FANTASIA 2011

Red State (Kevin Smith) 88
[ Inspired by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church and their bullshit “God Hates Fags” campaign, but also by the Waco siege and the U.S. government’s post-9/11 excesses, Smith has put together a violently nihilistic film that comes off like an unholy cross between “Hostel”, “There Will Be Blood” and “Die Hard”, if that makes any sense. Going back and forth between horror, action and black comedy, all the while blasting away at religion and politics, “Red State” blends genres and juggles tone in ways that call to mind Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers.

This is the Kevin Smith of “Dogma” back with a vengeance, delivering a gritty-as-fuck flick that’s not without its flaws (a bit too much exposition here, a shaky scene there), but that skilfully pushes the audience’s buttons more often than not. For what it’s worth, it certainly played like gangbusters at Fantasia.

Talking about it with various folks after the screening, I did run into a few people who hated it, but even those had nothing but praise for Michael Parks and his riveting portrayal of Pastor Abin Cooper. I personally also got a kick out of Nicholas Braun, Michael Angarano and Kyle Gallner as the hilariously sleazy teenagers who inadvertently put the plot into motion, Melissa Leo as one of the most fanatical members of the Cooper family, and John Goodman as an ATF agent who shows up two thirds of the way through and practically walks away with the movie. ]

Ninja Kids!!! (Takashi Miike) 64
[ Adapted from manga/anime series “Ninja Rantaro Flunks Again”, this is sorta-kinda what a “Harry Potter” movie would be like if it was directed by Takashi Miike. Telling the story of a boy’s first year at Ninja Academy and subsequent involvement in a conflict between a family of hair stylists and assassins, “Ninja Kids!!!” is colorful, alternately goofy and brutal (although in a cartoonish way), full of ridiculous characters (including a “friendly ninja trivia commentator”!), kind of messy but mostly a lot of fun. ]

The Whisperer in Darkness (Sean Branney) 68
[ This adaptation of the 1931 H.P. Lovecraft short story, about a folklorist (Matt Foyer)’s encounter with sanity-defying mystery and horror in the eeriest corners of Vermont, is not only a period piece but also a brilliant pastiche of Golden Age filmmaking. The pulpy storytelling, the film noir-style narration, the ominous orchestral score, the stark b&w cinematography, the old-fashioned acting… It really seems like this a long-lost gem from the ‘30s that’s just been discovered. ]

Retreat (Carl Tibbetts) 77
[ Starting as a psychological drama about a couple (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton) whose marriage is on the rocks, “Retreat” then morphs into a truly suspenseful claustrophobic and paranoid thriller. Almost entirely set in a cabin on a secluded island, the film grows increasingly tense after a mysterious young private, played by the scarily intense Jamie Bell, arrives with news of a lethal outbreak and orders the couple to board themselves up -along with him- in the cabin… It almost never lets up until the staggeringly brutal ending. A truly auspicious debut feature from Carl Tibbetts. ]

Milocrorze: A Love Story (Yoshimasa Ishibashi) 70
[ In many ways, “Milocrorze” is a showcase for actor Takayuki Yamada, who plays the three very different yet equally iconic lead characters: youth counsellor Besson Kumagai, who comes off like a cross between Frank T.J. Mackey and Austin Powers; Tamon, a mild-mannered man who turns into a vengeful samurai when the girl he loves is kidnapped; and Ovreneli Vreneligare, a poor sap who had his heart broken by the titular Milocrorze when he was a little boy. “Milocrorze: A Love Story” blends fantasy, romance, comedy, irresistible dance numbers and badass action sequences, climaxing with a show-stopping six-minute combat sequence inspired by traditional Japanese painting and kabuki theatre. ]

A Lonely Place to Die (2011, Julian Gilbey) 79
[ Amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Scottish Highlands, a group of mountain climbers find themselves hunted down by creepy men with guns after they rescue a Serbian girl they found buried alive. Full of gasp-worthy moments, this mercilessly intense and action-packed thriller is driven by a very physical performance from Melissa George, not unlike the one of Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens”. Not for the faint of heart! ]

