Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Six: Pass the Caffeine, Please

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Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Woods, all rights reserved

Are we there yet? Despite skipping midnight screenings and limiting my alcohol intake to free beer in the Shiner Theater, I've hit the wall more times than I can count this year at Fantastic Fest 2011. Special guests Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood (seen above) recuperated with the requisite caffeine after a late night of Fantastic Feud. For those who missed the annual hosted event by Scott Weinberg of FEARnet, Monaghan captained the international team that was thoroughly trounced by the American team led by Wood. 

I can only blame my festival fatigue on the Fantastic Fest programming which has kept me in the theater for 4-5 movies a day. Despite thoughts of "I really should sit this screening out," I've stayed the course and not been disappointed in my decision. Find out after the jump which films confirm my selection of Todd Brown of Twitch as my all-time favorite Fantastic Fest programmer.

Fantastic Fest Review: Milocrorze, A Love Story

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Milocrorze, A Love Story

Sometimes my favorite Fantastic Fest movies are the ones I pick on a whim because the description sounds interesting and contains no words that worry my squeamish self like "torture" or "bloody violence." Milocrorze, A Love Story (Mirokuroze) was one of those movies, and I didn't even realize that its lead actor was Takayuki Yamada, whose performance I enjoyed so much in my unexpected favorite film from Fantastic Fest 2010, 13 Assassins. (He played nephew Shinrouko.) It's a delightfully surreal and even downright silly movie, a great upbeat alternative if you spent a previous festival day watching some of the more downbeat selections. Apparently I'm not alone in liking this movie, as it won the Fantastic Features award at the fest this week.

Yamada plays three roles in Milocrorze, A Love Story, which is divided into four acts that are more or less connected. He's not in the first part, which stars a very cute child in a fairytale-like story about the title character. The child is actually portraying a grown-up man -- kind of -- whose mundane life is transformed when he encounters the beautiful Milocrorze. Yamada first turns up in the second act, playing a bizarre and obnoxious world-famous "youth counselor" who shouts incredible advice over to the phone to love-struck teenagers, and who travels (and dances) with an entourage of scantily clad women. This is the goofiest part of the film -- it's almost jarring in contrast to the other sequences -- but it works beautifully. The audience could not stop laughing, at least not after they picked their jaws up from the floor.

Fantastic Fest Quick Snaps: A Look at 'Julia X 3D'

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Kevin Sorbo Skype

The filmmakers behind the black comedy Julia X 3D hosted a press meet-and-greet event at the Highball yesterday as part of Fantastic Fest 2011. Producer and writer P. J. Pettiette (Bad Dreams, Jennifer's Shadow) made his directorial debut at Fantastic Fest 2011 with this film starring Kevin Sorbo (Andromeda, Hercules) and Valerie Azlynn. Co-producer Claudie Viguerie and director of photography Jason Goodman were also on hand to answer questions about Julia X 3D, which debuted in the Sunday night midnight screening and runs again today at 12:15 pm.

Due to a health emergency, lead actor Kevin Sorbo was unable to attend in person but participated via Skype as seen above. Sorbo attributed his visit to the emergency room Sunday night to too much work and travel, but is expected to be well enough to arrive in time for today's screening. Although he seemed rather exhausted, he was in high spirits and shared some of his personal memorabilia as he spoke from his home office.

Check out more photos from the Julia X 3D meet and greet after the jump.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Five: The Second Half Begins

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Day Five marks the beginning of the second half of the fest. Many of the filmmakers and industry people have left, and new fans arrive attending with second-half badges. The tone of the festival becomes more relaxed, but unfortunately, the FEARnet-sponsored free ice-cream truck has departed. Some of the better parts of the fest are still yet to come. As I'm writing this, the awards are about to begin, hosted by Devin Steuerwald. Jette will be covering the results separately. I'll end the day with the signature party, Fantastic Feud.

I began the day with movie film that has made waves at the fest this year, earning a runner-up in the Fantastic Fest Audience Award category. Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos) is a unique interpretation of the zombie apocalypse. Set and shot in Cuba, Juan pokes fun at the same films that serve as its inspiration and includes several jabs at the political situation. Juan, the titular character, is an affable screw-up who spends his days fishing from a raft and sneaking into his lover's boudoir while her husband is away. When zombies start to appear (the state media reports the phenomenon as political dissident attacks sponsored by the U.S. government), Juan and his friends decide they're better at zombie killing than the government and attempt to turn a profit by starting a business exterminating for their neighbors. As the zombie plague grows out of control, their plans must evolve from control to escape. This was a lot of fun, full of surprises and interesting kills.

