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.
After packing in 200 or so people for the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s second annual Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, Day 5 was all about director Joe Dante, actress Belinda Balaski, and a trio of features film celebrating their work. Screenings of The ‘Burbs (1989), Gremlins (1984), and The Howling (1981) were each introduced by Dante and followed by a Q&A session. All three films looked great on the big screen and Dante and Balaski were open and affable with the SFFF audience, answering questions and recounting stories. Dante discussed working as a consultant to an upcoming animated Gremlins prequel and briefly acknowledged that his long desired project about Roger Corman, The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, was being produced by SpectreVision and should see production in 2020. Balaski recounted a popular story about how the designers of Gremlins’ Gizmo obtained Steven Spielberg’s elusive approval of the creature when she recommended that they take inspiration from the King Charles Cavalier Spaniels Spielberg had recently acquired. When asked which of their films they felt deep-diving fans should explore, Balaski cited Mark L. Lester’s youth culture/crime drama movie Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976) while Dante nodded at his under-seen (and unfortunately prescient) political satire The Second Civil War (1997). The pair were generous with their time, even sitting down on the Broadway Theatre’s stage floor to sign programs and badges for remaining diehards, and they proved to be excellent guests for the SFFF’s landmark 10th year.
The second day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival leaned into bad behaviour, mostly by men, mostly among (supposed) friends. The program started light with Brent Hodge’s Who Let The Dogs Out (2019), an MMC! favourite of this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. Hodge, Alberta-born and in attendance at the SFFF, has found a niche with his self-described “comedy documentaries” like Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary (2018), I Am Chris Farley (2015), and A Brony Tale (2014), and Who Let The Dogs Out further confirms Hodge’s mastery of the subgenre. Devoted to the Baha Men’s 2000 hit “Who Let The Dogs Out,” its myriad authorship claims, and its various legal battles among friends and stranger alike, Hodge distills Ben Sisto’s eight-year exploration and three-hour lecture on the track into a tight, enthralling 62-minute doc. Sisto acts as the song’s scruffy biographer, travelling the world’s music studios, courtrooms, and high schools to trace the origin of the song’s ubiquitous catchphrase. This BOSUD (a “biopic of someone undeserving,” to use Dennis Bingham’s terminology) is a definite crowd-pleaser, being far more fascinating that its novelty subject matter should allow for. The SFFF was the last festival stop for Who Let The Dogs Out as it now transitions to cable and streaming platforms. Look for it on Crave in Canada!
The 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival kicks off today with its Sinema Challenge screenings. Four days of feature and short film programming commence tomorrow with the “First Shovel in the Grave is Always Best!” Shorts Block and the hits just keep coming after that. In anticipation of BAFF, MMC! offers ten great reasons to get Buried Alive this Thursday and Friday. Laughs, scares, and some stomach-churning content awaits, so don’t miss it!
Check out BAFF’s schedule for screening details and check out my Letterboxd list of the Fest for MMC! reviews.
1. VFW (Joe Begos, 2019)
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Joe Begos’ VFW (2019). That might make it an odd place to start for recommendations, however reviews for VFW have been uniformly positive. This throwback action film pits a collection of war veterans (and an innocent teen) against a drug dealer and a horde of mutant junkies. Recalling John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Begos offers a intricate plot and a bounty practical effects, creating a gory, siege film spectacle. Word is that VFW is best seen with a crowd and one will surely be waiting at the 7 Stages Theatre on Friday at 8 pm.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Airplane!
In this zany masterpiece written and directed by the trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker of The Kentucky Fried Theater, a traumatized fighter pilot (Robert Hays) boards an airliner to win back his flight attendant girlfriend (Julie Hagerty) and becomes the plane’s last hope when the crew and half of the plane succumb to food poisoning. Loaded with surreal humor and rapid-fire gags, Airplane! parodied the popular disaster films of the 1970s and took audiences by storm in the process, a breath of fresh air that turned into a massive box office hit. With an iconic cast that includes Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Airplane! is one of cinema’s most quotable films and an all-time, off-the-wall, comedy classic.
- New 2K digital restoration, supervised by writers-directors Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio Commentary with producer Jon Davison and Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker
- Long Haul Version, the film including deleted scenes, interviews, and more!
- “I Am Serious!”, an introduction by comedian Patton Oswalt
- Late Night with David Letterman excerpt featuring the filmmakers and a screen test by Letterman for the role of Ted Striker
- The Flatulent Mr. Nielsen, archival footage and new interviews on Leslie Nielsen and his ever-ready fart machine
- Interview with Barbara Billingsley on speaking “jive”
- Interview with Peter Graves
- Trivia track
- Deleted, extended and alternate scenes
- Side-by-side comparison between Airplane! and Zero Hour! (1957)
- Travel Wisconsin commercials
- Theatrical trailer
- PLUS: An essay by filmmaker Peter Farrelly
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s final day kicked off by wrapping up its body horror retrospective with Philip Brophy’s Body Melt (1993). MMC! imagined an Arrow Video edition of the film earlier this summer, back when word of its restoration began circulating. The film now has a packed Blu-ray release compliments of Vinegar Syndrome, bringing this lesser known wonder to the world. The SFFF paired Body Melt with Chris McInroy’s practical effects-based We Summoned a Demon (2018), a fun and goofy short about a couple of guys who just want to be cool and end up summoning a demon. Overall, a fun way to start the Festival’s end.