Fantastic Fest 2013: A Quartet of Capsule Reviews
The programming at Fantastic Fest this year has proven to be the most diverse, balanced, and engaging in its nine-year history. The broad appeal of the selections resulted in a positive response for even the weaker choices. If the highest goal to which festival programmers can aspire is to bring to light great films, the work this year was a complete success.
It's impressive that one of the weakest films I saw this week is one many are actually calling Ti West's best film to date. His fourth feature, The Sacrament, is shot documentary-style as a pair of Vice reporters (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) follow a man on the search for his sister that takes him to a Jonestown-like compound.
West has created a modern-day recreation of Jonestown that distills elements of the real thing into a tense feature. The look of his set closely matches photos of the compound. Even Jones's declining health is mirrored in the character "Father," portrayed ironically by actor Gene Jones. AJ Bowen lands most of the screen time here and will earn new fans with his dynamic performance as the reporter Sam. Swanberg is rarely seen as his role takes him behind the documentary camera, and Kentucker Audley, as the third member of the trio, is absent for the majority of the movie. His sister Caroline is Bowen and Swanberg's You're Next costar Amy Seimetz.
Unconvincing dialogue and extended takes made me find myself wishing someone would remind writer/director Ti West to yell "Cut," so it fails to top The Innkeepers as my personal favorite of his films.
Stephen Chow is one of the hottest filmmakers in China and no stranger to genre audiences with hits like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. With Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Chow exponentially increases the hilarity and artistry of his craft. Unlike his previous works, Chow remains behind the camera for this one, and the result is a more coherent narrative with the same energy and amazing action you expect but more focused on a linear story progression. This appears to also be Chow's first period piece, allowing him to play with sets, costumes, and creature design that start at "spectacular" and increase from there.
With a clever idea and a good story, even low-budget/no-budget science fiction can be very good. LFO: The Movie takes a simple idea to its logical conclusion with hilarious twists and turns along the way. Though it is never stated, I believe "LFO" stands for "low-frequency oscillations," the sound waves that Robert (Patrik Karlson) discovers induce a hypnotic state in people, allowing him to control their thoughts and actions. Robert is not a particularly upright or nice guy, and dark events from his recent past lead him to make distasteful choices with his puppets. Unfortunately, actions have consequences, and as the consequences of Robert's actions begin to come back to haunt him, he must find a way to deal with unintended results.
Director Frank Pavich interviewed Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn, Chris Foss and others to spin the tale of the "greatest movie that never was." At the height of his career, Jodorowsky set out to create a film that he intended to ignite a spirtual consciousness and, with the help of his "spiritual warriors," change the world: an adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. Though the rights were cheap (at that time Herbert's novel was barely two years old), the budget soon ballooned to a point that no studio would pay for the production, which was to star Jodorowsky's son, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali and include a soundtrack from Pink Floyd.
Even as a failure, the nonexistent film left an unmistakeable footprint on Hollywood that informs the language of film over 40 years later. A treatment for the film in the form of a book of storyboards with art from Giger and Foss was distributed to studios, and elements from that can be seen in seminal science-fiction films, though only two copies of the book are known to remain in existence. An original soundtrack of Moog compositions by Kurt Stenzel enhances the mood as Pavich explores the wonders of "Jodo"'s plans, and the result is not a sense of loss for what could have been but a thrill at how its echoes still speak to us. Jodorowsky's Dune was the well-deserved recipient of the Fantastic Fest audience award for best picture.