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Fantastic Fest 2014: Day 2

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Fantastic FestPrevious Recap:
Day 1

Day 2- Friday 9/19

Friday started with an interview of E.L. Katz, director of Cheap Thrills and the “A is for Amateur” segment from ABCs of Death 2. We discussed both of those projects and the one he’s currently working on. Cool guy. It will post in the coming weeks.

After that I hit theater 6 for my first film of the day. I ordered crème brulée French toast and a mimosa (the first of several throughout the week). My go-to at the Alamo Drafthouse is usually cheese pizza and a local beer (Live Oak hefeweizen in Austin), but I spread it around throughout the fest and tried a variety of things including parmesan fries, nachos, mozzarella sticks, green chile mac and cheese, cookies and ice cream, and strawberry-balsamic milkshakes. The hot blueberry coffeecake with pecan streusel and a mimosa became my daily breakfast.  So good…

They offered the usual menu as well as special dishes inspired by movies in the festival. Nacho’s Nachos, inspired by Open Windows director Nacho Vigolando, were a personal favorite- tortilla chips covered in manchego cheese, white beans, caramelized onions, red peppers, and cilantro. There was a specialized drink menu too, but I steered clear of liquor for the most part.

The waitstaff did a tremendous job considering the crazy amount of orders coming in from multiple theaters. There were two instances when I did not receive my beer until the latter part of the movie, but both times it was comped. For the most part the waitstaff was friendly and confident and I hope that their tips reflected that. We were well taken care of.

I watched 4 films on Friday and I really enjoyed 3 of them. Short reviews:

Slime Mould

Film 4- The Creeping Garden
Directors- Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp

The Creeping Garden is a documentary I was very much looking forward to. It has beautiful, microscopic time-lapse photography of slime moulds. The trippy imagery would be a hit amongst the acid crowd. Problem is, slime moulds aren’t that interesting and the doc drags.

I learned that they can be manipulated but not controlled, that they are good test organisms, and that slime moulds can be used in experiments to determine equations for escape routes. Titillating stuff, eh? The best thing about The Creeping Garden is the microscopic time-lapse photography or “time magnification” as pioneer Percy Smith called it. If you watch it, I suggest you do it under the influence.

2 out of 5 Nerdskulls

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Man From Reno

Film 5- Man From Reno
Director- Dave Boyle
Starring- Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamuru, Yasuyo Shiba

Man From Reno is one of my favorite movies from the festival. It’s a dual-language Japanese/American slow-burn mystery with traces of Hitchcock and early Coen brothers. The cinematography impresses from the beginning, with gorgeous shots of a man driving through thick fog. The sequence has a heavy noir feel. Director Dave Boyle and cinematographer Richard Wong have crafted a nice look for the film. It’s perfectly lit and well-edited with stirring, suspenseful music. Boyle uses San Francisco to good effect as Hitchcock did in Vertigo and Fincher did in Zodiac.

There are two separate stories running concurrently, destined to cross paths. Ayako Fujitani anchors one of them as a crime fiction novelist and Pepe Serna leads the other as an elderly sheriff. Both performances are strong. Serna’s been in 100+ motion pictures and this is the one he should be remembered for. He was at the fest and said that it’s his personal favorite. Dave Boyle was there too. After his original flight returned to California because the cabin filled with smoke (!) he jumped on the next flight and made it in time to pass out Man From Reno messenger bags to the audience. Crazy.

I really enjoyed this film. Besides being well-made, I liked the characters and the story. It has killer atmosphere and a great old-fashioned feel.

4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls

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When Animals Dream

Film 6- When Animals Dream
Director- Jonas Alexander Arnby
Starring- Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelson, Sonja Richter

When Animals Dream was a pleasant surprise. It was on my “maybe” list and is better than some of my “must-sees”. It’s a low-budget Danish drama/horror film about a family with a dark secret that lives on an island in a small fishing village. Marie’s mom (Sonja Richter) is wheelchair bound, stricken by a disease that runs in the family. Marie (Sonia Suhl) starts going through changes that are more intense than the average teenage growing pains. Should she medicate or embrace her true self? If her secret gets out, she may not have a choice.

Arnby’s film works on many levels and is more than a simple genre film. It reminded me of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs in the way it makes you yearn for a specific thing to happen, but keeps putting it off, making it extra satisfying when it eventually does happen. Sonia Suhl and Sonja Richter play interesting female characters. Lars Mikkelson is in fine form, and there’s a beautiful painting-like opening sequence.

3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls

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John Wick

Film 7- John Wick
Directors- Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
Starring- Keanu Reeves, Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki

Holy face shot! John Wick is the first major crowd-pleaser of Fantastic Fest. Keanu Reeves has a nice turn as former hitman John Wick in a hard hitting action film from first time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. They both have extensive backgrounds as stunt coordinators and the movie is packed with impressively choreographed in-camera action sequences. 84 kills in all (!)

There is a club in John Wick called The Red Circle, an intentional nod to the Jean-Pierre Melville film Le Cercle Rouge. Melville was a big influence on John Woo and John Wick has traces of Melville and Woo. It also brought to mind Payback with Mel Gibson but with better action sequences. It’s a gritty New York shoot ’em up that is so over-the-top at times that it straddles genre parody, but it’s never less than fun.

Keanu Reeves, Adrianne Pelicki, Chad Stahelski, David Leitch, and writer David Kolstad were in attendance for an informative and enthusiastic Q&A.

4 out of 5 Nerdskulls

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More pics from Day 2:

Dave Boyle- Director of Man From Reno
Photo by Heather Leah Kennedy

Pepe Serna- Nerd Rap Champ and Star of Man From Reno
Photo by Heather Leah Kennedy

Fantastic Fest- John Wick

2 days down, 6 to go. Day 3 coming soon…

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