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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXI: Collectors

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXI: Collectors

Collectors (도굴) is a slick heist movie with lots of action, and it comes from South Korea courtesy of director Park Jung-bae and writer Hwang Dong-hyuk. Released last year in Korea, it was a significant hit, sitting at the top of the box office for three weeks and finishing as the 11th biggest Korean film of the year. It’s a crowd-pleaser, to be sure.

It follows Dong-goo (Lee Je-hoon), a thief of antiquities and historical artifacts, who has a glib attitude and a tragic backstory. He begins the movie by swiping a golden buddha statue, which leads him into a yet larger scheme, and an association with a crooked rich man (Song Young-Chang). And this leads him to another scheme; set-pieces proliferate as he gathers allies and prepares for the biggest job of all, stealing an ancient sword from the middle of a major city. We get intricate plans, fight scenes, and twists and turns aplenty.

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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXX: King Car

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXX: King Car

King Car (Carro Rei) is a peculiar and beguiling piece of science-fictional magical realism from Brazil’s Renata Pinheiro, who directed and co-wrote with Sérgio Oliveira and Leo Pyrata. The least that can be said is that the film certainly has a distinctive voice. It’s not filled with splashy special effects, but it manages to tell a large-scale story with an inventive structure and a daring approach.

It follows Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr.), the son of a taxi magnate who turns against the supremacy of the car in order to study ecological agriculture. And yet when a new law promises to ban cars more than 15 years old, Uno and his eccentric mechanic uncle Zé (Matheus Nachtergaele) upgrade old cars into a new fleet of sentient automobiles of the future. For Uno has the ability to speak to cars, and to one car in particular. This car, King Car, becomes the prototype of the new fleet despite the misgivings of Uno’s friends. But when things spiral out of control and a disturbing popular movement forms, who else can Uno turn to for help in setting things right?

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Goth Chick News: Netflix Original Series Midnight Mass Is the Perfect Halloween Offering

Goth Chick News: Netflix Original Series Midnight Mass Is the Perfect Halloween Offering

Admittedly, the numerous streaming services make the month of October a whiplash of incredible viewing opportunities. Gone are the days of rehashing classic horror movies on commercial TV. In October 2021 you can navigate to “horror” or “Halloween Favorites” on everything from HBO Max, to Netflix, to Amazon Prime and find movies from Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) to brand new original series such as Jason Blum’s Welcome to Blumhouse horror anthology.

Dedicated goth chick that I am, I’ve committed myself to watching some version of horror every day (sometimes more) in the month of October. It was important to include classics while liberally peppering in new works as well. October 1st kicked off with Young Frankenstein (what else?), and thus far I have worked my way through Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein (1994), all the original Universal Studios monster classics (which I own in multiple formats), Brendan Fraser’s Mummy (1999), Johnny Depp’s Ed Wood (1994) and several of the “firsts” such as the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween. However, I simply couldn’t ignore the new entries in the binge-watchable series, of which there are a plethora to choose from.

Enter Midnight Mass, an original from Netflix.

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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXIX: Dr. Caligari

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXIX: Dr. Caligari

Dr. Caligari is a definitely a feature film. We can start there. But let’s be careful; this is not The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the classic German Expressionist movie from 1920. This Dr. Caligari is an American movie from 1989, directed by Stephen Sayadian and co-written by Sayadian with Jerry Stahl (Wikipedia tells me it was briefly known as Dr. Caligari 3000 when it first came out). A new 4K restoration by Acid Pictures is coming to blu-ray, and it played this year’s Fantasia Film Festival first. The film’s usually called an exploitation movie, but it’s unclear to me who or what it’s exploiting, exactly. What it is, in essence, is unclassifiable weirdness from the depths of the 1980s.

There is something that looks like a plot. At an insane asylum run by a woman named Doctor Caligari (Madeleine Reynal), granddaughter of the famous one, inmates are being subjected to a dangerous new procedure. Caligari’s experimenting with ways to extract the nature of one person and inject it into another. Shenanigans follow, mostly revolving around a nymphomaniac (Laura Albert) and a cannibalistic serial killer (John Durbin). Meanwhile, members of the staff are having doubts, and may be ready to revolt against the maniacal Caligari.

