“They’re here already! You’re next!”
Now that’s the voice of paranoia if ever I heard it, but those final lines from the original Invasion Of the Body Snatchers (1956) still ring true today. In this increasingly digitized, on-camera, drone-filled world, how could they not?
Having already seen the atmospheric 1979 remake (directed by Phillip Kaufman), I fully expected the original Invasion to be clunky, loaded with lousy actors, and filmed by some dim-witted amateur with no understanding of cinematic composition. Imagine my surprise: Invasion is genuinely unsettling, well acted, and maintains a taut, fearless pace throughout.
The aces up its sleeve? Director Don Siegel, for one, and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, whose take-no-prisoners script delves deeply into the twin human terrors of identity and sleep.
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On September 19, Liam Neeson’s latest blockbuster, A Walk Among the Tombstones, opens in theaters nationwide. Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop who is an off-the-book private investigator and a recovering alcoholic.
Scudder has starred in seventeen novels dating back to 1976 and a bunch of short stories; all written by Lawrence Block. Tombstones is actually the tenth book in the series, so they’re starting well into things.
Jeff Bridges had played Scudder in Eight Million Ways to Die (the fifth book), moving the story to California(!) and making him a sheriff’s deputy (Hollywood!)
Block, who I mentioned in this post, is a fantastic writer. Along with Scudder, he has written series’ starring an adventurer who can’t sleep (Tanner), a bookstore owning burglar (Bernie Rhodenbarr), a lawyer who will do anything to win a case (Martin Ehrengraf), a likeable hit man (Keller) and a humorous Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin-esque pair (Leo Haig and Chip Harrison). And he’s one of the finest short story writers I’ve run across. Enough Rope is a superb collection of his short fiction.
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Here in the underground offices of Goth Chick News, the only thing we appreciate more than a blended, adult beverage is an independent film; more specifically, an independent horror film.
So guys like Wyatt Weed from Pirate Pictures and Roze (who like all icons goes by one name only) are serious heroes around here. And though the whole Pirate Pictures crew have been Black Gate regulars for some time, Roze wasn’t slated to make an appearance until early next year.
If you aren’t familiar with his work, Roze is an Arizona-based writer/director with a passion for the macabre. Roze and his wife Candace co-founded the independent production company Gas Mask Films, which made its debut in 2006 with Denial, a short film screened at the Cannes Film Market Short Film Corner. In 2008, the feature-length film Deadfall Trail was shot and produced entirely in Arizona for less than $80,000. After the success of Deadfall Trail, Gas Mask Films went on to produce the feature horror film, Speak No Evil, slated for wide release by Lions Gate in 2015.
And 2015 is when we expected to tell you about Roze — that is until he floated over an idea that was just too perfect not to pass along.
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I mentioned in my post on silent film Sherlock Eille Norwood that all of his films are preserved on safety stock at the British Film Institute (BFI). I’m sure that some of my British Holmesian friends have viewed a few of these. I have a couple of terrible quality episodes on VHS.
Unfortunately, there are no known surviving copies of several Holmes films and television episodes. This includes Arthur Wontner’s The Missing Rembrandt from 1932 and episodes of the sixties BBC tv series starring both Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing.
Number nine on the BFI’s ’75 Most Wanted List’ of missing films is A Study in Scarlet, from 1914.
Last week, the BFI started an international hunt for this missing piece of Sherlock history with an essay titled, “Who Can Solve the Mystery of the Missing Sherlock Holmes Film?”
Peter Haining’s The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook reprints a story from the June 12, 1965 Evening Mail with the title, “The Case of the Unknown Sherlock.” It was accompanied by this picture.
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As I write this, I’m preparing for a vacation in the country. It’s an odd thing, in that the past three weeks have been a kind of vacation in themselves, as thanks to John O’Neill here at Black Gate and to the Fantasia staff, I was able to cover this year’s edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival. Still, watching (by my count) thirty-nine movies and writing about all of them was quite a project. Fun, though. I thought I’d take a quick post to wrap up my coverage by talking about what I’ve learned from the experience.
