2019 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: OMNIBUS FIELD REPORT #2

Film Is a Man’s Best Friend

By now, I should be able to slow down to mere double features to match last year’s tally; but that would mean slowing down.

7/18: Knives and Skin

Still from Knives and SkinI’ve been mulling over what to say about this movie for close to twenty-four hours and I’ve still got nothing. My fear is, I suppose, that if I started going on about the various misteps, I might not stop, and that would send an inaccurate message about Jennifer Reeder’s earnest, feminist, melodramatic feature debut. Various crummy home lives are explored as we observe a small cross-section of No Name, USA, in this movie about people making decisions of varying degrees of emotional stupidity during the aftermath of a student’s disappearance and death.

But why do these women (and they are predominately women) insist on conducting their lives in such a way? From all the narrative facts revealed, they each have far more agency than they care to take advantage of. There’s a quasi-rape scene of a young woman set up to dismay the audience, but there’s also a quasi-rape scene of a young man that is just dropped by the wayside. I’ve noticed acutely since this Festival began that there’s far too large a market for emotional movies about emotional idiots. I wanted to care about these people, and I managed to do so briefly for some of them, but when they keep shooting themselves in the foot over and over, I can only invest so much sympathy. (And frankly it didn’t help that the filmmaker dissected, a-capella’d, and dirge-ified Modern English’s new wave classic “I Melt With You.”) If anyone wants to tell me in the comments what’s up with this movie, I would be very happy to talk with you.

7/19: It Comes

Still from It ComesAnd boy did it. And in so coming, my faith in J-Horror was restored. Obviously this is mainstream fare—I wasn’t jumping out of my seat or suffering nightmares afterwards—but it had an unsettling edge to it, characters who evolved, and a really gangbusters finale involving exorcists from all known religions, cracking timbers, and blood-soaked caterpillars. Director Tetsuya Nakashima made what will be looked upon fondly as one of my favorite Christmas movies (yep, things come to head on 12/25), as well as one of my favorite dream sequences, where we can see the rice-omelette visions of a cheerfully sleeping two-year-old girl. I’ll admit it was a bit long-winded, but that allowed for a rare, full dissection of all the characters’ motivations—and while I didn’t find them entirely interesting throughout, I was happy to see that virtually no character was left with fewer than three dimensions.

JR “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius

Still from J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGeniusI’ll begin by pointing out that our processing software for this site doesn’t seem to recognize “subgenius” as a word — well nuts to that. As a tested subgenius, and someone fairly familiar with the history and tenets of the religion, I was predisposed to liking Sandy Boone’s talking-heads-style documentary about the Church’s origins and growth over the decades since a couple of fellows from Texas received the word of ‘Bob’ forty years ago and began offering the world “eternal salvation or triple your money back.” I found the extent of its influence and the misguided backlash particularly interesting. Early on the Church had its first official schismatic, and sometimes his PR attempts went too far (a devival in Boston had to be canceled because the venue declined to host and the Baptist church that offered to present it received bomb threats after some particularly insensitive remarks after the Columbine shooting). Still, almost everything done through the years has been done with good cheer and good faith — for no religion can survive with faith. And a donation. Praise ‘Bob.’

7/20: Ride Your Wave

Poster for Ride Your WaveLate Saturday morning, around half-way through the festival, and as the 27th movie I’ve seen, Ride Your Wave was exactly what I needed: lively, bright, and cutesy. Oh so very cutesy. But I mean that, believe it or not, in a good way. While impressed me more with his earlier Fantasia-screened film, Night is Short, Walk on Girl, this morning’s outing—amongst cool, blue waves, calm cafés, and the halcyon tones of some gloriously awful J-Pop tune (about waves)—nicely cleared my mind and reminded me that I’m no cynic. The story, not that it particularly matters, concerns young Mukaimizu Hinako falling in love with and all-too-quickly losing her softspoken, considerate, skilled, firefighter hunk of man, Hinageshi Minato. She sees him from beyond the grave whenever she sings their special song in the presence of water. But a spirit cannot stay forever, and she (as well as Minato’s co-worker and sister) must learn to move on and… ride their waves. It was treacly and by the numbers; and somehow, it really hit the spot.

