What to see this weekend at Fantasia

Our reviews of films screening at the festival today and tomorrow.

The Fantasia Festival began on Thursday and continues till Aug. 1, bringing three weeks of genre cinema to the theatres on Concordia’s downtown campus. Here is our first of many review round-ups:

Ip Man Legacy: Master Z

After the events of Ip Man 3, Cheung Tin Chi (a heroic and angular Max Zheng) has abandoned teaching martial arts and even using the Wing Chung style. He lives a humble life as a grocer, keeping his head down, much to his son’s chagrin. But like Ip Man, Tin Chi’s nature prevents him from ignoring trouble, launching him into gangland intrigue where he’ll have to face crime syndicate leader Kwan (a steely Michele Yeoh) and fight steak restaurant owner Owen Davidson (a massive, moustachioed Dave Bautista).

Master Z seems to herald the dawn of the IPCU (The Ip Man Cinematic Universe, of course) not only by bringing back its title character from another series but also by elevating its martial artists to superheroes. Capes and cinematic universes go hand-in-hand, after all, even delivering a rooftop fight surrounded by neon signs, straight out of the 1960s’ Batman comics.

While some unfocused melodrama muddles the middle of the movie, Yuen has lost none of his action directing panache. The veteran director gets a variety of great fights out of his actors, whether it’s contrasting Max Zhang’s diminutive frame against Dave Bautista’s hulking form (and pro wrestling moves) or Michelle Yeoh’s skill with a sword.

Even though it was made and released this year, Master Z feels right at home with North American releases of Hong Kong films of the 2000s released with the notable help of Tarantino. It’s an enjoyable assemblage of martial arts movie tropes put together by an old pro, whether it’s the start of a brand new franchise or not. (Yannick Belzil)

Ip Man Legacy: Master Z screens in the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 13, 12 p.m.

Phantom of Winnipeg

Sean Stanley and Malcolm Ingram’s Phantom of Winnipeg is a very funny and frequently very moving documentary on a very particular fanbase – the 40+ year cult surrounding Brian DePalma’s 1974 rock musical/horror movie Phantom of the Paradise in the city of Winnipeg. The film traces the development of this community. We hear from Winnipeggers who encountered the movie on its first release, mostly at the pivotal ages of 10-13, and went on to see it dozens of times on the big screen, keeping it in theatres in their city long after it closed everywhere else in North America. There are also testimonials from surviving cast members, including Paul Williams, and the producer Ed Pressman (but oddly not DePalma himself). All are suitably awestruck over Phantom‘s posthumous life, which culminated in the annual Phantompalooza event.
Phantom of Winnipeg is at its strongest when it deep-dives into the local culture of the city, and the often-troubled backgrounds of the fans who found DePalma’s Phantom and bonded over it. The film depicts rabid fandom in its best possible light, as a natural outgrowth of a collective love and appreciation of a work of art, and a spur to creativity, with fans growing up to make costumes, start tribute bands, etc. It does leave some unanswered questions. As to why the film touched a nerve in this city in a way it didn’t anywhere else in the world, there is some speculation about the isolation and cold of Winnipeg breeding a fascination with the forbidden rock world, but it doesn’t get very far. Of course, there is no definite answer to such a puzzle, and the documentary doesn’t linger on the issue for that long. 
It’s worth mentioning what a strange object DePalma’s film is a twisted mashup of FaustThe Picture of Dorian Gray, and, of course, The Phantom of the Opera, Phantom of the Paradise is arguably the most eccentric work by the most eccentric product of the Movie Brat generation comprising Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg. On the whole, it’s a much more pointed and troubling film than the big midnight cult movie of the 70’s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (a film mentioned only once in the doc, disparagingly, and something of an elephant in the room). Why (here and with these kids) is Phantom of Winnipeg‘s big unanswerable question. And you may have other queries, like what does DePalma think of his movie’s cult? Do the fans’ fascination with the movie extend to other DePalma films, or other movies in general, and if so, which ones? Some more context would have been welcome.
Still, in a time when fandom has achieved unheard-of levels of toxicity via the abuse of social media, and the manipulations of big media corporations (Did someone say Disney/Marvel?) Phantom of Winnipeg stands as a useful corrective. It reminds us that the starting point of fandom is love of art, and it demonstrates what a powerful force that can be. (Marc Carpenter)

Phantom of Winnipeg screens at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W) on Sunday July 14th, 11:45 a.m.

