DOOMED! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s THE FANTASTIC FOUR (2016)

doomed-promoThis is the story of 1994’s “Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four.”

Adapted from the iconic Marvel Comic, the film iteration was made on a measly budget of a million dollars with a joint venture by Fox, Marvel and Neue Constantin Films. After casting and initial filming was conducted, “The Fantastic Four” was a highly anticipated film covered in major magazines like Wizard and Film Threat. After a long tour of fan meetings and interviews with the press, the cast and crew learned that their hard work would result in a film that was cancelled by the studios and never to be released. Shortly after, the folks that took part in “The Fantastic Four” learned that, much to their horror, the film was never intended to ever be released. Worse, much of the struggles to conceive a fantastic cinematic vision in a decade bereft of epic comic book movies were merely to secure the rights for the comic book property and nothing more.

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Downhill (2016) [FrightFest 2016]

DownhillAfter his best friend’s death during a mountain bike race, Joe goes into hiding.  After a while, his friend Pablo sets up a race for big money in South America, with Joe’s girlfriend Stephanie convinces him to go do the race and enjoy his trip.  Once there, they go for a training ride.  While on the mountain, they hear gunshots and find a man in need of help.  Assisting him only leads them to be hunted by the local bad guys.

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Double Impact (1991)

double-impactIn the long line of Van Damme action films, “Double Impact” has always been my favorite. Maybe it’s because of the fun premise, or the way the movie balances the green screen to almost be a convincing action movie about twins. I think it’s perhaps because Van Damme proves he can play vastly different characters.

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Dark Side of the Moon (2015) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

dsotmDr. Urs Blank is a successful lawyer with a pharmaceutical company hell-bent on becoming the biggest in its field in Europe.  They ruthlessly merge with other companies and eliminate them.  His work taking its toll on him, Blank goes through an accelerated mid-life crisis that brings him to try psychedelic mushroom with dire consequences on his psyche.

The film based on the novel by Martin Suter is adapted by Catharina Junk, David Marconi, and Stephan Rick.  Their script is brought to the screen by Stephan Rick.  This team creates an almost mesmerizing film in which we get to see a man go from a very business mentality, to a sweeter man, to a psychological break that leads to violence and out of character actions for the lead.  The way this is shown is with a slow-burn of a film which takes its time to get to the point, but is absolutely worth it.

In the lead of Urs Blank is Moritz Bleibtreu turning in a nuanced performance of a man who thinks he’s going psycho after ingesting psychedelic mushrooms.  His performance here is great and multi-layered; he gives his character depth and emotions, showing the right amount of guilt, of feeling lost, of despair.  His character drives the film and his performance is pivotal, making it of utmost importance, which Bleibtreu grabs onto and for which he gives one the best performances of his career.  Also, giving fantastically nuanced performances are Doris Schretzmayer as Blank’s wife Evelyn, Nora von Waldstatten as Lucille, and Jurgen Prochnow as Blank’s boss Plus Ott.  The ensemble is very strong, a sign of good direction but also of good casting, done here by Veronique Fauconnet and Nilton Martins.

This reviewer being a photographer first and foremost, the cinematography for Dark Side of the Moon caught attention.  Stefan Ciupek and Felix Cramer do an amazing job of framing the story and characters in a way that is stunning and that brings everything together.  The fact that this was done by two persons shows how well they work together and adapt to each other’s style as never in the film does it feel as though two people did the cinematography, which is not an easy feat as each of them as his own style, his own vision.

Dark Side of the Moon is a slow-burn of a film, a stunning film, filled with great acting, and with a very good story.  Not knowing it is based on a book until after watching it makes this reviewer want to track the book down and see what other layers to the story can be found there.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016.

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Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet (2016) [New York Asian Film Festival 2016]

dongjuIn 1940s Korea, Japanese colonialists were banning Korea culture and the use of the Korean language in an effort to unify their territories and become a stronger world power.  In this struggle, a young man named Yun Dongju starts writing poems in Korean while attempting to survive the assimilation of his people, reluctantly becoming a fighter in a battle to preserve Korea’s identity.

This historical film was written by Yeon-Shick Shin and directed by a new master of the genre, Joon-ik Lee.  They create here a subtle and fairly easy to understand representation of what is considered a hard period in Korea through the eyes of a talented poet.  The film takes its time showing the young life of Dongju as well as the societal shift that the Japanese colonizing brought.  The poems read on black and white images of Korea are personal and real, they create a center for the story, an emotional anchor.  These were carefully chosen amongst Dongju’s work to best suit the film and they bring a solemnity to the proceedings.

The casting for this film is pivotal as so much rests on how the lead of Dongju is interpreted.  Kang Ha-Neul takes this character and develops him into a fully fleshed out human being, giving a voice for his soft yet emotional poems.  He shows a wide range of emotions with subtle variations, giving life to this man whose story is mainly untold, especially to Western audiences.  Supporting this performance are Jeong-min Park as Dongju’s cousin Song Monggyu who is someone who likes to stir the pot and possibly cause trouble for himself and those around him.

His performance is less subdued and a bit more in your face as time passes and the character requires the actor to be bolder.  Also supporting Kang Ha-Neul is Moon Choi as Kumi, the girl who believes in him and does all she can to get him published,  Her performance is also held back but stands out amongst the mostly male cast, showing a calm and strong female presence in a time when women were still encouraged to take a backseat to men’s dealings.

Shot in black and white, the look of the film is very serious which fits with the story and its developments.  The way the Korean countryside is shot is absolutely beautiful, the images convey the seriousness of the situation the Koran people faced during that period.  The pairing of filmed sequences with the reading of the poems is perfect.  Unfortunately, a credit for cinematography could not be found online (in English or French) at the time this was written.

