Disney is hard at work grinding out live action version of all their animated features. Emma Watson, Luke Evans and Dan Stevens do exactly what you expect them to do with lots of CGI and flowery movie sets, in this very familiar looking 2017 Beauty & The Beast directed by Bill “Kinsey” Condon. While I have certainly enjoyed Branagh’s Cinderella and Burton’s Alice In Wonderland (I missed Favreau’s Jungle Book, but by all accounts it is serviceable), fair warning that Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid are all on the assembly line for handsome-but-forgettable consumption.
This trailer is for a curious film-object I managed to catch during its World Premiere at Hot Docs in May. Kind of a found footage film, kind of a ‘constructed collage,’ and very much a fake narrative. Filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp took hours and hours of public uploaded You Tube video from an American family, and re-edited as a feature film, Fraud which considers the dark, disturbing side of credit, consumerism, and the American Dream. The execution is not without its flaws, but it deserves a serious consideration because of the way that it further pushes out the documentary-form, and even more significantly, the experience of watching Fraud is beyond fascinating. Check out the trailer below.
The Blair Witch Project
Having hit the 15 year milestone in the last few days, The Blair Witch Project remains a curious bit of pioneering cinema responsible for kicking off the modern found footage craze.
“In October 1994, three students disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary… A year later, their footage was found.” A couple of 16mm cameras and some willing young actors, and you’ve got yourself a flash in the pan cultural phenomenon.
The film also was pioneering for its use of the world wide web as a marketing force the further create backstory and mythology in advance of its commercial release. The hype and conjecture swirling around the film in the spring and summer of 1999 was directly responsible for priming massive public awareness which went on to make it a huge hit.
Does it have rewatch value? The last few minutes of the film are absolutely riveting stuff, but it takes a long, often uneven, stretch of film to get there. The found footage genre is so ubiquitous, that it mainly induces yawns and eye-rolls at this point, but there are some genuine chills and thrills smattered about The Blair Witch Project to make the film not only of its time and place, but also kind of timeless. If nothing else, it speaks, on the edge of the 21st century of hubris, when the three students find themselves surprisingly lost in the woods with the assumption: Because this is America! We’ve exhausted all of our natural resources! Occult or no occult goings on, nature herself is scary and unforgiving enough.
In Werner Herzog’s wonderful documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, he makes a point of showing that if you dive deep enough in those cold an antarctic waters, the experience not all that different than voyaging into outer space. Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain also used microscope images of bacteria in petri dishes as the special effects foundation for creating a dying nebulae on screen. I am continually fascinated with inner space and microscopic scale being as infinite as the far stretching galaxies.
Director Sarah Adina Smith, with her first feature, plays with both these ideas, but she does so with character and sibling drama as the driver for in her delicate psychodrama, The Midnight Swim. Introverted and damaged twenty-something June Brooks, who over the course of the film makes a dive deep down into herself and identity, possibly going too far. The film suggests that our connection to others is our lifeline to our self – perhaps we should not, or even cannot swim alone.
At one point the June’s camera — the film is in essence is the documentary she is making of an uncomfortable reunion at the family cottage — captures her visage from under the depths of the water. She has placed the camera into the lake water, just below the surface, presumably to get a good shot of herself that is reflective of her tenuous grip on normalcy. She has a pertinent self-awareness of this fact as she and her half-sisters seem to each have their histories of flakey mental issues, although this might just be due to sisters being sisters. Gathering images of herself and her dysfunctional siblings is a coping mechanism for June’s extreme introversion.
Current duress stems from the reason for which they are back together on the lake after many years of long distance and estrangement. June, Isa and Annie, the three of them brought together by the death of their mother, full time resident of the cottage, and marine biology researcher. Mrs. Brooks was diving the lower fathoms of the portentously named Spirit Lake before mysteriously drowning.
Reconnecting to one other at this moment in time, their childhood nostalgia is now overlaid with adult pathologies. They halfheartedly plan local shopping outings, discuss the future sale or repurposing of the home into a artistic retreat, and with June’s video-editing acumen, they make a cute music video to reconnect with a passed time. The improv is full of girlish giggles and fun, but it devolves into some rather intense roleplaying, by the oldest sister. This scene, in its uncomfortable intimacy, is acutely unsettling. June and Isa are forced to bear witness to Annie, the most dependable of the three beginning to crack. It is equally awkward for us in the audience due to manner of June’s filming and framing of her sister’s breakdown.
The Midnight Swim may end up with the increasingly pejorative label of ‘Found Footage’ film, but it is really not that at all. It is more an empathic point of view achieved by having a character (who makes documentaries) shoot what she wants to keep of her personal situation. It is not gimmicky in the least; rather it is transcendent in purpose. And yet, a moment here or there where a character makes direct eye contact with the camera offer a different kind of spine tingle.
Ideas of spirituality and rebirth are always skimming the surface of The Midnight Swim. Stories to be told while underneath the stars late at night, and the local folklore of drowning sisters, and the ghosts of the lake, not the least of which the newest mystery, the unfound corpus of their recently departed mother, scientist and spiritualist (character actor Beth Grant in a brief bit of spot on casting). When dead birds start appearing on the doorstep of the cottage, and footage not filmed by June starts appearing on her camera, it feels like things might move towards what is expected of the creepy horror movie genre, but there is originality to spare here, and it keeps going off to new places while always returning to the water, the font and the womb.
