Fantasia Festival 2020: Shorts Round-up

Like every year, the final post for Fantasia Festival 2020 is going to be a short film round-up.

Abracitos (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Tony Morales

Cast: Virginia Gomez, Beatriz Salas, Carmen Salas

This Spanish horror short running at 11 minutes is set in the bedroom of a little girl when a phone call rings and the two sisters picks up the phone to realize that there’s something outside the little hideaway. While there is a little bit of campiness in the design of the “monster” on hand, the execution and atmosphere is done so well that it is very creepy and unsettling of tension build-up as anticipation of something happening builds up more and more of what will appear and all ends in a startling ending.

Abracitos is an incredible short executed with such a strong sense of horror that just makes you cringe in your seat waiting for what will happen next but never actually knowing when it will happen.

Downs of the Dead (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Even Husby Grodahl

Cast: David Vekony, Svein Andre Hofso Myhre, Eili Harboe, Ivar Lykke, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Elg Elgesem, Giulia Hellesdatter Roi, Trond Halbo

Running at 23 minutes, Downs of the Dead is a horror comedy set in a home for the intellectually disabled when the zombie apocalypse hits. The nurse tries to find a way out with the residents as the people around start turning one by one. The comedy elements of Downs of the Dead is pretty good. The incorporation of the different character groups with both the residents and the nurse’s collaboration to escape taking a different angle while using the visiting music band and the boss who gets turned into another element of added danger. Its all rather entertaining to watch and runs at a decent pacing. Horror comedy set during zombie apocalypse is really a been there done that sort of premise however its characters and setting is really what gives it the unique edge.

Suspense (2020)

Director (and writer): Ben Burghart & Jacob Burghart

Cast: Robert Coppage III, Jelani Talib

Running at a swift 7 minutes, Suspense starts off with an army pilot caught in the canopy of trees after he escapes the crash. As another army pilot reunites with him on land, they realize that something is chasing them in the shadows. Playing a little like Predator, this story takes a turn for the worse really quickly as the invisible enemy is tracked mostly by its sound with the aid of the camera. Its a fast-paced and excitingly intense short film that delivers on executing some thrilling build-up.

Dead Birds (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Johnny Kenton

Cast: Shannon Tarbet, Tara Fitzgerald, Luke Newberry, Synnove Karlsen, Lydia Wilson

A failing teenage badminton player at a Catholic Girls School is visited by a Saint – who agrees to help her if she’ll complete three tasks for him. Dead Birds is a twisted Super Natural Black Comedy about competitive mother daughter relationships, losing your religion and learning how far you’d go to get what you want. – IMDB

Running over 30 minutes, Dead Birds is one of the longer short films in this batch and also that I’ve seen to date. Its a dark comedy that elevates in its intensity gradually and also a horror comedy that doesn’t use zombies but rather the psyche of a badminton player striving for success and recognition to move up before a big competition. Its quite a wild ride with a good execution on the humor (at least for myself) and all builds up to this fairly alarming twist ending that becomes a little apparent by the final moments right before it as things all piece together from the various conversations. Its a fun and engaging short film that feels very different from any that I’ve seen before.

Homo ErecTattoos (2020)

Director (and writer): Kim Tae-woo

A terrible accident leaves a young soldier horribly scarred, but his rediscovery of art heals his wounded soul, in this brief but powerful animated documentary. – Fantasia Festival

If there was any short film that’s unique, it would definitely be this 8 minute South Korean animated short film. One of the most standout points is how it uses its black and white art style to execute each of its scenes as the pictures morph into one and another to progress through the story of a soldier recovering. There’s such a powerful story told here while still keeping it stylish and visually gripping. Its a movie experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Fantasia Festival 2020: A Witness Out of the Blue (犯罪现场, 2019)

A Witness Out of the Blue (犯罪现场, 2019)

A Witness Out of the Blue

Director (and writer): Chi-Keung Fung

Cast: Louis Koo, Jessica Hsuan, Louis Cheung, Patrick Tam, Philip Keung, Sam Lee, Andy On, Fiona Sit, Cherry Ngan

