Fantastic Fest 2011 Second Half Reviews
Tron rambles on about the second half of Fantastic Fest, which is always way better than he makes it sound. Hopefully, you’ll wade through this mess and find some Gold for your 2012 movie season.
Day 5: This year, unlike previous Fests, my schedule was more about fun and what better way to start the second half of the festival with something that was sure to kick the day off right? Juan of the Dead, despite the title, turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences in the theater and was one of my festival favorites. Slacker Juan and his loser buddies happen to be enjoying life in Cuba, stealing and sleeping with neighbor’s wives, when the country is attacked by U.S. backed Dissidents … the walking dead. Quickly figuring out this was not a random act of American aggression, Juan has to decide how to keep his slacker lifestyle intact while fighting off hoards of the undead. The solution? A relative killing service to help rid your life of unwanted dead relatives. Hysterical, great kills, surprisingly deep political subtext and some great acting elevate Juan of the Dead to something of a masterpiece and it’s a film I sincerely hope gets U.S. distribution as everyone should experience the rollicking good time in the theater. One of my highest rated films of the festival and I cannot recommend it enough. The perfect way to start the day.
I was taking a break from alcohol today and it probably wasn’t such a good idea as my next film was a hyped-to-the-moon horror/thriller called The Squad and more drinking probably would have helped my enjoyment of the film (but I doubt it). Yet another “didn’t hate it but certainly didn’t like it” movie, The Squad has an interesting, almost supernatural set-up and another great, fog filled and creepy setting but after that manages to deliver a thin plot, unlikeable and indistinguishable characters, major logic flaws and enough stupidity to fill a Police Academy movie. A crack team of elite Colombian military dudes are called in to investigate an outpost they believe has been attacked by guerrillas. Once inside, they find tons of ritualistic markings meant to ward off the devil and one lone female survivor who is massively traumatized. Trapped and confused in this fog-shrouded area, it takes this elite squad of men approximately ten minutes to completely fall apart, begin to ignore the chain of command and completely start killing one another off. I just don’t understand how these guys are elite and have worked together for so long, yet can’t wait to start betraying each other. Add to the mix the fact that the characters are totally unlikable and unremarkable (indeed, if the Sgt. didn’t look like Samoa Joe and the lead a little like Elija Wood, I wouldn’t know anyone in the cast) and the film becomes more an exercise in stupidity rather than a horror thriller. Byron Kelly, Military Man, was also confused and disgusted by the whole thing, though maybe that’s as elite as Colombian military squads go (and I’ll admit to falling asleep a little, as did Byron, I believe). Anyway, not real recommended, even for the brilliant setting.
So my next film was A Boy and His Samurai, done by the Fish Story and Golden Slumber guy. Magnificent Bastard and Mexomorph have been pushing me to see his work and this was my opportunity. However, upon further thought, Magnificent Bastard decided that this was not the film of his I would enjoy, as it’s a pretty “feel good” film and he knows my style so instead the Magnificent one changed his schedule to Let the Bullets Fly, which he knew I would see again and we went to that instead. Very rarely do I repeat films at the Fest, but I’m glad I did, just to catch some of the clever dialogue bits that were too rapid-fire for me to absorb the first time. Plus, more Chow Yun Fat is never a bad thing, especially since he does such an excellent job in this film. Highly recommended and just as much fun, even on a second viewing.
So how to end the evening? I wasn’t going to the midnight movie, as I had already seen everything, so what to choose for my final film? How about Movies on Fire: Hong Kong Action Classics #2? I was ashamed not to hit all four of these but this was the first of two I did have on my schedule and after Lady Lascivious’ glowing review of the first one I was very excited. Apparently, the Alamo staff flew to Cali and rescued some 600+ prints from going into the landfill and some classic gems had been culled for our viewing pleasure, though we couldn’t know the titles due to possible rights issues so every screening was a mystery All we were told is the third was a horror film (Name Withheld, which I could not attend but I hear was wrong in a Hausu kind of way) and the fourth (which I would attend) was a well-known action film. The show began with a VCD giveaway and then we went straight into the cop rape drama Name Withheld, starring Simon Yam. Very rapey, totally bizarre and a plot that’s half Bad Lieutenant and half pink film. The theme, apparently, was inaction on the part of Yam and, unfortunately, this isn’t out to view but should be just for the subtitles alone. “Look for snake before snake look for you” was my favorite line due to the lack of context within the film and the fact that it’s sound advice. There were literally five minute chunks where the subtitles made no sense at all whatsoever, which was brilliant. The screening was made even more fun by Devon Athans who, after having imbibed a tad, decided to wake James Sudlow up with what he thought was 10 minutes left by going on an awesome rampage. Hugely entertaining and I’d sit next to that guy any time for any film.
