Fantastic Fest 2010: Final

The third and final chapter in Tron’s FantasticFest saga.

Monday began with a film called The Man From Nowhere which came almost out of nowhere; it was on my initial list but the only detail known was that it was an ode to American grindhouse pictures of the 70s.  I mean, this movie is nowhere.  There is a full trailer now but the teaser sold me and I figured this tale of one man (one lethal man) saving a little girl from the clutches of the underworld would be a solid choice; little did I know that it would be the only other “9″ besides Tetsuo III that I would give in the festival.  Man From Nowhere is engaging, has a deep story that unfolds through bouts of massive violence, twists enough at the end and is one fantastic film.  If the words “action” and “thriller” appeal to you, so will Man From Nowhere

Once this surprise was over I had to quickly hustle to an anticipated screening of Re-Animator.  Why the excitement for a movie 90% of the audience owned already?  Well, who gets to see it on the big screen with Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs in attendance?  In town for the Fantastic Fest showings of the play Nevermore, they couldn’t pass up the chance to show Re-Animator and From Beyond (which I had to miss) with these two maestros present for the film and a Q+A.  Quite a thrill to hear them talk about the film, to babble at Mr. Gordon about Dagon and have he and Mr. Combs sign my copy of Lurker in the Lobby.  Mr. Combs and I even chatted about the stellar past Fantastic Fest film Abominable, which apparently had been on television the previous evening and he did indeed watch it again.  When I mentioned he cracked me up with the breathing apparatus he laughed and quipped, “Ah, another chance to make a jackass out of myself in public.”  Totally a class act and a genuinely wonderful highlight in the middle of the day… which ran late and we were rushed right in to another theater for Secret Screening #2

As we all know, these are a mixed bag with some pleasant surprises and some not so good treats.  Our screening was Never Let Me Go, a (barely) Sci-Fi love story starring Keira Knightley that amounts to people looking pensively out into space, tears welling up in eyes and no one communicating about anything.  My lowest-rated film of the festival as I was bored shitless the entire time and I hated myself for not going to Stakeland

I guess this was the perfect time to end the day with Mr. Oizo’s feature Rubber about a tire that kills people. Magnificent Bastard was correct that the less you know about the picture the better and he and others describe it as a very “Meta” film, which will scare people off; rather, it’s a way deeper film in what it’s doing than it first appears and it unfolds in such an easy fashion and it’s quite funny but there’s way more going on and it’s best to just let it wash over you.  A solid “7.”

Tuesday was one of the most enjoyable days of the festival for me.  Due to the re-arrangement to fit Rare Exports into the mix I also had room to squeeze in a showing of another movie that had made my initial list and slipped off:  The International Premier of Norwegian Ninja.  Mixing up true historical accounts and television reports with alternate history, the film supposes that notorious spy and traitor Arne Treholt was, in fact, a ninja and lead a secret ninja squad at the behest of King Olav.  Funny, though way less than the trailer would lead you to believe; serious and topical, without sacrificing hysterical, Norwegian Ninja is another solid “7″ and totally worth seeking out.  Todd Brown from Twitch informed us at our screening (and not the first – that’s how up-to-date this is) that the Arne Treholt case was just re-opened.  Check this film out for a possible theory about what’s going on. 

Tak Sakaguchi (actor-Shinobi), Noboru Iguchi (Machine Girl/Robogeisha) and Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police/Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl) got drunk last year and vowed to make a movie together.  Mutant Girls Squad is that movie.  This fun look at mutants (ie. X-Men) features all the hallmarks of this crew including bizarre mutations, berserk plot-line, wonderful shots of a yellow “I heart Texas” sweatshirt among other nods and gallons and gallons of spurting blood.  Totally fulfills it’s premise and is exactly what you’d expect from this group.  A highlight of my festival and getting a lot of face time with Nishimura-san again was a real thrill.  In honor of their new production house, Sushi Typhoon, which gathers up a group of cutting-edge Japanese filmmakers including the above, Sion Sono of Exte/Suicide Club fame and the “conscience of Japanese film” himself: Takashi Miike!, celebrated by bringing us promo merchandise and graciously allowing even more time with Mr. Nishimura and starlet Cay Izumi

After this blood-drenched good time was the aforementioned Mr. Sono’s new film Cold Fish, a moody and violent thriller about a serial-killer who owns a tropical fish store.  A little more relentless than I Saw the Devil but in a completely different fashion, it was another brilliant effort from a true visionary director that may have been 20 minutes too long (hard to say from a guy who’s 4-hour opus Love Exposure was my favorite film of last year) but I may have just been tired. 

Yet another Secret Screening awaited us and speculation was running rampant as Steve O was in town to screen for us some Jackass 3D footage so we didn’t know what to expect.  Black-clad dudes were in attendance this evening, for the only time in the festival, so it did not seem to bode well.  Now, I am not a huge Jackass fan and the footage was fine but the Steve O Q+A was one of the best I have ever seen in my life.  He lit his head on fire and turned himself into a human flamethrower, then answered questions.  I urge you to seek out the Youtube video and see for yourself.  The Secret Screening itself was a highlight for me with it’s 20% theater walkout of sycophants and mouth-breathers hoping to see a “star” – the film was the International Premier (indeed, finished on Sunday and flown straight in) of Yoshihiro’s new zombie/alien flick Hell Driver!  A whole day of Sushi Typhoon!  I was tickled pink and Hell Driver didn’t disappoint with so much blood Nishimura-san had to get a new pump!  Tons of Texas and Fantastic Fest nods and the title crawl happens 45 minutes into the picture!   The movie totally lives up to the previous films he’s directed and is still causing controversy to this day as well but I, for one, could not have had a better day.

