Saturday, July 21, 2018

Fantasia 2018.09: People's Republic of Desire, Cam, Kasane, and The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot

Nifty scheduling: People's Republic of Desire and Cam back-to-back The first actually serves as a sort of primer for how rank- and gift-based the live-stream economy is, and they wind up touching on some overlapping information while still having very different themes it is a good, interesting double feature.

Less-nifty scheduling: Kasane and Lifechanger at the same time. As a person who likes that this kind of "taking over someone's life story", it was frustrating to have to choose - and ultimately choose Kasane more out of wanting to get to the line for the next movie more easily rather than a clear preference. Fortunately, I really liked it a lot, making for a day that was just solid from start to end.



Going back to (nearly) the start, a fair number of folks from Cam showed up: Director Daniel Goldhaber, screenwriter Isa Mazzei, co-writer Isabelle Link-Levy, post-production supervisor Adam Clark, and co-producer Daniel Garber. Credit was generously shared both within the film, where the opening "a film by" credit included both Goldhaber and Mazzei, and on-stage, they made sure to point out that not only did Link-Levy and Garber design a lot of the computer-oriented parts of the film, but Goldhaber they basically left large parts of the finale in their hands right up until the edit. Crazy exacting work, really - a lot of people treat anything involving computers, especially digital effects, as basically hitting a "do it" button, so it was pretty gratifying to see them talk about matching angles exactly and figuring lag for an "infinite mirror" sequence that looks cool but also so well-done that it doesn't look like a lot of freaking work.

Aside from that, they talked about wanting to subvert the usual messaging of these movie by being really positive about sex- and cam-work rather than just making this a cautionary tale. Mazzei is a veteran of it, and wanted it played as a job that Alice/Lola is good at rather than just some desperate thing to tide her over until her real life starts up.

There was time to kill after that, enough that I was one of the first in line for Kasane, and I felt terrible about cutting out just as the credits started, but the line for The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot was going to be nuts, and true enough, I was one of the last ten allowed in, meaning I had to hunt for the last empty seat, which gave me this view:



Hey, in is in.

Of course, it means that because I don't have a real camera but just a phone, this is the best record I've got of the post-film Q&A:



So, way down there, that's Mitch Davis, director Robert D. Krzyskowski, and Sam Elliott. They made much of their movie in Massachusetts, so I'm hoping it shows up in the Boston area for more than just a night or two at some lesser festival. It's sweet, gorgeous, and kind of delightful. The gorgeous part comes in part from one of the people they hooked up with because they produced in the Commonwealth, as the state film board got them in touch with Douglas Trumbull, who not only did some work with his company in the Berkshires but pointed them to great people. There is some fantastic matte painting and miniature work here, though it's fairly invisible in many cases, along with the expected CGI and creature work.

Best line of the night came from Elliott, who, when asked if he did a lot to prepare for the role said "No, I felt old enough, beat-up enough." Kind of an encapsulation of his recent career, but at 74, he's phenomenally healthy-looking, talking about how some of the action stuff they had him doing wasn't has hard as it looked, especially since it was mostly walking, and he doesn't run much any more after getting some cadaver in his knee to replace his ACL.

One question was about casting Aidan Turner as the younger version of Elliott's character. Krzyskowski said he was looking for a sort of unpretentious cool in both cases, and Turner gave off the sort of basic goodness he wanted to see reflected in the character, who had to be super-capable but not hard, which is a tough thing to manage, but a big part of what makes the film work. There's also a bit of a resemblance, despite him not doing the voice, especially, the filmmaker said, once you get a mustache on Turner.

Elliott laughed hearing that. Seems like a really good dude, and though he doesn't really have the genre credentials of some of the other big stars who have drawn this sort of crowd, but everyone genuinely liked having him there, with a lot of us hanging around the lobby after the film hoping to see him, but no dice.

Anyway, today is potentially the only super-long day of the festival for me, with The Traveling Cat Chronicles, The Outlaws, Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, Knuckleball, Amiko, and the late show of RokuRoku: Promise of the Witch, if I'm not zonked by then.

