Fantastic Fest: The Middle Chunk.

Tron’s mid-fest summary of his time at Fantastic Fest 2010

Fantastic Fest 2010 came to a close Thursday evening and I have reverted to (mostly) normal today so I figured since I recovered a day early I would do my small but long list of observations and criticisms before rumbling on to full reviews and, much like my opening day article, I shall endeavor to do it in order.  As always, this is my favorite time of the year and to be able to re-connect with so many truly awesome people from all over the state, country and world; to make so many new friends and contacts; to be able to see so many cool films before they hit theaters (if ever) and meet the talent responsible… it’s a special week and I am so honored to be able to do it every year.  This year, my schedule was 85% Asian, 10% Horror and 5% Secret and generally twisted cinema and it just so happened to be 80% stellar so there’s a lot of good movies on your horizon.

After the solid first day, which was capped off by Tetsuo III (one of only two “9″ ratings I gave this festival), my roommate and I decided to sleep in the next morning as our first film could be re-scheduled and I had been feeling like I was coming down with something the previous couple days so, armed with a few more hours of fortification, we headed in for the US Premier of Fire of Conscience, Dante Lam’s new action thriller.  The trailer makes it look like Invisible Target from 2007’s Fest so we anticipated a good shooting movie to jolt us back into the Fest.  What we didn’t realize is the film is a slow moving, complex drama with sporadic bursts of violence thrown in.  A very solid film I feel would have benefited from a view on the small screen to allow more focus on the deeper plot but I may just feel raw about the misrepresentation of the action.  I gave it a 6. 

Next up was the first Secret Screening.  The last few years have been dominated by Hollywood Blockbusters that rarely have anything to do with the Fest and are rarely anything I want to see anyway.  This year’s Fest was about to change the rules and hearken back to the first couple I attended.  Let right into the theater, no black-clad security dudes searching your stuff… this was odd behavior indeed and got us immediately excited for something different.  What we got was I Saw The Devil, the new film by Ji-woon Kim (The Good, the Bad and the Weird); a violent film about a secret agent who takes a leave of absence to track down and torture a serial killer who murdered his fiancee.  It’s 144 minutes of relentless which twists things just enough in the third act to keep you guessing but it still felt a lot like 2008’s stellar (and one of my favorites that year) The Chaser.  Definitely worth the watch, a solid “8″ for sure and one of the best lead-off Secret Screenings in recent memory. 

The finale that day was the US Premier of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. This film didn’t make my initial list but Mexomorph kept pushing me to watch the trailer and I’m glad I did. I immediately re-arranged my schedule to fit this in and it paid itself back just as quickly.  Some dudes are blasting into a mountain ala The Thing because something they want is buried there.  Some strange things happen in the innocent village beneath the mountain culminating in a bunch of the reindeer they count on for food and income being wiped out.  When the men go up the mountain to confront the blasters, the camp is empty except for a naked old man in a cage that resembles Santa Claus…  The tag line: “This Christmas, you will believe in Santa Claus,” pretty much sums it up and it’s a real treat.  The kid is John McClane, the idea is brilliant and, if you removed the large amounts of old male nudity, you could easily show this to teens without discomfort.  If this comes near you, go and see it this Winter.  It also received an “8.”  We had nothing in the late slot so my roommate and I opted to hang out and chat with the various sundry elements we know at the Fest and got home early for some good bed rest.

Which didn’t help one bit.  The Fantastic Flu rips around that festival and several people got punked, including our own  Lady L at one point, and I was one of the first casualties.  I decided that, even though Yuen Woo Ping, a personal hero, was in town, the other three films I had scheduled (Forbidden Planet/ X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes/Snake in Eagle’s Shadow) I already own so I opted to rest and get better because the rest of the Fest was un-skippable.  My crew didn’t even make the trek for Mr. Woo Ping at the Paramount as the Pecan Street Festival (?) was occurring and parking was a nightmare so in retrospect this wasn’t a bad day to have taken off.  Even so, fellow Cybermonkey Zane Duncan still came over and watched Sharktopus, which was at our festival and really, really bad which double-headered with the far superior Dinocroc vs. Supergator so we were still in the festival spirit.

