Fantasia : Stop the Bitch Campaign (I and II) and Night Watch

Shot on video with a non-existing budget, both Stop the Bitch Campaign shorts are japanese sexploitation flicks. The acting is suprisingly good for a movie of this genre, especially the crazed mysoginic Kenichi Endo and his sidekick (in the second episode). There is a hilarious scene where Kenichi explains to his sidekick why having sex with prostitutes and running away without paying is actually doing a service to Japan. That aside, this movie is extremely violent and the plot is ridiculous. Victims of some of the long and extreme torture scenes are either completely innocent or the wrong target of revenge. As the movie progresses you can either get up and walk away (as many did) or just become desensitized to all this mostly gratuitous violence. I'd give it 3/10 as one of the most disgusting, pointless, ridiculous excuse for a movie I've ever seen, but there's Aoi Sora naked and having sex in this one so 10/10.

With a budget of 4 million dollars, you'd expect Night Watch's special effects to be cheesy, at best. A hollywood producer with a similar budget wouldn't be able to make a 5 minutes short, much less a 2 hours special effects extravaganza. Director Timur Bekmambetov succeeds at making this low budget feature feel like a multi-million dollars hollywood film. However, that is the only saving grace of this movie. It all feels rather familiar : stock vampires (known as Dark Others) square off against equally generic shapeshifters (known as Light Others) in something that could've been lifted straight out of Underworld or Blade. The characters are bland, uninspired and have a feeling of interchangeability. The plot is confused and lacks focus, the death metal soundtrack is mostly irritating and the uselessly stylish subtitles are hard to follow. I had high hopes for this one, but it turned out to be this year's biggest disappointment. 5/10.


Fantasia : Jason and the Argonauts, Heroes of the East and G.O.R.A.

Representing a milestone in stop-motion animation, Jason and the Argonauts is undeniably one of the most important B-movie of it's time. However the focus of this event wasn't the movie itself but the genius who is mostly credited for the "stop-motion revolution" : Ray Harryhausen. He was on-hand with one of the skeleton from Jason and the Argonauts. The movie itself remains good after all these years, but not great. So much has gotten so much better in the last 40 years, that most of the dialogs, action scenes and special effects can only be enjoyed as historical artifacts. Rating the movie as it is rather than as what it represents, I give it 6/10.

Heroes of the East is a jingoistic ride through the minds of the world-famous Shaw Brothers. If it were made today, the unbelievably over-the-top scenario that expresses the undeniable superiority of China over Japan in every conceivable way would most likely be taken as an edgy, second-degree movie. The sad truth is that although the movie doesn't take itself seriously, the message is probably genuine. Still, of all the four or five movies of the Shaw brothers I've ever seen, this one was the most entertaining. From the cheesy "swoosh" sound effects to the hilarious "crab-style Japanese kung-fu", this movie will deliver a ton of laughs, intentionally or not. 7.5/10.

It's always refreshing to see non-US sci-fi. It's even better when one has Hollywood-quality special effects like G.O.R.A. This is a Turkish science-fiction parody similar to Spaceballs in style and intent. Gags are not particularly subtle and often fall into the obvious. However they are well executed and usually deliver. The jokes are pretty much aimed at science-fiction fans. If you haven't seen Star Wars, The Matrix, The Fifth Element and others, you won't get most of it. If you have however, G.O.R.A. is bound to make you burst into laughter at least a few times, and you'll smile in-between. 8.5/10.


Fantasia: Ghost House, P and Survive Style 5+

Ghost House is a light-hearted haunted house comedy movie starring the absolute cutest ghost of all times, Seo-hee Jang. Although about half an hour too long, the movie generally works. It features gags reminiscent of Evil Dead : Dead by Dawn, Bewitched and Beetle Juice, which is sometimes a good thing, sometimes not so good. 7.5/10.

P is your typical stripper/prostitution flick. Girl needs money to pay medical bills of relative. Girl gets a job whoring. Girl is mistreated by fellow strippers/whores and abusive clients. Girl uses ancient Khmer magic to destroy said rivals and abusive clients. Girl turns into a demon. We've all seen this a million times folks. Jokes aside, the movie has decent acting, lots of effective scary moments and pretty strippers. Do not under any circumstances see this movie if you plan on visiting Bangkok brothels anytime soon. 7.5/10.

Featuring five insane, intertwining stories, Survive Style 5+ is a witty and surreal roller coaster ride that will surprise you at every turn. Supernatural phenomenon, comedy, violence, touching family drama, sex, and the craziest hit man you've ever seen this side of Firefly, this movie has it all. And it comes wrapped in some of the brightest dialogs you've heard in a long while. 9/10.


Fantasia: Phantom Master, Tetsujin-28 and White Dragon

Phantom Master : Dark Hero from Ruined Empire is a visually stunning and thoroughly entertaining piece of Japanese-Korean animation. The character design is outstanding, the production quality is excellent throughout and the story is engaging. It does share the same episodic feeling as Dragon Head, but as with that movie, this one doesn't see itself weakened by it. A must-see for any anime fan. 8.5/10.

