I saw Guillermo del Toro three times on Friday – thanks Fantasia!

Director Guillermo del Toro with his Cheval Noir Award at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Friday, July 15, 2016. The smiling guy behind Del Toro is festival programmer Mitch Davis. (Liz Ferguson photo)
Director Guillermo del Toro with his Cheval Noir Award at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Friday, July 15, 2016. The smiling guy behind Del Toro is festival programmer Mitch Davis. (Liz Ferguson photo)

On Friday afternoon, July 15, 2016, director Guillermo del Toro spoke with Fantasia Film Festival programmer Tony Timpone at a press conference where he also took questions from fans who are journalists, film profs, etc. Clearly, they were there because they wanted to hear his stories, not to do a job.

Del Toro is passionate about films, monsters, and his work. He’s really funny, too. (Not exactly news to those who are already his fans!)

Friday evening, Del Toro was given Fantasia’s Cheval Noir Award; then he appeared onscreen in the (excellent) documentary Creature Designers: The Frankenstein Complex, then he returned, again with Timpone, to share more insights and answer more questions.

I’ll post more details about his talks later, but here’s one of the things I particularly liked: Del Toro makes lots of Twitter posts about many kinds of art, but he only makes positive remarks, he doesn’t believe in tearing people or things down. He doesn’t mind criticizing politicians, though. (He tweets as @RealGDT.)

Sounds good to me!

Visit the Fantasia Film Festival web site to learn more about this year’s films and guests.

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NYAFF and Fantasia 2015 Review: Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.
Bunta Sugawara as a gangster in the 1973 Japanese film Battles Without Honor and Humanity, which is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity! What an appropriate title! Many yakuza films would have us believe that there are rules to be obeyed, a code of conduct to be followed, that there is, in fact, honour among thieves. This film just laughs at such silly notions . . . beats them to a pulp, and throws them right out the window.

And the various rituals and ceremonies? When it’s time for someone to give up a finger, no one is quite sure how it’s supposed to be done. A woman says “I saw it in Osaka, once.”

Battles Without Honor and Humanity was made in 1973, though the story it tells begins just after World War II, in Hiroshima. Japan is under U.S. occupation, and U.S. soldiers are running wild and acting like animals. The local crooks almost look civilized in comparison, which is quite the feat.

The film mixes conventional scenes with parts that are like a vintage version of 60 Minutes, with a narrator describing feuds and alliances, and onscreen text telling us how and when certain people were killed.

Gangs struggle for supremacy within the city, and gangsters struggle for power within their gangs. A boss cries poor so he can get away with underpaying his underlings. There’s lots of yelling and arguing; fights are not elegantly choreographed. Not one of these guys seems like a criminal mastermind.

Frankly, I couldn’t keep track of all the lying, plotting and double crossing that was going on. I could have used a family tree and a score card. Maybe that’s because the film is based on the memoirs of a gangster and real life can be more complicated than fiction? Battles Without Honor and Humanity was also part of the lineup at the recent New York Asian Film Festival.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity

Crime / Thriller / Classic / Retro Japan 1973, 99 min., DCP, Japanese (with English subtitles)
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara, Koji Shundo, Koichi Iiboshi
Cast:Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Nobuo Kaneko, Kunie Tanaka, Goro Ibuki, Tatsuo Umemiya, Tsunehiko Watase, Seizo Fukumuto

Saturday, Aug 1, 2015, 2:50 p.m., Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 5, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

Fantasia audience makes Sion Sono’s Love & Peace extra special

 

Page 248 of the Fantasia International Film Festival's catalogue is devoted to the Sion Sono film Love & Peace.
Page 248 of the Fantasia International Film Festival’s catalogue is devoted to the Sion Sono film Love & Peace.

Live blog post: I’m just recently home from watching Sion Sono’s film Love & Peace at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival. (North American premiere, BTW!) I want to write  a few words about it while it is still fresh in my memory. (I will admit, I got a bit distracted by hunger – had to make a snack. . . then I had to make a photo to go with this post. . . also had a quick peek at Facebook, sorry!)

