Fantastic Fest Preview: 11 Films On Our Radar

There are two things you guys should all know about me: One, I’m currently in Austin for Fantastic Fest, the Alamo Drafthouse’s celebration of all that is offbeat and possibly twisted in the film world. And two, I know how to read a program (mostly). Here, I’ve combined those two aspects of my essential nature to bring you an abridged guide to everything that looks cool in this year’s Fantastic Fest program.

Some of these may soon be playing in a theater near you and others may not, but at the very least, you’ll now know about them, and knowing is Bible talk for sex stuff. Enjoy.

This 2013 Norwegian film from Bård Breien stars Svein André Hofsø Myhre as a detective with Down Syndrome investigating the disappearance of a legendary speed skater. Just go ahead and re-read that last sentence in case you’re wondering why this one’s at the top of my list. Though I could be biased. I once got a couple pages into script for a buddy-cop film called “Officer Downs,” so I know these filmmakers and I are definitely on the same wavelength.

Robert runs his own detective office, but he never gets any cases. No one believes Robert can accomplish anything and even his father, who is a police investigator, rejects Robert. One morning a mysterious woman appears in Robert’s office. The legendary speed skater Olav Starr is missing, and his family urgently needs an incompetent detective to pacify an affluent and senile grandmother. Robert is perfect for the job. Gradually Robert finds himself entangled in Olav’s hidden life and it becomes clear that this assignment is not without danger. But when Robert reveals his special investigation method everyone’s in for a big surprise. [TrustNordisk]

I don’t know if two samples is enough to qualify for a “trend,” but between this and Downistie, the Dutch sitcom starring Downs actors from a few years ago, I’m more than comfortable assuming that all Northern Europeans are as obsessed with Down Syndrome as Germans are with David Hasselhoff. Of course, take that with a grain of salt, I’m incredibly xenophobic.

I feel bad about missing Ben Wheatley’s dark comedy The Sightseers, which played earlier this year and was recommended to me by a bunch of people, but I’m hoping to atone for this sin of omission by catching Wheatley’s A Field in England, a film about English Civil War soldiers tripping balls on mushrooms. “Tripping balls” is a weird phrase, by the way. It doesn’t sound like a synonym for hallucinating. To me it sounds more like a description of men aging. Like, when you get so old you start tripping on your own balls.

During the British Civil War, when magic was science, an alchemist forces a group of deserters to help him locate buried treasure, and sends them all straight into the mouth of madness.

Not enough movies combine period piece with science fiction or the fantastic. The other good thing about A Field in England is that it’s already out on demand and DVD in the UK, so it’s not as if you have to get a crappy hotel room in Texas to see it like I did. (*mouths “CALL ME”*)

Ranchero music and drug gangs oh my!

To a growing number of Mexicans and Latinos in the Americas, narco-traffickers have become iconic outlaws, glorified by musicians who price their new models of fame and success.  they  represent a pathway out of the ghetto, nurturing a new American dream fueled by an addiction to money, drugs and violence.  From war photographer Shaul Schwarz comes NARCO CULTURA, an explosive look a the drug cartels’ pop culture influence on both sides of the border as experienced by an LA narcocorrido singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez crime scene investigator on the front of Mexico’s Drug War.

I was really hoping to hear more about the pointy boots craze, but this will have to do for now. I’ve always considered Mexico’s love of ranchero music to be a fascinating mass delusion, on the level of the Third Reich, or the popularity of Limp Bizkit.

This one you’re probably already familiar with, Randy Moore’s surreal thriller shot entirely inside Disney theme parks.

From the program:

Jim (Roy Abramsohn) and Emily (Elena Schuber) are on the final day of a family theme

park vacation. Jim gets an early morning phone call from work—he has been fired.

Instead of cutting the vacation short, he doesn’t say a word and goes about his day.

While hanging out at a pool with his family, Jim becomes obsessed with two teenaged

French girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru). Later, he starts following these

girls through the park. This ill-advised decision sets off a grand adventure that exposes

Jim to the dark underbelly of the corporate entertainment complex.

ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW was, in part, clandestinely filmed at some of America’s

most popular theme parks (guess which ones). Through a mix of clever staging

and meticulous planning, director Randy Moore transforms a guerrilla shoot into a

gorgeous black-and-white film full of haunting imagery and biting social commentary.