Born of Woman

After having been complimented on my bow tie, I presented the young woman who did so with a 366 Weird Movies business card. She had a rejoinder: a lobby card, with the time and place, for the screening of Born of Woman. I had planned on avoiding anthologies this year, but I’m glad that I followed through on my promise that I would attend. Much to my delight, I was treated to a number of shorts: most good, a couple bad, and one an artistic and emotional knock-out. Valerie Barnhart directed and animated the heart-wrenching closer, “Girl in the Hallway“, the tragic (true-life) tale of a seven-year-old always found in the entrance way of a cheap as hell apartment complex. Barnhart’s palette of somber grays comes to life, storybook style, as Jamie DeWolf (writer and narrator) explains why, even fifteen years after the Girl’s tragedy, he cannot bear to read “Little Red Riding Hood” to his own daughter. A haunting piece, and an impressive capstone to some excellent short films by up-and-coming female filmmakers.

Incredible Shrinking Wknd

Poster for The Incredible Shrinking WkndIt’s Groundhog’s Day, but not for long: in Jon Mikel Caballero’s directorial debut, Alba keeps repeating the same trip to the countryside with her friends, but each iteration is one-hour shorter than the last. While I had attended this movie primarily to secure a seat for the following film (8), I found myself gripped (enough) from start to finish. Each time through, we learn more about the initially one-dimensional friends of Alba’s, who during her time trial manages to grow and figure out what she needs to do to stop her very own existence from shrinking to nothing. Derivative, but with a neat new spin, and an accompanying cinematic trick that I only noticed almost halfway through.

7/21: Cencoroll Connect

Still from Cencoroll ConnectBe warned: you’ll want to check out the original short (episode?) by Atsuya Uki from a decade ago to “fully understand” this. I dove right in, however, and figured things out pretty fast: Tetsu (no relation to Tetsuo, I’m guessing, but he does go through some body work) has a shapeshifting alien monster pet (a cute grimacing blobby beast named “Cenco”). Together they hunt other alien monsters, until Tetsu’s curious classmate Yuki discovers the beast and begins pestering them. Meanwhile, Shuu is causing trouble with his invisible alien monster pet and… Well, you get it: it’s a cutesy Kaiju thing with world-weary fellows and powerful women, each with psychic bonds to otherworldly super-beasts. Visually compelling and clever, and heavily dosed with humor: probably the best distilled 75 minutes I’ve spent so far.

Boxer’s Omen (35mm)

Still from The Boxer's OmenI have now seen this, and can now tick the box next to my hypothetical Canon “to-do” list. But aside from that, I derived very little pleasure from it: genuine, ironic, weird, or otherwise. It obviously belongs on the List, and I’m happy it’s there, but I found myself falling asleep far too often, and far too early in the day. I did quite like the bat-bone escape attempt, and would love to get my hands on of the several ceremonial hammers on display, though. Eh, the Certified review covers this one more than capably, so I’ll send you there on the off chance you haven’t read it yet.

Things That Go Bump in the East

So much for skipping anthologies. I couldn’t resist the prospect of 11 animated shorts from many points Asian, and nothing I saw was worse than “good.” Of particular note was Chen Xi’s hypnotic moving tableau, “The Six”. Following six nights of a man attempting to seduce a seated woman, action progresses right to left as the moon shifts in the background. I am at an utter loss as to what exactly was going on, but I was nonetheless mesmerized by its beauty. The narrative standout was Fish Wang’s “Goldfish”, the story of a young boy who does not sleep because the dreams of the young are stolen to feed the towering adults, particularly the geriatric, giant leader, whose massive head contains the titular creature. And you may believe I was shocked that I came across “Tempura,” another Ujicha gekimation movie! My reviewer friend did not clap after this short, despite it taking place in a “…cave that’s filled with fried animals!” Some people just have no taste.

