Tag Archives: Fantasia Festival

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.

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/18/2016 (THE EYES OF MY MOTHER & THE WAILING)

Still from The Eyes of My Mother (2016)My first screening of my second day at Fantasia was The Eyes of My Mother, ‘s black and white horror/art film that made a minor splash at Sundance in the NEXT category. The SGWU Hall was about half full for this one (which still means a couple of hundred folks attended). The title is suggested by the fact that our anti-heroine Francisca’s mother was an eye surgeon in her native Portugal, before immigrating to the U.S. to live on an isolated farm. Mom is an Un Chien Andalou-style homeschooler who slices open cow eyeballs to demonstrate ocular anatomy, setting up Francisca’s future lack of squeamishness about physical mutilation. Francisca is devoted to her mother, while papa, by contrast, is what we euphemistically call “distant.” Knowing only her parents, the girl loses half of her socialization opportunities when mother dies in a gruesome fashion while Francisca is still a tyke. This event sends her already stoic father into a state of near catatonic depression, and sets up Francisca’s lifelong quest for companionship that goes horribly wrong in ways that I won’t spoil here. Although Mother is packed with grisly sequences—a couple of scenes had the jaded horror crowd squirming in their seats—overall it is more of a psychological character study than a horror show. Kika Magalhaes holds down the fort as the adult Francisca, lonely and deranged, and the script makes her as sympathetic as possible; her lack of human empathy is understandable, given the odd, near-feral circumstances of her childhood. Bleak as hell, both in its subject and its visuals, Mother unspools in a non-specific, grayscale, timeless rural void. The soundtrack mixing Portuguese fado with old-timey country death ballads ensures we won’t mistake the film’s style for anything contemporary or accessible.

Those who love Eyes of My Mother are going to defend it as a beautiful nightmare, but commercially it’s a hard sell, and may not get enough distribution to find a following. This is a movie that falls between audiences: it’s too slow and somber for the average horror fan, but too gruesome and disturbing for all but the most adventurous of art-house patrons. For our purposes, it’s not weird; it is, in fact, all too realistic—not a stylistic flaw, but a fact that puts it on the periphery of this site’s circle of interest.

Mother was preceded by the short “Agravoy,” an impressionistic, subjective story of an unkempt stranger who spies on the romantic trysts of two apartment-dwellers through a series of peepholes. The sound design is intense and director Jacob Nizzola has promise, with an eye (and ear) for weirdness. He’s someone to look out for.

Just like at yesterday’s screening of As the Gods Will, I arrived late to the lineup for The Wailing—which wasn’t a pre screening sell-out, but Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/18/2016 (THE EYES OF MY MOTHER & THE WAILING)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, DAY 1: 7/17/2016 (“AS THE GODS WILL” WITH TAKASHI MIIKE Q&A SESSION)

I had 30 tabs of Losartan, an unopened bottle of acid reducer, a handful of melatonin, and three half-full bottles of e-liquid. The only thing that worried me was the e-liquid. Health Canada considers them unapproved nicotine delivery devices, and insists I get my nicotine fix from something with a longer history of safety, like cigarettes.

We flew over bat country at 10,000 feet, so that was not an issue. Poor hairy bastards can’t handle the thin atmosphere at 747 cruising altitude.

To cut the preliminaries short, skipping any mention of Newark’s carnitas tacos, I arrived in Montreal in time to pick up my press credentials with 15 minutes to spare, and had time for a much-needed shower before heading off to the night’s big event, a screening of Fantasia Lifetime Achievement Award winner ‘s As the Gods Will, with the director in attendance. It was the Fest’s first sell-out screening, and they weren’t kidding when they advised badge holders to get there forty-five minutes before the scheduled start. Arriving about forty minutes early, I walked past film fans lined up around the block to get the best seats in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium, which must have seated 500. Finding the end of the badgeholders line, which now curled anarchically well beyond the snaked red velvet ropes, I was slightly nervous that I might not make it in, but when the doors opened a few minutes later the ushers clicked me through and I found an excellent aisle seat on the upper tier.

Miike probably could not have dreamed of a more favorable audience before whom to screen As the Gods Will. The buzz from the seats was incredible before the show began, and Miike got a standing ovation when his name was announced. The mostly-Francophone audience howled with laughter at every gore set piece, spontaneously clapped along to a child’s ditty in the middle of the film (a fact Miike later commented on appreciatively), and applauded at the conclusion of every action sequence. Clearly, the audience came in with certain preconceived black comedy expectations. I’m not certain Miike intended every exploding head to be funny—sometimes, you blow out a teenager’s brains to try to bring a sense of urgency to the hero’s predicament. Still, the energy in the room when almost everyone in a huge audience treats the screening like a party is incredible and infectious. It’s a rare moviegoing experience, one that perhaps is not conducive to critical distance, but which nonetheless makes for a hell of a good time.

still from As the Gods Will (2104)Thankfully, the film was up to the audience’s expectations. It’s fast-moving, well-written, gory, funny in spots, and looks fantastic. The spinning daruma doll who shoots laser beams from his eyeballs, Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, DAY 1: 7/17/2016 (“AS THE GODS WILL” WITH TAKASHI MIIKE Q&A SESSION)