[BEER & LOATHING IN AUSTIN, TEXAS] FANTASTIC FEST, DAY ONE

 

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The road to Fantastic Fest is paved with a whole lot of whiskey. Flying out of Chicago’s Midway Airport, I stopped and had a couple Makers Mark on the rocks for breakfast. Having worked a bartending shift the evening before and not getting much sleep, I hoped a little breakfast whiskey would help me sleep on the plane.

 

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Unfortunately, the Makers didn’t do the trick and neither did the double Wild Turkey courtesy of Southwest so there I was, drunk in Austin and low on sleep.

 

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There wasn’t much time for love, Dr. Jones, after arriving in Austin. I had to head right over to the Alamo Drafthouse to cover the red carpet on the opening night of Fantastic Fest.

 

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By now I had gone from drunk to sober to hungover in a matter of hours. Feeling sharp, I had a chance to talk to Tim League, Alamo CEO and co-founder of Fantastic Fest.

 

We Asked Tim League Of Fantastic Fest What The Secret Screenings Were This Year And You Won’t Believe What He Told Us!

 

Actually, you’ll totally believe what he told us: absolutely nothing. Past secret screenings at Fantastic Fest have included MIAMI CONNECTION, CLOUD ATLAS, and THE GREEN INFERNO, which finally comes out this weekend, two years after its Fantastic Fest debut.

 

Polish horror film DEMON

 

Oh yeah, I also went and saw some movies myself, in between all the drinking and hobnobbing. First up was DEMON, from Poland. Directed by Macin Wrona, who was tragically found dead in his hotel room earlier this week, is not necessarily a horror film but a family drama with just a little possession thrown in. Taking place around a wedding in rural Poland, there is plenty of vodka and some very funny moments but — and perhaps I’m being too literal-minded here — no actual demon.

 

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I think I wanted something scarier, and wasn’t prepared for the arthouse stylings and Holocaust allegory. Even with mass quantities of caffeine — I switched from a delightful drink featuring ice cream and Makers to a 20-ounce black coffee — I found DEMON to be a snoozer.

 

LAZER TEAM

 

Next up was LAZER TEAM, a crowd-funded effort from the Rooster Teeth gang. Full disclosure: When I saw the trailer for the film I was unimpressed. I could tell what the film was going for, but it looked like it was just going to fall short. Fortunately, my instincts were wrong. LAZER TEAM is a genuine crowd-pleaser that mixes elements of GHOSTBUSTERS, SUPER TROOPERS, Spielberg, Lucas, and just a touch of Joe Dante-style action and humor. Following a ragtag team of derelicts and losers who unwittingly become the “champions of earth” in a battle against invading extraterrestrial forces, LAZER TEAM is a joke-a-minute ride that hits all the right marks. The script is tight, and gives all of the protagonists simple-but-genuine character arcs that pay off by the end.

The film could be accused of riding the nostalgia train—the film is chock full of references to fantasy films of the ‘80s— but it has so much heart and sincerity that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy it, particularly if you’re of the age group that grew up with THE LAST STARFIGHTER and a decade of STAR WARS rip-offs. I seriously enjoyed LAZER TEAM, and can see the film developing a cult following on home video and cable television…but that could be all the Shiner Bock talking.

 

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As a service industry warrior myself, the bartenders, servers, and the rest of the staff deserve praise in the highest form. Working a restaurant is hard enough with the lights on and these guys and girls do it in the dark. Fantastic Fest for them must be like a weeklong Valentine’s Day to a Chilihead. Most impressive.

 

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I skipped the third showing to attend the Christmas-themed opening night party. The Highball, the bar adjacent to the Alamo, has a kitschy cool with Naugahyde booths and retro styled bar stools, and there I was able to drink and network with other writers from websites such as The AV Club, Bloody Disgusting, and a whole bunch that I’ve never heard of. Doug Benson was wandering around smelling like primo grass, and I caught Elijah Wood smoking a cigarette in a Santa hat. There’s not many places where a conversation about FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER will lead to karaoke in a TWIN PEAKS themed room, but that’s Fantastic Fest. Oh by the way, have I mentioned that I do a killer “Born To Run?”

 

 

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Coming up in Part II: The Polanski-esque DARLING, the first secret screening is revealed, and breakfast tacos. Stay tuned.

 

 

— MIKE VANDERBILT.

 

 

 

 

 

Jon Abrams

Editor-In-Chief at Daily Grindhouse
Jon Abrams is a New York-based writer, cartoonist, and committed cinemaniac whose complete work and credits can be found at his site, Demon’s Resume. You can contact him on Twitter as @JonZilla___.
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