Porno

With a title like Porno it should come as no surprise that this horror-comedy is chock full of sex, violence, and buckets of blood. Less predictable, however, is a voracious sex demon, graphic genital mutilation, an earnest critique of conversion therapy, and some serious 90’s movie nostalgia.

Porno finds four teens spending their Friday night working at their local movie theatre with a born-again projectionist, and a devout Christian manager. Once the patrons have left, they commence preparations for their “Friday Night Film Club”, wherein they watch one of the two films currently playing. A drunk hobo finds his way inside, however, and leads them on a journey to a secret theatre, where they find a third mystery reel. Being the now- obvious choice for their viewing party, they settle in to watch it. Naturally, it unleashes a succubus, and all proverbial (sometimes literal) hell breaks loose as the cast finds themselves locked in, and besieged alike by satanic forces and their own repressed desires.

There’s much to enjoy in the film, as it delivers gore, humor, and caricatures of hypocritical right-wing Christians. Despite an energetic premise, with much satirical fodder, you may find yourself yearning for the exit as well when the film’s narrative begins to flounder midway through. Like many a horror-comedy, Porno suffers from being neither scary or funny enough for its running time. But fear not, patient practical effects fans will be rewarded, for while they are a long time coming, those effects alone are worth the price of admission. One cheerfully disgusting scene involving some exploded testicles should be enough to restore your goodwill. (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)

Porno screens at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W). on Saturday July 13, 11:55 p.m. and Tuesday July 16, 12 p.m.

Jade’s Asylum

A mansion party deep inside the forests of Costa Rica seems like the perfect place to have a great time but Jade Williams (a perpetually-troubled Morgan Kohan) is very far from that. Stuck in the house with a bunch of boorish men, she has a fight with her boyfriend and is set on heading back to the airport, even if it’s 400 miles away. When she’s harassed by memories (or even spirit?) of her dead father (a gaunt Roc Lafortune) she can only wonder if she’s going mad or not. But whether her reality is collapsing or not, there are bigger problems on the horizon: mysterious woodland figures are slaughtering the house guests and coming for whoever’s trying to help them.

Writer-Director Alexandre Carrière opens right from the start with disjointed storytelling meant to evoke his heroine’s loose grip on reality. The disconnection adds tension and foreboding to the movie’s bloodier images but flashbacks upon flashbacks coupled with hallucinations end up killing any momentum the film might have. Constant cutting back to previous events muddles an already thin plot. Faring better is the depiction of the mysterious forest folks who stalk and kill the hapless oafs who venture outside the mansion. Their bark-covered skin and their milky green eyes are striking but the rest of the movie fails to create interest in the rest of the cast. While a predictable horror story might still be enjoyable when told well, Jade’s Asylum stumbles in simply recounting its own tale. (YB)

Jade’s Asylum screens in the Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday July 13, 4:30 p.m.

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is a taut thriller that’s as funny as it is exciting. It’s the kind of movie that’s unfortunately become rare in Hollywood. While very Korean, it harkens back to muscular, star-driven action movies like Clint Eastwood’s Tightrope and even Die Hard.

Jung Tae-suck seems to be the only straight cop in Cheonan. A hot shot eager to uphold the law and advance on the force, he has a chronic beef with mob boss Jang Dong-soo and his criminal dealings. All this comes despite the fact his chief is on Dong-soo’s payroll. Meanwhile, Dong-soo survives a brutal attack by the serial killer, K, whom Tae-suck wants to catch, becoming the sole eyewitness of the killings. Soon, cop and Dong form an unlikely alliance to stop K. Not entirely simpatico, it’s more a contest over who can get to K first, as their hopes about what happens to him when he’s captured regarding differ greatly.

