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.

  Editor’s note: With Tai Chi Zero now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 30, 2012. The martial arts genre has always featured period films fairly prominently, but it seems the Hong Kong and mainland China film industries have made a home there in recent years with no intention of leaving it anytime soon. Truth be told the biggest problem with the pseudo genre is that it’s swallowed Donnie Yen whole. He hasn’t made a contemporary film since 2007′s bone-crackingly brilliant Flash Point! But Yen aside, there are so many of these films that it’s getting difficult to tell them apart. Writer Kuo-fu Chen and director Stephen Fung recognized this fact and set out to tell a tale that would stand apart from the herd. The ace up their sleeve is a visual style that brings slow-mo, onscreen graphics and the inclusion of steam-punk elements to their story of a young man who travels to a remote village to learn a very specific and equally powerful form of martial arts. His quest is interrupted by Western-led intruders bent on leveling the town to make way for a railroad. On paper, and in trailer form, Tai Chi Zero seems like a success, but the end result is a mixed bag of frenetic action, humorous asides and a silliness that just won’t quit.

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Editor’s note: With Paranormal Activity 4 now officially released in theaters, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review, originally published on September 27, 2012. Although the FF version was a work-in-progress, as far as we can tell the final cut is mostly the same save for a slight reordering of some scenes near the end. Another set of cameras and another hopeless family that can’t help themselves. They can’t rid themselves of a demonic presence that is purposefully in their home for a reason, nor can they keep from being compelled to record everything that happens. For a franchise that utilizes the “found footage” form of filmmaking, it still isn’t quite clear yet who has found all of this footage to show us, or why they’ve chosen to sift through two decades’ worth of recordings and cleanly edit it all together and make movies out of them. I gather I’m reading too much into this, but by this point I think I’m due an explanation. Paranormal Activity 4 takes place chronologically following the disappearance of Katie (Katie Featherston) and her nephew Hunter (Brady Allen) at the end of  Paranormal Activity 2, which actually took place before Paranormal Activity, except for the final five minutes, which take place after the events of Paranormal Activity, which started this whole train until we saw Paranormal Activity 3, which explained the origins of the hauntings and the commentary on home video paranormal voyeurism. Part 4 takes place five years after the events of […]

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Sinister

Editor’s note: This review has previously appeared as part of our SXSW 2012 and Fantastic Fest coverage, but since it’s so well-written and increasingly relevant thanks to Sinister’s opening this week, it’s back! In recent years the found footage style of horror has been done, pardon me, to death. Whole films have been cobbled together with bits of the fake stuff in service to pretend storylines, delivered to their audiences in tidy packages that often place style over substance. In Scott Derrickson‘s Sinister (this year’s SXSW “secret” screening), the found footage conceit is instead used as a source of information and scares, a clever little bit of storytelling that delivers the creeps with ease. Derrickson’s film (co-written with C. Robert Cargill) centers on Ethan Hawke as a true crime writer who has stumbled on his biggest gig yet – penning a book about the mysterious deaths of four family members, hung from a tree in their own backyard in a ritualistic manner. Not only is the perpetrator of the crime still at large, but a fifth member of the family (the youngest girl) who disappeared after the crime is still missing. Hawke’s Ellison routinely moves his family to new towns that have been struck by some sort of tragedy, tragedies that Ellison investigates and writes about to some apparent acclaim. But it’s been years since Ellison had a hit, and it’s imperative that Ellison’s next book is one, just for simple financial reasons.

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FRANKENWEENIE

Editor’s note: Halloween comes early with this week’s release of Frankenweenie. For some delicious review snacks to go with your candy corn, here is a re-run of our Fantastic Fest review of the film, published just two weeks ago, on September 20, 2012. Since 1984, Tim Burton has directed fifteen feature films. And according to my research assistant Siri, eleven of those fifteen went over well (and were made “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) with critics. So it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that Burton could be considered a great director. Unfortunately for the man behind Edward Scissorhands and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a number of those not-so-fresh movies have come in recent years. Alice in Wonderland was a messy 3D “experience” and Dark Shadows was laughable, and not in a good way. If you ask any movie-loving member of the internet community what they think of Tim Burton these days, the answer is more than likely to skew negative. That’s because we have the collective short term memory of Leonard from Memento when it comes to directors. Lucky for us, 2012 Tim Burton still remembers the guy he was in 1984, and has since returned to direct Frankenweenie, his black-and-white stop-motion ode to classic monster movies and the bond between a boy and his dog, based on the 1984 short of the same name.

