Capsule reviews of the best of Fantastic Fest
Arthouse fans will get a special treat during this year's Fantastic Fest. They'll be able to get an early look at Danish director Lars von Trier's magical, brilliant "Melancholia."
It's hard to talk about the movie without making it seem like a complete downer. It does, after all, focus on the end of the world, as a huge planet heads on a collision course with Earth. And at its core, it's an artistic interpretation of depression – full of surrealistic imagery based on a dark view of nature, with coiling roots and quicksand landscapes swallowing up life.
The movie unfolds with an extended opening montage and features music from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, which complements von Trier's artistic efforts of moving from harmony to dissonance. "I desired to dive headlong into the abyss of German romanticism," von Trier said.
At the Cannes Film Festival, where "Melancholia" premiered in May, the perversely humorous von Trier said the idea for the movie came from the notion that depressives are better equipped to handle cataclysmic events, mainly because they aren't expecting anything good to happen anyway.
That's the case with Justine, the main character of "Melancholia," who is having her wedding party at a grandiose, isolated estate owned by her sister and brother-in-law. In a performance that won her the best actress award in Cannes, Kirsten Dunst captures the contradictions of a marriage that should symbolize a new beginning but in reality represents the beginning of the end.
Alexander Skarsgard plays Justine's new husband, while Kiefer Sutherland plays Justine's brother-in-law and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Justine's sister, Claire. The brilliant Charlotte Rampling has a standout supporting role as the caustic mother of the bride, and it's no mystery as to where Justine gets her wry outlook on life.
Von Trier's antics in Cannes regrettably turned attention away from the quality of his new movie. At a press conference after its screening, he started rambling and joking about German romanticism, Wagner and Hitler. His comments about eventually coming to understand some of Hitler's views led festival directors to declare him persona non grata, and he was disinvited from the closing ceremony. Later, von Trier explained that he was making an ill-advised joke, having learned in 1995 from his dying mother that he was the son of a German, despite having been raised in the Jewish faith by his adopted father.
Von Trier won't be making the same mistake at Fantastic Fest. He isn't coming. He has a fear of flying and refuses to travel by air.
(2:30 p.m. Saturday; 8:30 p.m. Tuesday)
Austin director Jeff Nichols has been getting rave reviews for his new movie starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. He won the Grand Prize of the 50th annual Critics' Week, a prestigious sidebar at this year's Cannes Film Festival. And he won the SACD Screenwriting Award for the movie. Shannon stars as a blue-collar worker who has apocalyptic visions and starts to obsess over building a storm shelter in his backyard. Chastain plays his increasingly befuddled wife who fears for his mental health.
(6 p.m. Sunday)
Yet another Fantastic Fest entry that first played at the Cannes Film Festival, "Michael" explores the strangely twisted life of a pedophile who keeps a 10-year-old boy locked up in his basement. German director Markus Schleinzer focuses on the personality of the pedophile and his captive, rather than delving into salacious details. Never has evil seemed so banal.
(2:30 p.m. today; 11:45 a.m. Tuesday)
Larry Lewis tells his Alcoholics Anonymous group that he used to get "blind drunk." The self-effacing statement from the blind middle-age man is indicative of his spirit. Walking by a jujitsu studio one day, Lewis is drawn into the building by the sounds. He ends up befriending the young instructor, Darren. Though unassuming and almost sage in his demeanor, Darren has a secret life that includes heavy drinking and dealings with underworld operatives. The vérité-style film brilliantly uses colors and sounds to define Lewis' world and slowly morphs into a noir-style thriller backed by a hypnotic, electronic soundtrack that helps build tension. The information on the Fantastic Fest website says the movie "is based, at least in part, on the life of lead actor Larry Lewis." I have no idea what that means, but it adds even more intrigue to this puzzling film.
(1:25 p.m. Saturday; 9:30 p.m. Monday)
— Matthew Odam
First-time French helmer Jean-Christian Tassy blends immigrant anxiety, pagan horror and a bit of the old ultra-violence in this kinetic, grindhouse-ish debut. When a despairing hooker (Nathalie Hauwelle) is slaughtered by her pimp, her spirit ends up in the gun that killed her, a gun that makes its way into the hands of a guilt-ridden city planner Yann Moreau (Laurent Collombert). Revenge occurs, a lot of it, mostly involving John Woo-ish action, Moreau covered in blood and a talking (well, psychic) gun. Entirely coincidentally, Moreau's boss, a sadistic mayor, takes on a creepy resonance given the discussions of French masculinity and power surrounding the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.
