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Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Three

The third day of Fantastic Fest kicked off for me with a large selection of shorts.  As is traditional, they ranged from the “meh” to “really good” to “that’s messed up, I need to write that down and use it in my D&D game.”  Fard and Cages were my favorites.  Pixels is fun but so slick it looks like it should be a Coke/car/something commercial.  I was just happy there was nothing as wretched as the “Mexican toilet banger” short of last year.

A small semi-related gripe – they have little Fantastic Fest promo shorts they show before the movies.  While last year many were clever, this year they are just trying to make them as gross as possible – we’re talking oral-sex-while-on-period, six-year-old-having-coat-hanger-abortion gross.  I don’t mind a bit of gross if they’re actually funny, but these are just stupid.  The FF crew needs to rethink their approach next year – I haven’t seen one that entertained me at all, while last year I liked the majority of them.  Apparently The Human Centipede has given people the misapprehension that being as sick as possible is somehow entertaining in and of itself, and it’s not.

Next, I tried to get into Red Hill and was rebuffed, so went to see the unexceptional Bibliotheque Pascal (4/10).  Some passive Hungarian hobo named Mona gets put into forced prostitution in London, in a special “literary themed” brothel where the inmates are in theme rooms and have to learn lines from – in Mona’s case – Saint Joan.   It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for her – it’s really only that she has a daughter she wants to get back to that creates any connection between her and the viewer.  And the movie doesn’t seem sure what it wants to be.  It’s certainly not “erotic” in any way; it doesn’t really go into the torture-porn vein you might go with such a premise, and the little weird bit (I won’t give it away but it’s why they claim it’s “Terry Gilliam-esque”) was too little and really just served as a deus ex machina at the end.  Even the films I don’t rave about at FF are usually a 6/10 or better on an absolute scale, but this one is not.  People I spoke with afterwards generally shared my assessment.

Now came the big event of the day – off to the Paramount to see Master Yuen Woo Ping get a lifetime achievement award and see both his newest movie, True Legend (7/10), and his first, Snake in Eagle’s Shadow (8/10), which was Jackie Chan’s breakout film as well!  The award was presented by the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, and was an engraved Chinese sword (a “dao,” I think…).  Even through an interpreter he was very charming and got several standing ovations.

True Legend is the story of “Beggar” Su Can, one of the Ten Tigers of Canton, who developed the Drunken Fist style of kung fu.  The martial arts action is great, the actors are engaging and the locations scenic – the only weird thing about this movie is, I guess because he was focused on telling the story of a real guy rather than fitting things into one dramatic arc, the third act seems like a “bonus movie” tagged onto the end of the otherwise complete first movie.  The first plot arc is Su Can’s family being killed/taken by the Five Venoms Fist-wielding bad guy and Su being wounded and then training and then going back to get him.  At the end of that, there’s a scene dissolve and suddenly it’s an unrelated bit from later in his life where he develops drunken style and fights furriners.  Which I guess I don’t object to, as the first arc was complete and I thought the movie was ending and I got another half hour instead, but really it should have been a second movie or crafted into a single narrative better.

And I don’t need to review “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow;” it’s a classic of the genre (also starring Beggar So!) and still fun after all these years.  Master Yuen’s father played the old Snake master in it, and his stories about what it was like to direct his father (who was also a quite famous martial arts star by the time) in his first movie were funny.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day Two

Man, I’m lagging behind with the blogging, this schedule is brutal.  Fantastic Fest Day Two, and even getting to the theater at 9:30 to wait in line to pick up tickets for noon showings means you are way back in that line.

Today’s slate started out with Mother’s Day (7/10), a home-invasion film that on the one hand was a remake of the Troma dark humor/abduction horror “Mother’s Day” but on the other was an adaptation of a real life horror story, the Wichita Massacre.  Director Darren Bousman (Saw I-III, Repo! The Genetic Opera) needed something easy to get off the ground, and Hollywood loves remakes, so in traditional exploitation film fashion he agreed to do one thing while using it to do another – he had always wanted to make a script called “Wichita” he had read, about a horrific series of crimes in Kansas, but no one would touch the dark subject matter.  In an interesting twist that makes the movie seem like a sequel to The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Rebecca DeMornay is “Mother,” a woman who kidnaps babies and turns them into her own little criminal family.  The three brothers are off on a bank-robbing spree when one of them gets shot, and they retreat home, only to find out that the house got foreclosed on and Mother and their sister have moved out, and the new tenants are having a big party as a storm rolls in.  They take them captive, call Mother, and the torture/murder/robbery/rape/etc begins.

I enjoyed Mother’s Day.  I am not a big torture porn fan and don’t like the Saw movies, but I thought this was a bit better in that it had more reasoning to it that most of that genre – not simply “we like to torture people because we are inexplicably into that”; they need medical help, money, escape, and to control a house full of people, and being monsters that’s the way they go about it.  And it was great having Brousman and others in attendance, the Q&A was so interesting it made me like the movie better.  For example, the movie was shot at 5 hours long and had entire characters – both victims and perpetrators – that were cut out to get it to theatrical release.  And they were shooting a bank robbery escape film in Winnipeg without a permit and got mistaken for real robbers, leading to a massive police mobilization with the cast and crew being taken at gunpoint.

