Cinematographer William Eubank made his writing and directing debut earlier this year with Love (aka Angels & Airwaves Presents Love), a late addition to this year's Fantastic Fest lineup. Eubank was joined on the red carpet on Wednesday by executive producer Thomas DeLonge and lead actor Gunner Wright. The filmmakers were caught by a surprise special guest: Richard Garriott, real-life astronaut and star of Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, who moderated an engaging Q&A after the Fantastic Fest screening.
Love is an inspirational and lovely cinematic journey into the past and future. After losing contact with Earth, astronaut Lee Miller becomes stranded in orbit alone aboard the International Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity ... and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence until he makes a strange discovery aboard the ship. The film was funded by the musical group Angels & Airwaves, led by Thomas DeLonge of Blink 182.
Check out more photos from the special screening after the jump.
The last day of Fantastic Fest is often the most relaxed. Many have left to return home, and the Alamo patio feels like a ghost town compared to the first few days. Instead of five screens, films were playing on only three. Still, many of the best shows remained to be seen, including several fan-favorites with added screening times such as A Boy and His Samurai.
The day began with a South Korean thriller reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's Wait Until Dark. Blind is the story of Min Soo-Ah, a no-nonsense police academy trainee. Min's brother has a habit of getting into trouble of a criminal nature, and fed up with his latest exploit, she arrests him and handcuffs him to the car. The ensuing sibling catfight ends in a disastrous wreck, leaving Min blind and her brother dead. Min is expelled from the academy, not for her handicap, but for her irresponsible actions. Three years pass, and after Min is nearly abducted by a serial killer, she is the only witness who can help track him down. Unfortunately, nobody considers her a credible witness, not even the detective working her case. This was an exciting movie which, unfortunately, too many people compared to Daredevil. It works best in scenes where the emotional impact is high such as the wreck that blinds her, and the ongoing process of working through her guilt over that.
Two-time Fantastic Fest director Aleksey Balabanov (Cargo 200, Morphia) returned with another glimpse into an obscure corner of Russian history, Kochegar (The Stoker). This film tells a simple story about a broken war hero who lives only to support his daughter, shoveling coal into an industrial boiler day and night. The very simple story is stretched to 87 minutes, and we are introduced to the topic of racism in Soviet Russia by tales he tells of his native Yakut people as he entertains two local girls who visit him. Ultimately a tragic story, but a fascinating picture of life, death and revenge served cold.
Tonight, you can catch a special free screening of Amélie as part of the Whole Foods Sunset Supper Cinema; seating is limited, and starts around 6:30 pm. I'm seriously thinking of going to try some of the food specials, which include a crème brûlée shake.
Then get a triple-shot of filmmaker Ti West, who's been in town for Fantastic Fest. On Saturday he's doing a Moviemaker Dialogue over at the AFS screening room, on Sunday The Roost and The House of the Devil play Alamo Drafthouse Village, followed by an AFS Best of the Fest screening on Monday of The Innkeepers.
On Tuesday, check out the lastest Essential Cinema screening Peking Opera Blues over at Alamo South Lamar. And apparently AFS is kicking of a new "season pass" option -- Season Pass holders get into the Essential Cinema screenings for free.
Now on to the films opening in Austin today, many of which played SXSW to enthusiastic audiences, so don't pass up the chance to see them with an Austin audience before award season starts.
Movies We've Seen:
50/50 -- I've seen a lot of cancer-themed movies this year, but 50/50 stands out as it's inspired by the writer's own experiences. While the title relates to the survival chances, Don says in his review that it "also could refer to the odds that with a great cast and some genuinely poignant and funny moments, the movie can survive its entirely formulaic storyline."
The Interrupters – Using a disease prevention model, the Chicago-based, CeaseFire employs "violence interrupters" to curb the spread of violence through relationships, mediation and other alternatives. Often raw with no rhetorical punches pulled, it's about as different from Thunder Soul as you can get, but equally worthy. Read my review for more.
Thunder Soul (pictured above) -- You will regret seeing this equally moving and entertaining doc made in Houston celebrating the life and work of Conrad "Prof" Johnson, who brought international attention to the Kashmere Stage Band performing popular funk and original compositions that rivaled the work of professionals. You will be dancing in your seat. Read my SXSW review for more. (Alamo South Lamar)
Romantic comedies are a staple of the Hollywood moviemaking machine, and for good reason: people like to laugh and to enjoy a love story, an often unbeatable combination. Romantic comedies are also notoriously cheap to churn out, which explains why a retread with careworn tropes and outdated mores like What's Your Number? gets released.
Vacuous Ally Darling (Anna Faris) puts more effort in smoothing her unmussed hair and accentuating her already ample bust before her boyfriend rouses from bed than she does anything else in her life. But when she finds herself reading a women's glamrag article about the number of men the average woman sleeps with, she starts contemplating how many men she's bedded and to her horror realizes she's a slut, at least according to the magazine. Her insecurities go into overdrive as her sister's wedding approaches.
Cue the lothario Colin (Chris Evans) who lives across the hall, who first tantalizes us with obscured frontal nudity, then suddenly reveals he just happens to have the sleuthing skills to help Ally track down her exes so she doesn't sleep with one more guy and doom her to never marrying.
Violence is an infectious disease, epidemiologist Gary Slutkin tells us early in The Interrupters. Using a disease control model that curtail epidemics by disrupting their spread, CeaseFire employs "violence interrupters" (their actual job title) in various Chicago communities. The interrupters themselves are all too familiar with the consequences of violence, and coupling street cred and relationship building they help stop escalating tensions with the goal of reducing violence on all levels.
