Rod Paddock's blog
On Saturday night, as you slept, the dead walked the earth here in Austin. Highland Mall experienced a zombie outbreak. Was there a full moon? Was there a chemical release from a freight train? Did a voodoo ceremony go awry? Nope, nope and nope. What there was, was an yet another epic event created by the evil geniuses at the Alamo Drafthouse and Mondo Tees. Last night was MMMIX: Mondo Mystery Movie #9, which turned out to be the 1978 Dawn of the Dead.
Mondo Mystery Movie is an event where people buy tickets to see an un-named mystery film, and receive a poster related to that movie. The first two events in Austin (six others took place in Los Angeles) were Akira and Jurassic Park. Each of these events sold out almost immediately. MMMIX, as it's being called, topped all of them.
MMMIX was executed as an epic bait-and-switch that would make William Castle proud. The instructions for the event were pretty simple. The location was Austin's Riverbend Church on Loop 360. The directions stated, "Please be there no later than 8:30 pm. We are closing and LOCKING the doors at 9:30 pm. If you're not there by then, you will miss the show." Wow, that's pretty cool, I thought -- they are going to be locking the doors. Interesting. Wonder what film we are going to see in a church? Rampant speculation was that it would be The Exorcist. Wow, did they actually talk a church into showing The Exorcist?
In the first decade of this century, rocket scientists who ruled the back rooms of Wall Street discovered something they touted as a real Philosopher's Stone. Through financial alchemy, they created Frankenstein's monster. This monster was named Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO). CDO's were created using something known as The Formula. The Formula theorized that packages of mortgages could be mashed together and sliced apart into "good" parts and "bad" parts. The problem is that The Formula relied on a base set of assumptions that history shows were faulty to the core.
It is not possible to turn lead into gold and a sow's ear will always be a sow's ear no matter how much you want it to be a silk purse. Margin Call illustrates what happens when a financial institution realizes that the bag of gold they hold is in reality a bag of lead.
Margin Call opens with a scene that could have been straight taken from Up in the Air. Employees are called into managers' offices where HR awaits with bad news that has been all too common these days. One of the employees being "let go" at this financial institution is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a manager in the risk management department. As Dale is leaving, he hands Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) a USB drive with some of his latest work. He implores Peter to continue this work instructing him to be careful with it. Peter Sullivan burns the midnight oil completing Dale's work.
It's at this point we know the company is in deep Bandini (extra credit if you know what that means). Sullivan immediately raises the red flag and calls in his manager Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who brings in the upper management of the company, one by one, to deal with this crisis.
I'm a sucker for anything zombie: books, graphic-novels, posters and of course movies. A few months ago, a new trailer surfaced for a low-budget Cuban zombie flick called Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead). The trailer was awesome (I've embedded it at the end of this review), and I knew I had to see this movie. When I found out Juan of the Dead was selected for Fantastic Fest I was muy happy. After watching this film I was muy muy happy -- Juan of the Dead is an amazing film.
Juan of the Dead tells the story of Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas), a slackerish Cuban always looking for his next score. When a zombie outbreak occurs, Juan doesn't see it as a crisis but as an opportunity. Juan and his buddies set up shop helping people dispose of friends and loved ones who have turned into the undead.
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.
One of the most talked-about films of Fantastic Fest 2009 was a campy gross-out horror movie called The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Marketed as "100 percent medically accurate," it told the story of a crazed surgeon (played marvelously by Dieter Laser), hell-bent on attaching three human beings together into a human centipede. I missed this film at the fest, finally watching it on Netflix last month. I found it to be an interesting angle on gross-out horror.
Flash forward to Fantastic Fest 2011 where the opening-night movie is the sequel to the 2009 film: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence). Human Centipede II is about Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a morbidly obese, demented psychopath who has a sickening obsession with the original movie. Martin's obsession with Human Centipede manifests itself in the creation of an actual human centipede. The first three-quarters of this film is spent watching Martin stalk, assault and graphically abuse the victims who will become parts of his sickening creation. The last quarter is spent showing, in all of its gory details, Martin constructing his creation.
It's in the last scenes of the movie where writer/director Tom Six goes too far. The construction of the centipede contained some of the most gratuitous, gory and over-the-top imagery I have ever seen on film. I won't go into any details of what I watched but I will say that the imagery reached a level of pornographic detail that even the most depraved could not appreciate. I have a very high tolerance for gore in film but there is a threshold that even I don't want to cross. This movie far exceeded that limit and I can tell you this is a movie I wish I could un-see.
