AW Kautzer's Film Review Fantastic Fest Film

Fantastic Fest 2022 Round Up #2: Movies-Movies-Movies

Fantastic Fest 2022

Adam continues his coverage of Fantastic Fest 2022 with Serial Killers, Country Music Legends, Cops, Yazuka, and more. 

The best part of any festival is the surprises.  The left hooks you didn’t see coming.  Sometimes those surprises could be a film that you were anticipating that elevates itself higher than you thought possible.  Anyone, critic or not, that enters Festivals with a chip on their shoulder doesn’t have any business being at festivals. 

A Wounded Fawn 

Travis Stevens has created a first-rate classic twisted and twisty tale of girl meets serial killer, serial killer wants to kill girl, and girl tries to escape.  This 16mm shot film is as much inspired by the great Giallos as much as it’s a critique of toxic men.  Part of what makes A Wounded Fawn so good is the stellar work of actors Sarah Lind and Josh Ruben.  The dance the duo does with the script by Stevens is marvelous.  There is genuine chemistry between the two, something rarely seen in horror films like this.  Rather than just “get to it” Stevens’ film adroitly builds characters and tensions till the inevitable.  

That “inevitable” in the hands of Stevens is … unexpected in the best way possible.  In a way that truly elevates the subgenre (serial killers in love) and pays homage to the likes of Argento and Fulci – especially Fulci –that’s smarter than this critic has seen.  The resulting film is something that will delight Giallo fans and anyone that’s into smart horror films.  My only regret is not seeing this gorgeous film – kudos to Stevens and cinematographer Ksusha Genenfeld who created one of the most visually arresting films of the year – on a giant screen at Fantastic Fest with the best possible audience.  

Mike Mignola: Drawing Monsters 

This one is for the fans of the legendary Comic Book Artist.  It’s not to say that the Documentary isn’t good – is it – filmmakers Jim Demonakos and Kevin Konrad Hanna have created an enlightening handsomely shot Docu-biopic about their subject.  There just isn’t enough heft or deeper critical look to be anything but of interest to Comic Book and Mignola fans.  Though that isn’t to say there isn’t anything for non-fans.  

The film effectively charts Mignola’s beginning in Oakland Ca to his Art School Days and eventually the fluke creation of Hellboy to the creation of the Mignola-verse.  All this is discussed in detail with friends, family, colleagues, and fans alike.  Of course, any Mignola fan will delight in seeing Guillermo Del Toro, Ron Pearlman, Art Adams, Neil Gaiman, Mike Richardson, Rebecca Sugar, Patton Oswalt, and many more. 

Solomon King 

I’ve said this before here on the site.  I’ll say it again and again and again…

Gods bless Deaf Crocodile

Case in point: Solomon King!!!

They spent countless hours and money in order to find the materials necessary to bring this Blaxploitation forgotten and lost classic back to life.  Solomon King fully restored looks outright amazing.  Especially when you consider or have seen the state that the film was in when DC went to work.  A Minor-Major miracle is a phrase that comes to mind.  Though, the huge question becomes after all this blood, sweat, and tears are worth it.

In a word… YES!!!

Solomon King lands somewhere between the work of Rudy Ray Moore and Jack Hill.  Sal Watts stars, writes, produces, edits, and directs the film with the type of 1970s documentary style set by director Gordon Parks.  Though here it’s more out of a need than an actual choice.  No matter, Watts manages to force his way through the narrative that has something to do with oil reserves Solomon King and his brother own and a White but maybe Arab Evil Boss that wants those oil reserves.  What this White but maybe Arab Evil Boss doesn’t realize is that Solomon King – ex-CIA fixer – doesn’t take shit from nobody.  That includes his old boss at the CIA or no White but maybe Arab Evil Boss.  Lots of slow-motion action and song and dance numbers/montages ensue until Solomon has rid his life of just about everyone that’s crossed him.  

Movies like Solomon King are as much time capsules as they are movies.  Luckily for audiences, this is both – oftentimes movies of this budget independently produced are work more as kitsch looks back at what an era really looked like.  Solomon King is not that in fact, one will find themselves rooting, laughing, hooting, and hollering for our hero.  This one definitely deserves to be seen with a rowdy and receptive audience. 

Country Gold 

What I love so much about Mickey Reece’s career as a filmmaker thus far is just how divisive his work is for me.  I have only truly loved one of the writer/director/star’s films, the anti-horror film Agnes. Everything else has just left me cold but not unimpressed.  Reece’s visual style has never not impressed since Climate of the Hunter.  This is ultimately the reason I keep going back to the well with Reece.  

Here we have Reece playing at a play on a very specific Country Mega Star from the 1990s as Troyal Brux.  Brux gets a letter from his hero country legend George Jones (played by Reece’s longtime collaborator Ben Hall) – whose full name is invoked at least 22 times – asking him to come to Nashville before he’s cryogenically frozen.  Brux goes and middling hijinks sort of ensue.  

Reece and Cinematographer Samuel Calvin opting to shoot Country Gold in widescreen black and white makes it all the better.  Reece has become quite the visual stylist over the course of his career and Country Gold may be his most visually refined yet.  If anything keeps Reece from taking the next leap is the narrative style.  Ponderous at its best and inert at its worst Country Gold is buried in its own revelry of style and visuals that do not seem to make any point at all.  An unfortunate disappointment for this reviewer but Reece’s filmmaking is such that any audience member could pick up this one and find their new favorite cult oddity.  

Bad City

This is hands down the best crime film I’ve seen all year.  

Director Kensuke Sonomura has created a crime film that seethes with corruption, deception, and a cold calculating understanding that good guys don’t win.  The labyrinthine plot would be enough to keep you on the edge of your seat but adding in dazzling fight scenes sends this one over the top.  The cherry atop all this badass sundae is Hitoshi Ozawa who plays an ex-police captain turned inmate.    

It should be no surprise the fight scenes are next-level good.  Director Sonomura is the fight coordinator who choreographed the classic Nowhere Man and was the action director on the recent Baby Assassins.  In Bad City, he’s created grounding scenes of Gangsters and Cops using knives, bats, batons, and just about everything including Guns in some cases with their Jujitsu in brutal fisticuffs.  Though like all good fight scenes Bad City’s make them all character and plot based moving both forward.  One will not only want to rewatch the film for the fights but how Sonomura and company were able to create stories and characters in those scenes.  

Just as complex as Bad City’s choreography is its ability to take the multilayered plot of political gains, corporate greed, Yazuka vs Korean mafia turf war, and revenge and muscle it all into a propulsive sub-120-minute movie.  Part of the joy as a fan of crime films is watching Sonomura’s assured hand moving the chess pieces in place for the final third act.  A finale that culminates in a giant fight set piece so good, this reviewer – by himself – stood up and slow clapped. 

The name Hitoshi Ozawa is a legend in Japanese V-Cinema (e.g. the Japanese direct-to-video market as it has become known).  Sonomura may have given the spry 60-year-old his best role to date as the grizzled fed-up man of few words Torada.  Ozawa devours the role giving us a truly amazing performance.  It’s not the moments of kicking ass – though those are crowd-pleasing – it’s the way Torada is a coiled snake waiting for the right time to strike.  One can only hope that Bad City is the beginning of a long fruitful relationship between Sonomura and Ozawa.  

We will be back tomorrow with even more coverage from Fantastic Fest 2022.

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