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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2018: ‘Mandy’ – This Movie will Kick Your Ass

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Closing out this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Pantos Cosmatos’ Mandy is, in my opinion, the best film that screened at the festival this summer. The Canadian filmmaker’s second feature (after his criminally overlooked Beyond the Black Rainbow) is not especially easy viewing and unquestionably not for all tastes, but Mandy is an extraordinary film no less — one touched with moments of crazed inspiration and imagery that reaches beyond language to something primal and original. And while I can’t guarantee you will like it, Mandy will no doubt blow your mind, kick your ass, and burn in your subconscious long after the credits roll.

Cosmatos has gone on record to say that his 2010 debut film, Beyond the Black Rainbow (a brilliant pastiche of 1970s sci-fi and horror), was inspired by his childhood obsession with the VHS box art of horror movies he wasn’t allowed to watch when he was a young boy. Mandy feels like a companion piece to Black Rainbow, if only more self-aware, and features a strong serving of heavy metal iconography and Nicolas Cage at his most unhinged. If a bloody, hallucinogenic nightmare featuring gooey practical effects and a chainsaw-wielding Nicolas Cage sounds like your cup of tea, then Mandy is a film you might want to see.

Mandy Movie

Telling the story of a lumberjack on a quest for revenge against a cult of religious fanatics, Mandy is set around an isolated cabin located in the Pacific Northwest in 1983 A.D. Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) and his wife, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), lead a loving and peaceful life. Red chops down trees for a living, while Mandy works at a nearby gas station. They spend most of their downtime together cuddling, watching movies, drawing, and reading fantasy novels in their isolated home. When the sadistic ex-folk singer and leader of the Children of the Dawn cult, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), drives through town and sees Mandy walking by, he decides he will do whatever it takes to have her. It doesn’t take long before his group targets Mandy, kidnaps her, and makes her a sacrifice to their twisted ideology, leading Red on a quest for vengeance.

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Mandy is essentially split into two halves. When the title card appears and Mandy is no longer in the picture, prepare to strap yourself in for one hell of a ride. It is here at the 60-minute mark that Mandy shifts gears to become a psychotropic horror show propelled by geysers of blood and gruesome violence that will leave some spectators running for the exit. The film’s second half easily fits the revenge-flick template, as Cage’s character will spend the next hour tracking those who’ve wronged him — starting with the mutant motorcycle gang, and then proceeding through the ranks of Jeremiah’s followers. One by one, he picks them off in over-the-top action, sometimes using a chainsaw, other times a crossbow, often a self-forged battle axe, and sometimes using just his bare hands to crush his opponents to death. “You’re a vicious snowflake!” he laughs, right before slicing a biker’s neck.

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The second hour of Mandy unfolds like a fever dream, filled with strange scenes like Red stopping to watch a full-length commercial parody for something called Cheddar Goblin Mac ‘n’ Cheese, and a fight scene with a mutant biker where an adult film plays in the background. At times it looks like a Heavy Metal album cover come to life, and often it looks, sounds, and feels like a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Mandy wears its many horror and sci-fi influences on its sleeve (The Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Italian Giallo), and the filmmakers go out of their way to push the envelope and shock audiences. I guess you can say it’s the stuff midnight screenings are made for. No doubt the second half is what most people will be talking about long after they leave the cinema, but the deliberately paced, mesmerizing, and quiet first half (which is probably the closest anyone has come to capturing a truly Lynchian vibe) is really the bleeding heart of the pic. The first section is best described as a love letter to Mandy, and Andrea Riseborough pretty much steals the show. She is haunting, endearing, and mesmerizing all at once  — and when Mandy is kidnapped by the cult of pseudo-hippies, her absence is truly felt.

Mandy

There’s an extraordinary transitional sequence about midway through Mandy that I suspect cinephiles will be including in their lists of best cinematic moments of 2018. A bloodied, beaten, and heartbroken Red (wearing only white briefs and a sweat-stained sweater with a tiger on it) stumbles into the bathroom, pours a bottle of vodka over his wounds (and the rest, down his throat), and proceeds to growl through his pain (both physical and emotional). For about five minutes the camera doesn’t cut away as we watch Nicholas Cage scream uncontrollably in rage — his face coated in blood, sweat, and tears. The booze-chugging scene is the stuff of legends, and destined to become one of the all-time great “Cage Rage” moments. It’s a scene that will have many laughing uncomfortably, yet it’s an incredibly heartbreaking moment — as crazy as things get, there’s a profound sadness in Mandy. Like many revenge stories, Mandy is, after all, about a man dealing with grief and trying to regain control of his life. But what makes this story different is that Mandy is also a love story.

