Basham at Fantastic Fest


What films did he see?

By Tim Basham

There’s something very cool about being part of something new, something groundbreaking, something that you know will only get bigger. It’s like, wow, really something! And that’s how a lot of us Fantastic Fest Fans feel. Just think about it… You take the number one movie house in America (The Alamo Drafthouse), throw in talent from SXSW programming and Aint It Cool News and let them hand pick films from around the world. How could that not be fantastic? “And what about the films?” you impatiently ask…

This “prequel” appropriately kicked off the second annual Fantastic Fest at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) and old Leatherface himself (Andrew Bryniarski) were on hand, along with director Jonathan Liebesman and actress Jordana Brewster who plays the beautiful, young Chrissie who, along with her friends, is forcefully invited for dinner at the Hewitt family home–“for dinner” being the key phrase. You remember the Hewitts, don’t you? Those lovable cut-ups from Texas who cut up their guests? Before the film’s premiere I had a chance to talk with R. Lee, Jordana and Jonathan about the film before it opened worldwide.

R. Lee, famous for his role as Gunnery Sargeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket”, told me how they left out one of his favorite lines from TX Chainsaw when Sheriff Hoyt is in the kitchen with Mama as they’re butchering a biker: “You know, Mama, since Tommy (Leatherface) got that chainsaw it’s done wonders for his self esteem.”

Fortunately, Ermey has several occasions to use that humor throughout the film, which gives him a much larger and more entertaining role than in 2003’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.

“They kind of let me go crazy with him. Let’s face it. He’s a sexually perverted, homicidal maniac. The beautiful thing about this character is there’s no ‘over the top’.”

How he becomes sheriff is especially interesting.

Jordana Brewster’s role had few opportunities for humor, but she sells her part well as the panic’d girlfriend who, through a twist of fate, escapes capture when her friends are first abducted.

“I get to sneak around,” she says. “The only thing that was really hard for me was when we were shooting close to raw meat. It was just gross — the smell. Physically, it was fun. The running around was fun; running away from Leatherface isn’t that hard. You’re pretty motivated when he’s got the chainsaw.”

For director Jonathan Liebesman it was a chance to return to Austin where last year he spent two months shooting the film around central Texas.

“It’s kind of cool to bring the movie back to its home so that the people who were hospitable to us get to see it first.” Contrary to some reports, Jonathan says he did see the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre before he was asked to direct this one. “It was an extremely visceral experience, even today. I always had these images in my head, even when I was a teenager in South Africa…I had these images of dismembered bodies and blood everywhere.” He finally saw the movie after he went to NYU and people would bring it up. He was also impressed by the fact that some of his favorite directors, like Ridley Scott of Alien, would speak of the film’s influence on them. “I think the idea of making murder seem real, like a snuff movie, was really the strength. And that was what was terrifying about it.”

Regarding the origin of Leatherface Jonathan says the film “shows you the path he took to becoming Leatherface. It’s like watching Anakin become Darth Vader. It’s that journey of someone who could go either way but goes to the dark side. It’s not something you want to over-explain. Because that’s part of the beauty of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that there is a mystique and a mystery surrounding who these people are.” Judging from its reception last night, the explanation and the mystique both served their purpose.

Good choice for the very first, afternoon film, right before TX Chainsaw’s premiere. If this Canadian film had starred someone such as Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Christopher Plummer and Hilary Swank instead of its very-talented-but-unkown cast, it would have been one of the most controversial, and most critically hailed films of 2006. But American theaters may not be quite ready for showing the in-your-face subject of incest in a comedy, albeit a “dark” comedy.

Like watching a classic 70’s horror film. A little hokey, a little scary, but a lot of fun. Bigfoot decides to become a serial killer and even your house is no longer safe.

It’s long, sometimes tedious, but I’m still thinking about it. Great performances from Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly but a command performance from 11-year-old Jodelle Ferland as young Jeliza-Rose. Her “Alice in Wonderland” experiences are pure Gilliam as Ferland carries at least 80% of the film’s dialogue. But she never misses a beat and is absolutely charming.

Fighting with ogres and trolls in a long-ago land may be a familiar tale. But these warriors are young Scottish students who do their ogre fighting at a table, using their wits as a “Gamekeeper” takes them on a journey in their minds. Separating their real lives from their role-playing is not always easy and by the time they reach their goal, things get serious–for real. Good coming-of-age film.

One of the most surprising films of the festival, “The Host” really sneaks up on you. Coming out of South Korea, director Joon-ho Bong has taken the elements of films like “Godzilla”, “Jaws” and even “Ghostbusters” and created a totally original monster movie with a very impressive, character-generated monster. When a mutated river creature leaps onto land and begins feeding on humans, the government decides that the monster is spreading a virus and quarantines anyone who has come in contact with it. The film focuses on one family’s search for 13-year-old Hyun-seo who is abducted by the creature. Fighting through both government bureaucracy and the monster, the family struggles with their own identities and conflicts as they come together for a common cause. There is no shortage of humor, especially when the monster first appears. The film is scheduled for a limited release in 2007, so keep an eye out for this one.

