Fantasia Festival 2017: Fashionista (2016)

Fashionista (2016)

fashionista

Director and writer: Simon Rumley

Cast: Amanda Fuller, Ethan Embry, Eric Balfour, Alex Essoe, Jemma Evans, Alexandria DeBerry, Devon Bonnee

A woman who uses clothes as an emotional crutch discovers her life isn’t as ideal as she thought… – IMDB

Consumerism is a thriving issue to look at. The addiction of it all and here lies the centre of what this drama and mystery thriller is all about. As the words opening the movie at Fantasia, Fashionista takes you into a world of addiction, sex and rock and roll. Simon Rumley directs and writes this film in a non-linear fashion and films it mostly in that non-linear way. Experimental and unique and the texture of it all is also incredibly independent. It is one of the reasons that Fantasia Festival is such a wonderful experience as we get to see these special pieces of cinema and dive into worlds and film-making styles that we don’t usually get exposed to. Fashionista’s strength lies in this originality of its non-linear presentation. It makes its audience work hard to piece it all together throughout and draw their own conclusions. The majority of it makes sense and the final act will generally resolve most of your suspicions. It sends a message about consumerism and the addiction of one person possibly in an irrational way. Simon Rumley does a great job and capturing the emotions and making very artistic shots.

Its hard to talk about Fashionista without giving praise to its cast. Amanda Fuller takes on the role of April, a woman who lives a dream owning a vintage clothes shop with her husband, Eric ( played by Ethan Embry). She loves clothes and is addicted to its touch and fabric as we quickly learn. She goes through many outfits throughout the movie, something like over a hundred. Amanda Fuller embodies April very well as she is believable in showing us her addiction and as her life falls apart, the reliance on these superficial things in her life. Her behavior shifts easily with every scene especially as she finds out that her husband is having an affair. None of this is spoilers as the trailer shows it. This hops her into another phase in life which enters rich bad boy Randall (played by Eric Balfour) that takes her for another trip filled with sex. Of course, all this is jumbled as the film presents snippets of Randall in the first act and makes us wonder what his whole deal is. Both Ethan Embry and Eric Balfour play great supporting roles here. Their characters are different and in turn as the story unfolds gives us a different feeling.

However, Fashionista does fall short with a less than engaging first act. It takes a long time and spends a little too much time emphasizing on the marriage breakup. Perhaps it is to make sure we connect with April more to feel her pain and her reliance and release with her clothes as she has almost orgasmic reactions when she is with them. It creates a mesmerizing snapshot however it is done a little too much. Some parts of the slow first act could’ve cut down to make this a more compact experience. Not to mention that the fragments were a little much. While well-timed such as keeping the injection of a mysterious woman played by Alex Essoe delightfully short but enough to make us wonder her connection to the rest of the fragments that doesn’t seem to go together. Fashionista truly picks up as Eric Balfour enters the scene and takes us on another journey, similar but different and possibly a little more thrilling. It teases us with a few events and when the entire piece falls into place, it offers up a lot of tension but leaving space for still some mystery.

The rock and roll part is a cornerstone of Fashionista. Its carefully selected music that transitions from one scene to the next or highlighting a certain event or moment. However, it also is these moments where the music is overpowering. Perhaps it is to make sure it overwhelms to emphasize the emotions and become more involved with the story. Unfortunately, it is one of the situations a few moments in we wished that we were watching this at home and we can turn down the volume or later on, whether the movie would voice its story better and be more thrilling and experience using silence instead.

Fashionista is a unique experience, highlighting an important message about addiction to consumerism. It is worth viewing simply for the fantastic performance from Amanda Fuller and its original concept of non-linear storytelling filmed in a non-linear way. It is a thrilling experience however it falls short due to a slow first act and overwhelming musical moments that took away from the movie more than it added. Less is more comes to mind in terms of that criticism. Fashionista is a worth a watch for all its outstanding elements however, perhaps more suitable as a home experience.