When Panos Cosmatos approached Nicolas Cage to appear in his sophomore feature film, he originally wanted Cage for the Jeremiah character, but the 54-year-old actor told him he was far more interested in playing his nemesis, a man devastated by the loss of his wife. It sure would have made an interesting film to see Cage play the maniacal cult leader instead, but I also can’t help but think it would also be a lesser film. You see, the character of Red is a role which allows the actor to explore both sides of his talent in equal measures and Cage is so perfectly suited for the role, that this might be his best performance in over a decade.

Mandy - Panos Cosmatos

Storywise, there’s not a lot to write about, but Mandy is visually stunning thanks to DP Benjamin Loeb’s incredible work. Although most of the film was shot using 75mm and 50mm lenses, Loeb also made great use of a telephoto lens in order to gradually make each scene feel more and more claustrophobic. Nicolas Cage plays a character named Red, and so it is not a coincidence that the colour red bleeds across almost every frame, making it incredibly unsettling. Meanwhile, Cosmatos employs almost every cinematic trick, from swooping camera shots to psychedelic imagery to colorful filters to strobe lights — adding a barrage of prosthetic effects courtesy Astron 6, and even two brief animated sequences by Paris-based Banjo Studio. There’s an incredible cross-fade between a close up of Mandy and Jeremiah during a pivotal scene that will send shivers down your spine, and an acid trip that provides the best jump scare of any movie at Fantasia this year. Also, pay special attention to how the color palette shifts between how Jeremiah sees things to how Mandy sees the world. It’s a disorienting, almost hypnotizing effect, and is aided by the synth-heavy score from Icelandic composer Johann Johannson (who sadly died in February this year). If Mandy is the heart of the film, Johannson’s score is arguably the film’s very soul. It’s that damn good!

Mandy 2018

The revenge film is an over-saturated genre, but Mandy is in a class of its own. It’s safe to say no one’s ever made a revenge film quite like it. This is experimental genre filmmaking at its very best. It’s not for the faint-hearted and should be approached with caution — but if you don’t mind the copious amounts of bloodshed, you’re in for one hell of a ride. Expertly directed and superbly conceived, Mandy is an astonishing achievement that packs an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch. With only two films into his career, Panos is poised to become one of the boldest filmmaking talents of his generation.

Did I mention there’s a killer appearance from Bill Duke?

– Ricky D

“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones in my head and rock ’n’ roll me when I’m dead.”

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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1 Comment

  1. Jer

    August 29, 2018 at 9:04 am

    I’m hoping this turns out to be what so many thought Zombie’s “House of 1k Corpses” would be: An unrelentingly brutal & beautiful trip that gets etched into your mind forever. Zombie had a good start to his but maybe a half hour in you knew it would just be take pseudo-schlock.

    “Mandy” sounds like the film I’ve been waiting fifteen years to see, and the mention of Lynchian aspects make it even more anticipated.

    Seeing this the day it’s released in theaters and buying the soundtrack the next day. Sure to become a Halloween weekend viewing staple!

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Fantasia Film Festival

‘Ready or Not‘ Derives a Fair Amount of Mileage out of its Simple Premise

A rich family hunt the bride in a very bloody game of Hide And Seek

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Making its World Premiere at the Montreal genre festival, Ready or Not is a blood-spattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that features plenty of gore and a sense of humour as dark as the terror on display.

Anyone who has seen the trailer is already familiar with the simple premise. What is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Clue, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young bride who marries into the wealthy but strange Le Domas family that made their fortune in the board game industry. When it comes time to consummate the union, the bride is told that the marriage won’t be complete until she participates in an unusual family ritual: before the strike of midnight, the newlywed bride must draw a card from a mysterious box which will dictate which game they play into the night. Grace pulls the one-and-only cursed card that reads “Hide and Seek.” But this isn’t the traditional children’s game we are familiar with; in this deadly version, she is hunted by her soon-to-be-revealed psychotic in-laws wielding heavy weaponry like crossbows and shotguns.

