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ONTD Original: #FantasiaFest Edition. 10 films ranked & reviewed; "Cam" gets picked up by @Netflix!

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Fantasia International Festival, now in its 22nd year, is the largest genre film festival in North America. Fantasia has been credited with launching the J-horror craze in the West and the careers of filmmakers such as Adam Wingard. Filmmakers whose work screened at this year's festival and who appeared as guests include: Yoko Yamanaka (Amiko), Tilman Singer (Luz), Shinsuke Sato (Bleach), Joseph Kahn (Bodied), Mike Wiluan (Buffalo Boys), Rusty Cundieff (Tales From the Hood 2), Robert Krzykowski (The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot), Gigi Saul Guerrero (La Quinceanera), & Park Hoon-jung (VIP; The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion).

I devoured ten screenings while attending Fantasia. Here's a ranking of the films that I watched, along with some reviews and other social media goodies. I have also included the festival's award winners. One of the films on my list, Cam, has been acquired by Netflix - more on that below!

I have used spoiler cuts throughout the post to save space.

10. Born of Woman 2018
Okay, one of my ten "movies" was a collection of 9 short films from 7 different countries. So to be fair, I will start off my ranking with this since it's not technically a feature. All of the short films in the collection were good, but a few stuck out. My absolute favorite was the Irish short Catcalls, directed by Kate Dolan. Here's a peek:


My other two favorite shorts were Jiwon Moon's Nose Nose Nose EYES!, which was a creepy, fucked up and superbly acted horror short from South Korea, and the Norwegian sci-fi Voyager by Kjersti Helen Rasmussen, which was quietly unsettling and featured bearded aliens.

Reviews:
[Review + Full list of short films]

Full list of the directors & their shorts:

  • Hanna Bergholm, Puppet Master (Finland)

  • Jiwon Moon, NOSE NOSE NOSE EYES! (South Korea)

  • Kate Dolan, Catcalls (Ireland) "This is another short film that should be made into a feature ASAP, because damnit, we need more women getting revenge on scumbags."

  • Kjersti Helen Rasmussen, Voyager (Norway)

  • Manon Alirol & Léo Hardt, Petite Avarie (France)

  • Marie Dvorakova, Who's Who in Mycology (Czech Republic)

  • Faye Jackson, The Old Woman Who Buried Her Fear Under the Stairs (England)

  • Ida Joglar, The Gaze (US)

  • Chelsea Lupkin, Lucy's Tale (US)




9. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
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The latest Puppet Master film is going to be hated by many and that's totally fine. It's gross-out, obscene, and completely offensive gore. It expands the Puppet Master mythology, taking place in the current day; our main character, Edgar, returns to live with his parents and discovers his late brother's Blade doll in the closet. A puppet auction and convention is to take place on the anniversary of the Toulon murders, so Edgar decides to make a little money off the doll. It turns out that Toulon had a huge catalog of puppets, so an entire hotel is filled with people attending the auction. This means not only do characters exist solely to be killed off, but I lost count of how many people die in this film. The special effects were excellent, and two particularly gory sequences won't be forgotten any time soon. While I had fun watching this in a packed theater - everyone was yelling and cheering - it'll be a while before I'll want to watch it again. I wasn't too keen on the main actor's mumbling and dead pan style, and I thought his sidekick friend, Merkowitz, stole the show. Charlene Yi was underused in my opinion. There are a fuckton of puppets in the film, probably more than in other Puppet Master entries, but I wish we had seen more of the puppets' personalities.

If you enjoyed the other entries in the Puppet Master series, you already know what to expect so why not give it a watch. If shock gore isn't your thing, however, then stay the hell away.
Reviews:
[Rue Morgue reviews]


"Horror has always had a tradition of flexing boundaries, even if all they’re testing is the edges of good taste, but this isn’t that. It feels less like expert provocation and more like your iffy uncle trying to get away with a racist story by passing it off as something they heard on the news."


Social media goodies:
[A couple of tweets]




I'm somewhere in that crowd, LOL.


8. Laplace's Witch
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Shô Sakurai stars as Aoe Shusuke, an environmental scientist/professor who is investigating two mysterious deaths caused by hydrogen sulfide poisoning. At the site of one of the deaths, he meets an intriguing young woman (Suzu Hirose) who calls herself "Laplace's Witch" and who seems to possess mysterious powers. Shusuke is determined to find a scientific explanation for the deaths, but there's clearly something else going on.

Takashi Miike is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I kicked off my festival experience with this screening. This was one of my most anticipated films of the festival, but honestly I was a bit disappointed. I love Miike when his movies are fucking crazy and violent, not gonna lie, and this is NOT that. This is a fairly straight forward supernatural mystery that I did enjoy, but something about it was a bit lacking. The villain's arc was fun to watch, as he became more OTT as the film progressed. There were moments of genuine humor, but there was also a portion of cheese. The supernatural aspect of the plot was pretty cool; however, when reflecting back on the Miike films that I've seen, this one may be the most forgettable.

Reviews:
[Screen Anarchy review]

"In the end, the film is a regular, run of the mill Japanese drama with a splash of the fantastic when it comes to incorporating the concept of Laplace's Demon."


