Thursday, July 25, 2019

Fantasia 2019.10: Ride Your Wave, The Prey, Born of Woman '19, The Incredible Shrinking Wknd, and 8

Is there a place near Concordia that does a nice, simple omurice? It was all that the little girl in It Comes wanted and apparently the comfort food of choice for the couple in Ride Your Wave. A dish shows up twice in less than 48 hours at a film festival, that's a message, I guess.

Anyway, Ride Your Wave and The Prey were the early-afternoon shows in Hall, guest-free, leaving me some time to poke around the comic shops on Sainte Catherine to fill in holes to no avail. I'm beginning to suspect that Marvel just didn't print a few relatively recent issues. Plenty of time for a burrito before heading into DeSeve for the rest of the day.



First up there was the annual "Born of Woman" shorts block, which I missed the first couple of years because it always seems to get scheduled in such a way as to span two films on the other screen, one of which I want to see badly. This year, the stuff in Hall was stuff I could take or leave, meaning it was little issue getting into this 9-short block, with filmmakers Valerie Barnhart, Michelle Garza Cervera, Erica Scoggins, and Yfke Van Berckelaer on-hand.

It's a pretty great block of short films, where even the least exciting entry was pretty decent and the best were fantastic. It's worth noting that Ms. Barnhart (whom I think I've seen around the festival in previous years, perhaps as a volunteer) basically taught herself animation while making "Girl in the Hallway", grumbling later that she didn't realize that she'd chosen one of the most demanding forms of animation to work with. She seems to have mastered it, though, as several people are talking it up as not just their favorite short in the program, but one of their favorite shorts in the festival.



Later in the evening, I decided to switch from my planned selection of Killerman to 8, and I'm pretty glad I did; as much as I liked Cash Only a few years back. Harold Holscher made a pretty nifty little film that I'm glad I had a chance to see on the big screen. Holscher sounded like he was not necessarily optimistic about people in its native South Africa getting to do so. Distribution and exhibition are pretty hard there, and there isn't a lot of support for local genre film (something I remember hearing from a South African genre director at this festival something like ten years ago, claiming all the funding was for apartheid dramas).

Kind of a shame, since he made a great-looking movie, and it sounds like they had fun - the young lady playing the monster was a ballerina, and while they were initially worried about her freaking out the young co-star while in full make-up, they were apparently great friends by the end.

It's been a busy enough weekend that this post about Saturday is going up on Thursday, when I'll be at Shooting the Mafia, Lake Michigan Monster, Miss and Mrs. Cops, and the Zappin Party. Shadow is playing during my late-lunch-break, and well worth checking out on the big screen.

Kimi to, nami ni noretara (Ride Your Wave, aka Riding a Wave with You)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

As Masaki Yuasa's output increases, he seems to be moving away from the strange and trippy films that gained him attention and toward the conventional, though if the result is something like this sweet animated romance, that's not a bad thing. It's still distinctive and occasionally eccentric, and winds up being something fairly unique once the bits of fantasy there are kick in.

Part of that's his character design; there's not much mistaking the jangly limbs, pointy noses, and skinny necks his characters have. There's also the sheer playful abandon in how, when the thing that does give this a certain amount of fantasy emerges, there's a whimsical acceptance, that what might mark a person as crazy can somehow happen, especially since it fits the personalities of everyone involved so well. Yuasa's movies have always had a bit of the fantastic amid the everyday, and here he slides into more carefully than usual, keeping it in Hinako's head until it absolutely must come out.

And then there's the delightful animation, where once again Yuasa is using water to craft a fluid reality while also filling the world the characters live in with nifty detail. It's maybe not always the ones people might consider important or universal, but things like a particular coffee shop, firefighting techniques, and smooth surfing pull the audience in even when they might look at the very simple story with side-eye. It's a very nice combination of down-to-Earth and fantastical that does a fantastic job of getting at just how powerful young love and be and how unreal the fallout is.

