Monday, July 09, 2012

FANTASIA 2012—"If They Came From Within: An Alternative History of Canadian Horror Movies"

Concurrent with the 16th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia), Montreal's Cinémathèque Québécoise is hosting the traveling exhibit "If They Came From Within: An Alternative History of Canadian Horror Movies" from July 20-July 29, 2012, with an opening gala on Friday, July 20, 5:00PM.

Per their press release: "Imagine an alternative universe of Canadian horror movies that didn't get made, couldn't get made and maybe even shouldn't get made ... but we'd still love to see. Rue Morgue magazine Editor-in-Chief Dave Alexander brings together some of Canada and Quebec's most celebrated genre filmmakers with some of the country's best designers and illustrators to create a gallery of poster art for Maple Syrup genre films that don't exist.

"Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) dreams up a post-apocalyptic, gangster, man-fish odyssey. Vincenzo Natali (Splice) offers his own cross-border version of Blue Sunshine. Maurice Devereaux (End Of the Line) draws on Quebec folklore for a story of a supernatural child-killer named the Bonesetter. Bruce McDonald (Hardcore Logo) and author Tony Burgess (People Still Live In Cashtown Corners) imagine two sequels to Pontypool (the first of which is actually a part of Fantasia's new international co-production market!). Lee Demarbre (Smash Cut) brings sex, cannibalism and espionage to Parliament Hill in his hoser-happy Emanuelle movie. Plus more from filmmakers Éric Tessier (5150 Elm's Way), Karim Hussain (La Belle Bete, cinematographer of Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral), Astron-6 (Father's Day), Rodrigo Gudiño (The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow), George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine), Brett Kelly (My Dead Girlfriend), Donna Davies (Nightmare Factory) and several from Alexander himself.

"Featuring original art created by: Rupert Bottenberg, Angus Byers, Donald Caron, Jason Edmiston, Justin Erickson, Vince Marconi, Matthew Marigold, Richard Patmore, Martin Plante, Ghoulish Gary Pullin, Paige Reynolds, Eric Robillard, Mathew Verreault, Adam Vierra, Mark Unterberger and James White.

"Expect additional multimedia surprises, including original soundtrack recordings from Montreal musician Conrad Simon [MySpace]. Montrealers will get a special chance to see this first, with many of the creators present, before the show embarks on a nationwide gallery tour."

"Teeth" illustration courtesy of Jason Edmiston.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


As announced in Fantasia's July 6, 2012 press release: "The art of animation in its many forms and disciplines has always had a strong place at Fantasia. This year, the festival has decided to give the form its own permanent section: AXIS. From social realism to mind-bending fantasy, all styles and sensibilities will be showcased, now on a greater scale than ever.

"Further, the festival is proud to be rechristening its animation jury prize as The Satoshi Kon Award for Achievement in Animation, named after the dear, departed visionary whose feature debut, Perfect Blue, world premiered at Fantasia in 1997 (as did his later Millenium Actress)."

As a tease, here are several key selections from this year's AXIS lineup. Stay tuned for the full lineup to be announced on July 11. Portrait of Satoshi Kon courtesy of Laurent Koffel.

* * *

Asura (Japan) Dir: Keiichi Sato—Over forty years since it came into being, George Akiyama's manga Ashura remains a raw and affecting action-horror-tragedy, and its potency is only further amplified in this new anime. Keiichi Sato, director of Tiger & Bunny and Karas, oversees a masterful blend of digital animation and handcrafted artwork spiked with startling fights and chases and flashes of fearsome beauty. Vivid and intense, Asura is a journey through hell not soon forgotten. Official Selection: Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2012. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere, hosted by Producer Yoshiyuki Ikezawa.

The King of Pigs / Dwae-ji-ui wang (South Korea) Dir: Yeun Sang-ho—Selected at the last Director's Fortnight in Cannes, this masterfully written animated social drama brings elements of thriller and even horror cinema to expose how social inequities can bring extreme consequences, even in middle school. With his intense first feature film, director Yeun Sang-ho has instantly established himself as one of the leading voices of international animation cinema. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere hosted by Writer / Director Yeun Sang-ho.

At Variety, Richard Kuipers states that "Yuen Sang-ho gets his message across with undeniable fury and a good measure of intelligence." At The Hollywood Reporter, Maggie Lee writes: "Ugly, pitiless, and mightily provocative in its representation of human debasement, [Yeun Sang-ho's] satire on class inequality burns like acid." Lee adds: "Technically adept and highly cinematic in its storytelling, the $150,000 production proves that it is still possible to produce quality animation with a modest budget. Sketched in stark, masculine strokes on a somber, dusky color palette, the human figures are made to look distorted and beastlike. It is as if their malice and misery have seeped into their facial features and are refracted as a snarl, a burrowed eyebrow or clenched teeth." At Twitch, Brian Clark adds: "The animation isn't going to win any awards for aesthetic beauty, but it's blunt, less-than-fluid style suits the subject matter perfectly. The medium also allows the film to dabble in some surreal, hallucinogenic imagery that mirrors the characters' psyches. Like the film's style, it's effective in an immediately-visceral way, but at the same time, these scenes are structured and directed in a way to where they play more like sudden jump-scares in a horror movie."

