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Fantastic Fest 2017 Recap: Discussing Festival Highlights and the Best and Worst Films

As I sit here in my Airbnb on my final night in Austin, TX, I can't help but think of the memories I made this past week at Fantastic Fest. I met filmmakers, actors, actresses, comedians, film critics, historians, and hundreds of awesome film fans. Tomorrow I fly back to Wilmington, NC - back to a reality full of graduate school, movies (both new and old), and working on my podcasts. I'll never forget the great times I had at Fantastic Fest and I want to share those memories with you all as best as I can. For this post I'll be discussing my top 3 highlights of the festival, my 5 worst films of the festival, and my 5 best films of the festival.

#1 Highlight

Without a shadow of a doubt, my top highlight of the festival was Doug Benson's Movie Interruption. For those who don't know, Benson is a comedian, critic, host, and all-around film fan who voices Bane in The LEGO Batman Movie amongst other film credits. Every year, at Fantastic Fest, he hosts an event called Movie Interruption. Everyone gathers into a theater to watch a film while Benson, and a few friends, give absolutely hilarious and live commentary while the film is playing.

This year's Movie Interruption film was George Miller's Babe: Pig in the City, a live-action, talking animal film in which Babe gets sent to the big city to "save the farm." Is this film an all-time great? Of course not. If I had to rate the film itself I'd give it a 2.5 out of 5. What made this event great, however, was the live commentary and plethora of jokes thrown our way from Benson & Co. during the film. Yes, there were some jokes about how George Miller has directed this film, Happy Feet, and Mad Max: Fury Road amongst others. Talk about a diverse filmography. This was the greatest theatrical experience of my life and needs to be experienced by everyone.

#2 Highlight

I met a myriad of people from the film industry throughout the entirety of Fantastic Fest. As I mentioned earlier I met filmmakers, actors, actresses, comedians, film critics, and historians. Here are the big ones I can remember off the top of my head: Clarke Wolfe (Stardust, ColliderVideo on YouTube)

Jon Schnitzer (Director - Haunters: The Art of the Scare)

Joseph Kahn (Director - Bodied)

John McPhail (Director - Anna and the Apocalypse)

Malcolm Cumming (Actor - Anna and the Apocalypse)

Blake Jenner (Actor - The Edge of Seventeen, Glee, Juvenile)

Leonard & Jessie Maltin (Hosts/Historians - Maltin on Movies Podcast)

Elijah Wood (Actor - Lord of the Rings)

Hollow da Don (Battle Rapper/Actor - Bodied)

Barry Keoghan (Actor - The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk)

Sloane Avery (Stardust, Actress - Bodied)

There were also many, many other directors, actors, actresses, critics, and more at Fantastic Fest that I did not get to meet, but was honored to be in the same building as regardless. Some of those names include:

Vince Vaughn (Actor - Brawl in Cell Block 99)

Gilbert Gottfried (Actor - Aladdin, Gilbert)

Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (Directors - The Endless)

Terry Notary (Actor - Planet of the Apes trilogy, The Square)

Barbara Crampton (Actress - Applecart, You're Next)

Udo Kier (Actor - Brawl in Cell Block 99, Downsizing)

Thomas Jane (Actor - 1922)

Marc Meyers (Director - My Friend Dahmer)

Armando Iannucci (Director - The Death of Stalin)

#3 Highlight

It's going to sound super cheesy, but my final highlight was getting to meet all sorts of people that I had already been following on Twitter and make new friends. I follow so many websites, blogs, critics, reviewers, YouTubers, film fans, and more on Twitter and a lot of them attended Fantastic Fest this year. If you're a major film nerd and fan like myself, and it's almost all you talk about on social media, Fantastic Fest is the place for you. It's such a great festival.

Worst 5 Films of Fantastic Fest 2017

*These will not be full reviews, for the sake of the length of this post.*

#5 - FIVE FINGERS FOR MARSEILLES

Gorgeous cinematography. Beautiful setting. Good first act. Brilliant final act. The middle 45-60 minutes bored me to sleep.

