Tag Archives: Fantasia Festival 2017


Before and During:

When I volunteered to cover the  some months ago, I immediately started to worry a bit. It was something new for me, utterly unprecedented in length and scope. It was ambitious, too, as I’ve averaged less than two reviews a month since I was signed up here at 366. “Apprehensive” is how I’d label the sensation that increasingly gripped me as the start approached. Fortunately, my fears were for nothing — and as tiring as the “work” was, it also proved incredibly energizing.

Over the course of my three weeks in Montréal, I kept wonderfully busy and met dozens of interesting and varied individuals. The film-makers, many of them having their debuts, were brimming with energy; the audience, too, was brimming with energy — eager both to “Meow” ((It was only toward the end of the final week that I finally got the history of this bizarre tradition of the audience “meowing” when the lights first go down. A few times was fine; by the time it reached 40+ performances, a bit less-so.)) before a screening and to enjoy their investment of time and money; the other members of the press were eager to get a scoop on the New and Exciting. My long walks to and from the screenings were well worth the worn-out footwear, as each trek to either the Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU or the Salle J.A. DeSève brought the promise of transportation to something on the cusp of transcendent. By necessity not every movie brought an exciting feast for my eyes and ears, but more often than not, they did.

The Good:

All told, I watched 43 feature movies at one theater or another, three screeners on my computer, and four feature-length collections of short films: 50 in total, if my math is correct (and that doesn’t include the one and only movie I walked out of). I’ve already spoken well of Lowlife and Sequence Break, as well as others in the travelogue, but there were also largely unmentioned spectacles that amazed. and ‘s nerve-wracker The Endless was an end-of-Festival highlight ((Capsule review coming soon.)) ; Tommy Swerdlow’s A Thousand Junkies deserves far more than the one sentence I dedicated to it (although it’s probably not quite a 366 kind of movie); and I can claim to have been among the first in the world to see a blemish-free, 4K remastered Suspiria in a packed house teeming with ravenous fans. God bless my Press Badge, as it got me into almost five-hundred dollars’-worth of screenings, nearly all of which would have been worth the outlay. The adjustments, scribbles, and check-marks in the photo show the daily challenge of seeing as many of the right things as possible.

The Bad:

With the kind of tally I reached, there had to be some duffers. I will never for the life of me understand the appeal of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a poorly done, cheesy comedy with vapid characters that adds insult to injury by being unfunny in addition to being un-developed. 68 Kill brought about my greatest clash with the rest of the audience. I’ve put forward my arguments earlier, so I’ll just reiterate that Trent Haaga’s violence-comedy committed the greatest cult movie sin: trying too, too hard to be ludicrous and hilarious with little to show for the effort. And for sheer tedium-sans-payoff, nothing took the cake more than the languidly paced suspense whats-it, Town in a Lake. That I enjoyed a by-the-numbers action-drama like Darkland more than those ostensibly weird and out-there travesties speaks volumes for those films’ ineptitude.

All Told:

The Fantasia Film Festival was a wonderful experience and I am thrilled to have been a part of it. I was able to get in on the ground-floor with a lot of rising talent, all while spreading the gospel of 366 Weird Movies. It was a tiring three weeks that kept me busy eight-plus hours a day — and I can’t wait to go again for Fantasia Festival 2018.


7/26 : Throwback Thursday …I Mean, Wednesday

Still from Eternal Evil (AKA The Blue Man)Tucked far out of the way of anything else at the Fantasia Festival is the “Cinematheque Quebecoise” theater. After forty minutes of searching and using the secret knock to get through the door, I was finally able to get seated for Eternal Evil (AKA The Blue Man). Directed in the mid-’80s by George Mihalka, Eternal Evil tells a dark tale of murder and astral projection. Our hero Paul Sharpe spends a lot of time with his shirt unbuttoned, and wonders why those close to him keep ending up dead. The answer stems from an interview he did with an elderly couple who claimed to achieve immortality by shifting to new bodies when their current vessels had worn out. A cult hit in its native Canada, the ’80s cheesiness was fortunately outweighed by the interesting story and clever premise. Not really something to Certify, though.

Poster for God Tole Me To (1976)That honor might go to ‘s 1976 cop-drama/alien-abduction picture, God Told Me To. A series of mass murders take place in downtown New York City, only connected by one thing: the perpetrators informing a policeman after the fact that they did because “God told [them] to.” Police detective Peter Nicholas is convinced there’s something to their confessions and digs deeper, discovering both an ominous entity at the heart of the matter as well as some strange truth about his own nature. Quite Certifiable, with one of the “Three Weird Things” necessarily being “glowing furnace-room messiah.”

7/27 : “Well, all the movies can’t be good. You’ve got to expect that once in a while.”

