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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia Film Festival 2018: Our Most Anticipated Films (Part One)

The Fantasia Film Festival is just days away, its 2018 lineup almost too massive and packed with packed with filmic delights to take in fully.




The Fantasia Film Festival is just days away, its 2018 lineup almost too massive and packed with filmic delights to take in fully. This year’s lineup looks like a doozy, with fresh entries from returning favorites and a whole slate of new talent waiting to dazzle us with new perspectives and angles. Part of the joy of Fantasia, of any film festival really, is being surprised, by having a movie that was barely on your radar turn out to be one of your favorite films of the festival. Sometimes, a lack of anticipation can make for far more rewarding and surprising experiences. But all the same, it’s hard not to have a few films, in particular, stand out as must-see events. In our usual tradition, here are some of the films from Fantasia 2018 that fall into that category this year.


laplace_s_witchLaplace’s Witch

It just wouldn’t be Fantasia without an entry from Takashi Miike, Japanese auteur extraordinaire and still a seemingly unstoppable filmmaking machine after years in the business. Last year it was his fiery, no-holds-barred adaptations of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Blade of the Immortal, but this year’s Miike film looks to be a tad more subdued. Or as subdued as it can get with Miike at least. Adapted from the novel by Keigo Higashino, Laplace’s Witch follows an investigation into a string of seemingly accidental deaths, and one geochemist’s discovery that they might be more sinister than they first appear. A girl appears claiming the ability to use probability to predict future events, right down to natural disasters, and the suspicion grows that a killer might be using a similar ability to maneuver victims into the path of certain death. Can our academic hero, aided by this mysterious girl who identifies herself as “Laplace’s Witch”, prove their suspicions and stop the murderer before it’s too late? That may seem like a rhetorical question, but bear in mind that you can never be sure of anything when it comes to Miike. This is, after all, the same director who once ended a crime thriller with the world exploding. That’s kinda how he rolls. Anyway, Laplace’s Witch has the kind of premise Miike seems like a good fit for, one rife with opportunities for gallows humor and deadpan absurdism in between gritty drama. We should also assume going in that the film will boast at least a few gloriously over-the-top death scenes, a promise which is sure to draw a packed theater. Miike films, in a very real sense, are meant to be watched with an audience, and a lively Fantasia crowd is as good an audience as you’re bound to find for his films.


Fantasia is a great place to see new and exciting movies fresh off the production line, but just as much, it’s somewhere you can go for hard to find curious and oddities from yesteryear. Usually, this takes the form of something from the back-catalog of Shaw Brothers studios, best known for their near endless supply of martial arts films. But this year Fantasia has found something different from the Shaw Bros vaults, a contemporary horror with the memorable title of The Oily Maniac. While it may sound like a prequel to 2016 favorite The Greasy Strangler, don’t go into this one expecting men in bright pink sweaters. Director Meng Hua Ho’s film seems to have more in common with a superhero film, perhaps something akin to The Toxic Avenger, focusing on a man who uses a magic spell and a whole lot of oil to transform into a muck monster to dispatch criminals. Obviously, given its age, don’t expect any CGI goop creatures in this one. The star of the film (or at least their stunt double) really does suit up in a heavy and uncomfortable-looking costume that looks ready to kill Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation at any moment. The film looks too gloriously goofy to pass up, a bizarre monster romp that (maybe? possibly?) could have some kind of anti-fossil fuel message lurking under its layers of goop and slime. But even if the film turns out to be a straightforward affair with no environmental subtext, it still looks like the kind of affair sure to leave audiences hungry for slime and mayhem satisfied. It might be easy to overlook this one in between newer films on the schedule, but consider that opportunities to see films like this, especially on the big screen, only come along so often.


