Fantasia Festival 2018: Knuckleball (2018)

Knuckleball (2018)

Knuckleball

Director: Michael Peterson

Cast: Luca Villacis, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Kathleen Munroe, Chenier Hundal

Somewhere in western Canada is a farmhouse. A seemingly ordinary and simple farmhouse with a seemingly nice and normal farmer named Jacob residing within. There would be no reason to fear this farmhouse, but for Mary it’s a farmhouse that harbours bad memories and a real sense of dread. Now, a family emergency forces her to drop her son Henry off at this farmhouse for a few days with Jacob, her father, who doesn’t know his own grandson. A love of baseball helps the two bond, but that connection is broken by the arrival of Dixon , the creepy next-door neighbour who seems to know a lot about the farmhouse and holds a pretty mean grudge against Henry. Over the course of the next few days, Henry is going to learn a lot about family, about survival, and how to throw a good knuckleball like his life depends on it? because it does. – Fantasia Festival

Set in the isolated Western Canada landscape, Knuckleball captures the lonely rural area setting perfect for this film’s sense of survival and gritty secrets. It has been exciting times in recent years to see how filmmakers take the Home Alone formula and give it an imaginative dark twist. Just like last year’s Better Watch Out, what starts off with ideas of a young kid trying to find clever ways to defend and survive through the night takes a wildly different and dangerous tone as the story and secrets unfold. There is a great craft here by director and co-writer Michael Peterson in the way he tells this story, skillfully taking the time to slowly not only drop hints but give pieces of this dark puzzle so the audience is kept guessing and invested in this thriller. What propels and builds each scene is also the score here which has its subtle moments and creates these sounds that match with the environment and helps build tension.

Knuckleball

Knuckleball has a small and tight cast which works in its favor. There are some incredible young talent here. The first is the young boy sent to this farm, Henry played by Luca Villacis who excels in making the gritty survival elements truly shine in a convincing way. Unlike a lot of children in films, he is worthy of the audience to cheer for his survival. The film is primarily in his point of view and therefore as the story unfolds, his surprises are also ours. Not to mention, Henry is clever and resourceful but still has those moments when his judgement puts him in a undesirable situation. Playing opposite him is a troubled young man and weird neighbor Dixon played by Munro Chambers who has so much depth to his characters. As we see his character truly unveil one layer at a time, there is a great depth to him even though he is violently pursuing Henry. The game that he plays as he hunts and Henry tries to survive is filled with tension. It is engaging and smart. In the supporting role playing as the grandfather Jacob is Michael Ironside. While his character dies fairly quickly, his presence in the film is undeniable because of the influence his character has over Henry and Dixon. It’s these intertwined relationships and the story about family and upbringing and how each character interprets life that truly brings in that extra depth.

If we are to talk about presence and characters, the house is a character in itself. The real house has 100 years of history and this aspect is amplified in the scenes from the massive isolate land surrounded by trees to to the nooks and crannies that Henry crawls between to escape from Dixon. The house is utilized so well as the scenes move from one part of the house to the next. There are school buses on the land and a rusted barnhouse further away. Everything feels like it has a purpose and builds on the uneasy feeling that Knuckleball aims to deliver.

Knuckleball
Knuckleball is a real treat. The movie comes together in a gritty effective way and while its a horror thriller that will keep you at the edge of your seat, its core is about more than that. Packed with great characters and an even more powerful setting, its a movie that you shouldn’t miss.  

This post was also on That Moment In.

