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Montréal 2023

I have now been told by a Canadian filmmaker that I look like a cartoon character. (But in a good way.)

8/4: My Animal

There’s a lot going on in Jacqueline Castel’s story about Heather, a fairly awkward, fairly out-of-place teenager in a small town where there’s little to do but play hockey at the local rink and get hammered at the local dive. Damaged families, coming of age, and the challenges of being queer are all explored in My Animal, as well as the unique difficulties of lycanthropy. While Bobbie Salvör Menuez capably carries much of the dramatic weight, and is a pleasure, as always, the real star is the fusion of cinematography and editing. The well-crafted visuals shift between the beautiful, the unworldly, and the frightening as days and months go by leading up to a striking “Blood Moon” when all the emotional whirlwinds eddying around Heather converge. She breaks curfew, seeks out the girl she loves, and has a nasty encounter with the local scumbag baseballer.

Mad Cats

With his silly, violent, cat-filled first feature, Reiki Tsuno plants a big ol’ kiss on Fantasia. The story of yet another deadbeat, Mad Cats chronicles an epic-in-miniature concerning Taka and his twin quests to retrieve the legendary catnip of Ancient Egypt and to save his brother, captured in the claws of a mysterious group of very feline femmes fatale. With plenty of firepower and a limited budget, Reiki puts together a laid-back slacker buddy comedy, with Taka and a homeless man ending up in over their heads. There’s a very “Japanese movie” moment with the pair chatting over lunch after being saved from a cat woman assassin by the unlikely presence of a master combatant; after dispatching the feline foe, the savior gratefully knocks back a full pint of milk. Somewhat-recommended silliness that works more because of the easy chemistry between the three leads than for the premise.

8/5: International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase 2023

Rift (dir. Farhad Bakhtiarikish)—Welcome to the age of the age of iEscape, Rupert Holmes’ near-future vision of a young man and his avatar who has fallen in love with the avatar of an online stranger. This world is full-tilt VR, and looks very bright grey (this feature is in color, but the word “muted” only somewhat describes its tonality). I would apologize for spoiling this meditative, though thankfully brief, exploration of modern+ tech, but while it is competently made, there is no point in making it.

Ten With a Flag (dir. Vasco Alexandre)—This locked in the evening’s theme of “melodramatic speculative dystopian short film showcase,” but don’t let that gripe’s timing fool you: this was one of the two best films in the line-up. Two 6-rated citizens of near-future Britain discover that their impending child is rated a whopping 10… with a “flag.” Indirectly winning this genealogical lottery upgrades the two middling types to a respectable 8, with all the luxurious trappings allowed at that level. That “flag,” however, worries the father to no end, and after his first taste of super-8-living, he informs the authorities he wants to pursue “the option.” This society technically allows choice in this matter, but the ramifications are unexpected.

A Mind Cannot Touch (dir. Geoffrey Prather)—Sure can’t. I’m feeling a bit heartless at this point. Computer-whiz momma  devises an AI hologrammatic projection rig to return her deceased daughter to her life, with spiffy future gear and programming creating a sentient, light-based facsimile. Keyword there is “sentient,” unfortunately, as the optical girl develops suspicions about her circumstances and demands explanations which the grief-stricken mother cannot provide. Touching for some (perhaps many), but at this point I was growing wary of this screening.

For People in Trouble (dir. Alex Lawther)—Lawther’s super-mumblecore outing (produced by—drum roll please!— and Matt Damon) was nominally interesting, but only barely touched on future doings. Two young somethings meet at a party and bond, while veeeeerrry far in the background the global environment and society are collapsing. “The Feels” are cranked up to eleven while any sense of doom (much less “science fiction”) is ground underfoot by the onscreen melodrama. This is a pity, if only because the two leads seem to have a rapport worth exploring in some project that doesn’t have its head so far up its… backside.

Final Forever (dir. Tess Quatri)—Do you like your sci fi slow? Do you like your comedy intermittent and bittersweet? Do you wonder how in Heaven’s name this (wait for it…) melodramatic exploration of two octogenarian lesbian eccentrics ended up on a science fiction showcase? My answers are: Occasionally (2001: A Space Odyssey paid off), Very Rarely, and, for the final question, Yes! I had more patience for this than some, however, as it was at this point I suspected the viewing buddy to my right was drifting to sleep.

