My Fantastic Fest Curtain Call

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

Here are my final reviews for Fantastic Fest 2014. Between illness and tech issues, I ended up seeing far less than I hoped. I still had, dare I say it, a fantastic time and look forward to reviewing even more films next year.

MV5BODgxMDk3ODI3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDUwNzU2MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_The most pleasant surprise of the festival, the documentary Kung Fu Elliot delivers a knock out blow with the story of Elliot “White Lightning” Scott. Known throughout Nova Scotia for his low budget chop sockey films such as Blood Fight and They Killed My Cat, Scott’s dreams of becoming Canada’s “first action star.” The unemployed, 30-something Scott, with the aid of his girlfriend Linda’s money and several unpaid actors, spends all of his time trying to reach his goals.

Very reminiscent of younger geeks, Scott’s reality never seems good enough for him. He always embellishes upon the truth about his accomplishments. Being a world class kick boxer is not enough, but he must be the best in all of Canada. Making two films is not enough, but must win several film festival awards. Scott’s story sounds almost too good to be true and as this fascinating film progresses, cracks appear in his tale. Though he imagines himself as the Canadian Van Damme or Chuck Norris, Elliot lacks the charisma, not to mention the martial art skills, of either. Linda at first supports the man she loves until his inconsistent behavior devolves into bullshit.

Embolden with the intriguing and insightful interviews of Scott’s friends, the fascinating tale ventures into unexpected and seemingly unreal territories. With Kung Fu Elliot, directors Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau expertly deliver one of the best features of Fantastic Fest.

 

Whispers-PosterAn old school psycho-sexual thriller, director Grzegorz Muskala’s Whispers Behind the Wall delivers the prerequisite tension, femme fatales, red herrings, thugs, and dupes. Shy law student Martin (Vincent Redetzki) finds Berlin housing in short supply. After living in his car, he finally moves into a cheap crummy apartment after the previous tenant disappears. Martin discovers secret passageways that run adjacent to the home of his mysterious landlord Simone (Katharina Heyer). He listens in on her frequent fights with her lover Sebastian (Florian Panzner). Soon Martin is drawn into her strange reality.

Anchored by the excellent Redetzki and Heyer, Muskala’s first offering largely uses stereotypes effectively as a short hand for character understanding—Simone and Sebastian are tortured artists with bohemian ideas; Martin the naive country bumpkin. Though those same stereotypes also weaken the narrative. Martin too eagerly accepts all the new weirdness in around him. Simone reallies far too much on her sexuality. Sebastian is almost comically moody. Using older Berlin tenement buildings settings, the claustrophobic film could use a few more Gothic and creepy elements or perhaps even overplayed the existing ones.

Muskala masterfully uses the few bloody moments effectively to shock. Overall, a quality, quiet thriller in an era dominated by bloody and uber violent slasher porn.

 

astrologerThe lost 1975 film The Astrologer, directed and starring Craig Denney in his only known film credit, features a bug nutty tale as only the 1970s could produce. Con man Alexander (Denney) finds a modicum of success as a sideshow astrologer when he is approached by a wealthy couple to smuggle jewels out of of Kenya. Cut to a Kenyan prison scene with Alexander and several other inmates being grilled by a prisoner officer (Harvey Hunter doing his best Paul Winfield impersonation). Then suddenly without explanation, the story joins our intrepid trio and the gems. After things go terribly wrong in Kenya, Alexander wanders the Pacific eventually ending up back in California, where he becomes a world famous astrologer, star of film and tv, who routinely receives phone calls asking for help from the U.S. Navy.

Littered with bizarre time shifts, unexpected slow motion sequences, and terrible jump cuts, the insane movie enjoys a surprisingly good soundtrack created by The Moody Blues with songs by Procol Harem and Conway Twitty. The amateurish acting and terrible screenplay only serve to enhance the wholly enjoyable, surreal experience of The Astrologer.

