September 30, 2011


Jo's - where I get coffee every morning
This is it, the penultimate day of the Fest. And my first film of the day is the bonafide classic (and never-before-seen by me) An American Werewolf in London. I assume everyone who really wanted to see the film were lucky enough to nab tickets to the earlier screening with the Rick Baker Q&A as the theatre was all but empty for this screening. An American Werewolf was fucking fantastic and I'm psyched I got to see it on the big screen. I was surprised by the streak of humour throughout but seeing as how it was directed by John Landis (the guy behind one of my all-time favourite comedies, The Blues Brothers) I shouldn't have been. The relationship between David and his buddy Jack is quickly and gracefully established; these guys have the easy chemistry of old friends. And then of course they don't keep to the roads and are attacked on the moors. The creature effects by Baker are astonishing work and he and Landis are really working together to build the best effect possible, Landis often cutting away to something mundane but still surprising. Also, Nazi demons! Crazy.

Taking a chance with my next screening I opted for The Devil's Business, a film I knew almost nothing about. An unmitigated bore is what I turned out to be watching. Two English gangster cliches arrive at a house to lie in wait to whack someone. Things start getting a little spooky but the action consisted chiefly of these two blokes nattering away at one another. Despite writer/director Sean Hogan's best efforts there was no tension, horror or surprises to this film. It felt cheap, derivative and talky. It may have been a half-decent idea for a short film, but stretched out to feature length it (and I) suffer for it.

As my preferred option of Summerland was, once again, sold out I took another chance on my selection and chose the late-confirmation Love. This was billed as something of an experimental sci-fi film, part of a larger work by band Angels & Airwaves (from ex-Blink 182 frontman Tom Delonge). It begins in the American Civil War with a young soldier sent off to see and catalogue some strange sight many miles away. It then cuts to the ISS in the near future, staffed by lone astronaut Capt. Lee Miller. The majority of the film is then taken up with Miller isolated and slowly going insane, as all communication is cut off. The last few minutes then go all 2001 on your head. I can definitely see what everyone involved was going for, aiming to tackle some big themes, but it does become tedious and feels a lot longer than it actually is. 2001: A Space Odyssey becomes a transcendent piece of cinema but Love, though it tries, cannot reach these stunning heights. I'm still unsure how the Civil War ties in to it all as well. But they did apparently get a lot of right with regards to the ISS - the spirit of at least, if not the absolute details.

Rounding out my day was the final selection from the Hong Kong genre vault. Unfortunately, I can't really talk about it as the distributor is one of those crazy, kooky types who doesn't actually want the film screened anywhere. I will say this though: it was truly awesome and Grady Hendrix as the host for these events is a firecracker of excitement and knowledge and the Q&A with him afterwards was hilarious and informative. 

There was the second Secret Screening tonight as well, at midnight. Again, it was a sellout and the security surrounding it as intense: all electronic devices had to be turned in and attendees had to pass through a metal detector. What was the film in the end? Paranormal Activity 3. Woop-de-doo. I'm sure the folks enjoyed it but not really my cup of tea. And again, I had to skip a night of drunken revelry at the Highball (with a prom theme) as I was feeling really, really fuckin' sick. 

One day to go.


The storm clouds a-gather.
Fuck yes. After my two film day yesterday, today was packed with awesomeness. PACKED. I got to one of my most anticipated films at the Fest: Nacho Vigalondo's Extraterrestrial! HUZZAH! I have spent the entire day watching movies. I am exhausted, a little sickly, sore and I feel fuckin' FANTASTIC. Let's kick this shit off. 

The first film of my packed day was the night-club set French thriller Sleepless Night. It's a tight film, chronicling one corrupt cop's fight to rescue his son from drug dealers he stole from. Things are kept taut throughout, as the corrupt cop has to deal with the drug dealer and his crew, the buyer, his equally corrupt partner, an Internal Affairs investigator and one honest cop. They all collide in a massive and packed nightclub over the course of one night. It's an economical thriller that sets up a goal for the protagonist and then goes about placing obstructions and complications in front of him - and keeps on throwing them at him. It manages to make you feel some sympathy towards this corrupt jerk of a cop - mainly due to the unbelievable amount of violence and pain he has to go through to get his son back.

