HEADHUNTING WITH EXTRATERRESTRIALS ON THE YELLOW SEA: DAY TWO OF FANTASTIC FEST 2011

Five movies in one day can be exhausting and, honestly, I thought after a couple hours of sleep I would doze off in at least one of them. Luckily my second day choices were all fairly entertaining and I avoided the dreaded festival mini-naps in any of the films. Unlike the outlandish first day of films I had, the second day was wrapped up in more conventional storytelling.

My first movie of the day was from the team that brought us The Chaser. Director Hong-Jin Na’s thriller about a pimp hunting down a serial killer was of the best movies of the 2008 festival and also a movie that I recommend to people to this day. So to say I was excited for The Yellow Sea is no exaggeration. I’m also happy to report that they haven’t lost their touch on their sophomore effort. Taxi driver Ku-Nam (Ha Jung-woo) toils away to pay off his wife’s debt from being sent to South Korea from their home on the border of China, Russia & North Korea. Unlucky for him, neither gambling or the day job are whittling down what is owed. Tormented even further, he has not heard from his wife. It’s then that Ku-Nam gets an offer from local crime boss Myung-Ga (Yun-Soek Kim), who offers to pay off his debt if he travels to South Korea to murder a man. Left with little choice, he takes $500 for expenses and heads out on a path that leads him to more trouble, sorrow and bloodshed than any one man should expect. And we’re talking about a lot of bloodshed here. In this four act story, not one person ever pulls a gun. These gangsters choose instead to solve their problems by hacking each other apart with knives and hatchets. The Yellow Sea is a gruesome, riveting thriller that even with a 2 hour and 37 minute runtime never grows tiresome.

Next up was one of those pleasant surprises where you book a movie based on the slot but know little about it. Headhunters by director Morten Tyldum is a crime thriller where Roger Brown (Askel Hennie), a diminutive man who works as a headhunter for a recruiting agency for high end corporate clients, spends his spare time working with his partner Ove (Eivind Sander) to heist artwork, which provides extra income to support his extravagant lifestyle. His beautiful, blond wife Lotte (Julie R. Ølgaard) works as an art dealer, an obvious help to Roger’s secret lifestyle. Unfortunately for Roger he encounters Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an ex-military tracker and CEO and, after stealing one of his rare paintings, he begins an ever twisting cat and mouse game where each choice makes things worse. A well made thriller that exceeds many that make it to theaters these days, Headhunters doesn’t necessarily bring a lot new to the table but exceeds by telling it’s tale well. It kept me guessing and both Hennie and Coster-Waldau provide intriguing performances that drew me in. Fantastic Fest seems to be crime drama heavy this year, but this certainly seems to be one of the better entries.

Filmmaker Nacho Vigalando, star of EXTRATERRESTRIAL Julián Villagrán and Tim League during Q and A for EXTRATERRESTRIAL

Second day’s most hyped ticket was the Nacho Vigalando helmed Extraterrestrial. As anyone who has attended the festival can tell you, Nacho makes an impression, not just as the director of the acclaimed Timecrimes but also as an outgoing personality that lends itself to stories every year. From creating wacky dances to getting into ice cube fights with Elijah Wood during the Fantastic Feud, he’s as much as part of the festival now as any event. He had a short program in the 2008 festival but hasn’t had a feature film until now. Using the premise of alien spaceships showing up over major cities in Spain to keep the story limited to mostly indoors, Extraterrestrial is really a romantic comedy. Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up in the bed of Julia (Michelle Jenner), not recalling his evening or even how he got there. After spying a spaceship flying over their town they decide to not take to the abandoned streets. No communication with the outside world is available; landline phones are dead, Internet is down, and of course, the cell phones have no signal. Their first contact is from Julia’s nosy neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces), but it’s not until Carlos (Raúl Cimas), Julia’s boyfriend, shows up that things get really complicated. Unfolding like a demented sitcom, Julio and Julia develop stronger feelings for each other, even as they stay shelter with Carlos. And through several lies told to cover up the previous night’s activities combined with the ever looming threat of what may be an alien invasion, Carlos’ paranoia grows and Angel’s jealousy may get the best of everyone.

A cute, often funny story, Extraterrestrial is a departure from the complicated science fiction of Timecrimes. I found it entertaining, but the lack of any real depth to the story, being mostly superficial, left me feeling a bit let down. Vigalondo is a competent director and always picks a cast that gel well and have a strong onscreen presence. While it’s a good sophomore effort, I far more look forward to his next film, a story he claims will be told in real time through one long shot, via a computer screen using various social media tools. It sounds impossible, but, if anything, the output will be compelling.

Forth film of the day is the uncomfortable thriller Sleep Tight, about an apartment complex concierge (Luis Tosar) who, despite an amiable facade, spends his evenings hiding under the bed of one of the gorgeous tenants Clara (Marta Etura). Waiting until she’s asleep, he crawls out, covers her mouth with some kind of chloroform and then proceeds to mess with her beauty products before crawling, naked, into her bed. Using a cell phone and letters to continue to harass her, his attempts at making her life miserable are actually an attempt to bring happiness to his otherwise empty life. It’s creepy and unsettling, and features a lead whose character’s duality is so well played that even when you know what disgusting things he’s doing, it’s hard not to feel a little charmed by him.

Thinking early on that I may be too exhausted to make it to midnight, I actually was feeling quite awake once the fifth movie of the day rolled around. I closed out my second day with a movie I had the pleasure of seeing before, New Kids Turbo. Originally started as a web series, then exploding into popularity its home country of The Netherlands, it’s a mish mash of stupidity that makes Beavis and Butthead look like Einstein and Ben Franklin. Five out of work, mullet-wearing dolts decide to not pay for anything, which through media coverage sets off a revolution across towns. These foul mouthed morons spew the word “cunt” like Americans use the word “man,” survive on a diet of fried meat-on-sticks and beer and then, somehow, through a comedy of errors, become the saviors of their hometown.

I’m a fan of dumb humor and while there are certainly different levels of dumb jokes, these tend to be played smartly. At least for the most part, with one running joke being about a mongoloid that wants to be a truck driver. It’s still funny as hell for me, but I can understand if New Kids Turbo doesn’t appeal to everyone. The crowd seemed to eat it up, laughing throughout and even when it ended late at 2am, they stuck around to talk to the two stars in attendance.




Posted on September 24, 2011 in Blogs by
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