Fantasia 2018, Day 19, Part 1: Cinderella the Cat

Saturday, September 1st, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Cinderella the CatI had three films on my schedule for Monday, July 30. First, an animated science-fictional retelling of Cinderella for adults, called Cinderella the Cat. Then I’d hurry from the J.A. De Sève Theatre to the Centre Cinéma Impérial, where Fantasia was presenting a documentary from the early 80s about bandes dessinées: Pourquoi l’étrange Monsieur Zolock s’intéressait-il tant à la bande dessinée? Then I’d run back to the Hall Theatre for a presentation of Sion Sono’s Tokyo Vampire Hotel, a kinetic horror-action film with campy apocalyptic overtones. Even for Fantasia, it was going to be a strange day.

Cinderella the Cat (originally Gatta Cenerentola) had less to do with the tale that inspired it than you might think. In the near future, a genius inventor’s created a ship that can create holograms and which will be the Science and Memory Hub for the city of Naples, where it is docked — for that is the home of its inventor. This man, Vittorio Basile (voice of Mariano Rigillo), has a young daughter named Mia (who is essentially mute throughout the film), and is about to marry a glamorous woman named Angelica (Maria Pia Calzone). Unfortunately, Angelica is under the thumb of a mob boss named Salvatore (Massimiliano Gallo). Vittorio ends up dead at Salvatore’s hands, and Angelica takes control of the ship. Years later, the ship’s been turned into a night-club, Vittorio’s former bodyguard Primo Genito (Alessandro Gassman) has become an undercover cop out for revenge, and Mia’s about to reach the age where she’ll take control of her inheritance — if Angelica, and Mia’s six stepsisters, don’t put an end to her first.

The plot’s intriguing, but what has to be said at once is that this is a beautiful film that does stunning things with light. More than that, there are ghostly holograms, fireworks, bits of ash (or cinders), always stuff moving on screen, giving texture to the images and scenes. The effects for all these things work, creating a sense of motion and shadow. Watercolours and 3D CG mix astonishingly well. Characters are animated, with expansive body language, especially Salvatore, gesturing wildly and always seeming to play to an audience whether he’s on or off stage. I will say that I didn’t get much of a sense of the ship as a place, because it holds too many environments within it — bedrooms, a stage, a broken and flooded hold, any number of corridors, on and on. It’s almost a weird lush techno-gothic castle, but sprawls a little too much. Still, the world of the film’s stylish, a noirish, shadowed place with obvious science-fictional touches but also a retro sense. It works in vaguely the same way the Dini-Timm Batman Animated Series did — using bits of past fashions and prop designs to create a setting with a reality all its own.

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The Complete Carpenter: Escape From L.A. (1996)

Saturday, September 1st, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey


In the Starman review last year, I estimated my John Carpenter career retrospective was on pace to reach Escape From L.A. by December 2018. Lookee here, I’m a few months ahead! With only three movies left, I may finish this project in just under two years.

John Carpenter was planning to remake The Creature From the Black Lagoon after his contractual obligation with another remake, Village of the Damned. But he also had another project brewing: a sequel to his 1981 hit Escape From New York. The new adventures of a now bi-coastal Snake Plissken was in development for a decade, but might never have happened if not for Kurt Russell’s love for the character. Carpenter rejoined with producer Debra Hill, whom he hadn’t worked with since Escape From New York, and somehow managed to convince Paramount Pictures to give him $50 million — the heftiest budget of his career — so Kurt Russell could slip on the eyepatch, zipper vest, and simmering surliness for another go at dystopian action satire.

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Fantasia 2018, Special Screenings: Buffalo Boys, Luz, and Crisis Jung

Friday, August 31st, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Buffalo BoysBefore writing about the movies I saw during the last weekdays of the Fantasia festival, I’m going to skip back to the beginning to write about some films I watched before attending my first screening this year with a general audience. At a festival with 130 movies, most of which are shown in a theatre once or maybe twice, one has to make some hard choices about which to see. Fortunately, Fantasia’s screening room gives harried film critics the chance to catch some of the movies they have to miss in theatres due to one scheduling exigency or another. I passed by on the first day of the festival, and found that this year the screening room offered curtained cubicles and a healthy selection of films. Among them was an Indonesian western named Buffalo Boys, an experimental German horror film called Luz, and a transgressive French animated webseries titled Crisis Jung.

