Saturday, July 31, 2010

Street Line Painter

They are repainting the lines of the bike paths this week. What a crazy-looking contraption! I wonder what kind of turning range this thing has? Do you think you could get it to write in cursive? Imagine commandeering it in the middle of the night and going hog wild writing all over the streets of Montreal. Definitely get you on the cover of Le Journal.

I do not imagine this is an easy job, however I have to say that I am not too impressed with the quality of the work being done here.

Dude, come on!

Need to move? Go by bike!

These guys crossed my path as I was riding to work. I have to say I was quite impressed to see the loads they were pulling (in very low gear, evidently).

I gave them a "felicitations!" and they seemed psyched. I thought they were just some crazy individuals, but then I saw the words "Déménagement Myette" painted on the side of the trailer. A quick web search turned up their website. It's a full-on bike moving company, started by an idealistic, environmentally-minded entrepreneur. They will also come and pick up heavy and bulky refuse and take it to the ecocentre. A great idea and I wish I had known about them back when I did my hand-truck move (I would have still done all the hand-truck sized stuff myself, but would have hired them instead of the truck we got for the all the big furniture I couldn't do on my own).

Has anybody had any experience with them? If you do choose to hire them, let me know how it works out!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fantasia 2010 wrap-up and report card

Dead soldiers and the one that got away
(the free pass in exchange for the missed Blades of Blood that I never exchanged)

I had a great time at Fantasia this year. Things looked a little down after the second week and I was disappointed with the Hong Kong offerings this year, but the last week came home strong with a wide range of excellent North American horror and thriller films. While I didn't take advantage of any of them this year, it is exciting to see the festival evolve and provide some events that aren't just movies. It sounds like they were quite successful. Socially, though my one friend with whom I usually see a lot of movies wasn't around as much (having just moved, a new job and a new child), my wife did a good showing and I got to meet some cool people involved with the festival itself as well as some of the hardcore old-schoolers. I'm really satisfied with the blogging I did. For me, the internet has become a big part of the fun of the festival and this year I actually contributed rather than just consuming the work of others. It also helped me to get to meet some people.

The Movies
Movie-wise, it was an interesting year. My slightly gloomy prognosis at the beginning of the festival turned out to be not totally off-base. There really was no movie that completely surprised me, took me somewhere I haven't been before or just blew the back of my mind out with its intensity. However, there was such a rich collection of well-crafted, intelligent and thoughtful movies, that the lack of novelty, innovation and extreme weirdness was mitigated to the point that I didn't even notice it. I was too busy thinking about religious fundamentalism, post-trauma healing and puzzling out how a filmmaker is even supposed to construct a third-act in today's post torture-porn extreme-gore environment.

Thematically, religion was a big theme this year. The Devils, Black Death and the Last Exorcism were the films that addressed this directly, but it seemed to be hanging around in general. Psychological healing was another big theme, especially with the two documentaries I saw, Marwencol and Feast of the Assumption: BTK and the Otero Murders. In general, there seemed to be a strange hesitation this year, an avoidance of the traditional satisfying, crowd-pleasing decision. Even the relatively big budget Centurion didn't really have a true antagonist. On the one hand, it's a sign of smarter movies, but on the other there may be a little too much self-awareness going on. Sometimes you just really want the badguy to get smashed in the face.

I noticed this particularly in what I'll call the third act problem. There was some criticism in the way many of the movies ended this year, in particular Black Death and the Last Exorcism. They built up such a beautiful approach and then never really exploded. As I was watching the movies, I shared a similar sense of dissatisfaction as I was watching the movies, but I also really enjoyed the endings. I almost think the dissatisfaction is because we've been so trained to receive the orgasmic money-shot conclusion, that is either some explosively dramatic resolution of the narrative or extreme violence or gore that has surpassed what has gone on before. The problem is that, at least for the violence and gore, we've all already gotten it all. So far, in terms of pure martial arts awesomeness, where do we go after Ong Bak? And extreme gore is now a genre in and of itself. I think torture porn is very much the result of a cinema reaching out for greater and greater shocks because we've shown every other possible form of violence on the screen. So you can't finish a film with some ones head blowing up or a beautifully choreographed fight scene where the good guy just manages to beat the bad guy. What's a director to do?

What I saw that they were doing this year was taking a step back from the spectacle and taking the time to play out the theme of the movie, to address the issues that had been brought up. Black Death, with the shifting of audience sympathy and the dark coda, is the obvious example of this. But I think Revenants did this as well, pushing the story to its logical conclusion in an ending that many felt was unnecessary and drawn out (too many screenwriting classes, methinks). The Last Exorcism entirely avoided an expected special effects showdown for a quick conclusion that completely turned everything on its head and perhaps even made a statement in favour of religious fundamentalism. I appreciate a bit more intellectualism of this kind (which could also be a manifestation of the greater trend of genre films and arthouse films overlapping), but I also like a good, simplistic and satisfying ending. Too much thinking in movies can lead to boringness and moral relativism (a looming danger as evinced by the embarrassing praise of critics towards A Serbian Film). We are walking a narrow path in very interesting times for the range of once-marginalized cinema sub-genres that Fantasia does such a fantastic job of collecting. How can you be subversive and transgressive when you can leap from reading this to goat clown porn with the click of a mouse? [Wait, don't go yet, I'm almost done!]


Programming: B
First of all, it's really easy to give out a grade to a group of people who worked their asses off and clearly put their heart and soul in to seeking out the best movies every year. I recognize that a big part of this slightly disappointing grade is a function of the state of genre cinema itself. I'm not so in the scene that I actually know this, but I highly doubt there was anything better out there. As I said before, a really strong slate of interesting, well-crafted films, but nothing that blew my mind. And there are two areas that could be improved. I felt the midnight movies have been not great in the last two years. A big part of it again is my personal taste, but I feel like there is too much reliance on Japanese extreme gore. Re-Animator was a great choice and I probably should have gone and seen Birdemic, but over all there just was nothing really out there. My major criticism, though, is the lack of classic kung fu movies. I'll get into that more at the end. So still a rock solid year, but with room for improvement. (Also, note that I am comparing this year against past Fantasia's, not against other film festivals. Fantasia simply blows the curve out of the water and would get an A++++ every time, so it's useless to put it up against mediocre mainstream media wankfests like TIFF or Cannes).

Operations: A
Everything about the festival this year has improved significantly. The website is always solid, but the downloadable calendar additions is a huge improvement. The online and phone ticket service doesn't have the personality of the 8-hour wait in the Hall building, but that's a sacrifice I'll take. The second ticket booth over at [REDACTED-INFO NOT TO BE SHARED] is a huge win. Every single movie I went to started on time this year, except where the situation was out of Fantasia staff's control (the double evacs in da Sève and VivaFilm and Universal's marketing paranoia clusterfuck). The staff and volunteers were uniformly efficient, helpful and friendly. Projection, lighting and sound quality were all rock solid. CJLO rocked as usual with finally some hip-hop (keep Mister Vee in the line-up for next year!). The website was rock solid and very active. Really the only reason this category doesn't get an A+ is because I want to push the staff to get a bit tougher with big-name guests like VivaFilm for them to get their shit together. Really, though, ongratulations due all around.

