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Fantasia Film Festival 2018: Our Most Anticipated Films (Part One)

The Fantasia Film Festival is just days away, its 2018 lineup almost too massive and packed with packed with filmic delights to take in fully.

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The Fantasia Film Festival is just days away, its 2018 lineup almost too massive and packed with filmic delights to take in fully. This year’s lineup looks like a doozy, with fresh entries from returning favorites and a whole slate of new talent waiting to dazzle us with new perspectives and angles. Part of the joy of Fantasia, of any film festival really, is being surprised, by having a movie that was barely on your radar turn out to be one of your favorite films of the festival. Sometimes, a lack of anticipation can make for far more rewarding and surprising experiences. But all the same, it’s hard not to have a few films, in particular, stand out as must-see events. In our usual tradition, here are some of the films from Fantasia 2018 that fall into that category this year.

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laplace_s_witchLaplace’s Witch

It just wouldn’t be Fantasia without an entry from Takashi Miike, Japanese auteur extraordinaire and still a seemingly unstoppable filmmaking machine after years in the business. Last year it was his fiery, no-holds-barred adaptations of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and Blade of the Immortal, but this year’s Miike film looks to be a tad more subdued. Or as subdued as it can get with Miike at least. Adapted from the novel by Keigo Higashino, Laplace’s Witch follows an investigation into a string of seemingly accidental deaths, and one geochemist’s discovery that they might be more sinister than they first appear. A girl appears claiming the ability to use probability to predict future events, right down to natural disasters, and the suspicion grows that a killer might be using a similar ability to maneuver victims into the path of certain death. Can our academic hero, aided by this mysterious girl who identifies herself as “Laplace’s Witch”, prove their suspicions and stop the murderer before it’s too late? That may seem like a rhetorical question, but bear in mind that you can never be sure of anything when it comes to Miike. This is, after all, the same director who once ended a crime thriller with the world exploding. That’s kinda how he rolls. Anyway, Laplace’s Witch has the kind of premise Miike seems like a good fit for, one rife with opportunities for gallows humor and deadpan absurdism in between gritty drama. We should also assume going in that the film will boast at least a few gloriously over-the-top death scenes, a promise which is sure to draw a packed theater. Miike films, in a very real sense, are meant to be watched with an audience, and a lively Fantasia crowd is as good an audience as you’re bound to find for his films.

THE-OILY-MANIACThe Oily Maniac

Fantasia is a great place to see new and exciting movies fresh off the production line, but just as much, it’s somewhere you can go for hard to find curious and oddities from yesteryear. Usually, this takes the form of something from the back-catalog of Shaw Brothers studios, best known for their near endless supply of martial arts films. But this year Fantasia has found something different from the Shaw Bros vaults, a contemporary horror with the memorable title of The Oily Maniac. While it may sound like a prequel to 2016 favorite The Greasy Strangler, don’t go into this one expecting men in bright pink sweaters. Director Meng Hua Ho’s film seems to have more in common with a superhero film, perhaps something akin to The Toxic Avenger, focusing on a man who uses a magic spell and a whole lot of oil to transform into a muck monster to dispatch criminals. Obviously, given its age, don’t expect any CGI goop creatures in this one. The star of the film (or at least their stunt double) really does suit up in a heavy and uncomfortable-looking costume that looks ready to kill Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation at any moment. The film looks too gloriously goofy to pass up, a bizarre monster romp that (maybe? possibly?) could have some kind of anti-fossil fuel message lurking under its layers of goop and slime. But even if the film turns out to be a straightforward affair with no environmental subtext, it still looks like the kind of affair sure to leave audiences hungry for slime and mayhem satisfied. It might be easy to overlook this one in between newer films on the schedule, but consider that opportunities to see films like this, especially on the big screen, only come along so often.

nicolas-cage-mandy-movie-1Mandy

Panos Cosmatos’ first feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow, surprised a great many people upon its release way back in the innocent days of 2010. Following a woman seemingly held prisoner in a futuristic cult compound, the film drew much-deserved attention for its moody atmosphere and retro-futuristic vibe, with its giallo inspired lighting, eerie synth score, and overall gorgeous visuals. Eager for more, those fans who knew to seek it out waited for what the Italian-Canadian filmmaker had next. And like Captain Star, they waited….and waited…..and waited. Now, finally, nearly a decade later, Cosmatos is back with Mandy. And this time, he brought Nicolas Cage. Like its predecessor, Mandy looks awash in red light and ambiguous atmosphere, but looks to be a far more balls-to-the-wall affair, and if you need more convincing just look at the moment in the trailer where Cage seemingly forges a Klingon battle axe in order to rescue his kidnapped beloved from murderous demonic cultists. Cage, if the buzz is to be believed, is a force of nature in this one, unleashing the full fury of his ability to freak the heck out in a manner perhaps not seen since Bringing out the Dead. This factor alone has Cage fans already lining up at the doors. Also, Bill Duke from Predator is in it, which honestly is worth the price of admission alone. It’s hard to know what we’ll get with Mandy. A tense and atmospheric thriller? An insane, gory crowd-pleaser full of violence and mayhem? Some weird, wonderous fusion of both? Either way, it’s already one of the most anticipated films on this year’s lineup, drawing fans of Black Rainbow, Nic Cage devotees and fans just intrigued by the trailer’s promise of a violent and red-stained good time. By the looks of things, the film should deliver no matter what you’re there for.

