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Fantastic Fest 2015 Recap: Day 2

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Previous Recap: Day 1

Day 2- Friday 9/25

Friday started off with warm blueberry coffeecake, a mimosa, and a program of short films. It ended with grown folks arguing about movies and punching each other in the face. Great day!

Movies In Space

Shorts Program- Fantastic Shorts 2015

Most of the short films presented at this year’s festival played in three separate programs: Fantastic Shorts, Short Fuse, and Shorts With Legs. Fantastic Shorts offered a mix of everything. The first half of the program was live-action and the second half was animated. Short Fuse consisted of horror films, and Shorts With Legs was a selection of the year’s strangest, most eccentric shorts. A few short films–including two of my three favorites–played outside of the programs, paired with feature films.

I was very much anticipating the Fantastic Shorts program, and it has some highlights (Movies in Space, Growing Pains), but ended up being a mixed bag. A few of the shorts are boring. It’s okay for a short to be slow, but when it’s only 15 minutes and it feels like it’s dragging, that’s a problem.

Before getting into the official program, the winner of Chiller’s Killer Shorts contest was screened. Last Call is silly and fun and features people in a house dying in ridiculous ways.

Movies In Space is easily my favorite short in this program. Chris Smith is the writer, director, and producer, and he also stars in the 14 minute Sci-fi comedy about an Earth Ambassador that visits another planet, hangs with a Corploxian pal (Jack de Sena), inadvertently becomes an award-winning, hotshot movie mogul, ascends to the top, and gets addicted to huff-pens. It’s funny and entertaining, it gleefully pokes fun at Hollywood, and it has a lot to say about formulaic filmmaking. Movies In Space is full of surprises, moves at a fast pace, is nicely edited, and has good production values. Smith and de Sena pair well together. Winner of Best Picture in the Fantastic Shorts category.

The Guests features a bunch of unknown guests unexpectedly showing up for a house warming party. Weird, surreal. Not a fan. Feels underdeveloped.

Trying Not To Explode is a somber short about a guy who’s parents died from spontaneous combustion. He imagines how it might have happened and tries to make sense of it. Decent premise but it moves slow and feels long.

Enhanced also felt long. It’s about an unfunny comedian; a depressive loser. His sister calls on the phone and says that she used to feel like him, but now that she’s “enhanced” she’s always the best version of herself. He goes on stage and tells a bland story. Not sure what they’re on about. Watch it here.

Toonocalypse is a found footage, live-action/animation hybrid. Toons invade Earth District 9 style and when it becomes apparent that they aren’t leaving, they shack up with humans. Funny at first but it drags on and the motion in the low-quality video is tough on the eyes.

Detective Trousers In The Beat Goes On is an animated police procedural featuring animal detectives. It’s short, light, and cute.

Growing Pains is my second favorite short of the program. Animated against a backdrop of paper dioramas, this short from Denmark is about a teenage boy that turns into a werewolf when he gets horny. Funny and well-made. Teaser.

Chulyen, A Crow’s Tale is French and features gorgeous black and white animation that looks like charcoal or scratchboard. It’s a chiaroscuro adaptation of Northern Native American folklore. Nice to look at, but I’m not sure how well I followed the narrative.

World of Tomorrow played before Anomalisa. It was not part of the Fantastic Shorts program, but if it were, Movies In Space would’ve had some serious competition as World of Tomorrow has been racking up lots of awards on the Festival circuit. This short is the product of Don Hertzfeldt teaching himself the basics of digital animation. It has a cool visual style, features time travel, and is twisted and funny. One of the two roles in the movie is played by his 4 year old niece. Hertzfeldt said that she was unpredictable and uncontrollable, like someone who had too much to drink. Rent it here for $3.99. Stills (click to enlarge):


Film 6- Anomalisa
Directors- Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
Cast- Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan

The new stop-motion animation film from the brilliant mind behind Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, is beautiful, human, and somewhat divisive. I liked it quite a bit and found parts of it very touching, but I know some folks saw the realistic setting as a missed opportunity for Kaufman to get creative with the medium. For better or worse, Anomalisa is a very human experience that follows a regular British chap on a business trip to Cincinnati. He’s perceived as successful, but actually has a boring, mundane life.

