Mike Saulters's blog
After three days of films and parties, it would seem the only bad choice at Fantastic Fest 2013 is to not be at Fantastic Fest this year. Response to almost all the movies has been overwhelmingly positive, and I found at the end of the second day that I enjoyed every selection more than the previous one.
I began the fest on Thursday with Coherence, an intriguing exploration into the human psyche when confronted with an impossible situation. Many of the best films over the years of the fest have been shot on zero budget with just a good idea and a great script. This one foregoes the script and instead let the actors truly go "method" as they were only provided with character notes about motivations or specific things they needed to say or do. Yet from these, the actors build performances that draw the audience into their nightmare.
One of the most feel-good selections ever witnessed by Fantastic Fest viewers, Detective Downs' title appears deceptively insensitive. It is, however, a rare film that never insults with boorish attitudes nor by handling its subject with kid gloves. The limitations imposed by Downs Syndrome are not lost on the titular detective, Robert Bogerud, but in the face of dismissal by everyone around him this hero persists in emphasizing his unique strengths. With a spot-on noir aesthetic, a dark plot, and some perfectly-chosen offbeat covers of familiar tunes, Detective Downs is still entirely worthy of a Fantastic Fest marquee, even though it will leave you smiling.
Escape From Tomorrow has received the strongest buzz of any movie at the fest this year, and there was no question I had to see it at the first opportunity. It is as notable for the way it was filmed as for the amazing story it presents. Except for a couple of shots, the film was shot entirely on the grounds of Walt Disney World's Epcot Center and Magic Kingdom parks, without the consent or knowledge of Disney. It is an achievement in underground cinematography, reviving techniques from the earliest days of filmmaking. Meticulously planned shooting schedules required the actors and crew to criss-cross the park to be able to shoot in the right daylight. Eerie, empty shots of a deserted park meant they had to be the first to arrive, running into the park to get shots before anyone else turned up at the attractions. All this is used, however, to present a multi-layered story that is as ingenious as it is subversive. This is a mind-blowing look at the seedy underside of the "happiest place on Earth."
Eugenio Mira is a Spanish talent well-known to Fantastic Fest audiences as the composer of Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes. He's also premiered two films at the fest (The Birthday in 2005, Agnosia in 2010), neither of which has had much traction in the U.S. That is about to change. Starring Elijah Wood, John Cusack and Alex Winter, Mira's latest, Grand Piano, is a contender as one of the strongest films to ever play at Fantastic Fest. After a few minutes to introduce the players and set the stage, Grand Piano takes flight into thriller territory not as well explored since Hitchcock and a possible career-best performance for Elijah Wood. Grand Piano is not to be missed -- and since Magnet is releasing the film in the U.S. next year, there's no need to miss it.
The short film Witch is one of two Austin-shot shorts accepted for programming this year at Fantastic Fest 2013. It's screening as one of the Short Fuse selections. I spoke with local writer/directors Tyler Mager and Americo Siller about the production.
Slackerwood: Which of you had the idea for Witch? And what was the inspiration?
Tyler Mager: We came up with the idea together over numerous writing meetings.
Americo Siller: It's a bar, a beer, a table, and a two-hour talk as Tyler scribbles everything down in a spiral notebook.
Mager: It started with an idea of classic supernatural monster mythology and how it would be looked at now. If a crazy psycho was going around eating the hearts of victims, most would automatically think it was, you know, some sort of serial killer. But what if it was a witch, an honest-to-goodness evil entity that lives through the life force of others. So we decided to maintain the realistic aspects of a potential serial killer while still staying true to classic witch mythology.
Debbie has put together a great guide to food and drink in the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline area, but I realized Fantastic Fest attendees need some late-night options. They are few, but there are some. Debbie has already included RC Fowlers on 620, which has a kitchen open until 2 am, and the 24/7 Kerbey Lane Cafe at 183 and Anderson Mill Rd.
