Posts Tagged ‘Takashi Miike’

Theatrical Viewings:


Home Viewings:

  1. WATERSHIP DOWN (Martin Rosen, 1978)
  2. THE PLAGUE DOGS (Martin Rosen, 1982)
  3. BEST OF THE BEST (Robert Radler, 1989)
  4. LADY SNOWBLOOD (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)
  5. LADY SNOWBLOOD 2: LOVE SONG OF VENGEANCE (Toshiya Fujita, 1974)
  6. ROBO VAMPIRE (Godfrey Ho, 1988)
  7. GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (Shûsuke Kaneko, 1995)
  8. GHOULIES (Luca Bercovici, 1984)
  9. PURPLE RAIN (Albert Magnoli, 1984)
  10. GRAFFITI BRIDGE (Prince, 1990)
  11. BAREFOOT GEN (Mori Masaki, 1983)
  12. VAMPIRE HUNTER D (Toyoo Ashida, 1985)
  13. ROYAL SPACE FORCE: WINGS OF HONNEAMISE (Hiroyuki Yamaga, 1987)
  14. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
  15. AKIRA (Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 1988)
  16. PATLABOR 1 (Mamoru Oshii, 1989)
  17. BATTLE ANGEL (Hiroshi Fukutomi, 1993)
  18. NINJA SCROLL (Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1993)
  19. STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE (Gisaburo Sugii, 1994)
  20. GHOST IN THE SHELL (Mamoru Oshii, 1995)
  21. WOLFEN (Michael Wadleigh, 1981)
  22. PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (John Hughes, 1987)
  23. UNCLE BUCK (John Hughes, 1989)
  24. X (Rintaro, 1996)
  25. WHAT ABOUT BOB? (Frank Oz, 1991)
  26. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (Harold Ramis, 1983)
  28. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (Jim Mallon, 1996)
  29. YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (Takashi Miike, 2015)
  30. ANNIE HALL (Woody Allen, 1977)


  1. GAME OF THRONES, 5×01-5×10, 6×01-6×10



August 2016 in Film

Posted: August 31, 2016 in 2016 in Film
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Theatrical Viewings:

  1. NINE LIVES (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2016)

Home Viewings:

  1. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979)
  2. AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (Damiano Damiani, 1982)
  3. AMITYVILLE 3-D (Richard Fleischer, 1983)
  4. AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES (Sandor Stern, 1989)
  5. KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (Stephen Chiodo, 1988)
  6. ICHI THE KILLER (Takashi Miike, 2001)
  7. LORD OF ILLUSIONS (Clive Barker, 1995)
  8. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (John Carpenter, 1994)
  9. HOBGOBLINS (Rick Sloane, 1988)
  10. TETSUO, THE IRON MAN (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 1989)
  11. THE FINAL SACRIFICE (Tjardis Greidanus, 1990)
  12. THE REPTILE (John Gilling, 1966)
  13. THE LOST CONTINENT (Michael Carreras, 1968)
  14. DAWN OF THE DEAD (George A. Romero, 1978)
  15. ZOMBIE (Lucio Fulci, 1979)
  16. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Lucio Fulci, 1980)
  17. THE BEYOND (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
  18. THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
  19. NIGHTMARE CITY (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
  20. ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (Marino Girolami, 1980)
  21. BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR (Andrea Bianchi, 1981)
  22. HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (Bruno Mattei, 1980)
  23. ZOMBI 3 (Lucio Fulci & Bruno Mattei, 1988)
  24. ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH (Claudio Fragasso, 1988)
  25. DEMONS (Lamberto Bava, 1985)
  26. DEMONS 2 (Lamberto Bava, 1986)
  27. TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (Amando de Ossorio, 1972)
  28. FRIDAY THE 13TH (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
  29. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (Steve Miner, 1981)
  30. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (Steve Miner, 1982)
  31. FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (Joseph Zito, 1984)
  32. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (Danny Steinmann, 1985)
  33. JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (Tom McLoughlin, 1986)
  34. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (John Carl Buechler, 1988)
  36. JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (Adam Marcus, 1993)
  37. JASON X (James Isaac, 2001)
  38. ICP SHOCKUMENTARY (Paul Andresen, 1997)
  39. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (Wes Craven, 1984)
  43. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD (Stephen Hopkins, 1989)


  1. BOB’S BURGERS, 5×01-5×21
  2. MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, 1×01-1×13, 2×01-2×06

Theatrical Viewings:

  1. FRANCES HA (2012) – directed by Noah Baumbach
  2. THE BLING RING (2013) – directed by Sofia Coppola
  3. PACIFIC RIM (2013) – directed by Guillermo del Toro
  4. SHIELD OF STRAW (2013) – directed by Takashi Miike
  5. THE CONJURING (2013) – directed by James Wan
  6. DRUG WAR (2012) – directed by Johnnie To
  7. IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki
  8. LESSON OF THE EVIL (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike
  9. THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim
  10. IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) – directed by Herman Yau
  11. DOOMSDAYS (2013) – directed by Eddie Mullins
  12. BIG BAD WOLVES (2013) – directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
  13. MACHI ACTION (2013) – directed by Jeff Chang

Home Viewings:

  1. PROMETHEUS (2012) – directed by Ridley Scott
  2. OLDBOY (2003) – directed by Chan-wook Park
  3. DESPICABLE ME (2010) – directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud


  1. MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN, 6×09-6×26, 7×01-7×26, 8×01-8×26, 9×01-9×02
  2. FAMILY GUY, 9×04-9×07
  3. TOUGH ENOUGH, 1×01-1×13, 2×01-2×02

IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki

IT’S ME, IT’S ME (2013) – directed by Satoshi Miki

This film was selected to be the opening picture of the “Camera Lucida” spotlight at the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival and they couldn’t have made a better choice.

Embodying everything that is “Camera Lucida,” which is to say quirky, eccentric, intellectually stimulating and in some cases truly revolutionary cinema, IT’S ME, IT’S ME can best be described as a Lynchian mind-fuck crossbred with the most absurd Monty Python sketch imaginable as directed by Spike Jonze (circa BEING JOHN MALKOVICH). And while Miki’s film is all of this and much more, please don’t let these comparisons fool you into thinking this is simply a cinematic cornucopia of those styles and not an original motion picture in its own right. Miki brings a sincere Japanese sensibility to the piece vis a vis the illustration of a country struggling to reconcile its adherence to Eastern traditions vs. assimilation into the impending takeover of Western values.

In the hands of a “bullshit shock director,” IT’S ME, IT’S ME might have just simply been an absurd piece for the sake of being absurd, but Miki infuses this story with a certain kind of logic grounded in reality as evident by the ending that neatly ties everything together.

A must-see and my pick for best of fest so far.

8.	LESSON OF THE EVIL (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike

LESSON OF THE EVIL (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this film. On one hand, it certainly rivals ICHI THE KILLER as being Miike’s most daring and provocative film to date. However, unlike ICHI which was a brilliant deconstruction of BDSM and what it means to be a “switch” in this lifestyle, LESSON OF THE EVIL simply seems to be an exercise in excessive vulgarity and relishes in it without trying to offer any kind of social commentary.

The film starts off promisingly enough with an almost NEEDFUL THINGS-style plot where Hasumi (the titular teacher offering lessons in evil) manipulates his students and members of the faculty into playing pranks on one another, resulting in total chaos and in many cases murder. However, the film quickly descends into another boring shoot ’em up where Hasumi apparently abandons his schemes in favor of simply taking matters into his own hands and murdering everyone en masse. Aside from the unfortunate direction Miike (who co-wrote the piece) chose to make here, we simply don’t care about anyone except for Hasumi as virtually none of the characters are developed in way, shape or form. I defy anyone coming out of this film to give me the name of any other character except for Hasumi. Therefore, if Miike wanted us to feel sympathy for any of the students being slaughtered, he failed miserably.

LESSON OF THE EVIL is a missed opportunity as somewhere in the overly long 125-minute length of the film is a story that in the hands of a better filmmaker would have made for a more daring and emotionally satisfying experience. But unfortunately, you’re not going to get that in the hands of Takashi Miike.

9.	THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim

THE GRAND HEIST (2012) – directed by Joo-ho Kim

Joo-ho Kim’s THE GRAND HEIST was a real surprise as I wasn’t planning to see this film at all. But on the urging of my wife, we decided to take this one in and we enjoyed it immensely.

The film basically plays like a Korean period-piece take on OCEAN’S ELEVEN with a “Rat Pack” gang of lovable misfits planning a big heist. From start to finish, I had a big smile on my face as the writing is very sharp and funny, the actors all pull off wonderfully comedic performances and the overall tone of the film had a quirky Shaw Bros.-esque tone to it with the slickness of a contemporary Hollywood production.

