Fantastic Fest 2019

Fantastic Fest 2019 Cover

Fantastic Fest 2019 was a blast!

Fantastic Fest Films I Viewed, Ranked From Most to Least Favorite

  1. Parasite A
  2. Knives Out A-
  3. Fractured A-
  4. The Death of Dick Long A-
  5. Dolemite is my Name A-
  6. The Lodge B+
  7. In the Tall Grass C+
  8. First Love C
  9. Jojo Rabbit C
  10. VFW C
  11. The Whistlers D

I’m going to outline my experience from traveling to Austin, share brief thoughts on the movies I saw, dig into some exciting events and points of interest from the festival.


Getting to Fantastic Fest was not so fantastic. On the contrary, it was extremely stressful. I left at 11 AM with the hopes of having time to comfortably walk around before the 5 PM opening film, Jojo Rabbit. Unfortunately, tropical storm Imelda flooded the streets of Houston, which caused me to be stuck in water mazes for 2 hours. I did not think it would be as hard as it ended up being to leave the city. After two hours of aimlessly driving, turning my back on flooded streets, and finding alternative routes, I depressingly pulled into a Shell gas station pictured below for three hours.

Shell Gas Station
The gas station was at a higher incline and I felt safe.

It was too late to go back home and I did not want to risk my car flooding. At one point before stopping at the Shell, I hesitantly drove my car into some shockingly deep waters. I was prepared to leave my car where it was at, walk to a hotel, and ultimately miss the festival. Before resorting to a hotel, I downloaded Waze Maps and was looking at routes clear of water. To pass time, I walked across the street. Ate Raising Canes so I wouldn’t be hangry (Kid’s Meal strips if anyone was curious). I had the slight worry of my car getting towed but then had the comforting thought: if the tow company causes my car to get flooded then maybe that wouldn’t be so bad since they’d have to cover the damages… “It is highly unlikely they’ll tow my car given the circumstances,” my mind concluded. I texted friends and family. I napped.

“Thank the Lord Baby Jesus!” I shouted (or some verbiage to that effect)! Three hours later (at 5 PM) there was one route free of water that I could see from the Waze map. This allowed me to leave the city! I hesitantly left the Shell gas station and drove painstakingly slow behind cars until I got on the highway! My ETA was 8:10 PM and I was sad I would be missing Jojo but happily determined to make it on time for my scheduled 8:30 PM showing of First Love.

“Send me on the way” by Rusted Root is my car song whenever I drive out of town. Jamming to that and other stellar songs that just so happened to be on my playlist, I was able to quickly arrive in Austin and park inside the Alamo South Lamar parking lot at 8:08 PM (lowkey proud that I was able to “beat” Google’s suggested time - anyone else know the feeling?!). “Where do I get my press badge?!” I enthusiastically asked the first living creature I could spot my eyes on.

Jason's Press BadgeIt was Fantastic Fest's 15th anniversary and so we were to upload a photo from when were 15.

After getting my badge, I gleefully frolicked to the Alamo South Lamar theater, seated in a surprisingly good seat at 8:20 PM. Everything ended up working out from that point on.

Alamo DrafthouseAlamo Drafthouse South Lamar

I was not in love with First Love but I liked individual aspects of it. It was very ambitious- cramming action, comedy, and a plethora of characters. The character motivations didn’t always seem believable and the comedy diffused much tension as it is silly and contrived. If they were going for silly and contrived, I tend to prefer that 200% Commit. Go all the way. They balance the humor with action and a story that they seemed to also want people to take seriously.

Theater 5, EspolonThe coveted Espolon theater (theater #5) has the largest screen at Alamo and housed live talents involved with the making of a film and/or cast members.

I wish my first flick had been one I had enjoyed more but nonetheless I was still happy to be dry and away from flood waters. I decided to cut Thursday night short, missing the late midnight screening, in exchange for getting extra sleep so I could make it on time for the very attractive 8 AM press screening of Jojo Rabbit (no sarcasm there considering I am not a morning person.)

The friend that I was staying with Friday - Sunday night was different from the friend I was staying with Thursday night so that meant Friday morning I would have to pack everything up in addition to getting dressed.


BEEP BEEP BEEP- my alarm droned at 5:45 AM. I thought I would be safe leaving at 6:45 AM. Unfortunately, Austin has heavy traffic and it would take an hour to get to the theater! I could not miss my Jojo Rabbit screening again! I took toll roads, unsure if my Houston EZtag would work on Austin’s TXtag but I had no choice- if I stayed on the free roads I’d be too late.