(3 p.m. Saturday; 9:45 p.m. Wednesday)
— Joe Gross
From the bowling scene to the main character's social ineptitude to, well, his choice of sex partner, it's hard not to think of the often gorgeously colorful "Body Temperature" as a tribute to "Lars and the Real Girl," but it's as likely a riff on "pink films," Japanese soft-core sex pictures. Rintaro (Chavetaro Ishizaki, who barely looks up the entire movie) lives with a lifelike sex doll (played, on and off, by Japanese adult-film actress Rin Sakuragi). When he starts a relationship with an actual human (Sakuragi), things get complicated. (12:30 p.m. Friday; 5 p.m. Tuesday)
The premise is "Blair Witch" simple: The titular squad of Colombian soldiers heads into extremely foggy mountains to find out what happened at a particular base, where everyone appears to be dead. When they find a survivor and ritualistic symbols, suddenly everyone starts to believe in the supernatural, not to mention lose their minds in the claustrophobic atmosphere. I don't know enough about Colombian politics to figure out how this tense, yet not-as-tense-as-it-thinks movie feels about the characters. Is their pervasive guilt and paranoia a comment on the army's relationship to its rebel population? Or it just a trope, horror for the sake of horror? First-time director Jaime Osorio Marquez could probably make a case for both.
(8 p.m. Thursday; 2 p.m. Monday)
Nothing has gone the way David had hoped. A legal career initially inspired by the teachings of Gandhi has hit a dead end. He can't afford Christmas presents for his wife, Christine. And his attempts to hide his cigarette smoking from her have left him quaking in the basement like a teenager. Then he finds the bag. In it are bricks of cocaine large enough to make him a very rich man. All he has to do is figure out how to sell it. At first his wife is terrified and offended by the suggestion that the couple become drug dealers, but after realizing the financial possibilities, the two join forces and start slinging baggies of cocaine, an act of joyful rebellion that reinvigorates their marriage. But when that much cocaine goes missing, the rightful owner is going to come looking for it. When the gangster finds David and Christine, their comedic romp becomes fraught with peril. This French film expertly blends suspenseful drama and laughs.
(5:45 p.m. today; 11:55 p.m. Sunday)
‘New Kids Turbo'
Their lives slowly being sucked into the economic crisis in the Netherlands known as The Black Hole, five idiotic friends decide to become the vehemently moronic versions of Bartleby the Scrivener (or was that Thoreau?), refusing to work. Outraged by the government's refusal to let them live a high life on the dole, the '80s-looking fools, who constantly sling crude sexual jokes at one another (and anyone within shouting distance), decide they will pay for nothing. This leads to a bumbling life of crime and a reality-TV series that makes them folk heroes for a numb-minded populace. The movie relies on quick editing, non sequiturs, delayed punch lines and hijacking of conventional narrative structure to make for a riotous and absurdly stupid (and brilliant) comedy that satirizes popular culture. Think "Run Ronnie Run" meets "Borat" meets "Mr. Show."
(11:30 p.m. Friday; 5:40 p.m. Sunday)
‘Kill Me Please'
Ensconced in his castle-cum-treatment facility in the mountains, Dr. Krueger is one of the world's foremost authorities in assisted suicide. The trouble is he would prefer that his patients choose not to end their lives. French filmmaker Olias Barco's spare black-and-white film begins as a dark comedy about the moral implications of irreversible decisions and our right to control every aspect of our lives, even death, then takes an even darker turn when citizens from the local town attempt to impose their will through violence. Actor Aurélien Recoing brings great nuance to Krueger, and Saul Rubinek is hilarious as an American hoping to end his life while lying to his wife about his whereabouts.
(6 p.m. today; 6:15 p.m. Monday)
It's been several years since Tyler lost his mind and attacked his friends with a knife. His mother lay dead in the hallway. There were questions but few answers. The five childhood friends have returned to Tyler's mother's cabin in the wintry woods, ominously draped in snow. With Tyler's psychotic break looming like a specter over the weekend retreat, tension slowly mounts between and within the characters. When Tyler discovers a mysterious electro-magnetic "corridor" in the woods, he begins to re-examine his sanity before realizing the others see it, as well. The discovery of the supernatural passageway leads to a fracturing of reality, as the friends' personalities begin to inhabit one another, psychic energy transferred in cryptic and dangerous ways that lead to paranoia, confusion and terror.
(5:45 p.m. Friday; 11:45 a.m. Sunday)