Greetings from steamy Austin, Texas!

I had originally planned this to be a bit more of a travelogue, but then I realized no one gives a crap what I’m eating, who I’m hanging out with, or how drunk I got last night. Obviously I’m having fun; goes without saying. But you’re reading this because you want to know what movies are worth putting on your radar. Though, I will say this about my first sojourn to the Alamo Drafthouse’s epic genre film festival — I had two misconceptions immediately proven wrong yesterday. My first misconception came about while registering my badge, when I was asked what size T-shirt I wear and received this prescient and terrifying glimpse into how FF perceived the dietary habits of its partons…

The only way that could be more horrifying to me is if the sizes started at L. So this comic gold combined with the existing misconception I already had: that FF was going to be the sausage fest to end all sausage fests. I was now expecting to spend my days drowning in a sea of huge sweaty dudes. To my surprise, not only are there a respectable number of ladies here – and not just actresses making an appearance for a film – but the waistbands aren’t all in the manatee class. I mean, there are some sizable people here, but we do live in America. And this is Texas.

Anyway… movies!

My schedule is very tight, so these are going to be a bit brief. I’ll do a wrap-up at the end of the fest and possibly elaborate on some things that deserve elaborating.

The Squad (aka, El paramo)
Genre: Horror
Director: Jaime Osorio Marquez

FF Summary: In the foggy mountains of Colombia, nine soldiers trudge through muddy terrain in search of an outpost that they believe has been invaded by guerrillas. As they approach their target, one of them is brutally injured, forcing them to prematurely enter the base instead of waiting for backup. Once inside, they’re greeted a pile of dead bodies and a series of ritualistic markings meant to ward off the devil. After discovering a lone, traumatized survivor and a cryptic event log, the men wait, sifting through their own differences with each other. Trapped, confused and cut off from the outside world, they begin to feel the strain of isolation closing in around them. They’ll grasp at anything to resolve what happened there…and what is going to happen to them.

Should You Be Excited: No. Which isn’t to imply the film is bad, but you certainly don’t need to be chomping at the bit here.

Thoughts: This is coming from a first time filmmaker, and if nothing else it demonstrates that Marquez is a guy to keep an eye on. My issues with the film were tedium and then ultimately conceptual disappointment. The film isn’t boring, but it is one of those horror movies in which the crux of the film is whether or not it even is a horror movie — in other words, is the female survivor they find a witch? Or is it all in their heads? But it’s not that mysterious. I’m not sure why the film is being pushed as horror instead of a thriller. This isn’t a Dog Soldiers. It’s a Lord of the Flies-esque thriller about men turning on each other. But the motivations don’t always feel organic, and the film lacks relatable or likable characters. The closest thing we have to a protagonist is Ponce (Juan Pablo Barragan), who is an ineffectual wiener and has a mysterious backstory that we’re briefly given glimpses of throughout the film and is only 100% revealed at the end. The problem is that this is gimmick for gimmick’s sake. Nothing is gained by withholding Ponce’s backstory. In fact, I think the movie may have been stronger if Marquez had laid all the cards on the table from the get-go.

All this said, though, the film is well-made and has the novelty factor of being Colombian. The first half was pleasantly ominous too.  

Moment to Savor: The scene in which the “witch” is discovered, sealed up inside a wall, is groovy.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)
Genre: Horror
Director: Tom Six

The Gist: Things get meta when a diminutive and mentally challenged Londoner named Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) decideds to take his love of Tom Six’s Human Centipede (First Sequence) to the next level and make his own human centipede — only with twelve “segments” instead of three.

Should You Be Excited: Depends on your feelings on the first film. For fans, yes. For non-fans, no.

Thoughts: Human Centipede pretty resoundingly trumped You Got Served when it comes to 00’s films that had a wildly disproportional ratio between cultural impact and how many people actually saw the film. People were making HC plush toys before the film was even released. And now we have 2, which thus far seems to be the most critically controversial film of FF (at least based on the people I’ve talked with). A lot of people seem to like it, feeling that it improves upon the first one. Though the main argument I’m hearing for how it improves upon the first one is that it actually shows much of what was only implied in HC. I’m not a huge fan of the original film, though I’m not sure how leaving its horrors mostly to the imagination was where it went wrong. If you do truly feel that way, then you’ll fucking love this film.

Tom Six is savvy guy, and he knew he needed to kick things up a couple notches if he wanted to come anywhere near the level of disgust he caused back in 2009. 2 is pretty much the definition of “torture porn.” And at times it is so disgusting and wantonly offensive that it does reach a sort of genius — especially in what I’ll call the Schindler’s List factor. See 2 is shot entirely in grimy black and white, and there is only one thing in the film that is ever given color. And let’s just say that the color is brown. But the movie was lacking a lot in the story department. The one undeniable success of the film is the new villain. Say what you will about HC, but Dieter Laser was amazing villain casting; instantly iconic. How to top that or even match that? Well, Six has at least matched it with Laurence R. Harvey, who doesn’t utter a single word in the film but simply looks mesmerizing. He’s like something out of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film of oddballs. He’s got the bug-eyed face of Peter Lorre and the most amazing gut I’ve ever seen. He seriously looks like an egg with limbs.  

