Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fantasia 2017.02: Tilt, Super Dark Times, Killing Ground, and Museum

Forgot my phone at the apartment, which was no big deal - there were no guests or anything for horrible photography - although it slowed down my plan of "post to my Letterboxd page for a first draft/outline, fill out later" - but probably deprived what followers I have on social media of me slowly growing more frustrated with an all-day diet of pretty much senseless murder, which would have peaked with me coming out of Killing Ground and tweeting something like "f--- this movie and f--- the scheduling that made seeing anything else impossible". I probably would have had to skip the credits for Super Dark Times and bolt across the street for A Ghost Story or Teiichi, though I probably should have tried.

Anyway, it kind of started running together for me, and on average, the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not I had lost my phone was more unnerving than some of these movies (there's a lot of lack-of-resolution so far this year).

That was yesterday. Today, the other side of tricky scheduling, as the high priorities leave some gaps and I just get to the International Sci-Fi Shorts, Mohawk, and The Game of Death. I most likely did not finish writing this early enough for a matinee of War for the Planet of the Apes or Shin Godzilla


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2017 in Salle J.A. DeSeve (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Brace yourself, world - we're in for a fair amount of "electing Donald Trump as President is a sign of something badly wrong with America" movies, and while we've brought this upon ourselves, I still think it's fair to hope for something a little more interesting than Tilt. Writer/director Kasra Farahani seems to have a good idea of what he wants to get across and how, but (as will often be the case where wrestling with these themes is concerned) recognizing the issues does not necessarily mean being clear on what to do next.

Of course, to be fair, Joseph Burns (Joseph Cross) looks kind of frantic when we first see him, before he and wife Joanne (Alexia Rasmussen) return to Los Angeles from a Hawaii vacation and start seeing a lot of news coverage of the Trump campaign. Getting back to normal for him means working on his new documentary on how the so-called golden age of the 1950s was an illusion; she is working long shifts as a nurse because the hospital is understaffed, while also studying for the MCAT and a couple months pregnant. As the days pass, though, Joe is getting more erratic - he sees an elderly Japanese tourist everywhere, googles the name "Chusuke Hasegawa" incessantly, and going on walks later and later at night, all while seeming quite detached from the idea of becoming a father.

As the movie goes on, the pressure from Jo for Joe to get a more regular job, and as he resists and sometimes seems to self-sabotage, a certain clarity about the movie's themes emerges: Joe may say all the right liberal things about how wealth has concentrated at the top, but he is at heart still pretty much a white guy who feels entitled to whatever he wants, even if it means pursuing this documentary despite the schedule his wife will soon no longer be able to keep, or giving the African-American folks he might encounter in the street a wide berth, or feeling free to intimidate someone almost completely randomly. Farahani establishes this material nicely - an early moment where Joe seems to anticipate his wife hitting her head on a cabinet door, for instance is crystal-clear but also easily ignored, an early harbinger of just what lurks within him.

Full review on EFC.

Super Dark Times

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2017 in Salle J.A. DeSeve (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

I coincidentally went to my twenty-five-year high-school reunion the weekend before seeing Super Dark Times, spending some time laughing at friends' stories about events that could have gone wrong in similarly horrific ways but never did, and while that doesn't quite line my timeline up with this 1990s-set story, it had me a little more open to this sort of throwback than I usually am. Which is good, because though it's got a few bumps toward the end, I'd hate to dismiss a pretty good movie because I'm usually more interested in the present.

Like those of us reuniting much later, Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are flipping through their junior high yearbook one afternoon while trying to get a scrambled cable channel to come in, talking about the girls in their class. It's December in their small Northeastern town without a whole lot to do, so they, along with the really obnoxious classmate Daryl (Max Talisman) and still-in-8th-grade Charlie (Sawyer Barth) wind up going through Josh's older brother's stuff, finding both a bag of weed and a sword, choosing the wrong item to screw around with, as a stupid fight leaves them with a dead body to cover up. Zach maybe doesn't have as much reason to feel guilty as the rest, but still breaks a hand punching a wall while disposing of evidence. Heck of an emotional place to be in when Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino), maybe the cutest girl in that yearbook, starts to take some interest in him.

