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Fantastic Fest 2011

An entry collecting previews, interviews and reviews from the event known far and wide as the “film festival with the boring parts cut out.”

Austin's Fantastic Fest opens today and, for MSN's Hitlist, James Rocchi asks co-founder Tim League (who's also, of course, the Alamo Drafthouse CEO known for taking a debate or two at the Fest to the boxing ring at the Highball), to describe the event "in one sentence that doesn't get you sent to jail." League: "Sometimes we like to say it's a film festival with the boring parts cut out, but then we've added a few parts, too. That's not a very good sentence. I think it's a film festival that focuses all day long on having fun, both with movies and with parties and making an eight-day celebration."

Introducing the Chronicle's preview package, Marc Savlov notes that "the legendary special-effects makeup pioneer and heir to the thrones of his famous monster forebears Jack Pierce and Dick Smith," Rick Baker "will be on hand for a 30th anniversary fete for his landmark 1981 exercise with John Landis in the lycanthropic tragicomedy An American Werewolf in London. It remains, to this day, a perfect monster movie, balancing sex, death, and the horrors and hilarity inherent to both on a razor edge that is, if anything, even more impressive 30 years on." An interview, of course, follows.

Savlov then gets a few words with Nacho Vigalondo, whose Extraterrestrial "combines the Spanish director's talent for writing complex and immensely likable characters with the kind of everyday surreality that just happens to feature gigantic alien ships hovering over Barcelona." And his third interview is with Panos Cosmatos, whose Beyond the Black Rainbow is "an intensely weird look at a power struggle between a possibly insane psychiatrist (Michael Rogers, wearing a permanent Bowie-esque sneering scowl) and his mute, teenage patient (the equally mesmerizing Eva Allan)."

Richard Whittaker meets Simon Barrett, who won "best horror screenplay for arthouse stalker film A Horrible Way to Die at Fantastic Fest 2010." This year, he's written and produced You're Next, his and director Adam Wingard's "take on the home invasion trope," which has just been picked up by Lionsgate. I'll be posting a roundup soon.

Wrapping up the Chronicle's preview is James Renovitch's piece on Fantastic Arcade: "Fantastic Fest's virgin foray into video games last year was a watershed moment for Austin's gaming scene, which is commonly known as a hub of online PC games and the home of Richard Garriott. The Fantastic Arcade let the world know that, in addition to those things, Austin has a thriving indie scene that can hold its own with those in New York and Toronto. Like last year, the 2011 arcade will bring a who's who of cutting-edge developers to show off new and future creations and again assert Austin as a destination for burgeoning developers."

But back to the films. Further preview bundles come from FirstShowing, IFC's Matt Singer and Twitch. As the reviews come in, I'll pick out what seem to me to be the most notable and alert you to them here.

Updates, 9/27: As noted earlier today, Adam Wingard's You're Next has swept this year's awards. "The other big winner of the night was Bullhead, which made a huge splash in the AMD & Dell Next Wave Spotlight Competition devoted to emerging filmmakers," writes Matt Singer, who has the full list of award-winners at IFC. "The dark character study of a steroid-taking Mafia enforcer won Best Picture, Best Director (Michaël R Roskam), and Best Actor (Matthias Schoenaerts)." Twitch's Todd Brown notes that "the film has been selected as Belgium's submission for the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars," so now, "the question turns to 'What's next?' And the answer to that is The Faithful."

One of the films at the festival that kicked up the most courage is Tom Six's The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), already (in)famous going into Austin following a decision by the British Film Board of Classification this summer to refuse to give it a rating — effectively banning it. "Instead of mad Dr Heiter from The Human Centipede, the sinister surgeon this time around is a deranged fan of the first film named Martin (Lawrence R Harvey), who watches the movie over and over at his job as a night watchman at a parking garage," explains Matt Singer. "Martin decides to copy the centipede, but as a short, chubby, asthmatic man with no knowledge of human anatomy, he's not very qualified to perform complex medical procedures. The already messy, already disgusting idea of sewing people together ass-to-mouth gets a lot messier and a lot more disgusting."

"Now I know for most of you this all sounds kind of tired," concedes Marc Campbell at Dangerous Minds. "Torture porn is so 2005. But there's something more going on in Six's mad brain. First of all, the film is shot in stunning high definition black and white video by David Meadows. It has the stark glistening dankness of George Franju's 1949 masterpiece Le Sang des bêtes which was filmed in a slaughterhouse. The scenes where Martin is at home with his deranged mother are clearly inspired by David Lynch's Eraserhead, both in psychological tone and visually. Six is very skilled at controlling atmosphere and using camera angles to create a sense of disorientation and dread."

But for Scott Weinberg, writing for the Guardian, it all adds up to nothing more than "an hour of sweaty boredom and then 30 minutes of grungy, filthy, visceral misery. A plotless, ugly, grating mess that exists for pure shock value and nothing else. It's a dreary slog through one man's frankly obnoxious obsession with our basest and messiest bodily functions. And while it sucks to give Tom Six the press he clearly desires, this is easily one of the most disgusting films ever made."

More from Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), Drew McWeeney (HitFix) and Gabe Toro (Playlist, C+). Dave Itzkoff calls up Six for the New York Times.

"I'd argue that the more transgressive film is Clown, a Danish comedy adapted from a long-running TV series that takes the men behaving badly scheme so popular in dreadful franchises like The Hangover and actually, you know, makes it funny." At GreenCine Daily, Steve Dollar adds that the story veers "from one epic cringe to the next, with a surplus of gratuitous nudity, creepy-pervy punchlines and shock tactics that make the Farrelly Brothers appear meek. It works beautifully, because there's an oddly kindhearted message underneath the mayhem, and because said mayhem never stops. Every seemingly happy resolution sets up the next catastrophe."

Matt Singer's written up two more films, Jiang Wen's Let the Bullets Fly (2010), "funny, exciting, and at 132 minutes, a half an hour too long… a great little movie inside a weaker bigger movie," and Manborg: "There's a cataclysmic war between the armies of man and hell, a dystopian future ruled by drippy-skinned demons, chase scenes on hoverbikes, and massive sci-fi battles. If Hollywood tried to remake Manborg, the movie would cost at least $150,000,000. I suspect director Steven Kostanski's budget had at least five less zeros."

"[J]ust try to wrap your head around Shinji Imaoka's Underwater Love," writes Jen Yamato for Movieline. "It's a pink film, meaning it follows in the grand tradition of Japanese softcore erotic cinema, it's a musical featuring songs by German duo Stereo Total, and the story — well, it involves a thirty-something woman named Asuka (Sawa Masaki) visited by a former classmate, Aoki (Yoshirô Umezawa), who died 17 years ago and came back to life as a dancing, cucumber-earing mythical turtle-like creature called a kappa. Then there's the chain-smoking, dress-wearing supernatural hippie, the death clock, the inter-species coupling, and the anal pearls."

And finally for now, Twitch was massively into Fantastic Fest this year. By my count, they posted well over two dozen reviews in a matter of just a few days and you can find them all right here.

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