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.
The banner event for Day 4 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was the Drunken Cinema screening of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), described by Drunken Cinema‘s attending creator Serena Whitney as “the scary one.” Audience members had rules to follow, glow sticks to shake, and themed cards with personalized drinking rules to enhance their interaction and to get soused in the process. The event seemed an ironic success considering that nearly all the screenings at the SFFF are licensed and the Broadway Theatre’s concession stand was ready to make every screening drunken if patrons were so inclined. Still, the appeal of endorsed booze and rowdiness cannot be underestimated and Saskatoon movie fans can expect to seen more Drunken Cinema events between now and the next SFFF.
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.
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.
SHUT UP OR DIE!
Shock jock Grant Mazzy has been kicked off the airwaves and now works the only job he can get as the host of CLSY’s early morning radio show broadcast from the basement of a church in the small Canadian town of Pontypool. What begins as another mundane day of school bus cancellations quickly turns deadly when bizarre reports start piling in of people developing strange speech patterns and committing brutal acts of violence. Before long, Mazzy and CLSY’s small staff find themselves trapped in the station and struggling with the reality of a deadly virus being spread through language. Does Mazzy stay on the air in hopes of informing the public and saving himself or is he providing the virus with its ultimate leap over the airwaves and into the world?
Based on Tony Burgess’ 1995 novel Pontypool Changes Everything and inspired by Orson Welles’s 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, Pontypool blends George Romero and David Cronenberg with Noam Chomsky and Richard Dawkins and creates a zombie apocalypse unlike any other.
Special Edition Contents:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Feature-length audio commentary with director Bruce McDonald and writer Tony Burgess
- Original radio drama with optional slideshow of on-set photos taken by Caitlin Cronenberg
- A New Arrangement for Life, a new interview with McDonald and Burgess looking back on Pontypool
- Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, a new interview with actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle
- Infected Words, a new video appreciation by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
- Siege Mentality, horror film scholars Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West on the Canadianness of Pontypool
- Watching Night of the Living Dead, Canadian artist Dave Dyment’s 2018 reproduction of George Romero’s 1968 horror classic using clips taken from film and television that include footage from Night of the Living Dead
- Two short films by Britt Randle: Dada Dum (2007) and Eve (2001)
- Original theatrical teaser and trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Tim Robey