Top 10 of the 2016 Fantastic Fest Film Festival

By Antonio Quintero

Safe Neighborhood

safeneighborhood

A dark version of home alone. A kid and his babysitter are been stalked by a mysterious figure that is trying to break into their home. It follows all the steps you were expecting from a home invasion movie; but then this film takes a turn you were not expecting. The kid in this film is amazing. You just want to kill him.
The Handmaiden

handmaiden

Park Chan Wook tackles the con men genre in his new film. It takes place in the 1920’s during the period in which Japan had annex Korea. The movie deals with a group of con men that want to steal a fortune from a rich art collector; they get one of their members to infiltrate the home of their mark by having her pose as the new handmaiden for the future heiress of this fortune. The handmaiden and the heiress start developing a relationship which leads to a lot of double crosses. This film weaves a tale of betrayal and deception. It features amazing cinematography and some of the best costumes I seen in a Park film.

RAW

raw

My favorite film of the festival. A coming of age story about a young girl that goes to Veterinarian College. She is a vegetarian just like the rest of her family; but after a hazing ritual in the university in which she is force to eat meat; she develops an appetite for human meat. The film has develop infamy after people in the audience fainted during the screening at the Toronto International Film Festival; at fantastic fest nobody fainted. The movie does have gory scenes; but I found the hazing scenes to be the most disturbing
Raw is a metaphor about a girl changing into a woman. You see her grow from a recluse vegetarian to a more assertive cannibal. This film is the perfect horror film from its slow beginning to its amazing final shot of the movie. You will be cheering by the final shot of the film.

 Aloys

aloys_film

I was wrong about this film. I thought it was going to be a murder mystery movie. Instead, this film is about two reclusive people that find romance with each other. It’s about a private investigator that likes to tape people without their permission. One day his tapes are stolen. He is contacted by the person that stole the tapes. I thought here the movie was going to take a dark turn; but then this becomes one of the best films about long distance relationship.
It has this great amazing party scene which is in the mind of the 2 callers; who are talking to each other over the phone. They are imagining having a party in their apartment with imaginary neighbors. A beautiful romantic film.

They Called Me Jeeg Robot

jeegrobot

This film should be called Italian Unbreakable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great superhero film. They called me Jeeg Robot is about a thief that after a bad robbery he comes in contact with radioactive toxic waste. The toxic waste gives him super human strength, Invulnerability, and fast healing. When he discover his superpowers, he is only interested is to use them to get more money. His starts to change when he meets the crazy daughter of his next door neighbor. She is obsess by this old Anime Mecha Sho Jeeg Robot. She is trying to convince him to use his superpowers for good. At the same time he comes in conflict with a bloodthirsty crime boss that loves Karaoke. I was surprised how dark it’s this movie; it has people being burn alive, fed to dogs and torture. I would definitely put it in the list of the best superhero movies. It does feature the final act battle between two superpower people we didn’t get to see in unbreakable.

 

Colossal

colossal2

This is how I imagine a Kaiju film by Nacho Vigalondo would look like. Anne Hathaway plays this woman that has recently come out of a relationship and heads back to her hometown to put her life together. There she reunites with an old friend who gives her a job at his bar. At the same time in Seoul, South Korea a colossal Monster (Kaiju) appears in the center of the City. Our lead slowly starts to realize that there is a connection between her and this Kaiju. It seems that whenever she feels depress the monster attacks Seoul.

The film features great performances from Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudekis. This film seems to be a metaphor about being stuck in an abusive relationship. It shows her being a victim and then standing up for herself. It’s the most ambitious film Nacho Vagabond has ever made. This is a giant step for the filmmaker. I’m definitely excited about this new direction from Nacho.

 

A Monster Calls

a_monster_calls

A fantasy drama about a boy whose mother is afflicted with Cancer. He summons a tree monster to help his mother. The monster tells him that before he can save his mother; he must tell him 3 stories. This 3 stories are presented in beautiful hand drawn animation. Liam Neeson is perfectly cast as the monster. The most emotional screening I experienced at Fantastic Fest. I cry at the end of the movie. It’s a great film about having to deal with the difficult things in life. Don’t forget to bring a tissue when you go see this movie.

Asura, City of Madness

asura

A crime drama clearly inspired by the wire, and its shown in 2 montages in the movie in which they use the TV series main theme. Asura is a fine crime drama about a corrupt cop I that is forced by a prosecutor to help him take down his boss; the corrupt mayor of Asura, Tak. The Mayor is the best thing in the film. He is the best villain at this year festival. His look reminds me of Tetsuo the Iron Man. Tak is this charismatic Mayor that can switch into terrifying mode in the blink of the eye. It shows the great ability of this actor that you can buy him as a successful politician and a bloodthirsty crime boss.

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

autopsy-of-jane-doe

The much awaited follow up to the director of Troll Hunter, Andre Ovredal. This is not a found footage movie. The police find the cadaver of a woman in a house were a massacre took place. The police wants to know more about the identity of this woman. They take her body to a father and son coroners. The police want them to find the cause of her death and any clues to her identity. Once the father and son start the autopsy weird things start to happen. It seems there is something supernatural inside her body of this Jane Doe. Now they have to find a way to escape the funeral parlor and the evil coming from the corpse of Jane Doe.
The autopsy of Jane Doe is an exciting supernatural thriller that does not pull any punches. I cannot tell you all the really freaky things that happen in this movie. It does not rely on cheap jump scare, but is a film that earns its suspense. I would warn you if don’t like autopsy footage you might feel queasy with this film. Many freaky moments happen in this movie.

