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Another spectacular day of discovery at FANTASTIC FEST 2013!   I saw 4 films then decided to skip a midnight selection to get a full night’s rest to start this third day with – and also so my mind would be fresh and detox’d from the debauched awesome celebration of cinema that we give ourselves over to at this fest!


I started the day with RAGNAROK, a Norwegian action adventure that was made for all audiences to enjoy – and man…  I’d hold my pee for a week if we could get an American PG Action Adventure that would play half as honestly and refreshingly like this one.  


The film centers upon an archeologist with some wild theories, very much like Spader in STARGATE, but here… Pål Sverre Hagen, who magnificently played Thor Heyerdahl in the amazing Academy Award nominated Best Foreign film, KON-TIKI – well here, he’s playing Sigurd Svendsen, who is really into the whole Viking culture and specifically the famed Oseberg Ship.   He believe the ship sailed further than previously believed and…  well, he gets lampooned by the museum’s supporters, but his assistant discovers a stone that sheds more hope to prove his remarkable theories.


Sigurd is also a single father raising two kids, a son named Allan that adores his father and a slightly older daughter named Ragnhild, who longs for a real vacation to Spain and not another wild goose chase with her father.   But she’s handled in a manner that makes her less annoying and genuinely wanting to do something somewhere that perhaps doesn’t conjure the memory of her recently deceased mother.  


However, the new discovery sets them on a path of discovery.  The stone tells of a bottomless lake named by the Vikings as Odin’s Eye.   Turns out, this Odin’s Eye is actually in a No Man’s Land that was off limits during the Cold War due to Soviet and NATO forces doing the long stare for years.    Now, it’s just a forgotten place.   Old military equipment ravaged by time – and when Allan finds a cave, the family decides to spelunk down into it.  


At this point, they’re joined by a duplicitous guide named Leif and there’s a young adventurous lady named Elisabeth, who knows Sigurd’s Assistant.  


I don’t want to give too much away – but…   They are totally going to wake up and piss off THE MIGARD SERPENT!!!   And the Migard Serpent looks COOL!   What I kind of love is the film doesn’t go into a magical realm, but perhaps the factual realm that could have given birth to the legends of old.   


Once we have the Serpent in play, the tension and fear ratchet up appropriately and the lovely score by Magnus Beite supports and enhances everything.   Quint felt the film was Spielbergian, I disagree – I don’t think it has that aesthetic feel, instead it reminds me more of the old JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH with James Mason, but this isn’t a Novel Adventure story, this is a short Adventure Story.  


The film has been acquired by Magnolia – so definitely keep your eyes open for it.   And if your kids can handle a subtitled film, which is great for raising reading speeds btw, they’ll love this adventure.   It’s the good stuff!



I decided to stay with Norway for my next film, DETECTIVE DOWNS aka DETEKTIV DOWNS.   A film about a 28 year old Downs Syndrome affected Detective named Robert.   He has an alcoholic burnt out Police Detective for a father and Robert lives in a home for folks with Downs Syndrome – I love this place in the movie mainly for the really cute Lady Bugs affixed to the outer walls.   It’s just so cute, but Robert dresses up like Humphrey Bogart and tries to secure a case so he can prove to his father and everyone else that he could be a great detective.


However, Robert – who has met with many prospective clients, once they look into his eyes or hear his voice…  they know he has Downs Syndrome and figure he’d be a worthless detective.  


Enter the wife of former Skating Legend Olav Stjernen, who has gone missing.  Olav’s elderly mother wants him found and Olav’s wife doesn’t – so she hires Detective Robert Bogerud, our hero.   And I mean that.   I so love Detective Downs, he’s just…  amazing.   


You see, this is an exceptionally sweet film that wears it’s heart on its sleeve even if people are receiving blowjobs in the seedy areas that Robert seeks the truth in.   Robert has taken to drinking his frustrations away.   He longs for the touch of a beautiful woman, as his first attempts with a prostitute gave  him a fungus.    Yes, Robert is not only a detective with Downs Syndrome, but he’s horny and imbibes with the spirits.  


