Monday, October 4, 2010

Parting thoughts on Fantastic Fest 2010

My first Fantastic Fest totally ruled. What took me so long to attend it, as it is hosted in my alumni city of Austin TX after all? Answer: I don't know!! Last year's Japanese takeover, culminating in the secret screening (and world premiere) of Noboru Iguchi's Robogeisha and an afterparty karaoke and pole-dancing blitz, was tough enough to hear about and not attend, being stuck in NY as it were. And though we get the beyond awesome NYAFF, my favorite film festival, ever, I'm like a spoiled child wanting more. By "more" I mean: more bloodshed, more horror, more violence, more zombies, more what-the-hell-did-I-just-see??, more GENRE. The countdown for 2011's Fantastic Fest has already begun, and I can hardly wait to do it all over again.

I made it into every film I wanted to see (or tried for, anyway) w/ the glaring exception of ONE, the third secret screening, which turned out to be my hero Yoshihiro Nishimura's world premiere of Helldriver, just weeks before its proper world premiere at Spain's Sitges Film Festival (attending THAT would be a dream come true, but that's another story). I made it into one of the four secret screenings at Fantastic Fest, Mark Romanek's captivating Never Let Me Go, and the other three (Helldriver, Kim Ji-woon's punishing I Saw The Devil — please NYAFF 2011?? or sooner?? — and Andre Ovredal's Troll Hunter) all sounded dope, but I couldn't make those due to various conflicts (thought I sincerely tried w/ Helldriver). Everything I saw was in a crowded theatre w/ up to hundreds of other film devotees and fanatics like myself. The sheer degree of excitement and anticipation, plus the proliferation of beer, contributed to an atmosphere as fun and free-wheeling as it was very serious and devoted. I can safely write, too, that I none of the films I saw felt like a waste of time (the Syfy original Sharktopus is pure mind-candy, but that's the point). Though I dug everything, there were some I dug a whole hell of a lot, some that thrilled me to the degree that I will cheerlead their proper distribution in the States, I will track 'em down at other festivals and buy their DVDs legally and encourage/force my friends to watch 'em with me.

I made a little list, then, of my 21 films from Fantastic Fest 2010, in order of super-favorite all the way down to "yes I indeed saw that". So:

Cold Fish - Sion Sono ruled NYAFF/Japan Cuts 2009 w/ his epic Love Exposure. He rules Fantastic Fest w/ Cold Fish. Nothing else took it to that domain of high-emotion and unblinking gore, and even I the ever-optimist had to hold my breath and pray that daughter Mitsuko has at least SOME humanity left in her.

Man From Nowhere - If Sono-san's film had either 1) not been present at the festival or 2) slipped up in some major way, Lee Jung-beom's ultraviolent roller coaster Man From Nowhere would've reigned the day. It's still up there as one of the most intense films I've ever seen, w/ a lead duo we grow to quickly, and continually, care about.

Mutant Girls Squad - I saw and loved this Nishimura/Noboru Iguchi/Tak Sakaguchi cooperative girlie superhero gore-fest at 2010 NYAFF and I love it even more now. The cartoon violence is balanced by the fascinating, young cast, mostly J-Idols true but w/ heart-wrenching backstories of the emotive sort (instead of, say, hearts-ripped-out-of-chests sort).

The Violent Kind - Guilty pleasure, maybe, but I really really loved this genre mashup, and not just the hot cast, seriously. And I wasn't THAT drunk when I saw it, either. The Butcher Bros' new film is on my must-get list.

Never Let Me Go - The one secret screening I made it into. Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel is a discreetly lovely, bittersweet narrative, both a break in the more action-y films I'd been viewing and a worthy place in the festival. It has a proper one-theatre run in NY right now, so local friends should go see it tout de suite.

Red White & Blue - I am not sure "looking forward to" is how I'd describe my driven anticipation for Simon Rumley's new Austin-set film, but I am thankful I saw it as I can't imagine it'll have a broad distribution beyond the festival circuit. Easily one of the most punishing (yet oddly beautiful) films I've ever seen.

13 Assassins - I was stoked when Fantastic Fest announced that Takashi Miike's samurai epic would close out this year's festival. I mean, the second half of the film, at least 60 min+, is one intricate, frenetic, ass-kicking battle scene!

Bunraku - High on visuals and action choreography, w/ witty banter and at least a skeletal plot. I think a much wider audience would totally enjoy this filmic junk food, if they can get by the "challenging" (but, in my mind, totally effective) marriage of Japanese culture w/ the Wild West, showtunes and Russian Constructivism.

Summer Wars - As a very occasional anime-viewer (I only JUST saw Perfect Blue), I'm unceasingly stunned when I see something that I actually dig, which is the case w/ this brilliantly conceived family dramedy (w/ appropriate doses of action in the cyber-world).

I Spit On Your Grave - Two points here: I willingly saw this remake, just as I willingly saw the notorious original. And the new one is wayyy more graphic.

Julia's Eyes - After about 20 films, I didn't think I had any more scaring left in me. Guillem Morales proved otherwise, in his very haunting, psychological thriller that keeps bloodshed to a bare, shocking minimum.

Rubber - So cool and so weird. An almost unclassifiable genre film, which should get proper, extensive distribution in theatres but may find itself more comfortable in an art gallery. So long as I see it again.

Sound of Noise - The masochist in me can't rank this delightful, avant-music journey any higher, but I enjoyed it immensely, as I'd suspect most of the audience did, considering the post-screening grins.

Bibliotheque Pascal - WHOA. Serious head-trip, this one. Very surreal, very dark, and its ending leaves a disquieting aftertaste like "should I really care about this person?" Rewarding, too.

Outrage - Oh he's back, Takeshi Kitano, w/ a very violent Yakuza film of Japan's best thuggish actors, double-crossing one another until nearly everyone's met an early death.

Machete Maidens Unleashed - My one bittersweet moment w/ Mark Hartley's brilliant documentary on Filipino exploitation cinema is: when/where will I EVER see proper full-lengths of the depicted films? I doubt most of these are Netflix-able...

Agnosia - Eugenio Mira's haunting, sumptuous new film was as beautiful as I'd imagined but far darker and reticent to fully reveal itself. Needs another viewing.

Fatso - It's more than a sex-comedy (or rather, masturbation comedy), seriously. It's also about being so swept up in your own self-esteem-induced fantasy world (as the antihero Rino is), that you forget that those around you, who may sincerely care very much about you, have their own problems and insecurities.

We Are What We Are - Family of ritualistic cannibals as symbol for social unrest? A very troubling, unrelenting film w/ not exactly empathetic characters.

The Dead - Not your "average" zombie film by any means. Rather, it's a journey to a fated dead end, surrounded by gorgeous panoramas of African vistas and blue skies, w/ the hobbling, hungry living dead content to slowly close in on the inevitable conclusion.

Sharktopus - Silly fun, super-low-budget exploitation, w/ an easy-on-the-eyes cast, but I saw it a full day before it premiered on Syfy so there.

Fantastic Fest 2011, save a spot for me! Oh, hey hot stuff....