Cold in July

While I’d have been more than happy with Matthew C. Hall in a mullet, Sam Shephard being a lethal but loveable old dog, and Don Johnson reliving Vice-era novelties with a car phone the size of an attaché case and a red convertible the size of a tugboat, there’s a lot more to Cold in July than that.

Set in 1989 Texas, this Jim Mickle picture nimbly skirts a number of lines. It’s ghoulish, funny and, for lack of a better term, literary. For instance, it punctuates the shock of murder with a couch purchase and “I thought we’d agreed on floral patterns.” It buttons a contemplation of impending mass murder with Shephard’s character snapping “Get that gun out of my ear!”

Cold in July is an instance when compound talent has managed to deliver. The direction, screenplay, the stellar trio of actors at work and the noir magic of veteran genre and comics writer Joe R. Lansdale’s original novel all make their mark here. It makes for one of the most self-aware thrillers in a while, and it plain works, continually tussling between light and dark.

The Infinite Man

Remember that time you screwed up that one relationship so very bad? Well, The Infinite Man is the solution to that screw up, if you were an awkward-as-hell dork with the sweetness of a three-legged pup, an urge to overcompensate and control, and a TIME TRAVEL MACHINE.

Set at a deserted hotel in an Australian sand-scape, this impressive little film is both ruthlessly nipped and tucked and a ton of unbridled fun. Between Josh McConville as Hugh, Hannah Marshall as Lana, and Alex Dimitriades as the asshole ex with a javelin, it is overflowing with doubles plotting around each other and trying out a myriad of shoulda/coulda/woulda schemes. And just thinking about keeping the editing together as well as it was cut is enough to make my eyes bleed.

Director Hugh Sullivan makes it look deceptively easy, and delivers one of the smoothest time-travel rides encoutered since Back to the Future. I figure he has control issues, too, and they pay off on the screen.

THE INFINITE MAN Trailer from The Infinite Man on Vimeo.

Predestination

First thing that comes to mind when I think of the Spierig Brothers is how horrible Daybreakers was. All evidence pointed to them being expert stylists and otherwise null and void. But with Predetermination, the Brothers’ third feature, I get a feeling they’re gaining a grasp on, you know, narrative.

Still slick and spiffed as ever, but now way more lyrical than previously imaginable, this Spierig time-travel thriller had just enough variables to keep you engrossed, and enough textual heft to keep you interested once you’d figured it out. Doesn’t quite follow fellow Aussie production The Infinite Man, but as a different, much more action-driven piece, it carries its own slickness rather well and delivers swimmingly on the critical dramatic mass.

I could have done without the predictable action faux-pas, not to mention the transgendered character that didn’t want a sex change (what a way to present an underrepresented community . . . ), but it’s hard to find a deal-breaker with Predetermination. It’s an epic, really, complete with significant lushness and a patient puzzle that will suffice. Even Ethan Hawke doesn’t make himself unbearable, which is a directorial feat in itself. One thumb up!

The Creeping Garden

the creeping garden

This documentary isn’t even on IMDB (yet) and is likely the best you’ll see this year if you manage to see it. Out of post and flown to Montreal less than a week before it world-premiered at Fantasia, Jasper Sharp and Tim Grabham have been working on The Creeping Garden for three years. What starts as a documentary about slime mould ends up a film essay about the assignation of meaning an understudied, fascinating, reductive and mysterious life form has attracted.

Whether they be amateur naturalists, scientists, bio artists, time-lapse historians or computer engineers, everyone in The Creeping Garden has an expansive interpretation of what the life form means, and what it might mean going forward. Punctuated by a Jim O’Rourke score, a gorgeously careful film—this thing is beyond fascinating. A must-see.

As is the case whenever you consume a large amount of culture in a short span of time, Fantasia isn’t so much an experience of highs and lows as averages with the occasional spike in one direction or the other. While there is the occasional joyous, orgasmic cinematic experience and the occasional arduous, painful slog, for the most part things average out to being just ok. Last time, I took you through a few examples of that “just ok”-ness, but today we’re having a look at some of the highs and lows I’ve had at Fantasia 2014. And one movie about slime, because I thought of a snappy title.

