Sunday, July 08, 2012

FANTASIA 2012—THE SECOND WAVE

The 16th annual Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia)—running July 19 through August 7, 2012—follows up their first wave of program announcements with a second wave of additional titles guaranteed to ratchet up the excitement. Capsules courtesy of Fantasia.

Ace Attorney / Gyakuten saiban (Japan) Dir: Takashi Miike—Who else but Takashi Miike could deliver a video game adaptation set in court where attorneys would match in surrealistic juridical duels? This visual fest tainted with black humor got its share of attention at this year's Rotterdam Film Festival and will surely be one of the highlights of Fantasia 2012! Official website [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

At Variety, Jay Weissberg claims Miike's cult following might save this "dull production" wherein "Miike himself seems barely able to muster much enthusiasm for the assignment, which is criminally long and generally lacking in his playful visual hyperbole." As if to test Weissberg's prediction, at Twitch Ard Vijn monitors the film's reception at its world premiere in Rotterdam and notes, "The first press screening earlier in the week left many reviewers dissatisfied, some angry even, and there were people saying the film was disastrously crap. Yet at the paying public's World Premiere, the atmosphere was very different. The crowd ate it up, gamers and non-gamers alike." Vijn concludes that Ace Attorney is "definitely a love-it or hate-it affair" and sides with those who found the film "a quirky yet dangerous barrel of fun." He takes time to interview Miike.

Afro Tanaka / Afuro Tanaka (Japan) Dir: Daigo Matsui—When Tanaka traded in his messy hair for a glorious Afro, he finally got respect. The problem is, this is the only good decision he's made in his entire life. Director Daigo Matsui presents one of the funniest and most strangely endearing characters you will see this year, joyfully interpreted by star Shôta Matsuda (Hard Romanticker). IMDb. North American Premiere.

At The Japan Times, Mark Schilling praises Afro Tanaka as a "laugh-till-you-hurt comedy based on Masaharu Noritsuke's award-winning gag manga" and adds, "Though plentifully seeded with gags from the source manga, the film is less a succession of black-out skits than a comic character study that achieves a sort of completeness. By the end we have not plumbed Tanaka's depths—he has none—but we know him and his milieu...."

The Ambassador (Denmark) Dir: Mads Brügger—Mads Brügger (Red Chapel) is on a mission. Armed with a forged Liberian diplomatic passport, the infamous prankster journalist ventures deep into the underbelly of African politics in search of diamonds, wealth and power—and exposes an industry where diplomatic titles across the continent are for sale. Far more disturbing in its realism than any Sacha Baron Cohen creation, The Ambassador redefines extreme documentary filmmaking, and gives a whole new meaning to diplomatic immunity. IMDb. Quebec Premiere.

At The Substream, Kurt Halfyard clocks in at one minute in his favorable critique of the film. At Eye For Film, Amber Wilkinson describes the film as "subversive and incendiary." At Slant, Chris Cabin finds The Ambassador "more of a lopsided, if irrefutably involving, act of gonzo reportage, part absurdist how-to guide on becoming a diamond smuggler, part outsider tour of a truly lawless land infested with poverty and incessant corruption."

Black's Game / Svartur á leik (Iceland) Dir: Óskar Thór Axelsson—The Icelandic gangster / drug scene of the late 1990s explodes vividly into life in this throttling directorial debut from cinematographer Axelsson, exec produced by none other than Nicolas Winding Refn, its frame lines singed with a dizzying assortment of colorful characters and explosive bursts of violence, its snowy landscape charged with blood, testosterone, sex and cocaine. Official Selection: Rotterdam International Film Festival 2012, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2012. IMDb. North American Premiere.

At Variety, Leslie Felperin notes Black's Game is "strongest on the procedural challenges of importing drugs into such an isolated country, and the dialogue has snap, but it all feels a little too secondhand", notably "a little too indebted to a slew of like-minded gangster movies, from GoodFellas to exec producer Nicolas Winding Refn's own original Pusher pic." At The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney's bottom line is that "there's more adrenaline than originality and more imitation than inspiration in this violent crime thriller from Iceland." As if understanding that genre films derive their energy from thievery, none of the trade complaints hinder Ard Vijn's enjoyment of Black's familiar tropes in his Twitch review. He finds the film "a snake on speed" and interviews Axelsson.

