2012 Fantastic Fest Recap (Or How I Learned To Manage My Time At Such An Overwhelmingly Awesome Film Fest)

This year was Go,See,Talk’s first time attending Fantastic Fest and I have to say it was everything they said it would be. Since I was only there for 4 days, I missed out on some later week fun like the secret screening of Cloud Atlas (with a supposedly awesome Q&A with the Wachowskis…UGGGG), but there was still lots to see and do and I got a lot of reviews/coverage under my belt.

For such a great festival with a huge draw it’s amazing to see how quaint and laid back everything and everyone is. You can easily bump elbows in such small proximity with both filmmakers and actors but also the film critic community. For example getting to meet Ernesto Diaz Espinoza (Mandrill, Mirageman) and Australia’s prolific film blogger Mr. Tom Clift were but a few highlights of the Fest.

But, if you’ve never been, imagine walking right past Tim Burton, standing next to Karl Urban at a t-shirt table (he’s tall btw) and then turning around to tell Robert Rodriguez that “hey, I really dig Once Upon A Time in Mexico” before queuing into theater 6 right behind the Harry Knowles. Yeah that all happened in about 20 minutes…but without photos I’ll be you think I’m just making it up.

Anyway, with so many films screened back to back there’s a lot to take in. I honestly saw more films in 96 hours than I think I used to watch in a month. Since I’m finished with my full reviews for films I was really excited about seeing, the following entries are short write ups for films that really got good buzz, and I saw based on recommendations. Some were fun to see with an audience even if they weren’t my cup of tea. But then that’s the beauty of this genre fest. There’s always going to be some really out there stuff that won’t appeal to very many but whether you liked it or not, it’s probably something you’ll never be able to see again.

So, without insulting these filmmakers with the brevity of my write ups below, I offer my thoughts and recommendation on these equally entertaining and worthwhile films…

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Room 237 – This documentary, free of anyone involved save for their voice, is a purely visual experience that is a fascinating look at what happens to people when they over-analyze The Shinning. The “fans” brought in to tell how they interpret Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film have theories that are compelling and deep but most are just waaay out there. Take for instance, a Minotaur, the placement of a chair in the background, numbers on a shirt, Calumet baking powder, the faking of the moon landing, Hitler and the plight of the Indians. Yep, people claim they’re all evident in the film. Even taken with a grain of salt most are just plain daffy. But using the scenes of the film slowed down, over-layed and endlessly scrutinized you can see how they have come to interpret it. Right or wrong their theories may be, you’ll never be able to watch The Shinning the same way again that’s for sure. 3/4

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New  Kids Nitro – A sequel to a film I’ve never heard about (New Kids Turbo) this follows these trailer park rejects on what’s supposed to be a series of similar misadventures pretty much retreading the first film. But this time there’s more zombies to add to their world of violence and gross out humor. Truth be told, I can’t recall the last time I’ve laughed as much and as uproariously during all the insensitive shock-humor. More to that point I can’t even think of a way to describe it other than to call it a live action South Park, but that’s still not going to tell you what you’ll be getting yourself into. It’s supposed to be excess for the sake of it and while I don’t subscribe to that kind of filmmaking this, like some of the Jackass films, is a very rare exception. Maybe because it’s foreign but mostly because it is so outlandish.

If you’re able to find this or the first film on video (good luck with that too), you may be entirely surprised and like it or be totally offended. Either way you have to applaud their conviction to sheer audacity. Whether it ends up being your cup of tea we can probably agree it’s one of the ballsiest comedies in a while and one that fits right at home at Fantastic Fest.  4/4

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Combat Girls – Similar to a hard edged look at troubled youth in This is England, Combat Girls shows the trouble that two young girls face in a post WWII Germany. The main character Marisa hates everyone she finds guilty for the decline of her country and is pulled in three directions having to choose between family, upbringing and social rebellion. A series of bad mistakes makes her long for one sole act of redemption and you’ll be amazed at the really great acting from Alina Levshin, who comes across as Germany’s answer to Noomi Rapace. 2/4

