Fantasia Film Fest 2013 Reviews
The Link Critiques the Festival’s 17th Edition
The 17th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival showcases imaginative cinema until August 7.
The festival, now partnered with Concordia, features and premieres acclaimed fantasy, horror, comedy and drama films. Here’s what our writers had to say about them.
Marçal Forés / Drama / Spain
2012 / 94 mins / Spanish and English
Marçal Forés’s film is a coming-of-age tale that is left unresolved, a broken Bildungsroman. Pol is a teenager who has a love-hate relationship with his teddy bear, Deerhoof. Alienated from the world, he is oblivious to the advances of his best friend, Laia, and feels a comprehensive pressure from all sides to pursue adult values, but cannot relate to anyone but Deerhoof. In an effort to obliterate his child self, he attempts to kill Deerhoof, only to realize he is far from ready to face his angst on his own. When a female classmate mysteriously disappears, Pol becomes closer to her only friend, Ikari, a dark character that pushes Pol to the limits of his pain and sexuality, and helps him walk the line between the living and the dead.
Animals is a film that has as many beautifully tormented, bittersweet scenes as it has unanswered questions. The hazy storytelling, smokey cinematography, and the stillness of the awry Catalan scenery make an unlikely setup for the shocking event that takes place at Pol’s high school—a macabre prank that Pol only watches from the outside. (J.J)
The next screening of Animals is July 27 at 5:50 p.m. at the J. A. De Sève Theatre (1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd., LB building), but it is currently sold out.
Big Ass Spider!
Mike Mendez / Horror, Comedy / USA
2013 / 85 mins / English
“You better hide yo’ kids, you better hide yo’ wife, cause there’s a big ass spider on the loose!”
This film’s title explains it all. Well, sort of. It’s actually a big ass genetically engineered alien military spider, but maybe that was too cumbersome of a title.
Meet Alex Mathis. He’s a Joe Schmoe exterminator, a little chunky, a little charming, dedicated to his profession of slaughter, and determined to get the girl. Now meet Cheech, I mean Jose Ramos, a security guard at the local hospital who is all-too-ready to be Alex’s Robin, Tonto and Sancho.
Over the next 12 hours, our duo takes on a big ass spider that only gets bigger—quadrupling in size every four hours until it is rampaging through scantily clad volleyball matches, spitting acid and melting faces, and striking down Apache helicopters from skyscrapers. The military’s headstrong approach can’t compete with Alex’s passion for (killing) arachnids, as Alex proves by saving his romantic interest, the lieutenant, more than once.
We’ve all seen monster movies where something huge destroys an urban landscape—_Godzilla_, King Kong, Cloverfield, etc. Maybe some of you are into the genre enough to explore the lower-budget, sillier films like Mega Shark vs Crocosaurous, in which case you’ll know that the premise is often better than the next two hours. This isn’t the case here.
At times, Big Ass Spider! seems to fall back on some familiar jokes and slaughters, but overall, its quirky humour and perfectly imperfect CGI walks the line between comedy and gore-filled action superbly. (S.N.)
The Garden of Words
Makoto Shinkai / Romance, Animation / Japan
2012 / 46 mins / Japanese with English subtitles
Whenever there’s a rainy day, Takao Akizuki skips class and escapes to the park in the heart of the city.
Upon entering the park gazebo, he sees a businesswoman sitting all alone, binging on beer and chocolates.
After promising to meet up on rainy days to keep each other company, the two open up their deepest and darkest secrets, dreams, aspirations from the cruel world they both want to run away from.
But can a high-school kid and a twenty-something office worker fall in love with each other and have a happy ending?
Directed by renowned Japanese animator Makoto Shinkai, A Garden of Words brings out the intensity of human emotion as it answers this question.
This film has breathtaking visuals that are akin to an eye-catching water color painting coming alive; complemented with a beautiful soundtrack composed of piano and natural sound that will dive you into the intuitive thoughts of these two characters.
The film can catch you off-guard as it lures you into the beautiful narrative between the two desperate and drifting souls. Watch out for water-works—it just might make you cry. (S.A.)
Antoine Barraud / Horror, Experimental / France
2012 / 62 mins / French
Opening film: Monstre numéro deux
Antoine Barraud / Horror, Experimental / France
2008 / 36 mins / French
This short, but exhilarating film by French director Antoine Barraud is an unsettling and philosophical experience through the unknown. Not without its flaws, Barraud’s first feature-length manages to keep our attention by creating a dreamy atmosphere that accentuates the unpredictable situations.
A geologist discovers five huge sinkholes that were, oddly enough, never visited by a human. He decides to explore the depths that seem full of geological phenomenons.