Internet Participation: B-
This category is kind of fluid and tough to grade because there are so many disparate parties. It encompasses all the stuff I like to do on the internet during Fantasia when I'm not actually at the movies. A big part of the fun for me is reading other people's reviews and experiences, arguing about movies, and so on. I have to say that while there were some bright spots, I was a bit disappointed this year. First of all, if I am actually posting more quantity (not to say any of it is any good) than major sights (who send multiple correspondents and get press passes), then something is wrong. Twitch Films, The Gazette, zTele just really didn't offer much beyond brief capsule reviews. And what happened to Dread Central? They used to have the best social coverage, with great wrap-ups of each day, pictures from the afterparties as well as very thorough reviews. There were some bright spots though. Jay's Movie Blog did a man's job. Sinistreblog as well, in french, kept it coming (and were great about responding to comments). Sound on Sight is a real discovery, with a great range of articles on Fantasia (not just reviews) and a thorough and entertaining podcast. Finally, and this is nobody's fault, I really long for a centralized discussion site where Fantasia fans can just really interact and talk about the movies.

Movies I wish I'd bought tickets for
Rubber, The Loved Ones, [Rec] 2, Castaway on the Moon, Merentau, Little Soldier

Best Audience Moment
Tie between Daniel proposing and the drunk angry nerd hugging it out with the director of the original I Spit on your Grave

Best Starfucking Moment
Alan Tudyk showing me pictures on his iPhone of the wall in his Hollywood home made of antique yardsticks. Eat your heart out, Browncoats!

My recommendations for 2011
1) BRING BACK CLASSIC KUNG FU FLICKS! Is this not obvious? Why have these great Shaw Brothers movies been taken off the slate? The fans love them, they play great on the weekend days, bringing in families and older people from the Chinese community as well as the kung fu geeks. I spoke with King Wei-Hu who is the martial arts programmer and he said this decision is entirely in the hands of Pierre Corbeil, the festival director. Pierre, if you are listening, kung fu is the heart and soul and the foundation of Fantasia. They are also great movies, exciting, beautiful to look at, full of movement and colour. You don't notice how much everyone loves the trailers for them? Please bring these back.

2) DO SOMETHING ABOUT TEXTING DURING THE MOVIE!! This is not Fantasia's fault, but it is starting to become a real problem. I would ask that maybe the organizers think about making an announcement or perhaps throwing in a fun short film/PSA about them at the beginning of the movies. It's not simply a question of people being rude. Some people actually think it's okay and get angry when you ask them to stop. Warning to those of you who will open your cellphone around me, I will escalate.

My Heartfelt Thanks!
All in all, another fantastic year. I had a total blast. A huge thanks to everyone involved with Fantasia, from top to bottom. Whatever brief rest you get, you have earned it. You did a top-notch job once again. One more fully-connecting roundhouse kick to all the other pretender film festivals out there, reminding them that Fantasia is boss! You are one of the major highlights of my life (which is already pretty awesome) here in Montreal, so I really do appreciate all the work that you do.

My Final Movie Rankings
(The list I keep on the right during the festival is going to be taken off, so I'll post it down here for future reference.)
  1. The Last Exorcism

  2. The Housemaid

  3. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

  4. The Disappearance of Alice Creed

  5. The Shrine

  6. Gallants

  7. The Revenant

  8. Marwencol

  9. Vampires

  10. The Devils

  11. Woochi

  12. Black Death

  13. Mesrine:  L’ennemi public n°1

  14. The Perfect Host

  15. Centurion

  16. Ip Man 2

  17. Secret Reunion

  18. I Spit on Your Grave

  19. The Feast of the Assumption

  20. Re-Animator

  21. We Are What We Are

  22. Mesrine: L'instinct de mort

  23. Raging Phoenix

  24. High School

  25. At World's End

  26. Lemmy

  27. Accident

  28. La Meute

  29. Bodyguards & Assassins

  30. The Clash

  31. If a Tree Falls

Thanks for reading, Fantasia fans. Stick around if you want, as I resume my normal meanderings on life in Montreal, being an anglo in Quebec, Canadian politics and the occasional rant against the cellphone companies.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fantasia Day 21 - Mesrine

And so it ends. It is with mixed feelings that I type my final review of the 2010 Fantasia Festival. (I will be doing a wrap-up post as well.) I'm pretty weary and ready to get back to my real-life (kung fu is going to be very painful tonight), but I will miss having the opportunity to see one great film after another, night after night.

Last night's screening of the two-part epic gangster bio-pic Mesrine was an interesting event. It felt totally different than the rest of the festival. It was much more connected to the Quebec community at large and much less geek-focused. It barely felt like I was at Fantasia. First of all, the media was all over the place, which surprised me, as I thought last night was the big night. I didn't realize that this film and Roy Dupuis' presence as going to be such a big deal (it also explained why the closing night was last night; that was actually a reschedule as Mesrine was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but Roy Dupuis wasn't available so they swapped them).

Like flies to shit.

As he ages and his head widens, Roy Dupuis looks more and more like Bruce Campbell. I was not alone in this assessment, as my friend had independently remarked upon seeing Bruce Campbell recently in Burn Notice how much he looks like Roy Dupuis!

The other difference was that big blocks of seats were pre-reserved and there were well-dressed young women directing people to their seats. A lot of them were for media and people associated with Alliance Vivafilms, but there was also a big chunk of contest winners for Le Journal. It made for an interesting mix, with the classic, younger, geeky/hipster Fantasia crowd in the back and an older, more pure laine Québécois group in the front.

Resentment fades when I realize that these seats are reserved for the people!

The thing that really caught me off guard, though, was that the line-up started moving early. I was totally not expecting it. I turned around and suddenly the people in front of me had disappeared. It felt kind of like someone had suddenly taken away the wall I had been leaning against. Unfortunately, the efficiency of the Fantasia crew (and once again I applaud how well run the festival has been this year from a logistics standpoint) was undermined by the people managing the Alliance Vivafilm participation. The seats were full by 6:30, when the film was scheduled to start, but nothing was happening. Nothing happened until 6:50 when the crowd broke into spontaneous clapping. Finally, someone from Fantasia came up on stage and we were psyched. But oh no, once again, we had to have an interminable string of thank yous and empty platitudes from the distribution company.

It was clear that they were stalling and the crowd was getting truly annoyed. What was funny was that it was actually the older crowd who were the most cantankerous. The Fantasia regulars just seemed psyched to have any opportunity to yell out, while the middle-aged woman next to my wife was really griping ("On s'en fout!", "Voyons, commençons!") and the old guy in front of me went outside and complained furiously. I like Quebecers in a group like this. They aren't scared of making their feelings known.

[I'd like to make a brief aside about the guy sitting in front of me. He was a petit older guy, nicely but modestly dressed and I noticed he was reading a booklet with a black and white image on it. When I looked closer, I saw it was a picture from The Housemaid. I apologized for reading over his shoulder and asked what he was reading. It turns out it was the booklet for the DVD release of the re-mastered The Housemaid. We had a nice conversation about the movie and he said that the remake was really good as well. "Oh, yes, I heard it was quite good. Where did you see it?" I asked. "At Cannes," he replied. I was impressed.]

The delay is not a good thing, but the way it was handled was worse. The woman from VivaFilm didn't seem to know who was and was not present, but seemed to be trying to get them to come up anyways. Then she basically blamed the talent for the delay, saying that there were a lot of media interviews, which is good. Well it's good for you, but not for us! No real apology from her, no real thanks for our patience and then, with mic in hand, she takes out her blackberry and starts checking her text messages! Finally, Roy Dupuis saunters in, gets a big applause, looks around as if he is staring into the cosmos and then heads to the stage. He and several other actors stand there for a few seconds and then leave. It was awkward, but at least the movie was starting finally!

