<p>LIttle Katie and her sister probably shouldn't play with dead things in 'Paranormal Activity 3,' the final secret screening of Fantastic&nbsp;Fest 2011</p>

LIttle Katie and her sister probably shouldn't play with dead things in 'Paranormal Activity 3,' the final secret screening of Fantastic Fest 2011

Credit: Paramount PIctures

Review: 'Paranormal Activity 3' expands the mythology, ups the scale of scares

HitFix
B
Readers
A-
It's a prequel, but it's more aggressive than the first two films, too

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention this already, but it's worth repeating in light of the film we saw tonight at Fantastic Fest's Secret Screening #2 at midnight.

Every time I'm in Austin, I stay with my friends Aaron and Kaela.  They are, simply put, some of the nicest people I know, always warm, always good company.  After this many years, they feel like part of the extended family.  I always feel more relaxed during the grind of a festival when I'm home at their house.  That guest room really does feel like a home away from home.

The other night, between writing two reviews, posting them, driving across Austin, and everything else, I got to bed at almost 5:00 AM.  Maybe even a little bit after.  And last thing I did, I used the restroom, washed my face, brushed my teeth.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

I had to get up at 10:00 AM, and when I did, I headed into the bathroom, first thing.  Keep in mind, this is the second floor of the house, and I have a bathroom attached to the bedroom that also opens into the second floor hallway.  And when I walked in, there was a big yellow envelope waiting for me with my name on it.

And inside, a videotape.  A handwritten label.  "September 1988."

And no one else was home.

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<p>Matthias Schoenaerts stars in 'Bullhead,' a disturbing look at the meaning of manhood that played this year's Fantastic Fest</p>

Matthias Schoenaerts stars in 'Bullhead,' a disturbing look at the meaning of manhood that played this year's Fantastic Fest

Credit: Savage Film

Review: 'Bullhead' tells juiced-up twisted coming of age crime story

HitFix
A
Readers
B+
A terrifying central performance elevates disturbing story of manhood

There's a restaurant right by the Alamo Drafthouse's parking lot, a Tex Mex place called Maudie's that has a sign I've walked past several times during the festival so far.  It says something about "There's no bull in our beef," and lists all the things their meat does not have in it, including hormones.  It's a selling point these days if you're growing animals that are just animals, and it's also something that I think takes place in a world I know nothing about.

That world is the setting of the provocative, disturbing new film "Bullhead," from Belgian writer/director Michael Roskam, and this is one of the most original things I've seen here this week, strong and adult and sweeping in the way it handles some very complicated ideas about manhood and what we owe others as we move through this world.  This is not a film that plays things easy or that establishes any clear moral lines early on.  Both Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Diederik Maes (Jeroen Perceval) move in this shady not-quite-black market world, and when they run into each other early in this film, it's a shock to both of them.  There's some shared history here.

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<p>Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon struggle to hold their marriage together as the world ends, perhaps literally, all around them in 'Take Shelter'</p>

Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon struggle to hold their marriage together as the world ends, perhaps literally, all around them in 'Take Shelter'

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: 'Take Shelter' takes Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain on ride into anxiety

HitFix
B+
Readers
B
Jeff Nichols builds impressively off his strong 'Shotgun Stories' debut

There is no scene that better captures the modern face of dread that I've seen in any film this year than a moment late in the new Jeff Nichols film "Take Shelter." 

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain star in the film as Curtis and Samantha, a married couple facing a crisis in this quiet, upsetting film.  This film bothers me in the same way the Todd Haynes film "Safe" bothers me, or the way Lodge Kerrigan's work bothers me.  These are films about losing your mind, and while I respect the fact that different things bother different people, this is one of those things I can't imagine without squirming.  Losing my grip on my sanity, on my reason, on my ability to think?  That's beyond a nightmare.  That is loss of self, and Michael Shannon's work here cuts right to the heart of that fear.

It starts small for Curtis.  Dreams.  A feeling.  A growing sensation.  The film is definitely sympathetic to Curtis and his point of view, and we experience the visions and the dreams and the shifting mood with him.  What makes it heartbreaking is just how brightly Jessica Chastain burns in the movie.  After seeing all of her performances this year and ending with this one, I'm convinced she really is an important new presence in film.  She's amazing here, this wide-open heart, the one who tames Curtis in the first place. 

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<p>Adam punching Zeus in Shaun Levy's &quot;Real Steel.&quot;</p>

Adam punching Zeus in Shaun Levy's "Real Steel."

Credit: Dreamworks Studios

Review: 'Real Steel' is great family fun, even without the robots

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B+
Readers
A-
This might be the best Amblin' throwback yet

I think it's safe to say I have not been kind to the work of Shawn Levy in print so far.

