Thursday, July 04, 2013


The Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia) announced the first wave of programming for their 17th edition last week, and now proudly unveil several additional highlights in anticipation of their July 9th press conference where their full 120+ film lineup will be unveiled.

Shield of Straw / Wara No Tate (Dir: Takashi Miike, Japan, 2013)—Joining James Wan's The Conjuring (2012) on opening night, Miike's Shield of Straw officially annoints the festival's opening night. Hot off its screening in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival (where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or), Miike's riveting crime thriller kicks off Fantasia's 2013 edition with its first screening on the North American continent. Shield of Straw stars Takao Osawa, Nanako Matsushima, and Tatsuya Fujiwara. Fantasia's 1997 screening of Fudoh marked the first time that a Miike film had ever been shown in North America, making it all the more joyous to open our 2013 festival with his latest work. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia.

Critical response has been mixed to tepid for Miike's Shield of Straw, which several felt was out of place in the Palme d'Or competition at Cannes, particularly for a film whose execution was "lackluster" (according to Peter Debruge at Variety). Debruge foresees that Shield of Straw is "ripe for a more energetic remake." At The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney concurs Miike's latest is "remake fodder". His bottom line is that Shield of Straw is a "diverting but generic dose of psychologically thin B-movie suspense from the normally more outré Takashi Miike." At Screen Daily, Tim Grierson writes: "Pitting a few brave police officers against an entire nation wanting to kill the prisoner they're transporting, the movie has its pulpy thrills—not to mention a gripping central performance from Takao Osawa—but plausibility issues and an unconvincing exploration of the limits of justice noticeably dampen the fun." Confirming the trades, Brian Clark at Twitch feels Shield of Straw gets "middling results" from its high concept. For a much more thorough shakedown, check out David Hudson's aggregate of Cannes reviews at Fandor's Keyframe Daily.

009 Re: Cyborg (Dir: Kenji Kamiyama, Japan, 2012)—Mechanized mayhem, mysticism and moral ambiguity meet when the influential '60s manga / anime property 009 Cyborg gets a dark, postmodern makeover care of the mighty Production I.G, in the spirit of the iconic Ghost In the Shell films. Anime fans won't want to miss this one. North American premiere. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia.

At Twitch, Ard Vijn extols the film's beauty—especially projected on a large screen—but qualifies that 009 Re: Cyborg is "also frustrating and confusing, often infuriatingly so", though as "odd and flawed as it is", it emerges as "one hell of a ride." At Cinevue, Joe Walsh wraps it up: "The firm behind the film is Production I.G, the people who created Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor, and they have long held a track record for stunning animation. That is once again proven as, along with Kamiyama, they seamlessly blend the hand-drawn backdrops and characters with attractive 3D sequences. Depth of field enhances this tale greatly and it is here that most pleasure can be derived. However, despite its good looks, there's no escaping 009 Re: Cyborg's tiresome and hollow script."

Animals (Dir: Marçal Forés, Spain, 2012)—Evocative of both Donnie Darko and Leolo with a touch of Charles Burns, Animals taps into a volatile whirlpool of adolescent anxieties and identity issues, addressing complex themes through a wealth of unconventional approaches. A heavy trip, but an entertaining and fantastical one. Winner: Best First Feature, Sant Jordi de Cinematografia 2013, Official Selection: Sitges 2012, Miami International Film Festival 2013. Quebec premiere. IMDb.

At Exclaim!, Robert Bell writes: "It's true that Forés owes a lot to Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, having a similar dark fantasy tone emerging from the self-hatred and worldly rage associated with abject sexual awakening, but he's taken the format in a different direction. He's externalized the homosexual yearning and interpretation of the 'other' and simplified the representation of adult hypocrisy as an imposing force on those vacillating between maturity and youthful idealism. ...Here, just as humans and animals are presented as flawed creatures of instinct, innocence isn't made heroic, instead having a life of its own that unfortunately, like everything else, has to die." At Big Gay Picture Show, Adrian Naik's overall verdict is: "If you enjoy the unease and unpredictability of Lynch, as well as the gothic sweetness of Donnie Darko, you will enjoy this. The general feel of the film, from setting to characterization, does feel derivative [of] Richard Kelly's masterpiece, but Animals has its own strengths. Forés work is unsettling and yet slightly self-indulgent, trying to toy with the audience. For those who are looking for more traditional storytelling and less mind-meddling, search elsewhere."

