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Harry's 1st 2 days - 9 FANTASTIC FEST films - Let's get this party started!



Another year, and another spectacular start to the festivities, the films and the awesome varied human beings that flock to the Fabled Alamo Drafthouse and the insanity that it contains over the course of FANTASTIC FEST.   Every year, there’s a homecoming and familial joy to the proceedings as people effortlessly begin with the hugs, hearty handshakes and slaps upon the backs – that goes with a growing cult of Fantastic Fest.   Where it doesn’t matter if you’re a first timer or an every timer – at Fantastic Fest…  to paraphrase the dearly departed Zelda Rubinstein’s Tangina…  All are welcomed in the light of our festival – and that’s a wondrous bit of hellaciously creative humanity! 


Now, I’ll do fuller write ups on some of the highlights after Fantastic Fest, this is just to get a few thoughts I have upon some of the films that have played thus far that I’ve seen.


Thursday, September 22nd – DAY 1:


The fest was being kicked off in Theater 4 aka THE HOLLY BLAIN MEMORIAL THEATER – and there is no better karmic screening room on the planet.  It’s held the most Butt-Numb-A-Thons, endlessly cool events and many of the coolest moments at Fantastic Fest.   All of which Holly Blain loved and attended.   She was a fireball pixie of passion for all things AintItCool and Alamo Drafthouse – so of course she was madly passionate about FANTASTIC FEST.   She’s now represented by a bronze plate dedicating Theater 4 to her.  When I go in, I touch it like it’s a pure piece of magic.   Cuz it is.   She left us too soon.


So – I was arriving to see ARRIVAL, the new film by Denis Villeneuve, that screenwriter Eric Heisserer adapted from the brilliant Ted Chiang short story, “STORY OF YOUR LIFE.”   The word on the film from early screenings and its debut at Toronto were stellar, especially when our own Copernicus (Andy Howell) claimed it had a place amongst his personal favorite Science Fiction films of all time.   I talked to Paramount to make sure he gets full access to produce a great Science of…  so let’s keep our fingers crossed.


Now – as the opening night film… officially…  it wouldn’t be FANTASTIC FEST without a bit of spectacle.   First, there was the special menu item called NOW THAT’S AN INTRODUCTION CALAMARI – having seen the trailers, I loved the idea of eating tentacles in my tentacled alien film starter.   But… that’s not spectacle… that’s just a bit of fun and tasty business.


Spectacle arrived with a hooded man with those glasses with lights on the side took the Podium with the FANTASTIC FEST logo emblazoned across the front…   and the room went dark, the screen become a starfield that we were coasting through at several times the speed of light theoretically ---  but then… the dungeonmaster man at the podium started stretching high into the heights of the theater… the podium seeming to stretch – and then awesome electronica and verbal distortion coolness filled the room – and then lasers creating a Pink Floyd-esque light show – and then… came the Aliens.   All sorts, some wearing spandex, one in a tutu, others quite involved with bug eyes and antennaes with big bushy beards…   THEN A SEEMINGLY ALREADY INTOXICATED SPACE MAN with his helmet shield down.   You couldn’t make out his face, but there was no mistaking that spastic body language…  TIM LEAGUE was our Spaceman / Host to kick off things.    ALL WHILE THE ALIENS DANCED, WE MOVED THROUGH SPACE and now glitter and smoke began making it all get even more awesome.  


Denis Villeneuve couldn’t be there with us as he was currently shooting the future… aka the new BLADE RUNNER film.  We wouldn’t dare dream of delaying that film even a second.   But Eric Heisserer, who secured the rights to Chiang’s story and ushered it through the development process like a fucking champ… well he was there to satiate any post film curiousities from the audience.




A complete breath of fresh air.   Yes, there’s a very definite military presence, but the film isn’t about them, it’s about an killer linguist named Dr. Louise Banks played by Amy Adams to perfection…   She is forced to work with Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly – who is more like my friend Andy Howell, though nowhere near as cool as our Copernicus.  He has no equal.   They’re put together by Colonel Weber played by Forest Whitaker…  who can only rule.     One day, the’s enormous “shell” ships arrive.   A door opens, people go in, some get a bit too freaked out and can’t hang.   Louise and Ian proceed where others fear to tread.  


