Fantastic Fest

In the world of genre film, it’s usually kill or be killed. As we descend upon Austin, TX and the world famous Alamo Drafthouse for another year of coverage at the United States’ largest genre film festival, we once again choose to kill.

Join our team of Neil Miller (@rejects), Rob Hunter (@fakerobhunter), Adam Charles (@the_beef), Luke Mullen (@ldmullen), Brian Salisbury (@BriguySalisbury), Don Simpson (@donslss) and Michael Treveloni as they bring you the latest from the wonderful wonderland of wonders known as Fantastic Fest.

cong

When it comes to independent films and major releases, animation is fairly underutilized medium. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it’s generally used for kid-centric stories or to paint a lush, if slightly more adult, world. That’s why movies like A Scanner Darkly and The Congress are so special. They use animation for drama and to express ideas that go beyond a few pretty shots. Both films shouldn’t be compared past that point, but they are both emotional, visual, and mental exercises — rides that you either go along with from the start or don’t. If director Ari Folman‘s The Congress grabs you from its first frame, then expect a rich science-fiction film packed with commentary, ideas, laughs, tears, and beauty.  Speaking of beauty, Robin Wright (played conveniently by Robin Wright) has lost it, at least according to some slimy agist studio executive we meet working at Miramount. She’s now 44 years old. That usually means for actresses their careers are winding down, but after years of “bad” choices and choosing family over work, Robin isn’t the big deal that she once was. The offers aren’t coming in, at least not the offers she’s interested in — she wouldn’t ever dare to take part in a science-fiction film.

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Lionsgate

Fantastic Fest may be a festival focused on off-the-radar genre films from here and abroad, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for recognizable Hollywood faces. They’ve just announced their second wave of titles playing this year, and while it’s heavy on unfamiliar foreign titles there are a few heavy hitters in there too. One of last year’s highlights was the presence of Keanu Reeves who there with his directorial debut, the surprisingly fun Man of Tai Chi, but also took time out to participate in the Fantastic Debates. He’s returning again this year, and while he didn’t direct John Wick it promises to be a rollicking action flick all the same thanks to Reeves’ clear love of the genre and the co-directors vast experience in the stunt game. Jake Gyllenhaal won’t be making an appearance, but his fantastically dark-looking new film, Nightcrawler, will be closing the fest. Other known talents include the latest from high-kicker Marko Zaror in Redeemer, Takashi Miike’s return to horror with Over Your Dead Body, Astron-6′s giallo-inspired thriller The Editor, Sion Sono’s hip-hop musical Tokyo Tribe, a documentary about the cinematic glory days of Cannon Films and one of my favorite films from this year’s Sundance fest, Eskil Vogt’s Blind. Keep reading to see the whole announcement and entire second wave of films playing this year’s Fantastic Fest.

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ff septic man

The Canadian town of Collinwood is suffering a serious sanitation problem. Something has come along and gummed up the works. People are getting sick, evacuations are in order, death looms et cetera…basically, something stinks. In a situation as dire as this, when shit’s going down, there’s only one trusted name in the game and that is Septic Man. Jack (Jason David Brown) is thee titular septic man, a chap of few words with a rough edged can-do spirit. Earlier in his career he saved the town from suffering through shoddy infrastructure and prevented a whole bunch of crap from happening. If there’s a problem with the pipes, he’s the man of the hour. Jack is a reluctant fellow though. He has a kid on the way and a wife that just wants him to be home longer than he’s away. But they have bills to pay, responsibilities and all that jazz. To put it square, he’s no slouch. So it’s only fair that when the government comes-a-callin’ (Julian Richings channeling a day-walking Max Schreck), dangling their loonies and toonies in his face, he takes a big bite of that government cheddar.

