Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Fantasia Daily 2014.14: The One I Love, Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep, Ju-on: The Beginning of the End, Four Corners

Made a quick stop at the press office to collect a screener before The One I Love, but I don't know if I'll actually have time to watch it (they have to be back on Friday). I kind of don't want to - unless this is really your job, why spend part of a festival leaned over your laptop watching DVDs? Maybe I'm better off just hoping that Doctor Proctor plays at Fantastic Fest, since I go to these things to see movies with an audience, not to just get my film count up.

Speaking of things you might not otherwise get to see with an audience, here are some of the filmmakers from the "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep" block:

Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep filmmakers

Left to right, that is Elinor Svoboda, who made "Merus Breach"; Tim Sanger of "Redaction"; Josh Tanner, who brought "The Landing" from Australia; and Dave Paige, who directed "Atrium".

Good folks with good stories. Svoboda is a sound editor by trade, so it's no surprise that her movie focused heavily on that, although host Mitch Davis joked afterward that the projectionist had to ride the volume control like the truck driver riding the brake in Sorcerer to avoid blowing out the spiffy new sound system. Which makes a good segue to Sanger, who mentioned that he didn't watch sci-if while making "Redaction", but focused instead on 1970s cop films. Not so much by Frankenheimer, but a lot of Alan J. Pakula. Tanner, meanwhile, said that in order to shoot his story that was meant to be very much in the American Midwest in Australia, they wound up repurposing the sets built for Superman Returns, which makes me want to dig that out and see just how much it still looks like the Kent Farm.

And now, off to get the screener they didn't have on hand yesterday (Cold Steel Mountain) and check out The Creep Behind the Camera, The Fake, and When Animals Dream.

The One I Love

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Salle J.A. de Sève (Fantasia Festival: Paradigm Shifters, DCP)

There are filmmakers that like to explain all the details of how their plot devices work, there are those who like to keep a little mystery, and then there are the makers of The One I Love, who seem extremely fuzzy on the whole concept. Fortunately, their concept if a good one, yielding plenty of laughs and maybe a little bit of thought, even if by the end the audience has no idea how it works.

It starts prosaically enough; Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are having trouble in their marriage and nothing seems to help. Finding very little he can do in the office, their therapist (Ted Danson) tells them he has something that might help - a nice little property they can use as a retreat. They get there and do find themselves reconnecting - but when they happen upon the first house, the experience becomes almost too good to be true.

I won't spoil what they find there, but the good news is that the characters don't take long to catch on, and can spend half the movie investigating what's happening, although from very different directions: Ethan wants to know what's going on and how it works, while Sophie is mostly looking to just get the experience. It's kind of interesting how that dynamic plays out - while on the one hand writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell seem to give a little too much early credence to Sophie's complaints that Ethan wanting explanations ruins the experience, her diving right in after what are basically surface-level pleasures does not come across as particularly healthy, either. Or at least, not good for the marriage. The film doesn't exactly play out as an examination of the two mindsets and whether they're compatible - it kind of churns in the background - but it's something that can be projected onto it if that's how one is inclined to approach the story.

Full review at EFC


* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

There was a definite them of idealized and controlled relationships to this block, even extending to the previous feature many of us saw (The One I Love). This one does a pretty nice job of it, from the early moment that wife Laura (Sara Jester) has a sharp response to her husband Travis (Sam Zuckerman) asking if she's not feeling well. It escalates in a quality slow build from there, eventually arriving at a climax that is not unexpected given the block that this short is showing it, but effective enough.

It works as well as it does, I suspect, because writer/director David Paige has an eye for figuring out which elements of an ostentatious apartment or other bits of design will make a setting that is basically contemporary into something that seems a little off-kilter. Add that to a very nice bit of work by Sara Jester and you've got a familiar sci-fi story well-presented.