7/22: Fly Me to the Saitama

Still from Fly Me to the SaitamaA searing indictment of institutional racism, and the most hilarious movie so far at Fantasia. The crowd was laughing almost constantly, and I along with them. Hideki Takeuchi’s fable about a hyper-elite Tokyo addresses the issue of needless regional rivalries, as well as the importance of migration, with a sure touch. Cranking everything up to “11” (be it costumes, mannerism, pride, or elitism), Takeuchi lays plain the idiocy of the notion that superiority depends upon where you come from. I know close to nothing about contemporary Japanese culture, but the film itself provides sufficient explanation for the layman like myself to laugh along with it.

Delivered as an “urban legend” being reported on over the radio, Fly Me to the Saitama‘s framing story concerns a young woman from Saitama being driven to Tokyo by her parents for her engagement party. On radio, and on screen, we watch as the heir to “the Saitana Duke” infiltrates Tokyo high society as a plant to sabotage the visa system that keeps outsiders as third-class citizens. His cover is blown when he is given the “Saitama Test”: stomping down on a large rice cracker decorated with the symbol of Saitama. He can’t do it, and must flee a squad of Tokyo purity police; the daughter of Tokyo’s all-powerful governor remains at his side and works to free the Saitanans with the help of the “Saitana Liberation Front.” Meanwhile, the governor’s butler, a scion of the Chiba region, connives with the Tokyo authorities to undermine the movement in hopes to remove the visa system for his own prefecture. Of the countless jokes and ridiculous set pieces, only one ever fell flat—but the baton was immediately picked up as Fly Me to the Saitama reached its dizzying crescendo. Perhaps worth a look again for certification; this movie’s zeal and excess makes it a dear bed-fellow of our zanier Canon titles.

Bliss

Still from BlissJoe Begos took the route of hi-gore and lo-tech with this L.A. artist-vampire movie. Gallons of blood, mountains of cocaine laced with DMT, and an ever-growing hellscape portrait shimmy together toward an explodey climax as Dezzy fights against time and disintegration to complete a gallery commission. The sound design is solid, in a loud, acid rock kind of way; this soundtrack and score is a Godsend to that niche music crowd. I myself was pleased to see genre character actor Graham Skipper again, playing the role of a muttonchopped, affable drug dealer. I’m merely no worse for seeing this, but I know that fans of Abel Ferrara‘s the Addiction will be in for a real treat. (Oh yes: vampires!)

7/23: Black Magic for White Boys

Black Magic For White Boys366 isn’t the ideal place to have a discussion of the finer points of metropolitan sociopolitics, but Onur Tukel (director) has very nearly backed me into a corner. Tucked into a fun little dramedy concerning a New York City troupe of actors (well, technically magicians, but the vibe is very much the same) are a series of polemics against landlords and pharmaceuticals, and a legitimate but woefully mis-executed rant against white male privilege. But I shall resist the temptation, difficult though it is, to address each of the issues and how Tukel’s sentiments and expression thereof are misguided, and merely say that Black Magic for White Boys could have been a fine little set-piece about an ailing theater company and the dangers of meddling in the dark arts. Instead, it’s a bloated piece of occasionally dated social commentary that is saved only by “Larry the Magnificent” (Belgium’s Ronald Guttman) in his all too few scenes.

Extra Ordinary

Still from Extra OrdinaryThe cutesy cavalcade continues with Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s Irish ghost comedy. Maeve Higgins shines as Rose Dooley, a driving instructor and erstwhile ghost hunter. But having lost her father (himself a preeminent ghost hunter and scholar) during a failed incantation, she is loath to repeat her mistakes and has been ignoring her powers until encountered by affable middle-aged father, Martin Martin, who is being haunted by his protective dead wife, and whose daughter is the target of the machinations of a washed-up ’70s pop star who needs a virgin to renew his pact with Satan for his comeback album. (Long-winded sentence there, but it captures the film’s nonstop pacing) Good-natured silliness prevails throughout, spiked with some minor gross-out ghost-gags (Martin remarks after an ectoplasm spewing possession, “Why does this have to be so unnecessarily gross?”) Those seeking a well-crafted, “lite” Irish Comedy (yes, those do exist) should hunt this one down.

8 thoughts on “2019 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: OMNIBUS FIELD REPORT #2”

  1. I don’t think Knives and Skins was that bad except for some Lynch rip-offs that were shallow and laughable. I kinda liked the visuals, maybe 2 characters and a few moments were almost touching. I think it’s too eneven and pretentious to leave a lasting impression. Entertaining but mostly in a bad way. Still better than Chiwawa for me.

