Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Fantasia Daily 2015.14 (27 July 2015): The Blue Hour, The Visit, Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen, and The Interior

Busy start Monday, with a run directly from work to the just-starting The Blue Hour and then right back into the same theater for The Visit. I then walked a few blocks for a burger with pulled pork at m:brgr, and it's weird, but distances in Montreal seem much shorter this year, which is really odd. I don't think I'm walking particularly faster, but that's a place I remember taking a little effort to reach and instead I felt like I was getting there earlier. I'm reasonably sure that I've stayed fairly close to where I am now and not been able to get to the festival in ten minutes before as well.

(Anyway, good burger, but that place is pricey without really separating itself from, say, Le Gourmet Burger.)

After that, I hung out in line with some folks I know from Boston who would be going home the next day and agreed to help me recover from a stupid thing I did/that happened, where I couldn't find which box had the stamps before leaving for Montreal, and since that trip was on a Sunday, I couldn't stop in a post office. The trouble with that is that I hadn't mailed my rent for August yet, and I'll be here until the eighth. I was afraid I'd have to pay international rates and not know when it would arrive, but they said they'd drop it in the mail when they got back. Whew.

Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen was good, and then I wandered back and forth like a dummy, going to the Yuk Yuk club for "Tales from Beyond the Pale: Live", seeing everyone already had tickets, going back to the ticket office, being told it was sold out, and then opting for The Interior. Note that it was raining and I'd left my umbrella at the apartment at the start of the day, though not the downpour it was at some points.

Say hi to the cast and crew of The Interior, many of whom I don't have full names for because I didn't take a snapshot of the credits and the IMDB entry for this tiny independent film which just had its world premiere is, as one might expect, incomplete. My notes say (l-r) Director of Photography Othello Ubalde; Ryan, a non-professional actor who played the small part of Roland; Patrick McFadden, who played the main character James; Jake Beczala, who played the nameless man in the red jacket; producer Peter Kuplowsky (I think), and writer/director Kevin Juras.

As you might expect, some of these folks were just really pleased to be there; others waxed rhapsodic about the beauty and poetry of the location or talked about what didn't influence the movie. The Dreaded Improv Question actually yielded a good variation on the usual answer, that when you're making such a tightly-budgeted (both in terms of money and time) independent movie, you really can't afford to waste time going off-script... But on the other hand, when the location gives you snow, you work with it and be glad you were shooting in sequence. They said this was doubly true of the Toronto-set scenes, where they had roughly three days to shoot about 25 minutes in a number of locations. It may seem like the cast is being loose and riffing, but the reality is that the script was good and the cast well-chosen.

Today's plan: Catch Me Daddy, Robbery, dinner, Cop Car, and Fatal Frame. The Visit is recommended, and note that those first two are playing in Hall rather than de Seve now.

Onthakan (The Blue Hour)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

When making a film meant to be eerie and still, greatness is almost the baseline requirement for the cinematography. Fortunately, Thailand seems to be unusually well-stocked with both great shooters and things for them to point a camera at, so The Blue Hour is off to a good start, and builds into something unnerving as well.

It begins by showing Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas), a middle-class teenager, making his way to a disused public pool for a rendezvous with Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang),a slightly older, more confident guy he met online. It's an ideal meeting place for these sorts of assignations - free as opposed to a hotel, away from parents, empty because of rumors of past drownings and subsequent hauntings. But while Phum seems unlikely to add to Tam's collection of mostly-discreet bruises, he may be dangerous in other ways.

Not that Tam is entirely a sweet kid who is bullied for being gay. That's the bulk of the character, sure, but it's rare for anybody to be that entirely passive, and it's not long before his complaints about being unfairly blamed for everything have caveats that, yeah, he did steal that Buddha statuette. Atthaphan Poonsawas handles adding that sort of nuance to Tam nicely; the core of the character is still an easy guy to empathize with, but he's also very much a teenager that is going to find trouble and may in fact be looking for it, if not quite to the level he eventually finds.

Full review on EFC.

"Témoinage de l'indicible" ("Tales of the Unspeakble")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Director Simon Pernollet tells a nifty tale of his childhood in Tepoztlan, Mexico here, with the family all living in a spooky house that was surrounded by nahual. Those would be sorcerers and shapeshifters (generally up to no good) of Mexican and Central American myth. As Pernollet tells the story, nearly every member of his family had some sort of encounter with them, though they escaped unscathed.

