Fantastic Fest

Quick Snaps: Jason Eisener, Filmmaker with a Shotgun

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Jason Eisener

Many people think of Sundance Film Festival as a place to watch rarefied, slow-paced indie films that may never make it to theater screens outside of Park City and maybe New York. And there may well be a few of those at the fest. But on the other hand, you have Hobo with a Shotgun, which is officially premiering at Sundance before Magnolia gives it a theatrical release later this spring. The movie is directed by Jason Eisener, shown above at Fantastic Fest 2008. He won an award for his Fantastic Fest bumper Report Card, and the award included, quite fittingly, a shotgun.

Hobo with a Shotgun may have been filmed in Eisener's hometown of Nova Scotia, but the movie has a number of Austin ties. It's based on a 2007 fake trailer that Eisener submitted to a contest sponsored by the movie Grindhouse ... and won. I saw the trailer (embedded after the jump) at its first public showing, in a SXSW 2007 panel Robert Rodriguez held on grindhouse/exploitation films. Alamo Drafthouse showed the Hobo with a Shotgun trailer before its Grindhouse screenings, as did some Canadian theaters.

Review: Red

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What could make audiences flock to a movie that rehashes plots from True Lies, The Whole Nine Yards, Mrs. and Mrs. Smith, and a dash of Space Cowboys just to name a few?  In the cast of Red, an all-star cast clearly in it for the fun of it.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA operative who's so incapable of adjusting to the quiet life. His only real relationship is with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a pension-fund agent at a call center in another state, who talks romance books with him. When his past life catches up with him, Frank runs for the help of his old friends, including Joe (Morgan Freeman) and the less-than-stable Marvin (John Malkovich). Their search for the truth leads them halfway around the country, chasing a conspiracy and shooting up several cities east of the Mississippi.

Chasing them around the country is CIA operative William Cooper (Karl Urban), who does his job so well he can multitask a grocery list while carrying out an assignment. When Cooper eventually finds out his targets are designated RED -- Retired Extremely Dangerous -- it's clear that more is behind his assignment than a simple kill order. And the longer Frank is on the run, the more he gets reacquainted with people from his past, using all their unique skills to uncover the truth.

Fantastic Fest Review: We Are What We Are

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Family dramas usually don't involve ritual murder and the consuming of human flesh. But that's not the only thing that makes We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) stand out in writer-director Jorge Michel Grau's first feature, and not just because it won two awards at Fantastic Fest this year (Best Film and Best Screenplay-AMD Next Wave).

Grau's merciless, gritty thriller centers on a destitute family reeling from the sudden loss of their patriarch. But unlike most families, he's not the breadwinner so much as their only procurer of victims for their bloody rituals. They don't especially mourn for him but have to find his successor and keep to their rituals. Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) assumes it's his responsibility to be the man of the house, but he's ill equipped, despite the urgings of his sister Sabina (Paulina Gaitan), who clearly favors Alfredo over her other, impetuous brother (Alan Chávez). All the while their mother Patricia (Carmen Beato) seems paralyzed with grief, as the clocks in the house seem to be counting down to some point of no return.

Fantastic Fest Interview: 'Corridor' Filmmakers

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Corridor Filmmakers

Swedish screenwriters and directors Johan Storm and Johan Lundborg attended Fantastic Fest this year for the American debut of two films -- the thriller Corridor (Isolerad) and a 30-minute short film, Rosenhill. Both of these suspenseful movies were well received by audiences at Fantastic Fest, and you can read my review of Corridor. Emil Johnsen, lead actor from Corridor was also here to support the film at both Q&As.

I sat down during the fest with "the Johans" to discuss their films, as well as differences between American and European film audiences and festivals. Johan Storm's uncle is actor Peter Stormare, and we also talked about his involvement in Corridor. Here's what they had to say:

What's it been like to screen Corridor at Fantastic Fest?

Johan Storm: It was the second screening ever of the film. It was a tremendous experience to see it with an audience that good, that well-behaved. In thrillers and comedies we really need the response of the audience to feel that it's okay to laugh, and to feel the excitement. I think that we hit all the right notes with the audience.

Fantastic Fest Review: Corridor

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Corridor

I strongly believe that anyone who proclaims themselves a horror fan should be required to read Danse Macabre, Stephen King's non-fiction commentary on horror fiction in print, radio and film. Although it was written almost 30 years ago, his often-academic examination into the influences on his writing is extremely insightful. One discussion that I think of time and time again is his classification of the horror genre into three levels: terror, horror and revulsion. King further states that terror is the "finest element," and one he strives for himself. He defines terror as the suspenseful moment before the actual monster is revealed -- horror is when we actually see the monster. Finally, King equates revulsion with the gag reflex, a bottom level which he considers a cheap gimmick.

One of the horror films that I saw at Fantastic Fest this year captured the finest element of terror, so much that I saw it in the theater twice -- the psychological thriller Corridor, written and directed by Johan Storm and Johan Lundborg. In an everyday setting of a Swedish flat, these emerging filmmakers created a terrifying experience for both their characters and the audience.  

Corridor opens with an introduction to Frank (Emil Johnsen), an introverted medical student who has a small quiet flat where he can focus on his sutides. However, when new neighbor Lotte (Ylva Gallon) moves in upstairs, his quiet life is disrupted by her intrusive nature and late-night lovemaking with her abusive boyfriend Micke (Peter Stormare). Frank also resents his classmates, from the teacher's pet who gets a perfect score to the poor scoring student who wants to study with him.