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Lee’s Adventure  – One of the reasons this doesn’t get a full review is because there’s no really way to begin describing it…at least in a way that will make any sense. Starring Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie Chan), as Lee it’s a story about a boy who is committed to save his wife from dying by playing a video game that, legend says, once beaten allows him to time travel so he can save her. So begins Lee’s Adventure. This is a film that is just all kinds of awesome and entirely off the wall storytelling. Part time travelling film, part love story, half live action, half anime, it’s an extremely funny but dramatic romp that is so chaotic it’s beautiful and has to be seen to be believed. See? Told you that wouldn’t make any sense.  3/4

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Danger 5 – Another film that’s best left to experience rather than reading a synopsis. Not a film but 6 episodes played back to back marathon style, Danger 5 is throwback and low budget brilliance. One of the most fun experiences at the fest, just when you think things couldn’t get any weirder the Danger 5 team takes it to another level…like that rare air where The Mighty Boosh exists. Nothing is too wacky to use as a plot device as Hitler, half-man/half bald eagle characters, talking animals, Nazi dinosaurs and secret drink recipes are just some of the LSD inspired elements you’ll find in this completely wacky B-movie send up. OSS 117: Cairo – Nest of Spies and Airplane! have nothing on this cheesy spoof comic gold which will be an instant classic for genre fans. 4/4

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Wrong  – It doesn’t matter what side of the bed you wake up on when the alarm clock gets you up at 7:60 every morning. In Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong, everything in the main character Dolph Springer’s world is just that, and further a bizzare journey into the absurd.  At nearly every corner of this dreamlike film there is a story line and likable characters that’s somewhat reminiscent of the very off-kilter nature of Wristcutters: A Love Story and Dog Tooth topped off with Terry Gilliam’s surreal shooting style and sense of humor. Wrong is more than a bit askew, funny, easily more accessible than Dupieux’s Rubber and is best described as being an odd delight.

The only real issue with Wrong is that it feels forcibly resolved and doesn’t finish strongly or in a way that is as compelling as when it starts. You can say the same thing about Rubber, so it really just depends on the taste of the person watching it. One thing is for sure, William Fichtner has never been better. His performance, all too brief sadly, as Master Chang is so odd and amazing you just can’t take your eyes off him. Fichtner kills the role of the reserved Master Chang and steals every scene. He’s so much fun you kind of wish Dupieux would make a third film about his character that somehow bridges the two films or at least an excuse to get Fichtner to play the role again…hey it’s crazy enough to happen. 3/4

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Graceland – A new spin on a kidnapping story, Ron Morales tells a story that’s so believable and grounded you’d think it was a documentary. A superbly paced and intense kidnapping flick, this is the kind of film you don’t get to see every day but would wish there were more of. In the world of Ransom and Taken, this might be called “Taken it’s sweet time” because this is a slow film. With twists, turns and drama that is subtle if not completely downplayed this could almost be likened to stage acting with its simplicity. Yet what it lacks in adrenaline (as one might expect in a kidnapping film) it makes up for with layers of complexity and such compelling performances. Not as tense as something like The Disappearance of Alice Creed but just as original and simply devastating at times with its commitment to realism. 3/4

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So that’s my report as the 2012 Fantastic Fest begins winding down. What’s on the agenda for next year?? Who knows but it’s certain that I’ll be going back…for the full week because I ain’t missing out on anything. So while I look back on the films I saw (check out our reviews/coverage here) I’m going to continue to check out the screeners of the things I had interest in seeing but just just wasn’t able to get to see like Doomsday BookVanishing WavesYoung Gun in the TimeUnit 7No Rest for the WickedCold BloodedCold SteelHenge + The Big Gun. If you’ve seen these, let me know. I’d love to hear what you think before or while I’m knocking them off my list.

Still for the first time at Fantastic Fest the bar has been raised super high (thanks to Tim League and the amazing Alamo Drafhouse cinema and staff) and I can’t wait to go back in 2013. That’s Fantastic!