Fantasia Review: Marianne



Krister is feeling the boot-heel of karma kick him pretty hard for his past transgressions. After abandoning his wife, Eva, and daughter, Sandra, for a secret mistress, he grudgingly returns to support them when Eva has an unplanned pregnancy. The years of juggling a dual-life between his wife and daughter and his mistress have resulted in his lovely blonde 10 year-old rebelling into a goth-and-piercing lifestyle, complete with dropping out of school and dating a significantly older boy, a slacker pothead who believes in elves and wicca. This is how Krister sees things and compensates with authoritarian airs after his disregard. Life goes on with a young baby girl in the house and a storm cloud of resentment between Eva and Sandra over Krister’s flip-flopping and Eva’s ability to forgive. The breaking point arrives on an evening with Sandra babysitting at home with her parents out on a date. A nasty car accident en route to the restaurant leaves Eva dead and Krister reaping all the grief he has sown on an single event that was (Swedish black irony?) beyond his control. Left with one daughter that hates him and an infant that cries all night for its absent mother who will never return, the fresh widower begins to suffer from a severe case of insomnia. It is a potentially paralytic one according to his therapist (the always wonderful Peter Stormare) as a recurring nightmare of a ghost with clicking high heels and a shrieking wail constricts his chest and will not let him rest. Marianne draws its folklore DNA from the Nordic Mare, which not coincidentally (if one is etymologically inclined) is the latter half of the word “nightmare.”

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Fantasia Review: Troll Hunter

[With the announcement that Troll Hunter is coming to R1 BLU in August and its recent blowing the doors off the Fantasia Film Festival (you’ve not heard this film until you’ve HEARD it in Concordia’s HALL THEATRE) it seems fitting to bump Andrew’s Review back to the front of the Row]

The Minneapolis Film Festival is not exactly known for their genre fare. Though on opening night of 2011, they kicked that myth right out of the way big time with The Troll Hunter, a Cloverfield-like romp through the beautiful countryside of Norway where menacing trolls lurk through the forest at night waiting to pick off anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with the beast(s).

Shot in a veritae, found footage style, the picture reminds very much of something like The Blair Witch project in that it is a student film crew wandering and running for their lives through the woods. The film is not scary in the slightest. It’s got excitement and thrills but if it’s terror you’re looking for this ain’t your movie. It’s more like a Jurassic Park thrill ride than anything else. Though lots of comparisons to many great films could be drawn, The Troll Hunter very much has it’s own unique vibe and subject matter. We’ve seen vampires, zombies and werewolves thousands of times over the past 30 years, but I can’t remember seeing (or even hearing about) any movie that tackles the troll mythology like this one does. And no, Troll 2 does not count.
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Fantasia Review: You Are Here



Here is an experiment. Take the name of six colours, write them in random order several times using a coloured pen that does not match the name of the colour. Time yourself reading this list of colours. Write the same list of colours using only black ink and time yourself reading the list. The mind works in strange ways, and has trouble if preconceived associations to familiar things or objects get too close to one another. Daniel Cockburn, a Toronto video artist, has just made a wild and crazy jump into features with a film-slash-brain-experiment that wants to perform a witty and colourful brain massage. While he offers various lessons in how it works, he wants to play with your cerebellum in a similar manner way that nuts and bolts of of film projection works. POV is not only an acronym for point of view, but also stands for ‘Persistence of Vision.’ As shutters push single frames in a particular motion through a film projector to form the illusion of movement on a white (or silver) screen to your brain. We will ignore the contradiction that he mainly shoots on video, which operates in slightly different act of perceptual illusion. Contradictions are what the film is about.

Cockburn wants to expand your consciousness or provide the illusion of expanding your consciousness or expand your consciousness while providing the illusion that he has not. You Are Here. The statement is both a location as well as a confirmation of existence. Different things, really. The red dot that defines your location on the map can be just as much of a misleader as a guide. The meaning of the film goes beyond the dual-nature of the title into something that is both profound and profoundly funny. It is science. It is art. It is absurd and hilarious sleight-of-hand. It is an ultra lo-fi version of Inception in which the filmmakers might as well be Leonardo Di Caprio and company (in shabbier clothing mind-you) and the audience are simultaneously the beneficiary of planted ideas and the mark of a baffling grift. A film festival catalogue once labeled You Are Here as Dr. Seuss meets Samuel Beckett, and I cannot really argue with that. It is an apt a description as you are going to get without telling you much. When it ended after an all too brief 75 minutes, I was upset. I wanted to see how many more times the filmmakers could fold their narrative in upon itself while keeping me in its spell. Riding the waves of this film before they collapsed is one of its cardinal pleasures. Like any good performer, Cockburn knows to keep the audience wanting more. Either that or everyone involved narcotics, money or the ability to keep a hold of the reigns of their ambitions. I am sure the director will never tell.
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Fantasia Review: The Wicker Tree