#4 - BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

Ok, so I already know I’m going to have a mostly unpopular opinion here, but Blade of the Immortal left me with some very mixed feelings on opposite ends of the spectrum.The action sequences, blood, and gore were all extremely incredible, but the movie has its faults. When the action isn’t happening, I found the movie to be rather uninteresting, boring, and overly long. A couple of the fight scenes had some extremely obvious green-screen effects and I personally didn’t like any of the movie’s characters. Most people will love this movie.

#3 - THE DEATH OF STALIN

The Coen Brothers have no involvement with this film, but it seriously feels like they secretly filmed this mess of a movie. I've never liked a Coen Brothers film (except for True Grit) and The Death of Stalin felt 100% like every Coen Brothers attempt at comedy that does not work for me. It starts off giving the vibe that this will be some Oscar-worthy period drama about the Soviet government, but that vibe goes out the window two minutes into the film when the unnecessary onslaught of lackluster comedy gets shoved down your throat for the rest of the film. Another unpopular opinion for me.

#2 - V.I.P.

Unoriginal. By-the-Book. Far too long. Selfish characters and an American who makes super annoying mouth noises. I do not recommend this Korean action film.

#1 - TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE

So, this film was presented to us as a secret screening. We had no idea what we were about to watch. Then they played this porno in 3 sold-out theaters. It tried to be part of the “so bad it’s good” genre like The Room and The Book of Henry, but instead it’s so bad that it’s just bad. I spent most of the film laughing at how bad it was and being pissed about how insensitive it was to play this porno at a festival that is surrounded by controversy already.

Top 5 Films of Fantastic Fest 2017!

*These will not be full reviews, for the sake of the length of this post.*

#5 - GERALD'S GAME

Friends - you can all relax now knowing that Netflix is finally putting out a great original horror film. If you've seen the trailer, Gerald's Game goes in some completely unexpected directions that actually make the film different from what's seemingly advertised. Gerald's Game director, Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus, etc.), does a great job of adapting to film a Stephen King novel that had always been considered unfilmable due to the extremely graphic nature of the book. There are some amazing scenes in this film that will get under the skin of many; the film is very unsettling and stays that way from beginning to end. Catch it on Netflix now!

#4 - BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the most brutally violent film I’ve ever seen...ever. It may have been a couple minutes too long, but if you’re into blood, gore, death, and violence, this will be porn to you. If you’re squeamish do not watch this amazing film that made me cry, laugh, smile, and cringe a billion times.

#3 - BAD GENIUS

This is an educational thriller from Thailand about standardized testing. Yes, you read that right. More specifically it’s about an Ocean’s 11 level plan to cheat on standardized tests. As a professional educator, I love this movie! Bad Genius is, without a doubt, one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing films I’ve ever seen. I came close to a heart attack multiple times and almost forgot to breathe. Honestly, this film is brilliant in every aspect. The only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is because it caused me too much stress

#2 - ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE

This film is best described as High School Musical meets The Walking Dead. It is a Christmas-themed, zombie, horror-musical from Scotland and it is truly magnificent. This musical soundtrack is one of the best and catchiest soundtracks I have ever heard! The cast was phenomenal in their acting, singing, and choreography. The makeup and effects in this film are top-notch!

My one gripe with the film is very minor, but goes into spoiler territory, so I’ll say nothing else. I did see this film twice at Fantastic Fest if that shows you how great this film is.

#1 - BODIED

I really can’t say anything bad about Bodied other than it eventually had to end and I hated that. It’s about Calum Worthy’s Master's thesis exploration into the battle rap community as a white man. I saw this film twice as well. It is high-adrenaline from beginning to end and is contains some of the best writing I've heard in a movie in several years. The creativity and originality is through the roof with this film that will appeal to and offend everyone in today's society in one way or another.

#FantasticFest2017