"Bar Fight"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: ACTION!, digital)

"Bar Fight" is the result of filmmaker Benjamin R. Moody finishing up a horror movie and deciding he wanted to hit something, and what he delivers here is a pretty darn good fight sequence with a minimum amount of filler around it. Some guys show up in the middle of a bar that's closing and find that the bartender is no pushover, and that's that.

With any luck, it will serve as a nice calling-card for star Aaron D. Alexander, who has enough screen presence to sell the tired, put-upon bartender before the action starts getting crazy and then surprises when the man is eminently capable of dealing with anything thrown at him. The film is five minutes long, but between them, Moody and Alexander imply the entire "guy has been through some things and doesn't think he's up to the challenge any more" story in body language and reaction shots, and the fight choreography doesn't entirely take precedence over showing who this guy is. He's reluctant and doubts himself all the way through the end, and even good action movies sometimes have trouble putting that amount of characterization into their action. The best use that action in part to reveal character, and it's great that the film found time for that without a lot of room to spare.

The Prey

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: ACTION!, DCP)

As "The Most Dangerous Game" riffs go, this certainly is one. You know the story, and the makers of this one don't have any particular twist or hook to add to it too make this stand out in a sea of them. Or at least, not an obvious one from this side of the Pacific; maybe it touches on something topical in Cambodia, but I'd be surprised, as it seems fairly generic.

The big disappointment is not so much that the story is familiar, but that the execution is kind of lackluster. This is the team that made the fairly impressive Jailbreak, but having a more open environment doesn't necessarily do a lot of good. There's some decent gunplay, but it's seldom as good as the previous film's martial arts and inventive camerawork, mostly just a lot of sharp running and tumbling and pointing guns with purpose. There are a few striking shots - filmmaker Jimmy Henderson knows exactly what he's doing when the characters burst out of the woods and into a beautiful, bright open space on a riverbank - but mostly it's just a decent example of Action Movie Plot #8.

"Lili"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

"Lili" is as clear and concise a story about how men use power positions to coerce women, and how even in situations like film where sexuality can be part of the job description, it is, at the bare minimum, a pretty crappy thing to do. Filmmaker Yfke Van Berckelaer lays it out step by step, showing how "strength" is often twisted as a route to intimidation. I don't know how many people seeing this will need the lesson, but it's an impressively clear one.

There's also no small amount of fun in watching Lisa Smit act as the title character. Some may feel that audition scenes, like the one that make up this movie, or other things where you can see the performers going about their business, ruin the magic, but it comes across here as somebody doing a thing well, and I've always enjoyed skill on display. Smit's good at her job, giving Lili a character even as Lili is donning other personae, and that's fun to watch.

"Sometimes, I Think About Dying"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Stefanie Abel Horowitz does a nice job of digging right into self-doubt in "Sometimes, I Think About Dying"; I have no idea how much she and playwright Kevin Armento compressed his original work to get it down to 11 minutes, but it does fine work cutting down everything extraneous, never needing to offer an origin story or specific counter-arguments for how its narrator feels, just letting her show how navigating these feelings can seem almost impossible.

To do so, she chooses a lot of visually quiet locations where Fran can be overwhelmed by her thoughts, whether her house, a somewhat sparse office, or empty streets, or space outside the city. Katy Wright-Mead does a nifty job of making her seem more outwardly put-together than she feels most of the time without it conflicting with her narration, so that when one collides with the other, it feels a bit more wrenching, with Jim Sarbh making the guy who is genuinely interested in Fran maybe a little nervous on his own but not a matching-misfit sort.

"The Hitchhiker" (2018)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Adele Vuko puts a couple of familiar short-film subjects together - 'hitchhiker leaving a corpse behind" meets "hiding something from concerned friends" - with a twist that unites them in maybe slightly-too-easy fashion in order to create a women-helping-women narrative. There should, it seems, be more of an explored downside to the deal offered, although there's not really room for it in a film this relatively short.