This is what I came for and it took a while for me to get it!

The two films are L'instinct de mort and  L’ennemi public n°1. In the Fantasia schedule, they both had Mesrine: in front of the title, but in the movies themselves they didn't. I will refer to the two together as Mesrine. Though the two movies differ in style and pacing somewhat, they are definitely of a piece and were meant to be seen together (though whether you need to is another matter).

I have mixed feelings. During the movie, especially the first half of the first one, I was feeling really disappointed. It is very much standard bio-pic stuff. It was full of all the obligatory scenes: the arbitrary, excessive violence against a rude patron in the bar, the screaming match with the once naive now weary with children first wife, the taking the bullet out of the wound (and why do the bloody slugs always have to be dropped into a glass of water?!). What's worse, the intensity and fast pacing that were promised were nowhere to be found. The story moves forward briskly but the scenes themselves were quite slow. It is beautifully produced and shot and Vincent Cassel was great, thoroughly absorbed and absorbing. But there was nothing new here for me.

Look he shoots a guy in the leg in a bar fight and that shows us how he is willing to go jusqu'au bout which will help him rise to the top in his career as a gangster.

Things get much better when he goes to prison in Quebec. The movie takes a nastier turn and adds a much needed political edge. The escape is also quite exciting. Fortunately, the second movie, for the most part, keeps with this trend, focusing almost clinically on his two famous escapes. The pacing and style really pick up as well, with a lively camera. The character also comes alive and Cassel is fantastic at projecting his ego and charisma and just sheer force of personality. When he's ranting at the judges in a trial, you kind of hate him because you know he is mostly full of shit and using politics and cheap rhetoric for his own ends but you can't help loving him at the same time. [The petit guy in front of me, who had been lukewarm about the first movie was absolutely loving the second part, laughing and shaking in his chair.]

The closing act, the end of which opens both films, involves Mesrine and his girlfriend trying to sneak to a new hideout. They are staked the entire way by the cops who finally block them on the street with a truck and gun them down. This act really encompasses my ambivalence to the scene. It is very long and detailed, with multiple camera angles of things we'd already seen in the beginning (except that time, inexplicably, it was done with multiple frames, a stylistic device I like if you don't just decide to throw it out the window for the rest of the movie, thus rendering it weirdly out of place). I was feeling quite weary by this point and you already know what is going to happen, so there is no real suspense. Yet the scene keeps trying to amp up the tension, by having nervous cops in their hiding places freaking out as he gets closer to them. I found myself sort of frustrated and wanted them to get on with it. Then I realized, oh wait, this is like a totally slickly shot, cool-looking and very detailed observation of a tightly-organized police surveillance operation taking place in the 1970s, I love this shit, why aren't I into it?

After the movie, I went and did some research on Mesrine and he really had a crazy criminal career. Both films start with a little quote saying that basically saying the movie should not necessarily be taken as the total truth. But there is really nothing exaggerated in the movie. On the contrary, it seems like it was actually quite faithful to the facts of his life. The two prison breaks are extremely tight reproductions of what actually went down. (Check out this newspaper diagram of his escape from the high security Prison de la Santé; if you saw the movie you will see how detailed and accurate a re-enactment it was.)

I share this info with you because it is at the root of my ambivalence about the film. As I was watching it and immediately after, I felt that it lacked both a compelling narrative and any kind of thematic depth. But now after having done some research on the actual guy (who seems to be a big part of french popular culture, judging at least by the amount of websites about him), I see how much effort was done to try and capture what actually happened. Furthermore, I really appreciated the lack of sentimentality. The question I was torn about in the final scene (why am I watching this?) applies to the whole movie. Had I known about Mesrine's life and career beforehand or had I been fully prepared for a history lesson, I suspect I would have had a much more enjoyable time. Because I think the mission of the movie was simply to tell the story of his life without too much commentary either way. The slow pace and clichéd choice of scenes in the first part is less forgivable, though, and I think tried my patience and endurance too much.

This is a long movie with a lot of stuff in it that I haven't mentioned. I think if you are a fan of the history of the period or of Mesrine, you should see the whole thing. If you are a fan of the crime, heist and escape genres than I would suggest only seeing the second one (the Quartier Haute Sécurité prison escape is truly top-notch). Personally, I really wish that Roy Dupuis had been available on Tuesday, because Tucker and Dale would have been the perfect movie to truly close the festival and would have made Mesrine much more appreciated in reflection.

[There is a term I've learned here called Vox-Pop, which I think may exist only in french or in Québec, even though it was also called vox-pop on the english sides of the releases. It's when viewers share their opinion about the movie and are filmed, I guess the footage is used for publicity, maybe for various entertainment shows that are hyping the film. Some of these people actually sounded like they had some interesting stuff to say on the movie and I would have loved to eavesdrop, but they seemed nervous enough in front of the camera without me leaning in. I wonder if anyone was critical?]

Monsieur... madame tout le monde are not shy about sharing their feelings about the movie. And that is the way it should be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An aside on reviewing movies - Spoilers

I'm starting to see how reviewing movies is a complex business. They are easy to do and I'd argue not all that hard to do well (not that I'm doing them all that well, but relative to other forms of writing, they are on the easy side, I would say). But when you start doing a lot of them, you do begin to come up against some slippery, tricky issues that take real intelligence and experience to figure out, I suspect.

The first one that I keep bumping into is spoilers. For my own experience, I am super uptight about spoilers. If I know that I want to see a movie, then I try my best to limit my knowledge as much as possible. Even for movies that are straightforward, the less I know the better. Some of my best movie-going experiences have been when I had no idea what I was getting into and got totally blindsided. The more you know about a movie, the more you start to set expectations and the experience becomes more and more one of comparing your expectations against what is actually happening on the screen as opposed to a pure viewing experience where your brain has to deal with what it is getting without having any handholds or guidelines.

I don't think I need to go into Hollywood's terrible practice of telling the entire story in the trailer (though sometimes it is a good thing as often you don't even have to bother seeing the movie, as in Brothers, which you would never actually want to see but if they had kept some of it hidden, you might have been at least tempted to find out what happens). At Fantasia, this concern seems paramount, as most of the movies are being shown for the first time. Furthermore, many of them have plot twists and surprises, these elements being staples of the genres Fantasia celebrates. If it's good, I want you to see it. But I don't want to ruin anything for you.

On the other hand, many of these movies are really interesting and like most good movies, demand discussion afterward among those who have seen it. I can do that with my friends and the other Fantasia geeks one gets to know over time in the line-up. The internet has added a new wrinkle. Now I can share my thoughts and read the thoughts of other people who have seen the movies and in a lot of cases I really want to respond. There were many cases of the reviews that I wrote where I had a lot more to say, but cut it out because I would have had to expose a chunk of the story to explain my position. I was thinking it would be cool to have two datastreams: the current one for people who haven't seen the movies and another one for those who have (you have to type in a serial number on your ticket stub to get access).

I think there is a real skill in reviewing a movie without revealing too much. For popular consumption, such as newspaper reviews that come out on the day of the release, you have to give away a bit of the movie, or you just won't have enough to write about, I suspect. But for the internet, where you can write as little or as much as you feel is appropriate, you can be fairly discrete. It is a real writing challenge to sell a movie without giving any of the good stuff away. In some movies, even knowing there is a twist can alter your perception of your viewing of the film. If you think about it, though, isn't writing a review using all the good stuff from the movie actually cheating? You are using the material created by the artist to entertain to fuel your own entertainment. But then what's wrong with borrowing art? A tricky business, as I say.