Of course, things never go quite to plan and when Demo Tanaka wants to hang out a little you kinda have to and he’s totally the man so the evening ended up a little later than expected. Sigh. Another night of no sleep.
Day 6: Was very tired the next day but not as tired as Magnificent Bastard was. We had stopped for coffee and everything was fine, full of music and good conversation on the trip down to the Alamo South Lamar. We were literally at the theater for like 10 minutes when Magnificent Bastard realized he forgot his badge in the car. He went to get it and came back what seemed like minutes later and announced he was hospital bound. Then he was out like the Flash before we could process. Fearing Lady L was in trouble, I chased after him only to see his taillights disappear. Many confused minutes later, we discover Magnificent Bastard had tripped on his way back to me and broke his finger (he likes to tell people he was fighting zombies), which he was tweeting pictures of on his drive to the doctor. They’re all pretty gross but the x-ray had to be the worst. He’s proud of them all.
However, when I sat down to watch the brilliant Sleepless Night, my mind was on the Bastard as at that time we had no idea what actually happened. Oh, I liked the movie a lot but I would have raved even more had my pal been there also, I’m positive. Pretty sweet and slickly filmed French crime thriller about a cop who steals from the mob, who then kidnaps his son in return, proposing a trade at the mob’s bad-ass nightclub. Pretty much every awesome thing that can happen in a multi-leveled nightclub occurs and when Internal Affairs follow the cop to the club and hide his bag of junk, things just go from bad to worse. Then the guy who is expecting his delivery from the mob (who thus far failed to produce) shows up and pretty soon everyone’s running about, fighting in kitchens, locking people up, shooting and getting shot at and utilizing duplicity to screw everyone else over. Fun, tightly paced and generally awesome film that I hope everyone gets to see. If you like crime capers, this is a solid entry.
I skipped my second film of the day in case Magnificent Bastard came back from the hospital (as I had his stuff) and I wasn’t excited about it anyway. Instead, James Sudlow and I beat the Die Hard Arcade Game and he smoked me at some Japanese shooting game (and if you haven’t seen 2 British Chicks totally blasting stuff and tearing it up, you shoulda been there the next day when Claire Posen and Ailsa Scott went head to head. Gold). I wasn’t about to miss my next film, however, because if you’re going to bring Tak Sakaguchi to the Festival you might as well bring a fully restored print of Versus along also. Magnificent showed up like 5 minutes after I was seated and everything was cool so I sat back to enjoy one of the best Yakuza vs Zombies vs Supernatural Power films ever to come out of Japan. If you’ve seen Versus before you know how utterly amazing it is, from the incredible fight scenes to the wooded setting where the dead don’t die to the Supernatural Showdown at the end. If you haven’t seen Versus before you should get on that immediately. This film is a stylish, over-the-top action classic guaranteed to blow you’re television up! Two convicts get released by the Yakuza for some undefined purpose. Driven to the woods, they’re left standing, surrounded by a mix of inept to incredible Yakuza and they have a girl captive also. Tak Sakaguchi is pushed too far and he whoops some ass, grabbing the girl and fleeing into the woods. The dead come back, everyone panics and some brutally awesome action continues from there on out. Quite a good time in the theater and is Totally Recommended.
