Category Archives: List Candidates

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE (2022)

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Incroyable mais vrai

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux

FEATURING: , , Benoît Magimel,

PLOT: Unlike his wife, Alain isn’t impressed by the dazzling feature hidden away in the basement of their new home, and his boss Gérard can’t believe that neither of them are impressed by his new penis.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Dupieux takes on two absurd premises and runs with both in tandem, and in so doing explores some lofty themes by way of a time-travel plot device and a “steerable” iPenis.

COMMENTS: Please believe me when I say there was a legitimate reason why I began earnestly checking my watch two-thirds into this (*gasp*), and for hoofing it out of the auditorium before the end credits had finished (double-*gasp*). Incredible But True filled me with such enthusiasm that I felt it imperative to return to my hotel room as quickly as possible to write this review. So, here I am. I made good time—and that is a perfect segue.

Dupieux’s latest film is predominately about time, and its passing. About aging, and aging’s ramifications. Alain (Alain Chabat, in full-on mellow) is an insurance functionary, and he and his wife purchase a new home featuring an odd basement amenity that, as the realtor explains after much breathless “You won’t be believe this…”, defies the laws of space and time. The upshot of it is a slooooow path to youth. This prospect leaves Alain amused, but fairly indifferent; his wife Marie becomes obsessed. Before the domestic feature takes over her life, the two have dinner with Alain’s boss Gérard, and his girlfriend Jeanne. These dinner guests explain, after much delay in the reveal, that Gérard got an upgrade.

The deadpan comedy trundles along to a plucky score, with the surrounding absurdity perfectly bouncing off Alain Chabat’s unflappable demeanor. His character is older, and content with it; has his limitations, and is at peace with those. Marie becomes obsessed with youth, Gérard is obsessed with being perceived as masculine—exemplified most obviously by his implant, but also by his penchant for fast cars and firing ranges, where a nasty recoil incident triggers his first run-in with technological fallibility. In many ways, Alain is more like Jeanne, an avidly sexual being who lives for the now and neither makes nor demands apologies from others living their lives.

Having set this plot in motion, Dupieux lets it roll nicely until…

Until…

Until… it just kind of ends. I like to think that I understand, as much as one might hope to, what Dupieux is about. I love that no idea is too crazy, and that someone out there is making comedies that are clever and outlandish. But too often, his movies just seem to stop. He’s got the middles nailed, and is good enough setting his various gears in motion (maybe he’d do well to talk with Steven Penny), but though I don’t necessarily demand a punchline, or, Heaven forbid, a nicely wrapped-up narrative complete with expository ribbon, RubberKeep an Eye Out, and now Incredible But True all feel like they cop-out on the finale. That said, I can still full-throatedly recommend this movie—as could the hundreds of fellow viewers who laughed along with me through the feature. Indeed, watching a Dupieux film in a theater full of avid enthusiasts was almost as surreal as the film itself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Throughout the film’s lean 74 minutes, Dupieux coaxes four strong core performances, while the jaunty bounce of Jon Santo’s synth-led score mirrors the film’s cheerful weirdness.” -Lou Thomas, Sight & Sound (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: INU-OH (2021)

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犬王

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Masaaki Yuasa

FEATURING: Voices of Avu-chan, Mirai Moriyama

PLOT: A blind itinerant priest crosses paths with “the King of Dogs”, a vivacious and deformed creature with a talent for dancing; through the priest’s music and the dancer’s storytelling, they attempt to lay the lost souls of the Heike clan to rest.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: I have come to the conclusion that perhaps everything in Masaaki Yuasa’s œuvre should get canonized, particularly as we now have the elbow room to do so. (Night is Short, Walk on Girl was shortchanged due to numeric constraints.) Inu-oh brings an unlikely legend to bombastic life, fusing rock opera, ballet, pyrotechnics, spirits, curses, gender self-discovery, physical transformation; it’s a 21st-century story about a 14th-century performance troupe unearthing the secrets of an 12th-century war.

COMMENTS: It tickles me that Inu-Oh is Masaaki going “commercial.” This stems to a great extent, of course, from the fact that here in the United States, film norms are sickeningly normal: we are reigning kings of the lowest white bread denominator (so much so that it was controversial when Disney took a belated and modest stand against overtly bigoted legislation in its home state). Among the many themes explored in Inu-Oh, gender identity is near the fore, along with the nuances of parental acceptance of someone’s true self.