This doesn’t really capture the experience of the film, though. It’s a thoroughly artificial, self-aware movie. It’s conscious of the artifice of its story, and pushes that artifice as much as it can visually and narratively. Performances stand out for straight-faced campiness. Dialogue’s quotable in its weirdness: “ECT, my favourite three letters in the alphabet,” one patient declares, and then “Juice me, I’m a shiver boy.” A scarecrow in one sequence declares “There’s much to be learned from a despairing shriek.” Another character declares “I’m not a hysteric, I’m a CPA!” The nymphomaniac patient recalls “My husband had an erection, once. Silly, really.” Early on someone says “My feelings are like filthy prayers I want to scream in your face.” And on and on.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Fight Direction by William Hobbs (Pt. 1)

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Fight Direction by William Hobbs (Pt. 1)

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (UK, 1974)

William Hobbs (1939-2018) was the greatest director of European-style stage fencing of his generation. An English actor trained to the stage at the Old Vic, Hobbs was fight director at Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company in the Sixties before making is first big splash in films with Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers in 1973. As a fencing choreographer, he was known for his more realistic, rough-and-tumble approach to cinematic fighting, having the actors expend effort to exhaustion, depicting combat as a desperate and fearful endeavor. This was a revelation that overturned the Hollywood standard of elegant and balletic fencing as exemplified by the swordwork of actors like Basil Rathbone, Stewart Granger, and Cornel Wilde. In a William Hobbs fencing match, an actor was as likely to strike a blow with a handy broomstick as with a rapier.

Hobbs’ most influential work was certainly the swordplay he choreographed for Ridley Scott’s The Duellists, after which he was the go-to guy for decades for any British or American production that featured fencing, his credits including Excalibur (1981), Ladyhawke (1985), Rob Roy (1995), all the way through to Game of Thrones (2011). In between he continued to work as a director for stage fencing, mainly for productions of Shakespeare plays — he directed the swordwork in Hamlet over two dozen times, including the 1990 film with Mel Gibson. “I do think, what the hell am I going to do this time to make it different?” Hobbs said in 2008. “A fight has to grow out of the situation of the play. There’s the text, and you’ve got to follow it truthfully and honestly.”

This week, let’s take a look at three of Hobbs’ earliest films as fight director.

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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXVIII: The Feast

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXVIII: The Feast

“In the Soil” (“Det er i jorden”) is a 14-minute Danish film from writer-director Casper Rudolf Kjeldsen with a disquieting atmosphere. A man (Thomas Guldberg Madsen) and his adult daughter (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) live in the country. He grows fascinated with a plot of land by his house, and begins to dig it up, obsessively spending all his time at it. His daughter helps him, but has misgivings. Will she become obsessed as well? What will happen to the father as he finishes his pit? And what does it all mean? I can answer the first two questions, but I’m not sure about the third. What literally happens is clear, but why things unfold as they do is more obscure, at least at one viewing. The movie lives in its atmosphere, its dark and oppressive visual sense, and it may be that the mesmeric pace creates the sense of more meaning than the story can provide. It’s an interesting and uneasy experience, but I could get no sense of a theme.

Bundled with it was The Feast, the first feature-length horror movie performed entirely in Welsh. As you might expect, it’s set in the Welsh countryside, where the family of an MP (Julian Lewis Jones) prepares to give a dinner for friends and associates. It’s secretly a business dinner, to do with plans for the local land, and MP Gwyn and his wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) have hired extra help for the night, a silent young woman named Cadi (Annes Elwy). Their sons, Guto (Steffan Cennydd) and doctor Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) are also present in their clean, right-angled modernist house set among the riot of green hills. At first, and for some time, things move along normally if slowly. But then odd things come to the fore, violence emerges, and it becomes clear what sort of a story we are watching.

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Knight at the Movies: SIEGE (1983), or SELF DEFENSE or possibly NIGHT WARRIORS

Knight at the Movies: SIEGE (1983), or SELF DEFENSE or possibly NIGHT WARRIORS

You ever watch one of the long video game cutscenes that passes for movies these days and think “I kinda miss old, raw-looking films, like early Romero and Carpenter. Something that had teeth. Heart. Balls. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

Whether they do or don’t make them like that anymore is another blog post, but a good way to go back and get that early Romero vibe is to seek out overlooked titles from the era. One of those is the Canuxploitation shocker Siege (1983) (released in the USA as Self Defense and sometimes Night Warriors). Thanks to Severin Films, this lost thriller is now available to today’s Blu-ray audience and streaming through sites like Amazon.

