FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2020 (by Gilbert Seah)
This year the Montreal based FANTASIA Film Festival takes on a virtual edition. But the films are no less interesting. Fantasia started off as an Asian fantasy genre based festival but have now mouthed into the international scene. The lineup of films are spectacular. Being virtual, one can attend the festival on line without the hassle of travelling to Montreal, amazing as the city is.
Being virtual, this is the first year that I am attending this festival. And I am very impressed with with it so far, in terms of organization, adapting it to Covid-19 times, efficiency of the staff, as well as the selection of films.
I have capsule previewed selected films in this article. Because of embargo restrictions, some reviews cannot appear till the day before a physical screening. Please check this site for new capsule reviews.
For the complete program of films and schedule, it is best to check the festival website at:
Capsule Reviews of Selected Films:
12 HOUR SHIFT(USA 2020) ****
Directed by Brea Grant
Written and directed by Bea Grant (LUCKY), 12 HOUR SHIFT is an assured and very funny black comedy about an opiate addicted nurse, Mandy (Angela Bettis) who is involved with an organ harvesting scheme to fuel her drug habit. Set and filmed in Arkansas, the action takes place during her 12 hour killer shift where everything goes wrong. Mandy is determined to have everything sorted despite losing the organs due to her dumb witted blonde half cousin (Chloe Farnsworth) who demonstrates that there is nothing dumber than a dumb blonde. The humour is original and wicked with colourful characters all leading to an exciting climax where the action reaches a manic peak. David Arquette who also serves as the film’s producer has a supporting role as a thug who hates cops. Bettis plays the nurse Mandy with the sarcasm similar to Amy Sedaris in STRANGERS WITH CANDY. 12 HOUR SHIFT is clearly the most entertaining film at the Fantasia International Film Festival.
BABY: THE SECRET DIARY OF A MOM TO BE (Hong Kong 2019) **
Directed by Luk Yee-Sum
The mom of the film title is a Hong Kong PR, Carmen (Dada Chan) more interested in her career than in her pregnancy. She threatens to abort the baby (she talks to the yet-to-be-born baby) if it makes her throw one more time. Abortion is not a laughing matter, and this segment comes across as really rather obnoxious than funny. She also keeps the pregnancy from her husband (Kevin Chu), a gorgeous basketball player who is cute that his cuteness hides the fact that he is a really actor. Director Luk (LAZY HAZY CRAZY) tries to be cute with her quirky characters but the immaturity of all her characters results in a film that is more annoying that anything else. The film boasts performances by Shaw Brothers’ actors Candace You and pop star Louis Cheng who also turn in annoying performances of annoying characters. The film gets much worse as it progresses.
BLEED WITH ME (Canada 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Amelia Moses
A 90 minute slow burn psychological thriller/horror in which not much happens in the first half, which is a good thing as director Moses builds up her audience’s anticipation in which not much can be guessed regarding the horror that will occur. Rowan (Lee Marshall), a shy and awkward young woman, struggles to integrate herself on a weekend getaway with her best friend, Emily (Lauren Beatty) and her boyfriend, Brendan (Aris Tyros). Feeling like a lamp post, she drinks to calm her nerves, pushing her body and mind deep into a hazy trance, where she begins to witness nightmarish late-night visions that make her feel increasingly unwelcome, unsure and unstable. Moses drops little hints of the horror that islet to come like a revelation that Emily has just recovered from some breakdown or the scene where Emily sucks the blood from the Rowan’s cut finger. The best scene is when Emily serves Rowan tea that Rowan knows has been drugged and Emily says to her: “Don’t you trust me?” A good old-fashioned satisfactory thriller that makes good use of suspense tactics that is worthy of Hitchcock.
THE COLUMNIST (DE KUTHOER)(Netherlands 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Ivo van Aart
THE COLUMNIST is a dark thriller with comedic overtones about social media bullying. Films about a timid souls forced to come out of their shells have proven to be great fodder for future films like Sam Peckinpah’s THE STRAW DOGS, and John Cassevetes’ GLORIA just to game a few. Femke Boot (Ktja Herbers) is a columnist and fresh novelist who has become the brunt of nasty tweets for her opinion that people should be nicer. The tweets she gets are downright nasty wishing her dead if not calling her names of really awful private parts. Her daughter is herself facing problems in school for being outspoken to help poorer countries in freedom of speech. Femke has finally had enough of the cyber bullying and decides to take matters in her own hands. The bullies find out that they have picked the wrong victim. Bullies are nasty but victims, when pushed to the limit can be just as nasty if not nastier. That said, THE COLUMNIST, a revenge fantasy is wicked and delicious entertaining set in the current times of unblocked social media.
FEELS GOOD MAN (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Arthur Jones
Have you heard of Pepe the Frog? You would have if you are an ardent internet user or a kid watching cartoons or reading comic books. Or a total loser two has used Pepe as a meme.
The word meme has been popularized with the advancement of the internet, especially through Youtube and Facebook. A meme is an idea, behaviour, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. Pepe the Frog is a meme.