Next up was an interesting Korean take on individuals with superpowers, Haunters. It's a much smaller film than I initially thought it would be, focusing on two individuals with extra-normal abilities who are as opposite as is possible. the one-legged Cho-In has had a brutal childhood, moreso after his parents discover his freakish ability to control anyone he can see. His father tries to kill him but instead ends up dead himself and Cho-In on his own. 20 years later, he's alone and living from hotel to hotel and taking money from loan offices to live. Kyu-Nam works at a scrap-metal yard with his two best friends, Bubba from Ghana and Al from Turkey. After miraculously surviving being hit by a truck, he's fired from his job but gains employment at a loan office. And that's when Cho-In and Kyu-Nam come into conflict; Kyu-Nam is the only person that Cho-In cannot control. This is the set up for the rest of the film as Kyu-Nam takes it upon himself to stop Cho-In and their conflict escalates further and further with Kyu-Nam's amazing ability to heal and Cho-In's ruthless control of people. It works, for the most part, although the tone veers wildly from serious & creepy to cheesy and humorous.

After Haunters, and Day Six of the Fest, I was really feeling the fatigue. I felt like I'd hit a wall - my brain was sludgey and sparking off in random directions, my limbs felt heavy and I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep. But I've got three films to go! Also, it rained briefly. I love the smell of rain on hot concrete. I loaded up on caffeine and sugar and headed into my next screening.

Director Nacho Vigalondo answers questions
from Ain't it Cool News honcho (and Fantastic
Fest co-founder) Harry Knowles
Finally. This is one of the films I have been hanging out for all Fest and could not be happier I was getting into: Nacho Vigalondo's Extraterrestrial. This is the follow-up film to his debut Timecrimes, which blew me away a little bit when I caught it at the NZIFF a couple of years ago. But Extraterrestrial is an entirely different film to that, while still feeling like a Nacho Vigalondo film. Where Timecrimes was very serious and complex, Extraterrestrial is a rom-com... that just happens to unfold while a giant UFO hovers over Madrid. It pretty much all takes place in and around one apartment as Julio and Julia wake-up after a particularly drunken one-night stand together. They've been passed out for the entire day and soon notice something's wrong: there's no-one around anywhere and all cellphone and TV reception is cut off. Oh hey, that's why - there's a ruddy great flying saucer hanging out over downtown! Things become even more complicated for Julio and Julia when Angel, Julia's neighbour who carries an obsessive torch for her, and Carlos, Julia's boyfriend, show up. There are lies and fast-talking in an effort to cover things up and they spiral out of control, just like in a typical rom-com. The film is carried largely by it's charm, both from director Vigalondo and the two leads: Michelle Jenner as Julia and Julian Villagran as Julio (he also took out Best Actor at the Fantastic Fest Awards). Extraterrestrial is a very different film to Timecrimes but still not what you'd expect. I'm looking forward to seeing it again and what Vigalondo brings out next.

Actor, producer & Elijah Wood ass-kicker Dominic
Monaghan chats to's Drew McWeeny
Careening straight from the Q&A with Nacho and Knowles I headed straight into the Dominic Monaghan starring (and produced) post-apocalyptic film The Day. Another film set almost entirely in one location, The Day finds five survivors of the unnamed apocalypse holed up in an abandoned farmhouse. However, all is not as it seems and they're soon under attack by bloodthirsty (quite literally) cannibals. It's a very low budget affair, and it unfortunately shows in some pretty terrible digital blood FX. I kind of hope this type of thing is in an "unfinished" stage and with the film having been recently picked up for distribution by WWE (yes, the wrestling guys) they can go back and touch this stuff up. The Day is ok, everyone involved obviously believing in the project in one way or another though the script could have perhaps been tighter, with some pretty obvious attempts at increasing the tension standing out. Although I appreciated that we are all but dropped into this post-apocalyptic landscape with no explanation given as to the mass-extinction event that led us here; for these types of films, I don't believe the reason behind the existing world is necessary or all that important. They're about survival and what people are ultimately willing to do to survive. The ass-kicking Ashley Bell is the odd-one-out in this otherwise tight group, carrying around a history she'd rather not reveal or revisit. It's a noble effort, especially with such a low budget and for being shot in 13 days, but it needed a little more tightening and cleaning up to really hit home.