The thing I wanted to say about Love & Peace, besides the fact that it’s very enjoyable, is that the enthusiasm of the Fantasia audience added a lot to the experience. Like. . . salt, ketchup, vinegar, mayonnaise, or whatever thing you like to add to your French fries (frites). Or butter, jam, peanut butter on your toast. . . .that extra ingredient that makes things better.

I appreciate the huge screen and a great sound system in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, but it’s the cheers, laughter and enthusiastic applause of the people around me that make it feel like an EVENT. For sure I would have laughed a lot if I had watched it at home on my computer, but it was so much better at Fantasia!

People applauded as soon as the name of writer and director Sion Sono appeared onscreen. They also cheered and applauded at certain key points during the film.

Love & Peace is about hopes, dreams, music and the love that pets have for their people, no matter what. Whether they deserve it or not.

 

 

Fantasia 2015 Review: Princess Jellyfish is wonderfully cute and fluffy fun

Rena Nonen, left, and Masaki Suda are the main stars of Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime. Princess Jellyfish is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Inernational Film Festival in Montreal.
Rena Nonen, left, and Masaki Suda are the main stars of Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime. Princess Jellyfish is being shown at the 2015 Fantasia Inernational Film Festival in Montreal.

NOTE: Princess Jellyfish will be shown at 4 p.m., Saturday, July 25, 2015, as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

OMG!!! The plot of Princess Jellyfish is as unbelievable as your average fairy tale (or Japanese or Korean TV drama) but who cares? It’s so much fun! I was happy to make the old “leap of faith” and just go along for the ride. I can imagine the laughs and cheers in the Hall Cinema right now! Go see it if you can!

Princess Jellyfish is based on Kuragehime, a 15-volume manga that first appeared in November 2008. (An 11-episode anime was shown on Japanese TV in 2010.)

OK, that plot, as briefly as possible. Several nerdy women of assorted ages and interests live in Amamizukan, an old Tokyo apartment building. They call themelves The Sisterhood, though they could also be called otakus and NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training.)

Tsukimi (Rena Nonen, centre) with her fellow nerds in the Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime.
Tsukimi (Rena Nonen, centre) with her fellow nerds in the Japanese film Princess Jellyfish. The film is based on the multiple-volume manga Kuragehime.

Our main character, Tsukimi (Rena Nonen) who wants to be an illustrator, is obsessed with jellyfish. The walls of her room are covered in sketches of them. Ms. Banba studies trains and their schedules. Chieko is interested in traditional Japanese culture and always wears kimono; Mayaya is into the epic Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (and toys assocated with it). Lady Jiji likes “elderly dandies.” Mme. Juon Mejiro is the most important person in the building; she is a manga artist who is never seen. She’s like some kind of oracle – the residents slip questions under her door, and she answers the same way. She has banned men from the building. The others have no problem with that, because men make them so uncomfortable anyway. So do fashionistas. They turn to stone (petrify!) when in the presence of either.

Kuranosuke (Masaki Suda), the cross-dressing son of a politician, meets this gang after helping Tsukimi out of a jellyfish-related jam. She tells them that his name is Kurako; his clothes, makeup and wig are convincing enough that they accept him as a woman. Somewhat surprisingly, they don’t say anything about his deep voice until well into the film. Kuranosuke explains to Tsukimi that he wears women’s clothing because he cares about fashion and has no interest in going into politics. Under his wig he has fashionably blond hair; at school the girls flock around him, eager for his attention.

The nerds of Princess Jellyfish live here, in Amamizukan. Nice, isn't it? They have to band together to keep the building from being demolished.
The nerds of Princess Jellyfish live here, in Amamizukan. Nice, isn’t it? They have to band together to keep the building from being demolished.

Developers want to tear down Amamizukan, and other nearby buildings, to improve the area, and make it all shiny and modern. (Some might wonder, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”)
Kuranosuke’s father assumes that supporting development will improve his political fortunes.

The Sisterhood is not happy about this at all, but they seem resigned to it; they have always felt powerless. Kuranosuke encourages them to make an effort to fight back, and not to just accept the decisions that others have made.