Panos Cosmatos’ first feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow, surprised a great many people upon its release way back in the innocent days of 2010. Following a woman seemingly held prisoner in a futuristic cult compound, the film drew much-deserved attention for its moody atmosphere and retro-futuristic vibe, with its giallo inspired lighting, eerie synth score, and overall gorgeous visuals. Eager for more, those fans who knew to seek it out waited for what the Italian-Canadian filmmaker had next. And like Captain Star, they waited….and waited…..and waited. Now, finally, nearly a decade later, Cosmatos is back with Mandy. And this time, he brought Nicolas Cage. Like its predecessor, Mandy looks awash in red light and ambiguous atmosphere, but looks to be a far more balls-to-the-wall affair, and if you need more convincing just look at the moment in the trailer where Cage seemingly forges a Klingon battle axe in order to rescue his kidnapped beloved from murderous demonic cultists. Cage, if the buzz is to be believed, is a force of nature in this one, unleashing the full fury of his ability to freak the heck out in a manner perhaps not seen since Bringing out the Dead. This factor alone has Cage fans already lining up at the doors. Also, Bill Duke from Predator is in it, which honestly is worth the price of admission alone. It’s hard to know what we’ll get with Mandy. A tense and atmospheric thriller? An insane, gory crowd-pleaser full of violence and mayhem? Some weird, wonderous fusion of both? Either way, it’s already one of the most anticipated films on this year’s lineup, drawing fans of Black Rainbow, Nic Cage devotees and fans just intrigued by the trailer’s promise of a violent and red-stained good time. By the looks of things, the film should deliver no matter what you’re there for.

Tokyo Vampire HotelTokyo Vampire Hotel

Let’s be honest, vampires are old hat at this point. Virtually every take on the fanged bloodsuckers has been seen already, and the vampire story is probably more well-trodden than Highway 401. But at this point, if anyone is going to breathe some life into the limp corpse of the vampire story, it’s Sion Sono. First exploding onto the scene in the early 2000s with films like Suicide Club and Into a Dream, Sono has since become part of a new wave of Japanese auteur who could be said to pick up the torch from Miike if Miike ever showed any signs of slowing down himself. Obviously, he’s become a Fantasia darling, bringing films like Tag, Love & Peace, Shinjuku Swan and Tokyo Tribe to previous years to breathless acclaim. His latest film, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, finds Sono playing in the vampire sandbox with the story of a group of humans invited to a ritzy hotel for a matchmaking night. But it turns out they aren’t guests so much as they are “dinner” when it’s revealed that the apocalypse is on the horizon, and a group of vampires intend to use the group as food while they weather armageddon in style. Tokyo Vampire Hotel looks to be a passionate embrace of the classic trappings of vampire fiction. Elegant costumes and rampant sex appeal abound, mixed liberally with Japanese pop culture and fashion to create a mix of Anne Rice by way of Harajuku. There’s one potential problem, though: the film is assembled using a direct-to-Amazon miniseries directed by Sono the same year. This could, perhaps, make for a film that feels too truncated, crammed full of plot points and characters with little breathing room. Hopefully, that isn’t the case, and Sono crafted the series so as to be easily pared down into movie format. In any case, the film looks to be enough of a visual treat to be enjoyable despite this potential handicap.

cynthia-rothrockThe Blonde Fury

Cynthia Rothrock is a bonafide legend among martial arts enthusiasts, a five-time world champion martial artist with black belts in numerous styles, including Taekwondo, Karate, Wu Shu and Northern Shaolin. After being scouted by Golden Harvest, the prestigious production company that in many ways defined Martial Arts cinema in the 80s and 90s, Rothrock became one of the few caucasian actors to become a genuine martial arts movie star in Hong Kong. There, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Biao, and others, headlining movies and working with prestigious directors like Corey Yuen. After returning to the States, her career didn’t slow down. She starred in the China O’Brien series as well as numerous other films, including the great Undefeatable (“Keep an eye out for ya, Stingray!”). After a period out of the spotlight, she’s even returned and is still shooting movies and taking names today. She is, in a word, badass. So who better to receive the very first Action! Achievement Award, Fantasia’s newest Award honoring outstanding contributions to action cinema? Rothrock will be on hand to receive her award, discuss her career and preside over a 35mm screening of her 1989 Hong Kong film The Blonde Fury. The film sees Rothrock as an FBI agent sent to Hong Kong on the trail of a counterfeiter played by Ronny Yu. Obviously, this leads to a number of spectacular fight sequences that showcase Rothrock’s incredible talents as a martial artist, as well as the technical skill of the film’s director, her former Yes, Madam! Co-star Hoi Mang. A screening of The Blonde Fury, hailed as one of the greats of Golden Harvest’s output from the late 80s and early 90s, is always something to come out for. But with Rothrock herself in attendance, this is will be a must-attend event for action movie fans.


