Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest Quick Snaps: 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place' Red Carpet

Simon and Zeke Hawkins

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.

Fantastic Fest Review: We Gotta Get Out of This Place


We Gotta Get Out of This PlaceWe 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.

Fantastic Fest Review: Ragnarok


Ragnarok posterIn 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.

Fantastic Fest 2013: Randy Moore, 'Escape from Tomorrow'


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?

Fantastic Fest Review: Gravity


Gravity"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.

Fantastic Fest 2013 Photos: 'Machete Kills'


Touted as the largest genre film festival in the country, Fantastic Fest wrapped Thursday for its ninth year of subversive entertainment in the new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. This was the first year since its inception in 2005 that the eight-day festival was not held at the Alamo on South Lamar, causing some annual festivalgoers to reminisce about their glory days bowling and drinking at The Highball, located in the same strip center as the theater. This was part of the first-day chatter overheard while people waited to get in the theater for Machete Kills, the Fantastic Fest opening-night film making its world premiere.

Despite the venue change, festivalgoers and industry insiders alike seemed to live in the moment, wearing their badges or holding their tickets with pride. Helping the mood was one of the cars from the film, on display outside the theater (pictured at top). The post-film Q&A was also energizing.

"I'm so proud to be a part of this," actor Danny Trejo said during the Machete Kills Q&A, talking about his participation in the film and Fantastic Fest. Trejo stars as the eponymous character, which he's played in several films. 

Fantastic Fest 2013: A Quartet of Capsule Reviews


Jodorowsky's DuneThe programming at Fantastic Fest this year has proven to be the most diverse, balanced, and engaging in its nine-year history. The broad appeal of the selections resulted in a positive response for even the weaker choices. If the highest goal to which festival programmers can aspire is to bring to light great films, the work this year was a complete success.

It's impressive that one of the weakest films I saw this week is one many are actually calling Ti West's best film to date. His fourth feature, The Sacrament, is shot documentary-style as a pair of Vice reporters (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) follow a man on the search for his sister that takes him to a Jonestown-like compound.

West has created a modern-day recreation of Jonestown that distills elements of the real thing into a tense feature. The look of his set closely matches photos of the compound. Even Jones's declining health is mirrored in the character "Father," portrayed ironically by actor Gene Jones. AJ Bowen lands most of the screen time here and will earn new fans with his dynamic performance as the reporter Sam. Swanberg is rarely seen as his role takes him behind the documentary camera, and Kentucker Audley, as the third member of the trio, is absent for the majority of the movie. His sister Caroline is Bowen and Swanberg's You're Next costar Amy Seimetz.

Unconvincing dialogue and extended takes made me find myself wishing someone would remind writer/director Ti West to yell "Cut," so it fails to top The Innkeepers as my personal favorite of his films.

Stephen Chow is one of the hottest filmmakers in China and no stranger to genre audiences with hits like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. With Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Chow exponentially increases the hilarity and artistry of his craft. Unlike his previous works, Chow remains behind the camera for this one, and the result is a more coherent narrative with the same energy and amazing action you expect but more focused on a linear story progression. This appears to also be Chow's first period piece, allowing him to play with sets, costumes, and creature design that start at "spectacular" and increase from there.

Fantastic Fest Review: Metallica: Through the Never


Metallica: Through the NeverMy first thought on seeing an extended preview for Metallica: Through the Never was that it looked like Metallica's attempt to create for themselves an icon like Pink Floyd The Wall. On viewing the movie at Fantastic Fest, my impression was cemented by one particular scene where a rioting crowd faces off against a line of police in riot gear.  Director Nimród Antal foregoes the surreal animated scenes that marked The Wall's flights into fancy, but the thematic resonance is unmistakeably clear.

Chronicle's Dane DeHaan is Trip, a roadie for the band whom we see arriving before the concert on a skateboard. Told to stay nearby in case he is needed, Trip walks out into the arena where he watches as a time-lapse view of concert preparations is set to "The Ecstasy of Gold."

From there, the music almost never stops. As the concert launches into full swing, Trip is given a map and a gas can and told to go find a missing truck that contains something of vital importance for the concert. His mission, presented in cuts during and between Metallica's nonstop performance, takes him into a riot of heavy-metal proportions.

Filmed on location at two concerts in Canada (Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC and Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta), Metallica: Through the Never is flashy, loud, gritty, violent, riotous and as revolutionary as Metallica's music.  Crews construct a statue of the goddess of justice that comes crashing violently to the stage as Lars Ullrich sings the words "Justice is gone" from "And Justice For All." An electric chair is suspended above the stage arcs with lightning from an array of Tesla coils in a display as awesome as it is violent. The entire concert is pandemonium akin to a show from the group Survival Research Laboratory.

Above, around, and through all this, Antal takes the audience through the concert as if it were a ride at Disney. The effort to edit as many as 30 cameras at once is phenomenal, but he makes it look effortless. Despite the inevitable comparisons, this is more a concert film than The Wall.  As a concert film, it invites no comparison. It is unbeatable. Metallica: Through the Never opens this weekend and is a must-see for Metallica fans.

Fantastic Fest Review: Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero


Hentai Kamen

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 2013 Dispatch: Birthdays, Filmmakers and Festival Fatigue


Devin Faraci and AJ BowenI can't possibly imagine how I would have managed this year's Fantastic Fest anywhere other than at the new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. Balancing the demands of a new day job and my first film project along with the festival has been a daunting task, but the ten-minute commute and ease of parking helps. Attending Fantastic Fest has always been an immersive experience for me as I soak up content and engage in social interactions with incredibly talented filmmakers, actors, fans and film critics -- such as Badass Digest's Devin Faraci (who's in Jodorowsky's Dune) and actor A.J. Bowen (The Sacrament) seen above -- from around the world.

I am also extremely fortunate that despite having lost my Superfan status of several years when the lottery was implemented, I've still had great experiences at Fantastic Fest. The only disadvantage is not being able to get into the high demand and secret screenings to sit with the Fantastic Fiends that I've known since the first fest in 2005. 

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