7/13 : Arrival
Nine hours in a train, thirteen hours securing Wi-Fi, and a whole ton of walking. All this adds up to your correspondent’s arrival to the 2017 Fantasia Film Festival. No sleep? No problem. This party’s got everything you need to stay on your feet.
Things began with a power-house slaughterfest, Doom-style, with Jung Byung-Gil’s latest picture, The Villainess. Countless dead bodies filled this tale of deadly women, murder agencies, and betrayal. Disarmingly introduced by the commendably low-key director, The Villainess is an ultra-violent assassin revenge movie with a strange “rom-com” interlude. I strongly suspect that would give Byung-Gil a high five after watching it.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable was introduced by no less than Japan’s consulate general, whose gracious speech was followed by some snazzy fantasy-rock violin. Unfortunately, things began to disappoint immediately thereafter; so much so that, having given Jojo a chance for half its length, I had to duck out. Somehow I didn’t get the memo that most of the other attendees received: that this movie was amusing, stylish, and worthwhile. Ignorance of the series no doubt worked against me; the only other culprit I can think to blame is my sobriety.
I have no worries, though. Peeking ahead at the weekend, I find I will be booked solid with very promising titles. As midnight approaches, my first festival day winds down to a close. Tomorrow: three movies, with the action starting at 10 AM. Wish me luck out here; I’ll keep the reports coming.
7/14 : Travel-Size Review, The LaPlace’s Demon
Awkwardly titled, pleasantly unnerving. Giordano Giulvi’s The LaPlace’s Demon is a through-the-looking-glass take on the horror genre, replacing the fear of the supernatural with the terror at the hyper-rational. Eight souls are lured to an ominous mansion high atop a peak on a deserted island and trapped inside. Within, they find a clock-work model of their opulent prison, with eight white pawns. The all-knowing Professor Cornelius explains, via video-tape, they are part of an experiment to see if free will exists. As the pawns inside the model begin moving in sync with the visitors, real fear sets in when one pawn disappears—and an ominous Black Queen emerges.
The LaPlace’s Demon is a marvelous little chiller that feels like something Bobby Fischer would have whipped up had he been in charge of the Saw franchise, or perhaps what the good people behind Primer would have concocted had their interest been in the Determinist Gothic Horror genre. Being lucky enough to see it at a special press screening (woo-hoo!) before its premier, I’d advise anyone who has a chance, Stateside or otherwise, to seek it out. Is it Certifiable? Not for me to decide—but then again, perhaps the decision has been made already.
7/15 and 7/16 : The Long Weekend
Titles swarmed me with considerable vigor this opening weekend. I was not going to miss the latest Japanese monster picture, Shin Godzilla. The clever combination of bureaucracy-poking comedy, an adorable “baby” Godzilla, and a battle-hardened Big Godzilla won over both myself and the full house. High-tailing it across the street with minutes to spare, I caught the “International Sci-fi Shorts Showcase,” which had a number of somber contemplations, but ended with a scathing criticism of Erdogan’s Turkey with the comedy “The Last Schnitzel” (banned in its country of origin). Things got serious once more with the modern Indian tragedy “Gurgaon,” which left one of the Fantasia Festival staff very flustered afterwards—my French is not what it should be after 10+ years of study, but I think he didn’t quite like the audience’s reaction. Things went smoothly during my final movie of the night, The Honor Farm: Karen Skloss’ first fiction feature (read the detailed review here). After watching the drug-fueled shenanigans of high school seniors mucking about a haunted prison, I had the pleasure of interviewing the charming director. But, like so many souls at The Honor Farm, that recording may be lost to the ages.
*Deep Breath* Sunday began in rollicking form with the 1983 Turkish “classic,” Wild Blood. Hovering somewhere along the line connecting “so-bad-it’s-good” and “so-bad-it’s-weird”, this grind-house sucker has improbable knife fights, dissonant romantic musical cues, and an armless, legless psychopath with access to remote explosives. Things took a tragically normal turn with Abu, a documentary concerning the reconciliation of a homosexual Pakistani-Canadian with his distant-again/close-again father. Not my kind of thing, but from the crowd’s reaction, I’d say I was in the minority. Brigsby Bear brightened my late afternoon. “The Lonely Island” troupe’s love letter to misfits and making movies was nothing short of charming. Afterwards, by accident, I sat through some Quebecois dramas that were… dramatic. One, however, could have doubled as a really long and really touchy-feely Molson Canadian commercial.
Though not a weird film, the highlight of the weekend was My Friend Dahmer. Marc Meyer’s biopic of Jeffrey Dahmer’s senior year was spot on, capturing the pain of being a high school outcast. I make no excuses for a serial killer, but goodness, what a lamentable back-story. Somehow, Disney star Ross Lynch is perfect, giving Jeffrey a palpable undercurrent of charm.
7/17 through 7/19 : Slow-Down Before High-Velocity
I slept in far later Monday morning than I have since 2014, and no surprise. Still, I had plenty of time for prep and write-ups—just two movies that night: Have a Nice Day and the 137 minutes of short films compiled in the “Small Gauge Trauma” program. Nice Day (directed by Liu Jian) did not disappoint, using a minimalist cartooning style combined with appropriately dead-pan voice acting. Peopled by a gang of low- (very low-) level criminals and assorted losers, we follow a bag of stolen money around the outskirts of Some Chinese City.
Nice Day is perhaps worthy of our consideration at 366 Weird Movies, which is more than can be said for most of “Small Gauge Trauma”. With nine titles on the docket, only two really stood out: “Home Education” (directed by Andrea Niada) and “The Peculiar Abilities of Mr Mahler” (directed by Paul Phillipp). The former is a wonderfully dark tale about a home-schooled young English girl who is convinced by her mother that, if she just wants it enough, her dead father will come back. The latter is a compelling, TV-episode-length crime drama set in late ’80s Eastern Germany. Kind of “Sherlock”-ian, and I wish it, too, could be made into a television series.
Tuesday began at 15:00 hr, Canadian time. Greg Zglinski’s Animals were on display, strutting proudly. Using the cinematic equivalent of a blender, Animals concerns the experiences, memories, and personalities of three+ people (figuratively) spliced together. Time, location, and perspective are all chopped out of shape—and there’s also a stray black cat who urges murder and rather wants a cigarette.
The international (and directorial) debut of Graham Skipper’s of Sequence Break followed that evening to please members of the Cronen-bourgeois. There will be more on this later, but if you liked movie Videodrome, soon you’ll be able to play the video game.