Debbie Cerda's blog

Fantastic Fest Review: Rammbock



Let's face it: Zombie movies can be stumbling messes with running times that are so lengthy that many genre film festival programmers and fans want a break from the subgenre. It's not that I don't like zombies, but when it comes to celluloid it's zombie overkill. However, when a film as tight as writer Benjamin Hessler and director Marvin Kren's Rammbock comes along, I'll definitely make an exception. The film clocks in at 61 minutes due to pressure from the producer to keep the budget down and a format that would be conducive to television broadcast in Germany. Yet the story engages viewers so quickly and keeps a steady pace that my only complaint about the brevity of Rammbock is what happens in the next chapter of this story.

The central protagonist of Rammbock is Michi (Michael Fuith), who becomes a reluctant hero by being at the wrong place at the right time. Just as he arrives for a surprise visit to his ex-girlfriend's apartment in Berlin to rekindle their romance, a zombie outbreak occurs. Instead of finding Gabi in her apartment, Michi encounters repairmen in her apartment, one of whom has been infected. Michi winds up trapped in the apartment with the younger and uninfected repairman Harper (Theo Trebs). The pair soon discover other survivors within the apartment complex, and begin communicating to others across the courtyard. Some folks are in need of help, and promise food to Michi and Harper if they can help. Others make a desperate attempt to escape, only to be ravaged by the fast-moving zombie hordes who are attracted to noise and activity. In the meantime, Michi just wants to find Gabi and make things right. 

Texandance: Film Festing in New Braunfels


Up and Down

Typically I would have been dealing with post-Fantastic Fest blues last weekend, but instead I managed to make it to another local film event: Texandance International Film Festival in New Braunfels. Jette spoke highly of the inaugural Texandance last year, so I decided to take a short trip on Saturday to this weekend-long film fest.

What a welcome change from the fast-paced, jam-packed Austin film festival scene -- after a leisurely brunch of apple strudel on the square at the oldest bakery in Texas, I meandered over to the Brauntex Theater. This historic venue provided a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the day's programming, including music videos, short films, documentaries and feature-length films. As an international festival, Texandance had a lot to offer in this year's official selections. However, most of my personal favorites were from right here in Texas.

I arrived too late to see The Eyes of the Beholder, filmed in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but was able to view it online -- by "liking" the film's Facebook page you can watch the short film in its entirety. The story focuses on Emily (Mary McElree), a teenage girl who has been blind from birth. A life-changing turn of events reveals not only the world around her, but also changes her relationships and outlook on life. Personal decisions have an even greater impact, with heartbreaking consequences.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Eight: Out With a Bang



I may have only seen one film at Fantastic Fest 2010 on Wednesday after hitting the wall for a second time, but I managed to get a third wind for a full last day on Thursday. What a day it was -- I had to spend this morning recuperating from lack of sleep and too much rich food and tequila from the closing-night party. For all the Fantastic Fest veterans that were disgruntled with open invites for parties in previous years, this year's festivities were the redemption with an amazing event for all badgeholders as well as the hardworking Alamo Drafthouse staff and Fantastic Fest volunteers. For more details, read Jenn's recap of the closing-night party.

I started out my last day at Fantastic Fest at the 10 am press screening of Troll Hunter, which had been the secret screening the night before, with director Andre Ovreda in attendance. On Thursday night, I'd chosen Fatso over gambling on another secret screening; the only secret screening I attended in 2010 turned out to be Hell Driver, which I walked out of after 15 minutes.

Fantastic Fest Quick Snaps: 'Agnosia' Invasion



Lead actor Eduardo Noriega and director Eugenio Mira attended Fantastic Fest in support of their latest film, the world premiere of Agnosia. The producers of Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage brought another suspenseful story to Fantastic Fest with Agnosia. It is a visually stunning and elegant period piece about Joana Prats, a young woman whose childhood bout with encephalitis leaves her stricken with agnosia, a strange neuropsychological illness that affects her perception. Joana becomes the center of a sinister and life-threatening plot to discover her father's secret formula for a lens with revolutionary military implications. Two men who both have desires for her play integral roles in whether she will be cured of her illness, or a victim of the dastardly plans. Noriega plays Carles, Joana’s fiancé and her father’s right-hand man, who has some dark secrets of his own.

