Updated Oct. 17, 2013.
Slackerwood was all over Fantastic Fest 2013. Here's a list of all our coverage (after the jump) in one location. We'll keep updating this as we post more -- and more! -- reviews, features and photos.
If Don Draper had taken Betty and the kids to Disneyland (circa season two, let's say), and had been fortified by something mysterious from Roger Sterling, and the whole thing had been shot covertly on film by Smitty and Kurt, the result might have been Escape from Tomorrow.
For those of you who don't watch Mad Men, let's just say the movie takes a Disney trip by your average All-American family and turns it completely on its head, with a few kicks in the teeth for good measure. Unfortunately, it moves slowly and ultimately relies too much on weirdness for weirdness' sake. The movie premiered at Sundance, screened at Fantastic Fest and is now available on VOD. It's screening in Austin this week as well.
Escape from Tomorrow potentially offers pleasure to its audience on two levels. The first is the traditional moviegoing experience, natch. But in addition, the movie is controversial -- and interesting -- because much of it was covertly shot at Disney World (including Epcot) and Disneyland. The filmmakers and actors would buy tickets to the parks and pretend to be regular visitors shooting family home video of their vacation antics. In reality, they were shooting a feature film, and had to manage all kinds of tricks to get the shots they needed, like racing around right when a park opened to get shots of deserted rides, and so forth.
My favorite selection from Fantastic Fest 2013 combines the best aspects of all genres represented at the fest. It is a powerful science fiction story with an element of horror in biting social commentary played out in a half real, half animated Bakshi-esque environment. Loosely adapted by director Ari Folman from the Stanislaw Lem novel The Futurological Congress, The Congress expands on the story set down by Lem in a production of which he would likely approve.
Robin Wright won a Fantastic Features best actress award at the fest for her role as Robin Wright, a fictional version of herself who is encouraged by her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) to sell her digital likeness to the studios. In exchange for a small fortune that will allow her to spend her life with her ailing son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), she can never perform again even in something as small as a church play.
Wanting to maintain the illusion of control, she consents to a 20-year contract with stipulations that her likeness would not be performing in various kinds of roles to which she would object. Unable at first to get comfortable with the scanning apparatus, Robin displays the full range of her emotions as Al relates a story to her that is alternately happy and heartbreaking. Perhaps as a result, at the end of her contract 20 years later, the studio (cleverly called "Miramount") is pushing for a renewal as her digital image has become the most popular actor in their stable.
This is where the story in The Congress more closely resembles Lem's novel, as Robin travels to the "animated zone" to meet and sign her new contract. A chemical cocktail alters her perceptions, and the world takes on a look as if it were animated by Tex Avery, Max Fleischer, Moebius, and Ralph Bakshi in a shared dream. Desert sands assume psychedelic colors, planes undulate like lazily-swimming whales -- in an aquarium, penis-fish swim around while others have mouths resembling vaginas sucking the glass like algae-eaters.
After a lifetime of making bad choices, Robin still seems to be making them, and she is plunged into a situation that may forever separate her from her family. The Congress spells out thematically a powerful update to Lem's commentary on the role of drugs in modern society and adds to it some statements on the monetization of Hollywood as well as making a critical point about the short attention span of modern audiences. Demonstrating the horror that can lay behind "truth" and the vast loneliness inherent in hiding within a world of dreams and fantasy, Folman presents a world that is simultaneously utopian and dystopian, where actors are reduced to a chemical commodity that can be eaten or drunk, and a shared hallucination allows anyone to be anyone or anything they desire.
A recurring urban legend is that of a business traveler who awakens in his hotel room after a nightcap in the local bar, finding himself in a bathtub full of ice and a bandaged incision. Upon examination at the hospital, he is informed by doctors that his kidney has been removed.
This cautionary tale would seem quite a fitting start for a horror film, and this year's Fantastic Fest featured a title that is reminiscent of this alleged morbid crime -- Tales from the Organ Trade. However, this film is actually a provocative documentary by writer/director Ric Esther Bienstock and narrated by David Cronenberg that will prompt many people to sign their organ donor card. More importantly, it should cause viewers to wonder what they would do if they or a loved one was in need of a transplant.
Across the world, thousands of people often wait for years for a donor organ while the general perception supported by doctors and the government focuses on the "exploitation of the human condition" to condemn illegal kidney transplants. Bienstock provides an in-depth and well-balanced view of this international phenomena. The stories of two people who have sought and failed to receive organ transplants through conventional means, as well as a third person who owes his survival to an illegal transplant, are contrasted with organ donors in the Philippines.
South Korean writer/director Sang-ho Yeon created quite a stir at Fantastic Fest in 2012 with the disturbingly bleak animated drama, The King of Pigs. Serious tales conveyed through animation are rare, and Yeon shows no mercy in demonstrating the brutality and exploitative nature within various castes of South Korean society.
Yeon continues to expose the futility and atrocities suffered by the weak and lower class with his second feature-length animated drama Saibi (The Fake). A dying village is scheduled for evacuation before new construction begins and the land is flooded. Many of the villagers look to their church elder, Choi, to save them both figuratively and spiritually, along with the newly recruited Pastor. Unfortunately neither the villagers or Pastor are aware that Choi is a criminal wanted for fraud. He has promised to build a new housing complex for the villagers, when his actual plan is to take off once he's stolen all of their government compensation money.
Generally Fantastic Fest programming is heavily centered around films from around the world, so it was great to see Texas production We Gotta Get Out of This Place on the slate of premieres at this year's festival. Directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins (seen above) may be LA filmmakers, but this thrilling drama set in the rural outskirts of Corpus Christi is firmly rooted in Texas.
