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All you had to do was give Giles a chance—
And now I’m gonna do my dance.
7/28: Freaks Out
Come one, come all, to the Half-Penny Circus. Witness the aerial insect artistry of Cencio the albino! Giggle at the pratfalls of Mario the magnetic clown! Behold the raw strength—and ample fur—of Man-Beast Fulvio! And delight in the electrifying acrobatic artistry of Matilde, who powers light bulbs with the touch of her fingers!
This assembly of war-time freaks must work together to save Israel, their fatherly emcee, and thwart Franz, a six-fingered seer who has foreseen the downfall of Hitler and so wishes to harness the powers of four super-powered performers he has seen in his dreams. Gabriele Mainetti has made an action-packed comedy about the nature of family and challenges of being an outside. Franz Rogowski’s performance as “the 3rd Reich’s Cassandra” is alternately menacing, heart-wrenching, and comedic: he liquidates any “freaks” who do not live up to his standards, cowers in the withering judgment of his brother, and can toddle through danger as ably as Charlie Chaplin, replete with a loooooong-barreled luger as cane stand-in (this also doubles as a charmingly oblique reference to Tim Burton’s Batman). In his character, Franz as Franz has created perhaps the most sympathy-eliciting Nazi I’ve ever seen, a tragi-comic figure who strives for acceptance from the blustering half-wits he’s been surrounded by his entire life. Let me slide in a Recommended icon here…
That will do nicely. Check out Freaks Out as soon as you can.
The latest addition to the increasingly explored “pregnancy-related-psychological-horror” genre, Michelle Garca Cervera’s feature debut (!) uses a classic (actual) horror narrative to illustrate that no, motherhood is not for everyone—certainly not for Valeria, the pregnant protagonist—and no, mothers, as a whole, are no better than other women just for having given birth. Huesera‘s heroes are the childless women: the “spinster” aunt who recognizes the dangers her pregnant niece is in; the lesbian on-again/off-again paramour who never fails Valeria in times of need; and the various witches who are called upon to exorcise a rather unsettling (and interminably crackling) ghost-demon being. Prenatal tension, much cracking of knuckles, ineffectual fathers, bitchy sisters, and more than a few effective jump-scares await you and Valeria as her fetal daughter grows within and scampering, malevolent ghost lurks without.
The Witch: Part 2. The Other One
With its title lifted straight from my own vaults of “idiotic names for sequels” (keep an eye out in 2023 for Dune 2: Duner), and only the vaguest of recollections of the first one, the only expectations I had for The Other One were big grisly action and incongruous melodrama. Whereas the trilogy’s kick-off (spoileresque alert: things are set up for a finale film…) teetered along a home-slice-of-life pathway, The Other One leans more heavily on “family comedy,” to mixed effect. What it nails, and nails well, is the stylized ultra-violence, as superhumans break apart each other, as well as a good few normal types. Shadowy conspiracy, dark genetic engineering, black cars, black sunglasses, and one guy in a really nice fur-lined topcoat (something of a heather-grey color)… yes, this is Korean action/sci-fi/violence/”comedy” done right, even if it feels a little lazy.
7/30: The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai
This was a high quality period drama, and probably very accurate in its depiction of the collapse of the Shogunate in mid-19th century Japan. And being a Takashi Koizumi film, the story is in good hands: he was assistant director to the legendary Akira Kurosawa for three decades. But something was off tonally at the start: opening narration indicates that the end of three idyllic centuries was caused by those rascally Western mercantile forces, but then spends the film’s remainder showcasing the back-stabbing inclinations of the various Japanese city states. I don’t know enough history to argue the point, but considering the narrative flow of the film, the opening salvo against “the West” makes little sense. (Also, centuries-long peace in a strictly hierarchical society, as presented, suggests repression to me.)
Anyhow, I digress. Viewed through the lens of a pertinent pair of (Western) inventions, a Swiss-made music box and an American-made Gatling gun, the costs and benefits of the future are deftly brought to the fore. Tsuginosuke Kawai (Koji Yakusho, in a commanding performance), retainer to the ruler of a small precinct situated between the “Eastern” and “Western” armies, exudes strength, grace, wisdom, and good cheer—and consistently made me irritated at the surrounding hot-tempered zealots who plunged the country into civil war.
