Tag Archives: Fantasia Festival

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/25/2016 (ATMO HORROX & CLOSING THOUGHTS)

I specifically planned my trip to the Fantasia Film Festival so that I could catch the North American debut of ‘s latest weird opus, Atmo HorroX, before I left. I was more prepared for the experience than most, because I’m one of only a handful of people who’ve seen Tremblay’s complete body of work, since he sent me his still-unreleased 2006 debut film Heads of Control: The Gorul Baheu Brain Expedition (on VHS!) in 2010. Of that film, I wrote “…when LSD wants to blow its mind, it takes a hit of Heads of Control.” After briefly tackling on a straightforward narrative in the low-budget post-apocalyptic feature Hellacious Acres, this one is every bit as bizarre as Tremblay’s first movie. Let’s hope it’s not as unreleasable.

Tremblay and star Laurent Lecompte had been hyping the movie throughout the Festival, handing out trading cards and appearing in full costume in the Alumni Hall lobby, Lecompte thrusting his balloon phallus at passersby as they left more respectable movies. Here at the lineup to get into the premiere, Lecompte serves hors d’ouevres while dressed in a cowboy hat and goggles. The theater is about two-thirds full, but the film’s cast, who are seeing the movie for the first time, fill an entire row of seats.

Still from Atmo HorroX (2016)I would begin by summarizing Atmo HorroX‘s plot, but, although I believe there is one, I’m not 100% sure I could find it. The movie focuses largely on the stalking activities of a monster (Lecompte) wearing pantyhose with sweetgum seeds stuck on it over his face and sporting a plume of phallic balloons jutting from his crotch. He conjures levitating sausages and kills people by placing ladies’ shoes on either side of their head. There are other, more traditional-looking horror monsters running around in the film as well; the face of one is battered into liquid during the film’s opening, only to rise as a rainbow snake. There’s also some kind of witch, a creature dressed in black latex with nine eyes, a man with remote controls taped to his bodies who communicates with the main monster by walkie talkie, a playboy wearing psychedelic goggles, and others. Often, scenes go on for too long with these characters simply posing on the screen, letting us drink in their oddness. Even the best parts can go on for too long: a doctor with a mutton chop goatee takes forever to write prescriptions (which are nothing but long, elaborate scribbles) for patients, then shakes his head, tears them up, and starts over. It’s funny, but the gag repeats too many times. The entire movie probably should have been at least twenty minutes shorter: it wears on you, and many scenes could have been trimmed or cut entirely. There is no comprehensible dialogue—it’s all garbled nonsense, sometimes distorted with feedback and cranked up to painful levels—and when there is music it is just as discordant as the dialogue. The color grading is garish, saturated oranges and pinks, making the monster appear to glow against the forest or street backgrounds as he roams.

Watching this film often feels like being trapped inside the Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/25/2016 (ATMO HORROX & CLOSING THOUGHTS)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/24/2016 (HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD & IN SEARCH OF THE ULTRA-SEX)

Sunday should be a quiet, peaceful day of rest and spiritual contemplation. I spent mine watching obscure movies full of violence, black magic, and deviant sex.

This afternoon’s movie was 1983’s Holy Flame of the Martial World, projected in glorious 35mm “Shaw Scope.” Holy Flame is a Shaw Brothers film from the same era as the Certified Weird The Boxer’s Omen, made at a time when interest in traditional kung fu was waning and the studio was desperate to soup up its offerings with lots of fantasy and Star Wars-inspired special effects. Holy Flame sets logic to one side to tell the tale of two orphans seeking revenge on their parent’s murderers, which can only be accomplished by attaining yin and yang swords. The chief bad gal runs a martial cult of virginity-powered lady fighters; her uneasy ally has a team of traditional male monks. The chief good guy is a master of “ghostly laughter” which causes the earth to shake and is fatal to those who lack the ability to fold their earlobes into a protective flap. There are also the leaders of the “seven clans” who keep popping in to ask the two baddies for the various plot MacGuffins everyone believes will help them rule “the martial world,” plus a mysterious “Snake Boy” (played by a woman) whose origin and role is never adequately defined. The action is nonstop and ridiculous; the swordfighting is impressive, though there is too much wirework for my taste (fighters flying through the air, stopping and reversing in mid leap, that sort of thing). If all that’s not enough, stick around for the glitchy teleportation, pink and blue Saturday morning cartoon ghosts flying around, an English-speaking mummy, and the snakebite laser finger, just to name a few highlights. The insane action never stops.