Producer Justin X. Duprie is from the small town of Taft, Texas, where primary production of the film took place. Duprie had described his hometown to writer Dutch Southern, who was inspired to write the screenplay for We Gotta Get Out of This Place.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place was shot in Taft and Corpus Christi, Texas, during winter months where endless dead cotton fields perfectly represent the inescapable bleak feelings suffered by small-town high-school students on the cusp of starting new adult lives. Playing something like a more mature version of Something Wicked This Way Comes minus the supernatural element, writer Dutch Southern's screenplay inserts a maliciously scheming petty criminal father-figure into a teenage love triangle, with deadly results.
Mark Pellegrino (Dexter, Lost) has a career packed with dark roles, but Giff is a unique character. The rural mafia boss is uneducated but possesses a devastating crafty intelligence. Perhaps slightly insane, he is predatory, with a charming, even seductive personality that reveals his vicious intent with the punchline of his never-ending one liners. He employs teens B.J. (Logan Huffman) and Bobby (Jeremy Allen White), whom he coerces into working a heist for him to repay a small fortune that B.J. has stolen and then blown in a weekend of partying with Bobby and girlfriend Sue (Mackenzie Davis).
Like Pellegrino, the other leads in this movie are cast true to type. Best known for his role in the ABC reboot of V, Huffman's portrayal of B.J. is a Jim Nightshade analogue. With no prospects for college as a way out of town, he embraces Giff as a mentor and the only hope of finding success. He realizes too late that he is in over his head.
Jeremy Allen White's Bobby, like the light-haired Will Halloway, is more heroic, but his better education and plans to attend college with B.J.'s girlfriend Sue result in a growing feeling of alienation between the lifelong friends. Feelings of betrayal become deadly, and they could all pay the price.
In 1904, Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson excavated one of the greatest discoveries of the Viking Age -- a burial mound located on the Oseberg farm near Tornberg, Norway, containing a well-preserved ship, grave goods and the skeletal remains of two women. The quality and abundance of items within the grave indicate that at least one of the interred was a woman of high status, and it has been suggested that she was the legendary Norwegian Queen Asa.
Norwegian director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose couples this archaeological find with the Norse myth of the end of the world's events in his action/adventure Ragnarok, which premiered at Fantastic Fest. This family-friendly film pays homage to blockbusters such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Goonies without the overdone Hollywood gloss. Don't get me wrong -- the movie includes plenty of long shots of sweeping landscapes with a majestic musical score to match, and CGI special effects reminiscent of the most memorable "cat-and-mouse" chase scenes of Jurassic Park. These assets make up the lovely packaging containing the true gift of writer John Kare Raake, an engaging and thrilling story of loss, intrigue, and family bonds that stretch over one thousand years.
Pål Sverre Hagen (Kon-Tiki, Troubled Water) portrays archaeologist Sigurd Svendsen, a widower whose obsession with solving the secrets of the Oseberg ship leaves him ignorant of his children's need for attention. His theory that Vikings had actually traveled further north than popular conception -- to the heavily wooded and unpopulated Finmark, the northernmost region of Norway referred to the "no man's land" that lies between Russia and Norway -- is not well-received by the museum patrons who've funded his research, and he is demoted from his position.
Sigurd's colleague Allan (Nicolai Cleve Broch) returns from an extended field expedition with a rune stone that has apparent ties to the Oseberg ship, as well as runes that translate into the phrase, "Man knows little." Is this phrase an observation, or is it a message from the past? Sigurd is determined to find out, and so with Allan and Allan's field assistant Elisabeth (Sofia Helin), he sets off on an expedition with his reluctant children Ragnhild (Marie Annette Tanderod Berglyd) and Brage (Julian Podolski) in tow.
Going to Disneyland as a child, I heard there were cameras in the bushes. My mom's best friend, a California native, said she had considered working there in her youth and heard that employees who didn't cooperate with the "Disney way" were immediately terminated. This knowledge (or hearsay) helped dissuade me years later from applying to the Disney College Program.
So when I heard that writer-director Randy Moore had shot his debut Escape From Tomorrow at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, without requesting permission, I became intrigued: If there really are cameras in the parks bushes, why would Disney executives allow a film to be created on their soil that has such blatant disregard for the company's image?
There are no cameras in the park's bushes ... or is that what Disney wants us to think?
"State of the art" is described on Wikipedia as "the highest level of development of a device, technique, or scientific field, achieved at a particular time." Ever so rarely, a film appears that advances the state of the art in filmmaking to the next level, becoming a benchmark by which other films are judged.
Recently (at least since the late 80s) this has been James Cameron's playground, as a string of blockbusters like The Abyss, Terminator 2, Titanic and Avatar all set new standards for the use of computer graphics in filmmaking. Of course, Steven Spielberg also joined him in the sandbox with Jurassic Park.
Now Alfonso Cuaron's heavily-anticipated Gravity sets a bar so high one could say without irony that it's in orbit. After more than two decades of computer-generated wonders in film, it is difficult to impress an audience that is already quite used to seeing every wonder a director can imagine. Computer-powered dinosaurs, spaceships, cars and robots make a trip to the cinema feel like stepping into The Matrix, but one thing that anyone with a lot of experience with video games can tell you is the processing power required increases exponentially as you add more objects to a scene. CG can do one object brilliantly. Various tricks allow Peter Jackson to create an army controlled by swarming algorithms or the zombies of World War Z to flow like water.
But there are shots in Gravity that prompt one to exclaim "God Himself made this film!" Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of objects crash into each other, ricochet, and break apart -- all while looking so detailed, so perfect, and each independently travelling along its own path.