MEGA TIME SQUAD — Played July 16 — directed by Tim VanDammen, New Zealand
A small-town crook (Anton Tennet) finds an ancient Chinese time-travel device that can help him pull off a heist and start a new life — but he may not survive the consequences of tampering with time.
Maybe it is too early to say this, but at least up to this point in the festival, MEGA TIME SQUAD is sitting solidly in my number one slot. Worst case scenario, it will still stay in the top three. This is going to be loved by millions when it reaches a wider audience.
What we have is a great blend of comedy and science fiction. This is also a crime story, and even a romance, but the real heart is the comedy. The humor presented works on multiple levels — from the visual cues (a gun that is aimed in a wildly impossible way), to the smart aleck remarks. Best of all is the sheer absurdity. As far-fetched as most time travel films are, they generally try to maintain an internal logic or consistency. This one throws everything logical out the window, which will hurt your brain if you dwell on it, but will leave you in stitches if you just go along or the ride.
A special nod must be given to the effects crew. The gore moments (as few as they were) were done perfectly. More impressive was the ability to have multiple copies of the same man on screen. I mean, sure, it’s not a new concept… just think of Michael Keaton in MULTIPLICITY. But whether they used camera tricks or stunt doubles or a combination, it was flawless in every way.
Score: A (maybe even A+)
I HAVE A DATE WITH SPRING — Played July 16 — directed by Baek Seung-bin, South Korea
Ashes cover the sky and an unknown existence chooses four humans on their birthdays to give them the most unforgettable gift a day before the world ends.
Without dwelling too much on the negative, DATE WITH SPRING was an overall disappointment. There just seemed to be very little going on beyond the drama of people being reunited in rather mundane situations. It was neither funny, nor heart-warming, and really seemed out of place in a film festival that celebrates the fantastic.
The one exception was the segment we might call “Su-min and the Sisters of Blood”. While only five minutes or so, this was the sort of thing we could have used more of. The clever camera coloring, the threat of an outside invader, and young people willing to fight back. For a film about the world ending, there really was very little to say about the end of the world.
But, of course, not long after the film almost-but-not-really redeems itself with the Su-min sequence, we get a really poorly drawn CGI crab. And that just sums it up: disappointment.
CHAINED FOR LIFE — Played July 18th – Directed by Aaron Schimberg, USA
This film-within-a-film is set behind the scenes of a wacky horror film where a romance blooms between characters Rosenthal (Adam Pearson, UNDER THE SKIN)), who suffers from neurofibromatosis, an affliction that causes tumors to grow around nerves, and a beautiful blind woman (Jess Weixler, TEETH).
The film opens with a Pauline Kael quotation on the beauty of actors, and how their above-average charisma draws us to the screen. She was, of course, right. But the exact opposite is also true, as this film so clearly shows us (though never states explicitly): we can be drawn to the grotesque, as to a car accident or derailed train. Perhaps it is not beauty that draws us, but any deviation from the mundane?
Not just the opening frame, but much of the film is filled with classic quotations, such as Quintilian’s belief that “laughter is never very far removed from derision”. Whether or not this statement is true, it does fit the film well. We are often left wondering if the cast and crew befriends the “freaks” sincerely or merely as some sort of spectacle.
The film-within-the-film has a wonderful color palette, almost Wes Anderson-esque at times, particularly in the earlier scenes. The meta-talk about exploitation is clever, with the creators knowing full well anything said about the fake film could also be said about the real film. If the fake director is exploiting the “freaks”, does that not by extension mean that Aaron Schimberg is (even if he consciously deflects it by bringing up the topic)?
Although there are some deeper messages and themes, the overall tone is light and this is a fun film with a lot of heart. The humor does not usually present itself in full, but there are exceptions. This is true most of all when we hear the big speech from the director (Charlie Korsmo, HOOK) on the Muppets and how they are “half human, half beast”. That is sheer hilarity.
CAM -– Played July 18th –- directed by Daniel Goldhaber, USA
A young camgirl (Madeline Brewer, THE HANDMAID’S TALE) discovers that she’s inexplicably been replaced on her site with an exact replica of herself.
Any type of “sex work” has a certain risk attached. Some more than others; but the “cam” scene seems like such a dark, dangerous world. Interacting with questionable men, getting them to think they might be something more than a voyeur… and apparently in some cases even meeting in person. With the wrong person, such a meeting could turn deadly. (Not surprisingly, such a scenario exists in the film!)
These awful possibilities would make a compelling horror film on their own, but they go a step further, compounding the horror with something we all dread: identity theft. Some of this we can feel directly — getting locked out of an account, for example. But there is an almost supernatural element here… a literal theft of someone’s identity. (Could this happen in real life? You’ll have to watch and decide for yourself.)
The film says a little something about (American) society, too, and our addiction to praise and acceptance, always upping the ante of what we are willing to do to get that praise. Now, most of us are not getting nude on the Internet (though some are), but a great many are out there in search of the Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. The difference between a cam girl and the rest of is is surprisingly slim.
Score: A (maybe A+)
THE VANISHED –- Played July 18th — Directed by Lee Chang-hee, South Korea
The body of Yoon Seol Hee (Hee-ae Kim) disappears from the National Institute of Scientific Investigation. Detective Woo Joong Shik (Sang-kyung Kim, MEMORIES OF MURDER) seeks clues on her disappearance, while her husband Park Jin Han (Kang-woo Kim) claims she is alive.
Starting out with a strong plot, the film is enhanced by some decent cinematography with a blue-grey color scheme, and some simple yet clever shots (like a woman’s glasses steaming up while drinking a hot beverage). The framing is also quite interesting — wide but somewhat short, with tight shots that make things a bit claustrophobic (we are almost always inside, and it is often raining). Calling the film a “visual feast” is too strong, but a visual snack would be fair.
The film works on multiple levels. It could be seen as a ghost story (the corpse vanishes!) or a thriller (there is a tense man-inside-the-house scene), but works best as a mystery or detective story with hints of the supernatural. The solution could be something simple (catalepsy) or something more nefarious. Brilliantly, the viewers never know any more than the lead character, so it is a ride we all take together. Given how great the film is, and how much Americans dislike watching foreign films, this seems like a prime contender for a remake in the next year or two.
BLUE MY MIND — Played July 19th — Directed by Lisa Brühlmann, Switzerland
15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler) is facing an overwhelming transformation which calls her entire existence into question. Her body is changing radically, and despite desperate attempts to halt the process, it continues unabated.
Shannon Liao writes, “Enjoying the film requires enjoying teen angst and body horror since there isn’t a moment without them.” That really sums up the gist of BLUE MY MIND. For my money, the strong point is the body horror. Some moments are not for the squeamish, as Mia goes to great lengths in order to stop her transformation. The “teen angst” is where things faltered for me. While certainly the situations are depicted in a realistic manner, the idea of watching groups of immature girls choke each other and make poor sexual decisions is not for me.
One has to wonder about the title. Indeed, there is a lot of blue in this film. Blue tinting, blue blankets, blue wardrobes. Not to an overwhelming degree, but definitely enough to get the point across. Though, what was the point? Why all the blue, and what does the title mean?
Much of what made the film really good were all the allusions, some subtle and some not subtle at all. Unfortunately, in this review it would be hard to comment on them because they would require giving away the transformation. Allusion, metaphor and foreshadowing is the name of the game here.