The black and white images and style in which the film is shot make sense for this film and its subject but they do make it feel slower and made it harder for this reviewer to concentrate on the story and the poems.  The style is hypnotic but can also be sleep inducing if reading a lot of subtitles on a calm series of sequences is not one’s passion.  The slowness here is deliberate to give the viewers time to absorb the emotions and pay attention to the poems.

Poet Yun Dongju led a tragic life, like most artists about whom movies are made, in the time period that was anything but easy.  His story is worth watching for the quality of the film and the emotionality of his poems.  Viewers will (should) also learn about a tumultuous time in Korea’s history, which can be considered a bonus.  It’s a bit long and slow, but absolutely worth looking for and watching.

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Day of the People (2016)

DayofthePeopleIt feels like there’s a little bit more gong on in “Day of the People” than a simple experimental short film. Based on the research I’ve done, director Philip Stainsby seems to have aimed for a short film reminiscent of “Night of the Comet,” but the visual cues seem to hint at something else entirely. “Day of the People” opens with a young man waking up at the very end of humanity and then begins traversing through the city and making his way through something of a business district where the sky is painted a dark shade of Red.

With only the discovery of a soda can, he walks through the streets looking for something, and finds it when he comes across a man walking around in a dark suit. Ultimately I interpreted “Day of the People” as something of a subtle commentary on the downfalls of a perfect Utopia and how some people are so committed to building a new world, they’re not likely to notice when something beyond their control is set to end their plans. Based on the small hints Stainsby adds, the people built this world and they also contributed to destroying it, thus making it a pretty open target for something else. Who knows?

Maybe I’m merely over thinking an experimental film, but Philip Stainsby’s short packs in a lot of nuance and complexity in only ten minutes time. The photography and direction are superb, with Stainsby committing to the dream like atmosphere and paints a grim look at what is the perfectly functioning society where all life isn’t quite present or even emotionally attached, for that matter. I gather “Day of the People” will leave many an audience debating about its meaning when it hits the festival circuit. Philip Stainsby’s short science fiction film is a remarkable short with unique and bold use of color and landscape. I hope to see more from him in the future.

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Devil Girl (2007)

Devil_Girl-PosterIn an isolated desert town, a girl travelling cross country after the death of her father has car trouble after a drag race.  This forces her to stay in town for a while which means finding a place to stay, getting work, and mingling with the locals.  She ends up dealing with a weird motel owner, a preacher with odd leanings, a clown-faced man, and a stunning devil girl.

“Devil Girl” is directed by Howie Askins who co-wrote with Tracy Wilcox Gillie.  The story they put together here should be a great story considering its components, but instead of focusing on the titular Devil Girl, they relegate her to a few too short appearances, letting the film be about Fay, the girl on a road trip who ends up working as a stripper to survive.  The story also has a clown who seems to have been added for shock and weirdness factor which he does bring , but for all his screen time, he has very little impact on the story until the very end where he could easily have a been replaced.

The characters are decently written but not given much of interest to do.  The few twists and turns in the story are not quite enough to make it riveting or even all that interesting. Most of the cast gives ok performances with few stand-outs.  Lead actress Jessica Graham gets the most screen time and gives a good performance through most of it but she does look absolutely bored in a few scenes, most specifically the strip club scenes where once can guess she was trying to convey discomfort or shame as she did get the job reluctantly.  The one actress who really stands out the most and only gets a few scenes is Vanessa Kay who is the Devil Girl.

She has a very short time to make an impression but makes the most of it with a performance full of glee and charm, giving good reason for the movie to be named after her minor character. With a film called Devil Girl, one would expect more of a horror film but this is not it.  There is a little blood and some special effects; the design of the Devil Girl is pretty and sexy, her outfit being nearly nothing but red paint, which leads to a stunning attractive presence on screen for the curvy actress.  The main point of interest here, outside of the red hot girl, is the cars.  A bunch of old school muscle cars, racing each other and being eye candy.

For all of its muscle cars and the sexiness of the title character, the film is quite bland, boosting a group of basic, expected desert town settings and a lackluster story.  The film uses occasionally shaky camera and a lot of mild grindhouse looks to add to its story but it just doesn’t grab the viewer to make them care.  The last act twist basically kills the entire film and story built so far.

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Dèdalo (2016)

dedaloI hope director Jerónimo Rocha eventually turns his idea for “Dèdalo” in to a feature length horror film. While I love “Dèdalo” all on its own, I’d love to learn more about the specifics behind this narrative, and how these monsters spawned. The monsters presented in this nightmarish feature seem almost bred out of oil and muck, and they seem to infect those around them with this crude substance that makes their victims deformed prey. “Dèdalo” begins on a very strong note as we witness young Siena climbing along the side of a Space Freighter/Refinery.

Wounded and very torn after what seems like a hellish fight for survival, she seeks out a medical kit lying alongside the body of one of her shipmates. While one of the disgusting beasts on the ship feasts on a lost comrade, she looks to inject herself with some kind of antidote that can perhaps cure her of what seems to be an infection that’s made right hand black as coal. But the situation become more difficult as she tries to cure herself without being heard, and out wit the creature only inches away from her.

“Dèdalo” has a marvelous atmosphere and sense of mood behind it, making it feel like a nightmare. It definitely draws its inspiration from “Alien” even borrowing the strobe light effect that gives director Rocha’s short an added layer of menace and terror. “Dèdalo” is a wonderful short horror film that uses its apparent influences to enhance its narrative and concept; I’d love to see director Jerónimo Rocha use this as material for a feature length production. I think “Dèdalo” could become a classic.