Home Arts Fantasia International Film Festival in review: the best and worst of this year’s edition

Fantasia International Film Festival in review: the best and worst of this year’s edition

by Frédéric T. Muckle August 12, 2014
Fantasia International Film Festival in review: the best and worst of this year’s edition

The Best
The Zero Theorem (2013)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Set in a dystopian future, The Zero Theorem features a colorful cast of misfits.

From the comedic genius of Monty Python to the numerous surprising movies that he has made, Terry Gilliam has shown what is needed to become a giant in the artistic universe. The third and last opus of his “Orwellian triptych” reconfirms it. The Zero Theorem is a story about a peculiar character named Qohen Leth, interpreted by the always-wonderful Christoph Waltz, working for a Big Brother-esque company called Mancom. In a dystopian world, an array of colorful misfits pass through Qohen’s life to disturb his routine, either to help or disrupt his progress towards completing his important assignment. This said mission, bestowed upon him by the almighty Management of Mancom, is to prove the zero theorem, therefore confirming that everything in this universe is meaningless. For those of you familiar with dark but still fascinatingly amusing movies like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, you can start to fathom what kind of absorbing and interesting world Gilliam is able to create. With his surprisingly lovable protagonist evolving in a not-so unrealistic futuristic society, Gilliam points out and critics many important and smaller facets of today’s world. With some slight exaggerations and caricatures of our own contemporary habits and surroundings, he is able to make us see the incongruity of an over-stimulated, productivity-obsessed, sex-driven civilization. The beauty of it is that The Zero Theorem never feels like it is patronizing. It uses clever humor and poetic representations to let us understand how absurd humankind could become. Let us hope that even in this dystopian future we will still be able to appreciate ingenious masterpieces such as Gilliam’s last work. Watch the trailer here.

Bloody Knuckles (2014)
Directed by Matt O’mahoney

Bloody Knuckles brings in the pain with the help of a zombie hand.

We all hate censorship. Well, at least when it concerns our favorites shows, artists or even media figures. Still, some people might think that a selective censorship is necessary for some “unacceptable” things in our society. In recent history, we can think of Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons controversy for example. Bloody Knuckles, when you pass over the vulgar absurdity and the usual gore fest associated with decent B-movies, is a testimony of freedom of speech and the right of laughing about anything and anyone. The film portrays an uncompromising cartoonist named Travis (Adam Boys) using his comics to critique and joke in a particularly obscene fashion about well-know figures. Sadly for him and his soon to be severed hand – the subject of his last comic – Chinatown’s ultimate mobster, Leonard Fong (Kasey Ryne Mazak), is one of those people that thinks that sometimes you should censor yourself. Luckily for us – and the young, now depressed and silenced artist – the disconnected hand comes back from the dead with its offensive attitude to help his master get revenge. From there, the cartoonist, the zombie-hand, a clever journalist (Gabrielle Giraud), and one the most awesome and funny vigilante ever put on screen called Homo Dynamous (Dwayne Bryshun), group up to defeat the evil criminal gang. Bloody Knuckles is not what we would call a classic blockbuster. It will not win an Oscar and could be criticized for its few attempts at serious drama. Still, most of what Bloody Knuckles does is done right. If you are looking for an unconventional and wildly entertaining genre movie, go fetch this pus-covered hand and have a great and disgusting moment! Watch the trailer here.

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (2013)
Directed by Stéphane Beria and Mathias Malzieu

Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a musical that tugs at the heart strings.

We all have this one Disney movie that we cherish and re-watch secretly every once in a while. We also have a special spot in our hearts for their soundtracks. Still, when we grow up we tend to get more and more annoyed by sing-songy characters and predictable children’s movies. That is why the musical and lyrical gem that is Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart more than surprised this Concordian! With its flamboyant characters, its classic but still interesting romantic story and its poetic penchant, this movie has the ability to charm you. One of the strong points of the movie is the surprising array of well-known French artists lending their voices and musical styles to the lovable animated figures. Grand Corps Malade’s guttural yet sensible sound for example, gives Joe – one of the villains – an indescribable quality. The gorgeous cinematographic style and the well-crafted story, both originating from Mathias Malzieu’s novel La Mécanique du Coeur, brilliantly complete this musical score composed by the French rock band Dyonysos. Yes, in the end it could be considered as just another childlike animated movie with singing redundancy, but that would be completely ignoring the ‘petit je ne sais quoi’ of Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. This movie has something special to offer to young and old alike. You should give it a chance to charm you, you will not be disappointed.  Just be sure to make a bit of place in your head for another lovely song or two to add along to your favorite Disney melodies. Watch the trailer here.

