Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fantasia Day 10 (Saturday, July 28)

Holy schneike, we just went into double digits over here. Ten straight days of constant and consummate cinema consumption. Praise the movie gods and pass the popcorn…

I had hoped to get my tuckus out of bed in time to get the day’s writing done and catch the 12:30pm screening of Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legend, a new kaiju featuring Ultraman with a new origin story, but it was not to be. Ol’ Man AC, he needed a few more Z’s after hitting the hay at 3am, so the giant suit-mation monsters will have to wait until I can see them on DVD. On the positive side, I was able to have a leisurely brunch and catch up on emails, one of which included a lovely conversation with Fantasia hospitality manager Stephanie Trepanier who kindly invited me to the Frontieres Market cocktail party.

Once there, I was lucky enough to mix with filmmakers, producers, distributors and programmers from all over the world, including Adele Hartley of Edinburgh’s Dead by Dawn film festival and Jovanka Vuckovic, (former editor of Rue Morgue) whose short film The Painted Bird will be screening tonight preceding the sci-fi/action flick The Human Race. (I also met Paul Hough, the director of Human Race yesterday queued up for Play Dead, where I learned quite by accident that he is the son of John Hough, helmer of such horror classics as Legend of Hell House, Escape from Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods, and Hammer’s superb vampire tale, Twins of Evil. Color me geeked.) My schedule has not allowed me to do much in the way of extracurricular socializing thus far, outside of waiting in line or chatting with cinema seat neighbors before the screenings, so it was a nice change of pace and opportunity to meet some friendly folks. (The free booze and appetizers didn’t exactly suck either.) Many thanks to Stephanie and the Fantasia team for making that happen.

Speaking of standing in line, I’ve met some incredibly cool peeps over the past week and a half, and I’m going to name drop a few of them now: The Evening Class’ Michael Guillen, Matthew Hodgson of Entertainment Maven, Adam Lopez of Toronto After Dark film festival, Twitchfilm’s Peter K. and today’s special guest, Rue Morgue writer par excellence Paul Corupe. The circle of friends and fellow scribblers continues to expand…and that’s leaving out a ton of individuals whose names are not coming immediately to mind in the wee hours of the morning without their business cards and/or nametags in front of me.

Outside of the Frontieres outing, I was pretty much holed up at Concordia Hall, the larger of the two venues. Having spent a goodly amount of time across the way at the J.A. Seve this week, I was again struck by a few common occurrences singular to Fantasia. It’s time for a little more picture painting, methinks, for those who have never been or those who have and can relate:

When it’s time for the feature to start at Concordia Hall, our Man of the House, Daniel, retrieves any residual microphones left behind by guest speaker intros, then turns the house lights down by dramatically pointing at the two side light towers. (At first I wasn’t sure if he was actually dimming them himself, or if was a cue for the booth, but he does in fact pack a remote.)

It’s pretty entertaining and the crowd gets a big kick out of it, cheering him all the way. A fixture of the Fantasia organization, I had to get a pic with the man and he was happy to oblige.

Another element worth mentioning is that about half the films are introduced in French by the staff, while the other half are made in English. Montreal being the actively bilingual city that it is, this seems to suit everyone just fine, although I do occasionally have BIFFF flashbacks where I have no idea what the heck is going on. Today tended more toward my mother tongue, as we encountered the cast and crew of the awesomely enjoyable horror/comedy Mon Ami, writer/director Rob Grant and lead actors Mike Kovac and Scott Wallis.

More on the gore-strewn buddy film in a sec, but suffice to say, this one immediately shot into my Top 5 for the festival thus far. It’s goofy, surprising, funny, clever, absurd, and bloody dark, heavy on the blood. Can’t wait for this to get out into the world, and will be interviewing the boys later today in service of helping get it there.

Then it was time for a feature that we’ve been hearing buzz about for quite a while and the rare film I had even heard of before the madness began, the all-star indie horror found footage anthology V/H/S introduced by screenwriter Simon Barrett (below with Fantasia festival head honcho Mitch Davis) and producers Roxanne Benjamin and Brad Miska.

