All posts by Giles Edwards

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

LIST CANDIDATE: MANDY (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BYPanos Cosmatos

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache,
Bill Duke

PLOT: Red Miller is a lumberjack, but when a gang of cultists murder his girl, he’s not okay.

Still from Mandy (2018)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Oh-ho, there are lots of reasons. The first one that springs to mind is that it’s the only movie I’ve ever seen that requires Nicolas Cage to be utterly berserk just to keep apace with the surrounding madness.

COMMENTS: Word was that tickets had sold out within an hour of being made available. I heard it was a fulfillment of “a seven-year-long promise”. And the special press-only screening was fuller than many general screenings I’d attended at the Salle J.A. De Sève. Even after some hours of contemplation, I’m still processing what it was I saw. Obviously, I saw Mandy—but I imagine you get my meaning. The notes I took were more of a mess than is usual even for me, and halfway through, I stopped bothering. With Mandy, Panos Cosmatos has done nothing less than rip a crimson nightmare from the quintessence of vengeance and pour its spectacle into your eyes and ears.

The establishing shot, in which we learn about Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), a lumberjack in “the Shadow Mountains”, sets the grainy-dreamy visual tone. His wife, the titular Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), is a bookish death metal nerd. They have a pleasant life together of quiet love until Mandy catches the eye of some cultists who are passing through. Their leader, a failed folk singer Jesus-wannabe named Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), commands his minions to kidnap Mandy and make her his lover. A demonic biker gang is summoned to nab the girl. When the drugged Mandy ridicules Jeremiah’s advances, the cult leader exacts his petty revenge, setting Red on the path to vengeance against those who have wronged him. All of those who have wronged him.

It may have been the high volume, the sound mix, or my own increased awareness, but this was yet another movie where the score stood out. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s unsettling doom metal compositions complement the unnerving, red-soaked darkness. Cosmatos’ febrile images on the screen become audible with the music—which, in a film with this little dialogue, is key. A fellow reviewer was somewhat dismissive of Mandy‘s visuals, quipping “You’re really into “Twin Peaks“— I get it.” While there is a grain of truth in that, it does not do justice to what Cosmatos is up to. Mandy is unrelenting in its stylized nightmare, rarely giving the audience a breather in its first half, and virtually never in the second. Like the score, one would best describe the film’s tonal flavor as “Doom Lynchian”: as if Cosmatos caught the football thrown by Black-Lodge-Lynch and ran another sixty yards.

And finally there’s the star himself, Nicolas Cage. Mandy seems tailor-made for him as an actor, aware both of his range and his history. When he’s trying, few can compete with Cage for sheer mania. His performance is feral at times, but the intensity fits with its surroundings. Nothing other than a force of nature could hope to survive the infernal journey that takes place in Mandy. I’d go so far as to say no other actor could be relied on to make Red seem both reasonable and completely unhinged at the same time. Whether he’s armed with a box-cutter, a dueling chainsaw, or the sickest-looking axe this side of a bad dream, Nicolas Cage bloodily carries us through Cosmatos’ Bosch-Dante deathscape.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…by no means a perfect film and is likely going to turn off a fair number of viewers who aren’t on board for its concentrated, unadulterated weirdness. But for those who are willing to take the ride, you’re in for a bizarre, bloody treat featuring a particularly extra Nic Cage, giving his best performance in years… Mandy is destined to become one of the quintessential cult movies, and a sort of arcane codeword amongst devotees of weird and wild films.”–Dan Casey, Nerdist (Sundance screening)

2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: THE FINAL SLICE OF STRANGE

Au Revoir

The Festival’s second half proved to be quite worthwhile, with a few gems tucked away in the final days. It was good, but my eyes started to hurt.

7/29: One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead Poster (2018)This should have appeared in the previous week’s “slice”, but for a couple of days I toyed with doing a fuller write-up of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s “found footage” horror exercise. I’m going to ask that you trust me on this, because I cannot say any more without compromising your viewing experience. But you Really, Really Should see this if you can. For those like me who regard the zombie genre as effectively run into the ground, this movie—despite what it seems the premise is—breathes so much life into the tired, tired tropes of zombie-this, -that, and -the-other. Top-notch cast, top-notch direction, top-notch notch. (Highly recommended.)

7/30: The Scythian

Still from The Scythian (2018)I had unfortunately missed seeing this on the big screen as both screenings conflicted with other films. However, even on a modest 41″ television in a darkened cubicle, Rustam Mosafir’s proto-Russian adventure fantasy proved itself to be one heckuva ride. Filled with sword fights, betrayals, mysterious pagans, and some crazy berserker-juice, The Scythian was everything one could want in a medieval adventure yarn. In particular, the score (which is something I’ve noticed I’ve been noticing a lot more) heightened the historical and mystical tones. Both the diegetic music from traveling performers and the ambient tribal chanting grounded the old world feeling; things cut loose a bit more during a fine bit of fighting when the chants were paired with some sick heavy metal guitar. While criticized in its homeland for a lack of historicity, I was more than happy to overlook incongruities from a millennium ago.