7. Lôi Báo
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Cuong Seven stars as Tam, a comic book artist who imagines himself as the superhero he's penning, Lôi Báo. He has a beautiful wife and child, and things are going good - until he receives the devastating news that he's terminally ill. There is little hope of survival, and his happy home becomes fractured as the illness affects Tam's personality and outlook. In a ridiculous plot point that I won't reveal here, Tam is able to undergo an incredibly risky head transplant surgery in which his head is transplated onto the body of a deceased man. Shortly after the surgery's success, Tam realizes he has newfound abilities in strength. Which is good for him, because the body he used for the transplant was a member of the mafia, and the mafia is now after Tam.

The action scenes are solid, particularly a sequence at the beginning of the film when Tam is imagining himself as a superhero. My main criticism of the film is that one has to suspend a LOT of disbelief for this film to work. I rarely watch anything superhero related, so maybe they're all similar in the sense that the twists and turns of Lôi Báo's plot veer on the ridiculous and corny; but that said, the film is enjoyable.

Reviews:
[Reviews from Screen Anarchy & Cinapse News]


"Lôi Báo is good fun and hopefully a harbinger of a new Vietnamese action renaissance that will bring back the spirit of the films from a decade ago."


"Lôi Báo isn’t a film I’d suggest people actively avoid. It IS slick on occasion, and many will find its “off the rails” nature charming."


Social media goodies:
[Clip from the film]



6. A Rough Draft
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A Rough Draft is based on Sergei Lukianenko's novel of the same name. Kirill, played by Nikita Volkov, is a video game designer whose life is about to change. On the same night he is celebrated at work, he loses his girlfriend. But that's not all he's going to lose: Slowly at first, and then practically within a blink of an eye, Kirill's possessions, apartment, friends, and family are no longer his. It is as if Kirill has never existed at all. He's now a functional, and brought to a tower in the middle of Moscow where he is tasked to work as a "customs officer," which is essentially a gatekeeper. The tower serves as a point between multiple versions of Moscow, and in these parallel universes Kirill meets other functionals. But he's determined to get his regular life back - and his love.

The film had some fantastic special effects, the most noteworthy being the matryoshka dolls who can fly through the air and go on the attack. There are many well-filmed action scenes, although some of them were a bit too Matrix-y. The world building of the film was excellent, but there are many characters to keep track of throughout. I felt a little unsatisfied at the conclusion although I look forward to an inevitable sequel.

Reviews:
[Screen Anarchy review]
"A Rough Draft takes a big budget and top notch special effects and turns it into one of the most entertaining films at this year's Fantasia."


5. The Travelling Cat Chronicles
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Kôichirô Miki directs this adaptation of Hiro Arikawa's novel. Sôta Fukushi stars as Satoru, who must find a new home for his beloved cat, Nana. He seeks out his friends from childhood and high school to see if Nana would be a good fit in one of their homes. Along the way we learn about Satoru's life, his family, and how important Nana is to him.

My own two cats are my world, so I felt an automatic connection to the film. I knew I was going to cry while watching and I was fully prepared to embarrass myself in the theater. I quickly realized I wasn't alone; all throughout the film many people around me were loudly blowing their noses, sniffling, and even full-out sobbing hysterically. If you're a cat lover, or had a cat in your family, I pretty much guarantee that if you see this movie you WILL cry. The Travelling Cat Chronicles is not totally depressing - thankfully, Nana is given a voice and has adorable and sweet commentary throughout the film - but it is emotional and knows exactly how to pull at cat lovers' heartstrings.

Fun Fact: Sota Fukushi stars in this film, as well as other Fantasia Festival entries: The Bleach adaptation, Laughing Under the Clouds, and the previously discussed Laplace's Witch.

Reviews:
[Screen Anarchy review]


"There are terrible melodramas, and there are fantastic ones that our society needs more of in especially dark timelines, such as the one we're living in now; I daresay that even with the sadness and death on display (more passing on, really), The Travelling Cat Chronicles is one of those rare films that reaffirms a broken faith in humanity and the ways that we are all connected."


4. Parallel
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This film needs a poster! So here's a still of the cast.

Four friends who live and work together developing apps happen to discover a portal to parallel universes in their own house. Faced with an impossible time crunch to develop a parking app, they use the portal to get the job done. Of course, it doesn't stop there, as each of them use the portal for their own individual advantages. This comes with some serious consequences that play out in a suspenseful and entertaining style. A killer concept and a top-notch cast, particularly in the character of Devin, played by Aml Ameen. I loved this movie, and determining its ranking in my list was incredibly difficult. I'm so excited for everyone else to see this! If you love character driven, fantastical and dark movies then I highly recommend it.

Parallel is filmmaker Isaac Ezban's third feature and his first in English; the script was written by Scott Blaszak.

Reviews:
[Screen Anarchy review]


"[Ezban's] obsession with identity and ethics in worlds devoid of the usual social contract is on full display here. Ezban likes toying with the what-if's of science fiction in a much more esoteric way than your typical director, and that makes his work interesting, even when - like Parallel - it's a bit dodgy in the execution."


