The best genre movie gala in Canada is almost here, and Fantasia Film Festival 2023 has a lot to offer! Over the three weeks, fans of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, drama and animation have a lot to pick from, and we got our list. Just how much one can take in per day depends on how much sleep and culture from this city one wants to take in (and how deep our pockets are to partake in everything). Montreal, Quebec is a mecca for all things classical and noveau.
As this celebration is back to being an in-person festival, so must the digital side disappear. That’s alright, since watching a film must also include the experience of sharing your joy with fellow movie-goers. This year’s spotlight includes a focus on Korean cinema, honouring Nicholas Cage with a career achievement award. (Update: Due to the writer’s strike, all celebrity guests cannot attend). He stars in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (playing July 22nd at the Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU). Just when fans thought he was over the top in Renfield, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
There’s also many table talks going on. The most notable of that group is a chat with Charles Band, the king of all things Full Moon. This producer is well known amongst B-movie aficionados, and he’s best known for producing the Puppet Master series, which is still ongoing with spinoff works! But there’s many other talents who will also be interviewed.
Without further ado, I offer my top ten picks for this year, and runner ups (which will be listed by title only) for a combined total of 20 works one should see! The links go to the official landing page for ticket purchases and a more detailed outline of each work.
Strange, wondrous, and courageous in its emotional exploration, DEEP SEA is also an incredible work of technical innovation. Seeking to establish a uniquely Chinese style, the country’s animators have strived to merge their very linear craft with traditional ink-wash painting since the 1961 short film TADPOLES SEARCHING FOR MOTHER. Their successes, however, have only revealed what an overwhelming challenge the approach can be.
Using a cutting-edge digital particle-animation technique, and backed by a staff of close to 1500 artisans, Tian Xiaopeng and his team created a visual spectacle of unprecedented richness, one of which we can truly say: you’ve never seen anything like this before. And for an all the more incredible experience, Fantasia is presenting DEEP SEA in 3D! – Rupert Bottenberg
July 29 and 31
Step right this way, folks, for a thrilling adventure that’s equal parts crazy cartoon caper, shadowy film noir, nostalgic escapade, and steampunk fantasy. This retro-flavoured reimagining of the freewheeling Taisho era, Japan’s equivalent of the Roaring Twenties, is the long-awaited personal project of director Shigeyoshi Tsukahara, whose professional resume includes stage design for adventurous pop-rock superstars Sekai no Owari.
Age-worn and adorned with all manner of vintage Japanese cultural iconography, KURAYUKABA is Tsukahara-san’s celebration not just of classic anime and old-time entertainment, but of all those little details that make Japan so special, even in this modern, globalised era of ours. Preceded by a pair of rare short films by Tsukahara, Fantasia’s world premiere of KURAYUKABA is your chance to discover a distinctive emerging talent in the anime field! – Rupert Bottenberg
July 23 & 24
Fantasia’s world premiere of THE PRIMEVALS represents the culmination of a longtime dream harboured by visual effects wizard David Allen, whose career stretched from 1970’s EQUINOX through Oscar-nominated work on YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and beyond. Allen first conceived THE PRIMEVALS as a vehicle for his stop-motion talents in the 1970s. He finally began directing the movie, which he scripted with fellow effects artist Randy Cook (THE GATE), in the 1990s under producer Charles Band, for whom he’d brought all manner of beasties to life in LASERBLAST, PUPPET MASTER and many others.
Sadly, the film’s completion was scuttled by Allen’s death from cancer in 1999 at just 54 years old. Now, at last, Band and longtime Allen associate Chris Endicott have seen the film to completion, and it emerges as a glorious tribute to the classic films of Ray Harryhausen, with a true sense of adventure and eye-popping, remarkably fluid dimensional animation. No monster or special-effects fan will want to miss it! – Michael Gingold
Le Visiteur Du Futur
The end of the world is only the beginning of the hilariously witty, time-twisting sci-fi comedy LE VISITEUR DU FUTUR from writer/director François Descraques, founder of the collective Frenchnerd Productions. Initially a web series, debuting in 2009, Descraques’ popular LE VISITEUR DU FUTUR evolved into a proper TV series, and saw comic-book spinoffs, and now at last is adapted and expanded into a full-blown feature film.
