Fantastic Fest: City of Enders

Fantastic Fest

"Karaoke!" hollered the first, hoping for more than this.

Pause.

"You ready for some Benatar?" deadpanned the second, who was City of Ember star and legendary comic hardpan Bill Murray. (You know: late of SNL, Stripes, and Lost in Translation. That one.)

"Yes..." re-deadpanned the Alamo's Tim League, for once star-stuck, at the tail end of Fantastic Fest, at its most ridiculously fantastic moment.

League had lost his voice earlier in the week.

His intro to the Jean-Claude Van Damme meta-flick JCVD was spat out in a growly, hoarse-burst of hyperbolic enthusiasm that seemed altogether utterly deranged until, amazingly, the film and JCVD's soft-hero, hard-target performance made cinematic jokes of everyone who never thought to give a second glance to a Belgian kickboxer who was -- honestly, surprisingly -- sick of being the butt, the joke, the muscles, the mass.

"I saw this film in Cannes," said League, "and when I got back to the states I immediately applied to the Texas DMV to have the plates on my van changed to 'VANDAMN.'

Laughter.

"But what I didn't realize was that V-A-N-D-A-M-N is not really kosher in the State of Texas, but, funny thing is, it fucking appeased the gods, because a week later I get my plate in the mail and then the studio says, 'Yeah, we want to give you this film."

Screaming.

"This is really one of the biggest buzz films of the festival, and, hey, I've got to admit I have little problem sometimes: I get maybe a little too excited. But not this time. In fact, I don't think I've been more surprised by a performance by an actor in my entire life.

"I really think that Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of our great modern actors..."

The audience, laughing, not sure what to make to League's statement....

League charges back: "Hey, fuck you people for laughing, I'm serious about this! We'll see who's laughing in two hours, alright?"

Alright.

And he's right. JCVD is a miracle, a hail-Mary pass, a trifecta, and gut-wrenching, soul-stirring madhouse all in one. C'est ne pas merde; c'est magnifique!

But enough about Brussels.

"It's very nice to be at this place that I've heard about," said a quick-in-and-out Murray, "where you can come eat and drink in a movie theater and I'm glad there's a place that allows it. Because I've been doing it for a long, long time."

Hoots, hollers.

"My favorite was brining Chinese into a movie theater in San Francisco, and within ninety seconds, the whole theater was going 'Who's got the Chinese?' And it just took over the whole place. I don't know what you're serving here tonight, but I guess I'll find out., and I'm awfully glad you're here tonight because it was an awfully long ways to come to an empty theater."

Mad cacophonic clapping, and entry into Monster House's Gil Kenan's spotty -- more on that later -- adaptation of Jeanne Duprau's novel.

And then, the closing night party, at the legendary Longhorn Caverns, 90-minutes outside of Austin, deep below ground, the former Cave Club Speakeasy, a gin-joint, hi-ball hootenanny, and only the ghost of Raymond Chandler knows what else. (Previously used by the Alamo Drafthouse for the premiere of The Descent.)

How did it go?

Rarely have we embarked upon 90-minte bus voyage into the Texas nightfall accompanied by multiple video screens showing FF's grim, bounteous 100 Best Kills compilation. (Never, truth be known.) The rifle-crack signaling the demise of both Disney's and out own innocence via Bambi's mother's broken offscreen breast; the slo-mo death-dance of Dunaway and Beatty's Parker and Barrow; Lucio Fulci's drill-bit riff on Max Headroom courtesy of Giovanni Lonbardo Radice, in The Gates of Hell...talk about your hellride to nowhere.

And then the walk down into the caves, The Descent. With glo-sticks and Red Bull Murray. Survivalism? Reznor's got nothing on us.

We got there in one piece (unlike The Wreck). And we came back, fantastically, in another, more wonderous one. (Much thanks to Nacho, Yoshihiro, and Nicolas).

We burrowed. We chased. We let the right one in, and filmgoers and filmmakers made it back alive (yet more thanks to Brian Trenchard-Smith, the Man from Australia) from everywhere on earth and below, beyond, and above, on streets of fire, ember, and imagination.

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