Friday, July 28, 2017

Fantasia 2017.14: 78/52, Friendly Beast, November, You Only Live Once, and DJ XL5's Cataclysmic Zappin' Party

Busy day, kind of weird at spots, too:



The director of 78/52 couldn't be there, but producers Annick Mahnert and Kerry Deignan Roy were, flanking King-Wei Chu during their post-screening Q&A. They mentioned that much of this project actually came together at Fantasia's "Frontieres" market a couple of years ago, which made them very glad to come back here. I was kind of surprised that one or two of the interviewees who were in the film also didn't show up (I think Richard Stanley is still hanging around), but they probably would have just been repeating what they said in the film. It was a fun discussion; they mentioned that Walter Murch was one of the first people they interviewed for the "sizzle reel", and the man had done his homework, with pages of notes for an interview that would prove to be the spine of the film.

Also mentioned: Much of the interview material was shot against green screen, so that everybody could be placed into the same setting, and director Alexandre O. Philippe wants to do a similar documentary about the chestburster in Alien, and I don't know if that merits quite the same examination, but I'll bet there's an audience.



Guests for Friendly Beast as well, with the hostess (have not yet caught her name), writer/director Gabriela Amaral Almeida, the credit/poster designer, and executive producer Ana Kormanski. I always feel a little bit vindicated when the director hits a few of the same topics that are bouncing around my head when talking about her movie, and her discussion of how Sara became somewhat animalistic because she didn't know what she was trying to become worked that way for me.

Nobody was there for November, although I probably wouldn't be able to stay because I wanted to run across the street for You Only Live Once rather than hang around for Tokyo Idols. Once there, I was glad to have arrived in time but disappointed to see that the scheduled short either played before I sat (not likely; it was 15 minutes and I was only 5 minutes or so after the start time) or was cancelled to give more room for a Q&A and facilitate a quick turnaround in Hall for the Zappin Party.

Then the Q&A got weird.



The guy on the left is a jury member, followed by ACTION! Programmer Eric S. Boisvert and director Federico Cueva. The question was about the metaphor of the movie, to which Cueva kind of casually said that there really wasn't one, followed by this guy getting up from the audience and half lecturing the director and the audience about what this movie was really about and how we didn't respond to a scene where the hero beats up some anti-semites satisfactorily. It went on for five or ten minutes, basically eating up any time for others to ask questions and not really giving Cueva a chance to answer. Really just the epitome of annoying Q&A behavior, both in terms of telling the filmmaker what he was thinking and trying to make it about yourself. It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to pressing on a tough question, but when people do this, I'm not sure what really gets accomplished. It often feels like a performance, more meant to show how clever you are than actually talk about the film.

Got me an action photo instead of something static, at least. Fortunately, we did have to clear out to let the Zappin Party set up, and it ended pretty quick. That next show had its own case of folks who tried to make themselves the show, but fighting meowing is a losing battle.

Thursday's Plan: M.F.A., Drib, Town in a Lake, Dead Man Tell His Own Tale (preceded by "For a Good Time, Call…" from my friends Izzy & Chris!), and then it will probably be a tight fit to get into Good Time and its guests. Ma Vie de Courgette outside is good stuff.

78/52

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Do we really need an entire 90-minute documentary on the shower scene in Psycho? No, but then again, we don't need a lot of things that turn out to be pretty interesting, and Psycho was a pivotal moment in film history, with the shower scene one that absolutely everybody who has seen it remembers. You could spend a lot more than this time breaking it down - Hitchcock did take a full week to shoot that minute or so of film, after all, and then there was editing and music and all that, so there was thought put into it, and unpacking what seem like thought processes is usually worth doing.

It's probably not surprising that some of the best unpacking comes from editor Walter Murch, who has detailed an authoritative commentary on every cut and decision that Hitchcock and editor George Tomasini made - the man knows his craft and his voice and delivery are such that he can get out a lot of facts and not make it feel particularly dry. It's not necessarily something that could work for the whole film, which is why it's probably more useful than it sometimes appears for director Alexandre O. Philippe to cut to the next two or three generations of filmmakers who are sometimes just gushing or throwing out an undeveloped idea. It's lubricant, even if some (like professor Marco Calavita) are energetic enough to become off-putting.

Finding the right balance of what to recount, what's background, and interpretation can sometimes be difficult. The only primary source the movie really has left to talk to is Marli Renfro, the pin-up girl who served as Janet Leigh's body double, and her perspective is obviously very specific. There are moments when Philippe seems to be giving Psycho and this scene in particular a bit more of a position as a definitive picture of America in the early 1960s than is perhaps warranted, and there are moments when he seems to stretch when finding threads running through Hitchcock's life and career.

