Friday, August 03, 2012

Fantasia 2012: Week Two Wrap-Up by Matthew Saliba

Fantasia 2012 - Week Two Wrap-Up by Matthew Saliba

The second week of the Fantasia International Film Festival is traditionally the one where the festival suffers the aftershock of having blown its wad early on during its first week. That usually means that the expectations of the audience are set so ridiculously high that we are inevitably disappointed by the output of the fest come week two. It also doesn't help that week two is traditionally when Fantasia programs its more "experimental" and/or less-buzzed about films resulting in audiences sometimes being taken aback by the sudden shift in direction of the festival.

However, as I mentioned in my last report, this is shaping up to be one of the best years for Fantasia yet and I can happily confirm that I still feel the same way. With the exception of a few more duds than there were last week, this second week of Fantasia has been just as strong, if not, stronger than the last one!

Many of the films I saw this week will probably end up on my "Top 10 of 2012" list come the end of the year. Lots of innovative stuff and lots more controversial works as well. 12 seems to be my magic number as once again that was how many films I managed to catch for my second time out.

So without any further Apu, here's a list of what I saw and what I thought about them. (Note: All of Matthew's ratings are based on a four star rating system.)

THE MECHANICAL BRIDE (2012) – directed by Allison de Fren – USA / Japan / Germany
Anytime there's a new fetish-themed film, be it narrative or documentary, you can bet your bottom dollar, yours truly will be in attendance. It's almost becoming something of a yearly tradition where Fantasia screens something with a kink bent and 2012 was no exception.

THE MECHANICAL BRIDE explores a relatively obscure fetish that is predominantly sexualized by men in which rubber dolls are favored as sexual and/or platonic companions over their more organic counterparts. Given that the men who engage in such practices are often very reluctant to come forward and discuss their interests, it's quite an amazing feat that director de Fren was able to get these guys to open up. On that level, THE MECHANICAL BRIDE works as her subjects are almost always fascinating.

It also works on an historical one too as the film travels to Japan and Germany to give the audience a better sense of context on where this fetish developed and for that matter is continuing to evolve to this very day. I particularly found it very interesting that the very first rubber dolls were created by the Nazis of all people as a means to keep the troops "motivated" and to prevent them from contracting STDs from prostitutes and the like. What I found quite ironic is that these rubber dolls were made in the image of some rather androgynous female Olympic athletes who were representing Germany at the time.

I guess my main critique of the piece is that other than satisfying our inner voyeur and providing a few odd historical tidbits, THE MECHANICAL BRIDE doesn't really offer any new insights into how such a fetish might incubate itself into any given individual. And therein lies my overall critique of these kinds of documentaries. Ironically enough, back in the day I would often lament the lack of films and television programs devoted to the subject but now that they're being made by the dozen and more or less saying the same thing that's been regurgitated time and again, I find myself wondering whether there's even a point to these productions anymore.

However, all that being said, it's a pretty interesting film that's certainly worth a look if you've never watched an episode of KINK before. Rating: **1/2

TOAD ROAD (2012) – directed by Jason Banker – USA
I'm not entirely sure where I stand on TOAD ROAD.

On one hand, it's a brilliant film that majestically combines the aesthetics of Gus Van Sant, Larry Clark and David Lynch into an indie art-house fan's wet dream and one of the best films you'll see all year.

On the other hand, if the Q&A with director Banker is to be believed, it's a horrific real-life exploitation film that channels the moral irresponsibility of filmmakers like Ruggero Deodato circa CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

According to Banker, virtually everything in the film was unscripted and all the people in the film, teens mind you, were non-actors performing very real things, including a copious amount of drug use and in one particularly nasty sequence getting punched in the face by a group of people at a fair.

So therein lies my dilemma. Do I follow the same path I did with the aforementioned cannibal classic and forget the real-life tragedies that happened on set and acknowledge the film for what it is, an unadulterated masterpiece, or does the fact that what I watched on screen was basically a series of happy accidents made at the expense of innocent youths ultimately deter me from appreciating this so-called work of art?

I guess in the end, I must concede that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is the worse offender as the animals that were butchered in that picture had no choice in the matter, whereas the "actors" who answered filmmaker Banker's ad on MySpace (!) clearly knew what they were getting into and could theoretically leave whenever they wanted to.

TOAD ROAD is one of the most unnerving experiences I've ever had at the Fantasia International Film Festival and will likely haunt me for years to come and I guess there's something to be said about that. I do, however, feel like Jason Banker for whatever his artistic pretenses may have been, is an incredibly irresponsible filmmaker who very much disappointed me with his film. Being a filmmaker myself, I can tell you that any kind of artistic achievement requires a lot of hard work, planning and thought. By casually remarking that what he had shot was virtually the process of chance dismisses the credibility of his cast, crew and especially himself as an artist.

