One of the sad truths of life is all good things come to an end. As I type this last recap of Fantastic Fest I'm 5,000 feet in the air hurtling back towards Boston, far away from the cozy confines of the Alamo Drafthouse and the comfort of their table service that delivers me delicious fried pick spears washed down with a black and white shake. To call Fantastic Fest an amazing experience would undersell it. The four days and change in Austin marked one of the rare times when reality exceeded the lofty expectations I'd built for the rip. One of the amazing facets of the festival is the sheer scope. Despite sitting through sixteen films in four days I touched on less than a quarter of the total program. I still have nearly sixty films to experience on my own time in the coming months ahead.
This Spanish import cleaned up it's country's version of the Oscars, taking home trophies for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor. Maybe Spain excels only at horror movies as a killer opening and closing sequence sandwich a plodding, by the numbers police procedural. Wicked starts with a killer premise when a drunk cop wreaks bloody mayhem in a bar, leaving the owner and two employees dead after they refuse to serve him after hours. When a fourth employee escapes, the dirty cop has to pull out all the stops to track him down and tie up a last loose end. Meanwhile a pair of detectives investigating the case stumble on something much larger with terrorism ties. It sounds more exciting than it plays out.
This film goes down as my favorite of the entire festival. I Declare War embodies what makes Fantastic Festival so terrific, as I had read two sentences about the movie ahead of time and nearly skipped out on the screening in order to take a nap and walked enraptured by the film. Every afternoon a group of young boys head out into the woods to play war games. It's a simple concept but the director plays it straight. PK leads one group. The pint sized tactical genius is undefeated in battle, he watches Patton every night before poring over the great military battles in order to hone his own strategies. Director Jason Lapeyre shows a knack for humor while understanding just how serious kids of this age would take the game. Eric Cadesky and Nick Dyer conduct a bombastic and wonderful militery score that perfectly conveys the stakes PK and his adversary Skinner play for. You will not find a better group of child actors with a standout performance coming from Alex Cardillo as the hyperactive spazoid Frost. As for the film's villain played by Michaekl Friend, the youngster does a tremendous job of humanzing the role of the bully. At the film's end when he admits to being a loser and acceoting it, you just want to reach out and put your arm around him to let him know there are other, better ways, and that nothing you do at age twelve has to be set in stone for the next sixty years of your life. I Declare War is a truly remarkable effort that deserves to find a much larger audience.
The follow up documentary from Michael Stephenson (Best Worst Film) extols the community spirit of Halloween in the form of three families that pull out all the stops when it comes to decorating their homes for Halloween each year in Fairhaven Massachusetts. The skill level on display rages from professional to infantile but each family have their hearts in the right places in this warm, feel-good film that left few dry eyes among the captivated audience. Along with the community spirt that makes Halloween so special, Stephenson beautifully captures the feel of small town New England in the fall with crisp sesonal colors and picturesque shots of the town.
Director Matthias Hoene introduced the film by stating that if there is one area zombies didn't want to find themselves shambling through, it is the street tough boroughs of London's notorious East End. Any zombie comedy set in England will draw comparisons to Shaun of the Dead, but Cockney isa much different film. Two brothers assemble a crew for a bank robbery in order to save their grandfather's retirement home when a zombie attack breaks out. Both the visual humor and word play are spot on with a terrific “chase” sequence featuring an old man and zombie horde, along with some Family Guy style absurdist flashbacks make this film a hoot. At the same time Hoene includes spot on commentary on gentrification and the loss of community with the rush to wipe neighborhoods of their character (both the good with the bad).
I managed to squeeze in one last film Monday (day five) before making my sad goodbyes....
If you would have asked me before the Festival if I felt like spending ninety minutes staring at two hundred penises culled from every known species projected on a massive screen I probably would have said yes, but I would need to think about it for a moment. In the Islandic town of Husavik resides the world's only penis museum. Operating for almost forty years, the collection features a penis from every species except for one: a human member. As the curator advances in age he grows more desperate in his quest to find a donor and complete his life's work. Just before he gives up hope two potential donors make themselves known, but each of them have drawbacks. The first isa ninety year old renowned adventurer whose speciman may have receded too much with age to be of use while an American offers to donate his penis (whom he refers to as Elmo) while he's still alive. In lesser hands this film would mercilessly pokes fun at its subjects but director Jonah Bekhor reveals a very human, moving story that reveals the very human motivations behind each character's passion.