Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Fantastic Fest Daily 2014.03: The Duke of Burgundy, The Babadook, Tommy, The World of Kanako, and The Editor

Again, not much time in the AM, so just some quick horrible photography before the reviews:

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Left to right, that is Adam Brooks, Conor Sweeney, Matthew Kennedy, and Tristan Risk of The Editor. Funny folks who certainly love making movies and the movies that they are spoofing. Sadly, I hit the wall during their movie and am kind of chagrined to see that its only other showtime is another midnight. We're not all night owls, folks.

Today's assignments make for a potentiallly weird day: Wastelander Panda, Shrew's Nest, The Tribe, Tokyo Tribe, and seeing Man in the Orange Jacket to get it fully inside my head after another "hit the wall" situation in Montreal.

The Duke of Burgundy

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #8 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

It's tempting to interpret the characters' behavior in The Duke of Burgundy in terms of closets and shame; it's sort of the default for this period and would probably be a fascinating way to play it. Peter Strickland has other, potentially more striking directions to go instead, and certainly makes it memorable.

Every day, Evelyn (Chiara d'Anna) rides her bicycle to a mansion where she works as a maid for Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a demanding mistress who, like many women at the turn off the twentieth century, spends a great deal of her time studying insects. Any slow or substandard work and Evelyn will be punished, subject to Cynthia's strange sexual whims.

Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story; in fact, it is deliberately misleading. Strickland and his characters don't quite hide their true selves under multiple levels of artifice and role-play, but it will take some careful unraveling to reveal just who has what kind of power in the relationship. Strickland repeats scenes and sequences and escalates the situations without necessarily showing immediate cause and effect, and that's potentially important: Relationships and people may have a distinct life cycle just as insects do, and while some of those processes may seem strange to those user to something else, both their state at any point and progression may be completely natural.

Full review at EFC

The Babadook

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I love kids, at least from the perspective of being an uncle; I fear that as an actual parent, I would identify far too much with certain parts of The Babadook to be much of a good person, let alone parent. There's no mistaking that this is one of those horror movies where the monster is inspired by specific fears and nightmares, but it's also one where the specificity of its metaphor doesn't hurt it being scary at all.

You'll be forgiven for thinking the film's primary monster is six-year-old Samuel (Noah Wiseman), an incentive kid but one who never stops screaming for attention, doesn't listen, and otherwise makes life difficult for widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) - and, yes, he's well aware that his father died the day he was born. He builds wooden weapons to combat the monsters he still believe are hiding under his bed, the latest of which is The Babadook, a dark creature in a top hat with giant weapons for hands, which he learns of in a pop-up book that appeared in the house without explanation. Maybe there's a Babadook, maybe not, but when Samuel gets expelled from school, it's trouble for Essie either way.

A nightmare, really; writer/director Jennifer Kent doesn't have Davis or Wiseman hold back much at all. Samuel just doesn't stop, and while he's not quite shrill, he's written as a very difficult child, the sort where even if he turns out to be right about this monster, it's not going to make Amelia look the fool for doubting him or being frustrated, as is often the case. (Bonus: The other kids are not made to look like little angels in comparison.) Davis, meanwhile, is made to look like Amelia hasn't slept in ages; to look at her from the start is to see someone who is just physically exhausted.

Full review at EFC

"Inherent Noise"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Nifty little short by Karol Jurga here, although I've got conflicting feelings on how it could have been made even better. It's built around a cool, creative idea - a young woman who looks after an old man follows his footsteps by the sound of a recorder he dropped - but the structure around it which gives the short its stakes is kind of vague and filled in after the fact. On the other hand, it takes a minute or two to figure out what she's doing (a non-trivial amount of time in a 17-minute short), and I don't know that it's really highlighted.

Still, it's a nifty idea, and I quickly grew fond of the small cast, even if we mostly see them in sequence as opposed to together. Jurga uses the filmmakers' tools to ramp up suspense quite well indeed, so there is a good, creepy feeling throughout. It's not the sort of short that could be expanded into a featuer without burying the thing that makes it interesting, but it's a nifty little piece from a director whose future bears a watch.

Tommy (2014)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

I wonder if Tommy might get dinged a bit for not necessarily being the expected movie that its premise suggests. You know, the one where the underestimated woman at the center is eventually revealed to always be three steps ahead of everyone around her - or if not quite that far ahead, still the smartest person in the room. This one is more about a gamble, which some may not find quite so satisfying.

I dig it, though. Moa Gammel has a neat trick to accomplish in presenting Estelle as someone who could be that woman, and by the same token is someone the characters she encounters is going to underestimate. She's maybe not quite presented as the underdog she could be seen to be, but that's okay; it's a different feel. I do think that the plot could have been streamlined a bit; there are a lot of characters running around that may be difficult to keep straight.

Full review on EFC

Kawaki. (The World of Kanako)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

The latest from Tetsuya Nakashima is not quite so sublime as his mid-aughts peak (Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko is a heck of a one-two punch), and it kind of stretches out too long, padded by some increasingly ugly violence. On the plus side, though, it is energetic as all heck, propelling the audience through the underworld with a protagonist that they're not supposed to like, but who makes it hard to look away. KojiYakusho is pretty great as the title character's terrible father, even if he is playing something of a monster.

Nakashima is still making stylish movies, too - this one takes a lot of cues from 1970s cop films, especially ones from America, but also will make crazy jumps to very modern youth-oriented imagery. There are inserts which poke a little fun at the cartoonish amounts of blood spilled. Generally speaking, he does a great job of keeping the audience in even as this movie comes closer and closer to having a pitch-black heart that might easily push a lot of viewers away.

Full review on EFC

The Editor

N/A (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Hit the wall pretty good during this one, which is a shame. I wound up having the same issue with it that I did with Manborg - the Astron-6 guys are tremendously talented, and do some amazing things putting their movies together, but they consistently use those skills on parody/homage of movies that aren't very good. At least with Manborg, I could see where they were taking the best of a genre and executing that well, but not having the same attachment to the giallo films this one brings up, I kind of got worn down, even though the silly jokes were often working better than they had any business doing so.

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