Fantastic Fest Day #5

Fantastic Feud

I don’t really know what day it is anymore. The concept of time is foggy. My body shuffles forward, as if pulled by an external force. My eyes scan constantly, seeking any movie screen within their view, like junkies seeking their next fix.

Three more days to go!

Anyway, I spent much of yesterday in front of things that weren’t feature films. I sat through the festival’s slate of horror shorts, and then witnessed the barely-controlled juggernaut of chaos that is a live game show named Fantastic Feud. As a result, I got five hours of sleep instead of the usual Fantastic Fest Four.

…it wasn’t enough.

Anyway, I did see some good feature-length stuff yesterday!

Force Majeure is the story of a Swedish family, who travel to the French Alps for a ski vacation. While dining at an outdoor restaurant, an avalanche skids down the mountain and hits the building. When the snow-fog clears and it is evident that no damage happened, the mother learns that the father ran for his life, abandoning her and the kids. This causes the rest of the vacation to be very uncomfortable for all involved. Force Majeure is a quiet, dryly humorous examination of masculinity and family, and definitely worth a look.

The Babadook is a striking horror movie, wrapped around the story of a single mother and her difficult seven-year-old son. The child becomes convinced that a boogeyman is lurking in their home, to the point where his constant obsession and weapons-crafting gets him thrown out of school and his mother out of her tiny social circle. Eventually, it’s just the two of them in their house together, and the seams of their existence start to unravel. Is the boy a monster, is the mother a monster, or is there a third monster-monster? The movie is excellent right up to the ending, which seems to be the correct ending for the story buried underneath an incorrect tone. It’s too bad, because the entire film is an intense fictional examination of the experience of living with mental illness, coupled with astonishing performances from the two leads.

The third and final film I saw yesterday was Free Fall, a Hungarian film that is more of a string of surreal vignettes than a straight narrative. The film starts out with an elderly woman leaping off the top of her seven-story apartment building, only to unceremoniously strike the pavement below. (Don’t worry, she’s fine. She does this every night.) The film then proceeds to tell the story happening within the apartments she passed on the way down. This includes things like a dinner party with the occasional nude person, a yoga class for what seems to be X-Men, a lot of Saran Wrap, a kid with a cow problem… well, it’s hard to explain. Whatever is going on here, it’s beautifully filmed, often funny, and never boring. The film also yielded the single most Fantastic Fest-y scene I’ve witnessed yet this year. When it happened, I could not stop giggling at the audience reaction. It was glorious.

Fantastic Fest Day #4

Danger 5 Q&A

Sean James Murphy and David Ashby from Danger 5, taking a break from killing Hitler.

The sleep deprivation is starting to get to me. I hallucinated that Marko Zaror gave me an energy drink. And then he spin-kicked a can off Brian Salisbury’s head. And then I got into a conversation with his mother.

Oh, wait, there are photos of the spin-kick on my camera.

So, I guess yesterday really happened! Here are some reviews of what I apparently actually saw…

Confetti of the Mind is a delightful collection of Nacho Vigalondo’s short films, starting with the one that garnered an Oscar nomination. He’s a delightfully clever filmmaker, and the short format suits him well. The shorts are interspersed with short interviews with Nacho, who is full of funny stories and comments about each one.

Lost Soul is a documentary about the infamously troubled 1990s production of The Island of Dr. Moreau. (You know the one. The one where some poor CGI guy had to digitally remove Marlon Brando’s visible genitals from several scenes. Yeah, that one.) The filmmakers managed to get interviews with an astounding number of cast and crew members, given that many of them were originally under a gag order from the studios. The oral history of this disastrous movie shoot is extraordinary, sad, and often hilarious. Fascinating stuff.

I then got an opportunity to see the first half of the second season of Danger 5, which somehow has more dinosaurs, lasers, and Hitler than the previous season. Oh, and this season is set in the 1980s, so big hair, shoulder pads, and cocaine jokes run rampant. It’s hilarious, but at the end of three straight episodes, my brain felt a little broiled. It was super thrilling, though, that most of the cast and the director were all in attendance. I even got to talk special effects with David Russo, the director and the voice of Colonel Chestbridge. He told me to kill Hitler, and that pretty much made my day.

Tokyo Tribe is the latest film from Sion Sono, who is a filmmaker I dearly love. Tokyo Tribe is pure madness. It’s a Japanese gangland film that is also a rap opera. Yes. It’s a rap musical. And it’s a parody of rap culture in Japan. And it becomes increasingly insane as time goes on. I don’t love it as much as Sono’s previous film, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, but there are few films I love that much.

