Fantasia Festival 2017: A Taxi Driver (2017)

A Taxi Driver (2017)

Director: Hoon Jang

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Thomas Kretschmann, Hai-jin Yoo, Jun-yeol Ryu

A Taxi Driver is Korean drama that is based on a true story. It becomes apparent at the end that parts of it particularly related to the said taxi driver especially beginning and ending may be fictionalized mostly because this unnamed brave soul deserved the recognition and yet has never been found since the event. Before we jump too far in, A Taxi Driver is the retelling of how a taxi driver down on his luck decided to take a job to drive a German reporter to Gwangju in 1980 without realizing what was actually happening. The German reporter Jurgen Hinzpeter is an actual person and does have a recording of a clip here made in 2015 before he passed away in 2016 thanking his brave friend who he never got to meet again because he had given a fake name and phone number. This story is a retelling of his story. The best comparison of A Taxi Driver would be to Argo except this is a story about men walking into Gwangju as outsiders and leaving as insiders.

A Taxi Driver starts off in the most lighthearted fashion as we watch this taxi driver drive down the road happily singing along to a song. He makes judgmental comments about university student protesters blocking the road and causing the decrease in clients. Its pretty much an everyday feeling of seeing this man. In fact, it is done so well that it feels like we can connect with his character immediately. Whatever the first half an hour of the film felt like would not prepare you for the rest of it. There is no doubt that the tone gets much more serious as expected with the material and incredibly dramatic but all done effectively. Many will know Kang-ho Song from Korean monster movie, The Host however, its been over a decade and his acting has elevated into this emotional performance as taxi driver, Sa-bok Kim.

The director and the script both hit exactly the right tones. A Taxi Driver is a longer film however, there is only a few moments where we will notice a little drag. This film is about the uprising and seeing how the media released under government and what really happened had a huge discrepancy. The events are ruthless and this movie captures those heartless and confused, not to mention angry and frustrated moments very well as while this is set in a political background, the uprising itself is really talked about in broad strokes but rather focuses on the civilians and these two men who eventually bond together despite their backgrounds to take this hidden story to tell the world. Dramatization in slow motion was also used in parts to accentuate. A Taxi Driver turns into a heavy movie very quickly. It is also a tense experience as we follow these two men escape. However, the script and director adds in car chases to make it more gripping also.

As mentioned before, Kang-ho Song delivered an outstanding performance. However, we have to also acknowledge the great performances by Thomas Kretschmann as Jurgen Hinzpeter. Their parts together truly make this film have their moments as they both struggle to communicate due to language barrier and we see their communication and views align and they understand each other more. The performances overall were truly outstanding and the younger cast, Jun-yeol Ryu takes on a university protester also takes on a supporting role that truly connects as well.

A Taxi Driver is a fantastic movie filled with great performances and the retells a tense, gripping and emotional time in Korea when they struggled for their nation’s democracy.

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Fantasia Festival 2017: Bushwick (2017)

Bushwick (2017)

bushwick

Director: Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott

Cast: Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista, Angelic Zambrana, Christian Navarro, Arturo Castro

When a Texas military force invades their Brooklyn neighborhood, 20-year-old Lucy and war veteran Stupe must depend on each other to survive. – IMDB

Bushwick sets in an intriguing scenario if the southern states would be persuaded by Texas to join in to overturn the government. Their plan is to use insurgence to forcefully takeover unwilling cities. Their next target to get the Northern states was to make a small city of Bushwick located in New York. As the insurgence starts, we fall on scene with Lucy, played by Brittany Snow on her way to her grandmother’s house to introduce her boyfriend. It doesn’t take long before they head out and realize that something is very wrong and separated from her boyfriend almost immediately from the start, she has to avert danger. Luckily, circumstances lead her to meet Stupe, an ex-Marine who knows everything she doesn’t about survival and has a few guns to protect as well and who reluctantly agrees to take her to her destination, while trying to figure out what actually is going on.

Bushwick is a tight and tense ride. While the subtext is the insurgence from the private military force which terrifies the city itself and is the centre of all the danger, the best part of it all is truly the unlikely team in Lucy and Stupe. Together, the character development here and how they bond together throughout the film which is really only set over a few hours was compelling and engaging. One of the best parts of Bushwick is how they chose to film it. It has somewhat of a found footage way even though it isn’t. The start of the film is the best example as they choose to begin using the angle of the helicopters scanning the city from above. However, the best parts is how it chooses to follow the characters. We never seem to follow them directly in back but in fact, it chooses to go watch their feet as they scurry from location to location. It creates a sense of suspense as the camera plays with what we can see and in turn allowing us to be shocked just as the character by the unknown situations ahead.