There are many themes in Princess Jellyfish. Among them: evil politicians and developers, which is connected to the old “you can’t fight City Hall” trope; feeling like an outcast, finding a place to fit in, the long-lasting scars of being bullied, longing for absent mothers. Some really old U.S. movies with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney had a “we’ll put the show on right here in the barn!” trope and Princess Jellyfish has a modern approximation of that.
Note for K-drama fans: Chieko is in charge of the building while her mother is in Korea. As Chieko puts it, “she went there to chase Lee.” That would be actor Lee Byung-hun. In the manga Chieko’s mother is chasing Bae Yong-joon (Yon-sama) who became a huge star in Japan and elsewhere, because of his role in the popular Korean TV drama Winter Sonata. The Korea Times has more information about the Yon-sama phenomenon.

BTW: Masaki Suda plays Karuma Akabane in Assassination Classroom, another film, based on manga and anime, that was shown at Fantasia this year.

PRINCESS JELLYFISH
Director: Taisuke Kawamura
Screenplay: Toshiya Oono, Akiko Higashimura
Cast: Rena Noonen, Masaki Suda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Chizuru Ikewaki
Company: Asmik Ace Entertainment

Saturday, July 25, 4 p.m., Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

Fantasia 2015 Review: Possessed – animated mayhem and a diabolically good time!

Damian is possessed. He needs an exorcist! Scene from the Spanish claymation film Possessed (Pos eso) one of sveral animated films being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
Damian is possessed. He needs an exorcist! Scene from the Spanish claymation film Possessed (Pos eso) one of several animated films being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Possessed (Pos eso) is an irreverent claymation horror comedy from Spain. It spoofs The Exorcist, The Omen, Poltergeist and more; skewers hypocrisy, religion, celebrity culture, gossip tabloids and trash TV. It has amazingly detailed sets.

It includes the “you lookin’ at me?” speech from Taxi Driver, a reference to The Day The Earth Stood Still, flowers like the ones in Little Shop of Horrors, a musical duel in the Underworld and the sight of Exorcism For Dummies in a priest’s briefcase. It’s the goriest, most splattery animated film I’ve ever seen. All these things make it quite appropriate as the almost-midnight movie for Friday, July 24 at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Trini is a world-famous flamenco dancer, with a dead husband and a possessed son, in the Spanish animated film Possessed (Pos eso).
Trini is a world-famous flamenco dancer, with a dead husband and a possessed son, in the Spanish animated film Possessed (Pos eso).

Little Damian is the son of renowned flamenco dancer Trini and beloved bullfighter Gregorio. (The story of this couple sounded so familiar – it reminded me of a docudrama about a real-life dancer that I saw years ago.) Damian has been acting quite strange since his father died in a freak (cough, cough) accident. He does the old head-spinning thing from The Exorcist; the shrink who comes to analyze him is sent away totally befuddled. His mother and grandmother don’t know what to do.

A visit to a gypsy provides the answer – Damien is possessed, but Father Lenin has the power to free him. First they will have to find him, though – Father Lenin has lost his faith, left the church and is hanging out under a bridge. His horrible boss, the  bishop (who has the voice of Santiago Segura)  is the man reason for that.

Actor Santaigo Segura, who plays a corrupt cop in the Torrente film series, has all the evil roles wrapped up in the animated film Possessed (Pos eso). He plays an evil and corrupt bishop, the possessed boy Damian and Satan himself.
Actor Santaigo Segura, who plays a corrupt cop in the Torrente film series, has all the evil roles wrapped up in the animated film Possessed (Pos eso). He plays an evil and corrupt bishop, the possessed boy Damian and Satan himself.

Many people are thanked in the credits of Possessed; they include animator Bill Plympton, musician Slash, and the band Metallica.The film is dedicated to the memory of Ray Harryhausen, master of stop-motion animation and to flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. How often do those two names appear together?

The Spanish animated film Possessed (Pos eso) includes a musical faceoff in hell - the devil and his drumsticks vs Trini's feet, stomping out flamenco rhythms. Trini is driven by the love of a mother and powered by the elusive duende.
The Spanish animated film Possessed (Pos eso) includes a musical faceoff in hell – the devil and his drumsticks vs Trini’s feet, stomping out flamenco rhythms. Trini is driven by the love of a mother and powered by the elusive duende.

