All posts by Giles Edwards

Film major & would-be writer. 6'3".

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BAD BATCH (2016)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, ,

PLOT: Exiled as an undesirable, a woman finds herself escorted to the wrong side of the border fence where she is abducted by a society of iron-pumping people-eaters; escaping after some heavy bodily losses, she finds the closest thing to a utopian village this side of the scorched wasteland.

Still from The Bad Batch (2016)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In the follow-up to her debut hit, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, director Ana Amirpour imbues the harsh, sun-drenched world of The Bad Batch with the same dreamy otherness found in her nocturnal black and white feature. An oddly appropriate New Wave soundtrack underscores the joie de vivre that the exiles somehow maintain, while things get good and weird with a ’70s drug-dealer-style Keanu Reeves as the king of Comfort and Jim Carrey’s non-speaking, desert-wandering vagrant oddball. Also in the mix: cannibalism, Keanu-speechifying, and an LSD Eucharist.

COMMENTS: Upon its release, most reviewers dismissed The Bad Batch as a bad movie. 43% “Fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes, an IMDB featured user review railing on about its overall crumminess, and the movie was some several million shy of recouping its six-million-dollar budget. Washed upon our shores because of a quick release on Netflix and DVD, it would seem a hopeless case. It is not. The Bad Batch is one of the more novel films to have come out in a while. Bringing together elements of dystopian allegory and post-apocalyptic survivor story (sans actual apocalypse), it takes the difficult path of providing no backstory. Only as the movie unfolds does the bizarre reality start making (some) sense—albeit with heavy doses of strange circumstance and stranger characters.

We get our only glimpse of “civilized” society during the opening credits. Young Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is tattooed behind the ear with “BB5040” and then shunted through a massive border fence with a sign outside that advises, “Beyond this fence is no longer the territory of Texas […] Good luck.” Almost immediately, she’s nabbed by a pair of muscle-bound bandits on a speeding golf cart and finds herself a prisoner in the shanty-est of shanty-towns. Relieved of both her right arm and leg to feed the locals, she hatches a clever escape: downing a bandit with an iron rod, she slides out of town on a skateboard. Picked up by a vagrant with a shopping cart, she’s dropped off in “Comfort,” where she finds… comfort, but no purpose. She only evolves after taking acid at a town rave hosted by Comfort’s ruler, a man credited as “The Dream,” played with jaundiced silkiness by Keanu Reeves.

The blazing sun of the south-of-Texas desert blinds by day, and the clear skies at night heighten Arlen’s spirit journey as she stumbles into the desert looking for purpose. The engine of the story is, in a way, revenge. She encounters one of her captors (and the captor’s daughter) sifting through a landfill, and the subsequent act of murder ironically forces Arlen to take responsibility for the daughter’s life. The cannibal society lives to pump iron, while Comfort’s society lives for pleasure and self-realization. Even in the wasteland, there is a stark divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Things come to a head when “Miami Man” (Jason Momoa), tattoo and sketch artist, body-builder, butcher, and father, begins his hunt for his missing daughter. Drizzled throughout this sun-and-star-soaked drama are bizarre, eyebrow raising details: a “Jizzy-Fizzy” soda machine, pregnant machine-gun-toting  bodyguards, the solemn trade of a snow-globe, and the Dream’s illuminating question to the daughter: “Is this your rabbit?”

In its bizarre way, The Bad Batch is a remix of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Both films take place in ghost towns populated by unsavory, larger-than-life characters. Both focus on the awakening of a young woman’s sense of self. Both use a skateboard as a metaphor for freedom. The Bad Batch‘s tone is hard to pin down; El Topo springs to mind, but with a esque bent. Perhaps that’s why The Bad Batch did little more than confuse and disappoint the general public. Pity for them; but its eccentricities and meaty characters leave us with something fresh and delicious to chew on.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a trippy, sun-scorched apocalyptic horror film with a rom-com finish that gets as bloody, visceral and cannibalistic as its U.S. R rating will allow. “–Julia Cooper, Globe and Mail (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE FLESH (1991)

La carne

DIRECTEDY BY:

FEATURING: Sergio Castellitto, Francesca Dellera, Petra Reinhardt

PLOT: A nightclub pianist drops everything—his job, kids, beloved dog—to shack up with a mysterious woman who randomly enters his life, pursuing an alternately playful and carnal relationship involving, at various points, a paralysis-induced-erection, breast-feeding at St. Faustino’s shrine, storks, and whimso-sadism.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The plot description gives a hint, I suspect. Marco “La Grande Bouffe” Ferreri revisits themes of food, sex, and love, albeit with a (comparatively) light-hearted touch this time around. The movie’s tone veers strangely between Dirty Dancing and 37º2 le matin (Betty Blue), as the mood shifts from maudlin to passionate to absurd—all while late ’80s hits (OMG Milli Vanilli!) randomly crop up on the soundtrack.

COMMENTS: Marco Ferreri, Italy’s foremost disgruntled auteur, has a knack for drama that hovers around the darker side of aimless. Dillinger is Dead brings meandering film into the realm of the surreal, with its protagonist just puttering around his apartment until a dramatic finale. La Grande Bouffe tells the tale of the un-tragic deaths of four well-heeled professionals. In The Flesh, his penultimate cinematic release, Ferreri takes on the art crowd with a shouting kind of mumble-core. Over the course of the movie, strange things befall our protagonist, a singing, piano-and kazoo-playing performer who has a lot going for him that he throws away.

Paolo (Sergio Castellitto) takes his children to a natural history museum where his personal foibles are on display. He rages (at the animatronic dinosaurs) after he’s told that his estranged wife, a civil servant, won’t allow his son to have a first communion. (Here we see the conflict between Italy’s communist elements and its Catholic ones). At work the next evening (afternoon? seems like a lot of people have just started drinking early), we meet Francesca (Francesca Dellera), Europe’s melancholy answer to the “manic pixie dream girl.” Abandoning his post at the club, his obligation to a sick friend, and his child-support payments, Paolo spends some heady days at his remote beach-front cottage. The story becomes strange when, upon him failing to achieve potency one day, Francesca uses a massage technique that leaves him powerless to move, albeit able to oblige sexually.

The Flesh unsettlingly combines the genres of romantic-dramedy and symbolist screed, all to an incongruous pop-rock soundtrack. Francesca, right on the heels of an abortion, falls for the charmingly arrogant piano man, if only because she finds him so different from the mellow young guru she shacked up with before. Having trapped Paolo in stiff paralysis, she only spends time with him to feed him and make love, sometimes simultaneously. Otherwise, she’s out observing the recurring stork metaphor, at one point meeting up with a woman breast-feeding a pair of twins. Violence vs. sex also crops up, as the shelling from ships offshore causes Paolo’s temporary impotence while simultaneously arousing Francesca. And, as I said, there’s Milli Vanilli, late era Queen, and a strange bit at the end involving both storks and cannibalism.

Ferreri presents his disappointments in life with a darkly magical realist flair. He could be considered a grim counter-part to Federico Fellini, with Sergio Castellitto acting as his post-modern Marcello Mastroianni. Marriage is a sham, friendships are all-too-readily abandoned, women induce insanity, and death is assured. Circumstance stamps the life out of the free-spirited protagonist who somehow never becomes sympathetic. For all its sunlit scenes, fertility imagery, and up-tempo music, The Flesh is a dark musing on the ultimate pointlessness of romance and devotion. And storks.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Ferreri’s] penultimate film… finds his outrageous and surgically precise touch still in evidence, and his recurring theme of dysfunctional men perplexed and transformed by women who enter their lives receives perhaps its most direct and unorthodox treatment here.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

LIST CANDIDATE: RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Bruce Abbott, , David Gale, Robert Sampson

PLOT: Things are going well for Dan Cain, a talented third-year student at the prestigious Miskatonic University Medical School, until his advertisement for a roommate is answered by Herbert West, a combative genius who thinks knows he is on the verge of conquering death. After Dan witnesses West’s “re-agent” applied to his erstwhile cat, he becomes enthralled, and things quickly get out of hand when a human test spirals out of control, resulting in murder, kidnapping, and a decapitated nemesis.Still from Re-Animator (1985)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Jeffrey Combs brings his A-game with a maniacal-steadfastness as Herbert West as he squares off against would-have-been David Gale—his gaunt(er), sinister(er) adversary. Beyond these two weirdos, there’s the off-kilter combination of gore and humor, best illustrated by the macabre and hilarious romp involving the untimely death and untimely subsequent death of a pet cat.