I've obviously erred on not giving away any spoilers and sometimes I find my writing to be embarrassingly vague. There are several adjectives—interestingly often in the present participle form as opposed to a true adjective—that have gotten badly overworked here in the last few weeks (poor "entertaining" and aching "engaging"). It's been good training, though and I hope that if you do see any of the films I've lauded this year that you'll appreciate my discipline on this matter (or more likely you'll be thinking why did that over-enthusiastic geek make me watch this piece of crap again?)

(this comic from Saint Gasoline; click on the link to find more nerdy comics.)

Fantasia 2010 - Prix du Public

So the Audience Choice awards just got announced. I read the first half and thought, holy fuck the audience is stupid. Then I read the second half and calmed down somewhat. I'll list them for you with my comments (i.e. incoherent ranting) below each category. I didn't see any animation films or enough short films to comment on those categories, so I left them out.

Meilleur film asiatique/Best Asian Film
Gold – Ip Man 2 (Hong Kong)
Silver – Sell Out! (Malaisie)
Bronze – Castaway on the Moon (Corée du Sud/South Korea), Dream Home (Hong Kong)
I didn't see either Sell out! or Castaway on the Moon, but from what I heard they are both worthy, but Ip Man 2 is a total shank, a case of big-name popularity over actual quality. The Hong Kong showings were pretty weak this year, sadly, but Gallants crushed Ip Man 2 in originality, style and spirit. Ip Man 2 isn't a bad movie at all, but the second half is basically Fearless drained of all the joy.

Meilleur film européen, nord-américain ou sud-américain/ Best European, North or South American
Gold – A Serbian Film (Serbie)
Silver – At World’s End (Danemark)
Bronze – Rec 2 (Espagne)(Spain)
Now this is some serious horseshit. I'm starting to think the Serbs pulled a great, big scam on us this year. It seems like everybody who is involved in the industry or in reviewing are tripping all over themselves to say how once you view this film as a metaphor it overcomes its exploitative content. It's bullshit and you know it. This is straight up shock torture porn with no moral core and nothing interesting to say beyond "life is shitty when you rape and kill your neighbours and are then rightfully blamed for it." I'm not going to bother to name all the European, North or South American films that played this year that are far superior to A Serbian Film. Simply look to the list on your right. I'm very disappointed with the people for this choice.

Meilleur long métrage canadien ou québécois/Best Canadian or Quebec Feature
Gold – The Shrine
Silver – Suck
Bronze – Frankenstein Unlimited (Québec), Neverlost
Great choice by the people! I didn't see any of the other Canadian films, though (besides If a Tree Falls), so I could be wrong here. But The Shrine was great so I'm very happy they won.

Prix Guru du film le plus énergétique du festival/Guru Prize for Most Energetic Film of the Festival
Gold – Ip Man 2 (Hong Kong)
Silver – Rec 2 (Espagne)(Spain)
Bronze – Symbol (Japon)
Gallants was so much more energetic than Ip Man 2. I don't know what people are thinking here. I won't go on and on though, because overall, the films didn't have that much energy this year. They were good but they didn't ramp it up like in year's past in terms of energy, so this was a very tough category for me to vote in.

Film le plus innovateur/Most Innovative Film
Gold – Symbol (Japon), A Serbian Film (Serbie)
Silver – Sell Out! (Malaisie)
Bronze – Rubber (France)
Take A Serbian Film out of here and you have some solid results. Otherwise, what the fuck, raping a baby is now "innovative". Oh look I'm going to make a movie about a porn star who is forced to do more and more snuffier films. I'm so edgy and innovative. Fuck off. How could the people be so gullible?

Meilleur documentaire/Best Documentary
Marwencol (É-U)(USA)
YES!!! The people are geniuses! ;-)

Edit: a tweeter, (whom I noticed because he was complaining about Ip Man 2 being over-rated) made a very good point about the people's awards: "Audience Awards are unfortunately driven by the amount of people seeing the films, and the generated hype to fill the place. Thus, hyping IP MAN and Serbian Film like crazy to fill Theater Hall twice on prime time does skew those Awards." I still can't understand how so many people could have actually considered it the best film of the fest, but that does help explain how the numbers might be relatively inflated. It's a bit much, but maybe each film should be weighted by its overall attendance and then the votes for those films scaled accordingly, so a film that had a higher percentage of vote relative to attendance would do better than one that maybe had more overall votes.

Fantasia Day 20 (and Closing Night!) - Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

I must have made it down to Concordia in record time last night. I knew that Tucker and Dale was sold out and if it was anything like Inglorious Basterds or Bon Cop, Bad Cop, the place was going to be packed. My wife decided at the last minute that she wanted to see the second Mesrine movie as well as the first, so I had to pick her up a ticket for that as well. I pictured a huge lineup at the ticket counter and as I'd taken a nap, I was a couple minutes behind my scheduled ETD. Normally, I don't like to ride too aggressively on the Maisonneuve bike path, but I had to pull a Juan Manuel Fangio on two poor unsuspecting Bixi-riding girls, slipping between them and an oncoming biker. How could they know that the Moth and I are capable of acheiving a near two-dimensional state at certain speeds and angles? "I'm sorry!" I yelled back to them. "I'm late for Fantasia!"

Of course, there was absoutely nobody at the ticket counter and I got a decent spot just before the stairs at 8:30 (for a 9:45 show). I settled in for a long wait with the newly-discovered and very enjoyable Sound on Sight Sordid Cinema Podcast (their podcast is great and so is the website; if you are a movie fan, bookmark it). Then we were informed by one of the very polite and helpful (and fully bilingual) Fantasia volunteers that the film would be starting a half-hour late due to a last-minute decision by the producers of the previous film (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) to search everybody for recording devices. No wonder people had been tweeting from inside about wishing the movie would start! I already ranted about the retardness of this behaviour by the studios, but this time it sounds like even more of a clusterfuck as they decided to do it at the last minute (you can just see the studio exec at his desk, his face buried in a pyrex bowl of cocaine, suddenly lifting up to text with his iPhone 4 oh yeah make sure no recording devices of any kind at screening don't forget pirates are taking food from our baby's mouthes his face then plopping back into the bowl) , thus giving Fantasia staff no chance to prepare or communicate to the attendees.

The irony of this behaviour is lost on nobody. These companies want to generate buzz and goodwill among the hardcore fans in the movie community by showing it at festivals like Fantasia. Then they piss everybody off by forcing them to go through an offensive and delaying search. It's like so many of these other failed security efforts. The real criminals will manage to bypass the security while the real fans all have to suffer. Hey studio execs, listen to your social marketing people when they tell you how many "Marketing FAIL" tweets and generally critical blogs there were.

Fantasia offered refunds and of course nobody took them up on it. This is Fantasia, what's another half-hour? The only people who were bummed were the dudes who had just finished sparking up. Now the timing of their high was all fucked up! Fortunately for me, a friend of mine, who had friends on the inside to save him a seat came and joined me with his wife and another friend and we killed the time having a pleasant conversation about all the movies we'd seen.