 

poster72dpiNikolas List’s first film Tombville finds a confused David (Axel De Vreese) waking up in a strange place with no memory of where or why. As he wanders through the bizarre, Jungian dreamscape, David encounters unusual characters and scenes, many possibly from his real life or possibly not. He is stuck in Tombville until he learns the Truth. Sadly for David, he doesn’t know the question.

Despite being littered with excessive torture porn and curious explorations of Oedipal issues, the mercifully short film (69 minutes) effectively offers a disturbing, riveting, and compelling tale. Very unsettling but extremely well done, Tombville marks List as a talent to watch.

 

WP-poster-FINAL-v1-SmallA very odd conglomeration of Mad Max, Lone Wolf And Cub, and The Planet of The Apes, Wastelander Panda: Exile is the first three ten-minute episode of the popular post apocalyptic web series. This 60 minute segment centers around the adventures of Isaac, an anthropomorphic panda in a world of humans, who after causing the accidental death of a little girl, seeks a replacement for his tribe.

Creator Victoria Cocks superbly melds all these disparate elements into an enjoyable concoction, full of potential and devoid of pretense and lunacy. Though never explained, the existence of the talking, intelligent pandas never distracts from the overall story. Cooks manages the almost impossible by creating a very serious affair with your lead running around in a panda head. The enjoyable Wastelander Panda: Exile serves its primary function in leaving the viewer wanting to learn more of about the Pandas and their world.

 

ShrewsNestPoster-thumb-630xauto-47594Directors Juanfer Andrés and Esteban Roel deliver an old school Gothic horror tale with Shrew’s Nest. Montse (Silvia Alonso) lives a life of a tragedy. Her mother died giving birth to her sister (Carolina Bang). Her stern father disappeared during the war. The agoraphobic Montse managed to raise her younger sister on her own without ever leaving the apartment. Her work as a seamstress (clients come to her), combined with her sister’s work at a local store support the duo. But when her sister turns eighteen and wonders about boys, the world beyond, and her family’s mysterious past, Montse’s life turns upside down.

Catholic symbolism abounds in a 1950s Spain, complete with the expected mores and limitations of the era. Buoyed by the effective leads, Andrés and Roel created the proper claustrophobic atmosphere. Shrew’s Nest manages to overcome its fairly predictable story, emerging as and unsettling and scary thriller.

 

bros_before_hos-posterSteffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil’s Bros Before Hos relates the hilarious bromance of foster brothers Max (Tim Haars) and Jules (Daniël Arends), who at a young age promise to never let a woman split them apart. The adult brothers now live together. Jules manages a grocery store. Max works in a video store. Every night, the pair revel in drunken hook-ups and sexist games. Then Max meets Anna (Sylvia Hoecks), the woman of his dreams, but Jules hooks up with her, which sparks a war between the brothers.

Very offensive and non-PC to the max, the fairly typical disgusting movie overcomes its roots with excellent performances by Haars and Arends. The beautiful Hoecks outshines them all with her magnetic portrayal. The highly recommended Bros Before Hos delivers with very well written and conceived humor. Make sure to stay through the final credits.

If I can overcome the tech difficulties, there are 3-4 movies from Fantastic Fest, I’d still like to review. Though with Wizard World Austin coming up and my other commitments, it’s sadly not likely.

Course I always dream big, so we’ll see.

(Guest Post by Mark Finn) MondoCon 1: The Little Show-Within-A-Show That Could

mcbanner-copy_full

I’ve been blessed over the years with many good and talented friends. One of which is aging hipster, writer, and personality Mark Finn. In my time of need, Finn graciously volunteered to fill some of my pixels about the eight days of Fantastic Fest with his account of MondCon 1, the poster/art event that occurred during the festival.

MondoCon 1

The Little Show-Within-A-Show That Could

By Mark Finn

 

I got the first alert that there would be something called MondoCon the usual way: via Twitter. Mondo (the company) does a lot of their business that way these days. They started out as a T-shirt screen printer, in cahoots with the Alamo Draft House, making ironic tees for nascent hipsters. It was perfect niche marketing. Over the years, Mondo has greatly expanded their operations into silkscreening prints and movie posters for special events (and also, just because) and most recently, new vinyl pressings (with a full art workup, of course) of movie soundtracks that never got a vinyl release in the first place.

