Tag Archives: 2018

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: DIAMANTINO (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Daniel Abrantes, Carl Schmidt

FEATURING: Carloto Cotta, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Margarida Moreira

PLOT: Portuguese soccer mega star Diamantino leaves his career after a devastating failure at an important match; in his new life, he adopts a refugee and gets embroiled in an odd conspiracy involving espionage, genetic experimentation, Neo-fascism and nationalism.

Still from Diamantino (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The moment the football pitch is invaded by giant fluffy dogs and pink clouds, you’ll know this is not a conventional film. The plot continues to accumulate bizarre twists and turns, from attempts to clone Diamantino to an offbeat far-right conspiracy that almost puts Alex Jones to shame.

COMMENTS: The greatest satire is played in such a completely straight way that it could almost be taken seriously. This applies to the grandiose introductory scene to “Diamantino”… until the fluffy dogs pop up, that is. Our titular protagonist recalls in voiceover how his father admired the sublime paintings of Michelangelo and their ability to raise people’s faith. He then claims his son will be the next Michelangelo, not through painting, but through the art of the “new cathedrals,” the football (soccer) stadiums; as he we hear this, the camera approaches one of these in all its glory in a stately aerial shot.

We’re introduced to the heroic figure of Diamantino in a decisive moment of great distress. On the soccer field, he feels the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders; like always, the vision of giant fluffy dogs comes to aid him in his next attempt at scoring a goal. If he fails, Portugal will be eliminated from the World Cup. Despite his reputation for near infallibility, he misses it. Commentators immediately echo the tremendous shock and grief of the audience: “The greatest tragedy since the Greeks”; “Will Portugal survive this?”, they remark.

While this apotheosis of soccer may give the impression of the film’s satire being mainly directed at Portuguese society (where football has a famously disproportionate relevance), that’s only the case for this particular aspect of the plot. In the midst of the film’s zany narrative and irreverent humor (mirrored by the quirky and colorful visual style), the centerpiece is the protagonist’s journey, conveyed through an admirable and committed performance by Carloto Cotta.

As it turns out, Diamantino is “innocent,” his cognitive abilities equivalent to those of a 10 year old child. This trait is not used, however, to make him a crude caricature of celebrity soccer stardom 1; to the contrary, he is portrayed in the most sympathetic way such a satire can afford. There is a clear, strong charm to the Diamantino’s “innocence”; or, shall we say, purity. It obviously leads to comedic moments, but the film’s overall honesty and lack of cynicism provides its emotional core.

Diamantino’s childlike innocence and utter absence of malice is evident in everything he says or does. Seemingly disconnected from political reality altogether, he first learns of refugees when he sees them from his private yacht. The sight impacts him so much that, after his fall from grace and abandonment of his soccer career, he immediately decides to adopt one. In the first of the film’s twists, the refugee he adopts turns out to be a spy. Eventually, Diamantino’s cartoonishly cruel and opportunistic sisters, who treat him tyrannically and run his offshore account without his knowledge (he doesn’t even know what an offshore account is), turn to genetic experiments that are connected to a hilariously convoluted conspiracy involving the soccer star’s participation in commercials and to a (fictional) far-right political party’s plan to jettison Portugal from the European Union.

The film insists on situating its plot in today’s turbulent sociopolitical landscape. While this commentary has its relevance, it’s not developed with the detail and acidic incisiveness that would be expected from a true political satire, which will disappoint viewers craving something along these lines. The main function of these elements is to provide background for the personal story of Diamantino; they reveal how his innocence makes him a pawn of every entity willing to cash on his immense popularity, from major organizations to his own sisters, who treat him like an object through which they can attain their goals.

Not all of the film’s threads come together satisfyingly; in particular, the central relationship between Diamantino and the fake refugee/spy isn’t sufficiently fleshed out in to give the ending the punch it aims for. Due to the overall strength of the experience and the compelling portrait of its titular tragicomic figure, these inconsistencies come off as minor flaws. The film’s delightfully crazy sense of humor and surreally satirized reality, contrasted with the sincerity with which it treats its main character, makes for a definite achievement.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Part political satire, part fantasy, part I-don’t-even-know-what, Diamantino is exactly the type of surreal concoction that begs to be discovered by unsuspecting audiences.”–Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail (festival screening)

CAPSULE: ODISSEA DELLA MORTE (2018)

AKA Valley of the Rats; Odyssey of Death

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Vince D’Amato

FEATURING: Jesse Onocalla, Momona Komagata, Lynne Lowry,  Tristan Risk

PLOT: A man has rented a limousine and travels around town talking with his associates as he tries to figure out who killed his girlfriend.

Still from Odissea Della Morte (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Amidst all the random shots of walking around, limo-bound conversations, and pseudo-BDSM, there is a quiet aura of nothingness going on. As there is virtually nothing doing in this movie, there is virtually nothing weird about it.