Wrinkles / Arrugas (Spain) Dir: Ignacio Ferreras—There's more than a fair bit of best-animated-film Oscar® buzz beginning to surround this very faithful cinematic adaptation of the graphic novel Arrugas by Spanish comic artist Paco Roca. It is a careful character study of the aged—some of them defiant, some despondent, some adrift far from the shores of lucidity—infused with an abundance of sharp wit, whimsy, honesty and poignancy. WINNER: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Film, Goya Awards. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

At Variety, Jonathan Holland writes: "Featuring lovable but credible characters and a beautifully crafted, understated plot that emerges elegantly from their fears, fantasies and forgetfulness, this thought-provoking, universally comprehensible item skews naturally towards adult auds, but its animated format could plausibly appeal to a younger demographic." At The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young considers this "poignant" and "exceptional" animated feature about senior citizens to be "one the year's best Spanish films." He writes that Wrinkles "takes a commendably unsentimental and nuanced approach to a complex subject, one that avoids melodramatic situations and simplistic characterizations while adhering to certain conventions of this particular sub-genre."

Zarafa (France / Belgium) Dirs: Rémi Bezançon & Jean-Christophe Lie—A stunning hand-drawn work of animation detailing the adventures of a young child named Maki and an orphaned giraffe, Zarafa, who go on an epic adventure from the Sudan, where the boy escapes from slave traders, to Alexandria, Marseille and Paris. Official Selection: Berlin Film Festival 2012. Official site [French]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

At Screen, Lisa Nesselson writes: "A visually splendid and emotionally satisfying animated adventure for all ages, Zarafa boasts all the ingredients (at least in an ideal world…) for international success, starting with a terrific fact-inspired story, simply yet beautifully told."


The 16th annual Fantasia International Film Festival (Fantasia)—running July 19 through August 7, 2012—follows up their first wave of program announcements with a second wave of additional titles guaranteed to ratchet up the excitement. Capsules courtesy of Fantasia.

Ace Attorney / Gyakuten saiban (Japan) Dir: Takashi Miike—Who else but Takashi Miike could deliver a video game adaptation set in court where attorneys would match in surrealistic juridical duels? This visual fest tainted with black humor got its share of attention at this year's Rotterdam Film Festival and will surely be one of the highlights of Fantasia 2012! Official website [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

At Variety, Jay Weissberg claims Miike's cult following might save this "dull production" wherein "Miike himself seems barely able to muster much enthusiasm for the assignment, which is criminally long and generally lacking in his playful visual hyperbole." As if to test Weissberg's prediction, at Twitch Ard Vijn monitors the film's reception at its world premiere in Rotterdam and notes, "The first press screening earlier in the week left many reviewers dissatisfied, some angry even, and there were people saying the film was disastrously crap. Yet at the paying public's World Premiere, the atmosphere was very different. The crowd ate it up, gamers and non-gamers alike." Vijn concludes that Ace Attorney is "definitely a love-it or hate-it affair" and sides with those who found the film "a quirky yet dangerous barrel of fun." He takes time to interview Miike.

Afro Tanaka / Afuro Tanaka (Japan) Dir: Daigo Matsui—When Tanaka traded in his messy hair for a glorious Afro, he finally got respect. The problem is, this is the only good decision he's made in his entire life. Director Daigo Matsui presents one of the funniest and most strangely endearing characters you will see this year, joyfully interpreted by star Shôta Matsuda (Hard Romanticker). IMDb. North American Premiere.

At The Japan Times, Mark Schilling praises Afro Tanaka as a "laugh-till-you-hurt comedy based on Masaharu Noritsuke's award-winning gag manga" and adds, "Though plentifully seeded with gags from the source manga, the film is less a succession of black-out skits than a comic character study that achieves a sort of completeness. By the end we have not plumbed Tanaka's depths—he has none—but we know him and his milieu...."

The Ambassador (Denmark) Dir: Mads Brügger—Mads Brügger (Red Chapel) is on a mission. Armed with a forged Liberian diplomatic passport, the infamous prankster journalist ventures deep into the underbelly of African politics in search of diamonds, wealth and power—and exposes an industry where diplomatic titles across the continent are for sale. Far more disturbing in its realism than any Sacha Baron Cohen creation, The Ambassador redefines extreme documentary filmmaking, and gives a whole new meaning to diplomatic immunity. IMDb. Quebec Premiere.

At The Substream, Kurt Halfyard clocks in at one minute in his favorable critique of the film. At Eye For Film, Amber Wilkinson describes the film as "subversive and incendiary." At Slant, Chris Cabin finds The Ambassador "more of a lopsided, if irrefutably involving, act of gonzo reportage, part absurdist how-to guide on becoming a diamond smuggler, part outsider tour of a truly lawless land infested with poverty and incessant corruption."

Black's Game / Svartur á leik (Iceland) Dir: Óskar Thór Axelsson—The Icelandic gangster / drug scene of the late 1990s explodes vividly into life in this throttling directorial debut from cinematographer Axelsson, exec produced by none other than Nicolas Winding Refn, its frame lines singed with a dizzying assortment of colorful characters and explosive bursts of violence, its snowy landscape charged with blood, testosterone, sex and cocaine. Official Selection: Rotterdam International Film Festival 2012, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2012. IMDb. North American Premiere.

At Variety, Leslie Felperin notes Black's Game is "strongest on the procedural challenges of importing drugs into such an isolated country, and the dialogue has snap, but it all feels a little too secondhand", notably "a little too indebted to a slew of like-minded gangster movies, from GoodFellas to exec producer Nicolas Winding Refn's own original Pusher pic." At The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney's bottom line is that "there's more adrenaline than originality and more imitation than inspiration in this violent crime thriller from Iceland." As if understanding that genre films derive their energy from thievery, none of the trade complaints hinder Ard Vijn's enjoyment of Black's familiar tropes in his Twitch review. He finds the film "a snake on speed" and interviews Axelsson.