After The Day I'm feeling a little post-apocalyptic myself. I'm definitely getting sick. I can feel it - exhaustion, throat closing up... but dammit! I'm not going to let a little thing like that stop me! No, I've still got the midnight show of Zombie Ass to go! Noboru Iguchi's Zombie Ass is exactly the type of film I would only expect to find at Fantastic Fest. This is a bizarre horror sci-fi comedy fetish film about five young people coming across a village infested with zombie-alien-parasite-butt-worms. Heroine Megumi lost her younger sister Ai when she committed suicide after being bullied at school; since then Megumi has studied karate continuously and is still getting over her guilt. Heading off on a camping trip with a bizarre collection of friends in an effort to out-run her guilt, they stumble upon the weirdest zombie infestation ever filmed. Iguchi indulges his obvious love for the female bottom (as he put it: "I love ass") and poop and fart jokes. This is a schlock Japanese exploitation flick, with Iguchi championing his own fetishes and wicked sense of humour, carried through with a crazy digital score and outrageous over-the-top, well, everything. I have to say, I enjoyed Zombie Ass, just for the fact that it is so out there and very much for a particular audience. A singular film.

September 28, 2011


Post-card painted on a wall. Just because.
Wow. This was my smallest day at the Fest to date. By the time I managed to get through the online ticketing queue system, most sessions were sold-out, let alone the ones I wanted to get to. So, no Juan of the Dead or A Boy and His Samurai (which won the coveted Audience Choice Award at the Fantastic Fest Awards) for me. Even the Animated Short film programme was sold out! So I was absolutely unable to get into the two big events today - The Fantastic Fest Awards and the Fantastic Feud and only got to two, two, films. 

The first of those movies was Clown, an outrageously hilarious comedy from Denmark. And just like New Kids Turbo this is a movie based on a popular TV show. Frank and Casper are heading off on a canoe trip, to get away from their girlfriends and to undertake "Tour de Pussy" down the river. Casper is the smooth-talking, ultra-cool guy with the great house and Frank is, well, a bit of a schmuck. He's not that good looking, or much of a snappy dresser. He and his girlfriend Marie have been asked to look after Marie's nephew Bo, while her brother is on his honeymoon. And Frank has just found out she's preganant, though she's doubtful about his father potential. So of course, he kidnaps Bo and brings him on the canoe trip to Casper frustration and anger. Things gro from bad to worse and even more worse. Clown is a comedy that pushes right up against the line of acceptability and often does a silly little dance over it. There are very smart choices made with the characters and story, every joke or set-up not merely being outrageously hilarious but also adding to the overall picture. With comedy, especially one using already well established characters, it can be hard to travel - whether it be national differences in terms of humour or "inside" jokes it can be difficult to get it over to a new audience. Clown suffers none of those problems. It's smart, taboo-pushing and, most importantly, funny. I can only wonder if the TV show is as out there.

If there simply must be a Robocop remake (and it seems ever more likely), Jose Padilha is one of the directors I would trust with it. His Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within is a cry against corruption in Brasil, masquerading as cop-action genre fare. I'll own up straight away: I haven't seen the first Elite Squad but then you don't really need to to enjoy this sequel. This is a muscular, violence soaked film with plenty of smarts hidden away there. Lt. Colonel Nascimento is the head of BOPE, the shoot-first ask questions later Elite unit of the police. Diogo Fraga is a noted human rights campaigner, often railing against the conditions in prison and the violence of BOPE. These are two men on opposing sides of an ideological divide that are in constant conflict (Fraga even marrying Nascimento's ex-wife), but have more in common than they would have ever thought. Nascimento, for all his badass attitude, is a man who believes in justice. Cartels of drug dealers and the usual street level criminals are not the targets here; instead the targets are far more dangerous men: those in elected office whose pockets swell with the money of the poor. It's a tight film, with fascinating characters at the centre of it all and is not afraid to show the ugly side of Rio. Padilha is a man with a lot to say about his country; a man who is rightfully angered at the corruption he sees around him and that comes across in ever frame.

Even though it was a smaller day of films for me, it was still an awesome day. Clown was easily the funniest film I've seen in a long time and Elite Squad II had a lot to recommend it. Perhaps it was a good thing to have something of a rest day? Nah. I would've preferred to see more! More! Bring on tomorrow!

September 27, 2011


Film geeks await their next screening
Day Four of Fantastic Fest marks the half-way point. Already?! Wow. Scary to think I left reality behind a scant four days ago and will have to return to it in four more. I don't know that I want to. Why the hell can't I keep watching 3 or more movies a day?

One of the more interesting challenges here in Austin has been, as a Wellington caffeine snob, getting my fix of java. Finding it isn't too much of a problem - Jo's Coffee is less than a minute from my room and they serve up pretty good coffee (though if I'm needing a coffee between screenings at the Alamo my only choice is the drive-thru-servicing Starbucks. I've relented once and it was awful - weak and atomically hot). It's the drinking it in the heat. Hot coffee on a day so hot I can feel the sweat pooling in my shoes? Only in an air-conditioned cafe thanks!

