With the first cinematic appearance in 1954, the most popular (dai)kaiju celebrated its 31st film in 2016. Brought to life by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, Shin Godzilla already managed to become both, a box office sensation, and a face palm galore motivator. Here is, why I enjoyed it.
It’s been a busy summer and I am just getting ready to attend a few film atTIFF 2016.I’m catching 3 features this weekend, including a new Malaysian supernatural noir called: Interchange. I am also going to see a new film from Polish directing legend Andrzej Wajda called: Afterimage, as well as a Icelandic thriller called The Oath.
So thats this weekend and I have another bunch to get to next week as well:) SO more info to come…in the interim here are a few more notable films from the 20th Fanatasia Film Festival 2016.
All three showings had the directors present which was a real treat. Luckily I was able to catch up with two of the filmmakers that week and I have posted those here for you to check out at your leisure. I’ll let the interviews speak for themselves, and otherwise I will give over for this blog the fine reviewers from Fantasia;who did a great job writing about all the films for the on-line and print programme.
Embers-d. Claire Carre (USA-2016)
Two individuals wake up on a mattress in a shady room, clueless as to how they got there or why they suddenly find themselves in the company of a perfect stranger. To be honest, they don’t remember much of anything, not even their own names. Since the apocalypse, a strange affliction has deprived humanity of its memory. The last survivors wander aimlessly, gripped by a form of amnesia so strong as to make it impossible for them to remember what they did the previous day. There is some indication, however, that the two strangers are somehow connected. They’re both wearing identical blue ribbons on their arm, a hypothetical sign of a common past. Meanwhile, far away, a child trekking across the wastelands meets a curious scientist. Spared the rest of the world’s memory loss, a woman is getting ready to leave her protective bunker and ultimately lose what she holds dearest in the world.
Newcomer Claire Carré’s EMBERS is a rare treat. With a spare and appealing style, it uses science fiction to explore the foundations of human nature. With a precision worthy of José Saramago, Charles Spano and Carré’s script creates unnatural situations which one can quickly relate to, due to their uncanny sense of credibility. EMBERS manages to summon up laughs while maintaining a mysterious tone that will continue to grip you long after viewing. Carré’s true talent lies in her sensitive ability to create larger-than-life characters whose every word and gesture seem to carry a secret meaning. Having already presented her first feature at Slamdance, it’s seems like a safe bet to say that she will soon be recognized as one of the most promising new voices of American independent cinema. The magnificent EMBERS is a miraculous feat that is simply impossible to forget.
— Simon Laperrière
The Unseen-d. Geoff Redknap (Canada 2016)
Everyone knows the tale of the Invisible Man, but have you heard the one about the slowly-turning-invisible-man? That’s just one twist making THE UNSEEN an unforgettable entry in this year’s Fantasia lineup. Aden Young, star of TV’s RECTIFY, plays Bob Langmore, a struggling mill worker in a small northern town. But barely making ends meet isn’t his biggest problem, as he’s also hiding the fact that he’s gradually going invisible. And Bob’s not simply fading away but disappearing in chunks, which makes him look like the victim of a hideous flesh-eating disease. When his ex-wife, Darlene (Camille Sullivan of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) asks him to visit his rebellious daughter Eva, he takes a driving job for a local drug dealer and returns to the city. Shortly after his arrival, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone, THE KILLING), goes missing and he suspects the teen has been taken because she shares his affliction. With the drug dealers threatening him and his condition worsening, Bob must find his daughter before they’re both gone for good.
A gritty thriller grounded in family drama with a streak of horror, THE UNSEEN is a future cult classic. It may be Geoff Redknap’s feature debut as writer-director, but his years of experience working in the makeup and special effects departments of features such as DEADPOOL, WATCHMEN, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and both the FINAL DESTINATION and X-MEN series, plus TV shows including THE X-FILES, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and MASTERS OF HORROR — shines through in this, ahem — must-see premiere.
— Dave Alexander
Shelly-d. Ali Abbasi (Denmark/Sweden 2016)
Elena is a broke single mother on the verge of a burnout, looking for a break from her daily obligations. A change of scenery would be welcomed, especially one involving a small country house far from the city. When she learns of a couple looking for a maid to take care of their forest dwelling, she jumps on this seemingly fortuitous opportunity. Upon arrival, Elena realizes that her employers have a somewhat unusual lifestyle. They don’t eat meat or use electricity, and they keep contact with the outside world to a minimum. With an unbreakable three-year contract, the young woman complies without complaint. At least she found the peace and quiet she’s been looking for. But her bosses have one more favour to ask of her. Unable to conceive, they want Elena to be their surrogate birth mother — for a handsome sum, of course. Flattered by her employers’ kindness and generosity, she accepts, unaware that her life has just capsized into unspeakable horror. Elena starts to notice signs suggesting that whatever it is she may be carrying inside her, it’s far from human.