Possessed (Pos eso)
Director: Sam
Screenplay: Rubén Ontiveros, Sam
Voice cast: Anabel Alonso, Josema Yuste, Santiago Segura, Nacho Vigalondo
Company: FilmSharks

Friday, July 24, 2015, 11:55 p.m., J.A. de Sève Theatre, in the J.W. McConnell Building of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

Fantasia 2015: Review of Hong Kong badminton film Full Strike

Badminton training in the Hong Kong sports comedy Full Strike, one of the films being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Badminton training in the Hong Kong sports comedy Full Strike, one of the films being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Full Strike is a Hong Kong badminton comedy. There are many laughs in it, but for the first 30 minutes or so, the colour palette is a dark and depressing blue-green, here are some miserable moments and lots of yelling. Don’t be discouraged, things do get brighter!

Josie Ho plays Ng Kau Sau, also known as “Beast Ng” a former badminton champion who lost her status because of her bad temper. Now she’s miserable and constantly being criticized by her family members, who call her lazy and useless.

One dark and stormy night she sees a meteor (or something) shaped like a badminton birdie. An alien (or possibly a homeless man dressed in plastic bags) chases her onto an abandoned badminton court. There are some scary guys lurking in the shadows, too.

She phones her brother for help. Next thing you know, we’re at the police station. Turns out the building she was in belongs to her brother and uncle and they’ve rented it to three vicious criminals, who have just finished 10-year sentences for robbing a jewelry store. They will open the One Spirit Badminton Club. Their leader is Lau Dan (Ekin Cheng).

The criminals swear they are turning over a new leaf. Beast’s cousin, Suck Nipple Ng, who also plays badminton, and has returned to Hong Kong after 30 years in North America, thinks that’s just a story and that they plan to steal antiques from his nearby home. He wants Ng to sign up for lessons at the club so she can spy on them. This puts her in an awkward spot. She wants to take up the sport again, because the birdie meteor and the alien feel like a message from above that she should do so. But are those crooks still dangerous, or are they sincere about reforming? There’s no doubt that her cousin and his badminton-team minions are totally obnoxious people. Whose side should she be on?

Saying too much more about the plot would be going into spoiler territory, but you can expect slow-mo walking, training montages that include using knives, cleavers and meat, besides the usual racquets, to increase strength and achieve good form, philosophical speeches about “ebb and flow,” the declaration that “if you’re not good at something, the more people laugh at you the more you have to do it,” AND prodigious projectile vomiting from the drunken-master Champion Chik.

All that training has a purpose – to win the Fantastic 5-Asia Badminton Tournament, to prove to everyone (including themselves) that the former crooks have now become athletes.

Anyone who watched Robbery and Kung Fu Killer at Fantasia might recognize a face and a place in Full Strike. Eric Kwok, who played the Big Boss in Robbery, is Suck Nipple Ng’s badminton coach. Suck Nipple Ng has a garden full of large, antique statues. (I think some of the statues represent the animals of the Chinese zodiac.) That same garden appears as a meeting place in Kung Fu Killer.

FULL STRIKE
Hong Kong, 2015, 108 min., DCP, Cantonese, with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Derek Kwok, Henri Wong
Screenplay: Derek Kwok, Story Joe Chien, Yim Ka-Yee, Yan Pak-Wing
Cast: Josie Ho, Ekin Cheng, Ronald Cheng, Andew Lam, Susan Shaw
Company: Distribution Workshop

Friday, July 24, 2015, 6:20 p.m.
Concordia Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

 

Fantasia 2015 Review: Roar is worth seeing for its “are you serious?” factor

"Time for lunch yet?" Just some of thre lions to be seen in the re-released 1981 film Roar, which was shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
“Time for lunch yet?” Just some of the lions to be seen in the re-released 1981 film Roar, which was shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Roar is not one of those “so bad that it’s good” films. No, it’s a “WHAT were they thinking?” kind of film.

If you enjoy looking at large cats, like lions, tigers, panthers, cougars, cheetahs, and jaguars, (and the occasional elephant, added for variety, I guess) as they roar, run, play, fight, lounge around, “talk,” yawn or sleep, then Roar is for you. There are more than 150 big cats in the film – you could probably spend several weeks, and thousands of dollars, on a safari and not see so many animals. Don’t expect much of a plot, though, much less a “narrative arc.” As if.