 

Bad Black

bad-black

The film that took Fantastic Fest by storm. It’s this year Fantastic Fest Audience award winner. I don’t think this movie was in anyone’s radar before the festival, but it earn great word of mouth. A great low budget film. Even the behind the scenes stories of the making of this movie would make a great feature itself.
Bad Black is a Ugandan Action movie made with a budget of $65; but with a lot of heart. According to its producer and star of the film, they spend $40 in tents and the rest of the budget was spend on gas and incidentals. The film is about a woman name Bad Black that is a con artist. She takes money from the rich and gives to the poor in her neighborhood. One day bad black makes the mistake of stealing an American’s doctor dog tags and now the American doctor is about to carve a path of destruction to get his tags back. You never seen an action film like this one all the weapons look really good even thought they were made from Scrap Metal from old cars. The gun flash effects were done thru PCs that the director got from the landfill. The movie also features a VJ: a narrator that is like the chorus of the film. According to the filmmakers this is a Ugandan narrative tradition. The VJ feels in parts of the dialogue and also make funny comments about the movie.
Its producer Alan Hoffman aka Commando Jesus has very interesting back story. He told us he was left by his fiancée. He fell into a depression and his friend was trying to cheer him up and he show him the trailer from the movie “Who Killed Captain Alex? The trailer had a profound effect on him. He decided to use the money from his cancel wedding to buy a plane ticket to Uganda. Now Alan had never travel to another country; much less Africa. He found the filmmakers and ask them if he could be in their movie. Now he works as an actor and a producer for wakaliwood.
Special Mentions:

Retrospective film:

 

Magaheedra

magaheedra

This year we had a retrospective series of Bollywood films. The best of this films to me was the 2003 Telegu Film, Magaheedra. The film is about this stunt biker that falls in love with a college student. He learns the reason he is madly in love with her because in a previous life they were lovers and both were murder. In their past life he was a brave warrior and his love was a princess. At the same time there is this rich man that is obsess with the female lead and is willing to do anything to get her, even if he has to kill someone.
It’s a great movie, it has 5 great musical numbers. It also features this part in the middle were we travel 400 years into the past to see the lovers previous lives. This part has the best costumes in the movie. It has an amazing 1 vs 100 fight at the top of the cliff. This part of the film would totally worked into a great Conan the barbarian film.

Short Film:

The Stylist
Directed by Jill Gervazahian

stylist1

A short that I hope one day gets adapted for a feature. It’s the story of a hair stylist that collects the scalps of her customers. The stylist seems like a tragic character in this short. I want to know more about this character, there are a lot of clues about her background thru out the short. I also commend on the beautiful cinematography in the short, it reminded me of 70s Italian Giallo films.

Fantastic Fest Review: Bad Black

bad-black

Director: Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey
Starring: Alan Ssali Hofmanis.

