Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.04 (17 July 2015): Therapy for a Vampire, Bridgend, Cruel, Assassination Classroom, Cooties, and more!

Tuesday - Thursday: Two movies per day, at roughly 7pm and 9:30pm.

Friday: Six movies, first at 12:45pm, last at 11:55pm, and then at it again Saturday. No wonder this didn't get posted until thirteen hours later that I'd like!

Despite it being a long day, it wasn't a big one for guests or "events" until you get to Who Killed Captain Alex?, which also included trailers for a number of other Wakaliwood films and a post-screening Skype to Uganda for a chat with the people involved.

I was in and out during the movie for that one - just too sleepy by then - but that conversation was something else. You kind of only think you love movies and your country until you see folks like this making movies out of nothing because they want something they can be proud of having as home-grown. They may not be achieving anything close to greatness yet, but they're certainly putting a heck of an effort into it.


"The Mill at Calder's End"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As this short started, the initial impression was a Tim Burton or Wes Anderson film, with clever miniature work song the scene for a quirky presentation. It soon become clear, though, that the miniatures are the presentation, and the audience is in for some fantastic puppet work to go with its spooky story.

That takes place at the turn off the Twentieth century, with a young man returning to his old family property upon his father's disappearance. There's a mysterious contract that an ancestor found that seems to compel mysterious behavior, but the narrator is determined that he and his son will not be bound by it. The evil underneath the property's mill naturally has other ideas.

"Calder's Mill" is a slick job all around, and not just because it took me starting at the characters not blinking to recognize them as puppets. The craft is excellent, worth director Kevin McTurk staging some fantastic action with great detail. The narration does get a little heavy at times, and it looks strange when characters actually speak, but the design work is great (Mike Mignola apparently had a hand in it), resulting in a genuinely spooky and exciting little film.

Der Vampir auf der Couch (Therapy for a Vampire)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The title of Therapy for a Vampire ("Der Vampir auf der Couch" in the original German) suggests something that may not quite be hackneyed, although I'm sure I've seen a vampire getting psychoanalysis before, but which is a fairly specific, self-referential idea. Thus, it's a surprise and a pleasant one for filmmaker David Rühm to go off in a much funnier screwball direction.

There are vampires in 1930s Vienna, make no mistake, and Graf Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) is consulting Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) about how things just aren't the same with Gräfin Elsa (Jeanette Hain) after a few hundred years of marriage. Freud, meanwhile, is working with young artist Viktor Huma (Dominic Oley) to illustrate dreams, although Viktor has an issue of his own, always painting his girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) with glamorous clothes and makeup rather than the simple trousers she prefers. To further complicate matters, Count Geza has decided that Lucy may be the reincarnation of his long-lost true love Nadila.

In the end, fairly little time is going to be spent on the Professor's couch, and that's all for the best. Geza and Lucy in particular have plans, as does everyone else, though they inevitably spin out of control and bounce off each other. It's a fun, twisty screenplay that Rühm keeps moving without having things become too concerned with just getting through to the end. The pairings probably aren't going to change that much, but there's a lot of motion in making it look that way, and the story is built around the Count and Countess being vampires without necessarily feeling like a vampire story.

Full review on EFC.

Bridgend

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There's a moment early in Bridgend when the main character's father, a policeman just transferred back to the title city after having spent about ten years in Bristol, is shown the wall of the at-that-point twenty-three teenage suicides that have happened in the past few years. He stares at it like there's something he can do, a mystery to solve, but it's suicide; there's little folks like him can do but try and pick up the pieces.

That's what ultimately makes Bridgend (telling a story of fictional characters in what feels like a real-life horror story) genuinely disturbing: Young people who end it all are outside the capability of mentally-healthy people to understand, but there are hints that they're not so far outside the mainstream as we might think. After all, if the very happy-seeming Sara (a downright amazing Hannah Murray) can get pulled into this situation, seemingly anybody can. There's a twisted culture of no hope and no leaving, and what other way out is there?

The way filmmaker Jeppe Rønde approaches it is impressive, too - there are the expected melancholy images and frightening scenes, but the balance between malaise and horror is impressively well-balanced. There are several scenes where a cult will be hinted at and then things will swing back to teenagers being dumb, horny kids without undercutting the atmosphere. He also does a great job of hitting the "it's really important people know someone cares" material without it seeming to preachy or facile.

Full review on EFC.

"La Séance" ("The Session")

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, HD)

"La Séance" starts out with nifty images of nineteenth-century photography, with a shattered piece of glass hinting at how fragile memory is, even with this new technology, and then builds on the idea of this preservation as a Paris photographer (Paul Hamy) faces one last session with a departing customer (Fanny Ardant), musing with the maid (Fabienne Chaudat) about how the march of time is relentless, despite Pierre-Louis's attempts to freeze it. Familiar material, but there's something unusual behind it that the viewer has a bit of trouble putting his or her figure upon.

