Danish film 'The Substitute' stars Paprika Steen as an evil alien educator

Arriving at my place of lodging shortly before 3:00 a.m. very late on Saturday night (or early this Sunday morning), it felt like a short night at Fantastic Fest. That's not to say that everybody parties until dawn, but with three (sometimes four) screens pumping out a steady stream of genre flicks all day long -- some of which don't start until well past midnight -- Fantastic Fest attendees might be forgiven for losing track of "normal" hours.

That's what happened to me on Friday night, which stretched well into Saturday morning. But before that craziness ensued, there were the films, and I got to see a typically odd combination, beginning with Ole Bornedal's Just Another Love Story. One of two productions that the Danish director made last year, Just Another Love Story plays like While You Were Sleeping on acid, which is basically how Alamo Drafthouse / Fantastic Fest programmer Zack Carlson described it in his introduction. A family man is mistaken for the boyfriend of an accident victim in a coma. When she wakes up, the deception ensues.

Rather than romantic comedy hijinks, Just Another Love Story pushes quickly into dark dramatics and the fantasy of a mid-life crisis before circling back around to the territory inhabited by Jonathan Demme's Something Wild. I followed that up with The Substitute, also directed by Bornedal, which was a big box office success in Denmark. It's easy to see why. The terrific Paprika Steen lets her hair down, so to speak, as a farmer's wife who is possessed by an alien life form.

She takes over a class of sixth-formers (kids around 12-13 years of age, I think) as substitute teacher, terrorizes them with her intimate knowledge of their secret life histories, and whips them into shape for a promised class trip to "Paris, France," which we know is a code word for her alien planet.

The Substitute is the kind of commercial cinema that I love: fresh, funny, and stylish. It's not a perfect film by any means -- the final sequences don't entirely fit with what came before -- but it should be appealing to both the teen audience and adults, with its underlying "parents don't know anything" theme amusingly treated.

Between films, the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse (South Lamar) was jammed with people picking up tickets, striking up conversations, and meeting old friends. The management wisely added metal picnic-style tables to the patio outside, allowing the crush to move outside and enjoy the temperate weather and free wi-fi. I heard that filmmakers and other festival guests enjoyed a barbecue run out of town at the famous Louie Mueller's during lunch time, and late night partygoers rocked on at the "Smokin' Karoke Apocalypse 2008" at a downtown Austin location.

Andrew Mack, a friend and fellow writer at Twitch who chowed down at Mueller's, told me that Bill Pullman was "friendly, personable, down to earth, very supportive of other filmmakers and interested in their projects." Pullman is in town for two of his own projects that screened on Friday evening, Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance and Matthew Wilder's Your Name Here. I heard varying opinions on the films, but only praise and appreciation for Pullman himself.

Director D.J. Caruso was present for the screening of Eagle Eye (review to follow on Cinematical) along with one of the producers. Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News talked about his experience of seeing only the first 20 minutes of the film a couple of months ago -- and then having to wait until the screening to learn how the movie turned out!

I had to duck out of the post-screening Q&A and ended up barely squeezing into the front row for the world premiere of The Wreck, a microbudget American indie that was a soothing tonic to the excesses of expensive Hollywood productions. The film plays very nicely as Open Water in a wrecked car -- call it Closed Doors -- before it takes a nasty u-turn in the third act that lost me entirely. Until then, I enjoyed the ingenuity involved in making an effective drama about a married couple trapped in the twisted metal of their car after the husband loses control and crashes in the woods. To complicate matters further, they were on their way to a hospital because the pregnant wife's water just broke. Director / co-writer James K. Jones was present along with members of the cast and crew.

Talk about truth in advertising! My last screening was another world premiere, John Gulager's Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds. You might remember Gulager and the first Feast from the third season of television's Project Greenlight. I saw the TV show but, unfortunately, have yet to catch the original, which makes me unqualified to properly review the sequel, but all I can say is that the title lives up to its billing. Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds is filled with more sloppy, gooey bodily fluids, both human and alien, spewed forth than I can ever remember seeing splashed across the big screen. It's z-grade horror at its finest and, yes, that's intended as a compliment.

Present for the screening were director Gulager, one of the friendly and funny co-writers (sorry, memory blurring, was that Patrick Melton or Marcus Dunstan), the great (and very proud father) Clu Gulager, the intrepid and lovely Jenny Wade, biker queen Diane Goldner, slimy Tom Gulager, scarily sexy and sweet "secrets" girl Hanna Putnam, and several dangerously attractive topless tattoed biker girls (who all kept their tops on during the Q&A, but not in the movie). And, yes, fear not: Feast 3 is on its way. Until then, you only have to wait until October 7 to buy the DVD for Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds.

More adventures followed, but I'll let fellow Cinematical chronicler Jette Kernion tell her tales of Friday, via e-mail. "Friday started a little late for me, but then roared into gear in the late afternoon. I saw the Danish horror/comedy The Substitute, which was a lot of fun -- the actress playing the evil substitute teacher is the Danish equivalent of Teri Garr. Afterwards, I was in the standby line for Surveillance, which Scott Weinberg pulled me aside to meet one of the actors from the film -- Bill Pullman. We took a bunch of photos, and I had a conversation with him about whether he should hang out at Antone's or at the Continental Club that evening (I'm wondering which one he finally picked). I then went outside to watch part of The Road Warrior, which was being screened in the porch next to the theater. Alamo programmer Lars Nilsen kicked off the screening with a Vegemite-eating contest, but I had a meat pie instead. I eventually headed back inside to watch JCVD, even though we were approaching what would normally be my bedtime during non-festival times of my life. The movie was not at all what I expected and I liked it enough to watch it again, later -- I think I missed a few things.

"The great thing about Friday was that no matter where I went, I was constantly running into people I knew -- Cinematical folks and writers from other publications, Austin film geeks, even people from day jobs I've held in the past. It was like a big family reunion, but without the more obnoxious relatives."

categories Cinematical