The Wicker Man is one of those films that has taken on such a life of its own over the past 38 years. It succeeded against all manner of personality conflict, distribution woes, and production logistics – tales of which are legendary – to pretty much re-mythologize various old pagan rituals and philosophies and has hypnotized and surprised fans of thrillers, art-house horror, and folk-laden musicals. Director Robin Hardy calls The Wicker Man its own genre: The Wicker Man genre. Ironically, the 1973 film is in itself a satire of sorts on the power of belief, but that did not stop its fecundity of myth-making from re-establishing icons (look no further than modern Beltane festivals, Burning Man and other such festivals around the world) in popular culture that went well beyond simple film circles. Christopher Lee, who famously played Lord Summerisle as a mixture of haughty academic superiority and benevolent believer has often claimed The Wicker Man as his favourite film, and this on a resume that spans hundreds of films of all genres, budgets and ambition. Quite simply, the film is one of the greatest movies about the nuts and bolts of religion and the power of belief (a quite separate thing from religion, I assure you) as a tool for manipulation. A thriller, a mystery hidden in plain sight that shocks the audience in its final scene with a power rarely seen in movies, past or present.


How do you top that?

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DVD Review: Devil’s Rock

[Please note, this film is showing as part of Fantasia 2011 but I’m reviewing a screener of the British DVD release]

Director: Paul Campion
Screenplay: Paul Finch, Paul Campion & Brett Ihaka
Producer: Leanne Saunders
Starring: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater
Year: 2011
Country: New Zealand
Duration: 83 min
BBFC Certification: 18

At first glance this looked like another crappy straight to DVD horror movie that didn’t interest me and I almost passed it on for someone else to review, but after noticing that it had been lined up to play at the Fantasia Film Festival and hearing some good things about it I actually got quite excited about checking it out. Unfortunately I set the bar a bit high and was ultimately disappointed, but it’s not all doom and gloom, the film has it’s moments. Read on and I’ll explain as best I can.

Devil’s Rock is set in the Channel Islands during World War II where two Allied commandos have snuck onto one of the islands to sabotage a gun emplacement with the ultimate goal of shifting focus from Normandy where the D-Day landings are set to happen the next morning. While carrying out their mission, the two soldiers hear some terrifying screams so, thinking the Nazi’s are torturing prisoners, they venture further into the base to come to their rescue. All is not as it seems though as they actually uncover forces much more evil than the Nazi’s themselves.

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Fantasia Review: Retreat

As the story goes, Alfred Hitchcock had an expression about logic and plot coherence in a film which he called the ‘ice-box moment.’ Namely when an audience member goes home that night after watching a film, and while getting a bit of leftover chicken out of the refrigerator as a midnight snack stops cold in his tracks and thinks, “wait a minute, what that character did or where that character was doesn’t make sense!” The commercial bonus of inserting an ice-box moment or two in the film was that the revelation would compel the audience member to go back to the cinema and watch the film a second time to see if the events made sense or if there was a drastic logical flaw in the film.

Now times have changed and attention spans have certainly shortened since Hitchcock was turning out thrillers and chillers to enthusiastic audiences around the world, begging the question of how far can a straight up genre film push audience sympathy and patience? This is a question you might ask yourself when watching Retreat, Carl Tibbett’s riff on Philip Noyce’s three character nailbiter, Dead Calm. You might ask it many times as the film seems to be a lesson in screenwriting logic. A lesson in what not to do. The technical side of production is ace, the three actors in the film – Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell all turn in marvelous performances, and the claustrophobic location (a cottage on an isolated island of the coast of Wales) is all sharp rocks and spume with weather to match. But the logic of the films plot will leave your head reeling at best, tapping your watch impatient for something to resolve at worst.
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Fantasia Review: Love

What are human beings if not feedback organisms? We talk, we fight, we do both horrible and wonderful things to each other across the world on a daily basis we are a reflection of what others tells us as much as we are our own people. We are social animals where one of the chief forms of torture would be complete isolation. Life is simply no fun without someone, friends, lovers, colleagues, with which to share it. Science fiction films have often tackled the ‘last man on earth’ as a starting point for whatever monsters or disease or wherever the story may go, but what if the last man on Earth, was not on Earth? What if the enemy is not disease or zombies but simply the knowledge that you are stuck in isolation. This is the scenario played out in William Eubank’s science fiction odyssey simply titled Love.

