Fantastic Fest 2014: Fest Half Full

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The tenth Fantastic Fest is halfway done, and that means many of the filmmaker guests and industry folks will be departing, but it also means an influx of new faces as second-half badgeholders join in the fray as most of the films' second screenings come around.  Now begins your chance to see all the first-choices that the system didn't give you or the second-choices that took a backseat to something you couldn't wait to see.

For incoming second-halfers, you have probably been keeping track on Facebook and Twitter, but some of the hottest tickets for repeats will be Babadook, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, I Am a Knife With Legs, Cub, Force Majeure, Electric Boogaloo, John Wick and Tokyo Tribe.

Slackery News Tidbits: September 22, 2014

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There's more to life than Fantastic Fest -- here's a roundup of the latest local film news:

  • Austin Film Festival has announced its full lineup and the schedule is now live. Check back with us in the coming days for a closer look at the Texas films being featured and general highlights. The fest will run Oct. 23-30.
  • Vimeo and FilmBuff have picked up Wedlock, a 10-episode web series created by Mark Duplass, who co-stars in the show with Rob Corddry and Jennifer Lafleur. Wedlock premiered at SXSW and will debut on Vimeo on Demand on Sept. 29.
  • Thank You a Lot, a film by local director Matt Muir, will screen at the Village Alamo Drafthouse Monday night and tickets are currently still available. Set in the Austin music scene, the film screened at SXSW earlier this year and Don called it "poignant and perceptive" in his review
  • Indiewire takes a first look at Andrew Bujalski's latest film, Results -- a romantic comedy set in the fitness industry starring Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders. (My mind continues to be boggled that this will be the follow-up to Computer Chess.)

Fantastic Fest 2014: Grounded in 'Realiti'

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Dia de las PaletasI'm a couple days into my tenth Fantastic Fest, and it's easy to see why I keep coming back. Before the fest even officially starts, there are parties at Pinballz and Peter Pan Putt-Putt and barbecue with friends arriving from around the world.

Day One began with Kevin Smith rapping with Tim League backed by dozens of people in eyeball costumes. It ended with a food fight free-for-all of which I saw only the aftermath: League in a cheeky Carmen Miranda outfit and dozens of people soaked and slathered in every sort of slop.

In between, there was a walrus Freaky Friday (Tusk), an Australian Inception Realiti), and Cub Scout Carnage (Cub).

Day Two was a full slate with Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, the Marko Zaror action flick Redeemer, James Gunn-produced horror The Hive, and surreal comic Free Fall. In between these movies, I visited Devin Steuerwald's Dia de las Paletas cart (pictured at right) to keep cool with frozen treats.

So far, the programming at Fantastic Fest 2014 has been heavy on realism, with characters and situations that could actually happen, and short on supernatural or escapist themes. My slate this year has been full of confusing films; Realiti and Free Fall were both difficult to follow in spite of some really amazing scenes and great performances. That said, I did skip the Studio Ghibli premiere of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which has received rave reviews [note from Jette: I really liked it myself], to see Jacky in the Kingdom of Women.

Fantastic Fest 2014: Chaos Reigns (Again)

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ABCs of Death and Australian ContingencyTwo days into Fantastic Fest and it already feels like Day Five -- daily downpours, full parking and an overflowing lobby can't deter the spirit of the 1,650 attendees at this year's jam-packed film festival. The theme song that comes to mind is Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." My mantra of "it's a marathon, not a sprint" has already been replaced with the festival motto "Chaos reigns," as I've managed to fit in five films, three red carpets, two parties and two late nights in just the first two days. Let's not even discuss how much I've already spent on alcohol at The Highball.

ABCs of Death 2 was one of the opening-night films, bringing together 26 directors from around the world. The filmmakers were sworn to secrecy about which letters they were assigned until the premiere of this ambititous anthology produced by Tim League and Ant Timpson. You can see Timpson in the above photo with writer/actor David Ashby, director Dario Russo of Danger 5, and ABCs of Death 2 segment producers Todd Brown and Marc Walkow.

Movies This Week: September 19-25, 2014

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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby 

With Fantastic Fest taking over the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for the next week, not nearly as many specialty screenings as usual are going on in town. You will not, however, notice a lack of new releases in area theaters. I'll track those down below, but first I'll take a look at what is going on across town if you aren't engaging with the fest. 

On Tuesday, the Austin Film Society will be screening Antonioni's 1966 mod classic Blow Up at the Marchesa. This special evening includes a 60s themed cocktail hour starting at 6:30 pm, complete with a "complimentary 60s themed hair and nail bar" courtesy of the Aveda Institute. The film will be introduced by Ned Rifkin at 7:30 pm. Bonus: if you show up dressed in your favorite 60s clothes, you may win a prize for the evening.

The AFS Screening Room is the place to be on Wednesday night for a special evening programmed with French Avant Garde Cinema of the 1920s. This collection will feature shorts from Jean Epstein, Rene Clair, Fernand Leger, Germaine Dulac and Marcel Duchamp. Finally for the week, you can head back to the Marchesa for the Essential Cinema "Masterpieces Of Polish Cinema, Selected by Martin Scorsese" series. They'll be screening a restored DCP of Wojciech Has' epic Saragossa Manuscript from 1965.