A Witness Out of the Blue is 2019 crime thriller about a murder of a member of a bank robber group that may have gone array as they hunt down their leader with only one witness to the crime: a parrot. One of the best things about Fantasia Festival is hearing director’s talk about their film. A nice touch to A Witness Out of the Blue was the director having a little message about how the movie came to be and how it all started with a parrot. Director and writer Chi-Keung Fung definitely is more renowned for his writing credits with involvement in Stephen Chow movies like Shaolin Soccer and The Mermaid. A Witness Out of the Blue has the hook of using a parrot as a witness and how the cop will use it to his advantage to learn about how a parrot communicates or learns the language and can have the intellect of a 5 year old child and its a fun element for sure. The story itself does create a lot of twists and turns that manages to lead down a rather interesting chase. There’s a bit of tension and a bit of humor and the mystery definitely takes everyone for a chase with the characters. The ending isn’t exactly never been done before (but I say what its similar to, that would be a huge spoiler so I’m going to avoid that). Whether pacing or execution, A Witness Out of the Blue is an intriguing thriller.

A Witness Out of the Blue has a stellar cast. Its consisted primarily with the once righteous but now easygoing cop Detective Lam that everyone sees as useless who sees through the case in another angle played by Louis Cheung who is more known for his music career than his acting career even if he has a lot of Cantonese voice acting credits to his name however delivers quite the performance. Lam starts suspecting his upper level boss played by Philip Keung (a familiar face at this year’s Fantasia for sure with his appearance in Sheep Without a Shepherd HERE) who holds a grudge towards the bank robbers for killing another cop. At the same time, Lam needs to still try to catch the bank robber mastermind Wong by the character played by Louis Koo but always seems to be one step behind as the robber crew starts being hunted down as well making him look more and more suspicious. There is no doubt that Louis Koo’s career is full of crime thrillers at this point and he is the perfect candidate for this role especially since he becomes something of an antihero. At this point, Wong hides out at this senior care home managed by a visually disabled woman played by Jessica Hsuan where we see the more human side of Wong in their interaction.

There is no doubt that Chi-Keung Fung is a great writer since every character in this thriller has its purpose. The characters all play off each other as detective Lam goes looking back at the grudges linked to robbery as he questions supporting characters played by Fiona Sit, Andy On and Patrick Tam. Each of these characters have their own stories whether its a flawed detective or a mastermind who wants to find the truth of the death of his team but every step takes on a different turn. Put in the equation of the parrot being another character and its all quite the whirlwind ride.

A Witness Out of the Blue has a lot to offer. It tries to be a little different and how it starts with a parrot and uses its characters all fit well together. Its a crime thriller that has some action and comedy blended together to become a little more mix genre. With both a stellar cast and a fun little plot and some great comedy points, it all actually fits together in a well-paced, engaging and entertaining sort of crime thriller even if the ending isn’t as clever as the director might think it is but somehow this still felt a little like a breath of fresh air in the sea of crime thrillers that come out every year.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Chasing Dream (我的拳王男友, 2019)

Chasing Dream (我的拳王男友, 2019)

Director: Johnnie To

Cast: Jacky Heung, Keru Wang

Tiger, an aspiring MMA fighter, meets young Du, whose dream is to become a singer. Together they go from audition to audition as they try to get Du into the talent show Perfect Diva. And at the same time, Tiger tries to quit the ring – but leaving turns out to be harder than expected. – MyDramaList

With 70 director credits under his belt according to IMDB, Johnnie To has a huge array of movies under his belt spreading over many genres even if a lot of people will first remember mostly his action or crime titles. Coming back from a 3 year hiatus, Johnnie To’s latest offering is a sport and music comedy about chasing dreams. As it follows two people in debt to the same loan shark ending up living together to pay off their own debts doing random jobs while each pursuing their own dream. Tiger (Jacky Heung) fights these cage battles for the loan shark boss who ends up using his roommate Cuckoo Du as his bargaining chip and he ends up giving in each time to help her achieve her dream to win Perfect Diva, a singing competition. Something about this story is a little silly and been there done that and yet there’s this charming element about how its all put together especially with the array of characters, the comedy point and how its a little bit silly at times being rather reminescent of the 90s Hong Kong comedy.

