It was one for the ages. We laughed, we cried, and our brains slowly fried as we indulged in a gluttonous week of glorious cinema. Fantastic Fest 2016 came and went (September 22-29) and in a whirlwind 8 days of movies, parties, and events, I managed to see 37 feature-length films, a bunch of shorts, and Leonard Maltin’s interviews with Tim Burton and Bruce Campbell. Now emerging from my post-fest slumber, I’m excited to tell you about all of the amazing films on the horizon and break down the festival from my perspective. There’s much to look forward to. It was a helluva year!
First off, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden and Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival are spectacular. They were the first two movies I saw at the fest and when it was all said and done, they were still holding down the top spots. Each warranted a second viewing and I went out of my way to make that happen. More on both in a bit.
If you’ve never attended Fantastic Fest, you might wonder why people love it so much. What makes attendees rave about how awesome it is and come back for more, year after year? What separates it from other festivals? A bunch of things really, but two of the big ones are programming and convenience. The programming is outstanding. It’s officially a genre film festival, but as long as I’ve attended, it’s featured a lineup of diverse films that expand beyond the confines of that label. Fun events and a surprisingly stacked selection of international features, shorts, and animated films make for 8 great days of viewing. Each time slot has multiple films that entice, and fiendish movie lovers like myself don’t want to take any slots off. Thanks to the convenience factor, we don’t have to. We can pack in as many movies as our bodies can tolerate before giving into the sandman, dispenser of dreams. (And he’ll getchya. Some people max out at 3 movies a day, others can do 5 or 6 before their brains turn to scrambled eggs and it’s lights out.) A lot of film festivals are set in multiple locations that keep attendees busy driving to and fro, dealing with parking and dining off-site. At Fantastic Fest, one can arrive early in the day, park in the garage (for free) and stay all day watching movies and ordering food and drinks as they see fit, never having to leave the site. It really is fantastic!
This year’s lineup was outstanding. There was only one film that I didn’t care for (Shimauma) and 20-25 that I really liked. FF 2016 featured a celebration of Indian cinema and I caught two of the featured films in the Indian sidebar — one from 1993 (Khal Nayak) and one from 2016 (Kammattipadam). They were totally different and I enjoyed both quite a bit. Khal Nayak opened with a hilarious introduction by Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani and the movie was a blast.
Other highlights of the festival include Age of Shadows, a 1930s set Korean spy thriller, S is for Stanley, the documentary about Emilio D’Alessandro, Stanley Kubrick’s longtime driver and personal assistant, Raw, the French-Belgian horror film that’s destined to be a breakout hit for first-time filmmaker Julia Ducournau, and a secret screening world premiere of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, Split, with M. Night and star James McAvoy in attendance. The French heist film The Crew, André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Paul Verhoeven’s French debut Elle, and Paul Schaefer’s dark and outrageously fun Dog Eat Dog featuring Nicolas Cage and a turnt up Willem Dafoe all made for excellent screenings. RZA: Live From The 36th Chamber was unfortunately dropped from the Fantastic Fest lineup due to a scheduling conflict, but thanks to a friend I was able to procure tickets to a show at The Paramount and it was an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experience — an incredible way to watch the greatest kung fu movie of all-time. All that and more will be covered in this most fantastic coverage of the most fantastic Fantastic Fest.
Fantastic enough for ya? No?? Well, I also interviewed Kevin Burke, director of 24 x 36: A Movie About Movie Posters and he gave me one of the official one-sheets to give away. Keep an eye out for the interview and details on the giveaway. Follow @saltywinters on twitter, and ‘like’ Nerdlocker on Facebook for a chance to win.
Day 1- Thu 9/22
The buzz was in the air. That only-at-Fantastic-Fest mojo was working its magic and the anticipation of a week’s worth of fun looming overhead had people in a great mood. The drinks amplified the feeling. I picked up my badge and tee shirt, and thanked the volunteers. The legion of helpers who make the fest possible donned bright yellow tees with the knife-wielding fella from above on them. Sweet tees, sadly unavailable to the public, but a nice perk for volunteers. The Alamo Drafthouse lobby and The Highball were decorated for the Indian-themed opening night party and the Blu-Ray vending machine was stocked with a variety of Drafthouse Films releases for $10 a pop. An onslaught of film fans, press people, and industry folks flooded the lobby and attendees were excited for the festival’s opening film, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Earlier in the day I caught a press screening of Park Chan-wook’s new film, The Handmaiden.