COMMENTS: Those who read their horror literature know that ‘s work occupies an unfortunate spot on the Venn diagram, trapped in the “hauntingly entertaining” and “fairly unfilmable” intersection. This has not stopped directors from trying, to be sure, but if one were asked to list the top five Lovecraft adaptations, it’d be tough to get as far as the pinky-finger. Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator would be on that list. While his horror-gore-buddy comedy doesn’t strictly adhere to the more sinister original, as a compact update it ticks all the Lovecraft boxes: unsettling, outlandish, macabre, and nihilistic. Somehow, Gordon and his crew add “hilarious” to this otherwise depressing mix, in the process making Re-Animator one of the most popular, memorable, and comical genre films[1] to come from the golden ’80s.

With a movie this brief, efficient storytelling is key. Bam, we meet Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), brilliant and insane. Bam, we meet Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), skilled and compassionate. Bam, we meet Doctor Hill (David Gale), determined and fraudulent. West and Cain quickly become housemates, and Cain witnesses West’s genius. West quickly antagonizes Doctor Hill by questioning his academic integrity, setting the scene for nemesis. Lurking on the periphery are the school’s Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) and his daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton)—their presence instrumental for the various showdowns. Throughout this quick-moving narrative are bunches of what gore-effects people refer to as “gags” (love that term): a re-animated cat, a re-animated strongman, a re-animated academic, a re-animated doctor, and culminating with a re-animated horde. Each step Herbert West takes brings him closer to both his greatest triumph and his organ-strewn downfall. No points if you guessed that Dan Cain ends up taking up the mantle.

Stuart Gordon was a director of an avant-garde theater troupe, and Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

  1. Though the term is disapproved of by some, I’ll use “genre film” until I stumble across a comparably brief mental short-hand. []

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ENDLESS (2017)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple

PLOT: Brothers who escaped a cult a decade ago receive a videocassette with a strange message and return to their old compound, where it becomes clear that behind the friendly facade of their erstwhile “family” lurks a hazard beyond contemplation.

Still from The Endless (2017)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTThe Endless starts out a little creepy, with altogether too-friendly cult members interacting with the two runaways that defamed their group, before evolving into something skin-crawlingly foreboding. An unnamed, immaterial, but ever-present Entity generates a recurring circumstance found throughout Arcadia Park that puts a new spin on the idea of being “lost in time.”

COMMENTS: A moral found in The Endless is well reflected by the filmmaker’s methods: keep moving. Acting as a veritable two-man band, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead do virtually all the heavy lifting in this science fiction(ish)/horror(ish) drama (no “ish”): they direct, star, write, and do the cinematography. They also reach back and pull their previous features (Resolution and Spring) forward along with them in subtle ways. Paradoxically combining pinpoint focus with immense scope, Benson and Moorhead squeeze an infinity into one story comprised of, for lack of a better phrase, many narrative wheels.

An opening montage introduces us to Justin and Aaron Smith (Benson and Moorhead), two brothers barely making ends meet by doing dead-end work, in desperate need of a new car battery. Their rut is interrupted by a parcel containing a camcorder videotape with a message from their past. The “alien death cult” they escaped apparently didn’t pull the trigger. Their visit to their old digs at Arcadia Park starts well enough, but unnerving details begin to accumulate: multiple moons in the sky, hazy atmospheric barrier walls, and ominous rock pillars scattered not-so-randomly around the camp. As Aaron becomes more enamored with cult life, Justin’s aversion spikes. Diving to the base of a buoy in the camp’s lake, he finds two things underwater: another camcorder cassette, and something unimaginably horrific that he barely escapes. Despite this, Aaron decides to stay. As Justin begins his journey home, he stumbles across the true nature of the problem at Arcadia Park, and returns to save his brother.

