SFFF Day 2 – Chillin’ with the Villains

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival went globe-trotting to start Day 2. The “Drawn from Around the World” block of animated shorts offered some enthralling works. Many conveyed a sad or lamenting poignancy. Keiro (Tatiana Jusewycz, Benoît Leloup, Franck Menigoz, Zoé Nérot, and Charlotte Poncin, 2016) traced a girl’s journey to adulthood and its effect on the giant creature that accompanies her, Beyond the Books (Jérôme Battistelli, Mathilde Cartigny, Nicolas Evain, Maéna Paillet, Robin Pelissier, and Judith Wahler, 2017) envisioned the highly detailed collapse of an impossibly immense library, the Spanish short Dead Horses (Marc Riba and Anna Solanas, 2016) revealed the brutality of war from a child’s perspective and amid fabric devastation, and the Indian film Schirkoa (Asian Shukla, 2017) imagined political strife in a world where citizens wear bags and boxes on their heads. Others brought the funny, like Daniel Sterlin-Altman’s Hi, It’s Your Mother (2017), about motherhood, blood loss, and middle class living told in crude claymation, and Deuspi (Megacomputer, 2017), a very short work about a pair of astonishingly inept stick-up men and their hilarious fates.

Three films stood out in the “Drawn from Around the World” block. Poilus (Guillaume Auberval, Léa Dozoul, Simon Gomez, Timothé Hek, Hugo Legrange, Antoine Leroy, and David Lashcari, 2017), which takes its title from the name for French WWI infantry soldiers, is an anti-war film told with anthropomorphized rabbits. In it, a young, harmonica-playing hare is caught in no-man’s land and is forced to defend himself with tragic results. Poilus is undeniably slight, but its world is gorgeously realized, from its lanky, Cat Shit One-realism to its colourfully punctuated middle sequence where the film’s central character defends himself on the battlefield against a fantastic monster. Aram Sarkisian crafts a snowy hell of murder and paranoia in —Winston (2017). Fevered letters recounting one man’s hatred for his neighbour offer a window into the main character’s descent into Poe-inspired madness and Sarkisian’s knack for stark design and affective montage (along with some great voice-acting) make —Winston a tiny masterpiece in the macabre. The animation block’s most audacious film was also its most successful. Nicolas Fong’s Yin (2017) takes the Myth of Aristophanes and transforms it into a psychedelic, M.C. Escher-inspired fantasia where unreal perspectives and impossible architectures work to divide the short’s would-be lovers. Fluid, intricate, and imaginative, Yin will likely set the standard by which all shorts at SFFF should be judged.

From acorns to oaks, the SFFF quickly switched gears to the epic with Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainness (2017). It’s difficult to imagine any film containing more action or plot than The Villainess. Almost laborious convoluted, it’s enough to say that The Villainess can be reduced to being a remake of La Femme Nikita. Kim Ok-bin plays Sook-hee, an already dangerous woman made into an assassin for a shadowy agency. Sook-hee’s loyalties are tested when her current assignments run aground of her past loves. Action in The Villainess is frequent and frenetic, from a ten-minute POV opening sequence through a crime den/drug factory, to an extended sword fight on racing motorcycles, to a daring car chase with Sook-hee steering a speeding car while riding on its hood. The film’s action aesthetic is all highly reminiscent of Hardcore Henry with its POV shakiness and its masked edits creating the appearance of a continuous shot. The Villainess abides this aesthetic style regardless of whether it explicitly assumes the perspective of a combatant or not and the film frequently shifts between participant and observer roles without an explicit cut, only adding to the movie’s cacophony of spectacle. What is more, The Villainess applies these same principles in telling its story, packing the film with narrative content, slipping between present-time and flashback without any formal break, and employing its propulsive power to smash through basic questions like who are these people, what do they want, and why are they fighting? The Villainess mostly resembles a video game with frenzied first-person action and over-wrought, melodramatic sequence breaks. Accept The Villainess for what it is and it may be the most thrilling thing you see this year.

