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The 2012 Fantastic Fest (Reviews In & Out of Austin)

by eFilmCritic Staff

Stay tuned in this spot as we bring you reviews from the 2012 Fantastic Fest in Austin.

Threading Up Fantastic Fest Twenty Twelve Edition
liMeet a Fantastic Fest First Timer: Dor Dotson

It's a radical idea. An anthology feature consisting of 26 short films. Each director is assigned a letter of the alphabet and must choose a word that deals with death. Already one's head must be filled with the worst possible outcomes. Every anthology film comes with its share of winners and losers. The recent V/H/S only gets one or two (if being generous) right out of six. Twilight Zone: The Movie is known for splitting between two lesser and two superior efforts; one of which produced a segment for the infamous Faces of Death series. Despite the worst that our imaginations can muster for films with only one rule, The ABCs of Death is far more tolerable than even those on the fringe of being horror could envision and overall, it kinda works. The films are presented in ABC order (with the reveal of the word and the director responsible at the end of each) and the first half boasts some of the stronger segments. Spoiling any of them would almost defeat the purpose. Some go for gross. Some go for shock. Some go for simply funny. Directors include mostly indie cult favorites like Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)), Simon Rumley (Red, White & Blue), Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), Ben Wheatley (Kill List) and Adam Wingard (the terrific forthcoming You're Next) to name just a few. Actress Angela Bettis contributes a somewhat amusing one. Personal favorites, surprisingly enough, include one involving a twist on a dogfight and a very funny take on the letter "Q." The worst of the bunch without question comes from slow-burn artiste Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers). His segment is one of the shortest of the bunch and maybe the most off-putting - but in the most obvious of ways. Needless to say if any film school student were handed his word, their first most uninspired idea would likely involve what West filmed. A pretty remarkable little streak considering he also has the worst segment in V/H/S as well. Overall, maybe 13 or 14 of the segments are worth a look. In school that would result in a failing grade, but for anthology films it's a pretty decent B-. (Erik Childress)

When was the last time you saw a film that opened with somebody presenting the movie that they also happened to get top billing on? Eli Roth gets no less than six credits during the opening of Aftershock and though his stamp is certainly felt throughout, it is director Rodrigo Lopez's next credit that genre fans should be looking out for. Roth plays a divorced dad on holiday with a pair of his friends in Chile. As luck would have it, they meet a trio of ladies ready to party or, at least, two of them are. One of them has an older sister (Andrea Osvárt) trying to keep her out of trouble. Such luck turns though when a major earthquake ravages the city and the sextet must survive a crumbling club and try to escape the city before things get worse. That's right, the quake has busted out some local convicts and that late siren is not signaling an impending aftershock. Lopez's film takes it time getting to the quake (a full half-hour, in fact), but that allows us plenty of alone time with our six leads who, unlike so many terror-based exercises, are not all annoying and unlikable. Even Nicolas Martinez's verbose Pollo is a bit more than the size of his mouth and wallet and the relationships feel less strained than usual. So when the horror does begin, in a wonderfully put together sequence (think of a gorier Irwin Allen), there is some actual interest in getting these folks out alive. The film even mostly survives its post-quake complications until some baddies get particularly nasty with one of our heroines. Aftershock gets a little Sunshine-like ridiculous in its final act and becomes a bit too routine, but for a good hour this is a genuinely successful disaster flick with real terror, gory surprises and all the nasty fun a horror fan craves. (Erik Childress)

There's no doubt about it that Brandon Cronenberg is a chip off the old block. By block, of course, I'm referring to his father David, and by old, I mean of the days when dad was more interested in the flesh than the mind. In a future that has gone off the deep end about celebrity worship, a company now offers the common folk to actually take a little piece of their favorite stars with them - in the form of viruses they have carried. Nothing lethal mind you, which is a good thing for Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) who has also taken corporate espionage to the next level by infecting himself with the latest spores, molds and fungus to sell to a butcher may not want to know. The story takes a turn for the slightly more mainstream as Syd becomes a ticking time bomb for a virus that killed a well-known starlet and working in tandem with her family must uncover what happened before it's too late. The cult of celebrity is still the driving force of Cronenberg's story, which is a lot ickier in its comprehension than any truly noticeable gross-out moments. Though hypochondriacs with touch phobias may want to stay away, fans of Brandon's dad will find plenty to enjoy and think about even if it has one or two ideas it isn't quite interested in paying off to the most satisfactory of conclusions. Between father and son, Antiviral is certainly the most interesting film of the Cronenberg lineage since A History of Violence and easily the most Cronenberg-y film since eXistenZ. (Erik Childress)