Antisocial (Dir: Cody Calahan, Canada, 2013)—On New Year's Eve, five university friends find themselves engulfed by a zombie-like attack. The team behind Neverlost deliver a gory, inventive, next-generation horror satire with an absolutely genius hook. World premiere. IMDb. Facebook.

Bad Milo (Dir: Jacob Vaughan, USA, 2013)—Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs and Peter Stormare star in this insane comedy / horror UFO about an office worker's repressed rage manifesting as a mutant ass monster that leaves his body during blackouts, commits murders—then painfully burrows its way back up his butt. Regularly. Ouch! Official Selection: SXSW & Karlovy Vary 2013. Canadian premiere. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

At Horror 101 With Dr. AC, Aaron Christensen nails it: "For a movie whose synopsis more or less boils down to 'carnivorous demon living in our protagonist's lower digestive tract escapes from backside in search of fresh meat,' there's an incredible sense of sweetness and gentle humor amidst the slapstick and the scatological. Ken Marino is delightful as the owner of the unwanted titular intestinal tenant, struggling to avoid stressful scenarios for fear of prompting a bout of explosive (and lethal) demonic expulsion; he carries off the potentially cartoony premise with a surprisingly grounded and relatable performance." At Sound On Sight, David Tran hails Bad Milo as "an irreverent gross out comedy" and not actually a gore fest as it's "not scary enough to really be a horror movie. It is the kind of genre film that takes irreverent joy in its crazy concept, rolls with it, and sees how far they can go with it." At The Macguffin, Spencer Fornaciari adds: "Huge points have to be given for the use of a real puppet rather than CGI for the demon; not only does this add a more realistic feel to the acting, but the puppet itself adds a huge part to the experience of the movie. The puppetry work is excellent and is a throwback to classics like Sesame Street. The demon's presence opposite Marino is really the driving force behind the movie, and is the most engaging relationship. Describing it as a demon is technically correct, but that doesn't really do a good job of explaining it. Think more of a buddy comedy with a bit of a horror bent."

Big Ass Spider! (Dir: Mike Mendez, USA, 2013)—A volatile 50-foot spider wreaks havoc against the city of Los Angeles in this fast, funny and surprisingly smart arachno-coaster ride that's not afraid to enjoy itself but at the same time, never goes for the easy stupid. Official Selection: SXSW, Dead by Dawn, Boston Underground, Calgary Underground Film Festival 2013. The film's Quebec premiere will be hosted by director Mike Mendez and producers Patrick Ewald and Travis Stevens. IMDb. Facebook.

"Dramas are great and thought-provoking cinema is wonderful, but sometimes a giant spider is all you want," quips Scott Weinberg at Fearnet. Breaking it down into bullet points, Weinberg states Big Ass Spider's "ensemble plays the material with tongues firmly in cheek but never goes too far"; "the digitally-created mayhem is rather a lot of fun"; "the violence is raucous and gory without ever becoming too ugly or mean-spirited"; and "the little extra effort" taken by the filmmakers to incorporate "a fantastic score by Ceiri Torjussen that evokes monster themes from the classics and brings a touch of wide-scale class to a very little movie." At Twitch, Peter Martin notes Big Ass Spider! "has fun with the idea of a giant spider terrorizing Los Angeles" and explains that "what differentiates the movie from its cheap SyFy Channel, basic cable television counterparts is that director Mike Mendez, who also served as editor, keeps the action clipping along faster than the giant spider can munch its way through the beleagured citizens of Los Angeles. The visual effects, low-budget though they may be, are surprisingly effective, and the design of the spider itself is clever and distinctive." At Horror 101 With Dr. AC, Aaron Christensen concludes: "One can see why the SXSW programmers felt this high spirited rampage romp deserved a place on their 2013 slate. While no cult classic in the making, it's more beer n' pizza fun than it probably has any right to be; in the annals of supersized spider cinema, that's more than enough." Several more reviews and interviews on the film's Facebook timeline.