My day at the Fest began with the film talked of as Switzerland's first horror, Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps. But first, a quick word on the pre-show. When you walk into a theatre at the Alamo, as I think I've previously mentioned, there are no ads but instead a pre-show collection of random clips and trash trailers. It just so happened that one of the best of these played before Sennentuntschi; an 80's instructional guide to the more common carvings found on a Satanic sacrifice. Presented by a bald guy with glasses, mustache and loud shirt and with random pink lighting it was a bizarre pleasure. As for Sennentuntschi I'm not really sure as to how much of a "horror" film it really is - there are some horrific scenes and images but it's almost more of a mystery film than a horror. Set in a small village high up in the Alps, it begins in the present day with the discovery of three skeletons by a girl and her mother out collecting mushrooms. Once the police arrive, the mother begins the story from 1975 when she was a little girl herself. From there, the film essentially plays out in two parallel timelines in 1975. During the funeral for a priest who had mysteriously hung himself, a dirty and barely clothed girl appears from nowhere and promptly collapses. She is mute and is taken in by the local policeman plod, Reusch despite the villagers superstitious suspicions. Playing out at the same time, but set days before, the same young girl appears to three men at a farm even higher in the Alps. They believe her to be the Sennentuntschi: a demon gifted to them in an absinthe soaked haze. The truth, of course, is something more than that and the fun to be had is in the teasing out of the mystery and the way the film plays with the concepts of local myths, legends and the mob mentality of a village. 

Moving on from death in the mountains, I had the unexpected surprise of Headhunters. This is a film that was not on my initial list of ones to see, but after hearing some positive things out of the earlier screening I decided to give it a shot. I was thoroughly entertained. This Norwegian black comedy is about Roger Brown - he's 1.68m tall, has a statuesque Nordic beauty for a wife and lives in a house far beyond his means. As he earns barely enough to cover his expenses at his day job as a recruitment specialist - he's constantly feeling like he has to over-compensate for his height - he moonlights as an art-thief. He's meticulous in his methods (replacing the stolen works with forgeries) and uses the interview process at his day job to gather information for his thefts. But even with his second job he's needing more money. And that's when he's introduced to a prime target - a man with a painting worth tens of millions. Except this is a guy you really don't want to fuck with and it all ends up going horribly, horribly wrong for poor Roger. He starts the movie as an insufferable little jerk and there is a kind of perverse pleasure to be had in watching this guy get put through the ringer. The script by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg, from the novel by Jo Nesbo, is tight and just keeps on at a constantly building pace. Headhunters is fun, engaging and inventive; pretty much everything you want from a night out at the movies.

From the black comedy of Norway to the out of control, un-PC comedy of the Netherlands and New Kids Turbo. The New Kids started out as a series of web-videos, before becoming a TV series and, now, a movie. It's fantastically over-the-top and ridiculous, with five delinquent central characters replete with mullets and mustaches. All five end up fired from their jobs, and with their unemployment benefits cut off, make the pronouncement to not pay for anything anymore. These guys are obviously having a lot of fun and have a love for extreme physical violence for comedic effect. If you're easily offended by... anything really, then I wouldn't recommend New Kids Turbo as they take a kind of anarchistic glee in stomping all over political correctness. The film ends up just building and building, growing ever more over-the-top and ridiculous. I don't know how well the comedy, with it's heavy reliance on surprise, would work in a second viewing but New Kids Turbo was a riotous ride around with five sympathetic jerks who enjoy calling everyone they come across a cunt.

Wrapping up my Day Four (no midnight screening or Chaos Reigns Karaoke for me tonight - I'm feeling like I have a cold starting up that needs to be fought down. Die cold die! [Read that as English or German]) I seated myself for the first of four secret Hong Kong action films. Given an enthusiastic introduction by a man in a bright pink suit from the NY Asian Film Festival (who's name escapes me right now, sorry), this was one of many films recently saved from having their prints destroyed by a going-out-of-business distributor. For our viewing pleasure we had one of the earliest films to be directed by action-choreographer extraordinaire Yuen Wo Ping: The Dreadnought. Even after watching the film I have no idea what the title has to do with anything that happens on screen, but ok. A violent criminal, The White Tiger, is on the run and winds up in a small town. Mousey has a laundry business he runs with his sister, and he's something of a coward preferring to run away than fight and collect debts owed to them. Mousey's friend Leung Foon is a pupil of the old and still spry master Wong Fei-Huang. I'd just like to point that the actor playing Fei-Huang, Tak-Hing Kwan, was nearing 80 at this point but he displays more moves than most young action stars today. The Dreadnought is one of those great kung-fu films where everyone seems to know kung-fu of some sort and the plot is merely a means to getting to the next fight scene. These are all inventive, often moving as more of a dance than a fight, with a couple of standouts being a showdown between a Chinese Dragon and a Golden Lion, and a theatrical showdown in the town opera house. A hell of a lot of fun, with a better sense of fight choreography and geography than pretty much any Hollywood actioner you'll see in the cinema these guys are the real deal. I'm hoping I have time in my schedule for the other surprise Hong Kong films.

