Well, the first night of Fantasia has come and gone like a spirited midnight quickie, half remembered and leaving mysterious bruises and strained backs on all involved. Like most Fantasia openings, it was a rousing affair of speeches, cheers, overenthusiastic meows and a party afterward that was probably fun, but I wouldn’t know because screw socializing, I’m here for the cinema.

As has been the case so often, the main attraction for the evening was the new film by Takashi Miike, Fantasia darling and nominee for the most hard-working, utterly bashit insane director of the year award.

POSTER “üeHis new film, Shield of Straw, seems like dyed in the wool action/crime thriller, kind of a Japanese 3:10 to Yuma. After assaulting and murdering a 7-year old girl, an introverted psychopath has a bounty placed on his head by the girl’s billionaire grandfather, leading him to turn himself in. Of course, he has to be transported to Tokyo for trial, which means a small team of (naturally) emotionally unstable cops has to haul the bastard across the country, with everyone and their dog after them to try and kill the guy and collect the reward, including cops, a fact that quickly leads to mistrust and discord among the main cast.

Takashi Miike is one of those directors whose built up such a rep for throwing insane curveballs and going places you wouldn’t expect that the film already has a kind of tension from the get-go, as anyone who knows Miike’s work knows that all bets are off. In one scene when a crazed would be assassin holds a little girl at knife-point, the tension in the audience was palpable. In any other film, you know that kid’s gonna be ok. But this is Miike, we don’t know he wouldn’t have that kid get stabbed in the throat and bleed out right in front of us. It could totally happen. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Miike wasn’t deliberately playing with those expectations. It might as well have been him holding that knife to the kid, screaming “What am I gonna do?! You don’t know!! I own you!!”.

Expectations aside, what we’ve still got is a whip-smart thriller. The tension and suspense of who’s a traitor and whether or not the honest to the point of naivete hero cop will finally snap and put a bullet down the little shit’s ear canal are all played pretty high, and the film relies upon this far more than shooty action and thrills, are though there some pretty damn fun gun fights and this bit with a truck full of nitroglycerin.

Finally, on a totally nerdy technical note, the sound design is fantastic. Gunshots are actually appropriately loud and properly reverberate given the environment, and incidental sound effects like punches and squealing tires have more fidelity and punch (heh) than you see in most flicks.

Moving on to another high-profile debut, the second half of the evening was taken up by The Conjuring, the new horror film by Saw and Insidious director James Wan.

I’ve never been a fan of Wan’s work, which is a nice way of saying I found every time I’ve seen one of his movies I’ve wanted to grab him by the throat and throttle him yelling “You’re killing a genre you bastard!”. My hope was that since this time around it’s all based on a true story he’ll reign in things and go for subtlety through and through, and not have it end with Nite Owl being chased around by Darth Maul after he stole Freddy Krueger’s glove and got a bad haircut. Maybe this time things won’t just become a fireworks display of over the top effects and noise by the end.


By the time I got to the metro afterwards and started muttering angrily to myself about modern horror movies being crap, I realized that really wasn’t the case.

On the surface, it’s your fairly standard “idyllic family moves into new house, scary shit happens” plot. The Perrons, a nauseatingly happy family in the mid-70s, move into a new house, and before long find themselves being attacked by a demonic entity. Enter the Warrens, a husband and wife demonoligist team who set out to save the Perrons and spout exposition.

The film first shoot itself in the foot when, after it reminds us desperately that all of this is apparently true, it goes about depicting everything with this weird, almost cartoonish awkward exaggeration. Part of this is the acting, which ranges from passable to dismal. Almost nobody talks like an actual human being, they almost invariably sound like an actor reciting lines, which makes it a tad hard to believe or invest in the events. Wan’s direction similarly comes across as very deliberate and overt. There’s all these self-consiously precise camera movements, like Wan has some kind of bizarre fetish for dollys and pans, and after a while it’s like “Can you just stop playing with the angles for a minute and let the story play out?”.

The absolute apex of the film’s endeavor to have the audience not take it seriously is Officer Brad, a doofy comic relief cop who shows up in the second half to cut the tension and wander around looking like he did porno before he joined the force.

My hopes that for once a modern horror movie could show some goddamn restraint in the finale were dashed, when the last 20 minutes turns out to be a cavalcade of shrieking and noise and people being flung about on wires and “Oooh look at the scary witch, isn’t the frightening blaaagh blaagh!!!” and for fuck’s sake people, why is it that horror movies these days ALWAYS do this? It was bad enough in Mama where they showed the goddamn monster, well lit, and perfectly visible, but the ending of Conjuring just feels like the film gets tired of slow-burn tension and decides to just yell at us for 20 minutes, and that’s not scary, it’s annoying or downright silly, if not both.

And all this wouldn’t be as annoying if The Conjuring didn’t have some decent scenes and atmosphere, bits where you don’t actually SEE anything and it’s all conveyed through acting and sound and the implication of something scary rather than having shit thrown in our faces. If the movie had stuck with that it probably would have wound up being good, but it didn’t and now I’m just angry.

Stop making me angry James Wan.

