Austin Cinematic Limits at Fantastic Fest

As was also the case with the previous seven Fantastic Fests, I wish I had more time to see more films at Fantastic Fest 2012. That’s the bad part about having an all-consuming day job, it prohibits me from going totally hog wild at local film festivals. Sure, said job pays my mortgage, but I am really pissed off that it prohibited me from witnessing Joe Swanberg knocking out Devin Faraci at the Fantastic Debates. The previous night at the Chaos Reigns Karaoke Party, I did catch Swanberg perform Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” (which, I should note, is one of my least favorite songs of all time) which was followed closely by Swanberg’s boxing coach Ti West performance of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — though, I have got to say that the karaoke performance of the evening goes to Tim League‘s krautrock interpretation of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow.”

Sadly, though, that is the only Fantastic Fest event that I was able to attend. Yes, I even had to miss the Red Dawn-themed closing night party! Of course my liver has been continuously thanking me for not destroying it, but my liver clearly does not understand that half the fun of Fantastic Fest is waking up each morning with a massive hangover. Just you wait until next year, liver! You will suffer the alcohol-fueled wrath of Fantastic Fest!

So, yeah, I guess I really did not do much socializing or networking during Fantastic Fest 2012 but I did have a lot of fun chatting with Jennymarie Jemison and Rafael Antonio Ruiz about The Quiet Girl’s Guide to Violence. Jemison and Ruiz are extremely talented people and I just hope they are given the opportunity to expand their 15-minute short it into a full blown television or internet series. If you missed the two Fantastic Fest screenings, The Quiet Girl’s Guide to Violence will be screening in Austin again in the very near future.

I was able to catch some really fantastic films though — and in the end, that is what it is all about, right? I realized that I am either getting much better at determining which Fantastic Fest films I will like, or I am just getting luckier. Either way, I only suffered three disappointments (Room 237, Pusher and The Warped Forest) out of 12 films and those odds are not too shabby in the wild world of film festivals.

Leos Carax’s Holy Motors was hands down the most impressive of the lot. That said, enjoyment of Holy Motors rests upon your ability to free yourself of inhibitions and preconceptions, thus permitting yourself to float in Carax’s sea of surrealism for two hours. Like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Holy Motors shuttles us through its narrative in a white limousine, allowing us a tour of the decaying moral fiber of our post modern world. At each stop, Oscar (Denis Lavant) adopts a new disguise and persona, like an over-booked character actor tirelessly bouncing from set to set. Oscar’s career choice (if it even is a choice) is an exhausting and dangerous one, and his relentless timeline could very well be the death of him.

Holy Motors may be a film about playing roles and fulfilling the fantasies of others, but there is so much more to it than just that. For example, Holy Motors contemplates the human propensity towards voyeurism while also taking on the crazed environment of internet culture in which people will do anything to attract web traffic.

As a longtime fan of the elder Cronenberg, I was pleasantly surprised by his son Brandon Cronenberg’s directorial debut, Antiviral. I would expect nothing less from the son of David to craft his debut feature in the frigidly foreboding fashion of his father’s oeuvre. Cronenberg does not necessarily mimic his father, but the cinematic likeness is still quite uncanny.

Cronenberg bleaches the backdrop of the future in white, giving us a very clear-cut world with very little good and a whole lot of bad. The most innocent characters in Antiviral are the celebrities — they are practically angelic. Lecherous and conniving salesmen milk the celebrities bone dry, leaving them to die; all the while telling the consumers exactly what they really want. The black market for these dealings is exponentially more menacing as the scale of supply and demand is carefully manipulated.

The biggest surprise for me, however, was Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail. Courtin-Wilson’s film is certainly not an enjoyable experience, but it is a transfixing one nonetheless. Danny (Daniel P. Jones) is released from prison at the beginning of the film and returns home to his girlfriend Leanne (Leanne Campbell). With no legitimate career to call his own — or even a resume — Danny takes a job as a lackey at a garage. Unfortunately, fate deems that Danny cannot live the straight and narrow for very long. Hail is a meandering meditation on Danny’s inability to break free from his economic class due to societal restraints. As an uneducated ex-con, Danny is destined to live a hellish existence. Life will never be easy for him.

Daniel P. Jones’ performance as Danny is astounding. This is a semi-autobiographical tale of Jones’ life, so we can only assume that there is a very fine line between Danny the character and Jones the actor, making this one of the most chillingly authentic performances I have ever seen. The brutal realism is accented magnificently by experimental visual flourishes courtesy of cinematographer Germain McMicking.

Just before Fantastic Fest 2012 kicked off, we received a press release from Alamo Drafthouse announcing plans for the re-development of Alamo South Lamar and The Highball in the South Lamar Plaza Shopping Center. The new and improved Alamo South Lamar will boast three additional screens, a new lobby with additional capacity, and increased parking. The Highball will be rebuilt adjacent to the new Alamo South Lamar location, and the new structure will include ample open-air seating. The new Highball will still feature multiple private karaoke rooms, as well as a stage for events and live performances; but the vintage bowling lanes are going away.

You still have some time to say your final farewells to the current structures. The Highball will close on November 17 and Alamo South Lamar will close on January 3, 2013. Both locations are slated to re-open in the third quarter of 2013, presumably in time for Fantastic Fest 2013.

Austin Movie Events This Week

10/1 – AFS Screening Room – AFS’ Narratives-in-Progress features Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews’ Zero Charisma. (More info)

10/2 – Alamo South Lamar – AFS’s Essential Cinema series features Sleepless Night. (More info)

10/3-10/7 – Alamo Ritz, Paramount, Stateside and Violet Crown – aGLIFF-Polari celebrates its 25th year with what promises to be their best film festival ever. (More info)

10/4 – Alamo South Lamar – AFS presents a restored digital print of the director’s cut of the Academy Award and Palme d’Or winning 1979 German film, The Tin Drum. (More info)


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