Autopilot (dir. Jennifer Zhang)—Clap your hands, ring the bell, and thank the stars: finally, a science fiction film. We know this because it takes place in a spaceship exploring deep reaches of the cosmos. Plucky young explorer Diana is on a long mission, time-years and light-years from earth. To help take the edge off her isolation, she has a virtual companion named “Ovid”, who provides relaxing conversation at the start and finish of her long daily shifts at the helm. Presumably he only appears at her command, but one night she awakens in her bunk to find him awkwardly looming over her. A smart exploration of synthetic consciousness, with well measured doses of tension and humor, Autopilot single-handedly saved the showcase.

My Protector (dir. Diana Mills Smith)—Closing out the (general) inaction, this dystopian (but sufficiently science-fiction-y) vision of a future world abandoned by the elites serendipitously focused on two things I always enjoy finding in stories: a fearless young girl, and her faithful canine companion. Earth is in rough shape, and the cyborgs left behind by the now-absent plutocrats have started to hunt down the remaining humans instead of cleaning up the planet. My Protector is not too serious, and a bit predictable, but it hits all the right notes with girl and dog, ending in a swell little fight and a good deal of righteous electricity.

Molli and Max in the Future

Finally a movie that truly gets it: when referring from a human’s perspective to objects or circumstance in space, you use the prefix “space” as often as possible to make things clear: “space traffic,” “space witch,” all of it; take a note, other filmmakers, that this is how you establish the setting.

If, of course, you are a comedy. And Michael Lukk Litwak’s “science-fiction” film Molli and Max in the Future is very much a comedy. A romantic comedy! Which makes it all the more surprising that I’d slap a “Recommended” tag here. Most films focused on, or even oftentimes incidentally pertaining to, a romance prompt deep, deep skepticism on my part. But this is a rare exception. Max and Molli are two inhabitants of various (space) areas in the future who accidentally crash into one another (literally) at the start and then have intersecting lives throughout until the inevitable When Harry Met Sally finish. Relationships, ambition, life, losing, winning, cults, and the space- variant of all of those get some screen time, but never with the story feeling crowded or cluttered.

RecommendedHere it is: that green button-looking thing I’ve been scrounging around for.

“Psychotronic Shorts”

A helluva lot went on in this chain of madness, so I will merely bring your attention to a few highlights. Didier Charette’s IF wins overall, hands down, being the most creative, and certainly the most amusing, short, all while being heartfelt, clever, and silly. The kind of thing you can watch with a niece or nephew. (Or, if you are personally afflicted, your own child.) JO is an odd-looking monster, now at a therapy session but not so long ago the very best friend of a boy named Ryan. After a recent space adventure, JO has to break the news to his pal that they must part ways, because Ryan has proven himself “capable of anything!” A real chuckle-inducing adventure and no, I’m not crying, you shut up.

The crown for weirdest short goes to Marianne Lavergne’s Toothache. Despite the considerable competition in this anthology, her two-minute-long claymation is the stuff of nightmares intersecting with “sexy,” horrible nightmares. And it’s really funny, too. A fellow laments the spontaneous and thorough loss of his teeth as he brushes them, but is reassured by his girlfriend. Through a series of tongue-y genital manipulations, she grows him some new teeth from her clitoris and… it gets somewhat more disturbing from there. The short felt like such a bold interrobang to the face that I kind of hoped it was the final punch for the lineup.

But that final punch was delivered by Red Tiles from Philippe Bourret. There isn’t a nosebleed trigger warning large enough for this unsettling outing that, in keeping with a broader trend in the “Psychotronic” showcase, also manages to have something of a “you go girl!” heart of gold to it. Unnamed young woman is suffering writer’s block and a bloody nose. Increasingly pleased with the crimson stripe growing down her face, she encourages the affliction, ultimately dancing in the nude on smeared red tiles. Somehow, Bourret even manages a touching little punchline at the conclusion. Cute, and nasty; really, really nasty. But cute.

Suitable Flesh

Screened appropriately late at night, and to a packed house, Suitable Flesh is probably the most Stuart-Gordon-y film I’ve seen that was not actually from Gordon. Joe Lynch guides Heather Graham (in a delightful horror-sexy turn) through a modern adaptation of Lovecraft‘s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” All the elements are here for not so much a “B-movie,” but a B+ Movie. Intergender body swaps, bursts of bloody violence, Eldritch terror, and plenty of late-’80s-style soft-(soft-)core sexy sexies, all recreate that Re-Animator feel, though this time through dark magic and questionable psychiatry. Barbara Crampton even lends a hand, so I’d reckon the only thing missing was Jeffrey Combs as a visiting Jeffrey Combs character.

