Saturday, July 27, 2019

Fantasia 2019.13: A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Black Magic for White Boys, The Father's Shadow, and Door Lock

Moviewatching started at noon on Tuesday, meaning this seemingly innocuous day in the middle of the festival could have been one of the busiest if not for the two houses having staggered times and leaving me with a big chunk of time to get groceries and try the Ka'ek place that had moved into the spot where I used to be able to just run across the street for a slice of pizza. It's a nice addition.

(Which is to say - I felt culinarily adventurous trying a new kind of grilled cheese sandwich.)



Only guests today were Onur Tukel (second from left) and Black Magic for White Boys co-producer William George-Louis and co-star Eva Dorrepaal. They had kind of a crazy story for this film, which played Tribeca in one 80-minute form in 2017, and when they got comments about it feeling like a TV show it got broken up into four 20-minute episodes as a sitcom pilot, but that didn't get picked up to series, so they shot more, and there's apparently 40 minutes of original footage and 65 that's new. There were originally plans for the series to explore contrasting types of magic - literal, pharmaceutical, technological - but it didn't really shake out that way, becoming more about gentrification and sort of contrasting how power enables corruption with the pull of the ordinary. It's a bit of a mess and Tukel talks about the themes behind the movie from an odd place - he's both the first white guy to move into his building in Brooklyn and now getting priced, so he feels like both the cause and victim if this problem.

Anyway, I'm making this post about Tuesday on Saturday, which is going to be a longish day - White Snake, the sci-fi shorts, Kingdom, Why Don't You Just Die?, and Les Particules - with Sunday being even longer: Full Contact on 35mm, Homewrecker, The Island of Cats, Circo Animato, Freaks, and American Fighter.

"Woman in Stall"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

"Woman in Stall" is a near-ideal example of this type of short thriller - an exceptionally hemmed-in location, a vague potential threat that there's no easy escape from, a simple ratcheting up of tension that doesn't really require anything that couldn't also be viewed as innocent. And which may actually be such - the film puts just enough hints that this may be a misunderstanding compounded by how the average guy doesn't recognize how a woman feels in this situation to give it multiple bad ways it can end.

That the guy in question is almost entirely unseen other than as feet or what you can see looking through the cracks in a restroom stall both lets the audience imagine the worst and also sets some bounds that make one think, while star and co-director/producer Madeleine Sims-Fewer is showing the audience every bit of suspicion and fear that passes through her mind, while also making sure that she's quick and sharp, determined to push back. It's a terrific performance that of necessity has her using words relatively little, as this is the sort of situation where her character doesn't want to give the guy anything he can use, at least not until she can try to take charge of the situation. Dialogue isn't always about trying to get something, but there's no escaping that it certainly can be.

Anyway - don't talk in bathrooms more than the absolute minimum, and, geez, guys, don't ever do this.

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This starts as one sort of crime movie and evolves into another, and truth be told, it's the first half that seems to have the greater potential, but the right casing and some willingness to crank up the pressure can do wonders for even the most threadbare thriller plots, and this one's got some really good work.

The nifty casting turns out to be Sarah Bolger, who invests a young working-class widow with plenty of nerve when appropriate, a hard-earned variety that's convincing enough that the film has no need to open with or flash back to the events that put the family in its current position. The script seldom makes her overconfident or timid, and she's got the right mix at all times, someone who knows her capability but recognizes real danger. Bolger always seems to recognize that she's in a crime movie even when being placed in relatively ordinary situations, always looking over her shoulder or otherwise paying extra attention.

The plotting is, Intriguingly, neither intricate nor chaotic; it relies on a certain sort of dangerous serendipity that can seem like randomness or cheating in the wrong hands. In those of writer Ronan Blaney and director Abner Pastoll, there's something that seems right about how most crime here seems opportunistic, the result of someone choosing to act when in the right (or wrong) place at the right time. It's not a natural thing, and the only characters far enough down the rabbit hole to treat it as one are psychopaths. The question is whether Sarah and her grounded sanity can be enough in those situations, and how she's right on the border of being out of her depth and able to assert control even when things get messy in the last act.

Black Magic for White Boys

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, DCP)

I'm not particularly curious to see the previous iteration(s) of this movie, which got a fairly thorough retooling after its initial screenings, just a bit surprised that this work still left it with obvious gaps and issues. It's still frequently funny in a charmingly homemade way; its seemingly effect-less effects and unrefined characters have the nice effect of Onur Tukel's film just laying what it wants out there.

And it is, although it gets a couple layers deep in the meta-narrative at one point, as the film stops and kind of hammers away that, yes, while you were laughing at all the white-person drama, black and poor people have been literally disappearing from Brooklyn so that more of these people can be moved in. It's brought up in just short of clumsy fashion and would maybe sink a movie trying to be more polished, but here, the filmmakers are kind of like the guys at the tiny theater revitalized by its owner demonstrating that he knows real magic - more resources than most, but pretty much still scraping things together to put on their show, so it mostly fits.

