Fantastic Fest Catches Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit

Thor: Ragnarok director’s film to open 2019 celebration of the strange

BY RICHARD WHITTAKER, 11:00AM, TUE. JUL. 30, 2019

Fun with fascism: Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit will be the opening night movie at this year’s fifteenth Fantastic Fest (Photo by Photo by Kimberley French. Copyright 2019, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporatio)

The fifteenth annual Fantastic Fest – the Alamo Drafthouse’s celebration of cinema unique and strange – has hopped up and dropped its first wave of films, with the headline news that JoJo Rabbit, the latest from Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, will be this year’s opening night title.

The political and social satire has been sparking interest ever since its wacky premise (Waititi plays Adolf Hitler, the imaginary friend of a young Nazi in World War II Germany), and that was only further fired by the release of the first trailer. Nazi satires have had a thorny history (Life is Beautiful, anyone? How about The Day the Clown Cried?), but FF audiences will get their chance to see whether the What We Do in the Shadows co-creator can break the curse when the festival kicks off on Sept. 19.

However, Waititi won’t be the only filmmaker in attendance. Japanese movie icon Takashi Miike brings his latest, boxing drama First Love, for its U.S. premiere, while Jeremy Gardner (The Battery) and Christian Stella unleash their brainshredding horror Something Else, in person.

The fest has expanded and morphed its remit over the years, but there will be the traditional slice of clear genre story telling: and, of course, in the Summer of King, there has to be a Stephen King story. This time, it’s not just the reigning monarch of horror, but also his son, as Vincenzo Natali (CubeHaunter, and the best episodes of The Strain) adapts King and Joe Hill’s In the Tall Grass. Meanwhile, another genre fave returns to Fantastic Fest: Jim Mickle (Stake LandCold in JulyWe Are What We Are), gives his upcoming Netflix SF mystery, In the Shadow of the Moon, a theatrical screening ahead of its streaming debut.

Proving the real life can be just as strange as fiction, this year’s documentary strand will included the latest slab of film history from Alexandre O. Philippe. Having already taken on defining work of cinematic SF in The People vs. George Lucas, now he heads to where no one can hear you scream with Memory: The Origin of Alien. There’s a different dark creativity in play with Nail in the Coffin: El Vampiro Canadiense, chronicling the career of lucha libre legend Vampiro as he begins to exit the ring. Plus, combining both lightly dressed performers and movie history, You Don’t Nomi will ask the question that has never seemingly been settled: is Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls secretly a kitsch classic, or just a disaster? And if you aren’t freaked out enough, Wrinkles the Clown may beat out Pennywise as this year’s scariest circus performer (think Krampus, but with more balloon animals).

Plus, as has been the festival’s habit over the last few years, there will be several retrospective screenings of newly restored lost and ignored titles, courtesy of the non-profit American Genre Film Archive. There will be seven films escaping from the vault so far this year, including The McPherson Tape (aka UFO Abduction), one of the early landmarks in found footage, and the ultimate in 1990s WTFery, Tammy and the T-Rex, starring Denise Richards as a young woman whose boyfriend’s brain is transplanted into a full-scale, robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 19-26. Tickets and info at www.fantasticfest.com, and follow all our coverage at austinchronicle.com/fantasticfest. Now here’s wave one of this year’s programming:

4×4

4X4

D: Mariano Cohn (Argentina, Spain, 2019, North American Premiere, 93 min) 
A 4×4 car will be the battleground between a brash thief trapped inside and the mysterious man who will do anything to keep him imprisoned.

BLOODY BIRTHDAY: Presented by AGFA + Arrow Films

D: Ed Hunt (USA, 1981, World Premiere of Restoration, 85 min) 
The classic Killer Kids slasher, newly restored by Arrow Films and presented by AGFA.

THE CLEANSING HOUR

D: Damien LeVeck (USA, 2019, World Premiere, 95 min) 
Reverend Max and his best friend Drew have a hit web show where they make a pretty good living faking exorcisms for hundreds of thousands of fans until the evening a real demon takes over and terrorizes their crew.

Come To Daddy

COME TO DADDY

D: Ant Timpson (New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, 2019, Texas Premiere, 94 min) 
When 30-year-old Norval receives a letter from his estranged dad begging him to visit, he is set on a weird path of discovery, unusual encounters… and a lot of violence.

COSMIC CANDY

D: Rinio Dragasaki (Greece, 2019, World Premiere, 95 min) 
Anna, an eccentric supermarket cashier with an obsessive taste for a trippy treat called Cosmic Candy, undergoes a quirky transformation when forced to care for a ten-year-old neighbor girl.

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG

D: Daniel Scheinert (USA, 2019, Austin Premiere, 107 min) 
Dick is dead but no one knows how, and Zeke and Earl are desperate enough to go to any lengths to stop anyone from finding out the reason… but a small town in Alabama is not the kind of place where secrets can stay buried for long. Soon all hell breaks loose, engulfing the two men in a reckoning they had never even considered.