The drama, the fruit de mer, is the casual immediacy of the relationships of the three leads (Lindsay Burdge, Jennifer Lafleur and Aleksa Palladino), broken as siblings, and unable to find happiness or even a comfortably shared silence. This is always front and centre, while the so called ‘hippie bullshit’ is a backdrop, a shear curtain of mood.
The miracle of this movie is how the voices of the three actresses act as a kind of hypnosis, in their conversations and passive bickering. It is easy to fall under the spell of this rhythm. You feel privy to an intimacy that is rare in American genre cinema. When there is anxiety it easily spills over and out of the film, in a way that reminded me of Sebastián Silva’s criminally under-seen hysterical woman horror Magic Magic from last year. And like Christopher Doyle’s exquisite cinematography in that film, Smith’s husband, cinematographer Shaheen Seth achieves here a naturalist beauty of the Iowa cottage country, all tinkly motes on the lake, along with a tactile immediacy; a rich shawl fabric, flapping in the wind, revealing and hiding the face of a traveller. The equally minimalist soundtrack lets the images (and the audience) do the work, but with this talented young director as a reliable guide (an achievement considering that this is Smith’s first feature) said work feels effortless in its rewards.
Simultaneously narcissistic and voyeuristic, one gets the feeling that June’s sisters have indulged her filming for years and years of even their most intimate moments, Smith allows us to gradually ease into June’s POV by showing how outsiders of this insular little family react to having the camera on them. A childhood boyfriend of Isa comes over for dinner to reconnect and is a bit weirded out that June would rather film them enjoy each other’s company than eat with them, where Isa’s reaction is telling that this is simply their normal. Another sequence involving a real estate agent visiting over tea to list the cottage on the market is both funny and honest in how people behave when trying to do their work while being filmed against their will. Scenes like this serve as effective lubricant to ease the audience into the headspace of the film.
A recurring image of June standing motionless in silhouette on the dock, illuminated in purple hues by the stars of The Pleiades (The Seven Sisters) which seem to get brighter with each repeat of the image. June gets darker, on the verge of becoming a traveller in the wide space of her own identity. Possibly, somewhere out there, Herzog is whispering a gentle voice-over, so we do not have to swim alone in a senseless universe. In short, I will be very surprised if I manage see a better film at this festival.
Sone famous once said that a person’s character can be defined by what he chooses to complain about. What do you despise? Is it Max Brooks? Is it Steve Guttenberg? The video streaming entity such as Vudu? Or is it someone/something else? By all means sound off! So yes, we explore the depths of our personal hatreds on this week’s Cinecast, but equally so, we also share some fondness, nay love, for Charles Grodin, Jean-Marc Vallée, Brent Spiner, Chris Tucker, Louis C.K. and yes, even Mel Gibson.
Documentaries and Ozploitation occupy the bulk of this week’s conversation. Steve James’ documentary, Life Itself (aka you’re better off just reading the book) and Russell Mulcahy’s creature feature, Razorback. But, and this is important. don’t even bother downloading this show until you’ve purchased your 4-pack of Midnight Run sequels. Yeah, it’s that kind of show.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
And speaking of one of the better found footage franchises, the presumably final entry into the Spanish [Rec] series of films has abandoned the Found Footage conceit altogether as it circles back to the protagonist of the first film, TV reporter Ángela Vidal, who is dragged into quarantine on an oil-rig. The director duo of the first two films split up with Paco Plaza making the “Wedding Video” sidequel [Rec]3 before Jaume Balagueró ties a bow on the series with the fourth entry subtitled, Apocalypse.
[Rec]4 is scheduled to open the Sitges Film Festival (just outside of Barcelona) in October.
The simplest rule of a effective one sheet is to make anyone walking by the poster in the display take a second look. This might be due to celebrity face (unfortunately: floaty heads) but preferably, it is showing the norm distorted in some fashion or an arresting image of beauty or idea. This poster for indie found footage film As Above, So Below goes for the former, the Eiffel Tower upside down, skulls, red colour palette.
Miles of twisting catacombs lie beneath the streets of Paris, France the eternal home to countless souls. When a team of explorers ventures into the uncharted maze of bones, they uncover a Mysterious Lost Treasure and the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead. Yes, the found footage genre has been one of diminishing returns for some time now, and this one seemingly wants to merge The Descent with [Rec] which makes for a bit of claustrophobic been-there-done-that.
For more, the trailer is also tucked under the seat.
We posted the brand new poster below and now we have the red-band trailer for Ti West’s The Sacrament. I know, found footage movies feel a bit played out at this point, but this one has the Jonestown factor, there is a lot of tension and suspense (although much of it ‘spoiled’ with this trailer – fair warning) and West really knows how to make the film look very, very pretty.
Patrick (Kentucker Audley) is a fashion photographer traveling to meet his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) at Eden Parish, the commune she’s been living at since she left her drug rehabilitation program. Despite some misgivings over his sister’s vagueness over the commune’s location, Patrick travels to the commune with his friends and co-workers Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg), who suspect that they might get a story out of the travels. Once there, Patrick is met by his sister, who is happier and healthier than she has been in a while. His friends begin to film interviews with Eden Parish’s inhabitants, all of which speak of the commune in glowing terms. However they soon discover that there is a sinister edge to the commune that belies the seemingly peaceful setting.
Keeping it rather short and sweet this week; but the kids are alright. Outside of our quick review of 2 Guns, we kind of just tease through some reviews for upcoming wide releases or show discussion topics. Mostly we just can’t wait for next week’s Blomkamp/Allen reviews. Still, we do manage to get through some talk about space Abyss, adult swim and another gander at Joe Wright’s Hanna.
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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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.”
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.