Written by Tron DeLap
Every Year Fantastic Fest scours the globe for the most audacious and innovative films they can find and brings them back to the Alamo Drafthouse for eight days of mind-bending visual mayhem. This year was no exception with entries from every corner of the world. However, when making my schedule for this year’s Festival, one movie stood out head and shoulders above the rest: BAD BLACK, a purportedly $200 action-thriller from Uganda, of all places. The trailer online made this look so over-the-top and chock-full of all the action and excitement you’d expect from every big-budget Hollywood action film made this year smashed together and wrapped up in one 65 minute bundle that I was calling friends and telling them, “If BAD BLACK isn’t on your viewing list put it there now in HUGE BOLD LETTERS so you don’t forget.” It quickly became my most anticipated film of the Fest, right up there with Andre Ovredal’s AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. Little did I, or anyone else attending Fantastic Fest 2016, know that BAD BLACK would go on to be the most talked about film of the Festival, earning an additional buzz screening and capturing the coveted Audience Award… and this was a year where we got THE HANDMAIDEN by Chan-wook Park among other huge releases. It was also the only ’10’ I gave the entire festival.
Uganda is not the first place one would think would be harboring the Next Big Thing in movie-making, especially from a slum section of Kampala called Wakaliga, but it is here in an area known for extreme violence, lack of amenities, little electricity and abject poverty that Ramon Productions, home of Da Best of Da Best Movies, is located and thriving amidst a hundred reasons why it should not. Director Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (IGG), who has never seen a movie in a theater, and his group of self-trained actors, martial artists and crew have made dozens of action films using scrap parts to build everything they need, from guns to helicopters to the computers they edit on. It is a love of genre films and a drive to better themselves that keep them making films and not for a world-wide market either, though that is their eventual goal. They make movies for their village and the villages around them, though that too is tough with intermittent electricity, no theaters and a culture that doesn’t understand the concept of film-making. They basically use door-to-door sales techniques to distribute the films and it’s also tough on the actors, who, in most cases, have to provide their own wardrobe and gear, something hard to do when living in a slum. Yet, strangely enough, they do make movies, dozens and dozens of movies in every genre imaginable, on shoestring budgets and learning as they go. It is out of this scenario that BAD BLACK was born.
BAD BLACK is the story of Black, a young child who’s father, Swazz (Ugandan Schwarzenegger) is killed robbing a bank for enough money to aid his ailing wife. She is passed on to wealthy friends who then kick her to the streets when times become tough. She is forced to look for scrap metal and beg from strangers to appease the Commando who runs all the homeless kids in the area. One fateful day, she is almost killed by a rich man who catches Black with some scrap that turns out to be his tire jack. Then a nice man gave her some money while begging but she is accused by the Commando of holding out on him. In his anger, he shoots the only adult who was nice to Black and kills her. In retaliation, Black sneaks into the Commando’s room while he was asleep, steals his gun and shoots him dead, leaving the children without a leader. These poor, unwanted kids do know the importance of family, as proven by a song they sing to keep their spirits up, and Black decides to become the new underground crime boss in an effort to make things better for her new family.
Flash forward a decade or so when the kids are all grown up. Black is indeed a formidable crime boss and has several irons in the fire, including seducing the rich man who’s tire jack she accidentally grabbed, as well as a little gun running. A new American Doctor (Alan Ssali Hofmanis) has arrived and is doing a great job of helping the villagers so Black decides to beat him up and steal all of his stuff, including a dog tag given to him by his Commando father. His mother was also a Commando, his brother is currently a Commando and his dog is a Commando so he cannot let this affront stand. It is at that moment that the Doctor decides he must put a stop to Bad Black and retrieve his possessions. However, being a Doctor has left little time for Commando-ing so he enlists the help of a no-nonsense ghetto kid named Wesley Snipes, who puts the Doctor through a rigorous Jacke-Chan-style training regiment in order that he may wreak is vengeance and regain his lost dog tag. One man against a legion of Bad Black’s kung-fu thugs sounds like suicide but with his newly acquired Commando training, as well as a dovetailing subplot of the police also trying to capture Black, puts the odds decidedly in his favor. Black has a few more scams up her sleeve, providing a huge dose of combat, gunfire and enough kung-foolery to open a whole chain of Wing Chun Academies across Uganda. Will Bad Black be brought to justice? Will the Doctor get his dog tags back? Will the evil rich man and the family that kicked Black out get their comeuppance? What will become of Black’s new family of unwanted children? What about Black’s real family? A lot of questions, plots and subplots for a 65 minute action piece which is what sets Wakaliwood pictures apart from many low-budget cinema efforts. The people behind Ramon Productions genuinely love what they do and are attempting to make Big Budget Hollywood Cinema on a fraction of the cost with eight hundred times the heart.
Another thing to point out is subtitling. It’s not really a thing in Uganda as no one knows how to do it. Alan Hofmanis, who was here representing BAD BLACK, told me that they have a tradition in Ugandan Cinema of a ‘Video Joker’ who is a person who serves as kind of a Greek Chorus, explaining to the audience what is going on on the screen, even if they’ve never seen the film, while also reacting to the film itself. According to Hofmanis, AIR FORCE ONE is a film about Gary Oldman sleeping with Harrison Ford’s wife so Harrison Ford is bent on revenge the whole film because that’s what the VJ told them. It goes without saying that the film BAD BLACK is a masterpiece in it’s own right but they also subtitled the VJ, who speaks in a broken English that is so endearing, which takes this film into the stratosphere in terms of awesomeness. Every bon-mot and explanation elicited gales of laughter from the audience in both showings I attended (the first one and the buzz screening) and I now firmly believe everything including this article would be improved with a VJ. From being surprised when a sleeping character is awakened (“I thought he was dead. This is Uganda.”) to describing the terrain (“Poo-Poo. Real Poo-Poo. This is Uganda. Poo-Poo everywhere.”) to figuring out the end of the movie (“I’m confused and I’m Ugandan.”), the VJ almost steals the show from a show that has already stolen the audience’s heart with it’s honesty, joy and soul.
Wakaliwood may not have the big budgets of Hollywood (Alan Hofmanis told me Bad Black was made for $67 – $40 on tents and $27 on gas and incidentals) or the style and flash of Bollywood but they have enough heart, energy and ideas that it really is truly the next big breakout film area. As more and more people are exposed to the wonderful movies they make through Wakaliwood.com and YouTube as well as Kickstarter programs and the like, the better the chances of them making Wakaliwood the new Action Studio and entering their names in the discussion along with Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. Director Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey has got a tiger by the tail here in terms of his talent and vision and with hands-on producers/actors like Alan Hofmanis, as well as the support of other Americans like Dolph Lundgren, who not only sent them a video of encouragement but also provided a second video of dialogue and minor acting for one of their next productions, the future of Ramon Productions, Home of Da Best of Da Best Movies, looks to be very bright indeed. Do yourself a favor and download the free WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX video from their website and immerse yourself in SUPA ACTION for a taste of what they do. Then go order BAD BLACK. Help make Wakaliwood the Next Big Thing because they will be, with or without you. It’s always better with.

Fantastic Fest Review: Green Room

greenroom

 

Green Room was the movie I was most looking forward to see at Fantastic Fest 2016 and the movie did not disappoint. I am a fan of director Jeremy Saulnier since I watched Murder Party at SXSW years ago.  He constantly amazes me with the different direction his films take. His new film GREEN ROOM reminds me of the late 70s John Carpenter film which the characters are stuck in a siege situation, thick with suspense.