Opening with a tour de force Civil War prologue, in which one man is sent away from a doomed siege, ordered by his commanding officer to be the sole survivor of the engagement. The man is consumed with guilt over being left alive when others are all to perish yet nonetheless ends up in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Flash-forward in a single cut to the International Space Station. The year is 2039 and astronaut Lee James Miller is a single-man crew charged with the task of taking systems inventory of the previously abandoned and obsolete station. During a routine series of systems checks, he loses contact with Houston, Koroloyov, everyone. It is a sublime moment. One moment, you are a trained professional doing your job, the next, you have lost all contact with everyone. For Miller at that instant, his world comes into laser focus and loses focus simultaneously. Love is the story of Miller’s attempt to keep himself alive, and more importantly sane, when he has no one to talk to. He spends his time keeping the life-support and other critical systems going and trying to keep from being bored with the detritus left on the station: old tech manuals (unfortunately in Russian), polaroids of the crews of 20 years past which provide a little fantasy fodder and role playing, but hardly offer the real thing. Ironically, he also has the most gorgeous window seat in the solar system. The film tries to use this situation to get at the understanding of the real importance of social connection, the illusion of self-control as an individual and as a species. Visualized in a slow but inevitable change in behavior and body language when left alone with nobody watching, it is not taken to the extreme taken in say José Saramago’s Blindness, but Gunner Wright is very convincing in his reaction to first loss of control, then boredom, then loneliness and despair. This is especially so since much of the film hangs on his solo performance.
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Fantasia Review: Another Earth

Another Earth


What I really love about the ideas and concepts in Quantum Mechanics theory is that nothing makes any sort of intuitive sense yet at the moment, within the scientific consensus as our ‘reality.’ The math, an Alice in Wonderland-like rabbit hole – there is a book called Alice in Quantumland that acts as both a whimsical and accurate primer on the subject – just seems to hold things together although we would have to trust the few folks that understand it like we would, say, priests. Another Earth takes the premise of multiple, yet slightly varied states of existence, and creates an interesting situation to hang a character drama on. A second earth, identical to our own plunks itself pretty much into orbit one day. Dubbed Earth 2, humanity are collectively rapt with what exactly this means; in particular when a SETI professor contacts ‘herself’ on the other planet who is also making an attempt to contact. Who is Earth 1 and who is Earth 2? Rather than play this out on a large and global scale which was neither the intent or within any sort of budget allowance, the film plays out the scenario with the emotional happiness of two people. Both of whom suffer as the direct (and random) consequence of the arrival of Earth 2.

Rhoda is a promising M.I.T. undergraduate who, on night of drunken partying, the same night the new planet appears, destroys several innocent lives in a car accident. Four years of prison time and a promising academic career ruined, her emotional scars are still raw after her release from prison. The eponymous blue orb in the sky looms so large over ours that we cannot help see it at all times. The big ‘what if it didn’t’ that you go over and over in your head when something bad happens happens to you.

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Fantasia Review: Paranmanjang (aka Night Fishing)


The English title, Night Fishing, is far different than the literal translation of “ups and downs,” although both absolutely apply to this tale of haunting, exorcism and catharsis. The fame of its director notwithstanding, Paranmanjang first made waves for being shot entirely on an iPhone4, albeit with a full crew, a palette of lenses and one hundred thousand dollars. Three minutes into the 30 minute film and all thoughts of tech and gadgets are out the window though as it is unmistakably a product of the talent who made the much revered Vengeance Trilogy. More tonally along the lines of the latter half of Lady Vengeance than flat out cinematic-viscera of Oldboy, Park Chan-Wook (co-directing here with his brother Park Chan-Kyong) is not through with fishing line and hooks. Do you recall that wince-worthy scene in Thirst? Here you do get some colourful shots of putting bait on the hook, and various entanglements, but the line, and the hooks, become a through-line of sorts between the mundane world of the living, and a more uncanny afterlife. Symbols and metaphors for cultural mores come more effortlessly to Park than many of his contemporaries. The mixture of human awkwardness and spiritual ritual has been one of the things I enjoy most about the South Korean auteur, and the key reason I believe Lady Vengeance is his best film. It is a delight that it exists as a whole or in part in all of his films and here it is the primary focus.