Review: Buried

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How does a movie about a man buried alive in a coffin stay interesting for an entire 95 minutes?  In the case of Buried, very easily, if very tensely.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up inside a wooden box with no light save his lighter. He has no idea who put him there, or why, and for the next hour and a half he manages to desperately try to free himself. Despite only one person appearing on camera, the film has is an extensive cast list. Paul eventually discovers he has a phone, which is his only lifeline. The problem is he doesn’t know exactly where he is, which makes convincing anyone to help him even more challenging.

Director Rodrigo Cortés, writer Chris Sparling (An Uzi at the Alamo) and cinematographer Eduard Grau (A Single Man) focus only on Paul. Keeping all the action within the box, and only knowing what Paul knows, keeps the tension high throughout the film. Almost all the shots are contained with the same dimensions Paul is trapped in, giving it a claustrophobic feel that may cause some audience members real distress. Even those without fear of enclosed spaces will find themselves reacting to the constraints of the images, although it eases up after the first half-hour.

Fantastic Fest Review: Rammbock

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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. 

Fantastic Fest Review: A Somewhat Gentle Man

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Chances are, you've never seen a Norwegian film. Unlike other Nordic countries, Norway isn't exactly known as a cinematic powerhouse. Thanks to a simmering little film starring a Swedish actor, that may start changing. 

A Somewhat Gentle Man (En ganske snill mann) is a fair description of a small-time criminal released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence. Whatever he was in his pre-prison days, the now passive Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgård) has the opportunity to start his life over, only there isn't much of a life for him on the outside. He has no job, his wife left him, and his son is busy with a life of his own. Reliant on the charity of his old crime boss to find housing and gainful employment, Ulrik is not so much a broken man but a diminished one, a stranger in his own life. For all his passivity, Ulrik is the unlikely catalyst for change in the lives around him who use him for their own gain.

Ulrik's old boss Rune (Bjørn Floberg) gets to pretend he's still a crime boss, despite driving a cranky older car and working with an often-abused sidekick (Gard B. Eidsvold). He benevolently reminds Ulrik of the fact he financially supported the family that's disowned him and the importance of revenge as finds Ulrik a place to stay and a job. Ulrik ends up in Rune's sister Karen Margrethe's basement, with a job in Sven's (Bjørn Sundquist) garage, where the lovely and surly Merete (Jannike Kruse) lurks.  Karen Margrethe (Jorunn Kjellsby) is a worn battleaxe of a woman, hard used by men, but finds an unlikely opportunity in Ulrik. Sven just wants Ulrik to keep fixing cars and to stay away from Merete. Ulrik obliges them all until his reticence to get even with the snitch who landed him in prison forces Ulrik to start taking somewhat gentle steps into regaining control of his life.  

Fantastic Fest Review: 13 Assassins

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13 Assassins

It was only out of dedication to Slackerwood that I decided to brave the Fantastic Fest 2010 closing-night film, 13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku). I had a very understandable reluctance to see anything directed by Takashi Miike, having once heard my brother describe the "awesomeness" of Audition to me in intense detail. I know he's made family films, but I was still justifiably wary of a Miike movie with the word "assassins" in the title. Let's face it, I am squeamish about certain kinds of violence in movies.

Fortunately, 13 Assassins had no more violence and gore than a Sam Peckinpah movie. In fact, if Peckinpah had decided to remake The Seven Samurai, this might have been the result. "No more gore than Peckinpah" doesn't exactly mean we're in G-rated territory, but I can deal with limbs and heads being sliced off, as long as it's done relatively quickly and not as lingering scenes of torture. A whole lot of people are brutally killed in 13 Assassins, but it's mostly straightforward death in battle. One character has been tortured and mutilated, but we only see the results at a later date, we don't have to watch it happening. Thankfully.

13 Assassins is actually a remake of a 1963 Japanese film, with a traditional story. This version is set near the end of the shogun/samurai period of Japanese history in the mid-19th century. Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) has amply demonstrated that he is psychotic, and his actions have brought shame on the shogun. The shogun has asked Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), the leader of his samurai, to take care of Naritsugu in a non-public way ... and to do so before Naritsugu reaches the Akamai district, where he where he will be named as the shogun's second in command.

Fantastic Fest Review: Drones

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In a festival filled with brutality and and splatter effects, one might think a straightforward rom-com would get lost in the gore. But Drones was not only a refreshing break, but stands on its own as a witty tale of an office romance with a twist ... aliens.

Yes, aliens. Yet the film contains no CGI, no prosthetics or special cosmetics, just a guy and a gal and impending alien invasions. "Boy meets girl but she's an alien" is not a new plot device, but writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker capture interpersonal dynamics with dry wit while embedding a science-fiction theme within a very typical office, although with a very unusual copy machine. 

Brian (Jonathan M. Woodward, Firefly) is a dedicated worker bee of an office drone, who has a crush on Amy (Angela Bettis, May) across the aisle. Brian's best friend and coworker Clark (Samm Levine, Inglourious Basterds) pushes Brian into finally asking Amy out. Things get complicated when Brian finds that his girlfriend isn't just out of this world, she's from out of this world. And so is his best friend.

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