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Fantastic Fest recap!

Oct. 9, 2009by:

8 days of movies, parties and celebrity sightings takes a good bit of energy. However, Fantastic Fest is consistently my favorite 8 days of the year. Each yeah buzz gets easier and easier to gauge (this year it was all thanks to Twitter) and the overall quality becomes more consistently good. I never seek to rank the films I've seen but I do want to say a few words about each of them.

BEST OF THE FEST

THE REVENANT: A handful of films every year justify my putting my body and mind through 8 days of sleep deprivation to watch and incredible number of films. For Fantastic Fest 2009, THE REVENANT joins that prestigious league of films that I refuse to shut up about. Read my full review here.

A TOWN CALLED PANIC: File this one under "Biggest Surprise of the Festival". I had decided to pass on this film based on the trailer which consisted of stop-motion (maybe CG?) animated toy figures running amok. After buzz on Twitter convinced me to get a seat in the next screening of this Belgian movie version of a TV show, I was not prepared for the gonzo humor in store. This movie is hilarious and indescribably wacky. Add a heaping dose of charm and I challenge you to not be taken in by this movie. Word of warning: do not waste your time watching the English dubbed clips found on YouTube, the voice actors' work here is a main ingredient. You'll never look at a cowboy-horse-indian story the same way again. (9/10)

CRAZY RACER: A brilliant little comedy of errors finds several stories interweaving all hinged on multiple cases of mistaken identity. Like a Chinese Guy Ritchie film, the film alternates between fun dialogue, ridiculous situations and bursts of action and violence. Top notch fun! (9/10)

STINGRAY SAM: Not so much a movie. More a series of six 10 minute "episodes" regarding the story of a world hopping cowboy lounge singer and his buddy, The Quasar Kid. Director/star Cory McAbee (THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT) infuses every second of the film's 60 minute runtime with character and cleverness. And the music is infectious. I am determined to test the replay ability of this strange creature by buying the DVD and showing everybody I know the magic of thinking differently. (10/10)

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE): "Biggest Shocker of the Festival". Shocking in both subject matter and in the fact that I enjoyed the heck out of it (in fact, I didn't see anyone walking out of the packed theater). The basic premise concerns a mad doctor with the dream of attaching people together to form a human centipede complete with a single digestive tract. Every second of the film threatens to jump the gorge into trashy hell but never does thanks to impeccable direction by the wacky Tom Six and an absolutely spectacular performance by Dieter Laser as our insane doctor. While knowing the director takes pleasure in the fact that this film is 100% medically accurate (Six consulted a surgeon to figure out how to actually make a human centipede), you'll be more concerned about how to keep that burrito you ate before you walked into this from coming up all the way because you won't be able to take your eyes off of what is going on on screen. Horror can still surprise a jaded fan. (9/10)

HONORABLE MENTION

HOUSE (HAUSU) - This is a just-now-newly discovered 1977 Japanese spook-fest on some sort of psychotropic drug I can't even imagine. Frame for frame this was the most bizarre film of the festival. A group of girls follow their friend Oshare to her aunt's house in the remote countryside. It's immediately apparent that something is wrong with auntie and the girls are in trouble. From the direct character names (Melody the musician, Kung-Fu the martial artist) to the logic defying role of cats in the central horror this movie doesn't make a lick of sense. Yet it's ceaselessly watchable. Your eyes will eventually crust over as you're afraid to blink less you miss the moment when the screen explodes, unable to contain the madness, and bits of the titular HOUSE lodge in your brain. I refuse to score this film. It's a positive must see, without question. I won't even recommend you watch it with a few beers, the movie itself will get you drunk and knock you out with a cat-faced hangover.

ALL THE REST

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS: At the surface it is a movie about bad science-fiction told through what would appear to be a bad movie about bad characters (with no history, no growth and no endings to their arcs) and bad versions of a kids bad sci-fi story. But if thats the point, dont we start to jive with the chaotic, wandering antics of it all and start to see a small bit of genius in the goings-on? I certainly did. Read my full review here.

REC 2: Everything a sequel should be. This movie picks up immediately where the last movie leaves off when a SWAT squad enters the ill fated apartment building with a medical officer. The SWAT team is covered in video cameras and it's through these cameras we experience the action. The plot builds on the first film and the action is appropriately upped. In making a more action based sequel, the scares are shifted to the background but there are still a few that will haunt you if you are as sucked in as I was. (8/10)

ZOMBIELAND: Like I said before, though, the performances are so good and when the zombie action is on it's so on, that almost all is forgiven. If your expectations are to see much of anything more than in the films trailer, you'll be disappointed. If you go in realizing your getting exactly what is promised by the previews and nothing more or less, I'm going to put money on your liking it. Read my full review here.

