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Fantasia Film Festival (Reviews from the 2020 Edition)

by Jay Seaver & Erik Childress

This year's Fantasia Film Festival went virtual and we have collected coverage done by Jay Seaver and Erik Childress. You can read capsules and full reviews linked right here.

(Reviews out of 5 stars)

12 HOUR SHIFT

Horror is a hard enough genre to master effectively, but then try to throw comedy into the mix and filmmakers often find themselves overcompensating. Maybe it's a lack of confidence in the material that tends to accentuate a wackier or obviously meta tone but it's a balance that is tricky particularly when an audience would rather want more than the other. Brea Grant has become a staple on the independent horror scene for more than a few years now and though 12 Hour Shift is not her first outing as a director, it should be the one that gets her a higher profile. Because this is a genuinely confident and funny outing that should be embraced by afficionados of both horror and dark humor.

The great Angela Bettis stars as a nurse involved in the black market organ trade. Think Michael Crichton's Coma only with Mick Foley and David Arquette as two of its leaders. When her nurse cousin (Chloe Farnworth) loses her cargo before delivery she puts on a scramble to find a fresh one no matter if it comes from a living or dead body - or if she even knows which one to cut out. Throw in some inquisitive cops and a dumb boyfriend and one can imagine how the night will go.

Except that you really can't. And that is why Grant's film (and screenplay) is frequently so much fun. Grant keeps a matter-of-fact pace instead of trying to goose it with quick edits and over-the-top performances. Bettis perfectly grounds it with by keeping a burnt-out attitude while maintaining the necessary urgency of having to be smarter than the dimwits around her. Farnworth never overplays her ditzy cohort, maintaining control over a meager brain right up to her memorable, confident exit. There's enough blood to be found in 12 Hour Shift to simply slap a label on it but this has more in common with the work of playful dark crime masters than those focused on big scares. Confidence is the term that I kept coming back to watching this film and hope that will rub off on those looking to give Grant her next stint in the director's chair. (by Erik Childress)


ALONE

A decent, solidly-made thriller that wouldn't be particularly original even if it weren't a remake, but gets the job done. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

BABY: THE SECRET DIARY OF A MOM TO BE

It comes alive when it gets specific and Luk can use the skills she's honed on brash comedies and genre work to dig into how weird and dizzying pregnancy can be, but becomes generic and kind of dull when the focus shifts to relatable drama. It never sinks far below a good baseline, but is rarely great enough to stand out. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver




BLEED WITH ME

it got me from complete frustration with the ending to "yeah, well, I guess", which is good, because for most of the running time, I was pretty fond of this tight little thriller. I still am, actually, and I suspect those less bothered by certain plot devices will like it a whole lot. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

THE BLOCK ISLAND SOUND

It can feel a little overpowering at times, not always quite matching the scale of the story around it, but also genuinely creepy and relatable for how well it puts the viewer into the characters' lives. It may not be what one expects going in, but it's very satisfying regardless. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver




BRING ME HOME

Kim Seung-Woo's "Bring Me Home" is such a measured thriller that it at first seems like that's the wrong way to categorize it in genre terms, but that's what impresses about it: As much as one gets the sense of how the characters are stuck in limbo from how it doesn't move particularly fast, it's always moving forward, right up until the something happens in the last act and one realizes that things have gotten pretty tense. That is some nifty, steady screw-turning, the likes of which you don't often see. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

CLAPBOARD JUNGLE

It's not quite enough to make a viewer wonder how anything gets made, but it's eye-opening about the parts of the process which regularly draw ignorance or even disdain from film fans who are not actually part of the business. It's got a good chance of changing how a viewer thinks about the low-budget genre movies they watch, even if it doesn't actually make the end result better or worse. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

CLASS ACTION PARK

New Jersey's infamous Action Park is the sort of thing that, decades later, defies belief - it seems like it almost has to be parody that is exaggerated a little too much. But, no, it was a real thing and the makers of the documentary seem almost as stunned as the audience, spending an hour and a half saying "can you believe this?" in shocked surprise and not having to do much else. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver



THE COLUMNIST

If someone is just looking for an hour and a half of darkly comic thrills, it will probably more or less work. It's built to invite a little more thought, and doesn't necessarily hold up for that, and the question is whether it exposes itself as fairly hollow while one is watching, on the way out of the theater afterward, or during a revisit. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver


COSMIC CANDY

It's a surprisingly grounded and almost-conventional story finding the person you need at a certain moment, and how it's not always romantic. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver






CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI

It is a bit of a gimmick, after all, but one executed well enough that it's worth seeing at least once, maybe more if one becomes genuinely curious about how all of it got pulled off. This crew still hasn't really made a great movie yet, but they are extremely good at the pieces which are their specialties. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver


DETENTION

Sometimes you know within a couple minutes that a movie is going to be the good stuff, and that's the case with "Detention", which makes its case in striking fashion in the opening and never loses sight of that original target, delivering plenty of scares and style as the film goes on. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver





DINNER IN AMERICA

Rehmeier brings enough scrappy energy to the movie that it's entirely possible I'm judging it harshly for doing a bunch of things that I generally don't care for - I've got spectacularly little patience for movies where someone being a talented musician is meant to excuse his being a turd as a person and baseline assumptions that families are all stuck with each other and kind of miserable about it, and this one has a lot of both. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

THE DOSE (LA DOSIS)

One keeps expecting "La Dosis" to move up to another gear at some point, but it never quite does so, at least to the extent that one might expect. That's not a criticism; it's an acknowledgment that there are ways that society can provide cover to darkness, and one cannot necessarily wait for the big moment to make things better. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

FEELS GOOD, MAN

Remember the "Basket of Deplorables" that Hilary was criticized for? Turns out the only argument over there should be on her accuracy of the percentage. Everything we have done over the last four years has been in the shadow of the Trump presidency. You are lucky if you have managed to shield yourself from the rhetoric, idiocy and raised temperature of the self-labeled disenfranchised. Now imagine being just an average guy with a knack for creating comic strips and finding your work co-opted by those who are more than happy to squeeze into that basket and use it to prop up the worst that our country has put on display.

Matt Furie was just an artist. Imagine a younger, but more creative version of HR's Toby from The Office. Pepe the Frog was his creation. It was just another comic character. No agenda but to be a little weird and chill. Then along came 4chan. The devil knows how many internet trolls adopting Pepe's image for their own amusement; one that would soon take a darker turn. The meme standard for "Feels Good Man" would become one that amplified the isolated mindset of loners looking to provoke. Soon it was a part of the Alt-Right (or Nazis as right-thinking individuals would say to cut through the bullshit.) Then it was associated with Trump and his rabid fact-challenged, deplorable base until the anti-Defamation league included it on a hate symbol database. How would you feel if you were Matt?

The criticism of Furie for not taking the fight to these people earlier when his creation was being used everywhere feels a bit like hindsight as who could predict how Pepe would go from a frog with his ass showing to becoming a symbol for asses everywhere. (Especially Alex Jones on particular display here.) But it does feel like a warning for everyone to get out in front of all the gaslighting before the stench becomes too much to bear. As a proud "normie" (which most of us are) this is nevertheless a very disturbing watch as we get inside the mindset of the internet's dark corner content to follow Steve Bannon's advice to "flood the zone with shit" to cloud the normalcy of truth. By the time you get to the people who have become millionaires trading in "rare Pepe cash" you will feel worse about humanity than you did when you started. As someone says in Arthur Jones' film, "If you want to escape hell you can't ignore it. You almost have to go to the center of it" Feels Good Man feels like the center and that makes it all the more vital, no matter how discomforting it all is. (by Erik Childress)


HUNTED

Most moviegoers don't see that many movies like "Hunted", but if you go to genre festivals or spend a lot of time digging through your favorite streaming services to find the new selections, it gets categorized: Survival horror, nature, woman on the run, etc. What makes one of those stand out? A couple good performances. Some visual style. And a willingness to go kind of crazy at the point where the audience might be expecting the filmmakers to coast. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

KAKEGURUI

You do not actually need to have seen the 13 episodes of the "Kakegurui" television series to follow this film, which stars the same cast and appears to pick up where they leave off - there's a character whose primary purpose seems to be to get a new viewer up to speed - but it's probably useful to know that this is not a completely stand-alone film in order to temper one's expectations. There is some fairly inspired material here, but the audience can't get the entire picture. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver



KRIYA

It's a good enough movie to bounce around in one's head for a while after the credits roll, so most viewers will probably get there eventually. Even if they don't, that initial feeling of not knowing how strange a situation one has stepped into is pretty great - something that's at the core of so many movies like this but which the audience seldom feels along with the characters. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

