Friday, July 27, 2018

Fantasia 2018.15: Violence Voyager, Pledge, and DJ XL5's Outtasight Zappin' Party

There was someone with a kid behind me during Violence Voyager, and though I don't recall hearing them book it out of there when things started getting horrific, I kind of hope they did. The Burning Buddha Man got nasty when it showed five years ago, but this seemed next-level. I'm mildly worried about where the filmmaker's next movie will land.

After that, practically everybody for Pledge showed up for a Q&A. From left to right, cast members Jesse Pimentel, Aaron Dalla Villa, Zachery Byrd, Jean-Louis Droulers, Joe Gallagher, and Erica Boozer; director of photography William Babcock, cast members Natalie Marie Walsh and Zack Weiner (who also wrote the film), director Daniel Robbins, and producer Mark Rapaport. Had to figure out how to do panorama on this phone for that!

Nice enough folks, even if I don't really love their movie, and it was interesting to hear them talking about how they were trying to find the ending throughout making the movie, and that at one point there was some crazy supernatural stuff in the finale, and how they had a lot of variations of the final shot.

After that, I planned on Blood and Black Lace, but miscalculated the walk to the Cinematheque Quebecoise, and wound up just after the cut-off for passholders. Which, honestly, is fine with me; I am not a huge giallo fan at all and chose that because it fit the schedule best, and if I'd made it in but someone who was really enthused didn't, I'd feel bad about it. Instead, I walked down to the part of Ste. Catherine's where Just For Laughs was set up, got some pulled pork poutine from Le Smoking Barbecue, and was able to be close to the front of the line for DJ XL5's show and watch that with a nice full belly.

As usual, that was a fun show, and although I try to not get tense and angry during the meowing before shows (it extends into the opening logos and sometimes credits on occasion and I'm like, guys, the filmmakers left that silent for a reason), I really don't get it during the "Simon's Cat" segments. The cat meowing is a punchline and you're just walking all over it. Why would you do that?

A bunch of funny shorts in there, though, with "Fire in Cardboard City" probably an all-timer, and I hope they find another spot to play "Granny", a funny Australian horror-comedy that unfortunately had the sound mix messed up when made part of the program. I think they will, because Marc seemed genuinely horrified when he came out to apologize after the screening.

Maybe today, when I'll be catching A Rough Draft, Fleuve Noir, and Ajin: Demi-Human. We'll see how tired/up for gross-outs I am after that when Body Melt plays at midnight. This will almost certainly be posted after it starts, but The Witch in the Window is good stuff.

Violence Voyager

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

You can't exactly claim that Violence Voyager doesn't tell the audience what it's in for - "violence" is right there in the title, and it's not like the audience was going to go in expecting something straightforward in either story or medium from the maker of The Burning Buddha Man. Still, it's a profoundly bizarre movie, the sort one can admire for being iconoclastic while still feeling sorry for people who go in unprepared.

It's a little off-kilter, storywise, from the start, introducing Bobby Pearson (voice of Aoi Yuki), a young American boy living in Japan, and his friend Akkun. Akkun has found a secret path through the woods where they can visit their friend Takaaki, who recently moved to another village. When they do follow it - despite warnings from Old Man Lucky-Monkey - they find a seemingly empty amusement park, "Violence Voyager", in the middle of nowhere, that offers kids the chance to play through a secret mission, blasting robots with squirt guns. But when they meet a girl, Tokiko, who claims to have been there for days and lost her boyfriend, thing seem a lot more sinister.

There's your standard "What the heck, Japan?" movie - bizarrely designed monsters, sudden tone shifts, kids casually put in the center of questionable situations - and then there's this thing. Director Ujicha works in the peculiar medium of "gekimation" - static paper cutouts mixed and manipulated in front of the camera, enhanced by the occasional bit of water, fire, or viscous liquid - with one of the more outright twisted horror stories at the festival. It's kind of odd by its nature, as one has to get used to mouths not moving and motion not aligning with either regular experience or typical animation. The detailed backgrounds and foreground characters are both drawn with enough shading to have a little three-dimensionality to them, but the way they're put together negates that. Over the course of an 80-minute movie, one gets used to it, but it's never not odd or obvious.

Full review at EFC.

"Third Wheel"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

"Third Wheel" is a brief punchline short, so you can't really talk about it too much, but I like it. It plays a simple scenario just well enough to set expectations, doesn't get too cute, and then quickly demolishes them in strange, entertaining fashion. Nothing up until the last few seconds is overdoing it, and the punchline is in and out fast enough to keep you from picking holes in it.

Plus, that last bit is a really wonderful bit of practical effects, just the absolute opposite of the rest of the film's tone but still done really well. It's kind of a small delight, but a genuine one.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

College fraternities and secret societies are in a weird place now, and have been for years - when you hear about them, it's for something ridiculous and/or awful, but that you never really hear a guy mention a concrete way one has opened a door for him (just that they have) makes them sort of sinister as well. There's probably a good movie to be made from this dichotomy, and Pledge probably has the right idea, but never finds the great hook that would lift it above average.

It opens with three freshmen - David (Zack Weiner), Justin (Zachery Byrd), and Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) - going to various fraternity rush events and, as they're far closer to awkward nerds than confident athletes, having the doors shut in their face. At least, that is, until one girl tells them about a party going on the next night, and while it seems like an obvious prank - the house of the Krypteia "social club" is well off-campus - they're welcomed in, and told to pack a bag for a weekend stay with two other candidates. It soon turns out that this group's hazing is pretty extreme; off-campus, one of the girls from the party (Erica Boozer) is getting very worried that she hasn't heard from a friend who accidentally opened the wrong door since.

There's a twist to this movie eventually, but is it worth investing the time to get there? I'm not certain. It's a good twist, which actually gives the audience more to chew on when it appears rather than just adding complication onto what had come before, but the lead-up to it never really manages to play with the parts that maybe aren't right to be really intriguing. Even before they upend things, it seems like the filmmakers could be taking a closer look at fraternities as an institution that plays off young men's crudest desires, or doing more with Rachel (it seems like there's a real missed opportunity to play with her going from eye candy to active participant, but the story treats her as much as a thing to be used as the fraternity does). David's desire to be part of this cool kids' club is taken as a given, but as the thing that makes the story go for the first chunk of the movie, it's pretty thin.

Full review at EFC.

DJ XL5's Outtasight Zappin' Party

Seen 25 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As always, a tremendously funny group of shorts from Marc "DJ XL5" Lamothe, with much of the "zappin" being between movies where Samuel L. Jackson gets killed

Some of the best:

"Fire In Cardboard City" is one of the highlights of the program, a fast-paced, hilarious short that starts with some fantastic animation and builds its premise out in absurd directions, reminiscent of The Lego Movie but more focused on the delightful absurdity of a creation taking on the properties of its medium than pop-culture references. It's got several huge laughs in under ten minutes, and the sort of action filmmaking chops that has me suspect director Phil Brough will get some live-action work sooner than later.

"Eau de Jesus" is a parody perfume ad but it's got a bunch of good jokes in it even if the "sexy Jesus" doesn't quite seem like the sharpest satire, although it's got some good play on how people will project whatever they want on him, often taking him far from being a poor Middle-eastern worker.

"Hypocondriaque" has a few easy jokes that are French-Canadian specific, and the pop-culture reference it ends on is pretty clear from about midway through, but even with that, it's a funny bit of transplanting working-class life to the future that feels a bit more right in its details than is sometimes the case - it feels like a homesteader situation, but with the awareness that that doesn't directly map to the future.

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