The film is about a broke Punk rock band made up of Pat (Anton Yelchin) the leader of the group, Sam (Joe Cole), Tiger (Callum Hunter). They are completely broke, so desperate, they take a gig at a Neo- Nazi club. They play an incredible show with the most hostile crowd you can imagine. The band makes a mistake when they become witnesses to a murder in the back of the club. Now the neo Nazis want to eliminate them. They barricade themselves in the clubs the Green Room and now have to find a way to make it out of the club. Leading this group white supremacist trying to finish the group is Darcy Banker played by Patrick Stewart in his most villainous role he has ever played in his career. I had a problem trying to distinguish if he had an American accent or not. I guess he has such a well know voice that you can’t tell the different.

The movie really feels like an early John Carpenter movie. It really has this really tough grit, but with characters that feel more realistic. The characters are not bad ass character out of a comic, but feel the way that real people would react in this situation.  The performance of the characters is great you feel the desperation of this group being stuck in such

This is an action thriller that feels like a horror movie. When characters die in this movie, they die really. The movie really knows how to build suspense. It really makes you think nobody is safe in this movie.

Green Room makes me really happy, I love great siege movies. Jeremy Saulniers is a director that never gives me a disappointing movie. His last movie Blue Reign was one of my favorite movies of the year it was released. This is a movie that you have to watch on the big screen.

Fantastic Fest Review: February (2015)

February

Director: Osgood Perkins
Cast: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, James Remar, Lucy Boynton.

It seems the new trend in Horror Films has shifted from the dominant slasher genre to ‘atmospheric horror,’ a sub genre which relies mainly on odd camera angles, muted soundtrack and the implication of terrible things to come rather than delivering the outright punch of in your face grotesqueness. This has lead to some really bad, boring films that didn’t make a whole lot of sense (Babadook, I’m looking at you) as well as a few genuinely creepy films (Ti West’s The Innkeepers) though most of the new wave fits the first category more snugly. This brings me to the movie February, the directorial debut of actor Osgood Perkins (Legally Blonde, Star Trek). Perkins tries his hand at atmospheric horror in an effort to bring something new to the table and makes a genuine attempt to deliver a movie far more artistic than the average cineplex fare but does February succeed in creating the tension and horror the viewer has come to expect from a supernatural thriller or does it degenerate into the less watchable realm exemplified by the likes of Seventh Moon (2008)? Let’s find out.
The story begins on the eve of the equivalent of Spring Break at an all girls rural boarding school called the Bramford School. Kate (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) are forced to spend the break together at the school as neither of their parents arrive to pick them up; Kate fears her parents are dead, Rose has specifically mislead her parents as to the date of their break. Rose is a senior and resents having to ‘babysit’ the younger Kate and fills her head with all kinds of stories of Satanic worship among the Sisters of the school in order to get Kate off her back so she can meet up with a boy she likes. As the film progresses, Kate begins to act stranger and stranger, vomiting, using foul language and praying in the dark, dank basement. A few towns over, Joan (Emma Roberts) has left a hospital friendless and alone, no money to her name and scant possessions. She’s picked up by a well meaning, almost ministerial man (James Remar) and his wife (Lauren Holly) who are on their way to Bramford, seeing as they’re headed the same direction. It is here that the three girls’ stories begin to dovetail into one big tale that affects the lives of everyone involved in the Boynton School and it is also here that my plot summary ends as the less you know about the film the more enjoyment you have a chance at getting out of it as the three stories are told in a very fragmented fashion with some things happening at the beginning that takes quite a bit of the movie before it’s put into context. Plus, spoilers would abound.
The movie relies primarily on its atmosphere for the tension its building and on that level February succeeds in much the same manner as The Innkeepers (2011) in that even when nothing’s happening, the stellar camera-work, the choice of non-traditional shooting angles and absence of score in key scenes creates a definite eerie ambience. Perkins also leaves out some of the more cliché elements of modern horror films by eschewing the use of ‘jump scares,’ preferring to let the feeling of cold, loneliness and isolation deliver the feeling of anxiety and dread necessary to the suspense. I could not help but think of Suspiria (1977) or Lucky McKee’s The Woods (2006) while watching February as both those films also used the tactic of ambience over gore, though all three films have their moments of intense violence. Maybe it was just that it takes place in a girl’s school but that’s what stuck in my mind as well as The Last Winter (2006) as that focused more on the isolation and cold, much like February.
The three girls’ stories are intertwined in a very Pulp Fiction-esque manner where events that take place during Rose’s segment are seen from a slightly different angle when the story shifts to Kat’s perspective and again when revisited by Joan later on and for the most part, this story-telling device works real well. However, foreshadowing tends to work better when it’s subtle and only really clever people can figure out where you’re going with things. Too much foreshadowing makes many things very, very obvious to everyone and its here that February suffers its biggest blow in terms of the mood and mystery it’s trying to present. I happened to be on a headset with my pal Mike D and at the 45 minute mark (yes, I checked) I was able to lay out the entire rest of the film for him with a 95% success rate (yeah, I’m not afraid to admit I guessed something really clever that turned out to be a non-factor as it never happened but would have been inconsequential anyway) and that’s bad for a movie whose whole approach is to build atmosphere and mystery that builds to what is ostensibly supposed to be a rather shocking ending. When you give all the goods away ahead of time it doesn’t matter how effective you are at building a mood with your camera angles and combined storytelling approach; you’ve just given the audience the road map roughly half way through your film… and none of the explanations have happened yet! The other major flaw is in the delivery of the dialog. Kiernan Shipka often times mumbles her lines, making it tremendously difficult to pick up on the words even after rewinding several times and anyone who calls on the phone, despite the fact that they’re supposed to be muted, might as well sue the phone company because, again, they’re almost impossible to make out.
So what’s good? Well, overall, the whole movie. Despite the blatant giveaway of the entire mystery, the film is beautifully shot, excels at atmosphere and the sense of dread and is tremendously well acted. Even at the 45 minute mark, when I Mystery Incorporated the whole tale, I still admitted to my pal Mike that he blew it not attending the screening of February because I had liked what I had seen up to that point and having finished the flick I feel the same way now that it’s over. I feel that February, it’s flaws notwithstanding, is still better than 85% of what passes for modern horror films today and would not hesitate to recommend it at least on Blu Ray or DVD. It won’t be the best supernatural suspense film you’ve ever seen but it’s far from wretched and Osgood Perkins showed me enough that if he stays in genre I wouldn’t hesitate to see his next effort. Keep February in mind when it gets released to theaters, hopefully this winter (maybe February?), as it’s totally worth checking out. It may even change your mind a little on the potential of atmospheric horror.

