Editor’s note: This week, Jon Hansen is in Austin at Fantastic Fest. He’s got a report on several films for us at the halfway point. Take it away Jon.
Hello! It’s now time for a Baker’s Dozen of Movies with your good friend, Jon! I’m out here, just seeing some movies, no big reason… it’s just what I do.
Let’s get to it!
First up, we have Shadow. This is a classical wuxia type of film, it’s an epic tale of adventure featuring fantastic wire-work and impossible kung-fu in ancient China. The plot involves three warring factions, and an old man using a young man who looks nothing like him as a twin stand-in at the royal court (something no one else seemed to notice), in order to further his ludicrously long-game revenge plan that mostly just amounts to… “stab that guy.” Meanwhile, the people are revolting, because of modern day China. Silly or not, it’s a bunch of fun, and the ending is pure fantasy kung-fu spectacle, and is ridiculously bad ass. Plus, this was directed by Zhang Yimou, so it’s gorgeous, with amazing shots and a gorgeous palette of whites and blacks and grays. Definitely worth watching, especially if you’re into wuxia.
The Blood Of Wolf
Next is The Blood of Wolf. This is a big cops vs yakuza crime story, so there’s tons of blood and dishonor and indignant shouting and posturing by guys in some incredibly awful suits. Koji Yakusho is amazing as the hard-drinking, whore-loving, dirty-cop-on-the-take, Detective Shogo Ogami, who is doing everything he can to maintain the peace on the streets between warring gangs, all while protecting the little people and making sure justice is served when needed. Funny, bloody, and full of double-crosses and sudden ambushes, if you like things like Heat or The Godfather, then you should love this film.
Next, we have Suspiria. Remaking a film with a pedigree like the original Suspiria, especially when it’s in the quadruple wheelhouse of horror, art, foreign, and classic, is a risky proposition at any time, and I’m pleased to say that they somehow pulled it off. Yes, it’s updated; now set in the year the film was originally released. Yes, there are some changes because of that. But the core of the film is the same, and even kind of improved. It’s still the story of a coven of witches hidden within a dance company, but I love the additional exploration of the mythology and the factions threatening to rip the coven apart. The dancing as spell work is amazing. The horror and gore is fantastic. It’s an incredible-looking film. The atmosphere is perfect. This is one I will definitely watch again, which is something I didn’t expect.
Two things: One… Tilda Swinton is definitely playing two roles, for no discernible reason, and it’s hilarious that the filmmakers try to pretend like that isn’t obvious. Two… I don’t know why Hollywood seems to think Dakota Johnson should be a thing. She’s the Orlando Bloom of actresses. You all know this is true. Let’s just all admit it.
The Night Comes For Us
Next up is The Night Comes for Us. If you liked The Raid, or The Raid 2, then this is right up your alley. There’s so much kicking and punching and stabbing and slicing and jumping around, and then more kicking and punching and blood, blood, blood, spurting on everything and everyone, painting the room with it. Look out! More stabbing. There’s a ton of shooting too, and lots of improvised weapons. The whole thing is to save a little girl from killers, although SPOILER the hero abandons her on a boat at the end, and kind of waves nobly as she floats away as if this is a good thing for a traumatized six year old… but to be fair, he DID just get stabbed in the face with a box cutter, so…
Happy ending! Yay!
Next is Savage, starring Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of well known drunk, and avid scarf and ring collector, Johnny Depp. It’s a French movie about a young girl coming of age over a hot summer spent at the French version of an RV campsite. There’s a murder mystery, and possibly a vicious leopard loose among the campers and their familiar family summer fun. Lily-Rose falls in love with her weird neighbor, a (surprise! It’s a French movie!) older man driven by dark impulses. It’s not as creepy as you’d assume, but it’s also not that interesting either. This is an all around average film, too sedate to be controversial, but skilled enough to not be terrible. It’s… fine. Lily-Rose is a charismatic presence at least, so there’s that.
Hold The Dark
Next up is Hold the Dark. This is the latest by one of my favorite filmmakers, Jeremy Saulnier. Based on the William Giraldi novel of the same name, it’s about a man drawn out into the frozen Alaskan wilderness, a world he doesn’t understand, and who is not prepared to deal with the extreme violence and mystical weirdness he finds there. Despite this, he is nonetheless driven to try to bring some sense of order to that cold and brutal chaos. Honestly, that’s a very broad over-arching explanation, but I don’t want to give much away. The full story is all in the details, after all. Rest assured that you are in for a very tense and brutal film that completely nails you to your seat. It’s fantastic. Look for it on Netflix on the 28th.
