With its 2010 iteration, Fantastic Fest can now claim the title of Largest Genre Film Festival in the U.S. What does genre exactly mean, though? Basically, it's an oddball amalgamation of horror, fantasy, martial arts, obscure dramas, sci-fi, thrillers, experimental films -- you name it; if it's something that's not likely to be up the alley of most mainstream moviegoers, chances are good that it's right up Fantastic Fest's alley.
That's not to imply that the movies that play FF are weird and inaccessible; they're just not what you're going to find in an 18-screen megaplex on a Friday night. And that's why I love the fest. So here's a look at what's playing at the fest that anyone reading a weekly column on sci-fi films is going to want to put on their radar.
Few films playing this year's FF are as heavily stylized as Bunraku, a frenetic genre mashup that takes place in a distant future where guns have been banned and swords are once again the weapon of choice. It stars Josh Hartnett as a wandering stranger (think of him as a gunslinger without the gun), Japanese pop star GACKT as a samurai on a mission and Woody Harrelson as the bartender who unites the two in their common goal of killing the local warlord, Nicola (Ron Perlman). Standing in their way is Nicola's army of finely dressed killers, led by the always great Kevin McKidd.
Unfortunately for most, Bunraku is a little too stylized. Director Guy Moshe designed the film with a very specific artistic goal in mind, which sadly narrows the scope of a work that should feel much bigger. The camera can't simply pan across town; it must zoom through it like a pop-up book. Elevators don't go up and down; they move like the chambers of a revolver, and no scene can have too little color. A legion of camera tricks and groovy visual touches like those are bound to appeal to a very appreciative set of moviegoers (most likely under the age of 20), but for most, Moshe's film is perhaps a little too cool for its own good.
A few really standout sequences -- particularly Hartnett's violent charge down flight after flight of jailhouse stairs -- do make the style-over-substance nature of Bunraku entertaining, but their arrivals are poorly paced throughout. Despite there not being enough content to spread across the run time, however, the movie at least looks stunning at every turn.
Rubber is a hard film to get your head around, and writer-director Quentin Dupieux wouldn't have it any other way. After all, how does one make a movie about a sentient car tire that goes on a killing spree make sense? You don't. And that's the point. It's a nonsensical story that exists entirely because it's nonsensical. A lot of people will hate that; I loved the hell out of it.
Dupieux' film is one of the funniest at Fantastic Fest. It exists in a bizarre world where not only are there no rules, but there's no set of instructions to clarify that there are no rules. Things just happen, and it all makes sense in a very ethereal, dream-like way. Plus, it's got an absurd amount of exploding heads in it, which is always a good thing.
I feel as though I don't deserve to enjoy movies as much as I enjoyed Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, film that might as well have dripped out of my brain while I was sleeping. Jalmari Helander's feature debut is about a corporation that tries to dig up Santa Claus' body from within its tomb in a mountain in Finland. Thing is, the Finnish version of Santa isn't the jolly, gift-giving version that the U.S. knows. All their Santa -- who sports not a red cap but a massive set of goat horns -- cares about is dishing out punishment to naughty boys and girls.
What's so great about Rare Exports, however, is that it's not the Santa slasher that plot description implies. It's less a horror movie and more a dark adventure with a child as the hero. Think of it as The Goonies meets ... I'm not even sure what. There are too many muses at play to single any one out. In an instant, Helander's film jumps from being a "kids trying to save their parents' livelihood" story to a twisted horror movie to a Die Hard-esque, against-all-odds action flick. It all comes together painlessly, though, and I can't wait for it to come out Stateside this Christmas. Check out the trailer here.