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Fantasia Festival 2018: The Outlaws (2017)

The Outlaws (2017)

The Outlaws

Director (and writer): Kang Yun-Sung

Cast: Don Lee, Yoon Kye-sang, Cho Chae-yun, Choi Guy-hwa, Jin Seon-kyu

Based on real events, this crime action film depicts a Seoul detective’s attempts to keep peace while two Chinese-Korean gangs battle over turf in the neighborhood. – IMDB

Lead by Dong-seok Ma, the actor known for his supporting role in Train to Busan comes this action-packed thriller that finds a nice balance between action, gritty gang tension and still building up a story around characters with a lot of presence. The Outlaws is set in the Chinatown area of South Korea where the gangs riff about territory. The Venom Gang and the Isu Gang each have their own turf dominantly While they try to overstep occasionally, rough and tough detective Ma (Dong-seok Ma) manage to keep them in line with his bigger and badder cop treatment. However, when a mystery three Chinese-Korean psychotic gang calling themselves the Black Dragon gang lead by a Chinese wanted gang member Gang Chen (Kye-Sang Yoon) posing as debt collectors initially hit town to create an imbalance and carve out their own world, the gang and cops both are sent into tension and lose control. These guys are violent without limits in the most extreme ways. What follows is not only a well-paced action thriller full of tension but also one chock full of comedic one liners.

The Outlaws

The story of cops and gangs aren’t exactly new. It is also hard to determine how truthful it is based on the real events. However, brutal gang films like Hong Kong’s Election that dive deep into the violent world of cops and triad gangs are a great example of what this subgenre can achieve.  While The Outlaws has its brutal moments, it also balances it out with the charismatic humor as relief from the more tense moments. It also helps that the film is set over a fairly restricted area with each gang’s main turf business and the same Chinatown area or the Serious Crimes Unit trailer office. Its keeps the film easy to follow with all these elements constrained.

The Outlaws

Fundamentally, what carries The Outlaws is its characters, which have a massive on-screen presence. The first is the impressive Dong-seok Ma as Detective Ma who is physically and mentally a huge character. He has quick reflexes but also exhibits immense strength and unexpected ways of dealing with the tough gang members who all seem so much smaller in his presence. His one liners and casually violent reactions relieve tension in a moment and honestly carries a lot of charm. Playing essentially opposite him is the leader of the Black Dragon gang Jang Chen portrayed by Kye-Sang Yoon. There is praise to be made about an actor who can instill fear and uneasiness without a lot of dialogue and this is what Jang Chen’s character is, a man of few words but yet his actions, reactions and expressions are enough to show the psychotic imbalance and depth in his character.

The Outlaws

The Outlaws reminds us that action thrillers can be both clever and entertaining. Both the outstanding cast and the well-paced movie makes 2 hours fly by with funny one liners and great action pieces. There is tension, comedy and heartfelt moments in all of the South Korean entertainment glory. How can you fault any of this? It is just the perfect balance of everything.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Laplace’s Witch (2018)

Laplace’s Witch (2018)

laplace's witch

Director: Takashi Miike

Cast: Sho Sakurai, Suzu Hirose, Sota Fukushi, Mirai Shida, Hiroshi Tamaki, Lily Franky, Etsushi Toyokawa

An environmental analyst is asked by the police to determine if two deaths by hydrogen sulfide poisoning are an accident – or a murder. But when he meets a young woman at both sites, a scientific mystery begins. – IMDB

Based on the 2015 novel by Keigo Higashino, Laplace’s Witch takes its audience for a fantasy and scientific journey. With Takashi Miike at the helm, the accomplishment from his experience is the beautiful setting and the mood that the entire mood sets. The atmosphere and the shots are done incredibly well. It makes some slick moments that create the tension needed for the mystery. The rural Japan setting works great and many of the other backdrops used work beautifully to elevate the scenes even more. As with most Japanese movies, the humor they execute is still very familiar here with some comedic breaks in simple dialogues and expressions in the different characters. Its slightly dark and sarcastic but works with the tone of Laplace’s Witch.