Next is Overlord. This is me doing a big, bored sigh. This film is just your basic Nazi zombies movie that you’ve seen before, even if people are acting like they haven’t. It’s mostly a good example of the main problem with genre films: it regularly sacrifices plot in the service of effects or gore (which aren’t bad). But without a story to support them… who cares? For instance, (mild spoilers) This film doesn’t care that it makes no sense for the characters’ plane to be shown as part of the D-Day invasion, even though it’s stated that they’re hours ahead of the actual invasion, because it wants to do a big crash under heavy anti aircraft fire sequence. This film doesn’t care that these soldiers are walking around, introducing themselves to the audience in the kind of “outside voices” that drunk people use walking home, because they want to do the cliched “guy with a reason to live steps on a land mine” gore effect. It’s on and on and on like that for this film. That kind of shit doesn’t mean anything to a disappointing amount of genre fans out there, but for me… I just wish this film had done something actually fun like have a good story and maybe not regurgitate every single WWII men-on-a-mission cliche there is. I’d say don’t bother, but most people will anyway. Just try to see it cheap, at least. I will give the film this… it has a god damn great poster.
Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Next, I watched Standoff at Sparrow Creek. This was a tight little bottled-up desperate ticking clock mystery about a militia group trying to avoid getting raided by the cops before they can figure out which one of their members is responsible for a recent mass shooting. It was a fun and super-tense thriller contained to just a few rooms, that managed to keep you guessing. It was very clever. Almost a little too clever for its own good, sure… but still, it managed to pull it off in the end. This is definitely worth watching.
Next is Starfish, a film about a young woman reeling from both a recently destroyed relationship and the loss of her best friend(?) to cancer, who then wakes the day after the funeral to find herself in the middle of a Cthulhuian Apocalypse. Luckily, the key to stopping the apocalypse may lie in seven mixtapes her friend has hidden around town. The tapes were obviously meant to be a metaphor for the seven stages of grief, but that structure isn’t very well served and the film tends to meander, occasionally turning into a cartoon and also even breaking the fourth wall. The narrative is just a little too spongy. It looks good. The monsters are good, but it’s all too loose. Starfish tried to say a lot, but sadly says nothing at all.
ApostleApostle is the story, set in 1905, about a man who has lost his faith, and is on a journey to save his sister, who has been kidnapped and is being held by dangerous cultists on a mysterious and magical island off the coast of England. Gareth Evans directed The Raid and The Raid 2, a pair of powerhouse kung-fu flicks, so it was nice to see him try to stretch and do a very 1970s Wicker Man-type English horror film. Fair warning, if you go in expecting something like The Raid, you’ll be disappointed. Apostle is occasionally bloody and violent and can get super crazy and creepy, but mostly peddles dread in the shadows of the thick forest. It… mostly works. The film is definitely at war with outside expectations versus what the director wanted to do. You’re left with legitimate questions afterwards, if you spare a thought for it at all. And if you don’t spare a thought, well… that’s kind of a problem with the film too.
One Cut of the Dead
I saw One Cut of the Dead, a Japanese one-take zombie movie that has been winning audience awards at all of the festivals, and selling out in Japan for months, despite no advertising. And let me tell you, it’s god damn phenomenal. Absolutely fantastic. This film is one of the reasons we watch movies. I loved it. It’s smart and clever and an absolute love letter to film-making. It’s so funny and human. It’s so good. If you get the chance to see this film, leap at it. However, if you do, you might start watching and think I’m crazy, so if you watch it, you have to watch the whole thing, do that, and then you’ll understand. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to spoil it. So, just trust me… see this film, if you can.
Then there’s the new Halloween. In a nutshell, it’s a fun slasher and a very worthy successor to the original film. Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her iconic role as the original Final Girl, Laurie Strode, now an older woman still dealing with the trauma of Michael Meyers’ attack some 40 years on. Basically, the film turns her into Sarah Connor, and she and Michael have a “final” showdown. It’s funny and gory and full of jokes and jump scares. It’s an all-around good time. If you like slashers, if you like the Halloween franchise, then you should be there for this.
An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn
Finally, we have… An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn. It’s the second film by Jim Hosking, who made The Greasy Strangler, which is an amazing film that I love. If you haven’t seen it, that’s a crying shame. Some people don’t like The Greasy Strangler. That’s okay, it’s fair to say it might not be for everyone, but they’re still wrong, as The Greasy Strangler is amazing. Beverly Luff Linn is equally amazing, but it’s a completely different film. It’s still funny and quotable, and features very odd, but also honest and real characters. But it’s not a gross-out gonzo nutball film. This film is more like a drunk Wes Anderson making a Rom-Com. It’s weird and funny, surprisingly earnest, smarter than you’d expect, and also hilariously dumb. It was impressive to see Hosking do something so different, and yet still so recognizably him.
And there’s a quick Baker’s Dozens of Movies. I hope you enjoyed them. I know I did… mostly. I’ll be back in a few days with more movies that I just happened to see for no special reason.
Until then, I’m Jon.