SXSW REVIEW: ATOMIC BLONDE

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      A film from David Leitch one half of the directors of the first John Wick film. A spy story taking place in 1989 Berlin during the last days of the wall. MI6 spy Lorraine Wallace (Charlize Theron) being send to Berlin to retrieve a list which contains the information of all the MI6 and CIA undercover spies in Europe. She has to rendezvous with another MI6 agent David Percival (James McAvoy), he is an agent protecting a KGB defector that has this information inside his head. Now they must get the defector out of East Berlin.

I first want to highlight the positive things about the film: As expected from one of the directors of John Wick; the fight scenes in the movie are amazing. This fights are brutal; every object nail down or not are use against another human being. You sense the pain characters are feeling in this fights. The other positive thing is the look of 80s divided Germany, it has a great neon look.

The negatives of Atomic Blonde its poor and generic plot. They are using the tired plot of the list with all the spies information is quite played out. I see in a lot of spy films and most of them lately.

The other problem is its 80’s soundtrack. I should not have watched this film after seeing Baby Driver; which has an amazing soundtrack. In the other hand this soundtrack fell like they were putting a lot of random 80’s pop hits. This soundtrack felt like one those Totally 80s soundtrack compilation you find in the bargain bin. You have heard this songs a thousand of times and their not bad; their great songs in fact. The problem their not use in a clever way and you don’t find a rare song in this soundtrack. Baby Driver uses Queen’s Brighton Song for an action scene and Atomic Blonde uses Under Pressure for an action scene; this shows you the difference between the 2 films.

Atomic Blonde is an ok film; not one in you should seek out at the theater; it’s better until you can see it at home.

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SXSW Review: Baby Driver

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       I still think Hot Fuzz is Edgar Wright’s funniest film; but Baby Driver is his greatest accomplishment as a filmmaker. Wright goes reaches a whole new plateau with Baby Driver, in editing and directing. He even surpasses in his use of music on film.

Baby Driver is about a kid name Baby and he is the best getaway driver in Atlanta. He can disappear from the sight of cops in a blink of an eye. Baby works for a man named Doc (Kevin Spacey) a crime boss baby owes a debt he must repay by doing jobs for him. Baby wants to pay his debt to get out of this life of crime. He has one more job to do and he can go on the road with his girlfriend.

Baby suffers from tinnitus brought about an accident in his childhood. He listens to music to drown out the noise. He also can read lips; which he learn from his blind foster father who is a deaf/mute. Baby also has a playlist setup whenever he is in a heist. This gives the film a great soundtrack which use effectively to show the mood of Baby. It makes the film also feel like a musical; where none of the characters sing. The soundtrack is so masterfully done that even gunshots in a shootout are match with the songs. I was amazed, I never seen a film use music this way before.

The supporting cast are also amazing. Kevin Spacey as Doc, he is a great manipulative and intelligent criminal mastermind that seems to have connection with every criminal in Atlanta. He plans the heist in which he rotates the people in the teams; with the exception of Baby.

Other crew members are Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzales), a criminal married couple that are mad for each other.  Buddy is one of the few criminals that shares Baby’s passion for music. He is cool under pressure and a total professional. After Baby I found Buddy the most complex character in this film; he will surprised you. His Girlfriend is a beautiful and tough woman deeply in love with her man.

Then there is Bats (Jamie Foxx) the complete opposite of Buddy. He hates Baby and is his primary antagonist in the film. He is volatile and suspicious of everyone. Foxx is funny as always; but he gets to display a bad side of him I never seen before out of him.

The soundtrack for this film is great; a mix of 70’s punk and R & B. There are popular songs in the film; but there are obscure songs such as BRIGHTON SONG by Queen, which is use to perfection in a chase thru a parking garage. They also EASY by the commodores great.

The car chase in this film is a combination of the old and the new. I feel like Wright found the middle ground between fast and the furious and drive. You get both the fancy style of driving and the stealth driving of escaping the police. All this car stunts were done practical; so everything that you see here happen while shooting the film.

I knew this film was going to be good; but this ended up being a masterpiece. Baby driver is one of the must see film of this year. I just hope that the public does not missed it.

