Our annual TIFF preview episode… with a difference! One Matt is skipping the festival and the other decided to thin-slice his picks instead of diving deep. We’ll tell you why.
I had a university professor (English literature) who was fond of saying, “Nobody walks away happy from a threeway.” I wonder what he would have to say about the Blaine Brothers’ Nina Forever, a dark but droll relationship drama that layers on the blood and the sex. This movie, quite literally, has to change the bed sheets often.
Rob is a bright young man whose future is put on hold after a vehicle accident leaves his girlfriend Nina dead, and his own psyche is scarred to the point of depression and suicide. While receiving support from Nina’s parents, who were, it seems, closer to him than his own, Rob works at a minimum wage, low engagement, job as a cashier clerk.
There he meets Holly, a bright young thing we see getting dumped at the beginning of the film by her vanilla boyfriend who tells her that she is too safe and happy. Talk about the ceramic pot calling the kettle white. Holly is studying to become a paramedic, and they bond over Rob’s nasty road rash from his latest attempt to crash his motorcycle and his life. But sparks fly, and clothes drop to the floor, and before you can say “rebound,” something curious happens: Rob’s emotional baggage manifests itself as a blood and broken glass-encrusted ex-girlfriend, right in the bed, wedging herself between Holly and Rob.
Kind of creepy.
And funny as hell.
And yet, unlike the recent duo of ‘zombie girlfriend’ flicks Life After Beth and Burying The Ex, Nina Forever aims for sharp emotional catharsis, and it dares to get at resonating emotional questions for those young enough to be in their first (or second) serious relationship.
I never thought it would happen, but I have finally, personally, hit the wall with indie time travel flicks. Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity is not lacking in smarts or clockwork precision, but abjectly fails to convince in its core ideas of love and fate.
Love may be a sticky and difficult thing, but the film seems to only communicate lust and desire, while empathy fails to make the journey. There is one worm hole too many. This leaves some impressive homages to Blade Runner’s dreamy Vangelis score and neo-noir chiaroscuro, as well as Code 46’s delight in contemporary-future architecture, simply hanging in empty space.
Slightly strung out scientist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) is on the verge of inventing time travel with the help of his two calmer, wise-cracking lab technicians, Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matt (Scott Poythress). But here is his paradox: He only has enough funding and radioactive material provided from billionaire angel investor Klaus Meisner (Micheal Ironside, deliciously vile) to open one side of the space/time wormhole. How to prove that something by necessity, requires two ends, when you only have one? Don’t sweat it, though, it works as certainly as Werner Heisenberg was of his famous principle or that Nicola Tesla knew he would die broke and alone feeding pigeons. In short, Synchronicity struggles with understanding the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.
Of course, nature abhors an empty wormhole and someone comes back through the other side. The human figure is obscured in the predictable kind of way of this type of film; with so few characters, elimination can get ridiculously easy. Could it be the femme fatale, Abby (Brianne Davis) who collects serial-numbered dahlias? Or Ben himself coming to warn of the dangers of flirting with gorgeous solitary ladies found in parking garages?
No matter, the film quickly starts to draw ever tightening circles around Ben and Abby’s relationship to one another, all the while Klaus threatens to steal the invention by withholding raw materials, and Matt and Chuck have to do all the heavy lifting. There is nothing wrong with this, some of the humour is quite excellent in fact, but just nothing is terribly fresh about its execution here. Shots from Aronofsky’s The Fountain are lifted without any resonance to the story, as is all the Blade Runner stuff.
Gentry does have a nice time machine design — possibly built out of old power supply units and industrial sized speaker magnets? — and certainly lays out the pieces of the film in a manner that makes sense to any attentive viewer as the the narrative structure becomes apparent. But his world drowns in empty homage, and even more colossally empty city landscapes. This is not a post apocalyptic urban landscape, but supposedly a thriving metropolis, and the lack of denizens makes the film feel too insular to suspend disbelief.
Kurt is back from Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, and he might have a thing or two to say about the movies, the town and the folks at that festival. At nearly two hours we can only say brace yourself for genre-overload. But first, Matt Gamble joins Kurt & Andrew midway through the conversation on Christopher McQuarrie’s installment of the Mission Impossible franchise. Kurt loved it. Andrew liked it. Matt, well, Matt watched it. Practical stunts, exceptional set-pieces and the ass-kicking talents of Rebecca Ferguson and a cleaned up and ready for prime time Sean Harris are all on the conversational docket. While there is no full “True Detective” segment this episode (we’ll cap the remaining three off, next time) there is a full Watch List for your listening pleasure, and Matt does briefly chime in on this season of “True Detective,” along with the doc on Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau remake disaster, and Adam Sandler’s Pixels. Andrew covers off the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer and its direct-to-Nexflix sequel. Finally we settle the Mara Rooney / Kate Mara confusion (sort of).
