Reminder: You Want to See PowerPoint Karaoke

That’s right! PowerPoint Karaoke’s triumphant return to the Bryant Lake Bowl stage is a mere day away! Is there a better way to spend the night of Thursday, September 27th than laughing at PowerPoint presentations? Of course there is, but you probably can’t have it for under $10!

This month’s presenters are: Jill Bernard, Joseph Scrimshaw, Eric Heiberg, and Sharon Stiteler!

I won’t be there, as am in Texas right now, but MY SLIDES WILL BE IN MINNESOTA!

Tickets are $7 ($5 with a MN Fringe button), and can be purchased at the Bryant Lake Bowl website!
http://bryantlakebowl.com/calendar/shows/powerpoint-karaoke-7

If you like doing the Facebook thing, you can do that here:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/355577351193652/

Please attend! Laugh! Drink beer!

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 5

Fantastic Feud

The Fantastic Feud

By the end of Day 5, I have seen 21 films. Three more days to go!

BLACK OUT
High-energy, smoothly funny, and witty, this crime flick from the Netherlands quickly became one of my favorites from the festival. It’s a dark joy from beginning to end, packed with fun characters and great dialogue. The plot operates like a Rube Goldberg device. The film also gets major bonus points for containing interesting female characters; watch in particular for a scene between two hitwomen, who offhandedly discuss the dearth of good female roles in genre films. It’s likely that I will buy a copy of Black Out somehow, and force it upon everyone I know. You have been warned.

DOM – A RUSSIAN FAMILY
This is undeniably a well-crafted film that I just couldn’t get into for some reason. Dom is mostly a kitchen sink drama set in rural Russia, wherein a long-lost brother, a member of the Russian mob, comes home to a family reunion. The film is beautifully shot and well-acted, but I had a very hard time tracking the dozens of characters. I don’t know if that is the fault of the film or my personal exhaustion, so your mileage may vary. I will grant that whatever the film was doing, it all built up to a humdinger of a climax.

UNIT 7
This is mostly a somewhat decent crime drama that fumbles its use of its most interesting aspects. Unit 7 is set in Seville, Spain, in the five years leading up to the 1992 World Expo. The police have been tasked with clearing out the drug trade by the time the Expo rolls around. That’s a great setting… but the film never uses it. One of the characters is diabetic… but the film never uses it, and flubs how insulin actually works. On top of that, the film never actually comes to a conclusion; instead, it just kind of stops. Outside of these flaws, it’s an okay slice-of-life cop drama about lawmakers gone dirty, but that’s a movie we’ve seen better elsewhere.

CRAVE
This character study, about a lonely crime scene photographer, creeps me right the fuck out. It’s a great character study, often darkly funny, but I can’t quite tell if the film is trying to forgive men for treating women like things that can be possessed. The film lives inside the head of this man, who often fantasizes about taking control of his life in violent ways; I can’t tell (and the character can’t tell) if this is madness or just a normal thing people do. Perhaps I need to digest it more. However, I can say with some certainty that the end credits are the coolest end credits I have seen in recent memory.

OTHER CHAOS

I managed to attend the Fantastic Feud last night, which was a chaotic, fabulous mess, as always. The Feud always pits Team America (five American filmmakers or critics) against Team International (five non-American filmmakers or critics); in a stunning turn of events, Team International won after a dead heat. During all this, comedian Doug Benson (on Team America) was taking bong hits onstage between questions, and actress Barbara Crampton was throwing answers from the audience, and Drafthouse owner Tim League was bribing the entire audience with free beer, and critic Scott Weinberg became the angriest stoner I’ve ever seen. Chaos reigns, indeed.

I’ve noticed over the last couple days that I’ve become a magnet for random hugs from drunken, male, foreign filmmakers. On day 4, I was attracting hugs from drunken Argentinians. Yesterday, it was drunken Norwegians and drunken Australians. Now I feel that I have to cozy up to African, Canadian, and Asian filmmakers so I can collect all the continents by the end of the festival.

I took a break during the day yesterday to have a drink at the Highball with Wendy and Jess. I learned that the Highball has glorious onion rings that are the size of donuts.

