>> Fantastic Fest 3: Best of Bloodshots 2007

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One of the events I attended at Fantastic Fest was the Best of Bloodshots short film competition. Each competitor is given one prop, in this case corn, and one line of dialogue (“Is that thing real?”). The participating filmmakers are then randomly assigned a weapon and a horror sub-genre and given 48 hours to create a completed horror short.

In all honesty, it was the most entertaining block of short films I’ve seen at a festival. Some were amusing, some more amateurish than others, but most all of them displaying a good amount of imagination. The winner of the contest, “LARP”, was a tight, funny, gory little backwoods tale of live-action role-players who get lost in the woods. The second place winner was “Mobius”, from my boys and frequent collaborators at Bleutuna, one of the few films whose intention was solely to scare the audience. They made use of the corn and the line, and were saddled with “fire/explosives” as their weapon and “mutation” as the sub-genre. Without a doubt, they delivered some of the best horror visuals in the selected block of fifteen finalists. Congratulations to Bleutuna for taking second place in such a wonderful festival!

Here’s the “48-Hour Bloodshots Edit” of their short “Mobius”.

>> Fantastic Fest 3: Flight of the Living Dead (John’s Review, 6.5/10)

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flightoflivingdead.jpgThere are a dozen or more good reasons for me to not like this film, but I suggest you write them all down on a piece of spiral notepaper and stick them someplace dark and hairy. Flight of the Living Dead rocks. Zombies on a plane are automatically a more interesting threat than snakes on a plane. Why? Because I’m pretty damn sure that snakes have actually been on a plane before and have never taken out the entire passenger list while in transit. Thus, snakes automatically require more suspension of disbelief than zombies. We’ve never in the history of manned flight seen a zombie on a plane, so who can predict how they will actually react? Director Scott Thomas and screenwriters Sidney Iwanter and Mark Onspaugh provide one nightmare zombies-on-a-plane scenario in their bloody, low-budget mile-hile romp.

Seems a genetically modified virus developed by the government (echoing, no, completely aping Return of the Living Dead) has snuck its way onto a commercial flight by a morally questionable scientist (character actor Erick Avari). He’s transporting a fellow doctor dead in a box and can’t wait to get to the ground to show everyone the miracle of undead reesurrection. Nothing ever goes as planned in any zombie film. Of course that doctor breaks free, and of course she starts eating people and spreading zombie-ism all over the plane with gut-munching, splattery fervor. It’s pretty great. Along for the ride are a handful of familiar faces and character actors including David Chisum (Pet Semetary), Kevin J. O’Connor (The Mummy), and Richard Tyson (Three O’Clock High).

This isn’t going to revolutionize horror filmmaking. Heck, it’s probably going to be considered unwatchable by the movie’s title alone, and left to rot on video store shelves across America. That’s too bad. This is the dumb fun that Snakes on a Plane should’ve been. It doesn’t matter that it was made solely to cash in on a mis-predicted “Blanks on a Blank” craze; it’s fast, raucous, and goofy. It ain’t art, but I likes it.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Fantastic Fest 3: Finishing the Game (Brandon’s Review, 8/10)

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FInishing the GameJustin Lin’s Finishing the Game chronicles the search for a stand in to finish the masterwork left behind in the wake of Bruce Lee’s death, Game of Death.  Much like a Christopher Guest documentary this film has it’s share of jokes that don’t stick and I briefly wondered if the players were under the delusion that the premise was more clever than it seemed. That notion was dispelled from the first time I laughed until the end.

Justin Lin assembles some of his regular players and  it’s refreshing to see Sung Kang break free from the aggressively generic supporting roles he’s received of late to play a bright eyed and bushy tailed aspiring actor named Kim, who has trouble summoning up anger. Roger Fan plays Bruce Lee-lite Breeze Loo, an egomaniac who openly admits to having no physicality but very intense eyes.  Fan and Kang are undeniably incredible and it leaves one to wonder how Lin and his two cohorts are unable to get more projects together off the ground.

As with Better Luck Tomorrow, Finishing the Game struggles with questions of identity that may not be entirely specific to that particular culture but in the case of the film there’s no denying where the scope is being aimed. In Better Luck Tomorrow the kids were regarded as nerds but they did some decidedly dangerous things in their off time. In Finishing the Game it has more to do with not being regarded as an interchangeable Asian. On that note, we discover that Breeze Loo was bought for $500 as a replacement for his adopted mother’s dead cocker spaniel and due to his fame Breeze has furnished his parents with a brand new home that has paintings of him hanging on the wall, to which Breeze’s father says, “well we’ll never forget what he looks like.” I don’t know how deep the film aims to cut, but it does and often enough, I understand though because Lin is  a talented man but you wouldn’t know him from anyone else based on Tokyo Drift or AnnapolisFinishing the Game isn’t entirely obsessed with questions of Chinese identity, but in the pursuit of laughs.  I think greater questions about who we are are inevitably answered.

8 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Fantastic Fest 3: Blood, Boobs, & Beast (John’s Review, 7/10)

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0502-web-bbb-poster.jpgDon Dohler is extraordinarily ordinary. It’s this quality that makes it interesting that this is the man behind a dozen z-grade sci-fi/horror flicks, but it is also his ordinariness that keeps this documentary on his career as a filmmaker somewhat mundane. The film makes no real points about what kind of a man it takes to create video store schlock, instead offering a passive view of his friendship with collaborator Joe Ripple and the minor horror convention success Dohler has achieved.

A native of Baltimore, Dohler worked a nine-to-five publishing job during the day, and used his nights and weekends to create his chintzy alien movies, filling the cast with family and neighbors. He’s smarter than Ed Wood and more in-touch than Uwe Boll, but his movies are still inept little treasures, usually featuring a rubber-suited monster to fulfill at least one of the three requirements one of his distributors asked for years before: blood, boobs, and beast. It’s the adherence to that formula that provides the film’s tiniest bit of conflict. Dohler is never 100% comfortable with nudity and gore; Ripple finds it necessary to a fault.

There is probably an exceptional documentary somewhere in the two years worth of footage that filmmaker John Paul Kinhart shot–something close to the genius of Chris Smith’s superb American Movie. Dohler is exceptionally likeable, shrugging off his cult status with truthful modesty, and his collaborators are an interesting bunch, but Kinhart’s film lacks an emotional through-line. Kinhart keeps the audience at arm’s length from getting into Dohler, opting instead to focus on Joe Ripple’s scheduling conflicts and interviews with fans that feel, at times, remarkably staged.

I remember seeing the video for Galaxy Invader decades ago, but never rented it. The only time I even saw footage from it was plastered over the end credits of an entirely different movie on an episode of MST3K. Not once did I ever consider the proud Baltimorians that made the film. Blood, Boobs, & Beast did succeed in getting me interested enough to want to check out one of Dohler’s films, specifically Blood Massacre, a “cannibals vs. criminals” movie, with what appears to be a decent amount of sicko gore. The doc made me nostalgic for mom and pop video stores and lousy monster movies on UHF stations, things that are starting to feel like a lifetime ago. Basically, Don Dohler is a regular guy making awful movies, as a way to turn a buck and hang out with loved ones. That’s not so bad.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Fantastic Fest 3: Southland Tales (John’s Review, 4.5/10)

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414px-southland_tales_poste.jpgAn unfunny, incomprehensible mess.

That’s the long and short of it concerning Richard Kelly’s sci-fi comedy satire follow-up to Donnie Darko. I’ll get into the details, and, lordy, are there details, but, first, it’s important to know that it sucks. It might not sound like it truly sucks, but, trust me, it sucks.

Leading this rambling, incoherent nonsense is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, wrestler turned actor, playing against type as a boxer turned actor, “Boxer” Santaros. He’s married to a high profile political candidate’s daughter (Mandy Moore), but disappears and washes up on the California shore with amnesia, where he is promptly taken under the wing of a talk show host/porn star/terrorist played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The two collaborate on a screenplay about the apocalypse, as the events within the script begin happening in real life. None of this is shown in the movie.

Did you get that last part? None of that information is acted out in this film.

Instead, it is all told to us by Justin Timberlake’s character, an actor/singer/drug dealer/war vet, who sits in a turret all day guarding the West Coast when he’s not breaking out into Killers’ songs and narrating this baloney. After the world’s longest expositional voiceover, we pick up with Boxer as he’s being used as a pawn by underground Marxists (Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler), who are also in bed with a nutty energy guru (played by Wallace Shawn) and his cult-like followers, who are also in bed with Frost, the political candidate who is also Boxer’s father-in-law. Somewhere in all this is Sean William Scott as twins, one posing as a cop, one an actual cop, as part of a staged race crime involving Jon Lovitz’s cop character and the Marxists.