But let me stop that vein of thought for the moment. This is film for, and about, entertainment. It’s about musical revolution, and the delineation of the esteemed Noh tradition, which harkens back to the middle of last millennium. Inu-Oh follows Noh’s traditional story arc, lacing it with modern rock sensibilities. (Well, maybe not “modern” rock, but certainly strains of Buddy Holly through Jimmie Hendrix and Freddie Mercury.) The titular character is a born performer, despite—or because of—the fact he is a born monstrosity: an unnamed son of a proto-Noh performer, a boy of ambiguous shape, deformed face, and a long, strong arm. He embraces his outcast status, at one point referring to himself as “the Horrible Gourd” in honor of his misshapen mask. But as the son of a dance troupe leader, it comes as no surprise that Inu-Oh was born to jump and jive.

Tomona, the biwa priest, has a comparatively subtler trajectory. The son of a salvage diver, he is blinded at a young age when he and his father retrieved cursed regalia. Masaaki’s visual treatment of this unseeing musician is a treat, as total darkness gains rough outline of form with each sound Tomona hears. Being unable to see, the priest-musician (a biwa is never without his four-string shamisen and bachi) does not fear Inu-Oh, and is so able to help the mutant through his journey. Tomona’s personal journey is also about transformation as he evolves into an increasingly feminine entity, adopting the name Tomaori by the film’s end. The morphing of their name allows them to grow into their true form, but plays havoc with the spirit world, and with their ancestors—as one’s given, or accepted, name is what allows Tomona/Tomaori’s father to maintain contact from the afterlife.

While the first half of Inu-Oh is “merely” steeped in music, song, and dance, the second half is one long string of hand-clapping, foot-stomping musical numbers showcasing the monumental talents Tomona and Inu-Oh share as natural performers. They give the forgotten fate of the Heike spirits full-throated treatment, with Inu-Oh performing transgressively non-traditional storytelling through song and dance, while Tomona positively shreds it on their shamisen. Contemporary shogunate politics play a role in the story as well, as does the concurrent, tragic tale of Inu-Oh’s fame-obsessed father. Masaaki Yuasa never settles for half measures, and every theme—friendship, salvation, transformation, politics, and music—ties together in an animated vortex of vivacity and sonic rollercoaster of rocking melody.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This anachronistic rock musical promises a return to the playful, literary surrealism of ‘The Tatami Galaxy’ (2010) and its 2017 spin-off, ‘Night Is Short, Walk On Girl,’ but comes up short… There are individual sequences that reach the psychedelic heights of Yuasa’s best work. But too often, this tale of the liberating power of art is about as mind-expanding as an early-afternoon set at Fuji Rock Festival.”–James Hadfield, Japan Times (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: HONEYCOMB (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Avalon Fast

FEATURING: Sophie Bawks-Smith, Jillian Frank, Mari Geraghty, Henri Gillespi, Destini Stewart, Jaris Wales, Rowan Wales

PLOT: Five friends escape to an abandoned cabin for the summer and form an unsettling commune.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Generally I try to approach my “gut instincts” through a rational lens, but that is failing me. Avalon Fast has made a puzzling DIY mumble-core that feels infused with the spirits of both Gaspar Noë and Mark Region.

COMMENTSBut first! A bonus mini-review of the festival companion piece: Joel Potrykus‘ latest short film.

“Thing From the Factory by the Field” is, as best I can guess, Potrykus’ small-town rejoinder to Wheatley‘s A Field in England. In this American field—probably somewhere in the rust-belt, going on prior Potrykus (pre-trykus?) experience—things begin with synth-y dirge music; clattered shots of legs traversing ditches and grass; a ritualist, blindfolded ordeal; and some smart-ass, dumb-ass kids talking band names, local legends, and Jim Morrison. Maddie’s initiation into a young trio’s rock group (name not yet determined, but then neither is Maddie’s instrument) goes awry when the initiation arrow fells a demon-chicken. Maddie’s sheepishness flips as she summons her religious upbringing to guide her new companions through something kind of occult, rather silly, and, as one expects from Potrykus, a little gross.

The theme of errant behavior in nature continues with the evening’s feature, Honeycomb, a new, strange kind of something written and directed by Avalon Fast, with her friends shunted both in front of and behind the camera. This choice (or more accurately, necessity) goes a great deal to explain some of the qualms I was left with afterwards. The remainder of those qualms pertain to the subject matter on screen. Mostly. There is something missing here…

Putting that aside for the time being, the story: Willow has discovered an abandoned house in a field by a lake in the middle of nowhere. With virtually no convincing required, she and her four friends decide to abandon their drab summer lives and live together in this house; at least, for the summer. Ambitions of permanent residence flare up intermittently during the sometimes stilted, other-times organic conversations. These five young women are mirrored by five young men: buddies all in the same rock band, who have an established history of spending their summers getting blitzed together, typically with the girls along. But the guys get elbowed out as the ladies develop closer, and increasingly unhealthy, bonds with one another.