Genius idea? Clever marketing? Right on both counts. Now, they have enough clout and draw for their own gathering, the aforementioned MondoCon, and it was strategically located in the middle of the forced march that is Fantastic Fest. The organizers promised a more personal and intimate experience than the usual big name conventions like San Diego Comic-Con; they limited attendance on both days, booked a smaller event space, and promised a number of exclusives for people showing up.

As a collector of posters and movie memorabilia as well as a lover of comics, it was too good to pass up. Two-day tickets were affordable and the sheer volume of exclusives for the show was so vast, there was something special to be had for any and all price ranges.

The guests, as expected, were a number of cream of the crop artists and illustrators who have worked with Mondo before on posters and projects. Big name comic book greats and illustrators like Basil Gogos, Berni Wrightson, Val Mayerick, Mike Mignola, William Stout, Tim Sale, and Geoff Darrow were situated alongside the young turks and new designers like Jason Edmiston, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Jock, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Kevin Tong, and “Ghoulish” Garry Pullin. With a couple of exceptions, there were short lines or no lines at all, giving attendees plenty of time to chat with their favorites, ask questions about their work, and feel like they got to make a connection with the creators. It was an art lover’s dream, to be sure.

TheBlackBeetle_NoWayOut_01_preview

Art by Francesco Francavilla

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Dude, Where Are All Your Fantastic Fest Reviews?

 

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

You probably have noticed1 that I’ve only posted two days worth of reviews from Fantastic Fest, while the festival itself is on Day 6.

I’m on day two of some sort of stomach virus thingie. So sitting in front of the computer hasn’t been the most viable activity. Not too mention, I’ve missed the past two days of movies.2 Further complicating matters, as always, is the MS. Whenever something funky is going on in my body, my fatigue gets much worse.

I’m feeling far better than yesterday and I’m hoping to make it back to the theater tomorrow. And more importantly, energetic and well enough to pump out some reviews.

For the rest of the FF reviews, I’m going to drop the pretense of the days and just post them. I have notes for some 10 film reviews and plan to watch several more.

So here’s to hoping that tomorrow, all will be right and I’ll be furiously typing away.

But for now, I’m going to lay down and rest.

 

 

1Or not. I like to pretend that someone cares and actually reads what I post here.

2Thankfully, reviewers are given streaming access to many of the Fest’s films.

A trio of reviews from Fantastic Fest Day Two

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

 

Fantastic Fest Day Two was full of potential and missed opportunities.

CreepingGarden07-thumb-630xauto-48710A very odd film, Creeping Garden chronicles the history of the science behind slime mold and the people who obsessive on the strange creatures. Beautifully shot and at times intriguing (especially the origins of devices first used to record stop motion), the film, much like the mold, will move much too slowly for some. But for fans of the bizarre entities, that are not technically plants, animals, or lichen, Creeping Garden serves as the definitive film on the subject.

man-from-reno-poster-thumb-630xauto-40341With Man From Reno, director Dave Boyle (White On Rice, Surrogate Valentine) delivers a flawed, yet beautiful modern crime noir. Escaping the rigors of her fame, bestselling Japanese crime novelist and celebrity Ashi (Ayako Fujitani) flees to San Francisco. While there, she stumbles upon a real life murder mystery. With the aide of an aging rural sheriff (veteran character actor Pepe Serna), Ashi attempts to unravel the plot.

The screenplay by Boyle, Joel Clarke, and Micheal Lerman mar the potentially clever film, full of the requisite secrets and curves. The ease in which the clues present themselves—for example, an obvious bundle of incriminating evidence just left on the floor of a missing man’s room; the sheriff uncovering an important, obvious clue, which beggars the question of why no one else discovered it—detract from the tale’s intriguing and impressive shocks and surprises.