Next, I saw a Hong Kong film, Dante Lam’s Fire of Conscience (7/10).  This wasn’t innovative, but I like the genre – the film brings to mind scenes and characters from the classics Hard Boiled, The Killer, City on Fire, and Organized Crime and Triad Bureau.  Star Leon Lai does his best Chow Yun Fat impression while giving bad guys the beatdown; his squad of cops takes a good number of casualties in the inevitable huge tea-house shootouts.  In the end it’s just “another film, you know, like those other ones I listed” but heck, I like all those movies, so it was nice to watch a newer one.

That was followed up by Zombie Roadkill (7/10), which was put together from a series of Web shorts that are going to be running on FEARnet soon.  A campy little set, this is about some kids who are driving down a cursed stretch of road where roadkill comes back to life looking for REVENGE!  Think “Furry Vengeance but with exploding heads.”  It’s funny and totally unrealistic, and there’s a hilarious monologue from Thomas Haden Church as the park ranger where he explains that this stretch of road was built over an Indian burial ground and witches were burned here by Puritans and then the Puritans were burned and the government did experiments on child molesters and and…  Plus they gave out “roadkill” tacos afterward.  Anyway, it was short and goofy, and it’s a web series so you should probably watch it.

Do you think I’m done?  Oh, no.  This was a FULL Fantastic Fest day, which means two more movies.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (6/10) is a sequel to the somewhat interesting vampire movie 30 Days of Night where an Alaskan town is taken over and pretty much wiped out by a vicious mob of vampires.  The sole survivor of that movie steps into what could be a “John Carpenter’s Vampires” sequel, and hooks up with some other people who Know the Truth ™ to hunt them some vampires.  They suck at it and largely get killed.

I didn’t dislike this movie as much as the other people I saw it with did.  I thought it was more well done than some of those aforementioned Carpenter ones (does he do all the editing himself, or does he have some buddy who’s a shitty editor?  Because every movie of his since Prince of Darkness has had awful editing.).  The two female leads were in attendance, and were cutely sloshed out of their minds for the Q&A.  I mean, it’s not “good” in the traditional sense, but as someone who once went on a quest to watch all the vampire movies he could get his hands on, it’s certainly not in the bottom half of that crowd.

Although we did all burst into laughter at the vampires screeching at each other like pterodactlys getting their nutsacks stomped.  In the first movie, they all spoke some weird Eastern European type of language.  In this one, only the “borg queen” leader seems to, the rest all just squeal.  There’s one scene where they seemingly conduct a lengthy conversation.

Vampire 1: “SKREEEEEEEEE!”
Vampire 2: “SKREEEEEEEEE!”
Vampire 1: “SKREEEEEEEEE!”
Vampires 3 and 4, in unison: “SKREEEEEEEEE!”


And finally, I saw The Violent Kind (8/10) by the Butcher Brothers (Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores).  I didn’t expect much from the blurb in the program, but the porn stars handing out Pabst Blue Ribbon as we entered piqued my interest and the movie really delivered a heaping helping of B-movie fun!  A biker gang has a birthday party for one of it’s founders’ old ladies up in a house in the woods, and after most of them leave bad things start to happen, from possession to home invasion to unexplained electrical failures to lap dances (well, OK, that was from earlier). It was like Sons of Anarchy meets Evil Dead II with Blue Velvet thrown in – as well as bits of everything from The Exorcist to The Faculty.  It was a lot of fun; it was probably my biggest pleasant surprise of the day.

And that’s the end of Day Two.  I liked The Violent Kind the best, followed by Mother’s Day, Fire of Conscience, Zombie Roadkill, and 30 Days of Night: Dark Days.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Day One

It’s September in Austin and that means it’s time for Fantastic Fest!

Their new online ticket ordering system totally crapped out in the face of a thousand simultaneous clicks in the morning, so we went back to last year’s “rack out early and stand in line” method.  C’est la vie.  The Alamo Drafthouse staff and volunteers run the whole thing very smoothly so no real complaints there.

My first movie of the festival was Transfer (8/10), a German science fiction movie about rich old people who make use of a new “memory transfer” technology to put their minds into virile new bodies.  These bodies are technically “volunteers” from Africa and other third world countries, who get a bunch of money for their families and four hours a day back in their own bodies for giving up 20 hours a day (and much of their freedom during those other four).  As you might imagine the “volunteer” nature of this work and the validity of its rewards are debatable.