The festival hosted the world premiere of Mike Wiluan’s Buffalo Boys, but, knowing I’d miss its theatrical showing, it became the first film I saw in the screening room. Directed by Wiluan from a script by Raymond Lee, Rayya Makarim, and Wiluan, it’s an Indonesian take on the Western genre. In the 19th century, the Dutch attempt to consolidate control of Indonesia; a Dutch agent murders a rebellious sultan, but the sultan’s brother and infant sons escape. Decades later, as they travel the American west, the sultan’s brother, Arana (Tio Pakusadewo), decides it’s time for them to return to Java so that his brother’s sons can seek justice for their father. The elder son, Jamar (Ario Bayu), has grown into a strong man, skilled in hand-to-hand fighting; his brother, Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso), is less confrontational but more charismatic — and good with a knife. The three of them make their way to the territory now ruled by the tyrannical Dutchman Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker), where they stop an attempted robbery and become involved with the daughters of a local chief, all of whom are threatened by Van Trach’s machinations.

The movie opens by noting that “this is one story where fact and fiction collide,” and ends with a character observing that “when legends are born they never die.” This is a film conscious not only of its genre, but of the mythic underpinnings that give the genre strength. The paraphernalia of the western film’s used well: twanging guitars on the soundtrack, lens flares, gunfights, conversations around a campfire at night. But it’s fused with the martial-arts action movie: fights are a whirl of punches, kicks, knife strikes — and then, where logical and necessary, gunplay. One scene in the middle of the film, in a saloon, brings home the way the movie at its best fuses different cinematic traditions of action and stylised violence.

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Fantasia 2018 Special Report: My First Fantasia

Thursday, August 30th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

My First FantasiaBy Eva and Matthew Surridge

Every year the Fantasia International Film Festival has several free screenings of short films for children at Montreal’s McCord Museum of Canadian History. These showings are titled My First Fantasia. On Thursday, July 26, Black Gate‘s regular Fantasia correspondent, Matthew David Surridge, was joined by his niece Eva May Surridge, age 8, to watch a block of shorts titled Daydreams. This special article presents Eva’s thoughts on the movies.

I’ll begin by asking you about each of the movies in turn. First was Anna Gentilini’s “The Amazing Little Worm,” a hand-drawn story about a worm who wants to be other animals.

I think it’s for any ages because it’s very colourful and funny.

Next was Katerina Karhankova’s “Plody mraku” (“Fruits of Clouds”), a story about a small furry creature in a dark forest who dares to explore the shadows and finds a great treasure.

I think it’s not for little little kids because it’s a little scary.

Then was “The Green Bird,” directed by Pierre Perveyrie, Maximilien Bougeois, Marine Goalard, Irina Nguyen-Duc, and Quentin Dubois, a CG film about a bird that’s laid an egg it’s determined to see hatch.

It’s really, really funny. I want to watch it again.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 18, Part 2: One Cut of the Dead

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

One Cut of the DeadI settled in at the Hall Theatre on the evening of Sunday, July 29, to watch a movie about which I knew little. I knew it was Japanese, I knew it was titled One Cut of the Dead (Kamera o tomeru na!, カメラを止めるな!), and I knew it was written and directed by Shinichiro Ueda. The movie ended up being excellent and even uplifting. But writing about it presents a challenge.

(Before the feature there was a short called “Crying Bitch.” Written and directed by Reiki Tsuno, it follows a man who tries to break up with his mistress while his wife is becoming a literal monster. Things don’t go as planned for him all down the line. It has some effective physical comedy and unexpected moments.)

One Cut of the Dead is a movie that starts out one way, and then a bit past the half-hour mark reveals that it’s something other than the one-cut zombie comedy-thriller we thought we were watching. In an ideal world, viewers would go into the film blind, I suppose. In this world, I’d like to actually write about what I saw; and in any event I didn’t go in blind, exactly, and that didn’t hurt my experience of the film. So I’ll say that if you want to have a real surprise, don’t read further in this review. But do see the film if you want to watch a comedy with a few horror elements. I think it is worth pointing out that this isn’t a zombie movie, as such, for all its initial appearances.