When I sat down to watch Human Centipede II I had no idea what to expect. The first film, while graphic, followed an approach to horror that I can appreciate: "Less is more." It was not as gory as I'd anticipated it would be. It was graphic in parts but it was also campy and I appreciated it for what it was. Human Centipede II has no point and delivers no redeeming value.
My Fantastic Fest Day 2 started in a coffeeshop with good coffee and strong wireless. I was waiting for the online ticketing system to open for non-VIP badgeholders. I got on around 9:30 am and shortly after 10, I was picking tickets for my movies for the day. I was fairly lucky -- I got three out of five tickets I really wanted. This new system works well and I cannot throw enough praise to Fantastic Fest for making it happen.
My first film of the day was from Japan: Body Temperature. This movie deals with immature relationships we can develop when we substitute real human relationships with artificial ones. The artificial angle here is a man who develops a "relationship" with a realistic-looking sex doll, and what happens when he makes real human contact.
Between films, I retreated to the "relaxing" atmosphere of the Alamo Drafthouse porch. Actually the porch is one of the best parts of Fantastic Fest and if you are not hanging out with us, you are missing out. Come say hello! While on the porch, I discovered something wonderful. In a brilliant marketing move, FEARnet set up an ice cream truck and fed us all delicious swirled ice cream cones. Yummy!
My next movie was another strange selection, Underwater Love -- a movie that crosses Howard the Duck with late-night Cinemax soft-core porn and music from Tenacious D. It's the story of a kappa, a creature from Japanese mythology, who returns to visit the woman who was his girlfriend before he died and was resurrected as a kappa. This movie has some of the strangest sex scenes I have seen and is extremely strange and funny.
My next stop was Mondo Tees. I stood in line to acquire one of the Drew Struzan Frankenstein posters (more info on the poster here). I am an avid Struzan collector and I was happy to be one of 50 people to get this poster at Fantastic Fest.
After that, I went to see El Narco (also known as El Infierno). El Narco tells the story of the drug cartels in Mexico. Because of the Mondo sale, I missed the first part of the film. What I did see was great. It was funny at times and shocking at others. It made a great statement on what is happing in Mexico today. Writer/director Luis Estrada did a Q&A at the end that was awesome. I highly recommend this movie.
Claustrophobia? Check. Dark rooms? Check. Things that go bump in the night? Check. A crazed gentleman in excruciating pain? Check! If you checked of any of those items, you definitely need to see the short film No Way Out, staring AJ Bowen, at this year's Fantastic Fest.
Slackerwood: How did you two meet?
Aaron Morgan: I used to host touring short film festivals with Atom Films back in 2000. One of the places I did the short film fest was at the original Alamo on Colorado. I'd been a fan of Eric's writing on Aint it Cool for a while and I invited him out to watch the short films.
This summer has been crowded with remakes and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is no exception. Unfortunately, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is not really that exceptional either. I am not saying it's a bad film, but I am also not saying it's a great film either. The movie has interesting moments with an abundance of horror movie cliches thrown in.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a 1973 made-for-television movie of the same name, directed by Troy Nixey with a script from Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. The story revolves around our protagonist Sally (10-year-old Bailee Madison), who is shipped off to live in a centuries-old estate with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and stepmother Kim (Katie Holmes).
It doesn't take long for Sally to find out why you should be afraid of the dark. The estate is not inhabited by just Sally and her parents -- the estate's basement (more about that in minute) is also inhabited by creatures I would describe as gremlins. And these are not the cutesy mischievous gremlins we met in the 1984 Joe Dante film, these are nasty little creatures and you will be freaked out when they appear onscreen. You will be further freaked out when you see what ends these little creatures will go to in order to achieve their goal, harassing Sally.
If you have any sense of humanity, the movie The Whistleblower will piss you off. It will not piss you off in the sense that it is a bad movie. It will piss you off because The Whistleblower shines a light very brightly on mankind's inhumanity. And by inhumanity, I am talking about sex trafficking and slavery.
Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, a war raged in the region known as Bosnia Herzegovina. What was initially a territorial war eventual became a bitter and horrific conflict between the Serbs and Croats and included numerous atrocities including genocide, ethnic cleansing and the rape of numerous women and children. The Whistleblower is set after the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the conflict.
The Whistleblower stars Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovak, a female police officer who moves to Bosnia to serve as a UN peacekeeper. When Kathryrn arrives in Bosnia she finds herself enmeshed in a corrupt, testosterone-ruled world. She finds local police officers who neglect their duties, she finds leaders who ignore obvious abuses right under their noses ... Kathryn basically discovers wolves guarding the sheep. The worst thing she finds is rampant sex trafficking and slavery of young girls.