Based on David Mamet’s play, William H. Macy is Edmond, an unhappy businessman who goes on a middle-aged-crazy romp in the big city. At first, he only wants to get laid. But as he encounters the seedier side of nightlife he takes on an “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” attitude. As a movie, it’s not much more than a play being filmed. But it’s a good play and Macy draws you in; it’s like watching a train wreck. You know it’s going to get worse but you just can’t take your eyes off it.

Add two more pictures to the increasingly impressive imports from the United Kingdom–Wilderness and Isolation. Though similar in plotline, they each kept my interest to the end. “Wilderness” may have a few more laughs, but “Isolation” has a few more scares.

“Wilderness” follows a group of juvenile inmates who are receiving additional punishment by being left on an uninhabited island. At least they thought it was uninhabited. Soon, people are being skewered with arrows and attacked by vicious dogs. In Isolation some country folk and a scientist are stranded on a farm after an artificially and genetically inseminated cow gives birth to something more than just a calf. And when they discover that the creature can multiply and grow at an alarming rate, and can spread through the human bloodstream, our would-be heroes answer the age-long question, What are we going to do to keep ’em down on the farm? Both films use a dark and dreary setting as the isolated citizens are forced to fight back and kill what is killing them all.

The horror films from the U.K. and the rest of Europe have greatly improved over the past few years, and Fantastic Fest featured many of them.

Guillermo del Toro couldn’t be here for the debut of his film “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but Harry Knowles managed to “channel” the writer/director just the same by reading a note from del Toro to his festival fans. Harry embellished a bit with a Mexican accent and strong dose of expletives befitting the director. Though an appearance by del Toro would have been nice, his absence took nothing away from this wonderful film that follows the journey of a young Spanish girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), whose life takes a dramatic turn during Italy’s World War II invasion of Spain. Because of her mother’s marriage to an Italian captain they move in to a country estate used by the Italians as a base to fight against the Spanish underground. Ofelia discovers an ancient labyrinth, or maze, nearby and finds herself drawn into a fantasy world of fairies, fauns, giant toads and deadly creatures. The story, the performances and beautiful cinematography all combine for an entrancing film experience. The R rating is appropriate since this is not your children’s fairy tale, filled with bloody, hand to hand combat and excruciating scenes of death and torture. But the film has no shortage of heroes and inspiring heroics to counter some very real, and evil, villains. For me, this was the best film of Fantastic Fest.

While getting lost inside “Pan’s Labyrinth” was pure joy, getting lost in “The Fountain“ was not. Actually, the story had promise and I found myself wanting it to take me on a great adventure. Visually, it was sometimes beautiful. But it began to falter somewhere in the first fifteen minutes. Over-indulgent in metaphorical wanderings and way too much ado about a research scientist’s (Hugh Jackman) search for a cure to his wife’s (Rachel Weisz) incurable cancer, a comment in IMDB said it best: “I really wish this was better.”

Harry Knowles, co-programmer for Fantastic Fest, outdid himself this year with Saturday night’s surprise screening of Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”, along with an appearance for Q & A by Mel himself. Matt Dentler, also a co-programmer for the festival, gives his impressions of the film and Gibson.

I squirmed in my seat during this film’s first 15 minutes more than I have during the entirety of any other film at the festival. Incredibly real effects of a woman’s torturous abduction as she finds herself chained and enslaved by a strange man in the woods. Also, one of the best endings I’ve seen this week.

This British haunted house tale has all the usual ghostly trappings–loud door knockings in the middle of the night, dead people staring out from the television, and moving pictures. Even so, I was still spooked…a little.

If you liked the old Abbot and Costello horror/comedy films, you’ll probably like Hatchet (with a little more gore). A haunted swamp tour gets off track and the guide and his tourists are stranded, surrounded by gators and a deformed/deranged/disturbed swamp boy who’s determined to kill them all.

The truce between long time ninjas and their respective villages is broken by order of the king, and the best five warriors from each village are forced to battle. Oboro, the beautiful leader of one village and Gennosuke, from the other village, have been secret lovers for years and now must face one another in battle. Each fighter, or shinobi, has a particular talent–kind of like the X-Men. And though it is aesthetically pleasing cinema, the film seems to try too hard to elicit the emotional response it desires.

Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a depressed and lonely cocktail waitress so desperate for love she allows a complete stranger (Michael Shannon) to move into her motel room with her. His personal battles with bugs (are they real or imagined?) are adopted as her fears as well and give a new meaning to the word “co-dependcy”. An incredibly impressive transformation takes place, building up to a frantic and slightly hysterical climax at the end. Great performances from Judd, Shannon and Harry Connick, Jr. as Agnes’ ex-con/ex-husband.