Ranking Fantastic Fest 2016, Part 2
A few hours after finishing my Part 1 write-up, I took in a midnight showing. A few hours after that, I was back in the theater for an 8:00 AM press screening. Living the film fest life!
Here’s Part 2, ranked from not-so-good to so, so good.
I almost walked out of Shimauma, which means zebra, after the first ten minutes. I’d already ordered my tofu wrap (the Alamo Drafthouse, if you don’t know, serves food during movies), so I stuck around, but I should have left after I ate. It’s a Japanese yakuza movie, but it’s uninspired, purposeless, and brutal for brutality’s sake. The actors look expensive, but everything else seems perfunctory, from the lack of proper lighting to the furniture that looks like it came from an office surplus auction to the bad CGI blood in an important scene near the end. The plot structure is a mess; almost every character is motivated by a desire for revenge, but it’s difficult to tell what’s being revenged and why, even after it’s been done and explained (often in that order). As violence goes, the stuff in Shimauma is grotesque but uncreative, just routine bludgeoning and slicing and burning that goes on a little longer than usual but to no particular end. Still, I found myself caring about some of the characters a tiny bit, which keeps Shimauma from being dead last on my Fantastic Fest chart. (Scroll to the bottom to see the current rankings.)
When you go to Japan and turn on the daytime variety shows, what you see is the kind of comedy found in Chin-yu-ki (transliterated on Flickchart and elsewhere as Chin’yuuki), my second bad Japanese film of this set. It’s broad, low-brow, and plays with the shared cultural benchmarks of the Japanese audience. If you’re the kind of person who laughs at fart jokes, or at celebrities cross-dressing for cross-dressing’s sake, or at the “irony” of historical figures spouting hip modern-day cultural references, this might work for you. It didn’t for me, despite my love of Japan and my familiarity with the myths and personalities depicted. Though a sleek movie visually, the script is unable to achieve the kind of transcendent wackiness needed to make good on its pretensions to puerile irreverence. When the first word of dialogue in a movie is “penis,” it has no right to be this dull.
2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Have we, collectively, ever taken a moment to acknowledge that Tim Burton is obsessed with eyes? In his films, someone always seems to be painting eyes or eating eyes or just staring at us with big, bulging eyes. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is another eye-feast from Tim Burton in every sense. It’s got his signature look, that saturated, blandly beautiful, safely macabre, yet insidiously watchable look we’ve seen so many times. The lead actresses, Eva Green (prim, pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine) and Ella Purnell (a girl lighter than air), wear makeup that accentuates their already large, bright eyes. The bad guys, led by Samuel L. Jackson, wear white contacts that efface their irises. And the monsters — called, I am embarrassed to say, “Hollowgasts” as part of the film’s awkward, groan-inducing Holocaust analogy (the idea comes from the source novel, so Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman can pass the buck) — have to eat the eyes of “peculiar” children in order to regain their humanity. It sounds disgusting, but it’s really a lot tamer and lighter than, say, the later Harry Potter films. It’s also more likable, at least until the abstruse timey-wimey gobbledygook of the last half hour. A slightly above-average but missable young adult fantasy film, Miss Peregrine’s also stars Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, and Judi Dench.
1. Down Under
Not that I’ve tried it, but making a comedy about racism can’t be easy. Inspired by a real-life race riot on an Australian beach, Down Under makes you boil with anger within the first minute and then makes you laugh for the next hour and a half. It’s got the verbal, culturally-literate, character-driven indie comic spirit of a Clerks or a Shaun of the Dead, but it’s about something of immediate social significance. It’s got the messaging and the multilinear structure of Crash, but with a sense of humor and a greater understanding of the places and people it depicts. Some aspects of the ending can be predicted, but I didn’t predict the way they happened, and when I left the theater I could still feel the sadness in my chest and the smile on my face.
Side note: I overheard Leonard Maltin, who is here, praising this film. Maltin and I can’t both be wrong!
Side side note: Down Under made me feel downright positive toward one of my longtime least-favorite movies, Wolf Creek. I won’t say how they’re related, because the scene in question is too good to spoil.
Side side side note: This movie contains perhaps the funniest and most harrowing car chase I’ve seen, and undoubtedly the slowest.
The Best Movie I Didn’t See
The director of Down Under dedicated a good chunk of his mic time to someone else’s movie. He had just seen the cannibal movie Raw and couldn’t stop raving about it. If his ability to judge a movie is anything like his ability to make a movie, I’m pretty sure Raw would have been worth my time! I also tend to like cannibal movies, so I regret letting this one slip by.
The Best Non-Feature I Saw
A company called Dark Corner VR brought a few short horror films to the festival that are meant to be experienced in virtual reality. For the last few days, there has been a semi-permanent in front of their creatively-shaped “booths” in the Drafthouse lobby. I was particularly intrigued by a “virtual cremation” experience in which the viewer sits in a coffin while wearing the VR headgear (you don’t have to, but it helps the mood), but instead, I tried one called Catatonic. I sat in a real-world wheelchair, which rumbled in place as the virtual me rolled down an abandoned hospital corridor. That tactile dimension helped me feel immersed, and if I wasn’t quite scared by Catatonic, I was at least pleased that someone had made the attempt. The development of storytelling in virtual environments is still in its early stages, but a few years from now a corner of a lobby won’t be nearly enough space to handle the demand.
The List So Far
Merging Part 2 with Part 1, I rank Fantastic Fest 2016 as follows, this time from best to worst:
1. The Handmaiden
2. Down Under
4. The Greasy Strangler
6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
7. Jungle Trap
10. The High Frontier
Check back soon for Part 3!