Tag Archives: Fantasia Festival 2018

LIST CANDIDATE: UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018)

Under the Silver Lake has been promoted to Apocryphally Weird status. Please read the official entry. Comments are closed on this post.

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

RAW AUDIO: CAM CAST AND CREW

366 Weird Movies interviews the cast and crew of Cam, 2018 psychological thriller in which camgirl Lola finds that somehow, someTHING has nabbed her account and is posing as her, performing acts she would never agree to…

Interviewees: Daniel Goldhaber (director), Isa Mazzei (writer), Patch Darragh (actor, “Tinker”)

See also the mini-capsule in Giles’ Fantasia 2018 batch update, “A Second Slice of Strange.”

2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A SECOND SLICE OF STRANGE

Ambiance

Demolition is going on not too far from my window. Apologies in advance for any typos or misinformation; I’ll blame the occasional ground shudderings and Carbon Monoxide I’ve been reading warnings about.

7/17: The Nightshifter [Morto Não Fala]

Poster from NightshifterNightshifter‘s director, Dennison Ramalho, has been hovering around the periphery of the Fantasia Festival with shorts for over a decade now. During that time has met José Mojica Marins (of “Coffin Joe” fame), looking for that filmmaker’s ring (a gift from ‘s wife) on the dark floor of the cinema, as well as Ken Russell (of Ken Russell fame) at the Fantasia screening of A Serbian Film.

What Ramalho brings to the table in this outing is a refreshing bit of horror (!) revolving around a morgue attendant, Stênio, who can speak with the dead. When he makes the mistake of misusing their information he is doomed to be haunted by an incredibly angry and bitter (and dead) wife. While it is marred by a too-obvious score (we’re already dealing with corpses, murders, morgue prat falls, and haunting) that focused too much on the jump-string section instead of maintaining a quiet unease, the Nightshifter still manages to pack a bit of a punch. Its necessarily troubling finale is gratifying in its way, too, as Stênio rises to the challenge of accepting his fate. More from Ramalho will likely be a good thing for horror fans.

7/18: Boiled Angels: the Trial of Mike Diana

Trusting the voices inside my head, I took in a screening of Frank Henenlotter‘s latest film early this afternoon. This the Henenlotter of Basket Case fame: what would attract the interest of this genre filmmaker? Nothing less than the once obscure, now infamous trial of Mike Diana: the only artist in American history to have been found guilty of obscenity. Though it’s a talking-heads documentary, Boiled Angels naturally enough skirts along its periphery, using narrated illustration segments and gee-whiz-colorful meets Dear-God!-extreme examples of comics both from Mike Diana and much of American comics’ underground history. Various luminaries provide remarks, from Jay Lynch and Stephen Bissette (who testified for the defense) to George Romero and . What makes this documentary stand out in particular is that the filmmakers reached out to Mike’s adversaries and gives those players not just screen time, but also a fair shake. Must see for afficionados of underground comics: Mike Diana took Continue reading 2018 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: A SECOND SLICE OF STRANGE

INTERVIEWING AARON SCHIMBERG: KEEPING IT NORMAL

On Thursday, July 19, I had the pleasure of meeting with director Aaron Schimberg, whose new movie Chained for Life had its International Premier the night before. Nestled in a back room in the SGWU, we had a quick chat.

366: This is Giles Edwards sitting down with Aaron Schimberg who directed Chained to Life … Pardon? Oh, Chained for Life. Terrible start. It played to a full house, and I also noticed when I was out in line that the press line was as long as the ticket-holder line, so that will hopefully get the word out on this great feature. You probably saw the reaction of the house a lot of clapping and laughing.

AS: I only paid attention to the people who weren’t clapping and laughing.

366: Well, there were plenty of people who were. Now, Chained for Life is kind of a “meta-movie” about making a period hospital-horror film while mostly focusing the actors’ world. We actually recently did a long-form review of the movie Freaks, and one of the things remarked on by the reviewer was that that was the kind of film you really couldn’t make anymore. But you, obviously, have put together something that, while different in tone, is comparable in structure, with a band of “normal” actors and production people and individuals with different disabilities. So it looks like that kind of thing is still possible. Did you have difficulty corralling the groups together or starting this project in any way?

