MMC! Double Feature #39: Budget Christopher Nolan at Fantasia

We all love Christopher Nolan, right? With his high concept structures, embedded narratives, elliptical storytelling, and problematized causalities and memory projects, what’s not to love? If your answer is massive budgets and less than mind-blowing executions, then the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival has you covered with a pair of highly inventive, totally mind-bending, and decidedly handcrafted gems!

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Junta Yamaguchi, 2020)

You would be hard pressed to find anything at Fantasia 2021 as simple and clever as Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. Cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) returns to his upstairs apartment one evening and finds himself unexpectedly visited on his computer screen by himself two minutes into the future and speaking from a computer screen in the coffee shop. As Kato tries to make sense this micro-time loop, employees and friends arrive and begin playing with the phenomena, managing to modestly extend the loop by placing the screens in front of each other and creating repeating images of the screen each two minutes farther away than the last. Options for fun and profit remain limited in their DIY time tunnel but shenanigans naturally ensue through the interventions of a potential love interest, a couple of gangsters, and pair of mysterious men.

Strawberry Mansion (Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, 2021)

Set in a future world where dreams are taxed by the federal government, co-writer/co-director Kentucker Audley plays James Preble, a dream auditor sent to the remote home of Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller) to assess the elderly eccentric’s vast collection of VHS-recorded dreams. In her dreams, James meets her younger self (Grace Glowicki), traverses a vast dreamscape, and uncovers the sinister truth behind dreams and his love of Cap’n Kelly fried chicken. Time between dreams and reality pass differently and James’ existence is tested as he searches for his dream-Arabella while also negotiating the intrusion of her family in real life.

Strolling Through Dream/Time

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion explore the stretch and squash of time on causality and reality in deceptively lo-fi terms. Junta Yamaguchi’s film was born from an acting workshop of the popular theatre group Europe Kikaku and was shot on an iPhone, recalling recent Japanese puzzle box films like One Cut of the Dead and Special Actors. Audley and Birney’s film was shot digitally, then transferred to 16mm to give it a home movie haziness, and its thrift store costumes and craft store props give it a Gondry-esque playfulness that is archly twee but still sufficiently foreboding. Buttressed by their own limitations, these films are dreamier, loopier, and more intriguing than any of Christopher Nolan’s massive science fiction epics. And to demonstrate that brevity is the soul of wit, it should be noted that you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion in less time than it takes to see InceptionInterstellar, or Tenet.

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion are on-demand titles at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival waiting to be watched whenever it is convenient to you, but be warned — less than a week of Fantasia remains and Festival deadlines are far less forgiving that the temporal rules of either of these films.

Dave Barber, A Tribute

Dave BThese are sad days at MMC! Dave Barber, filmmaker and beloved programmer of Winnipeg’s Cinematheque, passed away earlier this week at the age of 67. Dave was a champion of Canadian and independent cinema and a tireless advocate for his theatre and the films it featured.

I met Dave at a get-together hosted by a mutual friend eight years ago. Attended by professional, semi-professional, and amateur pop culture nerds, we were invited to share lists of our favourite films and Dave’s list expressed his love of music as well as his love of cinema at its biggest and most minute.

  • The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (Les Blank, 1968)
  • Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival (Murray Lerner, 1995)
  • The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
  • Vinyl (Alan Zweig, 2000)
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys (Steve Kloves, 1989)
  • Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space (Ed Wood, 1959)
  • Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
  • The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
  • Crime Wave (John Paizs, 1985)

In the years that followed, we would watch movies together when we ran into each other at a screening, we would text about programming ideas and other movie stuff, and we would share festival discoveries. I would give him rides home when he needed them, he would hook my son up with Godzilla stuff, and my wife would restrain her urge to make him a sandwich. When I discovered he was in the hospital, I sent him a message wishing him well and asking him to reach out once he recovered, hoping he would find the message once he was discharged. Sadly that won’t happen, but I’m very grateful for the time I got to spend with Dave and I wish him the best on whatever new project he’s now moved on to.

In celebration of Dave, MMC! offers this brief tribute to the man on screen and there’s no better place to start than Dave’s 2014 short film Will the Real Dave Barber Please Stand Up?, a hilarious account of Dave being awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.

Continue reading

MMC! Double Feature #37: Tough Times in Japanese Supermarkets

MMC! loves a clever double bill and the Criterion Channel makes them a regular part of its programming. With this in mind, MMC! will be offering some suggested double features of its own and what better way to start than with a pair of great Japanese titles currently available on the Channel!

Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)

One of the best films by one of Japan’s true masters of tragic melodrama, Mikio Naruse’s Yearning features Hideko Takamine as Reiko, a young widow devoted to the family of her husband who died during the Second World War. In his memory, she has rebuilt his family’s grocery store which was virtually destroyed in bombing raids, however a large grocery chain has moved in nearby and business prospects are looking dim. In this knot of traditional values and modern capitalism, Reiko must negotiate the unwanted attention of her young brother-in-law Koji (Yuzo Kayama), his plan to save the business and her place in their family, and her mother- and sisters-in-law who would prefer to disentangle themselves from her and move onto commercial fortune.

