Fantasia 2015 Review: The Interior

The Interior

Somewhere up there in heaven (or hell) Samuel Beckett and Henry David Thoreau are tipping their coffee cups towards Trevor Juras’ The Interior.

For a first feature, this film is not only fully realized and confident, but has a deep understanding of the form and medium in which it chooses to tell its tale. Camera movement tells the story, accentuates the comedy, and exudes a show-don’t-tell savvy that feels the work of a very experienced filmmaker.

Varied meanings, interpretations and musing can be found in this simple story of a man going a bit crazy in the deep woods, but it is difficult to fully reflect upon such things between the comedy and the horror during the film because the experience is so immersive and engaging. I imagine any filmmaker would love to jump onto the independent film scene, in any country, with something this beautiful and vibrant and cultivated. Most horror comedies make the horrific elements pretty funny; Juras boldly goes the other way and makes the comedy of James’ situation horrific.

Twenty-something office worker James has ‘Brain Fog.’ Possibly it is a quieter, Canadian, variant of ‘Brain Cloud,’ the ailment that got Tom Hanks motivated towards living again, dancing under the moon in the tropics, and kissing Meg Ryan in Joe Vs. The Volcano. James is entrenched in typical go-nowhere but pay check employment in the city with its collection of narcissistic bosses (both white collar and blue collar) indifferent co-workers and banal working conditions.

The first act of The Interior is dense with sight gags and hilarious character bits. James is nothing if not self-aware of the inane emptiness of his life, his condo and his surroundings, and without nodding to the camera he nevertheless projects a ‘can you believe this crap’ weariness reminiscent of Martin Freeman in BBCs The Office.

Of course, being aware is as much a curse as a boon. It does nothing for the trembling hands, numb fingers and double vision. So he smokes a joint, quietly and awkwardly leaves his girlfriend, apartment, and by extension his life, which has fallen into the funk of sitting in bed, recording the occasional rap track or sketch comedy and, tellingly in a nod towards Fight Club, sampling finger-in-the-jar dollops from his fridge full of condiments. He pleads to his soon to be estranged girlfriend for “the opposite of all this,” even though it is clear that opposite in this case is difficult to pin down. So with minimal gear and even less of a plan, James retreats into the forest for some quiet, stress-free solitude to rethink his existence.

But the universe in The Interior is a cruel one, and it seems the dense, damp forest to which James retreats is populated with other lost souls wandering in the darkness and jumping at shadows. The forest is a gorgeous yet grim reflection of James’ self, albeit it seems callously indifferent in its psychological torture and the film, while remaining uncomfortably funny, undergoes a radical tonal shift from trivial, above it all sarcasm, to deep in the thick of it paranoia.

The turn comes early into his forest retreat, where James breaks into a cabin, steals a hot shower and a bottle of wine, and leaves a thank-you note signed “Jesus.” There is karmic comeuppance for James’ subtle, holier-than-thou attitude. I will let you in on a secret: While Canadians have a reputation of being polite, and saying sorry a lot, there is a cruel and surreptitious streak of narcissism in the Canadian psyche that Juras captures brilliantly.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: She Who Must Burn

She Who Must Burn

The miracle of She Who Must Burn, a film perhaps most efficiently described as Red State for grown-ups, is that it offers three well worn elements – scripture quoting after committing an abhorrent act of violence (and the Ezekiel quote from Pulp Fiction, no less), the phrase “a storm is coming” and ironic use of religious hymns – in its opening minutes. And yet it manages to mine all of them for powerful new ideological and emotional spaces. It is daring to offer a promise of an ending directly in the title, but like the Paul Greengrass directed account of flight United 93, squaring an inevitability of events with the audience early on, allows the viewer to focus on what is at the heart (and on the minds) of the characters caught in a terrible drama unfolding.

The setting is a microscopic rural town, far enough and impoverished enough to render cellphones and internet absent. This is the place where people confronted each other face to face rather than social media. They talk in kitchens or on front lawns, and the telephones are made of bakelite. The tone feels cinematically timeless, and dramatic tension often derives in the conflict between apocryphal and artifice. In pictures like this, the miracle of artifice is miracle enough to tell the truth about the world. It reminded me of both Ed Gass-Donnelley’s Small Town Murder Songs and Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories. Fine company to be in, that.

Angela (Sarah Smyth, whose blonde haired and blue-eyed visage convincingly channels Naomi Watts) runs an abortion counselling service out of the home she shares with Deputy Sheriff Mac (Andrew Moxham). The local preacher, Jeremiah Baarker (co-writer Shane Twerdun) along with is his sister Rebecca (Missy Cross), her husband Caleb (Andrew Dunbar) and other members of the parish, are often picketing the ‘clinic’ because of their faith. That Mac and Angela live there out of wedlock further seems to embolden their activism-terrorism to the point of criminal trespassing. This is not in any way benign, because Jeremiah’s father is seen in the opening minutes of the film murdering an abortion doctor, and is happily sent off to prison for that crime to self-confirm his faith vs. the secular world.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Miss Hokusai

MISS HOKUSAI

Prolific animation house Production I.G. subtly captures the rhythms of mood of the art and publishing community in 19th century Edo, Japan. Miss Hokusai is simultaneously misleadingly quiet, and furiously idiosyncratic. Blending the magical realism sensibility of Studio Ghibli with Yasujirô Ozu-like framing (and unfortunately an occasionally distracting rock ‘n roll score), it is a film that you get so deeply lost in that it is difficult to discern beginning, middle or end. While there is a story of sorts, it is in the vein of something similar to My Neighbour Totoro or Only Yesterday insofar as any notion of a three-act-plot is rendered meaningless in the face of life and the living of it.