Boneboys (USA) Dirs: Duane Graves & Justin Meeks—What happens when the co-directors of The Wild Man of the Navidad team up with notorious screenwriter Kim Henkel (scripter of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre)? Sheer, absolute madness. We're talking leather clad psycho jocks, roaring chainsaws, a cross-dressing surgeon, a monster in chains.... You don't want to miss this! Official site. IMDb. Facebook. World Premiere, hosted by Co-Directors Duane Graves & Justin Meeks, Screenwriter / Co-Producer Kim Henkel and more!

Cold Blooded (Canada) Dir: Jason Lapeyre—A lone female cop (Devil's Zoie Palmer) faces down against murderous thugs in the nightmarishly vast isolation ward of a major urban hospital in director Lapeyre's gritty, ghastly breakout thriller. His subsequent film (made back to back with this one), I Declare War, recently won multiple awards at ActionFest 2012. IMDb. Facebook. Quebec Premiere, hosted by Director Jason Lapeyre.

Dead Bite / Gancore Gud (Thailand) Dir: Joey Boy—Oh yes! Redneck islanders, zombies, sea monsters, an evil mermaid and a giant shark vs. a bunch of horny rappers and many, many gorgeous bikini models. This is what midnight screenings are all about folks! Thai hip hop star Joey Boy makes his feature directorial debut with an awfully hilarious and sexy gore fest that will make audiences scream for more. IMDb. Canadian Premiere.

Dead Sushi / Deddo sushi (Japan) Dir: Noboru Iguchi—After geishas, schoolgirls and robots, we thought director Noboru Iguchi couldn't turn more of the strongest Japanese symbols into killing machines. We were wrong! Here comes the zombie sushi! Incredibly charismatic young actress Rina Takeda (High Kick Girl) stars in this hilarious, bloody and action packed joyride where Iguchi proves once again that imagination, talent and passion will always prevail. Official site. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Director / Co-Writer Noboru Iguchi and Actress Rina Takeda.

Dragon (Hong Kong) Dir: Peter Chan—Kickass kung fu star Donnie Yen is back in this visually stunning martial arts thriller packed with jaw dropping action scenes where an apparently normal man inadvertently brings a horde of assassins by beating up a couple of petty thieves. Dragon (formerly Wu Xia) might be the film that earns Yen the kung fu icon status enjoyed by Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Also starring Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tang Wei. Official site [Japanese]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere.

At VCinema, Stan Glick detects several allusions in Dragon but qualifies, "This is in no way to cast any pallor on Chan's film. I loved the allusions (at least those that I believe I caught), but it won't diminish your enjoyment of Dragon if you have no familiarity with any of the other movies alluded to." At Twitch, Todd Brown writes: "Leaning significantly more towards drama than action, [Dragon] is a beautifully photographed piece of work from the always visually impressive Peter Chan with an all star cast that includes Kara Hui, Tang Wei and—in a lovely nod to the film's origins as a remake of The One Armed Swordsman (a plan quickly abandoned)—Jimmy Wang Yu. Chan draws strong performances from his entire cast and the production values are simply stellar throughout. The script is engaging, the characters interesting and, when the action finally comes into play, the action is inventive and high energy."

Excision (USA) Dir: Richard Bates Jr.—If John Hughes and David Cronenberg made their own medically obsessed version of Welcome to the Dollhouse crossed with May, this is the film they would likely have conceived. This funny, shocking and soulful powerslam of a teen-outsider film stars AnnaLynne McCord, Ariel Winter, Traci Lords, John Waters and Malcolm McDowell and blew no shortage of minds when it launched at Sundance earlier this year. Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Facebook. Canadian Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Richard Bates Jr. and Actress Anna Lynne McCord.

At Variety, Robert Koehler writes: "A stewpot only a film-school geek could concoct—tossing in equal parts Cronenberg, Kubrick, Jodorowsky, Greenaway, Johns Waters and Hughes (among others)—Excision is technically polished juvenilia that provokes without resonance." At FEARnet, Scott Weinberg observes: "At Excision's best moments it seems to be channeling a next-generation John Waters vibe (it's probably not a coincidence that the widely-admired cult director makes a brief appearance here), and at its weirdest it turns into a strangely compelling and confrontational lampoon on not only suburban America, but the numerous movies and TV shows that idolize the lowest common denominators." At Spectacular Optical, Fantasia's official webzine for the festival, Kier-La Janisse interviews Richard Bates, Jr.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything (UK) Dirs: Crispian Mills & Chris HopewellSimon Pegg as a neurotic writer of children's books, trying desperately to break into the film business while struggling with crippling paranoia. What more could you want? A quirky gem of a film, Mill's and Hopewell's feature film debut fits well into the British tradition of horror-comedy, where slightly crazed logic flows along with an acceptance of the weird, the existential and the eccentric. Official website. IMDb. Wikipedia. North American Premiere.

At Variety, Guy Lodge casts doubt on Pegg's headliner status and complains, "Geliophobia—the fear of laughter—is one of the few not held by Simon Pegg's nerve-addled protagonist in A Fantastic Fear of Everything, but it does afflict this stunningly joke-free comedy-horror hybrid", which "refuses to settle for mere ineptitude, adding casual misogyny and pronounced racism to its rap sheet." At Total Film, Neil Smith adds: "Smart nods to Psycho, Kubrick and German expressionism suggest Mills has done his homework, which is perhaps to be expected from his lineage. (John Mills was his granddad, Hayley's his mum and dad Roy was half of the Boulting Brothers.) But plotting's not his strongest suit; an awkward shift from imagined to actual threat presents too big a transition for Mills and co-director Chris Hopewell to manage gracefully. The film's financial limitations, meanwhile, betray themselves in the paucity of exteriors and stop-motion episodes that are hardly likely to give Aardman sleepless nights. Fear falls short of fantastic yet it's a decent effort that, like Pegg's beard, proves to be something of a grower."

