Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest Review: Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope


Comic Con Episode FourDocumentaries aren't normally gala closing-night picks for film festivals, but you couldn't find a better movie to end Fantastic Fest this year than Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope. The frothy, upbeat doc from filmmaker Morgan Spurlock celebrated fandom -- and not exclusively, or even primarily movie fandom -- with a focus on a variety of attendees at Comic-Con San Diego.

Wait. Stop. I know what you're thinking. You've seen Spurlock's documentaries and you're wondering how he's managed to wedge himself into this particular scenario. But I bet that for most people, if you didn't know Spurlock directed this movie, you would never guess. The Super Size Me filmmaker doesn't appear onscreen at all -- you don't even hear him in a voiceover. This time, he lets many other voices and faces, both well-known and newcomers -- tell the story.

And it's a nice story, respectful of everyone who swarms San Diego annually for the giant Comic-Con gathering, whether they're aspiring artists, collectors or cosplayers. Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope focuses on a few diverse attendees from Comic-Con 2010 to draw us into the event: comic-book dealer Chuck Rozanski, who's had a booth at Comic-Con for decades; first-time attendees Skip Harvey and Eric Henson, who want to illustrate comic books; Holly Conrad, who's been working on costumes for a giant Mass Effect-themed presentation at the Masquerade; and James Darling, who hopes to buy a ring at Comic-Con and propose to his girlfriend Se Young Kang during a panel featuring Kevin Smith.

In between the adventures of these attendees, Spurlock intersperses clips from interviews with Comic-Con regulars, some of whom are very familiar if you are a fan of film and/or comic books, others of which are simply interesting people (or people in very interesting costumes). I spotted Eli Roth, Frank Miller, Guillermo del Toro and Olivia Wilde, among others. The interviews include several of the film's producers -- Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and Harry Knowles -- and watching Lee interact on the con floor with attendees of all ages is a delight. Another unexpected delight was filmmaker Kevin Smith, showing us his best charming fanboyish side, causing me to forget briefly and almost forgive all the anti-critic ranting we've heard from him this year.

Fantastic Fest Review: Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos)


Juan of the Dead

I'm a sucker for anything zombie: books, graphic-novels, posters and of course movies. A few months ago, a new trailer surfaced for a low-budget Cuban zombie flick called Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead). The trailer was awesome (I've embedded it at the end of this review), and I knew I had to see this movie. When I found out Juan of the Dead was selected for Fantastic Fest I was muy happy. After watching this film I was muy muy happy -- Juan of the Dead is an amazing film.

Juan of the Dead tells the story of Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas), a slackerish Cuban always looking for his next score. When a zombie outbreak occurs, Juan doesn't see it as a crisis but as an opportunity. Juan and his buddies set up shop helping people dispose of friends and loved ones who have turned into the undead.

Fantastic Fest Review: Bullhead



Fantastic Fest 2011 was marked by several "slow burn" thrillers this year, and the most exceptional film I saw in this category was Bullhead (Rundskop), the feature directorial debut of Belgian writer/director Michael Roskam that won the fest's AMD and DELL "Next Wave" Spotlight awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. What starts out as a movie about the mafia behind illegal bovine hormone use and trading in the Belgian agricultural industry turns into an intensive character study of one thug who is addicted to illegal hormones.

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Jacky Vanmarsenille, a young brute who works on his uncle's cattle farm and strong-arms other cattle farmers to do business as he demands. A local unscrupulous veterinarian who takes care of the Vanmarsenilles' cattle approaches them with a deal to sell their beef to notorious hormone trafficker Marc Decuyper (Sam Louwyck). The so-called "hormone mafia" trades in banned substances which when injected into beef cattle convert fat to lean flesh and stimulate artificial and increased growth rates, ensuring big profits for producers. Decuyper's brutality and ruthlessness is evidenced by the assassination of a federal policeman who had been investigating his illegal bovine drug trade.

Quick Snaps: What's That 'You're Next' Artwork at Alamo?