And that's Day Four ladies and gentlemen. Only at Fantastic Fest: Swiss horror, Norwegian black comedy, Dutch gutter comedy and classic Hong Kong action.

September 26, 2011


Well it wouldn't be a film festival without a ticketing snafu, would it? I believed myself lucky enough to have snapped up a ticket for the Fantastic Debates - the annual event where two people debate a topic, and then settle things in the ring. This year had Tim League (Fantastic Fest co-founder) vs. undefeated bare-knuckle boxing champ from the film KNUCKLE, James Quinn McDonagh in the first match up and Elijiah Wood vs. Dominic Monaghan in the second. I was pretty well excited. It was not to be. Due to a technical glitch, the tickets kept selling past allocation and anyone with a boarding pass over 150 (I was 286) was not getting in. Gutted? Yes. Going home? Hell no.

Day Three started out though with the Fantastic Shorts, one of three short film collections at Fantastic Fest. I have no idea what previous years were like, but I thought it was an overall great offering in the programme. In my experience, the short film programmes at a festival can be one of the lowest attended, but Fantastic Shorts was pretty decently packed out. Stand outs included The Coldest Caller, about a wily old English lady fooling the Grim Reaper; No Rest for the Wicked, with music by Lalo Schifrin and starring Ray Park and Chuck’s Zachary Levi that played more as a pilot of possible adventures to come; The Swan and the Hunter on Their First Meeting took a mythical fairytale and juxtaposed it into an indie drama scene

Next up was, no doubt, one of my most anticipated films at Fantastic Fest: Karate Robo-Zarbogar. Based on a more-than-obscure and uber-cultish Japanese TV show from the Seventies, Daimon and his transforming robot motorbike Zarbogar must stop the evil cabal of villains Sigma from harvesting the DNA of Japanese leaders in order to destroy the world. Things get decidedly complicated when Daimon falls for one of the villains, Miss Borg and they both struggle with their feelings. The film is essentially split into two parts: the first half with the young Daimon playing like a final never-resolved cliff-hanger episode to the TV series, while part two takes place 25 years later as Sigma’s plans near fruition and Daimon is an over-the-hill washout. Director __ is obviously having a blast (especially in the first half, setting everything up) but I was expecting less of the early-years and more of a focus on the older Daimon. But it was a riotous adventure with some knowing cheapness. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the Q&A with __ as I had to rush off to...

Comin’ At Ya, the film that kick-started the 3D boom of the late-70’s/1980’s. It is a film designed entirely to be seen (and only seen) in 3D; as you can probably guess from the title, there’s a lot of things flying out at you from the screen. In fact, if there’s a chance for something to fly out at you (arrows, spears, beans, a yo-yo, hands, anything) you can bet it will. As a 3D adventure, it’s a hoot. As a film though, it’s a bizarre melding that doesn’t all the way work. Despite the title, and the fairly “gimmicky” use of the 3D, the story is a pretty serious Western about a man (producer Tony Anthony) on the hunt for his wife who was kidnapped by slavers.

With three films down, it was time for dinner. And again, I headed to a diner trailer and again, it was really great food. With free beer. Free beer! You might be skipping these bits of the blog where I blather on about the food and whatnot, but I think it’s important to give you a greater picture of the Fest and to give me a chance to write about the great food and friendly people of Austin. A massive pork Cuban sandwich with fried plantains, free beer and a chat with Phil, the guy in the sandwich cart, is just a great way to recharge the batteries during Fest.