The top 10 SXSW films

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Baby Driver

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The new film from Edgar Wright is incredible. A perfect combination of action and music. This soundtrack will be stuck in your head for days after you watch Baby Driver. An amazing heist film. It shows Edgar Wright has reached a new plateau as a filmmaker. A teen driving prodigy makes money from being the wheelman for bank robbers in Atlanta. Now he wants to leave this profession as he has fallen in love with a waitress. His boss played by Kevin Spacey wants him to do one final job and he will let him go.

Free Fire

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Ben Whitley makes a great action film that takes place in one location. An arm deal goes wrong between a gang and weapons dealers and a shootout begins. We get a 25 minute introduction of all the characters and then we move to an hour shootout in an abandoned factory. This film avoids being boring with clever dialogue and great shootout sequences that keep you in suspense.

The Disaster Artist

 

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James Franco adaptation of the book of the same name about the making of one of the worst films ever made; The Room. It’s the funniest film I seen this year so far. Franco gives an academy award winning performance as the excentric Tommy Wiseau. This movie could have easily fallen into a SNL parody; but it actually manages to make Wiseau feel like a human being; which is quite a feat.

Disgraced

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My favorite documentary of SXSW. About the murder of a Baylor University basketball player. The death of the student ends up uncovering corruption in the university. It features one of the most despicable villains at the festival, Coach Dave Bliss. There is a scene which I am amaze it made into the documentary; as it shows how horrible is this man.

Small Town Crimes

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My surprised film at SXSW; It was made by the director of Cheap Thrills. The lead Howard Hawkes plays a disgraced former cop that discovers the dead body of a young woman. He goes on a mission to discover her identity and the reason for her death. His investigation leads to a lot of acts of hilariousness and violence. At the same time there is a group of assassins that are trying to get rid of all the people connected with this girl. A good mixture of laugh and violence. This film feels like a Verhoeven film.

Most Beautiful Island

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A relevant film in the Trump Era. Most Beautiful Island is written, directed and starring Ana Asensio; It shows the trials of an Immigrant trying to survive in New York City with little money and not being familiar with the culture. She goes thru many trials in the big city; living in a roach infested apartment, take crappy job babysitting rich kids, and having to deal with bad roommates. Just as things look bad; it takes an even weird turn and she is hired to take part in a mysterious underground game held by rich elites in an abandoned warehouse. If you want to know what is this game about? You should seek out this film.

Mayhem

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The new film from Joe Lynch an underrated filmmaker. His new film is a mixture of the office and the crazies. The film involves a successful office employee (Steven Yeung) that is caught in office politics which has left him burnout.
In this world there is a virus that causes the people it infects to succumb to their innermost desires; whether be something pleasant or violent or both. There is an outbreak of the virus in his office building and the place is quarantine until the virus dissipates in a few hours. There is also a law that states when you are infected by this virus; you won’t be held culpable of your actions while sick. Now he has a few hours to fight back against the evil executives that are trying to finish him.

68 Kill

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A trailer park adventure ensues when a septic tank worker crazy girlfriend decides to steal the money of one her rich sugar daddies. His girlfriend decides to not just steal the money; but murder everyone in the vicinity of the robbery.
The guy just wants to escape with the money and doesn’t want to be part of his girlfriend murder spree. He escapes with the money and runs into a weirder group that wants his loot. This people are horrible. Everyone in this film is terrible, with the exception of the lead. It makes their death quite satisfying.

Muppet Guys Talking

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A great documentary directed by Frank Oz (the voice of Rover, Miss Piggy and Master Yoda, and many others). He conducts an interview with other muppeteers. They give stories about the characters they played and working with Jim Henson. This is a love letter to all the people that have grown with the muppets. You will be surprised of the amount of characters many of this people play.

Barbecue

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A documentary about barbecuing around the world. It shows all the different styles of barbecuing and how it influences it has in their society. Its amazing to see all the different ways to cook meat around the world. I highly recommend you not to watch this film with an empty stomach.

Fantastic Fest Short: The Stylist

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  A short film from Director Jill Gervagizian. The stylist is played by Najarra Townsend (Contracted). The short is about a hair stylist that has a dark obsession with her clients. 