This is perhaps not essential viewing for those who like movies and this one in particular - there's nothing wrong with being more interested in reacting to something than analyzing it. It's a pretty good primer on how movies work, and a fine response when people dismiss the idea of caring about the quality of a genre film, because it demonstrates just how much deliberate effort goes into crafting a good one.

O Animal Cordial (Friendly Beast)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Friendly Beast looks like a pretty typical single-location hostage thriller, a group of somewhat disagreeable people having guns pointed at them by petty criminals in way over their heads, but it's not very long before filmmaker Gabriela Amaral Almeida takes a hard turn, making a movie that, plot-wise, makes almost no sense as coming from that situation. And yet, once it gets rolling, it works; we certainly buy these characters feeling under-appreciated and disrespected enough to take this opportunity to seize the moment and the film.

Indeed, there are times when it seems like the filmmaker has more or less dispensed with plot to venture into a surreal world where dominance games of sex and violence happen entirely as their own thing without having any sort of specific goal. It's fascinating to watch the central pair, as one has such a specific idea of who he is and should be that he's almost oblivious to how he's destroying everything that supports that while another is so uncertain of her goals that she devolves into something practically bestial, while the people in another room can't even plot an escape or try to outwit their captors because they straight up cannot understand what they are dealing with. There's really no place for this to go, but the performances by Murilo Benicio and Luciana Paes as they run in place are too fascinating to pass up.

Eventually, the movie has to come to an ending, and there's a lot of fake blood on the way to that point - it's a fairly gruesome film even if it doesn't have a lot of special creativity in its kills, although Amaral Almeida manages to avoid the point where it's just rote violence. The tension is built well enough that she doesn't really need an obviously-shocking bit of action choreography to pay it off, especially if what she's trying to show is a slow, inevitable sink into a mire there may be no crawling out of.

November

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Rainer Sarnet's Estonian fantasy opens with some familiar, but beautifully-lensed, stark images of life in and around a poor, pre-industrial village, and just as you're starting to form an image of what this movie will be like, it drops some utterly bizarre fantasy elements into the mix as a family's kratt goes berserk from lack of work, stealing the cow and trying to lift it like a helicopter before having its mind blown after being told to make a ladder out of bread like a computer trying to parse illogic in an original-series Star Trek episode. If you've never heard of a kratt before, it's a jaw-dropping display of WTFery to open the film on. For those raised on the Disney-fied versions fairy tales that came out of Western Europe, Eastern European folklore is weird.

Weirder still - Sarnet basically spends the movie accepting its premises while still allowing some modern vernacular to make its way in. The crossroads demon is neither regal, creepy, nor mischievous, for instance; he's a loudmouthed jerk who can be fooled but not pushed around. Witchcraft works, the plague is a shapeshifting creature that can be made to swear oaths, and departed relatives enjoy a nice sauna on All Soul's Day. It's a world where medieval superstitions have some basis in fact but which is fascinating because the people in it, from infatuated young Liina (Rea Les) and Hans (Jorgen Liik) on up, are all people we can relate to. Not always happily - life is cruel and requires grabbing for anything you can get in this place, so that person you understand is probably ready to screw over someone else you kind of like. There's a weary acceptance that takes some of the edge off, though, and enough genuine love in the hearts of Liina and Hans to give the audience some hope.

It's also a downright gorgeous film - cinematographer Mart Taniel shoots in exceptionally crisp black and white and finds compositions that are striking in how well they use the entirety of the screen or sink into it, while the rest of the filmmakers find bits of life to inject into what could be a boringly grimy setting, with even the Baron's mansion majestic even if it seems a bit run-down. But eventually, you can't help but come back to the casual wonder of the fantastic, with the makeshift kratts animated as what looks like fantastic puppetry and simple yet striking effects hinting at a magical, if dangerous, world.

I gasped at what I perceived as invention a lot, although I don't know how much is the case - though Sarnet (working from a novel by Andrus Kivirahk) is reach back to the Estonia of a couple centuries ago, you see this kind of strangeness in Baba Yaga's chicken-legged hut, the films of Jan Svankmajer and Andrei Tarkovsky, or even those weird Polish movie posters people periodically rediscover. This material has always been out in the world, but only rarely placed right in front of our eyes, and I hope like heck that this gets a fair-sized release, because it's romantic, tragic, funny, and exhilarating to discover.