Chasing Dream

Johnnie To doing this sort of movie adds quite a bit of charm no doubt. He brings in some great comedy points while executing some incredible scenes that feel a little over the top and yet manages to keep it entertaining. Of course, comedies are always subjective so what works for might not work for you. The use of the music element actually works out all the ways especially during a specific singing training scene to prepare Cuckoo for her competition as Tiger calls in a bunch of favors to be her band while trying to help her find her diva style that would fit her as he wheels in food for hotpot while throwing out different popular American singers and Cuckoo imitates their performance and singing style. It sounds a little ridiculous but actually the scene works out really well. All that culminates to a huge Bollywood style musical flash mob scene that is absolutely awesome. However, the movie isn’t all fun and laughs but still packs in a lot of drama especially on the side of Tiger as his boxing matches get more intense and the matches become harder to watch as his character really does connect and stand out the most in the entire film. Jacky Heung shines in this role as Tiger.

To be honest, Chasing Dream is almost back to the basics. Its a simple storyline. The plot points are fairly predictable. Inspirational tales about chasing dreams and going through a lot of obstacles has been done tons of times. The relationship between Cuckoo and Tiger is unique and its because of these two characters that the story stands out so much. The ridiculous comedy, the bright and entertaining bits balances well with the drama of highlighting what is the most important. Especially with a final ending scene that gives major homage to Rocky. Its hard to not slowly be taken over by this movie but then I’m also a sucker for music and chasing dreams movie so watching a movie titled exactly what it is seems like a solid win and Chasing Dream surprisingly not only met my expectations and exceeded it.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Legally Declared Dead (死因無可疑, 2019)

Legally Declared Dead (2019)

Director: Wai Yuen Kim

Cast: Carlos Chan, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Karena Lam, Kathy Yuen

Based on Japanese novel Black House by Yusuke Kishi, Legally Declared Dead is 2019 Hong Kong psychological thriller that centers its story at an early point of understanding a quote: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It takes the angle of an insurance broker Yip (Carlos Chan) who is assigned a client that asks him to discuss his policy at his home but ends up witnessing his son hanging from the ceiling and the case ends up being deemed a suicide and his parents get the insurance money. Struggling between hallucinations from PTSD and believing that the father Tak killed his own son with the scheme to get the insurance money for his own purposes, he goes onto his own investigation before Tak gets to his wife Ling who also has a huge insurance policy.

Legally Declared Dead is a good premise. While I’ve never read the source material, there is something about following a normal person that finds this newfound desire to seek out the truth relentlessly despite the apparent abnormal personality from Tak and Ling. The story is at its most gripping when its looking watching Yip pursue this family’s past from where the couple met and piecing together Tak and Ling’s story. There’s a great execution element done where the past blends into the present with each shot as it shares the location. Its a very cool maneuver to keep the scene flowing smoothly. However, the movie does have a secondary focus on Yip’s mental state falling apart as he starts seeing nightmare scenes like the pet praying mantis giant and attacking him and his girlfriend for example. The CGI is rather lacking for the most part and doesn’t quite flow as well. Its meant to be creepy and yet it seems to not quite hit the mark especially as its meant to build up on Yip’s character while bringing up a key point of the dangers of praying mantis female and male together.

Legally Declared Dead

There is no doubt that where this movie excels is the performance of Tak and Ling by Anthony Chau-Sang Wong and Karena Lam. Its fairly early that there is something wrong with Tak and the story gives cues of different probably reasons for his abnormal behavior. Anthony Wong embraces this role so well especially as its such a helpless character by the end that creates a lot of unsettling moments throughout the film using actions and how he interacts with other people and then with Ling being a key point. Karena Lam delivers a surprising role as Ling. She plays a woman who has a visual disability that appears like she has settled for Tak for whatever reason that soon becomes apparent as we follow their side of the story that she has a manipulative character. Tak and Ling are characters with depth and twists. Its unsettling and psychological. Its a little sad that they are paired up with Carlos Chan who does an alright job as Yip but in comparison, his character lacks a lot more substance and feels fairly one-dimensional. Luckily, they also have a great supporting cast with Stephen Au, Kai Chi Liu and Catherine Chau.

