Saturday, October 11, 2014

A few more VIFF thoughts: Altered States series, The Fool, a moment for Michael Massee

Compared to All the Time in the World, written about below, I haven't seen anything else that I've loved at the VIFF, but I've seen five other films I liked.
I enjoyed the BC-made Bloody Knuckles a lot more than Adrian Mack, who took the bait a bit when it comes to the film's sexism, racism, and so forth. The film does gleefully offer some ridiculous stereotypes - particularly its Chinese Canadian gangsters, who cut the hand off a cartoonist who has mocked them. For some reason, rather than being offended at its risibly evil Asians, I kept thinking about how much fun it must have been for the actors who played them to be such unremitting bad guys. Juvenile as it may be - the whole thing is basically a cartoon castration fantasy - contra Mack, I'm actually not sure that Bloody Knuckles doesn't have things to say about censorship; particularly self-censorship, since the artist in question, after his hand is lopped off, sinks into a despair and self-pity and stops to make art. That is, until his severed hand returns - pretty much in Evil Dead 2 mode, but ruder - to poke him into action. Maybe it's just that it reminded me of things I've heard from Robin Bougie (who appears in the film!), but I give Bloody Knuckles a severed thumb up.
Also in Curtis Woloschuk's Altered States program, I had a pretty interesting time with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. One thing I kept thinking of was the comparison to Jarmusch in the catalogue. It's definitely apt, but I remember watching Jim Jarmusch's early cinema and thinking at the time that he'd taken a lot of his aesthetic from Wim Wenders, in Wenders' more dour, black and white moments - Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road, The State of Things - only being a bit more playful about things. Maybe I wasn't giving him enough credit, but it didn't seem, at the time, that Jarmusch's voice was exceptionally original or different. Somehow, tho', he now seems like the dominant reference point for a certain kind of art cinema - drily funny, slightly slow, quirky, black and white films made from the point of view of a quizzical outsider. I know that it's actually been at times pretty difficult for Iranians to see American cinema, so I kept wondering if the director - Ana Lily Amirpour - might not have gotten her style from somewhere else? It would be a pleasant discovery, though I suspect, no, she's probably just seen a lot of Jarmusch.
Anyhow, it's an interesting film. It seems to be about changing roles for women in Iran, coupled with a mistrustful ambivalence about what, for purposes of simplicity, I will call "the west." I imagine it can never be shown in Iran - there's female nudity, for one, and pretty frank depictions of prostitution, drug addiction, and other "that-happens-in-Iran?" kinda things; hell, there's even a fellatio scene! But some of its images - the female vampire skateboarding down a sidewalk - are pretty indelible, and the film is undeniably successful at what it attempts. I saw it after a hard day at work, and found myself fighting the "movie nap," so I did miss a few things, like: was the gully filled with corpses ever even explained? But I liked it, I liked it.
I also liked The Well well enough, though I can't blame a certain friend of mine as shrugging it off as Mad Max with water instead of oil (and no cars). Oh, and a strong female lead (Haley Lu Richardson, pictured). But why the hell not, it's a well told story, even if it's a bit more about style than substance sometimes (like, you know they introduce the samurai sword not because there needs to be a samurai sword in the story, but because it will look cool to see people killed with it!). It's certainly the driest-looking movie to be shot in the Pacific Northwest. For some reasons, the deserts out here don't get a lot of screentime, don't fit with people's image of the place.
In the end, I think my strongest reaction to The Well was, gee Michael Massee has gotten old! (Followed by gee, he isn't onscreen for very long). I've enjoyed his work for a very long time, since I caught Monika Treut's 1991 lesbian sex comedy My Father Is Coming, also with Annie Sprinkle, but it's weird to me that that film is still probably the biggest role I've seen him in. Someone should make a movie with him as their lead, if they haven't yet; he's really good at what he does, but he always pops up in some small weird place, like the guy who runs the sex club in Fincher's Seven. Let us have a moment of Michael Massee fandom, shall we? I can find no stills of him from this particular film online yet, but as he ages, he's kinda looking a bit like Jean Claude Van Damme. Someone alert Peter Hyams, get him to make a picture where they play twin brothers, one raised in Europe, one in America, who... oh, nevermind.
And then let's move on to It Follows. Anyone who has experience of an STD, be it a caught one or a close encounter, will find some things to identify with in this film, but you know, even though its ostensibly a story about a sexually transmitted demon, I really have no idea what the theme of this movie was. The way its young people talk about sex and love, and work with each other to help their afflicted friend, seem to be more the point than the whole demon thing, though obviously the world of sex for these youth is somewhat fraught with danger and uncertainty. The creepiest moments in the film, though, aren't summed up by such a theme, have an irreducible what-the-FUCK? quality to them that make them memorable. And I haven't seen the suburbs look this creepy in awhile. Good film! I thought the John Carpenter-ish soundtrack was a bit weirdly loud at times, enough to be more distracting than enjoyable. My only real quibble with the film.
Another good film, though not an Altered States one: The Fool. It's a story of corruption and idealism in Russia, with a lead actor, the award-winning Artyom Bystrov, who rather channels Ethan Hawke, in the role of an engineering student trying to convince bureaucrats to do something about a building he is sure is going to collapse. The VIFF catalogue description, linked above, is perfectly accurate and adequate to convey what you're getting, and to offer any more would be a spoiler, so let's leave it there. I've had Russian friends who I think would agree with the film's grim assessment of the Russian condition. It's a pretty dark film, but quite effective.
VIFF repeats go on all this weekend. In particular, I've heard Wild Tales is a must see, even if you're not an anthology-film type; I gather the first and final stories in it are the best. Didn't get to see it, myself; probably won't. But I enjoyed everything I saw this year (except maybe Jauja). Now it's time to eagerly wait to see what gets picked for the Rio Grind, coming later in October, and to salivate for the Vancity and Cinematheque programmes of horror movies (including the director's cut of Nightbreed, which I will host).


David M. said...

Michael Massee had a decent role recently as a cop in "CBGB".

Allan MacInnis said...

Cool, I will check it out.