On a solo all night fishing trip in a remote part of the Han River, Oh Gi-Suk (Vengeance Trilogy bit player, Oh Kwang-Rok) snarls a body or a ghost on one of his many set lines. To the sound of softly ringing bells, and a bit of fear-laden slapstick, the fisherman ends up having a close encounter and eventual dialogue with the ghost who seems to know far too much about him. The scope of the story then spreads out to eventually encompass Oh Gi-Suk’s extended family which the fisherman abandoned a few years back. Like ghosts, or skeletons in the closet, they are, naturally, looking for closure. Having much in common with both the arthouse intentions of Palm D’Or winner Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall his Past Lives and commercial execution of Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, it is not surprising in the least that Paranmanjang won the Golden Bear at this years Berlinale.

Many of us have iPhones in our pockets, but I would expect very few of us have the chops to shoot something this good looking and intelligent with the powerful little toy. In the hands of a master filmmaker the pocket-computer-with-a-camera becomes simply another medium or vehicle for creative storytelling. The baroque visual elements and the director’s ability to rattle souls we have come to expect is fully on display in another cinematic (and spiritual) tour-de-force which packs in more than enough to chew on in 30 minutes than many filmmakers can manage in 90 or more.

Fantasia Review: A Lonely Place to Die


Where has the mountain climbing thriller gone? Was it ever here? Sure there was the epic string of them in the 1930s in Germany and a 2008 adventure movie called The North Face, a couple great documentaries (Everest, Touching the Void) and an occasional action film (Cliffhanger, Vertical Limit, K2). I am even tempted to lump in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours which has the spirit of the genre, without actually having mountains. It is the nature of the beast that any filmmaking team doing this sort of movie (particularly in modern times unless you are Guy Maddin) has to be fully committed to such a thing to make it work, green screens and CGI would likely undermine things, but when done right, few genres have such built in potential for white knuckle tension. So, it is nice to see a film in this vein that takes itself deadly serious with no frills. A Lonely Place to Die is all business. Director Julian Gilbey became an avid and experienced climber to make this film, and that kind of commitment seems to have paid off mightily. Opening with three climbers half-way up a particularly rough patch of rock in Scottish highlands, the sequences were apparently shot completely in-camera, and it looks simultaneously gorgeous and precarious. The less experienced climber in the trio, the tourist boyfriend along with his much more proficient girlfriend, fiddles with his digital camera on a ledge to get just the right angle (of himself, mind you) and indirectly causes a mishap that results in a escalating bit of intense panic. Put it this way, multi-tasking has little place on a craggy face at one thousand meters. That, and your mountaineering cohorts trust you not to screw around in these sorts of circumstances. This is mere pre-amble for a lean and mean hybrid of mountaineering the Most Dangerous Game thriller shot in the same region of Scotland as Neil Marshall’s Centurion, and ratcheting up the same level of pressing intensity and suspense as his USA set spelunking horror film, The Descent.
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Fantasia Review: THE REEF


There may be a greater chance of being killed by a bee sting than eaten by a shark, but that does not stop filmmakers and TV shows from worshiping at the alter of our collective fear of sharks. Thank-you very much Mr. Spielberg. It does beg the question, however, of whether there is any new visual language with which to tell a ‘sharks in the water story’ in the year 2011 and beyond. The Reef sits somewhere between 127 Hours and Open Water, (maybe a hint of Adam Green’s Frozen) that is to say a hard situation with the five characters stranded in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Australia faced with choices that range from bad, stay with a rapidly sinking boat in a current going further out to sea, to worse, swimming 15 or so kilometers through shark infested waters to a small island that cannot even be seen on the horizon and isn’t likely seen on Google Maps. With the aforementioned films deal with the hubris of privileged white folks going off-reservation into the wilderness without a safety net, here we have a metaphor for commitment to your partner in a long term relationship.

Thus, experienced skipper Luke brings along his ex-girlfriend, another couple and one of his fishing buddies on an open sea cruise to visit the sights around a stretch the titular coral, presumably to re-ignite the old flame. The gorgeous weather, beautiful tropical islands and national geographic quality cinematography seems to bode well for Luke’s chances, until, in an abrupt and tense microsecond, his ship is wrecked, dinghy snarled and not many options. The two couples venture out to sea, with the singleton, a fisherman staying behind with a lone flare and his knowledge of just how many sharks are out there. Fear keeps him locked on the smallest bit of floating fibreglass keel.

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