COMMENTS: With money, generally, comes a modicum of competence when it comes to filmmaking. The middle-to-big-budget movie you watch may not be particularly entertaining, but it’s at least technically well done. But low budget films are odd beasts. Some cost as much as a used economy car, and are unceasingly entertaining. Others, costing as much as a higher-end mid-budget sedan, are unceasingly tedious. To what end do I type all this garbled verbiage? My reason is twofold. First, I am somewhat frantically trying to think of what to write about Vince D’Amato’s Odissea Della Morte (translation probably not needed). Second, having begun the review in this stylistic manner, it occurs to me that it’s a fairly decent textual translation of Odissea‘s cinematic style.

Jesse (Jesse Onocalla) rides around in a limo, much to his friends’ bemusement, going on a bender while interviewing various people who saw his girlfriend (I don’t remember her name, it doesn’t matter) before she was murdered. While chewing over various evils of modern society in this mobile backdrop, various nonentities enter and exit the vehicle and make various unimportant observations. Intercutting these vignettes are shots of largely naked, occasionally gothed-out women doing ambiguously sexy things and photographing each other until the whole movie becomes this weird (!) and tedious dream thing that culminates in what is perhaps a twist.

I hope my record of reviews can attest to the fact that I am generally a very patient viewer who is eager to give every movie the fairest shake possible. The closest I’ve ever gotten to “cheating” for this website is with this movie. I did watch it, all of it, and even have some notes to prove I paid attention for portions of it. However, when your film’s two highlights are a brief conversation with an affable limo driver and some blandly cryptic remarks from an actress most famous for a small part in a movie known mostly for its theme song by David Bowie, your film is probably doomed, and no amount of T&A, canted angles, and color-to-black-and-white shifts can obscure that.

Forgive me, there was a third highlight: an aura of menace, a tied up woman threatened with a knife, and some beardo shouting, “I AM THE CITY!” in a way that made Jack Skellington‘s declaration of pumpkin-kingship seem altogether Shakespearean by comparison. That gave me a chuckle.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a love letter to the works of David Cronenberg and Jess Franco set to [D’Amato’s] unique take on the giallo film.”–Film Bizarro

CAPSULE: THE VELOCIPASTOR (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Brendan Steere

FEATURING: Greg Cohan, Alyssa Kempinski, Daniel Steere

PLOT: During a crisis of faith, Pastor Jones travels to China where he is cursed by an ancient dinosaur tooth; his newly found powers, and his crusade for righteousness, attract the attention of an international drug cartel with unlikely motives.

Still from The VelociPastor (2019)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Steere’s campy intentions are clear throughout, and so it can’t fall into the “” category. The narrative is silly, the acting is silly, the effects are silly, and the priest is a were-velociraptor (which is silly). This movie feels like an audition video to join the production team.

COMMENTS: “Wild with fear, the Trachodon hurries toward the water. But its fat, hulking body can only move slowly. In two leaps, the King of Tyrants lands on its back. The giant’s head seems split apart as the great mouth opens and clamps shut on the Duckbill’s neck. The dagger-teeth crunch through bones and flesh like shears cutting paper. There is frantic thrashing for a time as the colossal beasts roll into the slippery muck. Then the Trachodon lies still. Its head hangs loosely, almost severed from the neck by six-inch teeth.” 1

There is a telling scene in The VelociPastor that distills the two things to bear in mind when (for whatever reason) you find yourself watching it. Attempting to learn about his condition, Pastor Doug Jones reads up on dinosaurs using Roy Chapman Andrew’s book, “All About Dinosaurs.” Originally published in 1953 (and read by yours truly in his more intellectual childhood days), this volume has absolutely nothing to say about velociraptors. When Doug’s mentor walks into the room to check on him, he covers the dinosaur book with the Bible, pretending to read that instead.

But as to those two things I mentioned: The VelociPastor is silly and pointless. I make no complaint that I’m out five bucks having rented this; at least its 70-minute runtime made it a quick bit of silliness. And, indeed, there were some funny lines. Coming to terms with his condition (through which, in case my oblique references and the title didn’t clue you in, he transforms into a velociraptor when angered), Pastor Jones talks to a hooker (who is, of course, working her way through law school), who encourages him to embrace his curse as a gift to help him rid the world of scum. She provides the caveat, “I know nothing about God.” He rejoins, “And I know nothing about dinosaurs.”.

