Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fantasia 2020.02: Dinner in America, Hunted, Cosmic Candy, and "You Wouldn't Understand"

Would you believe me if I said The Undertaker's Home isn't included here because I was trying to emulate the festival experience and I would have been in de Seve watching Dinner in America while it played in Hall so that doesn't ring true? No? Is it because I clearly would have been in the other room because the subject matter would have been more my speed even if Dinner had actors I like?

Well, it would be fun to say, but I don't necessarily have the room to be clever like that. It turns out that Dinner in America is not necessarily a bad movie but it is very much a not-for-me one, although it likely would have found its way onto my dance card during a normal fest for the same reason it did here: I'm going to try and max out my time with as many movies as possible, and maybe only give the program a cursory glance early on so that I'm not 100% sure what I'm getting into as I sit down. I'm probably doing that a little bit more here than I would in Montreal, since I'm not carrying around the big paperback program which I like flipping through a lot more than the website. But I'm also just kind of taking the screeners as they come.

Hunted, on the other hand, turns out to definitely be my thing, especially now that I'm probably a little more aware of how Little Red Riding Hood probably resonates a lot more with women's experiences than I was when I noted that something like three or four entries in a short women's horror program referenced it. The star is actually wearing a red hoodie through much of the movie, but it's also tons of fun when you get down into the details, including a bunch that were too fun to put in the review because of the surprise (though I will say that the blue paint goes from "wait, what?" to "that's kind of perfect" in about two seconds). I also really dug Cosmic Candy along the same lines - it's another simple story told well with sharp details.

And then, finally, we looped back around to "You Wouldn't Understand", which I gather played before Dinner in America if you watched it via the livestream. It's a nifty little short that hits a really specific mood better than a lot of jokier attempts to do so, and I'm looking forward to having a little time to dig further into what the group has posted on YouTube.

Dinner in America

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Sometimes there's a thin line between characters who are difficult and abrasive but interesting and characters you just plain hate. Sometimes it's not necessarily thin, but it just seems to take forever to reach the point where you can see it and maybe get something out of it. Dinner in America is in the second category, but by the time I realized that I found it hard to give it the proper credit. It spends so much time being nasty and charmless that it is hard to take its better impulses seriously.

We first meet Simon (Kyle Gallner) puking as he takes part in a drug study which is going about as well for Beth (Hannah Marks). They're booted out, and she invites him over to her place for Sunday dinner, which goes about as well, with him burning some bridges and other items on the way out. Elsewhere in Detroit, mousy 20-year-old Patty (Emily Skeggs) is being bullied on the bus and at work, with her parents saying she can't go to a concert on Friday night. She spots Simon as he's dealing some drugs and running from the cops, and he decides to hide out at her place for a while, although he's got a whole list of things he's got to do while she's looking for a new job.

Simon is a miserable little jackass, and while writer/director Adam Rehmeier will occasionally toss in something to make him seem a bit more sympathetic, but almost every bit of it is just targeting his violence at people the audience disapproves of more, and even his eventual opening up to Patty is selfish, like he can't see her having value until it's revealed that she has talent directly related to his own interests. It could be a moment of growth, but he's not given much of a chance to show he's a better person in general. He's the sort of petulant punk-rocker who's got nothing but anger and violence most of the time, and while it's energetic and entertaining at moments, it can wear on a viewer.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Hunted (2020)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Most moviegoers don't see that many movies like Hunted, but if you go to genre festivals or spend a lot of time digging through your favorite streaming services to find the new selections, it gets categorized: Survival horror, nature, woman on the run, etc. What makes one of those stand out? A couple good performances. Some visual style. And a willingness to go kind of crazy at the point where the audience might be expecting the filmmakers to coast.

It starts in familiar-enough fashion - a fairy tale allusion, a woman frustrated at work who goes out to a bar to blow off some steam, and a guy who initially seems nice enough but shows his true colors quickly. Soon enough Eve (Lucie Debay) is stuffed in a trunk, but able to flee her kidnappers (Arieh Worthalter & Ciaran O'Brien) thanks to a freak accident. They are never that far behind, though the woods are full of surprises.