Endhiran (S. Shankar) 72
[ Superstar Rajni portrays both an android and his creator in this typically overstuffed but always entertaining Indian blockbuster. Over the 170-minute length, it swings between science-fiction, slapstick, action, musical and melodrama, as Chitty the robot and Dr. Vaseegaran end up fighting each other for the love of a woman, played by the ever gorgeous Aishwarya Rai. Expect a lot of ridiculous nonsense, but also some genuinely awesome set pieces and fun song-and-dance numbers. ]

The FP (Trost Bros.) 66
[ While I’ve seen many objectively better films at Fantasia this year, I still have a particular fondness for Jason and Brandon Trost’s ridiculously enjoyable film about the underground war between two gangs for control of Frazier Park, a.k.a. “the FP.” At this point, I should point out that the aforementioned gang members are all dressed in 1980s attire and that when they confront each other, they do so by playing a variation of the Dance Dance Revolution video game called Beat Beat Revelation! In addition to co-writing and co-directing, Jason Trost stars as the eyepatch-wearing JTRO, who’s forced to pick up the mantle and bring his clan to victory after the death of BTRO, their leader. While the plot is beyond silly, it’s mostly played straight, which makes it all the funnier. The film also happens to be pretty damn well crafted, from Brandon Trost’s stylish cinematography to George Holdcroft’s synth-heavy score. Still, it remains close to a Troma-produced B-movie in spirit, with apparent nods to 80s flicks like “The Warriors”, “Escape From New York”, “Commando” and “Rocky IV” (training montages!) thrown in for good measure. ]

SUPER (James Gunn) 85
[ What a weird fucking movie! At first, I figured it would just be a variation on “Kick-Ass,” i.e. an irreverent send-up of comic book movies that’s as hilarious as it is badass (to quote from my review of that flick). Except that it’s also a rather sad, almost depressing story about a poor bastard (Rainn Wilson) who just can’t cope with his wife (Liv Tyler) having left him for another man (Kevin Bacon) – who just happens to be a drug lord… And our protagonist happens to be some kind of psychopath who has visions of God and demons which lead him to deciding to become a super-hero who beats criminals to a pulp with a pipe wrench, and who eventually teams up with a comic book geek girl (Ellen Page) who’s probably as much of a sick and twisted maniac as he is… Again, I guess this isn’t that far removed from “Kick-Ass”, or from elements of other subversive super-hero movies like “Watchmen”, “Orgazmo” and “The Toxic Avenger”… All the same, this remains a weird fucking movie, and I kinda loved it. ]

Troll Hunter (André Øvredal) 78
[ Featuring gorgeous cinematography despite its found footage conceit, this dark fantasy set in striking locations across Norway (woods, mountains, bridges, an abandonned mine…) depicts a young film crew as it follows a mysterious man (Otto Jespersen) they suspect of being a pear poacher. Turns out he’s actually yes, a troll hunter. Not so much reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project” or “Cloverfield” than of “C’est arrivé près de chez vous” (“Man Bites Dog”), this movie juggles suspense, wonder and droll humor as it lets us get to know a most peculiar individual and learn about the ins and outs of his most unusual profession. The four or five set pieces involving various kinds of trolls are all gripping and fascinating, thanks to pretty awesome special effects but mostly to clever writing and direction. ]

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Troy Nixey) 42
[ Most notable for having been co-written and co-produced by Mexican filmmaker extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro, this remake of the 1973 made-for-television horror film comes off like a dumbed down, generic Hollywood version of “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Both movies are about a little girl who discovers a fantastic underworld, but try as he might, Troy Nixey possesses neither del Toro’s visual mastery nor his talent for getting great performances out of actors. Set in a gothic mansion where a little girl (Bailee Madison), her dad (Guy Pearce) and her stepmom (Katie Holmes) are stalked by creepy creatures who eat children’s teeth, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is pretty tense and scary at times, but it’s also frustratingly inconsistent and increasingly implausible. ]