The Fourth Dimension (USA / Russia / Poland) Dirs: Alexey Fedorchenko, Harmony Korine, & Jan KwiecinskiVice Magazine's Eddy Moretti, co-writer of the extraordinary White Lightnin', had a notion. He would write his own filmmaking manifesto, one so bizarre and liquefied that it could only result in genius. This manifesto would include such rules as "a stuffed animal needs to make an appearance." With said manifesto, he would bring on board a trio of wildly iconoclastic filmmakers to shoot 30-minute shorts, each from a different country—with the instructions to shoot in their locales—that would in some way or another, explore the possibilities of a fourth dimension. The results are glorious indeed. Official Selection: Edinburgh Film Festival 2012. IMDb. Canadian Premiere, hosted by Co-Producer Eddy Moretti.

At Variety, John Anderson provides a favorable review, noting: "The short-film form often gets short shrift, and even though The Fourth Dimension won't exactly alter the landscape, it does make the well-repeated point that less is more." Anderson considers the "considerable merits of each episode" but gives high marks to Kwiecincki's quasi-apocalyptic Fawns. At Slant, Fernando Croce weighs in on this "intriguing but ultimately vaporous triptych" and determines that "the three short films comprising The Fourth Dimension riff not on a specific location, but on a set of creative rules. As soon as an exchange from Back to the Future jokily pops up on screen to follow a pair of august quotes from Albert Einstein and Sergei Eisenstein, however, it's clear that no Dogme 95-style stringency is in order. Indeed, the wide-swinging, non-sequitur quality of the 50-plus instructions pulled together by producer Eddy Moretti ... makes far more sense as a send-up of that earlier manifesto's monastic strictness than as a multinational attempt to cinematically embody the elusive spatial theory of the title."

Hidden In the Woods / En las Afueras de la Ciudad (Chile) Dir: Patricio Valladares—The teen children of an abusive drug-dealing scumbag run away from home and find themselves stalked by a terrifying cavalcade of miscreants, psychopaths and killers. Like the bastard child of a Ruggero Deodato / Sam Peckinpah / Gaspar Noe pile-up gestated in the loins of Roberta Findlay, Hidden In the Woods is a blisteringly confrontational piece of work that will have even the bravest of audiences watching from between their fingers, with seemingly every other line of dialogue being interrupted by shrieks, smashing glass or gunfire. IMDb. Facebook. World Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Patricio Valladares.

Lloyd the Conqueror (Canada) Dir: Michael Peterson—A riotously funny look at the world of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), featuring hysterical performances from Brian Posehn, Mike "Bubbles" Smith and Evan Williams, a wickedly witty script, an endearing sense of lunacy and a near wall-to-wall CDN metal soundtrack. John Landis loves this film. So will you. Plus, on the night of the screening, be sure to join us for a special heavy metal LARP after-party! Official site. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Michael Peterson, Co-Producer Brendan Hunter and Actor Mike Smith.

At The Calgary Herald, Eric Volmers proclaims Lloyd the Conqueror "the best LARPing movie ever." Lisa Wilton interviews Peterson for The Calgary Sun. At B Channel News, Ed Sum asserts: "Having fun is a must, and that's this film's beautiful central message." At Press +1, Benjamin Ross Hayden describes Lloyd as "basically hilarious with nerdy humor so dense it is almost aromatic."

Mondomanila (Philippines) Dir: Khavn De La Cruz—Rebel director Khavn De La Cruz gives life to a bunch of incredibly crooked, yet dignified teenagers living in the slums with a gallery of bizarre characters. The opening film of this year's Camera Lucida section, Mondomanila merges drama, musical, horror, experimental and exploitation cinema, with a strong propensity for documentary aesthetics and trashy humor and will leave absolutely no viewer indifferent. Not to be missed! IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

Nakedness Which Wants to Die Too Much (Japan) Dir: Hidenobu Abera—What happens when Harold from Harold and Maude meets Lulu of Love & Loathing & Lulu & Ayano in a contemporary Japan shaken by treacherous intergenerational shocks? Find out in Hidenobu Abera's startling crescendo of teenage rage and anguish blessed with a note of hope and even a charming dash of eccentricity. International Premiere.

Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time / Bumchoiwaui junjaeng (South Korea) Dir: Yun Jong-binChoi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Ha Jung-woo (The Chaser) bring one of the most astonishing actors duel seen in years in this gangster flick where a corrupted customs agent raises to the top of the underworld. Set in a fascinating historical context, Nameless Gangster is strongly reminiscent of Goodfellas without being overshadowed one second by Scorsese's masterpiece. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere.

At Variety, Maggie Lee categorizes Nameless Gangster as "a rags-to-rogues crimer whose finely chiseled portraits of greed, self-preservation and depravity are buttressed by powerhouse perfs."

Play Dead (USA) Dir: Teller—Thrill seekers, spiritualists, lovers of magick and the occult, have we got a show for you. Behold: Play Dead, an enormously entertaining live performance film directed and co-written by the legendary Teller (of Penn & Teller), shot by Dark Stars Rising author Shade Rupe and performed by the supernaturally charismatic and brilliantly funny illusionist / sideshow performer Todd Robbins. What is it? A no holds-barred recreation of the live midnight spook shows of yesteryear! Official site. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Director / Co-Writer Teller, Star / Co-Writer Todd Robbins and Producers Shade Rupe & Ezekiel Zabrowski.

Schoolgirl Apocalypse (Japan) Dir: John Cairns—This beautifully shot independent gem of a film will surprise many with its atmospheric post-apocalyptic story filled with strange animated scenes inspired by the English workbooks of our youth. Director John Cairns brings a ballsy fresh look at the "zombie" genre with a touch of women empowerment and lots of creativity. Official site. Wikipedia. North American Premiere hosted by Writer / Director John Cairns.