Aside: The day after our night with Noboru Iguchi and Demo Tanaka, I presented Mr. Tanaka with a book on Kaiju I had laying around and he and the “very nice for how cool he” is Tak Sakaguchi had a blast looking at the pictures and talking about Giant Monsters. I was very impressed by Mr. Sakaguchi and if you get a chance to meet him, he’s just as cool in real life as he seems on the screen. Versus is ichiban and I hope he wasn’t kidding about Part 2…
My last film of the day was not the Hong Kong Mystery Series but rather WWE Film’s newest acquisition, a post-apocalyptic future film called The Day, starring Dominic Monaghan (who had been wandering about all week, like Elija Wood does and they even boxed at the Fantastic debates this year! First ever Hobbit vs Hobbit battle. Gold!). It was a surprise to me WWE would pick up an R-rated horror flick where kids die but good for them and I hope they don’t edit it. Anyway, some unnamed disaster has demolished civilization and everyone left is either normal or a cannibal. Our intrepid band of heroes find and abandoned farmhouse and take shelter there so a sick member can get better. The house seems a gold mine but when they discover a cache of food it turns out to be a complex trap by a tribe of cannibals who rule the area. The group also discovers one of it’s current members used to be a cannibal! How can they hope to survive the night? Not a bad film at all, much better than expected and very bloody at times. I had some character and story issues but the movie is very solid and well acted. Fellow Monkey John Gholson asked Mr. Monaghan about WWE Films acquiring the property in the Q&A and Dominic himself joked a little, saying it did feel strange but since this was a low-budget indy film and WWE Films was an excited, growing brand also looking for more of an identity they were happy to go that direction. WWE has money and is going to be promoting the film with a considerable campaign and everyone on both sides are very pleased to be working together. Now, to re-iterate, The Day isn’t all that but it’s an above-average horror/thriller set in a post-apocalyptic future. It’s very solid and should be readily available thanks to WWE but it’s not The Road Warrior. It is better than average and I don’t hesitate to recommend it.
Day 7: Second to last day of the Festival is always bittersweet because it takes all year to get to Fantastic Fest and when you’re there it blows right by. Wednesday is the day it all sinks in that the end is in sight (but we just got here!). So you want this day to be good and this whole Fest I’ve had good luck with my first film. Today would be no exception. Ever hear of the Fuccons? Maybe Oh, Mikey? Vermillion Pleasure Night? Well, Yoshimasa Ishibashi was the brainchild behind the series of an American family in Japan where the cast are mannequins. Absolutely brilliant and my first film of the day was his first feature Milocrorze: A Love Story, which I was sure was going to be as incredible as his television output. Ah, yes, it says “A Love Story” right there, doesn’t it? Sigh. Yes, I went to a few Romantic Comedies this year and they all were great. This love story is more of a fantasy about a little boy who falls in love, gets a girlfriend who cruelly abandons him and forces him to cover the hole in his heart with a pot lid he finds on the ground. The story shifts to a tale about the most bad-ass youth advice councilor you’ve ever seen in your life, with great taste in women, some brutal advice and the hottest dance number outside of Underwater Love. Then we learn about swordsman Tamon and his quest to rescue his love from the clutches of a devious Geisha House. It all ends with our young hero finding his own happiness and, though the three stories carry the same lead, the stories are deeply interconnected in a sprawling story that far exceeds expectations. Smart, funny, brilliantly shot, tremendously acted with one of the most unique and mesmerizing visual styles ever put on screen. I cannot wait to own this film and I would totally sit through this in the theater again. Milocrorze: A Love Story earns my Highest Recommendation and is a true cinematic treat.
I switched my schedule again in the next slot as I heard that Israel’s first horror film, Rabies, was rather worth the watch so off to Rabies I went. Many of my pals liked this film better than I did but again I didn’t hate the film. A brother and sister are on the run in the woods and the sister falls into a serial killer’s trap. The brother runs for help. He is soon hit by a car driven by a group of teens on their way to a tennis tournament. The two boys accompany the brother back into the woods while the stunning blonde and her pal wait for the cops. The cops turn out to be totally corrupt and the girls must flee for their lives. Meanwhile, a park ranger watches the killer carrying the sister through the woods, his dog is killed, the area is littered by landmines and no one has cell phone reception. The film hinges on unlikeable characters and their stupid choices and there are some continuity lapses, as well as nobody having rabies at all but it was better than both The Squad and Urban Explorers so I wouldn’t not recommend it. Let’s just say better than average but not quite The Day and it is totally watchable.