The Tucker and Dale screening had none of that nonsense and we got into the theatre at a swift pace. Relative to my position in the line, the theatre was the most crowded I'd seen it. Since I was a lone wolf, I got a good seat in the upper section 5 rows back, a decent view but still among the people. And I was glad to be among them, because wow was there a long, boring presentation of the various jury prizes before the movie. I'm sure the Fantasia organizers are aware that this section really needs to be improved. But in case they aren't and anybody is listening, clearly the jury prizes and the participation of the judges is very important for the festival and the films involved, but you need to do something to jazz up the actual presentation. The woman next to me suggested a separate press junket. I'm not sure that's the best solution as you lose your captive audience, but at that point, I would have welcomed it. At the very least, maybe coach the various jurors in how to handle a mic and speak to an audience. You could barely hear most of them and when you could there was no energy or cadence in their voices, so the announcement of the winning movies had no punch. The people were getting very restless. The funniest part was when Steven Severin, one of the judges, was explaining how he was holed up in his hotel room for 12 hours watching the movies he had to judge. The guy behind me cried out "and masturbating furiously!" You could feel the seats shaking everybody was laughing so hard and trying to hold it in.

It's fascinating to see the disconnect between the people participating in this presentation and the rest of Fantasia. For the films they chose, they each wrote a brief essay on the film, talking about its "clarity of vision and honesty" and other old school film school talk that I forget even existed anymore. Particularly striking was the guy from Telefilm, who delivered the most generic paean to Fantasia which made it seem like not only had he not seen a single film, but that he only had the vaguest notion of genre films in general, like they were just "what the kids are watching today." He ended up sitting in front of me and kept turning his head in an annoyed way when people were getting rowdy. Now I could be completely misjudging this guy and I am highly biased against Telefilm, but that was the impression I got.

Finally, the director and the two stars of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil were called up and they got it right away, sending us right to the movie (though you could tell the director was loving being up on the stage and probably could have standed hanging out there for a little longer; I don't blame him).

Be aware that my critical faculties are highly suspect when talking about this film. I vibe so much on the general scene of Fantasia that when the crowd is rocking I'm just having such a great time, that it is difficult for me to separate my general enjoyment from my perception of the movie itself. I suspect I am going to have a hell of a time ranking Tucker and Dale. I can safely say that it is a great premise, very funny and driven by its two excellent leads. Furthermore, it is ultimately a really sweet, heart-warming movie, due again to the eponymous heroes but also to a direction whose heart is in the right place. It's nice to see a movie where you feel like the director isn't trying to be cynical or badass or edgy.

Just looking at this picture makes me laugh again.

Tucker and Dale are two good-hearted good ol' boys who have succeeded in realizing their dream, to buy a "vacation home" in the West Virginia woods. On the way up there, they run into a group of vacationing and partying college students at a gas station. The students are totally freaked out by the hillbillies right from the start and Dale only makes it worse when he tries to make conversation with a scythe in his hand, giggling weirdly out of pure nervousness. Of course their dream home, a delapidated cabin with bones hanging from the ceiling (and a great opportunity for humour and character development as Tucker and Dale ooh and ahh over how fancy it is) happens to be right next to the students camping spot. Miscommunication escalates until the two parties are in full-fledged war with each side thinking the other is totally insane. It's a difficult writing task to keep these kind of mistakes piling up without making them too preposterous. The writers totally succeed here to absolutely hilarious effect. They also add an overly intense leader-type character among the college students who eventually becomes the antagonist as the layers of his character are peeled away.

It's good the stars were so strong in this movie, because the dog could have stole the show.

Again, I was having a total blast with the rest of the audience. I got freaked out when Dale's awesome dog was threatened and teary-eyed when Dale starts to develop a connection with the good college girl. I was also working on my flask of Elmer T. Lee. So take my words in that context, but as far as I can tell Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a great movie, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser that definitely merits general distribution. It also has major star power. I don't really understand why it hasn't been picked up already. A great choice for the closing movie and another totally fun evening at Fantasia.

Where are the Browncoats?

Hilariously, I totally didn't realize that Alan Tudyck, the guy who plays Tucker, is Wash from Firefly until the Q & A. Man, somebody come and confiscate my geek badge! Talk about nerd fail, though I do think it is a testimony to his skills as an actor, because I kept thinking he reminded me of somebody but he just seemed so different from Wash, that I never keyed in to it.

[Also super-exciting is that Angelica (who was rocking the wheels of steel before the show tonight and rocking it hard) told me that Mitch had been reading my blog. She introduced me to him and he said that next year he would give me a link on the front page. I basically feel like I am already in Mitch's debt for all the ridiculously kickass programming he and his crew have done for the last six years at Fantasia and it's been a pure pleasure for me to really dig in this year and write about it. So I wasn't really expecting anything, but I have to admit that I am pretty psyched. A big thanks to Angelica for the connect!]

Tonight is the real last night of Fantasia and I have very high hopes for the double-bill of Mesrine, the real-life French gangster. I love me some 70s gangster action and this time my wife and a friend will be coming to both shows, so I won't have to creep out the strangers next to me with my excessive enthusiasm.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Welder Soudage

Some practical street advertising, but does it violate Bill 101? In any case, I post this for your pleasure but also for my own future reference as I may have need of this gentleman's services in the future and I like his style.

Update: a new friend through gaming and blogging and a follower here actually hired this guy. Here's what he had to say:

Plusieurs marche de l'escalier arriere avaient des morceaux brisees, et une avait totalement defonce - pas tres pratique pour aller dans la cours avec notre fille de 2 ans. Tout est repare et tres solide, et il etait vraiment pas cher (notre proprietaire nous avait dit d'essayer de trouver quelqu'un qui pourrait faire le travail pour 500$ max, ca en a coute 120$.)

Which translates to

Several steps on the back stairs had broken pieces and one had totally fallen apart - not very practical for going out in the back yard with our two-year old daughter. Everything is repaired and very solid and he was really not expensive (our landlord had said to try and find someone who could do the job for $500 max and it ended up costing $120.)

Sounds like a pretty good recommendation! He scanned me his card which you can see below, as well as a picture of his excellent advertising technique used at Martin's place as well. Take note small businesses! Briques du Neige gets you business!

Fantasia Day 19 - The Perfect Host

A mellow Monday night with only a single 7:30 viewing, allowing me plenty of time to pick up some kimchi and ramen at the Korean grocery on St. Catherine and then have a delicious soft tofu soup at the Bulgogi House just up the street. After a weekend of double and triple bills, a single screening is almost too easy, especially when you are by yourself. I find myself planning and scheming about what snacks I should bring, what line-waiting entertainment material, where I should park my bike and so on when none of it is really necessary.

Though there actually was a pretty good turn-out at da Sève for The Perfect Host. I got there almost an hour early and the line, though spread out, had already turned the corner. I found a good seat, behind the lecturer's booth, with some leg room and no big head in front of me. Unfortunately, I also happened to also sit next to another poor example of the entitled generation. She seemed perfectly pleasant, if a bit weird (obsessively cupping her hand over her mouth when she talked on the cell phone, which did nothing to mask her banal conversation), before the movie started. However, once the short started, she decided that was a good time to start texting. I find the bright light of the cell phone extremely distracting. I really wish I could be zen about it, but it really does bother me. I waited a bit, but she kept doing it so I leaned over and said, in what I thought was a fairly polite manner, "that is very distracting." She kept on texting and I repeated it. She started shushing me! And kept on texting.