Beginning as a co-host on a Concordia TV film show before moving on to chief film nerd at, Thomas is now bringing his knowledge of pop-culture nerdery to Sordid Cinema. Thomas is a Montrealer born and raised, and an avid consumer of all things pop-cultural and nerdy. While his first love is film, he has also been known to dabble in comics, videogames, television, anime and more. You can support his various works on his Patreon, at You can also like the Tom Watches Movies Facebook page to see all his work on Goombastomp and elsewhere.

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘Harpoon’ — A Nasty Thriller that Mostly Hits the Target

Fantasia 2019



Harpoon is best described as Dead Calm meets Alive. It follows Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra), and Richard (Christopher Gray)— a trio of unlikable friends with some serious issues who do horrible things to one another for roughly eighty-two minutes.

After Richard, the son of a mob boss suspects his best friend Jonah and long-time girlfriend Sasha are having an affair, it sends him into an uncontrollable rage that leaves Jonah a bruised and bloody mess. Only it seems Richard is wrong (or so they say), and after convincing Richard the allegations are false, Richard invites them on his family’s yacht to celebrate his birthday. It was meant to be a fun day trip in order to win back their trust but as tensions boil and the yacht’s engine fails, Richard’s anger management issues kick in and his birthday present (a speargun mistaken for a harpoon) becomes a threat. Stranded without food, drinking water, and other supplies, their only hope of survival is to set aside their differences and work together. But as secrets continue to be revealed and accusations are made, it seems this fuc*ed-up trio has little to no hope of ever reaching land alive.

Harpoon Movie Review

At its core, Harpoon is really a film about friendship, albeit a toxic friendship between three young adults who have drifted apart but somehow remain bound only by the amount of time they’ve known each other. When the trio are left stranded in the middle of the ocean, both their friendships and their lives are tested in excruciating ways. Rob Grant and co-screenwriter Mike Kovac’s script features an unseen narrator (Brett Gelman) who offers insight into the interpersonal background of the trio along with a clever and amusing history lesson about sailors and their superstitions. It seems the uncontrollable nature of the sea has given way to many a nautical lore, each one as curious as the next and Harpoon dives deep into these myths and legends feeding us snippets of info during a swift montage. As the plot twists, and turns (of which it does plenty), the trio realizes they’ve jinxed themselves in a barrage of ways. As they wait in hopes that someone will come to their rescue, they pass the time looking for ways to survive while discussing stories such as Edgar Allan Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and the true tale of Richard Parker, whose life at sea unbelievably mirrored the plot of Poe‘s writing which was released 50 years earlier.

Harpoon Movie Review

For what is essentially a horror film shot on a single location, director Rob Grant does a superb job in delivering a nasty little thriller. In spite of the short running time and limited claustrophobic setting, Grant keeps the film interesting with his camera choices and clever editing. As the film progresses the camerawork slowly draws in ever tighter on the three leads heightening the suspense at key moments while also further adding to the claustrophobic feel. It really is impressive how much mileage the filmmakers get when working with so little.

Held together by three impressive performances, Harpoon deftly plays with our emotions as we become less and less sympathetic to the trio, no matter what horrible things they may be experiencing. What makes Harpoon different than your average survival thriller is how it continuously encourages the audience to laugh at the series of unfortunate events. No matter how deceitful, violent and psychotic these three friends are, Harpoon somehow manages to remain darkly funny.

I must once again stress how annoying these characters are and because of this, Harpoon is a film I admire more than I enjoyed. Often the trio’s bickering is exhausting to sit through and despite a running commentary on toxic masculinity and male insecurity, Harpoon eventually runs out of steam— or rather, is left with no more wind in its sails. In the end, these terrible human beings couldn’t be any more deserving of each other but I can’t say I enjoyed their company.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note. The review was originally published on August 7, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival. Harpoon is now streaming on Showtime and available on Sho Extreme & on-demand.