    It was nice meeting you last week before Jesus shows you the way to the highway (if I remember well).

  2. Hi Giles!

    I will get to BLISS in a moment, but – as you know, I adored KNIVES AND SKIN, so that’s the topic foremost on my AGENDA. Note that I’m a programmer, not a reviewer, but here’s my capsule review via my letterboxd page (more about that in a moment too):

    “Those who complain that this borrows too much from David Lynch, particularly Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, miss the mark. While not an indictment of Lynch, KNIVES AND SKIN relies on our familiarity with his work to reconsider the assumptions of its – and much of genre cinema’s – gaze. Unlike Laura Palmer, the body of Carolyn Harper is not seductive and mysterious, and her wounds are not fetishized or explored. And though she is shown – immediately before her death – to rather suddenly withdraw sexual consent, she is not portrayed as a bitch or a tease deserving of punishment. Similarly, each of the other many female characters in the film are revealed to be complex, human beings. While the same can not always be said of the male characters, might their serving largely as one-dimensional props or tools be part of the point? In short, director Jennifer Reeder has a bit of an agenda here, and I’m 100% on board with it, as she also manages to weave a magically, compelling tale.”

    —-
    REGARDING my letterboxd reviews, I should, perhaps, note that I suffer from serious memory issues (in the past 2 months my facebook friends have been “treated” to reports of my recent MRI’s and EEG’s and such… are you on fb?), and sadly, one of the symptoms is that my memory of movie details begins to fade almost immediately after viewing any film – unless I quickly sit down to make some notes, which is the primary reason I keep a record on letterboxd (and if, as you suggested, when I speak about a film to someone it sometimes sounds like I’ve rehearsed and memorized something I’ve written, that’s the reason).

    In any case, I’m not trying to convince you to love KNIVES AND SKIN. The beauty of “weird movies” is that they effect each of us on so many different levels…. and this one clicked my love of enigmatic characters, dreamy atmosphere, magical moments and… movies that push an agenda (which – in this case – I felt to be a wonderfully “woke” feminist/queer agenda).

    Should you truly be curious to know more about how others experienced this film, I would suggest you check out these two reviews:

    https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/knives-skin-review-1202063

    https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2019/07/30/fantasia-2019-review-knives-and-skin-mourns-a-lost-generation

    Regarding BLISS. I also loved this, but in a very different way from KNIVES AND SKIN, as it’s only agenda is to entertain. Should you want to see it again, I happen to know that it will play very near you on 8/28.

    https://www.proctors.org/event/bliss

    Note that I’m also trying to get 1BR and the SUBGENIUS doc, as well as KNIVES AND SKIN. Plus, coming up in August alone I have screenings of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (w/Grady Hendrix’s WE SOLD OUR SOULS) on 8/2, THE ROOM w/Greg Sestero in person on 8/10, MS. 45 on 8/23 and CUT-THROATS NINE on 8/29. You want weird? We got weird.

    Best!
    Paul

    1. I’m not Giles and this is extremely off-topic, but… I’ve been checking Proctor’s Theater page weekly when updating our “Certified Weird Screenings” listings. I know you’ve probably heard this many times before, I think you guys are really missing the boat by not showing Synecdoche, New York at least once a week.

    2. Greetings, Paul, and thank you kindly for visiting the web-site.

      One thing I truly love about Fantasia are the other reviewers (and programmers & industry types), because whenever there’s disagreement, it doesn’t lead to animosity, but genuine discussion. I know from conversations with other “badge holders” that my opinion of “Knives and Skin” was in the minority, but having the opportunity to defend my views with a receptive colleague helped not only to crystalize what it was that disappointed me, but also it made me aware of the whats and whys of differing opinions. (On the flip-side of this discussion, I know I’m one of a small handful of people who is an adamant proponent of “Koko-di, Koko-da”.)

      Now that I know the full extent of what you’re up to every week in Schenectady, I’ll be sure to head there much more often.

      Great seeing you at the festival, and thanks for arranging such consistently good screenings near my home town.

      Cheers.

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