Like an elephant hurtling towards the surface of Jupiter, Fantasia Film Fest is bearing down on the city of Montreal with the kind of severity that normally sets off air-raid sirens. Every year for a few weeks, all the best, weirdest and most generally fucked up films the world has to offer can be found playing on Montreal screens, invoking awe and the occasional seizure in the audience.

This year’s fest, which will screen over 120 films, is shaping up to be a good one, one I look forward to spending my every waking hour at, to the detriment of my family and frontal lobe. But in case you’re not like me and mark this on your calender every year like some people mark this year’s estimated Rapture date, you may still be on the fence. As always, I’m here for you, with a look at some of the most interesting looking stuff we’re in for this year.

Shield of Straw (Dir Takashi Miike)

It wouldn’t be Fantasia without Takashi Miike, the Japanese cult filmmaker who churns out films with the same tireless gusto with which Stephen King turns out forgettable novels. His new film, Shield of Straw, looks to open this year’s fest with his usual amounts of violence and shouting, as an elite police unit in modern day Japan transports a violent prisoner across the country.

In terms of content, it looks to be one of Miike’s more “normal” efforts of late, with nary a Samurai or dance number or spikey-haired lawyer in sight. All the same, those familiar with Miike’s work probably should be prepared to anything to happen.

gatchaman_movie_poster_1Gatchaman (Dir Toya Sato)

Gatchaman, a property about a team of bird-themed superheroes strangely referred to as a “science ninja team” (which just puts me in the mind of someone running a particle accelerator veeery quietly) has been on the cusp of its own big-time movie for some time now.

Before it sadly went out of business, American animation studio Imagi was all set to produce an English language CGI Gatchaman movie, teasers for which can still be seen

Now Toya Sato, a mostly unknown director, is posed to bring a sexy, teched-up version of Gatchaman to the big screen, with tons of effects and explosions and broody attractive people to back it up. Most Japanese superhero films, spinoffs of TV franchises like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, are usually killed by feeling too low-budget and tv-ish, but from the trailers Gatchaman doesn’t have seem to have this problem, so this one’s definitely high on my priorities list.

The Conjuring (Dir James Wan)

There’s a lot of huff and noise around The Conjuring, the new haunted house movie from Saw director James Wan.

Based on a true story, the film focuses on a pair of Paranormal Investigators, an interesting twist admittedly, called to help out a family with a ghost problem. So basically it’s like Poltergeist from the perspective of the little woman with the ludicrous accent.

Of course, The Conjuring, and James Wan himself, both have one mark against them already: the fact that contrary to popular opinion, Insidious was about as scary as stale toast and so monstrously overrated I sometimes wonder if I’m the butt of some practical joke. All the same, I’ll probably give it a shot, if only because I’m always open to being proved wrong, even though most of the time I’m still right.

Drug War (Dir. Johnnie To)Drug War 2013 1080p Blu-ray ACV DTS-HD MA TrueHD 7.1-HDWinG - 2.jpg

Hong Kong director Johnnie To has built a pretty impressive name for himself in the world of crime thrillers and shoot-em-ups, boasting such flicks as The Mission, PTU, Exiled, Vengeance and Breaking News on his resume.

This is a man who KNOWS how to direct a gunfight, and if you want evidence, just look at the tense mall shoot-out in The Mission or the single-take opening of Breaking News.

After dabbling in romantic comedies of all damn things, To seems to have returned to his roots of finding new and creative ways to show people shooting the crap out of each other, and Drug War looks like the film to see for Hong Kong action fans.

Vegetarian Cannibal (Dir. Branko Schmidt)

The title alone, and the description “The story of a corrupt gynecologist’s exploits within a toxic medical system” makes this one sound like a screwball farce, but director Branko Schmidt has by all accounts turned out a tense, psychological horror flick aimed at unnerving the audience as much as possible.

Given that this is Fantasia, the fest that purportedly cheered at scenes of shocking brutality in T.F Mou’s Men Behind the Sun, Vegetarian Cannibal has a pretty high order to fill if it wants to get under the skin of this audience.

By all accounts though, if any flick will succeed it’s this one, and gore hounds and fans of transgressive cinema will want to watch it.

worlds-end-posterThe World’s End (Dir. Edgar Wright)

A few years back, Shaun of the Dead had its North American premier at Fantasia, blowing the socks off horror fans and ensuring that director Edgar Wright would never be short of fans lining up to give him blowjobs and script ideas.

Now just shy of ten years later, the last film in the unoffical “Cornetto Trilogy” that began with Shaun and its follow-up Hot Fuzz, is ready to hit screens, and bring Fantasia 2013 to a close.

Reuniting stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the focus seems to be sci-fi this time, as Pegg and newcomers Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine play a gang of friends brought together after 20 years apart to make one last go at the epic pub crawl they never finished in their misspent youth, while discovering their childhood haunt is infested with Body Snatchers style alien doubles.

To say fans have been waiting for this one for a while is a wee bit of an understatement, and this will probably be one of the first films of the fest to sell out, so I’d advise buying your tickets now. Like NOW.