On the surface, the Spanish film Marshland, by director/co-writer Alberto Rodríguez, is a mere procedural. A gripping one, complete with a thrilling third act car chase and a compelling whodunit at its heart, and ornamented by gorgeous cinematography from Alex Catalán, but a buddy cop procedural nonetheless. Just underneath this captivating veneer, though, is a haunting tale about violence’s lack of transience, and one which situates it within the aftermath of political upheaval.
Gone Girl, David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, was among my favorite films of last year. Although the performances were strong and Fincher proved why he’s one of the best in the business, the real star was Flynn: she wrote the screenplay, and her fast and funny dialogue was what made the film tick. The narrative was a compelling and sordid tale, but the witty barbs the characters constantly offered up were what best propelled Gone Girl through its two and a half hour running time.
With Love & Peace, the director comes out of his comfort zone to deliver a startlingly touching and accessible film that the whole family can enjoy. Based on a screenplay he wrote two decades ago, Sion Sono gives the rock movie a makeover by fusing together slapstick, romance, politics, classic Hollywood Christmas movies, Tokusatsu films and stop-motion animation. A bizarre thing, this crazy movie is every movie you loved as a kid crammed into 117 minutes of cinematic lunacy.
The Blue Hour is a beautiful, dark and mysterious ghost story from Thai filmmaker Anucha Boonyawatana. Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas) is a gay teen who doesn’t fit in at school or within his family. He arranges a meeting with the dashing Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) at an abandoned swimming pool. Their hook-up quickly develops into something more serious as they find comfort and safety in each other’s friendship. As their relationship progresses, Tam’s life becomes increasingly confused as he struggles to differentiate dream from reality.
Shadows abound, pierced with swaths of light cut to ribbons by venetian blinds. Odd, angular futurist architecture juts into the sky, illuminated by spotlights from passing flying vehicles. There are fans slowly rotating everywhere. This is the future, after all. There must be fans. If nothing else, Synchronicity cuts an interesting shape, a quasi-dystopian future that seems devoid of affection, warmth. Taken purely on visuals, Synchronicity is top-notch. The problem, then, lies in storytelling.
A homicidal martial artist, a kung fu killer if you will, is on the loose challenging the best fighters in their discipline (boxing, kicking, weapons, etc.) to prove he alone is the greatest fighter on the planet. Hahou Mo, played by the phenomenal martial arts actor Donnie Yen (whose Yuen Wu Ping collaboration, Iron Monkey, is among the greatest in kung fu cinema), is serving a prison sentence for losing his control and killing a man, and just so happens to hold the title of the greatest fighter on the planet. Upon learning of the crimes, he offers his expertise to catch the madman before he kills again.
In some ways, the Japanese director Masaharu Take’s 100 Yen Love feels about as old-hat as the 12/8, bluesy guitar music which makes up the bulk of the film’s score: it’s yet another boxing drama about an outcast who finds herself in the ring. There’s nothing in the story we haven’t heard before, and, like the music, its willingness to rehash cliches makes it risk self-parody. But conveying art through established traditions can have a certain nostalgic charm, and both the music and the film it provides the soundtrack for play off tropes to create a crowd-pleaser which oozes appeal.
Taking cues from late ’70’s /early ’80s horror (primarily director Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery and John Carpenter’s The Fog), writer/director Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut We Are Still Here doesn’t break new ground, but serves as a suspenseful and well-crafted old-fashioned ghost story.
Some films just can’t stick to their strengths. There are some good jump scares inside Extinction, the post-apocalyptic zombie film from Spanish director Miguel Ángel Vivas, adapted from a novel by his countrymen Juan de Dios Garduño, but Vivas (who co-wrote the script with Alberto Marini) is too keen to turn his film into a melodrama to focus on the fright. The result is a plodding zombie drama with too much tonal inconsistency to succeed as either a character study or a terrifying gorefest.
New Zealand hasn’t produced many horror films over the years, but those it has given birth to are remarkably strong entries. The late ’80s and early ’90s witnessed the rise of Kiwi director Peter Jackson who made a name for himself with the Bad Taste (1988) and Dead Alive (1992). Jackson helped shine a spotlight on the countries genre offerings and his success no doubt opened the door for a new generation of Kiwi genre filmmakers. The latest of these films to make its way Stateside is Jason Lei Howden’s outrageous debut feature Deathgasm about a group of suburban metal heads who summon a demonic force.
Pink hair, silver nails, green eyes. Smoke rises from a rolled cigarette and from nearby work in the field. These impressions, whispers of a time and a place, fuel Catch Me Daddy the debut feature of Daniel Wolfe. The film is undeniably beautiful, a minimalist ode to the underside of Yorkshire life. The surfaces of image, sound and performance craft a poetic illusion that is impenetrable thematically and emotionally. The overall experience is intensely frustrating and incredibly empty.
A feeling of gloom pervades every frame of Bridgend, the Danish teen drama which makes its Canadian premiere at Fantasia. Even as the kids drink and dance in ecstasy (in a scene which wouldn’t be out of place in Skins, the British soap where star Hannah Murray got her break) or skinny dip in large groups, there’s an undeniable sense of melancholy in their maniacal celebrations. Given the sadness evident in otherwise ebullient scenes such as these, the ominous shots of the countryside shrouded in darkness or mournful messages on a computer screen make life in the film’s titular Welsh town seem unbearably grim.
Le diable est parmi nous (also known as The Possession of Virginia and Satan’s Sabbath) continues the Fantasia International Film Festival’s foray into the dark, sleazy recesses on Quebec’s cinematic past. This, like the previously-covered Pouvoir intime, is another homegrown genre effort that hasn’t seen the light of day on home video since the VHS era.