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The Best of Fantastic Fest

It’s not hard to see that Fantastic Fest has come and gone for another year. If many a film fan could find a way to “wear black” on Twitter, they’d do so in mourning of the end of another great year of hardcore geekery. It was a diverse year for the Fantastic Fest programming team, bringing in equal numbers the intense, the gross, the violent, the real and the fun. On the whole, a truly “fantastic” experience for all involved. As we’ve done each year past, it is time for our Fantastic Fest Death Squad to round-up the festival and give you some parting thoughts. Most importantly, we’d like to leave you with a number of films that should occupy space on your horizon, films you should seek out when they finally get distributed in your region. To do this, each member of our coverage team has provided a recap of their experience and their three “Best of the Fest.” On the next page, you’ll find everyone’s nominations for the 2012 Death Squad Awards, highlighting the best films of each of Fantastic Fest’s competition categories.

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Two Rabbits

Films trying to follow multiple story lines don’t always work. Sometimes they come together too conveniently utilizing too much luck or coincidence for believability and sometimes they don’t come together at all. When they do come together well it can make for a cool ending and when they fail it can be simply grating. The Brazilian action film Two Rabbits manages to avoid most of the pitfalls even if it isn’t entirely successful.

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Cold Blooded

In a year stacked with plenty of good crime flicks, you have to do something to make your film stand above the crowd. Fast-paced editing, well framed shots, stylized camera work and witty dialogue are all ways to help create a memorable film. While Cold Blooded does get a tad more brutal that most other films of its ilk, it’s just not quite enough to really make it stand apart. Cordero isn’t such a bad guy. He steals diamonds, sure, but he’s not hurting anyone. Insurance takes care of the people he steals from and hey, he’s a nice guy. But when his latest heist goes south, he ends up in a hospital bed with a cop at his door and a murder rap around his neck. He also happens to be the only one that knows what happens to the diamonds and it’s for this reason that his partner Louis Holland is very interested to speak with him. The only things standing in Holland’s way are the cop checking people in to Cordero’s wing of the hospital and the cop guarding his door. While a quick bluff with another doctor can him past the first, getting past Officer Frances Jane could prove a little more difficult.

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Fantastic Fest: Plan C

Dutch detective Ronald Plasmeyer is not a model law enforcement agent. He has managed to amass a goodly amount of debt thanks to his propensity for losing substantial sums of money at poker. To make matters worse, the Chinese mob, to whom Ronald owes much of his debt, has begun threatening his son and ex-wife. In over his head already, he decides the best way to unburden himself of his debt is to orchestrate a robbery of the illegal casino wherein he tends to dump his cash. Enlisting the services of two local crooks, Ronald wagers that his troubles are about to end. If Plan A was winning at cards, and Plan B was the robbery, it’s safe to say Ronald is now in dire need of a Plan C.

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One of the best parts of Fantastic Fest is discovering those smaller films you’d never see otherwise. The type of gem that doesn’t get talked to death during its production, that doesn’t have its casting news splayed across the veritable plethora of movie websites, the type of film that just flies completely under the radar. Vanishing Waves is just that kind of film, that seemingly comes from nowhere to blow audiences away. Lukas is part of a research team that has developed a new technology allowing one person to access another person’s thoughts. He’s been working long hours and not spending enough time with his live-in girlfriend, Lina, but his hard work has all been worth it, and they’re finally ready to start human trials. Lukas will be the receiver, trying to document and describe his experience receiving another person’s thoughts. They’ll be using a comatose patient for the sender, the lowered brain activity making the data load more manageable for transfer to Lukas’s brain.

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Everybody loves a nice vacation, but it can be difficult for parents, especially new parents, to make time for a quiet getaway. Understanding this problem, soon-to-be parents Beth and Francis take one last trip together before their baby is born. While traveling abroad, they are made aware of a remote island said to be among the most beautiful in the world. Upon arrival, they note the mysterious absence of any citizenry above the age of twelve. As they search for an adult, any adult, the reason for the island’s occupation by unsupervised children becomes horrifically clear. Then there’s the screaming. And the the running. Let us immediately dispense with the obvious: kids are fucking terrifying; we all know that. There are few subsets of the horror genre as fundamentally unsettling as the killer kid movie. And these are not your average tykes; their inclination toward savagery rivals the very worst of their grownup counterparts. Horror films, for better or worse, and in defiance of detractors who seek to broad-stroke marginalize it, are often the most direct cinematic confrontation of our collective fears. Many titles have artfully and eloquently explored the fear of motherhood/parenthood — Rosemary’s Baby, Aliens (though admittedly more sci-fi), and 1976′s Who Can Kill a Child? Come Out and Play is in fact a remake of Who Can Kill a Child, and the fact that it hasn’t lost a step in this over-35-years-later translation speaks to the universality of that fear.