A surreal cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Alex ostensibly trying to help his bride survive while the rest of the La Domas clan remains dead-set on sacrificing her through the mysterious ritual. Their motive is simple: the La Domas believe that they must kill her before dawn as part of a satanic pact agreed upon years ago, otherwise they will have to repay their debt with their own lives. As to whether or not there actually is a satanic pact is unknown; as far as Grace is concerned, these rich folks are batshit crazy and out of their goddamned minds.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are collectively credited as Radio Silence (V/H/S, Southbound), Ready or Not has a lot to offer in wit, style, and entertainment. It feels tailor-made for a midnight audience, as the bloodthirsty relatives arm themselves to the teeth in a wedding night filled with crossbows, shotguns, decapitations, a car chase, and a level of gore I didn’t expect given the marketing. The climax is especially memorable — an all-out gore extravaganza that left the audience laughing hysterically.

There’s a lot to like here, from the score by composer Brian Tyler to the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, but the reason this film works so well is because of the talented cast they’ve assembled, most notably Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), who serves as the family’s moral core. And of course there’s also Samara Weaving, (Mayhem, The Babysitter) who pretty much sacrifices her body in blood-soaked scenes of action and terror. The actress is fully dedicated in her role, turning into her own version of Ripley while tearing apart the upper-class society, their ridiculous traditions, and their silly superstitions.

I don’t want to oversell Ready or Not; it’s a great B-movie (albeit a big studio B-Movie, but a B-movie nonetheless). The quick pace, simple concept, and terrific performances are what carry it through the 95-minute run time. Ready or Not is simply put, a lot of fun — a horror-comedy that offers a ton of laughs, delivers the action, and cements the star power of Samara Weaving. The best compliment I can give is that I’m ready to see it again. It’s the perfect movie to watch with a group of friends on a stormy night, and a late-summer surprise for genre fans everywhere.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2019, as part of our coverage of the  Fantasia Film Festival.

 

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Fantasia Film Festival

Beautiful ‘Shadow’ Stands Out

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As a sort of somber Shakespearean political melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sometimes feels a bit too overplotted, with enough self restraint and looks of longing to make it feel claustrophobic, and so many schemes and betrayals that the script almost gets dazed among them. However, as a fantastical period piece — decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, and bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades — the experience fares better, resulting in a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

A brief bit of opening text sets the stage for a precarious peace between two lands — the kingdom of Pei, and the kingdom of Yang, the latter of which currently occupies the city of Jing, much to Pei’s dismay. When the renowned Commander of Pei strikes a deal with Yang’s unbeatable warrior king to compete in a one-on-one duel for the fate of the city, he is rebuked by his own ruler, and stripped of his title, demoted to a mere commoner. However, it is secretly revealed that the man acting as the Commander is actually a lookalike named Jingzhou, captured in his youth and bound to serve as ‘shadow’ to the true Commander — who is still recovering from near-mortal wounds from a previous encounter — in case of threats to his life.

This sickly Commander confines himself to an underground cavern beneath the city, and relentlessly trains Jingzhou in order to uphold the subterfuge, even going so far as to give him similar scars. All the while, he plots to retake Jing and assume Pei’s throne, promising to free Jingzhou from his duty upon victory. Of course, this being a royal court, there are any number of Machiavellian conspirators, each setting wheels in motions that surely will collide. This includes a weaselly king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and the Commander’s wife, Xiao Ai, who plays along with her husband’s maneuvers, but may be falling for his more honorable ‘shadow.’

Those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost as these ancient civilizations themselves, but despite the gravity with which the various players detail their plans, the importance of what they’re saying is mostly smoke and mirrors; sure, the duplicity stacked upon duplicity is mildly diverting, but it’s also shallow and devoid of meaningful motivation; so do the myriad of machinations in Shadow really matter? Not when there are plenty of other things to hold one’s interest.

Chiefly among those elements is the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. Conversations become mini-wars in themselves, as he zeroes his camera in on the meticulous exchanges between the main players of his power game, their precisely worded responses and subtle facial expressions acting out aggressive thrusts and parries in word form, often cutting just as deep as any knife. 

One need not understand the spoken particulars to get the general idea, and Shadow actually communicates better through the clarity of its visuals. Each guarded step or confident tilt of the head feels deliberately choreographed, as if part of deadly dance. And instead of overloading the screen with period detail, sets are clean, populated only with objects of significance. This laser focus allows for minute aspects that otherwise may have been overlooked in clutter to factor prominently, especially when Zhang Yimou holds his shots so patiently.