Fantastic Fest 2014: 'Tusk' with Kevin Smith and Justin Long

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Kevin Smith and Justin Long

I'm about to head right out the door again for the second day of Fantastic Fest, but thought I'd share a couple of photos from the Q&A at last night's opening-night film, Tusk. Kevin Smith and Justin Long were game enough to participate in Tim League's crazy opening rap before the movie, but sadly, I don't have any photos of that. Yet.

Moderated by League, Smith and Long (okay, mostly Smith) held a lively discussion after the film that was simulcast not only to other theaters at the fest but to other Drafthouse theaters in other cities. My favorite part was Long's eerily accurate Marty McFly imitation (don't even ask how we got there). I had to leave a little early but no one had asked any dumb questions up until that point, although admittedly the questions were being filtered beforehand.

Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

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A Walk Among the TombstonesLiam Neeson taking on kidnappers, that's nothing new, right? This weekend's release, A Walk Among the Tombstones, is true to form. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a detective who retired from the NYPD after being involved in a violent gunfight while under the influence. A plea for assistance from a fellow AA member involves him in a rather grisly kidnapping plot and also offers him a chance at redemption.

Writer/director Scott Frank (The Wolverine, Minority Report, Get Shorty), is responsible for some of Hollywood's biggest hits. This may not be one of them, as it attempts to re-create the formula of Neeson's Taken series. It is, however, a solid thriller that still manages a few surprises.

First is the introduction of a juvenile yet very capable sidekick. Brian "Astro" Bradley (Earth to Echo) plays TJ, a streetwise kid with a love of detective stories and knack for getting himself in trouble while turning up clues essential to Scudder's investigations. TJ never loses his cool whether confronting street thugs or the 6'4" frame of Neeson, and the young man has the beginnings of a great film career with his first three features (A remake of the 1999 Space Jam has already completed shooting.)

Speaking of shooting, another surprise in A Walk Among the Tombstones was the strong anti-gun message in such a dark and violent film. There are subtle references throughout as well as an emphatic lecture from Scudder to TJ on the subject. It seems out of place in a movie like this, though it serves the plot by providing some audience insight into Scudder's backstory.

Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby posterWhat happens when a director makes two movies from different viewpoints using the same plotline, then compiles them into one project? Director Ned Benson made two versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby -- one from the viewpoint of Conor (Him) and one from Eleanor's point of view (Her). If, as I did, you expect the compilation of the two films (Them) to include these differing takes, sorry to say that is not the case.

Instead of the experimental feeling the trailer hints at, the film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them shares similarities with other grief-filled indie relationship dramas (Rabbit Hole and Rachel Getting Married specifically come to mind). What sets it slightly apart is the rhythm of this couple's tragic story and the intensity of the actors' performances.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) plays the Eleanor Rigby of the title, holing up in her parents' house after a failed suicide attempt. Dark eyeliner coats her eyes as she dons variations of the same outfit - a light shirt over a dark bra - with such costuming screaming her sadness (especially in comparison to the fresh face and sundresses we see her wear in flashbacks).

Other elements that overtly hint at Eleanor's unhappiness include the ambient, meditative score by Son Lux, punctuated by the cheesy pop songs she loves and the classical music her mother (French actress Isabelle Huppert) listens to. Her sister Katy (Jess Weixler, The Good Wife, Teeth) and Eleanor stay in their childhood rooms, decorated by comics such as "Little Nemo in Slumberland." On her way to the subway, Eleanor walks past statements scrawled on building walls; I probably tried too hard to understand the hidden message of the set design (and I don't think there is one, really).

Eleanor won't talk to her husband Conor (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland), so he resorts to following her around. "Can I keep stalking you?" he asks, when an incident finally gets her attention. Ick. Conor is mystified at Eleanor's harsher reaction to the tragic event that hit the couple. He's working to keep his bar afloat, helped and hindered by his chef and friend Stuart (Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live).

Fantastic Fest 2014 Guide: Boozin' It Up

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The HighballA lot has changed since Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar last hosted Fantastic Fest, in 2012. The craft beer scene across the nation continues to grow, and both Austin and the Alamo Drafthouse offer fabulous selections to demonstrate the dedication and passion that brewers and beer enthusiasts have for a good brew.

Texas has experienced a welcome growth of local craft breweries along with an influx of world-renowned breweries from across the United States -- Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Epic Brewing, Founders Brewing, Odell Brewing are just a few on local tap walls.

Alamo Drafthouse recently announced the launch of a new beer program, featuring a new style every month. This month's offering is Octoberfest, a deep gold to copper-colored lager that typically features bright clarity and a solid, off-white head. This style is composed of Vienna and Munich malts that contributes a toasty caramel and rich melanoidin character with some moderate hop bitterness and mild sweetness. Current Octoberfest selections on tap at Alamo South Lamar include the traditional Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen as well as Texas favorites -- Real Ale Brewing Company's Oktoberfest, Houston's Karbach Brewing Company Karbachtoberfest and Port Spiral Oktoberfest.

Fantastic Fest 2014 Venue Guide

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Since Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and The Highball just reopened, I figured it was a good time to revisit the Slackerwood listings for these venues for Fantastic Fest.

As you probably already know, Fantastic Fest screenings take place almost entirely at Alamo South Lamar. Some of the events are in the theaters, some are in The Highball, and a couple may be offsite (I don't know where Fantastic Debates is this year, for example).

I've also included The Marchesa since MondoCon will take place there over the weekend. Shuttle buses are available to drive attendees of both fests back and forth between the two venues. It's not a short ride: 7-8 miles (depending on your route) and around 20 minutes if there's no traffic.

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