TRICK 'R TREAT: If you've been following any bit of horror news in the past two years you know the story with this film. And I'm here to tell you the wait is worth it. This is good old fashioned horror anthology fun. It's now out on DVD and Blu-ray and I would suggest it for any horror fan. (8/10)

SMASH CUT: A bizarre, loud and not-so-fun homage to Herschell Gordon Lewis from the director of JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER. A director whose film is panned decides to up the ante in his next movie by using more realistic special effects by way of smashing and cutting through those that make his life and job harder. A movie that is a textbook example of weirdness taken so far as to make the film more annoying than fun. (3/10)

K-20: THE FIEND WITH 20 FACES: Japan delivers an American style comic book hero film set in an alternate reality where WWII never happened leaving Tokyo a steampunk dreamscape filled with colorful, funny characters and healthy doses of Nikola Tesla science. Not super flashy, but super fun. A must see. (8/10)

UNDER THE MOUNTAIN: This is movie that will probably play better with the grade school crowd. There are a few good moments of tension to be found for those more sensitive. However, we have seen many examples in the past of these types of movies that are just as enjoyable for parents and other adults. This doesn't play like one of those. Read my full review here.

METROPIA: A Kafka-esque dystopian future tale not all that original but heightened greatly by an animation style I've truly never seen. Highly stylized bodies with almost photoreal faces (facial scans weren't used!) set in dark an dreary worldscape. Voice acting is top notch and the movie is just short enough to hold full attention until the end. (7/10)

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD: Abandoning most all deeply layered subtext, Romero has made his pulpiest, most on-the-nose zombie movie yet. The movie switches between zombie horror, Western drama and zany comedy with sometimes jarring effect. Read my full review here.

THE LEGEND IS ALIVE: A Vietnamese film about a mentally challenged man, his love for Bruce Lee and his martial arts teaching mother. This film is more of a drama than an action film. The story sections are mostly touching but many scenes drag on far too long. 30 minutes or more could easily be excised. The fight scenes are amateurish at best, which is a shame. (6/10)

BURATINO, SON OF PINOCCHIO: A young woman wishes for a son and is blessed by a boy born from an encounter with a "rape splinter" in this Estonian film. That boy is the son of Pinocchio. Oh and this is a musical. Buratino turns out to be a bit of a bad seed living in Badville, robbing the citizens of Goodville. Furthermore, he has something inside of him that our villain, Karabas Barabas, desires. It's both as ridiculous as it sounds and better than you'd initially suspect. Harmless fun and the kind of thing you would only ever catch at a festival such as this. (7/10)

DOWN TERRACE: Another great festival surprise, this film shows the family life of a clan of British mobsters. Shot in a style akin to "The Office", this is like watching a wonderfully crafted play yet never feels out of place on the screen. At times superbly dark and witty and others shocking in the split second decisions to choose violence as a means to an end, this film relies on a razor sharp script and a superb cast. Bonus points for not one but TWO actors from the Wright/Pegg/Frost TV series "Spaced" - Michael Smiley (Tyres) and Julia Deakin (Marsha) both rock the screen. (8/10)

RAMPAGE: The first Uwe Boll movie I can recommend with a straight face. Bill (Brendan Fletcher) builds a full body armor suit and goes on a killing spree after becoming fed up with everyone around him. Like some sick fantasy, I was both shocked and drawn by Bill's actions. While not high art, it's a very watchable film and was followed by classic Q&A with director Boll and star Fletcher. Boll's not necessarily going to win a lot of "fans" with this film, but it shows he does have the power to craft a story regardless of its depravity. (7/10)

HARD REVENGE MILLY & HARD REVENGE MILLY: BLOODY BATTLE: Another entry into the Japanese gore-opus genre (MACHINE GIRL, TOKYO GORE POLICE), this is a simple pair of revenge tales with only a few memorable scenes. There's an expected leap in budget between the two, but even with special effects guru Yoshihiro Nishimura (TOKYO GORE POLICE, VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRAKENSTEIN GIRL) supervising the effects, the films are a chore to get through in between the violence. (5/10)

NINJA ASSASSIN: NINJA ASSASSIN had a lot of potential to become the dream film of many fanboys. And until those fanboys see it, it may remain so. However, I found my dream slightly shattered after witnessing the film for myself. Read my full review here.

VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL: From the director of TOKYO GORE POLICE comes this fun follow up involving a girl who is a vampire and a girl with a mad scientist daddy vying for the same boy. Where something experimental like HARD REVENGE MILLY has little entertainment value outside of the gore scenes, the creators here try to pack every minute with something bizarre and offensive. The blood flows, there's laughs to be had and there's an almost charming story beneath it all. Still, with fare like this and ROBOGEISHA playing at the same festival, this "genre" seems to be getting a bit saturated. (7/10)

CLIVE BARKER'S DREAD: Dread is, at times, a frustrating film. The biggest issue in terms of story is the pace of the storyline. The first act is filled with great performances and interesting ideas. There's a genuine sense of curiosity built and there's fun in wondering where the film is going. The third act is full of the evil, horror and splatter we have come to expect from Clive Barker adaptations. Read my full review here.

PRIVATE EYE: A Korean take on a mystery solving pair in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Set in 1910 this film was written and directed by first timer Dae-min Park and is a fantastically fun romp with healthy doses of realistic action. A total surprise and I look forward to more episodes involving this duo! (8/10)

DOGHOUSE: Jake West (EVIL ALIENS) is working with a bigger budget and has a good idea. This is a zombie film where only the women can be infected. They take their rage out on all the men in a small town prior to our arrival along with the story's main characters - a group of men going on a pre-divorce getaway for their buddy. Once they arrive, they run afoul of the zombie women and the film picks up in pace. The problem with this film outside of the zombie action and gore is it's not all that interesting. The jokes fall flat more often than not. However, it's still a fun film to watch with your buddies once but you can't help but miss a certain element that could have elevated this to a cult status. (6/10)

FIREBALL: We were told in the intro to this film the audience the night before was the first to have a theatrical screening of this film (in the US) and that we were the last. The distributor refuses to project it outside of Fantastic Fest. It's not terribly hard to see why. This is a movie of wasted potential. FIREBALL is about a hardcore sport where one ball in the basket wins the match. Alternatively, if no point is scored, the last man standing wins it for his team. Those are the only rules. Did I mention this is a Thai action movie? Should be incredible, right? Unfortunately, the director chooses to shoot the action almost entirely in closeup meaning we miss spacial context not only necessary to follow the matches but also to absorb the bone crushing action. There's still a handful of scenes that make it a worthy rental, but keeping it from theaters was probably a good move. (5/10)

KAMOGAWA HORUMO - BATTLE LEAGUE IN KYOTO: The festival guide explicitly warned against seeking out information about this movie. But it was listed as an absolute must see. And when Alamo Drafthouse founder/owner and Fantastic Fest co-creator Tim League says something like that, you listen and you put the movie on your schedule. And so we did as our last film of the festival. The main story concerns a group of young freshmen at Kyoto University and their adventure into extracurricular activities by way of the "Order of the Azure Dragons" club. What starts off as an utterly enjoyable college comedy flips like a switch about 40 minutes in into the kind of crazy, wacky awesomeness only the Japanese can deliver. Fantastic! (9/10)

And that does it for Fantastic Fest 2009. I implore you, if you can, make it out to this festival someday. It's concentrated awesome and I can't imagine life without it. I hope you've enjoyed my reviews and please feel free to use my name-link up top to drop any questions about any of the films my way. You'll also find me in the forums as "rtatick"

Source: JoBlo.com

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11:07PM on 10/11/2009
No mention for Mandrill as I only covered the movies I was actually able to see. Unfortunately with a festival like this sometimes your schedule is locked (as in you have a seat in a screening for a movie your supposed to be covering and there's only one showtime during the festival) before buzz builds on movies you hadn't considered for your schedule. I really do wish I could see every movie at the festival, but that's just not possible (again, some movies only have 1 screening). All of the
No mention for Mandrill as I only covered the movies I was actually able to see. Unfortunately with a festival like this sometimes your schedule is locked (as in you have a seat in a screening for a movie your supposed to be covering and there's only one showtime during the festival) before buzz builds on movies you hadn't considered for your schedule. I really do wish I could see every movie at the festival, but that's just not possible (again, some movies only have 1 screening). All of the Fantastic Fest awards are covered in a separate article, but Mandrill does not belong here because I did not see it.
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6:34PM on 10/11/2009
No mentions for Mandrill which actually won 2 awards?
No mentions for Mandrill which actually won 2 awards?
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10:37PM on 10/10/2009
Yeah, I was trying to stick to just the movies. There's a ton that could be written about the stars that were there. Like Alexander Skarsgard's surprise appearance for the METROPIA screening. Guess word got out such that after the post-screening Q&A, there were tons of high school girls waiting to see Vampire Eric.
Yeah, I was trying to stick to just the movies. There's a ton that could be written about the stars that were there. Like Alexander Skarsgard's surprise appearance for the METROPIA screening. Guess word got out such that after the post-screening Q&A, there were tons of high school girls waiting to see Vampire Eric.
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8:37PM on 10/10/2009
No mention of the Dolph Lundgren appearance for the Unisol 3 screener?
No mention of the Dolph Lundgren appearance for the Unisol 3 screener?
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