[2017 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL] CATCHING UP!

 

 

 

The number of features playing the Fantasia Festival is far too high for any one person to watch all of them, even if you’re in Montreal, and this writer is covering the fest remotely, so I’m limited to the films available to those of us off-site. However, I have covered some of the films playing this year’s Fantasia at other festivals earlier in the year, so in addition to the new reviews I’ve written for films playing Fantasia, here are the reviews for films that are playing that I’ve previously covered for other festivals, presented in alphabetical order.

 

68 KILL (USA, dir. Trent Haaga)

Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) lives in a trailer park with his girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord), but she wants more. One day while turning a trick at the home of a local creep, Liza learns he has $68,000 stashed in a safe and enlists Chip to help steal it. Although she reassures him no one will get hurt, by the end of the night there are multiple bodies and a young woman named Violet (Alisha Boe) in the trunk of Liza’s car. In very short order, Chip learns he has been living on the very edge of some very nasty goings-on, and before the night is out he’ll be deeper in the middle of it than he could have imagined. Trent Haaga’s previous directorial outing was the pitch-black comedy CHOP, and some of his previous writing credits include CHEAP THRILLS, DEADGIRL, and CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV. In other words, it’s not surprising that 68 KILL delights in gleeful misanthropy, playing out as an outlandishly cartoonish satire of film noir conventions: Chip is the hapless sucker roped into trouble by the lure of sex, but this kind of trouble is on a whole different level than what was waiting for Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. This means that the film traffics in some all-too-familiar female stereotypes, although neither Chip nor any of the other men in the film come out looking any better and the cast—especially McCord as the ultimate “crazy girlfriend” and Sheila Vand as the menacing ringleader of a group of rednecks—all look like they’re having the time of their lives. It’s gruesome, offensive, and mean-spirited, but if you’re in the right frame of mind you might have a blast with 68 KILL.

 

 

ANOTHER WOLFCOP (Canada, dir. Lowell Dean)

Lycanthropic sheriff’s deputy Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) has found himself a home base in which to lock himself when he turns into a werewolf, but lately he’s been going out on patrol as Wolfcop anyway. Sheriff Tina (Amy Matysio) is annoyed by his behavior, but a supernatural threat looms that could spell the end of humanity. A race of reptilian shapeshifters has found a way to reproduce by using humans as incubators, and it’s up to Tina, Wolfcop, Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry) and Willie’s sister Kat (Sara Miller) to stop them. ANOTHER WOLFCOP is a major improvement over the first film, which inexplicably is a feature-length origin story for a character whose name tells you everything you need to know about him. With all that heavy lifting out of the way, writer/director Lowell Dean is free to jump straight into the distinctly Canadian alcohol-fueled monster hijinks that the first film promised but only intermittently delivered. This is fast, fun, and out of control, with multiple werewolves, a geriatric robot killer, puppet monsters, and gallons of blood. This is a damn near perfect midnight party movie.

 

 

COLOSSAL (Canada, dir. Nacho Vigalondo)

Alcoholic, unemployed writer Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is kicked out of the New York apartment she shares with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) after one too many all-night benders. She moves back upstate to her hometown into the house she grew up in, and her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) hires her to work part-time in the bar he inherited from his father. The next day, a giant reptilian monster appears in Seoul and stomps across part of the city. Gloria realizes that she is somehow responsible and has to make it right, but then the situation unexpectedly gets a lot more complicated. COLOSSAL is a deft blend of low-key indie relationship drama and giant monster movie. Normally these two completely different styles would never work together, but writer/director Nacho Vigalondo cleverly points the story in directions that make the central conflict(s) of the film echo in unexpected ways. Hathaway gives a great performance acting against type, but Sudeikis steals the show in a part that is also considerably different than any he’s done before.

 

FASHIONISTA (USA, dir. Simon Rumley)

Married couple April (Amanda Fuller) and Eric (Ethan Embry) run a vintage clothes store in Austin that their whole lives revolve around. They’re still reeling from a failed business partnership that they sunk years into when April starts to suspect Eric is having an affair with their employee Sherry (Alexandria DeBerry). After kicking Eric out of their shared apartment April meets the rich and mysterious Randall (Eric Balfour), a man whose obsession with clothes may rival her own. FASHIONISTA hangs on a spectacular performance by Amanda Fuller, who gave a similarly impressive performance in director Simon Rumley’s RED, WHITE, AND BLUE. Rumley has a special talent for portraying pathological behaviors in an unsettlingly immediate way, and here he applies that to April’s erotic obsession with clothing. FASHIONISTA covers a wide range of emotional territory: it’s sexy, funny, heartbreaking, and terrifying by turns. As dark as it gets, though, this is ultimately Rumley’s most optimistic and humane film by a wide margin.

