Woke up, got out of bed, and made a run for the Alamo Drafthouse for the early-morning press screening of HIGH-RISE. For the uninitiated, Fantastic Fest offers special showings of the featured films for writers and folks that fancy themselves writers. With so many great films to choose from, the press screenings can help out when you have to make a SOPHIE’S CHOICE. In order to check out TOO LATE later in the day, an early morning jolt of Tom Hiddleston was necessary.




If UNDER SIEGE is DIE HARD on a train, then HIGH-RISE is SNOWPIERCER (which is set on a train) in a building. Set in 1970s London, Tom Hiddelston is the new tenant in a ultra-modern high rise that acts as a microcosm of society as tensions rise between the haves and the have nots. The film has drawn comparisons to both Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL and David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, but it never approaches the fun of the former or the terror of the latter and simply ended up being middling. The set design is fantastic with its 70’s flourishes and there is plenty of “S.O.S.” by Abba scoring the film. I get it, it’s satire. but it’s satire I’ve seen a thousand times before. and it doesn’t really break any new ground. Overall, HIGH-RISE gets so caught up in its message about class warfare that it neglects to be entertaining.




Up next: the biggest, blackest cup of coffee from Medeci, quickly becoming a favorite spot of mine here in Austin. It’s day three and my body is starting to feel it. Late nights, early mornings, too much beer. It’s starting to take its toll.




The second movie of the day transported me from 1970s London to modern day Japan for the documentary DOGLEGS. Full disclosure: I can enjoy just about any documentary if the subject is slightly intriguing, even if it’s about a band I hate. DOGLEGS. From the outside, Japan appears to be a country full of geeks and can get into some genuinely weird things; tentacle porn, a cat that acts as a stationmaster, and “Christmas Chicken” from KFC. DOGLEGS explores a wrestling league that features disabled wrestlers as well as the able-bodied, usually in matches against each other. DOGLEGS can be uncomfortable to watch at times as it’s up to interpretation if this league is exploitative or breaking down walls, and that appears to be the intent from the filmmakers. The heart of the story is an upcoming retirement match between two longtime foes in the league, “Sambo” Shintaro, who is afflicted with cerebral paulsy and “Antithesis” Kitajima, one of the popular able-bodied fighters. The film follows “Sambo” as he trains as well as another handicapped wrestler, L’Amant as he battles alcoholism. The film is surprisingly funny and affecting as the audience is drawn into this bonkers world of pro-wrestling.




Up next was LOVEMILLA. Based on a popular Finnish television show for teenagers, the characters of LOVEMILLA live in a world where superheroes, robots, giant pandas and zombies all co-exist. The film has plenty of whimsy and heart and definitely appeals to fans of THE MIGHTY BOOSH and DOCTOR WHO. There are plenty of genuine laughs and oddball characters to keep audiences engaged for 97 minutes, and the two leads are quite charming. Quite fun, but not exactly for me.




TOO LATE is bound to be a divisive film; I can’t even tell if I liked it or not. Of course, when I keep debating a film in my head (with the other voices) that at least means that it effected me in some way. A noir-ish thriller basically featuring a guy, a girl, and a gun, the film has plenty of great moments but ultimately feels empty. Shot on (and projected in) 35mm, each segment of the films 5-minute segments run for twenty minutes and are shot in one take. An interesting gimmick, certainly, but what’s the point of shooting a gritty, L.A. noir if you’re not going to take the time to set up some interesting shots or catch some of that great urban neon. The long takes begin to run their course at the halfway point. The dialogue ranges from noir-ish cool to sub-par Elmore Leonard and the performances are either fantastic (Friends of Olyphant, John Hawkes, Natalie Zea) or delivered with all the gusto of a couple kids ripping off Tarantino in their backyard. I’ll err on the positive side and say it’s worth seeing.




After a quick trip to the local Whataburger (and what a burger it was. Most excellent. The fries left a little to be desired, but the spicy ketchup get the assist), GRIDLOCKED was next on the agenda. A homage to action films of the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, GRIDLOCKED is a mish-mash of THE HARD WAY, DIE HARD, and THE ROCK. A bad-boy actor teams up with a hard nosed, rough around the edges cop and the two of them are thrust into several action set-pieces,—drenched in teal and orange lighting — What’s the bad guys plan? Something involving bonds, but who cares? For the most part the film has some genuine laughs and hits all the right marks, mostly by playing the action as well as the hammy, insta-quote comedy straight. The humor comes from that ironic knowingness of all that great, cheesy output from Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Stephen Lang, known for his work with Michael Mann and as the villain in AVATAR, nails the role of the basic bad guy complete with long black trench coat, mercenary henchmen and the perpetual Bluetooth in ear. The action is big and bad in this one. I’m not sure what the budget is, but all of the firefights are quite impressive for an independent outing. The film meanders for its second act, and could have perhaps utilized one more big setpiece (or a climatic rainstorm) but puts the cherry on top when it fades out to Tone L?c’s “Funky Cold Medina.”




The final showing of the night, THE MIND’S EYE opens with a title card stating that this film is meant to be played loud. The filmmakers also mentioned before the showing that it’s meant to be enjoyed while drinking. Who am I to disregard the filmmaker’s vision?, so I ordered up a bucket of Shiner Bock to end the night. THE MIND’S EYE is a wet dream for fans of Full Moon and Empire Pictures. Charles Band wishes he made this film in the early ‘90s. Owing quite a bit to FROM BEYOND, THE MIND’S EYE features an evil doctor attempting to harness the psychokinetic abilities of some kids in an attempt to weaponize it. The film is loud, gooey, gory and features plenty of great practical effects; a perfect midnight movie. The only part where the film misses the mark is in costume and set design. THE MIND’S EYE is set in the early ‘90s but the costuming and houses save for a few small touches never feel quite era-appropriate. Honestly, too many beards and not enough Dylan McKay sideburns. A minor quibble in a very fun film.




Coming up in Part 4: Billy Mitchell, the Devil, and FAREWELL, UNCLE TOM.





Mike Vanderbilt
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