Fantastic Fest 2011: Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Did you know that if you arrive at the airport at 3am you just have to sit there for two hours behind closed gates like you’re waiting to buy concert tickets? I learned this the hard way returning from Fantastic Fest. Lemme tell you, the front entrance of an airport is extremely boring. But now I’ve returned from hot and steamy Austin, to hot and smoggy Los Angeles, with probably about 48 hours of lack-of-sleep to catch up on. My only regret from my time in Austin is failing to eat at Franklin’s famous BBQ three different times. That’s right, I fucked up eating there three times. I’m not sure what kind of nutty scenario could create such a moment, but if you ever find yourself tied up in a dungeon and your kidnappers say they’ll kill you unless someone brings them BBQ brisket immediately — don’t call me. Apparently I’m near retarded at successfully acquiring good BBQ. Now…


Comin’ At Ya! 3D
Genre: Western
Director: Ferdinando Baldi

FF Summary: Though it came at the tail end of the spaghetti western cycle, COMIN’ AT YA! showcases the work of two of the leading lights in Italian westerns, Ferdinando Baldi and Tony Anthony. Baldi was a 30 year veteran of the Italian film industry and had produced credible serious westerns like TEXAS ADDIO, but he really found his true calling when he began working with American writer/ producer/actor Tony Anthony. The two came to specialize in humorous westerns that were as much Chuck Jones as Sergio Leone. In the wake of the spectacularly popular TRINITY films, Baldi and Anthony brought a sophisticated sense of film time and a mastery of screen gags that set them apart – Anthony in particular knows how to play it with just the right amount of seriousness.

Should You Be Excited: Hell yeah.

Thoughts: Comin’ At Ya! isn’t exactly a good movie. Like Piranha 3D, its primary goal isn’t to please James Cameron and impress upon you the idea that 3D is the new sync sound or Technicolor, but simply to entertain your ass off with gimmicky 3D. In this regard it is easily one of the best 3D movies I’ve ever seen. And I’d wager its digitally restored/converted 3D actually looks better than it did in the 80’s. The opening credits perfectly set the tone for the entire film, as Ferdinando Baldi and Tony Anthony stage an elaborate series of screen-popping bits in which the credits are painted on a variety of object that inevitably pop out at ya! Obviously fun 3D will only get you so far. The film itself is good ridiculous fun too, featuring a classic Spaghetti Western stoic lead, boobs, a rabble of dirty villains, and endless scenes of bonkers moments. There is an awesomely weird scene in which a room full of women are attacked by bats, and a great bit where one of the villains is attacked by evil looking rats (their evil look was achieved by taking white lab rats and painting them black). And the primary villain’s comeuppance at the end of the film is, shall we say, explosive.

Good news: the film got picked up by Drafthouse Films. Not sure how wide its release will be, but the fact that an old film is actually getting a re-release like this is fucking wonderful. Maybe there is a God after all. And he works at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Moment to Savor: The bats. Definitely the bats.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Urban Exlporer
Genre: Horror
Director: Andy Fetscher

FF Summary: Four 20-somethings sign-up for an underground through a network of old tunnels underneath Berlin. They meet their guide at a club in Berlin where they all exchange fake names just in case the police get involved; this underground exploration isn’t exactly legal. Through a door in the basement of the club they set off, eager to explore a place few have seen. They soon realize,however, they are not alone in the tunnels. Shortly after embarking, they encounter a pair of neo-Nazi skinheads who are using the tunnels for god-knows-what sort of nefarious activities. No one is hurt in the encounter, but the experience reinforces the potentially dangerous situation they have all put themselves in. Not just are they in a physically dangerous, decaying location but the spectre of Nazism, the unspoken shame of the city that is figuratively and in this case literally buried in each shot.

Should You Be Excited: No.

Thoughts: This is a decently made and staged film, but it fails on a level of imagination. It hasn’t even been a week since I saw it and there is almost nothing about Urban Explorer that has stuck with me, other than Klaus Stiglmeier’s fan-fucking-tastic turn as the film’s villain (that is technically a spoiler, but only if you’re an idiot or have never seen a movie before). There is nothing much to grab onto during the first half of the film, as our hero characters aren’t interesting and like the similarly structured Descent, the film is a slowburn getting into the horror elements. Stiglmeier single-handedly saves the film when he arrives, but even as great as he is, I’m not sure he makes the film worth viewing. While not super original or anything, I do like the film’s concept and setting, but the filmmakers didn’t find much to do with it. And all the goodwill Stiglmeier brings into the second half of the film is pissed away by a series of completely illogical and reality-breaking actions that our surviving hero makes in the final section of the film.

Moment to Savor: The pay-off for a story Stiglmeier tells about how the Mujahideen used to skin Soviet soldiers during the Soviet-Afghan War.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Genre: Thriller, Action
Director: Morten Tyldum

FF Summary: Based on Jo Nesbo’s bestselling book of the same name, Morten Tyldum’s HEADHUNTERS follows Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie of MAX MANUS), Norway’s most successful headhunter. He’s also secretly Norway’s top con artist, using his job to slyly recruit people he plans on stealing from. He’s charming but suffers from what’s called “Little Man Syndrome.” His wife Diana (an impressive first performance from Synnøve Macody Lund) is tall and beautiful. To make up for those lost inches, he steals from people and buys her things he can’t afford, putting himself deeper in debt than even M.C. Hammer could imagine. So, Roger goes for one final hit – the one that will cure all of his financial woes. That last job is a painting worth millions, and it’s in the hands of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Cster-Waldau of “A Game of Thrones”), a former mercenary with excellent hunting skills.

