If Quentin Dupieux’s genre deconstruction effort, Rubber, from a couple years ago, left some folks scratching their head, or even critical of its ‘extended comedy sketch’ nature, then Wrong is perhaps not the film for them. With a bigger thematic reach, and a far more episodic structure, Wrong is likely as close as we will ever get to stand-up comedy in cinematic language. It is an absurdist masterwork, and this is only Mr. Oizo’s third feature film. The film picks at the very fabric of the myriad network of tiny social contracts that make up the average person’s day: Talking to the neighbor, ordering a pizza, petty politics in the office, having a polite phone call with a friend, and the like. But of course, these are presented and dealt with by all the major and minor characters in a manner that is, well, wrong. As in any good comedy or a good storytelling, what happens with expectations are violated and how do we feel about that violation? Playing like the longest and best “Kids in the Hall” sketch ever made, even the lead actor Jack Plotnick bears a resemblance to Kevin McDonald (and can do wonderful emoting with his eyebrows and hangdog face.) Visually, the movie has a real penchant for filmmaking gags. Much of the shocking (but not necessarily abrupt) punch-lines are executed by revealing things just outside the frame, or even within the frame via rack-focus, with the precision of a master comedian. Often there is a complex series of reveals and pauses and doubletakes (which belies the overtly minimalist deadpan tone of the film) having the effect of keeping even a quick witted audience on their toes. The opening sequence is in a strange way his riff on the great opening sequence of Once Upon a Time in The West. Ok, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but, like Rubber, there is as much (or more) comedy in the craft of construction as there is in the performances or dialogue.
The plot is quite simple. Former travel agent Dolph Springer (Plotnick) wakes up one morning at 7:60 am to find his loving pooch gone from the house and nowhere to be found. His neighbor, Mike (comedian Regan Jones, hilariously downbeat) is abandoning his own house, perhaps because Dolph mentions Mike’s daily jog; something Mike vehement denies he even does. It is raining at Dolph’s office, in a Synechdoche, New York sort of way (one of this films many “No Reason” moments) and his co-workers give him the evil eye for, well, best not to reveal why, but suffice it to say, Dolph is a creature of habit. Dolph channels the silent rage brought upon by his own effectually in this particular moment in his life – when any chance of even the smallest of comforts spiraling wildly out of reach – in a Greenberg-esque fit of pique by railing at a badly designed pizza logo. Miscommunication and bad decisions ensue. People unabashedly spout the phrase “vis-à-vis.” The movie, in fact, is very much concerned with wondering how any form of human vis-à-vis communication is every truly successful. Personally, I would consider Wrong to be a magnificent double feature with Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor; even though I’m not sure how to pick which film would be the feature and which would be the B-Side.
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David Mamet once wrote that the end of a great film should be both surprising and inevitable. Resolution is a horror movie of ideas; a twisted semiotic pretzel which is an ode to our collective addiction to scary movies and how we glean meaning from the experience. The titles dual meaning, both in the finality of an ending and as a means of seeing things clearer (particularly in audio-visual media) is one of those simple, perfect choices that not only gets at the experience of watching the film, but more significantly in retrospect. Unlike the smug, offhand silliness of Joss Whedon and Drew Stoddard’s Cabin in the Woods, this one makes you give a damn – not only about the films Lost-ish puzzle box, but about the two exceptionally well realized characters.
Opening with a grotty low-rez video of bearded junkie who is high as a kite and shooting off guns in the middle of nowhere, the camera pulls back to reveal Michael, at home with his lovely wife, viewing his best friends sad escapades with resignation and confusion. The latter because the video came with a Google Map link in the middle of nowhere. Looking at things like a plea for help, Michael gathers up his camping gear, some food and cash supplies and a pair of handcuffs. Determined to answer Chris’s plea for help, and detox his best friend for good, Michael assures his wife that he will be gone for no more than a week, and eventually land Chris in a good rehab place. Upon Michael’s arrival to the rotting house, just on the inside of a California Indian reservation, where Chris has been squatting in for a few days, there is some confusion: He was not sent for by Chris who certainly has no access to a computer or video editing equipment, not to mention that his pal is smack dab in the middle of a major crystal meth bender. That not-so-minor mystery aside, Michael carries through with his plan, much to Chris’s chagrin. Not only does this intervention test the limit of the two men’s life-long friendship but it brings in a number of pragmatic issues. The local meth dealers know where Chris is hiding out and want either their money or their drugs back, Chris is hazy on the location of the latter or is itching for his next fix – or both. The owner of the house they are camping out in wants them out of there (or cash to stay) and offers a less explicit, but no less real threat, of violence as well. Then there is the nearby mental asylum that lets some of its patients wander about the desert wilderness, there are dozens of hobo junkies far worse along than Chris, a local cult-like christian sect has their crisp white shirted members also wandering about (played by the director and writing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson in one of the films many nods towards meta-ness) and rumours of devil worship, ghosts, native spirits, you name it. Hell there is even a slimy real-estate salesman that might just be the creepiest of a fairly dense cast of lost souls wandering about in the wasteland. Someone comments at one point, “there are a lot of junkies buried out in these hills.”
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[On a personal note, I’ve seen each of the films in this series at different film festivals and, incidentally, each entry was a reflection of the venue I managed to view it. [REC] is bleeding-edge bit of genre mayhem with brilliant sound design, fitting for the vocal crowd and kick-ass acoustics in The Hall Cinema at Montreal’s FantAsia Festival. [REC]2 chews into its own mythology and in a smart and original way ups the filmmaking to a level of significantly higher assurance – perfectly fit for TIFF’s Midnight Madness screening. And [REC]3 goes for a crowd pleasing goofy ride – one perfect for Zombie Appreciation Night at The Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Koldo and Clara picked the wrong day to get married. Their wedding reception just happens to fall at the same time as the lowrise across town is being zombified and quarantined. When a party guest arrives, apparently bitten by the same infected dog as the first film, it is only a matter of time before the grand ballroom becomes a grand guignol of splattered blood and vomit. Sporting a wonderful (and uniquely varied) location for a zombie infection, that of an very upscale castle, [REC]3: Genesis manages to swing the popular spanish series in an entirely new direction.
There comes a point in every franchise when you have to start breaking the base rules. The second sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween dropped Michael Myers completely. Originally this was not taken as a sign of quality, the ensuing years have been rather kind to “Season of the Witch,” and that is not because of the resurgence of a certain Donovan tune. The [REC] franchise started out with two directors, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró and an early lead in the found-footage derby of horror films in starting 2007 (Cloverfield was in 2008, Paranomral Activity in 2009 and The Last Exorcism in 2010) and upping the volume of entries right up to the present with Paranomral 4 and The Bay among others. [REC]3: Genesis sheds a director and [*SPOILER ALERT*] at about the 25 minute mark drops the found-footage conceit completely to replace it with a lushly framed aesthetic and fairy-tale tone. It also drops the exhausting ‘boo-jump-scare’ technique in favour of hommages towards Peter Jackson’s and Sam Raimi’s zombie set-piece slapstick. A descent into more familiar zombie territory, one might think, would hurt the film (god knows there are enough mid-budget zombie films out there these days) but the differences turn out to be a blessing and Plaza has certainly upped his craft upon directing this entry solo.
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