>> Fantastic Fest 2008: The Rest of the Fest

This is my last bit of writing about this year’s Fantastic Fest, I promise.  Just believe me when I say that the week of the fest is the best single week of the entire year, and, with the Alamo Drafthouse’s new ticketing policy, it was a more social fest than ever before.  Instead of waiting in line for films, the downtime was spent outside, mixing it up with fest-goers, film bloggers, and filmmakers.  There’s way too much to say, too many stories to tell, but I met a lot of folks that I hope I stay in contact with.  Plus, I partied with Bill Murray.  Sort of.  I mean, he was there.  It’s not like we danced together.

I also missed a bunch of films I wanted to see, including Chocolate, Martyrs, Not Quite Hollywood, Rocknrolla, and the jaw-dropping Japanese “pink” film, A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (one that was completely under my radar until the fest was over).  Incredibly, I even missed films I actually sat down to see.  Your stamina can only take in so many movies in a day, and the films on the following list are my casualties of fatigue.  The fact that I walked out of these because I simply could NOT stay awake is in no way a reflection of the quality of the films.  I actually stayed fully awake through some real stinkers, but I watched at least an hour of these before my body said “sleeeeeeep“, and I wanted to share a few words based on the impressions I got before I became a total zombie.

The Good, The Bad, & The Weird

This was a Koren remake of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly told essentially from the POV of the Eli Wallach character, instead of Eastwood.  It’s a vividly colorful movie, lush with green, gold, and red, and has some huge, exciting action sequences.  It won the Best Film award at Fantastic Fest, and yet…zzzzzz.  I couldn’t make it through.

Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer

This is an old-fashioned, rubbery, splattery monster movie that is clearly an homage to 1980’s horror, with an interesting lead character.  Jack Brooks is a particular kind of smart redneck, the type that, as a Texan, I’ve come across many times in my life, but as a film-goer, I rarely see.  It takes this film a long time to get going, repeating unnecessary scenes and information before the mayhem really begins, and then I…zzzzzz.  I’d like to know if the build-up pays off, so I might revisit this one someday.

Alien Raiders

I expected z-grade Sci-Fi Channel crap based on the title, and what I got was so much better than that.  Director Ben Rock works with what he’s got in this cheapie thriller, and here he’s got a solid screenplay and a capable cast.  I tried my best to keep my eyes open during this one, because I really did want to see the ending, but…zzzzzz.  This comes out on Warner Bros.’ Raw Feed label sometime in January, I believe, and I will definitely be finishing it then.  Don’t judge it by its title–it’s better than most straight-to-video fare, sort of a mix between The Mist and The Hidden.

Next year, I hope they keep the ticketing system intact.  It was as close to perfect as they are going to get, I think, making things stress-free, and keeping the smoking patio the coolest place to be between movies.  I am hoping they instill some sort of meal plan, and, if not, then next year I’ll buy an Alamo gift card and use that all week long.  Maybe they can offer some kind of drink specials to fest-goers?  Four bucks a pop for a soda or tea starts to get very ridiculous after just two shows.  Maybe offer some kind of mug or something at a set price that can be refilled throughout the day?

I am hoping for a stronger horror showing next year, as this year felt a little horror-lite, and the horror stuff that they did show was weaker across the board than last year’s (notable exceptions being Sauna, Let the Right One In, and, from the sound of things, Martyrs).  Also, the programming for the AICN screenings is moving further away from the off-center, cult nature of Fantastic Fest and into a squarely mainstream place.  Two years ago, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Fountain dazzled audiences at the fest.  This year’s big picture line-up of Eagle Eye, Role Models, Appaloosa, and City of Ember feels odd.  They were mostly entertaining movies (I sort of hate Eagle Eye), but were they Fantastic Fest movies?  Hard to say…

I think what defines the Fantastic Fest film, whether it is a passionate drama like Estomago or a gonzo horror musical like Repo!  The Genetic Opera, is the cult potential inherent in each movie.  It can be foreign, horror, sci-fi, exploitation, chop-socky, grindhouse or art-house–the bottom line is that these are movies that will develop cult followings.  It’s a difficult thing to put a finger on, and it’s a testament to the Fantastic Fest programmers that they are able to find this unifying attribute amongst such a broad spectrum of films.  It’s not about celebrating a singular sub-section of geek culture; it’s a celebration of films that are left-of-center, stuff that makes you say “ya gotta see this”, stuff that makes you want to see it again almost immediately afterwards, because you don’t know when you’ll be able to again.

If you can go, GO.

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1 Comment

  1. I think the secret screenings fit genre-wise into the festival theme. Some more loosely than others, but I do think the programmers seem to be going more “mainstream” or studio with their picks. That being said I haven’t heard about any significant non-mainstream films coming out in the next few months that would warrant the attention of a secret screening either. It may have just been a lack of options.
    Also, I think they may have received some backlash from last year’s attendees who waited all day, and missed a few shows so that they could be guaranteed a seat……to……PERSEPOLIS!!!!!!!! Which was a great film (IMO), but wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a must-see or want-to-see. For better or worse when the attendees go into the secret screenings I think they want to be shown something that they’re somewhat aware of. Maybe much less so now because of the ticketing tables (another benefit to them implementing the ticket system), but I think Tim actually announcing MARTYRS instead of keeping it as a secret screening like they claim to have intended was kind of a hint that they were afraid of another PERSEPOLIS reaction.
    However, despite being somewhat disappointed also last year by the announcement of a French-Iranian black & white animated film that I’d never heard of, nor knew anything about anyone involved in the film, it still was a better film than anything they had this year as a secret screening.


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