AS: The film is in many ways a response to Freaks and an update of it. It was hard to cast in a way because there aren’t a lot of advocacy groups for people with disabilities, but not everyone in the film was an “actor.” Just because it’s a low budget film, it’s difficult to cast anyway, so I had to cast sort of by any means necessary: either pick people out from the street, or go through casting agents, or friends, or people that we’d seen in other movies. Everyone seemed to me—if you’re asking about actors with disabilities—seemed to relate to the script and and seemed fully on board. It was almost like a summer camp atmosphere, a very positive environment. It’s hard to get a film off the ground, but once we were up and running it was a pretty smooth process.

366: I like how you said “summer camp atmosphere,” because that was definitely captured—certainly in the scenes at night at the hospital with just the “freak” part of the cast there, hanging out.

You said [last night] that about twenty pages into the script you were writing about this lead character with certain attributes, a certain accent. How did you get in touch with your leading man, ?

AS: Yeah, so I had written a character with neurofibromatosis, who was British. I don’t know why. I was probably thinking of the Elephant Man, who had neurofibromatosis—possibly, there’s a debate Continue reading INTERVIEWING AARON SCHIMBERG: KEEPING IT NORMAL

CAPSULE: CHAINED FOR LIFE (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Stephen Plunkett,  Charlie Korsmo

PLOT: While starring in a low budget period horror film, Mabel makes the acquaintance of some affable “freaks” brought on set for authenticity; while the main cast and crew’s away, the freaks pass the time making their own movie vignettes.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Made as a rejoinder to the infamous Freaks (1932), Aaron Schimberg’s movie is non-exploitative, clever, funny, and professional. While the meta-narrative gets a little odd at one point, Chained to Life really boils down to being a feel-good comedy in the very best possible way.

COMMENTS: I found something very odd about my viewing experience of Chained for Life, and it wasn’t the subject matter. After the brief introduction by the soft-spoken director, I was feeling nervous, for some reason. Admittedly, I’ve had difficulty coping with the sight of deformity (in person and otherwise), but having thought about it—and having now seen the movie—it was the wider critical interpretation that I’d read beforehand that made me apprehensive, and afterwards made me confused. I’ll talk about what other critics saw later; me, I saw a charming, character-driven comedy.

When a busload of disabled people show up at the shoot for a period horror film, there is a hiccup of apprehension on the part of the “normals” already present. The leading lady, Mabel (Jess Weixler), plays the movie’s movie’s leading lady, a woman blinded by some unexplained accident who is promised to be cured through radical surgery. However, Chained for Life focuses primarily on the actors and crew involved, in particular on the blossoming friendship between the physically self-conscious Mabel and the physically self-accepting Rosenthal (Adam Pearson). While primary filming progresses by day, the “freaks” lodge in the hospital by night, eventually deciding to play around with filmmaking themselves. One twist leads to a cute reveal after a ways, but the story is pretty simple.

That’s not to say it isn’t well done. By using the pretentious “art-house” nonsense being filmed by a hyper- stand-in (billed only as “Herr Director”) as a counterpoint to the day-to-day scenes of people interacting with people, Aaron Schimberg crumples up any fear of “the Other” by focusing on the lighter side of the banality everyone faces. There are also moments of considerable hilarity scattered throughout. At one point, Herr Director demands Rosenthal “emerge from the shadows”. When asked the simple question, “What am I doing in the shadows?,” Herr Director goes off on a lengthy, increasingly impassioned tangent concerning The Muppet Movie, the Muppets’ epic quest, and the big reveal of . This handily reveals the director’s obsessions without providing Rosenthal with any good reason why his character would just be kicking around in the dark, while also nicely linking the two phenomena together: as Schimberg remarked in an interview, whenever there’s a big reveal (chair swivel, shadow emergence), it’s either a celebrity or a “freak”.