Boneboys (USA) Dirs: Duane Graves & Justin Meeks—What happens when the co-directors of The Wild Man of the Navidad team up with notorious screenwriter Kim Henkel (scripter of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre)? Sheer, absolute madness. We're talking leather clad psycho jocks, roaring chainsaws, a cross-dressing surgeon, a monster in chains.... You don't want to miss this! Official site. IMDb. Facebook. World Premiere, hosted by Co-Directors Duane Graves & Justin Meeks, Screenwriter / Co-Producer Kim Henkel and more!

Cold Blooded (Canada) Dir: Jason Lapeyre—A lone female cop (Devil's Zoie Palmer) faces down against murderous thugs in the nightmarishly vast isolation ward of a major urban hospital in director Lapeyre's gritty, ghastly breakout thriller. His subsequent film (made back to back with this one), I Declare War, recently won multiple awards at ActionFest 2012. IMDb. Facebook. Quebec Premiere, hosted by Director Jason Lapeyre.

Dead Bite / Gancore Gud (Thailand) Dir: Joey Boy—Oh yes! Redneck islanders, zombies, sea monsters, an evil mermaid and a giant shark vs. a bunch of horny rappers and many, many gorgeous bikini models. This is what midnight screenings are all about folks! Thai hip hop star Joey Boy makes his feature directorial debut with an awfully hilarious and sexy gore fest that will make audiences scream for more. IMDb. Canadian Premiere.

Dead Sushi / Deddo sushi (Japan) Dir: Noboru Iguchi—After geishas, schoolgirls and robots, we thought director Noboru Iguchi couldn't turn more of the strongest Japanese symbols into killing machines. We were wrong! Here comes the zombie sushi! Incredibly charismatic young actress Rina Takeda (High Kick Girl) stars in this hilarious, bloody and action packed joyride where Iguchi proves once again that imagination, talent and passion will always prevail. Official site. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Director / Co-Writer Noboru Iguchi and Actress Rina Takeda.

Dragon (Hong Kong) Dir: Peter Chan—Kickass kung fu star Donnie Yen is back in this visually stunning martial arts thriller packed with jaw dropping action scenes where an apparently normal man inadvertently brings a horde of assassins by beating up a couple of petty thieves. Dragon (formerly Wu Xia) might be the film that earns Yen the kung fu icon status enjoyed by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Also starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tang Wei. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere.

At VCinema, Stan Glick detects several allusions in Dragon but qualifies, "This is in no way to cast any pallor on Chan's film. I loved the allusions (at least those that I believe I caught), but it won't diminish your enjoyment of Dragon if you have no familiarity with any of the other movies alluded to." At Twitch, Todd Brown writes: "Leaning significantly more towards drama than action, [Dragon] is a beautifully photographed piece of work from the always visually impressive Peter Chan with an all star cast that includes Kara Hui, Tang Wei and—in a lovely nod to the film's origins as a remake of The One Armed Swordsman (a plan quickly abandoned)—Jimmy Wang Yu. Chan draws strong performances from his entire cast and the production values are simply stellar throughout. The script is engaging, the characters interesting and, when the action finally comes into play, the action is inventive and high energy."

Excision (USA) Dir: Richard Bates Jr.—If John Hughes and David Cronenberg made their own medically obsessed version of Welcome to the Dollhouse crossed with May, this is the film they would likely have conceived. This funny, shocking and soulful powerslam of a teen-outsider film stars AnnaLynne McCord, Ariel Winter, Traci Lords, John Waters and Malcolm McDowell and blew no shortage of minds when it launched at Sundance earlier this year. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. Canadian Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Richard Bates Jr. and Actress Anna Lynne McCord.

