This has been a long time coming.
It seems as long as I’ve had easy access to the internet I’ve been reading about FantasticFest. A cinematic paradise where you can see days worth of crazy genre fare and then immediately walk into the lobby afterwards and talk to the filmmakers whose movie you just saw. I finally decided to pull the trigger after a rollercoaster of a year and the week leading up to it almost killing me I hoped on a plane with my roommate and flew out Austin, Texas. We got here a few days early to get all of the touristy bullshit out of the way, plus a day trip to San Antonio (Which was a day capped with a screening of BLACK SWAN where we were the only ones there, which was weird). But walking up to the front doors of the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE on day number one is probably as close as I’ve come to having a true honest to god religious experience.
I met some of my DAILY GRINDHOUSE peeps, met some cool new people, ate A LOT of popcorn, and saw some really cool movies
I legitimately have no idea how I managed to bullshit my way into this one. Distinctly odd and brainy as hell there’s a part of me that’s amazed that we’re getting this flick the same year we got INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. An alien invasion story that begins with a focus on the intricacies of linguistics and slowly reveals itself to be a meditation on memory and the experience of time Director Denis Villeneuve continues to be a director that refuses to be pinned done by anything as limiting genre or conventional plot. Working from a script by Eric Heisserer based on Ted Chiangs short story “Story of your Life”, ARRIVAL focuses on Amy Adams Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist contracted by the US Government when twelve identical floating objects arrive in twelve separate locations across the globe to crack the language barrier between them and monolithic aliens that look straight up Lovecraftian. There’s no E.T. cuddliness to these things and the scope that Villeneuve plays with is doubly impressive when you consider how small the human story at the center of the film. This is totally Adams film, playing a woman both astonishingly intelligent with a core of human strength and vulnerability that makes her performance simply magnetic. She’s backed up by Jeremy Renner, playing an easily charming scientist which is a nice change of pace from his usual gallery of tough assholes but he’s just there to back up Adams as they work to figure out a way to communicate with an absolutely alien race before the inevitable tensions that these beings brought to the world boil over into full out war. ARRIVAL is a movie about the nature of humanity, both at our most fearful and petty but also at our most ponderous and self-sacrificing. It’ll be fascinating to see the reaction to this movie when it hits the general public.
So obviously after watching that bit of intelligent auteurism I had to cleanse my pallet the only way I know how: with the bone crunching, hard charging , ridiculous Russian accent wielding BOYKA!!! To say that I am a fan of the UNDISPUTED films would be an accurate statement but I’m really just a fan of quality action cinema and in the current wave of action moviemaking the featuring of Scott Adkins is usually enough to make me check it out. A physical performer of almost unmatched skill in the world of low-budget action Atkins returns in what is ostensibly his signature role as the vicious Russian anti-hero Yuri Boyka. Having begun his journey in the UNDISPUTED franchise as a villain and then taking over the lead BOYKA: UNDISPUTED finds him out of prison for the first time in the series having escaped in the last installment and moving on to live in the Ukraine. Still making his way as a fighter in underground matches he is finally given the opportunity for a shot at a legitimate fight for entry in an actual championship match. But when Boyka’s temper gets the best of him and the worst happens he heads back into Russia on a mission of redemption. Despite the absence of UNDISPUTED 2 & 3’s Issac Florentine in the directors chair he’s still involved as a producer and handpicked his replacement in director Todor Chapkanov who manages the film fine with an understanding on keeping to camera on his performers during the fights and only cutting to help the matches kinetic energy. The film still feels like a small step back with a kind of by the numbers Russian mob, damsel in distress narrative which at certain points feels like something you just have to endure to get to the fights. But boy howdy do the fights work. Watching Boyka is like watching the bear from THE REVENANT. And much like that movie when you see Boyka fully unleashed you root for him hard to fuck dudes up.
And he does.
So it might not reinvent the wheel but its still a solid entry into the series and definitely worth your time when it comes out.
I closed out the night with Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s THE VOID. Two parts of the Astron 6 filmmaking collective I have to admit they’re previous films tended to leave me cold but from things I heard and the promotional materials available this seemed like it would be a bit more in my wheelhouse and that was definitely the case. Whereas the Astron6 films could generally be labeled as Horror Comedies, THE VOID is just a straight up cosmic terror film. Taking place in a nearly abandoned hospital, when a small town sheriff brings in a injured man he thinks the worst thing he’ll have to deal with is seeing his nurse ex-wife but quicker than you would expect the whole night devolves into terror as knife wielding cultists surround the hospital trapping them and a small group inside they soon realize that something far worse is lurking inside the hospitals corridors. A smorgasbord of practical effects are on display and enough gore to keep the most rabid horror hound happy, but the human drama on display works with actors like Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Wong, and Kenneth Welsh and make the narrative compelling and emotionally harrowing. Much like MANBORG and THE EDITOR the directors namecheck a ton of their favorite movies (PRINCE OF DARKNESS, HELLRAISER, and a ton of Fulci in particular) but instead of devolving into pastiche they manage to create a very distinctive mythology. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re talking about this flick a lot in the years to come.
And that’s my first Day in a nutshell. But now it’s the morning of the second day and I’m filling up on breakfast tacos and coffee so check back tomorrow after I experience some avante garde shorts, a poster documentary, get into the nitty gritty of an autopsy, and peer behind the veil of a Japanese occupied Korea. Plus watching a bunch of film geeks knock the snot outta each other.