The society they form has nasty overtones of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with its public shamings (for group cohesion), immediately applied revenge for perceived wrongs (for group cohesion), and submission to the young woman who emerges as the leader (despite her being by far the least charismatic)—also, of course, for group cohesion. Events turn nasty, while generally remaining not altogether clear. The confusion extends even to the methodology: are the actors stilted? Or playing stilted? The characters’ cognizance of the camera is intermittent, with the lads never seeming to “know” they’re being filmed. The whole shebang may well be as ponderously assembled as part of me suspects, or it may not. Regardless, I am hopeful that this is not the movie to remember Avalon Fast by: this jaded critic’s eye sees here in Honeycomb scattered pieces that allow me to imagine her molding devilish narratives in the future.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a wild, wandering, wonderous film, a dreamy, abstracted portrait of that liminal space between adolescence and adulthood.”–Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Alliance of Women Film Journalists (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE FIFTH THORACIC VERTEBRA (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Park Syeyoung

FEATURING: Jung Sumin, Haam Seokyoung, Moon Hyein, Jihyeon Park, Seungki Jung, Oh Jeongyeon

PLOT: Mold formed in widely traveled mattress gains awareness and, eventually, a humanoid form.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: “Cinema-verité meets monster movie, wherein grand philosophical questions about the nature of the self and awareness are explored by way of a creepy-tendriled fungus with a hunger for human spine.” I’m hoping that’s sufficient.

COMMENTSThe Fifth Thoracic Vertebra is art-house-mumble-core, showcasing slices of Korean life as a mattress travels from the center of Seoul to the city’s periphery, and even further, up toward North Korea. Slow dialogue, poignant encounters, life and death, aborted love, and… an increasingly sentient mold. This hook in Park Syeyoung’s feature debut allows for the mundane to sidle up to the grandly philosophic, thanks to the collective organism that seeks to learn about its milieu through the consumption of its victims’ fifth thoracic vertebrae.

The director (who is also the screenwriter) has a knack for dialogue, and has devised a method to gather authentic performances from his cast. He remarked in the Fantasia Festival post-screening Q&A that all the male actors were musicians—ones, incidentally, he refused to allow to compose the film score—with no acting ability. By accumulating various takes of their scenes, just like his film’s mold-y protagonist accumulates expansions of itself, he was able to play around with social tonality, grabbing the best of the various performances to graft on to his film as he grew it from the ground up. Without the hyper-realism of the ambient action (or, often the case, inaction), The Fifth… could easily have sputtered to a clunky collapse under the weight of its pretenses.

But it doesn’t. The cognizantial arc of his mold begins slowly; the film even begins some couple of hundred days before its “birth.” Once the mold forms, it seems to breathe. Sound design carries a great deal of weight, as the audience hears the strange crackling, moaning, and creaking-breathing (?) of this odd main character, and there is a sensation of complete acceptance when, at last, its first knobby tendril emerges from the slickened crack in the mattress, reaches toward its victim… and snatches a section of their back-bone. As the days fly by, the mold begins to learn the rudiments of speech, and we eventually reach a poignant scene where a dying woman leaves a letter to her daughter in its charge (its mattress-home having now traveled quite far). The letter is never delivered, but becomes part of the organism’s sentience.

The closing sequence is both touching and quietly monumental. A reviewer pal of mine described The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra as “boring”; and while I must admit to it being a slow and quiet movie, I found it much more of a peaceful, contemplative film—one that organically grew into near-cosmic significance. Immediately upon viewing, it occurred to me that Park Syeyoung’s debut film would be a fitting B-side to ‘s debut; addressing similar themes, albeit from a different bio-organic perspective, the meditative nature of The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra is the perfect come-down from Tetsuo‘s frenzied hyperactivity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Syeyoung Park’s imaginative debut feature blends the body horror of early David Cronenberg with the witty eccentricity of Quentin Dupleux and adds its own flavours of melancholy and wistfulness… {Park]  teases out the bizarre in the everyday and finds beauty in moments of horror. His first feature may be unpolished but it shows a good deal of unsettling originality.”–Allan Hunter, Screen Daily (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: GLORIOUS (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Rebekah McKendry

FEATURING: Ryan Kwanten, J.K. Simmons

PLOT: Wes finds himself unable to leave the company of a mysterious, genial stranger in rest stop bathroom.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Sam Beckett, eat your heart out. Glorious is a two-man show where no philosophy is too heavy and no fate for mankind is too abominable. Never before has such unspeakable horror emerged through a glory hole.