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Henge + The Big Gun

Director Hajime Ohata has a double dose of talent on display with his two films The Big Gun and Henge. Both were made ambitiously on microscopic budges, swapping story for effects in a way that makes everything richer and scarier. When blood does start flowing it  only magnifies the dread bubbling under the surface of the works. With short running times, the films get in and do what they need to do, leaving chaos in their wake as Ohata moves to his next horizon.

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The Conspiracy

Conspiracy theories are a phenomenon capable of both intriguing and entertaining an audience regardless of actual belief. The key is in the ‘what if?’ scenario that the best ones present. Of course we don’t believe them, but what if? That tenuous line between fact and fiction nags at our imagination and pulls at the loose strands of doubt in our otherwise level-headed minds. It’s fertile ground for film and TV with some of the finer examples including The X-Files and Oliver Stone’s JFK, and now one filmmaker has come up with the idea to mix conspiracy theories with the faux documentary genre. Unfortunately that marks both the beginning and the end of the creativity Christopher MacBride applied to The Conspiracy. Jim (James Gilbert) and Aaron (Aaron Poole) set out to make a documentary about a man named Terrance (Alan C. Peterson) who spends his days shouting theories on a street corner and his nights discussing them in an online chat-room with other believers. Terrance disappears one day leaving no trace as to his whereabouts, and as the two men struggle with what to do with their doc Aaron (very quickly) finds himself picking up the pieces of Terrance’s obsession. He connects the dots between news clippings and historical events and discovers, wait for it… a motherfucking conspiracy.

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Outrage Beyond

It’s not entirely accurate to say that Takeshi Kitano‘s Outrage played Fantastic Fest in 2010. More apt would be to say that it carved a grisly gash into our brains as we squirmed and squealed with delight. The gangster cinema auteur from the land of the rising sun returns with both figurative and literal vengeance with Outrage Beyond. It’s a safe assumption that the sequel cannot be evaluated without discussing the intimate details of the first film. Therefore for those unacquainted with Outrage, now would be a good time to go sharpen your katana, or sing karaoke. Not Journey, just saying. All clear? Ok. The corrupt police officer from Outrage, Kataoka, orchestrates a coup to try and unseat the two reigning Yakuza bosses-of-bosses. These were the two vile snakes who betrayed Otomo (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano) to his incarceration and ultimately, seemingly, his death. The coup goes south when a vital conspirator turns out to be less than trustworthy. Now, yet another struggle for power is brewing in the Japanese underworld. The situation getting desperate, only one man can possibly set all this nonsense right…but he died. Right?

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American Scream crew

With October on the horizon, as well as that glorious holiday there contained, many of us are gearing up for haunted house season. In many ways the last vestige of the roaming carnival days, companies come in every year, occupy some abandoned retail space, and commence with a nightly regimen of shrieks, jumps, and frights that carries us screaming into November. But what happens when those with the desire to create an effective spook house don’t have the benefit of such monstrous budgets? The more organic, love-labor-intensive community haunted houses are the results of an entire year’s worth of work by blue collar artists and their families. The process by which they transform their own homes into cathedrals to low-budget scares, called home haunts, is the subject of Michael Paul Stephenson’s (Best Worst Movie) latest documentary: The American Scream. A touching, fascinating, and deeply sincere testament to unflappable creative spark, The American Scream found easy purchase in the Fantastic Fest lineup this year. In fact, beside the theater, in what used to be a scooter retailer, the Alamo Drafthouse partnered with Manny Souza (a featured subject in the doc) to quickly, and with a MacGyver-like resourcefulness, build a miniature home haunt right next door. It was in this hallowed place that we were fortunate enough to sit down with Stephenson, producer Meyer Shwarzstein, and another featured home haunt artist Victor Bariteau to talk about the film. Even in the light of day, the appropriateness of this meeting place was not […]

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Fantastic Fest: Looper

Joe (the conveniently similarly named Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, and no, sadly, that has nothing whatsoever to do with stunt piloting. What his profession actually entails is the assassination of targets sent back through time by an organized crime syndicate; the only entity to have access to the highly illegal, but totally existing time travel technology. These assassins will inevitably be one day sent the future versions of themselves in a retirement process known as “closing the loop.” Apparently the gold watch and the store-bought sheet cake was simply far too conventional. When Joe is put in a position to close his loop, he commits the fatal sin of hesitation; setting in motion a fight for his own survival as he seeks to kill himself. That sentence could only ever work in relation to Looper.