Still from Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983)Holy Flame, of course, is not a new movie, but I feel privileged to see it on the big screen in a theater full of appreciative fans. It’s lightweight entertainment and no threat to make the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made, but it makes for an exhilaratingly exotic popcorn movie for a Sunday afternoon matinee.

I was surprised In Search of the Ultra-Sex was not scheduled for midnight, but rather at a respectable 9:30 PM. Like Holy Flame, this screening was more popular with regular ticket holders than with the press. Also, no one in line was wearing a raincoats, and the percentage of women in attendance was about the same as for any other movie. This demographic info is only odd because Ultra-Sex is a pastiche movie made up (mostly) of clips from adult films from the 1970s to early 1990s (with the hardcore portions edited out, although it comes as close as possible without crossing the line). Maybe we’re in for a new age of porno chic; more likely, though, the explanation is that what was once forbidden sleaze has now turned into risible kitsch, the fate of every popular art form.

Still from In Search of the Ultra-sex (2015)Ultra-Sex stitches together scenes from dozens of adult movies, using comic overdubbing (from two guys, voicing both male and female roles) to create a science fiction story about… well, as might be expected, what it’s “about” is pretty incoherent. It has something to do with the search for the Ultra-Sex, which is a something-or-other that makes Earthlings hump like rabbits whose feed pellets were accidentally replaced with Viagra, either because of its presence or because of its absence, I could never tell which. The action occurs both on Earth and in space.  The clips—which include robot-controlled dildos, lactating Power Rangers (!), and Mr. Spock gettin’ it on, among other sexy absurdities—can be hilarious, and I would have been happy to see a curated collection of such snippets. (The evening’s biggest grossout moment came courtesy of a nose-fellatio gag from a “Cyrano de Bergerac” porn parody). Footage from the non-porno badfilm Samurai Cop makes up one of the many subplots, and the story also contains bits from the infamous Edward Penishands. There is one amazing stop-motion sequence involving fornicating Barbie dolls and a giant blow-up monster who is subdued by toy tanks firing dildos; Google suggests a French short called “Le Toy Shop” is the best candidate for this one. As fun as much of this is, I found the What’s Up, Tiger Lily?-styled narration lame and juvenile (characters named “General Willy” and spaceships dubbed “Foreskin Five” are typical jokes). It’s an unneeded excuse to enjoy clips that would probably have been funnier without the commentary.

Ultra-Sex‘s prospects for legitimate distribution are, I fear, nil. I can’t believe all of the source material was cleared, and although the producers could certainly argue these clips can be appropriated through fair use and parody, I doubt any major distributor would be willing to take on the potential liability involved.

On to tomorrow, my final day of the Festival, when I’ll close with ‘s psychedelic experimental satire Atmo HorroX and a brief recap of the Festival’s weird offerings.

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/23/2016 (PSYCHONAUTS, THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN)

I had so much writing to do on Saturday that I scratched my evening screening, but I was determined to see Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children (you can read the synopsis of the previous day’s interview with ). The bad news was that the clouds rolled in and the rain started falling about five minutes before I needed to leave for my ten-minute, umbrella-free trot to the theater, with memories of being soaked in Thursday night’s downpour still fresh in my mind.

Fortunately, the skies agreed to merely sprinkle, but I wondered if the bad weather affected the turnout to Psychonauts‘s Canadian premiere. The press line was so short that I was well-within the velvet rope, and in the end the SGWU Hall was only about three-quarters full. (If anyone wonders why I always mention the length of the lines, I consider it an indication of general interest in the film, which might suggest something about a film’s eventual prospects for distribution).

Still from Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children (2015)Those who stayed away missed one of Fantasia’s great screenings, which ended with an enthusiastic round of applause and whistling from the animation-savvy audience. Psychonauts is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Alberto Vázquez and previously adapted into the award-winning short “Birdboy” in 2011 with co-director , who was in attendance, and who suggested to the audience before the screening that if they did not like the film, it was Vázquez’s fault. The humor was appreciated, but he needn’t have worried about the film’s reception. Psychonauts is an immersive spectacle, often very funny (comic relief being supplied mostly by the talking objects—a robot alarm clock, a piggy bank, and an inflatable duck), filled with overwhelming compassion for its subjects, and yes, a little weird.

