Halloween got off to an early start up north with the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in August (see Bob Turnbull's enthusiastic coverage). The spirit then moved through TIFF's Midnight Madness program earlier this month, is currently haunting Austin's Fantastic Fest and will leap to the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia on Thursday.
On Thursday, Marc Savlov introduced the Austin Chronicle's hefty preview, including an interview with Fantastic Fest guest of honor and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Jess Franco, "the jazziest, most lushly femme-centric director of outré and deliriously sexualized art films since GW Pabst created Louise Brooks, the feminine icon. Some would argue that Franco's fellow countryman Pedro Almodóvar has given the godfather of exotic erotica a run for his dinero, but no, not really. Franco is in a class by himself, and no one will ever be able to replicate the carnal frisson of first seeing Eugenie ... The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion, much less the infinite joys of 99 Women."
More interviews on that same page: Joshua Zeman, co-director of the documentary Cropsey; Ben Wheatley, half of the production team behind the British gangster movie Down Terrace; Salvage director Lawrence Gough; Tom Six, whose Human Centipede (First Sequence) is, "to put it bluntly, a mind-raper of a film" (Savlov); and Sweet Karma director Andrew Hunt. More on that last one from Andrew Mack and Swarez at Twitch.
The newsiest item out of Austin so far has to be the first "Secret Screening," the "not-officially-a-world-premiere-for-contractual-reasons-but-first-time-it's-been-shown-anywhere-in-the-world screening of RoboGeisha," as Todd Brown puts it in Twitch. "The latest effort from the crew behind cult titles Machine Girl, Sukeban Boy, Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl, you pretty much have to know going in exactly what you're going to get with RoboGeisha - a violent, unrepentantly silly b-film loaded with wildly over the top set pieces hatched from the fevered mind of perpetual adolescent [Noboru] Iguchi." At Cinematical, Kevin Kelly's got a gallery of shots snapped at the premiere. Evidence that you won't find too many exhibitors as dedicated as Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League. More from Stephen Saito at IFC.
Zombieland opens on Friday, but reviews are already coming in. "It's got nothing on its mind beyond pleasing you from scene to scene, set piece to set piece, and director Ruben Fleischer ladles on just enough style to make it all fun without overwhelming the simple leasures of the film completely," writes Drew McWeeney at Hitfix. "Jesse Eisenberg further hones the awkward-but-sort-of-cool white nerd archetype that he and Michael Cera seem to be perfecting these days, and Woody Harrelson steps up with a badass zombie-killing persona that somehow manages to not play as yet another knockoff of Bruce Campbell's Ash. Throw in a sultry Emma Stone, a charming Abigail Breslin, some of the most enjoyable daffy narrative left turns in any mainstream film this year, and the entire thing adds up to a really solid piece of popcorn that has just enough red meat for real horror fans, but not enough to turn off the mainstream." More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Todd Brown (Twitch), William Goss (Cinematical), Andrew Mack (Twitch), Paul Matwychuk and Quint (AICN). At the Austin Movie Blog, Chris Garcia talks with Harrelson and Eisenberg.
The Chronicle's Kimberley Jones has been blogging away, with notes so far on Trick'r Treat (more from Peter Hall, Horror Squad), Smash Cut, Kenny Begins (more from Todd Brown, Twitch), Dirty Mind and Krabat. Dispatches are coming into Slackerwood as well.
In Variety, Dennis Harvey has updated his review of Paranormal Activity, still "one of the best genre spins on the pseudo-nonfiction first-person-cam since The Blair Witch Project."
Back at Twitch: Swarez on Van Dieman's Land (the "vastness of the thing is almost overwhelming"), Todd Brown on District 13 Ultimatum ("proves that sometimes you really can go back again"), Truffe (a "hidden gem from our Canadian back yard") and Dirty Mind ("an entertaining, compelling piece of work") and Andrew Mack on Yatterman: "Taking the basic elements of the story and characters of a wacky 70s animated show Japan's most diverse director Takashi Miike combines these elements together with a dash of self awareness and candy coats everything in an array of brilliant colors that won't melt in your hand but will melt in your heart."