There is something of a running joke about the SFFF programming films where animals are killed and so it’s no surprise to see Euthanizer (Teemu Nikki, 2017) on the schedule. What may be more unexpected is the film’s unlikely place as the most humane and conscientious work of the Festival. Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa is Veijo, an amateur pet-killer offering discounted rates compared to the local veterinarian but a lot more judgment on the individual who bring their cat or guinea pig to his doorstep. Euthanizer‘s crime film conflict arrives compliments of a budding white supremacist, his request that Veijo finish off the family dog he can’t afford to spay, and a particularly despicable act that leads the film to its concluding vengeance. Nikki’s film has far greater depth than the usual revenge fantasy. Veijo’s stoic sympathy for animals is as much an act of penance as it is of benevolence, a complicated ethic explored in his flowering relationship with a nurse who cares for his ailing father and who is drawn to his sensitive but eradicating violence. Veijo wears his Nordic existentialism around him like a crown or like armour, bringing dignity in death where it was denied in life, assuming the creature deserves such respect. Euthanizer is about deciding which creature we all are – one deserving of mercy or one still owing atonement – and that makes it an unexpectedly poetic crime film deserving of a closer look.

Sensitive understatement had no place at SFFF’s midnight screening of Bad Black (Nabwana I.G.G., 2016), a gonzo action film from Wakaliwood, the DIY film industry of the Wakaliga slum of Uganda’s capital. The film’s title character (Nalwanga Gloria as Bad Black) is a street kid-turned-gang leader and gold digger who sets her sights on a rich man from the other side of town (Bisaso Dauda) and who steals from the local doctor (Alan Hofmanis) his father’s dog tags. This leads the doctor to being trained as a commando by a small but tough boy named Wesley Snipes and then going on a wild, gun crazy rampage. I can’t honestly say what else happens in Bad Black but it hardly matters. Bad Black exists to revel in a cinematic grammar that rejects narrative coherence or character motivation and to celebrate the lively spectacle of a community representing itself in cheap green screen effects and violent self-achievement. Wakaliga films are typically screened domestically with a live narrator riffing on the outlandish action and plot and this screening of Bad Black not only featured such a commentary track (complete with shouts “Supa Action!”, references to “poo poo water,” and an assurance that even the commentator can’t follow the plot despite being Ugandan) but also included onscreen shout-outs to the Hub City with captions like “Saskatche Keeck” (or some such expression). Few films can personalize their screening for an audience a continent away, but Nabwana I.G.G. and the Ramon Film Productions crew did just that, also sending for viewing multiple trailers of their films and a personalized introduction from Wakaliga to Saskatoon. It’s difficult to imagine a film better embodying the spirit of the Fantastic Film Festival and its aims of diversity, community, entertainment.  Thank you, Wakaliwood.

With a stacked day of screenings coming up on Saturday, the balance of our reports will follow next week. Check back for discussions on Dave Made a MazeBlade of the ImmortalNovemberLowlife, and more!

Advertisements

Tougher Than Leather (Rick Rubin, 1988)

UNCONCEIVABLE! UNBELIEVABLE!

Trouble is just a beat away in this action-packed ’80s classic starring the Kings of Rock, Run DMC. The up-and-coming hip-hop trio of Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay are signed to Strut Productions, a crooked booking agency laundering drug money for gangsters and aiming to exploit the group’s growing popularity to further their criminal schemes. When their close friend and roadie Runny Ray stumbles upon the illegal operation and is murdered in cold blood, the devastated musicians take the law into their own hands to avenge their friend’s death, facing racist thugs and armed gangsters in their pursuit of justice.

Co-written, co-produced, and directed by superstar record producer Rick Rubin and supported by a hard-hitting soundtrack featuring music by Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, Slick Rick, the Junk Yard Band, and Public Enemy, Tougher Than Leather is an urban Western that’s too tough to miss.

Special Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Options
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Grammar Like a Hammer: The Making of Tougher Than Leather, a new documentary containing interviews with Darryl McDaniels, Rev Run, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Chuck D, and Eddie Murphy
  • Run DMC music videos for “Run’s House,” “Mary, Mary,” and “Christmas in Hollis”
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an interview with photographer Glen E. Friedman and a collection of his on-set photographs

Continue reading

Master of the Flying Guillotine (Jimmy Wang Yu, 1976)

IT’S A MEAN MACHINE – CUTS YOUR HEAD OFF CLEAN!

This classic martial arts death match pits two wuxia icons against each other – the famed One-Armed Boxer (Hong Kong superstar Jimmy Wang Yu) versus a blind assassin (veteran character actor Kam Kong) and his legendary Flying Guillotine. Set in 1730, during the early part of the Ching dynasty, ethnic Chinese Hans formed bands of rebels to fight their Manchurian oppressors. After the One-Armed Boxer, a stoic kung fu expert and Han revolutionary, disposes of two would-be assassins, their master, a formidable blind emissary of the Ching posing as a Buddhist monk, swears revenge, searching out every one-armed martial artist and snatching their heads with his tethered decapitation device called the Flying Guillotine.