The film is about a truly alien encounter.   Many of us stupid humans, in fact all of us, tend to think linearly.  If we think non-linearly – it tends to be infused with the past, but we can’t move forward in thought and back… yet.   These Aliens… they do everything different from us.   By the way, the calamari was deliciously sacrascience of me.   But I love Calamari.  12 of these ships are all over – and they’re all dealing with the government reactions from each of those countries.   Which means, there is not a whole helluvalot of cooperation, fear dominates the media (OF COURSE) and fear dictates some of the actions of those engaged with these very alien aliens.   Everything from how you get into the ship, what the ship looks like and reacts inside.   The different atmosphere that “Abbott & Costello” are in, them’s the names that Jeremy Renner gives our Montana visitors.   I have to say, in shape and form, they look like the aliens from THE SIMPSONS, but without the big eye or mouths – and their tentacles do really cool things…   and the way they write and how they communicate is…  VERY ALIEN and quite the challenge for our Dr. Louise.  


To wrap it up…  It’s seven shades of great.  To me, the film would really be something I would love to see become a phenomenon throughout the world.  There’s a shift to the way our minds can perceive time…   The mystery of what the aliens want is only partially answered – and the science fiction film that it feels like it shares DNA with is the original DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.   Only imagine Klaatu wasn’t Mr Carpenter taking in the tourist sites and local scientific geniuses…  That didn’t arrive having LEARNED OUR LANGUAGES FROM ORBIT…  but that shit was needing to be hashed out…  old school.  TRIAL & ERROR – and that process was blissful to see unfold.  


The film comes out November 11th of this year – and if you love science fiction, philosophy, language and contemplating first contact scenarios – this film is spectacularly well done.   Gonna need to watch it a few more times before I can make big sweeping statements about it in my chestnuts of fave SCI FI ever.   But I absolutely get why Copernicus flipped that big lid of his.  


The post film buzz at FANTASTIC FEST mirrored the word we’d heard before, didn’t hear anyone complaining and smiles were broad and plentiful.   A great opening film!




Next, we were treated with a delight I’ve been waiting to enjoy ever since I premiered OLDBOY at BUTT-NUMB-A-THON all those years ago.   We were finally getting to show a new Park Chan Wook film – with PARK CHAN WOOK in the house.   Before the screening, Tim League and I took a trip down memory lane, to where he and I first discussed what would eventually become FANTASTIC FEST, when I was a juror at Sitges – the year SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE played.  The pure insatiable elation of that particular film and all of Sitges frankly…   It drove us to emulate and evolve the form in our own way…  but having Park Chan Wook in the Drafthouse for FANTASTIC FEST…   it’s one of those.   FUCK YEAH, WE DID IT moments.   And by we, that’s every single team member that makes this fest just shine brighter every year.


Now, Park had to leave the theater to host screenings at the ALAMO RITZ of OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, so the Q&A was had before the film.  My favorite moment from it wasn’t my interaction, but a couple questions later when Tim was trying to decide who to have ask the final question – and he was going for excitement – when Park interrupted to insist on a question from one of the women excitedly wanting to ask a question, and it was the most literate and on point question of the oh so brief Q&A…   It was about the adaptation from Sarah Waters’ novel of the same name and the changes he made to the material.  


His answer – just thinking about it right now made me tear up, because, it incapsulates his particular directing genius.   It involves a scene about filing down a sharp or jagged tooth so it would no longer hurt the lady of the house’s mouth.  He decided to change the location to a steamy bath, in which rose water and rose petals are added - which combined with the visible steam of the water would create in his imagination of the viewer watching… a sense of smell…  To wear the viewer could instantly conjure that sense memory adding to the heightened and unmistakable sensuality of the moment.  


Upon seeing the film, watching the scene…  it is… a moment one sha’nt forget soon.  


The film is about a Sting scenario…  where a young Korean woman raised a bit like Oliver Twist by Fagin…  to be an expert thief…  so essentially is the Artful Dodger – and so much more.   There’s a fake Duke that’s trying to marry the young lady that she’ll becomes titular HANDMAIDEN.  The time and place of this film – feels ever so Bronte Sisters to me.   Young Woman in a very creepy mansion in Korea, during the Japanese Occupation of KOREA.  The film really shows the perversity of the Lady Hideko’s Uncle Kouzuki.  


The film is very sensual – in fact, easily the hottest film I’ve seen theatrically in a long time.  Specially one as brilliantly told as this.   I’m not gonna spoil anything cuz, this is coming out shortly upon October 21st complements of AMAZON STUDIOS and MAGNOLIA PICTURES!  I really can’t wait to see this again!  The way Park Chan Wook sees and portrays the world is so literary, passionate and breath-taking that it really does feel like a genuine honor to watch him do his thing, his way!