At Ecran Fantastique, Olivier Lehmann describes Schoolgirl Apocalypse as "a skillful and effective road movie at the intersection of 28 Days Later and The Road ... a great surprise sure to delight alternative zombie movie fans." At Manifest, Alexander Karenovics writes: "An American director, of all people, dares shoot the overdue reckoning with a genre ... a surprisingly serious and slowed-down armageddon of the undead, in which our alpha girl in school uniform gets lost step by step in a metaphysical dream world...."

Sleep Tight / Mientras duermes (Spain) Dir: Jaume Balagueró—With our North American premiere of The Nameless, Fantasia was one of the first festivals in the world to showcase the genius of Barcelona filmmaker Jaume Balagueró. Years later, we held the first North American screening of [REC], the game-changing masterpiece he co-directed with Paco Plaza. As with that film, the multi-award-winning Sleep Tight is set mostly within the walls of a horrifically ill-fated apartment complex. Only here, the terrors Balagueró conjures are blood-chillingly tangible, as viable as a car crash on a heavily populated road. A masterpiece. Winner of 6 Gaudi Awards. Official site [French]. IMDb. Wikipedia. Canadian Premiere.

At Variety, Jonathan Holland states Sleep Tight is a "dark thriller ... designed to give auds sleepless nights, and mostly succeeds", notably through the "shudder-inducing" and "intensely compelling" performance of lead actor Luis Tosar (Even the Rain). At Twitch, Peter Martin cautions, "You may not be able to do what the title suggests after you see this movie."

Starry, Starry Night / Xing kong (Taiwan) Dir: Tom Lin—Softly surreal and quite simply sublime, Starry, Starry Night is a flawless, sparkling jewel in the firmament of this year's Fantasia programming. Beautiful and heartwarming, yet sometimes as cruel and moving as life itself, this coming of age drama features a first-class performance by Xu Jiao, a rising star to watch in the heavens of Chinese cinema. IMDb. Wikipedia. Quebec Premiere.

At Twitch, Niels Matthijs praises Starry, Starry Night as "one of the dearest, warmest and most charming films of the year." At Slant, Rob Humanick writes: "Director Tom Lin goes out of his way to convey a sense of childhood's fragility, and at its best, the film suggests through the lives of its young characters the process of insects going through metamorphosis."

The Tall Man (Canada / USA) Dir: Pascal LaugierJessica Biel, Stephen McHattie and Jodelle Ferland star in an unconventional, disturbing and politically-charged new chiller from the inimitable Pascal Laugier, whose previous film, Martyrs, has already become a modern classic of the genre. Official Selection: SXSW 2012. IMDb. Canadian Premiere.

At FEARnet, Scott Weinberg writes, "The Tall Man goes from being a well-shot but basic abduction chiller to a frequently fascinating rumination on the responsibilities of parenthood, the innocence of youth, and the nature of 'evil.' "

Toad Road (USA) Dir: Jason Banker—Inspired by an urban legend, Toad Road is an intimate meditation on lost youth evocative of Gus Van Sant (with a racy touch of Larry Clark) and a radical deconstruction of genre cinema, a devastating and brilliant object of contemplation and dread, and a journey down unexpected paths. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Writer / Cinematographer / Director Jason Banker.

Under the Bed (USA) Dir: Steven C. Miller—A teenager returning home awakes the wrath of a savage creature he tried to kill year ago. Now, he must team up with his young brother in order to destroy what lies under the bed. Co-produced by Brad Miska (co-creator of Bloody Disgusting), this intimate and shivering take on childhood fear is another gem from newcomer Steven C. Miller, the new festival sensation who took SXSW by storm with the sensational The Agression Scale last March. IMDb. World Premiere, hosted by Director Steven C. Miller.

The Warped Forest (Japan) Dir: Shunichiro Miki—After co-directing the surrealistic Funky Forest: The First Contact, director Shunichiro Miki brings us in a universe where giants, nipple sucking fuzzy creatures and flying time traveling devices coexist with totally normal people. This is an essential work in the new wave of radical, rainbow-colored, hallucinogenic Japanese comedies that blend deadpan humor, delirious dream logic, creeping paranoia and empathic, easygoing optimism into the strangest of cinematic brews! IMDb. Canadian Premiere hosted by Director / Co-Writer Shunishiro Miki.

Yes We Can! (France) Dir: Olivier Abbou—A pair of petty criminals hatch an "ingenious" get-rich-quick scheme—they will fly to Kenya and kidnap Barrack Obama's grandmother for a ransom of 10 million dollars. What could possibly go wrong? Echoing the French tradition of the buddy comedy by ways of a South Park version of the Farrelly brothers, this outrageous goofball comedy from Abbou (whose 2010 shocker Territories offered a whole other side of political commentary) surprises, offends and ridicules with manic wit. Full of eye-popping imagery courtesy of cinematographer Karim Hussain (Hobo With A Shotgun, The Theatre Bizarre). IMDb. International Premiere, hosted by Writer / Director Olivier Abbou (tentative).