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Fantasia Festival 2017: Le Serpent aux Milles Coupures (2017)

Le Serpent aux Milles Coupures (aka Thousand Cuts, 2017)

Director: Eric Valette

Cast: Tomer Sisley, Terence Yin, Pascal Greggory, Stephane Debac, Erika Sainte

Le Serpent aux Mille Coupures, aka The Snake with a Thousand Cuts/ Thousand Cuts, is a French crime thriller that centre around a mysterious killing of three drug traffickers. that happens in the small town farm area. The hitman escapes injured and hides out in a mixed family that is already being bullied by their neighbors very much against their will. As the traffickers’ family sends over their own hitman to hunt down and revenge their death, we see four sides of the story from the cops, the neighbors, the hiding hitman and the hunting hitman. The violence and characters are what truly stands out in this adaptation of the French novel with the same name written by DOA.

Thousand Cuts is a reference on the ruthless killer Tod played by primarily Hong Kong actor, Terence Yin. However, the other characters prove to be equally important. Terence Yin pulls off a rather sadistic killer who speaks in Spanish and English (at times illegible, where we wished the there would be subtitles also). However, a lot of his dialogue helped us understand his origins while his cruel torture and killing methods and the obsession for his knife never quite gets further than being a disturbing aftermath. His character felt like its main purpose was to show the extreme cruel, dark side of being a heartless killer in a rather cliche background sort of way. However, his role helped to give a contrast to Tomer Sisley’s nameless injured hitman who is mostly referred to as The Motorcyclist. A killer who is hunted and perhaps is the most intriguing among the characters because he seems to be capable of emotion and manipulation and yet the question arises at a certain point whether he longs for something more or that he is using the emotions of being human to manipulate. This character is deep and will be the centre of provoking further discussion of this movie. The best parts of the film are actually with The Motorcyclist because he is multi-layered and always seems to have something more to discover and wonder.

As a crime thriller, Thousand Cuts offers a decent amount of thrills whether it is in the visual disturbing images by Tod or even the multi-layered Motorcyclist. However, its hard to imagine that this tale is so much more and yet so many issues are not fleshed out enough. It touches only slightly on the family that The Motorcyclist chooses and their issues dealing with racism from the neighboring farms, emphasizing a small town characteristic, but never deep enough or long enough to feel a purpose to it, except to show that The Motorcyclist’s choice of choosing this family makes him also a bully and a bad man, which has proven that perhaps he really isn’t that bad. The neighborhood in the farm area also is a focus that never seems to matter too much even when the finale seems them converging at the same location for the big finale. The fact is Thousand Cuts feels disjointed in many parts and the majority of the characters never seem to get the depth that they deserve. Visually, Terence Yin pulls off a great villain with his ruthless acts but his acts are only there for shock value and reassurance of  his character rather his reluctant driver becomes the comic relief pulling some dark humor in various spots.

Thousand Cuts has the potential to be something more. However, its slow pace and disjointed storyline lacks a certain depth that helps make it memorable. Terence Yin pulls off some great dialogue and captures his role very well. However, the outstanding performances goes to Tomer Sisley as The Motorcyclist who thrills us by the grey area his character resides in constantly. The final act is definitely the best part of the movie as everything comes together and has some engaging action. Thousand Cuts is put together with good moments but somehow it still falls short of its potential. However, if you can put the story aside, the performances here and the imagery is done very well and the set location is also a great choice and these credits go to the director Eric Valette, which makes this one worth checking out.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast

Director and writer: Gabriela Amaral Almeida

Cast: Luciana Paes, Murilo Benicio, Irandhir Santos, Camila Morgado, Humberto Carrao, Ariclenes Barroso

 For the small audience that got to see the World Premiere of Portuguese thriller Friendly Beast, this was as the director calls it “another animal”. Friendly Beast takes place in a small restaurant as it nears closing and last minute customers are there along with the owner, a waitress and a chef. As tension within the restaurant staff with the owner and even its customers build, two armed robbers burst in. This sets the stage as the owner now peels off his friendly smiling face and counteracts in his own way. On the surface, Friendly Beast is an intense thriller that sees two key characters find who they are, both oppressed of what they truly want whether they know it or not. Under this is many tones about control in general to man and woman’s power in relationships, different races and social class clashes. Gabriela Amaral Almeida, presented this debut piece and told the audience that this script was stemmed from anger and frustration from the director and writer of Friendly Beast as Brazil’s political changes stunted her progress with another project. While she explains that the film has undertones of highlighting the Brazilian culture and politics, for those unfamiliar with Brazil politics, there are still many other themes to explore.