The final film of Day One was THE VOID from XYZ Films and directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski.   This film smacks of Fulci love.  I enjoyed it, but as the utterly fucked crazy shit of the final act started happening, I noticed…  despite all the crazy awesome hell on earth, transdimensional culty mindfuckery… I was distanced from the images and characters on the screen.   I liked what was on screen, but it was a bit like shaking hands with a clammy handed person.   Something wasn’t right.   Upon thought…  The vibrancy of the film wasn’t up to Fulci standards, but mainly… the score man.   I can’t really recall what the score was actually doing, but I know it didn’t get awesome operatic like what we got from Fabio Frizzi (who btw is coming to do a live scoring of THE BEYOND here soon!!!!)


The gore is excellent, the sick shit is great…  I even love the cult robes and outfits… the symbology throughout… It ain’t awful…  it just doesn’t SOAR when I wanted it to.  With a tremendous score – this could go straight into horror fans hearts without caveats.  As is, I enjoyed this midnight film…  it just didn’t blow me away.




Friday, September 23rd


So, FatherGeek and I left the house at 9:45 am to start our Fantastic Fest day – after hitting the sack at about 3:45am…  so this day began with a 5 Hour Energy drink to prime the excitement pump, which the films would hopefully add nitrous to.  




Studio Ghibli by way of France.   Directed by Michael Dudok De Wit from his own Story came a completely magical film with almost no dialogue.   It’s a story told through actions about  a man that washes up upon a small island that has the essentials for a not necessarily miserable life.   Food, fresh water, materials for totally Robinson Crusoe-ing out if he wanted – He attempts to leave the island multiple times by creating increasingly complex bamboo and lashed together rafts, that mysteriously get destroyed by what we will eventually know as the titular THE RED TURTLE.   I’m going to get more brief on some of these, but only know…  I do so, because a film like THE RED TURTLE isn’t coming out till January 20th of next year – and I meant to be shorter, on all of these but… when you get on a roll, you don’t stop that mind wheel from turning.   But this film, to me, is about ceasing trying to find escapes from the life before you…  accept the blessings you have and LIVE!   That’s a phenomenal message – and this animated film blew FatherGeek, Yoko and me away.   Pure visual poetry.   Delightful, cute, terrifying at moments and transcendent in others.   DO NOT MISS!




Next Dad and I couldn’t resist seeing this film.   As far as I can remember I’ve been with Dad and selling movie posters, reading books on posters, Auction catalogues, meeting the artists, learning the golden age of stone lithography, learning about the process… About the Other Company posters in the golden age that were often silk screened and offered to theaters at a cut-rate from the Studios offerings.   The film by Kevin Burke – a MONDO and other Silk Screened print loving poster freak, that decided to document the exciting art poster mania for films that sprung from Mondo’s wake.   But the film isn’t about just MONDO – or even mainly Mondo.   It dips it’s toes into the evolution of the form, all the classic poster sizes from Lobby Cards to Billboards are explored and discussed.   So many awesome interviews – and if you’ve loved the posters of the 70’s & 80’s in particular – you’re in for a real treat.  They couldn’t even begin to encapsulate the history of the movie poster in a single film.   Shit, a feature doc about the posters based on DECADE should be done and still you wouldn’t begin to touch it.   A few dealers are talked to, but not the biggest ones in the industry.   But hey…   Maybe I should do a 27x41: THE FINEST CINEMASTERPIECES – as I know all the people that have made their lives about the form and keeping the collecting alive for the last 45 years or so.   Still, this doc is so much fun.   Doing an exceptional job of framing the current maniac collecting world of limited edition art posters for film – and how it’s affecting movie advertising today.   Wish I could tell you when you could expect it, but as of yet – I do not have a clue.   Once we know, we’ll let you collectors and fans know!   BTW, I did win a one sheet for 24X36: A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIE POSTERS by answering which artist did the poster for LIFE OF BRIAN…  which of course is by the great and fabled WILLIAM STOUT.   I was resistant to raise my hand, but nobody in the theater raised their hand …  well, I knew Dad wanted the poster and that was a fish in the barrel question.   I did have guilt for answering the question by my wife who called me Hermione Granger afterwards.   Well, I did use the Time Turner later this day, you’ll see.




Nobody deserves the truth about this movie until your ass is in the theater and watching it.   However, if you’re the sort of person that begrudges anothers’ pleasure seeking…  This movie is not for you.   The film came to us from Mexico with absolutely no judgement or morality labeled upon these characters.   The film has elements of sci fi, but… giggle…  this film lets it all hang out.   Dad had issues with this one, but to me…  this is that Left Turn At Alburquerque – what the fuck did I end up in sitting next to my father for.   And that happens at Fantastic Fest.  Where something…  truly strange and unusual that the more warped among us will embrace and rave about – but if you get this film – you’ll love it.   I mean, it’s DIFFERENT in ways I’ll skirt around because.  JUST SEE IF YOU CAN HANDLE IT. 