The locations are tightly integrated into the story, turning the sterile theme park

environs into a surreal world full of danger and menace. Much of the public attention

surrounding ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW has focused on the methods by which it was

made. This controversy misses the larger point: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is a truly

daring and original work that transcends the techniques used to create it. (Rodney

Perkins) Regional Premiere.

I can’t say whether it will turn out to be any good, but I’m certainly intrigued enough to want to find out. Also, my cousin Lisa once got fingerblasted on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Terry Gilliam made a movie with Christoph Waltz and Karl Hungus (Peter Stormare). If you need to know more than that I’m not sure we can be friends.

An eccentric and reclusive computer genius (Christoph Waltz) plagued with existential

angst works on a mysterious project aimed at discovering the purpose of existence—

or the lack thereof—once and for all. However, it is only once he experiences the power

of love and desire that he is able to understand his very reason for being.

I may have to pack extra mushrooms for this one.

It’s a lot to ask to make me sit through 90 minutes of Donald Rumsfeld’s creepy lizard face, but if Errol Morris is making a documentary, I’ll be watching.

As a high-level executive under four American presidents, Donald Rumsfeld dictated

many memos. By his own account, Rumsfeld created millions of memos—he refers to

these memos as “snowflakes”—over the course of multiple decades. In THE UNKNOWN

KNOWN, documentarian Errol Morris uses this sea of documents to guide Rumsfeld

through a discussion of the peaks and valleys of his political career. Like a boxer in

a ring, Rumsfeld bobs and weaves his way around Morris’ probing questions about

the Cold War, Desert Storm, the War on Terror, and other controversial topics. What

emerges from these conversations—or are they interrogations?—is a complex and

highly nuanced portrait of one of America’s most divisive public figures. (Rodney


Morris better not punt on the Lizard Person question.

Sample review quotes:

“derives its impact largely from its brazen shock value.” -Variety

“One of the most involving works of cinematic misanthropy in years.”-Hollywood Reporter

“Grotesque social satire suggests Jackass meets Michael Haneke.” -Indiewire

Mmm-hmm, yes, this seems like something that I would enjoy. I’m sort of a sucker for “Jackass meets ____.” My own lovemaking style has been described as “Jackass meets Event Horizon.”

In this directorial debut from E.L. Katz and winner of the SXSW ‘13 Midnighters

Audience Award, Pat Healy (THE INNKEEPERS; COMPLIANCE) stars as Craig, a newly

out-of-work father who’s months behind in his rent. In an effort to avoid going home to

shamefully face his wife, he heads to a local dive bar and runs into Vince (Ethan Embry),

his best friend from high school, now a rough character who makes his money as a

debt collector. They discuss their common woes and after one drink, Craig prepares

to leave the bar, but is roped into a round of booze with a peculiar wealthy couple;

Colin (David Koechner, ANCHORMAN), a perpetually young 40-something wanting to

celebrate his beautiful wife Violet’s (Sara Paxton, THE INNKEEPERS) birthday.

Before they know it, they’ve drank the most expensive bottle of tequila at the bar. In

order to amuse themselves, Colin engages them all in a series of innocuous bar bets

and challenges. A game, just to keep the night lively, with each challenge increasing

in both money and outrageousness. After being knocked out in a fight at a strip club

parking lot for something he didn’t even do, Craig wakes in Colin and Violet’s lavish

home, where the group has relocated the party. While scoping out the stylish house,

Vince discovers a safe filled with cash and ropes a hesitant Craig into a plan to rob

them. It seems like an easy task, but there’s more to this couple than meets the eye…

Over the next few hours Craig and Vince are going to learn just how far they’re willing

to go for money and CHEAP THRILLS. (Evan Husney)

I knew basically nothing about this 2013 Filipino film, but I was intrigued by the premise.

Corruption abounds in this stylish, Cannes-selected, ripped-from-the-

headlines story of prisoners released on a day pass to work as killers. The

cops must bring them in, never knowing how far the corruption spreads and

who they can trust.

The story that would become ON THE JOB began innocently enough with some idle

chatter between veteran Filipino director Erik Matti and his driver, who spun a tale of

the time he was imprisoned and employed as a killer by a consortium of corrupt prison

officials, dirty cops and gangsters. He’d be sent out on day pass to eliminate the targets

they set for him. After all, being a prisoner in jail, he had the perfect alibi. It was the sort

of outlandish story that couldn’t possibly be true, except shortly afterwards a major

scandal broke in which a sitting politician eliminated a rival employing using exactly

such a hit man during the lead-up to an election. It was very real… and Matti knew he

had his next film.