And it must have easy for him to do so with a cast as magnetic as this. Deng Chao does double duty as the Commander and Jingzhou, but creates characters so disparate that you’d be forgiven for thinking they bear no resemblance whatsoever. He manages bitter and reptilian just as easy as dutiful and courageous, showing how life has affected these two men, tied together by a facade, in vastly different ways. Sun Li as Xiao Ai nobly hides her torn affections behind expressive eyes that should reveal more than they do; everyone is playing the game. Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong round things out nicely as the deceitful king and his more straightforward, honest sister, who challenges any threats to honor.

Shadow 2019 Film Review

They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of. That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 25th as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. Shadow is now available in Canada on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Harpoon’ is ‘Dead Calm’ meets ‘Alive’

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Harpoon is best described as Dead Calm meets Alive. It follows Jonah (Munro Chambers), Sasha (Emily Tyra), and Richard (Christopher Gray)— a trio of unlikable friends with some serious issues who do horrible things to one another for roughly eighty-two minutes.

After Richard, the son of a mob boss suspects his best friend Jonah and long-time girlfriend Sasha are having an affair, it sends him into an uncontrollable rage that leaves Jonah a bruised and bloody mess. Only it seems Richard is wrong (or so they say), and after convincing Richard the allegations are false, Richard invites them on his family’s yacht to celebrate his birthday. It was meant to be a fun day trip in order to win back their trust but as tensions boil and the yacht’s engine fails, Richard’s anger management issues kick in and his birthday present (a speargun mistaken for a harpoon) becomes a threat. Stranded without food, drinking water, and other supplies, their only hope of survival is to set aside their differences and work together. But as secrets continue to be revealed and accusations are made, it seems this fuc*ed-up trio has little to no hope of ever reaching land alive.

Harpoon Movie Review

At its core, Harpoon is really a film about friendship, albeit a toxic friendship between three young adults who have drifted apart but somehow remain bound only by the amount of time they’ve known each other. When the trio are left stranded in the middle of the ocean, both their friendships and their lives are tested in excruciating ways. Rob Grant and co-screenwriter Mike Kovac’s script features an unseen narrator (Brett Gelman) who offers insight into the interpersonal background of the trio along with a clever and amusing history lesson about sailors and their superstitions. It seems the uncontrollable nature of the sea has given way to many a nautical lore, each one as curious as the next and Harpoon dives deep into these myths and legends feeding us snippets of info during a swift montage. As the plot twists, and turns (of which it does plenty), the trio realizes they’ve jinxed themselves in a barrage of ways. As they wait in hopes that someone will come to their rescue, they pass the time looking for ways to survive while discussing stories such as Edgar Allan Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and the true tale of Richard Parker, whose life at sea unbelievably mirrored the plot of Poe‘s writing which was released 50 years earlier.

Harpoon Movie Review

For what is essentially a horror film shot on a single location, director Rob Grant does a superb job in delivering a nasty little thriller. In spite of the short running time and limited claustrophobic setting, Grant keeps the film interesting with his camera choices and clever editing. As the film progresses the camerawork slowly draws in ever tighter on the three leads heightening the suspense at key moments while also further adding to the claustrophobic feel. It really is impressive how much mileage the filmmakers get when working with so little.

Held together by three impressive performances, Harpoon deftly plays with our emotions as we become less and less sympathetic to the trio, no matter what horrible things they may be experiencing. What makes Harpoon different than your average survival thriller is how it continuously encourages the audience to laugh at the series of unfortunate events. No matter how deceitful, violent and psychotic these three friends are, Harpoon somehow manages to remain darkly funny.

I must once again stress how annoying these characters are and because of this, Harpoon is a film I admire more than I enjoyed. Often the trio’s bickering is exhausting to sit through and despite a running commentary on toxic masculinity and male insecurity, Harpoon eventually runs out of steam— or rather, is left with no more wind in its sails. In the end, these terrible human beings couldn’t be any more deserving of each other but I can’t say I enjoyed their company.

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Depraved’ Puts a Fresh Spin on Frankenstein

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Larry Fessenden’s latest is part of a series of films that re-interpret classic monsters in a contemporary setting. The inspiration this time: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

There have been hundreds of big-screen adaptations of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, but the latest, Depraved, resurrects Shelley’s 19th-century masterpiece with a 21st-century twist.