People's Republic of Desire

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Us olds should probably be paying much more attention to the cultures represented in this documentary, both online and Chinese, than we do; it's huge, misunderstood, and dismissed, and though I'm not sure I truly understand it now, I've got a better handle on what I don't know.

Aside from just what's to be learned watching it, this is a surprisingly well-constructed documentary. The standard pieces, the interview and fly-on-the-wall footage, are nicely shot and edited, often to specifically contrast the stars' conspicuous consumption with how their fans just scrape by, but it embraces being online better than most. It's a documentary that must visualize as much as depict, and it does so very well, creating lively, energetic graphics that are clear, explanatory, and just game-y enough.

I like that it doesn't fall behind - it seems like it started out examining YY and the live-streaming phenomenon but found the platform maturing and monetizing beyond its roots, and was able to pivot to talk about that as well. Internet culture moves fast, and it's impressive that this sometimes slow-moving medium was able to keep up.

Cam

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The thing I like most about Cam may be one of the smallest and dumbest things, but I can absolutely believe a certain thing tripping things up because some developer didn't take a thing that a user might do into account. We aren't lazy, but we've often got no idea what's a likely situation worth prioritizing.

That aside, it's a simple thriller that does a lot of things well, from how it kind of takes its plot's inevitability for granted to how all the little details of life as a camgirl play out with likely authenticity and minimum explanation; it all seems to fit together in tidy, unforced fashion.

There's also a genuinely impressive performance by Madeline Brewer in the lead, often doing two or three things at once, starting from her first scene where she's trying to ingratiate herself with both us and her other audience and managing it quite well. There are a lot of times when she could have been directed to exaggerate more, or nor been able to make a certain point without relative restraint, but Lola/Alice is genuine even as her life gets strange, and the film wouldn't work otherwise.

Kasane

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This movie is not exactly subtle with the archetypes it plays with, announcing them in big, bold capital letters as the title character progresses from one stage to another. But a fantasy that takes place in and around the theater can work with melodrama, and this one certainly does.

It has to, since it's got not one but two crazy, huge-stretch plot devices. But it's also got a pair of impressive actresses each giving a pair of highly enjoyable performances, and Tadanobu Asano for extra fun. Hell, you might say the actress are each giving three five performances once the finale is playing itself out.

It even handles a lot of the storytelling problems that often come with annoying manga with elan, seeming pretty ruthless in how it handles having more characters than it needs at any given point and compressing other scenes until they're just what's needed. It's big, trashy soap at heart, but enthusiastic and capable. Some will call it a guilty pleasure, but it's too good for guilt.

The Man Who Killed HItler and then The Bigfoot

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The latter part of Sam Elliott's career has been a lot of movies like The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot - not so much the high-concept premise of the title, but the look at a man slowly winding down, because though Elliott has a craggy face and a reassuring voice, he's vital enough to have been getting old for some time. That the film is about the aging as much as the adventure, if not more so, is what makes it such a delight. Well, that and watching Elliott inhabit this absurd but utterly believable role.

He plays Calvin Barr, a man who, circa 1990 or so, lives in the same small town where he grew up, and is finding himself more and more likely to slip back to those times when given a moment inside his own head. Sometimes that's bittersweet, as he remembers wooing Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald), a pretty schoolteacher and the love of his life; other times it's darker as he remembers the secret missions his younger self (Aidan Turner) was sent on during the war. They're still classified today, but someone remembers them, as a representative of the American government (Ron Livingston) and one from Canada (Rizwan Manij) visit him with one last mission: Bigfoot is the carrier of a doomsday virus, and Barr is one of only three people known to be immune. The creature must be put down before he reaches a populated area.

The scene at Barr's kitchen table where this is spelled out is genuine deadpan perfection, played completely straight even as it gives the audience plenty of moments to laugh at the utter absurdity of the job. Writer/director Robert D. Krzyskoski and company pull an outstanding bit of gear-shifting here, allowing this scene to move from something genuinely emotional as Barr makes it clear that his previous exploits aren't something he's proud of to one character humorously reacting to what he's hearing to being all business. Both this scene and the bits of action as Barr follows his orders through are a sort of self-aware pulp we don't often see, fun for the audience but trying for those involved. There's whimsy to them, but they clearly carry genuine weight to those involved.

Full review at EFC.

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