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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Review: Paper Towns

Dramatic romantic moment

Dramatic romantic moment

Director: Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank)
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, John Green (novel)
Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 109 min.


There’s a moment in the third act of Paper Towns where I felt like looking away, rolling up into a tight ball, putting my head to my knees and just rocking back and forth until the pain of the truth went away. I remember being a teenager confronted by the reality of one sided love. It took me longer than a few hours to get over the rejection and realization that there was more to the world than being turned away by long-time crush. In that moment, during that confrontation between Quentin and his best pal Ben, that memory came rushing back like it had just happened yesterday.

You may never have read a John Green novel but chances are your teenage daughter has. Green has turned into the unlikely voice of a generation or perhaps more accurately, a guy in his late 30’s who can talk to a generation of teens in a way they can both understand and relate to (or as The New Yorker put it “The Teen Whisperer”). That has translated into success at the box office and while Paper Towns doesn’t induce an emotional breakdown complete with tears and snot, it does hit home in a more poignant way. At least for adults. I’m not sure how well a movie set in today’s high school climate but which makes zero reference to social media, will play with teens.

Paper Towns feels a lot like a John Hughes movie. In familiar teen movie trope style, the kids can be boiled down to one label; the jock, the geek, the pretty one. They’re all characters we know or knew in our day and the way they come together is both ludicrous and charmingly believable. Who doesn’t want adventure in their last weeks of high school? In this case, the adventure unfolds as Quentin and his friends go on a two day road trip to New York State in search of Margo Roth Spiegelman; one of the most popular girls in school and Quentin’s long time crush, who has simply vanished. The movie takes a bit of time to get going – the set-up of Quentin and Margo’s history and their last night together spreads over the first half in a sprawling, mildly interesting way but once the crew decides on the road trip, Paper Towns really finds its groove.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Director: W.D. Richter
Screenplay: Earl Mac Rauch
Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: PG


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a cult classic from the 80’s that I’d never seen, but always wanted to. I didn’t really know much about it, but I found the title strangely appealing and was aware of its status as an oddball cult classic. Luckily for me, Arrow came to the rescue once again and offered me a chance to review their new feature-packed Blu-Ray re-release. So I strapped myself in for a trip across the 8th dimension.

Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) is a half-Japanese, half-American brain surgeon, daredevil scientist and rock star. He and the Hong Kong Cavaliers, his band of hard rock scientists (as described in the opening crawl), are famous around the world, with their own branding and even a comic strip and arcade machines.

After successfully removing a tumour from a patient’s brain, Banzai heads to the salt flats to test a jet powered car which houses an Oscillation Overthruster. Banzai manages to use this device to open a door to the 8th dimension in the side of a mountain. He sees some crazy stuff in there before re-appearing out the other side with a strange creature/thing attached to the car.

This test is celebrated as a great success, but it draws the attention of the Red Lectroids, an alien race (led by Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli) who have teamed up with the deranged Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow). In the past, Lizardo had worked with Banzai’s scientist partner Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) on the prototype Overthruster, which went wrong and let the Red Lectroids escape from their inter-dimensional prison. Lizardo and the Red Lectroids now want to get their hands on the Overthruster so they can regain power over the world they were originally banished from, which is currently in the hands of the Black Lectroids. The Black Lectroids meanwhile, although friendly to the humans, feel their only hope of survival is to blow up the Earth if the Reds aren’t stopped in time. Banzai, with his team of agents/band members, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, must stop both sides before it’s too late!

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Blu-Ray Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut

Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Based on a Graphic Novel by: Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage
Country: USA/UK/Canda
Running Time: 142 min (Rogue Cut) 126 (Theatrical Cut)
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 12 (although the commentary is rated 15)


I like to moan about super hero movies. There seems to be an endless stream of them nowadays with these extended universes and such, so I’ve grown very tired of hearing about them. 90% of online chatter seems to surround the latest super hero movie trailer or casting news. Personally I couldn’t give a s**t about most of it and become a snob hiding in the corner with my indie movies and classic re-releases. However, despite my grumbling, I’ve actually enjoyed most of the super hero films I’ve seen during this decade-and-a-half boom.

One of last year’s super hero movies that I liked quite a lot was X-Men: Days of Future Past. So when I was offered a chance to review the new Rogue Cut of the film, I decided to break away from my usual snooty high-brow/classic/cult posts to join the mainstream.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot for X-Men: Days of Future Past as most of you will already have seen it. Basically, in the future, the world is a bleak and desolate place, particularly for mutants who are being hunted and killed by the all powerful Sentinels (big evil robots that can take on mutant powers). The X-Men have a plan though. They send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into the subconscious of his 1970’s self to change events surrounding Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X, played by James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender) which led to the development of the Sentinel programme, spearheaded by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

What The Rogue Cut adds in its 16 extra minutes, alongside a couple of minor changes here and there, is, as you might have guessed, a role for Rogue (Anna Paquin). She was a major character in the first couple of films, but was left on the cutting room floor when Days of Future Past hit cinemas. In these re-instated scenes she is saved from experimentation by Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) so that she can help the wounded Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) keep Wolverine in his former subconscious.

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