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Fantastic Fest 2014

This year marks the 10th anniversary of what might just be the world’s best film festival. (I say “might” not because I doubt my own statement, but only because I have yet to attend Spain’s Sitges Film Festival…) And while Tim League and his Alamo Drafthouse friends most assuredly have plenty of surprises and celebrations in store for us this year for now we have to settle for a tease of what’s to come next month with this first wave announcement of movies and events playing the fest. Two anthology sequels are making their expected appearances here as are a few films we’ve seen elsewhere including the wonderfully creepy Australian chiller The Babadook, the surprising documentary Kung Fu Elliot and the French gender bender Jacky in the Kingdom of Women. Kevin Smith’s Tusk is also playing, but the highlight there promises to be seeing how the antagonism between Smith and movie bloggers plays out with Smith in attendance. (My guess is both sides will be super chummy.) The true magic of Fantastic Fest though is in the obscure and previously unknown foreign titles that they share with us each year, and happily the majority of the titles below are ones I’ve never heard of before now. Keep reading to see the first wave of titles that will be playing Fantastic Fest 2014.

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Machete Kills

Editor’s note: Neil’s review of Machete Kills originally ran during this year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in theatrical release today. It feels like an odd tradition to have. Just about every other year, Fantastic Fest — the beloved pilgrimage of genre film fans to Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse — the opening night film is a complete dud. The first and most notable example of this came in 2009 when Gentlemen Broncos opened the festival, much to the confusion and displeasure of the always keen Fantastic Fest crowd. Following opening night, that year’s festival went on to produce memorable screenings of Antichrist, Fish Story, Zombieland, Gareth Evans’ debut Merantau and many others. It was a great year. The same came two years later when the festival opened with the overwhelmingly unlikable Human Centipede 2, only to yield the debuts of great flicks like You’re Next, Extraterrestrial, A Boy and His Samurai and the Oscar nominee Bullhead. It could be deduced, based on recent history, that the quality of the opening night film is inversely proportional to the quality of the rest of the Fantastic Fest line-up. With that in mind, 2013 has opened with Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills. By the logic expressed above, that means 2013 is on pace to be the best Fantastic Fest line-up yet.

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Escape from Tomorrow

Editor’s note: Michael’s review of Escape From Tomorrow originally ran during this year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-running it now as the film hits VOD and a limited theatrical release. Childhood is a chaotic sprawl of experiences; an eyelid flutter filtered through emotion, strained and catalogued down to core memories. Often times the way things happened aren’t the way they wind up interpreted. A wave of time passing can be a sticky mess to wade through, especially if going it alone. The day Jim (Roy Abramsohn) lost his job was the day he became a solitary man, stunted in fantasy and regressing to an age of wonder. Rather than spoil his family’s last day of vacation he keeps the news to himself. Herding kids around a theme park while keeping his wife happy is enough of a complication on its own. For Jim, wringing the pleasure out of the day before an inevitable crash comes calling is about all that he has going for him. That is until some young French girls give him a bit of attention on the monorail. For one day he has a new spark, a new reason to smile and a new fantasy to chase.

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Why Don

With digital quickly overtaking 35mm film as the dominant acquisition and distribution format for major motion pictures, it’s no surprise that filmmakers would be moved to reminisce about the magic of film. Martin Scorsese dipped his foot in both pools with his digitally-shot 3D film Hugo, which showcased the artistry of early film pioneer George Melies. And Holy Motors, from French director Leos Carax, touched on the emotion and communal experience of cinema among a plethora of other themes. So it seems only natural that Sion Sono‘s latest film, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, unfolds like a love letter to the format with which we all first fell in love. The Fuck Bombers are the best damn cinema club in all of Japan and they are going to make a great movie…one day. Lead by the enthusiastic director Hirata, the Fuck Bombers make their own movies on 8mm. Tanigawa does the best handheld shots while Miki is the best at dolly shots accomplished by wearing roller skates. But the crew finds their final puzzle piece when a fight breaks out near their film shoot one day and they meet Sasaki, who Hirata is sure will be the next great action star. At the same time, a yakuza feud spills into the urban sprawl when members of the Kitagawa clan attack yakuza boss Taizo Muto’s family in their home. Unfortuantely for them, Muto’s wife Shizue was the only one home and she dispatched her would-be attackers with vengeance. The police […]