Having already been burned earlier this year with Theatre Bizarre, my expectations were dialed down a bit, and whether it was because of this or not I couldn’t say, but with the exception of some nitpicking, I’d say I enjoyed it well enough. Unlike Bizarre, V/H/S at least packs some worthy punchlines as well as some genuinely spooky moments to ease the occasionally bumpy ride.

Then the boys from Alamo Drafthouse unveiled the freak show that is Miami Connection, a late 80s cheesefest from director/writer/star Y.K. Kim, a 9th degree black belt with an accent thicker than the bricks and boards he shatters onscreen. Truth be told, I’ve seen better so-bad-it’s-good efforts, and I confess to nodding off occasionally, but the crowd seemed to dig it and we all went home with a smile. Chalk another win up on the big board!

Mon Ami (2012) (1st viewing) d. Grant, Rob (Canada)

From our neighbors to the north comes this screamingly funny, gleefully depraved high energy romp that envisions the Coen Brothers’ Fargo through a buddy-comedy prism…then flings it into a kiddie pool of blood. A pair of frustrated home-improvement chain store employees (Mike Kovac, Scott Wallis) concoct a “harmless” kidnapping scheme that spins out of control, setting into motion a chain of increasingly audacious events, each more outrageously irrevocable than the last. The hapless pair’s squabbling, lived-in bromance spawns enough belly laughs on its own zinger-laced merits to fill a standard 90-minute time block. But once the ropes and luchador masks come out and comely victim Chelsey Reist finds herself strapped to a chair in Wallis’ parents’ apartment, the frantic plot twists and wacky mishaps fly with buzzsaw ferocity, seasoned with writer/director Grant’s penchant for heightening each scenario with false starts and narrative curve balls. Sure, events occasionally broach implausibility and its female characters are treated a bit more shabbily than they perhaps deserve, but the midnight-hue farce elements are carried off with such verve and spirit that, like Very Bad Things before it, you’ll likely be giggling (and cringing in sympathetic pain) too much to care. An absolute winner.

V/H/S (2012) (1st viewing)
d. Bruckner/McQuaid/Swanberg/West/Wingard/Radio Silence (USA)

As evidenced over the years, the horror anthology format is not an easy one to pull off, regardless of the talent involved (hello, The Theatre Bizarre). Meanwhile, the “found footage” milieu has saturated the market over the past decade, a relentlessly problematic cinematic device increasingly employed by no-budget filmmakers who claim to be reflecting our self-absorbed society, but really just don’t feel like building or lighting a set. So it is with cojones the size of watermelons the indie horror dream team of David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg and short film collective Radio Silence strapped on their camcorders to crank out a sextet of fright featurettes. The results are enjoyable enough for my tastes, but predictably there are stronger segments than others, with all straining the “need-to-film” narrative convention in various ways. For those keeping score at home, we have a freaky frat boy sex-tape-scenario-gone-wrong (Bruckner), vacationing couple menaced by sneaky hotel burglar (West), a Skype conversation enlivened by mysterious diminutive visitors (Swanberg), a slasher in the woods yarn with a virtual twist (McQuaid) and a Halloween party-gone-haunted house mindtrip (Radio Silence), all within a home heist wraparound directed by Wingard. For those able to overcome the niggling that both subgenres inherently present, there are shivers to be found and worse ways to spend a couple hours.

Miami Connection (1987) (1st viewing) d. Kim, Y.K. / Park, Richard (USA)

A tae-kwon-do-practicing rock band, complete with kata-rific guitar solos, has to put down their instruments to combat a drug cartel whose legion of enforcers are comprised of motorcycle riding ninjas. Yup. The amazingly awkward/earnest acting and dialogue, omnipresent homoeroticism amidst its too-old-to-play-high-schoolers-by-a-decade ensemble, and supremely awesome mullets/’80s fashion deliver an array of cheese your local deli just can’t touch. After years of home video obscurity (shocking!), the glory that is writer/director/star Y.K. Kim – think Jackie Chan minus everything that makes Jackie Chan Jackie Chan – will soon find its way onto DVD through the Alamo Drafthouse video arm. Your move, pal.

2012 Totals to date: 338 films, 291 1st time views, 189 horror, 117 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 42 films, 40 1st time views, 21 horror, 39 cinema

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