LAPSIS

It's maybe not the sort of grand science fiction material that reaches out of the screen and grabs the audience in obvious ways, but it's smart and clever, and is also enjoyable to watch without feeling sanitized or simplified. A lot of movies trying to do the same thing feel abstracted or antiseptic, but that's happily not the case here. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver





LEGALLY DECLARED DEAD

Steve Yuen Kim-Wai's "Legally Declared Dead" is one of those thrillers that is chock-full of ridiculous things and occasionally looks like there Kwai could have put in more, if he'd felt like it, but he's got just enough sense to recognize where the point of diminishing returns is. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver


LIFE: UNTITLED

Writer/director Kana Yamada's "Life: Untitled" is based upon her play, and it's a fair translation, but it's kind of funny how things that are just part of how things work in one medium can make you wonder if something else is up in another. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver





A MERMAID IN PARIS

Often on the wrong side of the border between cute and cutesy, featuring a French sense of humor that is hard to translate, and so focused on whimsy that it's light on everything else. It's the sort of film one looks at and wants to love only to find that doing so is a bit harder than it looks. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

MINOR PREMISE

There's a stretch at the start of "Minor Premise" when I wondered how a movie shot during quarantine was already finished and on the festival circuit, so cut off did it seem from the rest of the world even when a character was supposed to be delivering a lecture. That proves not to be the case, and it's kind of a shame; working their way around that sort of logistical challenge, whether it was part of the on-screen action or not, would have made for a much more interesting movie than the rickety Jekyll-and-Jekyll-and-Hyde-and-Hyde thing that viewers get. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver



MONSTER SEAFOOD WARS

Minoru Kawasaki has been making movies along the lines of "Monster Seafood Wars" for years if not decades, and though I've missed most of them, I get the impression that they've been just good enough and just profitable enough that he's been able to keep working and maybe upgrade his resources over that time. The movies haven't necessarily been good, per se, but they've apparently been consistent enough in quality and tone to get him a fanbase. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

MORGANA

Isabel Peppard & Josie Hess' documentary follows the course taken by Morgana Muses, whom we first meet taking photographs in what may be a self-dug grave. A fitting metaphor for many in the sex worker trade, but while there may be low points in her life this film is a positive affirmation for women who carve against the norm when they find something that brings a little joy into their lives.

Just as she was on the verge of ending things after a bad marriage ended in divorce, Morgana's interaction with a sex worker led her to the world of feminist pornography where women are in control either behind or in front of the camera and the men (if any) are used to satisfy their own pleasures and fetishes. We see a lot of her work and the flesh of a woman in her '50s comfortable enough in it to expose every aspect of it. Whether or not those who view her work derive any pleasure from it is irrelevant. She hopes some do, but this is all about her. So while the frame is filled with nudity from top to bottom, it takes on the appearance of a genuine art piece rather than just a vessel for titillation.

There is darkness within the body though and Morgana talks about her bouts with depression to the point that we see this work is a salvation for her more than a hobby. Any questions about the nature of the industry or any means of potential exploitation is sidestepped to focus squarely on the woman. Her own personal fears of being unworthy in a word fixated on archetypes of beauty say enough about the potential degradation of the life she has chosen. Morgana's scope is precisely what it needs be and, more pointedly, exactly where she wants it to be. (by Erik Childress)


THE MORTUARY COLLECTION

Anthology films always come with a lot of promise. You get more stories for your time and the odds of responding favorably to at least one of them usually allows you to walk away with the kind of "...but..." that you can at least talk up and smile about if the rest doesn't float your boat. Rarely does one come along as good as Ryan Spindell's The Mortuary Collection though. Not only does each segment bring its own distinct pleasure but there is a visual prowess on display that announces Spindell as a talent to keep both eyes on.

The wraparound story has a familiar ring to it with Clancy Brown as the owner of the titular mortuary (with more than a little nod to Angus Scrimm's Tall Man from Phantasm) entertaining a job application from a young woman (a la a more inviting variation of Tales from the Hood - or Crypt '72.) He regales her with his own tales of why one shouldn't explore other's medicine cabinets, a gruesome reversion of hypocritical collegiate activism, a husband's attempt to end his wife's suffering and a babysitter's confrontation with a crazed killer. Single line descriptions may sound like the same ol' schtick, but there are clever twists, meta dissections and plenty of fun gore. Most of all though, it is the filmmaking itself that was striking and Spindell deserves so much credit.

