Each day we will provide you with capsule reviews and impressions of the films we see at Fantastic Fest, along with any activities or interviews we attend. Complete reviews and interviews can be found on the site in upcoming weeks.
Day one of fantastic fest we hit the ground running and went straight from the airport to pick up our press badges. We managed to cram in three screenings for the day, starting at 4pm. Not too shabby.
Screening: Stone. Directed by John Curran and starring Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, and Milla Jovovich. Summary: A convicted arsonist (Norton) looks to manipulate a parole officer (De Niro) into a plan to secure his parole by placing his beautiful wife (Jovovich) in the lawman’s path.
Jane’s thoughts: This was an unusual experience for me. I was half expecting this to play out like a thriller-but instead I watched a slow (but evenly paced) meditative, existential character study.
The performances were great, but I can’t say I enjoyed the film (to its credit,we discussed it a great deal afterwards.)
The characters in Stone never quite feel like actual people, rather they represent certain characteristics of humanity. Their stories slowly unfold to reveal that in the end, we are back at the beginning and haven’t moved an inch.
Shannon’s thoughts: This is the second time I have seen the movie, and I still have no idea what it is trying to accomplish.
Norton (per usual) is electrifying playing a troubled convict who is experiencing an existential crisis when the walls of prison start encroaching on his fragile grip on reality.
Jovovich is quite good as a dangerous psychopath who will stop at nothing to help out her husband, and Robert De Niro-well, what can I say? He’s De Niro.
Frances Conroy is absolutely haunting as a down-trodden wife who lost her spirit decades ago.
The film has a lot of promise, but unfortunately the story is a meandering, frustrating mess. The sole reason to see this film is for the performances.
Screening: Let Me In. Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Richard Jenkins. Summary: A bullied young boy befriends a young female vampire who lives in secrecy with her guardian.
This is the screening where the games truly began. Let Me In officially kicked off the Gala red carpet screenings.
Festival founder Tim League oozes charisma, and knows how to whip the crowd into a frenzy of enthusiasm. He arrived looking rather dapper in a suit, but within a few moments he ripped it off (à la The Hulk) to reveal a viking outfit, perfect for highlighting this year’s focus on Norwegian film.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Norwegian director Eugenio Mira (Agnosia.)
Upon entering the screening, every audience member received a beaker of viscous green liquid, which Tim encouraged everyone to drink as we took the Fantastic Fest oath of green blood.
Next up, we had a special surprise, as Michael Giacchino was present at the screening. Michael has scored the music for Lost, and Alias, and was responsible for the truly amazing score in Let Me In.
The Texas Boy’s choir took to the stage and accompanied a pianist for a performance of music from the film. It was truly a unique experience.
Jane’s thoughts: I loved Let the Right One In and was initially skeptical when I learned that Matt Reeves was going to remake the same material. That said, I went in with an open mind and came out from it really enjoying the film.
While there are many similarities between the two, Reeves made some changes that played out tremendously well-particularly the scenes involving Abby’s care-taker.
More specifically, an action set piece involving a car crash was one of the most spectacular and tense things I have seen in a while.
Of course, there are some changes that I was less crazy about. Abby’s appearance transforms drastically when she feeds, and I missed the subtlety of the original. Use of CGI is not only detectable, but distracting, and some moments between Owen and Abby play out so melodramatically that I would disconnect from the movie momentarily, rather than get swept up with them.
The film score by Michael Giacchino is truly gorgeous and haunting.
Shannon’s thoughts: I completely agree with Jane’s take, but I did enjoy the relationship between Abby and Owen more than she did. It seemed like a really chaste love affair between the two, and I found it even more touching than in the original.
There is also a surprising amount of humor in the film, despite its grim premise.
Reeves perfectly captured the tone of the original, using blue light for many of the dark/nighttime scenes.
I was blown away by the young performers. Chloe Moretz proves Kick-Ass was no fluke. We will be watching this girl for decades. I thought she would be too cute/pretty for the androgynous role, but she pulls it off with gusto.
Kodi-Smit-McPhee, who was so wonderful in The Road, is amazing. Richard Jenkins is perfect as the tired, broken caretaker.
All in all, hold your criticism until after you see the film. Reeves does a great job with this remake.
The screening was followed by a Q & A featuring Matt Reeves, Michael Giacchino, Kodi-Smit McPhee, Elias Koteas, Dylan Minnette, and Jimmy Pinchak.
Koteas (who plays a detective in the film) was visibly moved after seeing the final product of the film.
Last up was a screening of Buried. We got to meet four truly crazy women who participated in a “Buried” Alamo Drafthouse stunt the other night, and let themselves be buried in coffins outfitted with a television on which they could watch Buried (the movie) while they were actually, um, buried. No thanks. The footage of them was terrifying enough to watch.
Screening: Buried. Directed by Rodrigos Cortes. Starring Ryan Reynolds. Summary: 170,000 square miles of desert. 90 minutes of Oxygen. No way Out.
Jane’s thoughts: I am kind of claustrophobic, so the premise of Buried is a a horrifying one to me. A man (Ryan Reynolds) regains consciousness and finds himself inside a buried coffin. Unaware of how he came to be in this predicament, he desperately tries to escape, using a cell phone and other items found in the coffin.
Considering that the film is set in an (extremely ) confined location, there are some really interesting and unexpected obstacles that befall the hero. Ryan Reynolds has the truly unfortunate, singular role in the movie, and he carries it well, with an engaging performance.
I was intrigued by the premise, but was wondered if the it could carry my interest for the entire running length of the film.
It absolutely did, and I would recommend checking it out.
Shannon’s thoughts: Ryan Reynolds proves he is more than just a pretty face, as he gives a harrowing and believable performance.
It is impressive that director Cortes was able to keep the audience on the edge of their seats using only a coffin as a set piece. Most of the film takes place in the dark, or in a lightly lit confined space, so Cortes makes great use of sound to enhance the visual experience.
A couple of faults-it’s a little preachy (on Iraq War politics) and anyone that Reynolds’ character has to deal with on the phone is astoundingly inept. Of course, this serves to propel the story forward, but it is a little absurd.
Well worth checking out-original, frightening, and prescient.
The screening was followed by a Q &A with director Cortes and Ryan Reynolds. The two played off of one another quite well, both were funny and charismatic.
Reynolds was quick-witted, and an enjoyable personality.
As for the grueling 17 day shoot (all in a box), Reynolds likened it to having dental surgery performed-through his penis.
There you have it, day one in a nutshell. We’ll be back with more from Fantastic Fest tomorrow.