What begins as an intimate, Bergmanesque drama slowly transforms into a modern gothic tale in SHELLEY, the brilliant atmospheric tour de force by Ali Abbasi. Reminiscent of ROSEMARY’S BABY, Abbasi’s film has a realism so convincing that the creeping transition into fantasy causes overwhelming anxiety. As the leading lady, Cosmina Stratan, winner of the Cannes best actress award for BEYOND THE HILLS, gives a gripping performance as a troubled woman succumbing to her darkest fears. It’s easily one of the most powerful productions of the 2016 lot.
— Simon Laperrière
Anthropoid-d. Sean Ellis-I took the commuter train into Toronto on the weekend ,and checked out a brand new Euro co-production,t hat just had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on 1 July 2016.
Anthropoid stars:Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones, and Charlotte Le Bon . It tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the World War II assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Exile Czechoslovak soldiers on 27 May 1942.
It’s an interesting story-line that I was somewhat familiar with,as it it has been the subject of previous feature film endeavours; including the 1943 Fritz Lang film: Hangmen Also Die! This featured the only Hollywood script by Bertolt Brecht, and I caught an archive screening of it at the 2013 Berlinale.
However, that version filmed during the war years couldn’t reveal the true details of the secret mission at the heart of the story, as it was still mostly classified. This modern re-telling doesn’t suffer from the same limitations however.
It does suffer however from a clear lack of a consistent directorial and visual vision, relying too extensively on basic,routine,and uninspired coverage shots + editing, especially in the early stages. The movie was shot on film, and I found the digital conversion I viewed in Toronto unusually grainy,and lacking in clarity at times.
The choice of English dialogue was unfortunate. I’m a bit of a purist,and prefer films in their native language. It lends much more authenticity. It was also strange when the Nazi characters were allowed to speak German.Then the German was translated into English, in certain scenes, so the Czech people could understand it? It was awkward and took away from the film.
Otherwise the sets and locations and lighting all top notch, and I really liked the supporting casts performances of Toby Jones and Anna Geislerová.
And the story is great, it just might have been better realized with a more authentic grounding in the Czech language and a more consistent visual style.
Hunt For The Wilder People-d.Taika Waititi-Closer to home,I dusted off the bicycle and headed to the homey confines of the Westdale Theatre, in Hamilton.There was a film screening that I had just missed at the Fantasia Film Festival, and I knew the director from his recent vampire-comedy: What We Do In The Shadows.
That film was released to critical acclaim in 2014.Director Waititi had been noticed even before this for his TV work , and was also nominated for an Academy Award for his 2004 short film Two Cars, One Night. His first feature films: Boy became the top grossing New Zealand film before the release of Hunt for the Wilder People.
Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump,this film stars Sam Neill and Julian Dennison as a father figure and son who become caught in a manhunt.The film premiered In Competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2016.
I knew little about this movie before viewing, and went mainly on my love of Waititi’s previous film.
What a nice film this is. Inventive,funny,quirky,poignant, and inappropriate.
All at the right times and in the right measures. With great performances and a wonderful cinematic view of the wilds of New Zealand; I would definitely recommend this flick.
Even if you have to just around to find it:)
Closet Monster-d.Stephen Dunn-Well it turned into a double-bill at The Westdale Theatre, as they had a brand new Canadian feature screening that had some buzz around it.
Closet Monster is drama written and directed by Stephen Dunn , and its Dunn’s debut feature.
It stars Connor Jessup as Oscar Madly, a creative and sexually confused teenager who retreats into a fantasy world to deal with his sense of isolation.The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Canadian Feature.
The film was shot on location and set in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This is a great feature to come out of the East Coast of Canada, dealing with topics of sexual identity, teenage angst, domestic violence, and artistic expression.
Those are is a lot of topics for any seasoned veteran to attempt; so it is even more impressive to see a 24 yr old filmmaker take on the challenge in his first feature.
I liked style of the film and it was helped along greatly by solid performances, good visual style, and a great 80’s inspired synth soundtrack from Todor Kobakov & Maya Postepski.
