Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fantasia Day 19 (Monday, August 6)

So, as previously recounted, I was in a bit of a dither as to how I was going to handle my interview with Jennifer Lynch considering I didn’t really care for Chained (which had had its world premiere the night before). Luckily, there was another film featuring the director screening at Fantasia this year, Penny Vozniak’s documentary Despite the Gods, detailing Lynch’s misadventures directing the Bollywood fantasy flick Hisss about India’s legendary snake goddess wreaking havoc.

Via a Vimeo screener, I was privy to a behind-the-scenes glance at Lynch who comes off as an earthy, occasionally coarse but essentially decent director, mother and human being, attempting to navigate the culture class and the mayhem inherent to helming any feature. In observing the “real” person, it became much easier to want to relate to (rather than confront) my subject and I figured if need be I could talk more about her India experiences than her recent endeavor.

However, during the 10-minute walk from the apartment to the Nouvel Hotel, I was touched by the interview gods who gave me the approach I needed. What if, they said, Chained was not meant to be taken as a realistic depiction of what would happen were a serial killer to abduct a little boy, but rather as a modern day fairy tale. “Once upon a time, there was a very bad man who lived alone in the country. One day, the bad man captured a young boy and decided to keep him as a kind of pet. Years went by…” and so on. Suddenly, all the logistical problems that had presented themselves the night before fell away, leaving just the storybook premise and the relationship between two individuals. Through this lens, I was able to not hate the movie, which is what was needed in order to have a conversation with this artist I had grown to genuinely like over the course of the morning.

I met Jennifer at the hotel, as well as her manager and Olivia our Fantasia rep. Having just seen the documentary, she seemed familiar to me and we were able to chat comfortably before I even turned on the camera. My first question came out: “So, there’s a dark fairy tale element to the story, yes?” and as I held my breath, she replied, “Yes, absolutely. There’s a way to tell the story such that hopefully the audience just accepts the given circumstances and doesn’t question them too much.” Bingo. While I don’t necessarily think that Lynch hits that nail on its cinematic head, she was open to discussing Chained in fairy tale terms and that’s all I needed. We chatted amiably about various story elements, even the problematic ones, as well as the casting and directing process; by the end of our all-too-brief exchange, I had been able to address my concerns such that when my review came out it wouldn’t be a shock to her (or the Anchor Bay reps) yet it still felt like we were on reasonably friendly terms.

Said REVIEW may not be the most glowing the film will receive, but I felt honest before, during and after our encounter, which for me was the greatest coup of all. (As I’ve learned over the past few weeks, this dual role of critic and interviewer is not the easiest line to walk, especially since interview slots have to be booked before one sees the film in question…)

I left the hotel and headed straight for Montreal’s Latin Quarter, where a special press screening of ParaNorman was taking place. After a lovely 30 minute walk (my first in weeks – the Fantasia events are all located so close to one another, hardcore attendees like myself are definitely not enjoying much in the way of aerobic activity during the course of their days), I ended up at the Cineplex, found my way upstairs and into the screening.

Due to an agreement with the Fantasia and Focus Features, I’m not at liberty to discuss my opinions about the animated film from the makers of Coraline until after the day before the film’s wide release on August 17, so I’ll have to “bank” my review for now. First time that’s happened – not sure if that legitimizes me as a “real critic” or not.

Came back to the Concordia campus in time to catch the Norwegian comedy/thriller Jackpot, then headed down to the Seve for the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe documentary, Toy Masters, followed by the Japanese comedy Vulgaria and wrapped up the night with the Chilean cinematic assault that was Hidden in the Woods’ world premiere.

More shocking than any of the horrific onscreen events was the news that Michael Biehn’s production company had purchased the rights to Woods, planning to produce an English-language remake with Biehn in the lead and Patricio Valladares reprising his director duties. Strange world we’re living in, folks.