Cinderella the Cat

Still from Cinderella the Cat (2018)With four directors covering 86 minutes, you get about twenty-one minutes per director. I’m not sure how the assignment was divvied up (though conceivably they could had one for the animation, one for the voice acting, one Continue reading 2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: THE FINAL SLICE OF STRANGE

LIST CANDIDATE: VIOLENCE VOYAGER (2018)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Ujicha

FEATURING: Voices of Saki Fujita, Shigeo Takahashi, Naoki Tanaka, Naoki, Aoi Yûki

PLOT: Two young friends investigate a mysterious adventure park only to find that the friendly owner wants them for some particularly icky science.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The cartoon style alone, though not new, is singularly discombobulating. Unlike more typical examples (whether drawn or computer generated), the whole movie’s “animation” is more akin to a picture book with pop-ups and pull-tabs, with occasional doses of squirted liquids and couple of fiery scenes. Then there’s the story, pulled out from some terrible organic-horror closet, in which the young “park” visitors face violence and mutations that were made somehow more distressing by the color picture cardboard cut-outs that they’re made up of.

COMMENTS: My right-hand neighbor was at a loss for words after the screening; my left-hand neighbor immediately wanted to confirm just what it was he had seen. Me, I spent the better part of Violence Voyager with what might have appeared to be a quirky-quizzical expression. Ujicha’s “cartoon” is something that, somewhere inside my mind, I enjoyed, while at the same time leaving me at a total loss as to whom I might possibly recommend it. Before the screening I had had the forethought to write the review out-line. Now, stuck with the Comments to flesh out, I shall try to muddle on.

Bobby and Akkun are school chums who have a penchant for adventuring in the woods and mountains near their small Japanese village. Bobby, whose father is American, is out-going, eager to help, and always curious; Akkun is a local lad who might otherwise be a loner, and is quite loyal to Bobby. When the two come across a theme park—the titular “Violence Voyager”—Bobby is keen and Akkun is apprehensive. They are given an orientation video and suit up for what is pitched as a harmless adventure. But some way into their escapade, they encounter an unconscious girl, who upon awakening tells them she’s been stuck in the park for days. Further exploration leads them to a “Robot Graveyard” and other children. Eventually, a bird-beaked cyborg (?) creature subdues them and they are dragged to a subterranean lab.

It took some getting used to, but eventually the moving cardboard pseudo-animation seemed somehow real. It’s akin to how an imaginative child looking at story-book pictures might see them move. So there’s this simplicity and innocence established at the beginning, but then things start going Horribly Wrong. Disintegrating paper kids, icky ooze guns, and perhaps the most disgusting “mother” character I’ve ever seen utterly warp the naïve sentiments embodied in the visual style. Further hitting the viewer upside the head is the never-say-die chirpiness of Bobby, who is unflinching when faced with the array of mad scientist evil, robot-boy creepiness, and, again, whatever the heck that “mother” thing is supposed to be. As a bonus, the narrator intones at the end that Bobby’s struggles are just beginning, before assuring him, “Be strong, Bobby! You can do it, Bobby!”

Then the credits began to roll and I took at peek at my neighbors. Ultimately, the question has to be asked, did this work as a movie? Somehow, it did. However, the follow-up question is a tougher one: is this a movie that deserves to be seen? For that, I’m at a loss. Obviously I’ve seen it, others at Fantasia have. There was even laughter at the numerous, strangely comical bits. And it’s apparent a lot of work, thought, and artistry went into it. I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t think of anyone that I might recommend Violence Voyager to; there is one fellow, but he’s an odd one. So to anyone who feels that she or he might be an odd one, I dedicate this review and say: “Go ahead. Give it a look. (I practically dare you.)”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one hell of a trip into the mind of a madman… there is never a stretch of more than a few minutes where the audience isn’t confronted by something wholly original that they’ve never seen before.”–J Hurtado, Screen Anarchy

2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A THIRD SLICE OF STRANGE

Abridgement

Last year there were three fully scheduled screening rooms. This year there are only two. With a flood of dramas from Southeast Asia clogging the Festival, pickings were a little slim. But hope springs eternal as it heads into its second half.

Short: “Hooligans” (dir. Adam-Gabriel Belley-Côté)

After a match that could at best be described as a qualified success, three members of the blue team (the fourth is in hospital with a concussion; the other three are also injured to varying degrees) discuss the prospect of letting the leader’s cousin into the group. The controversy? It was that same cousin that caused the blue team their injuries. Presenting violent European football fandom as a sport of its own, “Hooligans” eschews social commentary in favor of rib-tickling reveals about competition, induction, and club-house procedure. Beware appendix 1-A.

