Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.06: The Stranger, Everly, Automata, The Guest, and Dead Snow 2

Photos:

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Everly director Joe Lynch!

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Automata director Gabe Ibáñez, with Harry Knowles leading the Q&A.

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Scott Weinberg (l) questioning The Guest writer Simon Barrett.

Funny Q&As today; I'll fill in when I'm not running off to movies.

Which are: The Man from Reno, The Absent One, Haemoo, Local God, and a second shot at Necrofobia unless I can get my hands on a ticket for It Follows

The Stranger

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

The Stranger is the intersection of two trends in genre filmmaking that aren't bad in and of themselves, but can be kind of limiting: Sacrificing a sense of place to make your movie palatable for an English-speaking audience and taking genre concepts that are basically absurd very, very seriously. You can make a decent movie this way, as filmmaker Guillermo Amoedo and his team do, but it's tough to make a great one.

The stranger in question (Cristobal Tapia Montt) knocks on 16-year-old Peter's door one night, looking for someone who used to live there, only to be sent to the cemetery. That would be the end outings, especially since this guy runs afoul of three punks led by Caleb (Ariel Levy), who would have beaten him to death if Peter (Nicolas Duran) hadn't happened by on his bike. He flags down lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco), which seems like a good idea, but turns into a bigger mess than any of them - or Peter's mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni), a nurse - is prepared for.

That's actually a pretty strong noir-thriller setup, and if Amoedo and his team would have gone with that, it would likely still have been a movie with a lot of potential, especially as the route he chooses does involve never saying a certain word (it's the sort of movie that uses euphemisms like "contagious"). It puts the movie into a bit of a no-win situation at times - it's dependent on mythology that it won't directly acknowledge, either as commentary on the genre or to really dig into what weighs on the stranger. Going for that sort of restraint also means that the admittedly sort of melodramatic themes and parallels get buried fairly deep; they could have been a lot more involving closer to the surface.

Full review at EFC

Everly

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I kind of wonder why folks like Salma Hayek take jobs like Everly; is there some movie-star calculus where the lead role in an English-language action movie almost certain to go straight to video on demand is worth more than a Spanish-language drama or an ensemble part on television, either in terms of money or ego? I'm not complaining about her and others whose careers are at the same spot taking these jobs, you understand, I like these movies and like them even more when the star is someone who can do a little more than look good on the cover. And, hey, if she's willing to do something this nuts, so much the better.

She plays the title character, who was kidnapped four years ago and kept for yakuza boss Taiko's pleasure, presumably via threats to kill her mother and now five-year-old daughter if she got out of line. As the movie starts, it looks like Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) has learned that she's been contacted by the Feds and sent a bunch of men to rape and kill her, unaware she's got a phone and gun stashed in the bathroom. And while that may be enough for this group of thugs, Takio owns the building and the cops, so what was planned as an escape is looking an awful lot like a last stand.

This is not a set-up that makes a tremendous amount of sense at any point, so it's probably for the best that everything that got Everly to this place happens off-screen without anything in the way of flashbacks and only the vaguest sort of explanation; director Joe Lynch and screenwriter Yale Hannon wisely let the audience try and insert their own sense-making version of events if they're so inclined. Even with that out of the way, there's still a lot of really goofy action-movie silliness going on, such as Everly somehow being a crack shot despite likely being four years out of practice while only sustaining one through-and-through wound that doesn't seem to slow her down that much. Or her conveniently having the building's security system connected to her TV. Or her being targeted by waves of colorful assassins rather than what would seem likely to be more effective measures not deployed until later.

Full review at EFC

Automata

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #9 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

For the purposes of Automata, filmmaker Gabe Ibáñez reduces Asimov's traditional three laws of robotics to two: Do not harm a living thing, and do not engage in self-modification. Most movies about rogue machines would concern themselves with the first, so it shows just what sort of movie Ibáñez is trying to make in focusing on the second.

The ROC Pilgrim 7000 robots with those directives installed are ubiquitous in 2044, a generation after increased solar flare activity has drastically reduced the human population and crowded them into a few remaining cities, with walls trying to keep the encroaching desert out. Occasionally things go wrong, and when it does, insurance adjuster Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) works on behalf of the company to attempt to avoid a payout. In what is hopefully his last case before a transfer to a seaside district with his pregnant wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), he investigate the claims of a cop (Dylan McDermott) who claims that the unit he shot was repairing itself. He soon finds that something was up, and his search leads him to "clockmaker" Dr. Dupre (Melanie Griffith) - and areas his bosses from old friend Robert Bold (Rober Forster) on up would like kept quiet.

The themes explored in Automata - evolution, personhood, and the like - are potentially fairly heavy material, and Ibáñez treats them with the appropriate weight. The newly ungoverned machines are not suddenly more mature than their human progenitors, exploring their situation gradually and often having halting conversations on the subject rather than giving us straight lectures. That sort of philosophical intelligence isn't always reflected in in the moment-to-moment cogwork of the script - there are times when a walk through the desert seems to be happening in real time, with characters withholding information for no good reason and Rachel dragged along mostly because the film needs her around for the finale. That Ibáñez doesn't want his sci-fi movie to be men and robots shooting each other is admirable, but there are moments when they should be doing a bit more than they are.

Full review at EFC

The Guest

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #4 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I didn't necessarily think much of The Guest as it started; it quite frankly seemed like a step back for the team of writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard. It introduced a pleasant enough cast and set up a kind of familiar "stranger in the house is more dangerous than anyone knows" situation which the group is good enough to make go well, but, ho-hum... And then a thoroughly unremarkable scene starts a chain that gets Lance Reddick involved. After that, it's still the same movie in a lot of ways, but it gets bigger and crazier.

And that's a real kick, to be honest, what looked like it was going to be just a typical indie thriller gets just big, nuts, and self-aware enough to drop jaws in a good way. It's already hitting theaters, and shouldn't be missed.

Full review on EFC

Død Snø 2 (Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #6 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Saw this back at Fantasia, but kind of felt like I was missing ten minutes or so. Turns out I was, but they weren't of huge consequence. I missed a different ten minutes or so this time, so now I've seen the whole thing, more or less.

I liked it a bit more, although I still say I'll be more excited for the Hansel & Gretel sequel.

Full review at EFC

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