The stylist cinematography reminds me of Italian Giallo cinema. It captures the Baroque style of 80s Argento that combines gory horror with beautiful imagery. It makes the short look like a dark fairy tale. Najarra Townsend gives a great performance as a vulnerable villain that you want to know more about her story. I also give praise to a small appearance by cute dog that is not harmed in this film. This is a short deserving of a feature film adaptation.

The film won a special mention award at Fantastic Fest 2016 for Najarra Townsend. The Stylist is now available to watch in the Shudder Streaming Service.

Fantastic Fest Short: Dawn Of The Deaf

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A short film that played at the short fuse program at Fantastic Fest. This short was like watching a sneak 10 minute preview of a featurefilm. I mean that it doesn’t have an end, the story just stop in a cliffhanger to get your attention and hopefully it can get word on mouth out there to make a feature film. In my opinion, this does deserve a sequel.
The short follows different deaf people around London. We see this deaf people going about their life, having everyday problems, but then a loud noise is heard. Everyone that can hear it is in pain and then falls down to their death. The twist is that all the people that die from this noise comeback as flesh eating zombies. The short ends just as all the deaf people we been following are about to be attacked by the undead.
According to the filmmakers they cast real deaf actors. Their goal is to make a genre film that would connect deaf and hearing audiences. I would be interested in seeing this angle for a zombie film. It raises a lot of questions that I want to see in a feature film or even a series. How are this deaf people going to survive the zombie apocalypse? Who created the loud pulse that kill everyone? Would all this characters meet?
I hope that the filmmakers get the chance to make a feature for this film as this sound like a great concept to take the now stale zombie genre. All the luck to this filmmakers.

Fantastic Fest Review: Shimauma

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Written by Tron Delapp

I’m a big fan of Asian Cinema. Horror, action, suspense-thriller, Giant Monster, totally gonzo… if it comes from Asia and looks even halfway interesting I try to check it out. As always with film festivals, no matter how well you plan things out, something slips through the cracks. This year’s Fantastic Fest I missed Shimauma, one of the only Asian films I couldn’t manage to work in to my schedule but was able to catch up with it just after the fest. Not that I had much to go on other than it was based on a very popular Manga, had nothing but the briefest of teaser trailers and was supposed to be chock-full of torture that read like a resume of how to get a film into Fantastic Fest. ‘Beyond the Pale,’ would be a way to describe Shimauma and I’m proud to say, up front in my introduction, that all these things are true. Kids like the Manga, there’s still no trailer and Holy Cow there’s a bunch of torture in this film. Lots. Like you could make a few Saw films with the amounts of torture crammed into it’s almost 2 hour run time (1:43). Crutch and hammer beatings, blowtorching, removal of fingers and toes, teeth knocked out, people getting set on fire and why not? As a couple of the characters are fond of saying, “ Beating men and raping women is so cliché. You can’t keep dong that forever.” If that’s not the poster’s tag line, they blew an opportunity. Now, I’m no prude or Nancy; I adore the work of Shinya Tsukamoto, Takashi Miike and Sion Sono, among others, so I’ve seen some shit on film, believe me, but here it is, days after I viewed Shimauma and I still cannot tell you if I recommend it. I can, however, tell you what it’s about.

Shimauma is about some petty thugs, led by Tatsuo, who run a marriage scam where they pretend to set a mark up with a woman who is really one of the gang and then bust in all indignant and proceed to extort the mark for everything he has. Normally you’d think this works great but the kids happen to try it on a Yakuza who’s job is to recruit girls for porno films. Tatsuo decides to beat up and torture the Yakuza while they film it but for some reason leave the Yakuza alive. This is known by most right-thinking people as a ‘Big Mistake’ and it turns out to be. See, there’s a group known as Collectors who exist solely to “remove society’s trash.” They get revenge for people who’ve been wronged and not limited to murder – they try to make a statement with their solutions, such as hiring several tattooists to tattoo the face of a J-Pop idol who also happened to be a rapist. Anyhow, Tatsuo and his crew are turned in by the Yakuza and Tatsuo and his girl are caught and tortured by the Collectors. The lead Collector, Mr. Akasada, is a young punk sort of like the Joker that gets aroused by the massive violence and he takes a shine to Tatsuo, whom he offers an out: kill the Yakuza and become a Collector or get tortured to death, which Tatsuo does with aplomb. This basically drafts him into the Collectors, gets him a first-rate hospital stay to heal the torture to which he’s already been subjected and endows him with the nickname Dora. See, Akasada was a nerdy rich kid picked on in school by everyone but was saved from suicide by Dora (who may have actually been Tatsuo but they’re very unclear about this. Akasada identifies with him as Dora so whatever), a cool upper-classman who made it seem like Akasada was his friend and stopped the beatings and torment… until Akasada found out he was the leader of the kids who made his life a living hell. Akasada thanks him for that experience as it finally ‘showed [him] his true face.’