In Order of Disappearance posterIn Order of Disappearance

Film nerds, in my experience, tend to be a jaded, cynical lot, prone to dark humour. So when a particularly dark comedy comes out, one can practically already hear the film buff community’s attention suddenly zeroing in like a Terminator locking on to its latest target. And In Order of Disappearance isn’t just a black comedy, it’s a comedy that absorbs light itself and crushes atoms into even smaller atoms that have to buy supplements off the internet so they don’t feel embarrassed in the atomic locker room anymore.

Stellan Skarsgard stars as a snowplow driver in Norway whose son is killed during an incident with the local mob and the usual quest for vengeance follows. In terms of tone, or at least the particularly obsidian shade of black the film’s comedy comes in, I’d compare it to In Bruges or even one of the Cohen Brothers’ darker comedies. Moments of stone-faced absurdity come frequently and images like a group of mob pallbearers being slowly raised onto the back of a truck by an arduously slow lift have all the morose hilarity of a perfectly timed pie thrown in the face of a sad clown.

I don’t even care that the photography occasionally looks like a car commercial. I don’t even care that it can be a bit sexist at times. This is black humour done perfectly, a deadpan knockout that left me without any doubt that it was the best thing I’d seen at Fantasia this year so far.

Guardian

As the blurb for Guardian is quick to point out, Indonesia is poised to become the next big hotspot for action movies, having already gifted the Raid films to an eternally grateful world.

What it failed to mention is that besides country of origin, The Raid and Guardian share nothing in common, quality level least of all.

While The Raid took a fairly small budget and used it effectively to deliver a tight, fast, hard-hitting action flick, Guardian tried to stretch what was probably a similarly-sized budget into a film with a much larger scope, featuring car chases, big action set pieces and more locales. While a skilled director may have been able to pull this off, it’s clear that “skilled” isn’t a word you’d use to describe most of the people who worked on Guardian.

The entire endeavor feels amateurish from top to bottom, from the horrendous photography that looks like something you’d get out of a cheap digital camera to the pointless and unbelievably bad visual effects. The shockingly scant martial arts scenes are so haphazardly filmed and edited that they become impossible to follow and the gunfights are endless shots of the heroes and villains firing machine guns at things with determined looks on their faces until the agreed upon allotment of people fall over, usually hamming it up in their herky-jerky death motions.

Nothing about it is engaging or interesting in the slightest way, and it all feels like a quick cash-grab thrown together in a week and shot on someone’s iPhone.

The Creeping Garden

“Hey, do you want to see a documentary on slime mold?” is a question that will usually be answered with blank stares and furtive movements toward the nearest exit. And while I understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Creeping Garden will probably end up being one of the docs to watch this year and not just if you’re Egon Spengler.

Creeping Gaden imageSlime molds, the film tells us, are a critically understudied organism, neither animal nor plant nor fungus. After a basic introduction to what slime molds are and what we know about them, the film becomes a highlight reel of all the weird but interesting stuff people are doing with them just for the sheer fuck of it. We meet people making slime mold art, using them as computers, as parts of robots and even to make music. This also comes after a brief, and a bit tangential, look at the origins of science films and time-lapse photography, which will probably interest film historians to no end but may seem like an odd dalliance to others.

But the centrepiece of it all is the time-lapse photography of slime molds in action, running mazes, absorbing food, or just living, pulsating and undulating like something out of a horror movie (probably one that has played at Fantasia in the past). The imagery captured in these sequences is stunning and memorable and the accompanying score gives it an almost Herzogian feel.

I can’t help but feel that The Creeping Garden lacks a bit of consistency as flits about from topic to topic a little too quickly and that maybe focusing more on slime mold biology might have been more interesting than one of the several slime mold-related endeavors the film presents us with. That being said, The Creeping Garden is still a hell of an interesting doc, with enough formal charm that it isn’t being entirely carried by the subject matter.

The Creeping Garden – official trailer from cinema iloobia on Vimeo.