Written by Tron Delapp

Fantastic Fest Review: Remake, Remix, Rip Off (2015)

remakeremixripoff

Director: Cem Kaya

96m

When I first moved to Austin, Texas way back in 2001 I was opened up to the Alamo Drafthouse, one of the most unique theaters in the United States.  The programmers love to run tons of retro films as well as some of the most bizarre works of cinema as well as the usual Hollywood Blockbusters.  One of the earliest events I remember attending was the Turkish Wizard of Oz, which I believe was a Foleyvision event complete with a live orchestra.  Now, for those not familiar with Turkish Cinema, they have a very broad copyright viewpoint and many movies are either directly copied from the original work or completely distorted by the addition of elements from other films.  Ever since then, I’ve always said if you don’t remember the midgets fighting off an invading horde of cavemen with cannons at the end of the Wizard of Oz, you’ve never seen the Wizard of Oz.  After that, of course, came The Man Who Saves the World aka Turkish Star Wars, referred to as such because of all the actual Star Wars footage used in the film, albeit out of order.  It goes without saying that these two movies were pretty brilliant and not at all what you’d expect.  This year’s Fantastic Fest brought The Man Who Saves the World as part of the Turkish retrospective and also included a documentary about the whole Turkish film industry called Remake, Remix, Rip Off which explains a lot about why Turkish cinema throughout the 70s and 80s seems so naggingly familiar to filmgoers.

Remake, Remix, Rip Off focuses on the Yesilcam area, which is a street behind a prominent movie theater that became the center of the Turkish Film Industry.  Turkey is not the richest country and that translated to their film production as well, being under-staffed and under-budgeted, forcing the filmmakers to be far more creative in their approach to making movies.  All the actors and directors have hundreds and hundreds of films to their credit and according to the documentary, the Yesilcam film industry produced over 300 films a year with only 3 screenwriters!  This is the essential component to why so much stuff from other films from around the world got lifted for Turkish movies, including soundtracks, plot lines and musical scores.  They had no filters or dollies, were not allowed reshoots as film was expensive and had to be smuggled in from other countries on the Black Market, clothing had to be re-used for multiple productions with a tweak here and a tweak there, there was no stunt protection so if you saw a guy hanging off the side of a building shooting people on screen, he really was hanging off the side of a building and the entire music department was a guy’s record cabinet filled to the brim with U.S. film soundtracks like Enter the Dragon (fight scenes), The Godfather (for dramatic scenes) and The Pink Panther (for comedic scenes), among many others.  The lack of money but high demand for product is the main justification used by the directors and producers for why so much stuff was lifted wholesale and put into whatever Turkish film was shooting at the moment.  One of the directors even pointed out, “I don’t even have enough money for catering.  How am I to pay for an orchestra?”

The lack of budget didn’t deter the Turkish filmmakers one bit as their philosophy was that there are only 30-some stories in the world which can be combined any way you want so they spent a lot of time matching the beginning of an adventure film, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark with the ending of, say, a disaster film like Earthquake to create something wholly unique.  They knew what they were doing made money and focused on family-friendly cinema fare because they wanted movie-going to be affordable for everyone.  The producers knew their market was mostly rural families and women and they knew that women and families not only went to movies in groups but also talked about the movies they’ve seen which were important to the film’s success and they tailored their products accordingly.  The Turkish film critics interviewed knew that it was this free-wheeling copyright breaking combined with an affordable family aesthetic was what caused the Turkish films of the 70s and 80s to be viewed as much more than low-budget schlock.  Most of the films were “curiously bizarre and cast a spell over you” and there was “no sense in dissecting the films [as] there’s something above logic” when confronted by some of the outrageousness contained therein.  The Man Who Saves the World, for instance, is almost entirely other movies, containing segments from 19 different movies and soundtracks from 8 different films.  It wasn’t just limited to direct rip-offs either.  Individual characters could be combined.  Take The Iron Fist, for instance, whose superhero protagonist wears the Phantom’s mask, Superman’s suit and Batman’s utility belt.  You could also guest star anyone you wanted in some of the most awesome team-ups in cinema history like Three Giant Men where Captain America and Mexican legend El Hijo Del Santo joining forces to battle the most sadistic Spider-Man ever seen in any format.  Let’s not limit ourselves to characters.  The Turkish Rambo sets itself apart from its American forbearer due to a random zombie attack that doesn’t appear in the American original.  This complete disregard for intellectual property is what carved Turkey’s place in cinema history and makes for some truly amazing film watching.