Broken Circle Breakdown (Dir: Felix Van Groeningen, Belgium, 2012)—Felix Van Groeningen (The Misfortunates) returns with a fourth film establishing him as a masterful director; a non-linear, emotionally devastating story of two Flemish bluegrass musicians' love, as they drift apart when they learn their daughter is dying from leukemia. Winner of the Panorama Audience Award at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival as well as awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. Canadian premiere. IMDb. Facebook.

At Variety, Boyd von Hoeij writes: "Inspired by a stage performance conceived by Johan Heldenbergh (one of the stars of The Misfortunates) and Mieke Dobbels that consisted of bluegrass songs interspersed with the story of a sad love affair, the film had to be entirely reinvented for the screen. And so it was; much to van Groeningen's credit, Breakdown, shot in gorgeous widescreen, never feels like a filmed play or concert, though music is performed throughout." At Sound On Sight, Christopher Clemente affirms: "With many highs and lows, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a raw and realistic look at life's unexpected occurrences done so with great tenderness and reverence to both joy and pain." David Rooney's bottom line at The Hollywood Reporter is less enthusiastic: "Invigorating musical elements and the lead actors' potent chemistry can't entirely protect this tragic relationship drama from its encroaching shortage of subtlety."

The Dead Experiment (Dir: Anthony Dixon, Canada, 2013)—At once horrific and cerebral, this remarkable independent Canadian production situates itself somewhere between Re-Animator and Primer, fusing wild scientific theories with a morbid tale and sustained drama for an impact that is wholly unique and satisfying. IMDb. Facebook.

The Dirties (Dir: Matt Johnson, Canada, 2013)—An astonishing, illuminating and surprisingly funny film, The Dirties takes on the mortifying topic of high school shootings with an insight and wit that will leave you slack-jawed. And deeply haunted. Winner of numerous awards, including two at this year's Slamdance. The Dirties' Quebec premiere will be hosted by director / actor / co-writer Matt Johnson, co-writer Josh Boles and actors Owen Williams and Krista Madison. Official site. IMDb. Facebook.

At Filmmaker, Brandon Harris describes The Dirties as "a poorly shot, cleverly assembled rough hewn verite narrative" that "elegantly and depressingly explore[s] the dangers of high school bullying" and "the kinds of empty, pop-culture obsessed lifestyles most American teenagers are subjected to." At the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jesse Hawthorne Ficks exclaims the film is "controversial and inspired" and "an utterly brilliant, unstoppably hilarious found footage entry that follows two high school cinephiles as they try and make a documentary about 'bullying,' while they themselves continue to get uncomfortably bullied at their own school." Ficks stresses "the level of honesty, originality, and terrifyingly timely subject matter this filmmaker brings to this incredibly contemporary story." At Twitch, Ben Umstead states Johnson exhibits "mad style and intelligence" with his "bromance", which Umstead categorizes as "something so fresh, so bizarre and just as sincere as it is unsettling."

The Demon's Rook (Dir: James Sizemore, USA, 2013)—A micro-budget, monsterific orgy of grue that can only be described as Return Of the Living Dead by way of Jodorowsky with a touch of The Neverending Story, shot in Georgia with a nearly all-amateur team, boatloads of heart and a horde of DIY prosthetic creatures. This film is F-U-N. Co-executive produced by celebrated Toronto Internation Film Festival programmer Colin Geddes and Toronto Film Scene / Exclaim! film critic Katarina Gligorijevic. The Demon Rook's world premiere will be hosted by director / actor / co-writer James Sizemore and his übergang of DIY magicians and maniacs! Official site. IMDb. Facebook.

Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend / Figyua na anata (Dir.: Takashi Ishii, Japan, 2013)—A man believes he's found redemption in a mysterious female mannequin that has come to life. Eroticism, perversity and deviant poetry collide in the latest from Takashi Ishii, an auteur who brought so much to Fantasia's history with such major work as Freeze Me and Gonin. International premiere. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb.

At A Page of Madness, Nicholas Vroman outlines that the first half of Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend "rolls out with low-budget grindhouse urgency going through tons of blood, sex, rape and other unpleasantries. It's engaging, if disquieting. Ishii is a solid filmmaker with a baroque flair."

How To Use Guys With Secret Tips (Dir.: Lee Wonsuk, South Korea, 2013)—A young woman toiling in an obnoxiously sexist workplace comes across a VHS tape with advice on how to manipulate men in this uproarious romantic comedy which turns the gulf between men and women into a faultline through your funnybone. Winner of an audience award at the most recent Udine Far East Film Festival. Canadian premiere. IMDb.

I'll Give It My All ... Tomorrow / Ore wa mada honki dashite nai dake (Dir.: Yûichi Fukuda, Japan, 2013)—A single dad in the grip of midlife crisis quits his stable job to pursue a career as a manga artist. Loaded with imagination, this funny, touching tribute to putting things off goes far beyond sitcom silliness with an array of unforgettable characters. International premiere. IMDb.

Machi Action (Dir.: Jeff Chang, Taiwan, 2013)—This clever, racy and yet very humane Taiwanese comedy takes aim at the over-the-top tropes and antics of tokusatsu (giant monsters and masked space heroes) TV and at the absurd ups and downs of a performing artist's life. Fresh from stomping all opponents at the Taiwanese box office, Machi Action begins its quest for North American domination at Fantasia. North American premiere. IMDb. Facebook.

Missionary (Dir: Anthony DiBlasi, USA, 2012)—The director of Dread and Cassadaga is back with a mean, lean, character-driven thriller of exceptional impact. Playing on the inherent fear that many people have of strangers, their possible delusions and perhaps worse, their bubbling insanity, Missionary also looks at the figure of the man of faith as complex and unpredictable, while also exploring the duplicitous nature that is easily attributed to missionaries of all ilk. Stars Dawn Olivieri, Mitch Ryan, Kip Pardue and J LaRose. Missionary's world premiere will be hosted by director Anthony DiBlasi. IMDb.

OXV: The Manual (Dir: Darren Paul Fisher, UK-Australia, 2012)—One of 2013's most minblowing discoveries, OXV: The Manual is an endlessly imaginative "scientific-philosophical romance" that plays like the mutant offspring of Michel Gondry, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam and Shane Carruth—yes, really. One of those little miracles that only independent cinema can produce, this is a resoundingly original piece of work that will have you smiling for weeks. OXV's world premiere will be hosted by writer / director Darren Paul Fisher. IMDb. Facebook.

Plus One (Dir: Dennis Iliadis, USA, 2013)—Teens at a wild house party quickly catch on that all isn't right, as doubles of themselves and everyone else attending are popping up and reliving the evening, just about 45 minutes prior. With each blackout of lights, the doubles catch up a little more in time. An entertainingly inventive and clever slice of high energy teen oblivion from the director of the Last House on the Left remake. Official Selection: SXSW. Canadian premiere. IMDb.

At Twitch, Peter Martin writes: "Iliadis displayed considerable skill as a filmmaker with the Last House on the Left remake, committing fully to the more odious aspects, while jerking the narrative forward in uncomfortably irregular spasms. In Plus One, he commits fully to presenting an adult-oriented college party movie, complete with strippers and other bared bodies, along with copious amounts of alcohol and foolish behavior. And when things go haywire, he commits fully to that as well, in explicit detail." At Horror 101 With Dr. AC, Aaron Christensen was left with "the bitter aftertaste of missed opportunity" burning sour in his throat.