Packed with a good premise and some outstanding powerhouse performances from Wong and Lam, Legally Declared Dead is relatively successful as a horror/psychological thriller. Its execution and pacing does build tension very well. It gives both side of the story and as each characters mindset and grand scheme comes to light one step at a time, it becomes more and more unsettling. Not to mention, the cinematography plays a big part using parallels to show the past and the truth of a story being told while also playing with light and dark scenes and the whole concept of good and bad people being respectively weak and power. There are a few decent use of psychological elements especially as Yip’s girlfriend plays the role of a team that looks into criminal behavior. Its a bit of a convenient setup but for the most part, Legally Declared Dead does fit together all its elements well enough to be gripping and engaging.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Wildland (Kød & blod, 2020)

Wildland (Kød & blod, 2020)

Wildland

Director: Jeanette Nordahl

Cast: Sandra Guldberg Kampp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Besir Zeciri, Elliott Crosset Hove, Joachim Fjelstrup, Sofie Torp, Carla Philip Roder

Ida moves in with her aunt and cousins after the tragic death of her mother in a car accident. The home is filled with love, but outside of the home, the family leads a violent and criminal life. – IMDB

Wildland is a Danish drama about a family involved in crime witnessed through the eyes of a cousin that moves in after her mother passes away. Through her eyes, Wildland shows the dynamic of the family matriarchy lead by a doting mother who runs her underground business where her three songs help her with the dirty work of chasing down money owed from people and doing some scare tactics. At the same time, Ida starts having to tag along with her cousins even though each one treats her in a different way and slowly accepts her well. As with any family drama, there is a certain level of dysfunction whether its the overbearing love or the protectiveness or a judgement (and disagreement) of the girlfriends. There’s a lot that slowly reveals as the mother’s smile might hide a lot more and everyone has something deeper brewing in them. As Ida gets dragged deeper into this family and this crime world, a new side of her starts emerging as more of her personality comes out as well.

Wildland

Wildland executes the family drama with a lot of details and dialogue as well as the most confused feeling towards the mother character who seems to still treat her boys like children and yet gives them some important tasks. Every single character has their own unique personality. Ida pieces together the film because for the most part, she plays the role of an observer and doesn’t talk too much however she has a lot of little subtle moments that gives her some depth. Where the movie does the best is the story of the mother role played by Sidse Babett Knudsen who knocks it out of the park. Her mother role is a little unsettling as she is very close with her son and incredibly controlling of their every choice in life while also having this power woman sort of role to hold up all of her business.

As with her character, the second point is her dynamic and interaction with each of her boys. The oldest son, Jonas (Joachim Fjelstrup) plays someone who has found his place with his mother who still stays at home and built his own family so has some kind of harmony while being more of a manager role to his brothers. Mads (Besir Zeciri) is the brother seems the most out of control in his own world who plays video games and is a little weird. The last son David (Elliott Crosset Hove) is the plot point that drives a lot of conflict as his mother disapproves of him and yet he can’t seem to break out of his mother’s grasp to have his own life apart of this crime world. David carries a lot of hidden messages in his character and as things start piling up, he starts having some distance. What winds up to be a shocking ending especially on how things close out the story.