Now I’ve seen this movie labeled online as pastiche/homage/ripoff of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. YMMV, but to me this is the work of a couple of filmmakers (Paul Donovan and Maura O’Connell of DEFCON-4 fame, most memorable for its excellent poster) who love Assault and want to make something like it, but improve on its weaknesses. They gave the attackers faces, names, and characters, cutting down the numbers to a handful, and made the defenders more vulnerable by putting them in two-story apartment quad, rather than a fortress-like police station. But I get ahead of myself.

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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXVII: The Story Of Southern Islet

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXVII: The Story Of Southern Islet

The Story of Southern Islet is a feature film from Malaysia written and directed by Chong Keat Aun, an autobiographical tale of gods and curses set in 1987 — “based on a true childhood story,” we’re told at the start. In the Malaysian state of Kedah, a farmer named Cheong (Season Chee) works in the shadow of the imposing Mount Keriang. When he falls ill after a quarrel with a neighbour, his wife Yan (Jojo Goh) must find out what’s happened to him and try to find a cure. Although profoundly secular as the movie starts, she eventually has to accept that her husband has offended a god. But this is a part of the world where Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and many other religions have crossed paths for centuries; so before curing him Yan has to work out which god, exactly, her husband’s offended.

This is an intriguing premise, and it’s developed well if at a deliberate pace. There’s a certain kind of slow cinema I’ve seen from Southeast Asia over the last few years (perhaps deriving from the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul), combining long takes and pared-back dialogue with a story that involves a kind of mythic reality. Examples from past Fantasias might include 2017’s Town In A Lake and 2019’s Mystery of the Night. The Story of Southern Islet is stylistically in that tradition, but is a trifle lighter in tone.

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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXVI: You Can’t Kill Meme

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXVI: You Can’t Kill Meme

One of the nice things about a film festival is seeing a programme of shorter films that work as a whole — pieces not intended to be complementary that happen to come along at the same time and build on each others’ themes. I have to think it takes a good critical eye for a festival programmer to notice which films speak to each other out of the many submissions they get. It’s worth praising that discernment when a bundle of shorter movies succeed in forming a coherent collective, as was the case with the set of three documentary and pseudo-documentary films anchored by the 79-minute feature You Can’t Kill Meme.

First in the grouping was the 9-minute “The Truth About Hastings.” Written and directed by Dan Schneidkraut, it’s a wry satirical take on conspiracy theory and the secret symbolism underlying a nice old lady’s 93rd birthday in the town of Hastings, Nebraska. (Or, at least, I take it as satire of conspiracy theory; given the way the film develops, you could view it more seriously.) A voice-over (courtesy Amanda Day) lays out ‘coincidences’ and resonances of secret meanings underlying events, based on “firsthand survivor testimony.” There’s a good attempt at capturing the paranoiac feel of the X-Files, with big ideas about reality as a hologram, and it builds to a surprisingly psychedelic finale. It is a bit slow, and perhaps could be tightened a bit here and there, but has a strong approach.

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Fantasia 2021, Part XXXV: The Last Thing Mary Saw

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXV: The Last Thing Mary Saw

“Miss Mary Mack” is an 18-minute short horror film from American writer/director Tim True. Set in Seattle in May 2020, it follows sisters Sarah and Izzy (played by real-life sisters Sydney and Lexie Lovering), who are home alone as their father goes to visit their mother in hospital. Sarah, older and gothier, meddles with the occult and plays a joke on tween Izzy. But then Izzy starts to act a little odd, and it’s soon clear there was more going on than a simple joke. Unfortunately, after a slow build to get to this point, the film does little with its premise, ending when Sarah’s about to understand what’s happened. The acting here is good, but the visuals are drab; it’s one thing to try to tell a horror story without the traditional heavy atmosphere, it’s another to substitute nothing in its place. There are some interesting ideas here, and the use of the traditional clapping game that gives the film its title is strong, but ultimately nothing much comes of this story.

Bundled with the short at was The Last Thing Mary Saw, the feature film debut of writer-director Edoardo Vitaletti. It’s a period horror story set in rural New York state in 1843, among an isolated religious community in the town of Southold. It opens with a blinded young woman at a trial, then flashes back to give us the tale. The blinded woman is Mary (Stefanie Scott), the daughter of one of the leaders of the community; as her story starts she’s in love with the family’s maid, and forbidden romance has blossomed. And we see the forces of reaction squash it. Then Mary, with the help of a mysterious stranger (Rory Culkin), tries to find a way out for herself and her lover, and we see what consequences follow.

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