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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery Holmes

Monday, August 18th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Bragington_JI 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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My Fantasia Festival Wrap-up

Friday, August 8th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Fantasia 2014As 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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My Fantasia Festival, Days 21 and 22: Kundo: Age of the Rampant and The Midnight Swim

Friday, August 8th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

KundoI 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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My Fantasia Festival, Day 20: When Animals Dream, Space Station 76, and Welcome to New York

Friday, August 8th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

When Animals DreamLast 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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My Fantasia Festival — Tales From the Screening Room: Real, Black Butler, and The One I Love

Friday, August 8th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

RealAs 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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My Fantasia Festival, Days 15 Through 19: The Fake and Thermae Romae II

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Thermae Romae IIA 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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My Fantasia Festival, Days 12 through 14: Cybernatural, The House at the End of Time, and Time Lapse

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

CybernaturalI 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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My Fantasia Festival, Day 11 (part 2): To Be Takei and The Creeping Garden

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

To Be TakeiI saw two movies in the late afternoon and evening of the Sunday before last (the 27th). Both were documentaries. You’d think that the first one would have had the more obvious science-fiction content, being a biography of an actor who rose to fame playing a character on perhaps the best-known science-fiction TV show of all time — while the second film was an in-depth examination of what sounds like the most mundane substance in the world. This did not turn out to be the case. The old saying about truth, fiction, and strangeness applies.

At 5:20 I saw To Be Takei in a packed, and fairly raucous, De Sève Theatre. It’s much as it sounds: the story of George Takei, the original Star Trek’s Mister Sulu. But Trek is only a part of his life and of the movie, which ranges from Takei’s childhood in a World War Two internment camp to his experience as a gay man growing up and forming a career to his later political experiences to his current status as a social media celebrity.

Then at 9:45, I saw the world premiere of The Creeping Garden, a documentary about slime mould. Which, it turns out, is a deeply strange thing, not plant nor animal nor fungi, a creature that occasionally demonstrates something a lot like intelligence. There’s an almost Lovecraftian air to the movie, which ends up exploring odd byways of cinema history, art projects, and ‘alternative computing.’ There’s cutting-edge science in this documentary, if not actual mad scientists.

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The Scorpion Revealed: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Twelve: Captain Marvel’s Secret

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 | Posted by Thomas Parker

The Adventures of Captain Marvel tom_tyler-smallHurry up and get in here! Be careful you don’t trip walking down the aisle — the lights have already gone down and they’ll be ready to start any minute. You’re late, but still in luck, because there’s one last seat left, over there on the right — see it? Now that we’re all in our places with bright shining faces, we’re ready for our story’s finale. Sit tight because here it comes — The Adventures of Captain Marvel, last chapter: “Captain Marvel’s Secret.”

Three title cards semi-coherently sum up last week’s action. “Captain Marvel — Rescues the Malcolm Expedition from a trap set by the Scorpion.” “Billy Batson — Refuses to enter the tomb to get Dr. Lang’s lens.” “Rahman Bar — Plans to arouse the natives against the expedition.” And now, for the final time, let’s shout together the mystic syllables that will bring down the magic lightning bolt and transform you into one of the greatest of all superheroes, Captain Marvel — Shazam!

Returning to the conclusion of last week’s chapter, Malcolm and Bentley, having recovered the hidden lens, stand outside the tomb chamber where Betty and Whitey are trapped, while Billy and Tal Chotali dither outside the tomb itself. The whole place is being shaken to pieces due to the eruption of the volcanic mountain Scorpio. “Scorpio is angry because unbelievers have entered the tomb,” Tal Chotali tells Billy. Actually, we know that Rahman Bar has caused the eruption by diverting a river into the crater, which, as everyone knows, acts as a volcano emetic.

As the shaking increases in intensity, Billy tries to run into the tomb to help his friends inside, but is held back by Tal Chotali. Everyone in the tomb — Malcolm, Bentley, Betty, Whitey — is doomed, hopelessly doomed!

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My Fantasia Festival, Day 11 (part 1): Hal and Giovanni’s Island

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

HalThere are a couple of things I’ve noticed in my Fantastia experience so far which I haven’t yet mentioned. The first is the general friendliness of people: the ease I’ve had in getting into conversations while in line for a film, or in the theatre waiting for a movie to start. I’ve met other writers, a programming director for a Mexican horror film festival (check it out), and, on the Sunday before last (July 27), a DJ with Concordia University’s radio station, CJLO.

Fantasia’s hosted on Concordia’s downtown campus, and DJ Saturn de Los Angeles is one of a number of CJLO DJs who play music before the start of films in the Hall Theater, while the audience is filing in and finding their seats. And this is the other element of the festival I’ve not yet written about, the pre-film music. As selected by the DJs up at the back of the Hall to fit with the movie about to play, it sets the tone and prepares you for what you’re about to watch. I’ve found the selections appropriate and inventive, adding a little extra style to the Fantasia experience. The music raises your excitement level just a bit, like hearing the pre-show music at a rock concert. You know something’s coming, and when the music stops, your attention focuses on the screen that much more.

Saturn plays Japanese pop and indie rock in their weekly show, so it’s appropriate I met them before the first of two anime films I’d see on the day. We were waiting for the North American premiere of Hal, a character-oriented science-fiction anime that’d be preceded by a short film called Sonny Boy and Dewdrop Girl. After Hal, which was shown in the mid-sized D.B. Clarke Theater, I’d head upstairs to the Hall to see the Canadian premiere of another anime, Giovanni’s Island. I’d then go on to see two more films that Sunday, both documentaries (and coincidentally met more CJLO folks in line at the later one), but I’ll be discussing those in another post. Here, I want to consider the two animated films.

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