Ah, thank God for murder, am I right? So many times I’m watching a film or a TV show and I’m checking my watch wondering, “Geez, is anyone going to get murdered or what?” I’m guessing that won’t be an issue here.

Michael Noer’s Danish crime drama Northwest is on Denmark’s foreign language Oscar shortlist along with Act of Killing and The Hunt, and being mentioned alongside Act of Killing is almost enough for me. (Though I’m not sure why they get to claim a film directed by an American who lives in London set in Indonesia. Damned usurping Vikings).

Casper (Gustav Dyekjær Gies) is a teenager who lives in one of Copenhagen’s poorest

neighborhoods: Nordvest. He makes a living by fencing stolen goods for a small time

hood named Jamal (Dulfi Al-Jabouri). Eventually, Casper moves on to the big leagues by

dealing drugs and joins a crime ring run by Bjørn (Roland Møller). As the money starts

rolling in, Casper drags his younger brother (Oscar Dyekjær Giese) into the business.

Old grudges resurface, putting Casper and his family into mortal danger.

Michael Noer is best known as co-director (with Tobias Lindholm) of the award-

winning 2010 prison drama R. With his latest film, Noer shifts his brand of tough

realism from a prison environment to the streets of Copenhagen. NORTHWEST is a

powerful character-driven work about family bonds, class conflict and ethnic tension.

The film boasts a stripped-down approach (e.g., fluid handheld camerawork, actual

locations) that squeezes every bit of realism of out the scenario. Excellent naturalistic

performances—Gustav and Oscar Dyekjær Gies are real-life brothers whose bond is

evident onscreen—heighten the authenticity. NORTHWEST is an exceptional example

of a uniquely Danish strain of crime cinema. (Rodney Perkins)

It didn’t say anything about it in the synopsis, but I have my fingers crossed for a Downs character or two.

You had me at “black market organ trade.”

TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE is built around the stories of three North Americans who are either seeking organ transplants or have received transplants via the black market. Their experiences are contrasted with those of donors, doctors, and others around the world. Manila has an active organ trade in which poor people sell their body parts for a few thousand dollars in order to raise themselves out of poverty. In Europe, organ trafficking is a far more complicated and lucrative enterprise. Bienstock and her crew track down one of the key figures in the business: Dr. Yusuf Sonmez, who is alternately known as Dr. Vulture and the Turkish Frankenstein. Somnez is the brains behind black market organ clinics in Yugoslavia and Turkey. Along with a team of top- flight physicians and fixers, he charges willing patients $100K for transplants. His activities have drawn the ire of law enforcement and medical ethicists. TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE ties all of these interconnected threads together into a grim yet thoughtful investigation of the intersection between life, death and commerce. (Rodney Perkins)

I’m actually somewhat terrified to see this, which is probably a good thing. And if I don’t end up liking it, I can always be like “Organ Trade? More like BORE-gan Trade.”

There are at least 10 more films in the lineup that look interesting, but I don’t have all day, so I sort of punted on the final selection: I chose the one with “f*ck bombers” in the synopsis. You can hardly argue my logic here.

Things get insanely bloody when an inspiring film troupe known as The Fuck

Bombers collide with a yakuza boss who wants to make a movie with his

daughter, in Fantastic Fest veteran Sion Sono’s (LOVE EXPOSURE; SUICIDE

CLUB) latest.

If you’ve seen Sono’s Fantastic Fest’s 2009 entry LOVE EXPOSURE, you know that no

one can mix genres like he can, and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL is equal parts

yakuza action and star-crossed romantic comedy. Normally, Sono elevates his films

with biting but spot-on social commentary, but here, he goes back to a script he wrote

fifteen years ago to incorporate his love for cinema and especially 35mm film. The

result is among Sono’s best work as his trademark excess and outrageousness is

infused with an affection for the Japanese films that have come before it. This is Sono

at his most endearing and it’s awesome. (James Shapiro)

I hope this has some blood and violence in it. These Japanese filmmakers, they’re usually so clinical and restrained.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram if you want some live updates from the festival this week. Yes, I will be watching Tim League box Keanu Reeves’ stunt man.