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The best of Fantastic Fest: a roundup

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Fantastic Fest kicks off today with an all-star lineup and one of the busiest schedules ever. We watched many of the movies in advance and have selected the best to highlight below. But all movies weren't available for early screening. And Fantastic Fest always springs a few surprises. For daily updates during the festival, visit

‘Let Me In'

Strictly out of principle, some may avoid the American remake of the Swedish vampire film ‘Let the Right One In.' They would be mistaken. Given that Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League named the original his favorite film of 2008, there is no way he would be kicking off the fest with a trite facsimile of director Tomas Alfredson's sleeper hit. The setting here has shifted from Sweden to the similarly chilling and desolate Los Alamos, N.M., where young, impish Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) spends evenings at home in his bedroom fantasizing about seeking revenge against his grade school bullies. When the dangerously cute Abbey (Chloë Moretz) moves into his apartment complex, Owen feels as if he has found a kindred spirit. But his comfort is short-lived when he discovers that his new crush is not a 12-year-old girl, but an ageless vampire. ‘Let Me In' eschews the melodramatic tween gothiness of ‘Twilight' and strikes truthfully at the heart of the pain and loneliness that often accompany adolescence. Fans of the original might be pleasantly surprised by director Matt Reeves' homage, which loses little suspense while adding a few unique touches. (7 p.m. today, Paramount, with various cast and crew members in attendance).

— Matthew Odam


You may wonder how a movie set in a coffin could be worthy of feature length. But there has been quite a buzz building around Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés' latest. Easy-on-the-eyes Ryan Reynolds could have kept cashing large checks for rom-coms and superhero movies and never looked back, but in this small-budget indie, he steps outside of his (or anyone's) comfort zone by playing a truck driver buried alive. While Reynolds buried alive in a coffin with a lighter and a dying cell phone might not sound like much, the film has been leaving audiences on the edge of their seats. (10 p.m. today, Paramount, with Reynolds, Cortés and producer Adrian Guerra in attendance.)

— M.O.


Robert the Tire has been cast off in a desert dump. And he's not too pleased about it. So Robert decides to tread where few tires have tread before. He becomes a serial killer, using his psychokinetic powers to tremble and shake and make people's heads explode. Believe it or not, this movie played in Cannes, but it wasn't part of the official selection. It was in the Critics' Week sidebar. It was, however, a hit. Quentin Dupieux of France directs this English-language horror flick. And no, Robert the Tire doesn't talk. He just rolls around town and ... kills at will. (4:10 p.m. Friday, Alamo South; 9:35 p.m. Wednesday, Alamo South)

— Charles Ealy


Rino is a overweight, young Norwegian who lives alone in a relative's apartment and engages regularly in sexual self-gratification. He spends most of his time drawing comic strips, with an overweight guy as the hero. And he's the ultimate nerd: When he showers, he wears his glasses. Rino's life begins to change, however, when a young woman rents a room in his apartment and begins to introduce him to new friends. Some people will see the movie as twisted. Others will salute Rino, his endurance and his efforts to become a man. Whatever the case, ‘Fatso' has heart. (4:10 p.m. Friday, Alamo South; 9:35 p.m. Wednesday, Alamo South)

— C.E.


Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro, looking appropriately beaten down) knows about punishment. A parole officer at a sprawling Midwestern prison, he keeps a somber face, listens to near-Calvinist talk radio in his car and has done things in his life nobody could ever properly explain. So when confronted with Gerald ‘Stone' Creeson (Edward Norton, complete with cornrows) — a convicted arsonist and possible murderer who seems to be undergoing a profound conversion experience — Mabry is naturally skeptical. Creeson's wife, the seductive, sociopathic Lucetta (a surprisingly strong Milla Jovovich) will do anything to help her man, while Mabry's wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy, rock-solid per usual) falls further into the bottle. Director John Curren asks fundamental questions in this intriguing quasi-thriller. Can someone truly change? Or, as Stone puts it, ‘How long you get to keep judging a person for a bad thing they've done?' (7 p.m. Friday, Paramount, with Norton in attendance)

— Joe Gross


Roger Corman and his wife/production partner, Julie Corman, recieve lifetime achievement awards during this Friday night gala. The event includes the world premiere theatrical screening of the Syfy original movie ‘Sharktopus,' starring Eric Roberts and a creature that's half-shark, half-octopus and all awesome. It's paired with the U.S. premiere of ‘Machete Maidens Unleashed!,' a documentary about Philippine exploitation films from the '70s and '80s, directed by Mark Hartley, which features interviews with Corman. (‘Machete Maidens,' 10 p.m., ‘Sharktopus,' 11:55. At the Paramount. The lifetime award ceremony will take place between the two shows.)

— J.G.

‘True Legend'

If you had your mind blown by the fight sequences in ‘The Matrix,' ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' or the ‘Kill Bill' movies, you probably already think Yuen Woo Ping is a really cool dude without knowing his name. A legendary fight coordinator and director for generations of Chinese action movies, Yuen is the man who helped make Jackie Chan a legend. He'll get a lifetime achievement award while screening two of his movies: the brand-new martial arts fantasy ‘True Legend' and ‘Snake in the Eagle's Shadow,' his directorial debut. This is his first U.S. festival appearance. (7 p.m. Saturday, Paramount).

— J.G.


In director Pablo Trapero's fictional Argentina, the country is plagued with traffic-related injuries and deaths that have spawned a cottage industry of insurance fraud, greed and violence. Trapped in the web of deceit and manipulation are lost souls Sosa (Ricardo Darín) and Lujan (Martina Gusman), both struggling with demons and in search of salvation. As the first half-hour of this beautifully shot film slowly unfolds, it feels like a relatively familiar, if enigmatic, tale. Then the hammer drops. Literally. Trapero takes viewers on a dark, twisting ride that feels like a nightmare where you unwillingly keep pushing the accelerator to the floor until the car loses control and goes flying off the road. Gusman and Darín deliver remarkable performances in this taut noir thriller that careers into madness. (11:40 a.m. Sunday at the Alamo South; 6 p.m. Monday, Alamo South)

— M.O.

‘The Housemaid'

Thousands of movies screen at the annual Cannes Film Festival, but fewer than two dozen make the official competition for the Palme d'Or. ‘The Housemaid,' a starkly cold Korean film about the brutal treatment of a maid, ranked as one of the startling films in this year's Cannes competition, so it's no surprise that it's making its way to Fantastic Fest. Jeon Do-youn stars as Eun-yi, the seemingly naïve maid who decides to fight back against a family's cruelty. She won the best actress award in Cannes in 2007 for ‘Secret Sunshine,' and she gives another bravura performance here. Im Sang-soo, who is a regular on the international film festival circuit, directs. It's a remake of Kim Ki-yong's classic 1960 original, which will also screen. (2010 ‘Housemaid': 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Alamo South; 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, Alamo South. 1960 ‘Housemaid': 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Alamo South; 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Alamo South).

— C.E.