At Variety, Robert Koehler writes: "A stewpot only a film-school geek could concoct—tossing in equal parts Cronenberg, Kubrick, Jodorowsky, Greenaway, Johns Waters and Hughes (among others)—Excision is technically polished juvenilia that provokes without resonance." At FEARnet, Scott Weinberg observes: "At Excision's best moments it seems to be channeling a next-generation John Waters vibe (it's probably not a coincidence that the widely-admired cult director makes a brief appearance here), and at its weirdest it turns into a strangely compelling and confrontational lampoon on not only suburban America, but the numerous movies and TV shows that idolize the lowest common denominators." At Spectacular Optical, Fantasia's official webzine for the festival, Kier-La Janisse interviews Richard Bates, Jr.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything (UK) Dirs: Crispian Mills & Chris HopewellSimon Pegg as a neurotic writer of children's books, trying desperately to break into the film business while struggling with crippling paranoia. What more could you want? A quirky gem of a film, Mill's and Hopewell's feature film debut fits well into the British tradition of horror-comedy, where slightly crazed logic flows along with an acceptance of the weird, the existential and the eccentric. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia. North American Premiere.

At Variety, Guy Lodge casts doubt on Pegg's headliner status and complains, "Geliophobia—the fear of laughter—is one of the few not held by Simon Pegg's nerve-addled protagonist in A Fantastic Fear of Everything, but it does afflict this stunningly joke-free comedy-horror hybrid", which "refuses to settle for mere ineptitude, adding casual misogyny and pronounced racism to its rap sheet." At Total Film, Neil Smith adds: "Smart nods to Psycho, Kubrick and German expressionism suggest Mills has done his homework, which is perhaps to be expected from his lineage. (John Mills was his granddad, Hayley's his mum and dad Roy was half of the Boulting Brothers.) But plotting's not his strongest suit; an awkward shift from imagined to actual threat presents too big a transition for Mills and co-director Chris Hopewell to manage gracefully. The film's financial limitations, meanwhile, betray themselves in the paucity of exteriors and stop-motion episodes that are hardly likely to give Aardman sleepless nights. Fear falls short of fantastic yet it's a decent effort that, like Pegg's beard, proves to be something of a grower."

The Fourth Dimension (USA / Russia / Poland) Dirs: Alexey Fedorchenko, Harmony Korine, & Jan KwiecinskiVice Magazine's Eddy Moretti, co-writer of the extraordinary White Lightnin', had a notion. He would write his own filmmaking manifesto, one so bizarre and liquefied that it could only result in genius. This manifesto would include such rules as "a stuffed animal needs to make an appearance." With said manifesto, he would bring on board a trio of wildly iconoclastic filmmakers to shoot 30-minute shorts, each from a different country—with the instructions to shoot in their locales—that would in some way or another, explore the possibilities of a fourth dimension. The results are glorious indeed. Official Selection: Edinburgh Film Festival 2012. IMDb. Canadian Premiere, hosted by Co-Producer Eddy Moretti.

At Variety, John Anderson provides a favorable review, noting: "The short-film form often gets short shrift, and even though The Fourth Dimension won't exactly alter the landscape, it does make the well-repeated point that less is more." Anderson considers the "considerable merits of each episode" but gives high marks to Kwiecincki's quasi-apocalyptic Fawns. At Slant, Fernando Croce weighs in on this "intriguing but ultimately vaporous triptych" and determines that "the three short films comprising The Fourth Dimension riff not on a specific location, but on a set of creative rules. As soon as an exchange from Back to the Future jokily pops up on screen to follow a pair of august quotes from Albert Einstein and Sergei Eisenstein, however, it's clear that no Dogme 95-style stringency is in order. Indeed, the wide-swinging, non-sequitur quality of the 50-plus instructions pulled together by producer Eddy Moretti ... makes far more sense as a send-up of that earlier manifesto's monastic strictness than as a multinational attempt to cinematically embody the elusive spatial theory of the title."

Hidden In the Woods / En las Afueras de la Ciudad (Chile) Dir: Patricio Valladares—The teen children of an abusive drug-dealing scumbag run away from home and find themselves stalked by a terrifying cavalcade of miscreants, psychopaths and killers. Like the bastard child of a Ruggero Deodato / Sam Peckinpah / Gaspar Noe pile-up gestated in the loins of Roberta Findlay, Hidden In the Woods is a blisteringly confrontational piece of work that will have even the bravest of audiences watching from between their fingers, with seemingly every other line of dialogue being interrupted by shrieks, smashing glass or gunfire. IMDb. Facebook. World Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Patricio Valladares.

