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Preview: The Boston Fantastic Film Festival

by Jay Seaver

I’m not sure, but I think there’s always a film festival in progress in Boston. Aside from September’s “Boston Film Festival”, there is also an “Independent Film Festival of Boston”, an Irish Film Festival, a Gay/Lesbian Film Festival, a French Film Festival, an Underground Film Festival, and more. Last year, The Brattle Theater’s Ned Hinkle and horror scholar Steven J. Schneider added one more, the Boston Fantastic Film Festival

After all, the noted, genre festivals were big events around the world, from Japan’s Yubari Fantastic Film Festival to Spain’s Sitges International Film Festival to the massive, month-long FantAsia Festival in Montreal, and there was no major festival like those in the United States. The Boston area in general (and Harvard Square in particular) would seem to be a good location for one, with thousands of college students, a science-fiction bookstore, three comics shops, a Japanese pop-culture shop, and the Brattle itself, a theater which has an audience of its own. The festival was announced, including hopes to expand from one week to two in the second year.

Those plans may have been a little ambitious; this year’s festival runs only five days, from Thursday October 14th to Monday October 18th, although I must admit that I had been worried that there might not even be a second year; some of last year’s screenings were sparsely attended. Fortunately, Ned and the rest of the organizers recognize that this festival won’t take off without a strong dose of stubbornness. While the sponsor they hoped for this year didn’t materialize and the schedule was truncated to avoid overlap with the New England Film and Video Festival, those involved remain hopeful that it will continue to gain an audience via word-of-mouth

Which is what I readily admit I’m trying for here. I don’t live very far from the Brattle at all (indeed, my family jokes that proximity to that theater is why I chose this apartment and haven’t moved in five years), and would really like to see two weeks of great science fiction, fantasy, horror and genre movies from around the world every October (heavy on the sf, please). Ulterior motives aside, I think this year’s festival has a strong line-up – full of movies just as interesting but also more accessible than last year’s slate.

The most obvious place where you can see a more accessible bent is in the anime selection – where last year featured the peculiar, kind of twisted/artsy, black and white Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat In Outer Space, this year’s anime feature is Appleseed (Saturday 7:30), a new adaptation of a popular manga by Masamune Shirow. Similar to another recent movie from Shirow’s work (Ghost In The Shell 2), it features androids, and a combination of CGI and traditional animation.

The choice of “cult” thrillers is a bit more mainstream, too – rather than the creepy sexual obsession of Love Object or In My Skin, this festival features more straight-ahead crime. From Ireland comes Freeze Frame (Sunday 7:30), featuring comic Lee Evans in a straight role as an accused murderer who avoided prison but now subjects himself to constant surveillance. From Hong Kong comes Infernal Affairs (Friday 7:30). It’s already shown up in New York and L.A., but Miramax hasn’t scheduled much of a broader release. This movie (and its sequels) about the police searching for a mole in their midst while the triads search for an undercover cop has gotten broad acclaim and will be getting an American remake (coincidentally set in Boston).

Also falling under the “thriller” umbrella are a preview screening of Saw (Thursday 9:30pm), a Sundance favorite whose trailer has me interested even though the serial-killer genre generally leaves me pretty cold. Here, the villain is some kind of puppet-master who goads his victims into killing themselves or each other. The trade in transplant organs is the hook of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Sunday 10:00), South Korean director Chan-wook Park’s second feature which features a deaf-mute lead character trying to locate a kidney for his beloved sister.

On a lighter note, there will be two showings of Thailand’s Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (Sunday 5:00, Monday 10:00) and its crazy martial arts mayhem. This year’s “From the Vaults” entry is Perdita Durango (Saturday midnight), an utterly-insane sounding movie by Alex de la Iglesia. Starring Rosie Perez as the title character and Javier Bardem as her lover Romeo Delarosa, it jumps from the trafficking of human fetuses to kidnapping tourists for satanic rituals. I greatly enjoyed the director’s insane Day of the Beast, and this rarely-seen director’s cut of a movie cut and released on American video as Dance With the Devil looks just as strange.

Enough of that, though – where’s the science-fiction and fantasy to put the “fantastic” into this “fantastic film festival”? One notable entry is England’s Five Children and It (Thursday 7:30, Saturday 3:00), an adaptation of an E. Nesbitt children’s book featuring Kenneth Branagh as the eccentric uncle to five precocious children, one of whom stumbles upon a door that leads to a secret beach inhabited by a creature able to grant wishes. The creature’s body comes from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and his voice is supplied by Eddie Izzard, which strikes me as an odd but intriguing combination.

Heading back to Asia, we get a look at another piece of Ryuhei Kitamura’s oeuvre, Alive (Friday 9:30). Kitamura’s first movie, Versus, had me exhausted before it was finished, but I liked the heck out of his Azumi when it played this year’s Independent Film Festival of Boston. Alive was made between those two, and appears to be part of the “duel films” project which brought the festival 2LDK last year. Instead of young actresses, though, this movie’s combatants locked in a single space are incarcerated killers who survived the electric chair and are being goaded to fight as part of some sort of experiment. Kitamura is rapidly gaining notice as one of Japan’s top genre filmmakers, and has been entrusted with the “final” Godzilla movie.

Another up-and-coming Japanese filmmaker is Hiroki Yamaguchi, who brings us The Bottled Fool (Friday midnight, Saturday 10:00). Marked as both sci-fi and horror, it expands on the classic science fiction device of a gigantic, vertically stratified megalopolis by actually piling different towns on top of one another, with an empathic teenage girl riding the elevator from the bottom to the top. A variety of strange and dangerous people ride the elevator with her, hopefully leading to a claustrophobic and scary trip. The notes on the movie say that Yamaguchi worked mostly with student volunteers and built his sets out of industrial scrap material (most indie sci-fi movies just look like that’s what they did!)

For those looking for a more classic-style horror movie, Korea’s Ji-woon Kim offers up A Tale of Two Sisters (Monday 7:45). It looks to combine the elements of a classic gothic ghost story – young girls returning to the family home, the dead mother, the wicked stepmother, poltergeists – with the style of recent Asian horror movies such as Ringu, Ju-on and The Eye. Could be interesting – as much as I liked Ju-on, and appreciate that the randomness of the attacks was kind of the point, it will be nice to see that fused to a character-based story.

I believe one of the sponsors the Festival has been courting is Universal’s Sci-Fi channel; though a sponsorship deal wasn’t struck for this year, one of their recent original movies will be shown. Darklight (Sunday 3:00) has a cast of sci-fi TV regulars (Shiri Appleby from Roswell, Richard Burgi from The Sentinel, David Hewlett from Stargate Atlantis, John de Lancie from everything), a plot involving a brainwashed immortal witch, and monsters unleashed by longevity research. Also included will be a preview of upcoming Sci-Fi programming. Another cable station, Bravo, offers up a preview of their Halloween programming, The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (Saturday 5:00). It’s a five-episode mini-series, with the festival screening two.

So that’s the slate – five days, a dozen movies spanning genres and the world. Schedule at Tickets are $10 ($8.50 for Brattle members), with full-schedule passes available for $75 if you, like me, figure on living at the Brattle this weekend (that is, when not sneaking home to watch the ALCS off the ReplayTV… anyone caught telling me outcomes is looking at big trouble). I’ll be back next week with a report on what combining sci-fi, horror, baseball, but not sleep does to a person.

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originally posted: 10/13/04 06:18:09
last updated: 11/19/04 21:19:57
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