Should You Be Excited: Yes.

Thoughts: There seems to be a growing trend lately with foreign filmmakers making very American feeling genre films. Which I think is great. The snooty crowd loves to toss around “American” or “Hollywood” as negative descriptors, ignoring the fact that the arsenal of techniques and styles that typify these adjectives aren’t bad themselves — they just often appear in shitty movies. Headhunters will undoubtedly get remade in English. Which is too bad, because I’m not sure how this film could feel slicker and more American than it already is — hey, it even has Game of Thrones Jamie Lannister in it, so its not all unrecognizable Scandinavians. Despite its heist movie set-up, Headhunters is significantly more akin to films like The Fugitive. This is a wrong man on the run action-thriller. And despite that recent study everyone loves talking about that revealed the concrete unimpugnable evidence that spoilers increase your enjoyment of a story, I’m not going to discuss any of the intensely twisty-turny plot evolution here. Fuck that study. Fuck it in its ear. I like being surprised.

Moment to Savor: The impressively tense and disgusting decision our hero makes to hide in an outhouse. And when I say in, I don’t mean in the section of the outhouse you’re supposed to be in.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Michael R. Roskam

FF Summary: The beef industry, like any other, is competitive and dependent on consistent and reliable supply. When an opportunistic veterinarian offers to bring the family-run Vanmarsenille farm together with a notorious Flemish beef trader, it seems an unmissable chance at long-term profit. However, when their new partners are implicated in a cop killing, primary enforcer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) stalls the deal, only for an unwelcome face from his past to appear and force him to address a longburied personal demon. Like the cattle he tends to so passionately, Jacky also nurtures a chronic hormone addiction, which serves only to further fuel his deep-seated paranoia and lingering insecurities.

Should You Be Excited: Very.

Thoughts: This film nabbed three of the “Next Wave” awards at FF this year, most deserved being Matthias Schoenaerts for his exhilarating and moving turn as Bullhead‘s central figure and driving force, Jacky. Jacky’s first scene is straight out of The Sopranos, with Jacky as a frightening bully threatening a cowering rancher. The brilliance and complexity of Bullhead comes from making us not only sympathize with but sincerely pity Jacky without changing him from a cruel ape. Though the film is a dual story about the Belgian government’s operation to take down the cattle mafia with a snitch, the emotional core of the film is the exploration of what turned Jacky from a smiling and happy child into a hulking and gnarled mess of masculine rage (which we learn early on), and his borderline adorable and routinely tragic attempts to obtain the simple happiness we might take for granted. I really can’t say enough about Schoenaerts. I don’t know what kind of training he did for the film, but he is frightening to look at — not because of 80’s-Stalone-like rippedness, but he is just a slump-shouldered gorilla, with half dull, half knowing eyes that make him seem capable of stroking a puppy or ripping its head off at any given moment. Unrelated to its artistic merits, I also found the film interesting on a cultural level. Everything I know about Belgium I learned from In Bruges — so, nothing. I had no clue that the tiny country was divided ethnically and linguistically, but the contentions between the Dutch-speaking Flanders and the French-speaking Walloon is a major part of the film. And very interesting, to me.

Moment to Savor: The truly, truly, truly horrifying flashback in which we learn the root cause of Jacky’s steroids addiction and general attitude problem.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

You’re Next
Genre: Horror
Director: Adam Wingard

FF Summary: Off to a secluded mansion in the middle of nowhere, Crispian brings new girlfriend Erin to meet his brothers and parents for a nice weekend getaway. What he doesn’t know is that there is a small group of animal-masked killers outside the mansion who want to take a stab at making sure none of the guests leave alive. One very crucial thing the killers didn’t have on their research checklist was Erin’s unnatural instinct for survival. Chaos ensues and body parts fly.

Should You Be Excited: Yup.

Thoughts: This film was the big buzz at Fantastic Fest this year, and deservedly so. Adam Wingard and his partner Simon Barrett have followed up their previous horror flick A Horrible Way to Die with a film that expands beyond the mumblecore style while also keeping what Wingard and Barrett are clearly good at — infusing a light comedic tone to their horror without ever officially entering horror-comedy land. You’re Next technically falls into the Home Invasion class that has been prevalent in the “torture porn” subgenre, and will inevitably draw comparisons with The Strangers. But beyond the idea of masked men attacking a secluded country home, the films are completely dissimilar. You’re Next has suspense and delivers as a horror movie, but it is a substantially more entertaining ride. For horror fans, the film also has a notable cast of horror peeps in the cast, such as Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton (who I saw at FF; she still looks amazing), director Ti West, and director/actor Larry Fessenden. Though the film’s best performance comes from mumblecore darling, Hannah Takes the Stairs director Joe Swanberg, as a snotty rich dick who becomes very comically injured midway into the film.

You’re Next was nabbed by Lion’s Gate at the Toronto Film Festival. Release plans still currently ambiguous.

Moment to Savor: The very sudden end to a bickering dinner scene.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Still more to come! I saw a lot of goddamn movies at FF.