One could use any number of adjectives to describe how wonderful this movie is—gripping, mysterious, surprising, funny. I’m handicapped because were I to provide any more details, the film’s twists would be revealed. Suffice it to say, temporal manipulation plays heavily in The Endless; the title itself, perhaps, provides a clue. Arcadia Park’s citizenry do not seem to have aged much since the brothers’ departure. Is it merely healthy country living? There’s a heavily locked cabin under the watchful eye of an Arcadian elder. Does it contain guns, or something far more troubling? And as for that mental patient who wandered on to the cult’s grounds, how real are her charcoal drawings of a monstrous nebula looming over the camp? Unfortunately, I can only pose questions to make hints. Surprise is key.

At its screening at the Fantasia Film Festival, there was a point where every audience member was dead-silent, and I’m convinced we were all holding our breath at the same time. Throughout the bizarre adventure of Justin and Aaron, there is a delicate balance of mundane, humorous, and menacing—with a palpable shift toward the latter as the movie progresses. The film’s world and people are self-contained (in more ways than one), and no line is out of place or without purpose. And then there’s the moral to The Endless, as I said before: keep moving. I’d suggest there is also a second moral here: never put off replacing a car battery.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…The Endless rapidly develops from a mysterious, elliptical story about cult survivors and strained relationships into a much larger and stranger movie…”–Tasha Robinson, The Verge (festival screening)

2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: RECAP

Before and During:

When I volunteered to cover the  some months ago, I immediately started to worry a bit. It was something new for me, utterly unprecedented in length and scope. It was ambitious, too, as I’ve averaged less than two reviews a month since I was signed up here at 366. “Apprehensive” is how I’d label the sensation that increasingly gripped me as the start approached. Fortunately, my fears were for nothing — and as tiring as the “work” was, it also proved incredibly energizing.

Over the course of my three weeks in Montréal, I kept wonderfully busy and met dozens of interesting and varied individuals. The film-makers, many of them having their debuts, were brimming with energy; the audience, too, was brimming with energy — eager both to “Meow”[1] before a screening and to enjoy their investment of time and money; the other members of the press were eager to get a scoop on the New and Exciting. My long walks to and from the screenings were well worth the worn-out footwear, as each trek to either the Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU or the Salle J.A. DeSève brought the promise of transportation to something on the cusp of transcendent. By necessity not every movie brought an exciting feast for my eyes and ears, but more often than not, they did.

The Good:

All told, I watched 43 feature movies at one theater or another, three screeners on my computer, and four feature-length collections of short films: 50 in total, if my math is correct (and that doesn’t include the one and only movie I walked out of). I’ve already spoken well of Lowlife and Sequence Break, as well as others in the travelogue, but there were also largely unmentioned spectacles that amazed. and ‘s nerve-wracker The Endless was an end-of-Festival highlight[2] ; Tommy Swerdlow’s A Thousand Junkies deserves far more than the one sentence I dedicated to it (although it’s probably not quite a 366 kind of movie); and I can claim to have been among the first in the world to see a blemish-free, 4K remastered Suspiria in a packed house teeming with ravenous fans. God bless my Press Badge, as it got me into almost five-hundred dollars’-worth of screenings, nearly all of which would have been worth the outlay. The adjustments, scribbles, and check-marks in the photo show the daily challenge of seeing as many of the right things as possible.

The Bad:

With the kind of tally I reached, there had to be some duffers. I will never for the life of me understand the appeal of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a poorly done, cheesy comedy with vapid characters that adds insult to injury by being unfunny in addition to being un-developed. 68 Kill brought about my greatest clash with the rest of the audience. I’ve put forward my arguments earlier, so I’ll just reiterate that Trent Haaga’s violence-comedy committed the greatest cult movie sin: trying too, too hard to be ludicrous and hilarious with little to show for the effort. And for sheer tedium-sans-payoff, nothing took the cake more than the languidly paced suspense whats-it, Town in a Lake. That I enjoyed a by-the-numbers action-drama like Darkland more than those ostensibly weird and out-there travesties speaks volumes for those films’ ineptitude.