Short: “A/S/L” (dir. Benjamin Swicker )

A horror film about American Sign Language? Heck no. I was immediately reminded of my age when I saw this short that hearkens back to simpler times of Windows 95 and AOL 2.5. Doug ill-advisedly makes the titular inquiry of a thirteen-year-old girl he meets online. He compounds his error by taking her up on her offer to visit her place. What could go wrong; her parents are “gone for the weekend.” Upon arrival, things turn sinister/awkward. With the appearance of the girl’s “sister,” they gets doubly so—doubling again with the appearance of yet two more under-age girls. In their way, the girls have a feisty-good time; Doug, however, should have stayed at home.

7/24: Inuyashiki

Still from Inuyashiki (2018)In the tradition of Kodoku: Meatball Machine and others, Shinsuke Sato presents another in the genre of “Superannuated Superhero”: Inuyashiki. By chance, a put-upon father who has just been told he has fatal cancer and a disenchanted young man end up at the same park by chance and are struck by a blinding light and massive object. Coming to the next day, the father is first surprised to find himself alive, and then to find he no longer needs his glasses. Slowly he discovers he has a a shiny, new interior: a “switch” in his wrist releases a high-tech weapon; another node in his neck flips his head open to reveal some very impressive central processing power. The young man, on the other hand, learns about his new self faster, but chooses a more destructive path than the older man’s healing spree.

Inuyashiki deftly combines sky-high action sequences with down-to-earth ruminations on the nature of good, evil, and the feasibility of forgiveness. Both the father and the young man have understandable gripes with reality, but the former never ceases to try to do the Continue reading 2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A THIRD SLICE OF STRANGE

LIST CANDIDATE: RONDO (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Drew Barnhardt

FEATURING: Luke Sorge, Brenna Otts, Reggie De Morton,Gena Shaw, Steve Van Beckum

PLOT: Paul has been dishonorably discharged from the military and relies on his sister’s hospitality for a couch to crash on; when she recommends a therapist to help him with PTSD and alcohol addiction, he encounters a sordid world where revenge and unhealthy fantasy experiences can be bought for the right price.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LISTRondo un-apologetically wrings the viewer through a stylized world of manneristic camera, Edward Hopper-esque lighting, gratuitous violence, and a purposely intrusive soundtrack. It plays like a bare bones revenge murder fest spiked with dubstep Greenaway.

COMMENTS: Even before its international premiere, Rondo was creating mumblings among reviewers who had seen it in the screening room. At the debut, the normally raucous Friday night crowd was uncharacteristically quiet in the theater. Then Rondo unleashed its singular form of magic. Having decided on a whim to catch this, I was very impressed at not only its vitality, violence, and humor, but also its incredible audacity. The director, Drew Barnhardt, started this project with the intention of making, without compromise, the movie he wanted to make. He succeeded spectacularly.

Rondo begins as the story of Paul (Luke Sorge), a young man dishonorably discharged from the army and shattered by PTSD. His daily life consists of drinking whiskey and lying on his sister’s couch. Troubled by her brother’s depression, his sister Jill (Brenna Otts) recommends a therapist who herself recommends that Paul should explore Denver’s fetish scene. Provided with an address and a password, Paul visits an opulent apartment building in which he encounters two others who have been solicited for having intercourse with a doped-up businessman’s wife . But don’t worry, the role-playing and strange demands are all “part of the fun”, insists Lurdell (Reggie De Morton), in a speech teaming with ominous guide-lines (“keep it on the plastic.”) Paul has a cigarette out on the balcony while waiting his turn, looking inside at where the action is taking place. His bad habit ends up saving his life.

Rondo relies heavily on two nondiegetic sound techniques to keep the viewer detached from the goings-on. The first is an advertently intrusive hardcore electro-trance soundtrack that acts as a dissonant counterpoint to much of the on-screen action. Brooding scenes are imbued with a strange, unsettling energy with each musical cue; I could easily imagine Rondo slipping into melodrama otherwise. Narration also spikes the proceedings. With an officiousness of tone to compete with Colin Cantlie in The Falls, Steve Van Beckum simultaneously clarifies and undercuts the narrative flow, adding another barrier between the audience and the action. Whenever his radio-style voice courses from the speakers, it purposely reminds us that Rondo is a movie, while at the same time anchoring us to the movie’s world.