Lloyd the Conqueror (Canada) Dir: Michael Peterson—A riotously funny look at the world of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), featuring hysterical performances from Brian Posehn, Mike "Bubbles" Smith and Evan Williams, a wickedly witty script, an endearing sense of lunacy and a near wall-to-wall CDN metal soundtrack. John Landis loves this film. So will you. Plus, on the night of the screening, be sure to join us for a special heavy metal LARP after-party! Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Michael Peterson, Co-Producer Brendan Hunter and Actor Mike Smith.

At The Calgary Herald, Eric Volmers proclaims Lloyd the Conqueror "the best LARPing movie ever." Lisa Wilton interviews Peterson for The Calgary Sun. At B Channel News, Ed Sum asserts: "Having fun is a must, and that's this film's beautiful central message." At Press +1, Benjamin Ross Hayden describes Lloyd as "basically hilarious with nerdy humor so dense it is almost aromatic."

Mondomanila (Philippines) Dir: Khavn De La Cruz—Rebel director Khavn De La Cruz gives life to a bunch of incredibly crooked, yet dignified teenagers living in the slums with a gallery of bizarre characters. The opening film of this year's Camera Lucida section, Mondomanila merges drama, musical, horror, experimental and exploitation cinema, with a strong propensity for documentary aesthetics and trashy humor and will leave absolutely no viewer indifferent. Not to be missed! IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

Nakedness Which Wants to Die Too Much (Japan) Dir: Hidenobu Abera—What happens when Harold from Harold and Maude meets Lulu of Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano in a contemporary Japan shaken by treacherous intergenerational shocks? Find out in Hidenobu Abera's startling crescendo of teenage rage and anguish blessed with a note of hope and even a charming dash of eccentricity. International Premiere.

Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time / Bumchoiwaui junjaeng (South Korea) Dir: Yun Jong-binChoi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser) bring one of the most astonishing actors duel seen in years in this gangster flick where a corrupted customs agent raises to the top of the underworld. Set in a fascinating historical context, Nameless Gangster is strongly reminiscent of Goodfellas without being overshadowed one second by Scorsese's masterpiece. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere.

At Variety, Maggie Lee categorizes Nameless Gangster as "a rags-to-rogues crimer whose finely chiseled portraits of greed, self-preservation and depravity are buttressed by powerhouse perfs."

Play Dead (USA) Dir: Teller—Thrill seekers, spiritualists, lovers of magick and the occult, have we got a show for you. Behold: Play Dead, an enormously entertaining live performance film directed and co-written by the legendary Teller (of Penn & Teller), shot by Dark Stars Rising author Shade Rupe and performed by the supernaturally charismatic and brilliantly funny illusionist / sideshow performer Todd Robbins. What is it? A no holds-barred recreation of the live midnight spook shows of yesteryear! Official site. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Director / Co-Writer Teller, Star / Co-Writer Todd Robbins and Producers Shade Rupe & Ezekiel Zabrowski.

Schoolgirl Apocalypse (Japan) Dir: John Cairns—This beautifully shot independent gem of a film will surprise many with its atmospheric post-apocalyptic story filled with strange animated scenes inspired by the English workbooks of our youth. Director John Cairns brings a ballsy fresh look at the "zombie" genre with a touch of women empowerment and lots of creativity. Official site. Wikipedia. North American Premiere hosted by Writer / Director John Cairns.

At Ecran Fantastique, Olivier Lehmann describes Schoolgirl Apocalypse as "a skillful and effective road movie at the intersection of 28 Days Later and The Road ... a great surprise sure to delight alternative zombie movie fans." At Manifest, Alexander Karenovics writes: "An American director, of all people, dares shoot the overdue reckoning with a genre ... a surprisingly serious and slowed-down armageddon of the undead, in which our alpha girl in school uniform gets lost step by step in a metaphysical dream world...."