Famed artist Tetsuzo, a.k.a. Katsushika Hokusai, and his (eponymous) grown daughter O-Ei, live in poverty, neither cooking nor cleaning, but living and creating with Tetsuzo’s would-be students and hangers on. She often finishes the detailing on her work while simultaneously venting her rage on a drunken ex-Samurai, Zenjirô, who hangs around with a bottle and a brush. One day on a vibrant and bustling bridge she has a kind of meet-cute (involving of all things, dog poop) with a talented artist on the rise, Utagawa Kuninao, who eventually also becomes one of Hokusai’s pupils.

This den of ink and crumpled bals up paper, left-over street food, and the kindest dog outside of an Mamoru Oshii film because a place to discuss art, and technique, and the ineffable qualities that distinguish mere drawings from great and lasting art. O-Ei is discovering her voice in this setting, although is often left at the wayside as the three men, master and pupils go off to the Geisha houses and other street shenanigans.

Instead O-Ei spends time with her mother and younger sister, the latter of which is blind. It is these outings where the film eschews the verbal (which is strange to say, considering O-Ei spends much time describing the drawings to her sibling), in favour of embracing the feel of nature and sights and smells of nascent Tokyo; which is what Edo would become after the end of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Clumps of snow on a child’s clothing after a tree sheds its frozen powdery bounty; the drip drip drip of raindrops from an umbrella into the fabric of a robe during a rainy walk; a smudge of ink on the face of a beautiful, strong woman; the sound of fire-bells and luminous drift of deadly fireflies as a brigade furiously fights a blaze on a crowded street. These are many of the images that reconciles nature and human endeavour, both furiously beautiful, if only for their fragility. The urge to dangle my feet off a bridge, into cool moving water, with my own children at my side, in comfortable silence (with a hint of far-off birdsong) was palpable during these evocations. The animation has that kind of power.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Cop Car

Cop Car

If Cop Car is an example of anything, it is in praise of the small movie, shot big. In our obsession with city destruction, space opera, dinosaurs and other CGI creations, it is telling that the most body wracking tension is created from having two nine year old boys play, confused, with a few heavy firearms. Even if the safety is on, and the kids don’t know it, the amount of nerve wracking tension generated is palpable.

In fact, Jon Watts’ excellent neo-Amblin-Western could have been convincingly titled “No Country For Young Boys” as it shares a similar sense of ‘people tasks silently’ that the Coen Brothers brought in adapting Cormac McCarthy. Kevin Bacon, seems to be enjoying the ‘villain phase’ of his career, and here he is channelling a charming, but malevolent Sam Elliot type of role, country Sheriff Kretzer, with relish.

When the aforementioned young boys are out for one of those endless summers day walks in wide-stretching Texas farmland, trading cuss-words and imagination play, they stumble upon the eponymous police cruiser with the keys on hand. They take it out for a joy ride, off road, leaving Kretzer in the middle of his nefarious task to get his car back before dispatch figures out that shenanigans are happening. Guns and a few other surprises are in the vehicle, (which the kids are of course obligated to get into) which the Sheriff has to engineer, tout suite, a delicate, balanced solution.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Cash Only

Cash Only

What is colder, Albanian hell or Detroit in winter?

Elvis Martini sits rather uncomfortably in the middle of both over the course of a few days where his world spirals out of control. He has the courts breathing down his neck for monies owed in an arson attempt gone horribly wrong, he has the church holding its hand out for educating his young daughter Lena, and he has half a dozen dead-beat tenants in his crumbling low-rise who will not pay their rent while the bank is about to foreclose on the building.

And things are about to get much, much worse. (As the Serbians enter the mix.)

Not since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher has a low level criminal gotten himself in over his head in such short order. And like that gritty mid-1990s Copenhagen street film, things crackle and hum with energy born of desperation and pure survival instinct. Couple that with the spectacularly crumbling 21st century Detroit setting and the American-Albanian subculture sitting in the middle of it and you have, at least in cinematic terms, a quite an opportunity. Far more than mere homage director Malik Bader (Street Thief) and writer-star Nikola Shreli inject an emotional vulnerability to Elvis that offers an extra ply of resonance. His world, as ugly and low-rent as it often is, sticks with you long after the inevitable plotting fireworks pay off.

