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.

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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.

Top 10 of the 2016 Fantastic Fest Film Festival

By Antonio Quintero

Safe Neighborhood

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.