This combination creates one of my favorite film characters.   I would watch a new DETECTIVE DOWNS film yearly starring the amazing Svein Myhre – who really does have Downs Syndrome, but doesn’t let that hold him back from pursuing the truth.


He has his own investigative technique for finding missing persons.   He replaces the individual, steps into their life and attempts to emphatically feel the truth.  


The film is hilarious, touching and raises Detective Robert Bogerud to the upper echelon of cinematic detectives.   Watching Devin Faraci conducting the post film Q&A with the director Bard Breien and our hero Svein…  was one of my happiest moments.   Devin was just beaming and it really is because…  YOU CAN NOT NOT LOVE THIS MOVIE!   It must be seen to be believed!   American films are so fucking boring by comparison!



Then GRAND PIANO played.


Holy fuck man.


Director Eugenio Mira has erupted with GRAND  PIANO.   I met this guy at Sitges in October of 2002, I remember chatting with him, but at that time he was aspiring to direct feature films as he’d only made two shorts at that time.   GRAND PIANO is the best suspense thriller I’ve seen in fuck forever.


Here’s the premise.


Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, the most dexterous pianist in the world.  His fingers can rip through seemingly impossible to play pieces…  except for that last time he played… 5 years ago… when he froze.   He was an understudy for a man a great older pianist, who has died and his precious Grand Piano has been flown in for this remarkable concert performance.   Tom is married to a stunning famed movie actress, played stunningly by Kerry Bishe!   And as he sits at the piano, racked with nerves – the memory of his past failure starting to creep into his psyche.   He begins to let it go as he plays.   Just letting the fingers do their thing, when he notices an red arrow on the sheet music.  


Whilst playing he discovers there’s a prankster that seems to want to torture him…  until the red laser site makes its presence known to him.  Play one wrong note and you’re dead.




Soon he realizes this isn’t a prank, but an organized torment with multiple participants.  


Now, how can a suspense thriller be satisfying if it all takes place to a concert pianist as he plays?   JUST FUCKING DISCOVER THIS MOVIE!


It conjures the great Preston Sturges’ UNFAITHFULLY YOURS where Rex Harrison is manically imagining killing his allegedly slut wife…  or the amazing Tennis match in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN – hell…  Hitchcock can be felt throughout.   But never direct lifts.  


Alex Winter plays one of the bastards torturing Elijah, along with John Cusack.   This film was picked up by Magnolia instantly upon playing at FANTASTIC FEST this year – and I have to say…  I really hope they make this a big push film.   It is just spectacular.   The sort of film that you play over and over in your mind – and so cinematic.


There’s a throat slit cutaway that caused an eruption of applause in me and the audience that was just breathtaking.   Every filmmaker that I knew in attendence was blown away.   6’3” martial artist and actor Marko Zaror said it made him cry twice.   Yeah…   it has that kind of power.   Elijah is so great here!


If you love a great thriller, they rarely ever thrill like this one!


Then I wrapped up my 2nd day with Ti West’s THE SACRAMENT.  Which played Venice and Toronto before coming to Fantastic Fest – but again, I have to say…  Ti West delivers.


This is a JONES TOWN kinda scenario, but updated.   AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg play a pair of VICE gonzo journalists that accompany their friend Patrick, who’s sister Caroline has joined some mysterious group that are living in some foreign country in the middle of the jungle in their own private Eden.   They sniff a story and an experience and decide to document it.


AJ and Joe are great – naturally… but it is Gene Jones that tightens the sphincter.   He’s just a fucking nightmare cult leader.   When you watch the scene of AJ’s Sam interviewing Gene’s FATHER character.   You’ll find yourself entranced.   It’s the darnedest fucking thing, but FATHER while dodging every question manages to just flummox the veteran reporter by 1. Making him out to be the asshole, while smiling.   2.  Knowing more than he should know.   And 3. The way he speaks is so melodious, that you can’t help but be caught in the web.


It’s a great highlight.


Before things get really Jonestown, suddenly we’re all served a papercup of Kool-Aid.  When I realized that was what it was… I almost guffawed.   It’s a classic Drafthouse delight.   


All I can say is, DRINK THE KOOL-AID, see THE SACRAMENT and just know that Ti West is still knocking them out of the park!  


Alright, time to do Day 3!!!

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