Friendly Beast is an intriguing piece to talk about. Mostly because there is so much care and detail at how the entire script is staged. Yes, this movie is carefully staged so that each room creates a different tone and atmosphere. This becomes an important element to understanding the character development. Friendly Beast is a one setting movie and yet because of how the rooms are used, it feels like there is much more space and meaning. For example, the dining room is where everything is put on a facade. It is falsely pretty but as the space becomes more disordered throughout the movie, the characters have also changed to be more outwardly on being themselves while in contrast, the washroom is a private closed space and its where the most real feelings are released in hiding.

There is no doubt that Friendly Beast is about its characters in all their motions and quietness and words. Every move is rehearsed and calculated to fully express what that scene wants to show its audience. In fact, the two main characters here are familiar faces. Murilo Benicio, who plays restaurant owner Inacio, is a renowned actor in the Brazil film industry. Luciana Paes, who plays Sara the waitress, was recently in Netflix Original series 3%. Both of them deliver incredibly engaging roles that even in their most quiet moments create tension. It makes the audience experience various phases and we soon realize that the performances reflect a great script put together to give each moment in this 90+ minutes importance. Some scenes will challenge you and others will literally make you feel uneasy and that also has to do with the sound design and the soundtrack.

There are times when directors talk about what they are trying to portray in their piece and it is a far-fetched idea that doesn’t get executed well. Gabriela Amaral Almeida and Friendly Beast is definitely not the case. If you see this movie (which you should), take the time to see between those lines and see the story she is trying to tell. Take a close look at what she has staged and let the building quiet tension grab you. And when Friendly Beast ends, it may very well sit on your mind afterwards.

Fantasia 2017: Tilt (2017)

Tilt (2017)

Tilt poster

Director & co-writer: Kasra Farahani

Cast: Joseph Cross, Alexia Rasmussen, Jessy Hodges, Kelvin Yu

An unemployed documentary filmmaker’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant. – IMDB

A mind’s control over a chaos. Tilt is a movie about exactly that. Also, it stems from possibly the main character, Joe’s first documentary called Tilt and its tagline about control and chaos and skill in regards to pinball which could easily be carried forward to how we watch him slowly spiral towards his urge of becoming someone that he doesn’t recognize. The best way to describe Tilt would be a slow-burn character study of a person who slowly changes as perhaps their subconscious desires take a path they try to resist.

Tilt is an interesting one. We love horror thrillers and slow-burn movies and honestly, those types of movies are possibly the hardest to get right. Tilt does a decent job at setting up the stage. The technicalities from sound design to production set to the cast were done very well. It was captivating in parts and intriguing in others. Tilt’s first and third act were all of these things, wrapped up in a lot of questions and slowly gives the audience pieces to put together and wonder whether our main character Joe, played by Joseph Cross, will eventually spiral to. Where the film may fall a little short is in the incredibly dragged out second act that we can understand the purpose of watching our character, his observations and his resistance come into full force however, it also was a grinding experience to get through falling into the tedious territory for a few brief moments. What does redeem this movie is the unknown and the unsaid. Things happen and we can only wonder and link and imagine some, (at times) disturbing ideas.

It is hard to do a film like Tilt where it combines the thriller genre with a character study. For all its intrigued and ideas executed well most of the time, perhaps one of the harder things to invest into would be the characters themselves. The cast did incredibly well with how these characters are scripted, particularly our main couple, Joe and Joanne. We see the stress and the sacrifices and the tears that the pregnancy and upcoming addition to their family has caused. Perhaps this is what causes these issues to arise subtly in Joe’s personality as he spends many hours by himself.  However, as impressive as Joseph Cross and Alexia Rasmussen portrayed their characters, it is hard to be rooting for any one of them in particular. Perhaps that isn’t the point because it does feel like these characters were created to not truly be likable as they struggle with this new stress that has entered their lives as they have to face a new reality.