I can easily see something like this being remade for American audiences, so if you get a chance, catch the real thing at a festival near you.

IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) – directed by Herman Yau
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) – directed by Herman Yau

Quentin Tarantino has often said that his least favorite genre of film is the bio-pic. He explains that bio-pics often sacrifice a natural narrative flow in favor of linear storytelling that often becomes tedious as filmmakers strive to portray every single moment in the subject matter’s life on screen. I like to think that there are exceptions to the rule, but after watching IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT, I’m starting to think Tarantino may be right.

IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT is an exercise in sheer boredom if I’ve ever seen one before, right down to the narrator literally saying, “In 1961 we did this… then in 1962 we did that…” Any semblance of the epic and dignified approach to telling Ip Man’s lifestory in the first film is long gone in Herman Yau’s take on the material. Between the lackluster acting, made-for-TV-film cinematography and the overall “running on empty” feeling that a franchise that really peaked after the first film has, IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT is a film that will hopefully be forgotten in lieu of the fond memories of the immortal Donnie Yen original.

Having said this, the film isn’t entirely without merit. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film was the scene in which Bruce Lee comes back to Hong Kong to meet his former Master and how there seems to be a lot of tension and perhaps even resentment on Ip Man’s part towards his former pupil. When I was watching these moments, I was reminded of another thing Tarantino said about bio-pics. He felt that the only way a bio-pic could conceivably be interesting is if the filmmaker chose to tell a story on a single event in that person’s life that could translate into a three-act narrative that would be dramatically interesting for audiences.

If there was ever another IP MAN film worth making, it’s the conflict between Master Ip and Bruce Lee. When I was watching these scenes, I wished that this was the film Herman Yau chose to make.

SHIELD OF STRAW (2013) - directed by Takashi Miike

I’ve always had something of a love/hate relationship with maverick Japanese filmmaker, Takashi Miike. Here’s a director who knows how to begin and end his films with jaw-dropping, visceral and visually eye-popping set-pieces that linger long in the memories of his audience. And considering that people, by and large, remember the beginning and ending of the film they’ve just seen more than anything else, it’s perhaps no wonder why so many people hold the man in such high regard. However, when you truly sit down with one of his pictures and watch it from start to finish, you’d be hard-pressed not to concede that while Miike can be brilliant in small doses, he fails as a storyteller who’s able to build, sustain and deliver a consistently engaging narrative with characters we can empathize with. Much like Jess Franco, Miike has always struck me as a filmmaker with good ideas but with no real filmmaking ability to carry them out successfully. Films like ICHI THE KILLER are conceptually brilliant, but not particularly entertaining or even interesting as a three-act narrative.

So it was with great trepidation that I went into SHIELD OF STRAW last night at the opening gala of the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival here in Montreal. Miike’s films always seem to play well with an audience, which can sometimes mislead you into thinking they’re actually genuinely “good films.” I defy you to watch something like SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO at home and tell me whether the film was as enjoyable as seeing it with an audience of 700-800 people.

At any rate, SHIELD OF STRAW is an anomaly in the filmography of Miike in that it was absolutely thrilling and enjoyable from start to finish. Miike has really grown up as a filmmaker and it shows as this picture was directed with a lot of restraint and without the garish juvenile flourishes of works like DEAD OR ALIVE or even an ICHI THE KILLER. This was a film that told a very compelling story that wouldn’t look too out of place in Hollywood, circa 1970s. The characters were fairly well-developed and three-dimensional enough for us to actually care about what was happening to them.

My main critiques would be that like most Asian genre films, it was a little on the long side. Clocking in at 125 minutes (2h 5mins), the film could have easily been cut down a good 20 minutes or so, namely in the end, which almost bordered on LORD OF THE RINGS territory with the multiple typing up of loose ends sequences. Some might criticize the melodrama of certain moments in the film, and while by our Western standards, they may seem a little “cheesy,” you have to understand that this is common dating back to the works of Akira Kurosawa. Quite frankly, I actually enjoy seeing these kinds of sequences, if used sparingly, and Miike proves that he has a heart in addition to a wild imagination.

Miike has another film playing at Fantasia this year – LESSON OF THE EVIL – that I’m planning to check out Sunday morning. Stay tuned for that review.


The Best and Worst Films of 2012 – By Matthew Saliba

2012 is a wrap and as I look back on this year in film, a number of narratives come to mind when reflecting on what kind of year it has been for moviegoers.