Of course all good things must come to an end, though not quite in the way you’d think.  Turkey did not embrace modern copyright laws and still mostly haven’t; what buried the film industry was extreme political unrest after the 1980s military coup, labor unionization and the advent of television.  When it was unsafe to walk to the theater due to the civil and military strife, why not just stay at home and watch the television?  The new political regime could have cared less about the copyright violations and the increasing addition of porn to the otherwise family-centered fare produced for cinemas.  What they did care about was anything that even resembled criticism of the new power structure which lead to tremendous censorship up and down the line to make sure no ill word was spoken about turkey’s leadership.  Filmmakers attempted to work around the censorship by changing names of actors and directors but it became too much trouble to continue and this censorship is why an independent Turkish cinema never really got off the ground.  As of the 1990s, the Golden Age of amazing Turkish cinema was at an end.

Overall the documentary was pretty solid with some great interviews from the people who made these low budget masterpieces.  The stories they tell of what they had to go through to even make a film was tremendously interesting and most of them were very up front about doing it for the money.  Where the film really drags is the clips from Turkish films used to (mostly) illustrate whatever point is being made at the time.  The clips seem disjointed and in some cases over-long and the clip at times don’t quite fit the context of what’s being discussed.  The film feels over-long and shouldn’t at only 96 minutes and the craziness of things like The Iron Fist, which you totally want to see more of, seem to get short shrift in an effort to cover as much of the output of the Yesilcam industry as they could.  If you have a chance to see Turkish Star Wars or the Turkish Wizard of Oz, go see those films.  If your mind was as blown as mine was after seeing those and want to know more about the film industry that produced them, then sit down and watch Remake, Remix, Rip Off.  I just wouldn’t recommend starting with this documentary if you’ve never explored this fascinating brand of filmmaking.

Written by Tron Delapp

Fantastic Fest Review: Man Vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler (2015)

manvssnake (2)

Directors: Tim Kinzy/Andrew Seklir
Stars: Tim McVey, Duane Richard, Tom Asaki

Fantastic Fest has a long history of programming the weird and unusual when it comes to the films selected for the annual event and every year they add a couple of documentaries that are similarly themed with whatever mind-blowing cinema they have up their sleeves. To tie into this year’s Fantastic Arcade, Fantastic Fest ran Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, the story of Tim McVey (NOT the mad bomber) who in 1984 became the first person to score a billion points on a real obscure game called Nibbler. The game consists of a snake moving around a puzzle board eating pellets and as each pellet is consumed, the snake grows larger; if you touch any part of yourself you die. Needless to say, it was a difficult game and it was quite an accomplishment to get a billion points, a statistic that no other arcade game in history has offered. Now, 25 years after setting the World Record, Tim McVey’s journey begins to break the record once again and Man vs Snake chronicles his attempts.