Deerskin

DEERSKIN

D: Quentin Dupieux (France, 2019, North American Premiere, 77 min) 
When Georges buys himself a deerskin jacket, he will find his life on a collision course with madness, crime, and the desire to be the only man wearing an overgarment.

DIE KINDER DER TOTEN

D: Kelly Copper & Pavol Liška (Austria, 2019, North American Premiere, 90 min) 
In this experimental adaptation of an epic Elfriede Jelinek novel, a group of Austrian tourists is killed in a traffic accident before reanimating as zombies and terrorizing a local pub.

DOGS DON’T WEAR PANTS

D: Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää (Finland, Latvia, 2019, U.S. Premiere, 105 min) 
A heartbroken heart surgeon is introduced to the dark and extreme when his daughter gets her tongue pierced, sending him down a path of pain, dreams, life, love, death, and awakenings.

FIRST LOVE

D: Takashi Miike (Japan, 2019, U.S. Premiere, 108 min) 
When aspiring boxer Leo discovers that he may not have long to live, he goes all out to help drug-addicted call girl Monica, facing down gangsters, assassins, corrupt cops, and much more over the course of one long night.

FRACTURED

D: Brad Anderson (USA, 2019, World Premiere, 100 min) 
An unfortunate accident at a truck stop means Ray has to rush his daughter to the nearest hospital for a broken arm, but when his family disappears, he soon finds himself in a frantic fight to discover what happened.

THE GOLDEN GLOVE

D: Fatih Akin (Germany, 2019m North American Premiere, 110 min) 
Based on true events that transpired in the grimy slums of 1970s Hamburg, loner-turned-murderer Fritz Honka stalks his local drinking spot, The Golden Glove, in search of his next victim.

HAPPY FACE

D: Alexandre Franchi (Canada, 2018, Texas Premiere, 97 min) 
An attractive teenager infiltrates a support group for those with facial differences in hopes of learning how to connect with his cancer-stricken mother in Alexandre Franchi’s (The Wild Hunt) deeply personal, often hilarious, and powerfully inclusive sophomore feature (director Alexandre Franchi and Actor E. R. Ruiz in attendance).

In the Shadow of the Moon

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON

D: Jim Mickle (USA, Canada, 2019, World Premiere, 115 min) 
In 1988, a Philadelphia police officer doggedly hunts a serial killer whose crimes seemingly follow no pattern, but he hasn’t considered how far the repercussions of his hunt may go.

IN THE TALL GRASS

D: Vincenzo Natali (Canada, 2019, World Premiere, 90 min) 
Adapted from the eponymous novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, In the Tall Grass follows siblings Cal and Becky who find themselves trapped within a vast field of tall grass when they venture in to answer the cries of a young boy.

JOJO RABBIT

D: Taika Waititi (USA, 2019, U.S. Premiere, 108 min) 
Writer director Taika Waititi (Thor: RagnarokHunt for the Wilderpeople), brings his signature style of humor and pathos to his latest film, JoJo Rabbit, a World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis as JoJo) whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism (Director Taika Waititi in attendance).

KNIVES AND SKIN

D: Jennifer Reeder (USA, 2019, Texas Premiere, 109 min) 
The disappearance of popular teenager Carolyn Harper has a profound ripple effect across her small midwest town in Jennifer Reeder’s hypnotic musical mystery.

Koko-Di Koko-Da

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

D: Johannes Nyholm (Sweden, Denmark, 2019, Texas Premiere, 86 min) 
When a disconnected couple take a camping trip in an attempt to mend their marriage after tragedy, they find themselves tormented by a peculiar band of misfits.

THE LAST TO SEE THEM

D: Sara Summa (Germany, 2019, Texas Premiere, 79 min) 
One summer evening in rural Italy, the Durati family is murdered during a home robbery. The Last to See Them chronicles the previous – and final – day of their lives.

LIMBO: Presented by AGFA + Bleeding Skull!

D: Tina Krause (USA, 1999, Texas Premiere of Restoration, 55 min) 
Tina Krause’s unseen and unreal shot-on-video horror movie, newly preserved by AGFA + Bleeding Skull!

THE MCPHERSON TAPE: Presented by AGFA + Bleeding Skull!

D: Dean Alito (USA, 1989, World Premiere of Restoration, 63 min) 
The world’s first found footage horror movie, newly preserved by AGFA + Bleeding Skull!

Memory: The Origin of Alien

MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN

D: Alexandre O. Philippe (USA, 2019, Texas Premiere, 93 min) 
Following up his deconstruction of Psycho’’s shower scene in 78/52, documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe is back with his analysis of Alien, its origins, and the impact of Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi shocker.