First, an observation: the other day, Montreal’s venerable Festival des Films du Monde put up a press release on their site which, so far as I can see, states that they’ll be showing 160 features and about 190 shorts in this year’s edition of their festival. The Fantasia festival that I’ve been covering also had 160 features this year, along with 300 shorts. Fantasia, established 1996, is at least for this year larger than the Festival des Films du Monde, making it the largest film festival in Montreal. I have no idea how the audience figures break down between the two festivals, but I know people at Fantasia were pleased to announce that they’d had an attendance of over 128,000 by Tuesday. All of which is just to say that this festival is vigorous and growing, a testament to the strength of genre filmmaking around the world.
And another observation: about a dozen years ago, I taught a college-level film course. I already knew a certain amount about film, but I educated myself a fair bit more, learning about film history and technique. Now, like I said, that was a dozen years ago. And I haven’t made an especial effort to keep up. But here’s the thing about film: it’s a young medium and changes fast. I spend a lot of my time, here and elsewhere, engaged with literature — which, in the West, has over 3000 years behind it. Film has about 120. Which is to say that when I say I studied film a dozen years ago, that’s a tenth of the total time that the medium’s been around. And I suspect there’s a disproportion in the amount of activity in the medium during that dozen years: digital cameras have made filmmaking easier, and more countries have developed film industries of their own. In a way, these past weeks at Fantasia have re-educated me about film, bringing me face-to-face with the reality of where cinema is now.
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I closed out this year’s Fantasia film festival with a movie on Wednesday and another on Thursday. Together they seemed to say something about the festival, in that they had virtually nothing in common. They’re from different countries, they’re different genres of film, they have wildly different budgets — and yet somehow they both seem to belong at Fantasia. Unsurprisingly, one played the big Hall Theater, while the other screened at the small De Sève.
The first was Kundo: Age of the Rampant, a Korean period adventure movie set in the late Joseon Dynasty. It’s a box-office sensation in Korea, where it outdrew the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy. Then last night I saw my last Fantasia film of the year, The Midnight Swim. It has touches of horror, but I think is really an artful fantasy about three sisters coping with their mother’s death. It was a very strong work, and a great note on which to end Fantasia.
But let’s first look at Kundo. Directed by Yoon Jong-bin, it was written by Yoon and Jeon Cheol-hung. In the late nineteenth century, crops are failing and starvation looms, exacerbated by corrupt officials and greedy nobles. But a group of outlaws give hope to the people as they rob from the rich and give to the poor (and indeed among those outlaws there is a very strong man, one woman, and a monk; so for some of us this is not entirely unfamiliar narrative territory). A young butcher, Dolmuchi (Ha Jung-woo) joins up with the bandits when he refuses to take part in a political intrigue, resulting in agents of a nobleman’s bastard (Jo-Yoon, played by Kang Dong-won) killing his family. There’s a nation to be saved and revenge to be had.
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Last Tuesday saw the presentation of the official closing film of the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival. Film festivals being what they are, there’d actually be another two days of films after that. In any event, I’d manage to see the closer, after catching two other movies earlier in the day.
I started things at 5:30 with an artful Danish horror film called When Animals Dream. After that, at 7:30, came an American sf comedy called Space Station 76, a send-up of 70s television sci-fi. Finally, at 9:45, came the closing film: Welcome to New York, directed by Abel Ferrara. Once again, I was in for a highly varied evening of cinema.
When Animals Dream was preceded by a short called Sea Devil, co-written and co-directed by D.C. Marcial and Brett Potter. An American fisherman agrees to meet two Cuban refugees at sea and takes them on board; later the ship rescues another man, weirdly mutilated and caked in an undersea growth. The movie goes on to tell a tight (16-minute) story of horror in the deeps. There’s a good atmosphere here, like something out of Jeff VanderMeer or Laird Barron. The short nicely underplays the horror, refusing to specify what’s happening, giving just enough information to be shocking, and deploying sudden cuts to good effect.
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As I said in my last post, I went out of town for the first weekend of August, and thus missed a couple days’ worth of movies playing at the Fantasia film festival. I was able to catch up with some on Monday, though. Fantasia maintains a screening room, with workstations where journalists, industry people, and other accredited folks can watch movies on computer. It’s not the optimal way to experience a film — they’ve usually been burned onto a DVD or accessed through a private Vimeo account — but it’s serviceable if you can’t catch the movie any other way. The screening room usually loses rights to the movies shortly after they play at the festival, but when I went by on Monday, there were still quite a few available.