All Told:

The Fantasia Film Festival was a wonderful experience and I am thrilled to have been a part of it. I was able to get in on the ground-floor with a lot of rising talent, all while spreading the gospel of 366 Weird Movies. It was a tiring three weeks that kept me busy eight-plus hours a day — and I can’t wait to go again for Fantasia Festival 2018.

  1. It was only toward the end of the final week that I finally got the history of this bizarre tradition of the audience “meowing” when the lights first go down. A few times was fine; by the time it reached 40+ performances, a bit less-so. []
  2. Capsule review coming soon. []

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

KICKING BACK WITH A BUNCH OF LOWLIFES (2017)

Gathering in Fantasia’s secret basement lair, I had the opportunity to talk with the director, a few writers, and most of the stars of recently premiered crime drama, Lowlife. Because this was such a large group, I indicate the director, Ryan Prows, with an “RP”, and others as “->”. My apologies to the non-Ryans who participated in the interview: your involvement was just as valuable as his.

366: Hello everybody — thank you all for gathering here today! I wasn’t originally slated to come and interview you fine people, but I had a gap in my schedule after I chatted with the director of Kodoku Meatball Machine

Ryan Prows
“Lowlife” director Ryan Prows

RP: Aw, shit. Was it good?

366: …Well, it certainly does what it does. [Laughter]. Whether it’s good, I suppose that depends what you’re looking for. So if you’re looking for a funny variant of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, then maybe it’s your kind of thing. [Laughter]. So, in the interim I was able to whip these questions together kind of quickly, so hopefully this will work out all right. Now, you mentioned after the screening one of the things that influenced you was Wild at Heart.

RP: Bobby Peru! Actually, we were just talking about it. Teddy’s character is totally, like, his cousin or something.

366: Definitely one of the great scumbags of… uh…

RP: “Scumbag Cinema”?

366: I wanted to ask you—you’re probably asked a lot, “Do you feel you’re like ‘this director’ or ‘that director'”—but what filmmaker would you like to be compared to?

RP: Like I said yesterday, Cassavetes meets . So hopefully there’s some kind of sensitivity with the character work, so people care about the actors, like there’s an actors piece, but there’s also RoboCop shooting between the legs…

366: So there’s a little bit of splatter-gore-sci/fi-hardcore-Western.

RP: There we go. Nailed it!

->With heart.

RP: Now with Verhoeven, it’s like the same thing. He’s so smart and does his thing, perhaps the best satirist in cinema history. Cassavetes, same thing. He made these important movies, but they’re all wild as fuck. He left his own stamp on each thing. So those are the film-makers that excite me, and I think the goal of trying to make this movie was so—I remember talking about this, when we were flying out here—from the beginning of the process to now, it was… absurd. We were sitting here a few minutes ago being interviewed and Mil Mascaras walked in to be interviewed—and we thought, “What world are we fucking living in?” We’re talking about Lowlife and this luchador comes in being interviewed next to us.

366: Yes, it seems you’ve come a nice long way there, and speaking Continue reading KICKING BACK WITH A BUNCH OF LOWLIFES (2017)

LIST CANDIDATE: LOWLIFE (2017)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Ryan Prows

FEATURING: Nicki Micheaux, Mark Burnham, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Santana Dempsey, Shaye Ogbonna, Jon Oswald

PLOT: Unhinged restaurant owner Teddy Haynes runs a people-processing facility below his fish taco building, harvesting organs of undocumented immigrants and pimping out underage women. His enforcer, the luchador El Monstruo, is worried about the well-being of his pregnant wife Kaylee, while Kaylee’s biological mother suspects Teddy’s offer of a kidney for her ailing husband is too good to be true. Joining the madness is ex-con Randy, and soon this gang of oppressed underlings join forces to take Teddy to task.

Lowlife (2017) PosterWHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As you can read above, the plot is a mouthful—and that’s only covering its barest bones, so as to maintain coherency. Pitch-perfect editing leaves the viewer with countless narrative teases and denials. While we’re left wondering what’s going on plot-wise, Ryan Prows bombards us with Jacobean violence interspersed with hilarious dialogue and sight gags. Topping it all off, when El Monstruo’s rage becomes untenable, the sound crashes, and someone’s probably dead.