Fun times with cult busting. Maybe a bit silly, maybe slightly too long, but still good fun. Jesse T. Cook’s comedy Cult Hero follows not one, not two, but three redemption arcs. Kallie Jones, realtor and alpha-go-getter, sends her docilate husband Brad to a weekend retreat in order to fix him, and thus get their marriage back on track. Dale Domazar is a disgraced reality-TV “cult buster”, whose efforts some fifteen years prior resulted in an unanticipated mass suicide. Their paths cross when the “retreat” turns out to be recruitment grounds for… you get the picture. Ry Barrett as Dale is excessive, but never breaks character, and Liv Collins as Kallie hits the mark perfectly as a woman who only ever wanted all the rules to be followed (when Kallie brings the hammer down on a lemonade stand near one of her real estate showings, it’s a real treat). The happy cult life tilts into smilingly stupid, and the leader exudes a California hippie charm. It’s obvious the filmmakers had fun with this, and their good cheer is contagious enough to make this an enjoyable, if middling, study of the tenets of Ascension.
7/31: A Life On the Farm
If the subject of your documentary has untold dozens of hours of himself in front of the camera, it might behoove you to let him speak for himself. Charles Carson, the subject of both his own intermittent, straight-to-videos-he-shared-with-neighbors series “A Life On the Farm” and of Oscar Harding’s bio-documentary, A Life on the Farm, is one of the most fascinating individuals to come out of the media ether, via his eccentric, charming, and life-and-death-affirming recordings about life on Coombe End Farm. Unfortunately, while the documentary screened at Fantasia is important in its raising awareness of the charmingly bizarre raconteur, it is over-long—or at least would do well to trim various millennialist takes on its subject. (Guy on couch, three guys in hotel room, et al. were not nearly as interesting as anything Charles Carson was doing or narrating.) That said, check out what Carson’s about: He’s got something to show you!
8/2: Yaya e Lenni – the Walking Liberty
I’m a sucker for adventure animation, and I’ll make extra effort to investigate any non-Disney leads. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that another feature from, whom many of you don’t know as the creative force behind Cinderella Cat, which I enjoyed years prior, had come Fantasia’s way. The visual style is a beautiful combination of moisture and impressionism, rendering the vegetation and animals of a jungle-strewn, post-apoca-something Naples (?) The titular characters have only one ambition: travel the land unmolested. There is a sinister-but-well-meaning neo-technological group, roaming bands of merry men, and one briefly seen but memorable robot tasked with delivering a parcel to what is probably a long-dead recipient. Rak continues his exploration of decayed technology, and I give him kudos for allowing himself mixed feelings on the subject. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but survival, as a species, is also important. As Yaya and Lennie walk their way through the Neapolitan jungle, The Walking Liberty treads its own fine line.
What to do with the Dead Kaiju?
Satoshi Miki picks up the baton from the decomposing body of
‘s and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla (which I’ve seen thanks to its screening at a Fantasia gone by). What To Do… is a political satire with a dead monster as a backdrop. As a truly massive, massive backdrop. When the body is not dominating the screen (which, with its awkward death pose is always an amusing sight), it’s dominating every exchange in the film. Cabinet ministers alternate between punting responsibility and claiming it, with the Defense Minister in particular being as fickle as his aphorisms are opaque (“Tears of sorrow are the same as tears from plucking nostril hair”, or “When you use soap on pubic hair, it makes more suds.” They aren’t all about follicles, those are just the two the spring to mind).
We were fortunate to have the director introduce the film, and he advised us that, when it debuted in Japan, it elicited one of two extreme reactions. Fans of traditional kaiju pictures were, to phrase it diplomatically, dismayed at the treatment of their interest. (The other side, of course, found the film funny.) While I can understand their vexation, I feel there was enough otherworldliness going on, well beyond the decomposing mega-corpse. The film is bookended by explicit declarations of “deus ex machina,” and if you view What To Do… not as a bit of kaiju capering, but instead as an indirect origin story for one of the (living) characters, Satoshi may have pulled a fast one on us by actually delivering a superhero yarn in the guise of a flippant political-comedy.
Unreliable narrator, twin sisters, an infant, two miscarriages, and dozens of rotten apples (literal ones)—all this awaits you in Kang Park’s bleary-eyed modern folk horror. Woo-jin, a semi-reluctant new father, gets a text from his ex-girlfriend about her forthcoming memorial service. He obscures the nature of his bereavement obligation from his wife (and mother of his infant child) to avoid causing undue stress, and in the hopes of sidestepping her qualms about funerals (and much else) during the “seire” stage of their child’s life: its first twenty-one days. He finds himself wondering at the uncanny familiarity of his dead ex’s twin sister (an uncanniness that goes beyond the whole nature of “twins”), and his intermittent hallucinations and ongoing sleepless nights and days twist his perspective until he falls prey to the suspicion that perhaps there is some truth to the old ways espoused by his wife and mother-in-law. When he undertakes to ward off a potential curse by means of a triple-theft ruse, an unexplainable knife in his pocket does save his sister-in-law, but has darker ramifications for him and his young family.
Week three: that’s it, I’m outta here. Local observation: This city isn’t a city, it’s a construction zone. (With apologies to Gilles Vigneault.)