Fantastic Fest 2011: Day 5 Recap

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“Juan of the Dead”
Alejando Brugues
Genre: Zombie Comedy
Grade: A-
No additional screenings
 
The first independent film to come out of Cuba in 50 years, “Juan of the Dead” is a relatively original take of the zombie comedy. The film has the Cuban government casting the zombies overrunning the country as dissidents from the United States and constantly assuring its citizens all is well. However, likeable rascal Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) sees an opportunity to make money in the destruction and removal of the undead, so he and his friends team up to take advantage of the impending apocalypse.
 
Written and directed by Alejandro Brugues, “Juan of the Dead” clearly isn’t operating on much of a budget, but the movie is so charming that it barely matters. While the CGI is more than a little spotty at times and there are a few shortcuts the film takes to cover up its financial shortcomings, it more than makes up for it with a funny, pointedly written script and a few large-scale scenes of zombie mayhem, including one of the best mass undead decapitations to ever grace the silver screen.
 
The story of the film’s reception in Cuba is one still being written, as Cuban government officials have yet to see and approve the film. It’s entirely feasible that “Juan of the Dead” could be a film that becomes much more underground as time goes on, and that’s a shame, because the film is a heartfelt, funny and often just gorey enough zombie comedy, and isn’t overwhelmed by its low budget or subversive political undercurrent.
 
“A Boy and His Samurai”
Yoshihiro Nakamura
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Grade: A-
No additional screenings
 
Yoshihiro Nakamura directed one of the all-time greats of Fantastic Fest with “Fish Story” a few years back, and since then he’s returned with last year’s “Golden Slumber” and this year with “A Boy and His Samurai.” The film, easily the most wholesome to play the festival this year, is an understated romantic comedy, pairing Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka), a divorcee and single mother of Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), with time-traveling samurai Yasubi (Ryo Nishikodo). The film makes Yasubi’s domestication a sweet and funny journey, as he learns to care for Tomoya and becomes a baking fiend.
 
While “A Boy and His Samurai” ultimately boils down to a predictable formula in new clothes, the film is warm and inviting enough that by the time you realize it’s a romantic comedy, you’re already so charmed by the characters that its predictability is more or less irrelevant. Tomosaka and Nishikodo make a nice pair, but Fuku Suzuki’s performance as the young Tomoya more or less commands the audience’s emotion, with Suzuki able to break hearts and coax smiles simply by breaking into tears or reacting to one of Yasubi’s actions.
 
“A Boy and His Samurai” won the Audience Award at last night’s Fantastic Fest award and for good reason. Yoshihiro Nakamura knows how to please the attendees of this festival, but he also knows how to make an emotional, sweet film that stands out proudly among the cinematic rapes, murders and home invasions that run so rampant at Fantastic Fest.