It's revealed in the final moments, naturally, and I really admire how filmmaker Edouard de La Poëze gets there and lets the moment breathe; it's something that could be a gotcha or could be over-casual, but which instead feels like art and technology finding a place. It's built on a nifty performance by Hamy and a nicely complementary one by Chaudat, resulting in a story that's disturbing without being horror.

Cruel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The best performance in Cruel may be Maurice Poli as the main character's paralyzed father, a man whose life is already so twisted by pain an helplessness that the torment that comes from being in the care of a serial-killer son (Jean-Jacques Lelté) must be too much to bear, but he has no choice in the matter. He can't speak, he can barely move, he's trapped just as completely as the people Pierre kidnaps and locks in the hidden basement that Pierre's grandfather used to hide Jews during the war. It's a horribly twisted sort of helplessness.

Compared to that, the rest of the film isn't exactly dull - there are riveting moments as Pierre spends time with his victims like this is being social in some way - but that's a difficult intensity to match. Otherwise, crime novelist Eric Cherrière builds a decent story of a serial killer who is successful because he takes great care to be invisible, but never really gets a hook in to really make it singular. Why is he starting to leave evidence now? Is his romance with a local musician evidence that this sort of monster may not be so different? Lelté gives nice performance, but the underlying mystery never quite lives up to the film's greatest moments.

Full review on EFC.

Ansatsu Kyoshitsu (Assassination Classroom)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Next time I'm in the comic shop, I'm going to have to give the Assassination Classroom manga a look to see what the average chapter length is; even if it's something like 16 pages, I'll bet they're decompressed and some of the best bits are probably four-panel half-pagers. At least, that's what one might expect based upon the movie, which jumps between short episodes and gags so quickly that it feels scattered and never really coalesces as a story that makes sense.

At least those bits are funny, though, with off-beat characters and a piece of utter insanity at the center - an alien who, to give humanity a sporting chance, agrees to become a middle-school teacher and train the dead-end kids of a school to kill him - that is so ridiculous as to defy belief. It never really becomes a movie more than an assembly of gags, and ends on a "to be continued" that may or may not be serious, but it will at least make the audience laugh fairly hard on more than one occasion.

Full review on EFC.

"Point of View"

* * 3/4 (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Director Justin Harding gives a pretty specific inspiration for his short film, and seeing it listed probably leads me to treat his a bit unfairly. When you openly cop to taking your basic engine (monsters who only move when you're not looking) from somewhere else, you've got to have something new to add, and let's face it, Doctor Who was probably misguided in trying to make The Weeping Angels into more than one-offs.

Still, Harding gives a solid effort, and re-creating them with corpses in a morgue is a solid choice if you're going to do it. The makeup and prosthetics are nicely done, and the gimmick is good enough that when executed well, it yields a lot of good jumps, both because it's built on a visual reveal a and because the viewer can count the distance off in his or her head of the filmmaker establishes the environment well, which Harding generally does.

There's no escaping that this short is basically a remake, and not of something that the audience wouldn't have seen. Maybe it's honesty in crediting the source should be appreciated, but it still can't help but feel like it's piggybacking on someone else's really clever idea.

Cooties

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Allison Pill is carving out a weird niche in terms of sweet elementary school teachers who turn oddly violent between this and Snowpiercer, isn't she? Granted, she's justified here, as tainted chicken nuggets turn kids into zombies, forcing the teachers - a motley bunch including Elijah Wood, Leigh Whannell, and Rainn Wilson - to fight back.

I've got family members and friends who are teachers, and I wonder how many of them would admit to this movie speaking to them. It's a demented, violent, fiercely funny horror-comedy, and probably more fun than many in that genre because just letting loose on kids actually feels a bit transgressive.

Full review on EFC.

Who Killed Captain Alex? Uganda's First Action Film

N/A (out of four)
Seen 17 July 2015 in the J.A. de Séve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

As I said up top, suddenly going from two movies a day to six, after working in the morning, it's not quite easing into the festival. End result: I hit the wall several times during this movie and really couldn't begin to tell anybody what was going on, though I suspect that may be the case for those who rolled out of bed completely refreshed at 10:15pm.

This Ugandan action movie is chaotic to say the least, and that's before you add in the VJ ("video joker") audio track that is apparently just how folks watch movies at video halls in Uganda, local or otherwise. Put that on top of movies that are really being made on the fly, and is not surprising that these filmmakers are concentrating on action and horror; they need to be pieces of almost pure sensation.

The surprising thing is that in the moment, Who Killed Captain Alex? can do a pretty good job of that. There are some legit fight scenes in there - like a lot of filmmakers in other parts of the world, director Nebwana IGG grasps that this is a thing where a little skill and even less screwing around can make a great impression - and when scenery needs chewing, the cast goes to town in fine style.

I can't say I'll try many other Wakaliwood movies in other circumstances - I am generally more interested in "good" than "evolving" films - but this sure was something, I'll give it that.

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