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Fantastic Fest 2011 – a cinephile’s paradise by the karaoke light –

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Day 1 – better late then not at all!

This year I made the trek to Austin and its 105-degree days (that’s 40 C for those keeping track) for one great reason— Fantastic Fest! … that and the overriding jealousy I had reading other people’s posts the last few years. Especially on Twitter. This year, I was aiming to make others jealous. Now I do not know if I did that or even frankly, if anyone outside my amazing and new-found friend circles even gave half a damn. But, you know what? I didn’t care a whit. I was in hot, dry Austin, just weeks after the massive wildfires hit that drought-plagued state and by Jeebus, I was gonna watch me some movies! Well, after I got my stuff settled at my brother’s house and changed shirts because it seems you cannot trust me with something so simple as pasta while in a new blouse. Gah!

 

After I got a quick lesson in how to drive his fancy Prius (and damn, it is one nice ride) so he knew I was not prone to wreck it, off to the Alamo Drafthouse at South Lamar I went. I wanted to pick up my badge the evening before so I could pick my tickets early the next day, and so I could get into Pinballz. What’s Pinballz, you may ask? Its 13,000 square feet of kickass video and pinball games. Look at that number again, will you? 13,000 square feet of games…none of whom I’d wager went past 1996 in origin. It opened last year right before the other killer reason to make the trek to CineMecca, Harry Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon and I fell in love (and out of quarters) with it right away. It was where the pre-pre Fantastic Fest party was. I ran into a pal I met two BNAT’s ago, Arturo from Mexico City, and this year he brought his wife Carla and friend Efrian. I mean, I thought coming halfway across the country to go to FF was something; these guys came from another country altogether. There were some free tokens and even beers for the party-goers and rounds of, “ I know you from twitter, don’t I?”  being played out.

 

The ability to randomly make friends was working in full effect all over Fantastic Fest, and I have embarrassing photos (and some video!) of my new friends and even plan to stay over at Tony’s house when I am in Nashville this weekend to see Terminator The Second. This is one of the perks of meeting a huge group of people who are as crazy about movies as you are. Thirty-four countries were represented this year, and it was not until the last two days of the festival that I saw anything American at all. That’s great! The American film scene is so America-centric, that it seems if you want to watch foreign films you have to search in the interwebs for it, or hope that your local indie-video store (mine’s VIDEODROME in Atlanta) has it in stock.

 

Everyone was excited about what was coming up for the next eight days of movie glory, and with the new ticketing system FF put in place, all you had to do is get up two hours before the first screening , sign in to the site with your badge number and pick what films you wanted to see. As long as they were not sold out by people ahead of you picking first, you could go back to sleep a bit and cruise on in to pick up a Boarding Pass with your name on it when you got to the Alamo. They started the Boarding Pass system a little over a year ago I think, and it works wonders. Normally, when you buy your ticket it gives you a number on the bottom. Early buyers get lower numbers, and groups are seated in waves of 25. It is a damn genius idea and makes loading into a theatre really easy. One of the volunteers would announce over the PA system what film was loading and the numbers being seated and that’s it. So simple. I wish ALL theatres in the US would do that. But, then again, I’d like them all to be the high quality in service and standards that all Alamo Drafthouses have.

 

So after talking about what we did, or did not want to watch the night before, I tried to talk the Mexican delegation out of seeing Human Centipede 2 – Full Sequence on opening night.

The CentiPig – opening night party dinner for Human Centipede 2

There was a CentiPig made of 4 roasted pigs tucked snout-to-tail…and the Charles Edward Cheese Band singing to the opening party crowd at The Highball about how HC-2 was a ‘family’ movie about poo-eating … see the YouTube videofor explanation. The drink below is a Laxatini — a drink some genius decided was part chocolate martini and part ugh!— that tastes horrible — in tribute to the film. Yet another reason A: I didn’t see it, and B: it was free, so I didn’t feel bad about having one sip and buying my own drink.

The Laxitini – a free drink opening night at The Highball

But  instead of that horror which made someone I know become UNCONSCIOUS  (and then she puked and went on an ambulance ride) during the course of the film… I picked only one film to see the first day. It was Let The Bullets Fly, a Chinese action/comedy starring Chow Yun-Fat, Xiaogang Feng (seen also in Kung Fu Hustle as the Crocodile Gang Boss) and Wen Jiang, who not only co-stars in, but he wrote and directed it as well.

 

This is a simple story of one bandit and his gang of outlaws robbing a train full of rich people, including the new Governor of the province and “city” of Goose Town. In the midst of the robbery, (cleverly executed with a train car flipping end over end after the horses that were pulling it were released) the bandit, Pocky Jhang decides that he’ll masquerade as the new official in charge of Goose Town, since no one knows what the real one looks like. His plan seems fairly simple; until you find out the person in the train on the way to the village was doing the same thing, and had done so in five other areas. Pocky forces Tang into the role of his counselor, so that he can get info on how to really run the town, in exchange for not killing him. He also takes Tang’s ‘wife’ as his own so that he’ll look more legitimate. This is the simple part. Once they get to Goose Town, the local warlord, played by Chow Yun-Fat, Master Huang is disrespectful and dismissive of the new governor and sends only his hat as emissary to greet them in an Asian twist on showing someone your shoe in the Middle East, I suppose.
This causes strife between Pocky and Huang and there are a number of showdowns and battles, and even a fatal self-evisceration to prove the honor of one of Jhang’s men in the question of how much food was eaten (he carves himself up to show he’d only had one portion) in a noodle house. The comedy here is a broad as some Abbot and Costello bits, and the violence mostly as harmless. However, when one of Huang’s men rapes Ms. Ma (Pocky’s faux, and Tang’s real) wife to death, it gets a bit more serious. It was also the first of my rapey-films at Fantastic Fest, though far from my last.

Her rape and death is ultimately played off for comedy and eventually in a near-Shakespearean twist of having a double for Huang killed by Jhang in an effort to fool the people into finally rebelling against his heroin-dealing ways there is some sense of justice. Not for Mrs. Ma, of course, but for the downtrodden Goose Town people who only rose up when heavily armed and they were sure the warlord was dead, and then all they did was rob his mansion.
This was a Chinese version of a Wild West comedy, in a lawless time (the early 1920’s) that’s without many ‘lessons’ for the main characters (aside from a rape and a few comrade-deaths that is). It was more violent than The Three Amigos, but I could see shades of it in this portrayal of a small town and the baddies oppressing the villagers. This was nominated for awards for acting, screenwriting, costuming (which it won) directing, and best film at the Asian Film Awards, and ultimately I had a fun time of it and loved the chemistry of Jieng, Xiaogang and Chow on screen. This is already out on DVD/Blu, so if you want an afternoon of silly gunplay and mixed-up identities, do yourself a favor, pop it in your player, and let the bullets fly!

 

 

Holly B and her pal R2D2

Holly B. is a freelance writer living in Atlanta who likes reading far too late in the night; most types of comic books, all things cinema (including being excited by certain names in the credits that you usually ignore) and saw The Empire Strikes Back three times opening day when she was ten years old. Though gifted with three superpowers (Instant Good Karma, Small World Syndrome and Jedi Mind Trick), she only tries to only use them for good. She also likes to foist her musical tastes off on others so if you meet her, you might just get a copy of the latest White Girls Can’t Mix mixtape CD. You can reach her on twitter @MediaTsarina.

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