Despite these failings, the riveting Man From Reno ultimately manages to entertain, largely due to the charismatic Fujitani and cinematographer Richard Wong’s magnificent use of the Northern California locales.

hive_pic_3__largeThe ambitious first film from David Yarovesky, The Hive stumbles. After being exposed to a mysterious virus, Adam (Gabriel Basso) wakes with no idea why he’s locked in a room with cryptic notes scrawled on the walls, doors bolted shut, and a dead friend. He attempts to piece together the events through the scattered memory fragments, some his and some not.

Despite some creative story telling structures and interesting plot devices, the intriguing old school science fiction concept fails to deliver on its promise. Sadly, Yarovesky currently lacks the ability to pull off the complex story. Basso’s deficit of talent further weakens the tale. The obviously talented, young Yarovesky is a director to keep an eye on.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Seven

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

It’s that time again for my annual sojourn to Fantastic Fest, the annual Alamo Drafthouse week long love letter to horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. This year’s festival runs from Sept 18-25, here in Austin in the South Lamar location.

As in year’s past, I begin my coverage with a multi-part/day preview.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Seven

Shrew’s Nest

ShrewsNestPoster-thumb-630xauto-47594Montse has had a rough life. Her mother died while giving birth to her sister and her father disappeared during the war. She’s raised her younger sister on her own, a task complicated by her extreme agoraphobia. Montse never leaves the apartment, but works as a seamstress for clients that come to her. Combined with her sister’s work at a local store, they just manage to squeak out a living. But the girl is curious and she has questions about their past that Montse can’t or won’t answer.

All Montse will say about their mother is that she died giving birth to the girl. That answer has never been satisfying, and the girl envies Montse because she has pictures with their mother. And then there’s their father who just disappeared one day during the war. Maybe he left to fight, or maybe the death of his wife was too much for him, or maybe there’s something else… something more sinister behind his disappearance.

Montse’s agoraphobia is tested when their upstairs neighbor falls down the stairs and lands just outside their front door. Montse decides to help him, bringing him into the apartment and propping him up in bed. But it quickly becomes apparent that Montse has an agenda of her own, and while it may endanger everyone involved, the girl may just get the answers to the questions she’s had for so long.

Produced by Fantastic Fest alum Alex de la Iglesia, SHREW’S NEST explores the different types of fears that plague us all. With an enigmatic score and a fantastic lead performance, the filmmakers have crafted a fascinating descent into madness. (Luke Mullen)

 

The Absent One

the-absent-oneIt’s been twenty years since young twins were discovered slain in a remote community. It was a brutal crime that pointed to students at a nearby boarding school for the extreme upper crust until an outsider stepped forward to confess and the whole thing was just swept away. Twenty years also since Kimmie, a young woman who left a frantic message to the police about the crime, also disappeared. It’s too unlikely to be a coincidence, and when the case file crosses the desk of detective Carl Morck (the fabulous Nikolaj Lie Kaas), it plunges him into a decades-old cover-up and into direct conflict with the powerful elite.

It was back in 2010 that director Mikkel Norgaard launched an all out assault on the Danish box office with outrageous comedy KLOWN—the film that proved a monstrous hit here at Fantastic Fest while breaking stacks of box office records in its home country. In the aftermath of KLOWN, the safe thing for Norgaard to do would be to stick with comedy, but instead he took a hard left turn into the world of crime literature with THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES—the first of Jussi Adler Olsen’s hugely popular Department Q series of cold case crime novels—and set the box office on fire again. This time he followed up with the “safe” thing and moved on to book two for his next project.