COMMENTS: Rebekah McKendry’s one set comedy leaves me hamstrung in a number of ways. First, it steals the word “glorious” from me. Second, and more important, it’s a movie best seen without any foreknowledge to speak of. But, as the director overcame the challenge of crafting a manic thriller set almost entirely in one dingy, four-walled room, I shall do my best to overcome my challenges of discussing the merits of this Glorious film.

The set-up can (and should) be revealed: Wes’ only traveling companion through the backwoods highways of Nowhere, Middle America is a teddy who utters “I love you bear-y much” at the squeeze of a paw. This cloying recorded-phrase could be enough to drive a man around the bend on its own, but Wes (oh, poor poor Wes) has other things on his mind. Among them, he’s lost his girlfriend, the “one” he had not been anticipating to be the love of his life. Stricken with grief, panic, and fatigue, he pulls off the road into the parking lot of a highway rest stop. While chugging his bottle of definitely-not-Jack Daniels, he blasts his car radio and burns most of his meager possessions—including his slacks. Waking up the next morning, he crashes into the men’s room, vomits copiously, and a kindly voice inquires if he’s feeling better.

It becomes clear later on that this cordial question is one of the few instances a stranger has expressed concern for Wes, and he latches on to it, indulging the eccentric conversationalist in the neighboring stall. This voice belongs to J.K. Simmons, so you know you are in for a treat. Simmons is a natural speaker: someone we can imagine—no, scratch that—someone we’d love to inquire after our health having heard us spent a solid minute puking our guts out. His voice is key to relieving much of the claustrophobic (but never static) anxiety that bubbles up and over as Glorious proceeds. Part historian, part therapist, and all-parts good humored, Simmons’ unnamed character is a perfect foil to Wes’ broken, scumbag beardo. One of the strangest things about the movie is how compelling discourse between two fellows in a rest stop bathroom can be. The other strange thing about this movie is [redacted].

Hmm. I suppose you’ll just have to trust me: you haven’t seen a conversation-core comedy like this once since requested of André Gregory, “Encore, mais avec une puissance cosmique ultime cette fois.”

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“…one of the more unique movies I have seen come out of the Fantasia Film festival… While it can be a strange sit at times, for fans of cosmic horror, Glorious delivers in odd ways.”–Brendan Frye, CGM Backlot Magazine (fetsival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: COUNTRY GOLD (2022)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mickey Reece,

PLOT: Troyle Brooks , a country music superstar on the rise, shares a disillusioning evening with his fellow musician and personal hero, George Jones.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Having kept an eye on Mickey Reece’s previous odd outings, I was very pleased to have finally struck gold: weird gold. Noir-style camerawork, animated intrusions, and the regular unspooling of side-character meanderings make Country Gold an oddball. Call it “bio-picaresque”, if you will.

COMMENTS: Bourbon and balladeering filled my Spring and Summer back in 2012: a time long ago, a decade now, semi-buried in memory and haze. During my brief spell as the front man for a Country Rock band, with my rough-cut baritone and larger-than-life self, it fell to me to translate heartache, brushes with the law, and failure a-plenty into melodramatic foot-stompers. Despite this brush with the genre, I know little-to-nothing about it. That did not stop me from thoroughly reveling in Mickey Reece’s latest feature, Country Gold, which tells the story of a young star’s collision with a faded legend, and the lessons learned over the course of a betimes bizarre blowout.

Reece is making a particular kind of period piece with this film. Much of the movie’s surface hearkens straight to musical biopic, with impromptu encounters between Troyle (Mickey Reece, oozing hay-seed charisma and genuine naivety) and the world around him. Troyle loves country music, loves being a vessel for others’ heartache, and loves George Jones (Reece mainstay Ben Hall)—or at least the concept of George Jones. Country Gold is at its heart a “coming of age” story about Troyle learning awkward facts about the price of fame and the hazards of aging gracelessly.

As straightforward and wholesome as the story proper may be (reflecting, rather nicely, its protagonist), Reece coats his pure-beef narrative with a crunchy-fried layer of uncanny off-kilter. Black and white is perhaps an obvious choice for a period piece, but not-so-much for one set in 1994. Indeed, the whole film is shot more like film noir than biopic, with sharp blacks pooling around soft whites, an aura hearkening back toward the previous mid-century. Strange interludes splash, such as the films-within-the-film whenever Jones regales a (dubious) anecdote.

