Oops! One Last Fantastic Fest Review

[ Embarrased Mood: Embarrased ]
The Other Secret Screening: RocknRolla

(Whoops, I forgot to post this review with the City of Ember review!)

Just when festival fatigue sets in and everyone has weird achy coughs from the all night karaoke party, Guy Ritchie steps in with the paddles and yells "clear!" After some resoundly "meh" movies, Richie turns out a companion piece to the awesome Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.

Rockstar Johnny Quid has died again, but London’s underworld is too busy to care. One Two and Mumbles owe old school London godfather Lenny a lot of money. They hook up with a bored accountant to rook Russian real estate mogul Uri out of seven million pounds. Of course, that would be the same money the Russians are handing Lenny to grease the wheels for new construction in the heart of London. Surely One Two and Mumble’s fast repayment must be the result of the lucky painting Uri has loaned Archie. Toss in the theft of said painting, the reemergence of Quid, and some deep, dark secrets, then watch all of the stories collide.

Ritchie may be working with a formula he’s used before, but RocknRolla is thrilling all the way through. The cast is amazingly strong too, even down to the disposable henchmen. Mark Strong (Stardust) as Lenny’s major domo and Toby Kebbell (Control) as Quid are the surprise standouts. I hope that the rumoured sequel, The Real RocknRolla, gets made because Johnny Quid is too cool for one movie.

Day Eight Fantastic Fest 2008: Ending with a Rave in a Cave

[ Amused Mood: Amused ]
How to Get Rid of the Others

This Danish film offers a near future look at social policies gone awry. While there’s many moments of very dark humour, I hesitate to call this a comedy because the third act goes grim and doesn’t really come back.

How much value do you contribute to society? Are you worth it, and if you are, what about the others who drain society’s resources? Those are the questions posed by How to Get Rid of the Others. The Danish government (and it is hinted the EU is following their lead) has set up the New Copenhagen Criteria and is culling society for suspected non-contributors. Others follows a group of such detainees as they are processed overnight in a high school turned detention camp. The real conflict lies between the chillingly efficient Capt. Christian and government minister Folke as they sit in judgement of each detainee. Each interview is riveting, funny, and nauseating all at the same time. Then Christian and Folke’s interview process gets derailed by the mysterious Belinda, a member of the underground resistance, who isn’t who she claims to be.

Writer/Director Anders Klarlund, who created 2004’s breathtaking Strings, turns out a truly disturbing view of society. The side-stories for Belinda and Folke are distracting and maybe a little improbable at times, but really don’t detract much from the movie. Social science fiction can offer terrors no BEM can and How to Get Rid of the Others serves that up in spades.

Closing Night Film: City of Ember

Fantastic Fest closed with the adaptation of Jeanne DuPrau’s YA book, City of Ember. While this wasn’t a very well kept secret at the festival, no one knew for sure who would be attending with the film. Director Gil Kenan and Bill Murray did show and the squeeee! for Dr.Vinkman/Bob Harris/Garfield was heard for miles.

The citizens of underground Ember have lived there for two hundred years with no knowledge of anything beyond their lighted city. But Ember’s infrastructure is running down, especially the giant generator that powers everything. Doon (Harry Treadaway) and Lina (Saoirse Ronan) have been assigned the jobs they’ll work for the rest of their lives but both of them know there’s more going on in Ember than meets the eye. The two curious teens become tangled in the mystery of a long lost box, the Great Generator, and "the exit" foretold by The Builders. But to get to the truth, they will have to defy the Mayor (Murray).

City of Ember doesn’t break any new ground but does a good job of developing tension without relying overmuch on spectacle or over the top action. The two leads, Ronan and Treadaway, are quite good and Ember itself stands out as a very fantastic yet believable setting. When asked if he preferred doing movies for kids (Kenan also directed Monster House), he said they gave him the freedom to do just about whatever he wanted no matter how out there it might be. I found that interesting since it mirrors what a lot of genre authors say about the freedom in writing YA books.

Day Seven Fantastic Fest 2008: Egg Prince vs. Stifler

[ Sleepy Mood: Sleepy ]
The Burrowers

J.T. Petty’s The Burrowers performs solidly as an old school, straightforward horror film. The movie plays fair with both Western and Horror conventions with a subtle grace and doesn’t rely on jump scares or WB alumni.