Kim Jee-Woon…  From A TALE OF TWO SISTERS to THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD to I SAW THE DEVIL  and more – he’s one of the very tip top talents from South Korea, and after getting the new Park Chan Wook film the day before with Park there…  getting to watch another film once again during the Japanese Occupation of Korea… but only if you think about combining James Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN with something with the operatic crack the lenses of your eyeballs awesomeness of like..  GODFATHER PART II…  this film blew me right away.   At this stage in FANTASTIC FEST, this is the very best film for me… though RED TURTLE, NOVA SEED, HANDMAIDEN and ARRIVAL are all just right there.   But THE AGE OF SHADOWS holds significance to me as my wife’s Grandparents and mother told her stories about Korea during the Japanese occupation.  It’s well documented the atrocities the Japanese committed in that era, and Japan even made reparations to the living women that all those ages ago – they turned into sex workers.  


But Kim Jee-Woon’s film is concerned with the Korean Underground and the Japanese and Korean Police Officer that was working with the Japanese – to put an end to the resistance.  


Kim Jee-Woon calls the film a COLD NOIR film and I love that moniker, because you see the film and it’s apt as hell.   The backstabbing, the spy work and the desperate need for freedom that these incredibly brave souls were a part of.   The film is a fictional story making use of many acts of history and characters plucked from it – The result was riveting.   The photography, the music – both score and pop from the era.   The use of Bolero was exquisite.   I love Kang-Ho Song, since I saw him in SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE, MEMORIES OF MURDER, THE HOST…  basically every film he’s done that I’ve had placed before me.   He’s incredible in this film.  Like everything else in this film! 


I still can’t believe this year’s fest.  Two of the absolute best directors in the world that both happen to be from South Korea on consecutive nights.   Such a joy!





Now for these next two films, I was required to use my Time Turner to achieve – that’s way cooler than some Press Screening site where some saw it.   Ahem.   Giggle.   NOVA SEED is entirely animated by Nick DiLiberto – who spent 4 years of his life, hand drawing, coloring and shading every frame of the film.   60,000 or so.   It’s an hour and four minutes, putting it at the runtime of many old movies from the classic era – and due to the amazing sense of motion, color, vivid originality and awesome post-apocalyptic trippy coolness.   This animated film that feels utterly Canadian – sometimes even stylistically hinting at the great Sally Cruikshank’s QUASI AT THE QUACKADERO.   You will want MINDSKULL toys.   Lion Man I love.   The Nova Seed… so awesome.   This thing started and ended and the mind and body expansion that takes place inbetween requires no drugs, no inebriation.   It is a waking vision of a far crazier and awesome universe that poured out of Nick DiLeberto’s imagination incrementally, but consecutively fan-fucking-tastic!    A smart distributor would find two Sci Fi animated shorts to pair to this – and get this out for people to see.   THIS is vital and exciting beautiful stuff.   Really love it.




I will end as I technically began with A DARK SONG – the film I actually saw first, but only if you’re talking linearly – but as I said in ARRIVAL above…  my thinking has expanded.   I picked it first because…  Ritual Magic…  the allegedly real shit, like Madonna practices from the Kaballah and more ancient practices of early Druidic beings in contact with possibly incomprehensibly powerful demonic and angelic beings…  but I’d heard nothing really – other than this bit:


A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.


The film is a slow burn that consistently moves forward.  We’re talking magic that takes ages to do.   Invoking through a meticulous process that’s about unifying mind and body – via various torments, archaic languages drawn with chalk – and it’s these two people.   An occultist played by Mark Huberman named Neil – and the woman that seeks him out for reasons that become known and admitted over the course of the story.   Throughout this process…  you’ll notice things that – might be off that the characters miss, but how reliably are WE the viewer here.   Ultimately – we’re watching people get to hallucinogenic places – so the optics of the film itself are to be doubted… to me…  and then believed.


Of course – when asked at the beginning what she wants…  she says she wants to talk with her Dead son.   RIGHT THERE…  man.  I fucking saw PET SEMATARY – talking to dead kids…  FUCK NO.   So – I instantly have tension.   This single woman in grief mode is trusting this Ginger High Minister of things so damn sinister that…  concern takes over – and I wonder, does he know magic, is he trying to coerce her into his control for devious means.   Shit gets crazy.   But this slow meticulous burn leads somewhere I just loved.  


A film about a most complicated invocation, not for amateurs – Simply Fantastic! 


Ok, now I run go night night.  


Another fine day is lined up tomorrow!

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