What am I supposed to do here? It's astounding to me that anyone would even text at all in a Fantasia showing (I've given up hope on the courtesy of the general movie-going public), but what truly blows my mind is how they get mad if you ask them to stop. As if I'm the asshole for politely asking them to stop doing what they aren't supposed to be doing anyhow! So you are either stuck, sucking up a bright light in your face, or escalating the situation and thus risking further bothering the other patrons. I chose to escalate. I asked her repeatedly to please stop texting. I swear to god, she said "I have important work to do." I told her that if she texted during the main feature, I would take her phone away. This flustered her only slightly. I think we have a population that has never had actual consequences for their behaviour and are so used to being protected by a cushy society and their coddling family, that they can't conceive that something real might actually happen to them.

I was really wrestling in my head what to do (and not enjoying the movie at all, which as I looked up had the guy attempting to sexually assault a woman, which made me feel really weird) and finally decided to go out and get the usher. I had to bump into all these people, but he came really quickly. When we got to her, of course she had stopped texting. Then she spent some time explaining into his ear why she was continuing to text. After she left, she turned to me and said "I continued to do it because of you." Way to go! What is she doing, acting out against daddy? Rebelling against her mean math teacher? Incomprehensible behaviour. My apologies to anyone around us that I disturbed by escalating. Maybe it will pay off in that she'll think twice next time, but I don't have high hopes.

Fortunately, The Perfect Host started out intriguingly. A young man stops a hold-up in a corner store (after his wallet is taken by the thief) where he was trying to buy some medicine and bandages for his badly bleeding foot. Unfortunately, the store owner chases him off too and he leaves empty-handed. It is clear that he is on the run and after trying to bluff his way into one house, finds another in a nice part of LA where he is able to read enough of a postcard in the mailbox to pretend that he knows some acquaintance of the homeowner.

The homeowner, played by David Hyde Pierce (who played Niles on Frasier), is really the focus of the movie. He's a little hesitant to let the guy in, but quickly reveals that he is a warm and welcoming guy, despite a dinner party he is planning his successful and sophisticated friends. There is a lot of great interplay going on in the first 10 minutes or so between Warwick (the host) and John (the intruder) whom we have since learned is a criminal on the run for a recent bank robber. The movie keeps you on your toes as you aren't sure exactly what's going on. The dialogue and the acting here are tight and nuanced and it's quite gripping. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the expected order of things gets upset and the situation becomes very weird and interesting. I'll leave it at that.

For a while, the movie heads off in a direction that didn't interest me so much. Fortunately, it didn't stay there for too long and the story takes off again. This is a neat movie, kind of a bastard son of the neo-noir with the more au courant psychological horror thriller. It has an early 90s feel to it (when those neo-noirs were all the rage) and I'm sort of surprised that it did with such a big name attached to it. Whether on purpose or due to a lack of budget, the lack of gloss and high-production slickness gives this movie an approachable feel that allows you to pay attention to the best part, the performance by Pierce (or is it Hyde Pierce? or should he just always be referred to as David Hyde Pierce?) and the story around his character. He really is quite entertaining and I think it's safe to say, carries the picture. [edit: in looking for pics for this post, I realized that David Hyde Pierce must have a not insignificant fan club. I think they will be extremely pleased by this movie.]

I had resolved by the end of the movie to apologize to the girl for being overly aggressive, but also to ask her what she thought would have been a better approach. I know tacking on that last question is a bit passive-aggressive, but I felt that some dialogue was called for. However, she got up and left hurriedly the instant the credits started rolling. She clearly was in a rush to get her important work done.

Despite my enjoyment of the movie, I may have made a tactical error in my scheduling. Word on the street is that both The Little Soldier and The Loved Ones are really good and that was the double bill over at the Hall. I'm not sure why I chose The Perfect Host over Little Soldier at the time. I know that The Loved Ones didn't really grab me, as the trailer made it look kind of hipster and twee (which I would have thought would have appealed to the kids, but it had fairly poor attendance, suprisingly). Again, just another example of the embarrassment of filmic riches that is Fantasia.

Here is a bonus picture of the inside of the projection booth at da Sève.

Man, could I poke around in there for several hours asking annoying questions!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rape Van

This suspicious looking bus was parked on our block last weekend. Probably a bunch of good-hearted and naive 21st century bourgeois hippies, but you never know.

It reminded me of a van I saw parked on Commercial Drive in Vancouver way back in the early '90s. It was a classic Ford Econoline rape van, painted dark blue at its base, but covered everywhere in graffitti and stickers including, in really big bold letters right along the sliding side door "TAKE THE FUCKING CANDY BAR AND GET IN THE VAN LITTLE GIRL!". Even at the time I found that to be quite risky. Today they would probably be pulled over immediately and never seen from again.

Fantasia Day 18 - The Shrine

This is exactly why I go to Fantasia. We saw the preview for The Shrine before the Last Exorcism (I think) and I said to my wife "oh that looks kind of cool." She replied, "you bought a ticket for it!" I had completely forgotten and I can't even remember what prompted me to choose it. So I was basically going in almost totally blind. For instance, I didn't even know it was a Canadian movie, something I usually try to be aware of, until some guy behind me in the line-up mentioned it.

This came up because these two girls in front of me had identical t-shirts that read "Cindy Sampson Cadet" with a picture of a woman. It turned out that Cindy Sampson is the star of the movie and that the two girls are close friends of hers who had come to support her (she was in Vancouver and couldn't make it, working I guess).

The Shrine is the story of a very ambitious reporter who takes her boyfriend and an intern to Poland for an unauthorized investigation of a missing American young man. I'm just going to leave it at that as far as the plot goes.

At first, the movie has a slight USA movie of the week feel, but it moves forward efficiently and you are pretty caught up in the situation. Once they get to Poland, the film really takes off and reveals itself to be very well done on all counts, but especially well-written. It's a very cool little story, with some good action and thrills (in particular an excellent foot chase in the forest that was for once well shot with a narrative to it; at the Q & A the actor said it took them 8 hours to shoot a 3-minute running scene and he was running the whole time; well it was well worth it).

I was a bit disappointed by the turn-out. The room was only a bit over half-full, so there were a lot of people who missed out. The producer said that they had literally finished colour-correcting the print two weeks ago and that he flew hear with it to get it shown here. This movie definitely should be picked up. It's a tight, scary (so far the only Fantasia movie to make me jump) and entertaining thriller. It's also entirely Canadian, produced with independent Canadian money and shot in Ontario. It is great to see that more and more Canadian movies are actually funny and entertaining. The Shrine is a great example of this (what I hope is a) trend and it is going to get the #4 spot in my rankings this year so far, which is no joke.

Fantasia Day 18 - Vampires

Vampires is a Belgian documovie about a family of vampires living in modern-day Brussels, dealing with modern-day problems. It's very clever and very well done, the funniest movie at Fantasia this year for me for sure. What's neat about it is that it successfully creates a reality where vampires could be existing among us and a bit part of the movie is letting the audience explore that reality. And then nestled on top of that is a humorous look at a bourgeois family that would be funny even if they weren't vampires. All of the family members are interesting, but the patriarch really drives this film. He has the elegant bearing of nobility that a good vampire patriarch should have, with a slightly menacing humour. He has to deal with his daughter who wants to be human, his out of control son and the resentful "neighbours" who live in the basment (by vampire law, if you don't have children, you can't have a house of your own; this sets up a lot of hilarious tension).

About three-quarters of the way through the movie, they get into trouble and are exiled to Quebec. This is funny in and of itself, but they take it even farther with the way the vampire community is set up here and then because this was Fantasia, everybody was just loving it for being local.

