Thursday, October 02, 2014

Austin 2014 - Epilogue

We didn't do much on the last day. So here are some pictures instead:
Sup, girl.
newly renovated Alamo Drafthouse and the Highball
 didn't know the band because we weren't cool enough
 simple and straight to the point
Let's do it again next year!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Austin 2014 - Day 6

AKA. The day Raymond got sick after kissing a girl.


Striking visuals and strong acting weren't enough to elevate the uninspired story to something memorable. How many psychopaths live in this small Irish town? 3 out of 5.

Recurring theme:  sociopaths


Chilean director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and hulking asskicker Marko Zaror teamed up again to bring us another action-packed film. It's filled with great fight scenes, especially one-on-one, like where Marko goes against a thug with MMA-style strikes and grappling. Each fight has its own identity and style, and Marko gets to show off the depth of his skills in overcoming his opponents. When there isn't any fighting going on, however, the movie loses its steam and momentum. Noah Segan is hilarious as the villain, a little American punk that's trying to be the next big drug lord of Chile, but ultimately he bears little relevance to the overall story. These little movies are good, but I feel like Marko is being wasted; he needs to work with bigger and better filmmakers -- can you imagine how awesome it would be if he were in a Gareth Evans film? 3 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  headshots galore, reluctant hero


Jake Gyllenhaal is a monster in this. I'd be very surprised if he weren't nominated for an Oscar next year. He plays Lou Bloom, a sociopath who finds success by videotaping murders and accidents for morning news programs. He's smart, enthusiastic, and will do anything to succeed. If he weren't such a sociopath, he would be my hero. 4 out of 5.

Recurring theme:  sociopaths

After the movies, we stuck around for the Closing Night Party, which had the theme of 26 WAYS TO PARTY -- running down the alphabet from A to Z (A for apple-bobbing, Z for zombie makeup, etc.). I watched in horror as Diana and  Ramona did E for Extreme Tequila Shots (snort salt, take shot, spray lemon in eye). I winced as they did S for Slap Shots (take shot, get slapped by your partner, vise versa). And we were all disappointed that we couldn't to T for Tattoo because there was a long waiting list. Billy-Ray received a kiss from a Soska twin after nailing her (heyo) with a water balloon. I thought about doing H for Haircut (either mohawk or mullet) but decided against it. Maybe next year.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Austin 2014 - Day 5

AKA. The day we watched the worst movie we've seen in a looooooong time.

In the morning, Diana and I decided not to attend round one of the screenings, so we dropped Razor Ramon off at the Drafthouse and rested at home a bit more. Then we ate brunch at East Side King, which serves Asian fusion dishes. Super delicious.
Tori meshi (Thai fried chicken with rice), beet home fries, and Poor Qui's buns.

Then we all met up back at the theater and began our screenings for the day.


This is easily Keanu's best film since THE MATRIX, and the best American action movie in years. Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (both coming from a stunt background, with second unit experience, but this is their debut) build a stylish, but believable criminal underworld. Small, but fun details abound: there's a hotel where assassins can sleep, drink, and mingle in safety. They use their own currency (gold coins). And everyone seems to know (and is afraid of) John Wick, even the police. The film is also filled with characters that could star in their own movie, such as Willem Dafoe's sniper and the hotel owner played by Ian McShane. I want to see sequels and spin-offs in this world. This could be the MCU of assassins! 5 out of 5.

Recurring themes: animal killing (dog), reluctant hero, headshots galore


Don't let the title fool you, this movie is actually from Greece. It's about a vampire who must dance to keep his heart beating. What you imagine in your head is probably 100 times better than the film. The worst part about NORWAY is that it's boring. How do you take the concept of a dancing vampire and make it boring? Plus, there are plenty of scenes in the movie where he doesn't dance, and he's fine. He doesn't drop dead from not-dancing. In other words, fuck this movie. 1 out of 5.

Recurring theme: 80's soundtrack


Parents, if you want to prevent your kids from having sex, show them this movie. Here's the premise: a relentless, unstoppable spirit is transmitted like a STD. Once you have it, you can only get rid of it by passing it on to someone else through sex. The spirit itself can look like anyone, and only those who are being pursued can see it. And once it touches you, you're dead. Clever premise, strong characters, and great production design make this one of the top horror films of the year for me. 4 out of 5.

