Sorry for the delay! I have been very busy at this year's Fantastic Fest, busier in a different sense from my routine at NYAFF in that the former is incredibly concentrated and thus I've practically ONLY been in films, all day, all night. And without a laptop to dash off quick takes post-screenings, and returning home nightly after 2a and waking up again at 6a to claim the day's tickets, I have not been in the capacity to write until now.
This festival has been a blast. I have seen I think 20 films thus far, since the past Friday, and have several more lined up before I return to New York. So without further buildup, my day one (Friday) experiences at Fantastic Fest.
Summer Wars (dir. Mamoru Hosoda, 2009, Japan)
This was never on my list. I knew nothing about it (it's anime, go figure) but claimed a ticket anyway straight after acquiring my festival badge b/c I needed time to kill. And it's ANIME. It's not that I eschew anime as a rule, but I feel I am terribly more ignorant to the genre than, say, those who watch anime. So I didn't think very much going in, but Hosoda's film totally blew me away. There is this wild Matrix-like cyber world called OZ, like Facebook, Twitter, mixi, and every other proper social networking engine rolled into one marvelous place, set inside a cavernous white dome. I had just come off attending Sarah Sze's opening reception at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, and her ecstatically varied, fractured nostalgic installations resonated heavily for me in this world. And apparently most of the world, at least in Summer Wars, uses OZ, so cross that w/ artist Cao Fei's forays into Second Life, and you've nearly got it. But this sci-fi land is only the bizarre, parallel-world core, to an otherwise delightful, realistic family drama. Or more like extended-extended family drama, w/ the protagonist Kenji (HS maths phenom) traveling w/ Natsuki to her family's estate in Ueda, Nagano, a sprawling wood-and-shoji homage to old Japan. It's Natsuki's grandmother's birthday, the matriarch of this vibrant bunch, so everyone and their mom (literally) assembling for the festivities. The action driving the sci-fi plot, that a satellite when missing and later becomes armed like a nuclear weapon, due to someone/thing causing a metastasizing virus in OZ, is just one of the moving pieces amid Natsuki's tentative affection for Kenji (and his extreme awkwardness) and her family's acceptance of him, and all this is surrounded by a diverse lot w/ their varied passions and tics. This charmed the hell out of me, and as great as the whiz-bang action was (the fight b/w family avatars and the beast, transmogrified into like a sun god, were dope, esp. Natsuki's hanafuda duel w/ it), the whole family scenario went far deeper, like Katsuhito Ishii's bizarrely relatable feats in his Taste of Tea. This was the perfect way for me to kick off my festival experience.
Fatso (dir. Arild Fröhlich, 2008, Norway)
Another unscheduled film, but I thought I'm at a film festival, I should be watching films. So I did, knowing only from an image that this was about a decidedly socially awkward Norwegian dude. We were warned in the intro about the prevalence and variety of masturbation in this film, and not like strange or satanic stuff like Crucifix humping but rather just a guy zealously jerking off, blowing his load on his face by accident, then finding that he's run out of TP to mop up the job. That and a hollowed out melon brimming w/ fluid, well, HAPPENED, but thankfully the entire film isn't a self-pleasure marathon. The "hero", Rino, who draws his alter-ego, an anthropomorphic, well-hung rhino, on the sly, receives a new houseguest, the bubbly Swede Malin, a student, who claims she wants to clean up her act but falls quickly into that, hanging w/ a rowdy lot and not seeming averse to dragging Rino along w/ her. But his carefully constructed fantasy world, awash in nude women dancing on fountains and walking along the beach, is what Rino knows best, and he can't quite deal w/ Malin (does she actually like him? or is she just being friendly?) nor any other women for that matter. It's going to take something perversely extreme to uppercut Rino out of this fantasy, which in the end keeps in the underlying disquietude of the whole film.
Machete Maidens Unleashed (dir. Mark Hartley, 2010, Australia)
I had a double-gala screening Friday night for genre champion Roger and Julie Corman, so the festivities began w/ an excellent anti-documentary on Filipino exploitation cinema from the '60s and '70s, or more specifically exploitation/grindhouse films SET in the Philippines. Ultra low-budget schlock set in the "Wild East", women-only prisons and jungles full of bat-men and brutish monsters, w/ memorable titles like The Big Doll House, TNT Jackson, Cleopatra Wong and the Blood Island trilogy. I didn't even know there was a sub-genre on "Women in Prison" films, mostly starring Pam Grier & Sid Haig! The romp is full of mind-candy and my main fear is how many of these films are actually available. This documentary is a tease and a tome of terrifying tragedies and titillating trysts, of gory ghoulish gangsters and gorgeous girls. Why aren't more films today this fun? Yes it's like snorting a two-foot-long line of ocular cocaine, all jittery, giddy highs, but when it culminates w/ the arduous background behind Apocalypse Now and the joy of James Bond spoof For Your Height Only (w/ pint-sized lead Weng Weng, kicking polyester-suited ass), you've got yourself something golden. I want to see all of 'em.
Sharktopus (dir. Declan O'Brien, 2010, USA)
Part two of the gala screening, which followed a Syfy awards ceremony for the Cormans, was their Syfy Original production Sharktopus. This just sounded dope b/c the primary antagonist is the titular character, and you don't have to drag your imagination too far out your comfort zone to figure out what a 'sharktopus' looks like. Taking two mega sea creatures and combing them into one has total potential for your proper, grubby B film (think piranha + killer bee = flying piranha, for instance), and Sharktopus delivered in the sense that it is very much like Corman's earlier productions: lots of blood, lots of breasts, little budget and even less plot. Why was this chimeric half-shark half-octopus created for government use? Who cares! It's on the loose killing people, kind of b/c the beast is slick early 00's CGI, which clashes nicely w/ the very real human victims. Off goes Abercrombie-ish dude (Kerem Bursin) and the mad prof's hot daughter/biophysicist (Sara Malakul Lane of Belly of the Beast), he perpetually removing and reclothing his shirt, spouting terse phrases ("I'm through with talking!") while she orders him around and sits on the teetering edge of a speedboat w/ her laptop, apparently not worried she might go flying over the side. The many killings are fun but the gore is mostly abstract (definitely not Piranha 3D level) and the characters, despite their inane lines, are easy on the eyes.