But what of those other critics? One used the term “black comedy” , and the only interpretation I can make of that being any comedy involving these kinds of people must be subversive somehow. Another’s mind was blown by a modest twist found in the final act; it was as if he watched a far more complicated movie than I had. But despite the unsettling undercurrents discovered by other reviews, I found Chained for Life to be as pleasing as it is witty. As the credits appear, they spool over one long take on the bus of the variously disabled actors after the in-movie movie shoot. After so deftly undermining preconceptions about disfigured people, this stunt pays off handsomely. What do we see when we watch them on the bus? Totally normal people being totally, normal, bored. It was an excellent flourish and a perfect way to underline the film’s thesis.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It all culminates in an odd, almost surreal sequence in the back of a hired car, shot in a single long take. This deeply weird finale, both humorous and moving, strikes an uncanny note I’m not sure I’ve quite seen before — something mesmerizingly close to the sensation of a waking dream.”–Callum Marsh, The Village Voice (festival screening)

LIST CANDIDATE: LUZ (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Tilman Singer

FEATURING: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler

PLOT: A police psychotherapist gets drunk at a bar with an animated young woman who has recently been thrown out of a cab; back at the station, the young cabbie has turned herself in and the therapist gets summoned to recreate the incident.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Uncanny valley sound design keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat from the start as a barroom encounter, a police procedural, and a car-ride collide together in fits, bursts, and very extreme psychotherapy. This tightly packed little nightmare bursts at the seams with dark visions, psychological overlaps, and camera work that stays on the deeply menacing side of surreal.

COMMENTS: Good luck can play a big part in finding a truly amazing film. My path toward 366 began almost two decades ago when, by chance, I rented The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, & Her Lover from a little VHS rental place near my home. Naturally, being at a film festival like Fantasia, one is engineering the good luck, but I am still thankful (and surprised) that I went, by chance, to the press screening for the new German “psychothriller” (for lack of a better catch phrase) Luz. From the get-go I was glued to my seat; an odd compunction to have when the opening shot is of a bored police officer manning a desk.

The humdrum opening: Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) is quietly enjoying a drink at a near-empty bar. His pager beeps from time to time, as he is on-call; but he only needs to leave if “there’s an emergency.” One eventually arises, but only after another bar patron, an animatronically-twitchy young woman named Nora (Julia Riedler) gets him drunk. Sloshed, both from the drinks and her bizarre tale about a young woman named Luz (Luana Velis), he needs to get sober—and fast. Jump to the barroom bathroom where Nora seems to shake the drunkenness out of him, imbues him with a golden glow from her throat, and then collapses. Thus mended, off he goes.

Menacing from the start, Luz maintains an incredibly unsettling atmosphere as the police psychologist hypnotizes a very unstable— and very possibly possessed—cab-driver to recreate a fateful car ride. Going to incredible extremes, his analytic work morphs more and more into a violent interrogation-cum-exorcism. Recollection and reality violently collide as Dr. Rossini turns the screws further and further. Memories are impossibly conjured in the police station: Rossini adopts the persona of Nora, bloodying his face and putting on her stolen clothes, and all the while, a poor police translator is locked in a sound booth. Through an impeccably askew  soundscape and the goth-prog-synth score, even the relatively quiet moments pulse unnaturally.

As every faithful reader is aware, this site is cruising along toward “completion” at a very steady clip. With that in mind, I know what a Hail Mary shot this is. And even though the Festival has just begun, I still suspect that this will be hard to top. Using effectively only two sets, Luz crams an amazing amount of nightmarishly surreal drama into just seventy minutes—and Jan Bluthardt’s performance as Dr. Rossini would make both Klaus Kinski and Erwin Leder proud. Presently, I find myself at a loss for words, so I’ll leave this review saying that, due to the review embargo, I’ve had to sit on this for a week before posting it. By the time you read this, I may well have seen it a second time.