Mira is a veteran of Fantastic Fest, as he debuted his film The Birthday at the very first Fantastic Fest in 2005. Mira has also collaborated with Nacho Vigalondo on short films and composed the score for Timecrimes. He can also be seen in my favorite Vigalondo short as the nervous keyboard player in 7:35 In the Morning.

Fantastic Fest Quick Snaps: And the Winners Are...



Jenn already covered the list of this year's Fantastic Fest Award winners in her Fantastic Fest: Day 5 Dispatch, so I'll just share the highlights through photos. And like Jette mentioned in her earlier post, words are hard to put together when you average five films a day and a 4 am bedtime.

The audience award winner of Fantastic Fest 2010 was Bedevilled, with director Jang Cheol-so and Producer Han Man Taeg (seen above). Bedevilled is primarily a horror film, but the story is a blend of dark humor, drama and suspense. Actress Ji Sung-won took the Best Acress award for the AMD and Dell "Next Wave" Spotlight Competition for her role as Hae-won Chung, a young woman with a bad attitude living in Seoul. She's identified as a murder witness, but she doesn’t want to cooperate with the investigation. An involuntary vacation leads to even more trouble.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Three: I Gotta Feeling


Elijah Wood

I am utterly amazed -- after only three days at Fantastic Fest, it feels like I've been at it a solid week. So many wonderful films and conversations, many that I'll share in later entries. I've yet to be in bed before 4 am, but it's been worth the lack of sleep to be part of the magic and chaos of Fantastic Fest. As a veteran attendee, the best advice that I can impart on newbies is to "go with the flow." Plans are great, but you never know when being in the wrong place at the right time means seeing firsthand why Fantastic Fest is what you make of it -- and there might be someone filming, more on that after the jump. The best part is seeing celebrities relaxing and enjoying the festival along with regular attendees, without fanfare or massive entourages.

My Saturday was one of martial arts and karaoke, with my first dive in the deep end of the Fantastic Fest party pool. Here are the highlights:

I started the day with Naan Kadavul, described as "a music-infused Tamil epic about a dope-smoking Vedic superman and a group of beggar slave children." Nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock of this film. Naan Kadavul is one of those films that I -- or any American, for that matter -- would have been able to see if not for the dedication of Tim League and the Fantastic Fest programmers in bringing this film to the festival. The film is not a masterpiece, but its gift is a view of a landscape that is both colorful and dirty, full of tradition and tragedy. 

Review: Leaves of Grass


Leaves of Grass

I mentioned recently how much I enjoyed the History of Film class I'd taken at Texas A&M, but what I didn't share was how much I disliked much of the required Liberal Arts curriculum. I found philosophy and classic literature to be dry, boring and uninspiring. However, if I'd had Tim Blake Nelson as a classics professor perhaps I would think differently now and my life would have taken an alternate path. As writer and director of  Leaves of Grass, Nelson introduces themes of classic literature in a very modern and engaging manner. Leaves of Grass is not a typical stoner comedy, as it switches to more of a drama and thriller about halfway through the film.

Edward Norton stars as Bill Kincaid, a conservative Ivy League college classics professor who reluctantly returns to the backwoods of southeastern Oklahoma after learning of the murder of his identical twin Brady (also played by Edward Norton). However, Bill discovers that his pot-growing brother is not actually dead but rather faked his death so that Bill would come home for his wedding -- although we quickly learn Brady has alterior motives. The more selfless motive is for Bill to reconcile with their hippie mother (Susan Sarandon), who lives in an adult care residence despite the fact that she is ten years younger and healthier than the other residents.