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘The Divine Fury’ is a Cool Horror-Action Hybrid that Offers Something for Fans of Both Genres

Fantasia 2019



Divine Fury Movie Review

The Divine Fury has a premise you could only find in a film that would premiere at a genre film festival like Fantasia. Yong-hoo Park, champion MMA fighter, develops a bleeding wound on the palm of his hand, and medical science cannot help him. Further assailed by voices and terrifying visions, Yong-hoo turns to a medium, who directs him to Father Ahn. Ahn is a sanctioned exorcist, and one of many Vatican agents on the trail of the sinister Black Bishop, an occult practitioner who has amassed demonic powers. Father Ahn informs Yong-hoo that his wound is a stigmata, a powerful tool in the battle against evil. This comes as something of a surprise to Yong-hoo, a devout atheist since the death of his father. With his new mentor, Yong-hoo becomes a force for good — a demon-punching holy avenger who uses his physical and spiritual gifts to battle the Black Bishop.

From that description, you couldn’t be blamed for imagining something like that one scene from Peter Jackson’s Braindead, or maybe Ninja 3: The Domination, if you’re a fan of 80s Cannon Group cheese. Even worse, you might be imagining some kind of hokey, low-rent religious superhero movie, like a South Korean Bibleman. But you’re in for a surprise; while it could easily have set its sights on camp and gunned the engine, The Divine Fury instead goes a different route, playing its bonkers premise almost entirely straight. From the outset, Joo-hwan Kim’s film remains utterly sincere about itself, mixing horror and action with some deft direction and a stellar cast to create a dark, engaging, and fun hybrid.

Painting a dark and stylish portrait of modern Seoul, Kim’s direction comes off almost from the first frame as slick and confident. Smooth, elegant camera movements glide through the dimly-lit streets, where shadows lurk and fear reigns. The film often surprises with some wonderful imagery, and walks a fine line between stylish and efficient. When things start hitting the fan and demons emerge to menace our heroes, the film also busts out some serious effects wizardry, with top-notch makeup and creature effects bolstered by clever and dynamic camera work. There are flashes of terrific art direction, with brief tantalizing glimpses of a beautifully realized world of demonic forces, and even real-world locations like the Black Bishop’s luridly-lit nightclub make for interesting and unique backdrops.

As Yong-hoo and Father Anh grow closer, it becomes apparent that their chemistry and onscreen charm is one of the cornerstones the film rests on. Even when they’re just sharing a meal, the two leads are terrific to watch together, with an easy and natural chemistry that makes them eminently believable as friends, despite their vast differences in outlook. Of course, Father Ahn’s platitudes and homilies often come across as stock and predictable, and the film’s attempts at a theological discourse are pretty shallow. But when it can’t muster a convincing theological argument, the film defaults to much more universal fare in its message: defend the defenseless, oppose evil. Who can argue with that?

The Divine Fury will make you wait before it delivers the goods, but when the time is right, it delivers them in spades. 

The confident direction and charming leads do help make up for one crucial shortcoming, though: the film may have a lot of the divine, but it’s a tad short on fury. After a tantalizing fight scene early in the film teases some great action, no punches fly until the film’s showstopper of an ending. For those expecting a rock ‘em-sock ‘em actionfest, much of The Divine Fury’s middle section — the vast majority of the film — may leave them cold. But be patient. Enjoy the atmosphere and the more horror-oriented segments, because that patience will be rewarded. When the film reaches its final sequence and Yong-hoo finally unleashes his holy fisticuffs, the result is, well, divine. The climactic action sequence in The Divine Fury is one worth waiting for, a slick and deftly delivered pair of fight scenes that will have action fans cheering in the aisles. The camera maintains a perfect distance, allowing the physical performances of the actors to take center stage, and never obscures the action with jittery movement or rapid-fire editing. The presentation is dynamic, but never overwhelms or distracts from the solid physical performances by star Park Seo-joon and the stunt team. The Divine Fury will make you wait before it delivers the goods, but when the time is right, it delivers them in spades. 

The Divine Fury is a fun, surprising and just plain cool horror-action hybrid that offers something for fans of both genres. Kept aloft by two engaging and charismatic leads and some top-notch direction, it pulls you into its ridiculous world of exorcisms and action with gusto. While it does make you wait before it fully unleashes its premise, which can and has strained the patience of some viewers and critics, its final action sequences are worth waiting for.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 2, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival.

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‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’



Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.

No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 4, 2019 as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. 

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