"Big Fat Liar."  "Just Married."  "Cheaper By The Dozen."  "The Pink Panther."  Both of the "Night At The Museum" films.  That's a painful list.  But it's also a list of films that managed to do well at the box-office, well enough in some cases to see Levy climb onto the A-list.  He's the sort of filmmaker executives love, good with the talent, able to work within a budget, and he makes films that make money.  It should come as no surprise, then, that when Amblin' and producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford went looking for a director for "Real Steel," Levy would be one of the names on their list.

What is a surprise to me is how well Levy seems to have done at making a genuine mid-'80s Amblin' movie.  I know we heard a lot of talk about how "Super 8" was the Spielberg fetish film this year, and certainly that movie indulged a lot of stylistic touches that were designed to evoke that Amblin' feeling.   I'd say it's proof that you're as strong as the actual script you shoot, and John Gatins has taken a whole lot of familiar and done something special with it, something that Levy benefits from as much as he does from a game and able cast.

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<p>'You're Next' is one of this year's big awards winners at Fantastic Fest</p>

'You're Next' is one of this year's big awards winners at Fantastic Fest

Credit: Lionsgate/Snoot

'You're Next' emerges as biggest winner in Fantastic Fest Awards

'Bullhead' and 'Clown' also stand out in the evening's announcements

It's strange but true:  Monday night is one of the craziest nights of Fantastic Fest every single year.

This is the night that starts with awards and ends with feuds, where the festival gives away prizes, then pits the Americans versus the foreigners, where the drinking starts early and ends ugly.  This is not like any other festival's awards evening, and it's pure spectacle every single year.

Where else do you have to drink beer from the actual prize you are given?  And where else would they follow up the awards with a game show?

I didn't make it into the room for the awards ceremony this year.  I was seated outside on the patio of the Alamo instead, and I got the press release as the awards were being announced.  By all accounts, there was much debauchery and madness over the course of handing the awards out this year, and a truly distressing amount of Shiner was consumed.  I think they got a lot of this right, and they shined some attention on some truly worthy films, some of which I've reviewed now, some of which I haven't.  I'm here at Fantastic Fest until Friday of this week, though, so I'll have plenty more for you in the days ahead.

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<p>Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido) teaches Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) a few moves in 'A Boy And His Samurai'</p>

Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido) teaches Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) a few moves in 'A Boy And His Samurai'

Credit: J Storm

Review: Remarkable 'A Boy And His Samurai' confirms Nakamura as one of the best

HitFix
A-
Readers
n/a
If this was in English, your kids would be asking for the Happy Meal right now

How has Yoshihiro Nakamura remained an international secret?

If there was an American equivalent to "A Boy And His Samurai," it would be the sort of film that would end up earning $100 million from family audiences.  It is a sincere, high-concept movie that absolutely plays to formula, but does it with a zeal that is enormously endearing.  It is interesting that I'll be publishing my review of the movie "Real Steel" today as well, because these films both fall into some of the same broad genre definitions.

In both films, there is a boy who needs a father figure, and an unlikely figure, associated primarily with violence, has to learn how to also display a tender and protective side to bond with the boy.  In this movie, Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) is struggling to raise her young son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), who is almost kindergarten age.  He's at that point where kids accept whatever reality works best for them, where the whole world is made of possibilities and they're really starting to come into focus as people.  Hiroko left her husband because he expected her to play some sort of conventional domestic role, and she needs to work.  She needs to have a place in things and be good at something.  And so she's raising Tomoya alone, and one afternoon, the two of them meet Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido), who appears to be a genuine samurai from the Edo period, somehow transported to modern Tokyo.  So of course, Tomoya takes him home.

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<p>The cast of 'Juan Of The&nbsp;Dead' braces themselves for an onslaught of hot Cuban zombie action</p>

The cast of 'Juan Of The Dead' braces themselves for an onslaught of hot Cuban zombie action

Credit: La Zanfona Films

Review: 'Juan Of The Dead' is much more than an easy Cuban zombie knock-off

HitFix
B
Readers
A
We want this one to get picked up immediately

Just so we're clear on this, I want a distributor to buy "Juan Of The Dead."  Now.  Immediately.

This has been my busiest festival year so far.  I was at Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Toronto, and now Fantastic Fest, and part of the game you play when you attend all of these events is figuring out what you need to see now and what you can see later.  Even now, I'm counting on AFI Fest in November to pick up some titles I've missed at other festivals, and even within a festival, I find myself trying to shuffle things around to fit in the most films possible.