Vuko's put a nice cast together and given them plenty of room to play off each other, with Isaro Kayitesi especially fun as the group's worrywart, obsessively jumping immediately to Google to find whatever freaks her out, playing well off a group that are, for different reasons, more likely to let things go. It's a group that doesn't always seem to belong together but which makes you think they want to be, which is enough and important as things get more tense and the idea that things might not work out well becomes clearer.

"Wakey Wakey"

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Mary Dauterman has made a nice-enough looking short, although I kind of got thrown by how I viewed it: My brain had the characters in a spaceship because the compositing which put an ocean outside their window made me think it was a screen rather than a look at what was right outside, and I'm still kind of not sure whether they were meant to be in a seaside house or on a boat, with the otherwise-unseen motion meant partly explain the twist ending. I kind of think there's a nifty sci-fi plot about dream machines or what have you possible, but there's also not enough there to presume it.

The result's certainly got intriguing potential, but plays like a short that just doesn't have enough to it to make a solid impression one way or another, and not having that definitive push toward a conclusion makes me less interested than having one and winding up as a bad idea.

"Vaspy"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Hweiling Ow builds the sort of horror short hear that is originally weird and gross, but seemingly not about that much - or at least, not about that much in ways that particularly work for me. It offers an offbeat horror take on pregnancy stress and cravings being amplified by already having a five-year-old doing what he does, but it sort of feels like we've seen that connection before and the toy wasp making its heroine have somewhat more wasp-like tendencies which she dismisses doesn't quite seem special enough. It's an eccentric take on a classic, but one that's so eccentric that it doesn't quite hit so hard.

"Maggie May"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

It's kind of interesting that what are likely the two best shorts in this program both find their horror in not so much violence but inaction and dismissal. Filmmaker Mia Kate Russell offers up a villain that is fearsomely sociopathic in her idleness, and Lulu McClatchy is unnervingly great in the role: She has the sort of blankness that implies some sort of cognitive disability where she is genuinely paralyzed by not knowing what she should do, but also the sort of sneer that implies she knows just exactly what she's allowing to happen. She's thoroughly awful, but Russell and McClatchy invite you to feel bad about hating her.

Meanwhile, Katrina Mathers is making her sister a little more than generically nice; Russell gives her a bit of personal dissatisfaction to work with, and once she finds herself injured by a freak accident, she does a fantastic job of channelling the viewers' horror and confusion without telling them what to feel. Russell keeps certain dangers off the screen in a way that allows her to strike at the heart of someone's worst fears without feeling exploitative. It's the sort of horror that leaves a nice, hard lump in one's stomach even before you start wondering how much it applies to broader situations.

"The Boogeywoman"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

Would I probably get more out of "The Boogeywoman" if I had, at some point, been a teenage girl? Almost certainly. Even without being able to personally identify with what Sam (Amélie Hoeferle) is going through as she gets her first period well after her friends at an inopportune time, I loved watching the way these kids played off each other, for good and ill, as well as how things like a power failure at the roller rink and empty small-town streets are nervous-making without being overbearingly so.

When it gets the the supernatural part, it kind of loses me; I kind of feel like I should be making some greater connection between all the talk of Sam never knowing her mother and what else is going on, but it's never quite there for me, although it's acted and presented well enough that I can see that something is going on. Which may just mean that this short is made with other people in mind who will see how it fits together, which is fine. There's certainly enough there for me to give whatever I couldn't catch the benefit of the doubt.

"The Original"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

"The Original" is the rare short film where the finale is a kind of perfect knife to the gut, where I both want to see the fallout of it while also appreciating that the stabbing pain of it is undiluted. It's a nifty concept explored just enough to be a big emotional mess but not fall apart through being over-detailed.

Director Michelle Garza does a lot of nifty things to make writer Andrew Fleming's script seem more personal than topical, mostly by not setting it in something that clearly feels like the near future, but rather by shooting in black-and-white and creating a world that seems half British and half Mexican, making it hard to "yeah, but…" at any point. There's also an impressive division of labor between the actresses - Ariana Lebrón gets what at some points seems like most of the heavy lifting, as her character visibly grapples with all the hard decisions and loops the hospital makes her jump through to get her girlfriend's consciousness transferred into a healthy clone body, but Rebecca Layoo is doing amazing work in the background, so unsettlingly convincing as the victim of what appears to be a stroke that seeing the new her well feel genuinely mind-boggling.

