Tag Archives: Fantasia Festival 2021

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: THE OTHER FEATURES

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Here’s a roundup of four notable genre films screening at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival that, for one reason or another, did not receive full-length reviews. If the descriptions intrigue you, look out for these in the coming months.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair: As an indie melodrama wrapped in the guise of a horror story, World’s Fair maintains an uneasy ambiguity up through its melancholy epilogue. Casey (portrayed by the age-ambiguous Anna Cobb) is a young high schooler who joins the “World’s Fair” horror cult during a ritual that begins the movie. The eight-minute opening shot cements Casey’s mien and milieu: shy awkwardness housed in an attic bedroom with a glow-in-the-dark-star-covered ceiling. She seeks the unsettling changes promised by a community of horror thrill-seekers, whom we meet through posted videos of “the change.”

On the cusp of adulthood, Casey has yet found no place for herself. Dysphoric, she flirts with suicide. World’s Fair manages to be neither heavy-handed with moralizing, nor tedious with its insistent lack of clarity. That is a narrow path to walk, and transgender “writer, editor, and director” Jane Schoenbrun guides us through this journey with a sure hand. I bring up Schoenbrun’s circumstances because even before reading the director’s statement, I could sense that she unpacks her past confusions and sufferings through storytelling in the intimate depths of this film. The film was a novel experience for me, being the only example of “ominously quirky” cinema I’ve ever seen.

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It: I love coming across movies that make for deadly drinking games. Take a shot every time Ernar Nurgaliev’s Brother Kooka shares an old Kazakhstani saying; you’ll pass out in the first twenty minutes. But the story? Oh yeah, the story. Das and his two buddies go on a weekend fishing trip. Das is dying to escape harassing calls from his creditors, constant arguments with his pregnant wife about a baby name, and the general crush of day-to-day existence. When this happy-go-lucky crew accidentally toss a bottle of urine at the car windshield of a four criminal brothers (all perfectly understandable in the frantic context), things begin to go awry. The thugs hit a dog in the confusion, and so enters the Psycho Rural Archetype. This is all very silly, and thank goodness. It is also superbly shot, with balanced frames, clever angles, and also a stylistic touch that particularly tickled my love for tidiness: the opening credits were nicely aligned on various horizontal surfaces. All said and done, a highly recommended romp.

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break: “This lunch break, I’m going to right all the wrongs that have happened to me and my mum,” threatens the titular reality-star-wannabe. And he does, in a way. This movie is an unabashedly droll mash-up of Falling Down and Airheads, hitting all the expected notes of vengeance and comedy, mightily holding its sequined head high. You’ve seen this story before: aging loser hits back against the system, this time in the form of a dictatorially officious train platform attendant, a racially ignorant tea-shop owner, corrupt church officials, and that scummiest of scumbags, the reality talent show host. I found it impossible not to enjoy, though, as Nick Gillespie is a master of comedy craft, cramming together chuckle-time vignettes and sprinkling lyric-references throughout. Like a classic tune you can’t help bopping your head to, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a breezy number that forces a smile to your face.

Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story: One cat, two dogs, an exotic city—Avid Liongoren’s animated send-up of telenovelas has it all. Nimfa is a perfume counter cat (of course) dating a burly janitor canine, but has a meet-cute with a very wealthy property mogul (also canine) and her life is up-ended. Liongoren delivers playful pokes to Filipino society, particularly the serialized soap operas so prevalent on television. Animation is the perfect medium for the surreal silly touches (cue rubber-ducky drop exposing the hunky male lead after he declares, “let us give in to our burning desires!”) as well as the video-game inspired battles that erupt whenever Nimfa is pushed too far. Clocking in at a swift seventy-four minutes, Hayop Ka! (translation: “You Animal!”) lands in that difficult sweet spot: nothing skated over, no loose ends, and you’re left with that pleasing sensation of wanting a little more.

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: CREEPY SHORTS DOUBLE FEATURE

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This post covers two programs of nine shorts each, Things That Go Bump in the East  and Small Gauge Trauma, so technically it’s an octodecuple feature—a word so fine that our spell-checker does not even recognize it. Without further ado, here are nine pairs of shorts for you to try on.

“Things That Go Bump in the East” program

Chewing Gum (dir. by Mihir Fadnavis; 18 min.)—Getting in the spirit of this horror short, my cat Goose  appeared at the door to my left. After some minutes of creepy video, I looked left again, and Goose had materialized in the same position, six feet closer. That’s the kind of unsettling occurrence you’ll find here. Classic black and white visuals, killer foley, and minimal dialogue. Of the eighteen-minute run-time, seventeen are perfect. Dark subway, dark roads, and an eldritch entity in black demanding chewing gum from the adulterous protagonist had me riveted. But when the monster took her (?) dues, it was more “uhh…” than “AGGH!!!”

