Fantastic Fest 2011 Day 1 Recap: Reviews of MICHAEL, BORDERLINE, and Video of Tim League and Elijah Wood Introducing THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2

     September 23, 2011

Fantastic Fest MICHAEL, BORDERLINE slice

Thousands of film geeks, genre-film enthusiasts, and weirdoes have descended upon the Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar location for a week-long celebration of the weirdest cinema in the world:  Fantastic Fest 2011.  In its seventh year, Fantastic Fest has proven—in just 24 hours—that it’s the coolest film festival Austin has to offer (and if you’re at all familiar with the film festivals on offer in Austin, you know that’s saying something).  How’d day one go?  I’ve got capsule reviews of Michael, Borderline, a day-one diary, and video of Tim League and Elijah Wood introducing The Human Centipede 2 after the jump, folks.

fantastic-fest-2011-posterSo far, Fantastic Fest 2011 is shaping up to be one helluva memorable week.  The festival started in earnest yesterday morning, but things really got rolling on Wednesday, when badges and day-one screening passes were handed out.  If you attended last year’s Fantastic Fest, you know that the online ticketing system the festival’s organizers attempted to put into play bottomed out within hours of going live, so Wednesday afternoon was marked with much trepidation:  would the online ticketing system crash again when it went live at 6pm?

And so, on Wednesday evening, everyone attending Fantastic Fest 2011 was directed to a special ticketing link, asked to enter their badge number, and waited on a virtual line to select tickets for today’s screenings.  As I’ve noted above, this was a really big deal.  Last year’s Fest saw massive complications with the online ticketing process (something about the servers being overloaded?), and most badgeholders were left with a single option: getting up ridiculously early, heading downtown, and sitting on the concrete outside the Drafthouse until the box office opened…several hours later.  When Texas concrete can fry an egg at 8am and most badgeholders are still drunk from the night before come 10am, this was a very unattractive proposition.

So, no one was hoping that this would be the process used for ticketing at Fantastic Fest 2011, but until very recently it hadn’t been confirmed that online ticket reservations would be possible for anyone other than VIP badgeholders (press badge holders– which is what we are here at Comedy Examiner HQ– are considered “regulars”, not “VIP’s”).  When the announcement for online ticketing came down the grapevine, there was much rejoicing…but not nearly as much as there was this morning, when it became clear that everything had gone according to plan.

fantastic-fest-logoCongratulations are in order for everyone who helped get Fantastic Fest up and running this year.  Not only was the online ticketing a success (they made it official on Thursday morning), but picking up badges turned out to be a completely painless experience, as well:  I walked in, grabbed my gear, and was back out the door in a matter of minutes.  When compared to, say, this past year’s SXSW (which involved standing in a line that had apparently been packed with every Austin resident who had stopped bathing back in 1996), this was absolutely heavenly.  Great work so far, guys!

Thursday morning, badgeholders made last-minute alterations to their schedules (I’ve written, rewritten, and re-re-re-rewritten my schedule no less than five times…and I’m still waiting on We Need to Talk’s addition to the schedule to rewrite it again), stocked their backpacks (laptops, Red Bulls, extra batteries, whatever ephemera they might want autographed by one of the random celebrities attending the festival), and prepared their livers for the first full day of Fantastic Fest screenings.

My first day sounded easy, but turned out to be far more complicated than I’d expected:  originally, I hadn’t planned on being downtown prior to 1pm, but a last-minute phone call at 830am from fellow writer Bill Graham changed all that.  Popular belief was, tickets for the Saturday-afternoon screening of American Werewolf in London (which includes a Mondo print by Olly Moss and a Q&A with Rick Baker) would be handled just like every other screening’s tickets would—online.  Turns out, you had to be downtown by 10am yesterday morning to snag a seat.  Because I’m a diehard Mondo collector, I couldn’t let the chance slip through my fingers:  I threw on some clothes, jumped in my car, and made a 35 minute trip downtown in roughly 18 minutes.  Any speeding tickets I might have accrued during this trip would’ve been sent directly to HQ.

Michael-movie-imageAfter collecting those passes, I faced the rest of my day:  a screening of Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, a screening of the dark French comedy Borderline, and—last but certainly not least—the world premiere of The Human Centipede 2:  Full Sequence.  In case you missed it, already ran my (very verbose) review of The Human Centipede 2 this morning.  That one was the big story out of Fantastic Fest’s opening day, but before we get to all of that (including some video I shot of Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League and Elijah Wood introducing the fest and Tom Six’s film), let’s talk about the other two films I saw yesterday.