He tells the story in an interesting way, moving his camera around an empty house and grounds that may not be the one in the stories, but gives the right impression, while Pernollet describes events in narration. The fully-made beds and otherwise intact house imply that it was abandoned in place when the family got too freaked out, adding to a sense of unease that rumbling bass helps to create. The filmmaker winds up playing with fear nicely, as there's no big horror-movie sting to the story, but the environment and atmosphere is built to the point where one can comprehend fright itself doing all the work.

Nifty little campfire tale, well presented.

The Visit (2015, doc)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

The Visit is apparently meant to be the second in a thematic trilogy of documentaries by Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen, and I'm curious what grand-scaled idea will round them out. I hope it's something a little more like Into Eternity, where the consideration of long-term storage of nuclear waste felt practical as well as too big to truly understand, as this film's topic of first contact with alien life, while fascinating, winds up both too specific and too vague.

After a bit of discussion about how, for the past 100 years, humanity has been sending a great deal of radio into space, which will inevitably attract the attention of any intelligent life out there. Madsen posits a single alien spacecraft arriving on Earth and landing, and then interviews a fair number of people on how that situation would likely play out. Many are connected with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, headquartered in Vienna, but there are scientists from a number of countries, an expert in space law, and military and political spokespeople from the UK added to the discussion.

As with Into Eternity, Madsen and his interviewees often speak in the second person, addressing the alien visitors rather than the actual audience, and it's not always as natural as it was in the former movie. That's in part because a good deal of the documentary is about how actual communication with extraterrestrials may be impossible, and in part because the subjects only occasionally seem to be let in on the premise, which isn't necessarily compatible with the sort of simulation and explanation they are doing. Madsen also seems to find himself trapped between the general and the specific, like he wants to present the framework of how the world would respond to this sort of encounter but ultimately realizes that it is impossible; there are too many contradictory paths that can play out.

Full review on EFC.

Ryûzô to 7 nin no kobun tachi (Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in Theatre Hall Concordia (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Takeshi Kitano's name is well-enough known in American boutique-house circles for certain things - mournful cop movies, violent yakuza fare, self-referential and deconstructive comedies - that Ryuzo and the Seven Henchmen almost throws one for a loop. It's a small, silly comedy that in some ways plays as a mixture of those things by puncturing yakuza film stereotypes and pushing them into the past, but it's also very mainstream, positioned less as artistic satire than a goofy old people movie.

And it actually does that fairly well. Kitano gives himselves a lot of characters to deal with, but he and his elderly cast (including himself as a detective who maybe harbors a certain fondness for these old-school retirees) happily dive into the indignities of aging and trying to be both intimidating and honorable as life removes that option. Everybody in the cast gets something funny to do, and it builds nicely, starting with an embarrassed son asking his title character "Ryuzo the Demon" to please where long-sleeved shirts so that his tattoo doesn't embarrass the family and ending with a fight and chase that is equal parts absurd and effective, just clever enough to suggest that a finale that traditionally means defeat might be these characters getting to finish their lives as the noble outlaws as which they see themselves, rather than shameful issues their kids don't know what to do with.

Full review on EFC.

The Interior

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2015 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The Interior seemingly starts as an off-kilter comedy and stays that way for roughly the first third, when the title comes up, the scene shifts, and the main character re-appears with a beard and a backpack as if to say that now the movie begins after the backstory. It is, really, a clever way to split the film up, even if it's going to be a bit of time before the film gets where it's going.

That place is a middle-of-the-woods horror movie, although with the twist being that Patrick McFadden's James is apparently craving isolation in this phase of his life, and it's the possibility of human contact that has him jumpy, and not necessarily because it's dangerous. There's obviously something going on in his head that may or may not explain why he's so motivated, and which may explain the inexplicable things going on around him, and writer/director Trevor Juras deserves credit for how tightly this all fits together. The first scene starts a chain of events that leads directly to the last, even if that chain will take James to the other side of Canada and occasionally seem like just wandering in the woods.

I dig it. This is a small movie that would seem to hit my fear of being lost in the woods but actually inverts it, and gives the audience a surprisingly broad number of moods on the way to an inevitable, but still thrilling, conclusion.

Full review on EFC.

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