Tokyo Vampire HotelTokyo Vampire Hotel

Let’s be honest, vampires are old hat at this point. Virtually every take on the fanged bloodsuckers has been seen already, and the vampire story is probably more well-trodden than Highway 401. But at this point, if anyone is going to breathe some life into the limp corpse of the vampire story, it’s Sion Sono. First exploding onto the scene in the early 2000s with films like Suicide Club and Into a Dream, Sono has since become part of a new wave of Japanese auteur who could be said to pick up the torch from Miike if Miike ever showed any signs of slowing down himself. Obviously, he’s become a Fantasia darling, bringing films like Tag, Love & Peace, Shinjuku Swan and Tokyo Tribe to previous years to breathless acclaim. His latest film, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, finds Sono playing in the vampire sandbox with the story of a group of humans invited to a ritzy hotel for a matchmaking night. But it turns out they aren’t guests so much as they are “dinner” when it’s revealed that the apocalypse is on the horizon, and a group of vampires intend to use the group as food while they weather armageddon in style. Tokyo Vampire Hotel looks to be a passionate embrace of the classic trappings of vampire fiction. Elegant costumes and rampant sex appeal abound, mixed liberally with Japanese pop culture and fashion to create a mix of Anne Rice by way of Harajuku. There’s one potential problem, though: the film is assembled using a direct-to-Amazon miniseries directed by Sono the same year. This could, perhaps, make for a film that feels too truncated, crammed full of plot points and characters with little breathing room. Hopefully, that isn’t the case, and Sono crafted the series so as to be easily pared down into movie format. In any case, the film looks to be enough of a visual treat to be enjoyable despite this potential handicap.

cynthia-rothrockThe Blonde Fury

Cynthia Rothrock is a bonafide legend among martial arts enthusiasts, a five-time world champion martial artist with black belts in numerous styles, including Taekwondo, Karate, Wu Shu and Northern Shaolin. After being scouted by Golden Harvest, the prestigious production company that in many ways defined Martial Arts cinema in the 80s and 90s, Rothrock became one of the few caucasian actors to become a genuine martial arts movie star in Hong Kong. There, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Biao, and others, headlining movies and working with prestigious directors like Corey Yuen. After returning to the States, her career didn’t slow down. She starred in the China O’Brien series as well as numerous other films, including the great Undefeatable (“Keep an eye out for ya, Stingray!”). After a period out of the spotlight, she’s even returned and is still shooting movies and taking names today. She is, in a word, badass. So who better to receive the very first Action! Achievement Award, Fantasia’s newest Award honoring outstanding contributions to action cinema? Rothrock will be on hand to receive her award, discuss her career and preside over a 35mm screening of her 1989 Hong Kong film The Blonde Fury. The film sees Rothrock as an FBI agent sent to Hong Kong on the trail of a counterfeiter played by Ronny Yu. Obviously, this leads to a number of spectacular fight sequences that showcase Rothrock’s incredible talents as a martial artist, as well as the technical skill of the film’s director, her former Yes, Madam! Co-star Hoi Mang. A screening of The Blonde Fury, hailed as one of the greats of Golden Harvest’s output from the late 80s and early 90s, is always something to come out for. But with Rothrock herself in attendance, this is will be a must-attend event for action movie fans.

PART ONE | PART TWO

Beginning as a co-host on a Concordia TV film show before moving on to chief film nerd at Forgetthebox.net, Thomas is now bringing his knowledge of pop-culture nerdery to Sordid Cinema. Thomas is a Montrealer born and raised, and an avid consumer of all things pop-cultural and nerdy. While his first love is film, he has also been known to dabble in comics, videogames, television, anime and more. You can support his various works on his Patreon, at https://www.patreon.com/TomWatchesMovies You can also like the Tom Watches Movies Facebook page to see all his work on Goombastomp and elsewhere.

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 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 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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Freelance Film Writers

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.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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