Writer/director Vincent Paronnaud is likely best-known internationally as Marjane Satrapi's collaborator on the film version of Persepolis, and he's spent much of the rest of his career in comics and animation, so it's not exactly a surprise when the bit before the opening title includes a nifty bit of animation that is nevertheless well-enough matched to the rest of the movie that it doesn't feel like it doesn't belong. It's quickly contrasted with a moment or two of grainy-video shot in less than great lighting, and that's a bit of a preview of what's going to happen throughout the movie: Every time Eve is able to put a little bit of distance between herself and her pursuers, the forest scene takes on a bit of a fairy-tale quality, albeit as much Grimm as Disney, while there's a flatness to the guys' scenes, maybe a slight washing-out, like they're living in the violent constructed fantasy meant to be captured on camera.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Cosmic Candy

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

It took me a bit of time to reset my brain for how off-kilter Cosmic Candy is, and the funny part is that because I saw it via this festival and consume a fair amount of fantastical material anyway, I had to adjust it downard. It's trippy at the start but things didn't click into place until I realized that it didn't take place in a world where hallucinogenic confections make it to supermarket shelves, but one where things get plenty weird and interesting on their own.

So that piece at the start where Anna Pilarinou (Maria Kitsou) seems to fly into space from the liquor aisle of the supermarket where she works is just a dream, one from which she is wakened by Persa (Magia Pipera), the ten-year-old next door, loudly practicing her lines for the Independence Day school play. That may not be an issue for very long; the other residents of the building are circulating a petition to kick Persa's father (Dimitris Lalos) out, what with them being behind on the rent, attracting suspicious characters, and being generally weird. Of course, Anna is a bit of a mess herself, probably kept on at the shop because her late father was the best friend of proprietor Yannis (Fotis Thomaidis) and apparently suffering from some sort of compulsive behavior. But when Persa's father disappears and the landlord changes the locks, she can't bring herself to push the girl in front of her door away.

It takes a while for director Rinio Dragasaki and her co-writer Katerina Kaklamani to really start digging into the reason why Anna is the way she is, if that's what they actually do - for all that viewers may wisely nod at understanding why she's a lousy supermarket clerk clinging to certain things despite apparently owning a very nice apartment outright, the filmmakers leave the exact extent to which it is cause and effect up to viewers. Similarly, there's almost no time spent on exactly why Persa's father needs to run and hide; the two learn just enough about each other to recognize a bit of themselves, but the story keeps their backstories fuzzy enough that the film can't really lead to them confronting the past as opposed to deciding on a present and future.

Full review at eFilmCritic

"You Wouldn't Understand"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, Vimeo via Roku)

The fun of "You Wouldn't Understand" is that it never quite makes sense, but always feels like the piece that would make everything fall into place is just around the corner. It starts with a man (Anthony Arkin) having himself a tastefully-elaborate solo picnic, seeing something odd in the distance, and then having one of the folks he sees (Jacob A. Ware) approach and ask for some "horsey sauce" but dissemble just enough to make it weird before things start getting truly strange. From there, things seem to get even more bizarrely random.

But… not quite. I don't know whether director Trish Harnetiaux and co-writer/co-star Jacob A. Ware have mapped out what's really going on to the point where the film is actually tight and self-consistent if you know all the background, but they've built something just steady enough that they can throw in a bunch of science-fiction tropes and have the viewers both feel like they have seen this bit and understand it enough to get by but also sympathize with Anthony Arkin's bemused observer and get the feeling that this is what suddenly finding yourself in a sci-fi situation where the underpinnings of reality are being kicked out. Or, hey, living in a world where something that should be a really big deal gets tweeted out every ten minutes but the cumulative effect is kind of numbing, if you have to align it with the real world.

Not that there's much effort to do that, and indeed, Harnetiaux and company do a nifty job of mixing the comfortable with the unusual; all the white in the wardrobe and other spots marks things as specifically otherworldly, though there's a sort of comforting normalcy about the setting, even if it does seem like it's designed as an idealized early-twentieth-century. The two actors strike this balance extremely well too; Anthony Arkin has a reassuringly grounded nature even as he gets pulled into the weird here while Ware has a wide-eyed beaky presence that suggests a lot of times through the scenario has not exactly driven him mad but made him care very little about appearing sane.

It's kind of odd to apply the "it only felt like…" line to shorts, but it's amusingly true here - this ten-minute movie comes together well enough to only feel like five, never hitting a snag despite having a whole lot of ideas to fit in and move through. Arkin probably has a hand in that as editor, although it goes to show just how well Harnetiaux and the rest of this "Steel Drum in Space" team works together. I'm not sure I've ever been inspired to follow a YouTube channel from a festival short before, but this is certainly a group I'll keep an eye on.

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