Unlike most anthology films where each director brings their own auteurist touch to their brief assignment, Spindell is responsible for both the writing and the direction of each segment. The lags we often feel in anthologies can be attributed to both lack of originality and the better of its segments inviting further criticism of the lackluster ones. The Mortuary Collection feels like a director fully in charge of the film he wants to make. Everyone will, by nature, rank which segments are their favorites but this is the rare anthology where it feels unfair ranking any of them at the bottom. Spindell's work here is so solid (and credit goes to cinematographers Caleb Heymann & Elie Smolkin as well) that he could become the next horror filmmaker to develop a true following, but no matter what genre he tackles, there is plenty of promise to go around. (by Erik Childress)


THE PAPER TIGERS

Just about everything about "The Paper Tigers" is mainstream cinema comfort food, but it's that sort of thing done pretty well: Yes, there are a lot of stock pieces in it, and they don't always fit together perfectly, but there's also good chemistry among the cast, not much wasted time, and a finale that delivers the goods without making the audience wish they'd had more of that stuff before. It's the sort of movie often dismissed for being predictable, although few filmmakers put it together as well as Quoc Bao Tran does here.Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

SANZARU

The opening scenes of "Sanzaru" are genuinely peculiar; most of the rest of the film is grounded and commonplace. In a lot of movies, that might serve as a reminder that there is some sort of dark force lurking in the background, but that's often the opposite of what filmmaker Xia Magns is up to here. Larger-than-life evils are not always invented, but they may be easier to deal with than the more prosaic situations that they're used to explain. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver



SLEEP

The trick that the makers of "Sleep" pull off isn't necessarily rare, but it leads to disaster often enough that you have to admire how well they manage it. It's a thriller that is so exceptionally grounded at its center that one can easily discount just exactly how almost everything else about it is. It's a trip but not so random that filmmaker Michael Venus ever actually loses track of what made the audience get invested in the first place. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

SPECIAL ACTORS

There are two, or maybe three, pretty solid ideas for a movie in Shin'ichiro Ueda's "Special Actors", and while I suspect that they could maybe be separated to better effect, Ueda would probably feel like that was making the same movie twice. It works as one, oftentimes pretty well, in fact, enough that the folks who watch and enjoy it will have different things that they wish there had been more of. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver



TEZUKA’S BARBARA

After some nifty animated titles, "Tezuka's Barbara" opens with a gorgeous blue-tinged view of Tokyo courtesy of Christopher Doyle, a jazzy soundtrack from Ichiko Hashimoto, and a great noirish bit of narration that screenwriter Hisako Kurosawa may or may not have brought over straight from manga/anime legend Osamu Tezuka's original work. It's an incredibly promising start for a film that winds up a bit all over the place, but at least that seems to be in the tradition of the original graphic novel and maybe this handles it a bit better. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver


UNDERGODS

If the world is going to hell, it's going to hell in different ways in different places for different classes, and they all may as well be living in different worlds. Or at least, that's the apparent idea behind Chino Moya's "Undergods", a set of three or four stories that may be set in the same decaying world or may just be stories the people in those worlds tell each other, but who can tell these days. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

UNEARTH

There's a pretty good movie to be found in "Unearth", but I am reasonably sure that it is not a horror movie, and trying to make this film into one does it a disservice. That's not a knock on horror as a genre or even saying that it's inappropriate for this setting; it's saying that the sudden turn in this movie's last act means that the filmmakers can't make the most of either what came before or the potential of what happens after. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver



WOTAKOI: LOVE IS HARD FOR OTAKU

Has there been a great "young nerds in love" romantic comedy yet? I feel like I've seen and Reviewed a few attempts, but something always keeps them from clicking, whether it be the references being too specific or made-up, someone in the production being condescending, or the cast just seeming too attractive and confident to play characters they claim are outcasts. "Wotakoi" is pretty good, but still doesn't quite hit the target it's aiming for. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver

YUMMY

If enthusiastic gore and violence is your first priority for a horror movie, "Yummy" has you covered; the filmmakers spill a lot of blood and build some gross prosthetics, and they don't waste a lot of time getting from one gruesome gag to the next. That's not quite all it's got, but it's close, and while that may be enough for those just looking for an hour and a half of splatter, it's the sort of horror movie with a lot of places where it could have been great if the filmmakers had run with something a little bit more. Read Full Review by Jay Seaver


link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4264
originally posted: 09/18/20 05:44:33
last updated: 09/23/20 12:01:54
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