In addition, there's a Whataburger at 183 and 620, and another at Lakeline Blvd and Cypress Creek Road. Jim's at 183 and McNeil Rd is open 24 hours. They are all five minutes or less from Lakeline.
Now, why the above photo? The entire shopping center where Alamo Lakeline resides and Fantastic Fest 2013 will take place was this empty field just a year ago. Even many local fest attendees are unfamiliar with the new complex.
So I wanted to clear up some confusion for those who are unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable driving in the area. Alamo Lakeline sits at the transition where a free US highway (183) automatically becomes a toll road. Miss the last free exit or take the wrong onramp, and you won't even see a toll booth. Handy traffic cameras will shoot your plates and deliver a severely inflated bill months later for the privilege of having to drive a mile or two out of your way to get back on the proper path.
Yesterday, Fantastic Fest announced the second wave of programming for the ninth year of the festival, taking place September 19 - 26 at Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. See below for descriptions of 19 movies making their world, North American or US premieres next month in Austin.
Locally, fan excitement is increasing for the fest, with just over a month until curtain. Film Threat and HorrorsNotDead.com contributor Noah Lee (@noahphex on Twitter) maintains a playlist on his blog of all available trailers for announced Fantastic Fest titles, which he just updated after yesterday's announcement.
Fantastic Fest is always friendly to returning talent, and the additions to the lineup include titles directed by festival veterans Ben Wheatley (Sightseers), Shion Sono (Love Exposure), Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus), Eugenio Mira (The Birthday), and Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood).
A few Austin and Texas-connected cast and crew are in the announced films: Austin resident Elijah Wood appears in Eugenio Mira's film Grand Piano. Blue Ruin star Kevin Kolack was born in Austin. Robin Wright, voicing the lead in The Congress, was born in Dallas and was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame earlier this year. Finally, Sarah Shahi, also in The Congress, was born in Euless, a graduate of SMU and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Here's the list of films added to the Fantastic Fest 2013 lineup, with descriptions from the press release:
A FIELD IN ENGLAND (England, 2013)
North American Premiere
Director - Ben Wheatley, 90 mins
During the British Civil War, when magic was science, an alchemist forces a group of deserters to help him locate buried treasure, and sends them all straight into the mouth of madness.
It has been seven years since the release of Pixar's still-beloved movie Cars and two since the critical flop of sequel Cars 2. The question to be answered this weekend is "Will Disney's Planes fly?" Audiences will have to decide for themselves, but my opinion is that the animated film soars while not quite reaching the lofty heights of Cars. Unfortunately, since Planes is under the umbrella of Disney and not Pixar, no animated short precedes the feature, and I did not spy a cameo from the Pizza Planet truck.
With a story in many ways similar to Dreamworks' Turbo, Planes features some topsy-turvy casting choices. Comedian Dane Cook voices the lead character while more recognizable talents like Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Sinbad and Val Kilmer are, ahem, waiting in the wings. (Kilmer and Top Gun co-star Anthony Edwards are cast as a pair of F/A-18F Super Hornets.)
While the story of an underdog farmboy living his dream and making it big is instantly recognizable to adults, the much younger target audience should find the plot engaging. There are plenty of touches to keep the adults interested as well. The multinational cast of characters integrates both planes and cars imbuing them with human personalities that range from clever to completely hilarious. In particular, the split personality of a German Taylor Aerocar that alternates when it converts from car to plane was a delightful touch.
Mondo, the collectible art division of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, will celebrate cinematic villains and monsters for its next gallery show, "A Rogue's Gallery," which runs from August 23 through September 14 here in Austin. The exhibit will include both prints and original works of art from popular Mondo artist Jason Edmiston. The show will feature stunning new work that celebrates all things evil from films like Ghostbusters, Robocop, They Live, The Terminator and many more.
The opening will take place Friday, August 23 from 7 to 10 pm with regular hours to follow for the show's duration. The Mondo Gallery is located at 4115 Guadalupe.
