It's my first. I'm a virgin. From what I understand, what lies ahead of me is blood, beheadings, babes… it will be fantastic. Fantastic Fest 2012 in Austin is known for the crazy quality that makes movies magic. It's only been three years since I heard of the festival. My response, "That sounds a little too rape-y for me." Look, I tend to not appreciate the gore and gory-gore violence as much as the next guy, but then the following year, it sounded safe to venture in. So here I am. For the record, when I watch horror, I'm the guy who gets nervous. I've been known to stare in the corner of the theater screen during particularly scary moments. Scary isn't all this festival offers. This year there is documentary, plenty of offbeat films and amazing events.
The people at Fantastic Fest tend to forget that 99 percent of our population has never heard of it. The crowd tends to be young film critics, Austinites, and then the dedicated film fans who could rattle off 20 Japanese directors while the rest of the you wonder if that movie you saw was from Korea, China or Japan.
With titles like Dead Sushi, Vegetarian Cannibal and Bring Me the Head of Machine Gun Woman there will be plenty to choose from.
Here is the first installment of My Craziest Moments of Fantastic Fest, and I'll be back at the end of the festival with Volume 2. As always, I will do my best to describe the situation without giving away spoilers.
10. Killer Squid
With a title like Dead Sushi you expect immediate insanity. You don't get it at first, and overall the film is pretty weak, with a low production value. I need to set the stage for you on this one. A father trains his daughter in the art of sushi. While he's at it, he trains her in the martial arts. He thinks that will help. He determines she's not worth anything and kicks her out, mainly because she's a girl. We spend plenty of time with her, until we're suddenly in the back of a resort with some strangers. A young couple hangs out, with the guy trying to put the moves on her. They're interrupted by an homeless man, and the guy starts picking on him. Suddenly, the homeless man opens up his trench coat, and tenticles emerge. A flying squid comes out, chases the couple, slices the head off the young woman, continues to fly into the mouth of the young gun. The couple somehow is forced to french kiss by the squid as the beast kills them both. If the film would have been better, this would have been higher on the list.
9. Blindly Running Around Town
Cold Steel is a dramatic, action, love story about a Chinese sniper fighting off the invading Japanese, and no, that's not crazy. At one point a blind guy runs around a blown-up town, while giving a back ride to a woman who is directing him through the streets. Did I mention she also has a gun, and the blind guy is listening to the approaching enemies, instructing her when to shoot?
8. The Return of Captain Invincible
This is not a movie that played at the festival. If Fantastic Fest existed in 1983, it probably would have been the highlight. Hopefully, I'll find out soon. Though this is not exactly part of the festival, showing trailers, odd music videos and awful informercials before a movie starts is what the Alamo Drafthouse does.
The film is a superhero, fantasy, musical comedy starring Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee. I don't know how this film hasn't been on a million lists for being funny, awful or both, especially with superhero films being king at the box office. If I enjoy, I will now refer to Arkin like this in all future movie reviews: starring Alan Arkin (Slaughterhouse Five, The Return of Captain Invincible) as an old, cranky man.
7. A Guy Talks About His Member
Siggi runs the Icelandic Phallological Museum (a penis museum) that has more than 215 penises and penile parts in the documentary The Final Member. Siggi's hope is to finally score a human specimen of "legal length." I'll save the description of legal length for you when you see this documentary. An American wants his member to be remembered. He will go to many lengths to see this through. It's a game of push and pull. The insanity abounds, but especially when he talks about Elmo (his penis) and how he hopes mankind can move forward once they've seen his penis in a museum. There is something terribly uneasy about a man willing to talk about the potential of removing his third leg for the sake of history.
6. They Forgot the Movie
Tim League is a name you should know by now. He and his wfie created and run the Alamo Drafhouse theater chain (hopefully coming soon to a city near you). He also has Drafthouse Films which distributed last year's Oscar-nominated foreign film Bullhead. He's king around here, but it sounded like that would take a tiny temporary hit on Saturday night. It was the United States premiere of Drafthouse Film's new movie The ABC's of Death. It's 26 short films, by 26 directors. D is for Dogfight, F is for Fart, stuff like that.