The film follows artist Matt Furie, creator of the comic character Pepe the Frog, who begins an uphill battle to take back his iconic cartoon image from those who used it for their own purposes.
The title comes from one of Matt’s cartoons. Pepe discovers a friend while opening the toilet door, taking a piss with his pants and trousers pulled right down to the floor. “Feels Good Man” is the reason for doing so. This and Matt’s drawing of the sad face frog began to get extremely popular and surface on the internet. Others have used pep’s image to propagate hate crimes. Kill Jews are example of words that come out from Pepe’s mouth as posted on the internet by others. Pepe became a hate icon. Matt tries to take back Pepe the Frog, while suing the companies and the people who have used his frog character to commit hate crimes in the guise of free speech. Trump also comes into the picture. One can only say that that is America for you - free speech as an excuse to do despicable deeds.
Director Jones unfolds his film in a straight forward manner. He uses Matt throughout his documentary using with him appearing in a majority of the scenes. Matt is fortunately quite a decent looking guy, rather cool in away with a good conscience thus making a different and of hero/protagonist. The film begins with a brief history of Matt and how he started creating Pepe the Frog. Director Jones interviews people to have their say on their impressions of Pepe. The doc then follows the unethical use of Pepe and the reason for doing so. Experts on the subject of memes are also consulted and interviewed. Matt comes back not the picture to reclaim Pepe’s innocence. The film focuses also on the mental effects all this has on Matt.
The final result is a happy ending that FEELS GOOD MAN. Jones’ film is informative, good natured and shows that good will eventually triumph over evil and stupidity.
FEELS GOOD MAN is currently playing in Virtual Theatres during the Montreal based Fantasia International Film Festival and also opens on VOD September the 4th.
MARYGOROUND (Maryjki) (Poland 2020) ***
Directed by Daria Woszek
Though slated as a comedy, MARyGOROUND is more a psychological drama/horror that follows 50-year old virgin Mary as she attempts to change her life after reaching menopause. She begins hormonal therapy to help her transition, which is all the more frustrating since she has never had children. She fills her apartment that she shares with her niece by statues of the Virgin Mary, a clear and unequivocal representation of her hopes for a miracle. Though basically a feminine themed film, director Woszek bring both genders into Mary’s secluded wold of work at a small grocery store and her home. Her decent into madness is creepily documented while the audience is kept sympathetic towards her. Mary is played by Grazyna Misiorowska (who looks a bit like Ingrid Bergman) who delivers an unforgettable performance. Not so much a comedy but what happens to Mary is sort of funny/weird.
ME AND ME (South Korea 2020) ***1/2
Direct by Jung Ji n-young
A fascinating mystery thriller that has the feel of GROUNDHOG DAY without the comedy. It all genius in a country village, where Soo-hyuk, a primary-school teacher adored by his pupils, and his wife, the sweet and shy Yi-young, seem to be the ideal couple. However, the latter is afflicted with a strange evil. At nightfall, her personality changes dramatically, as if she were possessed, and in the morning she becomes the young woman everyone loves again. When one of the curious villagers comes across a Yi-young in judoka mode, the community, frightened by her unpredictability, decides to build a cage for her in the attic of her house. Unfortunately, this idea quickly turns to tragedy and the couple trapped and burnt to death. Enter Detective Hyung-gu, who arrives in the village to investigate the fire that claimed the couple’s life. The detective now becomes the film’s protagonist as he suddenly adopts the teacher’s identity losing everything he has had before. He believes it a nightmare except that he does not wake up from it. An original story only too fascinating that it leaves an unexplained open ending that might frustrate some viewers. Still director Jung takes his audience for a wild ride keeping them guessing all the time.
THE OAK ROOM (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Cody Calahan
THE OAK ROOM is played in mainly two acts each with two actors doing all the talking with the exception of one little flashback story of a kid on the farm. Cody Calahan (ANTISOCIAL) directs from a stage bound script by Peter Genoway in a film that feels too much like watching a play. The story begins on a snowy night in a small Canadian town. Paul (Peter Outerbridge) has just closed up his bar when a young man named Steve (RJ Mitte) walks in the door – carrying a lot of baggage. The shared history between the two results in significant tension before Steve says he’s got a hell of a story to tell. It’s about another bar, The Oak Room, another snowy night, and another bartender visited after hours, this time by a stranger. In the flashback story of a kid, it is mentioned that the kid is very poor but the filmmakers make a boo-boo with the kid shown running out of a gorgeous huge house that only a wealthy family can afford. Given the limitation of the film’s settings, the cinematography and camerawork are impressive.
THE OLD MAN: THE MOVIE (Vanamehe film) (Estonia 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Oskar Lehemaa and Mikk Mago
I have only seen a handful of films from Estonia but of the ones I have seen (DARKNESS IN TALLINN), they are of superb quality. THE OLD MAN: THE MOVIE runs in the same category, a stop animation plasticine cartoon (looking like the British WALLACE AND GROMIT animation cartoons). There are twin themes in theplot. One is the glory of milk and how milking a cow is an art. The villain of this story is an evil ex-farmer (or ex-milker) who want to behead cows, notably then that has escaped from the family farm. The second theme is the relationship the family - between the grandpa and the three children left by their parents under his care. The children used to spend all their time playing games on their mobile phones till grandpa feed their cellulars to the pig in the barn. The humour is funniest when it gets goofy and absurdist. The story could not have been more inventive or funnier. The outstanding thing about this film is its gorgeous old-time animation process which is worth more than the price of the ticket. Warning! This animated feature is not for children.
