outbreak, so that makes this one unique to a specific culture’s voice.
KNUCKLE – This is a really good documentary, but I really hate what it’s about. Families in Ireland settle their feuds with bare knuckle fights. These guys make soccer gangs look like reasonable democracy. The film captures some raw, brutal moments which is of course the ultimate triumph of documentary. To me, it’s like bum fights, only the bums are gainfully employed and fighting for way dumber reasons. At least the bums are trying to get paid. The Hatfields and McCoys, or whatever the actual Irish families were called, hate entire extended families for isolated incidents provoked by individuals, and perpetuate them on principal rather than actually resolve them. Yes, they could kick my ass, and the best part must be imagining them at the premiere seeing 12 years of bad behavior illuminated.
SHORT FUSE – A good number of the horror shorts look like features. No Way Out, Incubator and The Unliving look polished and professionally shot. How to Rid Your Lover Of A Negative Emotion Caused By You has a creepy premise and an adorable couple. The comedies don’t really work. They’re not carefully produced enough to pull off the camp they’re going for. Unliving is the most significant, a half hour piece about harnessing zombies for labor. Killing a zombie is actually illegal so that brings up some interesting issues for the genre.
YOU SAID WHAT? – This Norwegian comedy has an amazing premise. As a joke, a group of guys copies Takashi Miike’s Audition to meet women. Only it works and they end up making the movie. Norway can do name dropping Hollywood spoofs too and Peter Stormare is their A-list cameo. That itself is funny. I know Stormare is an acclaimed legitimate actor but there’s no way his name before a title gets you a theatrical release, even in Norway. Some of the jokes are about the incompetence of first time filmmakers, although other jokes are about how easily successful they are. The film kind of shows that if you just do it, even if it’s for the wrong reasons, it ends up getting done. The film can go through all the standard rom-com motions, but still they made a friggin’ movie. Of course the actress will find out and get mad, but they made a movie. There is already a tangible positive result from their misguided scheme.