As my adventures at Fantastic Fest come to their startling conclusion, I invite you to remember the last two chapters here and here. This is the last time you'll get to see them before I take them out of print, digitally tamper with them and make you re-buy them every four years or so.
As my adventure winds down, I look back on the past few days and wonder how long it's really been. There's no way it's only been five days. No way. Surely it's been a week. Surely. I've see too many movies and done far too much for this to only be five days.
At the same time, I'm convinced it's only been two days. I've only slept a few hours. Time has flown by. No way I've spent dozens upon dozens of hours in a movie theater already. No way no way.
Time has started to fall apart around my ears and the universe as I know it has started to melt like a chocolate bar in the hot Texas heat and there are times when I can barely keep my eyes open, but you know what? I'm still at Fantastic Fest and I'm making sure everyone I know is keenly aware of this fact.
Rule #20: You'll be seeing cool stuff before a lot of people do ... so gloat to your friends.
You took the time off. You made the journey. You're suffering for your art (if you consider movie-watching and sleep-avoidance art, which I do). Draft text messages, send out some e-mails, abuse your Twitter feed to within an inch of its life. The only thing more fun than being at Fantastic Fest is seeing your friends and family seethe with jealousy at your being there or anger at your constantly telling them about it.
This day starts strong, with Mark Romanek's science fiction drama 'Never Let Me Go,' which inspires a debate about what qualifies as a Fantastic Fest movie. Those who argue that's this deliberately paced, character piece has no place at a festival filled with dismemberments and kung fu obviously have a very different definition of "Fantastic" than I do. 'Never Let Me Go' uses science fiction ideas to drive a story about emotions and people, a story that resonates with all human beings, but can only exist through the use of extraordinary ideas. In a word, it's fantastic.
After that, I see one of the most popular films of the festival: 'Rare Exports,' the story of Santa Claus returning from an icy tomb to punish "naughty" children and the one brave kid who stands against him. This is one of those weird, wonderful, crazy movies that will become a favorite on cult message boards around the web, but here, it gets to shine in the spotlight.
Later in the evening, I will see the fascinating, slightly tedious, but also kind of brilliant Bollywood film 'Naan Kaduval,' but before and after that screening, I learn an important fact that may apply to all film festivals:
Rule #21: There will be one bad day.
A five-day streak of perfect fun has to end somewhere and this is the day. Not to say I suddenly become miserable and want to go home and never come back, but I do hit a rough patch when I settle in for 'Mutant Girls Squad,' which turns out to be 90 minutes of misery, proof that I offended the filmmaker's honor in a past life and now he's out to settle the score. It was after the girl with the chainsaw protruding out of her rear end fought the mutant woman in the sexy nurse's costume and around the time when the villain sprouted acid-spewing breasts from his head that I noticed my entire row had already exited the theater. The coast was clear. I didn't have to stumble over people's feet, I didn't have to get in anyone's way...
Rule #22: Don't be afraid to walk out.
I'd never walked out of a movie before. I'd always seen things through to the bitter end, no matter what. But this is Fantastic Fest. There are dozens of movies vying for my attention. There are dozens of cool people to meet. There are dozens of dollars to be wasted on tasty fried food. So I walked out of 'Mutant Girls Squad' and I don't feel bad about it at all. It was like having a weight removed from my chest. I could breathe. I felt free. There is no reason to subject yourself to something that's driving you nuts and pissing you off, especially when you're at a festival and you're not paying for individual admissions.
A good lesson to learn, since that evening the Secret Screening (the first one I choose to attend instead of hitting a press screening of it the following morning) turns out to be 'Helldriver,' the latest opus from the same man who wrought 'Mutant Girls Squad' upon this fine planet. Ten minutes into the movie, I knew this wasn't my thing. I knew I was in for two hours of misery. I knew I had work to do and people to say hi to and sleep to be had.
So I left that theater and did some work and said some hello's, but sleep didn't happen ... I still had a midnight screening of 'I Spit on Your Grave' to look forward to.
It goes without saying that Fantastic Fest is not a film festival for the faint of heart. Just a quick look at the film schedule should tell you this. Day after day, I have to choose between revenge films, bloody horror films, insane animated films, high concept science fiction and just general weirdness of the highest order. So, just keep in mind ...
Rule #23: Everyone is out to offend you.
Case in point: As part of a "bumper" contest (30-second little movies shown before each screening), filmmakers were encouraged to be as inappropriate as possible, told that nothing, absolutely nothing, was off limits. This means that even the tamest Fantastic Film has the potential to be paired with an abortion joke, images of Optimus Prime raping a minivan and every sort of deplorable, jaw-dropping thing in-between. The best of the fest features a group of people escaping from flesh-eating zombies by using a baby as bait.