Yet another high point in what seems to be a neverending string of high quality crime offerings out of Scandinavia, the Department Q novels have won a loyal following around the globe amongst fans of Jo Nesbo and Steig Larsson for the simple reason that they’re very, very good; loaded with complex characters and compelling mysteries while Norgaard and his cast have proven a perfect match to the source material. Fans of THE KILLING, THE BRIDGE and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, take note. Here comes your new favorite thing. (Todd Brown)

 

Open Windows

open-windows-posterElijah Wood is Nick Chambers, admin of the Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) fan site and all-around internet nerd. In Austin live-streaming a Q&A after a screening of Jill’s latest film (taking place in Fantastic’s Fest home at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar), he’s the winner of a contest that will afford him the opportunity to have dinner with the object of his obsession. His hopes are dashed when a stranger named Chord calls to inform him that Jill has had to cancel. But then, in a strange and convincing display of his powers, Chord turns Nick’s computer into the ultimate Jill Goddard spy machine, hacking cameras at the theater and even her cellphone, and allowing Nick an all-access pass into the star’s life. Before long, it becomes apparent that Nick is trapped in some sort of sick game and Jill may be in danger.

Taking place entirely on Nick’s computer screen—the action jumping from window to window on the desktop—OPEN WINDOWS embodies everything we love about director Nacho Vigalondo’s wild imagination. From his award-winning shorts to TIMECRIMES to EXTRATERRESTRIAL and beyond, Nacho consistently displays a knack for inventive plot devices that transform the mundane into the extraordinary, throwing his stories’ characters into the most thrilling of circumstances. To that effect, OPEN WINDOWS is his most ambitious project yet.

You’ll hear names like Hitchcock and DePalma thrown around in discussions about OPEN WINDOWS. Make no mistake; while such influences may be evident, what you’re left with after they’re processed through the wit and insanity of the man’s brain makes OPEN WINDOWS pure Vigalondo. (Brian Kelley)

 

Norway

660726The year is 1984. Zano (Vangelis Mourikis) —a vampire who must dance to keep his heart beating—arrives in Athens, Greece to meet his friend Jimmy (Yannis Bostantzoglou). While waiting for Jimmy, Zano ends up at a dive bar called Disco Zardoz. He meets a prostitute (Alexia Kaltsiki) and a Norwegian dope dealer named Peter (Daniel Bolda). Zano and his new friend go on an adventure that leads them to the bowels of the earth.

NORWAY is the result of the creative marriage between first-time Greek director Yiannias Vesleme and DOGTOOTH producer Yorgos Tsourgiannis. As one might gather, NORWAY is no ordinary vampire film. In fact, it turns vampire mythology inside out to create something genuinely weird. Zano is a burned out disco dancer prone to drug and alcohol binges. He maintains a code of ethics; he only kills people when he has to. In the case of NORWAY, the manner in which the story is told is as important as the story itself.  Director Yiannis Vesleme’s background in short films and music videos is reflected in the film’s distinct visual style. Athens is depicted as a psychedelic alien dream world full of vivid colors, dark spaces and blown out landscapes. NORWAY is a spectacular trip unlike anything you’ve seen before. (Rodney Perkins)

Fantastic Fest Day One featured a mix of walruses, clones, and realities

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

Day one of Fantastic Fest 2014 delivered one excellent film and two lesser outings. Here’s all the gory details.

 

tusk-posterConceived from an episode of his own podcast Smodcast, Kevin Smith writes and directs the solidly mediocre Tusk. When podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) disappears in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing the mysterious Howard Howe (Michael Parks), his best friend (and podcasting cohort) Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez) team with the former detective Guy Lapointe (the uncredited Johnny Depp) to find him.

While pretty and hitting the standard tropes of the horror/comedy hybrid genre, the tedious movie relies on too many overly long episodes, both humorous and horrific, that water down some potentially clever and captivating moments. The best and truly only memorable scenes occur when Howe relates the supposedly true and fascinating tales of his past.

Long lacks the charisma and charm for a leading man and garners little sympathy for the insufferable prick Wallace. As with many of Depp’s and Smith’s characters, the French Canadian ex-cop is amusing at first but wears thin fairly quickly. Robert Kurtzman’s designed the many good and clever gross out moments. With most of the humor falling flat and the horror, not particularly terrifying, Smith should have left Tusk in its superior, original incarnation.