Carnivorous Bean Sprout (dir. by Seo Sae-rom; 5 min.)—An animated PSA-by-way-of-advertisement, Carnivous‘ greatest strength is the no-nonsense newsy narrator discussing the thrilling, new, titular phenomenon. Looking rather similar to sperm with chompy heads, these aquatic sprouts are a hit tourist attraction: people gather in boats, are rowed over to nest, and then handlers rustle the beans, which jump up and bite you. This craze extends to a new variety of monkeys (which rise from the water and scratch you) and elephants (which extend their noses to throttle the happy spectator). Strange things, people are.

Juan-Diablo-Pablo (dir. by Ralph Pineda, Dyan Sagenes; 15 min.)—I nearly dismissed this out of hand when I realized it wasn’t done with puppets. (How this notion got in my head, I am uncertain.) However, J-D-P does something very impressive by traveling seamlessly from confusing, to mundane, to humorous, to wrenching. All available clues suggest that “Juan Diablo” is Death, and he happens happens to be living in a ratty, newspaper strewn apartment, receiving corpses from a pair of disfigured opera archetypes. His young neighbor Pablo introduces himself with a note hucked through a hole in Juan’s wall, and their wordless encounters at Death’s door have an amusing and wholesome tonality, incongruously achieving Hallmark Card levels of “adorable.” The tone shift at the end is sudden, but not misplaced, poetically bringing attention to the tragedy befalling the Philippines from rampant crime and extra-judicial murders on the part of the police.

Huh (dir. by Kim Tae-woo; 12 min.)—Huh was a Korean mask-maker of legend, and this is a cartoon tribute to his art. Kim Tae-woo mixes curvy animation of chalk-looking drawings with the occasional hip-hop number to bring the ancient carver to life. A mountain spirit drops some beats as he instructs Huh on how to overcome the tide of spiritual possession plaguing the villagers. I expected this to be cute, and it was; but I was not expecting to heave a sigh of relief when the errant spirits barely made it back into the moon.

Koreatown Ghost Story (dir. by Minsun Park, Teddy Tenenbaum; 15 min.)—I wondered what Margaret Cho was up to. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see her show up in this little horror comedy. Hannah, a young painter who works by day at a hardware store, visits the venerable Mrs. Moon to inquire about the contents of a puzzle box and is quickly whisked to a massage table and poked with needles. After some remarks about Hannah marrying Moon’s dead son, the matriarch mystic disappears and a spirit corpse boy pursues the girl around the house. Another cute Korean story, also with a focus on masks and the Autumn festival (gotta do me some research now). I laughed, I jumped, and I reconsidered the possibilities of acupuncture.

Night Bus (dir. by Joe Hsieh; 20 min.)—Great art design, but unfortunately the amateur animation style does this little tale of wronged spouses, wronged passengers, and wrong monkeys no favors. The jarring sequences all unfolded with squicky violence undone by the “Happy Tree Friends” excess and awkwardly arranged narrative reveals.

Seen It (dir. by Adithi Krishnadas; 12 min.)—Gather ’round the fire and learn of the horrible eenampechi, the hovering and easily confused arukola, the mystical thendan, and others in this animated cryptocatalogue of wonders. This wry little black and white squiggle ‘toon is based on some of the innumerable supernatural anecdotes of P. N. K. Panicker, a tall-tale teller of some renown. Its easy-going style makes this the only “kid friendly” pick from Things That Go Bump. The raconteur’s advisements come to life before your eyes, Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: CREEPY SHORTS DOUBLE FEATURE

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: MAD GOD

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RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Phil Tippett

FEATURING: Niketa Roman,

PLOT: An explorer descends into the depths with the mission to destroy God.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Drawing inspiration from Ray Harryhausen and the Brothers Quay, as well as siphoning the theological-cinematic marrow of E. Elias Merhige, Phil Tippett has created a stop-motion nightmare of such scale and unrelenting viciousness that it turns the corner into the darkly poetic.