So I suppose my main beef with this film lies in the realm of artistic credibility and Banker's lack thereof. I almost wish I hadn't stayed for the Q&A because had I not, I would've rated this film a full four stars and placed it very high on my "Top 10 of 2012." As it stands now, I'm afraid it gets my first "Zero Stars" rating of the festival. Rating: Zero stars.

A NIGHT OF NIGHTMARES (2012) – directed by Buddy Giovinazzo – USA
I was introduced to the work of Buddy Giovinazzo last year via his segment, I LOVE YOU in the anthology horror film, THE THEATRE BIZARRE.  It was my favorite short film of the bunch and I instantly became a fan of his minimalist, naturalistic approach to filmmaking. So when it was announced that he was making his first full-on horror picture, I was pretty pumped to see it.

On the whole, I would say he delivered the goods. He gets two great performances out of his leads. He creates a genuine sense of tension vis a vis an impeccable sound design, some creepy lighting and a very claustrophobic set (an isolated cabin in the woods). There's also a wonderful sequence at the end that channels an effect used in the original theatrical trailer to THE EXORCIST that had me smiling in appreciation.

On the other hand, this sub-genre has been done to death and unlike the brilliant CABIN IN THE WOODS, Giovinazzo doesn't exactly bring anything new to the table here. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. Sometimes it can be fun and refreshing (especially in today's age of irony) to watch a good old-fashioned meat and potatoes ghost story. But on the other hand, imagine if Wes Anderson tried his hand at directing THE EVIL DEAD. You'd get a great concept directed by a man who may not have the corresponding vision to pull it off in the most ambitious fashion. Rating: **1/2

LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN (1986) – directed by Masanori Hata – Japan
I wasn't planning to review this film as I went in expecting a cute, adorable film about kitties that was meant to ease my way into a four-film marathon I had planned that day.

Now don't get me wrong, this film definitely delivers on the cute and adorable front. But it's also a cruel, vicious little film that genuinely places a lot of the animals used in grave danger. There are sequences in which Chatran is attacked by a crab, a snake and even a bear.

Now the story behind this film is that director Hata is apparently a zoologist in Japan who owns his own island along with a plethora of beasts of every shape, size and color. And apparently, the film was approved by several Japanese humane societies. No one knows the story for sure, but it would appear that no animals were actually killed in the film. But that doesn't excuse the fact that we clearly see Chatran as well as his best-friend, an equally adorable pug puppy in visible distress while they're thrown into dangerous situations that they would never be in otherwise. For example, why would a crab be wandering around on a farm if it hadn't been deliberately placed there by director Hata? Why's a Pug going toe-to-toe with a bloody bear? What kind of living hell must Chatran be going through when he was thrown off a waterfall in a crate?

Once again, like TOAD ROAD, I bring up the CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST example. I would never imagine in a million years, equating a pre-YouTube cute cat phenomenon with Deodato's infamous spaghetti cannibal flick, but that's Fantasia for you! However, unlike TOAD ROAD, I can't abide this film. Hata may have pulled off quite a feat telling a rather engaging story with loads of fun characters and thrilling moments, but he also endangered the lives of creatures who have no verbal means to protest and refuse to participate in a mockery of art such as this.

This is easily my pick for the worst film of the festival. Rating: Zero stars

THE KICK (2011) – directed by Prachya Pinkaew – Thailand / South Korea
Nearly every year, Fantasia screens a special sub-genre of kung-fu films – the kids/family who knows kung-fu. And every year, it's always a huge sensation! This year, THE KICK was no exception.

From start to finish, THE KICK was a balls-to-the-wall non-stop action film featuring a plot straight out of an '80s kung-fu film and a dash of Jackie Chan-esque humor. I had a ball watching this film and after seeing so many self-important, taking themselves way too seriously, martial arts films over the years at Fantasia, it was so wonderful to sink back in my seat and watch a filmmaker who knows exactly what kind of genre he's working in and just make a FUN film! What a concept!

But perhaps the biggest star of this piece were the stunts. Absolutely incredible! We're talking ONG-BAK incredible! If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and check out this martial arts masterpiece pronto! It's one of my favorite films of the festival! Rating: ****

UNDER THE BED (2012) – directed by Steven C. Miller – USA
Hyperbole anyone? One of the most notorious aspects of Fantasia is its programmers' heavy reliance on using the most outrageous of hyperbolic statements in order to fill seats at screenings of films that they programmed. This year's worst offender (so far) is UNDER THE BED.