Arguably the most famous Hong Kong martial arts film of the post-Bruce Lee, pre-Jackie Chan period, this independently-produced classic is more popular than ever, with a legacy extending to films like Kill Bill and video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. With its wild, fantasy face-offs and its cosmic Krautrock soundtrack, Master of the Flying Guillotine is undoubtedly a film worthy of losing your head over!

Special Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Mandarin version and English dub track (uncompressed on the Blu-ray Disc)
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • Audio commentary with film critics Andy Klein, Wade Major, and Alex Luu
  • Interviews with star/director Jimmy Wang Yu
  • Spinning Vengeance – director Quentin Tarantino on Master of the Flying Guillotine
  • Design for Decapitation – Grant Imahara on the mechanics of the Flying Guillotine
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Craig Lines

Continue reading

Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Herve de Crecy, and Francois Alaux, 2009)

Back in January, the Criterion Collection paired the Oscar-winning short film Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Hervé de Crécy, and François Alaux, 2009) with Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin (1966). Created by the French collective H5, the short constructs Los Angeles entirely from (3,000 or so) trademarked logos and then presents these sanitized images of friendly consumerism in the sun-drenched violence typical to films like To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985) and Heat (Michael Mann, 1995). The result is a clever statement on the ubiquity of capitalist commodification in our daily life and a somewhat nasty dismantling of the corporate messaging shorthanded into these capitalist symbols. Those interested in the legality of Logorama (or at least the American legality of a French film) should read Rose Lawrence’s “LOGORAMA: The Great Trademark Heist.” Lawrence’s unpacking of the legal tests for parody, satire, infringement, and dilution are particularly useful in considering the artistic aims, popular interactions, and social commentaries at work in the short film. As a bonus, Lawrence also touches upon important legal texts like George of the Jungle 2 (David Grossman, 2003) and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”

By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him (Tai Kato, 1966)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAfter emphasizing Tai Katô’s career with Toei, MMC! turns its attention to the director’s work with Shochiku studio. Otokonokao wa rirekisho (1966), also known by the astounding English titles By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him and A Man’s Face Shows His Personal History, examines the grievances and burdens of post-war Japan through the lens of the bloody gangster film. Loud and short-tempered, Katô creates a man vs. yakuza tale that feels at once familiar and aesthetically irregular.

By a Man’s Face opens with its main character, Dr. Suichi Amamiya (Noboru Ando), standing in profile, a circular scar extending from the left corner of his mouth nearly up to his eye. In the background, his nurse asks of his intentions for his practice while construction equipment works outside his window, the post-war economic boom threatening to inevitably push him out of his current office. Amamiya’s prominent wound seems to declare the film’s title, although By a Man’s Face may also refer to the patient rushed into the doctor’s clinic. Emergency responders bring in a man severely injured in a motor vehicle accident, blood soaking through material of the stretcher transporting him. Amamiya refuses to treat the man, stating he has inadequate resources to save him, but his nurse pleads for him to intervene, pointing out that the prospective patient will surely not survive the ride to the closest hospital. Amamiya is firm in his view until he sees the injured man’s face, recognizing him as “Choi.” From there, the doctor begins treating Choi and their shared past is recollected in extended flashback sequences that attend to Japanese occupation and emasculation in the post-war context and the grievances held by Koreans brutalized before and during WWII.

Continue reading

Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (Tai Kato, 1964)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddMMC!‘s proposed collection of Tai Katô films continues with another exceptionally titled movie – Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (1964). Adapted by Katô and Noribumi Suzuki from Gohei Kamiya’s novel, Shafu yukyoden – kenka tatsu (Fighting Tatsu‘s Japanese title) is a lighter take on the yakuza genre, injecting a romantic comedy into its story of mob politics and gang warfare. The film still manages its share of bloodshed, untimely deaths, and wild, riotous street fights to satisfy strict genre fans.

The movie opens in 1898 with scruffy and truculent rickshaw driver Tatsu (Ryôhei Uchida) arriving from Edo to Osaka ready to start his career with the town’s only rubber-wheeled carriage. Before even leaving the Victorian-designed train station, Tatsu bumps into a high-ranking official and gets into a brawl with him, his assistant, and his bodyguard. When told to mind his place and defer to the official, Tatsu proclaims that they live in a new era where all are “born equally now.” By these first few minutes, the film’s main character is immediately and perfectly defined – headstrong, independent, egalitarian, pugnacious – and no question is left as to how Fighting Tatsu will develop its dramatic conflicts.

Continue reading