Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fantasia 2017.21: Indiana, Le Manoir, Kills on Wheels, and The Night Watchmen

I've been coming to Fantasia for twelve or thirteen years now and I think I've only ended on the big closing night film once or twice. The first year or two, I wasn't doing the whole thing; for many years, they added encore screenings after the official end of the festival; and then, other times, you have years like this, where I wind up in de Seve all day, right until the end because the big Hall films are going to show up in Boston. Almost wasn't the case - when Well Go first announced where A Taxi Driver was opening, the list didn't include Boston, so that got prioritized, but then Boston got added, so I could see The Night Watchmen.

Interestingly, that movie was one of the fastest to sell out, probably a bit of a combination of de Seve being relatively small, the 9:45pm time marking it as the very last film of the festival, and looking like the sort of thing that could cut a good trailer. It was a quick-enough sellout that they added another screening at 7:30pm. I kind of wonder if that annoyed anyone thinking they were getting the premiere Canadian Premiere, so to speak, but I can't see any practical reason why it should. Still, people get weird about that.

Filmmakers showed up, too, with Fantasia programmer Tony Trimpone (left) talking to producer Jeffrey Allard, director Mitchell Altieri, and producer Cheryl Staurulakis. Altieri has had some other films at Fantasia as half of "The Butcher Brothers", but this is (as far as I can tell) his first time not working with Phil Flores and, indeed, working from someone else's script. They talked about how being able to shoot the movie in Maryland was a bit of a challenge, because while some things shoot there - they said half their crew was from House of Cards - there aren't a whole lot of tax credits, and they got the last one. It was also apparently pretty cold (by Annapolis standards, if not Montreal standards), and while there weren't a lot of exteriors, it was not a whole lot of fun for the folks drenched in fake blood with Kara Luiz in a miniskirt and open-toed shoes despite there being a fair amount of snow on the ground when they were on the roof. One thing I did love is that they gave the short that played before their film props. It's a small thing for the audience, but I love when folks attending a festival aren't so entirely focused on how their own film is received that they can spare a few good words for other things.

Next up… Well, I actually have to go back to days #4 and 5 because it took a couple days to write up the animation package and when that was done, I decided to just jump forward. I'm tempted to do go to the Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph in New York in August, but I'm guessing there's a niece's birthday party and it'll be fun to just stay home for a few weeks.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

There are three or four kind of fascinating stories in Indiana which are not so much vying for time as falling short of quite pushing each other hard enough to get to the same place. This makes for a generally decent movie, and for some a genuinely great one, although I suspect that it would have to hit you just right to get that reaction.

After some black-and-white interview footage with (presumably) Indianans who have had some sort of encounter with the paranormal, we're introduced to the "Spirit Doctors": Michael (Gabe Fazio), a somber fellow who works as an executive by day and is feeling the desire to quit while Josh (Bradford West) displays unshakable belief even though any connection he has to the paranormal looks terribly unconvincing unless one is primed to believe (and may not have ever worn a suit in his life). Meanwhile, an old man (Stuart Rudin) runs out of gas on an abandoned road, but this is either a ruse to get a neighbor to take him to the middle of nowhere so he can exact some form of revenge or an opportunity he won't miss.

There's a moment when Michael and Josh appear on a radio program with a skeptic who asks if it's unreasonable to expect even a single bit of evidence to have an angry Josh shoot back "yes!", and it's staged in such a way that it's easy to take this as just a joke at their expense, or something that illustrates the growing wedge between Michael and Josh. Director Toni Comas and co-writer Charlie Williams certainly use it for that, but even as they do, they're also setting up how relying on measurable evidence often can't reflect utterly subjective pain people are feeling, and while maybe Josh doesn't consciously recognize that severing "demonic attachments" or UFO-related activity is the placebo effect in action, the idea that people need something to grab onto so they can assert some sort of control is at the center of the film.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

It would be easy enough to add a frantic epilogue to "Ratskin", although I'm not sure I'd want to mess with the quiet coming of age vibe that the film features at that point. Jade Charbonneau's Emma is realizing that some things are irreversible, and even if she's still got a chance to change something (and we as the audience want her to), that's not the right way for this story to end emotionally.