Man vs Snake begins with an exploration of the Twin Galaxies Arcade, familiar to most people from the 2007 documentary The King of Kong as they were not only the first arcade to post National High Scores, which no one was doing at the time as there was no real competitive gaming, but were also the first Arcade to put forward the notion of Marathoning games to achieve the highest score possible. Gamers from around the world began staying up horrendous hours in attempts to flip scoreboards or get kill screens (where the game just randomly breaks down). Of course, King of Kong bad guy and founder of Twin Galaxies, Walter Day, and his fellow bad guy Billy Mitchell, World Video Game Champion, are interviewed and it seems they learned from their portrayal in the Donkey Kong documentary as both seem to come off as far more supportive and slightly less ego-centric as they did in King of Kong. They also include interviews with the guys who originally programmed Nibbler in an effort to give you a complete history of the game as most people don’t know what Nibbler is. There is a considerable amount of time devoted to the dangers and pitfalls of game marathoning to help illustrate that the people who do this and are good at it are comparable to real athletes in the amount of training and preparation they go through to be able to spend 40 hours at a sitting playing the same game on one quarter.
The story really begins in 1983, when Tom Asaki, a World Ranked Video Game player found himself at Twin Galaxies attempting the first billion point score on Nibbler. Tim McVey, a local Ottumwa, Iowa native, walked in and wondered why so many people were watching this guy play. When informed of the record, McVey said, “it doesn’t matter what his score is, I’ll just wipe it out.” Thus began McVey’s quest to be the first to a billion (for the record, Asaki scored 838 million in that attempt). In January 1984, less than a year later, McVey became the first person to make the billion point mark on Nibbler. After his victory, he slept for 38 hours to recover. When he awoke, he was the recipient of a civic day in his honor, the key to Ottumwa and a Nibbler machine of his very own which he later sold for almost nothing to fuel his arcade obsession.
Flash forward to September 1984 when an Italian kid named Enrico Zanetti beat McVey’s score on a machine in Italy. Twin Galaxies, arbiter of World Record scores, refused to accept Zanetti’s record due to improper documentation. This was enough to set the seed gnawing in McVey’s gut. He officially had the record but there was the knowledge that Zanetti did indeed top his score. It took McVey 25 years to live with this information but it ate at him enough that he knew, at age 40, he had to make another go of it. McVey’s life turned out much differently than he expected; he worked in a machine shop with people who didn’t understand him or his passion. Until this documentary, he admitted to never really talking about his record and stated that his co-workers couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to make a documentary about him. It wasn’t until Duane Richards, an arcade addict and Gamer of the Year for 1986, decided he’s try his hand at the Nibbler record that McVey was brought back into the fold as Richards was smart enough to suggest a head-to-head attempt in the beginning of 2009 in an effort to beat Zanetti’s score. McVey began training like a madman and the attempt was held to much fanfare. Despite the Nibbler machines not arriving as scheduled, replacements were found and the attempt went ahead as planned though not without a hitch or two, like Richards’ machine freezing 24 hours in and McVey’s inability to keep his reflexes up and both players failed.
The story does not end there as later in 2009 Duane Richards broke both McVey and Zanetti’s high score, though not without more controversy. It seems the board Richards was playing had a microprocessor go bad and overclock his machine so it performed faster than it should. In a rare display of sportsmanship, Richards withdraws his High Score from contention but this does not stop McVey’s quest to continue to push forward and reclaim his top spot in Arcade history. After several failed attempts, McVey finally puts the Nibbler obsession aside…. until September of 2011 when another pro named Rick Carter beats the top score and that pushed McVey to make another attempt during his Christmas break to once and for all reclaim his place atop the billion point mountain.
Man vs Snake is ultimately a movie about change. How Tim McVey went from a teenage game prodigy to a 40 year old guy working in a machine shop with a dream to do something more for himself, even if it doesn’t mean anything to anyone else. He mentions that after his Easter 2009 attempt that his dad passed away. He wasn’t close to his dad but he vividly remembered going to the racetrack with his dad and marveling at the drivers and racing, so much so that he had always dreamed of racing stock cars. At one point during his reflections, he comes to the conclusion that he could still do that, even at age 40, because you should never give up on what you want out of life and that’s the attitude that helped him move forward in his quest for the Nibbler record for the second time. Walter Day and Billy Mitchell, the two major antagonists from The King of Kong also recognize the changes in McVey over the years they knew him and were sure, no matter if it took him ten attempts or one hundred, he would eventually come out on top, not only in his efforts to reclaim his record but in whatever he wanted to do in life because he had the drive and the passion to be a success. This type of honest reflection is rare in video game documentaries but Man vs Snake is very clever how it wraps the very human story of not only Tim McVey but his competitors Tom Asaki, Duane Richards and Enrico Zanetti around the hard information and linear narrative of the quest to top the billion point Nibbler score. It’s hard to separate from The King of Kong as both approaches end up becoming more about Tim McVey and Steve Weibe as they do about exploring the history of the video game or the high score quest and both are truly heartwarming films that really have you rooting for the principals involved. Tim McVey makes the comment that he wants validation for Nibbler because he’s tired of people not knowing what he’s talking about but the story here is more about the validation for himself because he knows deep down he was working in a machine shop instead of pushing to be a race car driver like he had always dreamed and I would say, after viewing this documentary, that Tim McVey has more than validated both the game and himself.
Man vs Snake is truly a wonderful documentary not only about the Arcade game Nibbler or competitive gaming but about how people change over time but never have to lose sight of their dreams no matter where life takes them. Tim McVey is a very sympathetic protagonist and his supporting cast of competitors and foils are also worthy of respect, unlike the derision one feels for some people at the end of The King of Kong. By the end of the film, you not only want McVey to succeed for himself but for his family and all those other people because they supported him and cared about his desire and ability to do the impossible for a second time. Man vs Snake should be added to your Must View list because it delivers not only an engaging look at a subject but because it celebrates the people behind the efforts to be the best at their chosen subject. Though it’s been overstated in this review, it would make a great double-header with The King of Kong and stands alongside it as an exemplary documentary that delivers more than its title would suggest.

Fantastic Fest 2015: Sion Sono’s Love and Peace

Love and Peace (2015)

Director: Shion Sono

117 min

love and peace

written by Tron Delapp

I’ve been a fan of Shion Sono’s work since I first tripped over Suicide Club on video back in 2001. Sono’s fresh vision combined with the sheer diversity in the projects he works on keeps me coming back to see what he has hidden up his sleeve. From his J-Horror parody Exte: Hair Extensions (2007), which was actually scarier than 85% of the J-Horror done at the time to his 4 hour upskirt photography opus Love Exposure (2008); from his 2010 serial killer effort Cold Fish to 2013’s exploration of filmmaking and friendship Why Don’t You Play In Hell? to the best film of 2014, his hip-hop gangs vs. Yakuza musical Tokyo Tribe, Sono has produced some of the most innovative and distinct cinema in recent memory, combining various themes and societal messages with some of the most bizarre and outré situations that make his films a true joy to watch and even harder to review because the whole is worth way more than the sum of its parts. Such is the case for Love and Peace, his newest picture to hit Stateside. Love and Peace is at once a story about lonely and lost people as well as a tale about working toward your dreams while at once being an epic fantasy involving lost toys, forgetting things you love, putting your past behind you, not forgetting where you came from, the bond between man and turtle and, of course, Peace and Love. It’s also a Christmas movie. Yes, a Christmas movie. This proves once again that Shion Sono has a hard time doing anything without looking ‘outside the box,’ much to his credit and the delight of cinema fans everywhere.