Fantasia is upon us. If you are anything like me and the fans that flock to theatres for this one of a kind experience, your summer can finally begin. The lineup this year is stellar which makes choosing which films to see that much more difficult. Screening decision anxiety and panic is amongst us. Never fear! Take out your colour-coded pens, rulers and notebooks; here are the must-sees of the 2014 lineup!

15.  Metalhead

001-8

Director: Ragnar Bragson

Writer: Ragnar Bragson

Iceland, 2013

Metalhead touches on themes of tragedy, grief, youth, faith and fate. Hera lives in a small town with little to offer her and is haunted by the death of her brother. She rebels against the bourgeois world of her parents and creates a safe haven for herself in the world of heavy metal: a world that she slips further into body and soul.

Screenings: Monday, August 4 at 7:10 p.m. and Tuesday, August 5 at 7:35 p.m at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve w.).

 

14. The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)

001-3

Director: Alejandro Hidalgo

Writer: Alejandro Hidalgo

Venezuela, 2013

Dulce receives ghostlike messages warning her of her husband murdering his own children. Panic ensues as do tragic events and Dulce is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit. Thirteen years later, on parole, Dulce must stay within the house where all these tragic events happened. Fantasia programmer Mitch Davis hails this tale as both scary and touching: not your typical haunted house story.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke and Wednesday, July 30 at 5:20 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

 

13. Feed the Devil

001-16

Director: Max Perrier

Writer: Matthew Altman

Canada, 2014

The world premiere of Feed the Devil is co-presented by the Montreal First Peoples Festival. This film follows Marcus, who is in dire need of some fast cash, as he, his sister and his girlfriend search for a marijuana plantation rumoured to be near a First Nations reserve. According to legend, this plantation is smack in the middle of a hunting ground for the gods, where no human is to enter and no human who has dared to enter has ever returned.

Screening: Monday, August 4 at 8:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve e.).
* Tickets for this film will not be available through Fantasia’s ticket outlets and Fantasia passes are not valid for this film. Visit Montreal First Peoples Festival for more info.

 

12. The Snow White Murder Case

001-12

Director Yoshihhiro Nakamura

Writers: Tamio Hayashi, Kamae Minato

Japan, 2014

When a young office worker’s body is found, social media is quick to make the news viral. A television director soon comes into some juicy intel and realizes that this sensational case might be the perfect way to break through in the industry. He begins to to investigate the case, accounts multiply and cloud the waters: who killed Noriko?

Screening: Tuesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

11. Cybernatural

001-15

Director: Leo Gabriadze

Writer: Nelson Greaves

USA, 2014

After a humiliating video is posted online by her friends, a young girl kills herself. On the anniversary of her death, the six cyberbullies meet up on Skype. However, an uninvited seventh user joins the conversation and seems to know everything about the crime. As events unfold in real time, the six cyberbullies get a taste of their own medicine and the body count soon begins to rise.

Screening: Sunday, July 20 at 9:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.

 

10. The Creeping Garden

001-14

Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp

United Kingdom, 2014

This documentary centres on something all around us but almost everyone is unaware of it: plasmodial slime mold. Slime mold is not plant, not fungus, nor animal but a strange hodge-podge of all three. It even exhibits forms of intelligence. The Creeping Garden explores this uncanny organism through interviews and microscopic photography and boasts a score by Jim O’Rourke.

Screenings: Sunday, July 27 at 9:45 p.m. & Monday, July 28 at 3 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

 

9. Life After Beth

001-7

Director: Jeff Baena

Writer: Jeff Baena

USA, 2014

This comedy follows Zack who falls to pieces after the death of Beth, his longtime sweetheart. Zack grows closer to Beth’s parents in the wake of her death until they suddenly shut him out. For, you see, Beth has come back from the grave and doesn’t realize she’s died. Zack is overjoyed… but for how long?