Turns out that Brady is in debt for his state of the art pot-growing facility to Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss), a Jewish druglord from Tulsa. He and his sidekick Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson) come up with a plan to deal with Rothbaum who is wanting them to branch out into harder drugs. Meanwhile, Bill meets Janet (Kerri Russell), a writer who can "noodle" and quotes Walt Whitman while gutting a catfish. This comedy of errors results in a rather tragic resolution. 

Interview: Tim Blake Nelson and Edward Norton, 'Leaves of Grass'


Edward Norton at CYRUS Premiere

Austin fans of actor Edward Norton (Fight Club, American History X) will be able to get a double -- or should I say triple -- dose of him this weekend with two major film events. Norton will be in town for the premiere of Stone at Fantastic Fest on Friday, September 24 at 7 pm -- a gala screening at the Paramount Theatre. He'll also be at Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz for the sold-out 8 pm showing of Leaves of Grass, which opens in Austin this weekend.

Don't assume Leaves of Grass is a "stoner comedy," as I almost did. This movie defies typecasting into one genre, as it ranges from comedy to drama to thriller. Norton stars as twin brothers -- Bill, a straight-laced Ivy League professor; and Brady, an uncultured pot grower in the backwoods of Oklahoma. Actor and director Tim Blake Nelson also wrote the screenplay, which is centered more around classical tragic themes in such a manner that viewers won't take long to forget that the characters are played by the same actor.

I sat down with several other film critics during SXSW this past March for a roundtable discussion with Norton and Nelson the day after Leaves of Grass played the fest. To find out why Nelson has inspired me to read classic Latin literature, read his and Norton's responses to our questions after the jump, and check out my review of the film appearing later this week:

Fantastic Fest Review: Let Me In


Let Me In

When it was announced that the Swedish horror film Let the Right One In would be remade for American audiences, many responses were skeptical. The selection of Matt Reeves as director for Let Me In left fans and film critics conflicted. Cloverfield had such a distinct cinematographic style that many folks were left wondering if Reeves could possibly stay true to the spirit of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel on which the films are based, as well as meet the bar set by director Tomas Alfredson and Lindqvist's original screenplay. Let the Right One In was so compelling that I immediately followed up by enjoying the book, so my expectations for Let Me In -- this year's Fantastic Fest opening-night film -- were not very high. However, Reeves has delivered a worthy homage to the original movie while adding more emotion to the lead characters.

Let Me In focuses on Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a stereotypical young 98-pound weakling. The school bullies terrorize him on a daily basis, and the only person he could possibly confide in is his mother (Cara Buono) who drinks herself into a stupor every night. Instead he lies about injuries suffered at the hands of his attackers as he is subjected to public humilation.

When Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves in next door with her guardian, Owen befriends her despite her protestations. We quickly learn that she must consume blood to live, and that her guardian "Father" (Richard Jenkins) is charged with the precarious task of finding fresh blood sources on a regular basis. Father gets sloppy, and a frenzied Abby takes matters into her own hands, which jeopardizes their new home. Meanwhile Abby encourages Owen to stand up for himself and fight back. Although he succeeds in turning the tables on his tormentors, it backfires by making him the target of the head bully's older brother in a supernatural climax reminiscent of Carrie.

Fantastic Fest 2010: Ready...Set...GO!


Fantastic Fest First Day Prep

Does it get any better than this? Yes, by reading Jette's Fantastic Fest 2010 Survival Guide I'll be better prepared for my sixth year at Fantastic Fest. You'll notice in the picture above the whole family recognizes how much I enjoy spending time at the Alamo Drafthouse -- thanks, Dad, that present is a perfect fit!

Although I managed to buy a VIP badge in the short minutes they were available last year and I have the first boarding passes for Transfer and Golden Slumber, it's not a perfect scenario. My fiance missed by seconds and has a regular film badge this year, so we'll either have to coordinate our schedules or go our separate ways.

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