I was chatting with a well-versed film fan named Cody for about an hour yesterday, and then discovered with some dismay that I was old enough to be his mother. Oy gevalt.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 4

Harry Knowles and James Nunn

Harry Knowles (Ain’t It Cool News) with James Nunn (director of Tower Block)

I’ve reached the point in Fantastic Fest when I’m actually a little sad that I get my first pick for the first time slot of the day, because that means I can’t sleep in. However, my body is starting to adjust to eating like a Roman emperor for days on end, so I suppose that’s something.

Here are the films I saw yesterday:

YOUNG GUN IN THE TIME
Sure this film looks low budget, but you would never, ever guess that it cost a measly $30,000. It’s also a lot of fun. If Magnum P.I. were Korean and dropped into an episode of Dr. Who, the result might look something like this. The story involves a private detective who stumbles across a nefarious murder plot involving a time traveler and a dead girl, and he must catch the villain before the girl dies again. Young Gun in the Time has some pacing issues (ironically), but otherwise is a clever little comedy with a sprinkling of truly impressive scenes. In particular, watch for one of the best enclosed-space brawls ever. Bonus: it passes the Bechdel Test!

ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY
Imagine a world where a movie actually knows a bit about genetics. Luckily, you now live in this world: this thriller-drama was made in collaboration with — and filmed at — the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany. While the movie does eventually leap to movie-science for its miracle exemption, it gets astoundingly close to the leap with actual science. It also explores the intersection between human foibles and science with an incredibly sharp eye, knowing full well that science itself is neither good nor bad. The film runs into some problems when the methodical pacing sometimes dips into outright slow territory, but otherwise I felt this was a very strong film overall.

BRING ME THE HEAD OF MACHINE GUN WOMAN
Many action films are Straight Male Wish Fulfillment Delivery Mechanisms of some sort, but this one is nearly the textbook definition of the concept. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as that’s kind of the point here. Deliberately structured like a GTA-style game, Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman is the tale of an Average Joe who is forced by Bad Guys to track down an elusive, deadly, and scantily-clad hitwoman. The film is absolutely completely aware and comfortable with what it wants to be, and lunges for that goal with gusto. The result is a metric fuckton of fun. The film was made for pennies, shot in 15 days in Chile, and is a treat for fans of grindhouse-style cinema.

TOWER BLOCK
Tower Block is an example of a very familiar story told very well. The plot involves apartment building residents coming under siege when a sniper targets their building; the result is the trapped-people-must-cooperate plot we know so well from films like Assault on Precinct 13 and Attack the Block. What separates the wheat from the chaff in this film subgenre is the writing, particularly when it comes to characters. Tower Block benefits greatly from a tight script by Dr. Who writer James Moran. The characters never feel like archetypes, and they push and pull each other in sometimes surprising ways. Bravo to the excellent ensemble cast, too. Great, solid stuff. Worth some work to track down.

TWO RABBITS
This Brazilian film is nearly a chaos of style over substance, particularly during the opening half hour where it introduces dozens of characters and is nearly impenetrable. However, it eventually settles into an actual plot and becomes a interesting exercise in the double-crossed crime subgenre. Much of it is stuff we’ve seen before, but the film benefits from outright verve, some fun supporting characters, and a couple truly fun plot elements.

OTHER WEIRDNESS

I got a chance to chat a bit with the Norwegian filmmakers behind a documentary named Exorcism in the 21st Century. It turns out that even Norwegians hate Aquavit. They were also fascinated with the concept of “hell house” haunted houses.

The folks behind American Scream took over an empty storefront by the theater and set up a tiny haunted house for the Fantastic Fest attendees. It wasn’t terribly elaborate or scary, but the final room was a party. Every haunted house should end in a party! Bonus points if the haunted house goes all Satre and makes it a party that you can never leave.

I personally got to shake James Nunn’s hand and thank him for Tower Block. I hope to do the same thing to James Moran when I see him at CONvergence next year.

One of the best short films I’ve seen all festival is online. Watch it, especially if you like James Urbaniak from The Venture Brothers and/or dig female filmmakers.