Recurring themes: 80's soundtrack, mama loves/hates you

Friday, September 26, 2014

Austin 2014 - Day 4

AKA. The day we said goodbye to Eric, Sunny, Sena, and James.

The others were preparing to start their final day in Austin by waiting in line for 3 hours to partake in the best-rated BBQ in town (Franklin); we movie geeks had brunch instead at South Congress Cafe before our first screening of the day.
Carrot Cake French Toast with cream cheese-pecan syrup.
Starting the day off right.


A slow-burn, character-driven film about a vampire that doesn't really have any powers other than healing quicker than normal humans; doesn't really sound that great, does it? We went with this movie because the other choices in the time slot weren't any better. The acting is amateur at best, the production values are suspect, and the premise isn't exactly fresh. The makers of this movie clearly watched a lot of NEAR DARK, but nothing remotely as cool or fun as anything in that film is seen here. Still, this wouldn't be worst vampire flick I would see at this year's Fantastic Fest... 2 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  reluctant hero, troubled boy


This was a secret screening, which means that no one in the audience knew what we were going to watch except for the Fantastic Fest staff. In the intro before the screening, Tim League - the founder of Fantastic Fest - said this was his favorite genre film of the year so far, but that he would never show this to his wife. Now I know why. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is about a pair of twin brothers, Elias and Lukas, who are spending their summer doing what boys do - swimming, playing hide-and-seek, and venturing around their peaceful home. One day their mother arrives home with bandages mysteriously covering her face. As time goes on, she acts colder and more hostile to the boys, making them suspect that she may not be their mother, but someone else. I was quite taken with this film. It's very well-directed, with gorgeous cinematography and has top-notch performances to boot. I'm not sure how well Diana would have taken this, so I'm kinda glad I saw this alone. 4 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  mama loves/hates you, troubled boys, animal killing (cat)


Who knew Cousin Matthew was such a badass? Dan Stevens gives an awesome performance as David, a soldier returning from the war abroad to help console his dead friend's grieving family. He's incredibly charming, yet creepy and menacing with his piercing blue eyes turning cold and machine-like at a moment's notice. It's a star-making turn, and I hope the movie is a hit. The guys behind YOU'RE NEXT are improving with each feature, so I'm even psyched for their next project - the remake of I SAW THE DEVIL, and I never get excited for remakes! This was definitely the highlight of the day. And I'm buying that killer soundtrack. 5 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  reluctant hero, 80's soundtrack


I'm seeing some Peter Jackson influences in this horror comedy from New Zealand, about a young woman that's forced to return to her childhood home to carry out her house arrest sentence. Which doesn't sound like a bad deal, except now she has to deal with her eccentric mother... oh and her house may be haunted. That's a great premise, and it's executed to near-perfection by writer/director Gerard Johnstone in his feature debut. It's scary, funny, and filled with great moments. 4 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  reluctant hero, mama loves/hates you

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Austin 2014 - Day 3

AKA. The first day of Fantastic Fest.
AKA2. This is where the real Austin trip begins.

I love Austin. I love the food, the vibe, and even the people. But that's not why I'm here. I'm here to watch movies, dammit. I'm here for Fantastic Fest.

Diana, Ray-Mysterio, and I will be spending the next four days gorging on genre films from all over the world while Eric and the others do their own thang. We love you bruv, but we gotta do what we gotta do.


We began the festival in the safest, most inoffensive manner possible: with an animated film from Studio Ghibli. It's a slow-paced drama based on an old Japanese folklore, but animated in a gorgeous watercolor style, with beautiful music by Joe Hisaishi. I found the whimsy and the simple country life of the first half more enjoyable than the second half, which is focused on Princess Kaguya's struggle to adhere to her new life as a rich noble. Sadly, Studio Ghibli is going the way of the dodo, and this may be one of their last few films. It's a damn shame, really. Who else would make movies like this?  4 out of 5.