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Contracting an illness is not something most of us long for. It’s often an unpleasant, uncomfortable, and incapacitating affair to be ill. For the highly-skilled technicians of the Lucas Clinic, disease is their discipline. Turning common cold into commodity, the Lucas Clinic offers fans the unique opportunity to become physically connected to their favorite celebrity by having the diseases of those celebrities injected into their own bodies. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, actual biological material from these stars has been reproduced into slabs of meat that are then devoured by the masses. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) is one of the clinic’s most accomplished employees, but he’s bitten off a bit more than he can chew…and no, we’re not talking about a broiled pop singer steak. He’s injected himself with a virus from a particularly popular starlet, a virus from which she ends up dying. The clock ticks away as Syd struggles to make sense of her demise before death becomes a common bond between the two of them.

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Junkfood Cinema - Large

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; they don’t make buns like this down at the bakery…well they do, we just bought them all. This is the weekly bad movie column that makes all other bad movie columns look far better by comparison. Every week we serve up a delightfully terrible movie with every intention of ripping it to shreds. But then, as we are forced to spend two hours with that celluloid terror, a funny thing happens. We begin to fall in love. The film engenders a genuine feeling of adoration within us that we can’t always fully articulate even as we articulate it. So yes, Junkfood Cinema has officially been reclassified as a form of Stockholm Syndrome. To wash down the deeply disturbing breakthrough we’ve just had, we will offer a disgustingly awesome snack food themed to the film. Fantastic Fest may be over, but its effects linger like the hangover we may or may not but totally are experiencing as we/I write this. One of those effects is the scorched Earth where once stood the Drafthouse theater that showcased a repertory screening of 1987′s Miami Connection. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Junkerford, isn’t Miami Connection a little too mainstream for this column?” Perhaps you’re right, but my name is Junkseph. However, despite the fact that everyone and their sister, Everywina, has seen this masterpiece, it somehow managed to go unreleased on anything but VHS. Drafthouse films, the harbingers of international genre fare of spectacular quality, as well as […]

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Tim League

There are few elements of the Fantastic Fest experience that are quite like being in the vicinity of Tim League. Of all the great things people will tell you about attending Austin’s premier fall festival, this is one that sometimes falls below the radar, but only because there is so much to love about Fantastic Fest. It’s an atmosphere that’s at once easy and difficult to describe. A large gathering of movie-loving people, a number of which are bearded young men, is one way. But to simplify it to such a degree would be an injustice. That’s what people who look down their noses at Fantastic Fest say about it. And it’s much more than that. It’s a gathering of those — old, young, male, female, alien and otherwise — who have a love for genre cinema. They come from all around, from right around the corner to Scotland and beyond. They love the movies and they love the experience. An essential part of the experience is the shenanigans that seem to break out around the festival’s co-founder. Sure, he’s the CEO and founder of one of the countries fastest growing and most talked-about theater chains, a promising independent distribution company and the owner of several local establishments that will show you a nice night on the town. But Tim League is, above all, present for the party. He’s the first one to jump into the fray and get his hands dirty (and potentially bloody). Father of two and self-described as having […]

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Considered lost for years, Wake in Fright is finally getting the release it is due. Anthony Buckley, the film’s editor  took it upon himself to sleuth out a negative, eventually finding paydirt in Pittsburgh nearly a decade after the search began. It was discovered in a bin labelled to be destroyed. Wake‘s tenacity to stay alive is a testament to the film’s unflinching, voyeuristic look at humanity under pressure, and the weight that can crush if it is allowed. Wake in Fright is the kind of film you watch and can’t forget, like it or not. It drags you into its uninhibited grime to drown you in a sweaty beer lather. You can see the surface, know that a fresh breath is within reach, but its grip just strengthens and pulls you in deeper. Witnessing the uncontrolled descent of a man becoming what he loathes most is a jarring spectacle. To be human is to be frail, and that is the water the movie treads in.

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Brandon Cronenberg

It’s never easy living the shadow of someone else, and especially to follow in the footsteps of greatness. For Brandon Cronenberg, that imposing shadow takes the shape of a giant fly, several killer mutated children, and scores of exploding heads. His father, David Cronenberg is a director beloved by genre film fans the world over. Brandon has made the difficult decision, under those circumstances, to become a filmmaker himself, and has come bursting out of the obscuring darkness with his debut film Antiviral. Though maintaining that the themes and imagery of the movie are not beholden to his father’s work, Antiviral’s plot, involving the consumption of celebrity biological material by obsessed fans, fittingly speaks to a common creative gene within his family that spurs an inclination toward body horror and social commentary. In our few moments with Brandon during Fantastic Fest, we covered everything from the intangible construct of identity, to hulking out, to forgettable David Spade comedies. As horror fans ourselves, it speaks highly of Brandon’s genuine personality and rich intellect that the subject of his father never came up once.

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