The Resurrection Of A Bastard / De Wederopstanding van een Klootzak (Dir: Guido van Driel, Netherlands, 2013)—Riveting with its innovative cinematic style, doused in outrageous bursts of wicked carnage, and topped off with a smattering of shadowy Lynchian humor, The Resurrection Of A Bastard is a deliciously oddball investigation of the mystery of life, and all the violent possibilities it has to offer. A blissful cinematic experience that represents the current renaissance in Dutch genre filmmaking. Stars Yorick van Wagenigen (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Opening film of the 2013 Rotterdam International Film Festival. International premiere. Official site [Dutch]. IMDb. Facebook [Dutch].

Saving General Yang (Dir.: Ronny Yu, Hong Kong, 2013)—It is up to General Yang's seven sons—each a master of his own kung fu discipline—to rescue him from behind enemy lines. Ronny Yu (Fearless, The Bride With White Hair, Bride Of Chucky) revisits anew the oft-told tale of the Yang clan, legends of Chinese martial arts literature and film. Official Selection: Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013. North American premiere. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

At Twitch, James Marsh deems Saving General Yang "solid with glimpses of greatness." At SBS, Don Groves admits: "Yu has a very good eye for spectacle but a tin ear for dialogue and a slapdash approach to fleshing out characters, and thus fails to redress obvious defects in the screenplay by Edmond Wong.... The result is a handsome looking but sporadically satisfying, gory tale of betrayal, familial loyalty, bravery and sacrifice." "It's as close to a Chinese blockbuster as can be with a lightweight narrative propped up by heavy duty battle scenes," writes Stefan S. at A (Nutshell) Review, and adds, "Who would have thought though, that the more dramatic moments in the film, turned out to be its key strengths...."

Secretly Greatly (Dir.: Jang Cheol-soo, South Korea, 2013)—A North Korean spy is sent south, where he must blend into a town's community … as the village idiot. This punchy action-comedy broke box-office records on its home turf. From the director of Bedevilled. Official Selection: New York Asian Film Festival 2013. Canadian premiere. Official site [Korean]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook.

Sweetwater / Sweet Vengeance (Dirs: Logan Miller, Noah Miller, USA, 2013)—Ed Harris, January Jones, and Eduardo Noriega star in one of the most eccentric and surprising Westerns to storm cinematic saloons in some time, bursting with tension, violence and theatricality, owing as much to Toshiya Fujita and Lady Snowblood as it does to Ford and Leone. Harris delivers the single most outlandish performance of his career. Official Selection: Sundance 2013. Canadian premiere. IMDb.

Todd McCarthy's bottom line at The Hollywood Reporter: "A watchable, derivative revenge Western with some colorful moments but no great distinction." At Collider, Matt Goldberg complains, "It's difficult to get upset at Sweetwater for being a bad western since the decision to set the film in the Wild West seems as arbitrary as everything else in the movie. ...Sweetwater would be an embarrassment in any genre." David D'Arcy summarizes at Screen: "The tone in Sweetwater is as heavy as that firepower, and the film can feel like stiff medicine. The Millers are searching for iconic drama that is as grand as the iconic conflicts in their script. What they got is stagy melodrama with a message."

Uzumasa Jacopetti (Dir.: Morirô Miyamoto, Japan, 2013)—Miike meets Jeunet as a father's one-track-minded quest for his family's happiness warps into murderous, absurdist carnage; a uniquely mesmerizing, magical, magnetic mind-melt of a movie from mysterious Kyoto filmmaker Morirô Miyamoto, heralding the return of true underground Japanese cinema. North American premiere. Official site [Japanese].

At Midnight Eye, Tom Mes stages the importance of an independent Japanese film like Uzumasa Jacopetti. He writes: "Odd but also oddly endearing, Uzumasa Jacopetti has loopy ideas to spare, yet its 83-minute running time means the film never overstays its welcome."

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