I suppose I really shouldn’t complain. It took over two weeks for Fantasia to give me a swing-and-a-miss evening out. I had high hopes for the Filipino Town in a Lake, Jet Leyco’s (ever-so-slightly) bizarre crime drama concerning the murder of one girl and the concurrent disappearance of another. The first hour is a humdrum, if capable, drama surrounding the mystery: reporters rush to the small town as the news “trends”, politicians work hard to take advantage of the tragedy, and, as is so often the case, the police have no real leads. It takes over an hour for something weird to happen—and right on its heels, the movie ends with a “twist”. An out-of-the-blue, confounding, and not terribly inspired “twist”. Though my goal here is to find new movies that are out of the ordinary, I can’t help but think that Town in a Lake would have been better as a straight-up procedural. As it stands, it’s as if got particularly lazy and, in Continue reading 2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: MOVIES & MAYHEM IN MONTREAL, VOL. 3


Gathering in Fantasia’s secret basement lair, I had the opportunity to talk with the director, a few writers, and most of the stars of recently premiered crime drama, Lowlife. Because this was such a large group, I indicate the director, Ryan Prows, with an “RP”, and others as “->”. My apologies to the non-Ryans who participated in the interview: your involvement was just as valuable as his.

366: Hello everybody — thank you all for gathering here today! I wasn’t originally slated to come and interview you fine people, but I had a gap in my schedule after I chatted with the director of Kodoku Meatball Machine

Ryan Prows
“Lowlife” director Ryan Prows

RP: Aw, shit. Was it good?

366: …Well, it certainly does what it does. [Laughter]. Whether it’s good, I suppose that depends what you’re looking for. So if you’re looking for a funny variant of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, then maybe it’s your kind of thing. [Laughter]. So, in the interim I was able to whip these questions together kind of quickly, so hopefully this will work out all right. Now, you mentioned after the screening one of the things that influenced you was Wild at Heart.

RP: Bobby Peru! Actually, we were just talking about it. Teddy’s character is totally, like, his cousin or something.

366: Definitely one of the great scumbags of… uh…

RP: “Scumbag Cinema”?

366: I wanted to ask you—you’re probably asked a lot, “Do you feel you’re like ‘this director’ or ‘that director'”—but what filmmaker would you like to be compared to?

RP: Like I said yesterday, Cassavetes meets . So hopefully there’s some kind of sensitivity with the character work, so people care about the actors, like there’s an actors piece, but there’s also RoboCop shooting between the legs…

366: So there’s a little bit of splatter-gore-sci/fi-hardcore-Western.

RP: There we go. Nailed it!

->With heart.

RP: Now with Verhoeven, it’s like the same thing. He’s so smart and does his thing, perhaps the best satirist in cinema history. Cassavetes, same thing. He made these important movies, but they’re all wild as fuck. He left his own stamp on each thing. So those are the film-makers that excite me, and I think the goal of trying to make this movie was so—I remember talking about this, when we were flying out here—from the beginning of the process to now, it was… absurd. We were sitting here a few minutes ago being interviewed and Mil Mascaras walked in to be interviewed—and we thought, “What world are we fucking living in?” We’re talking about Lowlife and this luchador comes in being interviewed next to us.

366: Yes, it seems you’ve come a nice long way there, and speaking Continue reading KICKING BACK WITH A BUNCH OF LOWLIFES (2017)


Must See


FEATURING: Nicki Micheaux, Mark Burnham, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Santana Dempsey, Shaye Ogbonna, Jon Oswald

Lowlife (2017) PosterPLOT: Unhinged restaurant owner Teddy Haynes runs a people-processing facility below his fish taco building, harvesting organs of undocumented immigrants and pimping out underage women. His enforcer, the luchador El Monstruo, is worried about the well-being of his pregnant wife Kaylee, while Kaylee’s biological mother suspects Teddy’s offer of a kidney for her ailing husband is too good to be true. Joining the madness is ex-con Randy, and soon this gang of oppressed underlings join forces to take Teddy to task.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As you can read above, the plot is a mouthful—and that’s only covering its barest bones, so as to maintain coherency. Pitch-perfect editing leaves the viewer with countless narrative teases and denials. While we’re left wondering what’s going on plot-wise, Ryan Prows bombards us with Jacobean violence interspersed with hilarious dialogue and sight gags. Topping it all off, when El Monstruo’s rage becomes untenable, the sound crashes, and someone’s probably dead.

COMMENTS: Few of the movies at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival were primed with so much hype from the festival organizers. Out of the blue, they received Lowlife through their general Inbox, unsolicited and unexpected. From nothing, Ryan Prows’ debut feature became the must-see event of Fantasia. A heavy burden, for sure—with three weeks of movies to compete against, including the new space epic, Marc Meyers’ much lauded Dahmer biopic, and (to a lesser extent), the latest Jojo movie with its ravenous fans—but Lowlife comes up trumps.  Nothing is wasted in this movie; and more importantly, it would be a welcome addition to the 366 canon.

