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All you had to do was give Giles a chance—
And now I’m gonna do my dance.
7/28: Freaks Out
Come one, come all, to the Half-Penny Circus. Witness the aerial insect artistry of Cencio the albino! Giggle at the pratfalls of Mario the magnetic clown! Behold the raw strength—and ample fur—of Man-Beast Fulvio! And delight in the electrifying acrobatic artistry of Matilde, who powers light bulbs with the touch of her fingers!
This assembly of war-time freaks must work together to save Israel, their fatherly emcee, and thwart Franz, a six-fingered seer who has foreseen the downfall of Hitler and so wishes to harness the powers of four super-powered performers he has seen in his dreams. Gabriele Mainetti has made an action-packed comedy about the nature of family and challenges of being an outside. Franz Rogowski’s performance as “the 3rd Reich’s Cassandra” is alternately menacing, heart-wrenching, and comedic: he liquidates any “freaks” who do not live up to his standards, cowers in the withering judgment of his brother, and can toddle through danger as ably as Charlie Chaplin, replete with a loooooong-barreled luger as cane stand-in (this also doubles as a charmingly oblique reference to Tim Burton’s Batman). In his character, Franz as Franz has created perhaps the most sympathy-eliciting Nazi I’ve ever seen, a tragi-comic figure who strives for acceptance from the blustering half-wits he’s been surrounded by his entire life. Let me slide in a Recommended icon here…
That will do nicely. Check out Freaks Out as soon as you can.
The latest addition to the increasingly explored “pregnancy-related-psychological-horror” genre, Michelle Garca Cervera’s feature debut (!) uses a classic (actual) horror narrative to illustrate that no, motherhood is not for everyone—certainly not for Valeria, the pregnant protagonist—and no, mothers, as a whole, are no better than other women just for having given birth. Huesera‘s heroes are the childless women: the “spinster” aunt who recognizes the dangers Continue reading 2022 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: “BACK AGAIN”, PART THREE→
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… 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, Rubber, Keep 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.
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.
PLOT: Margaret is a successful executive at a biotech firm who is in total control of her life until an unsettling figure from her past reappears after a twenty year absence.
COMMENTS: Sweet, home Capital District. It’s where Margaret hangs her hat. It’s where she takes her daily runs, adopting an air-slicing locomotion that hints at both determination and long-buried agitation. It’s where she raises her daughter, Abbie, and works her job at an unspecified kind of biotech company. Albany, New York: worth a visit, worth a lifetime stay. And for Resurrection‘s heroine, a place to escape to after a nasty experience on the opposite side of the continent.
The super-charged atmosphere of “things are going well” telegraphs early on that this is all about to change. (That this screened at Fantasia, preceded by a particularly enthusiastic introduction by festival coordinator Mitch Davis, also telegraphs this.) Rebecca Hall’s performance morphs from woman of steel into jagged pieces of sweat-caked paranoia at the appearance of a rather mild-looking, and mild-mannered, man from Margaret’s past named David (Tim Roth, doing us the courtesy of perfectly capturing understated evil). Margaret’s tightly wound self is cranked another turn, triggering the manic crash into the madcap finale.
Beyond my personal satisfaction of witnessing so many of my greater hometown’s landmarks on the big screen (an odd oval-building observed near the beginning, dear readers, is called “the Egg”), Resurrection generally exhibits every hallmark of a well-considered psychological horror movie, replete with increasingly unreliable narrator. Its approach to interpersonal power dynamics, particularly the dangers of charisma coupled with gaslighting, is dead-on. Tim Roth, on the surface, does not do much, but to perform as David, in this stage of the relationship between him and Margaret, he merely needs to prod ever-so-slightly for her to resign herself to performing the “kindnesses” he demands. Rebecca Hall carries her topsy-turvy character along a narrow path of believability, veering from dominance to terror, and supplication to hatred with ease, and sometimes within the same line.
The reason we’re considering this film on a weird movie site is because of the finale, about which I can say little for fear of giving away too much. Suffice it to say, while the build-up alone is worth it (Hall, Roth, and comparative neophyte Grace Kaufman all bring their “A” games), the culmination of David’s manipulation and Margaret’s crack-up makes for a memorable emergence of Owen Johnson to the world of cinema, as “Benjamin”—the baby who, twenty years prior, catalyzed the ensuing madness.
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I’m a get deep like Gilles Cousteau—
“Gilles Cousteau could never get this low.”
My experience with queer cinema grows as Addison Heimann tells his story of seemingly got-it-all-together young Will whose bipolar mother dips back into his life after a ten year absence. Heimann’s story adopts an unsettling aesthetic, with its mirroring shots and recurrence of sinister man-wolves. But there is humour, too, much of it during the many encounters Will endures with increasingly specialized hospital staff, beginning with the spot-on bro nurse, “NP Chazz”, who is the first to reassure him, “It’s amazing what the human mind can do to the body.” Also keep an eye out for the knee-slapping reference to Patrick Swayze’s Ghost (our protagonist here is a potter, you see, and his demons wish to encourage his craft while they break his mind). As a character (and mental breakdown) study, Hypochondriac fits the bill nicely, but at times feels like so much sound and fury, signifying less than I might have preferred. Still, the closing scene, wherein the hospitalized Will takes comfort from his boyfriend and gives comfort to one of his inner demons, makes for both a serious and sweet finale.
Hypochondriac is in limited release in Alamo Drafthouses starting tomorrow (July 29).
Detective vs. Sleuths
Madness continues in this rather-nearly-weird movie. Call it, a police procedural comedy thriller with “Chinese characteristics”. Detective (well, more precisely, ex-cop posing as detective) Jun Lee went a bit off kilter some years ago after witnessing a demon appear at a crime scene. Having lost his badge, he has set up shop beneath an overpass, conversing with murdered murderers (yes) he imagines while overseeing his self-made, and entirely unofficial, bureau of botched cases. The guy’s a genius, you see, and even beyond his run-in with a demon there’s a Butcher / Demon Cop case that has been bugging him for two decades. Jun Lee has inspired a group of ruthless vigilantes, and their extra-judicial revenge on perps who got away lands Jun Lee in a new and manic mess.
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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.
COMMENTS: But 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.
As it was, it barely happened; on most timelines, it probably didn’t. But there he was: his flight delayed, Mickey Reece leaned against the bar edge, ready to discuss Country Gold, and more. Listen with pleasure as a knowledgeable auteur and a country music-ignorant reviewer chat about Reece’s latest film. Though 366 somehow failed to ask about a restaurant, we learned exactly how Mickey’s boyhood steaks were prepared: well done—not unlike his films.
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