Set in the untamed frontier of the 1800s, The Burrowers tells the story of a rescue party in pursuit of women abducted by Indians. Ranch worker Coffey’s fiance is one of the missing women and he and Parcher, the ranch boss, join in with a group of U.S. cavalry troops to find the unknown Indian tribe called the Burrowers. They find the Burrower’s victims paralyzed and buried along the way. The party soon realizes they are not up against a marauding tribe but something much older and much more terrifying.

Though the film seems a little long as the search party crosses the prairie, I was hooked all the way through. I was impressed with the unblinkingly bleak ending too. The Burrowers probably won’t balloon into a massive box office success, but If you dig proper horror or are a Joe Lansdale fan, you should check this film out.

Gachi Boy: Wrestling with a Memory

Okay, so underdog sports films usually use adjectives like "rousing" and "inspirational", but how can you not be curious about film that takes the premise of Memento and turns it into a goofy, rousing lucha libre movie? And if you’ve always wanted to be a luchador, you might find it inspirational too.

In Gachi Boy, law student Igarashi joins his university wrestling club, a band of bickering misfits who have more heart than talent. Igarashi is odd and quirky so he fits right in. But Igarashi suffers from permanent brain damage which causes him to forget everything since his accident when he goes to sleep. Like the hero in Memento, the young wrestler lives by his notes and photos to fake some continuity in his marooned life. How will his teammates react to his secret and how can Igarashi win the big match when he loses his training each night?

As ridiculous as Gachi Boy sounds, it flat out works. The movie was adapted from a one room play and that stage background forged the strong characters that make this movie. Breakout your subtitle glasses and watch this film. You’ll be crying from laughter until the end where you just might squeeze out a tear and a lip tremor for the underdog.

AICN Secret Screening #2: Role Models

David Wain (from the comedy troupes The State and Stella) leaves his indie leanings of Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten behind and turns out a decidedly mainstream comedy with Role Models. But when one of the leads is Sean William Scott, you knew this was going to be a mainstream affair, right?

Danny Donohue (Paul Rudd) has a bad day, and when you’re bad day is fueled by an overdose of the energy drinks you pitch to high schoolers, that’s enough to land you and your best friend 150 hours of public service mentoring children. But Danny and Wheeler (Scott) have no business being around kids, let alone troubled ones. Danny gets paired with LARPing introvert, Augie while Wheeler is the ‘big’ for his foulmouthed mini-me, Ronnie. If you think that Augie may teach hardcore realist Danny a lesson about being yourself while Ronnie teaches Wheeler about responsibility, whoa, you’re right. There’s a formula at work here and it mechanically hits each plot point beat for predictable beat.

I was entertained by several of the gags though the sum turned out to be much less than the parts. This film is in an awkward place, though. A few relatively minor edits could turn Role Models into a PG-13 family comedy. Right now it plays like a family comedy with a boob shot and extra cursing just to grab the R rating, but really isn’t satisfying as an R comedy. The LARP climax of the movie obviously owes a debt to Darkon, a doc that made the festival rounds several years ago. Since Second Skin came out this past spring, how long will it be before a mainstream MMORPG comedy shows up?

Day Six Fantastic Fest 2008

The Good, The Bad, and the Weird

As you might expect from the title, Korea’s eye-popping The Good, The Bad, and the Weird "reimagines" The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. And while there is a three way standoff and a missing treasure, TGTBTW blazes its own trail in 1930s Japanese-occupied Manchuria.

"The Bad" executes the most stylish of train heists only to find the treasure map he is supposed to recover for a mob boss has been filched by "The Weird", a seemingly bumbling but unstoppable opportunist. But "The Good" is in hot pursuit of the bounty on The Weird’s head. Soon all three are tangled in a race for buried Qing dynasty treasure across the barren desert. Did I mention that two armies join them in the insane, ever-building climax?

While strictly an action/chase movie, the sweeping production of this epic is spectacular. Plus the cast is pitch perfect: Byun-hun Lee is terrifying and slick as The Bad, Woo-sung Jung is icy cool as The Good, and Kang-ho Song is delightfully amoral as The Weird. The amazing shootout in the Ghost Market alone will make you want to watch this movie twice.

AICN Secret Screening #1: The Brothers Bloom

Fantastic Fest always has a series of mystery screenings which leads to a constant buzz of speculation throughout the festival. And as FF proved last year (Persepolis and There Will Be Blood were shown), the secret screenings are not limited to horror or the fantastic. This year’s first surprise was Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom with Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz.