Redeemer is the new low-budget punchfest from Chilean director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and his chiseled action-muse Marko Zaror. It’s a feast of lovingly-shot fight scenes, interspersed with a delightfully breezy villain performance by Noah Segan. Espinoza now lives in the space in my heart that was once inhabited by Robert Rodriguez.

Okay, now I need to put on pants and get to the theater. Maybe I can get Marko Zaror to kick a can off my head…

Fantastic Fest Day #3

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday. If you’re going to have a pie fight in an alley, don’t just bring a change of clothes. Do the pie fight after all the other stuff you want to do.

In the photo above, I’m the one with the pie tin on her head. Even though I washed my hair and extremities with hand soap in the Alamo Drafthouse bathroom, and even though I changed clothes, I smelled real interesting for the rest of the day.

It was still worth it, because, dammit, I’ve now been in a pie fight.

Why was I in a pie fight, you ask? Well…

The first film of the day was a 35mm print of Bugsy Malone, the bizarre 1976 gangster Paul Williams musical with an all-child cast. Not only does it star miniature versions of Scott Baio and Jodie Foster, it also contains guns that fire whipped cream at foes. The pie fight at the end is pretty epic, and there’s no better way to cap that than with a real proper pie fight.

I’m pretty sure there is still chocolate sauce in my ear.

Anyway, moving on…

The Astrologer was a helluva thing. Also from 1976, this film was pretty much unknown until the American Genre Film Archive dug it up from a collection purchased from, of all places, the Kinsey Institute. Only one 35mm print is known to exist, so AGFA transferred it to 2K, which is what we saw. So, in true Fantastic Fest fashion, we saw a gorgeous transfer of earnest, bizarre, egotistical, exquisitely inept outsider art. The audience adored it. The blood brothers I gained in that theater are now walking around the fest screaming things like, “ANGULAR URANUS!” and “You’re not an astrologer, you’re an asshole!” If I manage to bring this thing to B-Fest next year, I would be hailed as a conquering hero. It’s amazing.

That was followed up by In Order of Disappearance, the latest film from Hans Petter Moland. Moland is the guy who made one of my favorite crime films, A Somewhat Gentle Man, so to say I was excited to see this new offering is an understatement. In Order of Disappearance, I am excited to say, is at least as good as Moland’s previous film. The film stars Stellan Skarsgard as a snow plow driver in rural Norway. When his son is murdered by a drug cartel, he starts picking off thugs one-by-one, climbing his way up to the boss. The film bears a lot of resemblance to A Somewhat Gentle Man in that the plot feels fresh, the characters — even the small roles — are vibrant, and the whole thing is shot through with a streak of delicious black comedy. LOVED IT.

After that, I went in to see Spring without knowing anything about it, and I am pleased to report that I found it to be thoroughly engaging. In general, I find romance films to be tedious, but this one centers on two nicely-written characters, and one of them is secretly a monster, so that’s cool. Bravo to the filmmakers for creating a completely new mythology for this thing; it’s so refreshing to see a monster movie that isn’t based around vampires or zombies. Also, bravo to the film’s two leads, who have extraordinary chemistry together. Good stuff.

I was so close to having a full run of top-notch films yesterday, that I’m truly disappointed that I didn’t care for Local God. It could be that I was just tired or simply not game for a serious boogeyman movie at that time, but Local God just turned me off. The premise is that an arty three-piece metal band goes into a cave to record a video, and instead find themselves individually stalked by — hallucinations? manifestations? — of their deepest fears. It sounds like a great premise, and the film contains occasionally impressive setpieces and narrative tricks, but ultimately, 80% of the movie is people walking through the dark with flashlights while things occasionally jump out at them. The movie plays like ambient music; it just repeats until it just becomes a dull buzz. That said, the guy next to me felt it was the most effective horror film he’d seen in ages, so your mileage may vary.

Okay, it sounds like my laundry is done. It’s time for me to take my pie-free clothes and self back to the theater. Ta!

Fantastic Fest Day #2

Mark Hartley

Mark Hartley at the Q&A for Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

After only two days of Fantastic Fest, I feel like the event has eaten my face and left me in an exhausted heap. This, of course, is how it should be.

This year, Fantastic Fest moved back to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, which is within sight of the Austin downtown skyline. While it’s good to be back at our old stomping grounds, the theater has been dramatically remodeled, as has the area around it. In the Olden Days, filmgoers could hang out in the parking lot, in the lobby, or under a tented area with tables, or in the Highball a few doors down. Now the Highball is next door and a fraction of its former size; there is no parking lot or tents or outdoor tables, and the lobby feels very compressed. Add to that this year’s extra-humid Texas weather, and we have a recipe for some dense, grumpy crowds.