Not as scary as I expected after the hype coming out of Sundance, but it's still a solid horror film elevated by a pair of great performances from the two leads. Single mothers, you have it rough. Get enough rest and try not to get stressed out. And for God's sake, DON'T READ ALOUD SCARY POP-UP BOOKS TO YOUR CHILDREN BEFORE BEDTIME. 3 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  troubled boy, animal killing (dog), mama loves/hates you


Very odd film with a very odd title. Not exactly the dancing porn some weirdos may have hoped for. It's actually a moody drama from Poland about a mysterious young man whose plan to execute a couple is derailed when he meets their daughter. His motives and backstory are ambiguous and left unexplained, which is a little frustrating and I'm left grasping for the point of it all. It's beautifully shot and well-directed; I particularly liked Krzysztof Skonieczny's decision to utilize long, uninterrupted takes to heighten the tension in each scene. 3 out of 5.

Recurring theme:  troubled boy


Brutal horror/slasher from Belgium about a troop of boy scouts being hunted by someone while they're camping in a remote forest. It has a good premise, interesting characters, and the killer uses elaborate Rube Goldbergian traps to hunt his prey. What's not to like? Well, the ending, for one. But the rest of it is really good! Hard to believe this is the director's first feature. Easily the highlight of day one. 4 out of 5.

Recurring themes:  troubled boy, animal killing (dog)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Austin 2014 - Day 2

AKA. The day we ate like Texans.

The Texas heat and humidity are in full force. The thermometer may say 92 degrees, but the humidity makes it feel 10 degrees hotter.

We started the day in South Congress, the hipster district of Austin (which is like saying Beach/Malvern is the Korean district of Fullerton; the whole damn city is). We had brunch at Little Barrel and Brown. I forgot to take pictures so here's one I found on Yelp. He wasn't our waiter, but what a stud.
We walked around a bit, then went to Jo's Coffee for, uh, coffee. They're known for this wall:
Diana and I had to pick up Raymond from the airport, so we left while the group stayed to enjoy their coffee. After picking up that stupid Raymond kid, we stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse to pick up our Fantastic Fest badges, then headed back to South Congress to rejoin the group. Ray-Barf was super-hungry, so we ordered couple of pizzas from Home Slice. Again no pictures, but Yelp comes to the rescue:
We took the pizzas to eat in the comfort of our temporary home. Diana, Ray-Dawg, and I had to work on our Fantastic Fest schedule while the others went out to get some groceries and brought back some yummy donuts from Gourdough's! Eric, why did you even bring the expensive camera if you're not going to take pictures of ALL THE GOOD THINGS?!
Overdosed on sugar and calories, we took a brief break from eating and decided to go out... to eat again. TIME FOR BBQ! TO THE SALT LICK WE GO!

The place was packed, but the wait was only about 10 minutes. As we walked over to our table, we passed the pits:
The word "excessive" doesn't exist in this dojo. Anyway we had some good ol' fashioned Texas BBQ.

After dinner, Eric, Sunny, and Raymond left to meet their relatives that live around the area, which gave the rest of us a chance to explore Downtown.

To end the night, we somehow convinced everyone to check out the Nerd Rap Throwdown, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was ridiculous.

Diana and I thought the guy who rapped about Dr. Who should have won, but the judges picked an old Hispanic actor named Pepe Serna (who was mainly trying to promote his movie), I guess because he's an old Hispanic actor. Boo. Urns.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Austin 2014 - Day 1

This is trip #3 to Austin for myself and Diana. We're averaging a trip every two years since 2010, and we're getting more people to join us each time. Last time it was Sunny, Eric, and Raymond. This year we've added James and Sena. Conversion is slow but inevitable. Resistance is futile.