"A Better Life"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

"A Better Life" has one of the niftier takes on its subject I've seen, one that I'd be interesting seeing fleshed out, if not quite to feature length, than maybe as a television episode: A man in a comatose or persistent vegetative state is given neural implants that will allow his wife to keep him active via remote control so that muscles don't atrophy and maybe the familiar surroundings and activity helps to break him out more than lying on a hospital bed. If The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits had a revival going on right now, it would be a great fit.

As it is, though, it's still pretty strong. The science-fictional idea is nifty, and the character-oriented side of Diane remembering how Bill could often be difficult while she simulates empty displays of affection is strong too. Aimee Klein sells this quite well indeed, and I rather liked the performance Hardy Koenig put in as the doctor performing this miracle. It's got a bit of an issue at the end, where the twist is pretty much the expected ending by now, but otherwise I liked it quite a bit.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Writer/director Tim Sanger mentioned having worked in a law office at one point during the Q&A for "Redaction", and it was pretty clear that he'd put a great deal of thought into how something like this would be part of an evolving legal system which sounds like a domestic abuse victim's worst nightmare. It would be no wonder that most people choose to have the incident removed from their minds, both for the obvious, visceral reasons and for the sheer lack of hassle.

It's another concept I'd like to see expanded to a couple times its length to perhaps play with the idea via parallel narratives or something. Jaimi Paige (as the victim) and Sarah Lilly (as a counselor who knows what she's going through) are pretty great in the one we get, though, displaying an excellent grasp of the way this future issue would play out for the individuals. I also like how Sanger decides to focus on their perspective just enough to make it clear that the husband (who does opt for redaction) and the police officer who caught the case are very much secondary concerns; it's the sort of idea where a filmmaker might be tempted to dive in head-first and examine all perspectives, even when they don't need it.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Scoring Denis Lavant for a supporting part in your short film must feel pretty good. It probably helps when you've got a clever, witty script to present him with, and Arthur Molard's "Cricket" definitely has that. Though I wasn't quite sure whether the "crickets" implanted in people's necks were simply silicon chips or some bioengineered actual cricket (there are shots that imply the latter is the case), it doesn't matter. The idea of an implant that can constantly advise its recipient and allow some things to happen on automatic is a good one and Molard does good things with it.

Indeed, at twenty minutes, his short is a model of charming efficiency, hinting at interesting uses and interesting side-effects, while still leaving enough room for Benjamin Breniere's cricket technician to have an interesting story of discovering the benefits and perils of one's own agency. Breniere is pretty good in this, projecting a certain confidence bordering on unearned arrogance, and taking things in interesting directions when the script points him there. The rest of the cast is strong as well, while Molard and co-writer Teddy Jacquier come up with a steady stream of intriguing uses for their plot device, both in life and to move the plot along.

A neat bit of sci-fi, probably my favorite of the package.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Easily the most slickly-produced of the short films in the block, "On/Off" unfortunately does get buried beneath its impressive visual effects in a way that most movies only get accused of. Thierry Lorenzi has his visual effects guys build an impressive vision of a space station that needs repairs and some nifty other effects along the way, and for a moment it looks like they'll be used in service of something - there's impressive imagery visualizing things falling apart for lead character Meredith (Carole Brana) - but Lorenzi instead goes for a twist ending that is rather empty.

"Merus Breach"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

The most openly experimental short in the package, Elinor Svoboda's "Merus Breach" certainly leaves a strong impression with its almost painfully aggressive sound design that simulates what it's like to be a "sensitive" in a future where hyper/infrasonic waves inaudible to most of the population are used to fight pollution. It certainly gets the audience to empathize with these people, enough so that the revelation midway through is almost unnecessary.