The story involves an island of talking animals that exists in an almost post-apocalyptic state of ruin after an unspecified industrial accident wrecked the environment and the economy. Seeing no future at home, adolescent mouse Dinki decides to run away with two school chums, a sweet but psychotic rabbit who hears voices that tell her to hurt people and a bullied young fox. If possible, Dinki wants to take along her friend Birdboy, a feral, almost mythic presence who haunts the island and whom the (brutally corrupt) police have scapegoated as the source of the local drug trade. Birdboy is not a dealer, however, but an addict, compelled to swallow pills despite the fact that when he does he suffers nightmarish hallucinations which usually end with him being consumed by demons. The setting also features an underworld of rat gangs who inhabit the island’s massive rubbish heap and a spider who lives in a woman’s nose (a weird drug abuse metaphor that, as we learned in the post-movie screening, frightened the only six-year old in attendance). The art style features cute animals with big round heads (Birdboy’s resembles a skull) and is often expressionistic in style, with characters frequently depicted as a tiny presences dwarfed by dark landscapes.

It’s bleak, but the enormous empathy it generates for its lost children makes it almost a feel-good movie. Highly recommended, it’s also surreal enough to join She’s Allergic to Cats and The Greasy Strangler as the 2016 Fantasia Festival’s candidates for best weird movies in what’s turning out to be a memorable year in cinematic strangeness.  Psychonauts has no North American distributor yet, but it does have a deal in place on France, which is encouraging. Stills, the trailer and clips can be found at Psychonauts‘s official website.

On to tomorrow, when a screening of the Shaw Brothers’s mad Holy Flame of the Martial World and the sci-fi porno pastiche In Search of the Ultra Sex are on the menu.

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/22/2016 (MICHAEL REICH & MIKE PINKNEY, PEDRO RIVERO, THE GREASY STRANGLER)

On Friday I had an interview with director Michael Reich and star Michael Pinkney, of She’s Allergic to Cats, the bizarre ode to the struggles of Los Angeles’ outsider creative class, scheduled for 2:00 PM. When I walked out of my late lunch I saw the gentlemen sitting in the hotel lobby with their publicist so I quickly introduced myself, and since they had nobody else scheduled at that time I was able to grab them early and ultimately spend an extra fifteen minutes with them. I’ll put the entire interview up next week, but here are the highlights.

Before I begin I should point out that, although Reich is listed as the writer and director, the pair have been used to working as a co-directing team on music videos before Cats. From their conversation it seems that Pinkney had, if not an equal, at least a very significant contribution to the movie’s overall conception. I start out by ingratiating myself, although I mean my opening sincerely: “I want to ask you guys a favor: please get this movie distribution, because I think people should see it.” They are both thankful, and Reich seems positive about their prospects.

I ask about the influences on the film, starting off with Doggiewogiez! Poochiewoochiez!, L.A. video collective ““‘s remake of The Holy Mountain using heavily manipulated found footage of dogs. “We’re a fan of weird outsider tape culture and ‘Everything is Terrible!’ and stuff like that,” Reich admits. In fact, he came across the film because he unknowingly parked his van (marked “video van”) outside the Everything is Terrible! offices and someone left a courtesy copy on his windshield. Asked what their favorite weird movies were, Reich cites Kill the Moonlight, a 1994 underground film shot in “some Southern California oil town” that “captures the struggle and love of independent film.” Pinkney mentions  (particularly Possession) and  (particularly Altered States) as favorites. They also bring up the excised “Jupiter Ascending” climax to Phase IV, which the studio shelved for being too surreal, as an influence. An unexpected choice is American Werewolf in London, because of the love story angle. But mainly, the feature is an expansion of their work in the music video world.

In introducing the film at the world premiere the previous night, presenter Mitch Davis had said that “‘weird’ is hot right now, but most of the ‘weird’ movies are coming from vanilla personalities… These guys are the real deal.” I ask them if they think weird is hot. Reich talks about their experiences pitching music videos for local L.A. bands and how their ideas were always being rejected for being “too weird.” He says things started to change around the time Tim and Eric became popular, but they still had issues. Pitching a webseries, potential producers told them to make it more mainstream; then, they complained it wasn’t weird enough. “We were so outraged, we’d never been accused of not being weird before,” Pinkney laughs. They do demur when they make films and videos they’re not trying to be weird, they’re just trying to do stuff they like.

