SFFF Day 6 – Into the Unknown

The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.

A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.

Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.

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SFFF Day 3 – Dark Places

Short films led the charge on the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s third day with an eight film block of female focused shorts and another two short films that could have probably fit into the same section. Readers of last year’s coverage might recall my frustration with shorts that offer little more than spooky premises or creepy contexts, however you’ll find few such complaints amongst Day 3’s titles. Yfke van Berckelaer’s Lili (2019), an MMC! favourite at this year’s Buried Alive Film Festival, was screened, as did the Chattanooga Film Festival short, Sydney Clara Brafman’s gory and brief The Only Thing I Love More Than You is Ranch Dressing (2018). Adele Vuko’s The Hitchhiker (2018) was an entertaining blend of female road trip goodwill, real world violence, and well-timed supernatural intervention and was probably the easiest short to enjoy on Day 3. Valerie Barnhart’s Girl in the Hallway (2019) offered a true crime tragedy that powerfully wrestled with guilt, grief, and inaction through pained and worn stop-motion animation. Daniel DelPurgatorio returned to the SFFF with In Sound, We Live Forever (2019), a beautiful short in the agrarian horror mode that finds two young lovers beset by a monstrous killer in the rural American heartland. The short looks gorgeous, contrasting the serenity of its pastoral present against the intimacy and then terror of its past tense soundtrack, and it elegantly pivots into the full present tense to depict a desperate escape and a grim conclusion that posits the monstrous violence of the genre but also a kind of existential smallness that makes its horror seem almost meaningless.

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SFFF Day 1 Report – Ghosts of SFFFs Past

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival has reached its landmark tenth iteration this year and Festival Director John Allison and his team have ensured that this is the Fest’s biggest and brightest year yet by expanding it to six days, hosting a Drunken Cinema screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street, hosting another Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, and bringing in as special guests director Joe Dante and actress Belinda Balaski for a three film retrospective. The SFFF kicked off with something of a soft-open with another new addition – a five film virtual reality experience held preceding the theatrical film program each weekday. Attendance was sparse on Day 1 so let this be a warning to those content to let the VR program pass them by – miss the SFFF’s Virtual Reality Experience section and you will certainly be missing out on some of the Fest’s most intriguing aspects.

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The Devil and Daniel Mouse (Clive A. Smith, 1978)

An inspiration to the Nelvana animation studio’s first feature, Rock & Rule (Clive A. Smith, 1983), The Devil and Daniel Mouse (Clive A. Smith, 1978) was the Canadian animator’s second television special. Following 1977’s A Cosmic Christmas (Clive A. Smith, 1977), this Halloween program takes its inspiration from Stephen Vincent Benét’s classic short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and mines Canadian artistic anxieties over American cultural imperialism and selling out. Struggling folk duo Jan and Daniel Mouse are fired from their last gig and Jan sells her soul to the demonic record producer B.L. Zebub, transforming her into the hit sensation Funky Jan. Success is bittersweet for Jan as she misses Daniel but when B.L. claims his payment under the contract, it’s Daniel who stands up for her in a trial of the damned that culminates in a musical final statement that carries the day. The short features some solid tracks by John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and singer-songwriter Valerie Carter, as well as some stunning animation for the infernal B.L. Zebub.

Those looking for more on The Devil and Daniel MouseRock & Rule, and the failed early efforts of Nelvana to achieve its own commercial and artistic independence should consult Keir-La Janisse’s excellent essay “A Song from the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: The Fear of Selling Out in Nelvana’s The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rock and Rule” in Gina Freitag and André Loiselle’s The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul.

Maya (Raymond Bernard, 1949)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya.

Maya, a Hindu word describing magic and illusion, is embodied in Bella (Viviane Romance), a bewitching prostitute in an atmospheric port town who conjures the fantasies of visiting travelers and temporarily becomes the women of their dreams. The pragmatic Bella has no expectation of finding true love or leaving her profession until she meets Jean (Jean-Pierre Grenier), a passing sailor who saves her from the police and devotes himself to building a life with her, provided fate does not intervene. Based on Simon Gantillon’s successful play and produced by Viviane Romance herself, Raymond Bernard’s Maya deftly blends the styles and techniques of poetic realism, film noir, melodrama, and Cocteau-like fantasy to create a world of mystery and eroticism.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • “The Film That Made You,” a 1989 conversation between Viviane Romance and Louis le Roy
  • Interview with film critic Italo Manzi on the casting and distribution
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: Essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin

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The Godzilla Kid (Cressa Beer, 2019)

Regular readers may know that the MMC! household is pretty Godzilla crazy. Couple that with Father’s Day passing not long ago and you can guess how happy we were to discover Cressa Beer’s The Godzilla Kid (2019), a very entertaining Spaghetti Western/kaiju/father and son mash-up prepared as a bumper for the 2019 Cinepocalypse Film Festival. Described by The A.V. Club‘s Randall Colburn as the “year’s best Godzilla movie,” The Godzilla Kid features a stop-motion Baby Godzilla riding a T-Rex across the frontier on a giant monster-hunt, then pulls an adorable switcheroo. Be sure to stick with the film through its credits to enjoy one last hilarious gag and check out Beer’s YouTube page for more Godzilla-inspired fun!