"Cold Steel" winds up missing its target, if you'll pardon the expression. Sniper work is patient, precise, and morally ambiguous, and while the movie pays those qualities lip service, it seldom actually does much to show them. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

This German drama explores the current day influence and impact of the demented ethos of the Third Reich through the eyes of Maris (Alina Levshin)a, a young woman who has be in the thrall of the neo-Nazi movement since childhood (thanks to the influence of a beloved grandfather who was himself a former Nazi) and who now dates a brutal skinhead who thinks nothing of assaulting anyone who doesn't look right to him. When one such attack lands her boyfriend in jail, Marisa finds herself beginning to question her beliefs and, with the help of a younger girl who is a new adherent to the cause, she tries to turn a new leaf but finds out that it will be far more difficult and dangerous than she thinks. In other words, the film is largely "American History X" in the original German with the key difference being that director David Wnendt tells his familiar story from the unfamiliar perspective of a female neo-Nazi. This approach, not to mention the fine and fierce performance from Levshin, is compelling enough to keep things humming along but if there is a grimmer and more depressing film on tap at this year's festival, I am not sure that I want to hear about it. (Peter Sobczynski)

Noboru Iguchi's "Dead Sushi" is the latest product from the prolific Japanese B-movie maker that, while not explicitly made for export, certainly seems to have North America and the rest of the west in mind during production. Not that it's in English (aside from the credits) or has foreign characters; indeed, it caters to j-pop enthusiasts by delivering them exactly the sort of Japan they fetishize, only amplified. As "Dead Sushi" demonstrates, it doesn't always make for great movies, but it seldom results in boring ones. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

Anthology film "Doomsday Book" does not quite end the world in three ways, as one might expect it to do. Even more interesting is that the contemplative middle segment comes from noted action director Kim Jee-woon, whose unusual restraint provides a nice breather between Yim Pil-Sung's two tales of apocalyptic mayhem. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

Fans of the super-violent British sci-fi comic book character Judge Dredd, the always-helmeted antihero of a saga set in a dystopian future in which heavily armored and helmeted police officers serve as one-man judges, juries and, more often than not, executioners, will be relieved to know that "Dredd 3-D," the latest attempt to bring the property to the screen is more faithful than the disastrous 1995 version that featured Sylvester Stallone, if only because this version features a Dredd who keeps his helmet on all the time and Rob Schneider is nowhere in sight to supply vast quantities of unfunny comedy relief. Alas, being faithful to the source doesn't necessarily make for a good movie and this ugly, brutal and ridiculously violent slaughterhouse of a film is proof positive of that. READ FULL REVIEW (Peter Sobczynski)

While driving the daughter of his employer, a congressman with certain dark sexual peccadillos, as well as his own child home from school, Marlon (Arnold Reyes) is pulled over by a fake cop who kidnaps his boss's child and demands a hefty ransom in exchange for her life. The trouble is, the kidnapper grabs the wrong girl and now Marlon is forced to keep up the ruse that both girls are in jeopardy so that his boss will pay the ransom while a suspicious police investigator begins to sense that something isn't quite right. In a bit of wild understatement, the program notes for this film claim that writer-director Ron Morales "borrows somewhat from Kurosawa's classic kidnapping thriller HIGH AND LOW" and beyond that, he hasn't really added much of anything to the formula other than a relentless aura of sleaziness that permeates virtually every scene. The results are nasty and cynical enough to presumably convince viewers who enjoy such things that it is somehow of value but most others are likely to walk away from it with nothing more than the desire for a long, hot shower. (Peter Sobczynski)

The word "hail" can mean a number of things, and for some reason I kept thinking of the wrong ones until about halfway through the movie, when some bad weather follows a bad event, and the sound as much as anything seemed absolutely right. After all, there are a lot of figures of speech that use rain to indicate unfortunate events in one's life, but for some people, it comes down harder and you don't always have shelter. "Hail" a remarkably realistic take on the story of an ex-con trying to get his life together even as it occasionally goes for unusual presentation. It brings a documentary feel to its drama, and is well worth checking out. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