Sometimes you get excited about stuff before the festival and when you finally sit down and watch the film it turns out not to be quite what you hoped. When I saw we were getting a martial-arts romp filmed for $5000 and called Invasion of the Alien Bikini I knew I had to go. The trailer made it look sweet and James Sudlow said it was worth the watch so off I went. What Mr. Sudlow meant was we didn’t see many shorts before the films this year and those we did kinda sucked but the short before this one, Brutal Relax, was one of the most entertaining, absolutely bloody, over-the-top amazing low-budget accomplishments with the catchiest soundtrack I’d seen the past few years. Our protagonist is a man just being released from therapy for anger management. He is instructed to go to the beach, relax and take pictures like a normal person would but under no circumstances allow yourself to get angry. He goes to a packed beach in his underwear and wearing headphones and sits by himself, smiling and jamming to the music. The rest of the beach goers are suddenly assaulted in a very grizzly fashion by Deep Ones from the sea. It looks like the Deep Ones are going tho win the day but just then out hero’s battery dies on his headphones. Of course he’s agitated now and there’s a ton of fish people for him to vent on. The short, available on Youtube, becomes an exercise in punching through heads, ripping spines out and totally mangling the enemy. The gore is outstanding and very Sushi Typhoon in execution and is tremendously entertaining. Alien Bikini, however, is still worth the view, especially for the Jenga sex scene but is slow and plodding for the most part. An alien comes to earth in an effort to get pregnant and hooks up with a vigilante who has taken a vow of chastity. Add a crack team of cops tracking the alien but refusing to communicate to our hero and it goes from there. Not terrible but not the romp I expected. Worth a view just to see it but I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way. Watch Brutal Relax, though. Awesome.
The last of the Hong Kong Action Classics was next; we knew it was a fairly well-known classic not readily available on DVD, we were informed after the DVD giveaway that the only time this movie was shown theatrically this last decade (or more!) it took the Government of Hong Kong to get it shown and apparently the copyright holders don’t ever want you to see this film. Told not to mention we saw it, I figure “who reads me?” and am not afraid to say it was a rare theatrical screening of Name Withheld, the Dirty Dozen in Vietnam action classic starring Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Woo Ping, Corey Yuen and Hang S. Ngor, among others. A group of prisoners are given a chance for freedom if they infiltrate Vietnam and destroy a U.S. ammo dump before it’s discovered by the Viet Cong. I had seen this movie before (and may have it on video tape still) but it had been years and many of my pals had not seen it so it was nice to reacquaint myself with this action gem surrounded by people experiencing it for the first time. Made worth it by Lady L snickering every time a guy got it in the crotch. Totally awesome and a definable classic that is worth the effort to track down.
Ah, Secret Screening 2. I’ve seen some bad ones in my day and the Almodovar film already let me down so I wasn’t expecting much. After all, I sat through the World Premier of Paranormal Activity and that was terrible. Rumors ran rampant that day and suggestions ranged from a rough cut of the Avengers to Immortals or maybe The Thing or even the now-forgotten-about Cabin in the Woods, all better choices than what we got. I was tipped off early and I went just to see if it was correct and hoping it was not. Tim League kept joking in his intro it was a newly restored print of The Little Mermaid, which the crowd was excited for as this was the Alamo and it would become a Sing-A-Long but it turned out to be the World Premier of Paranormal Activity 3 because the guys liked how the first one opened here. Sigh. As bad as the first one, if not worse, as all the lame, 10-year-old scaring events are telegraphed well in advance by that stupid bass rumble. Great directing choice, giving away all the scary stuff in a horror film. As I said on Facebook, one decent scene and some tacked on “background,” as this is a prequel, does not help this one trick pony from being anything other than shit and besides shut-in teens not allowed to watch scary stuff and the mentally deficient (and Mike D), I cannot see this impressing anyone. I gave it 1 star and would not recommend this travesty to anyone for any reason. And why, if it occurs in the 80s, is everything in anamorphic widescreen? Just saying.
Day 8: Final – Not only the last day of awesomeness but also the only day my first film was anything but stellar. I saw a film called Blind about a girl cop trainee who is bringing her delinquent brother home and to stop him from running away again she handcuffs him to the “oh, Shit” handle. Of course an accident happens and only the girl survives, though blinded by glass. She adjusts to life but can never cope with the loss of her brother and loss of her cop job. Enter a serial killer who poses as a cabbie and kidnaps local girls. Our blind heroine accidentally runs afoul of the killer and barely escapes the taxi but becomes a “witness” to the criminal, as does a punk kid in the neighborhood who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The killer now hunts them and they not only must bond but also overcome the relentless killer. Reminiscent of the Audrey Hepburn classic Wait Until Dark and the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Julia’s Eyes, Blind is as good as neither of them but it’s not a terrible mess. I had no attachment to this film one way or the other but it is watchable and many of my friends really liked this film so there you go.