Saturday, July 07, 2012

SFSFF 2012: PREVIEW—By Michael Hawley

Just four months after blowing everyone away with the awesome spectacle that was Abel Gance's Napoleon, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns for its 17th annual event at the Castro Theatre from July 12 to 15, 2012. When the line-up was first announced I heard a few people grouse about it having a "greatest hits" vibe; but, the reality is only two of this year's 17 programs are repeats—Wings (from back in 1999) and Pandora's Box (shown in 2003). Personally, I've never seen any of them on a big screen and am therefore completely psyched. Big Names from the silent era are much in evidence, both in front of the camera (Clara Bow, Emil Jannings, Felix the Cat, Pola Negri, Louise Brooks, Douglas Fairbanks, Roland Colman, Buster Keaton) and behind it (Ernst Lubitsch, Victor Fleming, Georg Wihelm Pabst, Joseph von Sternberg, William A. Wellman). There are several tempting, unfamiliar rarities as well. I searched for films I might skip out on—if only to get a breath of air and a decent meal—but came up empty handed.

An issue that's sure to be a subject of discussion this year—and it's one the festival isn't shying away from—is that of digital exhibition. SFSFF dipped its toe in the digital waters two years ago with the restoration of Metropolis, saying it was the only option available. This year they're wading ankle deep with two DCP presentations, Lubitsch's The Loves of Pharaoh and Wellman's Wings. The latter is SFSFF17's opening night film, which is clearly making a statement. The great digital vs. 35mm divide is also the focus of this year's Amazing Tales from the Archives presentation (see below for details). So no matter which side you're on—if a side needs to be taken at all—there should be plenty here to chew on.

Plain and simple, if you've never attended the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, you owe yourself the experience of seeing a silent film the way it was meant to be seen, in a landmark 1922 movie palace with accomplished live musical accompaniment. What follows is a stroll through SFSFF17's line-up with some hopefully interesting facts, figures, gossip and trivia—a bit more than what's available on the festival's website and brochure, but considerably less than what we'll find in the scholarly essays that appear in the complementary program guide during the festival.

Thursday, July 12

7:00 P.M. Wings (1927, USA, dir. William A. Wellman)—Until The Artist, this drama about two WWI pilots in love with the same girl was technically the only silent film to win the Best Picture Oscar®, or rather, Most Outstanding Production. While I've never seen Wings, I am familiar with the famously heartbreaking kiss between Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen (both of whom served as pallbearers at the 1965 funeral of Wings co-star Clara Bow). Gary Cooper, who turns up in a supporting role as a doomed pilot, began a much-publicized affair with Bow during the shoot. The film seems best remembered for its aerial stunt photography—with director William Wellman having been hired specifically for his WWI aviator experience. None other than William Wellman, Jr., author of The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture, will introduce this screening. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will accompany, with Ben Burtt providing live Foley effects. Burtt is a nine-time Oscar® nominee for Best Sound / Sound Editing, with wins for ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Following the screening, a festive opening night party will be happening at the top-floor loft of the McRoskey Mattress Company.

Friday, July 13

10:30 A.M. Amazing Tales from the Archives: Into the Digital Frontier—One of the hottest topics amongst cinephiles this spring was the "This is DCP" series at NYC's Film Forum, where several digitally restored classics, including Five Easy Pieces, The Red Shoes and Rear Window, were screened in DCP, or "digital cinema package" format. The highlight was a comparative 35mm vs. DCP, side-by-side showing of Dr. Strangelove. This series was the undertaking of Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures executive vice president in charge of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering. I'm excited Crisp will be at the Castro performing another side-by-side demonstration for SFSFF audiences. (For an in-depth report on the Film Forum series, check out Miranda Popkey's piece at Capital New York). Also on the program will be Andrea Kalas, vice president of archives at Paramount Pictures, who will discuss the restoration of Wings, which will have opened the festival the previous evening in DCP. Admission is free.

1:00 P.M. Little Toys (1933, China, dir. Sun Yu)—Director Sun Yu is known for a string of socially conscious dramas made in the silent era's twilight years. In 2009 the festival brought us Sun's 1932 Wild Rose and now follows up with this decade-spanning epic about the calamities which befall a rural toymaker during a time of political upheaval. Sun made the movie to rouse nationalism following Japan's invasion of Manchuria. It stars two of China's most popular actresses of the 1930's playing mother / daughter protagonists; Lingyu Ruan (who we saw two years ago in A Spray of Plum Blossoms) and Li Lili (Wild Rose).

4:00 P.M. The Loves of Pharaoh (1922, Germany, dir. Ernst Lubitsch)—This historical melodrama was Lubitsch's last German production, a Hollywood calling card to prove he could indeed helm large-scale epics boasting 6,000 extras, lavish costumes and gargantuan sets. The great Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh, The Blue Angel) stars as an Egyptian ruler who spurns an offer of marriage to the Ethiopian king's daughter and thereby ignites a war by choosing the king's beloved slave girl instead. Long considered a lost film, this new digital restoration—assembled from fragments found in far-flung places—was executed by the same company (Alpha Omega GmbH) that resurrected Fritz Lang's complete Metropolis. Ten additional minutes are still thought to be missing. And who best to accompany this grandiose presentation than the incomparable Dennis James on the Castro Theatre's Mighty Wurlitzer. The photograph below is one of only 17 stunning, high resolution stills from The Loves of Pharaoh to be found on the festival's Press Room page.

7:00 P.M. Mantrap (1926, USA, dir. Victor Fleming)—Clara Bow makes her second appearance at 2012's festival in the film she claimed her personal favorite. Released shortly before It—the movie that gave her a moniker—Bow got rave reviews as the man-eating Minneapolis manicurist who strays from her backwoodsman husband and aims straight for a famous divorce lawyer. The story is adapted from a Sinclair Lewis novel, with Bow's character considerably softened, and the titular "Mantrap" is actually a Canadian boondocks town where the action is set. Cinematography is by the great DP James Wong Howe and the film's intertitles are said to be quite witty. Mantrap also witnessed the beginning of a hot and heavy affair between Bow and the film's director Victor Fleming, who would of course go on to direct The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Noted film critic Michael Sragow, who wrote Victor Fleming, an American Movie Master, will introduce the screening. Stephen Horne accompanies on grand piano.