This day's is a massive step up from the day before, beginning with 'The Last Circus,' an absolutely insane, beautiful and spellbinding horror/adventure about two clowns in love with the same trapeze artist and the incredibly violent things that happen when they duel for her affections. I follow this up with 'Legend of the Fist,' my second Donnie Yen martial arts film of the festival after the equally fun 'Ip Man 2.' Then it's 'The Housemaid,' my fourth Korean revenge film.
It's in the evening that I decide to shake things up. I trade in my ticket for the Bruce Willis action movie 'Red' and pick up a ticket for 'Nevermore,' a one-man stage show directed by Stuart Gordon, starring Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe. It's the best decision I make all week.
Rule #24: If you miss something big, take a chance.
Would it have been cool to see 'Red' a few weeks before it hit regular theaters? Yeah, it would. However, what's even cooler is seeing Combs, an actor best known for cult horror films like 'Re-Animator' and 'From Beyond,' give the performance of a lifetime just a few feet from where you're sitting. Already a hit in other cities, 'Nevermore' is billed as "an evening with Edgar Allan Poe" and that's exactly what it is. It's impossible to describe exactly what happens on stage without doing it a serious injustice, but suffice to say that fans of Poe and fans of Combs and fans of good things will find plenty to love here. 'Nevermore' is funny and tragic, a look at Poe as well as a tribute to all unsung artists, possibly even Gordon and Combs, who are beloved by fans but have never achieved mainstream success. 'Nevermore' is the best thing to happen at Fantastic Fest 2010.
It's difficult to follow something of that caliber and maybe that was not fair to 'Fatso,' a Norwegian comedy from the Judd Apatow school of "raunchy but heartfelt." After that, it's 'Redline,' a Japanese anime that seems to want to trigger seizures in people two theaters away. Despite the visual noise being flung in my face, sleep starts to happen. I force my eyes open and take advantage of the Drafthouse's wait staff ...
Rule #25: Embrace exhaustion. Order some coffee.
I was fine at first. Then I had to have one tea a day to keep my senses. Than a tea with every screening. Then an espresso. Then a double espresso. Fantastic Fest is a battle against sleep, a fight to stay awake to see more cool stuff. Let caffeine happen to you.
Tired. So very tired.
After an early screening of the incredibly fun 'Troll Hunter' (a "found footage" horror film with elements of the very intimate 'The Blair Witch Project' and the epic 'Cloverfield),' I see my third Donnie Yen film of the festival. Although '14 Blades' is his weakest film at Fantastic Fest, the man has won my heart in a big way. I bow to him. You should to.
Rule #26: Accept that Donnie Yen is better than you.
Don't let his charming smile fool you. This man can snap your torso in half with his pinky finger before flinging you through a wall. Just submit now and everything will be okay.
And it is at this point, on the final day of Fantastic Fest, that I skip my first film. Sorry 'Woochi,' I hear you're a fun action comedy about an ancient sorcerer transported to our time, but another two-and-a-half-hour subtitled film at this point feels like brain damage. So I go write. Probably one of these "Diary of a Fantastic Fest Virgin" entries, but I'm not sure. Too tired to make sense of anything, really. I go write where everyone goes to write: The Highball.
Rule #27: Learn to love the Highball.
Food. Drinks. Karaoke. Bowling. Skeeball. Free wi-fi. Located 30 seconds from the Alamo Drafthouse, the Highball will become a second home to any festival-goer. A place filled with friendly service, a nice atmosphere and a delicious menu that will please your stomach but brutally punish your wallet.This is where you go when you have a lengthy wait between movies. This is where the press goes to get their writing done. This is where everyone congregates after the final screenings to drink and talk and drink and network and drink and drink. Just so you know:
Rule #28: Booze is here.
The closing night film is Takashi Miike's '13 Assassins,' a bloody samurai film that feels like Kurosawa, Peckinpah and 'Black Hawk Down' took a swan dive into a blender of Amazing. After eight days and 40 films, there is not better way to end this festival.
And then there's the afterparty featuring a delicious 500 pound cow, a mariachi band, knife throwing lessons, free tequila shots and this band. And it all happens at an old Ghost Town.
Hellyeah, Fantastic Fest.
Rule #29: Fantastic Fest is only what you want it to be.
It's as simple as that. How much fun you have, what you get out of the experience, is totally up to you. This is a film festival that aims to please, that "cuts all the boring parts out." You've got to embrace that. You've got to realize that this is not just a chance to see unforgettable movies, but a chance to create unforgettable memories, to meet unforgettable people and to forget all of it in the morning after those free tequila shots have done a number on your brain. This is a singular, unique experience that every movie fan should experience. It's the antidote to negativity, a cure for mainstream mediocrity. It's the most fun you'll have all year.
Oh yeah ...
Rule #30: Start planning for next year. Right now.