Eight Eyes

An esteemed media colleague had nothing good to say about this, and his reaction flirted with nigh-outright condemnation over a 16mm-specific visual choice made by the director Austin Jennings (hint: “sprocket”). Walking into Eight Eyes with such low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised, finding the outing to be one of the more interesting variations of the “Dumb Americans Visiting Exotic Old World Foreign Land.” Blonde wife person and mustached husband are in Serbia on a belated honeymoon and crash a wedding for, erm, we’ll say “diverse culturation” reasons. There they meet affable local beardo who goes by the moniker Saint Peter. He shows the two tourists various out-of-the-way sights (and sites), many of which are recorded on mustache’s 16mm camera. Before you can say, “watch out for the creepy kidnapping circumstances!”, the pair of Yankees disappear (one before the other, for reasons). All the while, blonde wife person is hearing voices from someone. Ultimately, the meaning of the title is explained, by which time my colleague “couldn’t [have] cared less.” But if you like Hostel, this is somewhat better.

Miss Shampoo

Triad gangster violence meets manic pixie dream girl in Miss Shampoo by Giddens Ko. Tai is knifed quite a bit after a run-in with some Thai assassins pursuing his boss. He retreats into a nearby hair salon and hides in the back whilst Fen, a stylist-in-training, acts as calmly as possible. This kicks off the cutesy romance that dominates the film, a tone occasionally interrupted by the hyper-violence of gang life (Tai is promoted, his boss having snuffed it). Tai and Fen are just adorable, as is the relationship Tai’s “brothers” have with her, showering her with gifts and obliging every member of the gang to use her services. Lurking in the background of this romp is a malefactor seeking to crush Tai, as well as Fen’s parents (and little brother) who want to make sure their daughter will be safe. Another highly recommended romantic-violence-comedy, this time from Taiwan. (As a closing aside, this is one of the reasons I hope deeply for their independence: straightened mainland government goons would never allow this chortlesome combination of saucy and slicy.)


Oh Nathan, look what you’ve gone and done: crashed down a steep mountainside, crushing a cyclist along the way. This cyclist, Daniel, greets Nathan upon the latter’s awakening. How are they alive? What are they doing here? And what’s behind that ominous door that’s appeared on the roadway? Writer/director explores the mythic Christian Hell in his second feature, meditating on both murderous and suicidal mental illness, the tedium of eternity, and the general despair of both the afterlife and this one.

Nathan’s story drives the narrative while also framing two vignettes. The first features Nina, an impressively creepy little girl with a shy friend she’s named “Tony the Monster.” A double homicide allows young Nina to be princess of the house, and able to do what she pleases. A third murder is required, however, when Tony gets hungry. The second story is more quotidian, focusing on a career-focused mother badly handling her suicidal daughter. Desperation ensues. Indeed, desperation is a running theme in Quarxx’s existentialist horror film, but though the atmosphere gets heavy at times, an undercurrent of wry humor (and Nathan’s inherent affability and reasonableness) keeps the viewers’ hopes ticking over until the full ramifications of “eternity” and “damnation” are laid bare.

8/7: It Lives Inside

I’m guessing the audience at SXSW is more easily entertained than I am. They gave Bishal Dutta’s tedious horror drama the “Midnighters” audience award, while I on the other hand very nearly walked out at the halfway point. Aside from the (welcome) cultural spin It Lives Inside provides (it’s a Hindi-American story focusing on ancient Indian folklore), most of the time it plays like a run-of-the-mill, PG-13 jumpscare-a-thon. Everything is done well enough, and the final third was compelling, but I was plagued throughout with the knowledge that this was small beer compared to a number of marvelous horror films I’ve seen made on the subcontinent. I hope that now Dutta has the industry credit from this film’s successful festival run, he may make the effort to actually craft something interesting.


I have only two caveat-free compliments for Robert Cuffley’s latest film: the creepily friendly German architect turned out to be something I did not expect, and “Henry” deserves some kind of sidekick award for being so charismatic. There’s also a novel approach here, I suppose, in that this haunted house story takes place in a super-modern home: automated this, that, and everything, which protagonist Madeleine must learn to interact with if she hopes to survive the unlikely forces conspiring against her. Perhaps the weakest film I’ve seen this festival, but still hovering above my “good enough” floor.

8/8: Circo Animato 2023

The Story of Chaos (dir. Yu Qing Quek)— Singapore kicks off the action with a charming little recounting of the story of… you guessed it, the mythological form of “Chaos.” (Shaped, in this tale, something like a chubby bear lacking a head, or sometimes like a tasty-looking dumpling.) The claymation colors are vibrant, and formed in a kind of fresco, or bas relief, format. The kid spinning the narrative interrupts the “facts” of the tale regularly, much to the patient annoyance of his teacher. All told, he feels that Chaos got a raw deal, and in particular that his human guests Shu and Hu should not have carved seven holes in it in the well-intentioned hope of making Chaos more human. Through this enthusiastic re-telling, it is made clear, however, that Chaos can never truly die.