I mention that it’s hard to spoil the film because the title itself is a spoiler. “I think that creates some tension because you see these separate elements and you kind of know how their coming Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/22/2016 (MICHAEL REICH & MIKE PINKNEY, PEDRO RIVERO, THE GREASY STRANGLER)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/21/2016 (JOEL POTRYKUS, SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS, PAT TREMBLAY)

Yesterday, I wrote that seemed like the “regularest of regular guys,” an impression that was only confirmed when I met him on the terrace of the Le Nouvel Hotel for a scheduled interview. The filmmaker from Grand Rapids, MI, known for his low-budget character studies of society’s outcasts (Ape and Buzzard, both starring Joshua Bruge) originally mistook me for a blogger named “Creepy Greg.” (I’m not sure who “Creepy Greg” is, or if he really exists, but I’m considering using the handle for my OK Cupid profile). He didn’t have a canned opening statement about his latest movie, the minimalist one-man horror show Alchemist Cookbook, so I suggested he use a tagline “as if  does the Evil Dead” (the two influences he had cited in the previous night’s Q&A) for the film. That launched a conversation about Cookbook‘s influences, and how Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead was the first film he saw that made him believe he could make a movie. “I love Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, but as a kid watching those I never thought that was attainable.” We talk about the difference between inspirations and influences, and Potrykus makes the analogy of a heavy metal guitarist who loves listening to opera: it might inspire him to make music, but he wouldn’t be able to adapt the actual vocal techniques into his own licks. That’s how the director feels about movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark; they inspired him as a child to want to make movies, but it was Jarmusch and Raimi who actually influenced him.

Potrykus is happy making low-budget films in Michigan and shows no interest in “moving up” in the industry.  I pose as a hypothetical producer offering him one million dollars with the stipulation he must spend it making movies, and ask how he will use it: one big movie, or many smaller movies? He starts off saying he’d make ten $100,000 movies, then decides he’ll shoot for one hundred $10,000 movies. (Since his first feature, Ape, was made for $2,500, he even fantasizes about making four hundred movies). “I don’t even know how to spend a million dollars”, he admits. But he does have a thought: “I’d love to put Leonardo di Caprio in a small movie like mine, and just see what would happen… it would be almost an a experimental movie for me, take a big actor and put him in a small, grungy movie.”

Alchemist Cookbook was doing something much different than I had done before,” he responded when asked if this latest film reflected a new direction. “I feel like every filmmaker has a moment when they need to tell a poem instead of a story. That’s what Alchemist Cookbook was for me.” He says his next two scripts are already written and are very different. When asked if future movies would continue to focus on society’s misfits, he answers “It’s unconscious, I never think about writing a movie about an outsider.” He’s simply drawn to characters like A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex DeLarge or Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle.

The Alchemist Cookbook stars Ty Hickson, who is required to be on screen for almost every shot. I ask him how much Hickson improvised for his part, and he answered that they finally came to an understanding when he described the script as like “playing jazz. You Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/21/2016 (JOEL POTRYKUS, SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS, PAT TREMBLAY)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/20/2016 (MOMOTARO, SACRED SAILORS & THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK)

A relatively uneventful Wednesday (which began with me buying a band-aid for my injured finger at the local pharmacy—I still have not located a corkscrew) featured two oddball pictures guaranteed not to play at your local multiplex.

When I saw the description for Momotaro, Sacred Sailors on the Fantasia schedule, I knew I wanted to prioritize it if at all possible. Only a bizarrely dedicated movie fan would consider a Japanese animated propaganda film from 1945 a “must see,” and as I expected, this was the most lightly-attended event of the festival so far—the lower part of the Alumni Hall auditorium was about two-thirds full. The challenge of watching an indie or foreign fantasy film is one thing; a relic from seventy years ago, espousing a political view that no living person on the planet now shares, presented in a visual style that vanished long ago, is not the biggest entertainment draw. It was encouraging to see a couple of hundred curiosity seekers show up to experience visions of the world through the eyes of another time and place. Ironically, Momotaro was never properly screened in its homeland, since Japan had already lost the war before the film was ready to be shown.

Scene from Momotaro, Sacred Sailors (1945)Intended to inspire patriotism in the imperial young, Momataro features anthropomorphic monkeys, bears, rabbits, birds and other creatures, all led by a cherubic human commanding officer (Momataro himself, a legendary Japanese figure whose name translates as “peach boy”). The opening scenes are idyllic and dull, as sailors return to their home village on furlough and are greeted by adoring friends and family. A youngster falls into the river and the entire village demonstrates the value of teamwork by pulling together to rescue them. Later, a village pitches in to build airplane hangars (the elephants sing “sweat is my only joy” while hauling timber). The animal antics provide Disney-style comic relief throughout, and much of this black and white cartoon mimics the feel of an early Mickey Mouse short, although other parts are much more ambitious, and darker (a cloud of dandelion spores evokes paratroopers in flight).

