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film

Fantastic Fest Final

The annual Fantastic Fest film festival is tool place in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find. Here's his final wrap-up.

The end is here. I look forward to my return. I much prefer Albuquerque’s weather and local breweries. But I’ll keep many good memories of FF2011. Where else can I sit in a theater with friends and genre fans from around the world, order a beer and pizza and enjoy watching an uncircumcised penis undergo a vasectomy procedure?

Nowhere else. I promise.

This morning, I caught a screening of Morgan Spurlock's genial documentary, Comic-Con Episode 4: A Fan's Hope. Initially, I took the title to be a geek joke, but it actually speaks to the varied dreams that its subjects want to see realized. Spurlock profiles a soldier who travels cross-country to submit his portfolio; a collector eager to score a 19-inch Galactus figurine; even a young man who proposes to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith Q&A. While there are no surprises or fresh insights, the film zips through its multiple plotlines with a clear inclination that each story, come closing day, will have its happy ending.

The final day of Fantastic Fest also trends toward happiness--after blazingly hot weather, cool winds and rain clouds appeared.

After watching dozens of blood-soaked films, my final selection was a perfectly light meringue: the adorable Audience Award recipient, A Boy and his Samurai, about a time-traveling warrior transplanted from Edo to Tokyo who lays down his sword and takes up pastry making.

And after the festival's final reel, the Superhero Carnival erupted: I saw an awesome Dr. Strange in attendance, Flash, Aquaman, Duffman, Tacoman and Cookie Monster. There was even a very aerodynamically outfitted Batman. The party was fueled by free Shiner beer, tequila shots, deep-fried, cornflake-crusted bacon strips, fried butter and something that made my mood (and cholesterol) soar higher still: the nacho cheese fountain.

My good friend Mary marveled: “You’ve just taken me to the world’s biggest sausage fest, served with a side of bacon. “

A quick review:

Outstanding films from this year are Clown and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, an epic crime film that contains elements of Goodfellas, All The President's Men and "The Wire."

Must-sees: Bullhead, A Boy and his Samurai, A Lonely Place to Die, Headhunters and Kill Me Please.

Recommended: Borderline, Let the Bullets Fly, Boys on the Run, Milocrorze: A Love Story, You Said What? Knuckle, Rabies and The Yellow Sea. Now get out there and find 'em.

Thanks for reading!

film

Fantastic Fest Day 5

The annual Fantastic Fest film festival is taking place in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find.

Winning a major award is said to be a nerve-wracking experience. At the Fantastic Fest, winning is more liver-wrecking. Each recipient must chug a stein full of beer before making an acceptance speech.

This year, two films swept the Fantastic Fest: Bullhead, a thriller exposing the underbelly of the Belgian cattle industry, won Best Picture, Director and Actor in the AMD & Dell “Next Wave” Spotlight Competition; and You're Next, about a family on retreat being besieged by animal-masked killers, won Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for Horror Features.

This was very exciting and un-sobering news for Bullhead’s genial director, Michael R. Roskam, and Simon Barrett, the screenwriter/producer for You're Next.

"I can’t even remember what I said on stage," Roskam admitted. "I blacked out. What was I doing?" "Drinking beer until the end," he was assured.

Clown, one of my favorites (see previous blog), won Best Picture and Screenplay in the Gutbuster Comedy Features. Best Director went to Steffen Hars and Flip van der Kuil for another feature adapted from television, the mega-mega-mega idiotic New Kids Turbo.

The impeccably designed Milocrorze: A Love Story won Best Picture in the Fantastic Features category, while Noboru Iguchi took Best Director for an update of 70’s Japanese kid show (and the inspiration for "Transformers"), Karate Robo Zaborgar.

The Audience Award was given to Yoshihiro Nakamura’s family film, A Boy and his Samurai, about a time-traveling samurai who works to realizes his true talent lies in pastry making,

Belgium’s Bullhead and another Fantastic Fest feature, Brazil’s tremendous Elite Squad: The Enemy Within became their respective country’s official submission to the 84th Academy Awards® for Best Foreign Film.

After days of seeing more movies than I can logically process, I have yet to see many of these award winners--which gives me a lot to look forward to and makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with myself.

Bullhead director Michael Roskam takes a knee to finish his drink while AMD President Charlie Boswell, Extraterrestrial director Nacho Vigalondo, Tim League and Midori Inoue look on.

film

Fantastic Fest Day 4

The annual Fantastic Fest film festival is taking place in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find.

It's sweltering. Normally, I would go see a movie and escape the heat--but halfway through a film festival, I need to escape the theater.

Fortunately, the HighBall bar across the parking lot hosts the Fantastic Arcade, a sidebar event showcasing independent video games. When I get inside, there’s a string quartet playing stirring soundtrack selections to a demo of D-Pad Studio's upcoming Owlboy.

You can play the games on old-school arcade cabinets, which is cool; but I’m drawn to something very different, called Deep Sea. I’m drawn to it because I can’t see the game at all.

I just see a near-motionless man sitting at a back table, wearing a blue gas mask and holding a flight simulator joystick, which he occasionally taps left, right or on the fire button. It looks very fetishistic.