A great start to an excellent Sunday double bill at Fantasia.

Fantasia Day 17 - If a Tree Falls

This was my Saturday night midnight showing at da Sève and I've been putting it off. I am an overly critical asshole usually, until I know people involved and am aware of a good faith effort, than I become way too nervous about hurting people's feelings. I met the guys behind If a Tree Falls (and Neverlost) in the hallway of da Sève and they seemed like really cool, nice guys, trying to promote their film. I was psyched for If a Tree Falls because I was hoping for some crazy midnight madness.

I am not a big aficionado of the genre that has manifested itself as "grindhouse". I arrived in New York just as that great era in Times Square was coming to a close. Disney had not yet taken it over, the sketchiness was still there, but there were only one or two theatres left and they were showing mainly second run mainstream movies. Growing up in Nanaimo, video stores did have a pretty good selection of weird and nasty stuff on VHS, but we were too young to know what we were looking for beyond the chop-sockey films and only got a small taste. Since then, most of my education has come from magazines, websites and books by fans who wrote lovingly and richly of the period. The best and most entertaining resource for me is Robin Bougie's Cinema Sewer. It doesn't only deal with grindhouse films, but it has a ton of info on the movies themselves and their history. I strongly recommend it (it's a monthly magazine, but you can get the collected back issues in two volumes, which I found at Fantasia a couple years ago), as well as his fun website.

I understand that If a Tree Falls was meant as an hommage to grindhouse films and I was looking forward to seeing that through a Canadian lens. The story is about two guys and two girls on a road trip to the Maritimes. They get attacked by a group of baddies wearing stocking masks and are then harrassed and tortured silently for the bulk of the movie.

Here is what was good: the look and sound, particularly in the beginning and end really capture the low budget style of the films it is mimicking, the masks are really creepy and well done, there is a bit of okay gore at the end.

That's really it. The major problem is that it is boring. The bulk of the movie is the victims being badly tied up and the stockingheads slapping them in the face lightly over and over again. There is also a lot of one woman whimpering and crying (which is pretty in genre). It just goes on and on and nothing really happens. You have no idea why they are doing it and you just don't care. Another problem is that it is filmed in Ontario and there is nothing really threatening in Ontario. Now if these were some Smithers logger rednecks or psycho Kootenays dope farmers, there might have been some real menace. Instead, it looked like the protagonists had been kidnapped by a bunch of ironic Roller Derby fans with their weird little black dancer shoes and long cut-offs. I know there was a lot of weird pacing and lack of plot in the old grindhouse movies, but there was also a lot of chaos. Crazy characters, random bursts of action, nudity were the things that audiences wanted and they got them, usually at a relatively rapid fire pace. Check out the winning fake trailer of the Grindhouse movie contest: Hobo with a Shotgun (which I've heard is being made into a feature). Perhaps there is some revisionism going on here, but I'll take it if it means a more entertaining film.

So I applaud the effort and I hope that these guys can get some money together to keep working, but they are going to need to tighten up and start inserting some chi into their movies before I'll go check out another one.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fantasia Day 17 - The Last Exorcism

Unlike Centurion, I have lots to say about this movie and the seeing of it.

First of all, for reasons I am still trying to get to the bottom of, the producers of this film insisted that no recording devices be allowed in and that all the audience members be wanded and their bags searched. We also had to fill out a release stating that our images may be recorded for promotional materials. Basically a lot of mostly unnecessary hullabaloo that made the movie start almost a half-hour late. Given that this has been one of the most punctual Fantasias yet, and that I got a chance to go up to the DJ booth and meet the very cool, who organized CJLO's participation, the lateness was really not a big problem.

However, the general air of weak officiousness and the indignity of having to stand in line because some retarded producers are still living in the 20th century put me in an angry frame of mind. Black Death and Centurion were both one of many premieres that showed at Fantasia but we didn't have to go through any of this bullshit. Fortunately, the whole thing was done in classic Montreal style, as the guys searching the bags were super friendly and really didn't seem to buy into any of it either. They did a very cursory search, laughed at my 4-pack of beer and said "bon film".

During the introduction, Mitch said that the security was because the film was going to be released in 4 weeks. After the film was over, I wondered if the security was not so much about piracy as about spoilers, as this is one of those movies that probably should be seen not knowing how it is going to turn out. A big part of the enjoyment is watching the story unfold. If that is the main motivation, my criticism is lessened somewhat, as at least it was done in aid of enjoying the movie, rather than just trying to desperately control the data stream.

[an aside on my position on pirating: I don't think it is right and I don't condone, but trying to control how digital entertainment gets distributed today is like trying to control the ocean by running it through pipes. It just can't be done. The MPAA, the recording industry and all the stupid fucks running these huge corporations need to get out of the way and let the younger smarter people who are using the internet to deliver entertainment in intelligent ways that make it easy and fun for consumers to participate and pay take over. Trying to impose control over consumers so you can monopolize a revenue stream that you think you "deserve" but never really earned is fucked and deserves a boot way up the collective ass. At the same time, if there is actually an asshole who would try and pirate a screening from Fantasia (thus damaging its reputation and ability to get future films), that person also deserves a huge boot up the ass as well.]

So I was a bit grumbly and leaning towards not giving The Last Exorcism the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, it did not need that benefit as it grabbed me right from the start and never let go, delivering my favourite film of the festival so far.

Before I get into it, I must also mention the highly entertaining, thematically appropriate and well-made short film that preceded the main event: Lambs by Stephen Huff, who was present. It's about a super-duper straight '50s family who stop on the side of a deserted country road to help some menacing toughs with a flat. The audience loved it and so did I. With this as his calling card to get into the industry, he has a good shot.

The Last Exorcism is filmed documentary style. Actually, the conceit of the film is that it is a documentary about a moderate-thinking Baptist preacher, Cotton Marcus, who wants to expose the practices of fake exorcists. His background was very similar to Marjoe Gortner's, which you should definitely learn about in the great Documentary Marjoe (which won the Oscar for Best Doc in '72 and deservedly). His father is also a preacher, but early on it is established that he has fairly liberal, almost secular views in general and leans towards a very modern, rational approach to his Christianity.

I was loving this movie right from the get-go. There are two things I love. The first is the world of preachers, shysters, self-help gurus and anyone who uses their rhetorical skills and charisma to manipulate audiences. Much to my wife's displeasure, I love watching those Sunday stadium ministries, all those faux-liberal PBS shysters for upper middle class women like Deepak Chopra and Dr. Wayne Dyer (check out his insane website, with his fake-ass asiatic outfit and quotes like "Let your heart be at peace"; he's the best!), infomercials (Tony Robbins for the win!) and even Ginzu knife salesmen at trade shows.

The second thing I love is the when the man of science, firmly rooted in the rational, is confronted with true evil. The late great Peter Cushing, as Van Helsing, was the master of delivering the portrayal of the one who knows that it is real and not to be trifled with. Though not a great movie overall, there is one diamond perfect moment in Dracula A.D. 1972 when Cushing, playing Van Helsing's great-great grandson, a modern-day expert on the occult, is pooh-poohing the vampire rumours detectives are sharing with him concerning some recent murders. That is until one of the detectives mentions that a victim had been drained of blood. With his back to them, looking out the window, you see him hesitate ever so slightly, his expression shift subtly, his eyes narrow and he says, "Two identical marks on her neck, you say?" Oh it's on now, bitches. Man, I still get shivers seeing that. (Check him out here laying the truth down for the cops.)