I picked Michael as my first film for Fantastic Fest 2011 precisely because it wasn’t the obvious choice:  a slow, moody, dramatic tale of a pedophile who’s got a 10-year-old boy held captive in his home.  Before the screening, there was a fair amount of nervous laughter going on amongst those who’d assembled for the screening, and none of us knew what to expect:  would Michael be unbearably graphic?  Sterile?  Something in between?  We’d been promised something “unconventional”, and that’s all we had to go on.

Michael-movie-imageI thought Michael was pretty tame, all things considered (director Markus Schleinzer doesn’t actually show any of the child abuse, just the aftermath and moments before).  Austrian actor Michael Fuith plays Michael, the pedophile, while newcomer David Rauchenberger plays his charge, Wolfgang.  Both deliver standout performances, and I found myself wondering time and time again how Schleinzer must have directed this thing:  what sort of conversations did these men have on set?  How aware was Rauchenberger of what he was meant to be performing?  What was the reasoning behind making this film?  Michael raises many (in-front-of- and behind-the-camera) questions, but—in the end—only a few of them are answered.  I expect that the subject matter will keep most people away, but they’ll be missing out on two absolutely incredible performances.

I was far more impressed with Alexandre Coffre’s Borderline.  The film—a pitch-black French comedy—concerns a perpetually-dissatisfied-with-life lawyer by the name of David.  David’s a bit of a sad sack, and as the movie begins, we gather that he and his wife (who have a daughter and son, both pre-teens) have been going through the motions on their marriage for some time.  One night, David’s out walking the dog when a drug dealer comes crashing through the bushes.  The dealer stumbles off, leaving a gym bag behind, and when David moves in to investigate, he discovers that the bag is filled with two kilos of cocaine, a bunch of smaller baggies of blow, and—most importantly—a cellphone.  More specifically, it’s the drug dealer’s cell phone.

Borderline-movie-imageIn an effort to better him and his wife’s life—both financially and morale-wise—David decides to start answering the torrent of phone calls that come in on this phone.  He applies everything he understands about business and people to become an overnight coke dealer, and when he reveals to his wife, Christine, what he’s been up to, her response is about what you’d expect…until, moments later, it isn’t.  The two begin selling coke, raking in cash, and basically living out the lives we see each week on AMC’s Breaking Bad and Showtime’s Weeds:  suburban drug dealers navigating some very dark waters.  It’s all going fairly well until the owner of the bag shows up at Christine’s birthday party, demanding answers, money…and maybe a few other things.

The film’s hilarious from beginning to end, and the crowd I saw the film with laughed uproariously throughout.  Francois Damiens (who plays David) is remarkably funny here, and I couldn’t help but notice the dude’s passing resemblance to Will Ferrell.  The film’s probably a little too dark (not to mention druggy) to get wide distribution—or, like the recent announcement about Sleepless Night, a remake– here in the States, but if you get a chance to see the film, I’d highly recommend that you take it.  Borderline is, thus far, the best thing I’ve seen at Fantastic Fest 2011.

And you know what that means:  I wasn’t crazy about The Human Centipede 2.  In fact, I thought it paled in comparison to the original.  What was once a darkly comic, beautifully shot, remarkably restrained body-horror film was turned into a celebration of gore, debasement, and amorality.  I won’t harp on this—if you want harping, read my review—but I would like to show you the incredible intro that Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League gave the film.  It’s located below, and features a not-so-surprise cameo from Elijah Wood (it’s long, but if you stick with it until the end, you’ll agree it was worth watching):

human-centipede-2-full-sequence-movie-image-05After that, Human Centipede 2 had its way with two sold-out audiences, and the mood afterwards was…well, from what I overheard and saw, it was pretty universal:  people were not happy with Six’s latest opus.  Looking around online this morning, it appears that some people are starting to change their tune about the film after sleeping on it, but I’m standing by my initial reaction:  the film’s just too much, and even if it is a clever response to the way film geeks viewed the first film in the series, it’s still way too extreme to be remotely “enjoyable”.  Here’s my full review.

Once Centipede 2 wrapped, I shambled to my car, packed up the four (!!!) new Mondo prints I scored yesterday, and pointed my car in the direction of home.  Today, I was slated to see Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial, Livid, and The Yellow Sea, but was locked out of all three during the boarding-pass process:  all three had sold out by the time my number was called.  I’ve decided to use today to catch up and prepare for tomorrow, which will be a busy day indeed:  assuming I get into everything I want to see, I’ll be checking out five films and conducting two different interviews.  It’ll be a long day—as most days at Fantastic Fest are—but it’s also going to be a blast.

Stay tuned for more on Fantastic Fest 2011 as I’ve got it available, folks.  If there’s a particular film you’d like to know more about, feel free to let us know in the comments section:  schedule permitting, I (or fellow Collider writer Bill Graham) may get a chance to check it out on your behalf.

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