Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest Training #2: If You Need a Friend, Make One

Fantastic Fest 2008: Fantastic Feud

All the big film festivals are as much about the party as they are about the films. Veteran film-festers know the value of line buddies -- those people you meet again and again in line who share the buzz and help you keep up with last-minute changes, which films are must-see, which ones to avoid, and which parties you'll regret missing. This is an essential part of a festival experience.

Fantastic Fest is no different, but has even more events in a more localized space. You'd have to be a true misanthrope to not make new friends. Where SXSW and AFF have venues scattered around town, Fantastic Fest is primarily one location (Alamo on South Lamar), with gala events at the Paramount, so chances are you'll see the same faces over and over again.  This year, the brand new Highball will have a soft opening just for Fantastic Fest, and is in the same strip mall as Alamo, which means even more opportunities for socializing.

Fantastic Fest Training #1: Beer and Sleep

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Devin Beer BucketsEarlier this year, some local film geeks started a running joke. In the post-SXSW glow, we brainstormed ways to train for Fantastic Fest. It was a good excuse to drink, but it seems like something more people might be interested in. So to help you prepare for arguably the most fantastic and festive of film fests, I'll be passing on some sage advice, and looking for some from you.

The two fundamental areas requiring training revolve around sleep and alcohol, although there are more areas of concern. Last year, some events lasted past 3 am, and drinking at Fantastic Fest is a given. Between the table-side service and parties, the alcohol flowed. Many beers at the Ritz in the last few months have been consumed all in the spirit of "Fantastic Fest training."

Me, I'm not much of a drinker. I'm that person known to throw beer away because it's been sitting in the fridge for too long. I don't drink much at festivals because, when it comes alcohol, I'm a lightweight. So in recent months, I've been indulging in a beer or two at Alamo screenings to work up some semblance of tolerance.

Sleep is something scarce for most Fantastic Festers. The debates and karaoke last until the wee smalls, and even dawn. Sitting through four, five ... even six films every day for eight days adds up. Non-VIP badgeholders need to pick up their daily seating tickets in the morning or risk missing out on preferred shows, with some screenings sold out by 10 am. Full-on Festers might get four hours a sleep most nights.

Romero Zombie Film Tops Second Wave of Fantastic Fest Titles

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Fantastic Fest 2007

The next wave of Fantastic Fest films has been announced today. With one more round to go, one has to wonder just how they're going to top this announcement. There was already an announcement last week about the Uwe Boll Totally Awesome Videogames Filmmaking Competition presented by G4's Attack of the Show and Fantastic Fest.

But even more amazing is that George Romero himself will be bringing his latest zombie film, Survival of the Dead, to the fest. The film focuses on an island where those who want to kill every zombie battle those trying to protect family members until a cure can be found. Romero's Diary of the Dead opened Fantastic Fest in 2007. Having Romero at Fantastic Fest is a huge deal, it's a bit mind boggling to think of how they can top that.

Among the 19 films, there are four world premieres from around the globe. Macabre, an Indonesian cautionary tale of a kindness repaid with a night of unspeakable horror (dir. The Mo Brothers, 2009). First Squad (dir. Yoshiharu Ashino, 2009, Japan) is a WWII occult tale of Nazis raising the spirits of their ancestors to fight, and a psychic Russian teen who may be the only hope of stopping them. Down Terrace (dir. Ben Wheatley, 2009, UK) is a dark comedy following a family of dysfunctional crooks trying to save the failing family business. Lastly, Mandrill (dir. Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, 2009, Chile), centers on a young hit man bent for revenge.

'Wild Man of the Navidad' Coming to DVD

Wild Man of the NavidadThe Wild Man of the Navidad, a Texas film with local cast and crew, is getting a DVD release next week.

The indie horror film, co-directed by Justin Meeks and former Texas Film Production Fund recipient Duane Graves, was an official selection at both Tribeca Film Festival and Austin's own Fantastic Fest, and if you're really savvy, you might recognize a certain Alamo staffer in the cast. It's a 1970s style Texas horror story about a "creature so horrifying it remains legend today" with the typical grindhouse gore stylings of 70s horror.

The DVD release is slated for next Tuesday, August 11, following the film's recent availability through IFC Video on Demand. You can pre-order the DVD at Best Buy and Amazon, and it's already available to add to your queue on Netflix. If you're going to buy, right now BestBuy has the better price. But you might want to check out local stores like I Luv Video and Vulcan Video.

I wasn't able to catch The Wild Man of the Navidad at Fantastic Fest, but the reviews have been positive (and nostalgic). What better way to gear up for next month's edition of Fantastic Fest than by supporting one of last year's films?

Review: The Collector

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The Collector posterThe Collector is one of the most frustrating horror films in years, not because it's bad, but because it could have been brilliant. The emphasis is on "could" because, like most contemporary horror films, it fully embraces the clichéd horror conventions that make most American horror films look like and feel alike, despite some truly brilliant moments.

