FantasticFest Day 1: First Squad, Gentlemen Broncos, Rec 2, The Highball
The first day of FantasticFest 2009 went exceedingly well – saw 3 movies and went to the opening of a, well, fantastic new venue in Austin, TX. Saw three movies: First Squad, Gentlemen Broncos (latest from director of Napoleon Dynamite), and Rec 2, as well as went to the opening of The Highball, a new bowl/bar/karaoke venue.
If I overheard correctly, they’ve basically rescused and resurrected the entire interior of the Rock ‘n Roll Bowl from New Orleans after it shut down – lifting it and dropping it right next to the Alamo Drafthouse and rechristening it The Highball in all its retro 60s glory.
Read on for the deets! (That image above is in the gorgeous Paramount Theater on Congress Avenue in Austin, TX)
First Squad – this was an interesting production – a Russian production that doesn’t like the Russian animation style (there’s a long history of animation in Russia and Eastern Europe). Instead, they hired Studio 4 degress Celcius from Japan to animate it. The story involves the historically accurate battle in Russia as the Germans invaded, mixed with resurrected warriors from centuries past. Yeah. I got sleepy and missed part of it, so I had to ask where the little girl got the ninja sword, weren’t her buddies all dead earlier (resurrected at a carnival, isn’t that the standard D&D way to do this?), and that I’d missed the “psychic scuba suit” scene. Harrumph – drinking beer and not eating anything until 4pm does have its costs. In the end, however, I really liked the animation style, but even those who were conscious the whole time said it was a bit scattershot and didn’t quite gel. Oh, and it is Russian with subtitles – even tougher to follow. Narratively, it is interesting that they mixed scenes of animation with live action interviews of actors as historians, veterans, psychologists, etc., that builds an air of plausible doubt around what happened at a key battle – one of the themes is that there are moments that are critical junctions in history, a pivotal moment when the battle, and thus the war, and thus the fate of a nation, can go either way. The resurrected German dead warriors of 700 years before are trying to change one of those moments. Is this review scattershot? Yeah, matches tone of the movie.
Gentlemen Broncos – latest from Jared Hess, creator of Napoleon Dynamite, involves another misfit teen, this time Ben, who writes sci-fi stories. His latest, Yeast Lords, is re-enacted in scenes with Sam Rockwell as a future warrior who has one of his nads stolen by a clone of the evil Yeast Lord and ultimately uses a stolen Battle Stag to fight the villain. Yeah, its one of those. Ben’s story is stolen by a famous but fading sci-fi writer at a young writer’s competition, while Ben sells the rights (for a $500 post dated check) to the oddball friend of the might-maybe-be-a-girlfriend French romance teen writer he meets at the conference. The oddball then decides to play the female lead himself, to cringe-awful-laughing results. Some truly, truly inappropriate pictures were taken at The Highball with the Battle Stag – I’ll post ASAP – gotta lotta pics to sort through!
Rec 2 – a sequel that starts immediately after the last one – an unknown virus has broken out in an apartment building and the government responds – if this sounds like Quarantine, that’s because Rec (the original Spanish film) was what Quarantine was the Americanized remake of. Rec 2 takes the modern “fast zombie, viral based” concept and adds a decidedly Catholic twist to it, which should play interestingly in the massively predominantly Catholic Spanish home market it was developed for. This is a good little romp I predict good odds for a Quarantine 2 based on it. Interesting blending of demonic possession/viral fast rage not-quite-zombie genres plays most interestingly when they are looking for a blood sample from patient zero of this outbreak – there’s a great scene of testing blood reminiscent of the great blood test scene in John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The Highball – not a movie, a venue, was the highlight of the evening for me – saw tons of friends and folks I’ve known from the Austin film scene and past Fantastic Fests I haven’t seen in a while. Pics and links to follow as I catch up! They basically lifted Rock & Roll Bowl from New Orleans and put it in the space that used to be the Salvation Army next to Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar – bowling, skeeball, karaoke, food, full bar, all wrapped up in 60s awesomeness.