 

 

KILLING GROUND (Australia, dir. Damien Power)

Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) are heading deep into the woods for a romantic weekend getaway, but when they arrive to set up camp they find someone else has already staked out part of the clearing they planned to use. They pitch their tent anyway, but as the day wears on there is no sign of their neighbors. A few days earlier, the owners of the tent arrived at the camp: Bored teenager Em (Tiamie Coupland) mopes around while her parents plan a hike with their toddler son Ollie. Meanwhile, locals German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane) discuss their own visit to the forest for a special hunting expedition. KILLING GROUND covers some well-worn territory, specifically recalling Greg McLean’s WOLF CREEK in its nasty approach to Australian “killers in the woods” tales. Its antagonists don’t quite have the ghoulishly cartoonish personality of that film’s Mick, instead aiming for a more fleshed-out relationship between the two of them more in line with Justin Kurzel’s SNOWTOWN. In other words, this is some extremely unpleasant survival horror, minus any sense of humor and with the addition of a toddler in constant danger along with the requisite cast of normal folks thrust into a horrific situation. There’s no denying that writer/director Damien Power wrings some queasy tension out of this situation, and in the end it does have something to say about how one’s actions can define them, but KILLING GROUND is just relentlessly mean-spirited and tough to watch.

 

MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU (Japan, dir. Yoshihiro Nishimura)

Middle-aged Yuji (Yoji Tanaka) is having a pretty bad week. He hates his job as a debt collector, and he’s really bad at it anyway. His aging mother is hitting him up for money, but he just maxed out his bank account. When he finds out he has cancer and only a short time to live, Yuji tries to turn his life around and meets young and beautiful Kaoru (Yurisa) just in time for a gigantic alien jar to fall from the sky and trap thousands of people in the city together. Soon alien parasites flood the streets, turning anyone infected into a biomechanical war machine with no purpose beyond fighting each other to the death. Yuji manages to retain his human consciousness and joins forces with a team of cops to save Kaoru from a city full of monsters. Director Yoshihiro Nishimura may be best known to American horror fans as the director of TOKYO GORE POLICE and HELLDRIVER, but he’s been working in special effects since the 1980s on cult classics from Shozin Fukui’s RUBBER’S LOVER to Noboru Iguchi’s THE MACHINE GIRL and nearly every one of Sion Sono’s films. Nishimura worked on the original MEATBALL MACHINE shorts and feature film, and his return to this world is appropriately bonkers. There is an unbelievable amount of practical gore in this film, complemented by insane puppets and makeup effects and a generous helping of atrocious CGI. Anyone familiar with those earlier films will have a good idea what to expect here: lots of screaming, POWER RANGERS-style fights between monsters (with fountains of gore, that is), and a tender love story buried under all the viscera. KODOKU has more humor than 2005’s model of MEATBALL MACHINE, though, which helps keep things interesting when the film’s absurd oceans of gore threaten to become just exhausting. THE MACHINE GIRL is probably the best entry point to this kind of balls-out modern Japanese splatter epic, but Nishimura’s willingness to embrace the absurdity of the style makes MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU a welcome change of pace from its contemporaries.

 

 

MFA (USA, dir. Natalia Leite)

Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) is a young artist at a prestigious university. One night while out at a party, she is raped by her classmate Luke (Peter Vack). Her best friend Skye (screenwriter Leah McKendrick) urges Noelle not to report the incident, but she does and finds everything Skye warned her about happening: the campus counselor downplays the incident and implies that it was Noelle’s fault. Noelle confronts Luke and accidentally kills him. When it looks like the police are writing off his death off as drug-related accident, Noelle starts to form a plan to punish other rapists on her campus. Her campaign of revenge has the unexpected side effect of inspiring her to do excellent new paintings, but will insistent police detective Kennedy (Clifton Collins, Jr.) stop her before her graduate exhibition? The rape-revenge subgenre is always controversial, but M.F.A. approaches it from a unique angle. Written and directed by women, this is a modern feminist take on the form defined by a compelling lead performance by Francesca Eastwood. This is some exceedingly bleak territory, but Eastwood and the rest of the cast navigate it deftly. Despite its occasionally overwhelming darkness, M.F.A. has moments of sly humor that help keep it from becoming completely oppressive. It’s sure to be divisive, but this is an intriguing take on difficult subject matter from a voice that needs to be heard.

 

SHIN GODZILLA (Japan, dir. Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi)

On an otherwise uneventful day in Japan, a large creature lurches out of the sea and lays waste to everything it passes as it runs on an erratic path through the nearby city before returning to the water. While the government tries to formulate a response–consulting scientists, passing relief bills for those who were in the creature’s path, holding press conferences to prevent panic–the creature returns, doubled in size, and sets out on a new round of massive destruction. Can the government stop this monster before it completely levels Tokyo? And how much paperwork is going to be left in its aftermath? Godzilla in SHIN GODZILLA seems to obviously be a metaphor for the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as the focus in the film is squarely on the lumbering machinations of government that have to happen to get anything done in a large-scale crisis. Godzilla is on screen and trashing Tokyo for maybe 20 minutes of the film’s two-hour run time, but the destruction is truly spectacular and the new take on the creature is more creepy and imaginative than it first seems. The other 100 minutes jump around from conference room to conference room, with large on-screen title cards displayed for every one of the film’s dozens of speaking parts, locations, military vehicles and weapons. If this sounds dry, it’s also slyly funny: one running joke involves nominal protagonist Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) getting an increasingly lengthy job title every few scenes, and there’s more than a little shade thrown at America’s mercenary response to the creature’s discovery. It’s an interesting approach to take, and it pays off. The final shots of the film hint at a much different and exciting possible direction for a sequel, so hopefully enough fans rally behind SHIN GODZILLA to make that happen.

 

 

 

 

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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