And then it was time to head down to Urban Explorer. Set in the vast labyrinth of underground tunnels in Berlin (the director apparently being arrested for filming down there without permission), this is a horror tale about a group of young folk on a less-than-legal tour that encounter, as they so often do, trouble. The setting does half of the work in building the tension but the young folk also encounter a crazed ex-East German border guard. Things go from bad to worse and it really is a tense thriller, even if I began to get annoyed at the constantly stupid (and movie typical) decisions made by the characters.

While waiting for the Fantastic Debates, I just got chatting to a couple of guys as you tend to do at Fantastic Fest. As my brain was already a little fried from so many movies and so little sleep, it took me a while to click that these were the director and star of The Incredibly Slow Murderer With the Extremely Inefficient Weapon. This is another thing I really love about the Fest - everyone here is a fan and everyone loves to come to this Festival. Missing out on the Fantastic Debates, I decided to instead see another thriller in a unique location: A Lonely Place to Die. Moving from the Berlin underground to the mountains of Scotland, this is a better crafter thriller. A group of mountain climbing friends, out on a hike, hear a strange cry for help and come across a young Eastern European girl buried in a cage. They do the only thing they can: help her. This, of course, sets off a chase across the rugged and dangerous highlands as the friends are pursued by the girl's kidnappers. Events get a little over-the-top come the final act but, for the most part, A Lonely Place to Die is a good ole' thrill-filled chase movie. 

And that was Day Three. Stumbling out of the Alamo at 2am, brain wired from cinema I made it back to the motel before comaing out.

September 25, 2011


From Mondo Tees: Fantasticness
Oh boy, I did NOT want to wake up this morning. I've been having a little trouble sleeping (I, once again, blame the heat) and so picked up some sleeping pills yesterday to help knock me out. They did at that, but damn if they weren't still in effect when I had to wake up 5-and-a-half hours later. Anyway, fighting past the grogginess I was logged on to the Fantastic Fest ticket website in time to miss getting tickets for A Boy and His Samurai, Sennentuntschi and Extraterrestrial (all films on my list to bloody well see). But that's the great thing about Fantastic Fest - there just other awesome films to see! A Boy and His Samurai and The Yellow Sea were both sold out for the first lot of screenings today, meaning Milocrorze, A Love Story was all but empty; which is a damned shame as it is a candy-coloured pop explosion head-trip on your eyeballs. I don't even know where to begin... Well, ok. Ovreneli Vreneligare is a bright-orange haired moppet, with pink tartan pants and a green argyle sweater. One day while in the park he meets the Great Milocrorze and falls hopelessly in love. When she abandons him, he has to cover the hole in his heart with a pot lid. And then we move swiftly on to Besson Kumagai, a misogynistic Male Youth Counsellor, prone to breaking out into dance. The tale of one-eyed samurai Tamon and his search for his kidnapped love is the last, and longest, of the three. Milocrorze is a weird, heady concoction and is one of those films that only comes along every once in a while.

Invasion of Alien Bikini is another film from South Korea but way, way, way down the budget scale - in fact it was reportedly made for less than $5,000.00 USD. But that makes it no less insane and inventive, even if the majority of it takes place in one room. It really just drops you in the middle of everything, not wasting time on explaining a hell of a whole lot (except for some really obvious exposition) when it all kicks off. A man in a bright yellow jacket and wearing a fake mustache has taken it upon himself to patrol the city streets. After hearing a cry for help, he saves a young woman from three attackers and takes her back to his place to recover. There follows lots of talking, some flirting and Jenga. Then things get really weird... It's all played quite knowingly and with a fair amount of talent getting the most out of the measly budget, even if it does drag out with a truly bizarre ending that I'm not sure I understood.

After these two, I had a fair amount of time to kill before my next screening and so headed back to the motel. I have really loved walking down some of these suburban streets - there are some amazing homes, all with their own touch of individuality. Like the place that has, for it's front gate, a front door doorframe and all. Or the many places that have strings of lights on the porch. Or the many squirrels or an opossum. I wouldn't see great stuff like this if I was always driving everywhere.

On the way back to the Alamo, I hit up The Mighty Cone for dinner - another diner trailer, just up from my motel on South Congress. The eponymous cones are like burritos but, well, cones. They don't fry their food but "deep saute" - even the avocado! Anyways YUM. And again, walking back to the Alamo I got to watch an amazing sunset. The sky out here just seems... bigger oddly enough.