You're Next mural with AJ and Simon

On a sunny Friday afternoon during Fantastic Fest, festgoers seated on the benches outside Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar noticed something unusual: a mural being painted on the Drafthouse wall nearby. An artist painstakingly worked on a mysterious figure, then text in bloody lettering, then a few gory touches. I took several photos during the process (posted after the jump), but Debbie's the one who snapped the almost-finished artwork you see above.

The gentlemen in the photo who are not wielding a brush are actor AJ Bowen and writer Simon Barrett, who both worked on the Adam Wingard thriller You're Next ... which is thefilm being promoted in the mural. You're Next was recently acquired for U.S. distribution by Lionsgate, and as a result, only screened one time during Fantastic Fest. I'm told it was an extremely popular screening even at midnight and up against the Fantastic Debates (where I was at the time).

Fantastic Fest Review: A Boy and His Samurai


A Boy and His Samurai

In 2009, one of the biggest buzzed-about movies at Fantastic Fest was the Japanese Fish Story. In 2010, everyone scrambled to get a ticket for Golden Slumber. In 2011, before the movie even played, Fantastic Fest-goers went wild over A Boy and His Samurai (Chonmage purin) ... why? All three of these movies are directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Many attendees were worried A Boy and His Samurai would not live up to the hype or to Nakamura's previous efforts, but it turns out the movie is one of the sweet delights of the fest.

A Boy and His Samurai is set in contemporary Tokyo, where single mom Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) is trying to raise her son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) and keep her demanding yet fulfilling office job. The pair encounter a young man dressed in 19th century samurai garb, and at first dismiss him as a grocery promotion. But it turns out that Yasubei (Ryo Nishikido) is in fact from the early 19th century -- he had been praying to a Buddha statue and next thing he knew, found himself in the middle of a bustling 21st century city, 180 years in the future.

Fantastic Fest Photos: Angels and Airwaves Presents 'Love'


Angels and Airwaves presents LOVE Red Carpet

Cinematographer William Eubank made his writing and directing debut earlier this year with Love (aka Angels & Airwaves Presents Love), a late addition to this year's Fantastic Fest lineup. Eubank was joined on the red carpet on Wednesday by executive producer Thomas DeLonge and lead actor Gunner Wright. The filmmakers were caught by a surprise special guest: Richard Garriott, real-life astronaut and star of Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, who moderated an engaging Q&A after the Fantastic Fest screening. 

Love is an inspirational and lovely cinematic journey into the past and future. After losing contact with Earth, astronaut Lee Miller becomes stranded in orbit alone aboard the International Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity ... and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence until he makes a strange discovery aboard the ship. The film was funded by the musical group Angels & Airwaves, led by Thomas DeLonge of Blink 182.

Check out more photos from the special screening after the jump.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Eight: Not With a Bang But a Blowout


The last day of Fantastic Fest is often the most relaxed. Many have left to return home, and the Alamo patio feels like a ghost town compared to the first few days. Instead of five screens, films were playing on only three. Still, many of the best shows remained to be seen, including several fan-favorites with added screening times such as A Boy and His Samurai.

The day began with a South Korean thriller reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's Wait Until Dark. Blind is the story of Min Soo-Ah, a no-nonsense police academy trainee. Min's brother has a habit of getting into trouble of a criminal nature, and fed up with his latest exploit, she arrests him and handcuffs him to the car. The ensuing sibling catfight ends in a disastrous wreck, leaving Min blind and her brother dead. Min is expelled from the academy, not for her handicap, but for her irresponsible actions. Three years pass, and after Min is nearly abducted by a serial killer, she is the only witness who can help track him down. Unfortunately, nobody considers her a credible witness, not even the detective working her case. This was an exciting movie which, unfortunately, too many people compared to Daredevil. It works best in scenes where the emotional impact is high such as the wreck that blinds her, and the ongoing process of working through her guilt over that.

