September 26, 2011


Well it wouldn't be a film festival without a ticketing snafu, would it? I believed myself lucky enough to have snapped up a ticket for the Fantastic Debates - the annual event where two people debate a topic, and then settle things in the ring. This year had Tim League (Fantastic Fest co-founder) vs. undefeated bare-knuckle boxing champ from the film KNUCKLE, James Quinn McDonagh in the first match up and Elijiah Wood vs. Dominic Monaghan in the second. I was pretty well excited. It was not to be. Due to a technical glitch, the tickets kept selling past allocation and anyone with a boarding pass over 150 (I was 286) was not getting in. Gutted? Yes. Going home? Hell no.

Day Three started out though with the Fantastic Shorts, one of three short film collections at Fantastic Fest. I have no idea what previous years were like, but I thought it was an overall great offering in the programme. In my experience, the short film programmes at a festival can be one of the lowest attended, but Fantastic Shorts was pretty decently packed out. Stand outs included The Coldest Caller, about a wily old English lady fooling the Grim Reaper; No Rest for the Wicked, with music by Lalo Schifrin and starring Ray Park and Chuck’s Zachary Levi that played more as a pilot of possible adventures to come; The Swan and the Hunter on Their First Meeting took a mythical fairytale and juxtaposed it into an indie drama scene

Next up was, no doubt, one of my most anticipated films at Fantastic Fest: Karate Robo-Zarbogar. Based on a more-than-obscure and uber-cultish Japanese TV show from the Seventies, Daimon and his transforming robot motorbike Zarbogar must stop the evil cabal of villains Sigma from harvesting the DNA of Japanese leaders in order to destroy the world. Things get decidedly complicated when Daimon falls for one of the villains, Miss Borg and they both struggle with their feelings. The film is essentially split into two parts: the first half with the young Daimon playing like a final never-resolved cliff-hanger episode to the TV series, while part two takes place 25 years later as Sigma’s plans near fruition and Daimon is an over-the-hill washout. Director __ is obviously having a blast (especially in the first half, setting everything up) but I was expecting less of the early-years and more of a focus on the older Daimon. But it was a riotous adventure with some knowing cheapness. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the Q&A with __ as I had to rush off to...

Comin’ At Ya, the film that kick-started the 3D boom of the late-70’s/1980’s. It is a film designed entirely to be seen (and only seen) in 3D; as you can probably guess from the title, there’s a lot of things flying out at you from the screen. In fact, if there’s a chance for something to fly out at you (arrows, spears, beans, a yo-yo, hands, anything) you can bet it will. As a 3D adventure, it’s a hoot. As a film though, it’s a bizarre melding that doesn’t all the way work. Despite the title, and the fairly “gimmicky” use of the 3D, the story is a pretty serious Western about a man (producer Tony Anthony) on the hunt for his wife who was kidnapped by slavers.

With three films down, it was time for dinner. And again, I headed to a diner trailer and again, it was really great food. With free beer. Free beer! You might be skipping these bits of the blog where I blather on about the food and whatnot, but I think it’s important to give you a greater picture of the Fest and to give me a chance to write about the great food and friendly people of Austin. A massive pork Cuban sandwich with fried plantains, free beer and a chat with Phil, the guy in the sandwich cart, is just a great way to recharge the batteries during Fest.

And then it was time to head down to Urban Explorer. Set in the vast labyrinth of underground tunnels in Berlin (the director apparently being arrested for filming down there without permission), this is a horror tale about a group of young folk on a less-than-legal tour that encounter, as they so often do, trouble. The setting does half of the work in building the tension but the young folk also encounter a crazed ex-East German border guard. Things go from bad to worse and it really is a tense thriller, even if I began to get annoyed at the constantly stupid (and movie typical) decisions made by the characters.

While waiting for the Fantastic Debates, I just got chatting to a couple of guys as you tend to do at Fantastic Fest. As my brain was already a little fried from so many movies and so little sleep, it took me a while to click that these were the director and star of The Incredibly Slow Murderer With the Extremely Inefficient Weapon. This is another thing I really love about the Fest - everyone here is a fan and everyone loves to come to this Festival. Missing out on the Fantastic Debates, I decided to instead see another thriller in a unique location: A Lonely Place to Die. Moving from the Berlin underground to the mountains of Scotland, this is a better crafter thriller. A group of mountain climbing friends, out on a hike, hear a strange cry for help and come across a young Eastern European girl buried in a cage. They do the only thing they can: help her. This, of course, sets off a chase across the rugged and dangerous highlands as the friends are pursued by the girl's kidnappers. Events get a little over-the-top come the final act but, for the most part, A Lonely Place to Die is a good ole' thrill-filled chase movie. 

And that was Day Three. Stumbling out of the Alamo at 2am, brain wired from cinema I made it back to the motel before comaing out.

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