Con-men since birth, orphaned brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) cut their own path through the world moving from one grand, meticulously orchestrated scam to the next with their enigmatic sidekick, Bang Bang. But Bloom has had enough and retires from his brother’s schemes. Stephen isn’t done with his sibling yet, though. He reels Bloom back in on one last con centered around the lonely, eccentric Penelope who also happens to be fabulously rich. Bloom warily hunts for an unscripted life but can never be sure if he and Penelope (Weisz) have left Stephen’s schemes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie as long as I didn’t try to analyze the con too much. Several of Stephen’s twists seemed to be for the sake of the plot but didn’t make sense much on their own. The comedy is stellar though, reminding me a bit of a classic Peter Sellers movie with a dash of Wes Anderson. Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang, Stephen’s silent personal assistant, is particularly charming.

Day Five Fantastic Fest 2008

La Creme

La Creme is a smart French comedy which examines the nature of desire. Beyond it’s initial fantastic conceit, this film avoids being a farce movie with some nice, subtle character work throughout.

Unemployed Francois Margin is looking for an edge in La Creme. He’s been pitted against a rival job applicant and they must unanimously agree who should get the job by the end of the week. Then Margin’s edge appears on Christmas morning in the form of a pot of face cream which when applied makes people believe they’re in the presence of a famous celebrity. Margin quickly deduces the effects of the cream and sets out to take full advantage of it. But being the local object of desire creates complications for himself, his family, and his rival.

La Creme was made with a trivial budget and a mixed cast of actors and non-actors by long-time editor, first-time director Reynald Bertrand who has assembled a tight film that shows what you can do with a good script and good execution. During the Q’n’A with the director after the film, Bertrand mentioned that in France there’s no interest in distribution for La Creme because it lacks well known actors (oh, irony). My fingers are crossed for U.S. art house release at least.

Nacho Vigalondo Shorts Program

The Spanish movie TimeCrimes was a Fantastic Fest 2007 favourite. That movie’s director, Nacho Vigalondo, was also a big hit, so this year’s festival planners programmed a shorts selection as a way to bring this indie film rock star back this year.

Since Nacho personally introduced each short with anecdotes and stories, it’s hard to give you a complete picture of the program. But highlights include his Oscar nominated 7:35 In the Morning which is simply a masterful bit of comedy. Be sure to watch it a few times to admire just how uncomfortable the cafe patrons look. Disappointed with big budget Hollywood trilogies like The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, Nacho created Codigo 7, a trilogy of shorts as an homage to Philip K. Dick that covers a truly galactic struggle with a microscopic budget. But it wasn’t all laughs, he provided an educational one too.

Day Four Fantastic Fest 2008: Like a Chicken on a Hotplate

[ Happy Mood: Happy ]

Unlike Chocolate, the heroine has to work hard to get what she wants in this Danish offering that blends Bend It Like Beckham with The Karate Kid. That may sound dismissive, but as the inevitable plot points fall in line, there’s no way around comparisons to those films.

Aicha, the middle child in a Turkish immigrant family, is in love with martial arts. Unfortunately, cultural traditions prevent her from training in a co-ed kung fu school in Copenhagen. She’s forced to lie to her parents in order to take her training to the next level, but the secret can’t be kept for long. Her deceptions begin to threaten her brother Ali’s engagement and her family’s name within the Turkish community. Aicha’s father, disappointed in her conduct and failing grades, forbids her from training. Unfortunately she has won a spot to compete in a prestigious tournament. Throw in interference from Omar, a Turkish fighter with ties to Ali’s fiance, and Emil, a smitten kung fu classmate, and Aicha has her hands full.

Despite the formula at work, first time actor Semra Turan brings just the right mix of toughness and vulnerability to Aicha. Xian Gao, stunt coordinator for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, creates some delightful action pieces even if some of them seem out of place in this otherwise realistic movie. Fighter would have been a knockout in 1988. But today, it is just serviceable, elevated only by the lead performance and some nice camera work.

Zombie Girl

So, what did you do in junior high? Twelve year old Austin filmmaker Emily Hagins wrote and directed her first feature length zombie film, Pathogen. Sound improbable? Well, a trio of Austin local filmmakers documented Emily’s year of the zombie. Making a film is serious work even when working with no budget, and the most touching part of Zombie Girl is its honest look at the Emily’s relationship with her mother as the stress of filming sets in. Both Emily and her mother, Megan, speak very openly throughout and that makes for a genuine snapshot. If you’re interested in film, check out Zombie Girl as both the subject and the documentary itself represent some fine, inspirational guerilla filmmaking.