The audience has seen her before that, one of the teenagers gawking staring in the cafeteria at a deer that burst through a classroom window and made it that far before collapsing from its injuries. It's a great little opener, establishing a suburban environment that's starting to feel a chill, visually establishing the idea of change with a sharp shift in perspective from being outside looking in to being inside looking out, and focusing on the silent, pained look on the faces of the sheriff's deputies as they realize that there's no better solution than putting the poor beast down. It's a precursor to the other sudden, stupid death(s) that will soon hit the school and the similar helplessness people feel, but it's worth noting that Allison doesn't look away while everyone else is being squeamish. It's a nice subconscious first impression to make when she's not going to be injected into the boys' story as more than a fantasy until later.

Full review on EFC.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2017 in Salle J.A. DeSeve (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, digital)

"Crybaby" is maybe not quite just one joke, but it's built on a fairly specific gag, and I appreciate the way that Solomon Gray sells it. There's all sorts of things that seem off when the five-minute short starts, and not in a way that's eerie or unnerving, but in a way that says "bad filmmaking" - the shaggy husband claiming he needs to look good for a business meeting, the wife who doesn't seem like she should be so nervous about being alone with a baby that's clearly not a newborn. The instinct is not to buy it, but maybe forgive because it's a short and probably someone's first film. They're trying, right?

Then there's a clever pan, something we hadn't seen revealed without a thundering crash but still grabbing attention, and it snaps together into a twisted sort of sense. As hard as it is to misdirect and zing in a five-minute short, it takes a certain amount of guts to misdirect in that specific way. That director Solomon Gray then went and ended it without underlining it or stretching things out is even better.

Killing Ground

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2017 in Salle J.A. DeSeve (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

When people who don't like horror movies in general ask those who do how they can enjoy that sort of garbage, they're talking about movies like Killing Ground. With the good stuff, you can talk about nightmare imagery, stories which allow you to confront fears directly or metaphorically, or just admiring the staging and choreography of a suspenseful scene and the catharsis that comes afterward with the good ones, but sometimes, even with good intentions, a movie is just serving up rape and murder without a whole lot else, and staging it competently just isn't enough.

So it is with this one, which opens with shots of a nice spot for camping in New South Wales, although notably devoid of people, even when a nice family-sized tent is in the scene. Young couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) are headed there for New Year's Eve, and are a bit puzzled to see the empty tent. We do get a look at people there a few days earlier - a bourgie couple (Stephen Hunter & Maya Stange), their teenage daughter Em (Tiarnie Coupland), and baby Ollie (Liam & Riley Parkes). Where the heck are they now - and why did that guy at the pub (Aaron Pedersen) say this Gungillee Falls spot wasn't accessible. What are he and his housemate Chook (Aaron Glenane) hiding?

Obviously, it's that the local constabulary should probably be looking at them for more than a dog that barks too long and loud for the neighbors. The trouble is, as movie spree killers go, they're pretty boring. They don't have the sort of motivation that makes their madness a twisted version of something that sane people recognize, they're generally not inventive enough to set clever traps, they don't even have the sort of weird charisma that makes them larger-than-life forces of chaos. They just violate and kill for what comes across as no reason other than for a horror movie, and what's that get an audience? There are more interesting monsters out there.

Full review on EFC.

Myƻjiamu (Museum)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2017 in L'Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Museum is the sort of serial-killer story that has a lot of good bits, including the gruesome ones, and I wonder if it would have been served better if it had been developed as a screenplay first, rather than a serialized manga. After a while, the need to have a new cliffhanger every twenty-five decompressed pages rears its head, and the twists build up, and what started out as a nifty thriller about gruesome murders that suddenly connect to an older case and the detective in charge's estranged wife suddenly involves weird mutations, extended torture, and even more astonishing psychological torment than the audience has already allowed for (which was kind of a lot).

It's too bad, because before it boils over into truly gratuitous excess, Museum is impressive. It hits a nice spot at the intersection of polished and gritty, with Shun Oguri an fine anti-hero and Satoshi Tsumabuki an entertaining villain even when hidden behind a just-unsettling enough frog mask. There's nice attention to detail, even when dealing with characters at the edges of the story, and some impressively nasty kills. There's a nifty feeling of the detectives doing their best to handle a crisis as the story hits its stride, and a wonderfully twisted logic to the killer's actions.

Indeed, it's very close to being very good. Maybe if screenwriter Izumi Takahashi and director Keishi Ohtomo had let the middle breathe (where new murders practically happen one on top of the other) and compacted the last act a bit, it would be worth the inevitable comparisons to Seven; unfortunately, it winds up peaking just a bit too early.

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