"Overblown and underwhelming, Bitch Slap is a desperately unfunny attempt to satirically recycle cliches and archetypes from sexploitation actioners of the 1960s and 70s within the time-trippy, multiple-flashback framework of a Quentin Tarantino extravaganza," writes Joe Leydon in Variety. More from Todd Brown at Twitch.
Jennifer's Body worked up its own entry.
"Maybe it's because everyone in The Loved Ones has shaggy retro hair and listens to heavy metal, but this Aussie high school horror flick feels a lot closer to classic drive-in fare than the recent spate of slicked-up American exploitation remakes," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. This is "an especially efficient cheap thrill machine, and nothing more. But that's a throwback kind of thing too." More from Todd Brown (Twitch), Dennis Harvey (Variety) and Bob Turnbull.
"Cinematically speaking, there may be nothing worse than when an action star or purveyor of thrills starts taking himself too seriously," sighs Todd Gilchrist at Cinematical. "Such a transformation almost invariably begets a personal crusade, which often takes the form of a vanity project, and usually turns out about as well as The Quest did for Jean-Claude Van Damme, or On Deadly Ground did for Steven Seagal. Thai martial artist Tony Jaa launched his career with the original Ong Bak, and after that film and its superior follow-up, The Protector, made him an international sensation, he apparently started believing his own hype: Jaa not only co-directed Ong Bak 2, his latest film, but conceived it as the ultimate Thai adventure, reinforcing his own legend with a self-aggrandizing historical epic that somehow proves that you can actually make a movie without a plot – which unfortunately but perhaps predictably isn't a compliment." More from Tim Grierson (Screen) and James Marsh (Twitch).
"WTF has a new poster child and its name is Symbol," writes Bob Turnbull. "Whether it's the storyline of the preparations of a Mexican wrestler named Escargotman for his latest fight or that of another man completely sealed in a white room who slowly but surely works towards an escape plan, Hitoshi Matsumoto's (his previous film Dai-Nipponjin aka Big Man Japan appeared at TIFF two years ago) latest film is a head-shaking, sometimes frustrating and sometimes hilarious experience." More from Russell Edwards (Variety) and Rodney Perkins (Twitch).
Movies at both festivals, in other words.
"A real-time sequel which literally takes off the moment its predecessor ends, [REC]2 keeps the adrenalin pumping while ramping up the good-versus-evil element with an Exorcist-style subplot about demonic possession," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen. "Neatly paving the way for [REC]3 with a cliffhanger ending, it has enough invention and wit to extend the saga into a franchise even while the novelty value of the 2007 faux documentary has worn thin." More from Todd Brown (Twitch) and Boyd van Hoeij (Variety).
"Improving significantly on their unimaginative 2003 zombie-horror debut, Undead, Australian film-making brothers Michael and Peter Spierig turn their attention to vampires with Daybreakers, their satisfying if still flawed follow-up," writes Tim Grierson in Screen. "Boasting a better effects budget, better cast and, most critically, a much better screenplay, Daybreakers imagines a not-too-distant future when humans have become a small minority on a planet overrun by bloodsuckers." More from Dennis Harvey in Variety.
Daniel Kasman's already admired "the social pleasure of genre" to be had in George A Romero's Survival of the Dead; for more, turn to Ray Bennett (Hollywood Reporter), Todd Brown (Twitch), Fernando F Croce (Slant), Leslie Felperin (Variety), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Lee Marshall (Screen) and Noel Murray (AV Club).
"Though its grasp of English history may be a bit fanciful, Solomon Kane is a powerful, high-spirited romp - with equally high production values - through the realms of the increasingly popular fantasy genre," writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. More from Tim Grierson (Screen) and Noel Murray (AV Club).