Two-time Fantastic Fest director Aleksey Balabanov (Cargo 200, Morphia) returned with another glimpse into an obscure corner of Russian history, Kochegar (The Stoker). This film tells a simple story about a broken war hero who lives only to support his daughter, shoveling coal into an industrial boiler day and night. The very simple story is stretched to 87 minutes, and we are introduced to the topic of racism in Soviet Russia by tales he tells of his native Yakut people as he entertains two local girls who visit him. Ultimately a tragic story, but a fascinating picture of life, death and revenge served cold.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Seven: Following the Buzz


Hell's Alphabet coloring bookIt's now day seven of Fantastic Fest and festival fatigue has set in. I know I am not alone -- watching 4-5 movies a day can be exhausting. At this point of the festival, I am doing my best to catch some of the movies I missed earlier in the fest. I also spend my day watching films that have a "buzz." Today was a good one.

My day started plainly enough. I logged into the online ticketing system and for some reason I got in right away. Hoorah! I picked just two films, as one of the films I was going to watch had a press screening. After securing my reservation, I drove to Alamo Drafthouse to pick up my boarding passes. A fun trait of Fantastic Fest is that you never know who you will see milling about. Today's sighting was Alejandro Brugues, director of Juan of the Dead. As I drove up, he was waiting for a cab. Nothing like shaking the hand of someone whose film you love (my review is coming soon).

My first showing of the day was a film called Retreat. Retreat tells the story of Jack and Kate, a couple vacationing on a private island trying to reconcile problems in their marriage. During their stay, they find an injured man whom they take into their cabin. The man tells them that a virus has overtaken the mainland and they need to seal off the house. You never know whjether he is telling the truth. This movie plays like an episode of Twilight Zone. It an entertaining popcorn movie.

After watching Retreat, I was able to finally see Headhunters, a splendid Norwegian film about an art thief who gets into trouble with one of his marks. After last year's Fantastic Fest, I've become a real fan of their Norwegian cinema. I highly recommend watching this film if you have a chance.

Fantastic Fest Review: Snowtown



Earlier this year, I heard about a potentially cool horror film from Australia called Snowtown. My next-door neighbor had just returned from Down Under and had seen advertisements for this film. He thought Snowtown was my kind of movie and boy was he right.

Snowtown is a film based on real-life serial killer John Bunting. Bunting was the ringleader of a group who perpetrated a series of murders that became known as the Snowtown Murders. The murders took place in a town near Adelaide in Southern Australia and were also known as the Bodies in Barrels murders, as this is how the bodies were stored.

The movie starts with a single mother who leaves her children with a male friend, who proceeds to take nude pictures of the boys, it is also implied that he abuses them while they're in his care. It doesn't take long for the mother to realize something is wrong with her children and she quickly calls the authorities. When the pedophile is released quickly on bail she enlists people to help her carry out vigilante justice against the pedophile. Ultimately she finds John Bunting, who harasses the neighbor, eventually convincing him to leave.

'You're Next' Sweeps Fantastic Fest Awards


Fantastic Fest Awards

It's amusing to me that the movie that won the most awards at Fantastic Fest during the Monday night ceremony is one that screened the least. Because You're Next has just been picked up for theatrical distribution by Lionsgate, the studio cut the number of times the Adam Wingard-directed film would play the fest down to one, a screening that proved very popular even up against Fantastic Debates. The movie picked up jury awards for Best Horror Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress. It was also a runner-up for the Audience Award.

I was pleased to see the delightful movie A Boy and His Samurai won the Audience Award -- look for a review from me soon. Bullhead won three awards in the Next Wave competition -- Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor -- and if you're at Fantastic Fest, a screening has been added for this film on Thursday at 12:45 pm. And as I mentioned in my review of Milocrorze, A Love Story, the movie won Best Picture in the Fantastic Features category.

A full list of awards is after the jump, along with some video footage, but I want to mention the one Austin-connected winner, who wasn't on the list. The Best Fantastic Fest Bumper award this year went to Nick Robinson, a former Austinite who occasionally contributed to Slackerwood when he lived here. Nick's bumper was one I watched with my fingers over my eyes, and I know I'm not the only one ... it's the one that played opening night and showed vasectomy surgery. You can watch it on YouTube but it is not for the squeamish (or even the unsqueamish, really) and probably not something you want to watch in public either. However, I'm happy to share a completely work-safe photo below of Nick getting his award.

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