Annoyingly coughing and feeling exhausted from being up so early, Jojo Rabbit ended being a hard-to-sit-through experience. I really wanted to like it. Much of the satire was not funny to me. Half of the reasoning as to why you like Jojo is because of the humor. It either wasn’t very clever or just went way over my head (probably the latter). I did like the character moments between the protagonist and a girl he finds inside the basement of his home. Outside of that, I did not find the script and most of the other characters to be intriguing. “What’s wrong with me!?” I thought. “Maybe I’m tired. Or cranky because of the flood situation.” I had not loved anything but had hopes that the films would get better. That hope would turn into a reality with my next film.

I ended up taking a break that afternoon, meeting up with my friend that I’d be staying with, Chris, at WingStop. That was very reenergizing. I decided to work on posting reviews on the website I had needed to post and saving up my energy for back-to-back showings of The Death of Dick Long and In the Tall Grass.

Director Daniel Scheinert and I at Fantastic Fest 2019
Director Daniel Scheinert and I at Fantastic Fest 2019.

The Death of Dick Long was a fantastic experience! I had the pleasure of sitting next to my friend and Houston Film Critic Society colleague, James Cole Clay, who had seen the film before. We laughed consistently and it was uniquely suspenseful! For my full review of The Death of Dick Long, click here.

In the Tall Grass talents
In the Tall Grass Red Carpet Interviews

In the Tall Grass was my next film. The beginning was extremely engaging and I thought I was about to catch another gem. Unfortunately, In the Tall Grass goes downhill quickly after it’s attention-getting introduction. To find out why, click here for my full review.

Late Night Selfie
Late night selfie at my friend Chris's awesome apartment!

It’s almost 11 PM. I went to my friend’s apartment. He had gone to sleep and I hadn’t been given the front gate code. Unbeknownst to me there was another gate that was always open. I waited 20 minutes for a car to open the front gate and I quickly made my way to the apartment. Once in, I was very happy that I was able to stay and I fell asleep quite quickly!


That morning, I would see the The Whistlers which would be the worst film I would have to watch at Fantastic Fest. It was a chore to keep my eyes open. It was a foreign film and the premise was absurd: people were learning a different language using whistle sounds in order to not be understood by others.

After the showing, I decided to write reviews at Starbucks and skip Swallow. I really wish I had seen the film after hearing good things about it; but at the same time, I was very happy to have wrote two reviews during that time period. Also, I continued to check to see if any tickets for The Lodge would pop up during that time, as it was a movie I really wanted to see given the premise and it’s far-off 2020 release was appealing. I was lucky to find a single leftover ticket and had I gone to see Swallow I may have missed that opportunity!

The Lodge started at 5:25 PM. I was super stoked I got in to see this! I was in the last boarding group and the volunteer would not let me in even when our phones indicated “ALL” groups were allowed in. I ended up sitting in an uncomfortable folding chair. Luckily, I had brought my jacket and it provided enough cushion for the chair to be comfortable for about 70% of the movie. Nonetheless, I was treated with a very well-directed horror gem! For my full review, click here.

VFW was after, at 8:25 PM, and this was not my cup of tea. VFW is about a futuristic society who are addicted to a drug that eventually makes you zombie-like. A girl steals the drug distributor’s stash and this dealer, his friends, and the zombie-like community chase the girl and new friends that she meets. It’s ultra violent. There’s little story beyond this. If you like bloody gory action, you’ll have a good time with VFW. I got bored after a while.

Decided to call it a night after.


Jason Escamilla before the premiere of Fractured.Jason Escamilla before the premiere of Fractured.

It’s the last day of the festival for me. I was excited for Fractured at 5 PM. I debated about going to The Platform at 2 PM but a screener link had been provided earlier on. Instead, I chose to park at the nearby coffee shop, write about The Lodge, and save my energy for the evening. Also, I had not been assigned “Secret Screening 1” and would be refreshing my page to try and get it.

Upon arriving at the coffee shop, I sat next to two girls who were really pretty and seemed very nice. I noticed that they had Festival Badges on as well. “Did ya’ll get Secret Screening 1?” I inquired. “I really want to be able to see it if possible!” One of the girls named Logan replied, “Oh yes, I have it and I was waiting for someone to ask me for it!” JESUS LOVES ME, YES I KNOW. What’re the odds of this?! “She transfers me her ticket and I am ecstatic! I finish writing my review for The Lodge and go in for Fractured.

Photo with Michael C. Hall
Jason Escamilla and Michael C. Hall

Before heading in for Fractured I had to take a photo with Michael C. Hall, who plays the lead on one of my favorite television shows of all time, Dexter. “Can I take a photo with you?” I asked Hall intimidatingly.

Shadow of the Moon talentsShadow of the Moon talents

“Hmm, if you can walk and take it at the same time,” Michael replied (which was a totally reasonable response as he and the cast for the Netflix film Shadow of the Moon were walking in for the premiere of their film!) “Thank you!” I told him and I went into Fractured, as Shadow of the Moon would be released on Netflix before Fractured would.

