September 27, 2011


Film geeks await their next screening
Day Four of Fantastic Fest marks the half-way point. Already?! Wow. Scary to think I left reality behind a scant four days ago and will have to return to it in four more. I don't know that I want to. Why the hell can't I keep watching 3 or more movies a day?

One of the more interesting challenges here in Austin has been, as a Wellington caffeine snob, getting my fix of java. Finding it isn't too much of a problem - Jo's Coffee is less than a minute from my room and they serve up pretty good coffee (though if I'm needing a coffee between screenings at the Alamo my only choice is the drive-thru-servicing Starbucks. I've relented once and it was awful - weak and atomically hot). It's the drinking it in the heat. Hot coffee on a day so hot I can feel the sweat pooling in my shoes? Only in an air-conditioned cafe thanks!

My day at the Fest began with the film talked of as Switzerland's first horror, Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps. But first, a quick word on the pre-show. When you walk into a theatre at the Alamo, as I think I've previously mentioned, there are no ads but instead a pre-show collection of random clips and trash trailers. It just so happened that one of the best of these played before Sennentuntschi; an 80's instructional guide to the more common carvings found on a Satanic sacrifice. Presented by a bald guy with glasses, mustache and loud shirt and with random pink lighting it was a bizarre pleasure. As for Sennentuntschi I'm not really sure as to how much of a "horror" film it really is - there are some horrific scenes and images but it's almost more of a mystery film than a horror. Set in a small village high up in the Alps, it begins in the present day with the discovery of three skeletons by a girl and her mother out collecting mushrooms. Once the police arrive, the mother begins the story from 1975 when she was a little girl herself. From there, the film essentially plays out in two parallel timelines in 1975. During the funeral for a priest who had mysteriously hung himself, a dirty and barely clothed girl appears from nowhere and promptly collapses. She is mute and is taken in by the local policeman plod, Reusch despite the villagers superstitious suspicions. Playing out at the same time, but set days before, the same young girl appears to three men at a farm even higher in the Alps. They believe her to be the Sennentuntschi: a demon gifted to them in an absinthe soaked haze. The truth, of course, is something more than that and the fun to be had is in the teasing out of the mystery and the way the film plays with the concepts of local myths, legends and the mob mentality of a village. 

Moving on from death in the mountains, I had the unexpected surprise of Headhunters. This is a film that was not on my initial list of ones to see, but after hearing some positive things out of the earlier screening I decided to give it a shot. I was thoroughly entertained. This Norwegian black comedy is about Roger Brown - he's 1.68m tall, has a statuesque Nordic beauty for a wife and lives in a house far beyond his means. As he earns barely enough to cover his expenses at his day job as a recruitment specialist - he's constantly feeling like he has to over-compensate for his height - he moonlights as an art-thief. He's meticulous in his methods (replacing the stolen works with forgeries) and uses the interview process at his day job to gather information for his thefts. But even with his second job he's needing more money. And that's when he's introduced to a prime target - a man with a painting worth tens of millions. Except this is a guy you really don't want to fuck with and it all ends up going horribly, horribly wrong for poor Roger. He starts the movie as an insufferable little jerk and there is a kind of perverse pleasure to be had in watching this guy get put through the ringer. The script by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg, from the novel by Jo Nesbo, is tight and just keeps on at a constantly building pace. Headhunters is fun, engaging and inventive; pretty much everything you want from a night out at the movies.

From the black comedy of Norway to the out of control, un-PC comedy of the Netherlands and New Kids Turbo. The New Kids started out as a series of web-videos, before becoming a TV series and, now, a movie. It's fantastically over-the-top and ridiculous, with five delinquent central characters replete with mullets and mustaches. All five end up fired from their jobs, and with their unemployment benefits cut off, make the pronouncement to not pay for anything anymore. These guys are obviously having a lot of fun and have a love for extreme physical violence for comedic effect. If you're easily offended by... anything really, then I wouldn't recommend New Kids Turbo as they take a kind of anarchistic glee in stomping all over political correctness. The film ends up just building and building, growing ever more over-the-top and ridiculous. I don't know how well the comedy, with it's heavy reliance on surprise, would work in a second viewing but New Kids Turbo was a riotous ride around with five sympathetic jerks who enjoy calling everyone they come across a cunt.

Wrapping up my Day Four (no midnight screening or Chaos Reigns Karaoke for me tonight - I'm feeling like I have a cold starting up that needs to be fought down. Die cold die! [Read that as English or German]) I seated myself for the first of four secret Hong Kong action films. Given an enthusiastic introduction by a man in a bright pink suit from the NY Asian Film Festival (who's name escapes me right now, sorry), this was one of many films recently saved from having their prints destroyed by a going-out-of-business distributor. For our viewing pleasure we had one of the earliest films to be directed by action-choreographer extraordinaire Yuen Wo Ping: The Dreadnought. Even after watching the film I have no idea what the title has to do with anything that happens on screen, but ok. A violent criminal, The White Tiger, is on the run and winds up in a small town. Mousey has a laundry business he runs with his sister, and he's something of a coward preferring to run away than fight and collect debts owed to them. Mousey's friend Leung Foon is a pupil of the old and still spry master Wong Fei-Huang. I'd just like to point that the actor playing Fei-Huang, Tak-Hing Kwan, was nearing 80 at this point but he displays more moves than most young action stars today. The Dreadnought is one of those great kung-fu films where everyone seems to know kung-fu of some sort and the plot is merely a means to getting to the next fight scene. These are all inventive, often moving as more of a dance than a fight, with a couple of standouts being a showdown between a Chinese Dragon and a Golden Lion, and a theatrical showdown in the town opera house. A hell of a lot of fun, with a better sense of fight choreography and geography than pretty much any Hollywood actioner you'll see in the cinema these guys are the real deal. I'm hoping I have time in my schedule for the other surprise Hong Kong films.

And that's Day Four ladies and gentlemen. Only at Fantastic Fest: Swiss horror, Norwegian black comedy, Dutch gutter comedy and classic Hong Kong action.

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