One of the films that I had a chance to see in Toronto but missed was "Juan Of The Dead."  I did end up meeting writer/director Alejandro Brugues in a hotel lobby for a few minutes, and I promised him there that I'd see the film during Fantastic Fest.  I missed the first screening here in Austin, and I missed Sunday night's press screening.  So when the Monday morning 11:15 AM screening rolled around, I was in my seat as early as possible.  Good thing, too, because word of mouth has been building on the film over the course of the festival, and it was totally packed.

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<p>Victoria Abril.&nbsp; Bats.&nbsp; 3D.&nbsp; What more do you need?&nbsp; 'Comin' At Ya' really is one of the highlights of Fantastic Fest 2011</p>

Victoria Abril.  Bats.  3D.  What more do you need?  'Comin' At Ya' really is one of the highlights of Fantastic Fest 2011

Credit: Filmways Pictures

Review: 'Comin' At Ya 3D' is a hilarious flashback with a new coat of paint

HitFix
B-
Readers
A+
I've waited 30 years to see this film... but why?

When I was 11 years old, I conned my mom into taking me to see "Comin' At Ya" in the theater.  I knew it was rated R, but I neglected to mention that in the pitch I gave when I asked her to take me to see it.  I knew the game back then, and i knew how I had to play it.  I had to convince one of my two parents that they NEEDED to see whatever movie it was that I wanted to see.  If not them, then someone else who resembled a responsible adult enough to take me to see the film.  Uncles, aunts, older brothers of friends… anyone was fair game in the "I want to see that R-rated movie" sweepstakes.

In this particular case, all I cared about was "3D" and "Western."  I was determined to get into the film, and I forget how I managed to convince my mother that it was something she wanted to see as well.  What I do remember, quite clearly, was being yanked out of the theater by my arm, my mother positively livid as she yelled at an usher about the content of the film, and I remember that we ended up seeing the Dudley Moore comedy "Arthur" instead.  Because there's nothing more appropriate for an eleven-year-old than non-stop hilarious intoxication.

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<p>Roger Brown is having a very, very bad day.&nbsp; And so is his milk.</p>

Roger Brown is having a very, very bad day.  And so is his milk.

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Review: Norway sends dark crime comedy 'Headhunters' to Fantastic Fest

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B+
Readers
n/a
Plus a short film from the guys who wrote 'Feast'

If you should ever find yourself covered head to toe in human filth and driving a stolen tractor down a country road with an impaled dead dog hanging from the front, worried for your life, chances are you have made a wrong decision somewhere along the way.

Morten Tyldum's movie "Headhunters" is a member of a very particular sub-genre of film that I love, movies where someone makes a plan to screw someone else, and that plan goes very, very, very wrong.  Done right, there's something delicious about watching a character get put through the wringer when it's entirely because of their own ill intent.  In this film, we meet Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who tells us that he is 1.68 meters tall, and that he compensates for that height in a number of ways in his life. 

He is aggressively confident as he moves through the world, and he is married to a tall stunning Nordic blonde, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), the idea personified.  They live in a house he can't afford.  He can't make enough in his work as a corporate headhunter to give Diana the lifestyle he feels that she deserves, and so he also moonlights as an art thief.  We see how he gathers information in one job that allows him to feed jobs to Ove (Eivind Sander), his partner in crime.  Together, they steal paintings and sculptures and replace them with copies, and that's what keeps Roger afloat.

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<p>That look on Elijah Wood's face sort of says it all as Dominic Monaghan celebrates his victory at The Fantastic&nbsp;Debates 2011.</p>

That look on Elijah Wood's face sort of says it all as Dominic Monaghan celebrates his victory at The Fantastic Debates 2011.

Credit: HitFix/Drew McWeeny

Fantastic Debates with Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, NASA, and the death of Tim League?

Have you ever wanted to watch an astronomer beat a stupid person stupider?

What are the Fantastic Debates?

Last year, I attended the Debates but didn't write them up.  It was just a fun evening out at the end of a long string of movies I saw and reviewed.  In the year since then, though, every time I've told someone about the Debates and the fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Tim League, they've been captivated.  They are fascinated that this event exists.  They want to know more.

And so this year, I'm dedicated to bringing you the same sort of breathless blow-by-blow account of the Debates that I could have expected to read in the papers the morning after an Ali-Frazier match-up as a kid.

Because these are not just about entertainment.  Oh, no.  No, these are battles over the most important ideas in our current cultural conversation.  These are life and death struggles, fought verbally first and physically second.  There is no more significant event during the week of Fantastic Fest.

And this year, we were ringside for every single punch that was thrown.

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