Sunday I awoke rested and refreshed (mostly) and drug my sleepy ass into the Alamo Drafthouse at 11 am (more like 10:20) to see the US Premier of Takeshi Kitano’s outstanding gangster epic Outrage.  Packed with enough betrayal and yakuza power plays for three seasons of the Sopranos (and surpasses them), this film marks the return of Beat Takeshi in peak form to a genre he pioneered.  If you are a fan of Godfather-style gangster epics, make sure this film is on your list.  I believe I gave this film an 8. 

The very next film fared just as well and it was the second film in the unofficial Donnie Yen series this year: Ip Man 2.  No knowledge of the first was necessary, which was good because I didn’t see it until today when fellow monkey Nathan Hamilton purchased it at Fry’s. Ip man has come to Hong Kong to teach Wing Chun but the local Martial Arts Master Sammo Hung rules the schools with an iron fist and Donnie must fight him a couple times to earn the right to teach his style (and earn Sammo’s respect).  The rest is Rocky 4.  Not that that’s a bad thing; it’s just that after Sammo vs. Donnie and Sammo vs. Donnie, Sammo vs. a boxer and Donnie vs. a boxer is (though quite entertaining) not quite as awesome.  My least favorite of the three Yen films but I totally loved it, you’ll totally love it and it deserves the 7 I gave it.  Mr. Yen rarely, if ever, disappoints.  Quite a way to start the day and it would be hard to top. 

Well, Fantastic Fest has a way of doing that and the next film had such a high demand that, not only did it get moved from a midnight to a far more Tron-schedule-friendly 6pm but they opened two (2) theaters to accommodate everyone… and it still played the next day at midnight!  I must be talking about the North American premier of Adam Greene’s Hatchet 2 We all loved the first film when it premiered here a few years back and this film, though not as good as the first, still rated a 7 in my book and has a ton of great kills…albeit in the last half.  Mexomorph and I looked at each other when it was over and said, “isn’t this missing 20 more minutes?”  Greene utilizes the first half of the movie to set up the characters and direction of the film (except for why the awesome Danielle Harris is now the lead chick) and the last half as “kill seventeen dudes in half an hour.”  Entertaining, but not quite the first.  Notable was the fact that Mr. Greene himself was here for a Q+A and I got a chance to say hello again – he’s fascinated by my name – and he brought with him Ms. Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder!  Mr. Hodder is a tremendously cool, laid back, BIG dude and also quite fascinated by my name and I have no doubt that if he busted into my apartment with his mask on and carrying an axe, I’d run like hell.  It was great being able to hang out a bit with the most well-known Jason Voorhees  Ms. Harris is also what you would expect, gracious, beautiful, funny and a little height-conscious but quite a charming girl and,again, it was quite cool to say hello to the little girl from Halloween IV and VHatchet 2 is also one of the rare times that the cut I saw on Sunday you can see in theaters now as it has been released Unrated!  Go support Unrated Horror right now! 

I was due in for Bunraku next but Lady L and I had our seats swiped so we took that opportunity to meet Ms. Harris and talk to fellow members of the press like the always amazing Todd Brown from Twitch and AICN’s Chris Cargill and generally BS about what we saw, what we’re gonna see and what the remaining Secret Screenings are (a favorite pastime of Fantastic Fest).  I did attend the midnight showing of Gallants, however, which I had skipped on Friday and what a good time in the theater this was.  Thank God for Andy Lau, who put up the cash for this really fun film.  The cast is made up of old kung fu icons of the 70s, all in their 60s and 70s, pretty much whuppin’ the shit out of the younger generation and really figuring out that old is just a state of mind.  The guide we got says “Cocoon with kung fu” and if that doesn’t sell you alone, you have no fun in movies.  A solid 7.Now, Magnificent Bastard hates when I turn in really long articles so I figured I’d break this up into two parts; give you all time to make a sandwich and go to the bathroom before continuing on with the last four sordid days of Fantastic Fest 2010.  Lots more action and thrills await so I shall see you in a minute, gentile reader…

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