 

MV5BMjI0ODE0ODA1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTIwMTA4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_For his first feature length endeavor, director Billy Senese enters the fray of the scientific thriller with the disappointing Closer to God. Dr Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) successfully clones the first human being. Amidst a torrent of media scrutiny and religious protest, Reed attempts to protect his creation, only to have a dark secret threaten to destroy his work and reputation.

Starting with interesting discussions about the ethics of cloning, the film sadly devolves into a fairly standard creation revenge story, complete with villagers brandishing metaphorical pitchforks and a tense, if very predictable, final act. Senese manages to use his meager budget creatively. For the most part, the acting is workmanlike but never sensational, which can also be used to describe Closer to God.

 

REALITi_poster_onlineNew Zealand’s Jonathan King, director of the dark comedy/horror Black Sheep and the big-budget, kid-friendly fantasy epic Under the Mountain, returns with his third film, the sensational Realati. Vic (Nathan Meister) reaches the pinnacle of business success when he assumes the leadership of a mega-media conglomerate. But after his car is stolen and an encounter with the strange thief, Vic’s life goes topsy turvy. Not just figuratively but literally as well. Reality warps and bends, repeats, and changes. Vic and the audience never know exactly who or what to trust.

King’s masterful direction of the intelligent Chad Taylor script perfectly delivers the off-kilter, near-future tale. Meister portrays the sympathetic and often confused Vic with skill and poise. Complete with plot twists, red herrings, and big business shenanigans worthy of the best of Philip K. Dick, the highly recommended Realati culminates in a very satisfying conclusion.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Six

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

It’s that time again for my annual sojourn to Fantastic Fest, the annual Alamo Drafthouse week long love letter to horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. This year’s festival runs from Sept 18-25, here in Austin in the South Lamar location.

As in year’s past, I begin my coverage with a multi-part/day preview.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Six

 

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Electric_boogaloo_posterCousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus helped to create the modern Israeli film industry with titles such as OPERATION THUNDERBOLT and LEMON POPSICLE (later remade as THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN). During the ‘80s, Golan and Globus set up shop in Hollywood by purchasing The Cannon Group. Dismal titles such as THE APPLE quickly gained Cannon Group a reputation as purveyors of rotten movies. Despite the criticism, the pair kept pushing forward. The persistence paid off when Cannon released BREAKIN’, which was rushed through production in order to beat its East Coast rival BEAT STREET. Bolstered by that film’s success, Golan and Globus went on to produce a stunningly eclectic array of films, ranging from straight-up genre (INVASION USA; DEATH WISH 3; LIFEFORCE) to more esteemed fare (KING LEAR; BARFLY; LOVE STREAMS). A combination of commercial misfires and poorly executed business moves in the ‘90s led to the company’s collapse, but the Cannon legacy remains strong in the hearts of many fans.

As demonstrated by NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD and MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED, Mark Hartley has one of the most interesting and identifiable styles of any documentary filmmaker currently in the business. ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS further demonstrates this point. Harley expertly weaves together clips from Cannon’s back catalog with an impressive array of interviews with Cannon players such as Albert Pyun, Boaz Davidson, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), Bo Derek and Michael Dudikoff. The result is a whiplash-inducing ride through decades of exploitation cinema and high-rolling business deals. ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is an exciting and irreverent homage to a pair of the greatest businessmen that the film world has ever known. (Rodney Perkins)

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Fantastic Fest Preview Day Five

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

It’s that time again for my annual sojourn to Fantastic Fest, the annual Alamo Drafthouse week long love letter to horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. This year’s festival runs from Sept 18-25, here in Austin in the South Lamar location.

As in year’s past, I begin my coverage with a multi-part/day preview.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Five

 

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Kaguya-Hime_no_Monogatari_posterAn aging bamboo cutter happens upon a glowing stalk which opens to reveal a tiny nymph. After taking it home, the nymph turns into a baby girl who ages very rapidly. Claiming the child as their own, the man and his wife lovingly refer to her as “Princess.” When the bamboo cutter discovers gold and silks in the forest, he takes it as a sign that Princes is intended for bigger things. He moves his family into an extravagant palace and has his daughter trained in all manners of royalty. As suitors from across the land come to win her hand, the newly-named Kaguya longs for her simpler days in the forest, and does everything she can to change her fate.

