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.
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 Mouse, Rock & 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.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Moonstruck.
In this award-winning, romantic comedy, Cher stars as Loretta, a widowed bookkeeper in Brooklyn who agrees to marry a mild-mannered man (Danny Aiello) even though she does not love him. Unlucky in love, she promptly falls for his estranged brother (Nicolas Cage), sparking a torrid affair with the moody, young man while her fiancé is absent at his mother’s deathbed. With wonderfully stylized dialogue by playwright John Patrick Shanley and a brilliant ensemble of supporting performances from Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, and Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck is a modern screwball classic and an operatic fable full of moonlit enchantment and the sweet charm of sugar cubes dissolved in champagne.
- New 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interviews with director Norman Jewison, writer John Patrick Shanley, and actors Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, and Danny Aiello
- Audio Commentary featuring Cher, Norman Jewison, and writer John Patrick Shanley
- A Night at the Opera, musicologist Marcia Citron on opera, La bohème, and Moonstruck
- Remarriage Italian Style, scholar William Day on Moonstruck and the comedy of remarriage
- Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family, a featurette on the making of the film
- Music of Moonstruck, a featurette on the film’s score
- Trailer and TV spots
- PLUS: An essay by scholar Mary Ann McDonald Carolan
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents To Sleep with Anger.
Charles Burnett crafts a masterpiece of independent cinema with To Sleep with Anger, a magical realist exploration of a black middle-class family living in South Central Los Angeles. Family tensions are already simmering in the household of Gideon (Paul Butler) and Suzie (Mary Alice) when their old friend Harry Mention (Danny Glover in arguably his greatest performance) turns up on their doorstep unannounced looking for hospitality and a temporary roof over his head. Reminding them of their Southern roots, Gideon and Suzie cannot refuse his request but when Gideon mysteriously suffers from an unexpected stroke, Harry’s easy charm gives way to a malevolent spell that provokes turmoil throughout the family, setting son against son and reviving past hatreds. Burnett reveals himself as not just the master of poetic urban realism that created his classic first film, Killer of Sheep, but an expert interpreter of African-American folk culture and one of the great chroniclers of the American experience.
- 4K digital transfer, approved by director Charles Burnett, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- The Trouble with Harry, an introduction by director Ernest Dickerson
- New interviews with Burnett and actors Glover, Alice, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Carl Lumbly
- PLUS: An essay by critic Andrew Chan
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.
- 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
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: An essay by novelist Stephen King
MMC! was lucky enough to see Kier-La Janisse’s latest Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cartoon Party and the best of the program was Jerry Lieberman’s Huff ‘n Puff, an anti-smoking PSA for the American Cancer Society that riffs on the story of the Three Little Pigs with some strange gallows humour. We could only assume that the Big Bad Wolf died just after the short ended. The short seems to have been part of a larger campaign that included an illustrated story offered as a pamphlet. (If anyone knows the year this animated short was produced or released, I’d appreciate the info!)