Laplace's Witch

There is a certain charm to this novel adaptation. I have never read this novel before and know nothing about it. However, assuming its faithful to its novel as the screenplay writer is the author himself, this story has a lot of great elements. It has a strong scientific angle and also wraps in some supernatural aspect also. There’s a crime to solve which honestly is quite the head-scratcher seeing as any possibility has a near-zero chance of happening making it hard to determine. However, the introduction of the young woman who calls herself Laplace’s Witch aka Madoka (Suzu Hirose) is where the story brings in a lot of charisma. While her character feels rather simple and one-note whether in her expressions or her actions, Suzu Hirose ignites a convincing role which makes Madoka’s plight feels honorable and genuine and its makes us root for her. Paired along with the professor Shusuke Aoe (Sho Sakurai), they become quite the team especially since the professor is an oddball who shows genuine passion in his rare field of earth science that no one else seems interested in. There is some great charisma between these two characters. They are familiar characterizations but somehow work for this premise. In the spectrum of these two characters, a lot of scientific theories are put into the story including the main foundation of this movie being French mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace’s articulation called Laplace’s Demon.

Laplace's Witch

Disappointingly, where Laplace’s Witch starts to fall apart is in its pacing. The story while had its unique elements with the scientific aspects and discovering the root of the special abilities that Madoka possesses which leads to unveiling why she feels the urge to be involved in helping with the investigation alongside the professor. While the story itself has some nice twists and turns which are slightly fantastical and far-fetched, the fact that it is a Japanese film somehow makes these elements easily forgivable.  However, where this suffers is in its lengthy runtime of 2 hours and having its reveals set too early, making the final half feel dragged out. This lead to the well-developed first half to lose its intrigue quickly in the second half. There are some serious execution issues here that make the final thoughts of this movie feel simply bland and lackluster.

This review is also published on That Moment In.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Under the Silver Lake (2018)

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

Under the Silver Lake

Director (and writer): David Robert Mitchell

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Riki Lindhome, Grace Van Patten, Patrick Fischler, Jimmi Simpson, Callie Hernandez

Sam, intelligent but without purpose, finds a mysterious woman swimming in his apartment’s pool one night. The next morning, she disappears. Sam sets off across LA to find her, and along the way he uncovers a conspiracy far more bizarre. – IMDB

Following the success of indie horror It Follows, David Robert Mitchell takes his unique vision to this project Under the Silver Lake and casts Andrew Garfield as the main lead Sam. Under the Silver Lake is ambitious to say the least. There are a lot of pop culture references in there used incredibly cleverly. The filming is done very well choosing some great Los Angeles backdrops. There are injections of comic strip moments as it follows the works of an author who tells the story of “Under the Silver Lake” and other legends hidden in the city. It has some colorful and whimsical characters who cross paths with Sam and truly embrace the black comedy effectively. Finally, the most outstanding quality of this film goes to its embrace of classic Hollywood in both the way certain shots are filmed in terms of lighting and framed up to the outfits of some of the actresses.

Under the Silver Lake

With Classic Hollywood and pop culture scattered cleverly throughout this film, it is hard to not like it. Except it also is easy to get a little lost because as offbeat as the story is meant to be, it lingers on feeling almost disjointed. Sam goes on this journey that almost feels like a lazy unambitious young man falling into his own version of Alice in Wonderland. His journey takes him from one set piece to the next with parties, cemetery screenings, secret tunnels amd even secluded mansions with an old man who claims he created all the most popular tunes of the last few decades. Oddly in this journey, as much as Andrew Garfield delivers a decent performance, Sam is honestly pretty unamusing to watch. It is hard to be invested in a movie where the main character is a focal point that we spend all the time from his point of view on this surreal journey and there never feels like a sense of investment. Even the moments of danger, usually end in some form of black comedy resolution and it never feels like he is in peril. On top of that, the audience might be the only person that questions why he gets into all these fancy parties when he goes there all scruffy and in simple t-shirts and even pyjamas. It is hard to root for someone who we can’t even see the appeal that all these lovely ladies seem to just see some charm in. Except there are hints also that Sam isn’t a shallow character and at parts, there is a hint of the sense of failure he feels and even the mask he puts on as he hides away the truth about his unambitious life and the regrets.