South of Heaven

Take a slice of Cohen brother’s retro storytelling, slap on a wet scoop of Tex Avery, add a pinch of Depeche Mode(?!) and you’re getting close to what the frenetic South of Heaven serves up. If it wasn’t for JCVD, this would have been my undisputed underdog of Fantastic Fest.

Roy Coop returns home from the Navy with dreams of selling a novel only to be set upon by a pair of thugs decked out in vaudeville style. Roy’s cowardly brother, Dale, has taken up sidekicking with the unstable criminal, Mad Dog Mantee, and they’ve been up to some very bad deeds, including kidnapping a mobster’s daughter. The chatty thugs return again and again to "convince" the innocent, guileless Roy to give up his brother and the location of the missing girl. But unknown to Roy, Mad Dog and Dale are on the lam as Mad Dog’s temper leads them from atrocity to another. Will Dale find his spine and stand up to Mad Dog? And what will the sweet-natured Roy become?

Writer/director J.L. Vara perpetrates a unique, over the top vision in this very dark noir comedy with a deft that hand that prevents the humour and style from breaking your suspension of disbelief. First time actors Adam and Aaron Nee are good enough to stand up to Shea Wigham’s absolutely awesome Mad Dog Mantee. A tip of the straw hat goes to Jon Gries and Thomas J. Ryan as the unnamed thugs too. I hope this film gets distribution because it deserves to be seen by more than just festival audiences.

Day Three Fantastic Fest 2008: Bugger! I’m Getting Behind

[ Sleepy Mood: Sleepy ]
Left Bank

This Belgian horror film had a striking, subdued palette and some very nice cinematography that mixes some fantastic lingering shots with kinetic fast cuts. Ultimately though, the film couldn’t deliver what it set out to do due to pacing issues. Mistaking just plain repetitive and slow for the slow burn, this film felt much longer than its running time of 75 minutes.

Left Bank is set in swank Antwerp district of the same name. Injured competitive runner Marie meets Bobby, archer and used car sales man. The begin a fairy tale romance and she quickly moves into his Left Bank apartment building. As her romance with Bobby and her medical issues blossom, Marie learns about the mysterious disappearance of the apartment’s previous occupant. Did the previous woman disappear in a "black hole" in the basement? Which, if any, of the building’s tenements are responsible? Does Bobby’s oroboros badged archery guild play part? Marie teams with the grieving ex-boyfriend of the missing woman to research the history of the Left Bank unleashing a chain of increasingly dire supernatural events that in many senses, reveals all.

Comparison’s to Rosemary’s Baby are inevitable, but despite the effective cast, the story is not very nuanced (think about the symbolism at work here) and should have played out faster than the pacing choices allowed.

The Chaser

Korea has been nudging its way into the international film scene over the last decade and The Chaser plants its foot on your neck and lets you know Korea has arrived. This is a solid, well constructed crime/serial killer movie which plays mostly by the numbers, but hits every one of them perfectly.

The Chaser tells the story of Joong-ho, a former cop who pimps call girls. He has financial woes because several of his girls have skipped out on him without paying their debts. Driven by his detective habits, Joong-ho finds himself hunting down a mysterious client who must be selling the girls off in the sex trade. Or is there something far worse at work?

This film seemly plays its cards way too early, but the reveal is not the goal here. The Chaser is all about building tension and it does that until the audience twitches in their seats. Combine that with choices most US films would not do (we’ll find out, supposedly a US remake is being discussed) and one of the most painful climaxes ever and you have a hell of a ride.

Let the Right One In

To the point: this is the just sweetest coming of age romantic horror film ever. Sweden should get props for this one, it is my #2 pick of the festival so far.

Oskar, a timid and lonely boy spends most of his time dreaming of revenge against his schoolyard bullies, slowly makes friends with Eli. Eli is a quiet girl who has just moved into the neighbouring apartment with her father. But Eli is quirky to say the least. She wears house clothes outside in the Swedish winter and only comes out to play at dusk. Over time Eli teaches Oskar to stand up for himself while he teachers her what it means to be a friend. Meanwhile, Eli’s dad attempts to exsanguinate a few of the locals….