NAIL IN THE COFFIN: EL VAMPIRO CANADIENSE

D: Michael Paszt (Canada, 2019, World Premiere, 88 min) 
An intimate and heartfelt look at professional wrestler Vampiro’s past, and his new life navigating the management of a lucha libre federation in Mexico, while raising his teenage daughter in Canada (Director Michael Paszt in attendance).

NIGHT HAS COME

D: Peter Van Goethem (Belgium, 2019, World Premiere, 56 min) 
In a dystopian society, the population is threatened by a virus eating its way through the brain, erasing memories. After developing a treatment to store and classify memories, the State requires citizens to comply (Director Peter Van Goethem in attendance).

THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION: Presented by AGFA + Severin Films

D: Michael Rubbo (Canada, 1985, World Premiere 2K Restoration, 93 min) 
The Canadian children’s oddity takes youthful fantasy to strange new places in a brand new 2K restoration.

The Pool

THE POOL

D: Ping Lumprapleng (Thailand, 2018, Texas Premiere, 90 min) 
When a dog trainer and his pet finish their commercial gig, it’s time to head home and enjoy a lazy afternoon floating in the pool… until he wakes up to the pool being drained and no way out.

REFLECTIONS OF EVIL: Presented by AGFA

D: Damon Packard (USA, 2002, World Premiere of Restoration, 137 min) The new ground zero for gonzo horror surrealism in the 21st century, newly preserved by AGFA.

ROCK, PAPER, AND SCISSORS

D: Macarena García Lenzi & Martín Blousson (Argentina, 2019, North American Premiere, 83 min) 
When Magdalena returns to Argentina to confront her half-siblings about her share of the inheritance, the stage is set for a family reunion both bloody and brilliant.

SHE MOB: Presented by AGFA + Something Weird

D: Harry Wuest (USA, 1968, World Premiere 2K Restoration, 82 min) 
A gang of lesbian prison escapees kidnaps a gigolo in a 2K preservation of this sexploitation classic.

SOMETHING ELSE

D: Jeremy Gardner & Christian Stella (USA, 2019, Texas Premiere, 83 min) 
When Hank’s longtime girlfriend Abby leaves him, he spirals into a cycle of drinking and depression. But it’s the monster that shows up every night that’s really driving him crazy (Directors Jeremy Gardner & Christian Stella in attendance).

SON OF THE WHITE MARE

D: Marcell Jankovics (Hungary, 1981, U.S. Premiere 4K Restoration, 81 min) 
A psychedelic animated cult classic is back on the big screen in this brand-new restoration. Three brothers join forces to restore order in their kingdom, encountering bizarre and mind-bending challenges along the way.

SWALLOW

D: Carlo Mirabella-Davis (USA, 2019, Texas Premiere, 94 min) 
Beautiful newlywed Hunter has a perfect home, perfect life, and perfect husband. When the pressure to maintain that perfection builds after the announcement of her pregnancy, she develops an unusual craving: swallowing random household objects.

Tammy and the T-Rex

TAMMY AND THE T-REX: Presented by AGFA + Vinegar Syndrome

D: Stewart Raffill (USA, 1994, World Premiere of Restoration, 91 min 
Fully restored and ready to tear your head off. Literally.

THE WAVE

D: Gille Klabin (United States, 2019, World Premiere, 87 min) 
Frank (Justin Long), a bored corporate lawyer, decides to shake it up with a wild night out. In the process, he takes a mysterious drug that launches him into a mind-bending time travel adventure.

THE WHISTLERS

D: Corneliu Porumboiu (Romania, 2019, U.S. Premiere, 97 min) 
Corneliu Porumboiu mixes Romanian New Wave with Hollywood noir beats as he follows a corrupt detective who helps a wealthy criminal escape from jail by learning the ancient, secret language of silbo whistling.

WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!

D: Kirill Sokolov (Russia, 2019, Texas Premiere, 100 min) 
After agreeing to kill his girlfriend’s father, Matvei gets in way over his head when he arrives at her parents’ apartment to learn her dad’s a cop (Director Kirill Sokolov in attendance).

WRINKLES THE CLOWN

D: Michael Beach Nichols (USA, 2019, World Premiere, 78 min) 
Pennywise isn’t real. But Wrinkles is. This documentary explores the story of the infamous freaky clown from Naples, Florida who makes a living being hired by parents to terrorize their naughty children (Director Michael Beach Nichols in attendance).

YOU DON’T NOMI

D: Jeffrey McHale (USA, 2019, Texas Premiere, 94 min) 
Using cleverly edited clips of Paul Verhoeven’s genre-spanning filmography, Jeffrey McHale’s video essay explores the decidedly un-titillating and delightfully inexplicable Showgirls and its continued, ever-expanding legacy. (Director Jeffrey McHale in attendance).

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