Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fantasia 2019.15: Shooting the Mafia, Lake Michigan Monster, Miss & Mrs. Cops, and DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin Party

The Zappin Party is usually a couple days earlier, but putting it at roughly the two-thirds mark isn't a bad idea. You've made it more than halfway! And got to one of the few documentaries in the festival. Looking at the program, apparently there weren't enough non-fiction films this year for a full "Documentaries from the Edge" section - aside from Shooting the Mafia, it's mostly stuff about pop culture, but since there have been a bunch of nifty science-oriented and weird-culture things in previous years (I'm mildly surprised they didn't play Cold Case Hammerskjold), I hope that's just a one-year blip in the submissions, not a program that will be effectively retired like "Square Jaw Theater".



My first guests of the day were the Lake Michigan Monster guys, writer/director/producer/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Chris Ryan (who worked on the music), Mike Cheslik (visual effects), and co-star Daniel Long. In a lot of ways, their movie was Not My Thing, and I kind of knew I'd made a horrible mistake when Tews decided to introduce the film more or less in character and lead the audience in a sing-along, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the heck out of their decision to make a feature-length movie in Milwaukee before heading in new directions, though Tews moving to Los Angeles certainly helped with getting effects and post-production done.

Anyway, make movies, get them in front of people's eyes at festivals and elsewhere, and don't worry too much about what folks like me who probably weren't really ever going to be on your wavelength anyway think.



Speaking of, here's the French-Canadian folks who got bits into DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin' Party, the comedy/fandom block edited to resemble a guy flipping through some weird channels for two hours, always one of the highlights of the festival. I won't try and run down all 22 shorts included, as some are extremely short, others are kind of pure mash-ups, and most didn't have notes taken, but I'll try and highlight the ones I really liked.

Also, this was shown as part of the pre-show, and I'm somewhere between "everyone I know would like this" and "if I have to see it, you have to see it":



As I start writing this on Tuesday (a mere five days later), my plans are And Your Bird Can Sing, Dare to Stop Us, Jessica Forever, Tokyo Ghoul S, and Dachra. Neither The Crow on 35mm nor the super-sized five-hour Le Marathon Zappin' Party de DJ XL5 is likely a bad way to spend the evening.

Shooting the Mafia

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This is an intriguing but odd documentary, in that it seems like it could be more focused or detailed or illustrative, but instead the filmmakers just let it take them where it would, and if that wasn't where they expected, so be it.

As a result, the film never seems to have as much of Letizia Battalagia's photography as it seems like it really "should", although that could be more an artifact of the film seldom stopping to comment on her work as art and/or journalism and thus calling attention to this image being hers and what it represents as such. There are also noticeable gaps likely based upon what she was interested in talking about, and that means they have to work around it. For instance, there's not much about her time in politics, or when she wasn't active in either politics or photography, so she takes a step back during the big Mafia trials, letting those major events play out without her. It sometimes makes her feel like a convenient way to look at Sicily in general, rather than the subject of the film.

That's not quite the case, because she is so interesting, even if she never fits the confines of a conventional documentary easily. The people in her life talk about her with great affection, including a sometimes eyebrow-raising parade of younger photographers she took as lovers. Because she didn't pick up a camera until the age of 40, there's relatively little documentation of her early life, leading the filmmakers to fill in the gaps with film clips, which helps elevate her to a larger-than-life figure, confusing the heightened reality of the movie's with the often dramatic life she would lead. It's intriguing and informative, but also show you can't avoid myth-making.

"Picnic" (2019)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, digital)

Mike Pinkney has made one of those shorts that maybe wasn't necessarily influenced more by the idea of what an art film is like than actual films of that ilk or just having the same impulses lead him in a similar direction, but I suspect that's the mindset receiving it in most cases. Lord knows I haven't seen enough to really identify where it lands on the spectrum.

It's often fun to watch, at least, nailing a gauzy film look even as it seems to overdo the random slow-motion and extreme close-ups without a lot of clear purpose, playing cute charm and a weird ghost against each other before introducing "death cake", which if nothing else can certainly rush a five-minute film to its conclusion. And maybe it's more sincere than it looks, and just plays spoofy by being put next to Lake Michigan Monster. It's certainly an interesting choice to put one movie lampooning colorful highbrow works in front of the one going for black-and-white cheese.

Lake Michigan Monster

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Underground, digital)

Deliberate camp is awful most of the time, which is a fair description of Lake Michigan Monster, a tough slog for as long as the joke is looking at it and laughing at how low-rent it feels, but kind of fun once it finds itself more in the realm of the weird. Despite it only being 78 minutes long, it seems to take forever to make that jump, and I can't say that I found it worth the investment.