Obviously there’s vampirism at work here, but the surprise here is not the fangs, it is the touching friendship that turns to young romance between Oskar and Eli. There’s a smart vision at work here that confounds your expectations. I wish more "monster" films put an effort into fleshing out characters in interesting stories before investing in the CGI (Scifi Channel, I’m looking in your direction). Look for this movie, whether you are into vampire flicks or not, it will entertain.


This Australian film aims to deliver the irony-free teen serial killer/suspense flick that kids used to seek into way back before the PG-13 rating and Scream. It makes a good effort but stumbles on its own feet in places.

Three Brisbane teens, Mark, James, and Chasely, get caught up in hunting down a killer after Mark sees an unknown man drive off after burying a fresh corpse in the woods. They’re convinced that "Red Car" has done in a missing local girl from Chasely’s school, so they set out to identify Red Car, not so much as a vigilante act, but more as a something break up the boredom of their days. But James and Mark have a dark secret tied to the freshly paroled tough guy, Parker. James sees Red Car as being a solution to the Parker problem, use one scumbag to get rid of the other. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, successful serial killers are clever, and not everyone is telling the truth.

At times the teens make the classic stupid mistakes to further the plot and there are audio and visual style choices that seem tacked on just for cool points violate the feel of the film rather than add to it. That said, the cast saves the film from being thoroughly average. Sebastian Gregory, Joshua Payne, and Hanna Lawrence stand out as the teens, but Joel Edgerton and Michael Dorman deserve serious respect as Red Car and Parker.


This Thai martial arts action flick from Ong Bak director,Prachya Pinkaew, turns autism into a super power. Fifteen year old JeeJa Yanin debuts as the autistic savant and delivers some excellent actions scenes in this Kill Bill influenced (which in turn was inspired by… oh never mind) thrill ride.

Chocolate tells of a Thai mob enforcer, Zin, who gives birth to Zen, the love child of a forbidden affair with a Japanese yakuza boss, Masashi. Zen is autistic, but develops amazing fighting skills with a preternatural ability to imitate every martial arts move she sees. Once Zin falls ill with cancer, Zen and Moom, her adopted brother, set out to collect on old debts owed to their mother from her mafia days in order to pay for her treatment. They run up against Zin’s former employer whose love she rejected for Masashi. Situations escalate until Zen must rescue her mother in a fifteen minute plus Kill Bill style showdown with some of the most painful stunt falls I’ve every seen.

The plot in Chocolate exists only to hold the fight scenes together which is pretty standard for most martial arts films. But the young star has the moves, so if you are looking for something light enough while waiting for the drama of the Ong Bak II production to subside, then check out Chocolate.

Day Two Fantastic Fest 2008: Subtitles for Everyone

[ Amused Mood: Amused ]
The Substitute

Last year, Fantastic Fest worked hard to establish themselves as an international film festival and the results this year are looking good. For example, take the Danish scifi adventure, The Substitute (Vikaren). It’s thrilling, it’s funny, and it’s smart, all without a giant budget or overdosing on special effects.

The Substitute pits a class of young schoolchildren against their new substitute teacher, Ulla Harms. She cruel and strange, and oh yeah, an alien. She wraps the parents and school administration around her finger. leaving the kids to on their own. What is Ulla’s plan for the children, and what part do chickens play in all of this?

The child actors are great, and Paprika Steen is more than their match as Ulla. Her sweet-cruel-sweet transformations are entertaining as they are monstrous. This is a fun Sooby-doo adventure with just enough thrills to make you really fear for the kids but laugh along the way.


Surveillance is Jennifer Lynch’s Rashomon style dissection of a horrible crime scene by a pair of FBI agents. There’s much to like in this movie, but the mystery is not one of them. It is clear in the first five minutes what the mystery is, so you spend the rest of the movie waiting to see where the movie goes and how the inevitable events play out.

FBI agents Anderson and Hallaway descend on a rural precinct to collect the eyewitness reports of a horrible mass murder perpetrated by a group of serial killers. Just as in the classic Japanese tale, everyone is hiding something and it is up to the agents to extract the truth. Unfortunately, the truth comes with a very high cost.

Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond deliver some great, quirky performances, but several members of the supporting cast also deliver the goods, especially Pell James and Ryan Simpkins. Lynch (who also directed Boxing Helena) turns out a dark, twisted, but intelligent serial killer flick. Well worth checking out.