I arrive in time to nab the final play. Robin Arnott, the game’s designer, wipes the mask down with antibacterial towelettes and fits it snugly onto my head. There are no eyeholes, just black cloth. Then he puts noise-canceling earphones on me. I’m ready to submerge.

The mask is outfitted with surround sound and monitors my breathing. I hear a sonar ping, try to orient myself and shoot in the direction of the sound. This will unleash a series of deepwater monsters; I’m to listen for their roars, toggle the joystick in the creatures’ direction and kill them.

Whenever I make a noise, I attract more monsters. Each exhalation creates a stream of bubbles that overwhelms all other sounds. It’s like breathing through a Jacuzzi air hole (although I enjoy that).

People react very differently to sensory deprivation. Some misfire and blame the game’s design; others navigate the world with a Zen-like quality and develop unique tactics to help them reach the final level; others panic.

I've got one finger on the trigger and another hooked beneath the mask, ready to rip if from my face as my hopeless attempts begin to sink me. I try to breathe slowly. I end up breathing heavily. This is Arnott’s intention: "Survival … require[s] the player to focus intently to the point of suppressing their own breathing, further reinforcing the sensation of claustrophobic isolation."

The mask sucks closer to my face with each intake. Any attempt to hold my breath only makes the sensation worse. The mask’s material is making me sweat and I can’t make out any of the AI. I am totally disoriented.

Then the blackness becomes a new entity--a palpable presence; deep, serene, multi-hued blackness.

Yes! I think. I’ve reached my Zen point.

But I'm not actually playing the game anymore, so I yank off the mask and abort my mission.

Breaking the surface, I am happy to see a bucket of Shiner beer tokens and a Starcade competition underway with arcade favorites Mr. Do and Tapper.

That’s a better way to beat the heat. I’ll put on a cowboy hat and storm the bar. Tap, sling, chug, sling ...


Film

Fantastic Fest Day 3

The annual Fantastic Fest film festival is taking place in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find.

Knuckle covers twelve years in a bitter family feud between three Irish traveler clansthe Quinn McDonaghs, Joyces and Nevins. Travelers live on the margins, facing discrimination and poverty. They don’t turn to the law for solutions; problems get sorted with bare knuckle fistfights, sometimes for pots between 30 and 60,000 Euros.  

When director Ian Palmer met James Quinn McDonagh and his brother, he was the hired videographer for a family wedding. They asked him to tape training footage for an upcoming fight. Mr. Palmer agreed and was soon drawn into the Quinn McDonaghs’ lives, compelled to find the reason behind their rivalry.    

If you want action, this documentary shows a decade’s worth of bloody fistfights, or “fair fights.” The audience can track the fighters as they grow older and see how the pride and fury that fuels them gets passed through generations. Sons step up for fallen fathers; cousin fights cousin; grandfather fights grandfather(!). Only James, over the course of 12 years, stands undefeated. 

It’s an engrossing and brutal movie, with an outcome yet to be determined. Just imagine: The travelers have lived in poverty for over seven centuries; the Quinn McDonaghs and Joyces claim the bitterness between them goes back at least 50 years. Even though James now regrets fighting, how can his opinion stop a tradition? The film does a good job showing the heredity of conflict. Maybe the enmity between Quinn McDonaghs and Joyces speaks to larger immutable conflicts like Palestine and Israel, Serbs and Croats.

Or even, indeed, Elves and Orcs.

This year, Knuckle sponsored the annual “Fantastic Debates” at the South Austin Gym. The debates begin at the podiums and end in the ring. The fight of the night was Elijah Wood facing off against Dominic Monaghan in an epic “Frodo”wn over World of Warcraft’s worth. Dominic, fighting for the pro-WoW faction, handily won the match, hammering on his fellow hobbit like Floyd “Merry”weather, Jr.  

Of course, with Mr. Wood arguing for The Legend of Zelda, could any other outcome be expected? See the outtakes below; their part begins around 0:50.

film

Fantastic Fest Day 2

The annual Fantastic Fest film festival is taking place in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find.

Lots of good movies get shown at a festival; and then there are those great joys, the ones that leave audiences buzzing. When they're foreign, Hollywood will likely snap up the remake rights.

Let The Right One In, The Chaser, Trollhunter and now this year’s buzzed-about French thriller, Sleepless Night, all got deals with major studios. (The haunting Let The Right One In was first to be remade as Let Me In, filmed in New Mexico.)

Now, it is my great pleasure to endorse Denmark’s Clown--a comedy that will never be remade for American audience ... ever. I also doubt the film will get any distribution in North America for reasons that I won’t reveal, but which are integral to the story.

Clown recently won the jury prize for Best Film at Montreal's Fantasia Festival. It began as a Dutch television series ("Klovn") that ran for six seasons.

Stand-up comics Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen star as versions of themselves: Frank is stuffy and self-centered; Casper is a desperate and gregarious middle-aged playboy. Together, they plan to slip away from their partners, rent a canoe and row out to a one-night-only island brothel for a "Tour de Pussy."