The One I Love (2014)
Directed by Charlie McDowell

The One I Love takes the tried and true romantic getaway for a new spin.

What starts as an often seen storyline quickly changes to something much, much different. A couple, named Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass), are struggling to save their marriage. Their therapists recommends a retreat, promising that this weekend away will renew their relationship. The couple embarks on a journey, unknowingly crossing the line between normal and abnormal.Once arrived at the retreat – which is a beautiful house – seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the couple spends a lovely evening. Things only start to go awry when Ethan discovers the guest house. In it lies an almost identical copy of their significant other. Only one member of the couple can be in the guest house at once, meaning that Sophie and Ethan cannot meet their clones, but can interact with the other version of their spouse. But how could this be? As the couple tries to wrap their brains around this new (clearly impossible) reality, even stranger things start to occur. What follows in an amazingly different story, a film that could be considered the perfect combination of a romantic comedy and science fiction. The film includes flawless acting from both Moss and Duplass, and beautifully shot scenes. It is incredible to think that such a complicated story line can be so well delivered by only three actors, one of which is only in the first few minutes of the film. The film will keep you guessing until the very last minute, and will leave you with a smile on your face, thinking ‘of course!’. Nothing less than genius can be expected from the people who created Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Safety Not Guaranteed. Still, The One I Love is one of the films to see this year. Watch the trailer here.

– written by Nathalie Laflamme

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014)
Directed by Ching-Po Wong

Once Upon a time in Shanghai brings us back to the golden age of Bruce Lee and Asian Kung-Fu cinema.

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai is one of those movies that perpetuates the image of the god-like Kung Fu fighters, and does it really well. More traditional and lyrical in its approach and its cinematographic look than recent martial arts action movie such as The Raid. This movie takes you back to the era of old-school martial arts’ cinema, a time in which CGI did not over-stage the actual talent of the men and women seen on screen. This is probably one of the main qualities Once Upon a Time in Shanghai: it feels authentic. Still, the creators of this movie are well aware of the day and age in which we live in, and use plenty of effects and added stylistic details to give to the film a persona of its own. Simply put, it is theatrical and grand. A classy but still very dangerous Shanghai is portrayed and used as context for the two talented good guys, powerful mobsters and an evil army man trying to take over. It is the story of how it can be hard and unrewarding but still necessary to do good so that justice can prevail. A good old (but brand new) martial arts movie for everyone who misses the virtuosity of mister Bruce Lee himself. Watch the trailer here.

The Worst
WolfCop (2014)
Directed by Lowell Dean

Trite and forgettable, Wolfcop is the bane of all buddy-cop movies.

A movie about a dreadfully stereotyped and one-sided alcoholic cop who becomes, in spite of himself, a werewolf. That is WolfCop for you. This review could probably end here and now, but it is necessary to make people understand how awful this film truly is. The unpleasantness of it all first comes in important things such as the characters. As mentioned, the main protagonist is a low-life alcoholic cop that becomes a werewolf (Leo Fafard). Around this un-nuanced character evolves an obnoxious cast including a redneck weirdo, an objectified barmaid, a puritan politician and a poorly executed mix of The Matrix’s Neo and the Driver’s role in Drive as the main villain. Other than that, the plot is pretty simple. A cop becoming a werewolf becomes an efficient wolfcop and starts cleaning the city of bad guys until the final revelation, a cheap and easy plot twist to say the least. Also, some on the most annoying things in WolfCop are some little, exasperating details and scenes. For example, you would be surprised how at how rapidly and seemingly without incident the main protagonist accepts his newly obtained status of werewolf. I don’t know about you. fellow readers, but I would need a few minutes to cope with the news. Additionally, there is an exquisitely ironic sex scene between a scantily clad red riding hood and wolfcop. Very classy, I tell you. It is necessary to admit though that the movie offers a few funny choreographies and werewolf moments. WolfCop could have been exempted from the “Worst” list since it is clearly a B-movie simply doing its thing. Nonetheless, other movies that could be included in the B-movie category such as Bloody Knuckles shows that it is possible to do it right. Sadly, Wolfcop failed miserably. Watch the trailer here.

Bros Before Hoes (2013)
Directed by Steffen Haars and Flip Van der Kuil

Forgettable, childish and misogynistic, Bros Before Hoes doesn’t quite deserve attention or merit.

There is not much to say about this movie, really. It is an example of what Hollywood does badly and repeatedly, this time executed by filmmakers from the Netherlands. Two brothers (Daniel Arends and Tim Haars), after living through their parent’s messy divorce, swear never to get involved in serious relationships, and therefore sleep with different women daily. Soon, one woman changes things (Sylvia Hoeks), and a love triangle become apparent. Sex related, scatological and all other kinds of stupid jokes are hashed and rehashed in this misogynistic movie for horny teens. The overused romantic comedy tale is painfully executed by a whole cast of characters that seemed to try too hard to imitate How I Met Your Mother’s over-the-top protagonist, Barney Stinson (Season nine Barney Stinson… Yes, it is that bad.) This movie uses all the poorest stereotypes and easy jokes there is in the book. By far the worst movie this sorry Concordian editor had to suffer through during this whole festival. Even the substantive amount of Rambo: First Blood quotes cannot save this movie from ending up in a good amount of body bags. Watch the trailer here.

The House at The End of Time (2013)
Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo

While The House at The End of Time might be formulaic, the ending is what truly adds the nail to its proverbial coffin.

This Spanish horror movie is as basic as can be. In the same veins as The Orphanage and The Others, The House at The End of Time is putting its viewers into the familiar setting of a strange and seemingly haunted house. It presents what appears to be a regular family with regular problems, well at least at first. This simplistic premise and set have been seen in numerous occasions, but this does not mean it is a bad thing. Even in the various techniques used by the director to scare the viewers–loud noises used in contrast with heavy moments of silence, mystery hiding behind a closed door, footsteps coming from beyond– almost every conventional horror technique is used. The horror genre is known to use the same formulas over and over again, and still succeeds to deliver some surprising and widely entertaining movies. You do not have to reinvent the wheel to make a great horror film. So, why is The House at The End of Time in the shameful “Worst” list you may ask? Simply put, it is mainly because of the last fifteen minutes. A no spoiler policy will be strictly enforced for this article so we will not go into any specific details, but what seemed to be a decent and honest horror movie just frankly lost it all at the end. Some other critics may be prone to advance the argument that this said ending is a complicated but still very clever twist. This is merely because in our generally simplified cinematic era, an over-complicated ending is often wrongly associated with a sign of quality. Confusion does not automatically rhyme with ingenious. Because of this unsuccessful attempt at cleverness, the movie just loses most of its significance. Sadly, the original tension that you felt during those few good moments just fall flat because of those odd and inconsistent final explanations. Sometimes, mysteries are simply better left alone. Watch the trailer here.

Monsterz (2014)
Directed by Hideo Nakata

With such a great pedigree under his belt, director Hideo Nakata’s Monsterz is forgettable at best.

We have all seen and been traumatized by either the remake or the original versions of some horrifying Asian movies, such as Ringu or Ju-on: The Grudge. Hideo Nakata, the director of the above-mentioned Ringu and Monsterz, is considered a master of the art. However, this recent installment will not stand in the annals of Asian horror movies. The plot revolves around two young men, one with the power of bending the minds of anyone unlucky enough to meet his gaze, and another that seems to be the only one immune to this power.  From this premise comes an ever-lasting duel between those two superior beings while society decides that they are a threat to humankind. It is cautionary tale about exclusion and stigmatization. Yet, even if it is evident that there were people with good intentions and talent behind this movie, Monsterz does not hold up to the expectations. Annoying characters, including the most outrageous gay stereotype of the last decade showed on screen, sometimes totally illogical moments and ridiculous dialogues ruins the potential of the movie. This movie had a great concept at its core, but failed to exploit it properly. Hopefully, this will not be the swan song of one of the most talented director when talking about Asian horror movies. We will just need to forget about this unsuccessful attempt. Watch the trailer here.

Notable
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper

There’s little that hasn’t already been said about this classic piece of cinema history.