The other great moment that encapsulate this concept is in the original Exorcist when the younger priest tries to give a psychological analysis to Max Von Sydow, explaining how he has distinguished 27 different voices. Sydow dismisses him curtly, "There is only one."

The Last Exorcism is about both these things and they are delivered beautifully in the first ten minutes. You get to see this young, idealistic preacher who wants to expose charlatanry for the betterment of society (he was particularly motivated by the death of a young boy during an exorcism) head into rural Louisiana and you know that his rational beliefs are going to be put to the test. What's admirable about the film, is that it is done with deliberation and restraint. We are introduced to the family, a widower father, his surly teenage son and his open-eyed, innocent, allegedly possessed daughter. There are a lot of rich themes going on here, including the tensions between fundamentalist Christianity and more moderate, "modern" versions which can then be extended to the ongoing conflict in the U.S. between the red and the blue states. The Last Exorcism is a film that is very much a product of post-Bush America.

The acting is uniformly excellent. The father and the daughter stood out for me particularly, but it is just rock solid all the way around. I'm not going to say anymore because I just think you should see it. I want to discuss it with people who have seen it, because I suspect some people might not have loved it as much as I did. It's a smart, maybe clever film. You want to try and go into it without too many expectations. My one critique (which I shall deliver very obliquely) is that I wish the preacher wasn't quite so rational. As moderate as some Christians may be, if you are delivering a fire and brimstone kind of sermon in Baton Rouge, there is going to be some level of fundamental belief in you. Cotton Marcus never demonstrates any true faith and I think it would have made the film much richer if he had at least shown that underneath his skepticism of the bells and whistles of souther pentecostal Christianity, he still had some profound belief in God and the existence of good and evil.

Go see it in the theatre when it comes out, August 27th.

Fantasia Day 17 - Centurion

I don't have a whole lot to say about Centurion. It is definitely the slickest, biggest budget movie I've seen at Fantasia this year. It also thoroughly entertaining, a rugged and rousing behind enemy lines story with fantastic visuals. Morally, it is interesting in that there really doesn't seem to be any bad guys. I mean there are antagonists, the Picts and the Romans have to defeat them, but the movie makes sure you are sympathetic to both sides. It makes for a more interesting drama, but perhaps a less gripping thriller, because as the audience, you are kind of ambivalent. I think this review over at Twitch Film captures my feelings perfectly.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quit playing with my cock


Fantasia Day 16 - Black Death

This highly anticipated story of a team of knights on a mission to capture the necromancer of a village mysteriously untouched by the plague definitely delivered but didn't quite reach the heights of terror and mystery that I had hoped for. The set-up, the filming, the acting are all excellent. The first half of the movie had me inwardly rejoicing at its depiction of plague-torn england and the various character types that thrive in reaction to it. Sean Bean is outstanding as the grim, determined leader of the knights and there is a great scene where his dominant personality and position pressures the abbot (a surprise appearance by the always good David Warner, as weighty as ever) to allow one of his young monks to guide the party.

Following that scene and then the party's travels through the countryside, I was really psyched. When they finally do get to the village, I had very high hopes. The scene where they first enter in is a fantastic piece of nearly dialogue-free filmmaking. So much tension! I'm sure the waried, curious expressions in the eyes of the knights as they looked around this idyllic place was reflected in the faces of all the audience members. I know I was like "man, what the fuck is going on here?"

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't quite equal the set-up. It's still really good, continuing the conversation that Ken Russell has in The Devils, of religious fundamentalism and the conflict between local culture and organized religion. I'm making it sound boring, which it wasn't. It's taut and intense, it's just that it's never really scary and remains grounded in reality, whereas I was hoping for the truly fantastical and horrific. In terms of our real world, it is nevertheless quite horrific and the coda that follows it is truly depressing and damning.

The cinematic portrayal of the period is great, both in the design and in the storyline. The locations are gorgeous and it is filmed with a slight graininess (Super 16, I learned in the Q & A) that tones down the high production shininess you often get with new movies dealing with the past, but still keeps it looking good. There is a great battle scene, with some awesome spiked mace action.

Black Death is a great movie (and made me want to learn more about the plague) that chooses to explore the darker human side of religion rather than going into the supernatural. Going for the latter choice (which was in the original screenplay) I think may have made it explode more and appeal to me at an entertaining level, but I think the actual direction taken makes for a richer, more thoughtful film. Definitely go see it if any of the subject matter is appealing to you.

(Excuse my sloppy reviews for today. I'm rushing them out as I've got a lot of chores and errands to do on my Saturday and I don't want to get behind as I've got a triple-header tonight: Centurion, The Last Exorcism and If a Tree Falls).

Fantasia Day 16 - High School

High School has been announced as the next big new teen stoner comedy. The writer was there to introduce it and he made a lot of hullabaloo about how many people were stoned and general pot worship. Got lots of cheering but it felt kind of forced to me. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come because while High School is a fairly entertaining, even heartwarming move and fairly successful overall, it has one major failing: the dope humour sucks! I don't know if the writers aren't actually stoners or if they worked it to make it appeal to non-stoners, but the portrayal of people being high was right out of Reefer Madness.

The uptight honour rolls student ends up smoking pot for the first time with his old elementary school best buddy who is now the school burn-out. Because a spelling bee champion was busted for weed, the super uptight principal (a great performance by Michael Chiklis) decided to drug test the entire campus, coincidentally the day after the protagonist takes his first toke. Seeing his entire future about to derail, he and the stoner decide to try and get the entire campus stoned. Hijinks ensue.

It's a great premise and the film has a ton of energy and a great cast of wacky side characters (my favourite were the competing valedictorian who played it menacingly competitive like a character out of Brick and the math teacher). Unfortunately, instead of real stoner humour they just seemed to go for random wackiness. For instance, the uptight computer teacher rambles out loud to her class that she masturbates with a glass dildo thinking of Bryan Adams. And then says "did I say that out loud?'. Sort of funny, but nothing a stoned person would ever do. There is a random car crash where the drug dealers (from whom the heroes stole the power-weed to get the school high) encounter the spelling bee stoner and they all just say "what". It's sort of clever, but it has no context and again none of them really seem like stoners. Even worse, as the day goes on, the only real examples of the student body being high are people just sort of lolling around eating the pot brownies. I don't demand absolute logical consistency, but when you get an entire high school really, really baked chaos is going to ensue. I was hoping for something more along the lines of Rock and Roll High School, but instead the funniest, most stoned thing is one kid who spends the entire day trying to find the administration office where he is supposed to bring the attendance list.

Here is an example of one small spot where they got it right. The calculus teacher is writing an equation on the board and obsessing about the way he has written the three. Then he changes 3/3 to a 1 and then he steps back and looks at the equation and it starts totally blowing his mind HOW AWESOME IT IS. It was only a brief second but that moment perfectly captured how a calculus professor, high for the first time might suddenly look at the equation (that basically describes how things change through time) and realize how totally insanely mind-blowing that was. Imagine him then turning to the class and maybe looking over at the one super math geek whose mind is also being blown by the equation and then both of them looking at each other and completely vibing on the total awesomeness of calculus and the teacher going "Duuuuuuude! Isaac Newton." and then the student pointing back and going "Isaac Newton" and then both of them totally cracking up.

Not that I would know anything about any of that stuff.