Fantastic Fest Day Eight: Silat, Brains, and Dolph Lundgren

Fantastic Fest came to a close on Day Eight, and it was most definitely with a bang, and not a whimper. In fact, the final Secret Screening provided bangs both onscreen and off, and then the evening ended with a vampire-themed closing party. They even supplied sangria in blood bags, so it looked like you were chugging some b-negative instead of a fruity wine beverage. The staff were dressed up with scars, blood, and fangs, and attendees showed up in costume as well. Highlights included The Count from Sesame Street and a bevy of female bloodsuckers.

But, Day Eight also meant movies, and plenty of 'em. There were screenings all day, including a sneak peek at the vampire flick Daybreakers from Lionsgate. Even after the festival had ended and people were partying, non-festival attenders lined up for a midnight screening of Paranormal Activity. Heat lightning lit up the sky around Austin, and it was a perfect way to end the best genre film festival on the planet.

Merentau: Indonesia has been absent from the martial arts movie scene for over 15 years, and Merentau is a triumphant return. The film is about a young man named Yuda, who must go on merentau to become an adult. This means leaving home, and going to live on his own elsewhere to discover his purpose in life. He's been trained in the art of silat, a Malaysian-based martial art, since he was a child ... and of course he puts that to good use. After he is pickpocketed by a young boy, he finds out that his older sister is being treated brutally by a local club owner, and he steps in to help out. This soon brings down the wrath of the club owner, and the man he reports to, and before long they are being pursued across the city. There are tremendous fight sequences and impressive acting, especially from the main star Iko Uwais who should stay on your radar as a martial arts movie star to watch.

Dirty Mind: This fun Belgian film is about two brothers who work as a stuntman team for television and movies: Cisse is the star in the jumpsuit, and Diego is the quiet guy behind the scenes. When an accident leaves Cisse unable to perform, Diego steps in. Unfortunately he doesn't wait for his cue and falls through a plate glass window, missing his fall zone below. When he wakes up in the hospital, he insists that everyone start calling him Tony, and he quickly becomes a superstar. He's sure of himself, outgoing, and fun. Completely different than Diego. He also ends up making almost everyone angry. He steals Cisse's girlfriend, has an intimate encounter with his father's girlfriend, and when he develops feelings for Jaana, the doctor treating him, it pushes Jaana's surgeon boss over the edge. An operation could repair Diego/Tony's brain and bring him back to normal, although he doesn't want it. When he is nearly killed in a stunt driving accident, his brother decides to take matters into his own hands. Lots of humor, drama, and of course sex (those crazy Belgians) in this one.

Universal Soldier: A New Beginning: Van Damme is back. Lundgren is back. And yes, they have a tremendous fight scene. However, there's also a new baddie, played by MMA fight Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski. Both Lundgren and Arlovski and director John Hyams were on-hand to introduce Secret Screening #5, which might have caused some initial groans. Really? Another UniSol movie? Surprisingly, it wasn't bad. By the time the end credits were rolling, I was really enjoying the film. It largely ignores the first two Universal Soldier movies (and yes, has nothing to do with the terrible TV movies), and carves out its own territory.

The story references a "White Tower" program in the U.S. Military that focused on supersoldiers, but was eventually shut down. Later it was revived as "Black Tower" with even more powerful soldiers being created, but it was also shut down. One of the doctors on the team goes rogue, and he takes one of the Black Tower subjects (Arlovski) with him, and is hired by the leader of an army in Russia. He's a one-man killing squad who guards the base of one of the reactors at Chernobyl, threatening detonation if their demands are not met.

When the doctor decides he needs a backup policy, he thaws out a clone of Andrew Scott (Lundgren), and the U.S. brings Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) in from the general public, where a doctor has been trying to rehabilitate him, without much of a result. This sets the scene for some slam-bang fights between Arlovski and Van Damme, and a brief but very enjoyable fight between Scott and Deveraux. Lundgren is unfortunately not in the film that long, but it looks like the writers can bring him back whenever they want. The action was definitely racheted up well past the original film, and the entire audience had a great time watching.

With that, we sailed on into the night (just check out the Frog Brothers above from the closing party) and tried to race through the night until the sun came up. Unfortunately the weight of eight days worth of movies (and the accompanying movie food) caught up with me, and it was time to begin what I like to call Operation Coma. It was definitely time well spent, however, and I'll be returning next year for sure. Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, and the others all have impressive films and A-list talent, but Fantastic Fest is really where a true movie fan can go to be surrounded by fellow geeks and see films ranging from the touching to the bizarre. Like Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket, a pass to Fantastic Fest is something you don't trade for anything. We'll have a wrapup post here on Screen Rant to sum up the experience, but I'm already planning my 2010 trip back to Austin.

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