This year marked the triumphant return of some of our favorite auteur filmmakers. Directors like Tim Burton made two of his most entertaining films in years with the double-whammy of “Dark Shadows” and “Frankenweenie.” Ridley Scott reclaimed his rightful title as the “King of Sci-Fi” with his outstanding “Prometheus.” And Paul Thomas Anderson continued to solidify his burgeoning reputation as the Stanley Kubrick of our generation with his mesmerizing art-house masterpiece, “The Master.”

We also saw several young filmmakers make some of the most stunning films I’ve seen in years. Ben Affleck’s “Argo” was a tense and gripping drama whose final act literally had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Scott Derrickson, a director whom I’ve never heard of before, completely came out of left field with “Sinister,” a genuinely terrifying horror film that while occasionally suffered from “’Ringu’ Syndrome” was otherwise one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve had at the cinema all year. And Canada certainly didn’t disappoint as a number of wonderfully funny films emerged from the “Great White North” with Andrew Bush’s deliriously funny “Roller Town” leading the pack.

We did, however, see a number of disappointing and underwhelming works from our favorite auteurs. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was every much the bloated, empty film many of us feared Peter Jackson would deliver. The fact that it was shot in HFR 3D (48fps) didn’t help matters as it made the film look like a cross between a stage play, a home movie shot on a PD-150 digital video camera and a video game. Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” was another disappointment. Between its one-dimensional characters, lack of emotional attachment to any of the participants involved, surprisingly weak script and unfortunate choice of a hip-hop soundtrack, Tarantino delivered his first dud. You know things are in trouble when throughout the film, you wish you were watching “Death Proof.”

Another major story to emerge from 2012 was the number of highly enjoyable, extremely well-made and mature animated films that came out of Hollywood. Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Hotel Transylvania” was a hoot and a holler and considering the cast featured the likes of Adam Sandler, David Spade and Kevin James, that’s a miracle in of itself. “ParaNorman” was another dark and surprisingly very mature animated film featuring a lot of adult-aimed humor and a gay character to boot. The aforementioned “Frankenweenie” was very entertaining and the fact that it was filmed in stop-motion animation almost guarantees a special shot in my heart as it’s my favorite kind of animation. Of course, the biggest and for my money, best animated film to emerge from 2012 was Rich Moore’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” For a film that could have been very gimmicky, the story was treated with humor, heart and the kind of emotional depth that has come to define Disney and its subsidiary, Pixar over the years.

But perhaps the biggest story to come out of 2012 for yours truly was the number of really terrible independent films. Say what you will about Hollywood, but there’s an “ironic integrity” to the films they make insofar as, by and large, the people making them don’t have any artistic pretentions to grandeur about their work. Films like “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” are made to make money, plain and simple. We can argue about whether that’s a good thing or not, but the fact remains that these producers make no bones about the fact that the ultimate endgame for these productions is to turn a big enough profit to justify churning out more of the same for the sheeple who consume such trite.

Independent films, on the other hand, tend to be made by filmmakers who have such artistic pretentions. Moreover, they also tend to be made by directors who scorn Hollywood and the number of clichés to be found in its output. Yet these are the same filmmakers who throughout 2012 have been creating annoying clichés of their own.

Some of my “favorites” include the “abrupt ending.” For example, in Richard Bates, Jr.’s “Excision,” rather than offer an ending that resolves the conflict of the narrative or at least offers an ambiguous scenario that has audiences discussing the fate of the characters, it simply ends with characters screaming at each other and then cutting to black. I can’t tell you how many films I saw at the Fantasia International Film Festival this year that ended with this kind of finale. It’s become the new “Deus Ex Machina” for screenwriters who’ve written themselves into a corner and can’t write their way out of it. Kevin Smith was very clever with 2011’s “Red State” where his “Deus Ex Machina” was literally a Deus Ex Machina where we heard “the horns of God.” But in the case of “Excision,” it was simply lazy writing and in an age where tickets for films can sometimes cost up to $20, there’s no excuse for lazy writing, especially if you’re an independent filmmaker desperate to get attention for your film.

And then on that note, there are indie filmmakers so desperate for attention that they write unbelievably convoluted narratives to deceive audiences into thinking they’re watching something deep and profound. Pascal Laugier’s “The Tall Man” was an excellent example of this kind of terrible filmmaking. Here was a film that wasn’t so much driven by plot as it was by plot twists. With one coming right after the other, audiences had a very difficult time deciphering the meaning behind them and furthermore felt like they couldn’t, or wouldn’t invest any emotion in the characters we’re supposed to be caring about for fear that another twist would come out of nowhere thereby further displacing these characters into a perpetual void of indefinability.

