Michael Bergeron
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Fantastic Fest Wrap: Part One

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The Fantastic Fest is aptly named because it’s, well, sort of fantastic. Literally this film festival premieres the known and the unknown back to back, all in the same location, and sometimes at the same time.

I saw an Indian film (Psycho Ramen) after watching a South Korean film (Age of Shadows), and topped off the evening with Paul Schrader’s unique post-modern film noir Dog Eat Dog.

Each film unrolls in two or three theatres simultaneously in the flagship location of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin over a period of one week.

Oddball events are going on in the adjacent Highball bar — everything from people eating durian as part of a gross-out contest, Leonard Maltin and his daughter Jessie doing a Q&A with Tim Burton, or a Star Wars themed mixology taste-off — as well as conversations and high fives in a staging area in front of the AD complex.

At one point Maltin stated that Burton’s new film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (opening September 30), which is based on a popular three book series, was so similar to Burton’s style that it seemed like something he would have himself written. Without missing a beat, Burton replied, “If I had written it the title would be ‘Fucked-Up Children.'” That got a big laugh from the crowd.

A The Shining-themed carpet adorns the lobby, itself cluttered with stand-up displays that invite you to take a head shot juxtaposed next to a naked serial killer, or dip into a virtual reality demonstration.

What Fantastic Fest 2023 represents is the chance to see advance screenings of films that will determine the zeitgeist of the film-going public for the next several months.

Some releases like the opening night film, the alien thriller Arrival (opening wide November 11), are positioned with dominating campaigns, but that’s the whipped cream at on top of the mousse. The closing night film Colossal boasts a great cast — Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson — and delivers a satisfying foray into sci-fi fantasy yet has no North American release date at the time of its screening.

Arrival makes you think to the point of obscuring the overall arc of the film. You’re so busy ruminating on clues that you overlook the bigger picture. Arrival will be perceived as being about so many things, but it is really about how to decipher an alien language. I’ll have to see Arrival a couple of times to fully grok its message.

On the other hand, Colossal plays out in a realistic dramedy sense while diving time with a storyline that observes a giant monster terrorizing Seoul, Korea. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has fashioned an allegory about alcoholism that suggests that the actions of someone in one part of the world can affect people on the other side of the world. What Hathaway does in her small town gets transferred to the movements of a huge beast in Seoul. Naturally the internet soon has websites waiting for the next live appearance of the monster.

In a conversation with Free Press Houston (that will run in its entirety concurrent with Colossal’s eventual release) Vigalondo noted how social media allows people to make other people victims without ever having to directly look them in the face.