Under the Silver Lake

At the end of the day, Under the Silver Lake is a slow-paced ambitious piece of cinema. Its unique and surrealistic dive into the whimsical underbelly of Los Angeles has its charm but it isn’t going to be for everyone. Especially when the story itself feels disjointed and most of all, the main character is pretty unamusing to watch and there is no reason to fight for his search because at certain points it feels like even the story makes him forgets what was the main goal in the first place. Perhaps if you squint between the lines, Under the Silver Lake embodies a tale about the society and the lack of sense of direction in life and ambition and it just takes one little thing to change it all around and find motivation and commitment. For this one, maybe its ambition affected its overall storytelling just a little bit.  

The review was also posted on That Moment In.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Cam (World Premiere 2018)

Cam (2018)

Cam

Director (and co-writer): Daniel Goldhaber

Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Michael Dempsey, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim, Flora Diaz, Jessica Parker Kennedy

“I don’t do public shows, I don’t tell my guys I love them and I don’t fake my orgasms.” These are boundaries that Alice (Madeline Brewer) strictly maintains in the daily hours that she becomes her webcamming alter ego Lola. She keeps her performance work tightly sandboxed from her personal life, as it must be. One day, Alice finds herself unable to log into her account. Someone is already on, using her profile. She hits the site as a guest and discovers that somehow, against all reason, she’s been replaced on her page with an exact duplicate of herself, inexplicably camming from her very home. A duplicate that knows personal things only she could know. And is extremely less guarded about any issues of privacy. – Fantasia Festival

Quick-paced and thrilling, Cam takes its audience for a whirl in Lola’s life, a cam girl who has three rules that keeps her job separate from her personal life but is hoping to climb the ranks to be the top girl. This ambition pushes her to straddle those boundaries and the next day, she realizes that someone has stolen her identity. This person looks exactly like her and mysteriously is filming on her set and the add-on bonus is that there are no boundaries. Who is this person and how is this happening? We might not get all the answers at the end of the day but the point doesn’t seem to be about the resolution but more on the cautionary tale about the dangers of sex work and on a even bigger scale, the dangers of our online presence and personality. It asks the questions of how much boundaries is enough and on a deeper level, what do we do when we lose ourselves?

Cam is stylistic in its shots. In a lot of the cam sessions, the screen is flooded in neon colors like pink, red, purple, blue, blended in a ombre shadowy background. It all works to keep the cam girl environment seem light and fluffy and that is until we get glimpses of what Lola’s shows are all about, the extremities of being pushed to her limits and she stages suicides like slitting her throat which makes it seem real and intense. As we watch the sessions, along with private chats, it becomes apparent that this world

Not everyone is a cam girl but almost everyone has some sort of online footprint in this current day and age and this is where the true horror is. The main reason why it works so well other than its visual stylings is that the main girl, Lola, her real name Alice, played by Madeline Brewer steals the show literally. She plays both the real Alice and the doppelganger online persona Lola and the fact that we can see how genuine Alice is, she becomes a person that the audience can intensely watch as she falls down the rabbit hole and loses control of herself as her personal and professional life blend together and spirals out of control also. In many ways, the desperation and the despair along with frustration and fear is portrayed so well in this one character as Alice is a real person and not just some object online. And in some ways, its her struggle to find and reclaim herself and its one crazy intense journey to say the least.

Cam is has some fantastic moments and as the story and mystery builds, just like Alice’s life, it goes out of control. Its well-paced and a perfectly sufficient thriller that emphasizes on some truly horrific ideas of the boundaries to keep online. It might feel like the story takes a fairly abrupt ending to everything but the lingering feeling of danger is so poignant that it can keep you thinking about it even after the film as ended.

This review is also contributed to That Moment In.