There's a catch, though, and it's a delicious one, and I'm still pondering how it seemingly must have played out days later. You could make a feature out of this story, but it's still pretty great at 13 minutes.

"The Girl in the Hallway"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Born of Woman, digital)

I'm not sure whether director Valerie Barnhart animated directly to a spoken-word performance by Jamie DeWolf here, or whether she had him record a new version for this film, but that's just nitpicking in how the great work she did was split between direction, animation, and editing. The full result is immensely impressive for a first-time filmmaker.

She's got a fine base to build on - DeWolf's story of how he can't read "Red Riding Hood" to his daughter because it's associated with something awful in his mind is exceptionally well-told without ornamentation; he's a raconteur who builds up and spaces out without it seeming obvious while also making it clear that he has to do it this way, because confronting these memories is hard. It's a lurid-sounding bit of true-crime, shot through with how hard many work to avoid confronting this sort of thing, and you can feel both the guilt and not having done more and the need for self-preservation that prevents it.

Barnhart layers impressive animation on top of it, and the result is something that is very conspicuously not beautiful - even the sweet-seeming missing girl who deserved better is not fully idealized - but is full of the little details that help put those who have lived a comfortable life into a scary situation and transitions which keep the story moving even as it stretches out in time. Barnhart enhances mood and storytelling without ever straying from or undercutting DeWolf's base.

El increíble finde menguante (The Incredible Shrinking Wknd)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The big question after this screening was "when did you see it", referring to the aspect ratio changes going on through the film, which maybe speaks to how it's more of a visual gimmick than something that got across what the movie was going for. Which is a shame, because as flawed as it was, it plays into how the film is about someone not doing much with her youth, only to suddenly get hit with the idea that there's less she can do and less time to do it than she thought.

It's a strong idea but one that didn't necessarily get translated into events that well; unlike most time-loop movies, this one never has a period where Alba is trying to figure out what's happening or do something about it before getting to acceptance. In a way, that's just her character, but it leaves a chunk of time in the middle when the film seems to be running out the clock as surely as she is, and while there must be some waste to realize that time is precious, it's not the audience's time that should be wasted. Director Jon Mikel Caballero really doesn't seem to have a great idea of how to fill the time before the resets get tighter (the loop tightens by an hour every time through), and that's a frustrating issue at times.

It's still put together well, and there's some really nice work by cinematographer Tânia da Fonseca. It's a great-looking movie all around, especially with the camera often pointed at pretty locations, but the way she had to reframe for different shapes throughout seems deceptively tricky, and her knack for shooting with depth comes in handy as the screen becomes a window the audience is peering through. There may be tricks here, but everybody rises to the challenge to make an impressive film.

8

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The "demon" at the center of 8 is a sad, guilty one, something which makes for a different sort of thriller than the fairly traditional opening implies; it's as much the story of someone bound to something supernatural as those facing it, even if it has the look of something a bit more conventional.

Small things give it a distinct, South African identity; the very time it takes place, in 1977, seems too late for this kind of story, like the rest of the world is more settled, but here these sort of old family mansions are just starting to become obsolete. It makes "Lazarus" feel even more like a lingering remnant of something else, which the white family doesn't understand but the locals do, enhanced by Tsamano Sebe's fine performance, which seems a bit out of time itself. There is lingering mistrust that needs little explanation but forms a real barrier.

The film doesn't coast on its particular setting, though. It's a great little scary story, with dangerous gentility serving a more plainly monstrous entity from the start. The tension is built on nervous hope that some sort of basic decency will counter the need for a fight that many of the characters don't seem like they can win. It's shot on great-looking locations, with a striking change of scenery and style at the end, and plenty of chances to enjoy the way of the more traditional ghost story bits play out in handsome style.

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