I'm still getting the hang of Fantastic Fest, but I'd think that singing Cee-lo's "Fuck You" in front of 200+ people just might qualify as doing it right. I think I'm proably doing this festival a little bit candy-ass - I've decided to cap my movie intake at no more than three a day, at least for right now - but that makes each film a quality experience and I can concentrate on what I'm seeing instead of overzealously planning my day. The result is that I'm settling into a groove here, and so far my body's holding up well, apart from some vision issues.
But as a whole, I'd say yesterday was one of the best moviegoing days of my entire life. And again, you can judge it however you want - this is a geek movie festival, after all, and some of my reactions might be too hyperbolic and overreacting, but I'd much rather overreact and feel something genuine than be too clinical about what I'm seeing. I'm not built that way as a movie reviewer and I think that that will be a standard when it comes to my writing. I'll try to temper my enthusiasm, but when you're someplace that welcomes spontaneous joy and happiness like Fantastic Fest, why bother holding back?
I've met some amazing people just in the last two days alone and I'm seriously regretting not having some business cards made. I dropped the ball in that regard, and if you see me at Fantastic Fest and I don't immediately recognize you, it's for two reasons - my vision's a bit screwy these days, and second, I'm just terrible with names and faces, man. Just reaslly bad at it. But I'll say this for Fantastic Fest attendees - we're huggers, man. And that's totally cool.
But you want to hear about the films, so I'm done waxing philosophical.
THE YELLOW SEA
This film, made by the makers of THE CHASER, is a gritty crime drama that follows a man trying to put his family back together in extremely bad circumstances. He's a Joseonjok, living in Yanbian prefecture, which borders China, Russia and North Korea, and despised by all. WhenGu-man (Ha Jung-Woo) is given an opportunity to pay off his debts, find his wife and bring her back to China, and reunite his family, he jumps at it, even though it involves him killing s local crime lord. Of course, in films like this nothing ever goes right, and our main character is forced to contend with the police, rival gangs, and a lot of knife and hatchetwork as he desperately tries to set things right and get back home.
Korean action cinema, at this point, just does it hands-down better than Hollywood. And it's a fairly simple reason, and it's very sad that this is true now - as far as I can tell, Korean cinema just creates memorable, compelling characters and puts them in serious harm's way. You care what happens, even to the villains, because the film has established an empathy with everyone. That's true for OLD BOY, a film like HAUNTERS which even shines a sympathetic light on the villain, and it's true here. In Hollywood these days, they throw celebrity at it, shake the camera a bunch, and buy massive explosions and CGI, and hope it comes out all right on the other end.
Now, THE YELLOW SEA has quite a bit of shakycam in it, but the director still understands spatial geography and so the action scenes, while frenetic, are still very well done, and each character is given real weight and a real stake in what's happening. The result is a film that eanrs respect and attention. Even if THE YELLOW SEA is a bit long - and, like a lot of Korean cinema, it must be said that there's fat in the middle, as it were, that length isn't wasted. THE YELLOW SEA is a gritty crime story, spanning two countries, a cast of characters, and every character motivation is clear. It's another really great crime drama from Korea, and well worth seeking out.
One word review? Charming. This second film by Nacho Vigalondo (TIMECRIMES) feels like the strangest THREE'S COMPANY episode ever conceived, even down to a nosy neighbor. Setting a romantic comedy in the midst of an alien invasion might seem like a SHAUN OF THE DEAD type riff, but it's actually nothing like that at all. The invasion, if anything, is incidental and merely a backdrop for what is pretty much a story about how love can spring from very adverse places. It's not an easy film to describe because whenever the film looks like it's going one way plotwise, Vigalondo smartly turns it around.
Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up in a strange apartment, hungover and groggy. You gewt the feeling he's done this before quite a few times, but when he sees Julia (luminous Michelle Jenner) in the kitchen it becomes obvious neither remeber the night before very well. But Julio likes Julia at first sight and wants to continue to talk to her, even though Julia seems in a hurry to get him out of her house. But Julio gets to stay after all - a giant alien saucer has parked itself about the city and everyone is advised to stay indoors. Soon their neighbor Carlos (Raúl Cimas), the nosy next-door neighbor, takes an interest in Julia's new houseguest, and soon her boyfriend Angel (Carlos Areces) arrives as well.
What happens next is an interesting riff on the romantic comedy - the alien invasion is incidental to what happens between the characters. It's often very funny - Carlos Areces plays Angel as a character who thinks he's in INDEPENDENCE DAY when he's really in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and the comedy is fresh and unique. In the end, I thought EXTRATERRESTRIAL was light entertainment and very enjoyable.
JUAN OF THE DEAD
Hands down, my favorite film of the year. Sometimes a movie just hits all the pleasure centers of the brain at the same time, and JUAN OF THE DEAD has so much in it - it's not only a zombie film but it's one of the best zombie films in years, and the political subtext of Cuba turns out to be a perfect place to make a movie like this. It's full of depth, emotion, and multiple decapitations. Jst wait until you see the massive crowd shots, which are frankly stunning. The kills are great, the characters are great, the story's great. Sorry, it's early and I'm feeling possibly hyperbolic, but don't give a damn. JUAN OF THE DEAD is why I love movies and what they do.
Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is content to go fishing with his friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) and has no ambition to do much else except his petty scams where he gets money. His wfie has already left for America and his daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) despises his lazy nature. But when the zombie apocalypse hits Cuba - or should I say dissident apocalypse, as the Cuban government refers to it - Juan discovers that he is a born zombie killer. So, naturally, he and his friends decide to charge for their zombie services. But as the zompocalypse escalates, and his friends and daughter come into danger, Juan must rise up and beome the hero that he was born to be.
Director Alejandro Brugués has created a rich zombie film that stands toe to toe with the classics. Plus, the rich political subtext shows us a world rarely seen, modern day Cuba. I was telling Alejandro last night that genre film offers a unique ability to show different worlds and ways of life through the prism of something familiar, like a zombie film. It follows all the rules of zombie films perfectly, and the spectacular gore and decapitations had me cheering. Just you wait until you see the massive crowd shots and the unique kills. JUAN OF THE DEAD is so emotional, so good, and it needs to be seen. At the end of the film, I stood up and applauded, so stunned by this film. It may be just me, this movie may just push my buttons alone, but for me JUAN OF THE DEAD is a tremendous film, and shot to the top of my list for the year. I think I'm going to see it again before I leave. I kinda have to.
I'll be interviewing Alejandro and I can't wait to sit down with him and pick his brain. This may be my favorite interview I've ever done. I can't wait.
An addendum - how do you follow Dominic Monaghan rapping "Ice Ice Baby" to a 200+ crowd of enthusiastic karaoke movie geeks? With Cee-Lo's "Fuck You," of course. And, not to pat my own back, but I think I killed.