Interviews with Fractured talents
Interviews with Fractured talents

Fractured ended up being a thrill ride! I have a feeling that others won’t love it as much as I did. It asks you to believe a lot and the ending is admittingly questionable. However, this film’s plot was enthralling, getting the most audible reactions from me and is led with a passionate performance by Sam Worthington. I had to hold back on talking to the characters! After all, this was not a watch-out-loud screening (insider with HFCS). I have yet to write a review, but this flick is certainly on my to-write list.

Fractured talentsFractured talents

Fractured ended around 7 PM and the Secret Screening began at 8 PM. If I left now, I’d comfortably get into Houston around 10 PM and get reasonable sleep, as I had to work at 7 AM Monday morning. “I don’t get this opportunity often though!” I told myself. “What if it’s Joker, The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems, Doctor Sleep?!” Everyone had been throwing out guesses as to what it might be; all fairly good options! I would be so upset with myself if I left and were to later find it was a big movie. I decided: I was staying. I would leave right after the showing and get back to Houston at 1-2 AM- getting just enough sleep to barely be alive for work. YOLO.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady ReedDa'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed in Dolemite is my Name speaks and answers audience questions

I was happy I stayed! Dolemite is my Name ended up being one of my festival favorites, highlighting an Eddie Murphy who is resilient and does not let go of his dreams- a quality many creative people like myself can often struggle with.

Before leaving, I was determined to get a photo with Chris Stuckmann, one of my YouTube inspirations. I looked around hoping I’d find him quickly. 15 minutes later I saw him outside; making my search time worth the wait! I snapped a photo, had a great conversation with him (really nice guy), and then jolted to my car. The night ended so perfect.

Chris Stuckmann and Jason Escamilla
Chris Stuckmann and Jason Escamilla

Got home. Didn’t die. Slept. And wasn’t late for work the next day!

Monday - Wednesday

Returning to work was not as tiring as I thought. However, I had Open House that Monday night (how lucky, right?!) Tuesday: Work. Judy Screening. Wednesday: Work. Abominable screening. I’m a little bit sick of movies at this point. However, I decided that if I was able to get both Parasite and Knives Out, two films I had really wanted to see, that I would make my way back to Austin for a one-day trip on Thursday. Gleeful, I was happy to see that I was blessed with BOTH films!

Assigned Parasite and Knives out!
Assigned Parasite and Knives out!


Shoutout to my co-worker Heather Szostek for watching my last class of the day, as I needed to leave early in order to make the 4:30 PM showing of Parasite. It was 100% worth it. Need to give it more thought but Parasite might just be my favorite film of 2019. Full review- coming soon! When the screening ended we were asked to exit the theater.

Plaque commemorating Bong Joon Ho
Plaque commemorating Bong Joon Ho, solidifying the name change of the Alamo Drafthouse.

An Alamo representive announced from the front of the building that Alamo Drafthouse - South Lamar would now be known as Alamo Drafthouse - Bong Joon Ho, named after the director of Parasite. I thought that was quite interesting!

Rian Johnson InterviewInterviews with Rian Johnson before the Knives Out Premiere

Knives Out time. I was assigned to theater 4 despite wanting theater 5 because director Rian Johnson would be speaking live in that theater. A couple approaches me and tells me that they are willing to give up 5 if I can give them 4 because they want to sit together. JESUS LOVES ME. I go into theater 5 and happily start to make my way to my seat. I see Sierra Preston from FonsPR who had been doing such a great job facilitating press (and a ton of other things I’m sure I have no clue about) that I gave her an encouraging comment. It put me (and I hope her) in a good mood before the film started. I was reminded to never miss an opportunity to compliment someone when you know they’ve been working hard and are doing a great job!

Knives Out Poster
Taking a photo with the giant Knives Out poster. Photo credit to Adam Sanders.

Knives Out blew me away! I will be doing a full review soon. I was impressed with how quickly and clearly they defined the characters (something I think many films with a large cast fail at; I’m looking at you, Murder on the Orrient Express!) I loved the characters, the mystery, and the way it was presented. More thoughts on that soon!

I drove home. Once again, didn’t die. And got some sleep before working a single Friday.

Overall, this past week was very eventful (that’s a true understatement) and I had a ton of fun! This following weekend is breathtakingly energizing. I needed rest. Shoutout to everyone who worked hard at putting together a successful film festival- specifically the Alamo Drafthouse and the FonsPR team! I saw everything that piqued my interest. Despite not caring for the first few films, many of my favorite films of 2019 were seen at Fantastic Fest. If you have not attended Fantastic Fest before, I would highly recommend it!