Jette Kernion's blog
Well, this is what Fantastic Fest is all about: a Japanese movie about a teenager who derives superheroic powers from wearing girls' panties on his face. (They can't be new panties, either. You get the picture.) How could I possibly not see a movie with such a premise?
And happily, Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero manages to live up to its premise and deliver, both as a superhero movie and better still, as a spoof of contemporary superhero movies. It's obvious that this movie's budget is probably a single-digit percentage of a Marvel blockbuster, but it's easily twice as funny.
The fun starts with the opening credits, a panties-laden riff on the Spider-Man (2002) credits, and climbs from there. Kyosuke (Suzuki Ryohei) is a high-school student -- his late father was a policeman who met his mother, a professional dominatrix, during a raid. Kyosuke wants to follow in his father's footsteps and deliver justice, but he's too puny for vigilantism. But then one of those accidents that creates superheroes occurs: He inadvertantly pulls a pair of women's underwear on his face and ... Hentai Kamen (which translates as "Pervert Mask") is born!
Fantastic Fest is a good time for me to watch movies that I worry will be outside my comfort zone. People who sit next to me may be amused to notice me peeking through my fingers a lot during the gorier scenes. I want to look away -- I can't. And then I go home and have to read M.F.K. Fisher or Jane Austen so I don't have nightmares about whatever I watched at the festival that day.
Austin connections of any kind help push me into movies I might not normally pick. Blue Ruin is a great example. The description made it sound a little too intensely bloody/violent for me. But then I learned that former Austinite Macon Blair stars in the movie. I'd seen Blair in a couple of Steve Collins films (Gretchen, You Hurt My Feelings) and felt I should give Blue Ruin a try. The gamble paid off beautifully, and Blue Ruin is definitely one of the top films I saw at the fest this year. It is indeed intense, bloody and violent ... and damned good.
The movie unspools carefully, letting the audience learn the backstory bit by bit instead of spelling it out in huge patronizing letters. Dwight (Blair) lives out of his car, not afraid to eat out of trash bins or bathe in houses where no one's home. He learns that a criminal is being released from jail after 20 years -- someone who destroyed his family and considering where he is now, probably his future as well. He decides it's time for revenge.
"Like Phone Booth, but with a piano." "It's what you'd get if Brian De Palma decided to rework Unfaithfully Yours."
Glib descriptions of Grand Piano like the ones above (overheard at Fantastic Fest) don't do the film justice, not at all. I'm not even certain they give you an accurate idea of what you're about to see. On the other hand, a plot summarization of the thriller makes it sound ridiculous ... and thanks to filmmakers and stars, it is instead breathtakingly suspenseful.
Grand Piano takes place during a concert of classical music. It begins as one of those potentially enervating movies about a pianist, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), giving his first public performance five years after a notorious failed concert. His wife (Kerry Bishe) is a famous actress whose career has eclipsed his, and who's obviously pulled strings to get the event set up, with help from a conductor friend (Don McManus). And just when you think you're in the middle of A Star is Born during the Norman Maine decline, the concert starts and out of nowhere, the movie shifts gears into a thriller with death on the line. That's not the only genre shift in the movie, either.
Fantastic Fest is announcing all kinds of movies and events practically daily at this point. I leave my computer to get a sandwich and return to find out that Keanu Reeves is debating Tim League. Or that Errol Morris will be there, receiving an award and screening his latest film. Today I got a list of red-carpet events, giving me the chance to snap photos of celebrities from Danny Trejo to Elijah Wood.
First of all, the "whole" lineup of shorts and features has been announced, although I would not be surprised to see a few more announcements pop up in the next week. You might already have heard the news that Terry Gilliam's film The Zero Theorem will close the festival (please, let it be better than the other two Gilliam movies I've seen at Fantastic Fest), and that Metallica will be in Austin for the documentary Metallica Through the Never 3D, directed by Nimrod Antal, who also directed the Predators reboot Robert Rodriguez produced, and who appears in Machete (one of the bodyguards who shouldn't have tangled with the "gardener.")
I found a few Austin and Texas connections in the features and shorts, besides Machete Kills, the fest's opening-night film:
- All the Boys Love Mandy Lane -- Actually this Central Texas-shot horror movie is available to buy for online streaming right now, but if you've been waiting six or so years to see it on a big screen (I was assigned to review it twice at Cinematical, and both times the release date fell through), Fantastic Fest has it for you.
- We Gotta Get Out of This Place -- From the press release: "Three fun-seeking teenagers end up on the VERY wrong side of a bloodthirsty crew of rural crimelords." The feature was shot in Corpus Christi and Taft, Texas. Present and former Austinites involved include associate producers (and past Slackerwood contributors) Paul Gandersman and Nick Robinson, producer John Lang, first assistant camera Brian Nelligan and editor Luke Mullen. (Wondering if actor Jon Gries lives in Texas or if he just happens to pop up in a lot of Lone Star movies, including this one.)
Continuing from Part One, here are detailed descriptions of AFS Grants winners this year -- not just the blurbs from the press release, but any other material I could unearth on the web.
Again, if you have info I don't, feel free to share it in the comments. Or drop us a line if you're involved with one of the films.
Pit Stop (narrative feature)
- The grant: $3,000 for distribution
- The blurb: Two men. A small town. A love that isn't quite out of reach.
