Day One of Fantastic Fest ended with an opening night party at the Drafthouse’s new “The Highball,” where they threw a Gentlemen Broncos “Brutus & Balzaak Bash” after the name of one of Dr. Ronald Chevalier’s science fiction novels. Complete with popcorn sculptures and a fully-outfitted battle stag (it’ll make sense if you see the movie), it went late into the night while people bowled, drank, and ate new menu items like Dr. Pepper ribs. That’s how geeks party.
But more importantly the end of the night meant that Day Two would be starting up soon. To Fantastic Fest attendees, that means more movies and more oddities. For me, it meant a chance to see some bizarre films, and I was not disappointed. I just don’t know if I was mentally prepared for part of the day. I’m hoping that I’m not deeply scarred emotionally. That’s all due to Secret Screening #1, which ended up being Robogeisha. These are screenings that aren’t revealed to the audience until seconds before the movie screens, and they usually haven’t ever been seen outside of festival circuits. Read on for more.
- Krabat: based on an actual children’s fairy tale called The Satanic Mill, Krabat is about a young boy who comes under the service of a powerful sorcerer as an apprentice. During the year, the twelve disciples of the master serve him by learning the dark arts, and doing his bidding. Although that might sound ominous, it just consists of simple chores like cleaning and preparing food. Once a year, the master sacrifices one of the twelve, which is how he stays young and maintains his power. At first, Krabat is a willing and strong follower, but when he accidentally meets a young beauty in a nearby village, he begins to rebel against the master. Although it’s beautifully shot and well acted (Daniel Brühl from Inglourious Basterds plays Tonda, a journeyman who becomes a fast friend to Krabat), the film is slow moving – and despite the presence of the dark arts, there are scant few instances of magic in the film. I’m all for a good story, but I wouldn’t have minded some serious wand-waving and magic making. Plus Krabat starts growing a ridiculous ponytail and a 70s-era porn mustache that makes him look a lot less appealing.
- Robogeisha: This is what I wasn’t sure I was prepared for. Not the film itself, mind you, but for what came afterwards. The movie is about a young girl who one day hopes to become a geisha like her older sister, but before she has the chance she’s pulled into a different life as an assassin. Not just a normal assassin, either, but one with bionic implements built-in to help with her killing. Sounds fairly straightforward, but toss in a pair of crazy Tengu assassin girls who wear bikinis with red faces on their breasts and shoot shurikens our of their butts (no lie). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Later you have transforming castles, executives with built-in shoulder guns, squads of women training in their underwear, and a group of geriatric, revenge-seeking grandparents. This is all lockstep with the main character Yoshie, who has now become a full-fledged robogeisha. Her body has now been replaced with so much technology that “when I strike a sexy pose, blades come out of my armpits.” Would you expect anything more from Noburo Iguchi, director of other Japaweirdness like The Machine Girl?
- Robogeisha: Even more — After the screening of the film, Drafthouse owner Tim League and director Iguchi came on stage with the makeup artist and producer of the movie … clad only in white sumo wraps. Yes, there was plenty of man-buttcheek to be seen, and just to make sure you saw it, they danced up and down the aisle, so you got a face full of it. Then, the two Tengu women from the film appeared, complete with their funky bikinis and katanas. They squared off against the sumo boys, and stuck darts in their rear ends, to the applause and delight of the audience. Not something I’m used to seeing at a movie, that’s for sure.
- The Men Who Stare At Goats: thankfully I had Secret Screening #2 to wash the taste out of my mouth, and I was surprised (along with people who supposedly knew what the next Secret Screening would be) to learn that we’d be seeing The Men Who Stare At Goats. This is the directing debut of George Clooney’s partner Grant Heslov, and it stars Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Bridges. The film is (very) loosely based on a book of the same name that documents the U.S. military experiments into psychic warfare, including trying to have men kill goats by staring at them. Seriously, that’s your tax dollars at work. While the book is non-fiction, the film takes a serious turn for the absurd, and that’s mostly due to “Jedi Warrior” (that’s what they call themselves) Lyn Cassady. Ewan McGroger plays Bob Wilton, a reporter in trying to get into Iraq to show his estranged wife how strong he is, and once he meets Len they have a series of bizarre adventures, none of which prove that Len actually possesses psychic powers, and he learns about the hilarious beginnings of the psychic program as the “New Earth Army,” sanctioned by the U.S. Army and led by Jeff Bridges who comes as close to channeling The Dude here as he ever has since The Big Lebowski. It’s not a deep film, and is extremely light in tone, but I found it very enjoyable. Looking forward to whatever Heslov turns out next.
That brought the screenings to a close, and I didn’t have the energy left to muster up a second midnight screening in a row, but I did go bowling and hit the skee-ball machines at The Highball. That place is going to end up being a huge boon to theatergoers looking for somewhere to hang out. Day Three is filled with Russian morphine addiction, Japanese punk rock sci-fi, and John C. Reilly in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. See how it turns out right here on Screen Rant.