The film maybe be titled "Holy Motors" but most people bearing witness to Leos Carax's first feature since 1999's "Pola X" are going to come away from it saying "Holy Shit!!" in response to its jaw-dropping audacity and refusal to conform to most tenets of contemporary narrative cinema. Expanding on the short film that he contributed to the anthology "Tokyo!," the film stars longtime Carax stand-in Denis Levant as a mysterious man named Mr. Oscar who, one fine morning, enters his limousine--a behemoth that makes the car in "Cosmopolis" seem like a hatchback and which has French film icon Edith Scob behind the wheel--and sets off to complete nine assignments for his mysterious employer that find him adopting a number of elaborate disguises and entering situations ranging from a sewer-based fashion show to an elaborate musical number and encountering characters played by the likes of Eva Mendes, Michel Piccoli and even Kylie Minogue. I have been a fan of all of Carax's previous efforts (if you haven't seen his 1992 masterpiece "The Lovers on the Bridge," you should go to Netflix and watch it right this very instant) and even I have to say that I am a bit baffled by what he has offered up this time around--if there is a plot to be had, it remains well-hidden and may perhaps only be teased out by subsequent viewings. That said, it is visually stunning and Carax attacks the material in such a heedless manner--he has been making features for more nearly 30 years and he still feels like a first-timer trying to capture everything for fear that he may never get a chance to do it again--that I was not only never bored for a second but I found myself wanting to watch it again as soon as it ended. (Peter Sobczynski)

Animation fans will spend a great deal of time telling the rest of the world that the medium is good for more than children's entertainment, and will point to movies with either violent content or mature themes to make their case. It's unusual to see both handled well in the same movie, though, which makes "The King of Pigs" a searing rarity. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

In the grand tradition of so many filmmakers who have gone before him, writer-director Rian Johnson made his debut with a celebrated indie film that caught the eye of critics and audiences alike and made him the hot new thing in Hollywood (the audacious high school melodrama/film noir hybrid "Brick"), stumbled a bit with a follow-up that featured a bigger budget and bigger stars but which, despite a number of nice individual moments, never quite jelled into a fully satisfying whole (the overly whimsical globe-trotting caper comedy "The Brothers Bloom") and has now been given a chance to step up to the big leagues with an expensive studio release top-lined by no less of a star than Bruce Willis. However, any fears that Johnson has slipped into the world of formulaic hackwork of the kind that offers a high paycheck and little else can breathe a sigh of relief because this is one of the most insanely ambitious original studio films to come along since "Inception." In the not-too-distant future, time travel is finally developed and, after being officially banned, falls under the purview of organized crime who use it to dispose of their enemies by sending them 30 years into the past where a hired killer known as a "looper" will literally make them disappear. Complications arise when a looper (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in "Brick") discovers that his next target is his future self (Willis) and when the older version escapes, it sets off a chain of events that threaten the younger version, a woman living on a remote farm (Emily Blunt) and her young child. The film freely borrows ideas and notions from sources as varied as "Donnie Darko," "Back to the Future," "The Terminator" and a certain classic episode of "The Twilight Zone" but instead of simply rehashing those predecessors, Johnson has created something that is fiendishly smart, clever, ambitious, funny and exciting in equal measure. More importantly, he hasn't allowed the increase in available resources to make him lazy--there is nary a bum scene to be had and there are always clever dialogue, inspired performances (especially by Gordon-Levitt and Wills as two versions of the same person) or nifty visual effects to keep things hopping. Whether this will translate into box-office success is anyone's guess but at the very least, this is destined to go down as an instant cult classic, albeit one that does not need to be seen at midnight in order to be fully appreciated. (Peter Sobczynski)