Depraved marks Larry Fessenden’s first feature-length film in six years, one in which he wrote, produced, directed, and edited. Known as the godfather of New York small-budget horror movies, Fessenden is no stranger to bringing Frankenstein-like stories to life on the big screen. Traces of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece can be found in many of the movies his studio (Glass Eye Pix) has produced over the past three decades, but Depraved may be his most ambitious, reconfiguring the classic story into something that’s truly his own.

Eschewing the classic gothic setting for Brooklyn, New York, Fessenden stitches together the usual motifs of hubristic science, loneliness, and fatherhood with modern anxieties about the dangers of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies, the trauma of PTSD, and the social decline of modern times.

Depraved

David Call plays Henry, a grieving wartime field surgeon whose time in the Middle East has left him with severe PTSD. Alex Breaux plays Adam, a young man who is attacked one night on his way home, left to die on the sidewalk. As fate would have it, Henry stumbles upon Adam’s lifeless corpse, and drags it back to his nearby laboratory. With the help of his business partner and old college friend, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), Henry assembles various body parts, then transplants David’s brain into a new, stitched-together carcass. And so, Adam is reborn, thanks to a mysterious drug and the mangled collage of different corpses Henry has collected. Proud of his creation, Henry is eager to teach Adam how to speak, solve puzzles, regain motor control, play table tennis, and well, be human again. Unfortunately for Henry and Adam, Polidori has other plans.

Unlike the majority of Frankenstein adaptations, Depraved places a heavy focus on the father/son relationship between Doctor and Creation. Those looking for a Frankenhooker or Re-Animator style of film may be disappointed, since Depraved is first and foremost a character-driven film. Stripping the story to its bare essentials, we spend the majority of the running time watching Henry struggle with the moral and ethical dilemma of tampering with mother nature. For roughly the first half-hour, Depraved shows Adam’s death, rebirth, and healing process. The second part is a twisted coming-of-age tale that sees the two men slowly form a bond. The third and final act sees the all-too-greedy Polidori introduce Adam to the darker side of the city life. Things quickly spiral out of control as Adam starts to regain memories of his past life, and the gifted doctor instantly regrets bringing him back from the dead.

Depraved Movie Review

Depraved is best when it’s exploring the very unstable relationship of these two men, and it helps that David Call and Alex Breaux both do some incredible work here. Unlike most Frankenstein adaptations, Depraved is almost entirely seen through Adam’s eyes, and Alex Breaux’s mechanical performance strangely helps bring the film to life. He’s great at using his entire body to express emotions and imply what Adam is thinking and feeling, with little-to-no dialogue. Meanwhile, David Call does a marvelous job as the disillusioned doctor with something of a God complex. His performance takes the viewer on an emotional journey, and despite his poor decisions and questionable actions, he winds up sympathetic as we watch his spirit being crushed by the world around him. Unfortunately, the same sort of praise can’t be bestowed upon Joshua Leonard playing the greedy corporate benefactor behind Henry’s research. Perhaps the film’s one and only bad scene sees Polidori deliver a tiresome monologue about human nature while strolling through a museum. Of course, part of the blame should be credited to the screenwriter, but Leonard spends the majority of his screen time playing his character to the point of camp, which clashes with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Shot on the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s novel, Depraved is reportedly one of Larry Fessenden’s least expensive films, but you wouldn’t know by looking at it. Fessenden has always had a gift in producing excellent indie films on a shoe-string budget, and Depraved is no exception. From the opening scene set to the folk song “More Than Enough” by Elizabeth & The Catapult to the sepia-toned climax, Depraved looks stunning and sounds great for a DIY indie thriller. I especially love the psychedelic imagery of the second act, as well as the lo-fi lighting, filters, and color gels used when trying to convey what is going on inside Adam’s head. Even the stylish credits are fun to look at!

Depraved Movie Review

If every great story has already been told, the trick is to find new ways to tell it. You’d think that there would be nothing left to say about Frankenstein, but thanks to Larry Fessenden’s unique perspective, he proves that even centuries-old stories can be torn apart and stitched back together in new ways.

I don’t want to oversell this movie. Depraved is good but not great. I’m not willing to call it his best work, but it is just one more accomplishment to add to his already crowded resume. Like any movie, Depraved has its fair share of flaws, but it’s also an extremely well-made, emotionally devastating, character-driven journey. By the end, Adam is just another lost soul wandering New York City — and like many others, he’s searching for answers, a purpose, and in his case, a soul.

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Anime

Fantasia 2019: ‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

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Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

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