Anyway, Tatsuo/Dora is introduced to Shimauma, who runs the whole Collection Agency and Shimauma takes a liking to him, causing additional tension with Akasada, who feels surpassed by Dora anyhow. Shimauma keeps testing Dora’s loyalty; for instance, he sends Tatsuo after his old marriage-scam girl who was secretly working with the Yakuza they set up, causing a conflict within Tatsuo who is beginning to enjoy his work. Tatsuo/Dora is crafty and ambitious, quickly rebuilding a string and making plans to take over Shimauma’s operation. To do so he recruits Yoshida, resident Collector doctor/technician, to his new crew. Yoshida is in love with his married neighbor so Tatsuo/Dora decides to collect on her husband, a cop who may have stolen money to finance his sick son’s operation. He begins by sewing the seeds of dissent to the neighbor’s wife, playing up her unhappiness and his purported infidelity, among other things, This culminates in Dora drugging the wife and allowing fat, slovenly Yoshida have his way with her as the husband, Amikawa, is forced to watch. Instead of strengthening his string, this begins Dora’s downfall as Amikawa is pretty pissed about the whole incident. He is drawn in by Akasada, who is tired of taking Tatsuo/Dora’s shit and turned loose on Dora in a tea house. After delivering a receipt beating, Amikawa decides to start over, rebuild his life and return to the Force as he never stole the money for his kid’s operation. As he comes to this decision his wife commits suicide over the shame brought to her by Tatsuo/Dora. This causes Akasada to lose it completely and sets up the inevitable Tatsuo/Akasada/Amikawa three-way-dance.

There was another film that played this year’s Fantastic Fest called Asura: City of Madness. Asura was just as dark as Shimauma but the story was way more engrossing. Shimauma primarily relies on shocking violence, as does Asura, but in this case seems like extreme torture for torture’s sake, like a series of incidents where they have to collect strung together haphazardly but it may be due to the limitations of the Manga from which it was adapted. It also explains the non-resolution of the ending as both the film and the comic would rely on the cliff-hanger approach to continue the next episode. If that is correct, then Shimauma is probably a very faithful adaptation of the source material in the sense that it gives one that feeling without having read the prior material it was based on but if not correct than the movie just abruptly ends with no real resolution and that’s that. It’s this type of conflict in my head, coupled with the lack of overall story and the idea that the movie is named Shimauma but the character is only seen for like 10 minutes of screen time and doesn’t factor in as anything more than a cause of a few events that make me unsure if I can recommend Shimauma but I didn’t hate the film. It just doesn’t go anywhere. I guess if you’re into torture and extreme violence it’s worth a view – heck, I watched it and would have given it a ‘5’ in fan voting – or if you’re a fan of the Manga totally go for it. It’s not terrible. It’s just not all that special either.

Fantastic Fest Review: Dearest Sister

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Written by Tron Delapp

When discussing the output of films from other countries, Laos is not one of the first, or even fifteenth, mentioned. To date, Laos has only produced seven motion pictures, of which Dearest Sister is the seventh, and only two horror films, of which Dearest Sister is the second following Chanthaly, both directed by Mattie Do. Mattie Do is the only horror film director and the first woman director in Laos. In person, Mattie Do is vivacious, excited about film, extremely knowledgeable and tremendously fun to talk to, all of which made it very hard to disappoint her every time she asked me if I was going to be able to attend Dearest Sister in the theater at Fantastic Fest. Even with two showings and an additional (and much deserved) buzz screening added I was unable to work it into my schedule despite it hitting my ‘must see’ list this year, a constant FF problem as they program so much great stuff that inevitably something gets left off your schedule. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology and my ability to write occasionally for Antonio Quintero, I was able to finally sit down with Dearest Sister and see exactly what it was Mattie Do had up her sleeve and hopefully, in some small way, pay her back with this review.