Mantrap will be preceded by Twin Peaks Tunnel, a recently restored short about the construction of one of the world's longest railway tunnels—one that just happens to begin right outside the festival's doorstep. Parts of the film are available to watch on YouTube and there's some terrific footage of Castro and Market Streets circa 1918.

9:15 P.M. The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna (1929, Germany, dir. Hanns Schwarz)—Each year SFSFF engages a contemporary filmmaker to choose a film from the line-up and present it as a Director's Pick—with past pickers ranging from Alexander Payne to Terry Zwigoff. The Bay Area's Philip Kaufman has selected this tale of a St. Petersburg courtesan who leaves her officer lover for the affections of a lowly lieutenant. It's considered the best of Austrian director Hanns Schwarz' 24 films, with one ardent IMDb user gushing "it's more poignant and visually dazzling than Ophuls, more erotic and atmospheric than Sternberg, with a camera more sinuously alive than Murnau or Lang." The film stars Brigitte Helm as Nina Petrovna, two years after her mesmerizing screen debut in Metropolis and one year after starring in Marcel L'Herbier's L'Argent (SFSFF 2011 Winter Event). Accompaniment will be provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Saturday, July 14

10:00 A.M. The Irrepressible Felix the Cat! (1924-1928, USA, dir. Otto Messmer & Pat Sullivan)Felix the Cat was the first cartoon character with a name famous enough to draw people into movie theaters. He was so iconic that Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic with a Felix doll and Aldous Huxley wrote the cartoon proved "what the cinema can do better than literature or spoken drama is to be fantastic." These cartoons were also noted for integrating social issues and current events into their storylines. The festival will present seven Felix animated shorts, all but one from his days at the Educational Pictures distribution company. Leonard Maltin and film scholar Russell Merritt will introduce the screenings, which will be accompanied by Donald Sosin and Toychestra, an all-woman experimental music ensemble from Oakland. And remember, as with all SFSFF screenings, children under 10 are admitted free!

12:00 P.M. The Spanish Dancer (1923, USA, dir. Herbert Brenon)Pola Negri was one of the biggest stars of the silent era and the first European actor to be lured to Hollywood (by Paramount in 1922). Her German mentor, Ernst Lubitsch, had been the first European director to cross over. I haven't seen any of her movies so I'm excited to experience this, her third American film and first big spectacle. Based on a Victor Hugo novel, it's the story of a gypsy singer who becomes involved in 17th century Spanish court intrigue. Negri's co-stars include the handsome Antonio Moreno as her lover and Wallace Beery as the King of Spain!? Adolphe Menjou also has a small role. The print we'll be seeing is a new restoration done by the Dutch EYE Film Institute, which also restored last year's Lois Weber film, Shoes. Rob Byrne, who worked on the restoration, will introduce and Donald Sosin accompanies on grand piano.

2:30 P.M. The Canadian (1926, USA, dir. William Beaudine)—This is a remake of a 1917 film, The Land of Promise, which bears the name of the Somerset Maugham play on which both films are based. A destitute woman journeys to the wilds of Canada to live with her brother and then marries a rough homesteader (actor Thomas Meighan, who played the same part in both movies) to evade her sister-in-law's ire. (Yes, it does sound a lot like Lillian Gish's 1928 vehicle The Wind (SFSFF15). Director William Beaudine was known for his efficiency and prolificacy, directing nearly 30 silents. He later became known for making series films like The East Side Kids and The Bowery Boys. But for me he's the guy who helmed notorious 1945 sex-ed feature Mom and Dad for exploitation pioneer Kroger Babb. Stephen Horne accompanies on grand piano.

Preceding the screening of The Canadian, the 2012 SF Silent Film Festival Award will be presented to the Telluride Film Festival "for their longtime dedication to the preservation and exhibition of silent film." Fest directors Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer and Julie Huntsinger will be there to receive the honor.

5:00 P.M. South (1919, UK, dir. Frank Hurley)—The festival follows last year's The Great White Silence with another Antarctic expedition documentary, South. It's an assemblage of photos and film footage taken by Australian photographer / adventurer Frank Hurley, when he accompanied Ernest Shackleton on that ill-fated trans-Antarctic trip aboard the ship Endurance. These materials exist today only because the intrepid Hurley dove into icy Antarctic waters ("stripped to the waist" as he wrote in his diary) to rescue them from the sinking ship. If you saw the 2000 documentary The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, you've already been exposed to Hurley's work, which is said to have changed expedition photography forever. The festival will screen a new restoration by the British Film Institute with original tints and toning. Actor Paul McGann (Dr. Who, Withnail & I) will read from Shackleton's letters accompanied by pianist Stephen Horne.

7:00 P.M. Pandora's Box (1926, USA, dir. Georg Wilhelm Pabst)—Of all the programs in this year's festival, this tops my list—a new frame-by-frame restoration of one of the great films of all time, starring iconic Louise Brooks as cinema's quintessential femme fatale. I'm embarrassed that I've never seen it on a big screen, but am happy I've saved the experience for this opportune moment. Diary of a Lost Girl (1928), another memorable Pabst / Brooks collaboration, played the festival two years ago. This new restoration—paid for by good old Hugh Hefner—was produced by San Francisco-based Angela Holm and David Ferguson, who will introduce the film with some on-screen "before and after" comparisons. Sweden's Matti Bye Ensemble will provide accompaniment for this, the festival's 2012 Centerpiece Presentation.