Actually the score may have been my favourite element of the film especially in the very cool and pivotal party scene.
Overall , this is a very ambitious and interesting film,although a few things didn’t add up for me.
The portrayal of the Father in the film seemed very uneven, and the use of artistic metaphor and symbolism was heavy handed at times. And I understood the use of the pet hamster as a escape for Madly from the harsher realities of his youth, but still…a talking hamster? Quibbles perhaps:)
Closet Monster is in limited release this summer in Canada ,but do try and catch this new flick from a rising star in Canadian indie film.
Operation Avalanche-d. Matt Johnson-a very cool flick ,and an interesting take on the entire faked moon landing conspiracy theory. I did see a recent comedy flick called Moonwalkers that mined this territory as well. But this film is a very different kettle of fish.
Following up on his first feature The Dirties with his partner Owen Williams ,this is a drama about CIA surveillance operatives who take it upon themselves to convince their higher ups to allow them to shoot a fake moon landing. Relying on old film stock, reams of archive footage from NASA, and touches of black humour and inventive story-telling; this is a great new Canadian feature .
Catch this is you can, and watch for a surprise appearance from Stanley Kubrick:)
Toro-d. Kike Maillo (Spain 2016)- I caught the North American Premiere of this film at Fantasia recently. This is a new Spanish crime thriller that is more than just action and suspense. It is really a story of loyalty, betrayal, and sacrifice-with a nice grounding in Catholic religious imagery.
From director Kike Mallo, Toro is his follow up film to the 2011 sci-fi film Eva. Here he tells the story of Toro , a street thug who informs his gangster boss that he is leaving the criminal life behind after one last job.
However, the job goes horribly wrong and Toro ends up on jail, but is now a new man. He has no interest in criminal life, only his lovely girlfriend and their future together.
But the past has a way of catching up to him upon his release on bail, and he must come to the aid of his remaining family and hope not to lose everything he dreams for the future.
This is a great story mixing comedy, action, and drama in a super realist style, with some un-nerving and shocking imagery at times, but perfectly keeping with the thematic motifs and imagery built up through the storyline.
The Priests-d. Jang Jae-hyun (South Korea-2016)-A Korean exorcist movie? Why not. Another in a strong string of movies featured at Fantasia from South Korea, The Priests is a crowd pleaser of a drama about the demonic possession of a young teenage girl in Seoul.
Coming to the rescue are burned-out outcast priest Father Kim (Kim Yoon-seok), who approaches tracking down and fighting demons to crime fighting. Making him the lead detective of sorts in this story.
And at his side is the newest in a long line of assistants,the very new and rebellious Deacon Choi (Kang Dong-won) ,who also stars in another great film at Fantasia: A Violent Prosecutor.
Together this unlikely pair must fight not only the powers of evil, but of the uncaring and untrustworthy beauracracuy of their own Church.
But they are a plucky pair and they have some aids at their disposal: a Bible, a tube of toothpaste, a Bach CD, and a piglet!
A very enjoyable horror film with some funny moments, keep your rosary beads close if you manage to catch a screening though:)
Americana-d. Zachary Shedd (USA 2016) This is a great new Neo-Noir feature which had its international premiere here in Montreal Sunday night. Writer-Director Zachary Shedd was present to lend some insight into the screening.
Alcoholic ex-editor Avery Wells (David Call) is drinking himself into a semi-stupor at his isolated cabin in the Nevada mountains. That’s until his longtime producer friend (Jack Davenport) shows up and drags him back to civilization.
As Avery dries out at his friends house, he realizes the real reason for his rescue. Avery’s actress sister (Kelli Garner) is starring in his friends latest production which has gone way over budget ,and is seemingly doomed to failure.
Can Avery save the film in he editing room, and stay sober enough to do it? Or will the sudden shooting of his sister turn him into a tragic sleuth;destined to follow clues that may be real or hallucinations. And lead to the same dead end he is all too familiar with in his own life.
This is a beautifully brooding character study, and noirish drama, wonderfully executed on numerous levels.
DOP: Justin Foster brings a wonderful eye to the San Fransisco Bay area,as well as the isolated cabin in the Nevada mountains.There is a wonderful scene of the lead character Avery talking to his estranged partner on the fog shrouded upper balcony of her San Francisco house.
Editor: Saela Davis does a great job of piecing the story together and Composer: Jeremy Turner has just the right modern sounds with echoes of crime films past to evoke the right mood for this film.