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best big bad wolves

Another Fantastic Fest is in the books, and once again we’re left counting down the days until next year. The fest continues to be the best week of the year for fans of the weird and the wonderful from all around the globe, and this year delivered on both counts. From Indian martial artists to detectives with Down Syndrome, from men reincarnated as flies to a blackly comic look at a school shooting, this year saw dozens of films that entertained, challenged, and amazed. Sure, there was also Machete Kills, but they can’t all be winners. Here are 9 that were:

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ff the zero theorem

A bald man, one without hair seemingly anywhere on his body, calmly sits naked in front of his computer screen as he watches what appears to be either a simulation or video of the awesome action of an outer space black hole. It sucks in all of the space circling around it like an endlessly flushing toilet bowl of stars, matter, and time. Our hairless hero is Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz). Qohen is neither the cunning villainous type nor the quick-witted heroic type, and his emotional characteristics are as bald as his head. We’re exposed to only a handful of states out of Qohen as we follow with him in his daily routine through a comically crazy and colorful future where he seems as physically discomforted by the assaults of this world as a prisoner released from Shawshank prison after fifty years. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry to do something; or probably nothing as I understand it. Welcome to Terry Gilliam‘s The Zero Theorem.

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ff nightbreed cabal cut

I watched Clive Barker‘s Nightbreed three times in theaters in 1990 and several times more after buying it on VHS. (Shut up.) It was a completely different beast from his film debut, Hellraiser, but its creativity, ambition, and roster of all manner of creatures of the night made it a fun and original horror film in a year dominated by genre sequels. Sure it was cheesy and goofy at times in its attempt to tell a love story against a backdrop of serial killers, monsters, rednecks, and rogue priests, but it was also unlike anything we had seen before. But even then, twenty three years ago, there were rumblings in Fangoria magazine and elsewhere about the troubles Barker had dealing with the studio and the cuts he was forced to make, and Barker repeated the tales again and again in interviews that followed over two decades. He requested access to the original film elements on more than one occasion so he could essentially craft his director’s cut, but he was denied time and again. There was finally a change in that narrative in the past couple years though when the discovery of VHS tapes featuring raw, work print versions of the film was announced. A man named Russell Cherrington set out to mesh footage from both sources into a definitive cut based on the author’s original script, and with Barker’s blessing he’s now sharing it with the world. My excitement for the finished product, Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut (named for the source novella, “Cabal”), […]

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Ninja 2

American movies are messy, always shot so that you can’t actually see what is going on. I’m paraphrasing Ninja: Shadow of a Tear director Isaac Florentine, whose introduction to the premiere of his new movie at Fantastic Fest came packaged with a mission statement about what martial arts movies should be. In a refreshing and long-winded moment of honesty, the Israeli-born director who has studied martial arts for 40+ years in places like Sweden, spoke about the way the Japanese and Chinese shoot their fight scenes and how that has become a driving force in his visual style. A style on full display as he once again throws British ass-kicker Scott Adkins into the role of an American expatriate ninja warrior whose circumstances force him to seek revenge upon a drug lord in Burma. “The man who seeks revenge should dig two graves,” he’s told. “They’re going to need a lot more than that,” he responds.

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ff journey to the west

I’ve been a fan of Stephen Chow since I was first introduced to his comedic style in Shaolin Soccer over ten years ago, but it wasn’t until just recently that it dawned on me how much Chow resembles a modern-day Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton in regards to his storytelling sensibilities (and ability to wear multiple hats) while also pulling a lot of the persona of a Harold Lloyd character when he steps in front of the camera. He takes many of the recognizable elements of classic slapstick comedy and its characters and toys with them just enough to make them his own on paper before making them his own on screen. He tells underdog stories, but his underdogs are endearingly arrogant. He also tells love stories, only his protagonists are not motivated by the affections of a woman. His heroes are self-centered and pathetically so. Yet, like the love interests in the film (eventually the hero comes around) we can’t help but fall in love with them no matter what it is that motivates them. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons puts us in very familiar Chow territory without, for the first time, the onscreen presence of Chow himself. Though, while it isn’t Stephen Chow in front of the camera, it still feels very much like Chow is in front of the camera.

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Coherence Movie

There’s nothing that gets a good group of friends riled up more than some bad news. For Emily (Emily Baldoni), the unpleasant scoop is that her boyfriend’s ex, Laurie, will be attending the same dinner party she is en route to. Also en route is a comet set to cruise by the earth and maybe, just maybe, cause a few things to temporarily go awry. The party gets underway slowly, wine is served, salad is tossed and the mention of some watered-down ketamine is bandied about. By the time everyone arrives, a fog of awkward tension has settled in. Also some cellphone screens have randomly shattered.

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ff r100

There is a moment in Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100 that is easily one of the funniest things to grace a screen in years. It is such an amazingly bonkers setup and payoff that to deny its charm is to admit to owning one of the worst senses of humor around. The very concept of the gag is such a layered screamer that it takes a few minutes to fully digest. That it happens about two thirds of the way into the film makes it all the more special. It completely alters the tone of the film, a film that already changes its colors like a drugged out chameleon. But that’s moving ahead to fast, in order to properly review the film we have to start at the beginning. The focus is Takafumi (Nao Ohmori), a monotone man who fills his lonely days selling furniture . When he’s not doing that he’s at home taking care of his son. When he’s not doing that he’s being surprise attacked by dominatrixes of all shapes and sizes. It’s okay though, with his wife in a coma and the spark missing from his life, he went ahead and signed a year long contract with an S&M boutique in the hope that he can rekindle the magic that has eluded his being. It’s pretty standard fare really. Except it isn’t. R100 is a rare journey, and to watch it unfold is like seeing a flower that blooms once every twenty years. It’s a rare treat, and if there were more […]

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ff jodorowskys dune

After the success of his film’s El Topo and The  Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky was given the green light to make whatever he wanted. Without hesitation he elected to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune. He had never read the book, and instead had only heard from a friend that it was good. His decision turned out to be one that he’d never regret, it would go on to haunt and influence the rest of his life and play a pivotal role in the future of science-fiction film. An artist first and filmmaker second, Jodorowsky aimed to assemble a team of warriors who fought for artistic merit over money. Luckily, producer Michel Seydoux was not only one such warrior but also one who could scare up big money to bring the collective to fruition. The talent pool for the project was impressive, especially by today’s standards. It included such notable  names as Dan O’Bannon, Jean (Moebius) Giraud, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine, H.R. Giger and Pink Floyd (that’s the short list). Jodorowky wanted to create a film that would open minds and expand audiences’ consciousness, to subject them to an eye opening experience unlike anything they had ever seen. Combining Herbet’s space opera with his own blend of amped-up psychedelic spirituality, everything was in place for Dune to be the  mind-bending epic of his dreams. Then it slipped away.

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ff the green inferno

Is it nostalgia or a psychological quirk that makes Eli Roth start all of his films in the same place? Either he’s incapable of writing a picture without nineteen year-olds or just doesn’t want to, but regardless his latest film picks up right where his prior films have; in college, with college students. Where The Green Inferno starts off on the wrong foot in comparison to his previous films is that there isn’t a single soul here worthy of a bar conversation or a fun game of beer pong. The students in The Green Inferno aren’t looking for time away from school to enjoy themselves. They’re a group of campus activists taking a trip into the jungles of Peru on a mission to stop the expansion of civilization into the land of a native tribe, and they plan to stop this injustice with the use of masks, chains and camera phones. These characters aren’t unlikable because they’re college students; they’re unlikable because they’re the most unlikable kind(s) of college student. There’s the obnoxiously ambitious leader Alejandro (Ariel Levy) and our protagonist, Justine (Lorenza Izzo as the only person written to expect, and want, to see alive by the end-credits). Also along for the trip are a gang of secondary horror and comic tropes including the cowardly pothead, the huggable chubs, the disposable girlfriend, and the lesbian lovers. I don’t know if they’re all tropes, but I’m pretty sure you can guess which of these characters will make the plane-ride home.

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ff grand piano

So you’re a famous pianist, and the world is your oyster. You have an A-list movie star wife who should be out of your league, but talent goes far and you made quite an impression. All those years studying with that world famous maestro are paying off in spades and nothing can go wrong, right? Sure you fat fingered some ivories during a concert last time you played. No big deal, c’est la vie, right? Wrong. For Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) the flub was too much of a blow to his psyche. That was the day the house lights dimmed on his professional career. Seclusion came calling and who was he to ignore the call? FIVE YEARS LATER Tom is back! Lured out of retirement he agrees to play a concert honoring his mentor. His wife thinks it is a great idea. His conductor friend thinks it is a great idea. The public thinks it is a great idea. Most importantly, a greedy sniper thinks it is a grand idea. And so Grand Piano begins.

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ff confession of murder

Editor’s note: Portions of this review originally ran during this year’s NYAFF, but we’re re-running it here in longer form as the film plays Fantastic Fest. For many people Korean cinema is synonymous with violent revenge thrillers, but they actually show skill and talent in many more genres. That said, year after year the best serial killer and/or revenge-themed movies tend to come from the wonderfully dark and deliciously twisted minds of South Koreans. But that said, they’re also masters of the jarring tone shift and incapable of saying no when given the opportunity to mix brutality with laughs. Confession of Murder is the latest Korean export to, at least at first glance, fall into that dark abyss of the sub-genre above, but it’s actually a somewhat different beast. The requisite cop and killer are present, but the film also fills the screen with spectacular stunt work, set pieces that thrill with both insanity and absurdity, and a generous helping of tension-releasing humor.

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review big bad wolves

Editor’s note: Our review of Big Bad Wolves originally ran during this year’s Stanley Film Fest, but we’re re-running it now as it plays Fantastic Fest. After Israel’s first horror film, Rabies, was released in 2011 to critical acclaim you would have expected the floodgates to open as other filmmakers followed suit. But it never happened. Instead, it’s taken two years for the next incredibly dark thriller to escape the country, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s from the same writer-director pair. Young girls are being abducted, violated and murdered, and while a puzzled police force searches for evidence one morally muddy cop has run out of patience. He takes the law into his own hands after they discover the latest victim beheaded and assaulted, but his actions lead to his dismissal. The dead girl’s father makes his own move resulting in the main suspect being bound and gagged in the grieving man’s basement … with a table nearby covered in various tools of torture. What Israel’s two-man genre-film industry lacks in quantity it more than makes up for with quality, and Big Bad Wolves ups their game from their already quite good debut considerably. It’s dark, wonderfully twisted and laugh out loud funny … but it might just leave you questioning exactly why you enjoyed it so much. And you will enjoy it.

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Nothing Bad Can Happen

Editor’s note: Our review of Nothing Bad Can Happen originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but we’re re-running it here as it plays Fantastic Fest. One of the most loudly-jeered though curiously little-discussed films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was first-time director Katrin Gebbe‘s Nothing Bad Can Happen, the single German film playing at 2013′s fest. For sure, it’s controversial material, guaranteed to divide audiences on whether or not it is in fact a criticism of religious sectarianism or merely a depiction of humanity’s dark heart. Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is a young man who has fallen in with so-called Jesus Freaks, a punk Christian sect basing themselves out of a house in Hamburg. Though an awkwardly unassuming sort, Tore one day makes acquaintance with an affable family man, Benno (Sascha Gersak), and decides to move into his home, where he meets and forges a connection with Benno’s young daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof). However, this bond is tested once Tore discovers the sinister nature of this family unit; Benno’s dislike for Tore’s fastidious religious beliefs notwithstanding, the patriarch is an abusive sexual deviant with a short, violent temper.

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