Director Steve James follows three of the interrupters over the course of a year as they cajole, counsel and educate the communities they serve, offering alternatives that have significantly decreased violence. Unsurprisingly, it's not an easy job, but the interrupters aren't trying to apply a dressing to an open wound any more than they are sanctimonious do-gooders. Each one, whether profiled or not, has learned consequences of a violent lifestyle in the neighborhoods they serve, giving them common ground. The vibrant Ameena fiercely supports those she helps. Cobe takes a more subtle approach, although equally determined. Eddie is quiet, unassuming and still coming to grips with his own past.
The title of 50/50 refers to the survival odds of the film's protagonist, who is fighting a rare form of cancer. But 50/50 also could refer to the odds that with a great cast and some genuinely poignant and funny moments, the movie can survive its entirely formulaic storyline.
Sadly, it doesn't. Despite the best efforts of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston to rise above the predictable material, 50/50 amounts to little more than a mildly funny and entertaining but unoriginal take on a life-or-death struggle with disease.
50/50 is the story of 27-year-old Adam (Gordon-Levitt), a public radio producer whose chronic back pain leads to a diagnosis of a rare spinal tumor. Facing months of chemotherapy followed by a risky operation, Adam relies on his struggling artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and oversexed friend Kyle (Rogen) for everything from emotional support to transportation. When she learns of the diagnosis, Adam's mother, Diane (Huston), shifts into full maternal mode immediately, not trusting Rachael to tend to Adam's needs.
It's now day seven of Fantastic Fest and festival fatigue has set in. I know I am not alone -- watching 4-5 movies a day can be exhausting. At this point of the festival, I am doing my best to catch some of the movies I missed earlier in the fest. I also spend my day watching films that have a "buzz." Today was a good one.
My day started plainly enough. I logged into the online ticketing system and for some reason I got in right away. Hoorah! I picked just two films, as one of the films I was going to watch had a press screening. After securing my reservation, I drove to Alamo Drafthouse to pick up my boarding passes. A fun trait of Fantastic Fest is that you never know who you will see milling about. Today's sighting was Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead. As I drove up, he was waiting for a cab. Nothing like shaking the hand of someone whose film you love (my review is coming soon).
My first showing of the day was a film called Retreat. Retreat tells the story of Jack and Kate, a couple vacationing on a private island trying to reconcile problems in their marriage. During their stay, they find an injured man whom they take into their cabin. The man tells them that a virus has overtaken the mainland and they need to seal off the house. You never know whjether he is telling the truth. This movie plays like an episode of Twilight Zone. It an entertaining popcorn movie.
After watching Retreat, I was able to finally see Headhunters, a splendid Norwegian film about an art thief who gets into trouble with one of his marks. After last year's Fantastic Fest, I've become a real fan of their Norwegian cinema. I highly recommend watching this film if you have a chance.
Earlier this year, I heard about a potentially cool horror film from Australia called Snowtown. My next-door neighbor had just returned from Down Under and had seen advertisements for this film. He thought Snowtown was my kind of movie and boy was he right.
Snowtown is a film based on real-life serial killer John Bunting. Bunting was the ringleader of a group who perpetrated a series of murders that became known as the Snowtown Murders. The murders took place in a town near Adelaide in Southern Australia and were also known as the Bodies in Barrels murders, as this is how the bodies were stored.
The movie starts with a single mother who leaves her children with a male friend, who proceeds to take nude pictures of the boys, it is also implied that he abuses them while they're in his care. It doesn't take long for the mother to realize something is wrong with her children and she quickly calls the authorities. When the pedophile is released quickly on bail she enlists people to help her carry out vigilante justice against the pedophile. Ultimately she finds John Bunting, who harasses the neighbor, eventually convincing him to leave.
It's amusing to me that the movie that won the most awards at Fantastic Fest during the Monday night ceremony is one that screened the least. Because You're Next has just been picked up for theatrical distribution by Lionsgate, the studio cut the number of times the Adam Wingard-directed film would play the fest down to one, a screening that proved very popular even up against Fantastic Debates. The movie picked up jury awards for Best Horror Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress. It was also a runner-up for the Audience Award.
I was pleased to see the delightful movie A Boy and His Samurai won the Audience Award -- look for a review from me soon. Bullhead won three awards in the Next Wave competition -- Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor -- and if you're at Fantastic Fest, a screening has been added for this film on Thursday at 12:45 pm. And as I mentioned in my review of Milocrorze, A Love Story, the movie won Best Picture in the Fantastic Features category.
A full list of awards is after the jump, along with some video footage, but I want to mention the one Austin-connected winner, who wasn't on the list. The Best Fantastic Fest Bumper award this year went to Nick Robinson, a former Austinite who occasionally contributed to Slackerwood when he lived here. Nick's bumper was one I watched with my fingers over my eyes, and I know I'm not the only one ... it's the one that played opening night and showed vasectomy surgery. You can watch it on YouTube but it is not for the squeamish (or even the unsqueamish, really) and probably not something you want to watch in public either. However, I'm happy to share a completely work-safe photo below of Nick getting his award.
Are we there yet? Despite skipping midnight screenings and limiting my alcohol intake to free beer in the Shiner Theater, I've hit the wall more times than I can count this year at Fantastic Fest 2011. Special guests Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood (seen above) recuperated with the requisite caffeine after a late night of Fantastic Feud. For those who missed the annual hosted event by Scott Weinberg of FEARnet, Monaghan captained the international team that was thoroughly trounced by the American team led by Wood.
I can only blame my festival fatigue on the Fantastic Fest programming which has kept me in the theater for 4-5 movies a day. Despite thoughts of "I really should sit this screening out," I've stayed the course and not been disappointed in my decision. Find out after the jump which films confirm my selection of Todd Brown of Twitch as my all-time favorite Fantastic Fest programmer.