Regardless of how you feel about the story, the stop-motion animation and the look of the film are exceptional. I thought it was cool to see the animation used in traditional everyday settings like a hotel lobby and the inside of a taxi cab. Scenes are well-lit and have nice texture. The puppets, while obviously fake, are still realistic and have nuanced expressions. There’s stop-motion urination, full male and female nudity, sex, and more. Everything is handled delicately and it’s a credit to the animators that the intimate scenes feel tender, not comical. My only complaint is that I’m not a big fan of the music. It’s poured on a little thick at times.

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Lisa, David Thewlis plays the main character Michael Stone, and in an artistic decision to show Michael’s inability to connect with people, Tom Noonan plays the voice of everyone else. (Michael looks at everybody as the same person.) This is not your typical animated film and that’s a good thing. Hopefully people embrace it and more movies like this are made. Anomalisa was funded through kickstarter to give the filmmakers the ability to work without studio interference. Big shout out to anybody that donated and helped make this movie possible.

Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman were in attendance and participated in a Q&A after the film. Kaufman was soft-spoken and insightful. He diligently answered my question about an old movie that was funnily referenced (best left a surprise).

4 out of 5 Nerdskulls.

Anomalisa was scooped up by Paramount and is getting an Oscar-qualifying limited release, opening in NY and LA on December 30th. We might see it go head to head with Inside Out for an Academy Award. Interesting…


Film 7- Tale of Tales
Director- Matteo Garrone
Cast- Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly

Tale of Tales is a French-Italian-British, English-language dark fantasy, loosely based on Giambattista Basile’s book, The Tale of Tales. It’s the first English-language film from Gomorrah director, Matteo Garrone. Three tales are interwoven seamlessly and the movie looks outstanding considering the entire budget was less than $15 million. Nice cast too. As good as it looks, it left me a tad underwhelmed.

The tale with Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly is my favorite of the three. Unable to conceive, the Queen and King see a necromancer and are told that they must find a giant sea monster, cut it’s heart out, have a virgin cook it, and feed it to the Queen. Then she’ll become pregnant–but at a cost. Unconcerned about the cost, they set out to find the sea monster. Selfishness and it’s consequences are unifying themes in the three stories. I like Tale of Tales, but ironically, I feel it lacks heart. A little charm goes a long way, even if you’re crafting a dark tale.

3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls

Tale of Tales played at Cannes and was picked up by IFC for US distribution. There’s no release date at this time.


Film 8- Green Room
Director- Jeremy Saulnier
Cast- Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Macon Blair, Alia Shawkat, Patrick Stewart

Jeremy Saulnier is the real deal. His follow up to Blue Ruin ratchets up the tension and puts the audience in a chokehold. Green Room places a young punk band in the wrong place at the wrong time, up against a gang of cutthroat neo-Nazis led by Patrick Stewart. The setting is claustrophobic and the actors convey the trauma well. Excellent casting across the board.

The movie is hardcore and superbly executed. Saulnier has a knack for making ultra-violent action scenes that feel highly realistic. You can’t take your eyes away and you might forget to breathe. The movie is a rush and the crowd was transfixed throughout. It was the most popular film at Fantastic Fest, receiving the most votes in the Audience Award category, and it’s firmly in my top 3. Green Room filled me with adrenaline and reminded me how intense movies can be.

4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls

Green Room was picked up by A24 and hits theaters April 1st, 2016.


After Green Room, it was time for one of the more unique events of the festival, the Fantastic Debates! Contestants abuse each other, first verbally, in two two-minute rounds of debate, then physically, in two one-minute rounds of combat. Nobody holds back and regardless of what happens in the ring, the crowd wins. Serious topics like “Is The Goonies the best kid’s movie of all-time?” were resolved in exciting fashion.

This year’s Debates featured 6 battles; 5 in the ring and one in a cage. Owen Egerton hosted as only Owen Egerton can, with boisterous charisma and genuine enthusiasm. The crowd–including Guillermo del Toro and Nicolas Winding Refn–was sufficiently riled up for the occasion.

Check out these pics from the Fantastic Debates (click on pics to enlarge):

Photos by Jack Plunkett

More Pics from Day 2:

Photos by Gary Miller, Arnold Wells, and Jack Plunkett

Great day! More to come…

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.