I was accosted by drunken Argentinians at The Highball last night. Actually, everyone was accosted by drunken Argentinians at The Highball last night. The theory is now that it takes two drunken Argentinians to replace one Nacho Vigalondo, who is sadly not at Fantastic Fest this year.

Harry Knowles Being Assaulted by Valentín Javier Diment

Harry Knowles being accosted by Valentín Javier Diment, director of Memory of the Dead.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 3

David Wu Talking About Cold Steel

Director David Wu talking about his film, Cold Steel.

It’s extraordinary how exhausting Fantastic Fest is. Today is only the morning of Day 4, and every cell in my body is already plotting a revolt. Yet I shall soldier on, because I got great film picks today!

Here’s a sampling of what I saw yesterday:

COLD STEEL
This film is essentially Enemy at the Gates set in China, a tale of two snipers on opposite lines. It is quite a good wartime melodrama, though, with nice bits of dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, and excellent action. It also contains a more subtle antagonist than I’m used to seeing in an Asian drama about wartime. Recommended.

HOLY MOTORS
Man, I have no idea what this film was actually about (aside from “spiritual stuff”), but I sure enjoyed the journey. On the surface, the film is about an actor who rides around in a giant limousine, who stops at “meetings” around the city and performs different roles in seemingly real-life vignettes. His first meeting has him turning into a beggar woman; later, he’s a father, or a dying uncle, or sewer-dwelling bum who photobombs Eva Mendes. It is strange, beautiful, and hallucinogenic, held together by a magnificent performance by Denis Lavant. Holy Motors is dense and possibly impenetrable, but it is also enjoyable without diving into its philosophy. My friend Don, though, may have had the best capsule review of this film when he said, “That was the Frenchest thing I have seen in a long time.”

PLAN C
I’m a sucker for a decent “crime gone horribly wrong” movie, and this one is quite good. The story centers around a cop who owes money to a Chinese thugs; when they start threatening his family, he turns desperate for payback cash. That’s how the plan to rob an illegal casino comes to life… and so on. Plan C is quite dark and quite funny, centering around an engaging main character and supporting characters worthy of a Cohen brothers movie. Yet the film keeps its quirkiness understated, and never seems to be clever for the sake of cleverness. Nicely done.

PUSHER
I am sad to report that I have never seen the Refn version of Pusher, which is damn near 15 years old by now. I am pleased to report, though, that this English remake is quite solid, and that it makes me want to look into the older film as well. I am told by others that this remake is very faithful to the original (and is even executive produced by Refn), though the characters have a different tone. On its own merits, this Pusher is also a fine “crime gone horribly wrong” flick, wherein a drug dealer flubs a large deal and winds up owing a huge amount of money in a short amount of time to very dangerous people. Most of the film progresses as you might expect, but I was particularly impressed with its endgame. Nice, tense, and full of verve.

TAI CHI 0
I was exhausted by this time, and the film didn’t start until 1 AM, so I have to admit that I snoozed off during a couple points of the film. That’s not the fault of this movie, though. Tai Chi 0 is a bright, feather-light, zany, zippy martial arts flick, complete with video game narrative guideposts (think Scott Pilgrim), steampunk machinery (!), and fight choreography by Sammo Hung (!!!). Don’t go in expecting a complete story, though. Tai Chi 0 is only the first entry in a series, and it ends on a cliffhanger. (You get to watch the trailer for the next film during the credits.) The basic story is one you’ve seen a thousand times in martial arts flicks; it’s the method of storytelling here that makes Tai Chi 0 a treat.

OTHER ODDITIES

I had a fantastic day yesterday at scoring free stuff. I got a free beer in the Shiner theater during Plan C. I got free Tales from the Crypt pint glasses (!) at Pusher. I got a free lollipop at Tai Chi 0.

Speaking of lollipops, a guy named Lars gave the most astounding introduction to Tai Chi 0, which involved a five-minute rant about rediscovering lollipops and the phrase, “Watch out, man, I know Tai Chi.” I think the preamble (emphasis on “amble”) was due to someone telling him to fill time while they got the film ready, but the result was downright surreal.

I totally missed out on The Fantastic Debates, wherein Fantastic Fest guests first debate with words, and then resolve their battles in a boxing ring. I hear that the twin women who made American Mary battled each other, and Tim League battled the guy who made Miami Connection. I’m sure video will emerge soon.