Sólo se vive una vez (You Only Live Once)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Action!, DCP)

Boy, is You Only Live Once a mess, starting from a solid thriller set-up, moving through some genuinely inventive action beats, before spending the bulk of the film in a hackneyed set-up that overlooks some pretty darn basic things in order to make the "hiding-out" comedy work, before getting back into some over-the-top action toward the end. It's a genuinely dumb script that decides on a tone but not really a cast, often seeming to make things up as it goes along.

But it turns that into energy, which is not necessarily something that a lot of action-comedies can say. Peter Lanzani makes a cheerful scoundrel of a star here, selling the improvised escapes better than the times when he's got to be a flat-out action hero, and he's able to create infectious chemistry no matter what cast members he's paired with. He's given a good group of Euro-trash villains, too - while Gerard Depardieu is mostly picking up a paycheck and a free trip to Buenos Aires, he's able to create some genuine menace while still having some funny bits, and Santiago Segura and Hugo Silva are both pretty good as the guys on the ground. I wish there was more for the women in the picture to do, because both Eugenia Suarez and Arancha Marti are a lot of fun.

The action sometimes seems to be a little too big to be thrilling - gigantic explosions that are basically jokes about how much overkill is going on and machine-gun fire that really should hit more fleeing characters if only by accident - but that's probably better than too gritty for a action-comedy that is this silly most of the time. It doesn't really make for a great film, but it hangs together much better than it could.

DJ XL5's Cataclysmic Zappin' Party

Seen 25 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

DJ XL5's show is a cornerstone of the festival, mixing twenty-odd shorts with clips of things that the people involved probably wished was forgotten. Since most of them are really short, I'll just give the highlights bullet points:

  • "Road Runner" by Mercier François - Fun little twist on how certain cartoon characters have only the vaguest resemblance to the animals they are supposed to be (there's a fun bit in Chuck Amuck where Chuck Jones tries to reconcile them, winding up with "well, they're both from Tasmania"). Like a lot of Zappin Party bits, the premise is the joke, but François does it quickly and well.
  • "Couples Night" by The Summers Brothers - Amusing premise (work friends get together, discover something uncomfortable) done well gets pushed aside for a top-this twist. Not an uncommon occurrence in genre-festival comedy shorts, to the point where it can basically be discounted, so it's easy enough to say I liked it for the game acting in the first couple minutes and shrugged off the last minute or so.
  • "Simon's Cat: Bed Sheets, Laser Toy, and The Monster" - Three shorts from Simon Tofield that once again have his cat basically being a troublemaking cat, and any laughs Simon gets at the cat's expense are quickly countered by the cute little thing's claws. Still funny, with the extra-cartoony "The Monster" a standout.

    (Obligatory "guys, your meowing is annoying before the movie starts and just dumb during the actual shorts, because what fan just stomps over something's careful comic timing like that?" comment)
  • "Sans réponse (Without Answer)" by William Papadin - Another staple, the B&W art-house spoof with pretentious narration. This one's a good'un, with a final bit that makes everything coming before a bit funnier.
  • "CTRL-Z" by Alexandre Mullen - I swear there was something right along these lines at BUFF, but this one's funnier, especially as it gets its big laughs from something having to do with the basic premise, rather than a "things get really weird" finish.
  • "Girl #2" by David Jeffery - Very solid horror spoof that's clearly a cut or two above some of the other material production-quality-wise (they even got Sean Callery to do some of the music). Plays its last joke out a bit, but funny how it pulls the catfighting and survival horror together.
  • "Godblocked" by Chadd Harbold - Cute idea, although I don't know that the personalities for God/dead jerk/pretty blind date really clicked enough for me here.
  • "The Accomplice" by John F. Beach & Jon Hoeg - I liked this one quite a bit, even the wonkiness on its ramp-up. Maybe 17 answering machine messages was a little bit much to tell the story, but the imperfection of it contributes to the panicky feel nicely.
  • "Hologram Cop/L.A. Ninja" double feature by Calder Greenwood - All readers probably know where I stand on making deliberately crappy-looking spoof/homages, but I still laughed at a couple bits of "Hologram Cop" enough to feel a bit saddened when what I presumed would be one of my favorite characters if this were a movie rather than a fake preview bit it, and really liked the effect that "L.A. Ninja" ended on. There's some genuine talent here, so I hope they push themselves to make something genuinely good rather than using "it's supposed to be bad" as a crutch.
  • "Happy End" by Jan Saska - Niftily structured animated dark comedy that sometimes moves a bit too fast and has a style that may make what's happening sink in a bit slower than it should, but the amusingly gross black comedy is good and the final bit works really well, given a moment or two to sink in.

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