Diana and I were on a separate flight from the others, so we arrived here first. Once we got our rental car (bright red Dodge Focus, with extra bird crap on the rear windshield), we took out some cash (after getting lost a bit trying to find a BofA ATM) and decided to get lunch. Our first meal fittingly was Tex-Mex, at a little place called Habanero Mexican Cafe. I ordered a horchata and a taco plate with carne asada and al pastor, and Diana got the enchilada plate. It was one of the best Mexican meals I've had in a long time, but I'm not sure how much of that was influenced by my hunger.
After stuffing ourselves, we headed over to our home for the week and unpacked our luggage. We took the master bedroom because it's first-come-first-served, bitches. Soon the others arrived (except Raymond, who would be coming on Sunday, day 2) and it was dinner time. Diana had been craving for a Cuban sandwich ever since she saw the movie CHEF, so we looked it up on Yelp and found a place nearby called The Texas Cuban.
Muy delicioso. Then we called it a night because we're old fogeys. Such losers. Okay we were tired from the travel, but come on.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Dan's Top 10 Movies of 2013

With the help of Netflix, Amazon, Costco (discounted movie tickets), a very understanding wife with refined tastes, and… BitTorrents (how else can I watch all the foreign movies that weren't released here? VOD still has long ways to go), I got to watch almost everything I wanted to see in 2013. As always, this is a list of my favorite movies, which means they're not all necessarily "good" in the eyes of the public or critics.

What, it's already February and you don't remember what came out last year? Here's a little flashback to 2013:


10. Favorite Comedy: THIS IS THE END

"I call him Channing Taint-YUM!"

Other than Gwangsoo's shenanigans on RUNNING MAN, nothing made me laugh more than the scene with James Franco and Danny McBride arguing over a porn magazine. Is it even a movie? It seems like these dudes just got together for a weekend, got high, and shot whatever they can think of. Please do more of that.

9. Favorite Horror: YOU'RE NEXT

"You never want to do anything interesting anymore."
"I don't think that's fair criticism."
"Fuck me next to your dead mom then."

2013 wasn't a great year for horror, but this one stood out for playing with genre conventions and having a kick-ass female lead. It's not a game-changer like THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, but it's almost as fun.

8. Favorite Drama: SHORT TERM 12

"You got some new lyrics you want to try out on me?"
"There's a lot of fucks in it."
"I won't tell."

The most natural and realistic acting and dialogue can be found here. People talking like people. It's the new rage. So it's an absolute shame that Brie Larson got ignored by the Academy while Meryl Streep gets her 47th nomination for hamming it up in a movie that no one cares about. I know, I really should stop caring about the Oscars BUT I JUST WANT THEM TO BE BETTER GOSH.

7. Favorite Trilogy-In-One-Movie: THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

"If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder."

A movie about guys with father issues? JUST PLUG IT INTO MY VEINS.

6. Favorite Thriller: BIG BAD WOLVES

"It might look like I'm enjoying this, and maybe I am in a way... but believe me, I'd be happy to stop breaking your fingers. Now would you please start talking?"

This is what PRISONERS would have been if it was made in Israel by the Coen brothers. Noteworthy: Tarantino said this was the best film of the year.

5. Favorite Superhero: IRON MAN 3

"Don't shoot! Seriously, I don't even like working here. They are so weird."

I love that Shane Black basically made a Shane Black movie on Marvel's dime. Christmas setting, check. Buddy banter, check. Climactic action scene at a shipyard, check. MORE SHANE BLACK, PLEASE.

4. Favorite Romance: HER

"We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy."

What could've easily been a silly and creepy premise resulted in a beautiful and textured film about relationships and how they affect people, even ones without physical bodies. But I really hope people don't dress like that in our future.

3. Favorite Use of David Bowie: THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life."

I'm a big anti-fan of FORREST GUMP -- not the least of which is due to it beating PULP FICTION for the Best Picture OSCAR in 1995, but again, I MUST STOP CARING ABOUT THAT DAMN AWARD -- so it's ironic that I like WALTER MITTY so much, despite their similarities. The episodic structure. The globetrotting adventures. The plain protagonists and the women that push them to be better people. Maybe I need to give Forrest another chance.

2. Favorite Movie For 11-year-old Boys: PACIFIC RIM

"Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!"

I like robots. I like monsters. And I like robots fighting monsters. My name is Dan and I'm 11.

1. Favorite Reason to See Movies in IMAX: GRAVITY

"You just point the damn thing at Earth. It's not rocket science."

This is cinema. Remarkable achievement in melding of special effects and cinematography. The writing is its weakest link, but when everything else is so strong, it's easy to overlook it. Kudos to Alfonso Cuaron, because he deserves all the accolades. That Best Director OSCAR is a shoo-in, right? RIGHT?!

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