So from about 11 in the morning until I left to get a quick meal before Thermae Romae II, I sat and watched films. These are the tales I saw in the screening room: two movies I missed over the weekend and one that various misfortunes had kept me from seeing earlier. The first of the three was a Japanese near-future science-fiction movie called Real. The second was another Japanese movie, the live-action manga adaptation Black Butler, which mixed action, comedy, sf, horror, bits of steampunk, and probably some other things I didn’t catch. The last movie I saw was an American film called The One I Love, a slightly horrific low-key relationship comedy. As per usual, it was a fascinating and oddly mixed day of movies at Fantasia.
I’ll begin with Real (originally titled Riaru), but I have to admit I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa from a script by him and Sachiko Tanaka, and based on a novel by Rokuro Inui called A Perfect Day for Plesiosaur, it seemed to reinvent itself periodically throughout. The closest I can get to a sense of it is to use that overworked adjective Hitchcockian — in this case not to indicate technique but atmosphere, the way tension builds in the first part and then twists and dissolves and becomes something quite different by the third act.
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A week ago, on Thursday, July 31, I saw yet another movie at the Fantasia Festival. Then I left town for the weekend to attend to some business of my own. I got back in on Sunday, and went to see another movie Monday evening. By that time, I’d also been able to catch up on a couple of films that I’d missed over the weekend — but I’ll be talking about them later. For the moment, I’ll discuss the films I saw in the Fantasia theatres.
The movie I saw on Thursday was called The Fake (Saibi). It was an animated film from Korea, directed by Yeon Sang-ho from his own script. It’s a harsh, downbeat drama. The movie I saw Monday was almost completely different, a comedy from Japan called Thermae Romae II (Terumae romae II), about a Roman architect who unwittingly travels in time to modern Japan and learns new ways to think about bathhouses. Hideki Takeuchi, who directed the first Thermae Romae, handled direction here as well, though with a change of writers: Hiroshi Hashimoto stepped in for Shogo Muto. Both movies adapt Tokyo-born Chicago resident Mari Yamazaki’s original manga, and as the first screened at last year’s Fantasia festival, I’ll actually talk about both Thermae Romae films in this review.
First, though, I’ll discuss The Fake. It’s set in a small town in Korea about to be flooded by a new dam. A new evangelical pastor has come to town and is raising money for the construction of a new chapel — while also selling a ‘holy water’ that supposedly can work miraculous cures. Min-chul, the town ne’er-do-well, who hits his wife and steals his daughter’s college money, returns to town. After a scrape with Elder Choi, the pastor’s business manager, Min-chul sees a wanted poster and recognises Choi as a con-man. But nobody wants to listen to Min-chul when he tries to tell the truth.
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I didn’t see any films at Fantasia on Monday, July 28, and then on the 29th I saw two. One was Guardians of the Galaxy, which I’ve already written about. The next was a distinctive but disappointing horror film called Cybernatural. Disappointment here is perhaps relative; Cybernatural’s been one of the most talked-about films at the festival, so far as I can judge, and as a result my expectations were high. And honesty compels me to note that I’m not a big fan of horror movies as such, though I’d like to think I enjoy good horror when there’s a good story.
Certainly, the first film I’d see on Wednesday the 30th was a horror movie that erased the disappointment of the night before. The film that did the trick was Venezuela’s first-ever commercial genre film, The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos), which I followed with an American thriller called Time Lapse. It all made for an interesting mix of films.
Cybernatural was directed by Leo Gabriadze from a script by Nelson Greaves. Like Open Windows, it’s a movie that takes place entirely on a computer screen. In this case, the screen belongs to a teenaged girl named Blaire (Shelley Hennig), who at the start of the film is involved in a Skype chat with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). Things are about to get heated when suddenly more friends join, other kids at their school. But there’s somebody else with them, an anonymous presence on their group video chat. And their computers have started to act strange. It seems that exactly a year ago one of their former classmates committed suicide, after someone in the group posted a humiliating video of her online. Now she’s back for revenge.
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