Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Fantasia 2018.20: The Brink, River's Edge, Arizona, and Montreal Dead End

Another quiet day as the festival winds down and guests from out of town are relatively scant, and there's a temptation to wonder if maybe the festival does run a bit long, but by now there's just a couple days left so why not hit the full three weeks? And, hey, you get some interesting stuff as well.

There being a few reruns means there's time to get actual food, and here is the most amusingly named eatery in Montreal:



The dishes are named after tyrants and those who aspire to the position; I had the "Kim" poutine, and I suspect many appreciate them keeping the "Bush" on the menu even though there's also a "Trump".

Speaking of Montreal-specific things:



I think that's all the directors that worked on Montreal Dead End, which is the annual feature from "Fantastic Week-End" that makes its way into the main program. I am thankful it had English subtitles this time so that I didn't just sit there feeling like an idiot like last year, which is always a relief. The movie itself is kind of what you expect from a group whose creed is basically that the movie you make is better than the one you don't, so it's okay if things are kind of rough. And it's rough as heck in spots, but kind of fun for those who love the city, festival, etc.

Today's the official closing night, although Thursday is a sort of "bonus day". I'll be at What A Man Wants, Madeline's Madeline, Big Brother, and Saint Bernard Syndicate (unless it looks like they've decided to let badge-holders into Mandy after all and the line looks manageable).

Kuang shou (The Brink)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

"Max" Zhang Jin is certainly well-positioned to be the next big Hong Kong martial-arts star, fresh off a couple fight-scene-stealing turns against Donnie Yen and Wu Jing & Tony Jaa, the sort that make you want to see more of the guy playing the villain. Of course, it's worth remembering that Wu's first starring roles after similar parts weren't exactly impressive, and that's where Zhang finds himself here: Physically gifted, showing enough acting chops to suggest star potential, but not yet getting cast in the good lead roles yet.

Instead, he's in this, playing a rule-breaking cop hunting down gold smugglers who are much more interesting to watch before one starts consolidating power and taking charge. It's not quite boring, but it feels like a script built around location availability and what needs to happen, but not really fleshed out otherwise. The astonishingly loyal girlfriend who shakes tails with homemade bombs doesn't even get a name, and she's the number one "show me more of her" thing in the movie.

Zhang has just enough charisma to not be sunk by the script, though, and there are some pretty nice fight scenes. Underwater kung fu doesn't work out so well, but Zhang is great in close quarters, and there's a pretty great chase over, around, and through the boats in the harbor.

I guess you've got to pay your dues. It probably won't be long before Zhang is the next big thing and we're laughing over some of the steps he needed to take to get there, I reckon.

River's Edge (Ribâzu ejji)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

River's Edge feels like it could have been made during its 1994 setting: It lacks many easy nostalgia cues, frames its shots in a square 4:3 aspect ratio, and has an earnest confessional framing that feels like that period's independent film, as do its aimless kids, untethered to either parents or mobile phones.

It makes for a fascinating examination of detachment and earnest affection, with many of the teens we want to like often morbid, and simple kindness often more rare than it should be. The filmmakers build its story simply, without fuss, which includes being frank rather than precious with its sex scenes. It's also got a strong young cast which sometimes looks a bit older than their roles, but always hit their targets.

"End Times"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Apparently, when I saw it at BUFF and tried to re-review it later, it was part of a run of shorts that didn't make a strong impression on me, but on a second viewing, I really like it. Writer/director Bobby Miller plays up a certain dark absurdity, but what really ties it together are the little details of how the character played by Richard Longstreet is struggling with his mourning: The lack of people at his father's funeral, his reluctance to spend much on an urn, the way the recognition that he actually loved his father comes with a dying squirrel finally breathing its last. It's a really terrific little performance by Longstreet, sincere and emotional amid archness and insanity without feeling like a straight man.

Really glad I got to see this one a second time.

Arizona

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Arizona starts out in a smart, timely spot, taking advantage of the vast number of hollowed-out, prefabricated, unfinished developments in the Southwest to create both a memorable sense of desperation and an isolated setting, but somewhere along the way the black comedy of people unwilling to take responsibility for increasingly horrible actions and a twisted American dream becomes a standard direct-to-video thriller. Eventually, a guy chasing a woman and his daughter with a gun is just that, no matter how clever it started out.

Sure, it does matter that the guy is Danny McBride, and he's going to slip perfectly-executed moments of dumb, entitled white male privilege in even after it's become just a chase, and that Rosemary DeWitt handles her earlier shift from comic to thriller well. There's also a fun supporting cast, including some memorable surprises. A lot of the film's nastier turns don't land quite as well as they could, though, getting a little bit of a gasp of shock or not believing they went for that joke, but not really putting that feeling to work for more than half a second or so.

The movie doesn't fail, but it's also never nearly the film it seems like it could have been after it gets started.

Montréal Dead End

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantastiques Week-Ends du Cinéma Québécois, DCP)

I enjoy that Montréal Dead End opens near Berri-UQAM, near the bus station where I arrive for the city's Fantasia International Film Festival every year. This is, obviously, a complete coincidence, because as with much of what is produced by Québéc's film industry, it is an intensely local product, filled with references that may befuddle first-time tourists and probably don't travel well. But while a tale zombies, ghosts, and other horrors may seem like an odd love-letter to one's home town, there's a certain charm to it that transcends its DIY nature.

And, make no mistake, Montréal Dead End is very do-it-yourself project, with most of its 18 directors being credited with a few shorts prior to this feature, and clear limitations on budget and other resources. For the most part, the filmmakers choose stories that can be executed under those sorts of constraints, and there's some good work on showing the Montréal city-scape with mysterious green smoke hanging over it, but by and large this looks like the work of resourceful enthusiasts, rather than professionals working on a labor of love.

It gives the filmmakers a lot of freedom to do whatever they want, and the pieces where the filmmakers are free to get kind of loopy and play things out are often the best. I particularly enjoyed the ones about a girl and her jealous boyfriend who find themselves suddenly exchanging bodies in La Parc La Fontaine, an intern finding himself pulled into an alternate history when his boss takes him to a secret bar in Centre-Ville, zombies whose culinary tastes require more than raw flesh in Mile End, another cook who sees his food fight back near Marché Atwater, and a tour guide who learns more about Le Vieux Montréal than she wants to know. Most of them are simple ideas, but the filmmakers find entertaining twists on them and make good use of the framework given, creating a situation where anything can happen, but it is not necessarily tied to anything else in a meaningful way. It's a loose, but thoroughly effective anthology format.

Full review at EFC.

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