Let’s start with that first half-hour take. We’re watching a zombie movie being made, with a manic director (Takayuki Hamatsu), a couple young fresh-faced stars, and assorted crew including a makeup lady (Harumi Shuhama). What we’re watching is being filmed in one take, the camera roaming around as various people drift by in the old abandoned warehouse where the movie’s set. And then there’s a zombie attack for real, and the director loves it.

But there’s something weird about this movie. Sure, we see a cameraman, but who’s filming the cameraman? Dialogue’s random, setting things up that never seem to get paid off. Everything moves very well, and it’s a fun film to watch, but one might think it all feels a little ramshackle. And then the twist comes that explains what we’ve just seen.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 18, Part 1: Penguin Highway and The International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase 2018

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Penguin HighwaySunday, July 29, was an intriguing day. Not so much because of the first movie I planned to see, an anime called Penguin Highway about a young boy investigating the mysterious appearance of penguins in his small Japanese town. But because of the second screening, the International Science-Fiction Short Film Showcase 2018. It’d present eight films, and having seen prior editions of the showcase, I knew how unpredictable it would be.

First, though, was Penguin Highway (ペンギン・ハイウェイ). It’s the first feature from director Hiroyasu Ishida. The script’s by Makoto Ueda, adapting a novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which is scheduled to appear soon in an English translation from Yen Press). Ueda also wrote the script for another animated adaptation of a Morimi novel, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl. This one’s quite different from that film, though.

It’s about a boy, Aoyama (voiced by Kana Kita), living in a village where penguins start to appear from no known source. Aoyama, a brilliant and scientifically-inclined child who writes down everything that happens to him in his notebooks along with all his thoughts and analyses, decides to solve the mystery of the penguins. Complicating things is his crush on a never-named adult woman (voice of Yu Aoi, who appeared in live-action in Tokyo Ghoul and Japanese Girls Never Die aka Haruko Azumi is Missing) and a classmate, Hamamoto (Megumi Han) who has a crush on Aoyama.

Penguin Highway begins by adding a bit of surrealism to everyday life, but appears unsure where to go from there. Probably the best thing in the film is its depiction of Aoyama, a charmingly arrogant fourth-grader who’s counting the days until he wins his Nobel Prize in some scientific field. He comes off as rigid and overly logical in a way that feels believable, with a self-assurance that’s refreshing and also credible given his intellect. Unfortunately, this rationality’s sometimes overplayed, notably later in the film when he tries to apply his scientific instincts to analysing love. (Are you surprised to hear that this doesn’t work?)

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Fantasia 2018, Day 17, Part 2: Punk Samurai Slash Down

Monday, August 27th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Punk Samurai Slash DownThe last movie I saw on Saturday, July 28, was at the Hall Theatre. It was Punk Samurai Slash Down (Panku Samurai Kirarete Soro, パンク侍、斬られて候), an adaptation of Ko Machida’s 2004 novel directed by Gakuryu Ishii and scripted by Kankuro Kodo (who also wrote Too Young To Die!). It’s a period story about a wandering samurai, Junoshin Kake (Go Ayano, also at Fantasia this year as Sato in Ajin: Demi-Human), who concocts a scheme to get himself hired as a retainer of the Kurokaze Han noble house. He kills an old man, and convinces one faction of the Kurokaze Han, led by Shuzen Oura (veteran Jun Kunimura, whose string of credits include The Wailing as well as this year’s Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura) that the dead man was an agent of a suppressed group of heretics called the Belly-Shaking cult. The cult believes that the world has been eaten by a gigantic tapeworm. The ideal is to be excreted from the tapeworm, which is brought about by shaking the belly. But the contempt for the world also has led the cult to massive rioting and cruel criminal acts in the past; the spectre of their revival is terrifying — until it turns out to be false, and Kake’s threatened with execution. Unless he can prove himself “innocent” by secretly bringing the cult into existence, which would also enhance the credibility of Oura’s political faction. He sets out to create the threat he’s warned against, and things rapidly spiral out of control.