The story is simple: Arkin (Josh Stewart), a handyman with an unfortunate habit of robbing his employers, is desperate for money. He returns to what should be an empty house to empty a safe. Unfortunately, he gets far more than he bargained for when he realizes he's not alone in the house, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues.

Instead of building on the tension from close calls and the unseen but otherwise sensed, Director Patrick Melton and his writing partner Marcus Dunstan quickly fall into the conventions of elaborate setups and extreme torture, which for the discerning audience makes the film nearly indistinguishable from so many other horror films. Melton and Dunstan, who wrote the Feast franchise as well as Saw IV-VI, mentioned at the Fantastic Fest Presents screening last week that they didn't want the film to be one of the Saw franchise scripts, yet it quickly turned into a Saw clone.

Quick Snaps: 'The Collector' Filmmakers at Ritz

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The Collector at Alamo Ritz

Last week, I headed over to Alamo Ritz for a preview of the horror film The Collector, which opens in Austin this Friday. The movie is opening too early to play Fantastic Fest, so the festival decided to screen it separately, in conjunction with the website Horror Squad. Writer Patrick Melton and co-writer/director Marcus Dunstan were there to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

The Collector is Dunstan's directorial debut, but he and Melton have scripted all three Feast films as well as the fourth through sixth Saw films. The above photo is from the pre-movie intro with Tim League and the two writers. Horror Squad editor Scott Weinberg moderated the Q&A. [Disclosure: Horror Squad is the sister site of Cinematical, where I'm a contributor.]

Red-Carpet Mania in August

Grindhouse Red Carpet, April 2007The last week or so has been crazy with announcements for red-carpet film events in Austin, so much so that keeping them all straight is enough to keep your eyes crossed. Count 'em, no less than three in four days in August:

  • Saturday, August 15: Cinemapocalypse kicks off with Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds
  • Sunday, August 16: Austin premiere of Robert Rodriguez's Shorts
  • Tuesday, August 18: World premiere of Mike Judge's Extract

To ease the vertigo and help you schedule your ticket buying, we've compiled the relevant information below. You will notice that there are benefits to membership, as AFS members and Fantastic Fest 2009 badgeholders have an advantage over the general public.

Slackery News Tidbits of the Undead

Emily Hagins and her wonderfully helpful Mom, Megan Hagins by Ian on FlickrIt's not a big week for Austin film news -- most of the movie news this week is coming out of Comic-Con in San Diego. Mike Judge will be there, showing clips from his upcoming movie Extract, and Robert Rodriguez will show footage from his family-friendly film Shorts, which has an Austin premiere in August. In addition, the documentary Zombie Girl, about how horror filmmaker Emily Hagins shot her first feature at age 12, will screen at Comic-Con, with Emily and her mom Megan (shown at right) in attendance.

But I do have a few tidbits to share:

  • Alamo Drafthouse has a new blog to track progress on The Highball, the new games/entertainment spot they're planning to open in time for Fantastic Fest this year. One of the bloggers is Afsheen, who gave us such wonderful photos and stories about the renovation and reopening of Alamo Ritz.
  • Austin Movie Blog sifted through Filmmaker Magazine's list of "25 New Faces of Independent Film" and found a local connection: animator Geoff Marslett.
  • If you didn't read Marc Savlov's article on Austin microcinema in last week's Austin Chronicle, you may be missing info about some of the best "small" film series/fests in town.

Mike White Must Looove Austin

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Writer/director/actor Mike White obviously wants to spend some quality time in the Central Texas area this fall. Fantastic Fest has just announced via Twitter that the Year of the Dog writer-director will be in town for the fest's opening-night film, Gentlemen Broncos, in which he has a role (and is a producer). He'll be joining the film's writer-director Jared Hess and actor Jemaine Clement.

But wait, there's more. White will return to Austin less than a month later for Austin Film Festival ... or maybe he'll hang out here the whole time, who knows? AFF has posted a fun interview with him that covers screenwriting, film fests, and other topics. No word yet on whether AFF will show any of White's films during the fest -- his screenwriting credits also include The School of Rock, The Good Girl, Nacho Libre and several episodes of Freaks and Geeks. Fortunately, both festivals are at the right time of year for Austin, weather-wise.

Fantastic Fest to Open with 'Gentlemen Broncos'

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Gentlemen Broncos

The Fantastic Fest pre-season is in full swing, with last night's screening of [Rec] satisfying many a local badgeholder, and making those not in Central Texas green with envy, and that's even before The Collector and Deadgirl screen later this month.

Earlier today, Horror Squad broke the first announcement about the 2009 lineup, which includes a mix of 32 features and shorts. The official press release is on the Fantastic Fest website.

The opening-night film will be Gentleman Broncos (pictured above), the latest film by Napoleon Dynamite writer-director Jared Hess. The cast alone will make it a hit with the indie/genre fans: Sam Rockwell (Moon, Galaxy Quest), Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords), Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie), and Michael Angarano (Sky High). Angarano plays a home-schooled kid whose first story is ripped off by his favorite author, Ronald Chevalier (Clement), and being filmed as well.

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