<p>Holly Conrad and her remarkable 'Mass Effect 2' costumes are a highlight in Morgan Spurlock's new documentary 'Comic-Con Episode IV:&nbsp;A Fan's Journey'</p>

Holly Conrad and her remarkable 'Mass Effect 2' costumes are a highlight in Morgan Spurlock's new documentary 'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Journey'

Credit: Mutant Enemy/Thomas Tull/Warrior Poets

Review: Spurlock's 'Comic-Con' doc succeeds most when focused on the fans

Celebrity talking heads weight down an even-handed look at fandom

I went to the San Diego Comic-Con for the first time about twelve years ago, but I've been going to smaller conventions my entire life.  Fandom has changed so much since I first fell in love with it that I find myself feeling a little disconnected from the modern face of Comic-Con.  I like fans when I meet them one on one, but I find that I'm less and less in love with the larger community called fandom.

I think I understand why, too, but it was something that only really started to come into focus when I was at Comic-Con this year and then again when I saw the new Morgan Spurlock film "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Journey" at Toronto this year.  Tonight, it is the closing night film at Fantastic Fest 2011, and it seems appropriate since this is one of the first films where my friend and former employer Harry Knowles is an executive producer as well as an on-screen presence, and sure enough, I saw him show up in fine style tonight, ready to enjoy the hometown screening of the film.

There is quite a bit about the film that I like, and there are a few big things about it that I don't like at all.  I think what the film does at its best is explain what it is that draws people to San Diego each year.  There are five distinct stories being told in the film.  My favorite deals with Holly Conrad, an aspiring costume designer who wants to enter the Masquerade with her friends playing a team from "Mass Effect 2."  She's enormously talented, and the work she does in the film is professional quality.  Spurlock follows her from her home to the Con and through the entire process of preparing on-site and rehearsing and dealing with tech issues and stage fright, and it's a lovely portrait of the way fandom and professional aspiration can sometimes synch up.

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<p>Will Reiser is the writer of '50/50,' and sat down to discuss the film with us</p>

Will Reiser is the writer of '50/50,' and sat down to discuss the film with us

Credit: HitFix

Interview: Screenwriter Will Reiser discusses true story behind '50/50'

How did he turn tragedy into a new movie opening Friday?

I think it's safe to say that in the case of Will Reiser, his encounter with cancer has resulted in the very best possible outcome.

After all, Reiser survived and has recovered fully, a major landmark for any cancer patient, but he went beyond that.  Working with his friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, he's turned his experience into a project that began life as a script called "I'm With Cancer" and which finally reaches theaters this week as "50/50."

I'm sure there are some screenwriters who would deny it if asked but who, in their heart of hearts, hear this story and think, "Boy, that guy's lucky he got cancer."  That's crazy, of course.  Reiser is a very fortunate young man on many fronts.  First, he's fortunate that he had friends who stood by him in a very difficult time, and he's fortunate that he had an outlet to express the ideas and emotions that must have been part of his surprisingly youthful struggle with the disease.

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<p>LIttle Katie and her sister probably shouldn't play with dead things in 'Paranormal Activity 3,' the final secret screening of Fantastic&nbsp;Fest 2011</p>

LIttle Katie and her sister probably shouldn't play with dead things in 'Paranormal Activity 3,' the final secret screening of Fantastic Fest 2011

Credit: Paramount PIctures

Review: 'Paranormal Activity 3' expands the mythology, ups the scale of scares

It's a prequel, but it's more aggressive than the first two films, too

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention this already, but it's worth repeating in light of the film we saw tonight at Fantastic Fest's Secret Screening #2 at midnight.

Every time I'm in Austin, I stay with my friends Aaron and Kaela.  They are, simply put, some of the nicest people I know, always warm, always good company.  After this many years, they feel like part of the extended family.  I always feel more relaxed during the grind of a festival when I'm home at their house.  That guest room really does feel like a home away from home.

The other night, between writing two reviews, posting them, driving across Austin, and everything else, I got to bed at almost 5:00 AM.  Maybe even a little bit after.  And last thing I did, I used the restroom, washed my face, brushed my teeth.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

I had to get up at 10:00 AM, and when I did, I headed into the bathroom, first thing.  Keep in mind, this is the second floor of the house, and I have a bathroom attached to the bedroom that also opens into the second floor hallway.  And when I walked in, there was a big yellow envelope waiting for me with my name on it.

And inside, a videotape.  A handwritten label.  "September 1988."

And no one else was home.