For some reason this film never quite got out of first gear for me. It starts off promisingly enough establishing a sense of dread and suspense over our protagonist's past and what his reemergence in the family dynamic will mean to his little brother, stepmother and father. But once we learn the cause of this and just how silly the whole thing is, you can't help but laugh at how pretentious the whole film really is.

In a nutshell, there's a bogeyman under the bed and rather than have fun with it, director Miller treats this subject matter with the same solemn manner that Christopher Nolan did with his DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY. As much as I love what Nolan did with Batman, I sometimes wish he never made those films as they've become the new FIGHT CLUB insofar as every filmmaker and his mother is trying to bring that "emo, dark and edgy" feel to their productions and that's what I feel Miller did with his film.

Between useless characters, red herring plot twists (the stepmother notices her washer and dryer shaking uncontrollably and her cleaning detergent floating in the air but never makes reference to it again) and the nauseating depressing feel of the picture, UNDER THE BED was one of my more unpleasant experiences at Fantasia this year.

I will give the film credit as far as the design of the creature goes. It looked fantastic and combined with some excellent sound design, managed to get a few jumps out of me. I especially appreciated how Miller went with practical SFX as opposed to the CGI diarrhea that everyone's been pumping out as of late. Rating: **

ROLLER TOWN (2012) – directed by Andrew Bush – Canada
By the time Fantasia ends this year, the story is going to be all about Canada and just how fucking funny we are. Seriously, Canada's probably been the most consistent country this year as far as delivering top-notch films that have come to redefine comedy in the 21st century. I didn't think there'd be a film funnier than LLOYD THE CONQUEROR this year, and as much as I deeply love and enjoy that great film, even LARPing must bow down to Disco - Roller Disco, that is!

Brought to you by the funny folks over at Picnicface, ROLLER TOWN is a non-stop laugh riot that will have fans of absurd comedy going through a 12-set of Fruit of the Looms after pissing through the entire bunch. I can't remember the last time I watched a comedy that literally made me cry from laughing so much. Much like an episode of FAMILY GUY, this film is so dense in terms of one gag coming after another, that you'll have to see this film several times before you can fully appreciate it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that a DVD release is imminent though the aptly named director Andrew Bush did mention a limited theatrical run in September as well as a VOD release in August.

If you see ROLLER TOWN playing at a film festival near you, do yourself a favor and check this one out. It's the funniest damn film you're likely to see in a long time. Rating: ****

SINGHAM (2011) – directed by Rohit Shetty – India
Here's a film that reminded me why I attend Fantasia year after year. Montreal's a predominantly Francophone city but Fantasia somehow manages to bridge the gap between French and English audiences by giving them films that transcend any language barrier and brings them together in the name of entertainment. SINGHAM may very well be the best example of such a film.

A remake of the 2010 film of the same name (and American critics got their panties in a bunch over Sony rebooting SPIDER-MAN after five years!), SINGHAM is a film that basically plays like a Bollywood musical remake of DIRTY HARRY only with a Tony Jaa approach to kicking ass instead of a Clint Eastwood one. While it can sometimes be hard to determine just how much of the humor in this film was intentional (given the very over-the-top nature of Bollywood films), based on what I've read about the picture, it's more or less meant to be a comedy, if not, a parody of the recent string of cops-against-the-system series of films that have been successful as of late.

I haven't seen very many Bollywood films but the one thing that really struck me the most was just how "alive" the film seemed. There was an energy in the performances, the cinematography, the action sequences and even in the writing that put some of the best American films to shame. Perhaps it's something in the culture, but this vibrant, expressive energy definitely translates to the big screen and subsequently, to the audience watching the film as well.

I absolutely adored this film and had it been released in 2012, it would certainly have shot to the top of my list for best films of the year. Rating: ****

A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012) – directed by Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell – UK
Now here's a film that for whatever reason is getting a lot of flak from critics. I had a read a couple reviews of this going into the screening so I must admit that it was with some trepidation that I sat down at my seat before the film began. But once the film was over, I was reminded of how critics often know shit from shanola when it comes to entertainment.

A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING is just that, fantastic! Simon Pegg carries this film on his shoulders brilliantly and really captures the essence of Alfred Hitchcock's "Wrong Man" motif, particularly in a dazzling sequence at a laundromat towards the end of the film. Being a writer myself, I could totally relate to Pegg's home-life and the paranoia that comes with delving into a subject that hits a little too close to home for you.