This is a very odd movie; it doesn’t simply begin strangely, but continually increase its oddness at each point when you think you’ve begun to assimilate what it’s doing. The scale increases, as well, as the Belly-Shaker cult grows beyond all expectation and a wholly unexpected other faction emerges. Ultimately the film ends in a cosmic battle of thousands of samurai and their allies against the Belly-Shaker cult, and perhaps it’s a mark of success that the large-scale battle scene never overwhelms the satirical tone of the film but ends up supporting it. Without actually being Gilliam-like there’s a bit of a feel to the ending of a Gilliam movie, wild exuberance petering out into a knowing anti-climax.

There is a range of tones to the movie, though, and Kake is enough of a coherent character to engage an audience. Conversely, there’s a narrator (Masatoshi Nagase) telling the story in part through voice-over, providing another perspective; eventually we find out who this seemingly-omniscient narrator is, and learn he’s actually embedded in the story. Nobody’s above the fray, nobody’s out of the world of the film — even those trying to get themselves out of the world entirely. The gnostic leanings of the Belly-Shaker cult feel something out of a Philip K. Dick story, a paranoiac danger that might actually understand reality better than anyone would like. Except they’re the villains; and except that the nominal heroes aren’t heroic either, as the first thing we see Kake do is kill a man in cold blood. Ayano’s charismatic enough that we tend to forget this enough to accept him as a protagonist, but the movie doesn’t. (And this does come back to him in a telegraphed bit of poetic justice.)

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Fantasia 2018, Day 17, Part 1: Laughing Under the Clouds and the 2018 Afromentum Showcase

Sunday, August 26th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Laughing Under the CloudsSaturday, July 28, saw me arrive at the Hall Theatre early for a showing of the Japanese historical fantasy Laughing Under the Clouds, yet another manga adaptation. Following that, I’d head across the street to the J.A. De Sève Theatre, where I’d watch a short film showcase called Afromentum. It’d feature four short films by Black filmmakers from around the world — including an adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story “Hello, Moto.”

Laughing Under the Clouds (Donten ni warau, 曇天に笑う) was directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro, whose excellent adaptation Ajin: Demi-Human I’d just seen the evening before. The script was written by Yûya Takahashi from the manga by Kemuri Karakara. In the 19th century, a trio of brothers in a Japanese village guard against the return of a terrible dragon. The eldest, Tenka Kumo (Sota Fukushi) is a highly-skilled fighter; his younger brother Soramaru (Yuma Nakayama) is nowhere near as good; the third, Chutaro (Kirato Wakayama) is just a child. But agents of the dragon are at work, and the creature will rise soon. Can the Kumos stand against it?

This is a disappointing movie. After seeing Ajin I had great respect for Motohiro’s skills, and I’d appreciated Fukushi’s work in other movies this year: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Bleach, and Laplace’s Witch. But things don’t come together here. There are some very nice moments, including a splashy opening scene, but this movie doesn’t work as a whole. The characters are unconvincing, it tries to fit too much into a 94-minute running time, and the conclusion’s an extended anti-climax.

The problem, I think, comes from the core trio of brothers, and the way the movie envisions them. Soramaru’s interesting because he’s fallible in a way that Tenka isn’t, but it’s not clear why he isn’t as good a fighter as Tenka if Tenka’s been teaching him. This power difference drives the plot. The ages of the characters aren’t stated, but there’s only a year difference between the two actors, and Nakayama certainly looks like an adult in his early 20s — shouldn’t he be at least close to Tenka in skill? But he isn’t, and he’s frustrated, and so at one point he abandons his brothers to go train with a group of government agents who are rivals to the Kumos. The stakes of the rivalry seem petty next to the danger of the dragon, though, so this never really feels especially dramatic.

