This is the best week of the year.
Seriously. If you’ve never been to Fantastic Fest before, start saving now to book your flight to Austin, Texas in 2015. Even if you have no idea what Fantastic Fest is as you’re reading this article, just start monitoring your bank account and scanning Southwest Airlines’ website for cheap flights. Because no other film fest in the world is like this one — a non-stop cortège of badass genre movies, video games, boxing matches, trivia challenges, drunken debauchery and the biggest food fight Texas has ever seen. Where at most other fests you have to parse through a sea of party-hopping star fuckers to find the real film fans, at Fantastic Fest you’re rubbing elbows with the most hardcore sect of cinephiles from the world over every single day. Simply put: if you love movies, this is Nirvana.
In 2014, Fantastic Fest is celebrating its tenth year of existence. To ring in such a grand occasion, the programmers and Alamo Drafthouse Founder/CEO Tim League are sparing no expense. Want to see League verbally spar with Ti West about whether or not found footage is a legitimate sub-genre (before they both don gloves and wail on each other in the ring)? Fantastic Fest X has got you covered. Wondering if the new Kevin Smith horror picture is worth its weight in snoogins? Fantastic Fest X has got you covered. How about a detailed Q&A with longtime film critic Leonard Maltin, moderated by former Drafthouse programmer extraordinaire Zack Carlson and suave Vulcan Video head Bryan Connolly? Fantastic Fest X has got you covered.
Welcome to Fantastic Fest X. To get you started, here are the eleven films we here at Nerd Bastards are most excited for. Not gonna lie, it’s going to be a rough and tumble seven days, but just remember what the fox once said:
Tusk (d. & w. Kevin Smith)
Opening a Fest that doubles as a kind of drunken summer camp for movie critics with a horror film from a guy who has publicly chastised the critical community is a bold move. But if the reviews out of TIFF are to be believed, Kevin Smith might’ve actually knocked this one out of the park. The story of a podcaster (Justin Long) who is physically transformed into a walrus by a retired adventurer (Michael Parks) with a flair for the theatrical, Tusk sounds like body horror of the highest order. Has Smith finally found his footing after a decade of coasting on past accomplishments (or, in this film watcher’s humble opinion, a career devoid of a good picture)? Hopefully. At the very least, Tusk will make for some tense bar convo. following its opening night screening, as there could a Fantastic Debates undercard in the Highball should someone say the wrong thing within earshot of the New Jersey writer/director.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (d. & w. Mark Hartley)
Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood created cinematic playlists for everyone who sat down with it, sending viewers off to explore a subsection of film that was probably unbeknownst to them. His second delve into cinephilia found the Australian filmmaker maybe narrowing his scope a bit too much, as while Machete Maidens Unleashed was certainly fun, it covered a corner of cinema history that didn’t contain as many “must see” movies. Now Hartley is back with what is arguably his bets cinephile doc yet. Electric Boogaloo is the chronicling of two of the film world’s wildest moguls, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who bought The Cannon Group and turned it into an amazing schlock factory. For film fans of a certain age, Electric Boogaloo will be a trip down memory lane to the movies that raised them on many a battered VHS tape. For the uninitiated, it’ll be a door into one of the craziest collections of filmmaking ever assembled, and another generator of couch-bound homework.
Horns (d. Alexandre Aja, w. Keith Bunan)
I haven’t read any of Joe Hill’s novels as of yet, but everyone keeps telling me to. Unfortunately, my first experience with his storytelling is going to be channeled through another artist’s lens, but if I’m going to watch an interpretation of a text without devouring it myself, I’m glad said transliterator is Alexandre Aja. Aja is certainly a divisive figure, as most either love or hate his “Extreme French New Wave” entry, Haute Tension (an opinion based usually on the ending alone), but his Hills Have Eyes and Piranha remakes both hit the spot for very different reasons (and we can all just pretend Mirrors didn’t happen, right?). The most intriguing aspect of this project is the casting of Daniel Radcliffe in the central role of a man who sprouts horns from his head while trying to prove he didn’t kill the love of his life. Like Robert Pattinson with Twilight, Radcliffe has been working hard to distance himself from being solely recognized as boy wizard Harry Potter. This could a make or break role for the actor in that regard, and it’ll be fun to watch him get down and dirty in an Aja joint.
Repertory Screenings (d. & w. Various Badasses)
Like a fine wine pairing, to go along with Mark Hartley’s Electric Boogaloo, the Fantastic Fest programmers have slotted a bevy of bonkers Cannon Films selections into the lineup, in order to help those scratch an itch that doc is more than likely to create. Wanna see Death Wish III and Ninja III: The Domination back-to-back on 35mm? You could easily do that on Tuesday afternoon. Not to mention a dose of the wacky Paul Williams scored kids-as-gangsters musical Bugsy Malone (to help celebrate the release of Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe’s anthology book, “Kid Power”) and a synth-laden, John Carpenter-meets-Goblin sounding live score for Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Feasibly you could spend the whole week discovering nothing but new weirdo classics, but a little bit of the old never hurt nobody. Educate yourself, fool.