The incredible chemistry between Mathieu Amalric (A Christmas Tale, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as Georges and Nathalie Boutefeu (Polisse, À perdre la raison) as his wife France is mesmerizing. The two actors save the movie by transforming what would have been a very academic and didactic essay into a sensible drama about a couple struggling with jealousy and distance.
As the film progresses, France becomes the film’s focus and her subconscious thoughts fill the screen as we discover the hellish visions from the sinkholes.
Sadly, the film suffers from Barraud pedantic reflexes. In his desire to show us his interpretation of human psychology at all costs, he forgets that spectators need to understand too. Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest (Only God Forgives), Barraud is so subjugated by his intentions that he forgets his artistic duties. Only unlike his Danish counterpart, Barraud’s chosen actors inspire enough life in the narrative to make it engaging. (D.S.)
Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon / Horror, Comedy / USA
2013 / 98 min / English
It’s no secret that the horror-film genre has become clichéd and oversaturated in recent years. Hell Baby pays direct notice to this trend and turns it completely on its head by presenting a fantastical comedy that pokes fun at overdone film trends.
Although the screening of Hell Baby was set early on in Fantasia’s extensive scheduling, it was undoubtedly billed as one of my most eagerly anticipated. I wasn’t alone in this feeling as film fanatics filled the atrium of Concordia’s Library Building for the Canadian premiere of the sold-out screening. Showings of this diabolical film have already garnered rave reviews from critics at SXSW, Slam Dance, and Comic Con, to name a few. At certain points it was hard to grasp aspects of dialogue because the audience exhibited a raucous case of the chuckles.
The creators of Reno 911! are responsible for Hell Baby, so it’s obvious the film already has some merit. Although billed as a comedy, Hell Baby uses horror as the centerpiece to its plot. The acting delivered from Leslie Bibb (Iron Man) and Rob Corddry (The Daily Show, What Happens in Vegas) is undeniably hilarious. Along with Keegan Key (Mad TV), the trio that make up this film’s mainframe carry it incredibly well.
While this film probably won’t be seeing any Academy Award nominations, if you’re looking for a comedy that presents a fresh yet diabolical plot, look no further than Robert Ben Garant’s Hell Baby. (J.D.)
How to Use Guys with Secret Tips
Lee Wonsuk / Romance, Comedy / South Korea
2013 / 116 mins / Korean with English subtitles
Have you hit the glass ceiling on your employment ladder? Can’t catch the attention of your dream guy?
Renowned “love guru” Dr. Suwalski (Park Young-Gyu) has an answer—a $500 instructional video that will help drive away the blues and make your dreams come true.
Skeptical? Ask Choi Bo-Na (Lee Si-Young). Not only has she elevated her status into one of South Korea’s up-and-coming television commercial directors, she even found herself hooking up with heartthrob actor Lee Seung-Jae (Oh Jung-Se). It’s a testament to success—until it falls apart because of Lee Seung-Jae’s unnerving and ridiculous lustful desire for Bo-Na.
How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is a hilarious satirical comedy on how gender roles work in both the workplace and one’s personal life. The film’s uncanny ability to poke fun at the many facets of Korean pop culture itself makes this film charming and fun to watch.
“How to Use Guys” also gives a very quirky lesson—don’t always rely on a self-help manual to make your dreams come true.
After all, as the video manual implies, “Use at your own risk.” (S.A.)
It’s Me It’s Me
Satoshi Miki / Sci-Fi, Comedy, Fantasy, Thriller, Crime / Japan
2013 / 119 mins / Japanese with English subtitles
Adapting a surrealist novel to the screen while staying faithful to its imagery is no easy task. Satoshi Miki’s follow-up to the talkative Adrift in Tokyo (Fantasia 2008 Best Script) is a story that makes sense when you piece together the things left unsaid. Based on Tomoyuki Hosino’s novel of the same name, It’s Me It’s Me proves to be a very satisfying experience.
J-pop star Kazuya Kamenashi plays Hitoshi Nagano, a lousy camera salesman who ends up with a young entrepreneur’s phone and uses it to scam his relatives. Everything seems to be going well until Hitoshi wakes up one morning to find himself trapped in one of his victim’s life. An improbable turn of events leads into a very strange yet thoughtful climax.
Visually, the film is a treat. The hyper-realistic images of a modern Tokyo are punctuated by very odd and dissonant electronic music and unsettling props. As the story moves, Tokyo starts dripping a purple chemical waste that prepares us for the near-apocalyptic ending.