But when Frank attends a friend’s wedding party, he discovers his girlfriend has hidden her pregnancy from him, claiming he's not "father material." Case in point: He acts like an ass toward her pudgy 13-year-old nephew, Bo.

After he fails miserably at winning back her trust and love, Frank decides the best way to prove his parental worth is to kidnap Bo and take him along on the "Tour de P." as they tactfully rename it for childrens’ ears.

It's like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" meets The Hangover with a juvenile in tow. Frank's frustrated attempts to teach and protect Bo lead to a downward spiral, made worse at every turn by the duo's poor decisions and absent morals.

There are a lot of comedies featuring men behaving badly, but Clown's director, Mikkel Norgaard, masters the genre with a shockingly hilarious ending that had me covering my eyes and shrieking with laughter.

I won't give anything away, but trust me: In Clown, it's the little details that make the difference.

You can find the original series DVD box set on Amazon.co.uk. You must hunt it down!

film

Fantastic Fest Day 1


The annual Fantastic Fest film festival gets underway in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States and was founded in 2005 by Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse and Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster on a quest to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find. Here’s his first festival report. Be sure and check back throughout the week for more updates.

Shaking off the smoke from Texas wildfires and roadside rib shacks, I pulled into the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse parking lot on a hot Thursday for bearded men in black shirts. But meat and heat was the day’s overriding theme.

This is because the festival’s premiere event was Dutch director Tom Six’s Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence.

The first film has dedicated fans; one of the Drafthouse’s projectionists tattooed the infamous first sequence diagram across his feet. Such ardent appreciation allowed Mr. Six to achieve something wholly appropriate: a movie with No. 2 in the title.

For anybody who does not yet know what a Human Centipede refers to, stay happy, click away and whistle a merry tune, for even a brief description will rape your mind.

Fans of the first film are free to appreciate it and argue for its worth. Of course, fans of the first film are also likely to volunteer for a “Poop-Sausage Eating Contest.”

While I did not entertain seeing the sequel, I admit that the build-up for it was a blast; undoubtedly, Mr. Six has created an historic meme with a knowingly humorous and sadistic sensibility.

Sadly, the audience reaction to HC2 was not positive. It currently holds the lowest audience rating on the festival site, an equally appropriate 2 stars. This will not stop anyone who enjoyed the first film from seeing the sequel, which drops into select theaters on October 7.

And, hey, maybe it will inspire more barbecue feats like the after party’s three roasted pigs sewn ass to mouth on a banquet table. That’s good eatin’.

Film

Fantastic Fest Day 0

The annual Fantastic Fest film festival gets underway in Austin this week. It’s the largest genre-based film festival in the United States and was founded in 2005 by Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse and Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News. We sent special correspondent Brennan Foster on a quest to hunt down the weirdest films, the coolest parties and the biggest star sightings he could find. Here’s his first, pre-fest report. Be sure and check back throughout the week for more updates.

Thirty minutes across the Texas border, I get pulled over for speeding in a 70 MPH zone.

“Do you know how fast you were going?”

My father, a former police officer, taught me of an imaginary elastic barrier, a ne plus ultra for exceeding the speed limit.

“Seventy-nine.”

“Nooo. No. You weren’t going that fast.”

That surprises me. “Seventy-six?”

The officer pauses, gives a slight smile. “Nope. Didn’t quite make it there.”

I begin to feel very inadequate for a scofflaw.

He changes the subject. “Where are you heading?”

“Austin.”

He sees all the items stuffed into my cabin: bicycle, clothing rack, suitcase, freezer bag.

“Moving there?”

“No, I’m going to the Fantastic Fest. It’s a film festival held at the Alamo Drafthouse. They screen horror, fantasy, sci fiall types of extreme movies from around the world. I’m there for about a week-and-a-half.”

“Sounds like fun. You a filmmaker?”

“Well, I’ll be blogging about it for a weekly paper in Albuquerque.”

“So: Journalist.”

“Um. Yes.”

But apparently, I’m not much of a speed-demon.

“Hold on while I get you your warning.”

Somehow, the way he’s strung the conversation together, it feels like he’s admonishing me for not going far enough over the limit. And I understand.

This is Texas, where in order to make any mark, you have to go BIG. And I’m headed to the largest genre film festival in the U.S., showcasing films that push all buttons, all extremes, all limits.

In years past, I’ve been privy to early screenings of truly fantastic films: Let the Right One In Ex-Drummer, Monsters, Trollhunter, 13 Assassins. (You can view films featured from past years on iTunes.)

Today, things kick off with a Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence-themed opening night party, where revelers will attempt to break the world record for the longest human centipede conga line.

And, um, good luck to them.

The week also promises bare-knuckle boxing, authentic Japanese karaoke and Kevin Sorbo in 3-D! I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share my first thoughts of the featured films and relate some of the unique experiences proffered at this unique festival.

“Just a warning”? This week, I’ll do my best to push it waaaay past the limit.

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    Oct 12th @ The Launchpad
    Oct 12th @ The Launchpad10.12.2014