The next part of the day was the Short Fuse: Horror Shorts program, which included nine short films from around the world. One of the highlights of this program was Austin-produced No Way Out (read Rod's interview with writer Eric Vespe and director Aaron Morgan). Fest regulars Dennis Widmyer and Justin Duprie, who hails from Corpus, wrote and produced the exceptional horror-comedy short Curtain, which makes The Exorcist look tame by comparison. Other great shorts included The Unliving and How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!, the runner up and winner of the Fantastic Fest Horror Shorts Award, respectively.

Quick Snaps: Shiloh and Rider Strong Summon 'The Dungeon Master'

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Shiloh and Rider Strong

Screening before the delightful Icelandic movie Summerland at Fantastic Fest this week is a clever short film by actors -- and brothers -- Shiloh and Rider Strong. The Dungeon Master features a nerdtastic performance by Alexander Polinsky of Charles In Charge as a wizard/dungeon master who turns the tables on a group of bullies. Both of the Strong brothers were at the fest on Friday to present their short, and during the Q&A they revealed they have acquired funding to turn the Dungeon Master concept into a full-length feature.

The script was light and funny, relatable to gamer nerds and regular mortals alike. In addition to Polinsky, stars included Adam Busch of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Travis Schuldt of Scrubs and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Jason Marsden. You might recall Busch was at Fantastic Fest last year with the comedy Drones.

The Dungeon Master screens again at Fantastic Fest in tandem with Summerland on Wednesday, September 28 at 6:45 pm.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Four: From 'Corridor' to Coscarelli

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Doug Jones and Don Coscarelli

I'm one of the "Sleep is the enemy" festival attendees that Jette mentioned in her Fantastic Fest 2011, Day 3 dispatch, although this year I paced my first couple of days by leaving before midnight movies. After a day away from Fantastic Fest on Saturday for the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, I was ready to kick it into high gear.

Unlike Rod's report in Fantastic Fest, Day 2, I'm still working out the kinks of using the online reservation system and almost missed getting into the screenings on my wish list. Thankfully the Fantastic Fest staff work wonders in meeting attendees' needs by remaining courteous and flexible -- note the new line for Super Fans to pick up their boarding passes, and the added screenings.

At the fest's halfway mark, Sunday was fueled by tasty coffee and an overstuffed breakfast burrito at a brunch screening of The Corridor. Filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this film was a good fit for Fantastic Fest as it balances a psychological thriller with survival horror and science fiction sprinkled on for good measure. The film's strengths -- character development, art and sound design, and casting -- outweighed the final scene that left some viewers disappointed. The filmmakers treated the sensitive subject matter of mental illness very well while bringing humor and suspense into the mix. Not vilifying the mentally ill protagonist while demonstrating the bonds and unmanning of the lead characters was a refreshing change.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Three: Fight Fiercely, Hobbits

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Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood

While I know many film-festgoers who pack five movies into a day plus parties and declare "Sleep is the enemy!" I'm not one of them. I'm a two-flick-a-day woman, maybe three if I don't have any writing assigments due. I almost never go to midnight movies or late parties and am generally Cinderella-like about my evenings.

Saturday was an exception: I went to four Fantastic Fest screenings -- two were shorts collections so technically I saw nearly two dozen films -- and attended a midnight event after that. And now I'm up at 9 am on a Sunday morning so I can get my tickets for the day and write this dispatch. I'm not sure I could do this every day for a week; I admire the stamina of those who do.

I had an amazing stroke of good luck getting tickets Saturday morning -- everything I wanted, including the famous Fantastic Debates, which are so popular I've never been able to attend. It was in fact too good to be true, as I found out later that day that a ticketing glitch massively overbooked the Debates and any ticket over #150 would be invalid. I had #271. Fortunately, I was able to land a spot in the photographers' pen, but more on that later.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)

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Human Centipede 2One of the most talked-about films of Fantastic Fest 2009 was a campy gross-out horror movie called The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Marketed as "100 percent medically accurate," it told the story of a crazed surgeon (played marvelously by Dieter Laser), hell-bent on attaching three human beings together into a human centipede. I missed this film at the fest, finally watching it on Netflix last month. I found it to be an interesting angle on gross-out horror.

