Thoughts on 1st wave of Fantastic Fest 2013 Programming Announcement

Last week the fine folks from FantasticFest announced their first wave of programming for the September 2013 event. That's in addition to an earlier announcement that Robert Rodriguez's new film Machete Kills will open the fest. The Machete sequel is a film that I had moderate interest in, but the thought of seeing it with a packed festival house and at least some of the folks with the film has definitely ratcheted up my excitement several notches. My flight gets in a bit later than I'd like on the first day of the festival. So keeping my fingers crossed I can make it to that opening event. And of course as always doubly crossing fingers and toes that life doesn't get in the way of attending the festival in the first place.

Of the announced films I'm probably most jazzed about Big Bad Wolves which has been garnering lots of positive buzz. The film is from the directing team that brought the wonderful (and first Israeli) slasher film Rabies to the festival several years back. Since then I've been waiting anxiously to see what they come up with next.

The whole list is packed with intriguing bits - I'm not worried about Fantastic Fest 2013 keeping up the tradition of delivering multiple entries to my list of 2013 favorites. Also jumping out at me are Commando - One Man ArmyEega, and definitely the Japanese film Kid's Police. The full list of films announced with descriptions of each from the official press release is below after the jump.

But I don't just have to wildly speculate on all of the films announced. Thankfully via screenings at earlier festivals and the incredibly useful FestivalScope website I've already been lucky enough to screen seven of the announced films. I'll recap which ones and my thoughts after the jump.

OK - if you've taken the time to checkout some of the above trailers covering what I'm looking forward to, let's get into the films I've already screened. These include Cheap Thrills, Northwest, Nothing Bad Can Happen, On the Job, Resurrection of a Bastard, Vic+Flo Saw a Bear, and She Wolf. All are worth seeing - some are better than others. Or perhaps at least fit different moods better than others. In no particular order...

Cheap Thrills (USA) - A couple of old and recently reunited friends run into a creepy guy in a bar who offers them money for things they'd not normally do. And then more money for things they'd really not normally do. The picture ratchets up the tension with breaks for humor mixed. Though there's a point where I feel the escalation isn't entirely consistent with my own value judgments (with respect to eating disturbing things relative to permanent irreversible one-way door type actions). But I nitpick ... if you enjoy being discomforted at the choices of others, and if you're attending Fantastic Fest then there's a good chance you do, Cheap Thrills will likely work for you. The performances are engaging, the vibe is appropriately raw and requisite end catharsis is delivered. A fave of many at SXSW I thought it was an interesting midnighter but it never grabbed me the way it did others. If you do catch Cheap Thrills I'd suggest seeing both this and the (of course equally) ironically named Nothing Bad Can Happen so that you can engage in a post viewing (preferably vegetarian) meal discussing the similarities between the two. Starting perhaps with the hypothesis that both share a commonality around the overlapping religious views of western societies, Christianity and the almighty dollar.

Nothing Bad Can Happen (Germany)- When I'd first read the description of Nothing Bad Can Happen I must say I wasn't especially interested. But the execution of the film while extremely uncomfortable held my interest both during and after. I've posted a longer review that one can check for the details, Worth watching for the performances, and perhaps the discussions that could erupt later. As I mentioned earlier this film about faith, and trials on behalf of it might make an interesting companion viewing with Cheap Thrills for reasons I think will be rather obvious upon viewing both. Not surprisingly for FantasticFest this isn't a comfortable film about good people. And given the powerful impact of one scene of forced feeding I don't expect you'll want to watch it directly before or after dinner. Though I suspect they'll definitely serve chicken during a future showing at the Alamo Drafthouse given their dark sense of humor. 'nuff said.

Northwest (Denmark) - Solid Danish crime thriller which is different enough to recommend it. I don't think it'll be the film you're talking about in a year's time. But it's compelling for the performances. Not the adrenaline fueled rush that some pictures under the thriller category provide. But if realistic, gritty and criminal coming of age is more your thing then you will not be disappointed with Northwest.

The Resurrection of a Bastard - Ronnie is a bastard. There's no doubt about it. At least he was. But now as one of the brutal gangster's best friends would remark, he's a bit changed. When asked in what sense the companion explains he's different "In the sense that Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense is different than Bruce Willis in Die Hard," he's just not "Old Ronnie." In case that's not entirely clear we then flash back to a demonstration of "Old" Ronnie in one of the more brutal shakedown scenes I've seen in some time. The description of the film as Coen Brother's-esque is perhaps to my mind stretching it. But that doesn't mean that this isn't a film well worth seeing. Told partially in flashback and partially in the present the film slowly deals with what drove Ronnie to be different, while also throwing us for reasons not initially clear into the life of an African immigrant. The road to deconstructing the thug's existential crisis is paved with wonderfully shot scenes, the most notable a party in which everyone is clad all in white. And at which issues surrounding Ronnie's issues and existence unexpectedly pivots. Less directly humorous to me than the examples cited in the film's description it still should make a meaningful addition to most FantasticFest goer's schedules.

