Fantasia: Ghosts, Bluegrass & Teddy Bears

The Fantasia film festival launched this weekend, offering screenings of over 100 feature-length films and over 200 shorts. The programming can be overwhelming, so the discriminating minds at Cult MTL will help steer you in the right direction.

Veerle Baetens in Broken Circle Breakdown

Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring

The Conjuring

The Conjuring depicts the exploits of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. It begins by establishing them as experts in their field, lending credibility to what follows, especially when they’re shown debunking a suspected haunting. Based on events that took place in 1971, the film focuses on the Warrens’ efforts to help the Perron family resolve the supernatural occurrences that plague them in their new home.

The movie re-imagines the look and feel of ‘70s horror — so well in fact that it’s easy to forget it’s a new release. It skillfully and subtly blends its retro homage (with allusions to Psycho, Burnt Offerings and, of course, The Exorcist, among others) with CGI and ghosts nodding towards new horror standards set by the Japanese Ringu and Juon. James Wan, best known for launching the Saw franchise, has made an excellent film that artfully builds tension the old-fashioned way, with carefully developed characters and atmosphere.

With its build-up towards the climactic exorcism sequence, The Conjuring is a hugely enjoyable and compelling ride. The one caveat is the lack of care devoted to backstory. With the gamut of spirits intertwined with the house, a more detailed history lesson would have provided welcome clarity and grounding for what happens — this is the only area where the film may have overplayed its hand. Narrative clutter aside, The Conjuring is something to behold. Savour it, as you can only see it for the first time once. (KF & MC)

The Conjuring is in theatres now



Filter Calvin & Hobbes through ethereal magical realism and you have something approaching Animals, Spanish director Marçal Forés’s beautiful but labored directorial debut. Pol (Oriol Pla) is a mopey teenager whose life is severely impacted by the fact that the only person he really wants to speak to is an old yellow teddy bear named Deerhoof who sounds like a Speak ‘n Spell and only serves to validate everything that Pol says and thinks.

Forés is adept at creating a moody, dreamy atmosphere but leans so hard on imagery and abstraction that it eventually becomes tedious, especially as plot strands multiply at a rapid rate only to fizzle out later. Forés is a masterful visual stylist, and Animals contains at least half a dozen scenes that would make for incredible music videos (the score, comprised almost entirely of Spanish garage-rock nuggets, is an inspired choice) but it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts. (AR)

Animals plays Saturday, July 27

The Dirties

The Dirties

Shot semi on the sly in Peterborough, the guerrilla-style found-footage school shooting comedy (!) The Dirties is the rare kind of debut film that comes out with a singularity of purpose and fully formed style. Pitched somewhere between Superbad and Man Bites Dog, it follows the daily lives of a couple of outcast teenagers (Owen Williams and director Matt Johnson) who go from making a short film about a school shooting to actually planning one, causing a rift in their friendship as Matt sinks further and further into obsession.

There are a lot of ballsy moves in The Dirties, from the decision to present it as found-footage fully edited into a final product (rather than the more common ‘this is the raw video recovered’) to the guerilla filmmaking (the extras are often unaware they’re in the movie) and, of course, the relatively humorous approach to the least humorous of subjects. Every risk taken by Johnson (who has a rather commanding and charismatic presence on-screen) and his team pays off — The Dirties is certainly one of the more impressive and surprising films of the festival thus far. (AR)

The Dirties plays Monday, July 29

Broken Circle Breakdown

Broken Circle Breakdown

A couple of Flemish bluegrass musicians watch their relationship crumble after their young daughter is diagnosed with cancer. The one-line summary of The Broken Circle Breakdown almost sounds like a joke, a made-up movie from a sitcom where the plucky heroine goes on a blind date with an intellectual blowhard. But to dismiss the film for its premise would be overlooking one of the most harrowing dramas in recent memory.

It certainly toes the line between effective drama and overwrought misery porn, but director Felix van Groeningen uses non-linear storytelling and wall-to-wall bluegrass music (if the performance of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ doesn’t decimate you, I don’t know what to say) to draw pathos out of singular moments rather than a forever-mounting series of calamities and tragedies. Incredible performances (both musical and personal) make this one of the most painful dissections of a relationship since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. While it does strike me as a bit of an anomaly on the genre-heavy Fantasia slate, make no mistake: this is as exhausting and harrowing as anything you’re likely to see this year. (AR)

Broken City Breakdown plays Tuesday, July 30

I Am Divine

I Am Divine

Considering that there’s already a documentary considered rather final on Divine (1998’s Divine Trash, from which this film even reuses footage), it’s hard to feel that this lively look at the silver screen’s most outsized drag queen is really necessary. Mixing a healthy amount of archival footage with recent interviews, it tells the story of Divine’s rise to fame and untimely passing in a funny and entertaining fashion.

Fans will find little they didn’t know throughout the mix of interviews with usual suspects (Waters, Mink Stole, Divine’s mother) and more whimsical choices (former Warhol protégée Holly Woodlawn eats up a significant part of the film, even though her connection to Divine seems tenuous at best). Footage and pictures are reused often, creating a kind of high-end VH1 feel to the proceedings, but it can serve as a more than adequate primer for someone unfamiliar with the legendary antics of its star subject. (AR)

I Am Divine plays Tuesday, July 30

Ip Man: The Final Fight

Ip Man: The Final Fight

Ip Man is such a popular figure in Chinese culture that it’s nigh impossible to figure out the connections between all of the Ip Man biopics in recent times. Ostensibly the third film in a series that originally starred Donnie Yen in the title role (he’s replaced by the great Anthony Wong here), Ip Man: The Final Fight looks at the last third of the great martial arts master’s life  through archetypal biopic lens.

Rather light and entertaining, Ip Man: The Final Fight turns the typical biopic on its head by throwing in a crackling kung-fu fight every ten minutes — sometimes justified, sometimes hilariously gratuitous. The fight choreography is dizzying, Wong is poised and charismatic in the lead and the film is overall pretty entertaining, although it does periodically dip in hero-worship cheese befitting of our very own Heritage Minutes . It’s not exactly a classic of the genre, but it’s undeniably a good time. (AR)

Ip Man: The Final Fight plays Wednesday, July 31

The Fantasia film festival runs until Aug. 7. For the film schedule and locations, head to their website.

By Alex Rose, Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter

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