Harry's Day 1 @ FANTASTIC FEST: Van Diemen's Land, MERANTAU, Solomon Kane & PARANORMAL ACTIVITY!
Published at: Sept. 25, 2009, 4:09 a.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here with my first report on FANTASTIC FEST 2009.
FANTASTIC FEST is a weird Festival for me. Because I'm one of the Founders of the festival, one of the programmers and overall planners of the festival... well, there's a full year worth of work that goes into these 8 days. But I feel like its biggest fan. It is my favorite 8 days of the year. There's a little stress - mainly dealing with whether or not the screenings go well for the various folks that trust us with screening their films, but frankly - that rarely ever gets to me, because the audiences are so fired up and drunk in love with film - that it usually goes... well... FANTASTIC.
When I went to see my first film of the day, the Australian true convict escape cannibalism film... I didn't even know that much about it. I walked into VAN DIEMEN'S LAND completely cold. I was choosing between that and a Russian Anime film - and frankly - I'm not the hugest fan of anime, with the exception of very few specific companies and talent. I didn't even know that VAN DIEMEN'S LAND was Australian. I really try to know as little about the films in advance as possible. Go in as an open vessel I say.
VAN DIEMEN'S LAND isn't a film for everyone. This isn't a gory chop fest. It is a very realistic approach to the true story it is telling, which is the fastest recorded situation involving Cannibalism in history. They basically went without food for 3 days, and started eating ass, legs, arms and what not.
It is a first film, made on a micro-budget by first time director Jonathan Auf Der Heide - and the result is a sobering, somber tale of a desperate escape from a penal colony in 1800's Tasmania. I'm not real sure where they thought they were escaping to, but they thought East was a good idea. The landscape is stunning, the forest unforgiving, bitterly cold and hard. It also gives off the impression of a never ending pattern that would drive one mad. When you see the actors in water - you can tell it is bitterly cold because of the lack of color in their faces, the chattering of their teeth and the blank WHAT THE FUCK look as they struggle to swim to the otherside of it. Remember, Tasmania is very close to Antartica - water temperature isn't conducive to much beyond death, hypothermia and dick shrinkage (which is seen in the film).
The deaths are brutal. The humor of cannibalism is explored, as well as the somber itch for more meat. Overall - the film was great. I loved how realistic it was - and the film is opening this weekend in Australia. So you Aussie readers can check this film out right now! Go support it, it is a local miracle of independent filmmaking!
After that - it was time for MERANTAU. All I knew about this film was that it was an Indonesian Martial Arts film - and that in the 14 years of doing this online movie talk thing, I had never seen an Indonesian Martial Arts film. Sign me up. Another fact that got me to see this instead of the big opening night premiere at the Paramount was the little factoid that International Eye Candy writer Todd Brown (of TWITCH) wrote the festival write-up and he has a notorious habit of picking exceptionally good films as a programmer of FANTASTIC FEST.
Frankly, I wasn't expecting much. The simple logline of the movie is. Tomato Picking Martial Artist Goes To Jakarta, where things go... badly. Yes. That is a perfect description of this film. But... Because I fucking loved this movie, you're gonna hear more.
The lead martial artist was a Truck Driver for a Telcom company until the director of this film, Gareth Evans, discovered him. When he shot his screentest, he thought he was shooting for a documentary, but really Evans was filming him to try to raise the financing for this awesome badass movie. This Truck Driver also happened to be an incredibly well trained Silat artist, which is a form of Indonesian Martial Arts - not quite as spectacular as Muay Thai, but brutally awesome! Iko evokes a bit of Tony Jaa - there is a vague similarity in their faces. So, since I brought up Muay Thai and Tony Jaa... How does this film compare to those? I think it compares very favorably to ONG BAK 1 and TOM YUM GOONG. Personally - I prefer the overall story, characters and overall outcome of MERANTAU to those two films, but it can't compare to the unbelievably fucking badassness that is ONG BAK 2 - coming later in October (yes, AICN will do wide screenings for that like we did for DISTRICT 9 and tonight's PARANORMAL ACTIVITY!)