League took the stage to introduce the film with some interesting news: he forgot it. The man in charge of the festival forgot his own movie. The story goes that after it played at the Toronto International Film Festival, they shipped it off to Spain for another festival. Luckily, we didn't have to stare at a blank screen. Tim and his team were able to find or re-create the cut of the film from six months ago. He said the new version will be a little tighter, and I'm hoping some of the poor video quality was due to this, but overall the film definitely has its crazy moments and it the direct result of this festival existing.
5. J is for Japan
Japanese films seem to bring out the creative lunatics better than anyone, and yes that's sort of a compliment. Thankfully, In The ABC's of Death, Japan did not disappoint. R is for Rice. Sounds simply enough, right? The unexplainable images that flew my way were nuclear power, shifting Nazi symbols, penises, racism, references to 9/11, and most importantly one giant penis a woman/super solider uses to do battle. It's the perfect short to watch with your mouth open in confusion, then turn to your friend, giggling and shrugging your shoulders.
4. Who Said What?
Holy Motors could have a top 10 all to itself. At one point there's a troll-like man who is soothed to sleep by Eva Mendes. With all of the over-the-top characters and moments, they all feel true to the film and you can expect the insanity. There's one part though that isn't foreshadowed and I wasn't mentally prepared for. Inanimate objects talk to each other. I know this doesn't sound like much, but trust me, you won't see it coming. That's saying something considering I'm telling you it happens right now. When you least expect it, inanimate objects have a regular old conversation, that illuminates the film in a completely different way. Trust me, it's a turn.
3. Playing with Dolls
A little girl playing with Barbie is one of the most natural, innocent moments in life. Of course that's not the case for American Scream. This documentary focuses on three families in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who take their love of Halloween to heights I did not know existed. Victor spends thousands of dollars and hours created a haunted house on his property for the neighborhood to enjoy. His daughter is into it. Really into it. "I don't like Barbies," she says. "I love destroying them." Luckily there is a visual of bloody, shredded Barbies to go along with this. (See an image of the family above.)
Look for her later in the film to write a special message on a piece of paper in giant letters. I know it's possible that she could end up being something else, but right now I can only envision her becoming a great director of horror films like Carrie or becoming the real-life Carrie.
2. Down Goes a Critic
You know how all the film festivals have a debate that ends with people throwing on boxing gloves, putting up their dukes and settling it in the ring? No? Yeah, the Fantastic Debates are one of the staples that makes this festival unique. Two individuals have opening arguments, rebuttals, closing arguments, and then two one-minute boxing rounds.
The debate was titled "Mumblecore is catsh*t and is giving a bad name to independent films." It was mumblecore director Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs, Nights and Weekends) and Badass Digest editor Devin Faraci. These two didn't like each other. The debates were actually well-prepared and I found good arguments on both sides. It was pretty equal. Equal ended right before they put on gloves. After 12 seconds Devin went down, and that's when he decided to put on head gear. It didn't help (enough).
Swanberg beat him up, plain and simple. Sure, there were moments when I was impressed Faraci kept getting up, and moments when I wished Swanberg would aim for the gut instead of the head, but I was definitely entertained. Swanberg won the fight, and therefore the argument. Faraci won the respect of getting into the ring, which is all you can win when you get knocked down that much. Faraci's shaking legs while trying to walk down four steps out of the ring is something I won't soon forget.
1. I Declare War
Number one on my list is flat-out crazy good. Out of all the films I've seen so far, I Declare War is the best, even beating Looper. It's about a group of kids playing war in the forest, to levels we've never seen. Films like Attack the Block and Super 8 have good performances by children. I Declare War has greatness. The film is able to blend adult situation and dialogue seamlessly with what kids battle in their youth. It nails the social rankings that constantly goes on when you are trying to figure out who you are when you're growing up. It's hilarious, serious, and so far my favorite kind of crazy at Fantastic Fest.