Still, this is only a minor twinge. It’s great to see everyone, and once you’re inside a theater, the Fantastic Fest experience is what it has always been: awesome.

So, I saw some movies yesterday…

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is Studio Ghibli’s latest offering, a Japanese folk tale told in achingly beautiful pencil-and-watercolor art. It is the story of an elderly couple who find a baby inside a bamboo shoot, and who raise her as their own. The father is convinced the gods are telling him to make her into a princess, so after he finds gold and fine silks in the woods, he sets out to build her a palace. The girl, who delights in being around nature, is suddenly caged within Japanese society. The film is beautiful, magical, joyful, and, ultimately, heartbreaking. Studio Ghibli are masters at turning film audience emotions into putty, and this film is no exception.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is a documentary that I’ve been waiting three years for. Mark Hartley, the same documentarian who gave us Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed, interviewed what seems to be like every single person who ever worked with Cannon Film, and the result is a film that is both a celebration and a critique. If you see it, Electric Boogaloo will make you want to dig up Cannon’s delightful gonzo filmography and roll in it like a dog in stink.

Over Your Dead Body is Takashi Miike’s latest film, and… oy gevalt. If you’ve ever seen Audition, you’ll know about what you’re getting into here. Over Your Dead Body tells the story of a theatrical cast who are putting on a production of Yotsuya Kaidan, a traditional kabuki play that involves samurai and murder. As the plot moves along, the lives of the actors start to overlay with the plot of the play. The result is nightmarish. (When a woman in a Miike movie starts sterilizing metal instruments, you know your metaphorical rollercoaster car is teetering at the top of the first hill.) The film is also gorgeous to behold, as a triumph of cinematography and art design. While Miike’s films aren’t always easy to watch, they are masterful in execution; this one is no exception.

John Wick is the latest action flick offering from Keanu Reeves. Since the film was directed by Chad Staheiski, a first-time director who was formerly a stunt man, I wasn’t expecting much, but oh man… what fun! The film is borderline cheesy, but it knows what it is and it revels in it. Between bullet ballets, John Wick is loaded with fun character actors doing fun character actor things (alert: Ian McShane content!). And when the action kicks in… wow. The stunt work is meticulous, and it is filmed with great confidence. I was surprised and delighted.

Wyrmwood is a zombie flick from Australia, crafted by a whole team of amateur filmmakers who filmed for four years and funded everything themselves. Judged in a vacuum, Wyrmwood feels like it didn’t give me anything I hadn’t seen before until halfway through, after the time I’d tuned out. However, this film is mighty impressive considering its source: the storytelling is competent, the action is brisk, and it looks like everyone is having one hell of a good time making this thing happen. Also, about ten people who worked on the movie are there at the festival, and they look to be having the time of their lives. So, Wyrmwood gives me warm fuzzies, even though the film itself never truly sold me.

Okay, I’m off to participate in a pie fight!

Fantastic Fest Day #1

Human-Filled Eyeball Pinata

Behold, a Zack Carlson-filled pinata!

The normal description: Fantastic Fest is a film festival in Austin, Texas, which focuses on genre films from around the world.

My description: Fantastic Fest is the heavy metal mosh pit of film festivals. And I love it.

Opening night was last night. I got to see my favorite Fantastic Fest buddies. Beers were handed to me. The Texas swamp-heat made us all smell real pretty. I got to play a stand-up arcade game called The Last Starfighter. I got to see a human-filled eyeball piñata. The live band was made of furries. It all ended with a food fight on the top of a parking garage.

Oh, and I also saw a couple movies!

Tusk is Kevin Smith’s newest effort. It contains some of Smith’s trademark dialogue-heavy comedy, but mostly it’s a horror film (or, rather, an over-the-top parody thereof). It involves turning Justin Long into a walrus. No, really. The tone is inconsistent, and Smith doesn’t seem to know how to make it read evenly as a satire. However, the film contains a ludicrous Quebecois detective played by [unexpected cameo by a famous person you would not expect] and Michael Parks. I can always watch Michael Parks.

In better news, there is this Indian film named As Seen by the Rest, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It follows the Citizen Kane structure where there is an end point that you are not told, and as a journalist interviews various people to get at the story, you are shown out-of-order facets of the truth. It’s also a little bit of Rashomon and a whole lot of Pulp Fiction, to the point where the film shares a MacGuffin with Tarantino. As a whole, the film could use another pass in the editing room, but otherwise I was pleased that Fantastic Fest poured it into my eyeballs.

Now, I need to go wash the fest funk off my body so I can go join humanity. I am aiming for five films today!