COMMENTS: Words nearly fail me. I could go on at length about Mad God‘s technical wizardry and the staggering horror of  its vision. The soundscape is calculated for maximum unpleasantness. The entities populating the Hellish layers are the nastiest collection of putrescent malevolence this side of the imagination. Whatever message there may be here is of the utmost nihilistic hideousness. Myriad paragraphs could be spun going over all the elements Phil Tippett has created for this trial of a film, but mere text cannot convey the goings-on in Mad God. I’ve seen torture porn; this movie is nothing short of torment porn.

Babel is destroyed, and what follows is a vision of mankind, had he defied the warnings of Leviticus 26: 27-33. Man survives, as he must and as he can. An explorer in a capsule descends past a skyscraper guarded by flak cannons. He is armored and equipped with a map and a briefcase. And he witnesses Hell on Earth as he travels, passing defecating guardian beasts. Wispy humanoids are stamped in a press and sent off to labor on a giant apparatus, burnt to crisps, crushed under steam-rollers, and splattered by the dark monoliths they have been tasked to create. Down and further down continues the explorer, map disintegrating, briefcase clutched in hand. Inside is a bomb, and with it the hope of destroying this God and what he has wrought. He reaches the bottom, on which rest innumerable heaps of other briefcases. And he sets the timer…

It may be best for me to describe the few moments of comparative ease on display. A doll-like human woman passes her time masturbating; a nurse has the luxury of a pillow to lay upon; and somewhere in God’s alchemical laboratory there exists a carefree group of DayGlo beings who sup daintily on maggots. And that is all I can think of. Of course, each instance has caveats: the doll-like woman is imprisoned; the nurse must facilitate a ghastly human-emptying surgery for each delivery of an ungainly foetus to be handed unto God; and the DayGlo cavorters are intermittently snatched up and eaten by beasts for the alchemist’s amusement.

There is a timelessness to Mad God, explained not just by its lack of dialogue and grandness of the vision. This project took Tippett thirty-three years to complete. Every crushed human, every organ tossed idly aside, and every burst of goo and shit—it all leads to a dispiriting rejoinder to 2001: A Space Odyssey. When God is fed the dust of the infant, he spews forth black monoliths into the cosmos, infecting neighboring worlds. The abominations on display here are beyond most people’s utterance, and you may be tempted to flee, but Mad God ends on an odd note that ever-so-slightly tempers the despair: another explorer, with another briefcase, is sent down for another attempt.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tippett’s odyssey, equally compelling and off-putting, enmeshes the viewer in a maximalist excess not too formally different from the likes of Flying Lotus’ trippily mutated Kuso, abetting its dream logic with lurid visions of the scatological and profane.”–Morris Yang, In Review Online (festival screening)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: STANLEYVILLE (2021)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Maxwell McCabe-Lokos

FEATURING: Susanne Wuest, , Cara Ricketts, Christian Serritiello, George Tchortov, Adam Brown

PLOT: Maria is selected for a contest that promises to “probe the very essence of your mind-body articulation”—and to present the winner with a brand new SUV.

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHAStanleyville‘s DIY-feel is paralleled within the narrative as candidates partake in a series of increasingly unhinged, but always ramshackle, challenges (two favorites: “Lobe of Ear” and “Diogenes Nose-Peg”). Trapping five bizarre specimens of humanity in a pavilion, McCabe-Lokos lets his unwieldy absurdist-reality-chamber-drama creak and crash as it lurches toward a gracefully symbolic climax.

COMMENTS: Until watching Stanleyville, I had never heard a ravenously pro-capitalistic screed in folk song form. This was among a number of “firsts” for me, as a pentad of archetypes squared off against one-another over the course of two days. This group is gathered together by an out-of-sync master of ceremonies named Homonculus, and “the heat heats up” as irregular time intervals count down, minds get stretched to snapping point, and bodies pile up in the food pantry.

Stanleyville‘s framework is not ground-breaking: apply pressure to some weirdos in a confined space and see what happens. Marat/Sade did it way back in the 1960s. (In fact, Stanleyville‘s setup makes me wonder if this was a stage play; and if not, when can I expect it to be?) The ingredients are fresh, however, particularly the mysteriously European (and Europeanly mysterious) Homonculus, who finds our heroine Maria sitting in a shopping mall massage chair and promises to change her life. She’s recently finished a shift at her dead-end job, left her dead-end home life, and discarded her purse, along with its contents, in a trash can. An earlier encounter at the office, witnessing a majestic, soaring bird unceremoniously thwack into her window, has left her aware that something is missing in life. She eagerly accepts Homonculus’ offer; not for the brand new habañero-orange compact SUV (a prize description mentioned often, with quiet enthusiasm), but because she feels that fate may have finally gotten up off its ass to give her some purpose.

