Fantastic Fest 2014 has come to a halt (two weeks ago), and man was it a blast! It was the 10th year of the festival and the first year I was able to attend. I’ll be back. The same love of cinema and attention to detail that the Alamo Drafthouse applies to their regular programming permeates the yearly film festival, an eight day celebration of movies, packed with exciting events, insightful Q&As, and a wide variety of screenings featuring genre films, foreign flicks, short films, and documentaries. There are world premiers of brand new movies, repertory screenings of classics, secret screenings, and events that feature live elements, such as Master Pancake where they essentially make fun of deserving movies and amiably send them up during the screening. There are parties with food fights and human piñatas, nerdy debates that end in fisticuffs, and games that require you to drink liquor and get slapped in the face. This is not your average film festival.
At Fantastic Fest, there’s an emphasis on fun. In the festival program, Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse CEO and co-founder of Fantastic Fest) states the following:
“I’ve often said that my primary goal for Fantastic Fest is to make sure that everyone who attends has the best week of their respective years during the festival. That remains my goal this year, both for myself and for all of you.”
Mission accomplished. It was easily my favorite week of the year and the most fun I’ve had in some time. I managed to pack in 31 feature length films, 23 short films, the opening/closing night parties, Fantastic Debates, and The Maltin Chronicles, even with a two day excursion to check out the inaugural year of MondoCon, a convention put on by Mondo celebrating film, music, and art, with panels, screenings, and artists selling limited edition posters, records, toys, and other collectibles.
It was a hell of a good time and while I initially planned to do nightly recaps, I soon realized that it would be difficult with the endless string of screenings and events. Being my first year, I didn’t want to miss anything and I’m proud to say that I left it all on the theater floor. It was a wonderfully exhausting week and by the end of the fest I was taking power naps in my car between screenings.
Now that I’m caught up on sleep and the hangover has subsided, I’d like to post an in depth look at Fantastic Fest 2014 and the killer films I saw. The programming was great and I enjoyed an eclectic mix of movies from filmmakers all over the world. So without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Day 1- Thursday 9/18
I departed Houston in a terrible thunderstorm and was soaked for the majority of the ride. It took an hour and a half before I saw a shred of blue in the sky, but Austin greeted me with sunshine. I was excited for my first visit to the newly renovated Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, under the same roof as swank bar The Highball for the first time. I frequented the previous South Lamar location when in town, and have great memories of Mondo Mystery Movies and other special events there, including a screening of They Live at the Alamo with an afterparty at The Highball deejayed by street artist Shepard Fairey.
The original buildings had a certain charm that I hoped the new one would retain, and for the most part it does. The new Highball was largely assembled from pieces of the original and has seven themed karaoke rooms and a stage with a large dance floor.
The walls at the Alamo are covered with huge movie posters for classic movies such as Dead Ringer and The Creeping Flesh. The theaters resemble the old ones but there are now nine screens instead of six. They look and sound great and the place has a nice vibe. There is a multilevel parking garage that makes parking convenient, but I miss the big open parking lot from before. The party would spill out into the lot and people would congregate and talk/smoke. There isn’t a good spot to do that now, and the area outside of the building can get crowded.
The only other inconvenience was the line for the men’s room. It won’t be an issue most of the time, but during high volume events like Fantastic Fest there may be a wait. I’m not sure if this was an issue for the ladies. I do not recall seeing a line for them, just a bunch of drunk beardies itching to drain the main vein. I’m not a big fan of porta potties but there were times when I would’ve happily used one.
Once I picked up my badge and swag bag, I headed to theater 5 to catch a midday press screening of Tusk. Fantastic Fest uses an online ticketing system that allows badge holders to rank the films screening the following day in order of preference. After you rank the films in each time slot, the system does it’s best to give everybody their first choice. Each night you receive your movie schedule for the following day via email.
Most movies were shown two times during the week, but there are four or five films in most time slots and it is impossible to see everything. In the week leading up to the fest, I spent a lot of time watching trailers and researching movies so I could make informed decisions. I’m glad I did, I’m not sure I would’ve liked such a high percentage of the movies I saw if I went in blind. The system managed to give me my first choice for all of the screenings except two. You can swap, drop, and pick up tickets online and I managed to swap for a ticket to one of the two screenings I didn’t get. The only one I didn’t get into was the secret screening. It was Goodnight Mommy and after reading the synopsis I think I lucked out with Bros Before Hos instead.
I caught 3 movies on opening day. Short reviews:
Film 1- Tusk (link to trailer)
Director- Kevin Smith
Starring- Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez
The idea for Kevin Smith’s latest film came from episode 259 of his SModcast. It’s a silly/creepy tale of a podcaster (Long) looking for a juicy story and falling into the clutches of a genuine psycho (Parks).
Parks steals the show with a convincing performance that is squandered by an idea that isn’t fully formed. It loses steam two-thirds of the way through and doesn’t know how to wrap things up. This walrus tale probably would have worked better as a short film. It’s not a total shit show, the dark humor is funny in parts and you can tell that Smith is having fun, but fans hoping he’ll deliver a film on the level of Clerks or Chasing Amy will have to keep on waiting.
2 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Film 2- Alleluia
Director- Fabrice Due Welz
Starring- Laurent Lucas, Lola Dueñas
Fabrice Due Welz serves up a darkly comic slice of amour fou in this Belgian-French concoction of drama, thriller, and horror. It is the second film of a trilogy following Due Welz’s 2004 horror film Calvaire. I enjoyed Spanish actress Lola Dueñas in Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver and Talk to Her and she’s equally impressive here in a bigger part. Laurent Lucas plays a smooth con man who seduces widows to get to their money. When he falls for Dueñas’ character Gloria, he brings her into the fold as his “sister” and that’s when things get crazy.
The acting is solid, the music is well done, and the stylized direction works well. I was more impressed with how the story is told than the story itself. It’s a tale of passion and jealousy, divided into four acts, each more demented than the last. Alleluia nearly swept the Fantastic Features category at the Fantastic Awards garnering prizes for Best Picture, Best Director (Due Welz), Best Actor (Lucas), and Best Actress (Dueñas).
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Film 3- As Seen By The Rest
Director- Rakshit Shetty
Starring- Rakshit Shetty, Kishore, Tara, Rishab Shetty
As Seen By The Rest was on my list of must-see films going into the festival, but it didn’t quite meet expectations. It is a colorful, energetic, uneven movie about a journalist looking to uncover the truth behind an incident. It has been compared to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon because they both deal with viewing something from multiple perspectives, but the storytelling leaves much to be desired. It is all over the place and ultimately confusing.
At 154 minutes, it is the second longest film of Fantastic Fest and it felt like it. As Seen By The Rest boasts some impressive musical segments and awesome tiger dancers. I enjoyed much of the soundtrack, though it does get overly sentimental at times. Rakshit Shetty stars, writes, and directs, and has an obvious love of cinema. He’s a strong actor and shows potential as a director. This is an ambitious film that doesn’t quite hit the mark, but can be applauded for it’s effort.
2.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Multiple Fantastic Fest vets told me that the opening night party is a can’t miss event, so I skipped the midnight movie time slot. Good choice, it was one hell of a party. After meeting up with Rainbolt and other friends, I had snacks in the lobby and drinks at the Highball with the Charles Edwards Cheese Band jamming onstage in full costume.
Only at Fantastic Fest can you see Eli Roth (aka The Bear Jew) “go yard” on a human piñata…
…then catch a charming magic show…
…followed by a full-on dance party…
… and a massive conga line leading to an epic food fight.
1 day down, 7 to go. Part 2 coming soon…
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