But perhaps the biggest sin indie filmmakers have committed this year is the “documentary masquerading as a narrative.” Jason Banker’s “Toad Road” was one such film. Here’s a film that combines elements of Gus Van Sant with David Lynch and would otherwise have found the top spot on my “Best of 2012.” Instead, it’s my most hated film of the year due to the sheer irresponsibility of the filmmaker in allowing these kids to consume copious amount of drugs and alcohol and engage in acts of real violence while he rolled camera on them. Furthermore, as a filmmaker and an artist myself, I found the unmitigated audacity of the director to call his work “art” to be the most offensive thing of all. An artist creates art by simulating reality. If “Toad Road” were presented as an experimental documentary, I may have been able to tolerate it. But filming real life events and calling it a narrative just doesn’t cut the mustard in my book. You didn’t create that. Circumstance and chance did.

So with all that being said, here is a list of my “Top 10 Films of 2012” and my “Worst 10 Films of 2012.”

I’d like to remind readers that my selections are highly subjective and while that may go without saying; I’ve sometimes been accused in the past of being “pretentious” with my selections and somehow insinuating that my tastes reflect the “objective truth of quality cinema.” How listing Joe Dante’s “The Burbs” as one of my top 20 favorite films of all-time makes me pretentious I have no idea but nevertheless I must state and I will do so explicitly, that these choices are simply my favorite and least favorite films of the year. Criteria were based primarily on entertainment value than anything else. Of course, being a filmmaker I’m also able to appreciate a lot of what goes into making a film and therefore also took things like story structure, cinematography and editing, acting, etc. into consideration.

My Top 10 Films of 2012

10. “Wreck-It Ralph” (Rich Moore)

As alluded to in my introduction, “Wreck-It Ralph” was the real standout of the year as far as animated films go. A true love story to the glory days of 8-bit video games that could have been very gimmicky, what with having characters from “Super Mario Bros.,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Street Fighter II” all in the same movie. But instead, director Rich Moore basically took the model from “Toy Story” and applied it to the world of video games and the result was one of the most endearing films of the year.

9. “Ted” (Seth MacFarlane)

I will never understand the sheer hatred some people have for Seth MacFarlane. Then again, I will never understand how we continue to live in a world where there are people who believe that “The Simpsons” is still culturally relevant or funny. In any case, MacFarlane’s leap to the big screen resulted in one of the funniest films of the year. While the film was very much rooted in the political incorrect humor of “Family Guy,” it also had a lot of heart proving that even MacFarlane isn’t above writing a little “schmaltz” into his work.

8. “The Dark Knight Rises” (Christopher Nolan)

“The Dark Knight Rises” is a film that caught a lot of flak as far as the number of glaring plot-holes and logic lapses that were peppered throughout the picture. Now I’ll be the first to admit that these inconsistencies are troubling, especially for a filmmaker as meticulous as Nolan, but let me offer a rebuttal to these criticisms. Ever heard of a film called “Citizen Kane?” Remember the opening sequence in which Charles Foster Kane utters his last words on his deathbed? Rosebud? Well, guess what, nobody was in the room when he said that and yet the entire premise of the film is based on people trying to decipher what he meant by that. Now how could anyone have known he said, “Rosebud” when there was nobody in the room to hear it? That has to be the biggest plot-hole in the history of film and yet “Citizen Kane” is heralded as the greatest film of all-time. The point being that the difference between a bad film and a good film is the ability for a film to rise above its shortcomings and offer audiences an engaging work of art that can be appreciated as a whole rather than judged by its individual faults. By that definition, “Citizen Kane” is rightfully heralded as the greatest film of all time and “The Dark Knight Rises” is one of the best films of 2012.

7. “Prometheus” (Ridley Scott)

Take whatever I said about “The Dark Knight Rises” and apply it to “Prometheus.” I gave Ridley Scott’s film the extra bump because it doesn’t have as many inconsistencies as Nolan’s picture. With “Prometheus,” Ridley Scott has completed his trilogy of sci-fi masterpieces, which also includes “Alien” and “Blade Runner.” As a matter of fact, Scott combines the best elements of these films to create “Prometheus.” On one hand, this film works as a rip-roaring piece of sensationalist cinema. Yet on the other hand, it also works as a philosophical treatise on the meaning of life and where we come from. It also did a very admirable job of setting up the mythology for the “Alien” films and I anxiously await “Paradise,” the tentative title of the “Prometheus” sequel.