Based on ancient Japanese folklore, THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata’s first film since MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS in 1999. It’s been well worth the wait. The brush painting-inspired animation is breathtaking and the surreal look perfectly complements the fantasy elements. At its core, the film is a feminist tale as Princess Kaguya fights to make her own choices and not succumb to the pressures of her parents, society and Earth as a whole. It’s thoroughly striking in story and craftsmanship and, simply put, THE TALES OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is utterly fantastic.

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Fantastic Fest Preview Day Four

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

It’s that time again for my annual sojourn to Fantastic Fest, the annual Alamo Drafthouse week long love letter to horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. This year’s festival runs from Sept 18-25, here in Austin in the South Lamar location.

As in year’s past, I begin my coverage with a multi-part/day preview.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Four

 

Wastelander Panda: Exile

WP-poster-FINAL-v1-SmallThe Apocalypse has come and gone; its survivors forming small communities for protection. Banished to the vast Wasteland, Isaac – a giant humanoid panda – sets out to find a young girl and reinstate his family into the Tribe of Legion.

The idea is preposterous on the surface – a web series fusing elements of Mad Max, Lone Wolf And Cub and Zatoichi revolving around a walking, talking, sword fighting panda bear. It’s the sort of thing that simply should not work, not at all, or at least not without descending into wild camp. And yet it does work. And it works in no small part because talented writer-director Victoria Cocks plays things absolutely, one hundred percent straight. There is nothing camp here, not at all. And, yes, Cocks will make you buy in to the emotional plight of her furry protagonist.

Driven by the force of its creator’s vision and her team’s remarkable ability to build complex and compelling worlds seemingly for pocket change, Wastelander Panda has become a sort of organically growing beast with an initial proof of concept video going viral and sparking chatter around the world, leading to a three episode prologue arc released for free online in 2013 to prove they could actually carry a proper story and now leading to this: Six ten minute episodes, hopefully leading to a full television series and feature film outings, which we are very proud to bring to audiences for the very first time.(Todd Brown)

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Fantastic Fest Preview Day Three

Poster by Geof Darrow

Poster by Geof Darrow

It’s that time again for my annual sojourn to Fantastic Fest, the annual Alamo Drafthouse week long love letter to horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world. This year’s festival runs from Sept 18-25, here in Austin in the South Lamar location.

As in year’s past, I begin my coverage with a multi-part/day preview.

Fantastic Fest Preview Day Three

 

Whispers Behind the Wall

Whispers-PosterMartin (Vincent Redetzki) is a law student in Berlin. He’s excited to finally move away from home, but apartments are scarce. Eventually, he finds a cheap crummy apartment after the previous tenant disappears. While cleaning the messy flat, Martin discovers secret passageways that run adjacent to the home of his mysterious landlord Simone (Katharina Heyer). During his free time, Martin listens as Simone and her boyfriend (Florian Panzner) argue and have sex. When Martin finally meets Simone, he is quickly drawn into her bizarre and dangerous life.

The first feature from Grzegorz Muskala is a dark thriller that’s equal parts Lynch and Polanski. A choking claustrophobic atmosphere pervades the entire film, as most of the events take place within Martin and Simone’s apartments. Although stylish and visually clever, characters and relationships are the key to the film’s success. Martin is a naif who is eager to explore life outside of his parent’s home. Blinded by his newfound sense of personal and sexual freedom, he fails to notice the dangers that lie in front of him. Simone is alluring and methodical. Her damaged psychology is apparent but she’s also shown to be emotionally sensitive and vulnerable. Alternately funny and depraved, WHISPERS BEHIND THE WALL is a dark dizzying exploration of a strange—and ultimately doomed—relationship. (Rodney Perkins)

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