Meet Again (dir. Kang Apsol, Lee Yoorim)—Present and past intersect at a nighttime festival. This South Korean animation begins with a lonely young teenager: an opening montage suggesting isolation from friends and her mother. Traveling through the supernatural night life after a long running away from home, she discovers, I think, her mother in younger days. This is a well animated, dialogue-free (always bonus points) story about reconciliation that manages to be moving without being saccharine (also bonus points).

Hermit Island (dir. Gábor Mariai)—I want more. Hungary, I don’t know what you’re up to when it comes to bringing wonderful animators to the world, but please keep it up. Gábor Mariai’s fantasy adventure—fearless young Cassi is returning home with an invaluable tool to fight an encroaching evil—shifts from psychedelic to silly, and from philosophical to thrilling, with an almost sickening ease. On an island of hermits (you read that correctly) there are strange plants, fantastical creatures, spectresome spirits, and a bitchin’ subterranean hermit rave; and that’s before things get weird. So put on your beard and high-top sneakers and rock out. Mariai is an animator to keep a keen eye on.

The Typhoon Day (dir. Hu Yiyi)—An eye-catching combination of animation and social commentary (from China, of all places). In figure style reminiscent of , or even at times Ted McKeever, Hu Yiyi harnesses the medium to explore the dangers of gossip on passersby. A newspaper editor endures a spout of shouting through the phone. The syntax collects in a pile on his desk. Suspicion manifests in the form of a growing wind which nearly strips a pedestrian; and a hapless photographer gets the scoop, twice, as a “saved by my dog!” puff-piece snowballs into something much more destructive.

6mm Wave (dir. Jeong Seungho)—Pretty, breezy, forgettable. A recurring symbol of a loose red thread (?) traveling across the screen is what stands out the most in this camcorder-nostalgic little ‘toon from South Korea. Mother and daughter? A two-mother couple? Now looking back on the past? It was unclear, and ultimately doesn’t really matter. I had a camera much like the one featured in this contemplation on actual and recorded memory, so my attention lingered longer than I expected.

Perfect City: The Bravest Kid (dir. Zhou Shengwei)—Paper animation, creepy blades, a child in peril. This neat-o stop-motion cartoon from China opens on a barren, rolling field of shredded paper, from which emerges a small, slightly tattered person pursued by an X-Acto knife end. The construction is impressive, with a fluidity of motion despite the crinkly two-dimensionality of the source material. (In particular, the “fancy” napkins as bedding were a lovely touch.) A lot of nightmare stuff goes on, and I was nearly left with the impression there was more to come. Still, I know that this method is debilitatingly time consuming, so I was pleased enough to witness the haunting atmosphere as our hero, the bravest kid, is pursued by various metallic menaces.

Shape of Wind (dir. Lee Sung-gang)—Judging from this impressionist-style animation, the shape of wind is in the form of a damn little ingrate. (Apologies to Lee Sung-gang.) This short from South Korea looked both novel and traditional at the same time, with a delightful rendering of a strenuous pacing through a wind storm achieved through flowing daubs of blues and whites. However, I cannot (even now, hours later) get over how much of a little punk the main character was throughout his quest to shoot a wolf which spends much of its screen time saving the damn kid.

Record. Play. Stop. (dir. Neeraj Bhattacharjee)—I mean no disrespect when I say that this appeared to be inspired by the original iTunes Visualizer, as I spent considerable time back in the day watching its semi-randomized oscillations. Mind you, this philosophically-minded item from India has a lot more going on: spacecraft, planets, strange flora, and a driving, building score that brought to mind this album (from Japan). Something I’d want to re-watch while leaning in close to the screen and wearing headphones.

Jelly (dir. Robin Budd)—The Canadian animator of children’s cartoons shows his roots with squidges, squelches, whirly-runs, and a dark-but-playful aesthetic as he chronicles a wild night for painter woman at “the Happy Mannequin” factory. She yearns for freedom of expression, a sentiment personified (…blob-onified?) by a splat of goo that follows her home from work in the evening. They frolic in her grotto, frolic across the nighttime city, until they frolic right into the Happy Mannequin factory. After a show-down with evil boss woman, things look up.