The Guest (d. Adam Wingard, w. Simon Barrett)
The Fantastic Fest screening of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s You’re Next is a thing of legend amongst die-hard FF heads. That movie took the whole Fest by storm in 2011, only to be scooped up and sat on by Lionsgate for what seemed like an eternity. A mural was even painted on the side of the old South Lamar theater (and has been transplanted into the newly renovated location as an “easter egg”); a piece of art that became a constant reminder of how a tiny indie horror picture could just rock the shit out of an unsuspecting audience. Now Wingard and Barrett have returned to Fantastic Fest with their latest thriller, The Guest. While one could easily wait until after FF is over to see the movie (it’s already been given a limited, expanding release on September 17th in some cities), there’s only one proper audience with which to watch this cold-hearted action riff.
It Follows (d. & w. David Robert Mitchell)
The Myth of the American Sleepover is one of the most under-appreciated American movies of the last ten years, and the fact that writer/director David Robert Mitchell is returning with a genre movie excites me to no end. Once I learned that it’s a movie about a sexually transmitted ghost only sweetened the deal, as that’s a premise so absolutely bonkers I can’t wait to see what a director of Mitchell’s prowess can do with it. Mitchell crafts movies of subtle, tender emotion, so I can only imagine how he manages to creep under your skin and leave you feeling utterly unsettled. It Follows is my pick to be the sleeper hit of the Fest.
John Wick (d. Chad Stahelski, w. Derek Kolstad)
“You owe me a life.” This quickly became a catch phrase after Keanu Reeves premiered his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, at Fantastic Fest last year. Because if there’s a place to really foster buzz for your DTV-worthy kung fu film, it’s with a Fantastic Fest audience. Now Keanu has returned, but is stepping back in front of the camera, playing the role of a wronged man of violence in the explosive John Wick. I wouldn’t be surprised if “you owe me a dog” is 2014’s drunken declaration in between motion pictures, as Fantastic Fest X looks to add more members to the Cult of Keanu. Plus look at that supporting cast! Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Theon Greyjoy (I don’t know that dude’s real name and can’t be bothered to look it up) — count me in 100%.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (d. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, w. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa)
The original Town That Dreaded Sundown is the perfect candidate for a modern remake. While the true crime narration and murders are chilling and brutal, the bumbling cop aspects that break up the movie’s tenser moments feel out of place and kill any kind of horrific momentum (not too unlike the similar acts of police tomfoolery in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left). The redux looks to be more of a straight-ahead slasher, combining elements of previous classics of the genre with the original film’s bag-headed Texarkana killer. At first, the mash-up quality the trailer conveys (with elements of Halloween, Zodiac and A Nightmare on Elm Street all present) was somewhat off-putting. But upon learning that American Horror Story helmer Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was lensing the picture, it all made sense. Could Gomez-Rejon be bringing the same “grab bag” quality of AHS to the big screen? We’ll have to wait and see.
Secret Screenings (d. & w. ???)
In the past, Secret Screenings have featured upcoming films both big and small. You could as easily see a serial killer thriller from South Korea (as was the case with I Saw the Devil) as you could the latest towering piece of ambitious sci-fi from the Wachowski siblings (whose Cloud Atlas screening and Q&A was an absolute highlight of Fantastic Fest 2012). What will 2014 bring? Everything from PTA’s newest picture (the Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice) to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s stab at a metatextual superhero actor profile Birdman have been hinted at. But the best part of Secret Screenings is in the name — you have no clue what’s about to roll until you’re seated before the silver screen.
Automata (d. Gabe Ibáñez, w. Gabe Ibáñez, Igor Legarreta & Javier Sánchez Donate)
To be honest, I don’t know much at all about Automata, the latest from Spanish director Gabe Ibáñez (Day of the Beast). I do know that it revolves around an insurance adjuster in the future (Antonio Banderas), whose main job seems to be investigating those who tamper with artificial intelligence. However, if I’m going to be completely honest, that’s all the info I really want or need. Banderas is such a dynamic performer whose genre turns (Interview With a Vampire, The Skin I Live In) are never anything less than fascinating to behold. In the age of the Internet, where we have access to everything from a simple synopsis to a trailer to full-blown spoilers with a single search, the “blind” viewing is becoming a rare opportunity. So I’m steering clear of all info on this title until the title card comes up.
Nightcrawler (d. & w. Dan Gilroy)
The buzz out of TIFF on Nightcrawler has labeled it “Taxi Driver meets Network“ which feels insanely hyperbolic. One constant point of praise has been a rather dynamic performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, as an average Joe who gets sucked into the world of journalistic ambulance chasing. Gyllenhaal has been on a roll lately, avoiding the typical leading man roles I’m sure he’s getting offered on a daily basis in favor of working with daring, provocative filmmakers like Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy). As the Closing Night film, Nightcrawler looks like it might be sending Fantastic Fest X out with a bang, and I know I’m going to be sad to see it end and have to start counting down until Fantastic Fest XI.
Stay tuned, Ladies & Gentlemen, as I’ve got fresh Fantastic Fest reviews coming up in a matter of hours. There’s going to be a torrent of content coming your way, so I hope you’re all as ready as I am.