Social media goodies:
[Director tweets & pics from the premiere]






3. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot
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The second I learned that The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot would have its world premiere at Fantasia, I resolved to somehow be there for it. By stroke of luck, the premiere was to take place during the days that I booked my accomodation!

Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner star as Calvin - Elliot as Calvin in the present day, Turner as a young Calvin. Both actors killed it in the role. I wasn't quite sure Turner could be a convincing young Sam Elliott, but I had no problem accepting this was the younger version of him. The plot is self-explanatory from the title - both of those things take place in the film. But The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is more than that: The film is a study on Calvin's life - his actions, his regrets, his love, and his relationship with his brother (played by Larry Miller). I was definitely crying by the end because stories about getting old and reflecting on what we've done in our lives have been hitting me hard lately. Although the title may seem silly, this film is anything but.

Reviews:
[A few reviews!]
Simply too many to embed. Everyone is loving this film!


Nightmare on Film St: "Director/writer Robert Krzykowski has gifted us a one-of-a-kind experience that is both exhilarating and bittersweet. Sam Elliott is enough reason to see the film. He will warm your heart and bring you to the edge of tears."
Dim The House Lights: "...Krzykowski and crew made a thoughtful, meditative piece of work that deserves genuine consideration and not the knee-jerk derision its title will probably doom it to."
RogerEbert.com: "'The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot' is a movie of an old soul, one that’s wise beyond its decades just like Andrew Haigh’s '45 Years.' The film is more powerful than viewers of either high or lowbrow desires could desire, and it fashions a haunting tone out of its premise."


Social media goodies:
[couple of pics from the world premiere]





2. Cam
Fantasia Awards
BEST SCREENPLAY: Isa Mazzei
BEST FIRST FEATURE: CAM (d. Daniel Goldhaber)

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Madeline Brewer is captivitating in the lead role as Alice, who performs as a cam girl under the name Lola. Her viewers love her and are devoted (their adoration and obsession is merely one way the story freaked me out), especially one fan in particular named Tinker. Soon after moving up in the site ranks, Lola finds herself locked out of her cam account... because another Lola is streaming live. For me, I was unsettled right away by the opening scene, where we see the real Lola performing and we witness her desperation to move up in the ranks. That unsettled feeling didn't let up as the story went on. Once Lola found herself kicked out of her account, the nightmare truly begins. She's lost control over her fans, her income, and most importantly, her identity. And does Tinker have anything to do with what's going on? Can she trust her cam girl friends? The film is a surreal experience, filmed colorfully with a splash of gore, and a standout performance from Brewer.

Reviews:
[Indie Wire & Editor in Chief of Fangoria reacts]


“'Cam' is far more compelling when tracing Alice’s dilemma than when actually drawing it out — aside from a scene where two cops disregard the safety of a sex worker, it’s much scarier before its heroine begins to recognize what’s at stake — but Goldhaber’s steady hand ensures that things are rivetingly queasy from start to finish, and Brewer’s performance is powerful enough to flip the script on the entire cam experience."




NEWS:
[Cam gets Netflix distribution!]

  • Netflix has acquired Cam, which was co-financed by Blumhouse Productions and Gunpowder & Sky and produced by Divide/Conquer.

  • Cast includes Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, and Devin Druid.




1. The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion
Fantasia Award
BEST ACTRESS:
Kim Da-mi
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At the time of writing this, I'm still reeling from the ultraviolent and bloody climax - one of the most satisfying final acts in a film I've seen all year - in this superhero thriller. Kim Da-mi plays Ja-yoon, an 18 year old girl who decides to enter a TV talent show because she needs the prize money to help her struggling family. Her appearance on the show wows viewers - not only can she sing, but she also reveals a very special trick that she can do. There is just one problem: Evil people from Ja-yoon's past were watching too, and they've been waiting a long time to find her. You see, ten years earlier, Ja-yoon escaped a massacre at the facility where she was raised and genetically engineered to have super abilities.

The performances in the film were striking, particularly Kim, who has to display a range of emotions throughout - The Witch: Part 1 is astonishgly her first leading role - and Choi Woo-shik, who plays a scene-stealing villainous character. When the two were together, they were electrifying to watch.

Reviews:
[Screen Anarchy review]


"It takes its sweet time getting in motion, but when it does, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion - a bit of an unwieldy title, if you ask me - is a hell of a lot of fun and will both satisfy Korean action fans looking for something different, and leave them desperate for more."


Social media goodies:
[Director & lead actress at Fantasia]



Fantasia Festival Award Winners



Full list at the source!


SOURCES: Born of Woman: 1 2 Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich: 1 2 3 4 Laplace's Witch: 1 2 Lôi Báo: 1 2 3 4 A Rough Draft: 1 2 The Travelling Cat Chronicles: 1 2 Parallel: 1 2 3 4 The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Cam: 1 2 3 4 The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion: 1 2 3 Award Winners: 1
Tags: actor / actress, adaptations, aidan turner, asian celebrities, film - action / adventure, film - drama, film - fantasy, film - festival, film - foreign, film - horror, film - suspense / thriller, film director, netflix, ontd original, review
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