Roar was made by Noel Marshall, who was executive producer of The Exorcist. I guess he made lots of money from that, because he and his wife Tippi Hendren (famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds) were able to buy all those cats in the film. Marshall is in Roar, as is Hendren, her daughter Melanie Griffith, and his sons, John and Jerry. The film was released in 1981, though few people saw it then. It has since taken on new life after being re-released by Drafthouse Films.

The story is set in in Africa, though it was filmed in California. Marshall plays Hank, some kind of research guy, who is studying wild cats – and not from a distance, either. In early scenes we see lots of cats, making themselves at home inside and outside his sprawling house, and frightening some unexpected visitors. Three years earlier, when he had received a grant for his research, he abruptly flew to Africa, leaving wife and children behind. Now they are coming for a visit. (They conveniently share this information for our benefit. Paraphrase: “Gee, Dad sure took off fast after he got that grant! It’s three years since we’ve seen him now.”)

Hank knows that they’re coming too, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t head to the airport until long after their arrival. Meanwhile, tired of waiting around, they have taken a bus, and arrive at his place before he even reaches the airport (such as it is).

"Hey, wait for us!" Hank (Noel Marshall) thinks that he's going somewhere in that boat, but the lions have another idea, in a scene from the 1981 film Roar.
“Hey, wait for us!” Hank (Noel Marshall) thinks that he’s going somewhere in that boat, but the lions have another idea, in a scene from the 1981 film Roar.

Somehow, they don’t notice all the cats right away. . .but then they DO! For the next hour or so, wife and children will scream, wave their arms around and run away from the cats, who will chase them, of course. The thing is, Noah lives (all by himself, up until now) in a house with several storeys and many rooms, which permits LOTS of running. Upstairs, downstairs, from one room to another; there are more doors slamming than in your average French farce. And almost every room seems to have multiple doors, too.

Then there’s the roof. . . run to the roof, find more cats up there, run back downstairs, or jump off or fall off that roof, into the river. . .and more than once, too! When they aren’t running, the humans are trying to hide – in cupboards, in closets, in metal lockers, in rain barrels, even in the fridge – after taking the food out first.

If they want to come in, I don't think that the door is going to stop them. Scene from the 1981 film Roar.
If they want to come in, I don’t think that the door is going to stop them. Scene from the 1981 film Roar.

Meanwhile, between bad luck and his own stupid behaviour, things are not going well for Hank and his friend Mativo (Kyalo Mativo) either. Tigers climb into their boat (made me think of Life of Pi!) which makes it capsize. Then an elephant tears the boat to pieces, because. . . he felt like it, I guess. Hank and Mativo borrow bicycles, but wreck them pretty quickly. Hank somehow convinces a man to lend him a car, but he wrecks a tire by driving too fast. Almost ends up going off a cliff! The man is a menace, and an idiot, too!

There’s a strange character who might be satirical, or maybe not? He’s a bad-tempered member of the grant committee, who makes a visit to the compound and does not like what he sees. This guy decides that the big cats are dangerous and should all be shot. Not sent somewhere else, or even put in cages, but just shot. Boom! Dead! Our villain, obviously. There’s something weird about his gruff voice, with its hard-to-place accent, and it also sounds like it was added later, in post-production. If you’ve ever watched a badly dubbed foreign film, you have probably heard this voice before, or one very much like it.

The yelling and screaming and running was exhausting to watch and made Roar feel much longer than its 102 minutes. Ten or even 20 minutes could easily have been lopped off, I’d say. But maybe it qualifies as an “historical document” now. Roar would make excellent home viewing for people who enjoy sketching. Pause at almost any point, and you would have a selection of big cats in a variety of positions to choose from. Roar was an interesting experience – I’m not sorry that I watched it once, but I wouldn’t watch it again, except to do some sketching myself.

Family portrait: Husband, wife, lion, in a scene from the 1981 ilm Roar.s
Family portrait: Husband, wife, lion, in a scene from the 1981 film Roar.

ROAR
Director: Noel Marshall
Screenplay: Noel Marshall
Cast: Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, Jerry Marshall, Kyalo Mativo
Company: Olive Films

Seen at the 2015 Fantasia film Festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com