Love and Peace begins with real-life politics, which Sono is not shy about threading through the narrative of his films. This time, it’s about Tokyo’s 2020 bid for the Olympics, which the television panel is divided about. Will the Olympics make Japan great again or does sport even unite like it used to and will it be good for urban renewal? Things take an immediate turn when we’re introduced to Ryoichi Suzuki, the man watching the television as the panel of pundits start running Ryoichi down, referring him to a loser who had dreams of being a rock star that faded when no one showed up to his 3 performances and now works as a simple clerk. Of course, Ryoichi in this instance becomes a microcosm of modern Japan but lest you think it degenerates into a political manifesto, think again; it just lays the groundwork for his character and gently hints that there is more going on than the personal story which is about to unfold. Ryoichi is singly alone; his television mocks him, people stare at him on the subway, his co-workers affectionately refer to him as ‘loser’ and he seems to be having a mid-life crisis stemming from his extremely low opinion of himself. The only thing close to a friend he has is a mousy co-worker named Yuko Terashima whom he desperately likes but is held back by his own self-worth from even talking to her.

Things begin to look up when he acquires a pet turtle from a street vendor whom he names Pikadon, which means “flash boom,” referring to the Atomic Bomb. He shares his dreams of rock stardom with his turtle while playing the game of Life and lavishes it with love until one day it’s discovered with him at work. After suffering more humiliation from his co-workers and boss, he with great sadness flushes the turtle down the toilet, returning to his singular life of regret and lost dreams. Pikadon, on the other hand, survives his watery descent and ends up in Lost and found Heaven, where discarded toys and pets end up when their owners don’t want them anymore. He is taken under the wing of the human Pa, who lives in the sewers taking care of all the discarded toys and pets and meets many new friends like Sulkie the bad attitude cat, Maria the doll and PC the tiny robot. Pa, who is far more than he seems, makes magic candy which enables the toys and pets to talk but while administering Pikadon a dose accidentally gives him wish candy instead which enables Pikadon not to talk but to help Ryoichi achieve his dream of rock stardom as well as growing to a larger size.

Meanwhile, a depressed Ryoichi breaks down every time he sees a turtle which puts him in contact with a band called Revolution Q who are amused by his pitiful state and basically kidnap him, dragging him to a public gig they have as comedy relief. They allow him to sing a song, which turns out to be a tribute song to his lost turtle friend, and it becomes a huge hit, so much so that he and Revolution Q are signed immediately to a major label who believe him to be singing about the A-Bomb and cast him as a modern day protest singer due to his relevance to modern issues in Japan. Thus, Ryoichi begins to achieve his dream of rock stardom and even finds the courage to quit his job and ask Yuka Terashima out. Pikadon, meanwhile, becomes much happier and much bigger to the delight of Pa and the toys. The toys and pets have a wish also, to be reunited with the loved ones that cast them out and Pa reassures them that by the end of the year, he would make sure they were in a better place. Pikadon wants to help Ryoichi now and leaves the sewer several times to meet Ryoichi and help him create new songs by giving him the melody and inspiring his lyrics by knocking over stacks of books so the titles reveal the next hit for Ryoichi.

Of course, Ryoichi becomes swept up in his new fame, leaving Yuka cold, disbanding Revolution Q and embarking on his own solo career. Ryoichi definitely forgets where he came from, even though his agent recreated his old bedroom in his new apartment. He never forgets Pikadon, however, who returns occasionally to help him become even bigger. On one trip, Maria, PC and Sulkie accompany him to visit Ryoichi and learn some very hard lessons about old toys and pets who were once loved and how quickly they’re forgotten. Pikadon also manages to get taken by scientists who cannot understand the turtle’s mutation and are determined to find out at any cost. With Ryoichi’s Christmas solo concert fast approaching, will he be able to dazzle the crowd with another new song? Will Pikadon be dissected or will he be able to continue to help his former owner? Is Yuka destined to be forgotten by Ryoichi? Will Pa be able to return the lost toys and pets to their former owners or someplace new like he promised or were they false words of hope? Will Ryoichi ever remember who he was and find balance within himself? Shion Sono answers these questions and many more as Love and Peace strides boldly forward to it denouement, all the while creating a heartwarming picture that definitely lives up to and embodies- the title of the film.

Love and Peace is a truly magical film that has so much spirit and reality tied up in its very comedic, fantasy-driven approach that it’s virtually impossible to not like this movie. It’s tremendously well-acted, beautifully shot and has a unique warmth about it that is so unlike most other films. In the hands of anybody else, Love and Peace would degenerate into a message-driven narrative but in the hands of Shion Sono, who has a complete understanding of disaffected and misfit people, the film transcends the reality of its subject matter and becomes a pure work of art that is at once highly enjoyable as a movie as well as standing on its own as an exploration of friendship, loneliness, loss, acceptance and remembering who you are while you strive to be who you want to be. Shion Sono continues to be one of the most brilliant and innovative filmmakers working in cinema today and Love and Peace fits his body of work to a ‘T.’ Once again, Sono turns out one of the best films I’ve seen since Tokyo Tribe and of course earns my Highest Recommendation.