Dearest Sister is a horror film that would be much better served if described as a ‘Supernatural Thriller.’ See, what Mattie Do did here is made an excellent film with a tightly complex story that just happens to have a little horror in it rather than just serve up a standard horror film. The story centers around a rich woman, Ana, who lives in Laos with her husband, Jakob. Ana is losing her sight and is prone to ‘hurting herself.’ Jakob, who has cut a few corners at work and is trying to save a failing business, persuades her to bring in some help so they basically buy a distant cousin from the country, Nok, to come help Ana at the house and take care of her as her eyesight worsens with the promise of money to be sent back to the relatives. Nok is at once separated from the normal servants, who are particularly shady, and kept around to be Ana’s personal assistant, which begins to cause tension among Nok and the rest of the serving staff. Ana is none too kind to her either, being rich and all but is so desperate for attention and companionship, which she has not been getting from Jakob as his work problems escalate, that a bond forms between her and Nok, Nok herself desperately wants to shrug off her provincial life of poverty and uncertainty and become the lady that her rich cousin Ana is. Nok takes to “borrowing” money for a phone card and keeping her salary for new clothes without sending money back to the family. Things begin to change for Nok when she sees Ana have an ‘episode,’ the pain of which causes her to mumble random numbers aloud which she does not remember later. Nok realizes two things; first, that Ana sees ghosts and isn’t hurting herself at all, the ghosts are and second, that those numbers Ana mumbles just might be the winning lottery numbers. Of course Nok does the right thing and runs off to buy herself a ticket which, as you’d expect, wins. Of course Nok does the right thing and keeps this knowledge to herself. Of course Nok does the right thing and keeps all the money for herself, buying new clothes and a new smartphone and begins to transform herself to more of a city girl which is easy with a ready made scam like this in her lap. Of course Ana keeps seeing ghosts which Nok conveniently waits around for until they’ve harmed her a little before she rescues Ana. Of course things cannot continue as they’ve been going.

Things begin to change when Jakob decides to bribe the U.N. to save his business. He cannot go back to Europe and things look pretty dismal in Laos but Ana does not want to move anywhere else. The other servants are tired of Nok and figure she’s been stealing so they rob and torment her. Nok is caught by Ana coming home from a night on the town and figures out either Nok is stealing or the numbers she gets from the ghosts mean something. Either way, Jakob schedules Ana for some experimental eye surgery which makes her happy as she will finally be able to see and can stop viewing ghosts. While they are gone, the servants throw a wild party and are both caught and fired. This increases Ana’s responsibilities as Jakob will be gone for work and someone has to take care of Ana, change her bandages, giver her medicine and generally help her recover. Someone who’s ghost-farming has come to an end. Someone who has been told by Ana that they know she hasn’t been sending money home. Someone who has been told by Ana that when her eyesight returns, there will be no need for her services any longer. Someone who wants to be rich…..

Even with that summation there are a ton of other little plot complexities, such as the ghosts who harm Ana not being dead people until the next day and what the story with the other servants really is but it should be enough to illustrate how much plot and depth of characterization Mattie Do has put into Dearest Sister. That’s not to say it’s not tense or even scary in places as the ghosts look wonderful and Ana’s reactions to them really help sell the fear she feels with every encounter but Mattie Do is a canny director, choosing to deliver a film that acts more as a thriller about money, family, greed and betrayal than emphasizing the ghosts or the supernatural, which serve more to help move the story along rather than simply turn it into Paranormal Activity. Mattie Do’s use of shot selection and a great focus on specific elements within a scene really draws you into Laotian life and helps the audience gain a greater understanding of the culture, the people and their troubles before the ghosts even make an appearance. It is this deft hand at film-making that elevates Mattie Do’s work from a simple horror to film to a genuine suspense-thriller that has supernatural elements to it and also one of the many reasons I recommend this film. I was able to view it with a gore aficionado and a traditional horror fan and both were completely surprised by how much they enjoyed a film that was neither gory nor traditional. I’m betting if you watched Dearest Sister when it comes out you are sure to feel the same way which is why it’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.