Sound confusing? Try watching it. It’s a grand failure, the type that rarely get made anymore, a throwback to the days of all-time overblown turkeys like Ishtar. It’s like the studio cut of Brazil for the Playstation Generation. By the time Kevin Smith inexplicably shows up in the film, sporting old age prosthetic make-up, you’ll have had enough (possibly even before that).

Someday, dictionaries will feature a picture of the Southland Tales movie poster beside the words “sophomore slump”. There’s ambition a’plenty–a sprawling two and a half hour satire based loosely on a mash-up of current events and the Book of Revelation–but, man, was this a misguided move. There’s a nugget of a decent film underneath the layers of headache-inducing backstory and the calvalcade of SNL alumni, and that’s a shame. If this was irredeemable, it would be forgotten in time. As it is, Southland Tales will join the annals of the great misfires of all time.

4.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Fantastic Fest 3: End of the Line (John’s Review, 6.5/10)

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phpthumbphp.jpgEnd of the Line is possibly the best Stephen King movie ever made that has absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King.  Writer/director Maurice Devereaux has created a zippy, indy horror flick that reminds me of that author’s specific fear of crazy Christians and end-time prophecy.  It’s a small movie that thinks big, making the most of its cast and budget to create an efficient, effective creep-out.

A train full of strangers are interrupted from their travel by their subway’s sudden stop mid-route.  Suddenly, strangely uniformed men on the train reach for their buzzing pagers, read their synchronized message, and brandish bladed crucifixes.  Their mission?  To save the souls of the unbelievers in the world by murdering them.  What happens next is a grisly chase through darkened subway tunnels as a small group of survivors flee from the apocalyptic cult members while the outside world experiences the same mass killing spree, all in the name of God.

It’s a more-than-worthy addition to the “religious nightmare” subgenre of horror, and hardcore horror fans should eat this up with a spoon.  There’s plenty of blood splatter and mayhem, and it’s slightly smarter than other b-movie survival horror films.  The movie feels a little bit “been there, done that”, although I’m hard pressed to think of another movie like it.  I think the run-from-the-threat plot is where the film feels as if it’s going through the motions, and the peeks at the outside Biblical doom and gloom taking place while the ensemble stomp around in subway tunnels raise more interesting questions than the film answers.  The ending, however, is nearly pitch perfect–the visuals of the last 60 seconds being some of the most geniunely scary I’ve seen in a long, long time.

The simple pleasures of a well-made horror b-movie can beat any watered down big-budget “A-List” horror movie for me.  There’s usually some level of imagination at work that sets it apart from the rest, no matter how mediocre the actors are, or how easily the film might teeter into genre cliches.  End of the Line feels both familiar and different–a solid first feature film from Canadian Maurice Devereaux.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale 

>> Fantastic Fest 3: Aachi & Ssipak (John’s Review, 7.5/10)

aachi_ssipak_poster2.jpg Here’s a story we haven’t seen before–a future world where human poo is the most precious commodity, so much so that the government installs a ring-shaped chip into every citizen’s anus, rewarding heavy poopers with “juicybars”, an addictive chemical popsicle that turns you into a blue-skinned mutant if you consume too many of them. This may be the most original idea for a film in human history. Did I mention it was animated?

Basically, the movie follows juicybar black market hustlers Aachi and Ssipak, as they protect a girl who’s been given a reprogrammed anal ring by a struggling movie director, one that dispenses hundreds of juicybars with just one poo. She’s being pursued by juicybar addicts The Diaper Gang, a grinning group of smurf-like bandits, who routinely raid government supplies of the dangerous popsicle. It all sounds like a fever dream doesn’t it? Put Beavis and Butthead, John Woo, comic artist Dave Cooper, Akira, and Klasky-Csupo in a blender and you might come up with the closest equivalent to the truly bizarre action orgy that transpires in this film.

Wholly original, even when paying homage to a vast array of movies including Misery and Terminator, Aachi & Ssipak has to be seen to be believed. The opening sequence of the film may be one of the greatest action sequences ever. Not just in animated film history, I mean EVER. That’s not to say the film is perfect–ultimately, the characters are too annoying, the situations too audacious to sustain itself for two hours. Still, ya gotta see this one to believe it.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale