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.

borgman 01

Editor’s note: Our review of Borgman originally ran during this year’s Cannes Film Festisval, but we’re re-running it now as it plays Fantastic Fest. Alex van Warmerdam‘s Borgman is the first Dutch film to play In Competition at Cannes in just shy of 40 years, and with its daring, deeply dark yet also rib-ticklingly amusing subject matter it unquestionably proves the country’s cinematic worthiness. Early reviews emerging from the Croisette have already compared the film to both Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, and the more severe works of Michael Haneke, two touchstones that absolutely hit the mark. Borgman is absolutely a film best approached with only a cursory knowledge of its plot — not that van Warmerdam gives much away himself. The opening images show a dishevelled middle-aged man, Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), being disturbed while sleeping in an underground compartment, at which point he flees and knocks on the door of married couple Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and Marina (Hadewych Minis). Richard turns him away after administering a harsh beating, but Marina takes sympathy and allows him to recuperate in the guest wing. However, little does she know quite what she has invited into her home. 

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ff moebius

Silence is golden, unless you’re Kim Ki-duk. For Kim it is just another void to stuff to its breaking point with all things emotionally jarring. Outside of natural ambiance and some sparse music, Moebius is devoid of any audible dialog. Instead it relies on the power of performances and the intensity of a wickedly sharp and revolting story. This time around the South Korean director sets his sights on family dysfunction, and make no bones about it, he has a killer eye and won’t blink. Moebius‘ vulture like focus hovers around a family already stretched to its tensile limit. Mom drinks, Dad dabbles in less than secret infidelity, and their son (Seo Young-joo) is a meek, silent witness to their ensuing battles. When mom’s jealously boils over, the knives literally come out, inflicting visceral and devastating wounds to the ones she loves. Unable to cope with the maelstrom she removes herself from the turmoil, leaving the fragments of her family to sift through the ruins to salvage what they can.

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ff man of tai chi

Expectations are a funny thing, but while it’s never fun to go into a movie excited only to leave it a disappointed and broken man (I’m looking at you Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut) it’s an absolute delight to enter a theater anticipating very little and then exit it smiling, happy, and already excited to see the film again. Enter Keanu Reeves‘ directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi. Yeah, I was surprised too. Chen Lin-hu (Tiger Hu Chen) is a blue collar delivery man who spends his free time training his tai chi skills at a remote temple alongside his master, Yang (Yu Hai). Chen is participating in a national televised tournament, and while Master Yang doesn’t approve of tai chi being used for fighting Chen sees it as an opportunity to spread the word on a dying form of martial arts. It works, albeit not quite how Chen envisions it, and he soon receives an offer to join Donaka Mark’s (Reeves) corporation as a fighter. The wins and big payouts start almost immediately, but when the truth of Donaka’s business model is revealed Chen is forced to re-evaluate his position with the company.

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ff the sacrament

The past is no guarantee of the future, but it’s often a fairly good guide. A new film from Ti West, for example, offers the soft promise of an unhurried pace and escalating terror as evidenced by his two previous movies, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. Past films about cults offer a similar road map to where future ones will go, and while there are far more than two on the topic they seem to be split pretty evenly between two destinations. Some say the world will end with guns and Kool-Aid, others say with sacrifices to the gods. VICE is a journalism outfit known for breaking the stories that other outlets pass by out of fear or worries over ratings, but their latest story finds Sam (A.J. Bowen) and his cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg) tagging along with a photographer friend named Patrick (Kentucker Audley) who’s concerned with his sister Caroline’s (Amy Seimetz) welfare. She’s joined a cult that recently transplanted itself outside of the U.S., and Patrick wants to confirm her safety and extricate her if necessary. The trio arrive, and while things seem calm and relatively normal at first it’s not long before the truth comes calling. The Sacrament is well made in many regards, but it’s also sadly predictable and ultimately pointless. And thanks to its format choice, that of an actual episode of VICE, it’s irritatingly distracting too.

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Witching and Bitching

The last time we met director Alex de la Iglesia at Fantastic Fest, he was telling us that in order to enjoy life, you have to be a bad person. He said as much prior to introducing his eccentric, wonderfully crafted film The Last Circus in 2010. It was full of astounding performances, striking visuals and an unnerving political relevance. Since then, he’s been working on a film called Witching and Bitching, which debuted at this year’s festival to equal measures of madness. It’s nice to know that he’s still crazy and still making wonderfully entertaining films.

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ff detective downs

Robert Bogerud (Svein André Hofsø) is a rather unique detective. Of course he has the typical hat and trench coat favored by private eyes past, he places ads in local papers as detectives are wont to do, and like many of his brethren he specializes in missing persons cases. He’s also never had a case, missing person or otherwise. What makes him unique though is the very same reason he’s never actually been hired. Robert has Down Syndrome and lives in a group home. When a distraught woman appears in his “office” requesting his help even he’s dumbfounded. “But,” he says matter of factly, thinking perhaps she’s somehow missed the obvious, “I’ve got Down Syndrome.” Undeterred, Rita Starr hires him to find her missing husband, a former Olympic champion named Olav. The two head off to Starr’s estate with the cheers of Robert’s fellow residents bringing a smile and a lift to his his step, but his investigation begins hitting snags almost immediately. All is not as it seems between Olav’s wife, elderly mother, and two grown children, and it’s going to take everything Robert’s got to solve and survive the case. Detective Downs could have easily taken a turn for the insensitive or the crass, but co-writer/director Bård Breien weaves a gentle, fun, and warm mystery thanks in large part to his lead actor.

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ff 2013 anticipated

The most magical time of year is once again upon us as Austin prepares to open its doors, coffee houses, bars, and RV-based donut shops to visitors from around the world coming to celebrate wonderful and the weird in international cinema with Fantastic Fest. This year’s roster is a bit lighter compared to recent years, but a reduction in quantity has no bearing on quality. The fest will also be taking place in a new Alamo Drafthouse this year at the Lakeline location, and if it’s anything like every other Drafthouse it’s going to be awesome. Two of the titles I can already vouch for as being incredibly entertaining slices of cinema include the blackly comic thriller from Israel, Big Bad Wolves, and the beautifully executed action/suspense Korean film, Confession of Murder. Both are so damn good that I may actually be visiting them for a second time. FSR’s team coverage this year will be in the mostly capable hands of Adam Charles, Neil Miller, Michael Treveloni, and me. We’re excited about the entire fest and just about every movie playing, but we decided to highlight our most anticipated by picking three films each to share below.

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ff 3rd wave Detective Downs

The third and final wave of films has been announced for this month’s highly anticipated Fantastic Fest film festival, and it’s as glorious as we’ve come to expect. A handful of recognizable names are here including Terry Gilliam (The Zero Theorem), Stephen Chow (Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons) and Kim Ki-duk (Moebius), but as is often the case the real joys are found in the unknown films and filmmakers. Based on synopsis alone, Norway’s Detective Downs looks to have break out potential here, but some other possible highlights include the much talked-about Escape From Tomorrow, Yeon Sang-ho’s darkly animated tale The Fake, Scott Adkins’ Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear, and a 3D Metallica film that we’re hoping is even half as good as Kiss’ Phantom of the Park. Check out the full final wave announcement below.

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fantastic_fest_13a

Around these parts (Austin, TX) we are beginning to get excited about Fantastic Fest. Elsewhere in the film world, bags are being packed and schedules are being color-coded for fall festivals in distant locales such as Toronto or Venice, perhaps even Sitges, Spain. But here in America, the approach of September means one thing to serious film fans: Fantastic Fest is nigh. Seemingly on cue, the folks at the Alamo Drafthouse have announced their second round of programming for America’s largest genre film festival, complete with films from a number of favorites. These favorites include perennials Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Down Terrace) and Alex de la Iglesia, the latter of whom stunned audiences with his masterwork The Last Circus at the 2010 edition of the festival. Each are back with their latest projects alongside a delightful list of familiar names and newcomers alike. For your careful consideration, here is Fantastic Fest 2013′s second wave of programming.

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Man of Tai Chi

There are many film festivals on the long, slow path to awards season (a march that begins a mere five months after this year’s Oscars), yet in a season full of festivals all touting potential awards winners, Fantastic Fest stands out from the crowd. Austin’s own beloved festival, with its focus on genre flicks and cult films, is a few steps off the beaten path. Today comes the initial lineup for Fantastic Fest, which offers a hearty blend of Bollywood, gooey horror, and crime stories from all over the world. Keanu Reeves‘ directorial debut – Man of Tai Chi - will also be making an appearance, along with Reeves himself. The film stars Tiger Chen as a martial artist competing in an underground fight club run by Reeves’ character. Robert Rodriguez‘s Machete Kills will open the festival. The newly announced list of films can be seen after the break.

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review history of future folk

Editor’s note: Now that this excellent film is opening in limited theatrical release we’re re-running Neil’s review from last year’s Fantastic Fest. Don’t worry if you don’t live in NY or LA either as the movie hits VOD starting June 4th. Charming and heartwarming aren’t words that you’d easily associate with the movies of Fantastic Fest. Looking back over our barrage of coverage from the past week and change, a lot of what we’re talking about is the hyper-violent, the intensely frightening and in many cases, the downright disturbing. It’s a film festival with plenty of edge, to be sure. And then there’s a film like The History of Future Folk, which sticks out like a sore thumb and fits like a glove all the same. A science fiction oddity that centers on a plot that would destroy all of humanity weaved in with an impossibly charming story of harmony and love. Delivered with melody and levity, this film is undoubtedly the Fantastic Fest Class of 2012′s movie “Most Likely to Make You Smile.”

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review sightseers

Editors’ note: Our Sightseers review originally ran during last year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-posting it as the film gets a limited theatrical release starting today. The problem with making a truly fantastic film is that sooner or later you have to follow it up with a new movie. If it was your first then rumors will swirl about a sophomore slump, and if it’s your second then people will wonder if you can keep delivering the goods. Ben Wheatley‘s last film was the dark, brutal and highly acclaimed Kill List, and that in turn was a giant leap up from his debut, Down Terrace. Wheatley’s new movie is more of a jump sideways than up, but that’s actually even more impressive. Sightseers maintains the quality and effectiveness of Kill List even as it surprises with a constant stream of laugh out loud hilarity. Where his earlier movies featured darkly comic moments, this one is a flat out comedy… with gory murders. Has there ever been a love story as great as the one between Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram)? The answer is a resounding yes, but don’t tell that to these two sad-sack lovebirds. Tina is still reeling from the accidental death of her dog Poppy, but when her new beau Chris suggests the two of them take an RV trip across the English countryside she ignores her flatmate’s warnings and hits the road. It doesn’t hurt that her flatmate is her mother who constantly reminds Tina […]

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review wrong

Note: Rob Hunter’s review originally ran during Fantastic Fest 2012, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Weirdness has its place in cinema. It can be a fun element in everything from comedies to horror films or used to add a lighter texture to serious topics, but the one thing it can’t be is the only thing. Quentin Dupieux‘s first feature, the innocuously titled Rubber, is one of the most absurd films of the past several years. Its core plot follows a tire that comes to life and begins exploding peoples’ heads via telekinesis, but it’s also an extremely smart commentary on consumer and audience expectations. The goofiness just makes it funnier. Dupieux’s follow-up is equally weird with random character dialogue and actions that make zero sense, visual gags that go unexplained and plot story threads that go nowhere in particular. A man wakes one morning to find his beloved dog is missing. His search for the pooch brings him in contact with neighbors, gardeners, policemen and more, and all of them without fail act incredibly weird. Why? No reason.

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amityvillecb

Editor’s note: This review was originally featured as part of our Fantasia Fest 2012 coverage (and later during Fantastic Fest), but now it’s out in limited release and on VOD, so we’re bringing it back for a third time. We’ve all seen The Amityville Horror, or at least we all should have by now. I highly recommend correcting any possible woeful oversights on your part in this regard. Those who have seen it are most likely aware that the film was based on a true story. The Lutz family moved into a house in Amityville, a suburb on Long Island, in 1975. The house was rather affordable largely due to its sinister history. The previous owners of the house were the DeFeo’s. A little over a year before the Lutz family moved in, Ronnie DeFeo shot and killed six members of his family in a brutal massacre that still haunts the local community. Shortly after they arrive, the Lutz family experience a series of unexplained events that seem to suggest a paranormal presence. Twenty-eight days later they flee the house, leaving all personal belongings behind. Later they would come forward and make their story public, a movie based on their experiences is produced and would go on to be a horror classic. Over time however, aspersions have been cast on the validity of the Lutz family’s story. A paranormal research team was unable to uncover anything strange in the home in the aftermath of the Lutz exodus, and none of the […]

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The ABCs of Death

Editors’ note: With The ABCs of Death arriving in theaters this week, here is a re-run of our own Luke Mullen’s review of the film from Fantastic Fest, originally published on September 30, 2012. The brainchild of Ant Timpson and Tim League, The ABCs of Death sounds like a great idea: let’s bring some of the smartest up-and-coming genre directors together to create 26 separate short films, each based on a letter from the alphabet. If it sounds ambitious, that’s an understatement. Wrangling that many short films from so many different filmmakers in so many different countries couldn’t have been easy, but things finally came together and buzz was pretty high when we finally sat down to see it at Fantastic Fest. It’s hard to describe the experience of watching 26 different shorts in the space of two hours. There’s not really a sense of tone since each short is so different, but there does at least seem to be some sense of pacing due to the grouping of stories. Things start off well with three Spanish-language shorts from Nacho Vigalondo, Adrian Garcia Bogliano, and Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. Then Marcel Sarmiento‘s “D is for Dogfight” impresses in a big way and expectations are high. From there, it’s a rollercoaster ride with shorts ranging from pretty good to forgettable, culminating in Ti West‘s awful “M is for Miscarriage.” The second half features far more good than bad, but “Z” is so incredibly awful that it almost sours the whole experience.

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Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2012 coverage, and since Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning in now playing in limited release, we reckon it’s a good time to repost it. As if slipping into a nine-year coma isn’t bad enough, John’s extended nap was preceded by the murders of his wife and daughter. He does not have the best of luck. As he begins to regain his memory, after waking from the coma he was beaten into at the end of a crowbar, John begins to hunt for his wife’s killer. All the while, mercenaries of highly advanced skills begin to stalk him, and the mysteries of his own past come spin-kicking to the surface. Spoiler: Universal Soldiers are involved. When John Hyams brought Universal Soldier: Regeneration to Fantastic Fest in 2009, expectations were hovering somewhere around the stickiest parts of the theater floor. That is no reflection upon Hyams, it’s just that the series, unlike the characters that populated the first film, seemed far too dead to revive. But what we got was an adrenaline shot to the heart of the franchise that reunited its legendary leads and gave us a reason to be fans again. Now, with the re-return of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, and burgeoning action hero Scott Adkins (Undisputed III, The Expendables 2) added into the mix, anticipation was decidedly higher for the next chapter. And perhaps that’s where the issue lie.

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Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2012 coverage, and since The Collection hits theaters this week, we felt obliged to scrape off the dried blood and post it back up. In 2009, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton gave us The Collector, which, in addition to being a dark and bloody enjoyable horror gem, was possibly the greatest Home Alone sequel ever conceived. Now, in keeping with grand horror tradition, a franchise blooms. The Collection continues the exploits of our hoarding serial killer and centers largely on his prized acquisition from the first film. When Arkin (Josh Stewart) is finally able to escape the clutches of The Collector, it is at the expense of the maniac claiming the lovely Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) as his new treasure. A team of mercenaries, hired by Elena’s father (played by “Shooter McGavin” himself, Christopher McDonald), forces Arkin to lead them to the killer’s lair on an ill-advised rescue mission. Lots of people die. The incredible thing about The Collection is that, even though this is only part two, the franchise seems far more mature. The Collection feels like part six of a series, and we’ve somehow missed three through five. This is the zombie Jason, the dream child…the critters in space. It takes everything we enjoyed about the first film and twists the dials past eleven until the knob snaps off. Our boogeyman has, between films, earned a formidable mythos and seems well established within horror canon by his […]

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Red Dawn

Editor’s note: we first reviewed the new Red Dawn back at Fantastic Fest, so please enjoy a re-run of that review, originally published on September 27, 2012, no guns necessary. Possibly the biggest challenge in creating a Red Dawn remake is that the original was such a product of its time. By 1984, tensions from the Cold War were at their peak and Red Dawn deftly played on and exploited those fears. While it got bogged down a bit in melodrama, our national xenophobia gave it more impact than it may have had otherwise. Fast forward to 2012 and despite perhaps a mild fear of another attack from Middle Eastern extremists, we’re not particularly afraid of a full scale invasion. In fact, the plausibility is so up in the air that the invading army was changed from China to North Korea in post-production. We don’t live in a culture of fear like the one that existed during the Cold War, but the sight of planes dropping bombs on your neighbors and soldiers parachuting into your town is still a terrifying one, and the new Red Dawn handles that sequence well. While it may not play on legitimate fears like the original, the remake does a decent job of creating chaos and tension if not outright terror.

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Miami Connection

Editor’s Note: This review appeared as part of our coverage of the 11th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, and we’re bringing it back as the film opens this weekend in limited theatrical release. Anyone who lived through the decade knows the 80s were a hazardous and dangerous time to be alive… especially if you were part of a band spreading peace and a love of Tae Kwon Do through your music and kickass stage shows. Dragon Sound is just such a group, and when they’re hired as the house band at a popular club the musicians they replaced come looking for payback. The quite literal battle of the bands soon explodes into a violent conflagration involving drug running, murder and inspirational lyrics. And ninjas. Motorcycle-riding ninjas.

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Pusher Review

Editor’s note: The Pusher remake hits limited screens today, so please imbibe this quality review from our Fantastic Fest coverage, first posted on September 30, 2012. Despite what many movie fans might tell you, remakes are not inherently evil. Some movies had good ideas but couldn’t execute them properly, some could use a facelift, and some were great the first time but simply fell victim to the studio’s desire to cash in. Remakes have a bit of a tough road. First off, the they need to do what any movie needs to do: put together a good story and good performances with good cinematography. These are simply the basic building blocks of good films. But a remake has baggage, it has people’s expectations hoisted upon it. And so a remake, unlike a film based on an original idea, must also justify its own existence. Sadly, Luis Prieto‘s Pusher only manages to accomplish one of the two.

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published: 04.20.2014
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published: 04.20.2014
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published: 04.20.2014
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published: 04.20.2014
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