Her contest competitors are a hyper-affable beefcake who’s neck-deep in a protein-powder Ponzi scheme; a jaded nihilist who incongruously lusts after the SUV; a hedge fund fellow sitting atop a mountain of privilege and self-loathing; and an actor/junkie/musician who never found a failure he didn’t have an excuse for. The four ancillary stereotypes lack depth (as is their wont), but they are merely background distraction (ironic, being the loudest characters in the piece), pushing Maria and her pensive wonderment to the fore.

The fourth stage of the contest (after the balloon-blowing, item sequencing, and the “write a national anthem for everybody everywhere through all time” trials) is when Stanleyville slips from ominously silly into philosophical. If I asked you, “Who is Xiphosura?”, you might not guess an entity who transmits crypticisms through a conch shell —but that’s as much as we learn about him. This is the kind of mystery found in Stanleyville; just enough is explained to keep you going, right up through the (off-screen) final event. Like Homonculus, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos may seem like he’s just making it up as he’s going along. He isn’t; he’s deliberately constructed the pathway toward new modes of mind-body articulation.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The persistent failure, however, to conceive of connective tissue between the elements it engages with (either through some development of narrative or in formal playfulness) ensures that the thematically derivative interests and pedestrian existential angsts of Stanleyville on the whole amount to little more than nothing at all…”–Zachary Goldkind, In Review Online (festival screening)

 

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2021: TIN CAN (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Seth A. Smith

FEATURING: Anna Hopkins, Simon Mutabazi, Michael Ironside

PLOT: A parasitologist is abducted after discovering a treatment for a spore-fueled pandemic and awakens inside a life-support canister.

COMMENTS: It was disorienting for me to endure so many of my personal phobias on parade while still remaining committed to finding out how this shuddersome chain of events concluded. Tin Can has plenty of its titular containers: a third of the action takes place inside an icky-liquid-filled cylinder inhabited by Fret, the film’s slime-expert heroine. As she could barely move, practically fused with her surroundings, a sympathetic jab of claustrophobia struck me . And then there’s the disease-y plot device, which on more than one occasion had me glancing away.

There’s a lot of terrible going on in the world now, what with some fungus-based communicable horrificness passing from person to person with greater ease than I would have thought likely just a year ago. So Tin Can feels topical, while still maintaining a futuristic edge. A suffused lighting scheme heightens the clinical spaces, working equally well with the sinister basements of some unnamed facility. Smith opts for a narrow aspect ratio, heightening the sense of constriction, trapping the viewer in its column just as the visuals push you to the edges.

The sound design is also impressive, with plenty of muffled conversations between occupants of the “tin cans”, and all manner of sinister clanks and squoodges as unknown unpleasantness happens beyond the scope of their air vents. Only one character seems remotely pleased at every juncture, a wiry old man named Wayne (Michael Ironside) who seems to have embraced the prospect of being a harbinger some decades prior. The other characters, well, they love, they lie, they… They have a lot of flashback encounters beneath (what I swear) is the same underpass over and over. Come to think of it, Smith not only overcame my personal discomforts with the themes, he also overcame the fact that he only had one interesting character…

Marred though it is by disorienting plot jumps and flat performances (except, of course, Ironside’s giddy eccentric), Tin Can works when viewed as a philosophical essay. Its sounds and visuals—the gold-toned future drones, the dungeon cylinder repository, and the squiggling gyrations of a fungal chrysalis just before it’s crushed—are strong enough to carry us past the ho-hum human element. And Tin Can‘s themes of transformation, deception, and hope are tried and true. The Waynes of the world, with their manic optimism in the face of doom, are as necessary as the hard-nosed, hard-science heroine Fret. Without Fret, we cannot achieve, and without Wayne, we cannot believe.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Smith goes big on the visuals, both inside and outside the can… there is work that evokes Andrey Tarkovsky and Marek Piestrak. It’s splendidly realised and atmospheric, which is important because in later, slower scenes, Smith relies on it to maintain a sense of awe when the actors are compromised in their ability to hold our attention.” -Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film (festival screening)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: GILES WATCHES CARTOONS

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“Circo Animato” 2021 program

Beating the heat by escaping into a world of colors, lines, and pixels. Join me on a trip through a dozen+ animated what-have-yous…

“Ourobouros” – dir. by Chloé Forestier

A viscous, translucent purple ooze is covering clouds, buildings, and people. Is there a way to escape it? Watch as friends and family succumb to absorption, with a dedicated few slicing, shaking, and pulling themselves and others from a mysterious and ominous fate. Forestier’s short film contrasts enticing pastel coloring with a dark ambient score to immediately create a sense of menace before it ends, just as immediately, on a (potentially) hopeful note.

