F A N T A S I A 2012

Full disclosure: I started working for the festival in 2012 so these aren’t reviews per se, just a few thoughts I wanted to share about a bunch of awesome movies that were programmed this year.

SUSHI GIRL (Kern Saxton)

[ This auspicious debut feature by Kern Saxton shares many traits with Reservoir Dogs, what with it revolving after the aftermath of a botched diamond heist (glimpsed only in flashbacks), as a group of colorful criminals attempts to find out what happened in close quarters. It also juggles extended dialogue scenes with bursts of ultra-violence and torture, and while it doesn’t include any Reservoir Dogs alumni, it does feature memorable cameos from a few cult actors from the Tarantino/Rodriguez company, namely Kill Bill’s Sonny Chiba, Grindhouse’s Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey, and Machete himself, Danny Trejo! But the real stars are the utterly badass Tony Todd as a gang boss with a thing for Japanese culture (Noh theatre masks, yakuza traditions like eating sushi off a naked girl, etc.), an hilarious Mark Hamill in effete psycho mode (sort of like when he does the voice of the Joker in Batman cartoons and video games), brutish force of nature Andy Mackenzie, conflicted James Duval, and long-suffering Noah Hathaway (Atreyu from The Never Ending Story!). Oh, and for an actress whose titular part is mostly limited to lying nude and covered in raw fish on a table, Cortney Palm makes one hell of an impression. Add taut writing, sharp direction, striking cinematography and particularly effective editing, and you’ve got a truly enjoyable film which, ultimately, manages to admirably distinguish itself from other post-Tarantino gangster movies. The cherry on top? Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on By” playing over the closing credits. ]

IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY (Don Hertzfeldt)

[ Back in 2007, Don Hertzfeldt’s everything will be ok totally blew me away. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: "I saw this during DJ XL5's Kaleidoscopic Zappin' Party, in a gorgeous 35mm print. This is one of the most powerful examples of why film is superior to video I've ever seen. Hertzfeldt uses to its full potential the dreamlike state created on the viewer by images projected 24 frames per second and, for 17 minutes, he takes you on a journey into the life of one Bill. Using his usual deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, plus some photographs and colourful special effects, all of which in simultaneous multiple frames, the film immerses you completely in an altered state of mind. I'd rather not go into details about the story (which is told through perfectly worded omniscient narration), as part of the genius of the piece is how it keeps confusing and surprising you. It starts out funny and absurd, grows more and more thoughtful, then at some point it becomes practically hallucinogenic. Throughout, it's also incredibly emotionally affecting. This is a full-on masterpiece, easily the best work of art I've experienced all year. Incredibly, this is only the first part of a planned trilogy. I truly wonder how Hertzfeldt could possibly top what he's accomplished here."

Somehow I never got the chance to see the second film, i am so proud of you, something I should really fix asap. But today, again in a shorts program curated by my friend DJ XL5, I saw the final chapter of Hertzfeldt’s trilogy and found it as brilliant, unique and profoundly moving as everything will be ok. In only 23 minutes, the filmmaker manages to encompass nearly everything primordial about human life and death, both on an achingly intimate and a staggeringly universal level.

I’ve never seen mental illness depicted as masterfully and powerfully as it is in these films. The use of the aforementioned deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, spliced with live action footage and various other visual elements, combined with the voice-over narration, again achieve to put us right into Bill’s fractured mind, and the alternately (or simultaneously at times) emotional, psychological, lyrical, comical and metaphysical journey we go on with him is absolutely unforgettable. it’s such a beautiful day is nothing less than a perfect film, from start to finish, but I still have to single out two sequences: the “Isn’t everything amazing?” bit and the nursing home scene. The latter in particular is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on screen.   ]

LLOYD THE CONQUEROR (Michael Peterson)

