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Fantasia 2006: Top 10 Must See Flicks

[Ed’s note: I asked Pierre-Alexandre to give us a preview of the top choices at this year’s fest – Lunacy is on top of my list.]

Thailand, Dir: Wisit Sasanatieng, 2004
Montreal Premiere 

+ Pod’s a simple country boy from rural Thailand, and as he sets out for a new
life in bustling Bangkok. Once in the big city, Pod encounters all sorts of
bizarre events and characters – a rainstorm of red helmets, a ghostly taxi-cycle
driver with advice for the lovelorn, a bitter, chain-smoking eight-year-old girl
who has an abusive relationship with her talking teddy bear, and his salty
grandmother, reincarnated as a gecko lizard. Thai ad-clip director Wisit
Sasanatieng, whose 2000 feature-film debut Tears Of The Black Tiger was the
first Thai film ever officially selected for Cannes, is simply bursting with
laugh-out-loud comedy, mind-bending weirdness, stirring romance and above all a
deeply empathic fascination with ordinary people. Gift-wrapped for the audience
in a dazzling package of rich colours, brilliant composition and snappy editing,
Sasanatieng’s lively, magic-realist meditation on one of the cornerstone
conundrums of human life – how does one stand out while fitting in?

RE-CYCLE (Gwai wik)
Hong Kong, Dirs: Danny & Oxide Pang, 2006
North American Premiere

+ Angelica Lee, the award-winning star of The Eye, reunites with the Pang
Brothers for Re-Cycle. Lee stars as a struggling young writer. When she discards
the opening chapter to her latest work, she begins to be plagued with visions
and events seemingly lifted from the pages of her rejected work, and it is not
long before she is drawn entirely into a strange other world, a nightmarish
alternate reality that serves as a repository for everything discarded and
forgotten in ours. Not only do twin directors Oxide and Danny have a Hollywood
remake of their breakthrough international hit The Eye in the works, but they’re
also wrapping up work on their Sam Raimi-produced English-language debut, while
Re-Cycle, their most recent Hong Kong film, is fresh off a stint in the “Un
Certain Regard” program at Cannes.

THE DESCENT (Official Opening Film)
UK Dir: Neil Marshall, 2005
Canadian premiere

+ Several women on a cave expedition find themselves all-but buried alive after
a rockslide seals off their exit. The only possible way out is down. As
claustrophobia builds to suffocating extremes, a bad situation turns ferociously
worse when the women realize that they are being stalked by an age-old forgotten
species. Heart-stoppingly intense (it’s a wonder nobody has died during a
screening), wholly character-driven and unbelievably engrossing, The Descent has
been widely hailed as the most frightening horror film of the year, which is an
understatement. It is one of the most effective horror films of the past decade.
This recent review quote from The Guardian’s Mark Kermode says it all: “”One of
the best British horror films of recent years. I jumped, I gasped, I winced, I
cringed and, for lengthy periods of The Descent, I simply held my breath”.

UK,  Dir: Simon Rumley, 2006
+ North American Premiere, hosted by director Simon Rumley 

Making its North American debut after a strong launch at this year’s Rotterdam
Film Festival, this hallucinatory nightmare plays like a Merchant Ivory
production directed by Darren Aronofsky.   In an arthouse spin on the Old Dark
House subgenre,  the film takes us into Longleigh, a decaying English mansion
inhabited by a decaying aristocratic family –  patriarch Donald, his bed-ridden
wife Nancy and their mentally challenged, highly unstable schizophrenic son
James. Donald leaves town on a business, leaving Nancy in the care of a nurse.
Misdosing on his meds, James decides that, as the “man of the house”, he’s going
to nurse his mother back to health, shutting out her homecare nurse and taking
the phone off the hook. The film evolves into a surreal barrage of sometimes
violent, quasi-existential nightmare sequences that ultimately leave the outcome
up to the viewer which, any way you slice it, isn’t pretty.

USA, Dir: Mike Mendez, 2005
Canadian premiere, Hosted by Director Mike Mendez 

+ A group of college friends joking around in a cemetery find themselves
followed home by spirits, commencing a terrifying month of supernatural
visitations that are designed to end in death. Scary as hell and consistently
surprising, the film is driven by freakish scare sequences piled one on top of
the other to exhilarating effect. Director Mendez (The Convent) has said that he
designed his film to play like a very adult version of Disneyland’s haunted
mansion ride and this spirit comes through strongly. Coffins burst up from the
earth, cadavers shriek, graves shoot flames and the ghosts themselves wreak
unbelievable havoc. A freakish dose of old-school 80’s horror.  