Flash forward to Fantastic Fest 2011 where the opening-night movie is the sequel to the 2009 film: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence). Human Centipede II is about Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), a morbidly obese, demented psychopath who has a sickening obsession with the original movie. Martin's obsession with Human Centipede manifests itself in the creation of an actual human centipede. The first three-quarters of this film is spent watching Martin stalk, assault and graphically abuse the victims who will become parts of his sickening creation. The last quarter is spent showing, in all of its gory details, Martin constructing his creation.

It's in the last scenes of the movie where writer/director Tom Six goes too far. The construction of the centipede contained some of the most gratuitous, gory and over-the-top imagery I have ever seen on film. I won't go into any details of what I watched but I will say that the imagery reached a level of pornographic detail that even the most depraved could not appreciate. I have a very high tolerance for gore in film but there is a threshold that even I don't want to cross. This movie far exceeded that limit and I can tell you this is a movie I wish I could un-see.

When I sat down to watch Human Centipede II I had no idea what to expect. The first film, while graphic, followed an approach to horror that I can appreciate: "Less is more." It was not as gory as I'd anticipated it would be. It was graphic in parts but it was also campy and I appreciated it for what it was. Human Centipede II has no point and delivers no redeeming value.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Two: Sex, Drugs and Snow

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Drew Struzan Frankenstein posterMy Fantastic Fest Day 2 started in a coffeeshop with good coffee and strong wireless. I was waiting for the online ticketing system to open for non-VIP badgeholders. I got on around 9:30 am and shortly after 10, I was picking tickets for my movies for the day. I was fairly lucky -- I got three out of five tickets I really wanted. This new system works well and I cannot throw enough praise to Fantastic Fest for making it happen.

My first film of the day was from Japan: Body Temperature. This movie deals with immature relationships we can develop when we substitute real human relationships with artificial ones. The artificial angle here is a man who develops a "relationship" with a realistic-looking sex doll, and what happens when he makes real human contact.

Between films, I retreated to the "relaxing" atmosphere of the Alamo Drafthouse porch. Actually the porch is one of the best parts of Fantastic Fest and if you are not hanging out with us, you are missing out. Come say hello! While on the porch, I discovered something wonderful. In a brilliant marketing move, FEARnet set up an ice cream truck and fed us all delicious swirled ice cream cones. Yummy!

My next movie was another strange selection, Underwater Love -- a movie that crosses Howard the Duck with late-night Cinemax soft-core porn and music from Tenacious D. It's the story of a kappa, a creature from Japanese mythology, who returns to visit the woman who was his girlfriend before he died and was resurrected as a kappa. This movie has some of the strangest sex scenes I have seen and is extremely strange and funny.

My next stop was Mondo Tees. I stood in line to acquire one of the Drew Struzan Frankenstein posters (more info on the poster here). I am an avid Struzan collector and I was happy to be one of 50 people to get this poster at Fantastic Fest.

After that, I went to see El Narco (also known as El Infierno). El Narco tells the story of the drug cartels in Mexico. Because of the Mondo sale, I missed the first part of the film. What I did see was great. It was funny at times and shocking at others. It made a great statement on what is happing in Mexico today. Writer/director Luis Estrada did a Q&A at the end that was awesome. I highly recommend this movie.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day One: A Vasectomy and a Porcine Centipede

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Fantastic Fest crowd

Sometimes Fantastic Fest feels less like a film festival and more like a big cocktail party where you know almost everyone there (which never happens at cocktail parties I attend) and oh yes, you can leave the party at any time and go watch some pretty good movies. If only we'd had martini glasses in the tent set up outside Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, the illusion would have been complete.

I arrived at Alamo around 4 pm, too late for the first round of movies but not too late to socialize. So many people have been returning to this fest year after year after year (since 2005) that it really does start to feel like I know everyone. And that unfamiliar guy over there? Turns out he's that film blogger I've been chatting with via Twitter, here for his first Fantastic Fest. The only problem with this situation is that I have to be careful when writing so I don't sound too "inside baseball" and bore all of you who weren't there.

After more socializing than I normally do in three months, I slipped into a screening of Boys on the Run just to watch the short playing before it, Family Unit. Austin filmmaker Thomas Humphries, the man behind the Blackmagic Rollercoaster production company, directed the film. Blackmagic Rollercoaster has brought us some might strange Fantastic Fest bumpers (the short shorts that "advertise" the fest before each screening). Family Unit is about a family outing in Mayfield Park (I noticed a peacock) and it is, um, not what you would expect. On the other hand, I kind of did expect to be simultaneously bemused and slightly stunned, so I suppose you could call it predictable in that sense.

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