The mother figure, always present as an oedipal figure in classic surrealism, is a strong and pivotal character here, interpreted through diverse actresses. Sometimes she recognizes her son, sometimes not. Once again, Miki leaves the audience to its own interpretations.
Successful surrealist adaptations are rare. It’s Me It’s Me is one that’s everything but pretentious and will give you a good laugh on the way. (D.S.)
Ip Man: The Final Fight
Herman Yau / Martial Arts / Hong Kong, China
2013 / 102 mins / Cantonese with English subtitles
Offering a semi-biographical narrative of the later years of Ip Man (Anthony Wong), grandmaster of Wing Chun and tutor to Bruce Lee, Ip Man: The Final Fight is as visually stunning, exciting, and moving as its predecessors. It doesn’t stray far enough from them though.
Ip Man opens a school of Wing Chun in Hong Kong and takes on new pupils. They are challenged by rival schools, local gangs and oppressive police, and, of course, they mature both as martial artists and individuals along the way.
Rather than focusing on his combat skills, we’re given an endearing portrait of Ip Man as a wise, diplomatic, poetic and modest grandmaster. He’s this sort of anti-macho, but still total badass male-protagonist that is sorely lacking in Canadian and American films.
A complex set of socio-economic and cultural circumstances allow The Final Fight to be more than your typical kick-and-punch martial arts film. Opium abuse, limited running water, worker exploitation, and poverty so severe a family would sell one child to feed the others, distinctively places the narrative within the hardships of mid-20th century China. This gives action sequences a personal and emotional element, whether dueling in underground gang-led tournaments to win money to feed one’s family or fighting against a wall of police for the rights of exploited workers.
Although a sequel, this film can easily stand alone, and that might be its primary fault. If you’ve seen Ip Man, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Ip Man: The Final Fight. That said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (S.N.)
The next screening of Ip Man: The Final Fight is July 31 at 4:15 p.m. at the Théâtre Impérial (1432 de Bleury St.). Tickets are $9.
Lesson of the Evil
Takashi Miike / Horror, Crime, Thriller / Japan
2012 / 129 mins / Japanese with English subtitles
Lesson of the Evil, Takashi Miike’s latest film, is an adaptation of Yusuke Kishi’s 2010 novel of the same name. It is a quintessential Japanese movie. It has students in uniforms, teachers sleeping with students, someone sniffing girls’ panties, a psychopath convinced he’s doing good and enough gore to make even the most insensitive person cringe.
Mr. Hasumi (Hideaki Ito) is the young, handsome, funny and caring teacher every student wants to have. He teaches English at the Shinko Academy and supports his pupils, whether they’re dealing with sexual harassment or caught cheating during exams. As his history is dug up, people around him turn up dead. Let’s just say it isn’t a coincidence.
Fans of Miike’s slasher film tendencies will enjoy Lesson of the Evil. It has a feel of Battle Royale, although students aren’t killing each other this time.
The theme song “Mack the Knife” is a joyous tune highly contrasting the horrors of the film—don’t be surprised if you shudder next time you hear it. (N.Y.)
Mistaken for Strangers
Tom Berninger / Documentary / USA
2013 / 80 mins / English
Although this film is billed as being about popular indie rock band The National, Mistaken for Strangers is in no way your typical rock documentary. In fact, this film deviates from many of the formulas that rock-docs utilize. There isn’t so much an actual storyline as there is a collection of scenes and moments, all captured by Tom Berninger, brother of The National frontman Matt Berninger.
The film follows Tom and rest of the band, as they embark on a worldwide tour. Don’t expect to see drugs and debauchery here though; things remain rather tame throughout the film. That is, aside from the inner turmoil of the film’s creator and main character, Tom. Cast in the shadow of a brother who is beloved by the world, Mistaken for Strangers is a film about feeling inadequate and how we deal with it.
Ultimately, Mistaken for Strangers is an excruciatingly emotional and intimate portrayal of brotherhood—what happens when worlds collide and grandeur and commonness meet. You don’t need to be a fan of The National to enjoy this movie. In fact, even if you despise them, you’ll still find something worthwhile in it. Anyone who has ever felt isolated or an outsider will be left with a smile on their face.
The Outer Limits of Animation 2013
Various / Animation / International
2013 / 105 mins
Fantasia’s annual smorgasbord of animation delights represents the many faces of our human emotion—you’ll laugh, cry, and even ask yourselves, why?
Jonathan Ng’s “Requiem pour une romance” for instance, is not just any sappy love story. Don’t let the colorful hand-painted visuals and cute characters fool you, it will tug your heart.