- The filmmaker: Yen Tan is a Dallas filmmaker (Ciao, Happy Birthday) who has also designed posters and title sequences for a number of local/indie films, including the short Hellion -- check out a gallery via The Austin Chronicle.
Last week, the Austin Film Society announced its 2013 AFS Grants for 2013 --formerly known as the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund (TFPF). Between the AFS Grants and Travel Grants, AFS is giving away $116,000 to Lone Star filmmakers ... including quite a few from Austin.
I love AFS Grant time. Of course, it's great to see local filmmakers getting needed funds and resources, and so on, but I like it because I get a sneak peek into upcoming Austin features and documentaries. Some of this year's recipients and projects should be very familiar to Slackerwood readers -- others are new to me.
In addition, it's a pleasure to look at the travel grants and realize that previous awardees completed their films, even if they haven't screened in Austin yet -- the grants allow filmmakers to bring Texas movies to film festivals around the world. For example. Russell Bush received grants to bring Vultures of Tibet to $500 to AFI Docs and Edinburgh International Film Festival, and Nathan Duncan was able to bring Ash to Full Frame Film Festival.
Are the sacrifices involved in making great art worthwhile? That's one of the questions posed by Cutie and the Boxer, the debut documentary from Zachary Heinzerling about two artists and how they work ... and how they live together as husband and wife, as they've done for nearly 40 years.
Ushio Shinohara is an internationally acclaimed artist whose "boxing" paintings and motorcycle-themed sculptures were considered an integral part of the Pop Art influence in Japan in the 1960s. Now it's the 2010s, and Ushio has been living in New York since at least 1970 -- that's when he met his wife, Noriko an aspiring artist more than 20 years his junior. Ushio has just turned 80, and the couple are living with their son in a small New York apartment that has seen better days, trying to figure out how to pay the rent and utilities.
The documentary doesn't rely on spoken or written narration to get us up to speed. The audience has to pay attention and learn who these people are, and where, and when, from watching them onscreen. This draws us closer into the lives of the Shinoharas.
I found the latest movie in Edgar Wright's Cornetto trilogy, The World's End, just as I expected. This is not at all a bad thing -- there's nothing worse in moviegoing than disappointed hopes. (That's not true. Unexpected graphic cruelty to animals is a lot worse.)
But Wright, co-writer/actor Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost deliver a comedy/genre film along the same lines as their previous two endeavors, and do it very entertainingly, to the point where I hope the word "trilogy" is more of a guideline than an ending.
This time around, Pegg plays Gary King, a burned-out Peter Pan in his forties whose greatest memories are from his teenage days leading a gang of five. He loves to tell the tale of the night they tried to drink a pint in each of the dozen pubs in their small town -- the "Golden Mile" of drinking -- and how glorious it was even though they never got through all 12 pubs.
Gary wants to get the band back together, so to speak, and try the Golden Mile again with his now-fortysomething mates. But everyone else has grown up, particularly his best friend Andy Knightley (Frost), who has become a buttoned-up teetotaler after some event with Gary obliquely alluded to in hushed voices.
The first third of The World's End (named after the twelfth pub) focuses on this lone loser who still wants to be a teenager, and his attempts to recreate his glory days and rekindle his old friendships. And then, just as the pathos is about to feel a little wearing ... the plot shifts sideways. Really sideways and maybe upside-down. With a cherry on top. Just as it did when the zombies showed up in Shaun of the Dead.
Critics often urge readers to see a particular film in a theater, noting that the movie looks and sounds so amazing on a big screen, they'll miss something valuable by watching on a TV or worse yet, a laptop or tablet. I've said it myself any number of times. I'm certain that if I'd seen Ain't Them Bodies Saints in a movie theater, that is exactly what I would tell you.
And yet, watching the movie from a studio-watermarked DVD on a laptop, sitting on my bed, I was entirely absorbed by the beauty and intensity of this movie, struck by the subtle soundtrack, as mesmerized as I might have been if I'd seen it projected from 35mm at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.
It's not an unfamiliar story, enriched by unexpectedly nuanced characters. Ruth (Rooney Mara) discovers she's pregnant with Bob's child, and shortly after, they're caught by police after committing a crime in their small Texas town. Bob (Casey Affleck) ends up imprisoned while Ruth waits and cares for the child. Bob can't bear to be penned up away from his family, and meanwhile Sheriff Wheeler (Ben Foster) and retired criminal Skerritt (Keith Carradine) are keeping an eye on Ruth in different ways.
Would you like to spend an evening with the two gentlemen above -- Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and actor Jack Black -- and watch The School of Rock too? Of course you would ... and we're giving away two pairs of tickets to the Austin Film Society-sponsored event. Keep reading.
Linklater, Black, screenwriter/actor Mike White, actress Miranda Cosgrove and other younger cast members from The School of Rock will be at the Paramount next Thursday, August 29 for a special tenth-anniversary screening of the movie. Tickets are available at several levels -- VIP ticketholders also have the chance to attend an afterparty at the Gibson Austin Showroom where the band from the movie will perform.
As if that weren't enough, you can also purchase tickets to a special Moviemaker Dialogue with Mike White, moderated by Kimberley Jones of The Austin Chronicle, on Wednesday, August 28 a the Marchesa. If you're an AFS "Make" or higher-level member, admission is free (although you still want to reserve a ticket online).