2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: MOVIES & MAYHEM IN MONTREAL, VOL. 3

7/26 : Throwback Thursday …I Mean, Wednesday

Still from Eternal Evil (AKA The Blue Man)Tucked far out of the way of anything else at the Fantasia Festival is the “Cinematheque Quebecoise” theater. After forty minutes of searching and using the secret knock to get through the door, I was finally able to get seated for Eternal Evil (AKA The Blue Man). Directed in the mid-’80s by George Mihalka, Eternal Evil tells a dark tale of murder and astral projection. Our hero Paul Sharpe spends a lot of time with his shirt unbuttoned, and wonders why those close to him keep ending up dead. The answer stems from an interview he did with an elderly couple who claimed to achieve immortality by shifting to new bodies when their current vessels had worn out. A cult hit in its native Canada, the ’80s cheesiness was fortunately outweighed by the interesting story and clever premise. Not really something to Certify, though.

Poster for God Tole Me To (1976)That honor might go to ‘s 1976 cop-drama/alien-abduction picture, God Told Me To. A series of mass murders take place in downtown New York City, only connected by one thing: the perpetrators informing a policeman after the fact that they did because “God told [them] to.” Police detective Peter Nicholas is convinced there’s something to their confessions and digs deeper, discovering both an ominous entity at the heart of the matter as well as some strange truth about his own nature. Quite Certifiable, with one of the “Three Weird Things” necessarily being “glowing furnace-room messiah.”

7/27 : “Well, all the movies can’t be good. You’ve got to expect that once in a while.”

I suppose I really shouldn’t complain. It took over two weeks for Fantasia to give me a swing-and-a-miss evening out. I had high hopes for the Filipino Town in a Lake, Jet Leyco’s (ever-so-slightly) bizarre crime drama concerning the murder of one girl and the concurrent disappearance of another. The first hour is a humdrum, if capable, drama surrounding the mystery: reporters rush to the small town as the news “trends”, politicians work hard to take advantage of the tragedy, and, as is so often the case, the police have no real leads. It takes over an hour for something weird to happen—and right on its heels, the movie ends with a “twist”. An out-of-the-blue, confounding, and not terribly inspired “twist”. Though my goal here is to find new movies that are out of the ordinary, I can’t help but think that Town in a Lake would have been better as a straight-up procedural. As it stands, it’s as if got particularly lazy and, in the third act, shouted, “Hey! Look over there!” before darting from the theater.

The Argentinians did a bit better with the second feature of the evening, Dead Man Tells His Own TaleFabián Forte whips up an anti-male-chauvinist/feminist/post-feminist undead comedy romp featuring a sexist director of commercials being killed, brought back, and forced to conform to a more woman-positive way of thinking. He cannot lie, rate women on a scale, or philander—all while being stuck with a slowly decomposing body. Largely dismissible as “enlightened gender awareness” feel-goodery, it nonetheless has enough charm and creativity to be entertaining, even with the subtitles out of sync with the dialogue by about two seconds. Regardless, I’m hoping for better luck tomorrow.

7/28 : Four Movies, in Brief

Things began gloomily with Fenar Ahmad’s doctor/gangster revenge drama, Darkland. Tommy Swerdlow’s A Thousand Junkies lightened the mood with its humorous tale of a three heroin-addicts driving all over the L.A. area trying to score some “medicine”. The third feature of the day, Fritz Lang, played like Fritz Lang in Love, though in this case director Gordian Maugg gives the back-story to ‘s inspiration for the much darker M. Rounding out the evening, I enjoyed a (lamentably over-loud) “4K” screening of ‘s early classic The Crazies, learning in the process that he’s never really had a soft spot for the US military.

7/29 : Hemming and Hawing

Triple feature of brief movies or double feature with a long movie? Well, it was decided for me when I stumbled across a couple of reviewers and a director whose acquaintance I’d made and we all sat together for the long short, “Past and Future Kings”, followed by the long feature, Attraction. The former, directed by Raphaël Hébert, took an interesting look at the hazards of immortality, with an undying 11th-century king living to become president of modern-day USA. Let’s just say that activating project “Ragnarok” is as explosive as it sounds.

Attraction, a big-budget sci-fi action-comedy directed by big-shot Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk, played very much like its American equivalent might; except, unsurprisingly for those in the know, the military in Attraction always did the right thing (which, oddly enough, was often “nothing”). Big space sphere, neat-o encounter suits, and a cheesy romance all added up to 2 and 1/4 hours of sufficiently entertaining what-have-you. All told, one of those movies I was happy enough to see, but would not recommend.

Right afterwards with the same crowd of fellows, I saw the triptych animated “feature” dubbed Cocolors. Three different animated movies from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese directors dovetail into each other, each having post-apocalyptic overtones to one degree or another. The last —and titular—cartoon was by far the most impressive in its vision, but once it showed a human face for the first time, things soared into distressingly melodramatic territory. The Korean segment, “Scarecrow Island,” gets major props for having the post-surface world be in the sky instead of underground. “Valley of White Birds”, from China, is worth mentioning for its dreamy animation and—how can I put this?—clear-cut ambiguity.

Travel-Size Review: 68 Kill

The crowd was big, the publicists were hovering, and I had a great seat for Trent Haaga’s sophomore directing effort, 68 Kill. In the brief introduction for the film, I learned that Haaga has written screenplays for years, and at one point was part of the team. As the lights went down and the movie came up, this tidbit became obvious altogether too quickly. As a guns-blazing/psycho-crazy/sitcom/romance mash-up, 68 Kill tries to be all things to all people (or at least all Fantasia-style people), and, the crowd’s response notwithstanding, it fails more often than not.