Nezumikozo Jirokichi (dir. Rintaro)—Jazzy Noir, with a bouncy style I would love to see more of. Jirokichi “the Rat” is an Edo-era Robin Hood, with a skill and insouciance that infuriates fellow criminals and authorities alike. Famous anime director Rintaro and a crack squad of creatives have whipped up a charming romp, inspired by a surviving script from early Japanese writer/director Sadao Yamanaka, who directed dozens of films, only three of which remain. A splendid imagining of an imagining of what might have been.

As Long As We Both Shall Live

If you’re still with me at this point, let me know and I’ll buy you a drink sometime. (Not you, Greg.) The screening for this period romantic-drama—with magical clans, cocooned evil wizards, and a state backed Paranormal Corp—went gangbusters. I even found my jaded self cracking smiles regularly during the “awkwardly cutesy” moments between leonine twink-hunk Kiyoka, as his brusque shell melts away, and eye-poppingly obeisant Miyo, as she learns to value herself after years of emotional abuse. And, of course, there are the supernatural elements. Clans have fought spirits for untold centuries, and Ayuko Tsukahara’s story (adapted from the manga “My Happy Marriage) begins in a late19th-century milieu of Japanese and European sartorial fusion, when it is believed that the demons have been defeated. They may well have, but there is a conspiracy afoot: deep conspiracy. Often enough, that takes the back seat to the domestic (and about-the-town) adorableness of the film’s two impossibly attractive leads. A fun two hours, with everyone on screen very easy on the eyes.

Fatang (MAYHEM!)

You want violence instead? I got your violence right here. Smashed glass by the fistful, at least half a dozen varieties of hand weapons (improvised and otherwise), a few big gun moments, and even a swell, desperate gambit when a character uses a jagged bone broken through his forearm as a close-quarters blade. Director Xavier Gens is at his best during the fight scenes, which pack a wallop and can be readily followed by the viewer. (No shaky cam nonsense for these ballets of brutality.) The story, yes… erm, Sam is on the run, having set up shop in Thailand for some years after being released on parole. There are the requisite motions and elements (Sam adopts a peaceful life, albeit doing some “mixed martial arts” in evenings to boost his day-job earnings), and the revenge is for realz. Kind of pointless in retrospect, but consistently entertaining.

New Life

John Rosman wrote and directed one of the more unsettling films at Fantasia this year, so the only mindless quip I’ll put forward is, I wish he’d used the early “Depeche Mode” hit instead of the overused Dylan track he opted for instead. That non-criticism out of the way, I assure you that New Life is, if you’re at all concerned about disease, a troubling little horror thriller. Jessica Murdock is on the run, hoping to slip over the border into Canada before a nebulous hammer falls upon her. That hammer is Elsa Gray, a veteran para-governmental “fixer” with a long and successful history in solving this kind of problem. The bleak northern winter is beautifully on display, and the ancillary characters (often lending a hand to the hunted heroine) are all written and performed admirably. Its tight 85-minutes is indicative of considerable story-craft—apt flashes-back and with no scene wasted, New Life is a  highlight of the festival.

We Are Zombies

François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell are a trio of enfants terribles, it seems, and this movie is silly, fairly funny, and filled with an indefinable cringiness. Zombies walk amongst us, but are more a nuisance than a problem. They are largely sentient, and are decent facsimiles of their living selves (depending upon how they passed on; one fellow strangled to death does exhibit a bit of brain damage). A sibling duo and a buddy collect “living impaired” people from grieving and annoyed family survivors, illegally nabbing them before the “Coleman group” takes them to an official facility. But there’s conspiracy, and gore, and quips, and that cringe; to summarize, by the end of the film I felt a little awkward at how badly the zom—er, “living impaired”—entities were treated. Perhaps slightly too much kicking downward, comedically, but not a bad way to burn eighty minutes.

Old Boy (4K Re-Release)

Finished my Fantasia with this old school film, projected in glorious, restored 4K. I’d been passively avoiding this for a few years now, and watching it for the first time, amongst a raucous crowd, was a marvelous experience. Park Chan-Wook sets up a a helluva punchline with this one.

A special “thank you” to those of you who have stayed with me these forty-three-hundred words. I feel like we’ve shared a moment here. A long, rambling moment.


  1. Thank you so much for the great words on my short film, Red Tiles. It was an honor (and surprise) to be selected at this year’s Fantasia fest.

  2. You are welcome! The dozen-or-so films in that showcase were stiff competition in their various ways, but “Red Tiles” had a goofy heart joyfully pumping beneath its sanguinous veneer.

    While I am not sure if the phrasing, “It was a pleasure to watch” is quite accurate, I can tell you honestly that I am very pleased to have seen it.

    Best of luck to you with future projects; I hope our paths cross again.

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