COMMENTS: Few of the movies at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival were primed with so much hype from the festival organizers. Out of the blue, they received Lowlife through their general Inbox, unsolicited and unexpected. From nothing, Ryan Prows’ debut feature became the must-see event of Fantasia. A heavy burden, for sure—with three weeks of movies to compete against, including the new space epic, Marc Meyers’ much lauded Dahmer biopic, and (to a lesser extent), the latest Jojo movie with its ravenous fans—but Lowlife comes up trumps.  Nothing is wasted in this movie; and more importantly, it would be a welcome addition to the 366 canon.

The story is told through the perspectives of each main character: the simple but passionate luchador el Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate); a bad-guy straight out of Dante’s “Vice City Infernus,” Teddy (Mark Burnham);  a hard-working, junk-hoarding motel owner, Crystal (Nicki Michaux); and a pair of friends—African American accountant Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) and his long-time pal, now with Swastika tattoo, Randy (Jon Oswald). Each of their Venn-diagram stories interact on the others’ heels, slowly moving into place, synchronizing as all the characters come together for the final action. This neat narrative stunt was pulled off by deft editing, and, to paraphrase the director, “[writing the $#!&] out of that story.”

During the disorienting narrative flow are the touches that further make Lowlife the visceral-but-surreal experience it is. When Crystal’s husband finds out the source of the kidneys he’ll be receiving, a combination of a flippant note, a heart-felt phone message, and visual exclamation point bring violence, tragedy, and humor into one tight scene, pulling the viewer’s emotions in all three directions. Then there’s the scene where Teddy, squaring off against some troublesome yahoos, seems licked when his six-shooter runs out of bullets. Heading back to his Italian-opera blaring sports car, he pops his pregnant hostage in the trunk, grabbing in her place the AR-15 that happens to be lying around in the back seat. And that’s not even mentioning the tragicomedy of el Monstruo and the comic tragedy of Hip-Hop Wigger Randy: two men marked for life from the neck up.

Lowlife plays like elements of movies many of us have seen before, but is a force unto itself. Imagine Inherent Vice on cocaine instead of marijuana; or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels as Grand Guignol; or maybe the best comparison I can think of, Pulp Fiction with cajones. Like a spastic playing with a rubber-band, Lowlife plays with the viewer, pulling first toward shock with heartless violence, then laughter with gut-busting non sequitur (yup), then sadness with beastly tragedy. This gang of monsters, fiends, thugs, and criminals have a wacky adventure in a land of poverty, cruelty, and hilarity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The legacy of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ looms the largest over ‘Lowlife,’ with its flair for unexpected, quick violence, and interweaving vignettes. But there is also a touch of David Lynch in the film’s unflinching exposure of America’s seedy underbelly.”–Jamie Righetti, Indiewire (Fantasia screening)

A QUICK CHAT WITH GORE MAESTRO YOSHIHIRO NISHIMURA (2017)

Before leaving Montreal, I had the pleasure of a quick chat with the director of Kudoko Meatball Machine, , through his translator.

366: Hello, I’m with these people, [Present business card with Japanese translation on it] I hope I wrote that correctly.

Translator: Yes, yes. [Hands card to Nishimura]

366: First of all, thank you for sitting with me. Last night was the first of your movies I’ve ever seen, but my boss is very familiar with your work and he wanted me to ask, regarding the state of independent/low budget film-making in Japan, would you say it’s in healthy shape? Has it been evolving in any way?

Yoshihrio NikimuraYoshihiro Nishimura: It’s in a very bad shape.

366: Bad shape since the start—the get-go?

YN: Twenty years ago in Japan, Tsutomu Miyazaki killed four little girls, and when the police investigated his apartment, they found a lot of “splatter” movies, so the media accused those kinds of movies very openly, and since that time it has been very bad. At that time, splatter movies were having a boom, but since that time school boys have been told not to see splatter movies, so now in their 20s and 30s, they have a very bad opinion of those movies.

366: I was told some names: , , and . Would you say these film-makers are part of your film “movement” all together?

YN: [Laughs] You forgot ““. Actually, the people who categorize us together are the media, not us. So I cannot answer that.

366: Now, your working relationship with Sono, how did that develop?