With that said, Tilt does a lot of technical aspects right. The scenes, moods, atmosphere are done incredibly well. They help create that sense of fear and dread as well as danger and intrigue. The script itself tells just enough to make us wonder and link things but never truly know if our guess is correct or not. That is what makes a thriller fun as the finale pulls together masterfully. It has some disturbing scenes and ideas and all this is thanks to a great performance by Joseph Cross. However, the downfall of this film lies in characters we can’t seem to get behind and that make sit harder to truly feel invested into their outcome and also a second act that could’ve been perhaps executed a little better in various parts. Not a perfect thriller, however one that executes many things well enough to deserve a watch.

Double Feature: Wait Till Helen Comes (2016) & Final Girl (2015)

Another double feature has arrived.

We have a mix of horror and thriller (?). The first one is one that I rented on Google Play store and the other was on Netflix, a new addition of sorts. Two more obscure titles, I would imagine. And no, this is Final Girl and not Final Girls.

Lets check it out!

Wait Till Helen Comes (2016)

Wait Till Helen Comes

Director: Dominic James

Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Maria Bello, Isabelle Nelisse, Callum Keith Rennie, Abigail Pniowsky, William Dickinson

When a reconstructed family moves to a converted church in the country, 14-year-old Molly, must save her new troubled step-sister from a dangerous relationship with the desperate ghost of a young girl. –IMDB

Wait Till Helen Comes is an indie horror. There are quite a few charms to it such as some scenes are directed really well and the set was suitable and worked to give an isolated/secluded perhaps abandoned area. That is always good for horror. Moving to a new home and families coming together also gives a lot of mystery to the characters and gives them a chance to develop. In concept, Wait Till Helen Comes has all the typical ingredients to make it work fine as a horror however perhaps because it uses such normally seen pieces that it becomes slightly more predictable. For the record, this is based on a novel however I have not read it so for myself this is a standalone piece with nothing to compare to.

Wait Till Helen Comes

Wait Till Helen Comes has some decent performances. Maria Bello is there as the mother and an artist. Her character works hard to create a balance in the new family put together because of her marriage. In many ways, she fits a mold also because while she starts off thinking her daughter is making up things and suspecting she went off her medication, she does come around. As for her teenage daughter Molly, a young actress Sophie Nelisse, does a convincing job of learning how to be a bigger sister. Although subtle, the change in her character happens gradually throughout the story as she tries to protect (in her own way) her younger sister Heather , who is the daughter of her stepfather recently picked up from a home to hopefully rehabilitate her after her mother’s death. Heather, played by Isabelle Nelisse, is rather unsettling to watch as well.

While the story does have a decent turn of events in the final act and some well-executed scenes to build up the atmosphere, it is hard to not completely feel involved because it lacks a bit of originality as it falls into a lot of horror troupes from moving into a run-down home to a rather typical ghost story. However, this one is still alright.

Final Girl (2015)

Final Girl

Director: Tyler Shields

Cast: Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Logan Huffman, Cameron Bright, Alexander Ludwig, Reece Thompson

A man teaches a young woman how to become a complete weapon. Later she is approached by a group of sadistic teens who kill blonde women for unknown reasons. The hunting season begins. – IMDB

I like Abigail Breslin a lot. I probably talked about it when I wrote up my TV Binge for Scream Queens Season 1 and probably for The Call recently. I love a ton of her movies when she was younger: Nim’s Island, Zombieland, Little Miss Sunshine, etc. Then she makes these really odd choices in movies now. Final Girl is a thriller that falls apart so fast that it never really creates any fun. Its tacky and pretty stupid. It tries really hard to be stylish with these cool scenes as they present each of the guys in the rich kids that have secret killing fetish in the woods to hunt down defenseless girls, particularly blondes. Abigail Breslin for some odd reason is trained as a child by a man who lost his daughter tragically on a journey to revenge. What does these two things have in common: nothing much from what I saw. I can’t say that the performances are bad because I feel that the story is the main problem. Its just so poorly constructed. Its disjointed and pointless and in the end, we really don’t care too much about any of these characters.

There’s some stylish shots and perhaps in a biased way, Abigail Breslin does okay. But seriously, nothing saves a movie with a story that takes itself far too seriously in light of some bad dialogue and poor story. Unfortunately, this one didn’t have any thrills.

This wraps up the Double Feature!
Have you seen these two movies? What did you think of them?

