This weekend at Fantasia

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The Fantasia film festival is happening at several theatres (primarily on Concordia University’s downtown campus) through Aug. 2. Here are our reviews of films screening over the next few days:

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Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light is a carefully crafted Canadian documentary that examines the various historic and ongoing attempts to create a star on Earth, thereby achieving sustainable nuclear fusion and an infinite green energy source. The film combines interviews, observational footage, scientific explanations and animated historical context. It reveals not only the passion of the scientists involved, but the international bureaucratic nightmare of financing and managing a publicly funded project of this magnitude: the ITER tokamak. Meanwhile, it also explores smaller-scale private endeavours investigating alternative avenues to reaching the same goal. These include the stellerator in Germany, and the Magnetized Target Fusion system developed in Canada.

Several of the personalities in the film display an almost giddy enthusiasm for their work, and are naturally engaging, while others are not. Directors Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko have devised a shooting style reliant on elegantly composed wide-angle shots. Every frame is beautiful to look at, and a bit eccentric, but in a manner very familiar to the work of documentarians like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog’s more recent films.

The film’s content is not quite accessible enough to have a mainstream appeal — it’s far too esoteric. Much of the technical jargon, despite numerous attempts at explanation, will become more than the average viewer can absorb in one sitting. Meanwhile, those with a moderate familiarity with the subject, or with a specific interest, will most likely find it captivating. (Katie Ferrar and Mark Carpenter)

Let There Be Light screens at the D.B. Clarke (1400 de Maisonneuve W., basement) on Wednesday, July 27, 9 p.m.

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Attraction

First they came for our election results, and then they came for our shitty action movies. The Russians try their hand at alien action with Attraction, a blustering sci-fi blockbuster branded as a kind of Russian Independence Day.

Helmed by Fedor Bondarchuk, the man responsible for Russia’s first ever 3D-Imax hit Stalingrad, it offers as much CGI, nonsense storylines and silly one-liners as you’d want from an “oeuvre” of this magnitude. Add a couple of horny teenagers and you’ve got a plot that’s as American as apple pie…and Transformers.

All is going fine and dandy in sunny Moscow until a gigantic, fiery orb flies dangerously close to our dear planet Earth. The Russian army reacts as reasonably as one would expect, by shooting it until it crash-lands in the middle of the Chertanovo neighbourhood and causes countless casualties. Instead of questioning why the army just shot at it, the populace demands alien blood, because how dare they land in Mother Russia (even though, technically, they were shot down).

While all the typical action plot elements are there, there are parts that definitely wouldn’t fly in an American film just looking to make a shit-ton of money at the box office. For example, when the sexy teen girl Yulya (Irina Starshenbaum) loses interest in her bad-boy boyfriend Artyom (Alexander Petrov), he reacts by beating the shit out of her and inciting a riot that feels very white supremacy-themed. Oh, Russia, calm it!

Considering I’m very biased towards anything Russian and cheesy action films in general, I was deeply entertained, but aside from the language and location, it’s not much different from the explosion fests that regularly grace our screens. (Roxane Hudon)

Attraction screens at D.B. Clarke (1455 de Maisonneuve W., basement) on Saturday, July 29, 1 p.m.

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Game of Death

Every so often I just want to watch a good gore fest. If you’re like me, then Game of Death will more than satisfy your craving. The basic premise is unique in itself, despite the many obvious comparisons that follow from its execution, including Battle Royale, As the Gods Will and Natural Born Killers, but none of them adequately encapsulate the genius that is Game of Death. Equally impressive are the effects, especially the practical ones. Nothing quite beats a head exploding for pure viscera saturation.

The film is a blood-soaked thrill ride from the Quebec team of Laurence Morais-Lagaçé and Sebastien Landry who, despite making an English film, managed to include a Quebec classic on the soundtrack. It shows a group of fun-loving 20-somethings taking a break from their sun-, sex- and alcohol-soaked festivities to play a vintage game — Game of Death — that they stumbled upon. In doing so, they embark down a path from which there is no deviation or return. They must kill or be killed. This takes a while to sink in, allowing for some spectacular deaths, and prompts a simultaneously frenzied and morally conflicted journey to the win.

Based on a web-series, the film is clearly grounded in a love of video games. It includes a wonderful animated sequence, Fargo-esque musical interludes, manatees, vintage nostalgia, splatter-gore and a warped post-coming of age narrative arc. It feels like it was crafted with love and a great deal of — some might even argue too much — enthusiasm. Given the level of audience interaction at Fantasia, this is not one you want to miss at the festival. (KF + MC)

Game of Death screens at J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 29, 1 p.m.

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Tragedy Girls

Every so often a smart, ambitious (sometimes too ambitious for its own good) horror comedy comes along. Tragedy Girls is one of these films. It could be described as a cross between Heathers and Scream, but that wouldn’t paint the full picture. It’s a slick mash-up of pop culture references, horror homage and original ideas. It has the potential to become tiresome, but it’s decidedly smart.

McKayla Hooper and Sadie Cunningham are bff’s. They are desperate fan-girls who want to be social media superstars and secret serial killers: secret in that they kidnap a real serial killer, hoping he will assume a mentorship role. When he refuses, they assume his identity and continue his crimes. Emotions and hormones inevitably interfere with the teens’ plans, producing a plethora of situational irony as Murphy’s law seems to prevail. The resultant frustration fuels the girls’ narcissism, emboldening them.

