Fantastic Fest 2015 Recap: Days 5 and 6-‘Lovemilla’, ‘Anomalisa’, ‘The Assassin’, and More

Inching past the halfway point of Fantastic Fest’s eight-day movie marathon celebrating all things genre, it gives dedicated attendees such as myself a chance to catch up on films that were missed during the opening few days, mostly because I was in another theater, furiously scribbling notes while having my celluloid-loving mind blown. As we near the end of the festival, both attendees and presenters remain steadfast in their enthusiasm, as both encore showings and promising new films continue to be presented. Here’s a quick recap of days 5 and 6. With two more days of genre madness left to go, there are still plenty of films to experience.

Lovemilla

[rating=7.00]

Equal parts slice-of-life comedy and wayward meditation on human relationships, it’s the kind of movie where a superhero offers her friend relationship advice, while at the same time shielding her from an attack by an alien invader. While some of the allegories are cleverly obvious, like alcoholic zombies and operations that allow you to remove your heart, along with state-of-the-art exoskeletons, others are at times difficult to separate from something more intricate, or just the raw exuberance of post-modernism.

Co-writer/director Teemu Nikki based the film on his teen dramedy that began airing in Finland back in 2013, it’s a mostly charming, if not a bit scattered, rainbow-saturated celebration of the mundane. Despite the comically absurd moments, characters breaking out in song about gay men’s decorating tips, there’s a real weight to the story, thanks largely to Milka Suonpää, who plays the titular Milla, whose frustration at life weaves all the disjointed parts together to completion.

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[rating=6.00]

This is the kind of movie that, had it been released in the 1990s, would have been a cultural milestone. The Gondry-esque tale of a comic book artist/sex doll factory worker, a model turned amateur novelist, and flashy film director who wants to make an art film and how they’re intertwined starts subtly enough before regressing into kitsch and a frustrating lack of any real resolution.

Part of the problem begins when it becomes clear that two of the stories, which both deal with issues of self-image, are genuinely compelling, where the third tries to do be, but just comes off as two-dimensional – and not just because the sequence is animated. Unfortunately, by the film’s final act, most of the promising setup is pushed aside in favor of some kind of ultra-meta indulgence that seems to disregard the audience entirely.

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The Assassin

[rating=9.00]

One of the festival’s most talked-about entries, it was introduced beforehand as simply “a different beast” than anything else playing, which is saying something, considering the incredible variety of films on display here. More incredibly, though, is that statement being 100% correct.

Presented as a kung-fu movie from The Province of China, the pacing of this movie is completely incomparable. Scenes play out like moving portraits with a kind of meditative clarity, and the camera hangs on its subjects for long periods of time, passively gazing at a lush and full world created by director Hsiao-Hsien Hou. The look and sound of the film is hauntingly crisp throughout, and favors a quality over quantity approach to the action in a way that raises the bar for the genre permanently.

The Similars

[rating=8.00]

A lovingly well-crafted ode to The Twilight Zone episodes of the early 1960s, director Isaac Ezban celebrates his influence in a tense and claustrophobic tale of a group of strangers trapped in a bus station together. An already-desaturated palette at the start, he gradually eases the film into a stark black and white, using the lack of color like a finely-tuned instrument.

He manages to maintain that tension, weaving it into a socio-political commentary (again paying homage), namely the Tlatelolco student massacre of 1968. It’s both a compelling and absurdist horror story, one that manages to forge new ground while never straying too far from its inspiration. Having already made waves with his debut film The Incident at Fantastic Fest last year, his career will be an exciting one to follow for many years.

Anomalisa

[rating=10.00]

Charlie Kaufman’s latest indulgence into the dark corners of the human psyche plays out for much of the film as a droll slice of life of an acclaimed customer service guru and author, but with puppets. While the detail and execution is incredible, it’s impossible to not wonder why the film was chosen to be done in such a time consuming manner other than for the accomplishment itself (which would have been fine, by the way.)

Instead, in the hazy beginning of the third act, the reason, in plain sight the entire time, slowly, gut-wrenchingly becomes clear. The medium reflects not only an astounding technical ability giving the story a necessary dimensions, but also plays as a subversive metaphor for the most common plights of the human condition.

The Martian

There’s a full review coming soon, but suffice to say that Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic may finally be a contender for best movie about Mars since Santa Claus conquered the Martians in 1964.

The Man Who Saves The World

[rating=7.00]

What better way to leave a polished, big budget Hollywood production for some classic Turkish rip-off cinema. Having already missed the documentary Remake, Remix, Ripoff, which chronicles the culture behind Turkey’s cinematic culture, The Man Who Saved The World is a perfect example of it.

Rehashed scenes from movies like Star Wars play on out-of-order loops on projectors behind actors who are bound and determined to make a serious effort, while recycled, recognizable film scores play in the background. Actor Cuneyt Arkin, who was described as an everyman of Turkish cinema when this was made, even studied with a circus to allow him to perform his own stunts.

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