Oh, My! Another Romantic Comedy? Yes, Sir. How could pass up a film by the producers of the disappointing Dead Snow where they straight up tell you they’re re-imagining Takashi Miike’s Audition as a Romantic Comedy? Exactly, so I went and You Said What? turned out to be pretty brilliant, except their crappy 80s soundtrack. Our hero Glenn comes home early to surprise his girlfriend on their anniversary only to find her spreading whipped cream on another man’s nipples. Glenn is distraught so he crashes with some video-store running pals who decide to do what the dude in Audition did – fake making a movie to find Glenn a new girlfriend, which they do. Sure enough, Glenn is smitten and offers the new girl the lead part. However, they’re not filming a movie. Then the lads are contacted in secret by the girl’s rich mother who offers 2 Million Dollars to finance the “film.” Now they’re making a movie without knowing the first thing about it. Oh, yeah, they rope Peter Stormare into starring as the bad guy. Absolutely fun with totally bizarre situations, tremendously believable actors and a tightly-dialogued script that will warm the heart of even the most jaded Rom-Com hater (like me!). More wonderful than I expected, You Said What? is totally worth the view and much in the vein of the utterly brilliant Astropia from a few years back. Makes up for Dead Snow quite a bit and kudos to the filmmakers for totally exposing that film as crap in the opening.
Final Film. Always a bittersweet moment because it signifies the end of another awesome year (and, yes, “awesome” is totally over-used in these articles but so much stuff was so we’ll all have to live with it, ok?) yet you’re ready to sleep a little so it all balances out. This year’s final film was Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary Comic-Con Episode 4: A Fan’s Hope. A chronicle of several regular people’s journey to Comic-Con (a costume designer, a guy proposing to his girlfriend, Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics fame and two hopeful two artists), we were all worried he’s shit all over our geek loves in the way he did McDonalds wrong in Super Size Me where he attributed his health problems to McFood rather than being honest and admitting he was a long-time Vegan crashing his system with meat for 30 days. Turns out Spurlock gives a very loving and respectful look at the Con from behind the camera and allowing the story of the people carry the film, interspersing comments from the likes of Morgan Webb, Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison and a host of others. The best story and definitely the glue that holds the film together is the one about James Darling, who met his girlfriend at the Con and has a plan to ask her hand in marriage at the Kevin Smith panel, though fate seems to conspire against him. Mr. Darling is so believable on film and is just as cool in real life and I was thrilled when everything pulled off for him. The Marine artist’s story was also solid and Chuck Rozanski is a nice man in real life and has definite concerns about the direction of the Con as it moves further away from comics, where it’s roots are, and closer to a major media event. The documentary was supposed to be hosted by Stan Lee and Joss Whedon but both canceled at the last minute. As much as I was hoping to meet Stan, the film was more than enjoyable and is a solid and entertaining look at why we’re all geeks. This film is Highly Recommended and I defy you not to have a good time watching it.
The Closing Night Party was superhero-themed this year and took place at the American Legion. They had a karaoke room with stripper poles, face-painting, superhero-themed carnival activities, free Shiner and Ambahr tequila and a fried food bar with mini-corn dogs, tater tots, fried butter and anything else you could dunk in boiling oil. They had a DJ spinning some mediocre to fair music in front of a Rolling Roadshow screen projecting comic and superhero movie images. Truly awesome, much fun, a good way to wind down and say goodbye to all kinds of cool people. I’ll skip the pretentious name-dropping and just say you have to attend a Fantastic Fest just to hit one of these parties. My week wasn’t finished yet, as Magnificent Bastard (who was not at the party until 4am) wanted to take us to Hamilton Pool at 9am on Friday and it sounded better before the party. Turned out to be just what we needed and was the perfect relaxing way to end the festival madness. Lunch at Catfish Parlor and a quick trip to the Austin Books Sidekick Store with our British pals for dollar comics and my Fantastic Fest for 2011 came to a close. It’s never too early to think about 2012 and my perennially unlucky self got on the early lotto for VIP next year so now it’s pay for that and start thinking about how great it’s gonna be with all the first time friends joining us for the experience. You’ve got a year, people, and regular badges are on sale now. Start saving up and we’ll see you at the Fest! Thanks again for indulging me and I hope you find something on this list to enjoy.