Along with several other series regulars, Florent Dorin, a regular in Frenchnerd’s various short films and web series, reprises his starring role as the titular, forever nameless “visitor” — an anarchic hero and agent of change with the enforcers of temporal status quo constantly at his heels. While his tale does touch on ecological concerns, and ponder the consequences of difficult decisions, Descraques doesn’t let a single line of dialogue go by without a jolt of clever humour, and the capable cast delivers the non-stop jokes with understated panache. Smart, sympathetic, and devoid of a dull moment, LE VISITEUR DU FUTUR guarantees that an apocalyptically fun time lies waiting in your immediate future! – Rupert Bottenberg
Those who were with us for the Canadian Premiere of Shinichiro Ueda’s unforgettable ONE CUT OF THE DEAD in 2018 may remember writer-director Reiki Tsuno’s short film CRYING BITCH, with which it was paired. Some years and a pandemic later, we’re thrilled to be welcoming this explosive Japanese talent (and Troma Entertainment alumnus) back with a feature debut that couldn’t be more purrfect for Fantasia! Having already meowed audiences at Slamdance and BIFFF, this quirky action-comedy pokes fun at the stagey melodrama of classic martial arts films while successfully emulating some of their best attributes: well-choreographed combat, highly stylized set pieces, and creative carnage. Infusing all of it with that signature Japanese absurdity, MAD CATS unabashedly embraces its silly premise and is sure to charm cat lovers, as well as anyone who’s ever shared a special bond with their pet. – Alyssia Duval-Nguon
Molli and Max in the Future
As MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE so beautifully illustrates, we may finally conquer interstellar travel and meet aliens, but finding love is still going to be a pain. Writer/director Michael Lukk Litwak has taken the classic will-they-or-won’t-they romantic-comedy template and transported it into the future, and has come up with one of the best indie romances in light years. He’s helped immeasurably by the ideally cast Mamet and Athari, and the terrific lo-fi FX that still create an amazing universe of their own, one that offers great eye candy and big laughs throughout (this one really benefits from the big Fantasia screen). Those visuals don’t overwhelm the very real relationship at the heart of this FX-heavy love story filled with aliens and robots, which is not something you can say often, if ever. Produced by Ben J. Murphy (LUCY AND DESI) and executive produced by Ted Geoghegan (BROOKLYN 45), MOLLI AND MAX IN THE FUTURE is the ideal romance for the lovelorn sci-fi fan we all know and perhaps secretly love. – Matthew Kiernan
Rigorously researched for accuracy and authenticity, and exquisitely crafted with materials one wants to pluck from the screen before one’s eyes, MOTHER LAND is a snowbound fantasy with a potent emotional warmth at its core, a debut feature from an exceptionally skilled craftsman in the challenging and painstaking technique of stop-motion animation. Follow the North Star to Fantasia’s screening of this truly special film, and be rewarded with visions as wondrous as the breathtaking aurora in the arctic skies. – Rupert Bottenberg
Though he’s best known for two series from the 1980s, cult favourite DR. SLUMP and the world-renowned sensation DRAGONBALL, celebrated Japanese manga creator Akira Toriyama has crafted many other, shorter manga tales. Among them is the mini-epic SAND LAND, a demon-infested, post-apocalyptic screwball romp which appeared briefly in 2000.
Toriyama’s countless fans can rejoice because now, a quarter century later, an anime adaptation has further rekindled the work’s appeal.
Shin Kamen Rider
The superhero franchise KAMEN RIDER (“masked rider”) is an enormously popular Japanese tokusatsu series. If Ultraman is often considered the Superman of Japanese heroes, Kamen Rider represents the darker edge of justice, like Batman. First created as a manga by Shotaro Ishinomori, KAMEN RIDER kicked his way onto TV screens in 1971, and since then has evolved through endless incarnations across 34 TV series as well as multiple feature films.
With Hideaki Anno at the helm, and riding the wave following the success of SHIN GODZILLA AND SHIN ULTRAMAN, this continuation of a thematic reboot of these fond classics is heartily welcomed, and what he presents is sure to please. As for whether a Shin Gamera is in the works, only time will tell.
We Are Zombies (Closing Film)
Based on the comic LES ZOMBIES QUI ONT MANGÉ LE MONDE (Les Humanoïdes associés), RKSS have also penned the script, infusing this universe with their own flavour and breathing fresh life into the genre. It’s got everything you love about their work: colourful characters, grotesque, cartoonish gore, and a healthy dose of black humour. Translation: Rupert Bottenberg
Fantasia Film Festival 2023 Honourable Mentions
A Chinese Ghost Story (presented in 35mm)
A Disturbance in the Force (movie review link)
Lovely, Dark and Deep
The First Slam Dunk
Marry My Dead Body
The Cassandra Cat
The Ninth Heart
Ride On (movie review link)
Tokyo Revengers 2 – Part 1
Tokyo Revengers 2 – Part 2