The Chronicle's Kimberley Jones on A Town Called Panic: "Scene to scene, shot to shot, there's no telling where this kid-friendly film is headed, and how cool is that?" Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Updates, 9/29: Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog on Yojiro Takita's Groper Train: Wedding Capriccio (1984): "There is an argument to be made that this film is all about female pleasure, although you might hurt yourself going through the contortions necessary to make it."
At Twitch, Andrew Mack on Buratino, Son of Pinocchio, Merantau, Mandrill and Crazy Racer; Todd Brown on House of the Devil and Cropsey; Swarez on The Children and Rampage.
At Hitfix, Aaron Morgan on Gentlemen Broncos and Paranormal Activity; and on The Revenant.
The Austin Chronicle's Kimberley Jones has quick takes on Private Eye and Macabre.
"The formula for a productive, engaging debate on the state of indie film? Take a festival founder and a controversial filmmaker, throw them in a boxing ring, and add a hundred or so hecklers and a lot of cheap booze. Also, a stars and stripes unitard wouldn't hurt. And, voila - the circular indie film apocalypse conversation finally gets interesting." Back at the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth reports on the face-off between Tim League and Uwe Boll.
Updates, 10/1: For Sean Burns, writing in the Philadelphia Weekly, Zombieland is "an enjoyable lark, a gentle-spirited road movie about the importance of human connection, particularly if you're stuck in a post-apocalyptic wasteland riddled with flesh-eating monsters." More from Richard Corliss (Time), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Scott Foundas (Voice), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York). Steve Heisler talks with Harrelson and Eisenberg for the AV Club. Interviews with Fleischer: Kyle Buchanan (Movieline) and Mike Ryan (Vanity Fair).
Todd Brown has the Fantastic Fest Audience Award winners at Twitch - where Andrew Mack and Swarez review Ninja Assassin; Mack on Stingray Sam and Doghouse; Swarez on Duress; Brown on Fireball.
"Why review a Japanese-language film without sensational violence, naked ninjas, or giant robots?" asks Peter Martin in Cinematical. "Because when it's a movie as smartly comic, raggedly rocking, warmly appealing, and richly rewarding as Yoshihiro Nakamura's Fish Story, you want the whole world to know."
IFC posts a gallery of pix from the festival.
Updates, 10/2: "[B]onhomie is the true subject of Zombieland," writes Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. "Fleischer has made a movie that comes off as easygoing, but actually shows a remarkable amount of discipline: The picture is beautifully paced, with an exhilarating, comically violent opening, a halcyon middle section where, in what could be viewed as a sideways homage to Rebel Without a Cause, our rootless wanderers share a brief respite in an empty, lavish mansion (I won't tell you whom it belongs to), and a finale filled with light and color and movement (as well as piles of vanquished zombies)."
For the New York Times' Manohla Dargis, this is "a minor diversion dripping in splatter and groaning with self-amusement."
"Zombieland, with its belching, goo-spewing undead, looks at the scenery of a video game through a fanboy's eyes," writes Josh Levin in Slate. "What's the point of wading through a zombie nation if you're not going to kick some zombie ass?... Fleischer comes from the land of music videos, and he's a good bet to follow the career arc of Zack Snyder: from the zombie leagues to surprise blockbusterdom to comic-book franchise. (It took Snyder just three steps: Dawn of the Dead to 300 to Watchmen.)"
"Unlike its spiritual predecessor Shaun of the Dead, Fleischer's film doesn't really get either zombie movies or human relationships," finds Nick Schager in Slant.
But for the New Republic's Christopher Orr, it's "everything Jennifer's Body was not - fast, funny, and fully aware of the obligations and opportunities inherent in the genre."
"Zombieland might celebrate the genre," writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, "but it doesn't exactly transcend it by filling the screen with vomiting, snarling, pale-faced creatures chomping on strings of human flesh and sinew. There's also the question of how incisive a satire can be when it's satirizing something that's already a joke."
Catherine Grant notes that it's been Zombie Week all week-long at In Media Res.