JCVD is what film festivals are all about. You hear about a film that sound so ludicrous you’re surprised someone even made it. But then you learn it has a buzz and realize that you might never have a chance to see it, so caution to the wind you give it a chance. And in this JCVD turned out to be a surprise treat, in fact, it is my Fantastic Fest favourite so far (but hey, we’re only on day 2). By the way, JCVD stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, I am pimping the Muscles from Brussels.

Van Damme plays himself in JCVD, a tender at times comedic drama about his failed marriage and career. After losing custody of his daughter he returns to Belgium to clear his head and look for new work. Strapped for money, he makes a desperate trip to his bank to pay his laywer fee and blunders into a bank heist. Sound like the setup to a bad 80s action film? Yes, and that’s precisely what you don’t get. Jean-Claude has virtually no heroic action scenes in the entire film. And when forced to act without his fists in an ensemble cast, Van Damme is surprisingly good. In fact, towards the end of the movie, he turns out a long, fourth wall breaking monologue all done in a single take. The self analysis in that scene is sharp and painful.

I have no idea where Van Damme can take his career from here, but he and writer/director, Mabrouk el Mechri, deserve much respect for this standout metafiction piece. Seek out this cleverly structured film, you will be amazed what the sweaty dude from Bloodsport can really do.

Feast 2

I liked the first Feast movie when it premiered back in Fantastic Fest 2005. It wasn’t high art, but it was a total beer movie that poked fun at monster movie convention while still delivering the thrills. The film makers hoped to top their last effort, but sadly this sequel fails in the worst way, it is just plain boring.

Feast 2 picks up immediately after the first ends as Harley Mom’s twin sister and her bike gang come looking for her. The trail leads them to a generic small town that has been ravaged by the monsters. The feasties have wiped out most of the population and the survivors and biker chicks band together to stay alive and escape.

The film quickly dissolves into a series of completely laborious attempts to go for the "oh, not they didn’t!" reaction pasted together. Probably the worst of these is an extended pee and fart joke in the form of a monster dissection scene. Perhaps if I wasn’t so bored, I wouldn’t have notices all of the gaping plot holes, terrible character decisions, and continuity problems, bored I was. Apparently there’s Feast 3 coming, maybe the story and the fun will show up there.

Day One Fantastic Fest 2008: And We’re Off…

[ Happy Mood: Happy ]
Cargo 200

This Russian horror film made for a perfect start to Fantastic Fest and epitomizes what the festival is all about. Director Aleksei Balabanov turns out a unique Jim Thompson style story set in the crumbling industrial town of Leninsk in 1980s.

When his car dies, Artem, a professor of scientific atheism, finds himself the guest of backwoods vodka distillers and gets embroiled in an argument about the existence of God and of morals. By morning, the several lives have intersected, a man has been murdered, and a young girl raped and kidnapped. Lika’s assailant turns out to be the sociopathic Zhurov, a captain in the Leninsk police force. Zhurov’s corrupt deeds built up one after another in a relentless, very slow burning film that keeps you guessing where it will go next.

Cargo 200 (the manifest code use for bodies shipped back from the Afghan front) is deeply disturbing, see it if you get the chance.

Muay Thai Chaiya

Unfortunately, this is a bit of a guilty pleasure for martial arts geeks, not something that can really be recommended as a good movie. Equal parts sports hero movie, crime drama, and love story (both romantic and fraternal) it is all over the map.

Set in the 70s, Muay Thai Chaiya follows country boys, Pao, Piak, and Samor, as they rise through the rural muay thai circuit and get a shot at the pro scene in Bangkok. They quickly find that the Bangkok fighting scene is corrupt and they split, one taking the high road, and two taking the thug life. Soon their live intersect violently thanks to the ever-changing turf wars between crime lords and bookies. When not focusing on the ring or mob hits, the film is jerky, making cursory hits on emotional moments without really doing the work to build up to them. And lordy! The music dramatically swells like a fat lip the moment anyone of the three thinks, says, or does anything to reference their friendship. Really. The emotional music rolls up when Piak gets Samor a stripper for his birthday.

I liked the parody of Ramon Dekkers as a steroidal foreign fighter and loved the ring fights. Even the Goodfella’s like crime scenes were beautiful, but the weird by-the numbers yet not quite there emotional beats make this a hard film to watch.