Watching Americana, I was reminded of some classic films, especially the great flick: The Lost Weekend;that featured Ray Milland as the alcoholic writer being chased by his addictions and demons.
And the isolated cabin had echoes of Robert Mitchum’s hideout in Out Of The Past, and Raymond Chandlers novel: Lady In The Lake.
But these were just some threads of motifs I recognized; this is a great original story work in the Neo-Noir genre. Well-written and directed by Zachary Shedd ,this is an impressive first film for Shedd , who had previously worked as a producer on: Hiding Your Smiling Faces and A Little Closer. I’ll leave you with a peak at the films teaser/trailer and a website link.
Oh, and another cool thing, this film was a direct result of a large kick-starter campaign:) The list of names of donors scrolled for quite a few moments…
I highly recommend this film. Americana tied with the Polish feature: Demon for my pick for top film at Fantasia Fest 2016. With Train To Busan close behind:)
I’ll be updating the blog over the rest of August with some more Fantasia films that I screened in Montreal, and I also hope to write a little in September about some movies from TIFF 2016 .. Stay tuned…
The 20th annual Fantasia Film Festival continues here in Montreal until August 3, and I am planning to get to a few more flicks before I have to depart early next week. I have a couple screenings slated for a later today. One is a cool looking Korean exorsicm movie called: The Priests. The other is a promising looking Spanish crime drama: Toro. I did however manage to squeeze in a couple films since my last update on the blog.
Demon-d. Martin Wrona-(Poland 2015). As he prepares for his wedding to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) in rural Poland, Peter (Italy Tiran) accidentally stumbles upon a grave on his newly acquired farm house property.
Unable to get the image of the body from his mind, Peter slowly descends into madness. Or is it a demonic possession?
Cleverly taking from old Jewish folklore, Wrona subtly ties this in with the history of the country. Is the new found modernity,and access to the EU in Poland ,also helped along by turning a blind eye to a not too distant tragic past?
All of this takes place in the context of a perfectly planned wedding that goes awry, and as our lead character slowly disappears into another personality, and the party disintegrates into a drunken orgy.
In the morning ,all go their separate ways ,never to speak of Peter again.The closing shot of Zaneta embarking on the river ferry to take her away ,is a brilliant match for the opening shot of Peter making the trip in the reverse direction.
Overall, I can’t say enough good things about this film. It’s a serious drama in a way masquerading as a horror film, and is brilliantly shot,acted, written and directed. And a seemingly faithful adaptation of the stage play Adherence by Piotr Rowicki
The film premiered at the 2015 TIFf film festival, and also screened at festivals in Hong Kong, Paris, and Israel. Unfortunately the director was not able to enjoy the films success to any great extent. He died tragically and suddenly in the fall of 2015 following a screening in Poland.
A great and promising director whose life ended too early, Marcin Wrona you will be missed.
A Violent Prosecutor- d. Lee II-hunyg (South Korea)
When a seasoned prosecutor with a rough reputation gets interested in a case involving the development of a resort, he is warned to stay away. When he insists on looking into it, he is framed for murder and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
But this won’t stop him from teaming up with a slick con man, to spring them both from behind bars ,and eventually bring those responsible for crimes and corruption to justice.
The film stars Hwang Jung-min as the surly prosecutor Byun; and Kang Dong-won as his slippery,sly comedic foil. This is the directorial debut of Lee II-hyung and he handles it film with an entertaining precision.At times tense, dramatic,and funny the movie never misses a beat ,and has you cheering by the end.
An entertaining film overall, slickly done and fun to watch. A keeper.
And star Kang Don-won graces the screen here in Montreal in 2 hours in another Korean drama: The Priests. I will have to take my rosary beads along to the cinema I believe:)
I was able to sample a cross section of new cinema from Asia the last few days here in Montreal.
Lazy Hazy Crazy-d. Jody Luk Yee-Sun (HK 2015)
The debut film from director Yee-sun ,Lazy Hazy Crazy is a coming of age story about three young girls nearing their 18th birthdays in Hong Kong . A full house took in the film here at the Canadian Premiere ,and they didn’t go home disappointed.
This is a the story of girls on the verge of womanhood, struggling with the crushes, physical changes, and high school environment that is common among their peers. However these girls are more mature than they look ,and two make a common practice of dating and having sexual relations with older men.The third is sitting on the fence about whether to join them.