Sleep Tight / Mientras duermes (Spain) Dir: Jaume Balagueró—With our North American premiere of The Nameless, Fantasia was one of the first festivals in the world to showcase the genius of Barcelona filmmaker Jaume Balagueró. Years later, we held the first North American screening of [REC], the game-changing masterpiece he co-directed with Paco Plaza. As with that film, the multi-award-winning Sleep Tight is set mostly within the walls of a horrifically ill-fated apartment complex. Only here, the terrors Balagueró conjures are blood-chillingly tangible, as viable as a car crash on a heavily populated road. A masterpiece. Winner of 6 Gaudi Awards. Official site [French]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

At Variety, Jonathan Holland states Sleep Tight is a "dark thriller ... designed to give auds sleepless nights, and mostly succeeds", notably through the "shudder-inducing" and "intensely compelling" performance of lead actor Luis Tosar (Even the Rain). At Twitch, Peter Martin cautions, "You may not be able to do what the title suggests after you see this movie."

Starry, Starry Night / Xing kong (Taiwan) Dir: Tom Lin—Softly surreal and quite simply sublime, Starry, Starry Night is a flawless, sparkling jewel in the firmament of this year's Fantasia programming. Beautiful and heartwarming, yet sometimes as cruel and moving as life itself, this coming of age drama features a first-class performance by Xu Jiao, a rising star to watch in the heavens of Chinese cinema. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere.

At Twitch, Niels Matthijs praises Starry, Starry Night as "one of the dearest, warmest and most charming films of the year." At Slant, Rob Humanick writes: "Director Tom Lin goes out of his way to convey a sense of childhood's fragility, and at its best, the film suggests through the lives of its young characters the process of insects going through metamorphosis."

The Tall Man (Canada / USA) Dir: Pascal LaugierJessica Biel, Stephen McHattie and Jodelle Ferland star in an unconventional, disturbing and politically-charged new chiller from the inimitable Pascal Laugier, whose previous film, Martyrs, has already become a modern classic of the genre. Official Selection: SXSW 2012. IMDb. Canadian Premiere.

At FEARnet, Scott Weinberg writes, "The Tall Man goes from being a well-shot but basic abduction chiller to a frequently fascinating rumination on the responsibilities of parenthood, the innocence of youth, and the nature of 'evil.' "

Toad Road (USA) Dir: Jason Banker—Inspired by an urban legend, Toad Road is an intimate meditation on lost youth evocative of Gus Van Sant (with a racy touch of Larry Clark) and a radical deconstruction of genre cinema, a devastating and brilliant object of contemplation and dread, and a journey down unexpected paths. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Writer / Cinematographer / Director Jason Banker.

Under the Bed (USA) Dir: Steven C. Miller—A teenager returning home awakes the wrath of a savage creature he tried to kill year ago. Now, he must team up with his young brother in order to destroy what lies under the bed. Co-produced by Brad Miska (co-creator of Bloody Disgusting), this intimate and shivering take on childhood fear is another gem from newcomer Steven C. Miller, the new festival sensation who took SXSW by storm with the sensational The Agression Scale last March. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Director Steven C. Miller.

The Warped Forest (Japan) Dir: Shunichiro Miki—After co-directing the surrealistic Funky Forest: The First Contact, director Shunichiro Miki brings us in a universe where giants, nipple sucking fuzzy creatures and flying time traveling devices coexist with totally normal people. This is an essential work in the new wave of radical, rainbow-colored, hallucinogenic Japanese comedies that blend deadpan humor, delirious dream logic, creeping paranoia and empathic, easygoing optimism into the strangest of cinematic brews! IMDb. Canadian Premiere hosted by Director / Co-Writer Shunishiro Miki.

Yes We Can! (France) Dir: Olivier Abbou—A pair of petty criminals hatch an "ingenious" get-rich-quick scheme—they will fly to Kenya and kidnap Barrack Obama's grandmother for a ransom of 10 million dollars. What could possibly go wrong? Echoing the French tradition of the buddy comedy by ways of a South Park version of the Farrelly brothers, this outrageous goofball comedy from Abbou (whose 2010 shocker Territories offered a whole other side of political commentary) surprises, offends and ridicules with manic wit. Full of eye-popping imagery courtesy of cinematographer Karim Hussain (Hobo With A Shotgun, The Theatre Bizarre). IMDb. International Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Olivier Abbou (tentative).

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