Double Feature: Violet & Daisy (2011) & The Gift (2015)

Welcome to another Double Feature!

Before we start, I’d like to apologize if things are and will be sporadic, they probably will still be for the next week. Real life work that pays the bills is taking a front seat right now and I foresee lots of overtime this week. However, if all goes as planned, there should be an unboxing this week some time and probably some reviews or TV Binge. The material is there, its just finding time and energy to write it up.

Today’s double feature is for Violet and Daisy & The Gift. Thrillers and a little odd. Probably The Gift deserves its own post but its a thriller and I don’t want to spoil it so just keeping it to myself although I’m fairly certain at this point, a ton of you have already seen it since a ton of people praised it when it was first released. Anyways, I finally got around to watching it. Violet and Daisy however is way overdue as I watched that on the train to Toronto for ComiCon so its over a month that I’ve seen it at this point.

Let’s check it out! 🙂

Violet & Daisy (2011)

violet & daisy

Director (and writer): Geoffrey Fletcher

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel, James Gandolfini, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Danny Trejo

Two teenage assassins accept what they think will be a quick-and-easy job, until an unexpected target throws them off their plan. – IMDB

Violet & Daisy is one odd and quirky movie. The reason for my choosing this movie is completely because I love Alexis Bledel (because of The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants and recently Gilmore Girls) and even more so, Saoirse Ronan who has never disappointed me even if the movie itself is not fascinating. Violet & Daisy may seem disjointed and way too weird for its own good but somehow it works and it has to do with the small but charming cast. Violet & Daisy are young teenage assassins out on a mission. They are each other’s best friends and have each other’s back especially as they fangirl and look forward to the newest fashion line by their favorite designer. It feels like they are everyday teenage girls except when a mission is given, they can also be incredibly brutal and efficient to get rid of their target. Their next mission is sent to kill a man who surprisingly seems like he wants to die and has someone else on his tail. This man who we never learn the name of is played by James Gandolfini and he delivered a wonderful performance as he changes what typically happens in these assassinations situation and in turn, open up Violet & Daisy and as we learn more about his story, we also learn more about Violet and Daisy’s which also puts their friendship or partnership in a dilemma.

Surprises and a pretty clever script gives these characters a lot of life. Even if it is weird and odd at times, there are some great moments and character development here that work really well. Not to mention, some really convincing performances in general. I liked this one a lot.

The Gift (2015)

the gift

Director (and writer): Joel Edgerton

Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman

A young married couple’s lives are thrown into a harrowing tailspin when an acquaintance from the husband’s past brings mysterious gifts and a horrifying secret to light after more than 20 years. – IMDB

The Gift is a tense thriller however, perhaps the best part of it is the way it builds its characters up and fleshes them through with their secrets as the finale unfolds and leaves us cleverly wondering what it all means. The Gift is smart. And yet, because it is best seen with the least amount of knowledge possible, it is very hard to write about.

I can say that The Gift is pretty great. Its a little slow at parts and really dives into building the tension with a lot of quiet moments as we suspect about this suspicious high school friend and re-enters their life and slowly reveals the true nature of these characters and why they are there and how certain things happen for whatever reason. Jason Bateman pulls off a fantastic performance, probably one of my faves. Joel Edgerton does a great role as well.

Its well-planned and executed effectively with some great character development and a finale that will kind of blow your mind and make you think about what it all means.

That’s it for the double feature!
Sorry for the delay!
I’d say to expect this for this week mostly because I don’t have the time I usually would to put these together. 
Things will be back to normal next week!

Have you seen these two movies before?

Unforgettable (2017)

Its been since September and Queen of Katwe (review here) but finally, we got selected for the advanced screening for the next movie. Its funny because I didn’t even know about this movie until we went to the theatres for Ghost in the Shell (review here) a few weeks ago. Unforgettable snuck in without really a lot of previews or trailers and totally under the radar. Since Grey’s Anatomy, I had my eye on Katherine Heigl but it seems that she has vanished the last few years and well, Rosario Dawson is quite the opposite especially with her involvement in the whole Daredevil and such Netflix Original series. With that said, not sure what to expect with this one.