Despite the black and white harshness around him, and the increasingly abusive behavior of his dinner buddies, Troyle never fails to put his best foot forward, or to have a kind word or quick apology when things go awry. Even during the singularly odd visitation from a black cross-dresser in the men’s room—wherein a mascara hand-off triggers a New Wave hallucination—Troyle never loses his Swell Guy Cool. Jones’ fiery and tear-filled speech at the night’s end, when it’s just the two country music stars alone after a boozy night on the town, lays bare the horrible price Troyle may have to pay.

Troyle observes the seedy eccentricity around him, taking in the quips, the kicks, and the abuse—the animated sequence condemning Troyle’s “steak, well-done” restaurant order is a mean-spirited hoot—while somehow keeping jaundice from creeping into his wide eyes. And don’t you worry, friend: misgivings about our homespun hero are allayed, more or less, by the closing number, performed in utero by Troyle’s unborn baby boy.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This film is certainly not as weird as some of [Reece’s] earlier works… hovers in this awkward space between being maybe slightly too unconventional for a normal crowd but not strange enough for midnight film fans.”–Mike Vaughn, Geek Vibes Nation (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LA PIETÀ (2022)

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La pieda

DIRECTED BY: Eduardo Casanova

FEATURING: , Manel Llunell

PLOT: Young Mateo is diagnosed with cancer, much to the maternal delight of his uncommonly protective mother, Libertad.

COMMENTS: Nestled between the Venn diagram data sets for “Sledgehammer” and “Soft” lies La Pietà, Eduardo Casanova’s sophomore feature. If you’ll permit the flowery language, as the film’s leads would, there is, verily, a great deal of “nestling” here in general. The title card’s image, the climax’s mise en scene—and regularly throughout, one character is seen in the arms of another, especially young Mateo embraced by his suffocatingly loving mother. Libertad, for ’tis her name, loves her son to a degree so monumental it risks crushing him under the weight.

Within the confines of a sepulchral home wrought of soft-black marble and pink curtains, Mateo lives under the protective wing of the omnipresent Libertad. They dine together, watch television together, and occasionally sleep together. On the occasions they leave the home they (both) attend rehearsals for Libertad’s dance ensemble; later, when it is revealed one or both of them suffers a malady, they (both) spend time at hospital. Libertad is forever fretful her dear boy may wander off if he is not at her heels. Meanwhile, dear boy does often hear the siren’s call Outside That Door; a foray there triggers his downfall into complete dependency.

A parallel story concerns the family of a military official attempting to flee North Korea (the film is set just prior to the passing of Kim Jong-il), adding further to this obvious treatise on dictatorial behavior and the reliance cultivated in the subjected. Mother grills Mateo about the quality of his bowel movement over dinner; she offers to help him bathe, and insists on trimming his toenails (which becomes an unlikely plot point); and, when the lad is weakened by chemotherapy, Libertad finds his helplessness far too alluring. Mateo is vaguely aware of how this behavior is damaging him. As he navigates his world of soft-black stone and pink fabric, he has augurs and guides: his estranged father (who has mommy issues of his own), his therapist (trying to pry apart the symbiotic pair), and Consuelo, a mysterious hospital patient who desires her own freedom.

Nestled in the heavy-handedness (of both the mother and the director) are those subtleties I mentioned. Beneath the situational cringe humor lies a subtler vein of comedy. Libertad’s conversation with a hospital receptionist about pink ribbons for breast cancer is an honest-to-goodness chuckler (“There’s no color for brain cancer?”) Casanova references his debut, Skins, with a brief shot of “Poopie Loops”, whose box features the ass-faced woman. Mateo’s pregnant step mother’s insistence (yes, there is a lot of maternity going on) that she is not smoking when she demonstrably is makes for a bleakly amusing counterpoint to Libertad’s obsessive need for control.

Her control, in turn, reflects the director’s control of his sets, costumes, scenes, and choreography. La Pietà kicks off with a baroque dance number, which ticks along perfectly right until the singer collapses in a fit of helpless tears. But even in his overblown metaphors, Eduardo Casanova softens the edges with chiffony, pastel-pink.

Read our interview with Eduardo Casanova.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A Freudian field day, the campy-dark humor blends softly into surreal depictions of simulated birth, shared baths, full frontal bits on display and savage scenes of Mateo’s declining will to reject his mother’s authority.”–Holly Jones, Variety (festival screening)