Fantasia Festival 2013 Recap – Part One: Shield of Straw & Lesson of the Evil
Hey Mobtrealers, I just spent 21 days attending Montreal’s Fantasia Festival, the internationally acclaimed genre film fest. I wanted to review what transpired, but instead, I decided to hand it over to some more qualified, uh, folk… Over the next few days a space cat, a possessed robot, and a nerdy, snaked-haired gorgon will recap the best of what we saw. A lot of these films will end up in theatres, Netflix, VOD, and DVD & Blu-Ray, within the year, so here’s a sneak peak of what’s good and worth a look.
The following is a transcript of the roundtable wrap-up discussion that our film geeks had:
Vagabond Spacecat: Well, that was a whole lot of fun! What do you say, my snake-haired one?
MyzMyth: ‘Twas a hearty time indeed! We would have discussed this sooner if our robot friend hadn’t got locked in the bathroom of the Imperial…
Demonobototron 6066: IT WAS A FLIGHT OF STAIRS. I HAVE ROBOT TREADS, ROBOT BLADDER, AND THE DEVIL IN ME…
MyzMyth: Uh… On with the films.
SHIELD OF STRAW
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Tamio Hayashi, Kazuhiro Kiuchi
Cast: Takao Osawa, Nanako Matsushima, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Goro Kishitani, Masatoh Ibu
Spacecat: Anyhoo, let’s start off with the opening film Takashi Miike’s latest flick, SHIELD OF STRAW.
MyzMyth: GLORIOUS ACTION AND HUMAN DRAMA! The sold out crowd loved it, and so did I.
DBT6066: The thing I love about Miike is he’s always jumping from genre to genre. One year we get an ICCHI THE KILLER, the next we’ll get a kid’s film. He just likes making different kinds of movies. And this film is a good example of that.
Spacecat: I liked it a lot. Great concept for a film: A small police unit is tasked with the job of transporting a deranged child-killer/rapist to await trial after a price of one billion yen is put on his head. And of course, things soon escalate to complete madness when even unsuccessful attempts are being rewarded.
MyzMyth: Yes! Everyone from the desperate to the highly trained are gunning for this monster and risking it all, and the small unit are running out of people to trust… and questioning why they’re putting their lives on the line for someone so heinous! SUCH DRAMA!
DBT6066: Great acting from the three leads. Tatsuya Fujiwara plays a vicious bastard. He’s playing a very different character from the role he had in BATTLE ROYALE. In this film he’s playing one of the most deranged villains in recent memory. He’s constantly toying with the cops and messing with their heads. If I wasn’t a robot possessed by the devil I’d fear him.
Spacecat: Uh, right…
MyzMyth: Yes! He was manipulative and utterly evil. He’d give The Joker the creeps. And I loved the idealistic lead cop, played by Takao Ohsawa. The final act has one of the most intense “Goodguy vs Badguy” scenes I’ve ever seen.
Spacecat: Don’t forget the other cop played by Nanako Matsushima. She was tough as nails and very badass. I like that. And I like that you learn why she is that way… because she has to be. She has a clear motive on why she’s doing what she’s doing. She’s a single mom and her only focus is doing her job so she can look after her kid. And that means she has to work twice as hard as everyone else.
DBT6066: YOU’RE BORING THE READER TO TEARS. JUST MENTION THE BASICS. SHIELD OF STRAW is a clever, tense thrill-ride full of non-stop action, good old fashioned edge-of-your seat drama, and a good old fashioned moral dilemma. This one has it all.
Spacecat: Any other reason you liked it?
DBT6066: EXPLOSIONS! GUNFIGHTS! CAR CHASES! TRAINS! EXPLOSIONS! MURDER! SUSPENSE! INTRIGUE! EXPLOSIONS! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!
DBT6066: Sorry, that was the devil in me…
Spacecat: You raise a good point, though. It had all that mainstream action film stuff… yet didn’t lose any of the weightiness. At times it feels like Michael Bay done right.
MyzMyth: DAMN THAT MICHAEL BAY!
Spacecat: At it’s heart it’s classic Miike. Interesting fleshed out characters with a sense of history. You feel for this people. You understand why they do what they do… but you also understand they’re not the flawless supercops and have their own set of issues and problems. They actually question why they’re doing what they’re doing. Why not take the easy route?
MyzMyth: Yes, this story takes a lot of twists and turns. But it also isn’t humourless. The moments of levity, while few, are perfectly placed. One needs to laugh in the face of a glorious battle!
DBT6066: EXPLOSIONS! GUNFIGHTS! CAR CHASES!
Spacecat: Uh, Yes… Anyhoo, Overall, Really powerful and thought-provoking. And at times really depressing too. After all, it deals with a dead child and grieving grandfather and… Well, suffice to say, keep a look out for this one when you get a chance. Very entertaining. It Stays with you.
LESSON OF THE EVIL
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Takashi Miike, Yusuke Kishi
Cast: Hideaki Ito, Fumi Nikaido, Kento Hayashi, Shota Sometani, Takayuki Yamada
DBT6066: The next night of FANTASIA had another Takashi Miike flick, LESSON OF THE EVIL.
Spacecat: Now this is the other side of Miike. A very dark and twisted comedy about a murderous lunatic who takes a teaching position… and well, you can see where this is going.
MyzMyth: So gory!
DBT6066: It’s like Breakfast Club meets American Psycho meets Dexter meets Pekinpah or Tarantino with a dash of Mr. Holland’s Opus… minus the high school band but with a lot more blood.
Spacecat: It’s a very timely and appropriate film too, what with the gun issues and violence in schools always popping up in the news.
MyzMyth: It’s not a belly laugh comedy… definitely more emphasis on the dark than the comedy. Stunning wall-to-wall over-the-top violence.
Spacecat: There’s almost an art to violence. A sick art… but definitely an art.
DBT6066: Very slick film. The lead, Hideaki Itō, is both likeable and hateful. Students and staff fawn over him… except the one’s that don’t… and that’s where it starts to get really interesting.
MyzMyth: Final reel is such a bloodbath!
Spacecat: I like how everything is perfectly laid out. There are various story elements that come to play and everything makes perfect sense in the end. It just builds and builds and builds. The entire audience where hollering at the end in typical Fantasia fashion.
MyzMyth: I loved it!
Spacecat: It’s rather terrifying because there’s some realism in it! But it’s not just about a teacher on a murder spree. You also get to know the students and feel for them and root for them as they’re up against their professor’s rampage.
MyzMyth: And while all this is going on there’s that teen romance plotline going on. It’s right out of something on the CW network… and that’s why it works… because it’s so out of place that it IS in place. Haha. You humans with your funny emotions.
Spacecat: Uh… Anyhoo, I do like the pacing. We get a little backstory, we see him as a teacher, we see him interacting, we see other conflicts in the school, we see him looking out for the students, we see him looking out for the staff… and then things slowly fall into place. We don’t really know his motives or just how crazy he is until a good way in.
DBT6066: Wonderful structure. Builds a lot of tension. You really don’t know what happens next.
MyzMyth: NEITHER DO THE STUDENTS! CAN WE SEE IT AGAIN?
Spacecat: Now you sound like the robot…
DBT6066: WALL-TO-WALL BLOOD AND MAYHEM.
Spacecat: Sigh. In short, LESSON OF THE EVIL: Not for the squeamish, but definitely worth a look. It’s a slow buildup… but the payoff is worth it. A very good blend of genres and a very different student/teacher film. If you like the crazier and ultra-violent Takashi Miike films, this one’s for you.
-END OF PART ONE-