Going into the sort of dark, somewhat-exaggerated territory that Michael Charron's movie does means you run that risk, though, but Charron and his mostly-young cast handle it well. Charbonneau plays Emma as dry and withdrawn, but not particularly without affect, which is a a fairly crucial difference in this story. The way she says "poor thing" when referring to a dead pet mouse or her realizing what her father's avoidance on the phone means is the difference between the audience thinking she's on the route to being a more caring, responsible sister and her seeming destined to be a serial killer, and it's managed adroitly. There's an impressive precision to how Charron lays out a bunch of the signs, both ones we know might matter mean something and ones to be dismissed, without necessarily being too obvious about what he's doing. He gets good work from young Simon Brousseau as the little brother who clearly clings to his big sister, too; it's also a subdued performance but not a carbon-copy of Charbonneau, and Charron pairs these kids with images that are just still enough to create a short that is just eerie enough for the audience to feel something is off but not quite so much that they're waiting for something overtly blood-spattered to break out.

Le Manoir (The Mansion)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

How did we, as Americans, let France and/or Belgium go full raunchy comedy with their Scream knock-offs before we did? Hollywood probably hasn't completely overlooked this opportunity, but I'm having trouble thinking of something like Le Manoir ("The Mansion") that works as well as it does. It's a bonkers slasher movie with even more comedy than those going for arch irony tend to have, but it doesn't quite play as a spoof. The blend of broad laughs and plentiful blood may not play for everyone, but the often-mean French sense of humor goes fairly well with a killing spree.

It's the end of the year, and the highly-organized Nadine (Nathalie Odzierejko) has rented a mansion in Belgium for a big "Party Like It's 1999" shindig with boyfriend Fabrice (Marc Jarousseau) and their friends - would-be Hollywood star Djamal (Yvick Letexier), uptight ginger Bruno (Ludovik Day), weed & mushroom enthusiast Drazik (Vincent Tirel), recent police academy grad Jess (Delphine Baril), party girl Sam (Vanessa Guide), her ex-boyfriend Stephane (Jerome Niel), and Sam's teenage cousin Charlotte (Lila Lacombe). Should be fun, even if Stephane hasn't gotten the message that he and Sam aren't just "on a break" and doesn't want to dress the part. And they've been told not to go up to the second floor, or in the basement, or into the nearby woods. And there's no cell phone service. And, okay, they couldn't see the maid who was killed in the pre-credits sequence…

It takes a while to get to the first murder/maiming after that; director Tony T. Datis and the four writers are having enough fun with these ten characters - Enzo (Baptiste Lorber), the guy Sam cheated on Stephane with, crashes the party - that they're reluctant to not just start culling the cast of characters, but to take the one that has gone missing completely seriously. It's understandable because having that many characters to potentially knock off means either spending a fair amount of time building them up or not having their death and/or disfigurement mean something, giving the opening a bit of a learning curve until it transitions into things really starting to get nuts.

Full review on EFC.


* * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

I'm going to guess that "[CRIES IN SPANISH]" hits a nerve or a funnybone or something if you've spent a little more time in places like its setting, a drab, dirty restaurant/bar with a karaoke machine right out in the open where the main character - a tween-ish girl - doesn't really want to be there and certainly doesn't want to get up in front of a mostly-disinterested audience and sing no matter how much Mom pushes. Director Giancarlo Loffredo does well enough in establishing a bit of familiarity for the audience - it's very easy to see where this girl is coming from - but the movie doesn't really go anywhere from there. The end feels basically random; possible from what's been happening as the camera jumps around the room, but if it's going to be the next thing in the story, it can't also be the last; there's no benefit to it.

It makes the short a weird one - moody and precise to certainly show that there's talent and vision to the film, but not a whole lot of point unless the film is going to continue on to something else.

Tiszta szívvel (Kills on Wheels)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

One can look at Kills on Wheels as extremely high-concept or just simply a film about an extremely-underserved audience, and a great deal of its success is in how it moves from being the first to the second: Someone can come in based on the pitch of wheelchair-bound hitmen and come out quite fond of the characters as people and not hugely concerned with their missions. The combination makes some generic crime material fresh and adds excitement to what could be very self-serious and earnest.

Much of the action takes place around a rehabilitation center where Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba Papa (Ádám Fekete) have spent much of their young lives - Barba with what appears to be cerebral palsy, Zoli with a worsening curvature of the spine that will, within a few years, crush his internal organs. An expensive operation in Berlin could help, and Zoli's father (who now lives there) is willing to pay for it, but Zoli is reluctant to accept charity from the man who abandoned him and his mother Zita (Mónika Balsai) when he was small. Another option may be appearing, though - newcomer Janos Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy) is just out of prison and doing odd jobs for Serbian gangster Rados (Dusán Vitanovics), and a share of the money he'll pay for eliminating rivals could certainly help. Of course, Rados doesn't exactly want more people knowing about the details of his activities, and that's without knowing about the indie comics Zoli and Barba are making based upon their adventures.