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Only the Monsters Can Save Us: Claude Debussy meets Godzilla

Sunday, August 26th, 2018 | Posted by David Neil Lee

Godzilla-King-of-the-Monsters poster-small

Nothing can be more exhausting, enervating, overlong, and less worthy of repeat viewings, than a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but these supermovies are often preceded by invigorating trailers that deliver all their best features in a small fraction of the running time. This has never been truer than it is for the new (July 2018) trailer for next year’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Music is the reactor core that powers this remarkable two and a half minutes of commercial cinema salesmanship. The nineteenth century composer Claude Debussy meets the 21st-century kaijū movie in a work noteworthy for both (1) its profoundly affective qualities and (2) the extent to which, as promotion for a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s strictly business. Let’s begin with the affective part.

A world in flames. A military in disarray. A divided family: to the Vera Farmiga character’s husband, she’s “out of her goddamned mind,” and her daughter calls her “a monster.” These are all familiar tropes from the movies, but not from the classic Godzilla movies, where typically the everyday world is more or less functional and well-organized; a world where the monsters enter as a destructive and destabilizing force.

I use “classic” to loosely describe the period from Godzilla’s 1954 debut to the 1970s, where Godzilla‘s onscreen persona evolved from the sheer vengeful malignity of the original Gojira, to a villain set up to be defeated by other, nice monsters, to a more or less sympathetic antihero, in movies in which he came to embody either the benign indifference of the universe, or a friendly giant who would be a welcome guest on a morning kid’s show (if he could avoid crushing the TV studio under his enormous feet).

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Fantasia 2018, Day 16: The Witch in the Window and Ajin: Demi-Human

Saturday, August 25th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Witch in the WindowI had two movies to see on Friday, July 29. The first, perfectly fitting the small De Sève Theatre, was The Witch in the Window, a quiet character-centred horror film. The second was another live-action manga adaptation, Ajin: Demi-Human, a fast-paced explosion-oriented semi-super-hero story which fit the larger Hall Theatre as well as The Witch in the Window suited the De Sève. I had certain hopes for both, and in both cases those hopes were wildly exceeded. These are two excellent movies, of very different kinds.

The Witch in the Window is written and directed by Andy Mitton, whose very fine film We Go On I saw two years ago at Fantasia. Like that movie, this is a humanistic and even warm horror film, a personal meditation on fear and death. The Witch In the Window follows Simon (Alex Draper), a divorced father who has bought a house in the Vermont countryside; he plans to fix it up and flip it for a profit. To help him make over the house he brings along his son, 12-year-old Finn (Charlie Tacker). Finn recently slipped his mother’s control online and saw something deeply disturbing, so Simon hopes to bond with him as they work on the house. Finn’s less interested in this, but in any case Simon’s plans have an unexpected complication: the house is, allegedly, haunted, by an old woman who was a previous occupant and died staring out an upper window. As the two work on the house, the presence in the house becomes impossible to ignore. Can either escape the witchery of the spirit?

This is very much a classic haunted house movie, with a definite old-fashioned (but intensely effective) approach. There are no jump scares. There is no gore whatsoever. We are frightened for these characters because we are frightened for these characters. We know them, we care about them, we don’t want to see horror-movie things happen to them. It takes a certain kind of self-assuredness to try to make that sort of horror film, I think, and here it pays off. This is a movie that dares to bring the traditional haunted-house story into the modern day. It doesn’t shy away from cell phones and the internet — in fact, a cell phone’s central to one of the film’s spookiest moments. The movie’s not afraid of the modern world, which is something it embraces in its story, something resonant with its themes: the refurbishing of the old, the evocation and transformation of a spirit.

Note that the cinematography’s accordingly excellent, as it must be: atmospheric yet precise, establishing both age and technology as needed, old wood and power tools and portable lights. There’s a sense of the architecture of the house, of its layout, of its narrowness and shadows. There’s a sense of the forested grounds around it, warm and green yet isolating. The sunlight of Vermont, its moods and angles, is captured so well as to almost be another character. The framing’s unobtrusively correct; the film grammar here is as knowing in its tones as the prose of an M. R. James story. This is a movie confident enough to let some of its most frightening moments (especially early on) happen without drawing attention to them. If you’re observant, you’ll notice certain things in the frame that the characters do not, and as they play out the scene oblivious to the horror watching them the tension grows, and you can only wait, and wait, and wait.

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