Cast- Kim Min-hee, Tae Ri Kim, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is exquisitely crafted. From its beautiful opening frames it pulled me in and never let go. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is a joy to look at and the score by Jo Yeong-wook was the most affecting of Fantastic Fest, reserved for much of the movie and kicking in during moments of high emotion. It gave me goosebumps on two occasions. The director of Old Boy and The Vengeance Trilogy has outdone himself with a film that I have no qualms calling his masterpiece.
The Handmaiden is the story of a lady pickpocket pretending to be a maid in order to get close to an heiress and separate her from her fortune. They get closer than she anticipated, things aren’t as they seem and shit gets strange in proper Park Chan-wook fashion. There are scenes that are erotic, and highly sensual, while simultaneously being funny. The actors made me believe and care about the plights of their characters and the movie grabbed me. When I came out of the theater grinning I immediately said, “I know this is a silly thing to say, but I doubt I’ll see a better movie all fest.” I was right.
5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Cast- Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Denis Villeneuve’s followup to Sicario is a real deal Sci-fi film featuring great turns from Adams, Renner, and Whitaker. Adams and Whitaker are always reliable (she does the heavy lifting here), but Renner hasn’t been this compelling since American Hustle or The Town. The movie starts with aliens posted up District 9 style over 12 random cities. Adams is an expert linguist brought in to translate and hopefully communicate with the foreign creatures. The movie is all about communication.
Arrival is a fine example of the proper way to use visual effects. It’s restrained, and the creatures look real and believable because of the way they’re presented. This isn’t a full blown CGI fest like, say, Tim Burton’s new film Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. The overabundance and full reliance on CGI took me out of that film. Arrival never felt like it was made in a computer although much of it probably was. It features subtle nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The spacecrafts the aliens arrive in resemble modern mobile monoliths. What would happen if you could go inside a monolith?
With Arrival, Denis Villeneuve has made a film that I will revisit over and over, and he’s kept his hot streak alive heading into the new Blade Runner movie. He’s also signaled his (ahem) arrival for people who somehow missed his previous films, Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy, and Incendies.
4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Cast- Bartosz Bielenia, Janusz Chabior, Andrzej Chyra
I wasn’t crazy about Wojciech Kasperski’s survival film about a pair of boys and their dad who encounter a dangerous intruder in the far off woods. It wasn’t bad by any means, but in comparison to the films before it, this by-the-numbers thriller did nothing to rouse my interest or leave a mark. Decent enough watch but ultimately forgettable. One of the child actors fares better than the other.
3 out of 5 Nerdskulls
After The High Frontier, I hit up the opening night party. Still full from the grilled cheese and fries I ate in the movie (the first of many throughout the fest), I passed on the free Indian food. I did jump at the chance to hold a python though. Let me rephrase that: I drank enough beer to grab a python with zero inhibitions (#OnlyAtFantasticFest). There were little acts set-up throughout the Drafthouse; a guy juggling knives over here, people playing with fire over there, someone playing guitar in The Highball. It was rather tame compared to the opening night parties in previous years, but to be fair, it wasn’t yet fully rocking when we bowed out to watch Popoz.
The Popoz screening was a fun way to end a killer first day. The movie is a total send-up of over-the-top action movies. It’s similar to Loaded Weapon 1 but instead of spoofing specific movies or scenes, it has a more general approach. Uriah Arnham had me cracking up during an early scene in which his character sniffs a bunch of coke in a car and a crazy chase ensues. Sergio Hasselbaink was funny throughout.
When we sat down for the movie I was thrilled to see that there were donuts at every seat. They were tasty too, and since plenty of people opted to stay at the party or attend other screenings there were plenty of extras up for grabs. The donuts were a little thing, but they were a nice touch that was appropriate for the screening and they enhanced the experience.
3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Day 1 was a blast! I crashed late and got up super early to start Day 2.
Part 2 of the Fantastic Recap coming soon…
Follow me on twitter: @saltywinters
Check out the Critics Circle on Radio Brave, the Houston Film Critics Society’s weekly program.
For more info on comics, video games, movies and anything else nerd, check out Nerdlocker.com, a place for your inner nerd.
Also check us out on:
Nerdlocker Shop: http://www.nerdlocker.com/store
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org