Kills on Wheels is noteworthy in that the majority of its handicapped characters are played by actors with the same physical challenges, and as such it winds up being very conscientious of what those entail. There's no pushing through something because that's what the story wants even if it's not actually likely, for instance, and difficult things are presented as everyday challenges. Writer/director Attila Till takes care to let the subtext of being handicapped inform a lot of the characterization without often resorting to monologues and direct explanations; Rupaszov's anger and confrontational nature is likely different from Zoli's in large part because he lost the use of his legs rather than never having it, and he's more likely to blame the rest of the world for things than himself. Much of these characters' stories is left to the audience to extrapolate, and it's not hard.

Full review on EFC.

"El Peste" ("The Plague")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Describing "The Plague" too much threatens to ruin it, because what writer/director Guillermo Carbonell does is take a few things that are sort of staple horror ideas, find a clever but not necessarily immediately brilliant twist on one, and put it in a very relatable setting before quickly wrapping it up in a way that has the concept fully encapsulated but suggests that he could do a lot with it with a feature-sized budget and running time. Sure, that's what a lot of short filmmakers are trying to do, but Carbonell actually manages it without a lot of obvious fuss.

He does that by keeping things lean without seeming to particularly dash from one thing to another. Maybe the opening sequence feels a little extraneous at the time, but it does a decent job of establishing that there's something unnerving and dangerous out there, before it's introduced us to Gabriela Freire in a thoroughly domestic setting that doesn't immediately connect. Carbonell sets her home-invasion story with a memorable obstacle (Walter Rey as a father suffering from dementia) up quickly and in satisfying fashion, playing it out at the sort of pace the audience is used to from features before cutting things a bit short.

The trick at that point is not to make it feel like things were cut short, but to get the audience to an entertaining place to finish, and Carbonell and his cast & crew manage that well. If they want to do more of this, I doubt many who have seen the short would mind, but even if they don't (or can't), they've put some familiar pieces together in an enjoyable way.

The Night Watchmen

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

It's telling that this movie isn't named "Vampire Clowns", because if you're going to tell your friends about the crazy horror comedy you saw the other night, the vampire clowns are what they're going to pick up on even if you purposefully don't lead with that. It's certainly a bigger hook than night watchmen, but ultimately the name is honest, because this movie does wind up being more about the wacky antics between the inept security guards than the actual vampires trying to suck their blood.

They're guarding the Baltimore Gazette, with a new guy(Max Gray Wilbur) - whose last job was fronting a heavy-metal band but seems to be going for something more grounded now - starting and doing all the grunt work for tough-talking Ken (Ken Arnold), dorky Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts), and mysterious Sicilian immigrant Luca (Dan DeLuca). There aren't a whole lot of people working the night shift; aside from Willy the janitor (Matter Servitto), just some folks working on the magazine section, and it says something that Ken using the security cameras to follow his crush Karen (Kara Luiz) while ignoring her friend Penny (Diona Reasonover) isn't nearly as off-putting as nearly everything Randall (James Remar) is doing. It's a quiet night even when delivery men drop a crate meant for the biological research lab down the road off. Never mind the question of why such a place would be awaiting the coffin of Blimpo the Clown, the popular local entertainer whose entire troupe mysteriously vanished in Romania.

Whether the filmmakers are going for extra-gory splatter or just having everybody call the new guy "Rajeeve" because that's what the nametag on the uniform he's given says despite his being pretty darn white (although it's arguable that the African-American Jiggetts is even more whitebread), tt's really, really, really broad humor. The writers will go for the easy joke at every opportunity that presents itself, but that's not the worst thing a comedy can do: If a joke is just sitting there, these guys don't feel too proud to pick it up and run with it, especially if it's not going to get in the way of the really good one that might take a little more work. And while director Mitchell Altieri has mostly done straight horror, he's got the rhythms of this sort of rapid-fire comedy down. It's briskly-paced enough and filled with enough splatstick that if one joke doesn't land, one of the next three might, and he's willing to move along to the next one quickly rather than something hang in the air with the stink of death on it.

Full review on EFC.

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