The opening informational paragraph has been included to flesh out this review, as there isn’t much to say. VelociPastor is cute, but not great; it’s clever, but not very; and it’s good natured, but perhaps not worth $5 for 70-minutes. Some, I suspect, may have been hopeful (or fearful) that The VelociPastor might be nominated for Apocrypha status. Unfortunately, Brendan Steere has only proven that he can carry a premise most of the way through a minimal runtime. But I do feel I am on the hook for this franchise, I suppose: the promise of interminable, possible sequels concludes this ninja/samurai/drug-cartel/Catholic Church(?)/Methodist Church(?)/dinosaur saga. Frankly, I’m more curious as to whether the hooker finishes her degree.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…pure ridiculousness on every level…  a bonkers film that never stops entertaining.”–Bobby Lepire, Film Threat (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BLOOD PARADISE (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Patrick von Barkenberg

FEATURING: Andréa Winter, Rolf Brunnström, Christer Cavallius

PLOT: A bestselling crime author goes to a Swedish farm to try to kick start her creative juices for a new book; naturally, murder ensues.

Still from Blood Paradise (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The scattered reports of “weirdness” lurking in this erotic thriller seem to be greatly exaggerated.

COMMENTS: Blood Paradise may be a horror film about an American woman vacationing in a remote part of Sweden, but Midsommar it ain’t. Robin Roberts (Winter) is a bestselling author of potboilers who’s photogenic enough to sell copies based on her author portrait alone. But her last book, “Return to Blood Paradise,” was savaged by critics as “vile” and “abusive.” The poor notices don’t seem to bother her too much; she spends her days drinking wine and smoking cigars poolside in-between trips to the boudoir for light bondage games and toe-sucking with her beefcake cabana boy (played by director von Barkenberg). But her agent nags her into taking a retreat to a remote Swedish airbnb on a farm with no wifi to remove distractions and churn her creative juices, and that’s where the trouble begins.

A jumpy fanboy Uber driver takes her to the farm, run by a crusty old Swede and his silent sister, with a creepy shirtless farmhand also hanging around. Soon enough, everyone is peeping on everyone else—lots of hidden male eyes spy on Robin when she skinny dips, but she also watches the farmer while he stealthily checks a locked shed and catches glimpses of a mysterious character with long stringy hair. The script tries to build suspense out of these few scraps, introducing more characters/suspects like the driver’s jealous wife, and for a while Blood Paradise has the feel of a low-key giallo. The mystery is revealed early in the third act, however, and the movie turns into a gruesome game of cat and mouse between victim and killer, with farm implements used to sever body parts.

Blood Paradise plays, more than anything, like a calling card for lead Andréa Winter, who is only competent as an actress but who has movie star looks and a fiery sex appeal stoked by her eagerness to frequently disrobe. In an earlier age, I could see her becoming an exploitation or softcore star or a major scream queen. There may be a place for her in modern low budget films; she can bring an aura of class to trash, if that’s what a project needs. Blood Paradise is almost entirely a joint venture between Winter and von Barkenberg, who appear to be an offscreen couple as well. He directed, she produced and composed the score, they co-wrote the script and both act in it, and they each appear in just about every credit, from editing to camerawork.

The Artsploitation Blu-ray has four deleted scenes. Despite a running time of just over 80 minutes, all of these were wisely cut, with the possible exception of “Blood Sex Dream,” which I think they chickened out on. There are also two von Barkenberg-directed music videos.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there is no lack of bizarreness in Blood Paradise… Patrick von Barkenberg’s debut film is worthwhile, even if its for the pure “WTF” factor. Are you looking for a hilariously erotic thriller comedy? Have you never heard of all those things together? Sit down and let the weirdness of Blood Paradise wash over you.”–EJ Moreno, Flickering Myth

CAPSULE: FREAKS (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Zach Lipovsky, Adam Stein

FEATURING: Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Amanda Crew

PLOT: Chloe’s father keeps her boarded up in a dilapidated house to protect her from an unspecified danger; outside, an ice cream truck driver waits for his chance to free the girl.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTFreaks has a very Hollywood feel to it, though it subverts the genre to a fair degree. It feels like a thinking man’s X-Men movie.

COMMENTS: The trials of fatherhood, the uncertainty of childhood, and pervasive agora-claustrophobia all come together with wonder and menace in Freaks, the final film of Fantasia’s final weekend slot. It acted as a nice finishing note of the festival’s main event. Appropriately, Fantasia was the final festival stop for Lipovsky’s and Stein’s baby (not just co-directors, they also wrote the screenplay together). For them and the audience, Freaks provided a climactic blast of pizzazz before things began to wind down in Montréal.

Despite her protestations, we learn fairly early that Chloe (Lexy Kolker, as impressive a 10-year-old actress as I’ve ever seen) is not normal. She’s trained by her ever-exhausted father (Emile Hirsch) to spout an origin story on demand, and be able to ad lib responses in case she’s pressed about details. Why must she worry about the “people out there who want to kill [her]”? The ever-looming ice-cream man, “Mr Snowcone” (Bruce Dern) knows the answer; he’s been hoping to get a moment to abduct (rescue?) her for some time now. Trapped at home, Chloe spends much of her days drawing and pining for her lost mother (Amand Crew). By night, she’s haunted by a wailing figure in her closet. One day, the father passes out after being injured while out getting supplies, and Chloe takes the opportunity to escape and get that chocolate ice cream she’s been hankering for.