Despite the Gods (2012) (1st viewing) d. Vozniak, Penny (USA)

A superb examination of the herculean task of making any feature film, coupled with the culture clash of seeing an American woman (in this case Jennifer Lynch) trying to direct a Bollywood fantasy/horror film called Hisss. Lynch is no shrinking violet in the face of adversity, and while she occasionally comes off a little coarse and ballsy, she’s never portrayed as an Ugly American or straight-up beyotch. She’s understandably frustrated by the lack of preproduction machinery in place days before she is scheduled to start shooting, and with an angry producer breathing down her neck and a huge cast awaiting her signals, our heart goes out to her while she struggles to gain her footing. Vozniak isn’t afraid to show her subject as a vulnerable but strong female who is human in her mistakes and in her emotions, making the battles lost and won that much more compelling.

ParaNorman (2012) (1st viewing) d. Fell, Sam / Butler, Chris (USA)

Patience, my child. Patience.

Jackpot (2011) (1st viewing) d. Martens, Magnus (Norway)

When Kyrre Hellum and his ex-con co-workers go in on a soccer pool ticket together…and then shockingly win an enormous pile of cash, the phrase “No honor among thieves” explodes into sharp focus. Hammers are put to savage use, bodies are fed into recycling center processors and strip clubs turn into shooting galleries. Based on a story by crime writer Jo Nesbo (who also wrote the source material for Morten Tyldum’s superb HeadHunters), blood and beer flow freely in a black comedy cavalcade, with Martens marshalling his superb cast of ne’er do wells and the sharp police detective (Henrik Mestad) determined to unearth the truth, no matter how bizarre it might be. Whatever is in the water up Norway-way, keep drinking it, guys. Skol!

Toy Masters (2012) (1st viewing) d. Lay, Jr., Roger (USA)

A documentary that nails the nostalgic sweet spot of any kid who grew up in the 80s, a sweet remembrance to Mattel’s line of toys, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, as well as the television shows, ill-fated feature film and paraphernalia spawned in its wake. However, the behind the scenes drama over who actually created the musclebound plastic hero is engaging at first, but as the same ground gets traveled over and over, it becomes a little tedious. This being the world premiere, I suspect/hope that future iterations will be trimmed somewhat, and considering that the filmmakers reportedly have an interview scheduled with Dolph Lundgren (star of the 1987 feature), this is clearly not the final cut. With a little tightening, this will likely prove a hit on the doc circuit.

Vulgaria (2012) (1st viewing) d. Pang, Ho-Cheung (Hong Kong)

Strapped for cash and with alimony/child support debt mounting, film producer of low budget schlock (Chapman To) is forced to join forces with a twisted, bestiality-loving gangster who wants to produce a sequel to his favorite childhood porn film, Confession of a Concubine (a real film whose real star, Susan Shaw, appears here as herself 35 years later). A zany, raunchy satire of the filmmaking world, where one-of-a-kind characters (like comely Popping Candy, whose fellatio techniques include a mouthful of Pop Rocks) run wild and CGI is put to its most bizarre use yet. Amidst all this obscenity and insanity, Pang’s film is a sweet, sentimental tale of a family man just trying to get through the day, a dick joke flick with heart.

Hidden in the Woods (2012) (1st viewing) d. Valladares, Patricio (Chile)

An assault on the senses and the soul, one whose curtain-raiser features a father raping his daughter, then dropping the ensuing infant into a bucket nine months later and feeding it raw meat. Exploitation nightmare logic holds sway over cohesive storytelling, presenting a dark fable where destitute chainsaw-wielding psychopaths outrun and outgun gun-toting police officers, where runaway waifs turn cannibal, where one’s own shattered brachioradialis (aka the forearm bone) becomes a lethal weapon, where everyone’s dark side is their only side. Director Valladares co-wrote the “based on true events” script with Andrea Cavaletto and while there’s little denying his power of savage visual imagery and social commentary, he constantly sabotages himself, breaking his own brutal spell every time our synapses choke on the narrative action’s implausibility. The results are raw, rough, rude…and ultimately ridiculous; a batshit crazy flick too dark to be considered "fun," too outrageous to be taken seriously.

2012 Totals to date: 376 films, 327 1st time views, 208 horror, 145 cinema

Fantasia Totals: 80 films, 76 1st time views, 39 horror, 67 cinema

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