I really enjoyed this movie.  It touches on some of the same themes as the “use my clones/imprint my brains” kinds of movies like The Island or the excellent Joss Whedon TV show Dollhouse.  But while a Hollywood movie would degenerate into chases and action sequences, and have all (morally) black-and-white characters, Transfer was a lot more nuanced – all the characters had a lot of depth and complexity and “good” and “bad” – both the elderly German couple and the Africans who were being used in this way as well.  Science fiction is properly about human reaction to technological developments (and ideally more complex ones than “shoot the robots!” and this movie was a classic, thoughtful science fiction story without being inaccessible – too many filmmakers go the other way when reacting against mass-market sci-fi and make their work deliberately weird, cryptic, and symbology-laden.

The acting was great.  I was impressed how well B.J. Britt, the black male lead, did with depicting Hermann the German when his personality was dominant – Hermann has what we Americans call a “big ol’ shit-eating grin” and he totally nailed it.  And the story dealt in a very complex way with racial tension in European society.  While watching this I had a brief nightmare about Hollywood remaking this movie as a comedy starring Martin Lawrence or the Wayans Brothers or something.  “Look, I’m wacky, I’m acting white!”  Shudder.

There’s a lot of ambiguity in the ending – it wasn’t clear to me exactly how it turned out for the Africans, for example – but it was a very well done and enjoyable film.

Next, I saw Golden Slumber (9/10).  It was by the director of Fish Story, which was my absolute favorite film from last Fantastic Fest.  This Japanese film was a tale of the shared experiences between friends, using the Beatles song “Golden Slumber” as a recurring theme.

I liked this movie.   It wasn’t as good as Fish Story (which, I’m not ashamed to admit, made me cry) but was still good.  I felt that some of the film felt more forced where Fish Story felt more organic in its execution of the theme (and the titular song tie-in).  I think in trying to reproduce some of the “hook” of Fish Story instead of completely being its own thing, it suffered.

But let’s not make too much of the comparison; few movies are as good as Fish Story and this one was very good.  It follows a hapless Japanese man who gets set up as the scapegoat in a plot to assassinate the Japanese Prime Minister – “Just like Lee Harvey Oswald, ” the characters muse.  This meant a lot of intrigue and chases and even action scenes, but the movie was not about the action, which makes all the difference.  And while many movies here at Fantastic Fest are about “how we all turn on each other when the shit goes down,” this movie is a celebration of how we don’t – the protagonist’s family and friends (mostly) know the man and know he didn’t do it, whatever they are told by the TV or scary government hatchet men.  So it has a very positive heart.  And humor; the helpful serial killer “Kill-O” had the crowd whooping.

But it’s also not a “District 13” kind of wish fulfillment fantasy where everyone gets their comeuppance in the end and the government gets set right…  Despite the heavy slate of coincidences, it strives to be a but more low-key and “realistic” than that.

Then, I went downtown to the Paramount to see the star-studded premiere of Let Me In (7/10).  The original “Let The Right One In” was a huge FF favorite from years past and there was a lot of trepidation about the remake.  But Tim League was out there claiming it’s “as good – if not even BETTER than the original” so I went.  I was on the fence about seeing it actually; going to the Paramount burns two Fantastic Fest slots and since many of the big gala movies are coming out into theaters in like two weeks, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay the opportunity cost.  But I heard some of the kid actors on the radio in the morning and thought the Q&A and seeing the stars would be more interesting than the average, so I went.  (Sadly, no Chloe Moretz; that would have made it a slam dunk.)

Let me be honest here – I haven’t seen the original.  Inconceivable, I know; I have it on my Netflix instant streaming queue and just haven’t gotten around to it.  So given that context…

I thought Let Me In was good.  Certainly better than most Hollywood horror movies by a long shot.  But it didn’t live up to what it could have been.  Things just seemed so…  straightforward.  Mysteries weren’t preserved for long, and times where there could have been interesting twists, there weren’t really any.  In the end, it was pretty predictable.  The young actors and actresses did a great job, though, and really carried the movie.  The director, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) did a decent job of creating mood, including one clever trick of never showing the boy’s mother’s face to indicate his level of dissociation from her, but certain elements like the environment of bullying and the enclosed nature of their small apartment complex didn’t come through as strongly as I would have liked.

I don’t want to come off as too negative; it’s certainly way better than “Freddy vs Jason Round 18” or whatever crap people are putting out nowadays, I was just lightly disappointed in an otherwise good movie and felt like a little tweaking could make it a lot stronger.

The Q&A went pretty long and I got back to the Alamo too late for the fourth slot, and I didn’t really want to sit around two hours waiting for the midnight slot, so I availed myself of some of the free Ambhar tequila they were giving out and went home to let out my long-suffering dog.  So that’s it for Day One of Fantastic Fest 2010!   It’s off to a good start;  I saw three movies I enjoyed to varying degrees, from “good” to “excellent!”  (And I hear I made the right call going to Let Me In instead of sticking around to see Ong-Bak 3, which by all reports was a real stinkburger.)

RPG Fun in Austin, TX

In or around Austin and want to know where to go and who to meet?  Here’s a quick cheat sheet for you.

Game Stores



More as I find ’em!