Wednesday was another solid day with a tragic dip in the center.  I began the day with the third of the Donnie Yen trio of films, the North American Premier of Legend of the Fist, which I had been assured I would think was ok. This film was a blast and instead was my second favorite, just edging out Ip Man 2 which was stellar.  The opening bit of Legend of the Fist was worth the price of admission alone.  The character of Chen Zhen was played by Bruce Lee and Jet Li and Donnie Yen honors them both by wearing almost every outfit Bruce wore and displaying lightening-fast kung-fu.  A tremendously good time, a definite “8″  and a great way to start the day. 

Next up was the US Premier of Bedevilled, a Korean condoned sexual assault film that is beautifully shot but falls completely short in the “comeuppance” department.  You can tell director Jang Cheol-so AD’d on Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring because his command of the camera is flawless but the story left me flat and angry. 

Good thing I had the World Premier of Red to fall back on.  Yes, that Red that you see the commercials for with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman. After so many foreign films, a nice, simple shoot-em-up always appeals to me and this movie plays out exactly like the trailer shows: a slam-bang good time that doesn’t suck but isn’t quite Die Hard.  It’s a solid action thriller that my dad is going to love.  I had a good time watching this film and I’m not afraid to say it.  Plus, I was hedging my bets because the last film for me that day was Secret Screening #4 so a good action movie before whatever was appealing. 

Fantastic Fest really knocked it out of the park so far this year and we were told this film was something we’d never in a million years guess as it wasn’t even fully completed yet.  This sent speculation through the roof as to what the film would be and when it was announced, a majority of the audience still had no clue.  I was lucky enough to bump into the trailer a week or so before the festival so I was quite pleased that we got the International (Unfinished) Premier of The Troll Hunter. Simply put, there are trolls in Norway.  Real trolls.  Not the fuzzy-headed small dudes, TROLLS.  Filmed like a documentary, this film utilizes shaky-cam correctly for the first time in years and is a smashing good time.  The director was a cool dude – interested in my name – and this should be a pretty big release for him and I cannot wait to see what he has up his sleeve for his next feature.

Thursday was the last day of the festival and would have begun with the International Premier of Ong Bak 3 but our pals who went the first day said it sucked real bad (indeed, it still commands one (1) star on the festival site) so we slept in and attended the US Premier of Julia’s EyesGuillermo Del Toro, with whom I had discussed Lovecraft for an hour at the Hellboy 2 Premier, was unable to attend (sigh, Lurker in the Lobby…next time) but sent randomly signed copies of his two novels along for the screening, which was an unexpected treat.  I was worried about Julia’s Eyes as I hated The Orphanage but this taut thriller evoked some genuinely creepy moments, the story unraveled at just the right pace and was engrossing and there were some interesting twists, even though it ended up where we thought.  I was quite surprised and would not hesitate to recommend this film to anyone who likes suspense. 

The Closing Night Film was the highly anticipated 13 Assassins, a samurai epic by none other than Takashi Miike.  Being a huge fan of his work going back a long, long way, I was really excited about the spin Miike was going to bring the samurai film.  The story is about a rogue Lord who has to be put down due to his savage indiscretions but cannot officially as his half-brother is the Shogun so a team of 13 bad-asses must assassinate him before he reaches his home province.  The film, basically, is Miike’s version of The Seven Samurai.  Hell, it’s Miike directing The Seven Samurai.  It’s nice having another film that you can go “look, he can direct a real movie” and it is a beautiful film and a tremendous samurai epic that I have no problem with and thoroughly enjoyed; it’s just that it always reads Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins but there’s nothing indelibly Mikke about it, except for some flaming bulls.  With all the mucking about in genres and the visionary twists he brings even to young adult films, Takashi Miike leaves well enough alone here which makes for some brilliant samurai film but leaves one feeling kind of empty…. an “8″ nonetheless.

And that makes for Fantastic Fest 2010.  29 films in 8 days, tons of good visual cinema, great times with great people and more stories than time or decorum will allow… like when I talked to Elijah Wood on Tuesday and almost caused multiple coronaries amongst my group;  they’ve seen me say some things to some people, boy… and they were worried I bashed their boy as I am not a fan per se but it turned out not to be the case at all…and he’s a real classy, cool, laid-back cat but that’s an entirely different story…  As always, I will continue to attend this awesome festival and will do my utmost to keep you informed.  Anyone who wants to attend can head on over to www.fantasticfest.com and get on it but the site is also a great resource to check out what you missed, what I missed and everything everyone else thought was cool (or not), plus some nifty interviews and links and lots of Nacho Vigalondo in various states of inebriation.

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