Freaks obviously draws comparisons with some contemporary science fiction, but it attempts to address its thorny issues in a way that’s more realistic. What would you do if you were raised in abject fear of everyone but your family? What would you do if that family seemed hell-bent on stifling everything about you that was special? While Lipovsky and Stein obviously frame the story to engender sympathy for Chloe and her family (they are the main characters, after all), they do provide ambient hints about what the rest of society feels the other. As in the more famous movie with the title, this new Freaks forces the audience to themselves just how comfortable they could be with fellow humans are completely out of the norm.

Freaks‘ greatest achievement, however, is how it fleshed out such a thorough world needing so few resources. Nearly all of the action takes place in one run-down house (with occasional forays to a mountain prison). To flesh out their story, the directors use sound to great effect (be it in the form of news channel snippets or the ominous drone of an unseen helicopter) in addition to channeling the narrative through the eyes of Chloe, who despite having been shut-in all her seven years, has maintained her sense of wonder and hope. Speaking of, here’s hoping that these two filmmaker fellows make their mark with this: I don’t generally approve of the word “franchise”, but I would love to see more of this “freakish” world they’ve created.

You can also listen to our interview with co-creators Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein (which may contain mild spoilers).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a cleverly constructed, thrilling and often super-surreal coming-of-age story that gets right into your head.”–Anton Bitel, SciFiNow (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE! (2018)

Papa, Sdokhni

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Kirill Sokolov

FEATURING: Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Vitaliy Khaev, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Michael Gor, Elena Shevchenko

PLOT: Matvey intends on doing in Olya’s father with a hammer, but complications—and Matvey’s uncanny indisposition to dying from his wounds—derail his straightforward plan.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: At a certain point I figured this was merely an extreme case of Guy Ritchie violence and mayhem. By the third act, though, I discovered that the movie still had a bloody mile to go.

COMMENTS: To paraphrase one of my peers who attended the screening, this movie has “Chekhov’s shotgun, Chekhov’s hammer, Chekhov’s power drill, Chekhov’s handgun…” I managed to slip in, “also Chekhov’s ceiling light.” Considering the crowd, I’m not sure if you’d not be surprised to hear it also had the most consistent laughs of any Fantasia “comedy” so far. Perhaps all of us are just terrible people, but I lay the blame squarely on directing neophyte Kirill Sokolov (who also wrote the film) for creating such a side-splitting violence chamber play.

During his brief introduction, Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) seems like a regular fellow, albeit a regular fellow furtively hiding a hammer behind his back as he rings an apartment doorbell. He intones “One, two, three, evil can’t touch me” as he buzzes and is greeted by Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev), an intimidating, hefty man in his fifties, who reluctantly invites him in. Andrey’s wife Tasha (Elena Shevchenko) offers the boy something to drink. When Matvey and Andrey sit down, so begins a very awkward conversation after Matvey’s hammer slips out of his pants and clammers to the ground. “Is that your hammer?” “Yes. A friend wanted to borrow it.” And soon a room-busting melee between the father and Matvey ensues.

This battle of violence and wills continues throughout the run-time of the movie, interrupted on only three occasions by vignettes that explain the pertinent back stories. All very “Guy Ritchie,” as I mention above, but much like Come To Daddy, there is a point at which the whole affair careens over an edge and becomes ludicrous. No more hemming-and-hawing in the theater seat for me, but a quick flash of realization that this movie had just entered the world of crazy-go-nuts. Within its tiny setting (I’d say over 80% of the action takes place in a three room apartment), nearly everything becomes saturated with someone’s blood as TVs bludgeon, shotguns blast, drill bits spin, and kitchen knives cleave.

Near the end, when all the facts are on display and poor Matvey is sitting in a sorry state on the tattered couch (middle finger still flipped up in defiance), Andrey muses aloud to his daughter, “How is this guy still alive?” What, indeed, is this bloodshed for? Part of me suspects it’s allegorical: Matvey, the Russian everyman, enduring and outlasting every abuse from a government system that’s against him. A slightly larger part of me suspects that that would be thinking too much. This red-spewing fountain of black comedy needn’t be approached with any lens, political or otherwise. Just make sure you can stomach ninety straight minutes of top gore .

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:

“Building a crazed Looney Tunes mood with cartoon-bright colors, kinetic camera moves and zippy fast cuts, Sokolov keeps ramping up the savagery to absurdly excessive levels, his protagonists somehow struggling on despite skull-cracking, stomach-bursting injuries. Gore levels are high, but the overall effect is more sicko comedy than torture porn.”–Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)