[ For the love of Odin’s sack! This ode to Canadian geeks, from your average video game playing college kids to your hardcore middle-aged LARPers, is both riotously funny and achingly heartfelt, alternately making you laugh with and feel for some truly ridiculous, yet nonetheless relatable characters. Doubling as a dick-and-fart-jokes-fuelled homage to low-rent heroic fantasy (not unlike David Gordon Green’s underrated Your Highness), Michael Petersen’s movie features terrific performances from comedy veterans Mike Smith (“Look at my cool helmet!”) and Brian Posehn (“I am a level 80 wizard - I don’t have to do anything.”), and newcomers Evan Williams, Jesse Reid, Scott Patey and Tegan Moss, plus a killer heavy metal soundtrack featuring bands like Barn Burner and Bison B.C. And wait until you see the epic climactic battle which has Smith riding a coked up centaur against Posehn astride a gay unicorn! ]

THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL (Darren Lynn Bousman)

[ Repo! was hardly a masterpiece, but it certainly wasn’t your everyday normal movie! Now director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer-composer-star Terrance Zdunich are back with another outrageous horror-musical, this time revolving around, well, the Devil’s Carnival, i.e. a vision of hell as a demented, perverted, sadistic, satanic circus populated with sideshow freaks. For better or worse, this new flick is not quite as batshit insane as Repo!. It’s still a love-it-or-hate-it, theatrical, quasi-experimental trip, but the concept is clearer and more accessible. Less emo-glam-metal, more Tom Waits cabaret-rock, you know? It still suffers from (intentionally?) confusing storytelling / editing, limited production values and uneven musical numbers, but it can certainly count on a committed cast, which notably features, in addition to Zdunich as Lucifer (!), Emilie Autumn, M. Shawn "Clown" Crahan, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jessica Lowndes, Hannah Minx, Ivan Moody, Bill Moseley, Ogre, Paul Sorvino and Alexa Vega. ]

THE VICTIM (Michael Biehn)

[ (in the style of @LexG_III) MICHAEL BIEHN POWER. JENNIFER BLANC POWER. THE VICTIM POWER. Shot in 12 days with an unfinished script and very little money, “The Victim” is hardly a perfect film, but it’s nonetheless a wildly enjoyable, hilariously rough around the edges, appropriately low-rent homage to 70s and 80s exploitation flicks. To paraphrase writer-director-star Biehn, it’s a fun flick for people who like “fucking and fighting” - to which I would add “driving.”  ]

STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION (Shinji Aramaki)

[ While this Casper Van Dien exec-produced Japanimation sequel is nowhere near as brilliant as the original 1997 Paul Verhoeven film (what is?), it's still nice to reunite with Johnny Rico and his space buddies. Plus it packs enough machismo, gore and T&A to be well worth checking out. ]

ALTER EGOS (Jordan Galland)

[ Here’s a witty, insightful take on superheroes (and supervillains) that has a really loose, down to earth quality... These characters may have superpowers, but they spend most of the film not fighting crime, but chatting about this or that, worrying about their relationships or the ways of the government-subsidized Super Corps... This is basically an indie comic book movie, a romantic dramedy in which the leads just happen to wear tights and to be able to freeze stuff, see through walls or whatnot. Don’t expect awesome special FX or epic action scenes, just some compelling performances from the likes of Kris Lemche, Joey Kern, Brooke Nevin and Danny Masterson. Good stuff. ]

JACKPOT (Magnus Martens)

