Drafthouse Films

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

Every September, Fantastic Fest brings some of the most offbeat, violent and generally oddball films of the year to the screens of the Alamo Drafthouse. The genre-centric film festival is displaced this year, with the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Lakeline standing in for the South Lamar location, which is closed for renovations. Despite the change of location, the programming is as diverse and appropriately weird as ever, promising a memorable installment of one of Austin’s most exciting film festival.

The festival kicks off Thursday with “Machete Kills,” the new film from UT alumnus Robert Rodriguez. The sequel finds Machete (Danny Trejo), a former Mexican cop causing havoc north of the border, sent by The President (Carlos Estevez, better known as Charlie Sheen) to defeat the dangerous arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson). Rodriguez, Trejo and co-star Alexa Vega will attend Thursday’s world premiere.

Keanu Reeves will promote his directorial debut, “Man of Tai Chi.” Reeves will participate in the Fantastic Debates, where he will debate an undisclosed topic with Drafthouse mastermind Tim League. Unfortunately, “Man of Tai Chi” star Tiger Hu Chen will step in for Reeves in the traditional post-debate boxing match. Elijah Wood will promote “Grand Piano,” a thriller starring Wood as a piano player who is terrorized by a sniper who won’t let him stop playing. The 3-D concert film “Metallica: Through the Never” will have Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo in attendance, inspiring rumors that they’ll also be performing later in the fest at the closing night party.

Last year, the festival saw increased interest in documentaries, and that trend continues to this year. Both “Tales From the Organ Trade,” a documentary about organ trafficking narrated by body horror expert David Cronenberg, and “Mirage Men,” an insider’s perspective on a government attempt to shape the public opinion on UFOs, sound hugely compelling. These films add to the factual weirdness which counterbalance the narrative oddities that the week holds.

No film at this year’s festival is quite as conceptually audacious as “Escape From Tomorrow,” which director Randy Moore filmed under the radar in Disneyland, communicating with his crew via walkie-talkie so park officials wouldn’t catch on. The film has reportedly been trimmed to avoid lawsuits from Disney, but is still a highlight and one of the week’s most essential films.

Ti West’s “The Sacrament” takes “You’re Next” stars Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen into a horrifying cult compound, and local production “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” looks to be equal parts coming-of-age story and neo-noir. Fantastic Fest regular Alex de la Iglesia made clowns simultaneously terrifying and sympathetic in 2011’s “The Last Circus,” and promises to do the same for witches with “Witching and Bitching,” which features a gang of bank robbers, hostages and family members in tow, stumbling upon a coven in the throes of a deadly ritual.

Drafthouse Films’ “Cheap Thrills” won massive acclaim at this year’s South By Southwest film festival, and the grimy, hilariously demented thriller should be a perfect fit for the Fantastic Fest crowd. Germany’s “Nothing Bad Can Happen” shows a young, kidnapped Christian’s faith being relentlessly tested, and Dutch Academy Awards submission “Borgman” looks like a bafflingly odd but uplifting story of an upper-class family’s destruction at the hands of a homeless man.

That’s not even taking into account the parties, the karaoke or the interactive events this year. While there is still the pleasantly blood-soaked films that ensure the festival will sate every film fan’s taste for the unruly, it’s the feeling of being among a community of equally passionate film lovers that makes Fantastic Fest such a joy. Even if Metallica doesn’t end up playing the annual closing night blowout, Fantastic Fest will find a way to make it a worthy capper to Austin’s most representative film festival.

For a film and dining experience, the Alamo Drafthouse offers a wide selection of appetizers, entrees and desserts, along with cinematic delight.

Photo Credit: Hayden Bernstein | Daily Texan Staff

Alamo Drafthouse

One of the signature Austin movie chains, the Alamo Drafthouse's mixture of food, beer and great movies has left a definitive footprint on the developing Austin movie scene. CEO Tim League has always been looking for ways to bring new and exciting films to audiences (along with weekly screenings of classic films), and the company’s newly founded distribution wing, Drafthouse Films, has been putting some interesting, quality films on screens across the country. There are nearly half a dozen Drafthouses in Austin, but the best location is on South Lamar (1120 South Lamar Boulevard), where Fantastic Fest is held annually, and the newly constructed Slaughter Lane (5701 West Slaughter Lane) location is a marvel, both for its creative design and its custom-made cocktail lounge.

The Paramount

The Paramount is one of the oldest theaters in Austin, and the sheer amount of history in the 1,300-seat theater never fails to impress. Events like South By Southwest and Austin Film Festival frequently choose the Paramount for their showcase exhibitions, and the theater also hosts an annual summer movie series that’s packed with iconic classics and underappreciated gems.

Violet Crown

Violet Crown is fairly new to Austin, having been open just over a year. Even so, the theater is a frequent exhibitor of art house cinema and a reliable source of films that stray far from the beaten path. The Crown is also notorious for its insanely comfortable seating, and the theater’s artsy aesthetic, trendy downtown setting and eclectic programming make it an essential date location. Major bonus: free valet parking with ticket purchase.

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

The most impressive theater in Austin is easily the Bob Bullock, which boasts the city’s only genuine IMAX screen and is also only a short walk from campus. The exhibition is consistently flawless, and visual feasts like “Prometheus” and “The Dark Knight Rises” can only benefit from being blown up to such a massive scale.


To physically prepare for his role in “Bullhead,” star Matthias Schoenaerts spent over a year bodybuilding and gained 60 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films)

When “Bullhead” premiered at Fantastic Fest in September, Oscar buzz at the festival revolved around Tilda Swinton in “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter.” Even as those two films receded into the background of the Oscar race, “Bullhead” picked up speed, and Drafthouse Films made a very smart move in picking up the eventual Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee after its premiere.

The hulking, frightening Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a cattle farmer tempted with the prospect of making a deal with a notorious beef trader. However, Jacky has a history with Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), who is his connection to the beef trader, and it turns out Diederik isn’t what he seems to be.

From the beginning, “Bullhead” throws audiences into a densely plotted, expertly realized criminal underworld and poses questions about its characters, their lives and the morally destitute activities they’ve embroiled themselves in. Watching “Bullhead” slowly and deliberately parcel out the answers to these questions (some more compelling than others) makes for a consistently interesting, if occasionally off-putting, experience.

Schoenaerts dominates the film from the start. His Jacky is a terrifying yet sympathetic character. Jacky is a massive barrel of barely contained rage and frustration, and as engaging as the criminal machinations of “Bullhead” are, the film is at its most interesting when Jacky is simply navigating the world around him. These scenes, especially a few moments in which Jacky bonds with a pretty perfume saleswoman (Jeanne Dandoy), delve into the grotesqueries of his past in a few beautifully composed, disturbing sequences.

Although writer-director Michael Roskam makes his feature debut with “Bullhead,” the film is structured and directed with masterful grace and restraint. Roskam never lets the film’s many interweaving plot lines overwhelm him. He questions the nature of masculinity, and his characters obsess over the tires on their cars, the quality of their beef and, of course, sex.

It’s certainly exciting to see a promising new director enter the film scene, and Roskam is a rising talent to watch, but savvy cinema-goers should also keep their eyes open for Schoenaerts in the future — and not just because he looks so dangerous. “Bullhead” works as a crime drama, a stunted coming-of-age story and even a bizarre, dysfunctional romance, but when Schoenaerts’ monstrous Jacky takes center stage, the film operates on a different level altogether.

Viewers eager to make their next unexpected discovery should take note, because “Bullhead” is a film that stubbornly sticks in your memory, both for its lush, stark direction and captivating lead performance.