Hello, friendos! Today kicks off the second half of Fantastic Fest, the finest film festival this country has to offer. I’ve been here 4 days and I’ve seen 18 movies. There have been zero stinkers, one film that wasn’t really my thing, and several that I’m already itching to see again. I have not yet resorted to power napping in the truck between screenings (like previous years) and I’m looking forward to packing in even more films in the second half of the fest. It’s goin’ down!
So, what are the highlights thus far? I’m not sure where to begin… I guess with Day 1, which belonged to Takashi and Taika. Takashi Miike, the Japanese filmmaker with 100+ films to his name, is a Fantastic Fest staple. Some his previous films to grace the screen at FF include 13 Assassins, Blade of the Immortal, and Yakuza Apocalypse. Despite being the filmmaker with the most films to play at Fantastic Fest (7 or 8), Miike had never visited Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar in Austin TX (home of the festival). That changed on Thursday night when he was in attendance for a screening of his wild new film, First Love followed by one of his bizarre classics, The Happiness of the Katakuris. First Love was a lot of fun and it’s Miike through and through which means it features equal doses of humor and violence, some cool stylistic flourishes, and a crazy good time. Miike, speaking through a translator, had jokes and he was quite funny making the audience laugh on numerous occasions. When Fantastic Fest wonderkind Zach Carlson (Alamo’s best intro/Q&A guy) presented him with a golden Lifetime Achievement Award (made from a real coyote skull) it was a special moment and I was happy to be there.
By the time Miike hit the stage, Fantastic Fest was already in full swing. This year’s festival kicked off with Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, and the movie is a winner. Don’t let the fact that it features a little German boy with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolph Hitler turn you off. The film is anti-nazi, pro-human, and full of cutting humor. It’s a damn shame that in the year of 2019 the world’s in desperate need of a reminder that nazis, hate, and intolerance are all disgusting, terrible things, but here we are. Waititi wanted to poke fun at nazi’s in a smart way and I think he pulled it off. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, I’m not the only one. The Q&A was a trip. Taika, like Takashi, was super funny, but in a different way. While Miike kept his clothes on, Waititi took off his shoes, playfully joked with actor Stephen Merchant, and jokingly threw shade at Richard Linklater. I’m not sure if he was drunk or not, but he was definitely the life of the party and it was fun to have him at the fest.
Other films that left an impression include Eddie Murphy’s glorious turn as Rudy Ray Moore in the upcoming Netflix film, My Name is Dolemite. As a long time Murphy fan I was hoping that it would be a solid flick, and despite it seeming like a great fit of actor and role I was still a little skeptical. Those thoughts went out the window immediately, as Murphy embodies Moore with gusto right from the jump and never falters. It’s his best role in years and one of the best performances of his career. The movie’s a blast and it features a refreshing performance from Wesley Snipes and a fine turn from Da’Vine Joy Randolph. I laughed, I cried, and I left the theater buzzing.
I need to wrap this up and get to my next screening, but there is more coverage on the way. Just know that if you like quality movies, there’s a ton of exciting films to look forward to including Color Out of Space, Richard Stanley’s potent return to feature filmmaking after a two and a half decade hiatus, Deerskin starring Jean Dujardin, the latest comedic oddity from Quentin Dupieux, The Vast of Night, one of the best debut feature films in recent memory, and three killer documentaries on subjects I adore, one on kung fu (Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks), one on Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, Alien (Memory: The Origins of Alien), and one on stop-motion and visual effects guru Phil Tippett (Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters).
Fantastic Fest really is the best and I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Until then, happy watching!
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