On the Job (Philippines) - This extremely engaging and cynical film throws you immediately into the purposefully confusing story with two assassins about to go to work. The men are on the job and in prison at the same time. An evilly brilliant plan if you think I about it. The "powers that be" are pulling everyone's strings in a way that's as insidious and corrupt as can be. The "based on a true events" opening cards make it all the more real. Over the length of the film the story follows this pair of assassins (one older, one younger) and a pair of what appear to be the only two clean cops in the city (again, one older and one wizened). Part actioner, part melodrama it's a pretty darn good ride. With at least one super stand out set piece involving a bit of cleanup at the local hospital. One of my faves of what I've seen so far from FantasticFest.

She Wolf (Argentina) - A dangerous women roams the subways looking for willing men. Three actresses play the same character, or more specifically three aspects of her fractured psyche. She's a serial killer who likes to go all praying mantis after sexy time with strangers picked up on the Buenos Aires subways.The black and white fits visual sensibility perfectly matches the high concept noir subject matter. Things get complicated when one of her intended victims turns out to be a pervey cop assigned to her case. Not to mention when she starts to establish something approximating a healthy stable relationship. Inventive camerawork and presentation makes it hard to look away and the film effectively plays the game of making your root for a person who's clearly terrible. Delivering more depth than is usually brought to this sort of exploitation subject matter She Wolf marries well art film complexity/sensibilities with genre violence. I'm sure there's more than one statement in there about women, sexuality and violence for the most analytically minded amongst us. In the meantime it will certainly make you second guess your decision to have sex with that random person you picked up on mass transit. Though perhaps that's just me...

[the trailer for She Wolf may be NSFW depending on your place of employment.]

Vic+Flow Saw a Bear (Canada) - When I saw that Fantastic Fest was announcing the inclusion of a Denis Cote film I was quite intrigued. I've only seen two of his earlier films, Curling and Bestiarie. Both are uniquely different artistic works. I quite enjoyed Curling years back. Bestiare struck me less strongly but it still was an interesting piece. From these two examples I picture Cote's work as slow, methodical and hard hitting - but far from the genre director I associate with FantasticFest. With that perhaps unfair agenda I sat down to experience Flo+Vic Saw a Bear, which I'd been curious about even before the recent announcements. It's the story of a 60 something ex-convict, who after being paroled takes up residence in her uncle's small, countryside sugar shack along with her younger female lover. The pair go on with life, dealing with misaligned goals and a caravan of intruding characters. It's the sort of slow, uneventful but engaging flick I often enjoy. But the entire time I kept wondering what brought this into the FantasticFest family. Sure, there are hints to past decisions - some clearer than others. And characters are dealing with issues and pain from complex prior lives. So, lots to interpret and think about but I'm still not sure ... until a point where it becomes very, very clear how this film got selected. In addition to the fact that it's very good. May not be a hit for those looking for something fast and rushed. But the slow complexity - depending on your view almost nothing happens onscreen OR a ton of everything is shown via actions, looks and minimal dialog - definitely worked for me. Just maybe try to avoid seeing it late at night. One might have a tendency to doze mid festival.  

OK ... that's all for now. Hope folks found the above helpful, or at least interesting. Below is the full press release announcing the first full wave of films.

Exciting Lineup Includes Red Carpet Premiere of
'Man of Tai Chi' with Keanu Reeves Live In Person
Austin, TX-Wednesday, July 24, 2013- Fantastic Fest is tying on the black belt for the red carpet premiere of MAN OF TAI CHI and the festival's initial lineup of incredible genre films. Fantastic Fest will take place September 19-26 in Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. 

"Every year we scour the globe for the freshest and craziest genre films," says Fantastic Fest founder and creative director Tim League.  "This first incredible selection of films gives a small taste of the fun, but I can assure you there are lots of surprises yet to come.  2013 should be remembered a vintage year for Fantastic Fest."

Keanu Reeves stars in and makes his directorial debut in the multi-lingual narrative, MAN OF TAI CHI. Partly inspired by the life of Reeves' friend, stuntman Tiger Chen, MAN OF TAI CHI tells the story of a young martial artist whose unparalleled Tai Chi skills land him in a highly lucrative underground fight club. As the fights intensify so does his will to survive and his desire to protect his way of life. 