Tetsujin-28 is a modern adaptation of a giant robot manga that first appeared in the 1960s. As such, it is extremely naive and kid-oriented. The robot design is excellent, the Black Ox' look reflecting it's sinister nature while Tetsujin relays a sense of innocence and gentleness. You will definitely like this movie if A) You go with your kids or B) the kid in you is not completely dead. As neither is my case I was mostly bored with the movie's slow fight sequences and the long, drawn-out emotional dilemma of the 12 year-old boy whose decision will change the face of the earth. 5/10.

Not knowing anything about White Dragon before seeing it, I was fooled into thinking this would be "just another" feudal wusha flick. But a few minutes into the movie it becomes clear this movie takes as much from Clueless as it does from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The lead character is a completely normal Chinese schoolgirl who, by a twist a fate, downloads (yes, feudal china was apparently familiar with the concept) powers from a mysterious crime-fighting master. With tons of modern-day references and an arch-enemy inspired by the character of Zatoichi, White Dragon will make you laugh with it's unrefined yet good-willed sense of humor. 7.5/10.


Fantasia: Le Protrait de Petit Cossette, Breaking News and Dragon Head

Le Portrait de Petit Cossette (I'm not misspelling that, they are) is a 3-part Japanese OAV consisting of three 40-minutes episodes. The art is splendid, and Yuki Kajiura (Noir, .hack//sign) once again impresses with her haunting soundtrack. However the story itself feels disconnected. I can't say I figured it out, which can be a good thing, however I feel like watching it again wouldn't help, which isn't. Having enjoyed Furi Kuri, Serial Experiment Lain and even Video Girl Ai, I consider myself a fan of Japanese weirdness, this however didn't hook me. 6/10. The art and music in, mostly for the art and music.

Breaking News is an excellent Hong Kong police flick. Making a social statement about the importance of the media in police business, the movie turns a hostage situation into a circus, where cops and bandits alike become so obsessed with winning the media war and earning the public's trust and sympathy that they forget how to do their job. Funny at times but often serious, Breaking News is effective and entertaining. 8/10.

Dragon Head begins as a train gets trapped inside a tunnel by a gigantic and unexplained explosion. The claustrophobic beginning leads to a This movie brings a grim and depressing view of mankind's reaction to crisis situations. Claustrophobic at first, terrifying in the middle and depressing at the end, Dragon Head won't earn any nomination for the feel-good movie of the festival. It is however very well-made, with good acting, stunning visual and a tight script. The story very segmented, and at times feel like episodes of a miniseries sewed together. That didn't bother me at all, but could potentially put off viewers. 8.5/10.


Fantasia: The Place Promised in our Early Days, R-Point and Ju-On : The Grudge 2

The Place Promised in our Early Days is a beautiful, touching and naive story about a childhood promise that, if fulfilled, could lead to the end of the world as we know it. If you've seen Makoto Shinkai's previous movie, Voices of a Distant Star, you'll feel right at home. Similar tone, similar subject (two innocent lovers torn apart by extraordinary circumstances). It's the same, only better in every way. 8/10.

R-Point is a combination of supernatural horror and war. This movie reminded me a little of The Keep. While watching I felt like I was watching a much older movie. It uses a lot of scary tricks that seemed to work much better in the '80s (bleeding radio anyone?). The acting ranged from adequate to bad. It does have it's scary moments, and some of the low-budget special effects are put to good use. 6/10.

Ju-On : The Grudge 2 is, overall, more of the same as the original Ju-On. The new twist will disturb many I'm sure, especially pregnant women (don't see this movie if you're pregnant, not only because of the stress it creates, but because the subject matter). Creepy as hell, disgusting at times. 7/10. As a side-note, seeing these kinds of film at fantasia may not be a good idea. It seems the crowd find it necessary to laugh most of the time, probably to hide their own fears. Rent and watch before going to bed, if you want to miss a good night's sleep.


Fantasia: Ashura, Arahan and Karaoke Terror

As you may know every year I go to the Fantasia Film Festival and I see an insane amount of movies in a very short amount of time. This year is no different, as I will see 19 movies in the span of a little less than three weeks. I will record the movies I see here for my own reference and also help you decide if you want to see them (if they still play at Fantasia, or later on DVD). They're by no means complete reviews, just pointers.

Thursday I saw Ashura, an entirely forgettable Edo-period demon-hunting action adventure film with a hint of comedy. The comic aspects are actually what works best in that movie, as the action scenes are nothing you've never seen before. There's enough good moments to recommend a rental on a slow night. 6/10

Saturday night was a double-feature : Arahan followed by Karaoke Terror. Both were fantastic. Arahan is a hilarious Korean action-comedy film where everything just seems to work. It's about a group of old, washed up Tao masters who find a young klutzy cop that they feel will be the new Tao Master. It still plays twice at Fantasia, so don't miss it. 9/10

Karaoke Terror is, at this point, the highlight of the festival. A brilliant ultra-violent gang war movie. Pitted against each other are young kids with no purpose in life and equally dispassionate middle-aged women. Their war will rapidly escalate to unreal proportions. The acting is awesome, the script is fabulous. You will either laugh yourself silly or be totally depressed. A real must-see. 10/10