Well I’m one full day into Fantastic Fest 2012, which isn’t counting the many days previous of watching screeners. So far everything has been pretty great. The Fest started out strong with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, which was so good I saw it twice! And cried both times. Admittedly I’m a bit of a softie for love stories that truly come from the heart, which this one quite obviously did. In fact I think it might be the most personal film I’ve ever seen from Burton. It harkens back to the Edward Scissorhands/Nightmare Before Christmas days. That may sound like a tall order but
Frankenweenie delivers the goods. It’s a love letter to not only Burton’s boyhood pooch but also to all the monster movies he grew up with. Homage abounds, from Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price to classic B-movies and Japanese Kaiju. But it’s all wrapped up in this beautiful black and white 3-dimensional suburban paradise. The scenery is reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands… perfectly manicured lawns, neighborhoods of brand new tract homes filled with modest middle class families living the American dream in the early 1960’s (though this illusion is momentarily broken when they mention that the science text books no longer classify Pluto as a planet, but the underlying humor in that scene was so worth it).
My favorite part of the film, other than Sparky himself, was the science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, voiced brilliantly by Martin Landau. He goes on a tirade against the parents of the school children when they accuse him of causing an accident because the kids were doing science experiments inspired by him. Because obviously curiosity in science is a bad thing in this day and age, right? The tirade received applause both times I saw it and it was totally deserving.
“The word ‘stupid’ wasn’t in the script originally but we made that change, and it was a good change I think,” said Martin Landau referencing the accusations of “ignorant” and “stupid” leveled at the parents of the school children. It’s a speech I think many of us have wanted to give many many times before, so thanks Mr Burton, for voicing our inner frustration and desires!!!
As for the 3D, it totally worked for me. In fact it seems like 3D might have been created just so that Burton could make this particular film. I’m not a huge fan of 3D but in this case it was beautiful and a great artistic choice that brought me just a little bit more into the world Burton created. And though I know I don’t need to, I’m going to mention just how great the artistic direction was. The stop motion puppets are just so freaking great, with their signature Burton-esque weirdness. Winona Ryder and Martin Landau both admitted to getting to keep one of their character puppets and feeling compelled to just stare at them for hours.
So yes, Frankenweenie is a great film, a definite work of art and a must see. I’ll probably go see it again, just to see if I can keep myself from tearing up at the end (spoiler: I won’t be able to… *sniff*)
Second up, DreDD 3D. Wow. Just wow. Alex Garland, who was a fan of the comics since pre-adolescence, shows us just how versatile he can be. I did not expect this after Never Let Me Go, which was heavy drama and emotionally just devastating, and Sunshine, which was a high concept psycho-sci-fi-thriller. DreDD 3D is a much simpler story on the outside, but Garland seems to have found the subtext and exploited it very subtly, which is kind of the point of sci-fi in general. Tell a story about oppression and justice wrapped in a deliciously violent wrapping underneath the story of the relationship between two people, in this case veteran Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and the rookie Judge (and mutant) Anderson (played wonderfully by Olivia Thirlby). The style of the film is captivating and perfectly executed, especially on the small budget they had to work with, but what is most memorable, for me, is the relationship between Dredd and Anderson. I asked Karl Urban about the development of the relationship between the characters and how it developed for him…
“When we started shooting Olivia and I would meet every morning before filming and discuss the days work, so that we would be in sync. And that was absolutely vital because in many ways it was through her character that Dredd is humanized. You understand more about the character of Dredd through the evolution of Anderson. They don’t like each other at the beginning, and that was what attracted me to this film, that relationship and the evolution of that relationship. It’s key in Dredd’s arc, because he does something at the end that he would never do at the beginning. I found that really interesting, for a character to view the world essentially as black and white, to make a judgement about her and have feelings about her, to see how that changes him. He’s a character whose decisions often result in either life or death actions, so for him to come to the realization that the world really isn’t black and white, that there are a whole lot of gray areas, that to me was really interesting.”
I really can’t, honestly, find anything wrong with the film except that I never get to see Karl Urban’s face. Which is actually a strength of the film itself, just not for me personally, because, you know, he’s smoking hot. But it was all made up for by this:
So you know, I totally win in this scenario.
Finally, I ended my day with the Dutch crime thriller Black Out. I thought it looked interesting and I was not disappointed. This is the modern day Dutch version of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Jos (Raymond Thiry) has been out of the criminal underground for ten years. He was the muscle in a pretty ruthless ring of coke dealers. He wakes up on the eve of his wedding next to a dead body and a gun in his hand with no idea how he got there. He comes up with a ridiculously creative MacGeyver-like way of getting rid of the body but not soon enough. Suddenly he finds himself in the presence of a known Russian gangster who would like to know where the hell his 20 kilos of cocaine is. Jos doesn’t have time for this, he’s getting married tomorrow, but this is a problem that has got to be solved, and so thus begins the search for what the hell happened last night. Once you start watching it the parallels to Lock, Stock are hard to miss (the fast paced editing and humor, the interconnectedness of the players, the ineptitude of a few small time drug dealers, and the relationship of the two primary characters), but writer Arne Toonen distinguishes this film with his own take on comical banter and original characters. Not to mention the lead actor’s captivating performance, balancing the conflict between his serious and violent criminal past with his new life and bringing a levity to it at the same time. Also, the ending is incredibly gratifying and consistent with the tone Toonen was trying to create. I hope it gets US distribution because it really is a unique film, and apparently quite different than the types of films currently coming out of Holland (or so I’m told). If it doesn’t get theatrically released, though, keep your eyes peeled on Netflix. I highly recommend.
Check out the trailers below: