Editor’s note: This week, Jon Hansen is in Austin at Fantastic Fest. He previously reported to us at the halfway point, and he’s here to bring us home with the rest of the films he saw. Take it away Jon.
Hello, hello, it’s me again, your favorite, Jon Hansen. I’m back with the next installment of me highlighting some of the fantastic (and not so fantastic) movies I saw while hanging out this past week in the sweltering heat, sudden thunderstorms, and one surprisingly nice day down in Austin, Texas.
I hope you enjoy.
First up, we have Ladyworld. This film’s premise really interested me. It was about a house of teenage girls who get trapped inside after an Earthquake and basically go all Lord of the Flies on each other. It was on my list. I was looking forward to it. I went and saw it, and… It was disappointing. In fact, it’s bad. This was very obviously a zero-budget film that was made off of favors and the friendly and willing amateur talent, so I don’t want to be too harsh, but it felt more like a senior year film school project than an actual movie. The set was terrible. The set dressing even worse. The actresses were amateurs. The story was all allegory and metaphor and “art” with very little narrative support. It’s hard to feel anything when you’re wondering why the characters don’t just open a window and dig their way out when you can clearly see light at the top of every window. It’s hard to believe what’s happening when you don’t even understand why the characters are even there in the first place when half of them don’t seem to know each other at all, especially when the house looks empty, instead of like a person’s home. It was just poorly written, and obviously improvised in places, which was not a good idea at all. Like I said… it was really disappointing. They didn’t even hand out voting slips at the end of the movie.l, and I’m pretty sure that was on purpose.
Next we have The Guilty. This is a tense and twisting Danish thriller about a police officer under investigation who has been assigned to a 911 dispatch center while awaiting trial, and how, on his last day, finds himself in a race to save a young woman in danger. This is a classic bottle movie. A lot of people will draw a comparison to the film Locke, starring Tom Hardy. That’s fair. It’s the same idea. There’s one location, minimal characters, most of them voices over the phone, and mainly just the guy wearing the headset. It’s clever and smart. It subverts your expectations a couple of times. It’s just an all-around taut and entertaining thriller.
Next is Mid90s. This film was written and directed by Jonah Hill, and yes, he was at the screening, and yes, he was basically wearing a black turtleneck and black pants and black rim glasses in full artiste mode, almost like you’d imagine he’d do as a parody in a Will Ferrell movie… but honestly, I’m gonna let him have that bit of pretentiousness without too much mocking, because Mid90s was great. Just great. Now, you might hear Jonah Hill in the press saying that people are claiming his film is just a knock-off of Kids, but no one with a brain who has seen either film is saying that, because it’s not true in any way. Just relax, Jonah. Also, you might hear people joke that this film is just “Lady Bird for dudes” and admittedly, that stings a little, but it’s also not totally true. What Mid90s is, is an earnest slice of life period piece set in about… hmmm… 96, about a kid trying to fit in, all while having a great and terrible 13 year old’s type of summer hanging out with some skater kids. It’s familiar and sweet and funny. The kids are great. The story is sincere and honest. It’s just a good film. Jonah did a good job. I really enjoyed it, so you wear that black turtleneck, Jonah, you wear it while you take off your black-rimmed glasses, and pause, pensive and pregnant with insight, before answering a reporter’s question about your inspiration… you earned it, buddy.
Next is The Perfection. This is a crazy tale of revenge that did so many out-of-left-field things I wasn’t expecting, I’m not sure I can summarize the film much without fear of spoiling it. I will say this… you should see this movie. But if you need a little context to help explain this film, there’s this: This film felt like the American remake of a crazy-ass Korean horror revenge thriller, but it’s not, which somehow makes it crazier. I loved it. Alison Williams and Logan Browning are fantastic as a pair of ultra-talented cellists cracking under the pressures of their lives. Like I said, there’s more than that going on, but I don’t want to spoil it. This is a great film. Find it. Watch it. Don’t read up on it beforehand.
Next we have Destroyer by Karyn Kusama. I loved, loved, loved her last film, The Invitation, so I was really looking forward to this one. Nicole Kidman absolutely kills it as the worn-out, run-down, rage-driven, alcoholic homicide detective who has an old cold case—one that had wrecked her life 20 years ago—come back up. She then bulldozes everything in an effort to close the case. It’s not a pretty film. It’s not a happy film, but it is a good film, and Kidman delivers a powerhouse performance. She definitely deserves a nomination for her efforts. The film is being released in December, so expect people to be talking about it.
Then there’s Between Worlds, which is about a man who meets a woman who can guide the spirits of the dead, but after the woman’s daughter is in an accident, the woman tries to guide her daughter’s spirit back into her body, but instead, the daughter’s body is hijacked by the man’s dead ex-wife, who wants him back and will do anything to make that happen.
You heard me.
It’s fair to call this film a weird love triangle. Also, it stars Nic Cage, and he is going full-on fucking Cage in this film. Really, if you need to know more than that, then this movie is probably not for you.
Next is Werewolf, a polish film set in the chaotic days of post WWII, which follows a group of orphans freed from the camps. With no where to go, the group find themselves alone in an abandoned mountaintop mansion… and surrounded by a pack of hungry dogs once used by the Nazis to savage camp prisoners. It’s very tense and exciting and scary and yet, it also ends in a very unexpected way that I really loved, because both groups in this film—the kids and the dogs—were used and abused and neither of them deserved more pain. Definitely be on the look out for this little film.
One real highlight was that I got to see a 35 mm print of the 1980 version of Flash Gordon with the savior of the universe himself, Sam Jones, aka Flash Gordon, in attendance. This was a super weird film from my childhood, powered by an amazing soundtrack by Queen, with some incredible pulp sci-fi disco-era visuals, and it was great to see that it is still as ridiculous and amazing as I remember. What a great time. Sam Jones was awesome and hilarious. He saved every one of us.
Then there’s The Unthinkable. This is a Swedish disaster/apocalypse film about a fractured family trying to overcome their various issues, all while avoiding an amnesia-drug laced rain, sent by the Russians, that is wrecking havoc on the country. The disaster stuff is a lot of fun, but the family dynamics were really kind of weird, and I was left wondering if something was lost in translation, or if Swedes are all just sociopaths… or if they maybe just like their heroes to be. I don’t know. Either way, the two leads, the old dad and his adult son, are both huge jerks the entire time, and they are not at all redeemed by the end, despite what the film clearly seems to think. In the end, it was all right, but definitely flawed.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Finally, I saw The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. As we all know, Terry Gilliam has been working on this (possibly cursed) film for nearly three decades now, and here it finally is, with Adam Driver in the role once held by human neckerchief, Johnny Depp. I wanted to give this movie a fair shot. Having reached near-legendary status, it’s fair to say the film is perhaps unfairly bent under the weight of expectations, but even then… it’s a difficult movie. It’s interesting and complex and very obviously an autobiographical metaphor for the journey that Gilliam and this film has taken, but it’s honestly more than a little impenetrable at times, and feels like it meanders quite a bit too. This is all made the worse by the fact that it’s equally as amazing at times. I liked it, maybe a lot, but I didn’t love it. I do think it’s worth watching again, at least once.
And that’s it. I’m back at home, safe and sound, and trying to get back on a regular sleep schedule. Wish me luck!