6. “Roller Town” (Andrew Bush)

Now here’s a film I’m sure very few of you saw this year. But for those of you who caught it at the Fantasia International Film Festival, you’ll know exactly why it’s listed fairly high on my top 10. Made by the appropriately named Andrew Bush, “Roller Town” is a look back on the ‘70s disco scene with a sense of humor very much rooted in the theatre of the absurd. A non-stop laugh-fest that had both English and French audiences crying from having laughed so hard. Check out this Canadian gem!

5. “Sinister” (Scott Derrickson)

I’m very fortunate in that I often get free passes to movie premieres here in Montreal. One of the advantages of this is that I often get to see films that I’ve never heard of or probably would have completely disregarded for one reason or another. “Sinister” was one such film where I had zero expectations going into it because quite frankly, I had read nothing about the film. What I got, however, was one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen and a contemporary horror masterpiece. Granted, there are some moments that suffer from “’Ringu’ Syndrome.” But these are minor quibbles in what is otherwise a massive accomplishment in using mood and atmosphere rather than gratuitous blood and guts to evoke a feeling of dread from audiences. Bonus points to the awesome experimental/noise soundtrack that only fuel the fires of suspense that director Derrickson so expertly sets throughout the piece.

4. “Life of Pi” (Ang Lee)

Having never read or even heard of the novel, I went into “Life of Pi” with no expectations whatsoever. I left the theatre, however feeling overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the picture. Ang Lee has created a film that moves you physically, emotionally and spiritually and coming from the perspective of an Atheist, that’s saying something. The ambiguity of the narrative is what really sealed the deal for me. By the end of the film, you don’t know if the story you’ve just been told is true. But what you do know is that regardless of what path you choose to take in life, all roads lead to the same destination making you wonder whether choosing a path is even worth the stress of it all. The VFX are simply magnificent and need to be seen on the biggest and brightest screen possible.

3. “The Master” (Paul Thomas Anderson)

I’m going to say it right here and now – Paul Thomas Anderson is the Stanley Kubrick of our generation. Like Kubrick, Anderson is an auteur working in a number of different genres but is also something of an art-house rock-star. People greatly anticipate his next film and when they’re released you get the feeling that you’re buying a ticket for a genuinely special event that transcends any preconceived notion of what going to the movies is all about. “The Master” is another one of his masterpieces that will haunt you for months after seeing it. There’s been a lot of talk about what the film is really all about. I found it to be a metaphor of how people discover religion, why they continue to believe in it despite evidence pointing to how ridiculous it is and then eventually abandoning it once their own suspicions of its validity is confirmed by another member of the faithful. I wasn’t able to see this on 70mm, but I did catch it on one of the largest screens in Montreal and it was worth every penny.

2. “Argo” (Ben Affleck)

Ben Affleck is a God among filmmakers. His understanding of what makes great dramatic filmmaking is simply astounding, especially when you consider that “Argo” is only his third feature film. If you ever wanted proof of this, watch the final act of this film. Given that this film is based on a true story, we know how the film is going to end, but the way Affleck crafts the final scene is like watching one of Hitchcock’s finest works of suspense. Compare that to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” that features a similar suspenseful final scene. We know how that’s going to end, but because Spielberg is such a mawkish filmmaker and his characterization borders on parody, there’s no real sense of mystery or danger. Affleck on the other hand infuses his film with a perpetual feeling of danger that there are moments when we genuinely get lost in the drama of it all and think that our heroes will not escape their fate.

1. “Cloud Atlas” (Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski)

“Cloud Atlas” is many things, but above all, it serves as a testament to the power of narrative. Film is an art-form defined by storytelling. There are many ways to tell a story, but cause and effect is at the root of any successful film and the best films are made by filmmakers who understand this. “Cloud Atlas” manages to not just tell one story, but six stories in six different timeframes in six distinct genres and does so magnificently. Each story presents characters that we care about, a world we wish we could explore in its own feature-length format and a resolution that is emotionally and dramatically fulfilling. Aside from the stellar script, the film also excels in creating six different genres of film ranging from the period piece to the ‘70s police thriller to a “Blade Runner” dystopian future to the post-apocalyptic film and does so flawlessly. Like “Life of Pi,” I went into this film having never read or even heard of the novel and came out absolutely blown away and inspired to get back into making movies of my own.