For more information about MAN OF TAI CHI, please visit https://www.facebook.com/RadiusTWC.

See below for the initial lineup of films at this year's festival. Stay tuned for more programming announcements in the near future.   

BIG BAD WOLVES (Israel, 2013)
Texas Premiere
Director- Navot Papushado & Aharon Keshales, 110 mins
The directing team behind the 2010 cult smash RABIES return to Fantastic Fest with one of the best genre films of 2013.   
BORGMAN (The Netherlands, 2013)
North American Premiere
Director - Alex van Warmerdam, 113 mins
Something wicked this way comes in the form of the ordinary, the polite and the normal as a drifter and his followers invade the home of a bourgeois family.  
CHEAP THRILLS (United States, 2013)
Regional Premiere
Director - E.L. Katz, 85 mins
A recently fired father facing eviction is paid to take on an escalating series of insane challenges from a rich couple with a twisted sense of humor.

US Premiere
Director- Dilip Ghosh, 120min
Singing! Dancing! Extreme violence and goofy one-liners from Bollywood's answer to Tony Jaa and Marko Zaror! If Cannon Films were to relocate to India, COMMANDO would be the result!

EEGA (India, 2012)
Austin Premiere
Director - SriSaila Sri Rajamouli, 107 mins
A murdered man reincarnates as a fly to wreak vengeance on the villain who took his life and his lover. EEGA is an inventive, insane take on a revenge story unlike anything you've seen before.

HALLEY (Mexico/The Netherlands, 2013)
Texas Premiere
Director - Sebastian Hofmann, 83 mins
Though Beto's life may technically be over, he allows himself to experience it one last time before his body completely falls apart in this unique and contemplative horror film.  
KID'S POLICE (Japan, 2013)
North American Premiere
Director - Yuichi FUKUDA, 100 mins
When evil criminal organization Red Venus strikes, there's only one team of highly specialized cops who can help. Unfortunately, they've been dosed with anti-aging gas that has turned them all into children.   
LFO (Sweden/Denmark, 2013)
World Premiere
Director - Antonio Tublen, 94 mins
A solitary man discovers audio frequencies that open the human mind wide to hypnotic suggestion and, ultimately, his total control in this slyly deadpan dark comedy from Sweden.

MAN OF TAI CHI (United States, 2013)
US Premiere
Director - Keanu Reeves, 105 mins
Keanu Reeves stars in and directs this epic tale about a young martial artist who must compete in an underground fight club to protect his way of life. As the fights intensify so does his will to survive.

NARCO CULTURA (United States, 2013)
Texas Premiere
Director - Shaul Schwarz, 103 mins
NARCO CULTURA is a graphically disturbing documentary that examines the parallels between the Mexican drug war and the increasingly popular musical style of narcocorridos (drug ballads).

NIGHTBREED - THE CABAL CUT (United Kingdom, 2012)
Texas Premiere
Directors - Russell Cherrington, 144 mins
NIGHTBREED: THE CABAL CUT is a new director's cut of Clive Barker's horror classic that places the film in an entirely different light.

NORTHWEST (Denmark, 2013)
Regional Premiere
Director - Michael Noer, 91 mins
A teen hoodlum in Copenhagen becomes entangled in the criminal underworld   
North American Premiere
Director - Katrin Gebbe, 110 mins
Tore, a member of the counter-culture Christian movement Jesus Freaks, is befriended and taken in by a family who play an increasingly cruel, violent game and push his capacity to love to its limits.    
ON THE JOB (Philippines, 2013)
US Premiere
Director - Erik Matti, 200 min
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.   
RESURRECTION OF A BASTARD, THE (The Netherlands, 2013)
Regional Premiere
Director - Guido van Driel, 89 mins
Adapted from his own graphic novel by first time writer-director Guido van Driel, RESURRECTION OF A BASTARD tells the darkly funny, Coen-esque tale of a career thug caught in an existential crisis.   
SHE WOLF  (Argentina, 2013)
North American Premiere
Director - Tamae Garateguy, 92 mins
A sexual predator roams the streets and trains of Buenos Aires, a beautiful woman who uses sex to lure in her victims. A potent, punk rock spin on Euro-sleaze influences in this raw, erotic thriller.   
VIC + FLO SAW A BEAR  (Canada, 2013)
US Premiere
Director - Denis Côté, 95 mins
An ex-con named Vic and her lover Flo retreat to a sugar shack in a small Quebec town to start anew. Their attempt to live a normal life slowly and disastrously unravels.

Look for more film & event programming announcements for Fantastic Fest in the weeks ahead.

For the latest developments visit the Fantastic Fest official site  www.fantasticfest.com  and follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

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