The Fantasia Film Fest really is one of a kind. Every summer film geeks with an unadorned love for science fiction and horror movies step foot into Montreal for an eclectic bunch of movies from all over the world. This isn't the Toronto Film Festival (you won't find "Zombeavers" or "The Angry Video Game Nerd" on TIFF's repertoire), it's just Fantasia – a one-of-a-kind film fest that has enthusiastic audience members meowing like stray cats in a darkened alley right after the house lights dim. I don't need to tell you what I thought about the aforementioned b-movies except to say that they can only be experienced to their fullest by sitting alongside a packed audience of out of the box thinkers.
Opening the film fest was Richard Linklater's "Boyhood", which was quite the strange selection for a film fest that prides itself in the extreme and the surreal. Yet on second thought, you start to realize why Linklater's masterpiece made the selection – it shares the same spirit as many of the movies I saw at the film fest. It is an out of box, outrageously ambitious idea stretched along for 12 years, and is as experimental as any "big" studio picture has gone to depict the coming-of-age experience. The transition from month to month, year to year is an organic and natural one that might not have worked in another filmmaker's hands.
In "Frank", Michael Fassbender gives us his strangest and most bewildering performance to date as the lead singer of a mysterious artsy indie rock band that refuses to take off his giant papier-mache bobble head, à la Daft Punk. It's a hoot of a role that fends off the clichés and somehow finds sweetness underneath it all. The satirical jabs at the music industry are there, so are the amazingly bouncy songs that the band plays throughout the film. Fassbender can actually sing, and director Lenny Abrahamson can actually direct one hell of a movie. I could have, however, gone without its sentimentally flat ending.
Everywhere you go these days you hear Shailene Woodley's name, and for good reason. Ever since I gazed my eyes upon this young 22 year old in 2011's "The Descendants", she had me at hello. In this year's "The Fault in Our Stars" she was the high – very high – point of an average movie. In eccentric director Gregg Araki's new film she might have just given the best performance of her short career. In "White Bird in a Blizzard" she owns every scene she's in, playing a teenage girl whose mom disappears one wintry day in 1988. The emotional toll it takes on her is surprisingly not apparent from the outside, but the suffering can be seen in Woodley's eyes. Araki is a promising young filmmaker who has already made one great movie with 2011's "Mysterious Skin", and in "White Bird in a Blizzard" he brings us his most mature work, but of course not without its flaws. It's ok, he'll learn, and so will Woodley, who already has two great performances to her name in 2014.
Of course with a program that has hundreds of titles and an assortment of different genres you might get lost in the shuffle as to what you should or shouldn't be seeing. One of the few exceptions in unanimity could be seen at the "Guardians of the Galaxy" premiere which had a lineup stretching the whole block. The rousing applause the movie got by the film's end seemed to indicate the buzz was justified. I appreciated director James Gunn's attempt at making the anti-superhero movie by turning the clichés over their head. I've not been the biggest fan of the Super-hero movie boom that's taken over Cineplexes over the past 15 years, but "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a good film. It envelops you in its sardonically comic adventure and makes you care about characters you shouldn't really be caring about in the first place. This is a film that will likely get better with each and every viewing, and will likely stand the test of time.
A formula is not what director Eli Roth usually goes by. Better known as the "Bear Jew" in "Inglourious Basterds", Roth has had his say in the horror genre, directing "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel" the past decade and being best buds with Tarantino. I saw "The Green Inferno" earlier last year with a bunch of other critics and decided to re-watch it with a Fantasia audience this year. Good idea. There's nothing better than watching this sort of film with b-movie horror afficianados – they eat up this sort of stuff. Talking about eating it up, "The Green Inferno" is a sort of send-off to "Cannibal Holocaust" - a film Roth seems to deeply be inspired by here as he pretty much reworks the plot for a 21st century audience. It's not high art but it is high fun and something I'm sure many other b-movie buffs will appreciate, but beware it is incredibly graphic.
When was the last time John McNaughton's directed a film? I'll tell you when – close to 13 years ago, when he directed "Sleeping of Sex". Remember that movie? I didn't think so. What "The Harvest" has going for it is an incredible cast of actors which include Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon as the overprotective parents of a sick dying boy. Morton's mother is the mother from hell, a woman so engrossed in alienating her son and preventing him from talking to anyone around him that she never lets him leave the house. Things get a little complicated when a young girl moves in next door and starts to investigate why the mom is acting so nutso. There's a major plot twist that happens mid-way through this movie that completely changes everything and will likely turn off some viewers, but I loved it. I didn't like the way McNaughton resolved everything in the overbearingly ridiculous finale, but you can't say he didn't try his hardest at keeping us on the edge throughout most of the running time.
Talking about "Boyhood", one of the strangest most interesting movies I saw at the fest also starred Ethan Hawke. In the Spierig brothers' "Predestination", Hawke plays a temporal agent who constantly time travels to find a criminal that has obsessed him for god knows how long. To explain what happens in this movie is probably as hard as explaining Christopher Nolan's "Inception" upon first viewing – you just can't. Mind bending and brilliantly conceived, "Predestination" is a movie that sometimes trips on its own ideas. I in fact guessed a few of the big twists before they actually happened, but it really is just a blast to sit through a film juggling so many ideas that want to blow your mind – even if doesn’t always happen. That can pretty much describe the Fantasia Film Festival, a fest that takes pride in its lack of subtlety and in trying its darnest to shock, provoke and entertain in equal doses.