My Worst 10 Films of 2012

10. “Piranha 3DD” (John Gulager)

Unlike its predecessor, “Piranha 3DD” doesn’t completely embrace the absurdity of its premise and as a result we get a wildly uneven film. When David Hasselhoff is the best thing about your picture, you know you’re scratching the bottom of the barrel.

9. “The Tall Man” (Pascal Laugier)

Somebody’s been watching “The Sixth Sense” and “Fight Club” too many times without understanding why the plot twists in those films worked.

8. “Under the Bed” (Steven C. Miller)

A film that takes itself way too seriously especially given the goofy premise of the piece.

7. “Excision” (Richard Bates, Jr.)

One of the most overhyped films at the Fantasia International Film Festival that failed on every level. Terrible writing, a story ripped off from one of the best indie films of all-time, “May,” and a deux ex machina ending that’s all too typical of indie films nowadays.

6. “For Love’s Sake” (Takashi Miike)

I love musicals, but I hate Takashi Miike. Can I reconcile the two in order to appreciate this film? Apparently not.

5. “Then Again” (Ayan Pratap)

I reviewed this indie film in last month’s issue of Rogue Cinema. This film could have been a wonderfully over-the-top parody of the sentimentality of Steven Spielberg’s filmography. Instead it tries to mirror it and does so miserably.

4. “Resident Evil: Retribution” (Paul W.S. Anderson)

Has Paul W.S. Anderson ever played “Resident Evil” or did he just watch “The Matrix” and think all that film needed was zombies and his untalented wife, Mila Jovovich?

3. “The Man with the Iron Fists” (The RZA)

Can someone remind me why we continue to tolerate the RZA? Granted, he’s a formidable producer of music but just because he samples Shaw Brothers films in his tracks doesn’t mean he can make a film inspired by them.

2. “Blood-C: The Last Dark” (Naoyoshi Shiotani)

Cold, pretentious and full of CGI. In other words, your typical contemporary anime.

1. “Toad Road” (Jason Banker)

The “Cannibal Holocaust” of our generation. And that’s not a compliment.

The 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival is a wrap, but for me the festival ended on Saturday. Due to some personal commitments, I wasn’t able to attend the remaining days of the festival which was a real shame as I wanted to see LOVE IN THE BUFF, CHAINED, DESPITE THE GODS, TOY MASTERS, VULGARIA and HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, not to mention whatever other gems I may have caught along the way. Alas, I will have to settle with my memories of the 28 films I did manage to see during the past two weeks and be content that there were several four-star classics in the bunch, many of which will undoubtedly find their way onto my “Top 10 of 2012” list come the end of the year.

I went into Fantasia this year thinking that things were going to be different and with the festival behind me, I more or less feel the same way.

Overall, I felt the programming was quite strong this year.

I was especially happy to see Canadian feature films being slotted in more “fan-friendly” timeslots than they’re usually put in. With weekend screenings at 4pm and 7pm respectively, films like LLOYD THE CONQUEROR and ROLLER TOWN played to sold-out crowds who discovered just how genuinely talented and fucking funny Canadians really are.

On the subject of “comedy,” these films were generally the most well-received of the festival this year. I’m always amazed at this, particularly given the fact that Montreal is a predominantly Francophone city and most of these comedies are in English or screened with English subtitles. Films like A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING, JUAN OF THE DEAD and GAME OF WEREWOLVES were real crowd-pleasers and with good reason, sharply written scripts, strong performances and a dash of the macabre made for winning combinations.

There was also a greater sense of variety this year with films from nearly every major (and minor) country in the world being represented. I had a blast at India’s SINGHAM, a.k.a. the Bollywood musical “remake” of DIRTY HARRY. If you ever wanted to see the true potential for action/comedy cinema along with how “alive” a film can really be when a strong filmmaking team who are inspired by the dazzling and vivacious culture that spawned them is at the helm, SINGHAM is the film for you.

William Friedkin made the mother of all comebacks with his brilliant black comedy, KILLER JOE. When a guy who can watch a triple-feature of IRREVERSIBLE, MARTYRS and NEKROMANTIK and still be in the mood to make love to his fiancee like me, can get disturbed by watching a “standard” scene like a 12-year old girl getting raped by a man three times her age, you know a film has real power.