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<p>Matthias Schoenaerts stars in 'Bullhead,' a disturbing look at the meaning of manhood that played this year's Fantastic Fest</p>

Matthias Schoenaerts stars in 'Bullhead,' a disturbing look at the meaning of manhood that played this year's Fantastic Fest

Credit: Savage Film

Review: 'Bullhead' tells juiced-up twisted coming of age crime story

A terrifying central performance elevates disturbing story of manhood

There's a restaurant right by the Alamo Drafthouse's parking lot, a Tex Mex place called Maudie's that has a sign I've walked past several times during the festival so far.  It says something about "There's no bull in our beef," and lists all the things their meat does not have in it, including hormones.  It's a selling point these days if you're growing animals that are just animals, and it's also something that I think takes place in a world I know nothing about.

That world is the setting of the provocative, disturbing new film "Bullhead," from Belgian writer/director Michael Roskam, and this is one of the most original things I've seen here this week, strong and adult and sweeping in the way it handles some very complicated ideas about manhood and what we owe others as we move through this world.  This is not a film that plays things easy or that establishes any clear moral lines early on.  Both Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Diederik Maes (Jeroen Perceval) move in this shady not-quite-black market world, and when they run into each other early in this film, it's a shock to both of them.  There's some shared history here.

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<p>Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon struggle to hold their marriage together as the world ends, perhaps literally, all around them in 'Take Shelter'</p>

Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon struggle to hold their marriage together as the world ends, perhaps literally, all around them in 'Take Shelter'

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: 'Take Shelter' takes Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain on ride into anxiety

Jeff Nichols builds impressively off his strong 'Shotgun Stories' debut

There is no scene that better captures the modern face of dread that I've seen in any film this year than a moment late in the new Jeff Nichols film "Take Shelter." 

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain star in the film as Curtis and Samantha, a married couple facing a crisis in this quiet, upsetting film.  This film bothers me in the same way the Todd Haynes film "Safe" bothers me, or the way Lodge Kerrigan's work bothers me.  These are films about losing your mind, and while I respect the fact that different things bother different people, this is one of those things I can't imagine without squirming.  Losing my grip on my sanity, on my reason, on my ability to think?  That's beyond a nightmare.  That is loss of self, and Michael Shannon's work here cuts right to the heart of that fear.

It starts small for Curtis.  Dreams.  A feeling.  A growing sensation.  The film is definitely sympathetic to Curtis and his point of view, and we experience the visions and the dreams and the shifting mood with him.  What makes it heartbreaking is just how brightly Jessica Chastain burns in the movie.  After seeing all of her performances this year and ending with this one, I'm convinced she really is an important new presence in film.  She's amazing here, this wide-open heart, the one who tames Curtis in the first place. 

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<p>Adam punching Zeus in Shaun Levy's &quot;Real Steel.&quot;</p>

Adam punching Zeus in Shaun Levy's "Real Steel."

Credit: Dreamworks Studios

Review: 'Real Steel' is great family fun, even without the robots

This might be the best Amblin' throwback yet

I think it's safe to say I have not been kind to the work of Shawn Levy in print so far.

"Big Fat Liar."  "Just Married."  "Cheaper By The Dozen."  "The Pink Panther."  Both of the "Night At The Museum" films.  That's a painful list.  But it's also a list of films that managed to do well at the box-office, well enough in some cases to see Levy climb onto the A-list.  He's the sort of filmmaker executives love, good with the talent, able to work within a budget, and he makes films that make money.  It should come as no surprise, then, that when Amblin' and producers Don Murphy and Susan Montford went looking for a director for "Real Steel," Levy would be one of the names on their list.

What is a surprise to me is how well Levy seems to have done at making a genuine mid-'80s Amblin' movie.  I know we heard a lot of talk about how "Super 8" was the Spielberg fetish film this year, and certainly that movie indulged a lot of stylistic touches that were designed to evoke that Amblin' feeling.   I'd say it's proof that you're as strong as the actual script you shoot, and John Gatins has taken a whole lot of familiar and done something special with it, something that Levy benefits from as much as he does from a game and able cast.

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<p>'You're Next' is one of this year's big awards winners at Fantastic Fest</p>

'You're Next' is one of this year's big awards winners at Fantastic Fest

Credit: Lionsgate/Snoot

'You're Next' emerges as biggest winner in Fantastic Fest Awards

'Bullhead' and 'Clown' also stand out in the evening's announcements

It's strange but true:  Monday night is one of the craziest nights of Fantastic Fest every single year.

This is the night that starts with awards and ends with feuds, where the festival gives away prizes, then pits the Americans versus the foreigners, where the drinking starts early and ends ugly.  This is not like any other festival's awards evening, and it's pure spectacle every single year.

Where else do you have to drink beer from the actual prize you are given?  And where else would they follow up the awards with a game show?