[ In a Norwegian police station near the Swedish border, right around Christmas time, Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum) is being interrogated by a befuddled inspector (Henrik Mestad) who, an hour earlier, found him at strip joint/adult video store Pink Heaven, crawling out from under an enormous woman, with a bunch of dead bodies lying everywhere around him and a shotgun in his hands. As Mike LaFontaine would say, “Wha’ happened?” Flash back to the previous day when Oscar, who is a supervisor at a recycling plant where all the workers are ex-cons, let three of his employees – Billy (Arthur Berning), Thor (Mads Ousdal) and Dan (Andreas Cappelen) – rope him into entering a soccer pool. Amazingly, they end up winning nearly two million kroner, but their celebration is short-lived. How do you divide this jackpot by four? Wouldn’t it be easier to divide it by three, by two… Or not at all? Tensions grow, tempers fly, and before you know it, the corpses start piling up. Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Based on a story by crime writer Jo Nesbo (whose work also inspired Morten Tyldum's HEADHUNTERS), this second feature from Norwegian writer-director Magnus Martens (UNITED) is a wildly entertaining thriller filled with colorfully crooked characters, startling bursts of violence and gallows humor. While it undeniably bears the influence of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, JACKPOT is perhaps most reminiscent of early Danny Boyle (SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING), with a touch of THE USUAL SUSPECTS thrown in for good measure. Running a tight 82 minutes, it keeps hitting you over the head with beer bottles, throwing severed body parts in your face and splashing blood all over you yet, all the while, you can’t help but grin or downright laugh out loud. Tyldum’s film, which is also genuinely suspenseful at times, benefits greatly from flamboyant cinematography, sharp editing and shrewdly used music. And then there’s the uniformly great cast, which pulls off the impressive feat of navigating the film’s wonderfully abrupt tonal shifts while without going over the top. Particularly enjoyable in that regard is Henrik Mestad as the police detective who just can’t believe the insane story Kyrre Hellum’s character is telling him. ]

RESOLUTION (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)

[ This could be described as a low-key, real-life horror movie, about a guy (Peter Cilella) who, in order to force a childhood friend (Vinny Curran) to go clean, handcuffs him in the cabin in the woods where he’s been living, doing meth and shooting guns, and takes care of him while he goes cold turkey during 7 days. Long handheld shots coexist with quick bursts of surreal imagery, all kinds of odd, creepy characters show up here and there in the boonies, tweakers and cult members and con men and Native Americans from a reservation nearby... Plus there are mysterious artefacts that seem to be abandoned (or placed?) around the cabin, folks talk of things happening in the caves... And who the hell is filming the two protagonists? “Resolution” is kind of like a cross between “Winter’s Bone” and “Black Snake Moan,” with a certain Haneke/Lynchesque, meta vibe... It’s really hard to pinpoint. One thing’s for sure: the two central performances are very strong, especially that by Vinny Curran, who’s alternately funny and moving as a crazy redneck bastard whose grasp on reality is fragile at best - and he seems to be taking his friend (and the whole film) along with him into the void. Or something. ]

SINGHAM (Rohit Shetty)

[ “Those who break the law, I will break their bones.”
I love action movies more than just about any other genre, save for possibly musicals... And I also love comedy, and drama, and romance, and many other genres and subgenres... So no wonder Bollywood is always such a thrill for me, as each film usually juggles many different styles and tones. Singham, for instance, is a tragicomic police story that touches upon such serious themes as political corruption and the struggle to achieve true justice within the confines of the legal system - while also featuring cartoonish visual gags, rom-com atropes, thick family melodrama, as well as wildly over the top fights, chases and stunts that use every visual gimmick in the book (from speed ramping to bullet time) and ridiculously loud sound effects, with every punch and kick cranked up to 11! Oh, and there’s a bunch of song and dance numbers too, of course. Best of all is the game of cat and mouse between the (super) hero and the (super) villain, namely ultra macho and brutal cop Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) and ultra sleazy and evil kingpin Jaikant Shikre (Prakash Raj). The former is particularly badass and awsome, with his distinctive mustache, sunglasses and motercycle, hilarious one-liners and unequalled prowess when it comes to putting foot (or fist, or belt!) to ass. And he’s got his own theme song (SINGHAM!), and his most spectacular actions are accompanied by actual LION GROWLS on the soundtrack! He’s like Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft and Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs rolled into one. Good news: he’s scheduled to return in Singham 2! ]

NEW KIDS TURBO (Steffen Haars & Flip Van der Kuil)

[ This supercharged shock comedy about a gang of spectacularly and sleazy mullet-sporting assholes who decide not to pay for anything anymore (great plan, geniuses!) would be best described as the Netherlands’ answer to Troma movies. It’s all about piling on the most aggressively offensive gags you can imagine and, every time you figure it can’t get worse (or better, depending on the viewer), it does, oh, how it does... And it also gradually turns into a batshit insane, ultraviolent action flick, not unlike Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, with elements from the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading thrown in for good measure. “Truck driver. Honk, honk!” ]