It's otherwise quite well done. It drags a little, but it gets a lot of mileage out of good, simple design both visually and audibly. Stacey Iseman and Tyler Parr get the job done as the speechless leads. It's a kind of peculiarity that's not for everybody, but where you have to admire both the creativity and execution.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

This short is of the "making good sci-fi with worn-out props" persuasion, but it's a pretty good one. I dig that the team looking for "orulaks" is a father and daughter, with good work from Tony Doupe and Callie Harlow respectively. Harlow especially is great, carrying a lot of the movie without dialogue just from how she carries herself. Though much of what we see is very practical indeed, the CGI used on occasion tends to be a nice boost. I'd have liked a firmer ending, but what filmmakers Christoper Caldwell and Zeek Earl come up with works.

What I like best is the genuine feeling of how alien and hostile this world is, even if it was shot in an American swamp. There's a palpable feeling that the planet will swallow them up if the bandits don't, and that's not easy to achieve. Most similar shorts have people seriously saying this, but it's got real impact here.

"The Trial"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

Brits Phil Arnold & Mark Player make a well-realized short here - it doesn't have the biggest effects budget of any that played the festival, but it's got nice future hooks. I can't fault Joseph Maudsley as the appropriately-panicked main character and especially liked Gary Sharkey as his lawyer. It's got a nifty idea that has good horror payoffs.

The movie doesn't quite seem to be about anything, though. There's potential in a story of an alternate trial where a psychic reads your mind, but I'm not sure what Arnold and Player are trying to do here - basic fear of the untested? A way this might be subverted? Fear of what else may come out when the "encephalic detectives" get their hands on you? They're all teased, but none ultimately get much use, leaving the end result kind of dry.

"The Landing"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival: Slipstreams And Electric Sheep, digital)

A very strong short from Australia, although set in Cold War America, that sets up an intriguingly tense premise and then upends it for something that turns out to be just as good. It's a nifty twist, especially as we see the full horror of it written on the face of Tom Usher playing a young boy who sees a spaceship crash into his backyard.

Either the script or Henry Nixon's performance as the boy's father could use a little bit of tightening - there's something a little exaggerated about him beyond how a kind might remember the situation - but on the whole, it's extremely well-done.

Ju-on: Owari no hajimari (Ju-on: The Beginning of the End)

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Théâtre Hall (Fantasia Festival, HD)

How am I going to look upon the first couple of Ju-on films should I revisit them? As things I enjoyed in part because they were my introduction to Japanese horror or examples of how downright good a job Takashi Shimizu did? This sequel/remake/refresh is just not very good, and it's frustrating to try and figure out why.

After all, the cast is pretty decent. It doesn't look or feel cheap. I suspect that re-watching the Shimizu versions would pop up the same problems with the motive not having a sharp enough focus or the "kills" being king of silly. Maybe the idea is just tapped out, or maybe the attempt at fusing too many different types of horror story, even with the film's very specific narrative-hopping structure, just doesn't work.

Four Corners

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2014 in Salle D.B. Clarke (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Pretty darn fine as gang movies go. I must admit to not having a particular affinity for this genre, and I kind of worry that being drawn to this one because it is set in South Africa rather than an American city doesn't speak well of me - I'm too willing to dismiss these stories as alien rather than close-to-home. Still, the environment that director Ian Gabriel and company visit in Four Corners is a large part of its appeal, showing gangs functioning like secret societies inside prison and a run-down but still somewhat sustaining township near Cape Town.

The core cast is very nice, too - Jezzriel Skei doesn't quite have to carry the movie as Richardo, a middle-schooler who just wants to play chess but is being pulled inexorably into the local "numbers gangs", but he's well up for it when it's on him, a darn fine starring role. Brendan Daniels is right up there as well as "Farakhan", a character audiences know just has to be Ricardo's father but isn't as detached in mind from the gangs as he'd like to think. There are plenty of others worth watching, and none of them feel too practiced; there's a steely authenticity to how everyone is inured to living on these violent streets but still alert.

There's a fair amount going on and a lot more characters besides, but Gabriel never has the plot become overwhelming. He gives us an eye into a different world with interesting people populating it.

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