“Wayback” – dir. by Carlos Salgado

Mankind, as is so often the case, is doomed. The phrase “way back” suggests visiting the past, but also a means of escape to one’s home. Some very pretty, very angular animation is harnessed to convey a healthy smattering of details about the future: derelict buildings, sandy wastelands, and few survivors. Salgado’s vision also has hope, and even suggests a hyper-evolution of man à la 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the live-action heat wave surrounding me, I can only hope “Wayback” imagines a way forward.

“Enochia” – dir. by Noémie Bevierre

This was a noodle-scratcher, which is not a bad thing, necessarily; but its lack of clarity was marred by a couple of slices of conventional narrative, which set the whole thing up as appearing like a plot synopsis/introduction for some more conventional “tribes at war” cartoon saga. In the afterlife world, I was quite pleased to see the Circo Animato program’s continued trend of animations that fully embrace the medium. Then things got… “Too real” is too strong a phrase; but perhaps “less unreal”? Little quibbles, definitely, and the thing was visually striking (as all of these are). The least compelling of the bunch, but that is hardly a knock.

“Upcycling” – dir. by various

One cup, four minutes, six animators. A whimsical adventure about the importance of recycling and reuse. Passable entertainment, and skilled (whimsical) animation, but it was akin to watching a public service announcement that Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: GILES WATCHES CARTOONS

FANTASIA FESTIVAL 2021: GIVING BIRTH TO A BUTTERFLY (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Theodore Schaefer

FEATURING: Annie Parisse, Gus Birney, Constance Shulman

PLOT: A suburban mother and her son’s pregnant girlfriend take a surreal road trip to try to fix a financial mistake.

Still from Giving Birth to a Butterfly (2021)

COMMENTS: Diana is the matriarch of an average suburban family who’s made an embarassing mistake. Her husband Daryl hates his job and has dreams of opening a restaurant. Daughter Danielle is assisting in the school play. Son Andrew has a pregnant (though not with a butterfly) girlfriend, Marlene. Marlene’s mother is delusional, believing herself a famous but forgotten actress about to be rediscovered.

Giving Birth to a Butterfly starts out as a domestic drama, but one with a very dry sense of absurdity. Marlene reads off eye-catching headlines from a tabloid magazine: “Child Sings in the Womb,” “Dead Couple Wed at Their Funeral,” that sort of thing.  Diana’s co-workers have confusingly similar names and appearances. Characters drift into improbably poetic monologues. And Marlene’s mom is totally bonkers, a good excuse for the movie to cut loose from some of its subtlety. But although the dialogue is sometimes ridiculous, the dynamics between the characters are believable: Diana and Daryl share a low-grade, polite hostility. Dad wants to impose his dreams on the whole family. The children either try to defuse family tensions or are absorbed in their own worlds. Marlene, the reluctant interloper, wants to ingratiate herself into her boyfriend’s family.

In the beginning, at least, we learn more about Diana from her relations with others than from herself, which may be the key to her character. The first act sets up the characters. When Diana and Marlene embark on a journey, Diana slowly comes more into focus. When the pair arrive at the home of a couple of old ladies who are both spooky and wise, the movie launches into full surrealist mode, as Diana’s dreams become her reality.

Giving Birth to a Butterfly is a short movie, only 75 minutes long. But like a particularly dense poem, its brevity belies an entire world of thematic and intertextual references. The title is taken from a 1917 poem by Mina Loy (the relevant stanza of which is read over the credits) and there are references to Homer. The characters monologues are draped in metaphor. A number of motifs recur: naming people, twins, trains and journeys, damaged artworks. The dreamlike ending is not explicitly explained, but these themes give you a lot to think about. Enigma is the dominant tone. It’s an intelligent, and even poetic debut film from Theodore Schaefer, but it’s not always an engaging one. But its short runtime may make it worth a gamble if you find the idea of a Sundance-style dramedy with a surreal twist at the end appealing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a dream-like experience with relatable themes, but the surrealist drama plays more like a philosophy lecture than a film. Feeling like a co-production between Kelly Reichardt and David Lynch, Schaefer’s directorial debut shows promise as a filmmaker, but the film never concretely comes together.”–Jon Medelsohn, CBR.com (festival screening)

Short promotional clip from Giving Birth to a Butterfly (2021)