If you are into horror movies, you must have been there with us. If you are a real fan, you could not miss this once in a lifetime chance. Yes indeed, I am talking about the screening of one of the best horror movies of all time, the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in all its splendor on the big screen! Not only that, but the actual horror legend that gave us this horrifying gem, Tobe Hooper, was there to present it to the lucky people able to enter the presentation. For those of you who cried for a week after having realized the missed opportunity, here is a general overview of the evening. After an energetic presentation by the hyperactive Fantasia host and a short appearance by Tobe Hopper himself, everyone meowed their heart out and the festive ambiance suddenly became creepy with the opening credits and iconic photo-taking. Then the whole audience proceeded to scream, laugh and get traumatize by the amazing classic that is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was very interesting to think about how horrified the public must have been back in the day by the gruesome film. It was also easier to experience how this movie not only perturbs its viewers psychologically with its demented protagonists and the general craziness, but also how it affects the audience physically. Indeed, the fact that it was properly presented on a cinema screen with quality surround sound made you realize how unsettling the numerous camera movements, high-pitched noises and general atmosphere and that all those elements could affect you directly and physically. Overall, it was wonderfully frightening to see this movie screening with a public composed of die-hard horror fans. Sadly, the interview and Q&A that followed with the director was not as satisfying. After a few rounds of applause, the Fantasia host started a very interesting and informative interview, or at least he tried to. Maybe mister Hooper was tired or maybe he just did not feel like being there, but in the end even the most stimulating questions directed at him were answered by anecdotic moments or non-related stories. Frankly, it felt more like a reading of IMDB’s trivia pages than a unique opportunity to interview and listen to one of horror’s most talented directors. Still, Tobe Hooper will remain the creator of one of the scariest films ever made. Thanks to him, and the Fantasia International Film Festival, we could finally be scared properly by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Watch the trailer here.

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (2014)
Directed by Kevin Finn and James D. Rolfe

As James Rolfe’s magnum opus, The Angry Video Game Nerd movie is a sure-shot for fans of the YouTube superstar.

Most people got to know him as the “Angry Nintendo Nerd” when he first began his short and corrosive reviews of old-school video games a few years ago. Today, James Rolfe is an Internet superstar with over 1.5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel and fans from all around the world, showing a dedication rarely seen on the web and its micro-celebrity sphere. With the help of these devoted fans, the nerd finally delivered his ambitious movie project. In this movie, the infuriated geek and his friends go on a quest to unfold the mystery surrounding the so-called “worst video game of all time”, Eee-tee The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. James Rolfe delivers in this wacky film a fair and honest comedy that is surely going to appeal and amuse all of us who watched and laughed at his countless comical videos. The various references to different movie genres, the caricatural characters, the iconic frustrated moments of the nerd himself and the chaotic finale are all elements that kept the whole crowd laughing for nearly two hours. On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that most of the audience members were Rolfe fans. The reason this movie is not in the “The Best” category is that this is a movie for those fans. It is very doubtful indeed that people who never heard of the “Angry Video Game Nerd” and its original web reviews will like this film. This movie is more of a continuation of the work of James Rolfe and the people that helped him more than a solid stand-alone film. Nonetheless, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie will satisfy anyone who loves the rolling rock’s drinking character that will play those games that…Oh well, you know the song as well as I do and if not, you probably won’t like the movie. Watch the trailer here.

Mr. Go 3D (2013)
Directed by Yong-hwa Kim

It is a South-Korean blockbuster about a gorilla that becomes a baseball star…in 3D. What else do you need? Watch the trailer here.

Goal of the Dead (2014)
Directed by Thierry Poiraud and Benjamin Rocher

Who knew zombies and sports would go along so well?

What could have been a cheap use of zombies to justify a bad story installed in a sport related setting was after all a nice revelation. Not good enough to be in the honorific “best” list, but its uniqueness, a characteristic rare enough in our contemporary zombie-filled cultural landscape, makes it worthy of our attention. Created with the help of Canal+, this horror comedy will surely entertain you with its smart use of the sometimes laughable world of international sports and the anger and admiration it stirs up. By offering a nice little analogy of the absurdly violent hooligans, it gives us a light and easy to watch two-part movie. It is necessary to precise that people unfamiliar with the French general culture and people may find the movie a little less funny that it really is. Nonetheless, it stands as a nice zombie movie anyway and that is something we all ought to like. If you do not, well you can always go play soccer outside…at your own peril… Watch the trailer here.

It is important to precise that that many wonderful movies and plenty of very bad ones have been omitted in this article. Big titles such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Welcome to New York and I Origins have been left out but certainly deserve your attention. Indie gems such as The Unusual Metalhead and critically acclaimed international hits such as Jacky au Royaume des Filles have also been overlooked. This list is clearly imperfect and insufficient to give a complete portrayal of what the festival has to offer. Your humble writers had to make some difficult choices to bring you this article, and hope that you will understand that, to really experience the Fantasia International Film Festival, you have got to simply be there and make the most of its brilliant selection.

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