Lucy and Stupe are two very different people. In fact, the story focuses on their story while not making it too dramatic and keeping it with the action. In fact, it focuses more on the situation at hand and how they work together to get themselves out. Because of this, there may be a difference in tone throughout the movie. While it may seem to make us wonder how serious to take Bushwick, it is well-timed and particularly makes Lucy’s character more believable when she makes some silly decisions in the beginning that may end up having serious consequences. As the movie moves along, their character growth and the value of their team is what will keep it intriguing as they see what this insurgence has caused the people around them especially the reason why a small town like Bushwick was targetted. Brittany Snow and Dave Bautista pull out some of their best acting in this one and delivers two great performances.

Talking about the reason of why Bushwick is chosen make this film seems like an obvious social commentary of sorts. It reflects perhaps the disagreements and wars about the values and beliefs of Northern and Southern states in America. However, the more prominent one is the fact that Bushwick represents a lower class multicultural community which seems like they are disjointed because of that and make them an easier target. However, surprisingly the film takes a turn of how the city’s different groups each may react differently to the insurgence but still survival may just bring everyone together. Going deeper into the message this may convey will enter spoiler territory so we’ll refrain.

To be honest, Bushwick is an interesting premise and it does take the path of some contrived moments. There may even be some predictable happenings that are meant to shock however, it also succeeds in creating an engaging experience by delivering characters such as Lucy and Stupe that make us want to cheer for them to get out of this ordeal. There are quiet and dramatic moments to help see a deeper side of the characters as well as endearing bonding moments, added in with a few comedic moments to slice through the tension a little. All of these moments tie in very well together. There is no doubt in the end that this is meant to be taken with a serious tone and for the most part everything fits together for an action and suspenseful watch through Bushwick. Its not so much about the politics of it all as it is about survival. Just for the performances and the premise and setting, Bushwick is worth a watch.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Fashionista (2016)

Fashionista (2016)

fashionista

Director and writer: Simon Rumley

Cast: Amanda Fuller, Ethan Embry, Eric Balfour, Alex Essoe, Jemma Evans, Alexandria DeBerry, Devon Bonnee

A woman who uses clothes as an emotional crutch discovers her life isn’t as ideal as she thought… – IMDB

Consumerism is a thriving issue to look at. The addiction of it all and here lies the centre of what this drama and mystery thriller is all about. As the words opening the movie at Fantasia, Fashionista takes you into a world of addiction, sex and rock and roll. Simon Rumley directs and writes this film in a non-linear fashion and films it mostly in that non-linear way. Experimental and unique and the texture of it all is also incredibly independent. It is one of the reasons that Fantasia Festival is such a wonderful experience as we get to see these special pieces of cinema and dive into worlds and film-making styles that we don’t usually get exposed to. Fashionista’s strength lies in this originality of its non-linear presentation. It makes its audience work hard to piece it all together throughout and draw their own conclusions. The majority of it makes sense and the final act will generally resolve most of your suspicions. It sends a message about consumerism and the addiction of one person possibly in an irrational way. Simon Rumley does a great job and capturing the emotions and making very artistic shots.

Its hard to talk about Fashionista without giving praise to its cast. Amanda Fuller takes on the role of April, a woman who lives a dream owning a vintage clothes shop with her husband, Eric ( played by Ethan Embry). She loves clothes and is addicted to its touch and fabric as we quickly learn. She goes through many outfits throughout the movie, something like over a hundred. Amanda Fuller embodies April very well as she is believable in showing us her addiction and as her life falls apart, the reliance on these superficial things in her life. Her behavior shifts easily with every scene especially as she finds out that her husband is having an affair. None of this is spoilers as the trailer shows it. This hops her into another phase in life which enters rich bad boy Randall (played by Eric Balfour) that takes her for another trip filled with sex. Of course, all this is jumbled as the film presents snippets of Randall in the first act and makes us wonder what his whole deal is. Both Ethan Embry and Eric Balfour play great supporting roles here. Their characters are different and in turn as the story unfolds gives us a different feeling.

However, Fashionista does fall short with a less than engaging first act. It takes a long time and spends a little too much time emphasizing on the marriage breakup. Perhaps it is to make sure we connect with April more to feel her pain and her reliance and release with her clothes as she has almost orgasmic reactions when she is with them. It creates a mesmerizing snapshot however it is done a little too much. Some parts of the slow first act could’ve cut down to make this a more compact experience. Not to mention that the fragments were a little much. While well-timed such as keeping the injection of a mysterious woman played by Alex Essoe delightfully short but enough to make us wonder her connection to the rest of the fragments that doesn’t seem to go together. Fashionista truly picks up as Eric Balfour enters the scene and takes us on another journey, similar but different and possibly a little more thrilling. It teases us with a few events and when the entire piece falls into place, it offers up a lot of tension but leaving space for still some mystery.