The collision of mob and police worlds provides substantial humour, countering the grisliness of the frequent slayings, and offering multiple reprieves from the considerable tension. A particular highlight is the performance of Don Lee as Dong-soo, whose somewhat bashful but always menacing presence is reminiscent of James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is sure to be one of the crowd-pleasing highlights of this year’s festival. (KF & MC)

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil screens in the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday July 13, 7:15 p.m.

Critters Attack!

Everyone’s childhood is marked by a couple of seminal films; Critters 2 was my first horror film at the tender age of 7. Like any curious kid, I would frequently sneak down to watch TV in my parents’ basement. Little did I know that the monster under my bed would forever be defined as a furry ball of razor sharp teeth that not only killed the Easter bunny, in church no less, but formed a giant ball that stripped the flesh from all that lay in its path. It’s a wonder I was ever able to look at an Easter egg again, and doubtlessly ironic that I became a hardcore horror fan, chasing that initial terror high for the rest of my life. Flash forward thirty years and Critters Attack! reboots the franchise with moderate success.

Drea’s post-high school dreams have stalled following her mother’s accidental death. Plagued by guilt, she struggles to be admitted to her mother’s alma mater while working at Famous Sushi, which has the “best blades in the business” – a clear case of foreshadowing. On the heels of her latest rejection letter, she accepts a referral to babysit the History department head’s kids, hoping the new connection will eventually yield admission. She and her alien-obsessed younger brother, who insists he saw UFOs the night before, take the pre-teens for a walk in the park; there they discover and adopt a wounded Krite. Meanwhile, mayhem unfolds as the hungry Krites find numerous victims. 

Critters Attack! is missing a lot: the witty, subtitled Krite banter, their childlike comic antics, the sense that adults were credible equals in battle, the gloriously cheesy spaceships, the space garb, and the bounty hunters from space. Instead, the film brings far more detailed and quality Krites, making for spectacular practical effects (which should have been a given three decades later, but was not at all the case with the Shudder TV reboot), way more gore earning it the first R-rating, a more serious horror tone, with injections of comedy to break the tension, and scream queen Dee Wallace returning as “Aunt Dee” a covert, Earthbound bounty hunter. Critters Attack! contains a plethora of references to the originals. Like “Stranger Things”, it pays homage to 80’s horror, but the potent air of nostalgia can’t hide the disappearance of something fundamental to the original: the (conservative) underlying belief in a strong adult authority. Now, the kids are on their own.Fans of the originals will likely be disappointed by the weak narrative, but will delight in the ample carnage and large amount of screen time dedicated to the Krites. (KF)

Critters Attack! screens at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 13, 4:45 p.m.

Almost a Miracle

Almost a Miracle is a lighthearted coming of age story that doubles as a romantic comedy. It follows the implausible, often absurd antics of its protagonist, Machida. He’s a well-intentioned dumbass, who is sometimes compared to Christ, as he puts the interests and well-being of others above his own.

Initially Machida is socially inept, and ignorant about romantic love. Thanks to the Greek chorus played in the form of a fellow student, we can not only predict how the story will unfold, but are also all too aware of its agonizing pace. Machida forms a bond with Inohara, a social outcast because of her birthright; she’s the product of her famous actress mother’s secret love affair. The social commentary in the film is delivered by a reporter with literary aspirations who is stuck toiling away as a “muckraker”, fulfilling society’s need to feel better about itself by exposing the ills of others. Desperate to shift the tide, he begins following Machida, so he can show the world a better way.

While Machida’s slapstick antics are fitfully amusing, they will begin to wear on those seeking more substance. With its episodic structure, and proliferation of characters and situations, the film meanders more than it should due to a lack of focus and insufficient comic momentum. However, thanks mainly to the charming performances of the two young leads, Almost a Miracle is almost a success. (KF & MC)

Almost a Miracle screens in the Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday July 13, 7 p.m. and again on Thursday July 18, 4:45 p.m.

For the full Fantasia program, go to the festival’s website