SFFF Day 3 – Hard Knock Lives

‘Stead of treated, the kids were getting tricked on Day 3 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival. Certainly the SFFF’s most celebrated film was Issa López’s festival darling Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017). MMC! has discussed López’s film on more than one of occasion, and so we’ll take its greatness as read and briefly discuss Jérémy Comte’s Fauve (2018), a Canadian short that feels tailor-made to open for Tigers. A Special Jury Prize-winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Fauve concerns a pair of boys exploring a surface mine who “sink into a seemingly innocent power game with Mother Nature as the sole observer.” The short brings to mind Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002) and a very specific John Mulaney joke about an impression he had as a child, but these glib comparisons belie the truly heartbreaking nature of Comte’s film. Fans of Tigers would be well served to seek out Fauve.

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SFFF Day 2 Report – Sex and the Unruly Screen

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second day was unusually specific in its program, devoting itself to short films that explored “innocence being encroached upon by outside forces” and a pair of horror-thriller features set around the sex industry. It was an impressive night of screenings, but also one that certainly made demands of its audience.

The “Paradise Lost” block of shorts was long on atmosphere and scares but slim on explication. Most films chose to grab their shocks and get out rather than flesh out their worlds. Faye Jackson’s The Old Woman Who Hid Her Fear Under the Stairs (2018) recalled Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse (part of SFFF’s program from 2016 and now titled simply The Cleanse). The short considers the situation of its title character who extracts her sense of anxiety of herself, hides it in a tin, and faces down some dark, ominous threat that stalks her outside her home. Jackson’s film is wonderfully constructed, full of humour and dreadful tension, and its quality therefore demands more of itself, needing to unpack its conflict and its resolution before letting its credits roll. And the same could be said of other shorts in the block. Milk (Santiago Menghini, 2018) is a chilling tale of a boy trapped between two unsettling maternal figures and choses aesthetics over explanation. Wild (Morgana McKenzie,  2018) is a pastoral fantasy about a girl’s encounter with a magical, deadly, and ultimately unresolved female figure in her uncle’s cornfield. Saturn Through the Telescope (Dídac Gimeno, 2018) follows a boy’s efforts to watch a scary movie at home and is a slickly made and energetic short, while Make a Stand (Camille Aigloz, Lucy Vallin, Michiru Baudet, Simon Anding Malandin, Diane Tran Duc, and Margo Roguelaure, 2017) is a gorgeously animated film set in pre-Columbian Mexico and that seems to tease a supernatural spectacle that never arrives. Uncertainty is a great tool of the macabre, but its best used as a lacuna where meaningful questions spring forth. These shorts are uniformly affective and expertly fashioned, sure to be enjoyed by viewers. My only wish is that these films more fully met their narrative challenges as well as the aesthetic ones.

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Tigers Are Not Afraid (Issa Lopez, 2017)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Tigers Are Not Afraid.

Issa López’s festival-favourite is a darkly magical tale set in the real world tragedy of Mexico’s violent drug war, where thousands of murdered and missing people result in countless orphaned children forced onto the streets to fend for themselves. When her mother disappears, a young girl named Estrella uses one of three wishes granted to her to ask for her mother back and finds herself haunted by a vengeful ghost. Estrella takes up with a quartet of street kids led by Shine but the boys have their own problems, pursued by a vicious gang intent on reclaiming a lost iPhone. Blending artfully immediate handheld cinematography and convincing fantastical digital effects, López creates a realist fairy tale that stands as a prescient statement on Mexico’s deadly drug cartels and a hauntingly magical fairy tale.

Disc Features:

  • 2K digital transfer, approved by director Issa López, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with López, acting coach Fátima Toledo, and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • Tan Callando, López’s 1994 student film made at Mexico’s National University, with introduction by the director
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by novelist Stephen King

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Highway Patrolman (Alex Cox, 1991)

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

criterion logoAgainst his father’s wishes, Pedro – a naïve kid from Mexico City – joins the Highway Patrol.  His simple desire to do good rapidly comes into conflict with the reality of police work in a lonely rural environment populated by poor farmers, rich drug dealers, and beautiful women.  British director Alex Cox takes his anti-authoritarian politics to Mexico and creates a series of long-take master shots that explore the futility of imposing good on others and rejects cinema’s glamorized views of law enforcement.  Marking Cox’s full removal from the Hollywood filmmaking machine, Highway Patrolman is a mature, observational reflection on societal corruption and personal accountability in the heat and dust northern Mexico.

Disc Features:

  • High definition digital transfer with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New introduction by director Alex Cox
  • Audio commentary with Cox and writer-producer Lorenzo O’Brien
  • Patrulleros & Patrulleras, a collection of interviews by Cox of cast and crew
  • From Edge City of Mapini, a monologue by Cox on the connections between his first film Edge City and Highway Patrolman
  • Edge City, Cox’s UCLA thesis film
  • New interview with Miguel Sandoval on the film’s casting and on working with Alex Cox
  • PLUS: A new essay by critic F. X. Feeney

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Of Mice and Men (Lewis Milestone, 1939)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Of Mice and Men.

criterion logoJohn Steinbeck’s acclaimed novel was just two years old when director Lewis Milestone adapted it for the screen, painting a bold, vivid picture of men searching for a safe haven from the cruelties of the Great Depression.  Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. play George and Lennie, a pair of itinerant farm hands in California’s Salinas Valley who dream of someday having a modest ranch of their own, free from the poverty of alienation and loneliness.  Their plans are consistently complicated by the dangerous misunderstandings caused by the hulkling, childlike Lennie, and when his companion’s knack for trouble goes too far, the limits of George’s loyalty and kindness to his friend are tested.  A critical success at its release, admired by Steinbeck himself, and nominated for multiple Academy awards including Best Picture, Of Mice and Men is another classic from Hollywood’s greatest year – 1939.

Disc Features:

  • New sepia-toned, digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • The Forgotten Village (1941), Herbert Kline and Alexander Hamid’s ethnofiction documenting the clash of traditional living and modernization in a Mexican village, written by John Steinbeck and narrated by Burgess Meredith
  • John Steinbeck’s acceptance speech for his 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Of Mice and Men (1992, 115 minutes), a new digital transfer of Gary Sinise’s adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel with deleted scenes, audio commentaries, trailer, and screen and make-up tests
  • Plus: A booklet featuring new essays by Steinbeck scholar Jackson J. Benson, actor and filmmaker Gary Sinise, and filmmaker John Sayles

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Macario (Roberto Gavaldon, 1960)

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

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Adapted by Emilio Carballido and filmmaker Roberto Gavaldón from legendary author B. Traven’s novella The Third Guest, itself inspired by a tale of the Brothers Grimm, comes this masterpiece of fantastic cinema.  A poor woodcutter and family man, Macario (Ignacio López Tarso), is obsessed with ending his hunger and hides in the woods to enjoy one filling meal, only to meet a series of mystical visitors and befriend Death himself (Enrique Lucero).  Macario is bestowed a water with the power to surmount death and sets out to improve the lives of his family, only to become the object of scrutiny for the local Catholic authorities.  A late classic of the Golden Age of Mexican film and a major touchstone for magical realism in Latin American cinema, Macario achieved international acclaim and was the first Mexican feature film nominated for the Academy Award.

Disc Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • B. Traven: A Mystery Solved, Will Wyatt’s 65-minute, 1978 made-for-television documentary
  • The Enigmatic Story of B. Traven, an hour-long, 2012 documentary by Xavier Villetard for French television
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Plus: B. Traven’s source novella The Third Guest and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Glenn Erickson Continue reading