I didn't make it into the room for the awards ceremony this year.  I was seated outside on the patio of the Alamo instead, and I got the press release as the awards were being announced.  By all accounts, there was much debauchery and madness over the course of handing the awards out this year, and a truly distressing amount of Shiner was consumed.  I think they got a lot of this right, and they shined some attention on some truly worthy films, some of which I've reviewed now, some of which I haven't.  I'm here at Fantastic Fest until Friday of this week, though, so I'll have plenty more for you in the days ahead.

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<p>Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido) teaches Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) a few moves in 'A Boy And His Samurai'</p>

Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido) teaches Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) a few moves in 'A Boy And His Samurai'

Credit: J Storm

Review: Remarkable 'A Boy And His Samurai' confirms Nakamura as one of the best

If this was in English, your kids would be asking for the Happy Meal right now

How has Yoshihiro Nakamura remained an international secret?

If there was an American equivalent to "A Boy And His Samurai," it would be the sort of film that would end up earning $100 million from family audiences.  It is a sincere, high-concept movie that absolutely plays to formula, but does it with a zeal that is enormously endearing.  It is interesting that I'll be publishing my review of the movie "Real Steel" today as well, because these films both fall into some of the same broad genre definitions.

In both films, there is a boy who needs a father figure, and an unlikely figure, associated primarily with violence, has to learn how to also display a tender and protective side to bond with the boy.  In this movie, Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) is struggling to raise her young son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), who is almost kindergarten age.  He's at that point where kids accept whatever reality works best for them, where the whole world is made of possibilities and they're really starting to come into focus as people.  Hiroko left her husband because he expected her to play some sort of conventional domestic role, and she needs to work.  She needs to have a place in things and be good at something.  And so she's raising Tomoya alone, and one afternoon, the two of them meet Yasube (Ryo Nishikikido), who appears to be a genuine samurai from the Edo period, somehow transported to modern Tokyo.  So of course, Tomoya takes him home.

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<p>The cast of 'Juan Of The&nbsp;Dead' braces themselves for an onslaught of hot Cuban zombie action</p>

The cast of 'Juan Of The Dead' braces themselves for an onslaught of hot Cuban zombie action

Credit: La Zanfona Films

Review: 'Juan Of The Dead' is much more than an easy Cuban zombie knock-off

We want this one to get picked up immediately

Just so we're clear on this, I want a distributor to buy "Juan Of The Dead."  Now.  Immediately.

This has been my busiest festival year so far.  I was at Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Toronto, and now Fantastic Fest, and part of the game you play when you attend all of these events is figuring out what you need to see now and what you can see later.  Even now, I'm counting on AFI Fest in November to pick up some titles I've missed at other festivals, and even within a festival, I find myself trying to shuffle things around to fit in the most films possible.

One of the films that I had a chance to see in Toronto but missed was "Juan Of The Dead."  I did end up meeting writer/director Alejandro Brugues in a hotel lobby for a few minutes, and I promised him there that I'd see the film during Fantastic Fest.  I missed the first screening here in Austin, and I missed Sunday night's press screening.  So when the Monday morning 11:15 AM screening rolled around, I was in my seat as early as possible.  Good thing, too, because word of mouth has been building on the film over the course of the festival, and it was totally packed.

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<p>Victoria Abril.&nbsp; Bats.&nbsp; 3D.&nbsp; What more do you need?&nbsp; 'Comin' At Ya' really is one of the highlights of Fantastic Fest 2011</p>

Victoria Abril.  Bats.  3D.  What more do you need?  'Comin' At Ya' really is one of the highlights of Fantastic Fest 2011

Credit: Filmways Pictures

Review: 'Comin' At Ya 3D' is a hilarious flashback with a new coat of paint

I've waited 30 years to see this film... but why?

When I was 11 years old, I conned my mom into taking me to see "Comin' At Ya" in the theater.  I knew it was rated R, but I neglected to mention that in the pitch I gave when I asked her to take me to see it.  I knew the game back then, and i knew how I had to play it.  I had to convince one of my two parents that they NEEDED to see whatever movie it was that I wanted to see.  If not them, then someone else who resembled a responsible adult enough to take me to see the film.  Uncles, aunts, older brothers of friends… anyone was fair game in the "I want to see that R-rated movie" sweepstakes.

In this particular case, all I cared about was "3D" and "Western."  I was determined to get into the film, and I forget how I managed to convince my mother that it was something she wanted to see as well.  What I do remember, quite clearly, was being yanked out of the theater by my arm, my mother positively livid as she yelled at an usher about the content of the film, and I remember that we ended up seeing the Dudley Moore comedy "Arthur" instead.  Because there's nothing more appropriate for an eleven-year-old than non-stop hilarious intoxication.

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