Hong Kong, Dir:Jeff Lau, 2005
Canadian Premiere

+ The characters of “Journey to the West” (aka the Monkey King adventures) have
been the subject of numerous cinematic adaptations, like this year’s Lost in Wu
Song. Steven Spielberg is currently working on his own interpretation. Versatile
director and frequent Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Jeff Lau has taken a new slant
to this soon-to-be-classic revisionist fantasy. An all-star cast graces this HK$100
million production, filmed entirely on the exotic canvas of mainland China, and
filled with gloried appearances by the HK industry old and new – including Shaw
Bros.’ regular Gordon Liu (Dirty Ho, Kill Bill 2) as white-haired Emperor of
Heaven. The film received five well deserved HK Oscar nominations for its
ambitious visual effects, art direction, costume, make-up and its majestic score
by Hayao Miyazaki’s frequent music collaborator Joe Hisaishi. Jet Li’s regular
action choregrapher Cory Yuen expertly directs the action with style and grace.

USA, Dir: Stuart Gordon, 2005
Canadian premiere, hosted by Director Stuart Gordon 

+ A powerful, confrontational, exploration of male middle-class white America’s
undercurrents of hate, written by David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS), directed by
the equally legendary Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR) and starring William H. Macy,
Julia Stiles, Joe Montegna and Jeffrey Combs. Gordon, who founded and ran
Chicago’s Organic Theater for 15 years before venturing into film, was one of
the first people ever to direct a Mamet play, and has been wanting to adapt
EDMOND for well over two decades. Until recently, it was deemed too
controversial and no producer was brave enough to touch it. Undiluted by the
calculated hipness that often plagues edgy US indies, it is a violent film, both
physically and emotionally, boiling with existential provocations and jet-black
wit that redefines the term “uncomfortable.” Mamet’s script, written during a
painful period in his life, plays almost like a 70’s Paul Schrader work dosed in
breathless “Mametspeak”. Tough as nails and provocative to the extreme. .

USA Dir: Graeme Whifler, 2005
Canadian Premiere, hosted by director Graeme Whifler

+ A knockout black comedy / horror illustrating a young couple’s troubles with a
right-wing Christian fundamentalist neighbor that escalates to outrageously
grotesque extremes. The feature directorial debut from the man who scripted
Sonny Boy and directed experimental videos for The Residents is a twisted,
audacious work that opens as an ironic comedy, takes a few black turns, keeps
you smiling (albeit far less comfortably then before), introduces some extremely
perverse sexual elements, throws in some gross-out humour as a diversion – and
then plunges its audience into a violent abyss of extremities that will shock
the un-shockable and floor the rest of you – literally – a person fainted during
a recent screening!

USA,Dir: Lucky McKee, 2006
North American premiere, hosted by Director Lucky McKee 

+ From the director of May. Indie hero Lucky McKee’s highly anticipated entry
into the studio-production big leagues is an atmospheric film about witchcraft
in a mysterious all girl’s boarding school that hits unique notes uncommon to
most modern studio releases. Graced with an effective cast that includes Agnes
Bruckner, Evil Dead icon Bruce Campbell and the always-fascinating Patricia
Clarkson (Wendigo, Dogville), delivering one of her most memorable performances
to date. McKee shot The Woods right here in Montreal, assembling a stellar team
with many figures from the city’s industry, both in front of and behind his
camera’s lens.  

Czech Republic  Dir: Jan Svankmajer, 2005
Canadian Premiere

+ The latest production from legendary Czech surrealist Svankmajer (ALICE,
FAUST, LITTLE OTIK) loosely adopts the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Edgar
Allan Poe to create a forceful black comedy about societal perceptions of
freedom and mental illness, while simultaneously lashing out against
institutional manipulation and the trappings of what people are willing to
accept as good or evil. Coming from Svankmajer, it should be no surprise that
these issues are occasionally addressed with stop-motion animated pig brains,
cow eyes and slabs of rotting meat. Svankmajer’s most radical and subversive
film to date concerns the plight of a man who is talked into confronting his
fears of madness by undergoing “preventative therapy”…and checking himself into
an institution for the insane.

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