Faiyaz Jafri’s “Planet Utero” gives off an out-of-space existential vibe, but it’s accompanying electro-ambient soundtrack is something worth coveting.
Iria Lopez’s “Jamon” humorously brings out our personal angst of our teenage years wrestling between fitting in and becoming ourselves—with a bittersweet twist.
Sofia Carrillo’s “La Casa Triste” tells the sad love story of a Mexican farmer’s family, in an almost eerie and post-victorian stop-motion animation style that triggers so many emotions.
Tom Jenkins’s “Address Is Approximate” is probably the most adorable and quirky ode to one of our many modern tools for survival—Google Maps. It’s definitely a feel good short.
And these are just the appetizers! There is so much talented work that has to be mentioned, it’s disappointing there isn’t an encore. (S.A.)
Keishi Otomo / Martial Arts / Japan
2012 / 135 mins / Japanese with English subtitles
In 1868, the outcome of the Toba-Fushime battle led to the Meiji era, which paved the way towards Japan’s modern world. Hitokiri Battossai, a heartless killer active during the years preceding the era, disappeared after the battle.
A decade later in Tokyo, Takeru Sato ( Kamen Rider Den-O ) plays the wanderer known as Himura Kenshin, who carries a samurai sword with a backwards blade. Emi Takei plays Kenshin’s romantic interest Kaoru Kamiya, a stubborn girl in charge of her late father’s dojo.
It is revealed that Kenshin is actually Battossai on a path to redemption, carrying a sword that can’t kill anyone. Despite his enemies mocking his sword, he beats them with fast and powerful blows.
Samurai lovers will appreciate the number of action sequences in this historical-romance. The battle scenes are filled with mind-blowing sword fighting choreography and weapons drawn at a lightning speed. Though not recommended for the faint of heart, gore fans will find the blood splatter lacking.
Fans of the manga will also rejoice that the film covers the first two story arcs, although they might be disappointed that the ninjas, adorable Misao and the reserved Aoshi are missing. Two sequels are in the works, the first set to release next year. (N.Y.)
Jang Cheol-soo / Comedy, Crime, Thriller / South Korea
2013 / 127 mins / Korean with English subtitles
Imagine being a village idiot. Kids throw rocks at you, your boss kicks you around like a slave and your crush shuns you upon first sight.
Now imagine the army telling you to become a village idiot, so you can infiltrate the enemy nation for your country’s honour.
Secretly Greatly tells the story of North Korean army Lieutenant Won Ryu-hwan (Kim Soo-hyun) as he plays the undercover fool with fellow Unit 5446 spies Lee Hae-rang (Park Ki-woong) and Lee Hae-jin (Lee Hyun-woo), who are disguised as an indie rock musician and a high school student, respectively.
When they discover their mission has abruptly ended, the spies struggle to choose between a newfound friendship or patriotic self-termination.
The acting is polished to perfection and the unpredictable scene pacing is fun to watch. But what stands out is this film’s ability to seamlessly shift from slapstick comedy into serious drama.
Based on the webcomic Covertness, this film is a fun and quirky action comedy. (S.A.)
Éric Falardeau / Horror / Quebec
2012 / 100 mins / English
Picture a naked woman slowly decomposing in her Montreal apartment and there you’ve got Éric Falardeau’s first feature release, the aptly named Thanatomorphose.
We follow the gruesome fate of an unnamed young woman, played by Kayden Rose, a rejected artist in a hollow sexual relationship, as her spiritual and physical surrenders translate to her body. Bruises become sores, limbs wither, flesh putrefies. She’s dying from the inside out. That’s the elegantly simple plot.
The atmosphere, mostly made of long shots and wide angles in a darkly-hued apartment, gives it a pensive look, as if the blood and gore is only secondary to the existential ideas behind it. Though the nastiness does take an increasingly assertive role in the film, it never quite becomes the focal point.
This film is minimal in dialogue and music, making Rose’s performance all the more impressive. You begin to appreciate the fine art of empty gazes, agonizing crawls along a bloody floor, and the raspy gasping of a melting face.
The only problematic parts of the film are the supporting characters, whose actions and ultimate fates come off as contrived for the sake of a metaphorical tying of loose strings.
Another feature are some—but not all—of the dream sequences that disorientingly interspace the movie: a bit too art-house for this viewer.
If you’re looking for masterful special effects and can appreciate a slow build-up leading to a satisfying finish, and aren’t necessarily looking for chills or screams, then this is definitely a film worth seeing. (M.K.)
The next screening of Thanatomorphose is August 3 at 11:45 p.m. at the J. A. De Sève Theatre (1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd., LB building). Tickets are $9.