It makes for a very interesting dynamic ,and adds a real and raw edge to what we could envision would be a typical Hollywood style telling of a similar story.What makes the movie work so well is the excellent script and direction-at times funny and at others subtle and poignant.
A great cast of leads take the task to hand ,leaving us with a drama that takes us to places often not explored in a deep and sensitive manner.With characters we are rooting for, even though they may at times be selling themselves short.
In the end they get a moment to escape and enjoy the dawning of a new future; wherever it leads…
If Cats Disappeared From The World-d. Akira Nagai (Japan-2016)
I caught the Canadian Premiere of this new Japanese film last night; and it may just be my favourite film at Fantasia so far. I know it’s my favourite film title:)
This is the story of a slightly disenfranchised 30 yr old mailman who seems to have little interest in life ,other than his love of movies and his pet cat Cabbage. He is given a shocking medical diagnosis near the beginning of the film, leaving him with little time to live.
How will he spend his little remaining time, and can he make a Faustian deal with the Devil to gain some extra precious days? But this Devil may well be his own alter ego, and is played by the same actor: Rurouni Kenshin.
Regardless, Takeru is offered extra days to live, but must give up something for each day he gains. As he progresses, slowly losing things in his world that seem unimportant on the surface, Takuru remembers all the joy ,companionship ,and love that he has enjoyed in his life. And he realizes that these joys and friendships aren’t worth losing, they are more important than clinging to the world .
This is a great drama- at times melodramatic and sentimental,and there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience after this screening I would guess. A faithful adaptation of the bestselling novel by author Genki Kawamura, this flick is in good hands with director Nagai.
Beautiful to look at,the film unfolds with a flow matching the mood of the story. Hopefully you can get a chance to see this wonderful movie at a theatre in the near future.
And speaking of the future, I may have been inspired to go and adopt a feline friend for myself I think:) So viewer beware on this flick…
Train To Busan-d. Yeon Sang-Ho ( South Korea-2016)
A great new Korean genre film, this flick played out of competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. To a standing ovation. Here in Montreal the film had its North American premiere at Fantasia. And the crowd was almost as enthusiastic:)
A Zombie apocalypse begins to afflict modern day Korea just as our lead character Seok-woo departs Seoul on the TGV with his much neglected daughter. It is her birthday, and her one wish is to spend the day with her mother in Busan.
When the train departs the station ,an infected traveller boards at the last second, and as the journey progresses all hell breaks loose. I am not a big fan of Zombie films in general,and also feel like it is a very over-done genre at the moment. However ,I thoroughly enjoyed this flick from beginning to end. Action,love, bravery,sentimentality,and selfishness are all on display in this allegorical tale that also keeps the thrills coming.
The highlight for me was the amazing scene near the end in the Busan Cetral Station rail yards.After a narrow escape from a derailment ,our surviving characters flight to safety is endangered by a mass of infected monsters grabbing onto the rail car, and slowly bringing it to a halt. Almost:)
Commentators have made some noise about comparing this flick in some ways to the recent film Snowpiercer. My viewing companion here in Montreal seemed to think it more likely took some inspiration from Cassandras Crosing.
Regardless ,the Train To Busan is a one-way ticket to entertainment.
The Phantom Detective-d. Jo Sung-He (South Korea-2016)
South Korean noir? You bet! This slick new entry from director Sung-He is a crowd pleaser of a film that’s stars Lee Je-Hoon as private investigator Hong Gol-Dong. Dong is a crime fighting PI with a mysterious and forgotten past, except for one memory that drives him- the murder of his mother and his never ending thirst for revenge. As the film begins he is within reach of the killer , but is one step behind henchmen for a secret society bent on overthrowing the government.
They have other plans for the aged killer,as he has information that could expose their evil plot.Our hero does however find the abandoned grandchildren of his nemesis ,and becomes a reluctant caretaker as both search for the abducted old man. For very different reasons.
Equal parts Noir-Comedy-Action-and -Sentimentality-this film is a modern take on Korean literary hero Hong Gil-Dong. And I assume a tip of the hat to the original pulp magazine serial The Phantom Detective, that was published from 1933-53.
This is a great whirlwind of a story with many shifting moods, and owes a visual debt to Sin City. Great performances and visual style are on display ,and I absolutely love the final gun battle which takes place while our hero sits placidly observing justice being delivered; to those that so desperately deserve it.
Sequel in the offing? I wouldn’t be surprised. Look out for this flick it’s a keeper…