The final film for the day was the Belgian farm-noir Bullhead. The centre of the film is Matthias Schoenaerts' Jacky Vanmarsenille. Jacky is a monster of a man, lumbering around pumped full of testosterone and who-knows what other hormones. He's a tragic character though, with a deep trauma in the past that still defines him. The film delves into the illegal use of hormones in the Belgian meat market and makes excellent use of the language barriers within the country (between the French speaking Walloons and the Dutch speaking Flemish). It's a slow film, director Michael Roskam really taking his time setting everything up and playing out. It doesn't build to a slow burn though and perhaps takes too long to play out. But the character of Jacky, as played by Schoenaerts, is a fascinating and quietly devastating one.

September 24, 2011


Seeing as how I've only just wrapped up my last review for the New Zealand International Film Festival (that finished waaaaaay back in August) I thought I'd do the Fantastic Fest day-by-day to start with, focusing more on my experiences at the Fest and then hope to bring you actual write-ups of films as and when I can (I also have a few films I saw in between the two Festivals I'm trying to finish writing up. Terribly behind, I know).

So, how did Day One of Fantastic Fest go? Well, first off, I was incredibly happy to be spending my entire day in an air-conditioned cinema! (have I mentioned it's hot in Austin?) I got to four films in total, and as I've said I'll be writing them up in separate posts as and when I can: 

Blind, a South Korean thriller that, though it has it's own unique tension inherent to the set-up (the only witness to an abduction is a blind ex-police recruit), unfortunately pales in comparison to the other amazing South Korean thrillers I've seen this year (The Yellow Sea, I Saw the Devil). 

Borderline a French comedy about a middle-class married couple who fall into drug dealing. Genuinely hilarious and would easily fit into the larger NZIFF programme. 

Polvora Negra, a Mexican film that was, well, kinda boring. Some kind of crime story, involving variously inter-linked families in a small town. 

Manborg, a cheap-as-chips sci-fi from Winnipeg that fully embraces and celebrates the shoddy video movies of the 80's and early 90's. Shot, as the filmmakers said, almost entirely in their garage and a basement. A heady injection of insanity. This also played with a couple of shorts in front: The Incredibly Slow Murderer With the Extremely Inefficient Weapon (which I urge you to check out here) and it's sequel Spoon Wars.

Fantastic Fest is, well, kinda fantastic. The place is absolutely filled to the brim with geeks; geeks of all types and persuasions. Generally, but not exclusively, male there are folks big and small, bearded, tatted and in suits. And most people are just downright friendly - it's not hard to just start talking to someone about what they've seen so far and Fantastic Fest in general. It's a really great buzz to the Fest and marks it out as something totally different to the NZIFF. Which is not to knock the NZIFF (because I love it) but I guess it's just what you get with a film festival in one location with a "theme" to it.

And there's a fair amount of downtime between films (most of the time), as each part of the day is divided up into segments and you can only have one ticket per "segment" allowing the Alamo crew to clean the theater before the next lot of patrons begin boarding*. So, for dinner, I went across the road where a collection of three diner trailers sit together - Trey's Cuisine, The Odd Duck and Gourdough's Donuts. Folks sit around at picnic tables, lit by strings of lights, with their own booze and talk home-brew as a red-headed waitress with a large rose tattoo up her entire leg delivers orders. I got a couple of things from The Odd Duck - a trailer serving up wood-fired, organic and local food. It was also fuckin' delicious. Amazing food you'd be thankful to be served in a cafe or restaurant, let alone from a mobile diner.

In fact, that was one of the great highlights of the day - sitting down, eating amazing food, sucking down a root beer (also organic & Fair Trade) as I scribble my notes while watching the sun set and the storm clouds move in. 

And, of course, there was the Opening Night party. The Opening Night film was the don't-really-think-I'll-see-it-thanks-though Human Centipede II and the party was appropriately themed: three poor whole roast pigs lined up, well... yeah. Like, um, that. And a cocktail special called the "Laxatini". It is, however, rather discombobulating for me to go from a film festival where I pretty much know everyone to a festival where I know no-one. Yeah, most people are friendly enough but they're also all busy talking to their own old Fest friend and I'm still a crushingly shy kiwi guy. We'll see how that changes over the next week...

So that was Day One. I stumbled home around 2/2.30am in the morning, my head aching and spinning from cinematic insanity and tiredness. But I feel great. I'm here. I'm in Austin, I'm at freakin' FANTASTIC FEST. Two words sum it up really: FUCK. YEAH.

*OK. The ticketing works thus: with a regular Festival pass you can log on to the website two hours before the first session of the day and reserve your seats. You then head down to the Alamo to pick your tickets up and when you pick them up you're assigned a boarding number - like 75 or 106 - and these then get called up in lots. Seats aren't assigned, it's first in, first seated. Kind of like airplane boarding. Got it? Great.