This is quite possibly the first film from Iceland I have ever seen. Turns out this was the highest grossing film in Iceland for 2007, even beating the mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. While never rising to cinematic greatness, it is a sweet and honest confection packed with lots of laughs without going for cheap gag.

Astropia tells the story of Hildur, the beautiful trophy fiance for a shady car dealer. Once he is busted by the police, her world collapses leaving her no where to live and without money or a job. She ultimately takes a job at Astropia, a comic/RPG shop. While she brings valuable bookkeeping skills, she can’t connect to the customers. The store employees invite her into their gaming circle and she learns that her previous fairy tale world and theirs are not all that different. The filmmakers deserve a nod for making a film that pokes fun at beauty queens and nerds alike without ever being insulting.

Combine Hildur’s story wit a loony jailbreak and gorgeously low budget in-game fantasy footage filmed against the beautiful Icelandic landscape and you have a real charmer. LEEEEEEEEEEEROY JENKINS never looked so good.


This film has a ten year on again, off again history and is closely tied to the Austin scene in several ways. So seeing it in Texas at Fantastic Fest probably makes for a different experience than the rest of the world will have. But fact: some of the delay in bring Fanboys to the screen was due to the studio asking for reshoots. There’s probably a reason for this.

Fanboys follows a gang of die hard Star Wars geeks reunited after a falling out to make The Last Big Road Trip(tm) to Skywalker Ranch in hopes of breaking in and being the first mere mortals to watch The Phantom Menace. Along the way they cross the desert between Ohio and Iowa (?), defile the future birthplace of James T. Kirk, do peyote, do Vegas, and learn a little something about themselves on the way. But most of the characters were predictable enough that you knew what they were going to learn well before they did.

The dialogue is cloyingly thick with in jokes and movie references to the point that outside of festival crowd or Comicon, it is hard to say if there’s really an audience for this. Sure you have some really funny cameos and a dude channeling Jack Black and Curtis Armstrong at the same time, but if you think this film is for you, you’ve probably been there and done that already.

Fantastic Fest Shorts

Fantastic Fest chose not to do a shorts program this year, opting instead to open many of the feature films with a short. Many of the shorts ran too long which got to be annoying at times. I hope next year they’ll reign this in a bit. Here’s my top five shorts:

The Tale of How

My favorite by far of the shorts. I think this should have won the FF award for best animated short but that honor went to the overlong and belaboured Everything Will Be OK by Don Hertzfeldt. I could try to explain the plight of the weird birds living in a tree growing on a giant octopus’ back, but fortunately, the animators have put it up on YouTube. Watch it here. Turn up the audio to hear the choral narration. The Blackheart Gang have also provided an interesting little making of documentary too. I look forward to seeing the other two parts to their epic.

Waiting for Yesterday (Demain la Veille)

A stunning French scifi short with some really clever motion tricks. Bob lives an ordinary life like everyone else. Ordinary because his life runs backwards just like it is supposed to. Then Bob bumps into a stranger who lives in forward-moving time. Bob life is wrecked when he too starts living in forward time and realizes that the whole world is being manipulated. Then foot soldiers working for who or whatever is doing this notice Bob….

Some of the special effects are done via simple reversal, but there are many points where complex compositing and/or really difficult physical acting come into play. Seriously, running backward up stairs? That’s good stuff!

The Ecstasy Note

A sick little comedy piece. Coming in at twenty-five minutes, Note is one of the few "long shorts" that actually felt much shorter than it actually was. Average schlub, Henford, works at an institute for the deaf, hiding from his wife who clearly loves their dog more than him. After accidentally killing the dog, his wife plunges a fork into his hand. But when she hammers it deeper with a knife the ringing tone drives her to ecstasy. Dirt poor after the divorce, Henford soon finds he can capitalize on this unusual note. But once the whole city is hooked, quitting the business may be tough to do. There’s some clunky acting in places but the production is top notch and the story itself is delightfully twisted.


This British scifi short addresses the perils of teleportation. A couple prepare to emigrate via the TransTrip teleporters. But even teleportation travel can have problems, and those problems must be cleaned up. While the paradox presented won’t be new to scifi aficionados, it is executed very well and the last line is perfect.

In the Wall

A nice creepy, Tales from the Crypt style horror short by former Austinite, Mike Williamson. Here an unfaithful husband accidentally kills his pregnant wife. He hides the body inside the wall of their apartment. But life always finds away, even after death. This is straight up horror that hands out the creepies in spades.