This is the first time we had the advanced screening at a Cineplex VIP lounge and at the theatre near us so it was quite a unique experience. Not only did we get the advanced screening but it also came with some appetizers (buffet-style) and a ticket for beer or a glass of wine. Pretty classy and enjoyable. I actually didn’t expect the whole nine yards so it was pretty awesome.

Now for the main feature, let’s check it out!

Unforgettable (2017)

Unforgettable

Director: Denise Di Novi

Cast: Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Isabella Kai Rice, Whitney Cummings, Simon Kassianides

A woman sets out to make life hell for her ex-husband’s new wife. – IMDB

If you haven’t been to these free advanced screening before, when you leave the theatre, there’s these people running these events that ask you what you thought about it. I had a lot of thoughts that had solidified during the film already. Its a pretty rare occurance to be so clear about where I stood with the pros and cons. I’ll dive deeper into it later but I could stand there for 10 minutes talking about the film if I had to but I just gave a score of 6 out of 10. Honestly, I could be convinced to bump it to a 7 out of 10 but various reasons did drop it down a point and we’ll talk about it. I’m not one to do a rating system (unless I’m writing for That Moment In), so that is just a guideline of what to expect.

Unforgettable

Let’s start with the pros. Unforgettable has a solid cast. The majority of the cast delivered on their performances. Rosario Dawson was fantastic as the new woman with a secret past trying to just live her life in this new reality with the love of her life and learning to be a mom. She is plays Julia and probably has the most depth and character development. Playing across her is Katherine Heigl, as Tessa, the ex-wife who just can’t let go, channeled her crazy and did a pretty good job. They were really the focal points of the film so it was important that they delivered. Her character also did have some depth. On the side, we have the husband David, played by Geoff Stults. While he was here quite a bit, the script didn’t write his role to be too much and that is okay. For what he needed to do, he did his part pretty well. The little girl who was the daughter Lily is played by Isabella Kai Rice and she wasn’t annoying at all, in fact, she did alright. My fave does go out to the most uplifting part as Rosario Dawson’s Julie’s friend, played by Whitney Cummings. It was a supporting role and yet her character brought a nice contrast. Please note the emphasis here is on performances. I will elaborate further on it later on because the nitty gritty con is about the other part of the equation.

The next pro goes to capturing the suspense with camera work. There are a few shots in this film that really do a good job of using a first person perspective with the camera to create suspense. Now, I say this as various shots and a lot of them are in the first act, because things start falling apart really quickly and it doesn’t have much to do with the camera work or the potential for suspense but rather the downfalls of Unforgettable.

Unforgettable

The downfall of Unforgettable is that it is quite forgettable. A movie can have fancy performances and a solid cast that delivers everything but a good script, intriguing dialogue and even more than that, executing it well is a must. What makes it hard to swallow is that there was such great potential especially with this cast and some scenes showed it off so well, like I said, in the first act, then things just fell apart. Act 2 was supposed to hit a climax. It was supposed to give character development and meaning and yet, it was just a contrived and predictable sequence after sequence. There was no subtlety in it. It was like they were scared the audience was too stupid to link one thing to the next to there was an over focus on certain movements. It made the next scenes incredibly easy to figure out taking away all the thrills it had as it reached closer and closer to the end. Not to mention, the dialogue sometimes just couldn’t hit the right note and gave off a rather awkward feeling. Its not a “I’m talking to a crazy person” awkward, but a more forced sort of awkward. As it closed to Act 3 and we stepped near the finale, it started hitting the right notes for a second before falling even farther apart with some nonsensical conversation between these ladies which made the entire movie want to hit something deeper that felt like it was really just trying to find a way to end this with a little twist or something extra and yet, somehow it didn’t work that well.

Thrillers are hard to do. I get that. The effort here was solid. In fact, the director here may have produced a long list of movies in her filmography but this is the debut full-length and in that regards, does a decent job at it. The main issue here is the script and the execution of the story. The thrills just aren’t consistent. The scenes are predictable. While the performances were great and everyone did what they could with what they had, it just wasn’t enough to pull it all together which is a complete shame because the potential was there. However, this isn’t the bottom of the barrel, in fact, its probably a good choice for a rainy day or a lazy Sunday afternoon because the performances here are pretty impressive.