There's also a gorgeous animated sequence that combines elements of stop-motion animation with some CGI that had the audience on their feet applauding once it ended.

This is an oddly sweet and macabre film that should appeal to fans of Simon Pegg, aficionados of Victorian era True Crime and especially admirers of the black and absurd sense of humor that only the British can pull off with ease. I thoroughly enjoyed and it's one of the best films I've seen all year. Rating: ***1/2

ROBO-G (2012) – directed by Shinobu Yaguchi – Japan
I went into this expecting a heartwarming, funny and very entertaining film and I'm happy to report that filmmaker Shinobu Yaguchi delivered on all three counts.

A group of scientists have to present their latest robot design at a convention. But when it breaks down, they decide to hold auditions for an actor to play the robot so they can fool audiences at the convention that their design works. An old man bored with his life and retirement ends up getting the role and hilarity ensues.

This was a real touching film as the old man has sort of an estranged/forced relationship with his family in that the circumstances in which they get together aren't always the most pleasant or "wanted" of ones. So when he pays them a visit "in character," it's sort of bittersweet in that the kids are really happy to see the robot and their grandfather gets to experience vicariously through his character, what it must be like to have grandkids who genuinely love him and want to be with him.

ROBO-G is also a very funny film as evident by the non-stop laughs in the audience. It's one of my favorite films of the festival and the year so far. Rating: ***1/2

KILLER JOE (2011) – directed by William Friedkin – USA
And now we come to the film that barring any unforeseen masterpieces, will undoubtedly end up being my pick for the best film at Fantasia this year.

I must admit that I haven't really followed Friedkin's career, post-EXORCIST and from what I understand, I haven't really missed much. But if THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST are Friedkin's two masterpieces, then KILLER JOE unquestionably completes the master's trilogy of cinematic excellence.

I like my comedies black as midnight on a moonless night and Friedkin definitely delivered the goods with this film. It's gorgeous to look at, the writing is so sharp and wickedly funny and best of all, we have Matthew McConaughey delivering the performance of a lifetime, and he didn't even need to take his shirt off!

I'm the kind of person who can watch a triple-feature of IRREVERSIBLE, MARTYRS and NEKROMANTIK and still be in the good to make love with my fiancee afterwards. So needless to say, it's very hard to shock me. So you know a film is powerful when even something as "standard" as a 12-year-old girl getting ploughed from behind by a man three times her age can make me feel uncomfortable and a little queasy.

Oh and did I mention the fried chicken fellatio scene? Yeah, there's a fried chicken fellatio scene.

'Nuff said, eh? Rating: ****

THE TALL MAN (2012) – directed by Pascal Laugier – Canada / USA
Oh Pascal Laugier, you sure do like taking your audiences on an emotional rollercoaster don't you? The only problem sir, is that even the most daring of rollercoasters have moments that allow the audience to process the experience they've just had before they suddenly take another left turn and go on an even bumpier ride. I'm guessing you never went on a rollercoaster in France did you.

I really wanted to like THE TALL MAN and I'd be lying if I said there weren't elements of the film that worked for me and had me rooting for Laugier to find a way to wrap this all in a satisfying manner that could give the audience reason to forgive some of the more questionable storyline decisions. Unfortunately, by the time the film lurches across the finishing line, I was exhausted and annoyed beyond belief.

Many critics have been bashing Laugier over the head regarding his script that is all over the page with sudden shifts in character, tone and even focus of plot. And while I didn't necessarily mind the different shifts as they all did build up to something, I also did feel that perhaps Laugier was trying to address too many issues here and as a result, the film comes across like the filmmaker had lots of ideas for short films and decided to put them all together with the thinnest threads of plot to connect them all together.

Now those who may have seen MARTYRS may argue that the major plot twist that comes 2/3 of the way into the film threw people for a loop. But my retort to that would be, there was only ONE twist and it gave audiences ample time to seek their teeth into. Just imagine watching MARTYRS with a good five or six of those major plot twists. Maybe if THE TALL MAN was a running television series, Laugier's attempt to address issues of small town hypocrisy, child abduction and mysterious paranormal activity in the woods would be a more satisfying experience for his audiences.

As it stands, THE TALL MAN tries to be too many things for too many people and gets lost somewhere along the way. Rating: **

And that about covers it for Week 2 of the 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival! I'll be back next week with my final coverage of the festival, including my Top 10 / Bottom 5 pics.

If you like what you see here, check out my blog, THE CELERY STALKS AT MIDNIGHT at

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