Fantasia Festival 2018: The Vanished (2018)

The Vanished (2018)

The Vanished

Director (and writer): Lee Chang-hee

Cast: Kim Sang- Kyung, Kim Kang-Woo, Kim Hee-ae, Han Ji-An, Lee Ji-Hoon

The body of Yoon Seol Hee disappears at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation. Detective Woo Joong Shik seeks clues on her disappearance, while her husband Park Jin Han claims she is alive. – IMDB

South Korean films have been gracing its presence at the Fantasia Film Festival for the last few years with a lot of success in many genres. Drama, action, thriller, horror: you name it and they have had its impact by showing off great storytelling skills, stylistic cinematography and outstanding characters and performances while sharing their culture and society. This debut feature film directed by 35 year old Lee Chang-hee is a great addition to the successes. The Vanished is based on the Spanish film The Body. While the foundation of the idea of the missing corpse and the characterization is similar to the original, Lee makes sure that the way his story ends has his own influences and unique twist. Thrillers are no small feat and a lot of directors fail to put together a truly effective twist. Lee has chosen a challenging genre to tackle and in many ways, he delivers it quite effectively. It’s important to note that while this is set in a morgue, The Vanished is not meant to be horrific, in fact there is a real consciousness of making sure that it stays more on the atmospheric thriller aspects and the unfolding of the story.

The Vanished takes a great step in framing the movie over the course of a night with timestamps to see the various points as reference. It is meant to be a simple film as we see the story reveal itself through the colorful characters on screen who strike up some signature humorous moments with their dialogue and reaction. It helps to break up the tension. At the same time, the timeline also smoothly flows into the flashback moments to give more depth on the story as other pieces get revealed. What drives the story is the disappearance of the corpse which brings the further notion of catalepsy or the possibility of the dead coming alive again. In this case, it highlights the two main characters here: the husband Dr.Park (Kang-woo Kim) and the detective Jung-sik (Sang-kyung Kim). Their stories are very similar in their losses but as Jung-sik uncovers the mystery with the biggest suspect, the contrast in their characterization makes sense especially when it is no surprise that in this relationship of unbalanced control, he has a mistress. Like most thrillers, the secrets lead to more secrets and twists and turns. The final act, while may seem far-fetched, actually had all the clues embedded throughout the film and is in the details of piecing them together.

The Vanished

Filled with an experienced South Korean cast that deliver exceptional roles in this thriller, The Vanished’s biggest accomplishment is its cinematography. The basics of contrasts are used here, just like for its characters and their emotions. In terms of color palette, the night scenes have a lot of crisp scenes with focused lighting and a blue hues that accentuate the darker scenes. It plays well with flickering lights and well-timed blackout moments to create the suspenseful atmosphere. In the flashback moments, its contrasts it with more natural and warm colors like using sunlight. One of the best shots is the choice of color when one of the character falls into the water and the contrast of blue and red in the details of the water elevate the scene visually, and not just emotionally. Aside than the color palette, it also benefits from the scenes being framed stylistically like when looking at the window or when to focus on centering the object or using overhead bird’s eye views to show more detail.

Visually stylistic and great characters make The Vanished an immersive experience. While the thriller is meant to be simple, there was a charm to how the final act was executed to bring in its own twists and stayed true to South Korean films and its tendency to focus on the deeper emotions of its characters on hand. Lee Chang-hee had a vision and he stayed true to it which delivers an effective little thriller.

This review was also posted on That Moment In.

Trailer: London Fields (2018)

Something a little different today for everyone!

Here’s the first trailer for London Fields, a upcoming adaptation of Martin Amis’s 1989 novel of the same name.

London Fields is an action-packed thriller starring Amber Heard as the femme fatale, Nicola Six who is both notorious and clairvoyant. London Fields also stars Theo James, Cara Delevingne, Billy Bob Thornton and a Johnny Depp cameo along with Jason Isaacs and Gemma Chan.

london fields

According to IMDB, here is the plot summary:

London Fields is a movie starring Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne, and Gemma Chan. Clairvoyant femme fatale Nicola Six has been living with a dark premonition of her impending death by murder. She begins a tangled love affair with three uniquely different men: one of whom she knows will be her murderer. – IMDB

There isn’t a solid release date yet. It should be coming up soon.