ROOM 237
Although it was roundly disdained upon its original release in 1980 as an inferior adaptation of a superior novel, Stanley Kubrick screen version of Stephen King's "The Shining" has seen its reputation grow over the years to the point where it is now not just regularly regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made but a permanent part of the cultural firmament. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering both its popularity and the enigmatic nature of the project itself, people have been thoroughly scouring every frame of the film in the hopes of unlocking the clues that they are convinced that Kubrick hid in plain sight and discovering what it was really about. The much-discussed and absolutely fascinating documentary by Rodney Ascher gives voice to five such obsessives as they take viewers through every conceivable aspect of the film, ranging from the contents of the hotel pantry to the make of the typewriter used by Jack Nicholson to an apparent continuity error involving a chair, and claim that such elements prove that the film is really about things ranging from America's genocidal treatment of the Indians to the Holocaust to Kubrick's coded admission that he helped fake the moon landing. Some of these deconstructions are intriguing (such as the fascinating synchronicities to be discovered when one runs two prints--one from start to finish and the other in reverse--at the same time on the same screen) and some of them are pretty insane (such as all the NASA stuff, though I will concede that if any filmmaker could have pulled off such a thing, it would be Kubrick) but they are presented here in such a compelling manner that it will send most viewers scurrying to their Blu-Ray players to check them out for themselves. For fans of Kubrick and "The Shining," this is absolutely essential viewing and for everyone else, it is an eye-opening look at just how deeply a person can be affected by what others might consider to be just a mere movie. (Peter Sobczynski)

Although most of the conspiracies and deconstructions of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 screen adaptation of "The Shining" depicted in the fascinating documentary "Room 237" are pretty much top-to-bottom nonsense, the most intriguing of the bunch, at least from a formal perspective, is the assertion that if one projects two prints of the film on the same screen at the same time--one running from beginning to end and the other going from the ending back--it will reveal any number of secrets than Kubrick allegedly wove into his cinematic fabric. Of course, that is easier said than done but Fantastic Fest will be providing just that as a follow-up to those curious by the notion. The end results are interesting, I suppose, and some of the match-ups are kind of trippy but to suggest that Kubrick intended to do them is obviously quite absurd. In essence, this is sort of the art-house equivalent of synching up "The Wizard of Oz" with "Dark Side of the Moon"--fans of the film will have fun watching it but its revelations should not be taken too seriously by anyone. (Peter Sobczynski)

"Vulgaria" would certainly be an example of writer/director Pang Ho-Cheung's incredible recent productivity if it were nothing else; it's his second film of the year, shot in a ridiclous twelve days. Of course, it is something else - gut-bustingly funny, in wonderfully rude fashion. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

Understand this: "The Warped Forest" isn't a sequel to "Funky Forest: The First Contact" (the famously trippy film director/co-writer Shunichiro Miki made with Katsuhito Ishii and Hajime Ishimine); it's a movie Miki made out of the ideas that were too weird to fit into even such a surreal picture. Funny thing, though; even though this thing is weird down to its very bone marrow, it's actually more linear and character-based than its antecedent, while still being very funny. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

Even those who haven't seen Quentin Dupieux's previous feature-length bit of absurdity "Rubber" can probably guess that this is going to be a strange movie from the title alone. The playful, cheery nature of the picture may be a surprise, though; rather than the perverse nastiness which usually prompts a declaration that something is "just wrong", this is pure joyous oddity. Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick) has lost his dog, and that's just the tip of the iceberg where the strangeness in his life is concerned: His alarm goes off at 7:60, and it rains inside his office - though that's a whole other story, as is the weird thing his gardener Victor (Eric Judor) needs to show him. At least there is some word on his dog - according to an intermediary, the mysterious Master Chang (William Fichtner) would like to speak with him about it. But then, are all our lives like Dolph's when you get down to it? The world is confusing, authority figures are arbitrary, and nothing works quite the way you would expect. Take away something that is reassuring and dependable, and it gets that much more strange. Or maybe the existing strangeness is just thrown into much sharper relief. Either way, this feeling that the world, even if it is navigable, doesn't quite make sense makes Wrong a movie that is completely accessible in the broad strokes but not obvious about it; the details are constantly surprising. Whatever it is, it's definitely funny - it's a rare minute that passes without not only showing the audience something odd, but doing so with impeccable comic timing. It's an obvious thing to say, but it's true - "Wrong" is wrong in all the right ways. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

I must admit that I wasn't a fan of Oh Young-doo's first feature, "Invasion of Alien Bikini", but it showed enough promise to make me curious about what he came up with next; it also won a bit of prize money and got the attention of investors that he had a somewhat larger shoestring budget for this follow-up. It's a lot better, though still pretty small-scale and rough. It comes together as an enjoyable little movie, although admittedly one that would be difficult to recommend over the smooth, professional-looking picture playing in the same multiplex for the same price. Still, it is kind of fun to see Oh and company build their way up from rank amateurs to fimmakers worth keeping an eye on. READ FULL REVIEW (Jay Seaver)

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originally posted: 09/23/12 07:54:34
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