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 7:15 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

8. At The Devil’s Door 

Director: Nick McCarthy

Screenplay: Nick McCarthy

USA, 2014

From the writer of The Pact, a film that left audiences with an unshakeable chill, comes this tale of a real estate agent (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who faces the task of trying to sell a house with a sordid past. The film stars names you will recognize such as Naya Ricera (Glee) and Ashley Rockwards (Awkward). I can’t wait to see them in something out of high school and into a more dark and dangerous setting.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre & Tuesday, July 29 at 5:10 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

 

7. Honeymoon

001-2

Director:  Leigh Janiak

Screenplay: Leigh Janiak , Phil Graziadei

USA, 2014

Honeymoon is a cabin-set flick that refuses to rely on traditional scares. Paul and Bea are on their honeymoon but things aren’t quite the bliss that you’d expect. The central questions in this film are “who did I marry?” and “am I enough?”

Screenings: Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.

 

6. Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kurage)

001-5

Director: Takashi Murakami

Screenplay: Takashi Murakami, Jun Tsugita

Japan, 2013

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the sci-fi/fantasy epic Jellyfish Eyes sponsored by The Japanese Foundation at this year’s Fantasia. Masashi’s father was lost in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulting in his mother relocating them to a small town, near a university research center. Masashi finds a little flying creature and soon discovers that all the others kids at school have secret creature buddies who — unlike his pink bud, Jellyfish Boy — are controlled by their smartphones. But all isn’t honky dory in this town and something dark is brewing…

Screenings: Sunday, July 20 at 12 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

5. Housebound

001-4

Director: Gerard Johnstone

Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone

New Zealand, 2014

Kylie is on house arrest in the home where she grew up where she is forced to live with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Like Kylie, an angry spirit is also displeased with the new living arrangement. But like it or not, Kylie is gonna have to do the time — even if it’s in a haunted house.

Screening: Sunday, August 3 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

 

4. The Harvest

001-6

Director: John McNaughton

Screenplay: Stephen Lancelloti

USA, 2013

When Andy gets sick, his pediatric heart surgeon mother, Katherine, has to start working from home. When a neighbourhood girl begins to befriend Andy, his parents — whose universes have centred around him and his illness — react in a strange way. According to Mitch Davis, “The Harvest exists in a disquieting median space between sinister fairy tale and shattering human horror.” And if that’s not enough, The Harvest promises what looks like a kick-ass performance by Samantha Morton.

Screening: Monday, July 21 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke.

 

3. The Midnight Swim

001-10

Director: Sarah Adina Smith

Screenplay: Sarah Adina Smith

USA, 2014

The Midnight Swim is one of the most intriguing films of this year’s program. Dr. Amelia Brooks studied the mysteries of bottomless Spirit Lake, which became the site of her death when she didn’t resurface after a dive. Her three daughters head to Spirit Lake to reflect on their relationships with their mother and return to their family home. The sisters begin to believe that something supernatural is at hand after they jokingly summon the spirits of women who have drowned in the lake.

Screening: Sunday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.

 

2. Suburban Gothic

002

Director: Richard Bates, Jr.

Screenplay: Mark Linehan Bruner, Richard Bates Jr.

USA, 2014

Suburban Gothic is the second feature by Richard Bates Jr., director of the bloody and breathtaking Excision. The film follows Raymond (Matthew Gray Grubler) who, like many of us in Montreal, can’t find a job with his college degree and has to move back in with his parents. Raymond has had visions for most of his life and joining with local bartender Becca (played by the amazing Kat Dennings) things go in unexpected ways. According to Ted Geoghegan, “Suburban Gothic is popcorn cinema at its most endearing — a saccharine ghost story featuring a faultless mix of honest scares and well-played humour.”

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

1. Frank 

001-1

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

United Kingdom, 2014

Official selection at Sundance 2014, Frank stars Michael Fassbender as Frank, the frontman of a band who swears by a giant plaster cartoon head that he never takes off. The film follows Jon who meets Frank and his strange lineup of bandmates and follows them down a strange musical odyssey to the SXSW festival in Texas.

Screenings: Sunday, August 3 at 4:20 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre & Monday, August 4 at 5:15 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.

/////////////////////////

Honourable mentions:

Man in the Orange Jacket, Aux Yeux Des Vivants, Prom Night, Dys-, Wetlands, When Animals Dream, To Be Takei, and Summer of Blood

/////////////////////////

The 2014 edition of Fantasia runs from July 17 to August 6.