The meta concept was a spiffy idea on Six’s part. The inside jokes he makes about public reaction to the first film are kinda blah, but I loved the fact that Martin is trying to lure HC actress Ashlynn Yennie to London for an “audition,” so he can add her to his centipede — and he succeeds. There was a truly inventive movie hiding somewhere within 2, but unfortunately it never quite materializes. There are some fantastically offensive bits (I don’t want to spoil anything but I’ll just say everyone walked out of the theater talking about a certain something involving a baby), but it doesn’t add up to anything. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of the original, I respected its simplicity. It’s problem was it got over-hyped. 2 is horror spectacle. Fun in a packed theater, but probably a slog at home.  

But given the high-concept nature of 2, I’m actually pretty excited to see what is in store for Human Centipede III (Final Sequence). Tom Six says it shall take place in America. USA! USA! USA! Anyhoo all-in-all, I always have to give points to a film that is memorable. 2‘s parts don’t add up to much, but several scenes will linger uncomfortably in my mind for a while.

Moment to Savor: A funnel. A real centipede. An anus.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Genre: Action, Bizarre, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Director: John Kostanski

FF Summary: The Gates to Hell have opened, a legion of demons and ghouls spilling out across the planet enslaving what few humans they do not kill and forcing the survivors to fight to the death in televised matches for their devilish amusement. As their jack booted steps ring out across the land only one thing can stand in their way. Neither a man nor a machine soon the demons will learn to fear the awesome power of the Manborg.

Once a quiet young man who signed up to fight in the army alongside his brother the Manborg watched his companions and brother slaughtered around him until he too was slain and tossed aside by the enemy. That should have been the end of him but, strangely, it wasn’t and years later – the world now firmly in the grips of the demonic horde – he awakes in an abandoned warehouse stripped of his memory and rebuilt as a walking weapon. With the help of a small band of feisty survivors Manborg must enter the ring and defeat the enemy to free all of humanity.

Should You Be Excited: Yeah, this is some silly-ass fun.  

Thoughts: There isn’t a ton to say about this film really. It is an ultra-low-budget gonzo greenscreen ode to bizarre 80’s straight-to-video madness full of sci-fi nonsense, weird monsters and lots of fighting. Kind of like someone made a weird melting pot of Arena (1989), GI Joe, Mortal Kombat, and Cyborg 2, with a pinch of VR Troopers aesthetics — and did all the special FX in their basement. The FX sets, crowds, and characters (some classic stop-motion), all look knowingly terrible, but the way they’re used shows the hand of a skilled master. I’d say only every other joke lands right, but they keep coming fast enough that it doesn’t matter. Fans of Rat Scratch Fever will eat this up. It played great with a midnight crowd, so keep an eye out for it. Or at least gather a bunch of friends and beer together when it hits the home market.

Moment to Savor: I couldn’t help but love the first big arena battle with Manborg against a giant stop-motion monster.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

A Boy and His Samurai
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Comedy, Romance
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura

FF Summary: Based on a popular manga — Yusa is a single mom, desperately doing her best to get her young son, Tomoya, off to school, remember his books, hold down a boring job that pays the rent, and provides microwaved dinners ready for him when he comes home. The last thing she needs in her life is a time traveling samurai, but that’s exactly what she gets when Kajima (played by popular TV idol, Ryo Nishikido) winds up stranded in her apartment complex after being inexplicably plucked by random forces from the Edo Period. Not knowing what to do, she invites him to stay but soon, frustrated by his inability to cope with modern day Tokyo, she starts to use him as a babysitter and then as a cook and housekeeper, even though he’s still terrified of the ringing phone. But while doing this, Kajima realizes that he doesn’t like hacking people up in duels over honor and respect. He likes making pastries and wants to turn pro.

Should You Be Excited: Yes. This is a wonderful film.  

Thoughts: I don’t know how Fish Story director Yoshihiro Nakamura remains a secret from America. Well, that’s a lie. I know. It’s cause he makes movies in Japanese. But I’m not sure why the studios haven’t roped him into something. My friend fairly accurately described him as the Japanese Cameron Crowe, or rather noted that he’s been steadily making the kind of mass-appeal-with-class comedies that Crowe should have been making in recent years. If A Boy and His Samurai were in English, I can guarantee you it would be the #1 rom-com of 2012. The movie is fucking adorable. And I don’t think it could very easily be remade for America (though at the same time I’ll wonder what is wrong with any exec who doesn’t try to do so). The Japanese cultural elements are extremely important in keeping the inherently sappy and corny story in check. It sounds like a minor tweak, but it would be tricky to keep the tone the same if our samurai were changed into a medieval knight in London or a cowboy in America. The samurai aspects play an important role in the dessert-making element of the film. It somehow seems cutely plausible (instead of just cute) that a samurai could find a way to apply his serious habits and training to that of food preparation.

Honestly, I think the only reason this film is at FF is because Nakamura remains so obscure. Tonally it feels out of place. But fellas, listen up. When this eventually hits the market, it will make the perfect date-night pick. It’s genuinely funny and genuinely sweet. It has the most delightful little kid since Jerry Maquire. And best of all, it has evil looking deserts coming out the ass. I’m not much of a desert person, but my sweet tooth was aching like a motherfucker when I got out the screening. As soon as your girlfriend/wife/possibly you stop crying, you’ll want to hit the sweetshop for some custard.

Moment to Savor: If Kajima and Toyoma’s final round of the dessert making competition doesn’t make you smile; you have no soul.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Only real news to report at the moment is that IFC picked up the horror flick Penumbra, which I haven’t had a chance to see yet. But will!

Talk to ya again soon.