As more Danish films pop up in film festivals, its starting to become obvious that there are some upcoming powerhouse actors/actresses and directors in Denmark. Wildland tells what might feel like an expected tale of crime and family drama and yet, there’s a lot of subtlety to the performances and some fantastic visual cues used in the cinematography to boost the scene’s tone and mood. The characters are crafted with a lot of care and still leaves room for its audience to connect some of the dots and delivers some surprises as well. There’s a lot to like about Wildland.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Bring Me Home (2019)

Bring Me Home (2019)

Bring Me Home

Director (and writer): Seung-woo Kim

Cast: Yeong-ae Lee, Jae-myung Yoo, Jin-hee Baek, Hae-Joon Park, Hae-Jin Yoo, Ae-ri Jung, Hyun-woo Seo

A dedicated mother in search of her missing son follows a tip that leads her to a fishing village where corrupt police officers might have the answers to her mystery. – IMDB

Bring Me Home is a rather clearcut sort of thriller. Its a story about a mother looking for her missing especially harder after she gets an anonymous tip following her husband’s death. On one hand, she remembers and imagines life with her husband and son which gives her strength when she starts discovering the fishy clues of the people at the fishing spot of a boy that they hide from her in fear that it is her son.

Its not hard to get into the emotioms that Bring Me Home wants the audience to feel especially since the straightforward plot gives a clearcut line of good and evil. The mom is the sad person who is desperately looking for her son even through all uncertainty she feels like Min-su is her Yoon-su so things get crazy as she puts herself into one after another dangerous situation to find the clues amd prove her point and take back her child. On the other side is the evil people of the fishing village which we soon learn is full of ex-cons and lead by the corrupted cop Hong. The whole group is full of selfishness, molestation, misogyny and so much more. With a crew like that, everything they do is either overdramatic or overreaction making them more suspicious or how they treat Min-su in general. Its hard to not side with the mom’s side in a story like this and the finale is some sweet, sweet justice. Well, its a Korean film so there’s always some bitterness to it or else it wouldn’t be a thriller, right?

Bring Me Home

Lady Vengeance (review) herself, Yeong-ae Lee plays the mother here which means that subtle acting is really on point and well, the acting in general. Just like police corporal Hong played by Jae-myung Yoo which also does a fantastic job since it was so easy to hate this character and that hatred built throughout the film. Like I said, sweet sweet justice. Of course, these are the main characters and the two strongest opposing sides of the equation that really stood out. There are some supporting characters that really do add quite a bit to the story with the roles of Flounder (I think that’s the name) and Mr. Choi who both aren’t explored too much but at the same time, add to the story in their own ways, mostly in the dislike department.

With that said, Bring Me Home is an alright drama thriller. The story itself is fairly clear cut but they do have a little bit of the reveals in some of the subtle details from camera pans to using the flashlight in dark scenes. There is some disturbing scenes and unpleasant characters to deal with. I’m starting to notice films that deliberately use content that’s a little emotionally manipulating. This one does hit that territory a little. However, the fishing spot setting is used well and the whole thriller does get fairly tense. There’s a lot of subtle visual cues to bring some clues to light and give these band of kidnappers some depth. Without hitting too many spoilers, another element that was a bit lacking was its unsatisfying ending. Overall, Bring Me Home is alright with some good and some bad point but it has to thank its engagement really in its casting choice of its two main leads, Young-ae Lee and Jae-myung Yoo because they really delivered stellar performances.

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Mortuary Collection (2019)

The Mortuary Collection (2019)

The Mortuary Collection

Director (and writer): Ryan Spindell

Cast: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Christine Kilmer, Jacob Elordi, Ema Horvath, Jennifer Irwin, Jame Bachman, Barak Hardley, Sarah Hay, Ben Hethcoat, Mike C. Nelson

On the cusp of retirement, an eccentric mortician recounts several of the strangest stories he’s encountered in his long career, but things take a turn for the phantasmagorical when he learns that the final story – is his own. – IMDB

While horror anthology are far and few, they always luckily tend to pop up at Fantasia Film Festival. The Mortuary Collection is the latest offering and its one that the poster caught my eye instantaneously. The art style and color palette of it reflects in the movie itself. The Mortuary Collections tells 4 tales with the 5th one being the one that strings them together at the Raven’s End Mortuary over the span of decades starting from the 1950s all the way to the 1980s. All of them are fairly diverse but uses the different situation of people. As with many anthologies, some stories probably land a little more than others however in my opinion, they were all fairly entertaining in their own way with each other having a little bit of dark humor and increasingly creepy to watch all building up to the last tale set in the present.

The Mortuary Collection

The Mortuary Collection uses the conversation between mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) and a potential hired help Sam (Caitlin Custer) as the basis as he shows her around the mortuary while fulfilling her desire to tell her stories of the dead that has passed through Raven’s End Mortuary. After each one, she will criticize them for their predictability or lack of extremity. The first tale told, set in the 50s, is rather short and gives a good taste of the style. In reality, its definitely a catchy dose whether its the color scheme or the single actress in one setting of poking their nose where they shouldn’t as she finds a creature in the medicine cabinet. I’m a big fan of creature features here so the small dose of this was exactly what made it a fun start. Of course, the 60s takes on a different term with a male lead that I recently saw in The Kissing Booth 2, Jacob Elordi plays a college boy trying to build up his count of girls he sleeps with and it all comes down to a rather scary end and warning about safe sex. Its probably not my personal favorite but the ending was slightly disturbing yet a tad creepy. If anything, this was the lesser one although it had a nice premise and had us wondering what creature this girl is that leaves a little space for the imagination to go off. The 70s one is probably the creepiest as a husband contemplates killing off his sickly wife to get out of this dead end situation. Things go horribly wrong as it usually does and it also gets incredibly creepy although to be fair, another anthology (maybe Creepshow on Netflix) might have had a similar sort of segment with a different backstory. The 80s one is titled The Babysitter Murders, told by Sam as she tells a story close to her heart. It might seem like one of the more predictable tale among all of these but in reality, it takes a rather unique twist of events.

Aside from the stories, Montgomery Brown and Sam’s conversation about stories, their greatness and lacking elements while also the lessons that it discusses all brings a lot of fun. The dynamic between the two characters works really well. Clancy Brown does a great portrayal of Montgomery Brown and Caitlin Custer is a rather engaging Sam which gives both of them some subtle depth. At the same time, Raven’s End Mortuary also seems to come alive as they go through the different rooms. There’s is fantasy-like entity to the space that almost feels like something more is just lurking around the corner.

The Mortuary Collection is a really fun anthology. Sure, not all the stories are perfect but they all have this great entertainment value that gives a nod back to series like Creepshow or Tales of the Crypt. They have their own keeper of tales and it even has this fantastic color palette that makes some colors pop in their gloomy environment. The setting and the stories spread across the decades all have their own genre and leaves a little space for mystery plus the stories all connect as supporting characters will overlap between each tale as well. Its such a well thought out anthology that brings a lot of entertainment and amps up the creepiness with each tale. Its one that I’d definitely want to watch again while also hoping that they make another of one of these to see what other stories they have to tell.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Jumbo (2020)

Jumbo (2020)

Jumbo

Director (and writer): Zoé Wittock

Cast: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck, Tracy Dossou

Jeanne, a shy young woman, works in an amusement park. Fascinated with carousels, she still lives at home with her mother. That’s when Jeanne meets Jumbo, the park’s new flagship attraction. – IMDB

Jumbo is the directorial debut of Zoé Wittock which at the beginning says that its inspired by a true story. After the world has been in the stand for LGBT community, there’s always somewhere else to explore in terms of sexuality and attraction and in this case, its a look at object sexuality or objectophilia which is the journey that the main character Jeanne finds herself with as the new amusement park ride Move-It that she is recently employed as to do clean-up after hours starts to form a connection with her. Is it a real or in her imagination is the whole deal as the rock of her world being her mother starts to negate her attraction with Jumbo, the name that she’s given Move-It. Its a journey about acceptance of being different, finding yourself as well as family seeing a way to accept, support even if they don’t understand what seems strange to them as it breaks away from the norm. That’s where the movie strikes at its best. Its weird for sure especially with scenes of a different form of sex and the infatuation but if you think about it, its not really that different from how everyone else feels in the face of falling in love. Its just the subject is different. Suffice to say, the premise itself is an engaging and unique one.

One of the place that this shines is the characters and relationships. The movie starts off with this endearing relationship with Jeanne and her mom Margarette who are almost like friends. She tells her mom everything and is obviously a lot more introvert in comparison to her mother who talks about her vibrator right in the first 5 minutes of the movie. Jeanne is a character that enjoys being alone whether its because of bullies or just her lack of communication skills with others or that people find her a little odd whereas her mother is the opposite as she finds a man called Hubert fairly quickly and comes into the picture. Its a unique relationship between the mother and daughter that takes a front seat the entire movie as it all takes a turn for the bad before any kind of resolution. Its one of the relationship that becomes very intense to watch.

Above this relationship, its really the journey for Jeanne and Jumbo. Its an inner journey for Jeanne as an individual as while everyone might disagree, she’s also struggling to make sense of it and its portrayed so well by Noemie Merlant who embodies this character so well. The introvert and shy personality, the happiness, attraction and interaction with Jumbo, the struggle to try to be normal with a man and everything else that goes with it. Her relationship with Jumbo might not be one of words and its a one-sided conversation a lot of times but the way the film is executed gives it life as Jumbo lights up in different colors to answer her questions and responds with sounds and whatnot that reflects their emotions. There’s some parts where it feels like its her imagination but it starts making you wonder whether its reality as well.

Jumbo is no doubt a unique film and one that will be very memorable because its premise stands out so well. There’s a lot to talk about with Jumbo. The cinematography, the sounds, the characters and relationships, the portrayal of objectophilia: its all worth discussing. Its probably not for everyone since its a daring and intense take on objectophilia. It doesn’t shy away from making sure that the audience understands how deeply in love Jeanne is towards Jumbo whether its through her actions, words or expressions. One of the supporting characters makes a really good point at the end and that it doesn’t matter what she likes if she’s as happy as she was even if its a little bizarre. Its a great takeaway in general for people struggling to be accepted for being different from what is believed as “normal” but then, as I’m watching and writing this review, we’re living in abnormal times which probably will be our norm in coming years so what is really normal, right?

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Paper Tigers (World Premiere 2020)

The Paper Tigers (2020)

The Paper Tigers

Director (and writer): Quoc Bao Tran

Cast: Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Matthew Page, Ken Quitugua, Roger Yuan, Raymond Ma, Jae Suh Park

Three Kung Fu prodigies have grown into washed-up, middle-aged men, now one kick away from pulling their hamstrings. But when their master is murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs, dad duties, and old grudges to avenge his death. – IMDB

The Paper Tigers is one of the absolute hidden gems of this year’s festival. Its another type of martial arts movies that focuses on a script that stays true to the traditional practice of Kung Fu. It adds in all the proper Chinese terms that the disciples all learn and the different clans and how the ranking goes with how the “bei mo” challenge for someone who wants to fight for a position or whatnot goes. Its all a new eye at the roots of the virtues of practicing is like honor and brotherhood. “Paper tiger” is a common term in Chinese used to represent someone who appears/claims to be threatening but actually isn’t, which is a perfect title that encapsulates this entire film.

Its great to see someone making movies about these key virtues and values that is much more than the actual fighting bit. Ken Quitagua, who also plays one of the later characters Zhen Fan, is the action director that crafts so great fighting choreography. With that said, they don’t cheap out on the fighting either although its more of an action comedy so the fighting wraps in the rusty out of practice Kung Fu skills of these middle age men who have more heart than skills but slowly finds back some of their groove, at least those able to do it between these three friends: Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins). For them, its about the values and friendships that they treasured when they were young and because of all the curveballs life has thrown them, they seem to have forgotten the basics of those values that don’t thrive so well in their current reality. The course of this “adventure” or “revenge mission” takes them all for a loop, especially for Danny who the movie focuses mostly around his backstory and life with his divorced wife and being a father to a young boy.

The Paper Tigers is a straightforward story. Its clear cut and doesn’t pad it with a lot of unnecessary tangents but sticks true to the three main characters who are portrayed incredibly well by its cast. They have their own issues to deal with and then they have a lot of the rivalry from past and present that they need to deal with. Its all well-paced and everything hits its marks really well throughout. It shows the years of how the Three Tigers get together as children and then young adults and then for some reason that gets revealed in the plot, what separated them when they reunite to find out what happened to their “Si Fu” aka Master. It also brings in the clever use over and over again in different situations about the Chinese proverb, “Two tigers cannot share a mountain” which they word it a little differently but means the same thing essentially.

the paper tigers

Whether its the humor or the character or the nod to Kung Fu martial arts, its virtues and respect, its all such a great balance of everything that makes it an exceptionally enjoyable viewing. As a finishing note, as I was watching this, it reminded me of Ang Lee’s debut films of Father Knows Best Trilogy that also used the same sort of story-telling methods of presenting a scenario (entertaining or not, like Pushing Hands or The Wedding Banquet) that actually embedded a lot of traditional customs and exhibiting a new culture to the public. There’s a lot of positive vibes from watching a movie like The Paper Tigers.

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Block Island Sound (2020)

The Block Island Sound (2020)

Director (and writer): Kevin McManus & Matthew McManus

Cast: Chris Sheffield, Michaela McManus, Neville Archambault, Jim Cummings, Willie C. Carpenter, Jeremy Holm, Matilda Lawler, Trisha McManus Heidi Niedermeyer

Something terrifying is happening off the coast of Block Island. A strange force is thriving, influencing residents and wildlife alike. – IMDB

Set on the island south of Rhode Island called Block Island (which I knew nothing about prior to this movie), The Block Island Sound uses its setting, the small town community as well as the mystery of conspiracy theory, reality or another unknown reason as its basis. Its main draw is the unsettling suspense and horror behind each development and how the targeted characters, first the father followed by the male lead character Harry falls into this unknown state that sporadically has him doing things he doesn’t want to and shouldn’t do.

A lot of the unsettling and eerie nature comes from its music score and sound effects and background sounds blended with the scene. Starting from this radio static that sounds almost like growling meshing with the frequency. There are also these different types of droning sounds that can easily get under the skin. Let’s face it, directors and scripts that can build on the unknown and mystery and execute it well can make a movie a million times scarier just by the power of the viewer’s imagination and anticipation.

The Block Island Sound is a giant mystery that fluctuates between the different pieces of evidence and the various opinions of people on the island. Its a question of what is going on overall that constantly hangs in the air. Someone rambles on about government testing and conspiracy theory, another believes its just sleepwalking and then there’s the science and medical deduction of electromagnetic sensitivity. Its a choice of what will be believed by the viewers with the little pieces presented. Its always the unknown until the final act where things starts making a little more sense. While the mystery part might drag out maybe one scene too much of Harry’s situation as a part of this whole unknown, the end game and final act is completely worth the wait and is absolutely more than the sum of its parts. It circles back to a conversation at the beginning as the wrap-up that is done so clever.

With any movie like this, subtle and focusing a lot on the reactions and interactions of the characters involved, the cast and character design is a big part. Neville Archambault starts off as the dad and he starts off the movie already in an unsettling manner from what he does and just the look in his eyes. As it seems to transfer over to his son Harry (Chris Sheffield), its hard to not see a different way of how he derails from realizing something is wrong and trying to resist whatever is happening to him. And then, there’s the balancing role who is doesn’t understand what is going on as the “good sister” Audrey (Michaela McManus) that pulls out a decent role especially since her character creates a little contrast. However, if there was a character that brought the most convincing side of the whole equation (and I’m not usually someone who believes in this) is the character of Dale who starts talking about all the conspiracy theories he believes in and it starts right from the first act and throughout the film and each time being doubted in the film which makes you wonder whether its the deal here since that’s how movies usually go.

The Block Island Sound is a story that needs to be experienced and let the story reveal. The more I talk about it, the surprise of the viewing will be ruined. Its a case of knowing less before going in and letting yourself follow and figure it out on your own. Block Island is a great setting and the story itself was done pretty well with some very slight pacing issues in the middle. The unsettling feeling is fairly on point as well. This is a good science fiction horror mystery story.