And that’s just the sound. Stylistically, much of Rondo works like Peter Greenaway at his most ZOO-ily formalistic. Scenes are designed more like paintings than real life. That’s not to say that the action is missing, but more that Barnhardt knows what he wants us to look at, and goes to great lengths to make us do so. I mentioned Hopper earlier, and the candy-noir of his paintings springs up again and again. Then there’s the story itself. Narrative twists are a convention for many of the movies we review; Rondo‘s take is more of a narrative convulsion. Ultimately, the finale is the one that we necessarily had to reach, but the path there is like having our arm twisted behind our back (but, paradoxically, pleasantly so). In Rondo, baroque verbiage and baroque violence come together in a celebration of blood-sodden deadpan.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“How much can one ninety-minute film reasonably do within its timeframe? Can a film successfully go from awkward laughs to gore, from femmes fatales to OTT-ultraviolence, and from slacker humour to shock? Rondo (2018) believes it’s not only possible, it’s all part and parcel of its overall appeal.”–Keri O’Shea, Warped-Perspective.com

LIST CANDIDATE: UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018)

DIRECTED BY: David Robert Mitchell

FEATURING: , , Patrick Fischler, Jimmi Simpson, David Yow, Jeremy Bobb

PLOT: Doc Sportello‘s grand-son, Sam, is going to be — wait, no. Disheveled loafer Sam is going to be kicked out of his apartment in five days for (criminally overdue) back-rent. Instead of fixing his domestic problem, he becomes embroiled in perhaps the biggest cover-up that has ever bamboozled the Golden State.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: A serial dog murderer, a conspiracist ‘zine drawn to life, a map in a box of “Space Nuggets,” Jesus and the Brides of Dracula, palatial tombs, the Owl Woman, symbolic Chess moves, the Homeless King, and a mysterious Songwriter all come crashing down on a shiftless 30-something loser with a knack for crypticism. Barking women, Purgatory parties, and one bad cookie lock Under the Silver Lake into a realm of supreme strangeness reminiscent of that beach dream you had after reading Pynchon.

COMMENTS: Call it poor form of me, but I felt obliged to skip a second screening to hustle back and write about David Mitchell’s newest film. During the movie, variations on what to call it skipped around my brain, but ultimately I reckoned that Inherent Goonies best encapsulates the mood. This bizarre crime drama on barbiturates; this ambling post-Slacker comedy; this magnificent quest—somehow the director weds the listless protagonist with the adolescent adventure-stylings of “The Hardy Boys.” Jammed throughout are enough threads to sew yourself a nice cardigan to protect you from the sun while you’re strolling through the over-baked landscape of sorta-now-ish California.

Perched on his apartment’s balcony, Sam (Andrew Garfield) has a good view of his attractive older neighbor—a constantly topless bird fancier. Suddenly, a young beauty (Riley Keough) with a dog and a boombox catches his eye. They meet, they get high together, and then she disappears mysteriously in the middle of the night. Quietly curious and uncannily focused, Sam pursues the mystery at his own ambling pace, encountering an underground ‘zine artist (Patrick Fischler) who sets him on the right path and a coterie of über-hipster musicians whose songs are encoded with secret messages, before meeting the benevolent Homeless King (David Yow) by the grave of James Dean. What follows is an odyssey of unpleasant discovery as Sam finds that, for the rich, the world  is a very different kind of place than it is for everyone else.

I’ve already mentioned the Inherent Vice connection, and even if it were only Andrew Garfield’s Joaquin Phoenix-channeling performance, Under the Silver Lake would still be an odd duck. But David Mitchell keeps shoveling on more ducks at every turn. I don’t know where else I’d find cryptography and Hollywood history so intertwined. I don’t know where else I’d find the Purgatory club—the kind of place you might hang out between the Black and White Lodges. And I don’t know where else California’s bright lights  and beautiful people could find themselves crashing so violently into luxuriant subterranean twilight. Mitchell even drops some suggestions that Sam could be a burnt-out, alternate time-line Peter Parker.

Fortunately for us, our knight-errant keeps it together on his perilous mission seeking the maiden fair. The movie is epic in length and epic in scope, unveiling new side roads for Sam to shuffle along: sometimes in jeans, sometimes in pajamas. When an ultimate truth is discovered, Mitchell isn’t satisfied, and somehow manages to unveil an even ultimater truth. For reasons beyond my understanding, Under the Silver Lake was poorly received at Cannes. Perhaps it’s just not their kind of movie. Thank the heavens above for Fantasia: Mitchell’s latest effort found just the right kind of people there. With Under the Silver Lake, we fly very close to the sun; but unlike Icarus, we manage to crash comfortably on to our hot neighbor’s bed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[a] glib, weird hybrid comedy rife with conspiracy theories… what first seems a goofy light foray into pop culture slackerdom with a hefty added dose of voyeurism, becomes a down-the-rabbit-hole exploration of the fantasy geography of an L.A. undermined by subterranean caverns and tunnels, and inhabited by cultists, theorists, ethereal female escorts, and homeless shamans, as coyotes roam freely.” -Barbara Scharres, RogerEbert.Com