Since cavorting animated animals are no longer a novelty, the early reels are boring to modern sensibilities. The propaganda is actually fairly innocuous, pushing a generic “everyone pulls together and does their part” message of social responsibility. I was wondering if the movie was ever going to mention the actual war and the enemy; fortunately, when it does in the last act, things become a lot more interesting. In shadow-play flashback, a “large-nosed” white man comes to a Pacific island posing as a merchant, but he’s actually the leader of a band of pirates who massacre the islanders. Before dying, Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/20/2016 (MOMOTARO, SACRED SAILORS & THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/19/2016 (THE LURE)

Yesterday, I only had one screening, of a film that’s already been discussed at this site. But, before I get into that bit of redundancy, I want to give you some advice that may seem obvious in retrospect but is still important to keep in mind: when you’re staying in a hotel in a strange city and you buy a bottle of wine (or in this case of locally produced ice cider) to drink for a nightcap, be sure to remember to purchase a corkscrew as well. Otherwise, you might end up accidentally gashing your finger while trying to pry the cork loose with various sharp objects, like I did. (What finally worked was pushing the cork down into the bottle using my Ego e-cigarette battery—except that after I succeeded the battery was also stuck in the bottle! To reiterate: remember to buy a corkscrew!)

Since I have a short report today, I’ll also fill up space by mentioning that, if you attend a Fantasia screening here in Montreal and you do not have pink or blue cotton-candy hair (women) or a lumberjack beard (men), and/or a sleeve of tattoos (either sex), you may feel like something of an outsider. But everyone here is super-polite, and treat us clean-shaven, untattooed freaks with the same dignity and respect as they do normal people.

The Lure screening was not sold out ahead of time, but the theater was again packed. Director Agnieszka Smoczynska had been scheduled to appear, but had to cancel for personal reasons. She supplied a short video introduction to the film instead, which was charmingly filmed with a couple of young girls in the background, jumping up and down and trying to catch the camera’s attention. She didn’t provide much new information on the film, but she did seem thankful for the opportunity.

Still from The Lure (2016)I encourage you all to read (or re-read) Alex Kittle’s review, since most of what I would have to say about The Lure would be redundant. The overall message of this movie is “never date a bisexual singing stripper killer mermaid, it will end in a heart-rending scene.” You’ve never seen anything quite like it. Because Alex synopsized the plot and themes so well, and because I agree with her assessment that this genre-busting future cult favorite has a real shot at making the List, I’ll just add a few scattered bullet point observations:

  • The mermaid tails here are much longer than what we’re used to seeing, maybe twelve feet altogether. It’s in keeping with the movie’s over-the-top feel: it keeps giving you more than you expect.
  • This is a very sexy movie—Ariel would blush.
  • The idea of sex with a mermaid is kind of disgusting, yet strangely alluring.
  • If the mermaids really are biological sisters, then there’s a hint of incest to go along with the bestiality. Still, the film never feels perverted (kinky, yes).
  • Marta Mazurek (“Silver”) was the lead, and she’s very appealing. I was more impressed with Michalina Olszanska (“Golden”), however, primarily because of the intensity of her stare. When she’s feeling malicious, you actually feel afraid looking into those eyes; when she’s aroused, you feel almost as terrified. Both of these actresses appear in the drama I, Olga Hepnarová, also playing at Fantasia (there, Olsanskaand takes the lead).
  • The musical numbers are mostly disco style. The scene staged in the shopping center was the only one that looks like a song-and-dance production number; most of them are smaller scale, like cabaret acts or music videos.
  • Poland has no tradition of musicals that I’m aware of.
  • Whoever did the subtitles took care to make the song lyrics rhyme in English—not an easy job for the translator, but a detail-oriented touch that’s appreciated.
  • I was a bit baffled by the song that featured the family hooked up to bags of glucose.
  • The Lure features the only musical number I can think of that takes place during a gory surgical operation. Mermaids do not require anesthesia.
  • The audience applauded wildly at the big final scene, indicating just how deeply they had come to identify with these alien sisters.

The Lure is highly recommended and had the audience buzzing, and I would be slightly shocked if it did not land a distribution contract soon.

On to tomorrow, when we’ll be watching a vintage Japanese propaganda cartoon and another oddball horror character story.