Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fantasia 2018.05: Relaxer, Being Natural, Neomanila, and Profile

Can't say I really liked the first movie I saw today, but an entertaining Q&A helps it go down better.



That is Camera Lucida programmer Ariel Esteban Coyer flanked by Relaxer director Joel Potrykus and co-star David Dastmalchian, who both talked about how growing up in the midwest had them both very familiar with this culture of challenges and constantly needing to prove themselves, with California seeming like the promised land. Dastmalchian especially was hilarious in how he answered questions, pointing out that he was only on set for a couple of days, but that the final scenes were actually shot first. This surprised me a bit, but it makes sense Hair only grows so fast, and even if bits of the set would have to be destroyed, repaired, and re-destroyed, the crew can do that quicker than the star can grow a beard.

Of to either side, there were people drinking milk as part of a challenge, but the 1-liter containers were much smaller than the gallon jugs usually associated with that particular bit of foolishness. They ran out of milk at roughly 2L apiece, at which point one of the contestants was clearly suffering.

It came out while I was waiting in line for Being Natural, but even if Oscilloscope Pictures hadn't supplied barf bags (I arrived too late to add that to my collection of festival swag), the crack festival staff was on it, with a whole trash can in place when it happened.

After that, I decided to see Neomanila right away at 5:30pm rather than seeing Tornado Girl at 7pm, in large part because I wasn't hungry yet. Indecisiveness after that movie got me at the back of the line for Mega Time Squad, but it was soon clear that there weren't going to be enough folding chairs for al the pass-holders in line. Ah, well, I can see it today. Gave me time to do a little shopping so that there's food in the apartment in the mornings and tissues in my pocket, and get myself a burger. Apparently you can get a burger medium-rare in Canada now (used to be they wouldn't even ask), and it's funny - there are lots of burgers I like here, but I'm used to having them at least medium because that's what the local regs insisted on, and now they're good, but kind of odd compared to what I was expecting.

After that, back to Hall for Profile with Timur Bekmambetov.



We almost didn't need an audience Q&A, since Timur (right) was there to talk and Mitch is good at facilitating these things. Bekmambetov seems genuinely excited about making what he calls "Screen Life" films, with the idea really clicking in his mind ever since his producing partner did a screen share and then forgot to stop it until a few minutes after he'd seen what he was supposed to see, and he said it was a fascinating first-person view, seeing how she hesitated, deleted half-formed thoughts in the chat window, fiddled with stuff while waiting for him to respond, etc. "It was like being inside her" is how he put it.

His company wound up developing what he calls "Screen Reality" ("SR") software to capture these movies, since most existing screen-recording software (like the ones actually used in the film) effectively functions as a camera pointed at the screen, while they need to be able to manipulate what is happening in the edit. It's apparently also going to allow the home release to be more interactive, something Bekmambetov says both excites him about the medium but makes him feel defensive as a director.

Lots of interesting information about the making of it, too - unlike Unfriended, where they wound up shooting everything in the same room and compositing the screens together, the Skype conversations between the characters in London and Syria were actually shot live, with Cyrpus standing in for Syria, because this was the best way to have authenticity in how the lag, pixelation, and reaction times worked. It actually got him a warning from the Directors' Guild of America, as you're supposed to actually be on the set in order to be credited as director, but Bekmambetov was apparently able to successfully argue that his set was 3,000 miles across. They also created an unusual sound mix, with the main character's dialogue not coming from the front-center channel but the surrounds, so that it would be in the center of the audience, while everything from a screen was from the front. The soundtrack was actually from the Spotify playlist of the original journalist whose life this was based upon, with the actress playing and "mixing" live on set.

Leaving this particular movie aside, Bekmambetov mentioned that he was thinking of making Dusk Watch as a Screen Life movie, and I must admit, I admire his commitment to the idea that he will actually complete the Night Watch trilogy at some point. It was going to be split between Moscow and New York when it looked like he was going to cross over into Hollywood in a big way, it was going to be 3D at another point… Hey, it could still happen, even if it has been 12 years and counting since Day Watch.

So that finished that day off. Today's plans are circling back around to Mega Time Squad, taking the rest of the afternoon off, and then probably choosing Room Laundering over The Nightshifter before the 35mm show of The Blonde Fury (which, if evidence on this blog is to be believed, I liked okay when it was part of the Coolidge's long-missed Midnight Ass-Kickings series exactly fourteen years ago. Tremble All You Want is recommended, for those who missed it opening night.

Relaxer

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

There is, I suppose, a good movie to be made about someone so dedicated to not being labeled a quitter that he just doesn't get off the couch until he has completed some sort of challenge, no matter how isolated it ultimately makes him, but this isn't it. It's just nasty and gross, never finding enough of Abbie's ingenuity or enough pathos to make watching him interesting.

Instead, it feels pointlessly mean, and seldom with interesting enough execution to make it worthwhile. The opening bit, cruel as it tends to be, at least feels like an impressive single take, but nothing after that ever feels close to that inspired.

Full review at EFC.

Being Natural

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Camera Lucida, digital)

Before it takes a turn for the weird, Being Natural is kind of a low-key charmer, playing as a group of guys in late middle age growing closer, even though those bonds are not exactly of the strongest material. It's pastoral but not over-romanticized, as these things can sometimes be.

That doesn't mean I want the back half gone or the other thread minimized, though. In fact, I think I'd like it a bit more if the "invading" family looking to get back to "how life should be" was played broader and given more time, perhaps with the daughter (clearly not as enthused as her parents) fighting more. It would make the more conventional parts work better and the bonkers finale perhaps an even better twist.

Neomanila

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I wonder just how this crime flick plays in its native country, where the sort of vigilante killing at the center is a Thing That Happens rather than something as far outside the norm as it seems in North America. Is it just piercing rather than shocking?

Regardless, it's sharp as can be, setting up its loose-seeming but tight in actuality plot, filling it with memorable side characters, and playing its violence completely straight rather than making it fun.

Profile

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Though producer credits can often go unnoticed by filmmakers who also do other things, Timur Bekmambetov has become fascinated by the idea of stories which play out entirely through a character's online interactions in recent years, having produced Unfriended and then a number of other similar movies reaching the screen this year. Profile is his first one where he actually directed the film, and though it's a story well-matched to the technique, there are sometimes still a few kinks to work out in the telling.

Based upon a true story but relocated to London, it picks up with freelance reporter Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) logging onto her computer on 13 October 2014, starting on a story about European women who, in a shockingly quick turnaround from their first online contacts, wind up in Syria as part of ISIS/Daesh. It is, in some ways, shockingly easy - she creates a new profile, searches for ISIS-affiliated pages, and after sharing some of what she finds, she's contacted by Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif), who though currently fighting in Syria was actually born not far from her in London. It causes her some momentary panic, but she presses on, trying to get Bilel to tell her alter ego of recent convert "Mellody" how she can reach him even as money and relationship issues make her real life more stressful.

One of the most interesting things about telling this story through Amy's on-line activity is how it puts exposition on blast, using Amy's offhand need to research to rapidly throw information at the audience without pretense of doing anything else, and through that establish some emotional stakes: While articles about jihadists and converts and the like jump on-screen, YouTube videos of the girl whose case put Amy on this trail also show up, and they're quietly heartbreaking, featuring the trembling voice of someone lost and generally limited to a quarter of the screen, making her feel more diminished and isolated.

Full review at EFC.

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