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
In a rural community of Kansas there was a young teenager Ben Day (Tye Sheridan channelling Ezra Miller) who was very into the punk rock outfit The Misfits. He filled his sketchbooks with inked antichrist art, and was accused of molesting several of the girls in his volunteer art class at the local primary school. Eventually he was convicted for the murder of his mother (Christina Hendricks), two of his sisters, and possibly his girlfriend (Chloë Grace Moretz) as part of a satanic ritual. The lynch-pin in the ensuing trial was Ben’s surviving sister Libby, who pointed the finger squarely at her bother (after heavy coaching from the prosecution) to tie neatly off the “Kansas Prairie Massacre.”
Emotionally engaging and effortlessly surprising, Dark Places is a narratively complex, fictional amalgamation of all the lessons learned from the so-called Satanic Panic of the 1980s. The film reunites Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult shortly after their very metal mega-adventure along George Miller’s Fury Road. Coincidentally enough, both actors are playing similar roles: that of tough-as-nails survivor (albeit Theron has all her limbs) and almost-innocent neophyte (albeit Hoult has hair) who is looking for truth in a broken world.
The actual events of this horrible evening (and the frazzled motivational strings that lead up to it) are given a measured reveal analogous (albeit cinematically polished) to the case of the West Memphis Three from the mid-1990s; where took decades of work and a plethora of news stories and documentary films to get even a misty picture of the truth. Ditto for the expensive and lengthy McMartin daycare trials of the 1980s and the facts coming to light in the influential auto-biography of Satanic Ritual Abuse, “Michelle Remembers”. In Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s (Sarah’s Key, Walled In) adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name which amalgamates of all these narratives into the type of tale now reserved for season-long prestige television along the lines of True Detective (fun fact: The first season’s story was based loosely events involving The Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana), thick real-crime books such as Errol Morris’s “A Wilderness of Error,” and investigative podcasts such as NPR’s Serial. It is a testament of the screenwriting, acting and editing here that it comes together so satisfyingly. It pleases me that in light of migrating to other media, this kind of filmmaking the investigative thriller, has not completely disappeared.
Ethiopian post apocalypse dystopian fairy tale Crumbs has a decaying handsomeness to match its unique vision. It has a confident and accomplished auteur unwillingness for either pandering or traditionally pleasing its audience while simultaneously offering an archetypal hero-journey tale. An optimistic message (“the ducks are coming home…”) cloaked in a walkabout of despair and confusion that leads ultimately to ‘home is where the heart is.’ platitudes that are not platitudes for sheer will of the performances.
That eerie feeling you get wandering the early morning fog of an abandoned theme park is what Miguel Llansó has harnessed here, and the gorgeous melancholy is tempered with a sharp wit and soothing empathy. The film is a balm. It is also an African riff on Stalker, with the whole world being Tarkovsky’s uncanny Zone. It has a similar abandoned train-yard, a pretty young woman left at home in a deliciously decayed bowling alley. Water bubbles and broils in the post-nuclear desert of sulphur formations while the few remaining humans scavenge and weld. A curious space-ship floats in the sky similar to South Africa’s District 9, albeit similarities to Neill Blomkamp’s debut feature sharply end here.
Those on earth, in particular, hunchbacked pacifist Candy, dream of marshalling the means to get to that ship, as if it were the last hopeful place. It will take his journey through the wasteland towards a meeting with the fabled prophet Santa Claus, avoiding the ‘Second Generation Nazis’ and other third century Molegan warriors. Holy artifacts such as an acrylic painted vulcanized rubber Ninja Samurai Statue (i.e. a happy meal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figure), a vinyl copy of Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” and other twentieth century pop cultural detritus delicately litter the world and act as a kind of talismans of hope and desire; as well as consumer currency for a comically cynical pawn shop broker at the end of space and time. A photo of sweat-beaded-on-his-forehead, Michael Jordan clothed in his Chicago Bulls uniform is Buddha, Shiva and Christ, all rolled into one. It is played for easy yuks, and yet they still land. More sophisticated comedy is also present in the Santa Claus’ inflexible process. It reminds me of a mix of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil mashed with Mel Brook’s Spaceballs: “Fuck! Even in the post-apocalypse nothing works without bureaucracy!”
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.
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.
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.