Director David Wu was present for the Cold Steel screening, and he delivered a fantastic Q&A. He’s funny, articulate, and in possession of decades of experience in the Asian film industry. I could listen to him do Q&A for hours.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 2

Noboru Iguchi Eating Bull Penis Sushi

Noboro Iguchi eating bull penis sushi at the Extreme Sushi Challenge, prior to screening his film, Dead Sushi.

I’m only two days in, and Fantastic Fest is already kicking my ass. This is as it should be.

ANTIVIRAL
Hands down, this is the best film I saw yesterday, and is an early favorite for the festival. This film, directed by Brandon Cronenberg (David Cronenberg’s son), feels like something from early in David Cronenberg’s career, somewhere between Videodrome and Dead Ringers. Antiviral progresses coolly and deliberately, portraying a near-future world where viruses from celebrities are in high demand. It’s an ingenious concept explored well, making this film the smartest new horror film I’ve seen in a long while. If you can’t handle films with a slow pace or lots of needles, this won’t be for you, but anyone who is a fan of old school Cronenberg will likely love this.

THE WARPED FOREST
If a film adaptation of Naked Lunch were made cute and Japanese, it would look a lot like this. Director Shunichiro Miki self-funded this project, so it’s essentially a cinematic playground for a very accomplished — and very strange — Japanese commercial director. There are penis guns and vulvar fruits and people who keep money in their bellybuttons and beasts with guts of fun fur. The film is also gorgeously shot, and it seems to have some sort of point about love and relationships. There’s a strange, gentle charm to it. Worth a look.

SHORT FUSE (horror short program)
I love the Fantastic Fest short film programs every year, but in the past, it always seemed that the horror shorts set was always the weakest of the three sets. This year, Short Fuse contains an extremely strong lineup of shorts, most of which mix an ample amount of humor in with their horror. Particularly strong is the “Skinfections” series, a trio of shorts that use body horror very well to set up character and humor.

DEAD SUSHI
You know, I don’t particularly care for Noboru Iguchi’s films (Robogeisha, Machine Girl, etc.) in and of themselves, but I love their premiers at Fantastic Fest, and Noboru Iguchi himself is hard not to love. The man seems to constantly be bursting with joy and energy, and you can even see that in his films if you’re not too distracted by the flying limbs and spraying blood. Dead Sushi is probably the best thing I’ve seen from him; it’s not a great film by any means, but he managed to combine zombie sushi (!) with some very funny comedic actors and zippy pacing. It also looks like everyone had a blast working on the film. Dead Sushi is a very silly, fun diversion, if you’re into that sort of thing.

NEW KIDS NITRO
New Kids Nitro is a sequel to New Kids Turbo, which was beloved by Fantastic Fest audiences last year. For those of you unfamiliar with New Kids, imagine the Dutch version of white trash humor, complete with mullets and beer-swilling pregnant women. New Kids humor is ridiculously un-PC, which is part of the point (and part of why people laughed at Turbo so hard last year), but here it seems to wear thin. New Kids Nitro is clearly aware of the dangers of repeating the jokes of the previous film (as evidenced in the opening scenes), but it never really gets a handhold in new material. That said, I can also describe this film as “New Kids Turbo plus zombies”, which definitely earns a few points.

OTHER MADNESS
The Dead Sushi screening last night was preceded by the Extreme Sushi Challenge, during which Noboru Iguchi and friends challenged audience members to a sushi eating contest. Of course, the Drafthouse came up with three of the craziest sushi offerings we Americans can imagine: bull penis sushi, balut (fertilized duck egg, aka duck fetus), and tuna laced with ghost pepper. Trevor Trujillo, a Fantastic Fest regular who sports a dazzling mustache, won the challenge, earning a headband, a $100 gift card (!), and awe from the audience.

Actress Rina Takeda, star of Dead Sushi, was also at the screening. Since she’s a black belt in karate, she did a short demo after the film. In the category of “things I never thought I’d see in my life,” let’s add seeing a young woman whip around sushi-nunchucks whilst being narrated by piece of egg sushi that was being puppeteered by a small, round Japanese man.