The rock and roll part is a cornerstone of Fashionista. Its carefully selected music that transitions from one scene to the next or highlighting a certain event or moment. However, it also is these moments where the music is overpowering. Perhaps it is to make sure it overwhelms to emphasize the emotions and become more involved with the story. Unfortunately, it is one of the situations a few moments in we wished that we were watching this at home and we can turn down the volume or later on, whether the movie would voice its story better and be more thrilling and experience using silence instead.

Fashionista is a unique experience, highlighting an important message about addiction to consumerism. It is worth viewing simply for the fantastic performance from Amanda Fuller and its original concept of non-linear storytelling filmed in a non-linear way. It is a thrilling experience however it falls short due to a slow first act and overwhelming musical moments that took away from the movie more than it added. Less is more comes to mind in terms of that criticism. Fashionista is a worth a watch for all its outstanding elements however, perhaps more suitable as a home experience.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Better Watch Out (2017)

Better Watch Out (2017)

better watch out

Director: Chris Peckover

Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Dacre Montgomery, Aleks Mikic, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Warburton

On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it’s far from a normal home invasion. – IMDB

Home invasion films have been done to death. Honestly, there have been some hits in the last few years but its been a while that we have been thoroughly impressed. Maybe the exception would be Hush. This year’s Fantasia brings us the Canadian premiere of a home invasion film with a Home Alone twist previously called Safe Neighborhood but recently retitled Better Watch Out. It is directed by Chris Peckover who also was attending the festival to present his film. A perfect addition to the Festival as it fit perfectly in the Christmas in July theme. To further explain the Home Alone point, this features a boy and his babysitter as their Christmas night just got a lot more ominous as they realize that the house is being invaded.

Better Watch Out is a fantastic twist on the home invasion concept. It keeps up well with the intensity while offering more than enough laugh out loud black comedy moments. If surprises you with its characters who truly show off their true nature to stay alive. Its a fun ride with so many unexpected moments and what you probably won’t usually see with this one. The cast is also full of familiar faces. In a shorter role but done so well are the parents played by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton. They bring in a fun performance full of laughs and witty remarks. The big performances here are however with Luke, the twelve year old son played by Levi Miller (recently in Pan) who has a crush on his seventeen year old babysitter, Ashley played by Olivia DeJonge (recently in The Visit). In true John Hughes love that Chris Peckover talked about afterwards, this was where we saw a lot of awkward teen comedy as the early moments saw Lucas trying to get attention.

It is hard to talk about this one without ruining your experience so lets just say that Better Watch Out does a great job at executing the twist and then letting everything fall apart and come together. While some parts do get a little overboard, there is so much to love in the dialogue and the intensity, the black comedy and the clever characters and twists that makes this one a must-see. You’ll be surprised over and over again and when you finish this, you may want to go back and figure out those details you missed the first time around. Better Watch Out is a home invasion movie but also a perfect addition to the non-traditional Christmas movie that will make you want to watch over and over again because its not only fun but so incredibly clever. This one is a must-see!

Better Watch Out will be in theatres in October on limited release and will land online some time in December.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Le Serpent aux Milles Coupures (2017)

Le Serpent aux Milles Coupures (aka Thousand Cuts, 2017)

Director: Eric Valette

Cast: Tomer Sisley, Terence Yin, Pascal Greggory, Stephane Debac, Erika Sainte

Le Serpent aux Mille Coupures, aka The Snake with a Thousand Cuts/ Thousand Cuts, is a French crime thriller that centre around a mysterious killing of three drug traffickers. that happens in the small town farm area. The hitman escapes injured and hides out in a mixed family that is already being bullied by their neighbors very much against their will. As the traffickers’ family sends over their own hitman to hunt down and revenge their death, we see four sides of the story from the cops, the neighbors, the hiding hitman and the hunting hitman. The violence and characters are what truly stands out in this adaptation of the French novel with the same name written by DOA.

Thousand Cuts is a reference on the ruthless killer Tod played by primarily Hong Kong actor, Terence Yin. However, the other characters prove to be equally important. Terence Yin pulls off a rather sadistic killer who speaks in Spanish and English (at times illegible, where we wished the there would be subtitles also). However, a lot of his dialogue helped us understand his origins while his cruel torture and killing methods and the obsession for his knife never quite gets further than being a disturbing aftermath. His character felt like its main purpose was to show the extreme cruel, dark side of being a heartless killer in a rather cliche background sort of way. However, his role helped to give a contrast to Tomer Sisley’s nameless injured hitman who is mostly referred to as The Motorcyclist. A killer who is hunted and perhaps is the most intriguing among the characters because he seems to be capable of emotion and manipulation and yet the question arises at a certain point whether he longs for something more or that he is using the emotions of being human to manipulate. This character is deep and will be the centre of provoking further discussion of this movie. The best parts of the film are actually with The Motorcyclist because he is multi-layered and always seems to have something more to discover and wonder.

As a crime thriller, Thousand Cuts offers a decent amount of thrills whether it is in the visual disturbing images by Tod or even the multi-layered Motorcyclist. However, its hard to imagine that this tale is so much more and yet so many issues are not fleshed out enough. It touches only slightly on the family that The Motorcyclist chooses and their issues dealing with racism from the neighboring farms, emphasizing a small town characteristic, but never deep enough or long enough to feel a purpose to it, except to show that The Motorcyclist’s choice of choosing this family makes him also a bully and a bad man, which has proven that perhaps he really isn’t that bad. The neighborhood in the farm area also is a focus that never seems to matter too much even when the finale seems them converging at the same location for the big finale. The fact is Thousand Cuts feels disjointed in many parts and the majority of the characters never seem to get the depth that they deserve. Visually, Terence Yin pulls off a great villain with his ruthless acts but his acts are only there for shock value and reassurance of  his character rather his reluctant driver becomes the comic relief pulling some dark humor in various spots.

Thousand Cuts has the potential to be something more. However, its slow pace and disjointed storyline lacks a certain depth that helps make it memorable. Terence Yin pulls off some great dialogue and captures his role very well. However, the outstanding performances goes to Tomer Sisley as The Motorcyclist who thrills us by the grey area his character resides in constantly. The final act is definitely the best part of the movie as everything comes together and has some engaging action. Thousand Cuts is put together with good moments but somehow it still falls short of its potential. However, if you can put the story aside, the performances here and the imagery is done very well and the set location is also a great choice and these credits go to the director Eric Valette, which makes this one worth checking out.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Short Films Roundup

Fantasia Festival 2017 is full of short films. They may appear paired up with a feature film or maybe in a themed collection of films. There are so many great themes this year however, we only managed to catch these four. Let’s take a break from the full length features to take a look at these four short films: Breaker, For A Good Time, Call…, Sleazy Pete and The Naughty List.

Breaker (2017)

Breaker

Director & writer: Philippe McKie

Cast: Arisa Hanzawa, Kazuya Shimizu, Yuka Tomatsu

In tomorrow’s Tokyo, the technologically-enhanced body of a young mercenary hacker is overrun by a sentient data weapon. Wanted, the parasitic A.I becomes her only ally as she is chased across the city by those seeking to salvage it. – IMDB

Colorful, electric, creepy underground, pumping music and a future world that technology is so advanced that your brain is the main computer via a chip. Breaker shows what it is like to be hacked. Curiosity killed the cat or in this case, leads this breaker into a danger as she is hacked in a chase. With likes of upcoming games of Observer releasing with what seems like a similar idea and Illuminae and the idea that technology really has no borders, but is that a good or a bad thing? Breaker is eleven minutes of chase that somehow manages to use that short screen time to show us this future and successfully engage us into the A.I. and the hacker’s relationship for the few minutes that is reliant on an instant trust to hopefully make their escape.

One of the earlier short films to screen before Vampire Cleanup Department and it works so well to create a quirky yet intense and engaging chase that takes a few minutes to make us question the A.I.’s intentions and how it will all end.

For a Good Time, Call… (2017)

For a Good Time, Call

Director: Izzy Lee

Cast: Sean Carmichael, Diana Porter, Tristan Risk

A man who uploads a homemade sex video taken in secret gets more than he bargained for when he makes a pit stop. – Fantasia Festival

For A Good Time, Call… is an interesting short film. Running at 11 minutes, the short takes us into a place that we know our main character here is a scumbag. Maybe a lot of people do shoot homemade sex videos for fun however he did do it without consent and this causes a fallout with the girl unsurprisingly who wishes him to have something bad. Suffice to say that, as he walks into a bathroom at his pit stop, we can wonder whether he is high and imagining things or if there is something that is there. Here’s where the film picks up its pace with creepy noises and a secluded feeling as wonder what will happen. There’s something more this man and he’s definitely not a good person but what is lurking in the bathroom and what does it want from him? For a Good Time, Call… has its creepy moments and much of it happens off screen as we always see the reaction first before the actual thing, utilizing the fact that our imagination is always more powerful than what the object of fear usually is.

Sleazy Pete (2017)

Sleazy Pete

Director and writer: Frank Appache

A proto-apocalyptic tale where crime, sleaze and violence are king: we spend a night with sleazy Pete, and his new sidekick. – Fantasia Festival

There aren’t really lot of words to describe Sleazy Pete. For those that love 80s gory horror, this one is definitely for you. There’s a deliberate feeling to every action, some cheesy fakenss to the practical effects and oh so much blood. In fact, in the eleven minutes of runtime, its said that they used 55 gallons of fake blood. In true 80’s B-movie, this one ticks all the boxes you love. As well as character like Sleazy Pete who is a priest that twists the meaning of “Love Thy Neighbor” a little and in turns uses this as a means to kill the homeless while having a lot of other acts that fit right in with this new world that is full of crime, sleaze and violence. Sleazy Pete is one to check out for a quick 80’s B-horror fun time.

The Naughty List (2016)

The Naughty List

Director and writer: Paul Campion

Cast: Mac Elsey, Sebastian Knapp, Vincenzo Nicoli

On Christmas Eve, two American mobsters come face to face with Santa Claus, and discover what it really takes to get on the Naughty or Nice list. – IMDB

Paired perfectly with Better Watch Out, The Naughty List is a Christmas short film where two mobsters are in hiding. One believes in Santa and one doesn’t. When Santa shows up, the question is whether this man in a furry red and white suit is the real deal. The Naughty List is a really great time. Its all about laughs from the moment we see these silly mobsters till when Santa enters and how he does and the entire conversation. Everything is comedic and done so well. Its all about the laugh out loud moments and this one has so many of them.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast

Director and writer: Gabriela Amaral Almeida

Cast: Luciana Paes, Murilo Benicio, Irandhir Santos, Camila Morgado, Humberto Carrao, Ariclenes Barroso

 For the small audience that got to see the World Premiere of Portuguese thriller Friendly Beast, this was as the director calls it “another animal”. Friendly Beast takes place in a small restaurant as it nears closing and last minute customers are there along with the owner, a waitress and a chef. As tension within the restaurant staff with the owner and even its customers build, two armed robbers burst in. This sets the stage as the owner now peels off his friendly smiling face and counteracts in his own way. On the surface, Friendly Beast is an intense thriller that sees two key characters find who they are, both oppressed of what they truly want whether they know it or not. Under this is many tones about control in general to man and woman’s power in relationships, different races and social class clashes. Gabriela Amaral Almeida, presented this debut piece and told the audience that this script was stemmed from anger and frustration from the director and writer of Friendly Beast as Brazil’s political changes stunted her progress with another project. While she explains that the film has undertones of highlighting the Brazilian culture and politics, for those unfamiliar with Brazil politics, there are still many other themes to explore.

Friendly Beast is an intriguing piece to talk about. Mostly because there is so much care and detail at how the entire script is staged. Yes, this movie is carefully staged so that each room creates a different tone and atmosphere. This becomes an important element to understanding the character development. Friendly Beast is a one setting movie and yet because of how the rooms are used, it feels like there is much more space and meaning. For example, the dining room is where everything is put on a facade. It is falsely pretty but as the space becomes more disordered throughout the movie, the characters have also changed to be more outwardly on being themselves while in contrast, the washroom is a private closed space and its where the most real feelings are released in hiding.

There is no doubt that Friendly Beast is about its characters in all their motions and quietness and words. Every move is rehearsed and calculated to fully express what that scene wants to show its audience. In fact, the two main characters here are familiar faces. Murilo Benicio, who plays restaurant owner Inacio, is a renowned actor in the Brazil film industry. Luciana Paes, who plays Sara the waitress, was recently in Netflix Original series 3%. Both of them deliver incredibly engaging roles that even in their most quiet moments create tension. It makes the audience experience various phases and we soon realize that the performances reflect a great script put together to give each moment in this 90+ minutes importance. Some scenes will challenge you and others will literally make you feel uneasy and that also has to do with the sound design and the soundtrack.

There are times when directors talk about what they are trying to portray in their piece and it is a far-fetched idea that doesn’t get executed well. Gabriela Amaral Almeida and Friendly Beast is definitely not the case. If you see this movie (which you should), take the time to see between those lines and see the story she is trying to tell. Take a close look at what she has staged and let the building quiet tension grab you. And when Friendly Beast ends, it may very well sit on your mind afterwards.