It fits especially well when they can just go with general goofiness, whether it be the Greek chorus of people waiting for the bus spouting what's occasionally nonsense and what's occasionally unwanted sanity, or the back and forth between a bunch of people with fine comic chops. It is, admittedly, kind of disconcerting to recognize that Tukel has given himself one of the more unabashedly selfish characters in the film - as much as the guy is supposed to be pretty much awful, having the whining about how tough it is for white guys come out of the filmmaker's mouth is a bit uncomfortable.

I suppose that the particular variety of tone-deafness is just another thing that makes it feel oddly authentic, though - like its characters, the film itself sometimes has trouble realizing when it's gone from hip or cool to over a line.

"Le Blizzard"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Hey, I don't think I've ever seen a movie of any length from Andorra before. That's neat.

Intriguingly, it's director Alvaro Rodriguez Areny's second short set during World War II, and has the feeling of a pilot for a larger project. If it is, it's an interesting enough one, showing that he's got a good knack for tension and action as a desperate flight becomes more immediate as a mother (Aida Folch) looking for her daughter sees the members of the group she's with getting picked off. It's all solid enough, although it illustrates technique better than it tells a story, especially once a bit of unreality asserts itself toward the end. It gives the film some striking final images, communicating the idea that there was just nothing Marie could do, but still feels like it's a piece of something larger rather than a film built to accomplish this goal itself.

A Sombra do Pai (The Father's Shadow)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The young actress in this movie, Nina Medeiros, is genuinely amazing, and even if it's just a matter of casing the girl who could best give the movie what it needs most of the time - a skinny body seemingly about to collapse under the weight on the family stress put upon her hiding eyes that indicate almost frightening intensity - getting the right amount and focus in any given scene is no small thing. She's great and delivers exactly what the movie needs. It's a tense little performance that convinces the audience that anything is possible for Dalva, from collapse to genuine sorcery.

It's kind of a slow burn otherwise, the daughter kind of waiting and watching while the father spirals deeper into despair, seeing a lousy world claim everyone around him and feeling powerless to do anything about it. There are other characters floating around them, with intersecting issues of their own, helping make her problems uniquely her own even as they also reflect a greater malaise. Writer/director Gabriela Amaral lets important things happen off-screen in a way that's actually quite useful - it is, for instance, genuinely tricky to know if Dalva's aunt Cristina and her boyfriend Elton are really stable enough to take her in, even as her father Jorge seems to be falling apart.

It's nicely spooky, as well, though that's not exactly the prime focus. The bits which indicate something in this world isn't quite right are suitably unnerving, though, especially one where a kid thinking she can do magic reveals as much as anything actually supernatural. And if the end is a bit more pure fantasy than the rest, it certainly does not feel unearned.

"Miedos" ("Fears")

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

It feels like tremendous nitpicking to say that "Fears" is a few seconds off in terms of how long it shows some things or keeps going after revealing something, but at nine minutes long, those seconds are a lot. Germán Sancho is starting from a simple premise (girl afraid to go to sleep because of the scary old lady she claims lives in her closet), so he's got to be either very precise or very creative to stand out.

Happily, he's doing well on both sides; "Fears" has been hiding something genuinely unnerving and mostly unexpected when he does pull back the curtain, and he's done a nice job of keeping what's threatening this little girl (an impressive Claudia Placer) simple and elemental enough for it all to fit together. There's a little extra at the end that very slightly diminishes the "you got me and I've got to sit with that a bit" feeling, but mostly it just feels nicely done.

Door Lock

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I may or may not have seen the movie which inspired this film, but it's not like the case of another Korean remake of a Spanish thriller a couple years ago when I realized that I knew what's going to happen next about ten minutes in. It certainly feels like its own movie, and a thriller that doesn't mess around much to boot.

The focus on security is kind of intriguing, in that it's often presented as futile and/or making someone a prisoner of their own fears, and there's a bit of that for Gyeung-min; for there to be a movie, all of her preparations must eventually fall (although I'm not entirely certain how her regular pass-code changes get tripped up), but she seldom seems foolishly vigilant. Situations that turn out harmless still feel dangerous enough for caution to be sensible, and there are just enough incidents where men don't understand the sort of intimidation that women are subject to to make it clear that Gyeung-min is more or less on her own without making them competent callous. There's care to parallel other aspects of a young person's life, too, such as the uncertainty of employment and rent seem to put all the risk on the person who can least bear it.

And, surface-level, it's a fine thriller. It has a chance to get cute with how what the audience sees isn't what's going on, but dispenses with that quickly, in a way that ties one's stomach in a knot with a real sustained urgency of what has to be done without getting too explicit too early. The film stumbles a bit in how it handles partner-in-crime-solving Hyo-ju, in that she can be a little too good at lightening the mood at times or seemingly dismissing what getting sucked into all of this mess as Gyeung-min's support means for her, but the actresses mostly play well off each other, and the filmmakers are not afraid to push hard to get the film into dark, suspenseful territory as it winds down. There's an undiluted nastiness that's often the case with Korean thrillers in particular, but writer/director Lee Kwon does good work on staying on just the right side of the line between "intense" and "repulsive".

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