Between Cash Only, teen stalker picture It Follows, and Jim Jarmusch’s elegiac vampire digression, Only Lovers Left Alive, you cannot get more vibrant production value (and implicit metaphor) value than the current state of urban Detroit. For hip and exciting films, this is ground zero, folks. If the philosophy of ‘write what you know’ is in play here, and the seemingly effortless verisimilitude herein suggests that Nikola Shreli has seen a thing or two.

But the revelation here is his acting. He carries earnest-arrogance of Vin Diesel with a high-empathy underbelly that suggests his quick, short manner of speaking is barely concealing depth and character. And somehow he manages to rock a pair of pinkish track pants through much of the film with his dignity intact. No small feat, particularly in contrast when climbing into a vintage Mercedes Benz.

Elvis does bad things, really bad things, and not just petty criminal scams, lies and eventually murder, but also sloughs his daughter on one of his tenants to pursue meaning sex with another tenants fiance, or picking impotent drunken fights at one of the few friendly gatherings in the neighbourhood. And yet, you never leave Elvis’s corner, because world is shit, and he is so on the verge of sinking below the surface of the muck, you want to see his increasingly frenzied fight against it succeed.

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Fantasia 2015 Review: Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid is exactly the kind of happy-go-lucky gore-kitsch that could only come out of a chance encounter at Fantasia. It is a BMX pedal-powered 1980s throwback (along the lines of Solarbabies or The Salute of the Juggar with a dollop of Brian Trenchard-Smith) set in that particular eras vision of 1997, vector graphic logo, synth score and all. The film has the curious honour of quite possibly the most film-funding logos (by my count, more than 10) up front, that it in a way comically sets a tone before film film even starts.

A Canadian – New Zealand co-production (a rare bird), it has the curious juxtaposition of French stop signs over recognizable New Zealand landscapes. Inside this bizarre (but comfortable) setting, we have a young scavenger who gets caught up in the war for water in the wasteland, and his own past on his own journey becoming the superhero in his favourite comic book. It is a journey that has some trouble smoothly connecting all its set-pieces, but within each scene there is oodles to love, particularly if you are a fan of early period Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Dead Alive). Saw blades fly, hot pokers singe and arterial sprays soak all corners of the screen.

There is a very self-aware ridiculousness that sees wasteland warriors huffing it on bicycles in football pads and metal masks that is inviting you not to take it seriously, and yet the film finds blessed heart in the form of Laurence Leboeuf, a superstar in Quebecois film circles that is completely unknown outside of the local industry. She plays a Cherry 2000 companion named Apple that has the most childlike enthusiasm towards hand-to-hand combat and touch-tag. Apple continues the ubiquitous 2015 trend of A.I. representations of onscreen along with Ex Machina, Tomorrowland and Chappie (amongst others). Every scene she is on screen the film is better for it.

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Treaser Trailer: Synchronicity

Synchronicity

Time travel concepts and Blade Runner science fiction noir come together in Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity. Gentry is perhaps best known for the quirky-absurd middle vignette in the 2007 apocalypse triptych, The Signal and has a particular knack for sync’ing up framing and action to electronic music, which you will see on display in the teaser trailer below.

The film is startlingly ambitious for what is probably a very tiny budget, and is playing at this years Fantasia International Film Festival. The film stars horror-indie regular AJ Bowen (The Guest, House of the Devil, Rites of Spring) and the villain is played by iconic Canuck character actor and ham (literally, watch ABC’s “V: The Final Battle”) Michael Ironside, who is also at Fantasia, starring in the Quebecois post-apocalyptic kids adventure, Turbokid. Go Michael!

Friday One Sheet: A Perfect Day

The temptation, when you have a big name ensemble is to splash their faces on your poster, either through a series of boxes down at the bottom, or floating heads. This is why I like the design of this poster so much, it is almost if the cast of the film, including Benicio Del Toro, Olga Kurylenko, Time Robbins and Mélanie Theirry are staring at you in challenge to watch the film. Well, either that, or you are the dead body they are leaning over. Just by camera angle this poster is immediately provocative.

The story from Dr. Paula Farias’s novel “Dejarse Llover,” was adapted for the screen by director Fernando León de Aranoa and involves a group of aid workers try to resolve a crisis in an armed conflict zone.

For your pleasure, I have also tucked the trailer under the seat.

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Cinecast Episode 394 – Sculpting, Not Puppeteering

Cinecast Classic-style! The same great taste you remember and love. We heed not at the beck and call to assemble with Avengers this week. Mother’s Day is coming, so we need to talk about Mommies. And a Mommy we talk about! Xavier Dolan’s work of wonder, Mommy, is at the top of the heap this week and I can’t think of an episode in which both Kurt and Andrew are as blown away as they are while discussing this picture. From there, the guys talk about “Game of Thrones” (Sandsnakes, Raegar Targatheon, Harpys and Parabolani) and cap off their joint reviews with the not-quite-great Robot & Frank. Quentin Tarantino makes another appearance on the wath list, as does Ender Wiggin, Big Bird and AIDS.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 
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