Hong Kong proved once again why they’re the most consistent providers of top-notch genre cinema be it martial arts (DRAGON) or WW II sniper dramas (COLD STEEL), while the Thailand/South Korean co-production, THE KICK, stole the show this year as being one of the most energetic, entertaining and absolutely thrilling martial arts films in recent years.

On the other hand, hyperbole strike hard and fierce this year with EXCISION being the worst offender of the bunch. It’s no secret that the programmers at Fantasia want the screenings of films they’ve programmed to sell out and sell out quickly. So year after year, audiences are subjected to write-ups in the program which don’t so much tell you what the film is about, inasmuch as they tell you how the world as you know it has shattered at the seams to the groundbreaking and mind-blowing nature of the picture. With all the “groundbreaking” films being shown at Fantasia this year, I’m surprised we still have an Earth to walk upon. EXCISION was probably the most overhyped film this year and as predicted, it did not live up to the promise of the program. A film that relied on bullshit shock dream sequences, blatant stunt casting which caused more distractions than anything else and a plot and characterization straight out of a far superior film called MAY, EXCISION is a film that may have been forgivable had the festival not blown its reputation out of proportion.

Other duds included the overlong and uber-boring, UNDER THE BED, the tacky unfunny and unscary, MEMORY OF THE DEAD, the real “Never-Ending Story,” THE TALL MAN and Takashi Miike’s latest stinker, FOR LOVE’S SAKE.

The two biggest disappointments this year were TOAD ROAD and LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN. Both films subscribed to the “Ruggero Deodato circa CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST School of Irresponsible Filmmaking.” If you hadn’t stayed for the Q&A, you might have come out of TOAD ROAD thinking it was a modern-day masterpiece that brilliantly combined the aesthetics of Gus Van Sant, Larry Clark and David Lynch. However, if you did stay for the Q&A, you certainly came out feeling very disappointed and angry that a filmmaker in today’s day and age would take advantage of non-professional actors and have them consume copious amount of drugs and alcohol and subject themselves to real-live beatings all in the name of “art.”

However, at least those kids consented to doing this, which isn’t something you can say about the poor animals in LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN. Here was a film that was supposed to be the cute and cuddly entry this year, but ended up being the most controversial film played in recent memory. The premise of the piece was that the filmmaker filmed the animals on his private island for a period of five years and then cut together the footage he had shot. The only thing is he deliberately placed these animals in harm’s way resulting in some truly horrendous sequences that made you cry out for these defenseless creatures, whether or not you are a vegan, vegetarian and/or animal rights activist.

At any rate, another Fantasia is in the books and I want to thank the good folks over at Exploitation Retrospect and Rogue Cinema for allowing me to cover the festival for them this year. I got to walk around showing off my official press pass, which gave me satisfaction in large amounts. It also gave me a chance to take a chance on some films that I may have otherwise not gone to see due to lack of funds.

So without any further Apu, allow me to list my “Top 10 Favorite Films of Fantasia 2012” followed by my “Bottom 5, a.k.a. The Worst of the Worst, The Most Hated and Cursed.”

Top 10 Favorite Films of Fantasia 2012

1. KILLER JOE (2011) – directed by William Friedkin (USA)
2. SINGHAM (2011) – directed by Rohit Shetty (India)
3. ROLLER TOWN (2012) – directed by Andrew Bush (Canada)
4. LLOYD THE CONQUEROR (2011) – directed by Michael Peterson (Canada)
5. YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE (2011) – directed by Giddens Ko (Taiwan)
6. THE KICK (2011) – directed by Prachya Pinkaew (Thailand / South Korea)
7. A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012) – directed by Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell (UK)
8. JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) – directed by Alejandro Brugués (Spain / Cuba)
9. GAME OF WEREWOLVES (2011) – directed by Juan Martínez Moreno (Spain)
10. ROBO-G (2012) – directed by Shinobu Yaguchi (Japan)

Bottom 5 a.k.a. “The Worst of the Worst, The Most Hated and Cursed!”

1. LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN (1986) – directed by Masanori Hata (Japan)
2. TOAD ROAD (2012) – directed by Jason Banker (USA)
3. BLOOD-C: THE LAST DARK (2012) – directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani (Japan)
4. MEMORY OF THE DEAD (2011) – directed by Valentín Javier Diment (Argentina)
5. FOR LOVE’S SAKE (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike (Japan)