YN: Sion Sono is a good friend, we met in film school, and we’ve made movies from then through now.

366: Are you surprised—and hopefully happy—at how much your work has infiltrated North America? Certainly there were a lot of people last night very happy to see Kodoku Meatball Machine. And are you at all concerned North Americans and foreigners might miss references that a native would pick up on?

YN: Rather surprised [at the popularity], yes. For example, in my last movie, in Japan it is an insult to say someone is “bold”, but here it is not an insult.

366: What started your interest in the human body and its malleability—morphing from the organic to the mechanic kind of thing?

YN: and Johannes Vermeer were two artists that inspired that interest.

366: Regarding this sub-genre of “body changing”, you’ve no doubt been asked a lot about Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Would that be the starting point of these films?

YN: Before I made Tokyo Gore Police, I made Anotomia Extinction, and Tetsuo was released before I was finished, so a lot of people said Anotomia Extinction was copying Tetsuo, but I feel it’s different, because I started it before Tetsuo came out.

366: Any quick word about upcoming projects?

YN: I’m going to be doing a story about embalming.

366: There’s a question from my brother-in-law, can you recommend any good restaurants in Tokyo —

Translator: The brother-in-law is…

366: …my sister’s husband.

Translator: Big sister or small sister?

366: Younger.

[Translates]

YN: [Laughs] I can only tell you about ramen. “Kanda Kikanbo.” [writes name in my note-book] This is the best ramen. It’s very good.

366: I think that finishes the questions I was given. Thank you for your time!

YN: Thank you!

2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: MOVIES & MAYHEM IN MONTREAL, VOL. 2

7/19 & 7/20 : Preparing for another Long Weekend

Although it may come back to haunt me, I did not brave the swarms of fan-boys and girls that flocked to ‘s new space epic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Wednesday evening. I did, however, stay out late to catch Ufuk Genç’s German-language martial-arts movie, Plan B. It was truly “a mix of action und comedy”, but unlike Rainier Wolfcastle’s mediocre McBain: Let’s Get Silly!Plan B has no shortage of hilarity (and, indeed, action). A trio of wannabe kung fu movie stars are trapped doing dirty work for a gang of vicious criminals and have constant run-ins with another gang of vicious criminals. Police detective Robert Kopp looms in the background wondering what these idiots could possibly be up to.

Still from Free and Easy (2017)On Thursday night, just one feature—a weird one. Geng Jun’s Free and Easy plays like it was shot from a screenplay whipped up by when he was doing his post-college backpacking trip around Northeast China. (Note: there is no record of Beckett back-packing around Northeast China). In a ghost town of some dozen people, around half of the inhabitants seem to be con-men; two bored policemen encounter victims of knock-out soap (literally). Free and Easy had a fair number of laughs, but as the screen darkened, the normally clapping crowd was silent, not quite knowing what to do: there was one clap, then silence during the incongruous Mandarin rap song that played over the credits.

7/21 : Triple Feature; All Hail “NongShim”

Technically it’s 7/22: just returned from the final film of a triple feature this evening, and I feel like my brain should be soaked in a cool bucket of ice. Things started around 7 o’clock with the Cambodian jailhouse action extravaganza Jailbreak. Very martial arts, not very weird, but those who like well choreographed (and non-hyper-edited) combat should check it out.

On the heels of this violence was some more violence—of less quantity, but far more grisly. Lowlife is looking to be the high point of the Festival, and I’ll remark more on it later once I’ve had a chance to shut down. Suffice it to say, I think America has a new go-to director for unsettling violence fused with smart script-writing and quirky wit. Lowlife also gives us one of the nastiest bad guys to come out on film in a long while.

Rounding out the evening was the hyper-bizarre, hyper-violent, and ultimately tender movie, Kudoku Meatball Machine. This film introduced me to the creativity of , whom I will have the pleasure of interviewing in under ten hours. I’ll provide details on the last two later this weekend. Now, though, I’m signing off and passing out.

7/22 : Laid-back Conversations

On Saturday-proper, I had intended to watch three movies: Dead Continue reading 2017 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: MOVIES & MAYHEM IN MONTREAL, VOL. 2