Supermarket Woman (Juzo Itami, 1996)

Juzo Itami frequently used his films to cast a critical eye on fragile Japanese masculinity and his 1996 romantic comedy Supermarket Woman is no exception, although he does swap out gangsters for the next worse thing: grocery store businessmen. In this vibrant and quirky story, Goro (Masahiko Tsugawa) is the manager of the struggling grocery store Honest Mart. His business is disorganized and uninspired, and it is under siege by Discount Demon, a rival supermarket undercutting Honest Mart with underhanded tactics. When Goro runs into old classmate Hanako (Itami’s wife and muse Nobuko Miyamoto), he hires the housewife to help him whip Honest Mart into shape and perhaps win this retail war!

Tissues on Aisle !

Both Naruse and Itami are looking to elicit some tears with their respective films, although one aims for sadness and the other hopes for laughs. Looking gorgeous in black and white widescreen thanks to the cinematography of Jun Yasumoto, Yearning pits traditional Japanese values and customs against the spreading ethics of capitalist ruthlessness and the film crushes its protagonist, Reiko, between them. In contrast, Itami’s colourfully comic Supermarket Woman supposes that old ideas of loyalty, honesty, and ingenuity can succeed in business and in life, making it a complimentary palette refresher following Naruse’s impressively wrought tragedy.

Enjoy these two films (and many more) for the low, low price of a Criterion Channel subscription! Just make sure to return your cart to designated collection area when you’re done!

The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003)

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

French whimsy goes through the looking glass in this imaginatively offbeat animated wonder by animator Sylvain Chomet. A boy named Champion trains relentlessly for the Tour de France with the help of his diminutive and club-footed grandmother, Madame Souza, and their overweight dog, Bruno. When race day arrives, Champion and a few of his fellow racers are kidnapped by a pair of square-shouldered henchmen and taken across the ocean to thronging Belleville where they are forced to pedal as part of an illicit gambling operation. Bruno and Mme Souza follow to save their boy and find unlikely help from the renowned Triplets of Belleville, a trio of eccentric music hall stars turned elderly experimental musicians. Filled with twisted imagery and proceeding with the measured pace of a dream, The Triplets of Belleville is a strange, loving, and very French tribute to silent comedy and to bygone eras of traditional animation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital master, approved by director Sylvain Chomet, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New audio commentary with Sylvain Chomet
  • New conversation between Chomet and animator Bill Plympton
  • The Making of The Triplets of Belleville, a 36-minute documentary discussing the film’s production
  • The Cartoon According to Sylvain Chomet, a brief discussion with the director on designing his characters
  • Music Video by -M- for “Les Triplettes de Belleville” featuring animation from the film and a short piece on its making
  • Le temps d’un tournage, an interview with Chomet for French television on his earlier work
  • The Triplets As Seen By…, a selection of impressions on the film by animators Bill Plympton and Michel Ocelot, singer -M-, and comedian and cyclist Antoine de Caunes
  • The Old Lady and the Pigeons, Chomet’s 1997 short film about a starving policeman who dresses up like a pigeon to trick an old woman into feeding him
  • Carmen; Chomet’s music video collaboration with Belgian pop star Stromae
  • Chomet’s 2014 “couch gag” for The Simpsons
  • Trailers
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A new essay by film critic Michael Sragow and flipbooks with art by Chomet

Continue reading

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (Sylvain Chomet, 1997)

Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The Thousand Miles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.

The Vinni-Pukh Trilogy (Fyodor Khitruk, 1969/1971/1972)

Spring is here, Easter is this weekend, MMC!’s next imagined release is taking typically longer than expected, and it’s been some time since a post have gone up, so now seems like the perfect opportunity to offer something cute, furry, and vaguely off-centre. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate Fyodor Khitruk’s trilogy of short films adapting A. A. Milne’s beloved tales of Winnie-the-Pooh for Soviet audiences!

Khitruk’s trio of Vinni-Pukh films — Winnie-the-Pooh (1969), Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971), and Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (1972) — were made out of Soyuzmultfilm studios and without the director having seen Disney’s theatrical short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1966). Khitruk’s initial interest in the character came from English editions of Milne’s stories and he was only exposed to Boris Zakhoder’s Russian translations later. Zakhoder served as screenwriter to the Trilogy and he frequently clashed with Khitruk as Zakhoder promoted an approach faithful to the original stories while Khitruk sought to transform the material. The films reflect Khitruk’s vision, doing away with the authority-figure of Christopher Robin and presenting Milne’s characters living forest creatures, not stuffed toys brought to life. Pooh remains rather dim, but he is far more assertive and boisterous than Disney’s bear. The animation is wonderful, merging the primitiveness of children’s drawings with the clean abstraction of mid-century modernism and the earth-toned colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The films adapt three stories from Milne’s original 1926 book, avoiding stories from Milne’s 1928 sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which introduced the Tigger character. If these adaptations are new to you, congrats! You are now free from the adorable hegemony of the Disney films!

Continue reading