Check out some preview images and details from the artist after the jump (and find out who those evil eyes in the teaser image above belong to).
Humor in the vein of The Hangover or There's Something About Mary has become predictable in its attempts to shock and disgust. We're the Millers is more of the same. The story is so painfully simple, the biggest surprise is that it took four writers (Bob Fisher and Steve Faber of Wedding Crashers and Sean Anders and John Morris of Sex Drive and Hot Tub Time Machine) to bring it to life.
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball), Jason Sudeikis stars as David Clark, a thirtysomething pot dealer who gets in a bind the one time he tries to do the right thing. With his supplier's stash along with his own life savings stolen, David finds himself choosing between death and a simple drug-muling mission across the border in Mexico.
In need of a cover, he recruits neighbors Rose (Jennifer Aniston), Kenny (Will Poulter), and Casey (Emma Roberts) to pose as his white-bread American family. The makeshift family then bonds over the course of a road trip filled with the usual hijinks involving such topics as forced gay sex, incest, wife swapping, attempted rape and the obligatory shots of genital exposure.
Sudeikis is treading water here, playing the straight man through most of the antics against such talented foils as Ed Helms, Luis Guzmán, Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman, who gets some of the best material in the script. Though not rich with complex plot, the script is good for a few laughs with a number of clever one-liners.
This is the Wolverine movie we've been waiting for, and waiting for, and waiting for... mostly. Not long after the poorly-received (yet still wildly profitable) X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009 it became clear that a sequel was likely to be made. Unfortunately, with a completed script by Christopher McQuarrie and Darren Aronofsky announced to direct, the project was subjected to delays after the departure of Aronofsky, a script rewrite by Mark Bomback, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Directed by James Mangold, Hugh Jackman returns as The Wolverine in a film that explores the character's personal history and most difficult struggle after a mysterious enemy blocks his healing ability and renders him powerless. The Wolverine takes place after events in X-Men: The Last Stand forced Wolverine to kill his love, Jean Grey. Now dreaming of her every night and vowing to give up his Wolverine persona to never again hurt anyone, Logan has exiled himself to the Yukon to live in isolation. We find him here at the conclusion of an introductory scene, where he dreams of surviving the bombing of Hiroshima and saving the life of a Japanese soldier there.
This was one of my favorite scenes, not only for the vivid and horrifying depiction of nuclear devastation but also because it presents a selfless heroic moment from Logan. It was a powerful way to reacquaint the audience with the character and set the stage for the rest of the film. The strength of that scene gives way, however, to the first of several weak points in the movie.
After coming upon the remains of a hunting party and finding the grizzly who attacked them suffering from poison, Logan is forced to put the bear out of its misery and then immediately abandons his vow to never again hurt anyone. He travels to the nearby town and confronts the lone surviving hunter in a bar. He is soon on the verge of killing everyone in it before being stopped by a mysterious Japanese girl who takes him away, explaining that she was sent by her employer Yashida, the soldier he had saved in Hiroshima.
From this point on, the story is a difficult to follow jumble of characters given too little screen time and who fade out and reappear with shifting motivations and loyalties. Logan is offered the chance to give up his immortality in order to save his dying friend, but he declines the offer. Almost immediately, he finds himself without his healing ability, fighting to save Yashida's granddaughter from Yakuza, who disrupts his funeral to kidnap her.
This is a more personal story that draws heavily (but not without alteration) from the Wolverine comics. Even without his healing ability, Wolverine is still incredibly tough, strong, and wearing an adamantium skeleton. He's almost the only mutant in the movie, but the smaller-scale action and fight choreography are superb. In spite of the few weaknesses in the story and somewhat overdone summer-blockbuster nature of the final-act battle, this is one of the better entries in the X-Men franchise. Be sure to hang around during the credits for a tease a la the lead-ins to The Avengers.
Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, R.I.P.D. is a spectacular wild and whimsical buddy-cop action/adventure that critics will excoriate but despite that, will likely find an audience. If the previews and trailers have reminded you of Men in Black, the movie will feel like a trip down memory lane. Directed by Robert Schwentke (Red, The Time Traveler's Wife), R.I.P.D combines elements of MIB with flavors of Beetlejuice, Ghost and hints of many other popular films.
The film plays as if it hopes that by being entirely derivative of hits it will likewise be a hit, and that's what sets off alarm bells in a critic's mind. But try as I might, every time I started to think "Here's where it starts to suck," the movie did something to make me laugh in spite of myself. That's quite an accomplishment for a writing team responsible for flops like Clash of the Titans and Jack the Giant Killer.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Nick Walker, a narcotics detective who during a bust stumbles onto a pile of gold artifacts that he splits with his partner Bobby (Kevin Bacon). The movie begins with Nick burying his half of the loot for safekeeping, but he changes his mind about becoming a dirty cop because of his love for his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak). After he tells his partner his plan to drop out and turn in the evidence, both are called to a major drug bust where Nick is murdered.
Transported to the afterlife, Nick lands immediately in front of Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), his new commanding officer and orientation advisor in the R.I.P.D. She introduces Roycephus Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges) as his partner, and the two head back to Earth to collect the bad spirits who refuse to stay dead, instead hiding out disguised as humans. Naturally they uncover a larger plan and the fate of the world is in their hands (just like Men in Black).
Bridges affects an exaggerated Texan accent not unlike his role in True Grit, played here for comedic effect. Sample it in this Adult Swim prequel video. He and Reynolds are an unusual team, but they come to work well together. One might also consider them partners with their alter egos (they're not visible to humans as themselves) played by Marisa Miller and James Hong. A number of jokes and visual gags center on this pair, especially the extremely talented Hong.
It's a heavy Austin film news week, so here are some other news tidbits, courtesy of Mike and Jette.
- Right on the heels of Jette's Cinematic Guide to Texas Politics, news hit yesterday that the producers of the Austin-shot film Machete (Jette's review) have filed suit in Travis County District Court against the Texas Film Commission. After being awarded $8 million in incentives to produce the film in Texas, the budget of Robert Rodriguez's film was increased, but the funds were pulled after the commission determined that "inappropriate" content of the film disqualified it from the grant. A sequel to the film, Machete Kills, also filmed in Texas, is opening Fantastic Fest this year. [MS]
- Drafthouse Films announced its acquisition of the North American rights to the Danish hit comedy series Klown. The complete 60-episode TV series, which ran from 2005-2009, is now available on Hulu and Hulu Plus, and will be downloadable from www.klown.tv starting Tuesday, July 23. Drafthouse Films also has distribution rights to the film Klown (J.C.'s review), based on the series, which premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2011. Warner Brothers is planning an English-language remake. [MS]
- Violet Crown Cinema will host a benefit screening of Prince Avalanche (Elizabeth's SXSW review), David Gordon Green's film shot in Central Texas. The event will take place on Thursday, July 25 and will include a cocktail party and post-film Q&A with Green and local composer David Wingo. Fittingly, the proceeds will go to the Heart of Pines Volunteer Fire Association, which still needs help after the Bastrop wildfires in 2011. Tickets are available through Violet Crown. [JK]
- On Thursday night, Austin short filmmakers Umar Riaz, Brian Scofield and Tomas Vengris will screen several of their short films at Alamo Drafthouse Village. The lineup includes two Student Academy Award finalist films, Last Remarks and Kalifornija. You can buy tickets through Tugg. [JK]
Finally, a reminder from Jette: The Austin Chronicle 2013 "Best of Austin" poll is open for you to vote through Monday, July 22. Please do vote, and remember Slackerwood when you are considering the categories of Film Critic, Local Non-Chronicle Publication, News Website and Local Blog. (Or any other category where you think we might fit.)