Hapless puppy-dog boyfriend Chip is dating white-trash sociopath Liza, who convinces him to join her in stealing a (not-too-impressive) $68,000 from her primary john. This being Fantasia, and this movie being this kind of movie, things go badly very quickly—without obvious reason (as our “hero” Chip himself even observes). After the heist, it shifts gears into a criminals-on-the-lam road movie with more pointless violence (done poorly) and climaxes in a trailer home filled with drug-addled, gun-toting hicks. I can only presume that Trent Haaga was trying to add real menace to the slap-stick violence and “why me?” comedy, but my experience with other movies left me underwhelmed by the events. I suppose I’d describe 68 Kill as “Troma does Wild at Heart“; that said, do yourself a favor and give this one a miss. Re-watch Lynch’s Certified revenge classic instead.

7/30 : Faith Restored

Still from Night is Short, Walk on Girl (2017)It was with some trepidation that I went out to see Night is Short, Walk on Girl (dir. Masaaki Yuasa).  By the end of the first act, however, I was hooked. The story concerns an adventurous young woman and her escapades in Kyoto while being observed by the staggeringly shy Senpai, a college senior who is commendably mediocre at everything. Binge-drinking, the joys of binge-drinking, the serendipity stemming from binge-drinking, the social interactions had while binge-drinking… well, that’s the first act. Acts two, three, and four involve a magical used book fair with a nigh-deadly competition, a guerilla play with power-ballads, and a mysterious cold germ that sweeps over the entire city. The story couples nicely with the animation style (anime-meets-Yellow Submarine, I would say), and the resulting 93 minutes are stuffed to the gills with both narrative and visual humor. (And wonderment. And surrealism. And drinking).

Dropping like a cold, wet, stone on that mood, Christian Pasquariello’s debut, S.U.M. 1, hits all the right (minor key) notes: dismal future, pale citizenry, militarized existence, and an adorable white rodent. Our hero, S.U.M. 1, is stationed at an observation tower for an 100-day period of active duty, monitoring the surrounding forest for the “Nonsuch.” These mysterious entities are ostensibly very powerful, deadly, and hard to kill—except, no one seems to know what they look like. S.U.M.1 grows edgy in his isolation (rodent buddy notwithstanding) and begins to think that there is some kind of bizarre conspiracy going on. Invoking an isolated mood akin to Duncan Jones’ MoonS.U.M.1 works very well, and the non-twist twist at the end works wonders. Highly recommended for science fiction fans looking for gloomy fare.

7/31 : Sinister Technology

A freak storm thwarted my efforts to see Deliver Us, a documentary about modern-day exorcism in Italy. (Eeiey, perhaps, for just as I was about to leave the hotel, the sky darkened tremendously and massive, rapid-fire daggers of hail dropped violently from above.) So I lingered, leaving a bit later to catch Sébastien Diaz’s collection of horror-comedy vignettes, Terreur 404. All were quite enjoyable, with the director and actors walking along the knife-edge of high-wit comedy and unsettling scares. Of the bunch, two stood out: “The Virus,” where computer viruses (and, more creepily, “worms”) are made real as various governments crack down on would-be hackers and media pirates. “Mom, I’m Scared” explores the dangers of viral videos as a hapless middle-manager, who responsibly keeps deleting links to an ostensibly hilarious web video, gets swarmed by his cackling, brain-washed co-workers when he refuses to watch it. If you an find the anthology, give it a go.

8/1 : Penultimate Outing

Still from Bad Black (2017)“Is he dead?” The man is kicked, wakes up. “Oh, this is Uganda — I thought he’s dead.”  So intones narrator “VJ Emmie” in Nabwana I.G.G’s thrill-a-minute (or, “wait a minute…”) action epic spanning three generations of heroes and villains—Yes, it’s Bad Black! Catching up on homework early this afternoon, I disappeared into one of the most hilariously chaotic action/crime/thriller/revenge/epic/what-the?/prison movies I’ve ever seen, guided along the way by the giddy-as-Hell narrator. If there’s excitement on screen, he’s sure to tell us, spewing names of Hollywood action stars (“Schwarzenegger! Rambo! Van Damme! Bruce Willis! Bill Murray!…”) as he highlights the scenes. Without the VJ, it’d be something weird and mundane; with the spirited running commentary (“the situation now goes beyond monotonous!”), it becomes a gloriously weird mash-up of low (low low low [low low low]) budget action violence and surreal comedy.

Still from The Endless (2017)In the evening, I sat in a jam-packed screening of ‘s and ‘s troubling The Endless. Two brothers, having escaped a cult ten years prior, receive an old video camera tape with a message from the members, prompting the young brother to want to visit his old home. Reluctantly, the older agrees to spend a night there for closure’s sake. That night turns into two, then three. However, during their stay they notice a number of odd things, the most menacing of which are what appear to be repetitive pockets of time. It seems that a number of the denizens of the group’s hideaway, called “Camp Arcadia,” have less of a future than one might expect, even from an alleged “death cult.” More on this little gem later…

…because right now, Prey deserves a mention. Big city: Amsterdam. Big menace: an escaped lion from places unknown. The two together add up to a big body count—one that is rising altogether too quickly for the authority’s comfort. “Genre” filmmaker Dick Maas returns with an alternately gruesome and rollicking “monster” movie featuring a hungry, hungry kitty. I should also mention the short film, “Health, Wealth, & Happiness,” that preceded the feature. Directed by Nic Alderton, “HW&H” tells of the misadventure of a would-be thief who encounters a wish-granting victim. As we might expect (and hope for), he doesn’t get quite what he bargains for—ending with a deeply disturbing fate (and a variant of one of my greatest fears) put to a cheeky jazz club score. Alderton is someone to keep an eye out for in the future.

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