10:00 P.M. The Overcoat (1926, USSR, dir. Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg)—It's become a SFSFF tradition to reserve Saturday's final screening as a Late Show slot for silent cinema's off-kilter output. Past selections have included Häxan: Witchcraft through the Ages, Aelita, Queen of Mars and a trio of Tod Browing / Lon Chaney collaborations (West of Zanzibar, The Unholy Three, The Unknown). This year's unsettling oddity is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's most famous short story about the repercussions of a lowly office worker's obsession with obtaining a new overcoat. An acquaintance who attends the Pordenone Silent Film Festival wrote me that it's "a real jaw-dropper" and said people came out of the screening "completely mind-blown." I recently watched it on YouTube in the hopes of being disappointed—an early evening might have been nice, but nothing doing. This should be excellent and I can only imagine what the Alloy Orchestra has cooked up in the way of a score.

Sunday, July 15

10:00 A.M. The Mark of Zorro (1920, USA, dir. Fred Niblo)—This is a movie I've wanted to see for ages and I'm surprised the festival has never shown it. Based on Johnston McCulley's 1919 short story "The Curse of Capistrano," the film was Hollywood's first big swashbuckler and made Douglas Fairbanks a bigger star than he already was. He had a hand in writing the script and was responsible for coming up with that unmistakable Zorro "look." It was released the same year Fairbanks married Mary Pickford and was the debut release of United Artists, the company he co-founded with Pickford, Chaplin and D.W. Griffith. Director Fred Niblo would later work with Ramon Navarro in Ben Hur and Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand. Be on the lookout for 12-year-old Milton Berle in the uncredited role as "Boy." Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer would seem the perfect choice for accompaniment. And once again, kids under 10 are admitted free!

12:00 P.M. The Docks of New York (1928, USA, dir. Josef von Sternberg)—No less than renowned film historian Kevin Brownlow considers this von Sternberg's finest film, which was released one year before he'd depart for Germany to make The Blue Angel. It's also his last silent film—excepting 1929's The Case of Lena Smith which is lost—and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1990. Betty Compson, a major silent star largely forgotten today, plays a prostitute who gets involved with the sailor (George Bancroft) who rescues her from a suicidal drowning. The film is by all accounts visually stunning, with an unsentimental and non-judgmental mindset towards its characters. I'm especially interested in seeing Olga Baclanova—best known as Cleopatra the trapeze artist in Tod Browning's Freaks—in a supporting role as the sailor's wronged wife. The intertitles are supposed to be something else. A wedding scene carries one that reads, "If any of you eggs know why these heels shouldn't get hitched, speak now or forever hold your trap." Donald Sosin will provide accompaniment on the grand piano.

2:00 P.M. Erotikon (1920, Sweden, dir. Mauritz Stiller)—Don't confuse this with Gustav Machatý's 1929 Czech film of the same title which played the festival three years ago. Stiller's Erotikon is a drawing room comedy about an entomologist studying the sex life of bugs. He has a mutual infatuation with his niece and a free-wheeling wife who's juggling the affections of a sculptor and an aviator. Detached and observational, the film is noted for its complete lack of moral judgment, unlike Hollywood films of the period. It sounds like a major highlight is the opera scene, with a half naked "Queen of the Shah" writhing lubriciously on a stage set worth of Busby Berkeley. Five years after Erotikon, Stiller would set sail for America with a little known actress he had discovered and given the name Greta Garbo. The Matti Bye Ensemble, who accompanied Stiller's The Blizzard at last year's festival, will repeat that honor for Erotikon.

4:30 P.M. Stella Dallas (1925, USA, dir. Henry King)—I knew the name Stella Dallas growing up because whenever I'd complain about how tough life was, one or both parents would respond, "Kid, you've got more problems than Stella Dallas." Oddly, I never sought out the famous 1937 Barbara Stanwyck vehicle—or the 18-years-running radio serial or Bette Midler's 1990 remake—so this will be my first exposure to the ultimate tale of maternal self sacrifice based on Olive Higgins Prouty's 1923 novel. The film was Belle Bennett's big break, as she was chosen over 73 other actresses by Samuel Goldwyn. Tragically, her 16-year-old son, whom she'd been passing off as her "brother" to hide her age from Hollywood producers, died during the production. The film co-stars Ronald Colman as Stella's wealthy husband, reuniting the actor with Henry King, who had directed his first Hollywood starring role (1923's The White Sister). Also making an appearance is 16-year-old Douglas Fairbanks Jr., in his fourth screen appearance. Czar of Noir City Eddie Muller will provide one of his customarily entertaining introductions, and Stephen Horne will accompany the film on grand piano.

7:30 P.M. The Cameraman (1928, USA, dir. Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton)—The festival ends with what many consider Buster Keaton's final masterpiece. It was his first film for MGM (a move he'd later call "the worst mistake of my career") and never again would he possess the independence and control necessary to create films worthy of his talents. Shot on both NYC locations and Hollywood sets, the film stars Keaton as accidental news photographer who becomes embroiled in Chinatown Tong Wars. Highlights include a hilarious sequence shot at a public swimming pool and one of film history's best performances by a monkey. The Cameraman was considered lost until an entire print was discovered in Paris in 1968. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will accompany the film, with introductions by Leonard Maltin and SFSFF board member Frank Buxton, who was an acquaintance of Keaton.

Prior to The Cameraman, the Bay Area will finally get to see the most recent restoration of George Méliès' beloved 1902 short, A Trip to the Moon, which premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival. In 1993, a hand-colored print of the film was discovered at the Filmoteca de Catalunya in a state of almost total decomposition. Restoration began in 1999 and took over 10 years to complete. Actor Paul McGann will be on hand to read the film's narration and Stephen Horne will accompany on grand piano.

Cross-published on film-415.