Iko plays Yuda, a young Tomato farmer that is going on Merantau - I think Merantau essentially is a spiritual quest for one's self - that involves leaving home and finding your place or center or purpose in this life. At least, that's what I'm going to say Merantau is. Basically, it's kinda like Kaine from KUNG FU (minus the searching for the lost brother thing). When he gets to Jakarta - he has his wallet stolen by a street urchin (my phrase for thieving little fucking brats) and he chases him down... gets his wallet back, to witness a dance club pimp bastard shaking down this kid's sister for 100% of her tips. Yuda... being a heroic martial artist - makes this guy whine like Jesus did with water. But the girl doesn't react well, because she basically got fired as a result of him making her boss feel like the helpless pussy he is.
Go their separate ways. THEN - later - Caucasians meet with Club Pussy Man, they were told there would be 5 fresh girls to take in their Human Trafficking and Prostitution ring. But there are only 4 girls. Big badass Caucasian bastard says if he doesn't get 5, he'll start cutting on people, so Club Pussy Man heads out to find the 5th girl. Our adorable girl ends up being captured, our hero sees this - dares to interfere... and gets his ass kicked a bit by the 5 guys. They take the girl in the club leaving Yuda with his face in a puddle. There is a shot that tracks him rising up from that puddle that is one of the most awesome tracking shots I've seen. You get the sense that there has been a spiritual awakening that unleashed the spirit of fucking some people up... and it heads into the club.
From there, I'm not going to tell you a thing. That takes you about 45 minutes in - and it is non-stop AWESOME after that. This is a tremendous Martial Arts film. Outstanding! It screens one more time at FANTASTIC FEST - and if you're looking for a badass Martial Arts film - MERANTAU is the route to go. October 1st: 1:45pm. DO NOT MISS IT!
After that was SOLOMON KANE - I love this film. I've seen it a couple of times now - and I love this small SOLOMON KANE story. It isn't a direct adaptation of an existing storyline - but rather the set-up to introduce the character to all the people that don't know him. By the end of the film... You should be dying to see him having an amazing African or Salem adventure. I know I am.
I introduced the film with Michael Bassett, but then was called upon to hit the opening night party, before coming back for the last 40 minutes to conduct the lively Q&A with the very frank Michael Bassett. While at the party, I ran into GENTLEMEN BRONCOS director Jared Hess and his lovely wife and co-screenwriter Jerusha Hess... along with cast members Michael Angarano, Mike White, Jemaine Clement and Sam Rockwell (who is having a great damn year!).
This was the inaugural party at the Alamo Drafthouse's HIGH BALL... an amazing 60's Vegas-esque Bowling Alley, Karioke, Skee-Ball, Dance, Booze-Swilling House of Debauchery! Definitely try the Old Fashioned! Awesome drink. An hour flew by - and I found myself desperately wanting to stay longer, but I had a Q&A and another film to introduce, so I only had 3 drinks before leaving.
The last film that I saw tonight was PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.
Tonight, all across the country I had a video introduction that was playing before the film - as we tried to bring this FANTASTIC FEST selection to as many of you as we could. I can't speak for how it went, but it seems to be a Trending Topic on TWITTER, so... what the fuck - people are talking.
Originally tonight I had planned to see REC 2. But Yoko really wanted to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, because I had been telling her it would be too scary for her, and I think she wanted to prove me wrong. But I know my wife. And upon reflection, there is no place on planet Earth that I would rather be, than in clutching distance to my wife during PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. How scared did she get?
During the last moments of the film, she grabbed my arm, bit into it and screamed. And I had to seriously keep from howling in laughter. The audience was STUNNED. Even after it was over, they didn't know how to react, but when the R-rating screen came up, they just started clapping and cheering - and it caused people to have WHAT THE FUCK conversations afterwards - and people were admitting to being terrified.
NOW - Annette Kellerman is 9 months pregnant and due this coming Wednesday. She was scared, but it did not cause the birth of her son... dammit. How awesome would that be? I'm pulling for the baby to be born during REVENANT, Quint is pulling for ANTICHRIST... but there's a large betting pool for which movie causes her water to break. It's one of the sideline entertainments of this year's fest, much to Annette's mortification.
Had a great fucking day 1. Truly tremendous. If you're attending FANTASTIC FEST - send in reviews of the films you loved, hated or admired. And if you're here... I'll see you around!