September 22, 2011

the pre-FANTASTIC FEST post

So here I am in Austin, Texas. I'm here (as I hope y'all know) for the annual Fantastic Fest: an explosion of genre films and drinking the like of which the planet sees but once a year. From Wellington I've had some 20-odd hours of travel time, across three (maybe four) time zones and two airlines. I've been in Austin the last couple of days, checking out the city and generally recovering from jet-lag (I'm only now feeling close to "right"). So here's a quick run-down of the last few days. 

Chilling out at Auckland International Airport in
a very cool pod chair. Oh, the flight-time
that awaits.

As always, flying Air New Zealand was great - and I even had a spare seat! Not many movies watched sadly, as I tried my best to rest up when I could, 'cos I knew I was gonna be messed up otherwise. That didn't really work out. Also, American Airlines? Not a fan.

But hey, I made it to Austin and on my very first day took a walk to here:

Should really have some sort of heavenly light
shining on the sign...
Yep, the Alamo Drafthouse. A cinema I've been wanting to get to for a loooooong time, and one in which I'm going to be spending a fair amount of time in over the next week. 

In front of the Alamo you're greeted by this guy:

A ticket robot! YUS!!
And then the interior looks something like this:

Spaceships and fighter-planes and aliens OH MY!
Basically, the Alamo Drafthouse is pretty freakin' great. The cinemas themselves have benches/bars in front of each row of seats. There are menus tucked away and you can order stuff - food, drinks, dessert - throughout the movie and have it all brought to you. At first I thought this would be distracting but it actually works (except for when I was tucking into my chicken sandwich just as an autopsy started onscreen. YUM). Before each film there are no ads. In fact, before the scheduled start-time there is a pre-show programme selected specifically for that film; so for Attack the Block it was the Queen fight from Shaun of the Dead and some clips of Nick Frost. For Contagion there were some neat info-animations about germs etc. And, of course, there are the infamous "No talking, no texting, no tweeting" bumpers. If a complaint is raised against you for talking/texting, you get a warning. Continue being a rude bastard and you get booted out. Oh, how I wish someone would implement these rules back home.

I'm staying in an area of Austin called "So-Co" with is South of the river that bisect the city:

Hmm, what's that spray-painted on the bridge?
It's like they knew I was coming!
Austin is hot. Like, really hot. No, seriously. Like, I don't know if I've ever been this fried in my entire life. The sun beats down mercilessly and the pavement holds that heat and slowly releases it through the day and night (which is also hot). You could say the heat was like a hammer... if you could imagine yourself in the hammer and the hammer was really hot. Basically, the temperatures are high (around 30-odd plus degrees Celsius. It doesn't get that hot in summer back home).

But Austin itself is a pretty cool city (yes, you can see what I did there). The So-Co area is, I guess, bohemian with lots of little independant clothing and designer stores, as well as a lot of restaurants and food-caravans. The downtown area (directly over the bridge) is where all the big skyscrapers are and where you can tell a lot of the money is. Austin is a bit of a tech town (I believe Dell calls this place home) and there are a lot of people jogging through green areas by the river, or riding bikes (or when it's too hot to keep riding them, the buses have fold-down bike-carriers on the front. Genius) or walking dogs. Yeah, it's a Texas town where


The South Congress Avenue Bridge is also home to one of the world's largest bat colonies and every day come sun-down, these little critters swoop out in their... I dunno, it must be thousands, to search for food (apologies for the poor quality - these guys are fast and it is dark):

I got a much better photo of the bat statue near the bridge:

It's called "Nightwing" and yes, I did geek out.
But the Bat Statue is not the only piece of public art around Austin. There's also a lot of massive guitars and, well, cows like this one:

It's a "Thriller" cow
There's also this very cool Daniel Johnston mural/graffiti piece on the side of a takeaway shop:

It is so iconic it has been listed as a protected work
of public art AND appears on t-shirts.
As you can tell, I've done a LOT of walking over the last couple of days. Blocks and blocks and blocks of it and it feels so much longer in the heat. Austin is a big city; it is the capital of Texas afterall. I feel like I've covered most of where I wanted to cover and I am glad that I did all that walking because otherwise I would've missed these two great things:

My house, my castle eh?
No caption required really.
And, well, that's it for now. This post has got long enough already and I'll be sure to be bringing you more in the next few days (I hope). For now, I'll just leave you with this: