It’s really a testament to the scope and variety of the things one can see at the Fantasia International Film Festival that my top 5 Fantasia films this year can contain a big-budget sci-fi Blockbuster and a movie so obscure and bizarre that I’ll likely never get a chance to see it again. The entire spectrum of film making is encompassed in Fantasia’s 2014 program, from the ultra-budget to the micro-budget, and all places in between. Old and new, comedy and tragedy (and mixes thereof), you can see it all at Fantasia, and no matter what it is, odds are it will be something you’ll remember for a long time to come. This year five films in particular left a lasting impression on me, and they seem to encompass that all-important Fantasia variety quite nicely.
Written by Al Caplin, Jon Caplin and Jordan Rubin
Directed by Jordan Rubin
It doesn’t take much to keep a Fantasia audience happy. Some gore, some nudity, all sprinkled with absurdity and with its tongue so firmly implanted in it’s cheek that it’s in serious danger of being unable to ever eat peanut butter again. Zombeavers has all of that, presenting an archetypal Fantasia crowd-pleaser. But what keeps Zombeavers from being a mere popcorn-muncher is the surprisingly professional presentation, despite what was surely a micro-budget production. This isn’t some Sy-Fy Channel monstrosity of lazy film making and horrendous CGI. The minds behind the camera clearly know what they’re doing and present a polished, professional looking film, complete with surprisingly good makeup and gore effects. The titular zombified beavers do look a bit like deranged muppets, but one gets the sense that was intentional, and all part of the fun. And with a good Fantasia audience, Zombeavers is fun personified.
I am a Knife With Legs
Written and Directed by Bennet Jones
While there is plenty of room for the latest high-profile horror and sci-fi flicks at Fantasia, just as much room on the program is given to small, under-publicized indie fare, made mostly on blood, sweat and tears, and catering to as niche a market as one can imagine. Last year, Eddie Mullins’ Doomsdays filled that bill, and this year Bennet Jones’ I am a Knife with Legs has seemingly reigned supreme over this year’s indie offerings. Feeling at times like some kind of stream-of-consciousness exercise, I am a Knife with Legs can’t be described in relation to anything else I can think of, a truly and jarringly singular film experience involving a French pop-star on the run from assassins. Nothing that happens in the film makes any kind of logical sense, but it nevertheless weaves a spell over the audience and leaves an indelible mark in their memories.
The Demon of the Lute
Written by Kuang Ni and Lum Yat Sin
Directed by Lum Yat Sing
Hong Kong, 1983
And speaking of the utterly nonsensical, this year’s tribute the recently departed Chinese mega-producer Run Run Shaw included a rare screening of The Demon of the Lute, a film from the twilight years of Shaw’s legendary Shaw Bros studios. Even more than off-the-wall oddities like The Battle Wizard, Demon of the Lute redefines madcap, a wild kung-fu fantasy spectacle brimming with imagination and creativity. So little about the film seems to make any quantifiable sense, from the soundtrack that alternates between screeching guitars and almost Goblin-style synth, to the increasingly ridiculous kung-fu masters who appear to challenge the heroes, each one with more bizarre skills and attributes than the last. While I may not be as seasoned a Shaw fan as some of my friends and compatriots, I can still safely say it’s like no Shaw film you’ve ever seen before.
In Order of Disappearance
Written by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
A good black comedy can sometimes be hard to find, but if In Order of Disappearance is any indicator, the works of Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland may be an untapped gold mine for fans of the genre. Starring Stellan Skarsgard as a snow-plow driver whose son is killed by the mob, the film is a revenge thriller in the purest sense, but those expecting something along the lines of Harry Brown or Gran Torino, with their geriatric heroes meting out justice with stone-faced seriousness are in for a surprise. In Order of Disappearance is black comedy par excellence, a wall-to-wall feast of deadpan hilarity that echoes Martin McDonagh or the Coens at their very best.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Directed by James Gunn
While Fantasia may be the playground of the foreign, the indie, and the obscure , they’ve increasingly played host to the local premiers of high-profile films that fit in their unique wheelhouse. While in previous years these films have largely been overshadowed by their indie and foreign counterparts, this year, nothing was a more enjoyable, moving, fantastic experience for me than watching James Gunn’s foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy. A full list of the film’s many virtues is not something that can be fit into this meager section, but to encapsulate my feelings: Guardians is everything I want blockbusters to be. It’s fun and funny, visually interesting, and isn’t afraid to ask the audience to actually feel for the characters, and usually succeeds in making them do so. I haven’t had a more enjoyable, affecting experience at the movies this year, and of all the films that screened at Fantasia 2014, there is no doubt in my mind that it is the one that I’ll treasure the most.