PERDIDA (Colombia/Mexico 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Jorge Michel Grau
A dark thriller with a Hitchcockian theme, PERDIDA (a remake of the Colombian film THE HIDDEN FACE) follows the path of three characters. Eric (José María de Tavira) is a man in crisis. The conductor of a prestigious Mexican philharmonic, his seemingly happy life is shattered by the abrupt breakup with his wife, Carolina (Paulina Dávila), who leaves him with only a goodbye video and nothing else. Eric meets waitress, Fabiana (Cristina Rodlo), and finds himself returning to life. Nothing more should be revealed of the plot that contains lots of sinister overtones, as knowing more would definitely spoil the entertainment. Director Grau (the cannibal film WE ARE WHAT WE ARE) toys a lot with audience anticipation, a trait found in many of Hitchcock’s films. The real personalities of the three characters emerge only at the last third of the film, when once only wishes the best for the victim who had essentially put herself in the predicament in the first place. A slow start but the film picks up after the second half with everything neatly tied up at the end. I have not seen the original, but this remake is a solid emotional thriller that should not fail too satisfy fans of the mystery/thriller genre.
SANZARU (USA 2019) **
Directed by Xia Magnus
Evelyn, a young Filipina nurse (Aina Dumlao), has moved to the remote Texan estate of the Regans. Tasked with taking care of the family’s aging matriarch, Dena (Jayne Taini), she also takes in her nephew – suspended from school, and whom Dena suspects of stealing her things. As the symptoms of dementia get worse – especially at night, when the elder’s behaviour becomes truly unpredictable – the relationship of care turns increasingly strained and abusive. The supernatural element of the film comes from Evelyn hearing mysterious noises emanating from the intercom, and the family’s cockatiel exhibits its own strange behaviour. Director Magnus’ film is a very slow burn. The film has an excellent moody and creepy atmosphere better captured here than in many a horror film. But the narrative is weak and never clearly explains the reason behind the the weird happenings. The result is letdown of a movie that had already build up high expectations. The film is shot in Filipino and English. The film also captures the terrible burden of giving palatial care for the aged. Warning: This film is terribly depressing!
SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD (China 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Sam Quah
Re-make of an Indian/Malaysian film DRISHYAM, SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD is the Chinese box-office champion in 2020 that looks like the typical Hollywood action flick where a protagonist has to fight thugs to save his family. The father in this case is a Chinese living in Thailand. His daughter has been taken advantage of by the Thai son of a politician and police chief and accidentally killed by mother and daughter. So, it is up to father, trying to bring his estranged family together as well as protect them. Why the film is set in Thailand is a mystery, perhaps to give the film a more exotic flair. It is odd that this apparently backed Chinese production puts down a corrupt government, though it be the Thai, which likely could stand in for the Chinese government. It is not the typical action flick where the father is a martial-arts champion fighter. He is in this film, an ordinary man using brain instead of brawn to save his family, a scenario that includes two surprise plot twists that makes the film more credible.
SLAXX (Canada 2019) **
Directed by Elza Kephart
SLAXX derived from the word slacks is a sorry excuse of a medic horror film that supposedly tackles the issues of every day life like GMO products and child labour. When a possessed pair of jeans begins to kill the staff of a trendy clothing store, it is up to Libby McClean (Romaine Denis), an idealistic young new salesclerk, to stop its bloody rampage. All the action takes place at the CCC Clothing store where an assortment of managers and workers attempt to survive the mayhem. The villain of the piece is the store manager Craig (Brett Donahue) aka robot king who demonstrates accurately in the film what overacting is. Co-written by director Kephart is one movie that wears its plot thing and dreary. Over-violent for a comedy that is generally unfunny! so-so special effects with th slacks walking on their own.
YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE (USA 2020) *
Directed by David Darg and Price James
There have been weird subjects for documentaries but this one takes the cake. YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE is a documentary about the actor and his obsession with pro-wrestling. David Arquette is an actor best known for the SCREAM movies. He even got himself to win the World Wrestling champion, much to the anger of pro-wrestling fans. This doc follows Arquette’s obsession and the psychology that goes with it. If one cannot stand pro-wrestling or Arquette, best to give this film a miss. The interviewees on view include a choice of his siblings, brother and sister (Patricia Arquette) who have pretty nothing insightful to say, his current and ex-wife Courteney Cox as well as Rick Flair, the Godfather of wrestling. As much as pro-wrestling is staged with all the action pre-arranged, one also wonders how much of this doc is real - or really shot in real time or re-enactments. The segment where Arquette gets his neck cut or vomits tons into a card box box would most likely be re-enactments. All this for the sake of entertainment.