Fantastic Fest Days 2 & 3: Lightning Round

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another craptastic cameraphone picture from Fantastic FestThe days are flying by faster than I can write about them -- with a noon to midnight screening schedule every day and a baby at home to care for overnight (my penance to my wife for leaving her with the nipper during the festival days), there's precious little time for writing. Here's a quick catch-up round of capsule reviews of what I've seen so far. I've mostly dispensed with plot synopses, but hopefully I'll be able to write about each film more thoroughly after the festival ends.Abominable: A good old-fashioned Sasquatch romp with b-staple Matt McCoy and a cast of ingenues. Falls prey to the usual cliches of the monster movie but remains true to itself - big dumb fun with a bit of T&A and some very nice practical gore effects. (If you've seen Abominable on the Sci-Fi Channel, you haven't really seen it.) This flick got the best audience reaction of any of the movies I've been to thus far; everyone genuinely seemed into it. Q&A with one (two? my notes are unclear) of the cast and the director was short and sweet. The picture above is from the Q&A with FF organizer Harry Knowles moderating.

Renaissance: One of the most anticipated pictures of the festival, and ultimately one of the most disappointing. Not because it's bad, because it's not. It's just not that good either. The film is essentially an animated sequel to Blade Runner and while it looks great (if only Sin City had been done by these people!), the story is old hat. The dialogue needs some real work too, though these things are secondary to the production design, which is imaginative and excellent. The world presented here is a rich one, but the central plot falls short of promise.

Zhest: If Renaissance fell short of delivering on its story promise, Zhest (aka Junk aka Hardcore) delivers perhaps too much. Billed as a crime thriller set in an abandoned rural ghetto, Zhest follows an world-weary Russian reporter as she pursues a schizophrenic psycho killer into a lawless "rabbit warren." Gorgeously hallucinatory and elegantly violent, it is a perfect fit for Fantastic Fest. A friend who saw it complained about the film's four endings, but as someone who always wants to see what happens next, I kinda dug the fact that there were several different codas to the main story. Definitely not for everyone.

Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream: Apparently this has been playing on Starz and Encore for a while, but I hadn't seen it. This is required watching for b-movie aficionados; it's a great retrospective on the midnight movie phenomenon and the flicks that gave birth to it. There's a lot of great access to the principal players - Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Waters, David Lynch, George Romero, Richard O'Brien, and others - but I found myself drawn to the stories of theaters like the Elgin, which supported these filmmakers and their bizarre visions in the right way at the right time. Amusingly enough, I heard a twenty-something attendee refer to this doc after the screening as a "nice trip down memory lane," despite the fact that most of the members of the audience - myself included - weren't nearly old enough to have seen any of these movies during their runs on the midnight movie circuit.

Tideland: If you're a Terry Gilliam fan, see this as soon as you can. If not, the film will either convert you or turn you off of the director forever. Tideland is bizarre and disturbing in that way that only Gilliam can deliver, with a performance by a ten year-old Jodelle Ferland (of Silent Hill and "Supernatural") that would be Oscar-worthy from an adult. By turns soul-crushing and irrepressibly uplifting, vomitous and lyrically sweet, I wasn't so sure about Tideland when I left the theater, but the more I think about it the more I like it. Another great fit for Fantastic Fest.

A Quiet Love: Aptly titled, this Danish/German relationship picture is subtly beautiful but hardly a genre movie. A Quiet Love will appeal to fans of such reflective films as Lost in Translation. After the hushed ebb and flow of Tideland and this film, however, I was ready for a little more excitement. Thank the gods of cinema for ninjas.

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is hardly groundbreaking stuff storywise, but it is some damn fine eye-candy. I mostly picked this one because it promised chop-socky action and gorgeous cinematography; it's also readily available on DVD, so I wasn't going to feel bad about ducking out early to get in line for the newly-added Super Special Screening. (As it turns out, I probably should have seen Shinobi through to the end, but more about that later.) The picture is Romeo and Juliet with ninjas, though more the supernatural wire-fu ninjas than the '80s kung-fu type. Heavily influenced by anime and adapted from a novel by the guy who wrote Returner, Shinobi is the sort of disposable fare that Asian action fans crave and little more. I don't mean that in a harsh way, but it's not as if people will be sifting through the layers of meaning in Shinobi a decade from now. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw and plan to rent the disc to see the ending.

Next: Apocalyp-wha?, The District, and very little sleep.