Writing that, I can't help but think back to One Cut of the Dead, which was similarly painful for at least a third of its running time before breaking out a last act that more than made up for the weak start, but the trick there was to really make use of absolutely everything that had been planted beforehand, while the bits that are awkwardly sprinkled into this movie's first half are obvious and surrounded by things that aren't ever going to be more than "hey, isn't this dumb?" So it looks cheap and hammy, and isn't going to be more.

Fortunately, it finds various ways to dispense of its less necessary characters (as movies with "monster" in the title do), and eventually just pares itself down to one man on a mission and between the no longer screwing around milking the same set of jokes on the one hand and a commitment to throwing a bunch of effects creative enough to not need every computational cycle a whole server farm can give on the other, the last stretch of the movie becomes a whole lot more fun. It's full of action, the randomness suddenly feels like its pushing in fun new directions, and Captain Seafield actually seems to give a damn about what's going on rather than just making the occasional arch-but-stupid remark.

It's still pretty dumb and campy by the end, but at least by that point it's asking is viewers to laugh at what it does well rather than what it's deliberately doing poorly, and that's a massive improvement.

Miss & Mrs. Cops (aka Girl Cops)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

This movie opens with an impressive bit of action and then, immediately, informs the audience that it's not going to be getting any more of that for a while, and I'm not going to lie, that's pretty disappointing. It's also got a different sense of where the line between hostile and abrasive is than American buddy-cop movies, and while it should - it is South Korean, after all - It's got trouble maintaining a time that works in other ways. The mean streak you often find in even Korean crime comedies doesn't serve this one very well.

It's frustrating, because you can see everything set up so well - a pair of sisters-in-law becoming reluctant partners to solve a case that the men on the force don't necessarily see as a big deal, backed up by a hacker who, between the sexism the film is targeting and cop movie-cliches, is actually extremely overqualified for the job she has - and the three top actresses are all a lot of fun to watch. The action at either end is pretty impressive, in part because Ra Mi-Ran never looks like the usual image of an action heroine (she's short and neither pretty nor aloof) and seems to be having so much fun just diving into it.

Jung Da-won's script makes a few leaps and bogs down in other places, and the contrast between its nasty crime story and slapstick comedy is almost always awkward. The film changes direction in the last act like a car backing up seven times to make a relatively small turn, to the point where one almost wants it to just switch things up and not worry about how. Of course, I suspect that some jokes get lost in translation - "grate!" just feels off as the characters try to cut the ropes they're tied up with, and a cameo appearance toward the end is likely much funnier to Korean audiences.

It's the second Korean action-comedy this year that I wouldn't mind seeing remade in English (and with a different name, as "Miss & Mrs. Cops" is awkward and "Girl Cops" is dumb), as there's good material here but it doesn't always connect as well as it could.

"Simon's Cat: Armchair Fan, Staircase, Spooked"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

The three latest "Simon's Cat" cartoons are just what you'd expect - Simon's cat is in the way and walks all over him, basically acting like a cat - but the designs are still great, Simon Tofield still knows just how much repetition is the optimum about to be really funny, etc. It's a cartoon cat being a cat, pushed just enough to be even funnier.

The "Spooked" one is a bit different, hinting just a bit at Halloween-style antics without really going for inappropriately scary. I'd almost kind of like to see Tofield go for something like this the next time he does a big color special, although this is probably just enough.

"Occupé"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

Half of my notes for this program: "Just why with all the shit, 'Occupé'? Just why?"

As you may guess, "Occupé" is an unrepentant gross-out comedy that I'm pretty sure I would have navigated away from if I found it on YouTube during the first minute, as it fills the porta-potty where her heroine drops her keys in order to make retrieving them really unappealing. It's still a pretty darn impressive bit of comic timing and built-up frustration after this starts. Messy as it is, it's pretty unlikely one won't laugh during this short.

"Pig"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

Filmmaker Evan Powers and his cast & crew do a much better job than usual of pivoting from straight-up horror stuff to spoofy stuff, in large part I think because the opening looks like a pretty fun home-invasion thriller - they're mixing it up a bit rather than just trying to make it as generic as possible - and the shift in perspective to the villains as buddies trying to prop up the guy who apparently has to wear the pig mask because he's carrying extra pounds isn't necessarily that much of a change. It's a funny crew on both sides, and doesn't stretch the joke out past what it can take.

"Shower Party"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival: DJ XL5's Nine Lives Zappin; Party, digital)

"Shower Party" is the sort of three-minute fight scene that probably took days to weeks to film and is a damn delight. It's a ton of high-quality Hong Kong-style fight choreography made all the more entertaining because the audience is already laughing at what a hair-trigger response it all is to a social faux pas, although you totally get just how good it must feel to totally let loose after this sort of thing. I'd kind of love for filmmakers David Gagné and Pierre-Luc Gosselin to figure out a way to make a feature-length comedy about the couple played by Marc-Andre Brisebois & Flavie Groleau just having this sort of melee regularly erupt around them, maybe learning to choose their words more carefully in the future.

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