The story is told through the perspectives of each main character: the simple but passionate luchador el Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate); a bad-guy straight out of Dante’s “Vice City Infernus,” Teddy (Mark Burnham);  a hard-working, junk-hoarding motel owner, Crystal (Nicki Michaux); and a pair of friends—African American accountant Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) and his long-time pal, now with Swastika tattoo, Randy (Jon Oswald). Each of their Venn-diagram stories interact on the others’ heels, slowly moving into place, synchronizing as all the characters come together for the final action. This neat narrative stunt was pulled off by deft editing, and, to paraphrase the director, “[writing the $#!&] out of that story.”

During the disorienting narrative flow are the touches that further make Lowlife the visceral-but-surreal experience it is. When Crystal’s husband finds out the source of the kidneys he’ll be receiving, a combination of a flippant note, a heart-felt phone message, and visual exclamation point bring violence, tragedy, and humor into one tight scene, pulling the viewer’s emotions in all three directions. Then there’s the scene where Teddy, squaring off against some troublesome yahoos, seems licked when his six-shooter runs out of bullets. Heading back to his Italian-opera blaring sports car, he pops his pregnant hostage in the trunk, grabbing in her place the AR-15 that happens to be lying around in the back seat. And that’s not even mentioning the tragicomedy of el Monstruo and the comic tragedy of Hip-Hop Wigger Randy: two men marked for life from the neck up.

Lowlife plays like elements of movies many of us have seen before, but is a force unto itself. Imagine Inherent Vice on cocaine instead of marijuana; or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels as Grand Guignol; or maybe the best comparison I can think of, Pulp Fiction with cajones. Like a spastic playing with a rubber-band, Lowlife plays with the viewer, pulling first toward shock with heartless violence, then laughter with gut-busting non sequitur (yup), then sadness with beastly tragedy. This gang of monsters, fiends, thugs, and criminals have a wacky adventure in a land of poverty, cruelty, and hilarity.


“The legacy of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ looms the largest over ‘Lowlife,’ with its flair for unexpected, quick violence, and interweaving vignettes. But there is also a touch of David Lynch in the film’s unflinching exposure of America’s seedy underbelly.”–Jamie Righetti, Indiewire (Fantasia screening)


7/19 & 7/20 : Preparing for another Long Weekend

Although it may come back to haunt me, I did not brave the swarms of fan-boys and girls that flocked to ‘s new space epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Wednesday evening. I did, however, stay out late to catch Ufuk Genç’s German-language martial-arts movie, Plan B. It was truly “a mix of action und comedy”, but unlike Rainier Wolfcastle’s mediocre McBain: Let’s Get Silly!Plan B has no shortage of hilarity (and, indeed, action). A trio of wannabe kung fu movie stars are trapped doing dirty work for a gang of vicious criminals and have constant run-ins with another gang of vicious criminals. Police detective Robert Kopp looms in the background wondering what these idiots could possibly be up to.

Still from Free and Easy (2017)On Thursday night, just one feature—a weird one. Geng Jun’s Free and Easy plays like it was shot from a screenplay whipped up by when he was doing his post-college backpacking trip around Northeast China. (Note: there is no record of Beckett back-packing around Northeast China). In a ghost town of some dozen people, around half of the inhabitants seem to be con-men; two bored policemen encounter victims of knock-out soap (literally). Free and Easy had a fair number of laughs, but as the screen darkened, the normally clapping crowd was silent, not quite knowing what to do: there was one clap, then silence during the incongruous Mandarin rap song that played over the credits.

7/21 : Triple Feature; All Hail “NongShim”

Technically it’s 7/22: just returned from the final film of a triple feature this evening, and I feel like my brain should be soaked in a cool bucket of ice. Things started around 7 o’clock with the Cambodian jailhouse action extravaganza Jailbreak. Very martial arts, not very weird, but those who like well choreographed (and non-hyper-edited) combat should check it out.

On the heels of this violence was some more violence—of less quantity, but far more grisly. Lowlife is looking to be the high point of the Festival, and I’ll remark more on it later once I’ve had a chance to shut down. Suffice it to say, I think America has a new go-to director for unsettling violence fused with smart script-writing and quirky wit. Lowlife also gives us one of the nastiest bad guys to come out on film in a long while.

Rounding out the evening was the hyper-bizarre, hyper-violent, and ultimately tender movie, Kudoku Meatball Machine. This film introduced me to the creativity of , whom I will have the pleasure of interviewing in under ten hours. I’ll provide details on the last two later this weekend. Now, though, I’m signing off and passing out.

7/22 : Laid-back Conversations

On Saturday-proper, I had intended to watch three movies: Dead Continue reading 2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: MOVIES & MAYHEM IN MONTREAL, VOL. 2