from Devin: Thanks to Travis, a volunteer at this year’s Fantastic
Fest, for taking some time to write up what he’s seen. Many films at
Fantastic Fest don’t get wider releases, which means I won’t be seeing
them at press screenings, so it’s great to have an early word on some
interesting and weird movies.

Check out part 1 of Travis’ great coverage right here.

As Fantastic Fest nears its finale I’d like to enclose a checklist of must-haves to any brave troops daring the trip to Austin in 2007. The most essential item (besides your obvious virginity) is most certainly a pair of haggard denim shorts. Whether it’s a pair from Dr. Funke’s wardrobe or  something a tad longer, no one can question your credentials in a snazzy pair of carpenter pant cut-offs (this can be accented nicely with a backwards Devil’s Reject s fitted cap as well—if you feel like going for broke).

Item two on the list is pale skin topped off with an obscure anime t-shirt two sizes too small or three sizes too big. I know what you’re thinking, but no one gets laid in clothes that fit. After the wardrobe has been selected and sufficiently wrinkled, make sure and stop shaving no longer than two weeks before the festival. I may not know much but I can run circles around anyone when it comes to looking unkempt and slightly uncomfortable in public and my neck beard (circa Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) has been nothing short of endearing. Sure a passion for maverick film making and a large appetite will come in handy as well at the fest, but I figured those were the ‘gimmees’. On to the festival:

I’m not the first and definitely won’t be the last to praise Adam Green’s Hatchet but I would be remiss if I couldn’t throw in a couple of strokes on the community hand job this guy’s been getting.

If you haven’t heard the plot, its pretty basic. A young deformed boy, Victor Crowley, is tortured by the townsfolk and decides to extract revenge on all those he encounters. Not much else to it, and I think this simplicity works in the film’s favor.

Hatchet delivers in all the ways you would want your mindless slasher to pitch; great humor, ample cleavage, a slain elderly couple, and lines like ‘you’re nipples are dumb’. Words do not easily express how superbly Green takes you from hysterical laughter to jarring violence. In one scene a young Cajun is ripped half all the while the lense never turns, then immediately spins to some great Mardi Gras humor. It reminded me of Roth’s Cabin Fever but with a better script and more breasts (keep in mind I didn’t say ‘better’ breasts, you’ll understand after the first act).

After Hatchet I was lucky enough to catch William Friedkin’s Bug, or more fitting Mike Shannon’s Bug. I recognized Mike from some minor character work in Pearl Harbor and Eight Mile but nothing can prepare you for the performance this guys turns in for Bug. Like all great movies, Bug is better knowing as little as possible going in, but the film hinges on the unlikely relationship between Shannon and Ashley Judd (gaudy performance that deserves equal acclaim), two people puttering through their existence until Shannon begins to enlighten Judd on his military past.

For my tastes, Bug is a testament to what filmmaking should strive to be; a great script (filled with loss and often humorous insight) taken to another dimension by a talented director peppered with strong performances throughout. Did I mention Harry Connick Jr? To me HCJ (that’s how our fan club addresses him) has always been a poor man’s Matthew McConaughey, but man can this guy put on his cocksucker suit. He plays a minor but significant role as Judd’s menacing ex-husband, and the guy really runs with it. I’m not saying the guy doesn’t have another My Dog Skip in him, but his chops are impressive and I’d like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt (even though I doubt he’ll give me my ten bucks back for Hope Floats… I mean, if I even saw it).

Bringing me with my favorite film of the madness that is Fantastic Fest, Renaissance. Renaissance tells the story of a corporation’s desire to bottle and sell immortality and an honest cop’s struggle to get laid.  Sure he’s trying to find the woman who may or may not (like you can’t read through that) hold life’s greatest secret, but anyone with this much testosterone always has sex for a motive.

I’ve heard over and over again how this is a Frenchie Sin City, but come on, give the French more credit than that. They did give us democracy and cheap heroin. I think artistically, the film is much ballsier keeping its color palette to solely black and white. And in terms of characters, Renaissance’s Bartholemy Karas could whip Hartigan’s ass. He has some great action sequences (especially his brilliant entrance into the film) and Daniel Craig’s subtle voice work really brings him to another level.

Leading in to my only qualm of the film; the voice work. I realize I just praised Craig’s deserving effort, but apparently a futuristic France is populated solely with British. Do the guys at Miramax have such little faith in the American public that we can’t enjoy a movie with a French cast? If they can snag 007 and Ms. William Wallace, why not sign Vincent Cassel, Meme Perlini,  or someone, I don’t know,  French? It’s a small bone to pick but one that was somewhat difficult to swallow. The film has a strong script and a talented director, a one-two punch that American films seldom land. (cough—Paul Haggis—cough)

The last film of the night was The Host, a brilliant piece of Korean monster cinema that goes in such unexpected places; I carry no shame in calling it my sleeper of the week. The Host tells the story of a Korean family that spans three generation’s journey to find one of their own that has been kidnapped by a mutated mudcat/alligator/chimp running rampant along the Seoul River. The movie brilliantly interweaves the family’s struggle with biting political satire smothered in great action and gut-busting humor. It’s a bold statement but one that holds true once the credits roll.

Like everyone who spends countless hours scouring the internet for movie goods, I’d heard much about The Host but one thing that surprised me, then ultimately saddened me, was how well this foreign script captured the essence of a loving and flawed family. I found it refreshing and realized I hadn’t seen such a skillfully painted family on the screen since Harry and the Henderson’s. Maybe it’s my soft spot for Asian cinema, but I couldn’t help but notice how much clout family relationships pull to our eastern neighbors.

There was also some talk of shoddy CGI, but I didn’t notice it at all. Sure, its not WETA but it ain’t Godzilla either. When the Host jumps under the bridge like a cracked out preschooler on the monkey bars, I couldn’t help but be impressed.  I’m not sure when The Host makes it stateside, but give this one a go, you’ll find its worth your time.

Tomorrow the guys at the Drafthouse have me working the doors to AICN’s special screening #2, so I’ll be excited to report back whatever those guys have up their sleeves (my guess is Pan’s Labyrinth)

Shoot me an email and let me know what you guys think of the reviews, I could use the feedback and any slanderous hate mail will make it to my fridge.