The film contains a decent amount of gore, but nothing spectacular. The tone is spot on for the first third of the film, but falters intermittently after the major plot shift. Meanwhile, it becomes increasingly self-aware, and hilarious at times. One point of note is the all too real frustration over the impossibility of policing social media, whether you are a teacher or a police officer. It’s a tool that creates its own reality. The reality created in the film is revealed at the end, and may be realized in a sequel. (KF + MC)

Tragedy Girls screens  at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 29, 7:40 p.m.

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68 Kill

It’s hard to imagine a more Fantasia movie than 68 Kill. Written and directed by Trent Haaga (a former Troma acolyte probably best known these days for writing the black comedy Cheap Thrills, which screened a few years back), it stars two festival regulars in Annalynne McCord and Matthew Grey Gubler and a host of lesser-known character actors who have almost all been in at least one Fantasia movie in the last few years. It might be explained by the presence of Frontières founder Stéphanie Trépanier in the executive producer’s chair, but there’s a lot here that’ll play like gangbusters at the fest — for better or worse.

Gubler plays Chip, a hapless septic tank worker dating mildly psychotic sex worker Liza (McCord). Chip is head over heels for Liza, whom seemingly everyone else on Earth seems to realize has a couple of screws loose, so he doesn’t really hesitate when she outlines her plan to murder a regular john and make away with a bag containing $68,000 cash. (That Liza seems to think that this is a veritable fortune and not, essentially, an okay yearly wage for two gainfully employed people is one of the better jokes in the film). That plan soon turns awry, and Chip finds himself bonking Liza on the head and escaping from her with one of the john’s girls (Alisha Boe) locked in the trunk. Of course, things only get exponentially worse from there.

68 Kill plays somewhere between Raising Arizona-style Coens and Russ Meyer movies with the gore turned way up, hopping back and forth between bug-eyed gonzo black comedy and confused girl-power drive-in exploitation. (The film’s marketing — and several sequences — suggest a kind of rah-rah girl power attitude that the film ultimately pretty much rejects outright.) It’s manic and entirely unsubtle, but everyone brings their A-game at selling this outré gonzo nightmare and the film leaves less of a sour taste in the mouth than you’d expect. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste (it certainly lays it on a little thick and a little sloppy for me) but this is, in all aspects, exactly the kind of thing I expect to see at Fantasia. (Alex Rose)

68 Kill screens at the Hall Theatre (1455 de Maisonneuve W.) on Saturday, July 29, 10:10 p.m.

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Bushwick

I really don’t play a lot of video games, and I think that’s exactly what causes me to think that so many movies feel like watching a video game. Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott’s Bushwick is one such movie — its action scenes feel like those missions where you have to escort a weak non-player character around and they constantly go and get themselves killed out of stupidity. That’s both a good and bad thing when it comes to this Red Dawn-inspired action flick about a young woman (Brittany Snow) who gets caught in the turmoil following an attempted coup by a seceding Texas. Armed militiamen have descended on her neighborhood of Bushwick and are indiscriminately gunning down civilians. As she attempts to reach her grandmother’s house, she falls in with Stupe (Dave Bautista), a former soldier who accepts to help her get to safety.

The action scenes in Bushwick are very well done. The directors favour long cuts (much of it is doctored to look like an endless, breathless tracking shot, although the Rope-like edit points are made very obvious) and pared-down action while carnage rages in the background. It’s all the more impressive considering the film’s relatively low budget and the complexity of what they’re pulling off. The narrative, on the other hand, boasts no such complexity. The entire first act of the movie focuses on characters who don’t know something that the audience does, which is where the whole video-game thing kicks in. Bushwick feels (especially in the early going) slick but relatively uninvolving, too invested in the lightning-quick snap of its carnage and not enough in its characters.

Of course, the subtext behind Bushwick has become all the more potent since the film was shot in a pre-Trump era, and its notions of social satire are both on-the-nose and somewhat terrifying. It’s one of those solid kinds of B-movies that manage to be both somewhat dumb and eerily relevant. While the balance doesn’t always work, it’s efficiently ruthless. (AR)

Bushwick screens at D.B. Clarke (1455 de Maisonneuve W., basement) on Sunday, July 30, 6:30 p.m.

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Indiana

Indiana is an especially slow-building docudrama, with a narrative that progresses through textured long takes and gorgeous landscape canvases. It’s the kind of film that demands patience, and as with all films of this nature, there is an implicit gamble: will it pay off in the end?  In the case of Indiana, it most certainly does, but not in the anticipated manner.

Michael and Josh are the Spirit Doctors, a paranormal support group that also does entity removals. While Josh is passionate about the project, and brings his son Peter along to observe from a distance, Michael has become jaded and wants to move on. Before he finds the right moment to express this sentiment, they come across a rundown, boarded-up home. With their interest piqued, they investigate. This is where the film’s two parallel narratives intersect and move forward as one — the house belongs to a seeming hobo who has recently killed a man.

Indiana is downbeat and melancholy; it’s also reminiscent of Another Evil and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, with more than a hint of The Straight Story. It has a beautifully blended tone of deadpan comedy and disillusioned seriousness. It contextualises the Spirit Doctors’ work with black and white interviews and radio talk shows. It’s a surprisingly quiet film, in that there is almost no music; the score consists primarily of natural ambient sound. The acting is almost eerily restrained, as are the horror elements. Indiana barely feels like a genre film, and will test some viewers’ patience, but it may be one of the most satisfying films of this year’s festival. (KF + MC)

Indiana screens at J.A. de Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve W.) on Sunday, July 30, 7:30 p.m.

For the complete Fantasia program and ticket details, go to the festival’s website

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